Farewell, Old Friends

New York City prepares for a changing of the baseball guard as both the Mets and Yankees play their last seasons in history-rich Shea and Yankee Stadiums.
Yankee Stadium
By Peter Mandel
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ever since the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants fought over it, New York has been the nation's baseball town. Growing up there in the 1960s and '70s, I lived for summer home-game nights: the Yanks' Graig Nettles launching a space shot of a homer, the Mets' Tom Seaver whiffing the side.

We are the home of the Subway Series, manhole-cover bases for stickball, Mantle vs. Mays. We've got more pennants than you do. More than we can fly.

Truth is, I live in New England now. But I can't stop obsessing over my Mets via TV and beating my Big Apple baseball drum.

I keep telling friends that this summer is the last for both of New York's big-league stadiums. Yankee Stadium, the cavernous "House That Ruth Built" and a baseball icon since 1923, will give way to a new park with a retro facade. But retro or not, it never saw the likes of Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. The Mets' new Ebbets Field-style Citi Field may be sweet, but the team's best times (including its miracle 1969 and 1986 World Series wins) were set inside circular concrete Shea.

There was only one thing to do: Buy a ticket for a farewell game in each park. And head for home.

One logistical glitch. The Yanks and Mets aren't normally in town the same day. Interleague games between the teams didn't help since I wanted to see both stadiums, and these matchups are priced through the roof.

I scoured schedules online and got the next-best thing: late-April seats for the Yanks vs. Tigers under the lights and for the Mets vs. Pirates across town on consecutive days. I was set. All I needed were scorecards. Cash for stadium souvenirs. And maybe a travel pack of Kleenex.

* * *

The No. 7 train to Flushing rattles along at rooftop height. From up here, Queens looks artificially clean. Sidewalks are like beaches, reflecting sun. I squint to sharpen the view: Ahead are two Shea stadiums where there should be one.

The subway doors slide open to show not only Shea, but yards away, the elegant arches and curving walls of Citi Field. It isn't beams and scaffolding. From here it looks ready to be served to fans, like a hot dog that's brown and done.

As I hunt for my seats along the left field line, two ushers talk and point seat-wiping mitts at the upstart park behind Shea's colossal scoreboard. "Last year," says one, "someone hit a shot that went over everything. Landed in the new construction. That's your first home run in the history of Citi Field."

The Mets trot out to their positions, then retreat to the dugout. No one is sure what's going on. Turns out the game is on hold due to a water main break next door. Forty minutes go by. Citi Field doesn't want anyone to play at Shea.

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