Beyond the obvious reasons of the on-field product producing soul-crushing five-game losing streaks, three-strikeout performances by their franchise third baseman, and expensive tickets made more expensive by surcharges and fees, I wonder if the problem of declining attendance at Citi Field is ingrained in some sort of original sin that was masked by lovable Shea Stadium, but has been laid bare by the not-quite-yet-beloved new Mets park.
Shea was indeed lovable, in some ways in spite of itself. Author and professor Dana Brand wrote a book that fondly remembered The Last Days of Shea. But as most Mets fans would admit, and as even Dr. Brand put it: “The line you often hear from Mets fans is ‘It’s a dump, but it’s our dump.'” It’s one of the many things I genuinely love about Mets fans over Yankee fans. Mets fans lost their oft-derided stadium (even oft-derided among themselves), and they still mourn it. It was built on land that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s forsaken Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby. Yankee fans, meanwhile, lost a palace with an unmatched history of championships (albeit one with a ’70s disco make-over) and replaced it with a gray gaudy mall — and Yankee fans hardly shed a tear for the old place (except when bidding up pieces of it at Steiner’s Sports). There’s no similar poetry devoted to the final days of old Yankee Stadium, not in the same vein as in the book by Brand, who obviously speaks for a lot of Mets fans. It’s like the Yankees brass (with the help of The City) plowed over a community park to drop an exclusive baseball version of the Palisades Center into the South Bronx, and Yankee fans loved them for it, even if that mall hardly loves them back.
That said, could the Mets’ attendance problem lie in the real estate agent’s refrain of Location, Location, Location?
Michael Shapiro touched on Flushing in the epilogue of his 2003 book about the last days of the Dodgers era in Brooklyn, The Last Good Season. Shapiro’s book was cited recently in a New York Times-led discussion about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in response to a question about Moses and the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn.
“There is talk about tearing the place (Shea) down and building a replacement in the parking lot. The new park would be called Jackie Robinson Stadium. It would, if it is ever built, have a retractable roof but otherwise look like a replica of Ebbets Field.”
OK, so prescience isn’t perfect for authors — A roof? Um, no (thank God). And Jackie Robinson got the rotunda, but not the naming rights to the entire place. But Shapiro was close enough (the book was published three years before they broke ground on the new field). He continues:
“The stadium, however, would sit at the confluence of highways, not city streets, which runs contrary to the idea of what Ebbets Field represented. It is an idea that other planners have incorporated in the new parks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and other cities that had built and then torn down parks like Shea. It is the reason Chicagoans fill Wrigley Field even when the Cubs are dreadful. Ebbets Field was a city ballpark, a ballpark to which people could walk. They could pass it on their way to work, and hear the noise from inside when they were heading someplace else. It sat in the middle of a place where many people lived.”
I’m 37 and all I knew was the ’70s iteration of Yankee Stadium. So it was with a mix of nostalgia and depression that I read the recent post at Fear and Faith in Flushing looking back at old (or medium-old, as the case may be) Yankee Stadium.
My last game there was in July 2001 when, as I’ve mentioned before, I proposed to my wife in Monument Park next to what I’m certain were the grounds crew’s tomato plants. Not sure if those plants made it across the street to that Bombastic Monument to Excess that is New Yankee Stadium — like Xerxes’ arrows in 300, I wonder if the giant overhanging ad blots out their sun.
(Apropos of nothing: does anyone other than me think it’s funny that the Associated Press Stylebook uses “Xerxes’ armies” as one of the examples in the entry for “possessives” showing when to use only an apostrophe, rather than an apostrophe and “s.” Not sure what the Greek-lore-loving Stylebook editor thought of both the Zach Snyder flick and Frank Miller graphic novel, but I digress).
While I may still hold a soft spot for the Yankee Past, I flatly reject the Yankee Present. I derived no joy from the Yankees winning last year’s World Series, and I largely ignored this week’s ring-presentation ceremony, though I was pleased to see Hideki Matsui received his ring wearing an Anaheim (I won’t call them the “Los Angeles/of Anaheim”) Angels uniform.
Apart from the obvious reasons of their announcers, even with the sound on “mute,” I can’t even watch a game played in the New Stadium. I look at the background behind the fielders and look for “The Black” (and Christ, is there anything the Yankees won’t sell? This product comes with a “an authentic game-used piece of Yankee Stadium black bleacher.”) I look for the frieze beyond those now-vanished bleacher seats (yes, I know that was there only for the ’70s version of the old Stadium, and not the original construction).
I look at the New Stadium, and all I see are more monuments to excess: billboards viewable from space, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner’s giant screen TV. I look at the New Stadium, and all I can think of is this: