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Not Ashamed of the Old Girl

Mike SteffanosTuesday, August 7, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

You could put down the frying pan, Lisa. This isn't about you...

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Hamden, Connecticut. With its small single family homes and 2- and 3- family houses, we were a lot a closer to the bottom of the middle class than the top. Still, it was a nice place to grow up in the 60s and 70s and, for better or worse, I owe a large part of who I am today to where I came from.

The neighborhood has gone quite a ways downhill since the days of my youth, with most of the houses owned by people who live elsewhere and rent them out. My old house is still there, though -- a two-family house in the middle of a somewhat nondescript block. You probably wouldn't even take note of the place if you drove by. To you it's just a relatively unattractive building on a street that's seen better days. To me, even after almost 3 decades, it still feels a little like home.

I hate to admit this, but my old house is probably one of the few in that entire neighborhood that actually looks better now than back when I lived there. While it's clad in cheap white siding now, back then it was covered in badly peeling grey paint. The backyard is a little shabby, but not the virtual junkyard it was when my packrat grandfather was piling up his "treasures" there. Back in the day we stood out for many of the wrong reasons. It always made me feel a little ashamed, because as a kid you greatly prefer to blend in rather than stand out.

The years gone by have greatly modified my opinion of the old homestead. No longer obsessed with what was wrong with the place, I'm free to enjoy all of the good memories of what was right. I remember large family gatherings full of cousins and my grandmother's homemade Italian food. (She even made her Lasagna noodles and macaroni from scratch.) I don't think there is a greater sense of security and connectedness in the world than to be a kid at a huge family holiday celebration.

I remember being embarrassed by my grandmother screaming my name out to call me in for dinner. Some of the other kids would mimic her to taunt me. What I've come to remember better is her kindness, generosity and almost childlike sense of fun. As a kid, my friends used to love to come over and play card games that my grandmother either invented or bastardized and invariably tried to cheat at. When you caught her she'd laugh, and so would the rest of us.

To make a long story short, what I've come to realize over the years is that the people that make up your household are infinitely more important in the long run than the physical realities of the property. Maybe that's why I could love Shea Stadium so unabashedly despite all of the endless bashing of the old place by the media. They see an unattractive ballpark in an unattractive neighborhood that dares to exist in the same town as the venerated mausoleum in the Bronx. The same writers who never get tired of telling Mets fans how their team doesn't measure up to the Yankees also never tire of putting down Shea Stadium. Even beat writers for other teams take shots at her when they come to town.

My friend Greg Prince from Faith and Fear in Flushing and I were at Tom Glavine's 299th win versus the Pirates late last month, and we both agreed we were tired of the way Shea Stadium is always played up as something worse than the ninth circle of Dante's inferno in the media. They've actually done a decent job of keeping the place up, especially if you remember back to the late 70s when only the rust was holding the place together. The jet noise has been alleviated greatly over the years, and if they would just turn down the damned loudspeakers a little you'd be able to hear yourself think. Sometimes the wind comes off the water and chills the sportswriters, causing their nipples to chafe unpleasantly against their shirts. Mets fans, of course, are real men and women who are made of much sterner stuff. We endure those nights much better then the frail denizens of the fourth estate.

Tonight the Braves will be in town and the old ballpark will be rocking. While I sincerely hope the Mets come to play tonight, I have no doubt the Mets fans will be on top of their game.

Shea Stadium indeed has a lot of faults, and will never be accused of being a shrine to its sport. While there have been 2 championships won there, there has also been a relentless parade of bad teams full of bad players over the years. No matter what happens in 2007 and 2008, when Shea comes down she will have been home to many more dreadful seasons than great ones.

Still, for those of us who persevered and resisted going over to the dark side, there have been a number of great players and a slew of great moments in this ballpark. Whenever there was a cause to get excited, Mets fans have more than risen to the occasion. Plenty of fans in other places are singled out for being great baseball fans, but I can think of no greater fans than those who have bucked the trend and endured the abuse from all quarters to root for this team year after year. Shea Stadium is great because this is where the Mets play and, more importantly, this is where Mets fans gather to cheer them on. As always, it's the people that make the place great.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (6)

I could not agree with you more, well written. It annoys the H.E. LL out of me when I hear other people play down Shea. Braves, and Cardinal announcers do quite often. It is a special place and holds great memories. It may not be close to what the new digs we see throughout the rest of the league, but the "magic" has always been there. I love the experiences going there as a kid from 69 to 83 (went off to college and then on to the service afterwards). I remember Craig Swan, John Milner, Willie Motanez, Sergio Ferrer, Junior Ortiz, Wayne Twitchell, and many others on some bad teams. Of course there were the big names, but going to a game at Shea even in the lean years, will always hold a place in my heart. We would be in the nose bleed section down the rightfield line, my friends and I and would sneak down two by two in the late innings to the better seats (empty of course). Eat ourselves sick and then make our way back to Far Rockaway. I'm sure going to miss it but I promised myself for this year and next when I come home to visit, that I will attend atleast two games each, just to sort of say good bye and thanks for the memories. Sending her off with two championships 07 & 08 would culminate the "Magic" too. Lets go Mets!

Logic and eloquence have little place in the traditional media, but you blend it and bring more of it to bear better than anybody I know or know of. Thank you for giving Shea its due.

The nipples line, however, conjures a frightening image. I don't want to know what goes on underneath Wally Matthews' shirt.

You know, I talk smack about shea stadium, but this was only after visiting parks like Fenway and Wrigley and I mean...what other parks compare to those, right? I also get PO'd there is no "bar scene" close or within walking distance to shea, I mean you either have to drive (and what fun is driving to a bar) or take the 7 to Woodside.

But what will i do the day Shea closes its doors for good? Cry like a baby. I am stocking up kleenex now.

Yes, indeed; agreed, agreed. I love smelly ol' Shea, and I doubt that the new corporate experience to come will diminish my appreciation for the place. Bigness has its place I suppose; just not every place.

I was slightly disturbed to see you using the Dante's Inferno allusion, however. I thought that was my own private domain, among baseball fans anyway. Back when Larry Jones named his daughter "Shea", I mused that I should name my next offspring "Third Circle of Dante's Inferno," after Chipper's home park.

DD, that made me laugh. Of course you know, when Lastings Milledge has his children they will be named Citizens Bank and Turner. LOL

L.J. - Wow, some of those names. I haven't thought of Junior Ortiz or Wayne Twitchell in years.
Greg - I doubt if there exists a human being in this world that has any interest in Wally's nipples.
Coop - I hope when they redo the area around the ballpark some good bars move in. That's always been a big shortcoming at Shea.
dd - Sorry to step on your toes.

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