Ballpark Roadtrip: Shea Stadium
A view of Shea Stadium in Corona Queens, New York from the empty parking lot on June 30, 2008. (Photo: Gordon Donovan)
In 1964, the Mets moved from Manhattan to Queens and their brand-new home, William A. Shea Municipal Stadium. Located on 126th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Shea would welcome more than 94 million fans and some of the most famous moments in Mets history during its 45 years.
The stadium originally was to be called “Flushing Meadows Stadium.” But in 1962, behind a movement led by department store magnate Bernard Gimbel, the Flushing Meadows Stadium label was dropped in favor of a name that honored the man most responsible for returning National League baseball to New York, prominent attorney Bill Shea. Shea Stadium was born.
Architect John Waterbury drew up the plans for the stadium and the ceremonial ground-breaking took place on October 28, 1961. The designs called for the city to contribute $24.5 million to construct the ballpark, with the Mets to chip in another $6.5 million for office space, restaurants and other amenities.
The 55,300-seat stadium was completed and Shea opened to 48,736 fans on April 17, 1964. But in a scene reminiscent of Opening Day at the Polo Grounds two years earlier, the Pirates again beat the Mets, 4-3.
In their first season at Shea, the Mets drew 1,732,597 fans and hosted the All-Star Game before baseball handed off the reigns to football and the New York Jets for the winter. Football would be a permanent winter staple in Queens until 1983, when the Jets left for New Jersey.
Shea was designed to be a multi-purpose complex— it was the first major stadium in the United States to have two movable field box sections—and as such held a variety of events. The Beatles gave the first- ever concert at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965, in front of more than 55,000 fainting, crying and screaming fans.
It was, and remains to this day, the most historic concert ever, as it was the first time in history that a sports stadium was used for a rock concert. The groundbreaking Beatles concert at Shea set new attendance records at the time; it was the first large-scale, outdoor concert that demonstrated such events could be hugely successful and profitable.
Other unforgettable Shea moments include the historic papal Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in 1979, plus concerts staged by music legends including Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen. The stadium also played host to a wide variety of sporting events, such as soccer, boxing and wrestling matches and college football, along with the normal schedule of baseball and NFL football games.
In 1975, Shea was the center of the New York sports world. The Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants all called the stadium home, marking the first and only time in professional sports history that two baseball teams and two football teams shared the same facility in the same year. Both the Yankees and Giants needed a temporary home while Yankee Stadium underwent renovations.
Throughout the years, Shea was the site for some of the most memorable moments in Mets history: Cleon Jones catching the clinching out of the 1969 World Series, the amazing comeback in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, and President Bill Clinton joining Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel, to retire the Hall of Famers' uniform number 42 on April 15, 1997. Shea finally closed its doors on September 28, 2008 following the Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Marlins.
The demolition of Shea took several months, with the final piece coming down on February 18, 2009 at 11:22 a.m. Citi Field’s Parking Lot D covers the grounds where Shea once stood, with markers commemorating the original locations of the stadium’s home plate, bases and pitching mound.
Ballpark: D - It’s a dump, but it’s Mets fans' dump. You are so fair from the action if you are sitting along the lines because of foul territory. You cannot walk around the stadium, just to the left and right corners. Old multi purpose stadium, windy and cold in the spring and fall. Not enough bathrooms and it takes forever to leave because of packed ramps and limited access to the subway. Escalators are always off after a game and you cannot walk down. People are always blocking the action walking around, especially vendors. One concourse at Shea on the field level with the charm of a dungeon. Scoreboard sitting beyond the right field wall is amazing. If you are sitting in boxes, you will enjoy a game. You will never catch a foul ball in green and red seats.
Fans & Atmosphere: C - For Halloween, Yankee fans wear a Mets cap and say they're a dick. Real die hard fans who love the team and are passionate about the game. Many who think 1986 was last year, when the team has not won anything since then. Some like to bully fans of opposing teams. Piazza and Wright jerseys everywhere. Planes from nearby LaGuardia Airport always fly overhead during the course game.
Food: D - Leftover food from the 1964 World’s Fair is available but needs to be eaten with extreme caution. Hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, beer and soda. Some stands serving sausage and peppers with complimentary rolaids. Fresh popcorn is good before they dump pounds of salt all over it. Diamond Club is okay if you are a Season Ticket Holder. Eat before arriving or bring a sandwich and sealed bottle of water.
Mascot: A - Mr. Met, always around greeting kids and all fans. Posing for photos before the game and during the game. Then shooting t-shirts from the field during 4th and 7th innings with Pepsi Party Patrol. One of the best in baseball, fans love him.
Staff: D - Rude ushers who always have palms open for tips. Many have been there since Shea opened, they think they own the place. You can see them picking promotional items when fans leave seats. Security has a tough job dealing with fans who come to abuse booze and players. Some seedy security and some that are very professional.
Team Tradition: C - Diamond Club has a Hall of Fame, a few busts and plaques. Need a ticket to view them. Retired numbers and pennant placards in outfield corners. In ramp ways some photos are hung of classic moments at Shea. Not many of them. Great looking marker in left field where Met Tommie Agee blasted a home run in the upper level. Championship teams from 1969 and 1986 recognized but not the predecessors from Brooklyn and Coogan's Bluff.
Location: B – Stadium has a large parking lot, 15 bucks to park here. Fans tailgate before the game. The 7 trains are the best way in and out. 40 minutes from midtown Manhattan. Train station needs to be renovated and made handicap accessible. LI Railroad is accessible to the city and island.
Photos taken during the 2002 to 2008 seasons using a Canon EOS 50D Digital SLR with a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Standard lens and a PowerShot SD970 IS Digital Camera.