Those of us of a certain age hold at best mixed memories of Shea Stadium, the Mets’ second home, where they’ve won both of their World Series titles.
For those ballplayers of a higher age who opened the place, though, it was heavenly.
“It was well-manicured. I liked the mound,” Jack Fisher said. “I liked everything about it.”
“Shea Stadium was good for the fans. The parking facilities were great,” Ron Hunt said. “Shea was great for me because I lived right across the street from it. We had easy access in and out. The grounds crew was outstanding, too. The Polo Grounds was a great field, but it had bad parking.”
It’s all perspective, right? The Polo Grounds, which served as the Mets’ home for their first two years after the Giants took off for San Francisco, was ancient. So were Ebbets Field, from where the Dodgers left for Los Angeles, and Yankee Stadium. You almost certainly took mass transit to get there. And then here comes this new place in Queens, a gateway to scores of people in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, with enough parking for everyone plus great access from the Long Island Rail Road and New York City subway? No wonder the old-timer liked it so much.
The pitcher Fisher started the Mets’ first game at Shea on April 17, 1964 — happy 56th anniversary! — and Hunt played third base, a fact that surprised him, as he spent most of his time at second. The Mets lost that day, as was their style of the time, 4-3, on Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning RBI single off Ed Bauta.
Fisher pitched respectably, allowing three runs over 6 ⅔ innings. He recalls the day’s details strikingly well.
“I remember the weather was nice,” the 81-year-old Fisher said. “I can remember going out into the dugout, and I couldn’t believe the number of people that were mulling around, the reporters and the celebrities. I remember looking out over the rightfield fence and seeing hoards of people coming in from the trains and the subways. I was like a river of people coming there.”
All that hustle and bustle, Fisher said, compelled him to leave the field and warm up in the bullpen, turning him into an inadvertent groundbreaker.
“I was the first one to do that!” he said.
It’s unanimous that Citi Field, the Mets’ current home, represents a significant upgrade over its predecessor. On this anniversary of Shea’s beginning, how about a list of my favorite dead ballparks?
2: Yankee Stadium: Just so much history there, although the late Yogi Berra used to stress that the post-renovation, 1976-2008 version was not quite the same as what preceded it.
3. Memorial Stadium: A true neighborhood ballpark nestled on a city block in Baltimore, this carried all sorts of old-timey charm as well as plenty of great baseball.
4. Metrodome: Look, you’d be in Minneapolis on a freezing cold day in mid-April, and you know that you could watch a game in comfort thanks to the roof. And can any place with a rightfield nicknamed “The Hefty Bag” be worthless?
5. Shea Stadium: This place eventually carried one redeeming quality. You know what it is: The one item the Mets brought over to their new place. The Home Run Apple!
Do you have a favorite dead ballpark that didn’t make my cut? Don’t be shy. Let me know.
— This week’s Pop Quiz Question came from Gary Mintz of South Huntington: In a 1957 episode of “The Phil Silvers Show,” Private Hank Lumpkin (Dick Van Dyke) is planning to sign with an MLB team. Name the team.
— In honor of Jackie Robinson Day this past Wednesday, Tulco — the holding company founded by “42” producer Thomas Tull — is donating $4.2 million of protective medical equipment to United States hospitals most impacted most by COVID-19.
— A batting lesson with Alex Rodriguez is among the goodies offered in the ALL IN challenge, launched by Fanatics executive chairman and 76ers partner Michael Rubin, to help those in need during the coronavirus crisis.
— Your Pop Quiz answer is the Yankees. If you have a tidbit that connects sports with popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.