Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Getting Easier To Say Goodbye To Shea Stadium

Four years ago today, the Mets played their final game at Shea Stadium, losing the season-ending contest to the Marlins, 4-2.  The festivities that followed were poignant and bittersweet, especially considering that the game did not have to be the last one played at Shea if the Mets had won it or any of the other 73 games they lost that season.

Saying hello again to players like Dave Kingman, George Foster and Craig Swan (all of whom played in the first Mets game I ever attended at Shea on June 15, 1983), along with seeing Doc Gooden in a Mets uniform for the first time in nearly a decade and a half made saying goodbye to Shea Stadium all the more difficult.

When Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza walked arm in arm through the center field gate and symbolically closed the Shea Stadium era, a part of my childhood was also closed for good.  Unsanitary as it may have been, I kissed the brick wall outside Gate C when I left, knowing I’d never set foot through that gate again.

Watching the Mets plod their way through the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons at Citi Field did not make it any easier for me to let Shea Stadium go.  Where was the black cat crossing behind Ron Santo past the visitors' dugout?  Where were Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda making miracle catches for a miracle team?  Where was “Ya Gotta Believe”?  Where was the “K Korner”?  (For that matter, where was Kiner’s Korner?)  Where was Michael Sergio?  Where was the little roller up along first?  Where was Jesse Orosco’s glove (besides Buddy Harrelson’s hands, of course)?  Where was Todd Pratt, lifting Division Series-clinching homers into the air when he wasn’t lifting Grand Slam Singles hitters into that same air?  Where was Endy Chavez?  Where was memorable Mets baseball?  All of them had been left behind at Shea Stadium.

Shea Stadium has so many signature moments, many of which were detailed in question form above.  What did Citi Field have?  Gary Sheffield’s 500th home run,  Shake Shack and Ray Ramirez racking up the frequent jogger miles every time he ran onto the field to tend to the latest injury suffered by one of the Mets players.  In other words, Citi Field didn’t really have a signature moment.

Then 2012 came.  And Citi Field finally had its share of signature moments.

It all began on June 1, with the moment Mets fans thought they’d never see.  When Johan Santana struck out World Series MVP David Freese on his 134th pitch of the game, the Mets finally had their first no-hitter.  A sense of relief and elation enveloped Citi Field as it never had before as the no-hit monkey was finally lifted off the Mets’ backs after over 8,000 regular season games.

Santana didn’t make it through the season and neither did the Mets, but before the season ended, the team did give us two other moments to proud of at Citi Field.  First was David Wright, as he ended Ed Kranepool’s 36-year stay atop the franchise’s all-time hits list when he collected his 1,419th hit in the Mets’ penultimate home game.  That was followed less than 24 hours later by R.A. Dickey’s 13-strikeout performance in Thursday’s Citi Field finale, earning him his 20th victory and ending the Mets’ 22-year drought without a 20-game winner.

Johan Santana, David Wright and R.A. Dickey gave Mets fans a reason to get excited at Citi Field this season, even if the rest of the team couldn’t follow suit.  The Mets are about to lower the curtain on the 2012 season, but at least they gave us some defining moments at home, something that until this year was only reserved for games played at Shea Stadium (and perhaps a game or two at the Polo Grounds).

It’s always difficult to say goodbye to someone or something you love.  Whether it be a family member or an old teddy bear, those types of goodbyes are never easy.  But like everything else, we move on and accept what we’re given in life.  For the past three years, on September 28, I’d think of all the fun I used to have at Shea Stadium and the precious memories that came from those experiences, hoping that someday I’d be able to create new ones at Citi Field.  It took until the Mets’ fourth season at their new ballpark, but I now have some Citi Field memories I can be proud of.

I’ll always miss Shea Stadium, but for the first time in four years, I can now say that this year it’s been easier to let it go.  We still haven’t had a full season of success at Citi Field, but this year we were finally treated to several moments that reminded us why we became Mets fans in the first place.

We’ll always remember where we were when Johan Santana pitched his historic no-hitter.  And we’ll always be able to cherish the individual achievements of David Wright and R.A. Dickey, who both etched their names into the Mets’ record books with seasons that were decades in the making.  The best part of it all was that Santana, Wright and Dickey all accomplished their feats at home.  Not at Shea Stadium, but at Citi Field.

On September 28, 2008, I said goodbye to Shea Stadium for the final time.  Now on September 28, 2012, I can finally accept Citi Field as the place where my new Mets memories will be molded.  I’m not “calling it Shea” anymore.  I’m calling it Citi now.  It’s good to be home.

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