Opening Day at Shea Stadium: A nostalgic trip to the New York Mets’ beloved old home

Shea Stadium has been gone ten years now.

With mourning fans looking on, the final section of seats were torn out on the morning of February 18, 2009. Awaiting fans a short distance away was the sparkling new Citi Field which would open for business with a thrilling game between the San Diego Padres and the field’s home team the New York Mets.

Shea was not a perfect stadium. Neither was Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers that has nonetheless entered into the realm of sports mythology. But nostalgia holds a special power in sports history, and the further we get from the classic moments which took place at Shea, the more remarkable it becomes in memory.

Quite frankly, Queens has not been quite the same.

Shea Stadium Remembered:
the Mets, the Jets and Beatlemania
by Matthew Silverman
Lyons Press

Journalist Matthew Silverman is such an ardent Mets aficionado — if you’ve read a book about the beloved Queens baseball team, he probably wrote it — that his official website is MetSilverman.com. And so of course Shea Stadium Remembered: the Mets, the Jets and Beatlemania, his tribute to the Met’s most famous home, has a breezy pitch-perfect charm to it.

Arranged in tiny chapters, little blips of history, Shea Stadium Remembered revels unashamedly in sweet nostalgia, recalling a place that matched the charisma of its underdog baseball team and a home for an accomplished football team back when it was actually situated within the city.

The birth of the Mets and their home for over 40 years begins in a moment of great turmoil in New York City sports history. In the 1950s, both the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers left New York City, the latter after a vicious public battle between Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and New York power broker Robert Moses.

Moses wanted a team situated in Queens, in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, an eventual companion to Moses’ pet project — the World’s Fair of 1964. With Ebbets growing inadequate for modern baseball crowds, O’Malley wanted a new stadium at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, keeping them in Brooklyn. (That’s near the spot of today’s Barclays Center.)

But nobody overpowered Robert Moses in the 1950s. The Dodgers split for Los Angeles.

Shea Stadium, late 1970s — Sports Photo File/Mitchell Reibel

Fortunately, lawyer William Shea convinced the National League to expand their roster, leading to the creation of the New York Metropolitans, the name a nod to a 19th century baseball club and eventually shortened. After a short stint in the decrepit Polo Grounds, they moved to their new home — named in honor of a man who never played for them but was nonetheless instrumental to the history of New York City sports.

In Shea Stadium Remembered, Silverman gives us a compilation of the stadium’s greatest moments, weaving the Met’s history in with the other notable events at the stadium — from the Beatles to Pope John Paul II.

Not to say that the Jets aren’t prominently featured here as well — they played at Shea for almost twenty years — but the Mets were truly at home here, through thick and thin (often very thin). The Mets gave Shea some of its personality and Shea gave the Mets its hometown pride.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium, August 1965 (AP)

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