My colleague and friend Brent Williams left a copy of the New York Review of Books at my cube just before Thanksgiving. He specifically wanted me to read a review of the book, The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair in the Life of A Mets Fan.
Written by Michael Kimmelman, the review is titled At the Bad New Ballparks. Essentially, Kimmelman argues that new stadiums, like CitiField, the park built to replace Shea Stadium, are simulcra. Though they look like stadiums long-since relegated to photographs – CitiField, in fact, is meant to evoke the old Ebbets Field – they come complete with shopping malls and dining centers and scoreboards that tell us when to stand, when to cheer, where to look.
There is no space for silence, no time for the contemplative moments. And let’s face it, there has always been the potential for a lot of contemplation at baseball games. Or at least there used to be.
As Kimmelman points out, the spaces in baseball allow room for disconnected, though completely relevant, thoughts. He points to the now-famous story involving the novelist, Haruki Murakami, who while watching a baseball game realized he could write a novel. This from wikipedia:
Murakami wrote his first fiction when he was 29. He said he was inspired to write his first novel, 1979’s Hear the Wind Sing, while watching a baseball game. In 1978, Murakami was in Jingu Stadium watching a game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that Hilton hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized he could write a novel.
More importantly, these ersatz stadiums, as Kimmelman calls them, though architecturally evocative of the past, don’t honor the complete history of our teams – the blemishes, the failures, the faults, the things that make many of us want to root for a team.
I read the review with fascination. I have to say, I love AT&T park, one of these new stadium simulcra. I’m sure I would on some level enjoy CitiField, too. I know I’ve often described the now-demolished Shea Stadium as a huge concrete parking garage with the center carved out and a grassy area plopped down in the middle, so in my thinking, any replacement would be better.
But after reading the review, I realized that my memories of Shea are not about designated play areas or luxury suites or television lounges. They are of rain delays and huddling under the overhang if we were lucky enough not to be in the upper deck; embarrassment at having to pee in troughs next to old men; the garish mets colors, blue and orange, that hung in huge patches on the exterior walls of the stadium; singing Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets, Come on out and greet the Mets, before every game, along with the freakish-looking, baseball-headed Mr. Met mascot.
I realized that as much as I malign Shea, it was flawed. Just as the team I loved was. Just as I am. Just as the game is.