Tag Archives: shea

disorganized sports?

I had a recent conversation on Twitter with Ira Socol about the Jets at the start of their improbable march through the playoffs. It began after Ira reminisced about seeing THE Jets-Raiders playoff game at Shea on Dec. 29, 1968.

That brief exchange got me to thinking about growing up playing football with my friends in Flushing, former home of the Jets. In elementary school, we tried to get up a game each Sunday morning on a grassy field near the local Y. We each had gotten our families to buy us a football helmet and shoulder pads – no small thing, especially for those of us who were poor. I had a purple and white Vikings helmet – I followed my brother’s lead, and he liked the Vikes – and a sky-blue LA Rams jersey. But no one of us had the same uniform or helmet. We were a small, motley crew, playing on a small patch of grass and mud which, during Jets’ home games, had a view of the tops of Shea’s tall halogen floodlights about a mile away.

Once in a while, we’d get the urge to walk to Shea and “sneak” in after halftime, when the gates would be thrown open, ostensibly to allow ticket-holding fair-weather fans to leave. (Because at that time, the Jets were pretty bad.)

During the week, after school, we’d play two-hand touch in the asphalt-covered parking lot at the Hebrew school, eschewing the heavy equipment of helmets and shoulder pads. All we needed was a ball and a sliver of space. The parking lot was generally empty, but you always had to watch out so as not to collide with the random parked car. David, Charles and Mark would sometimes join us after Hebrew school was over. I’m not sure if we looked completely odd, this racially mixed group of kids playing football in the synagogue parking lot. Or whether Flushing was so used to this kind of integrated tableau that no one gave us a second look.

Later, in high school, I played touch football with my friends on a small strip of concrete in the West Village, in the front courtyard of the NYU graduate family housing complex. No first downs because the length of the “field” was too short. It was vital to stay on your feet because the concrete was unforgiving and staunching bloodflow during the long subway ride home back to Queens was annoying, to say the least. My friends and I from Stuyvesant would play with kids who lived in the buildings. We never had a scheduled time – the games formed organically.

Of course, disputes often arose. Rules were argued – “You said the car was out of bounds.” Roles were vied for. Scores were contested.

But in the end, we worked things out ourselves.

All this – the helmets and jerseys, the nearly daily football games, the walks to Shea – all this happened and not one of my friends was ever killed or kidnapped or maimed. Maybe we were lucky. But maybe being in charge also made us slightly more careful and caring of one another. In fact, I’ve always been mystified as to why adult-supervised sports, like football, are referred to as “organized.” As though what we kids were able to do in the synagogue parking lot and on the concrete at the NYU towers was the opposite, or wasn’t based on organization. That somehow adult supervision equals better, safer, less chaotic – a demeaning of what kids are able to accomplish on their own.

I say let’s stop using the term organized when referring to sports leagues for kids. Unless we distinguish between “adult organized”and “kid organized.” Because  kids can be very organized when it comes to the things they care about.

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shea

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.[14] He said he was inspired to write his first novel, 1979’s Hear the Wind Sing, while watching a baseball game.[15] 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.

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