Paging Dr. Freud…

unisphereNEW YORK – Word is my mom had a Brooklyn Dodgers hat when she was a kid. I’m not sure why she had a Brooklyn cap, nor if she actually could name a player on those Brooklyn teams – she has three brothers so maybe it was a hand-me-down or something.

Who knows, maybe she just likes the shade of Dodger Blue?

But here’s the point: my mom is a grandmother. She’s a baby boomer born not too long after my grandfather got back from the Army in the European Theatre during World War II. By the time the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles, she was getting ready for the second grade.

In other words, there aren’t too many grandmothers around anymore who remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, for my mom a more memorable moment was driving from Lancaster, Pa. to Flushing Meadows to go to the 1964 World’s Fair. Along with old black-and-white snapshots next to the giant Unisphere, there was one photo of the ultra-sleek and uniquely colored Shea Stadium.

For people my mom’s age, Shea Stadium was significant because that’s where The Beatles performed in the first-ever outdoor stadium concert. Moreover, it was post-modern and was a big part of urban planner Robert Moses’ grand vision of cities. See, to Moses, the car was king. He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and wrecked historical buildings in favor of places like Shea Stadium.

Hell, want to know why the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles? Read up on Robert Moses.

Anyway, a ballpark in Flushing, Queens was Moses’ dream. He felt the folks from the suburbs would come out to the park in droves because of all the access roads heading toward the Unisphere. The problem was he didn’t anticipate the traffic on the BQE or the Belt Parkway.

What self-respecting urban planner doesn’t anticipate traffic?

citi-fieldSome visionary he was.

Nevertheless, we are now into the third/fourth generation of people who know New York only as a baseball town that supports the Yankees and the Mets. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers are ancient history. Those teams are a grainy black-and-white images from a documentary where really old men talk about a game that kind of looks like the baseball we see these days.

As a result of this post-modern world dreamed up and planted firmly in Queens, New York, there is a sizable and interesting history for the New York Mets. Sure, it only begins in 1962, but think about the history that has occurred in those 47 years. Think about how much the world has changed, or what was here and then gone in a fleeting and impactful moment.

Imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1962. Shoot, imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1986 – the last time the Mets won the World Series.

So yes, history has occurred on that spans of dreaded real estate near LaGuardia Airport and Flushing Bay. The Miracle Mets won in ’69, they snuck into the big dance in ’73, Buckner missed the ball in ’86, Piazza won a game after the towers came down in September of ’01 and even Eric Bruntlett became an accidental footnote in history in a baseball game against the Mets.

As far as baseball goes, Shea has been the site of some monumental moments. Certainly some bits of time that are no less significant than have occurred in Los Angeles, Chicago or Philadelphia.

Yet for some reason the folks responsible for building the New York Mets new ballpark where all these historical moments occurred chose to memorialize the Dodgers. You know, the very same Dodgers that knocked the Mets out of the playoffs in 1988 and lead the NL West today.

See, CitiField has an uncanny resemblance (on the outside at least) to old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That’s right… the same Ebbets Field the Dodgers abandoned because they didn’t want their new stadium to be built in Flushing, Queens. Better yet, the new CitiField comes complete with the classic rotunda as a grand entrance very much like the one Ebbets Field had.

And to memorialize the rotunda in the ballpark modeled after the Dodgers’ stadium, the Mets gave the site the name of a player who was a famous Dodger. No, this is not to belittle naming it the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, because the man was the most important ballplayer ever to play the game.

Shea_postcard_1964But Robinson was a Dodger through and through. Robinson might have gone to Los Angeles with the Dodgers, but just before the 1957 season he was traded to the New York Giants. Rather than play for a team other than the Dodgers, Robinson quit and never played again.

If he couldn’t play for the Dodgers, Robinson didn’t want to play at all.

The rotunda is a stately and elegant feature of the ballpark. It’s kind of a regal oasis in a maelstrom of spilled beer, curses and lost ballgames. But it is absolutely devoid of anything to commemorate the ballclub it hosts. The Dodgers? Check.

The Mets? Well, the Mets are on the field.

Maybe it gets back to something else moms and grandmothers like to say – if one projects a strong self worth, others will view the person in the same light. It is with this self-loathing that the Mets are viewed around all five boroughs. The Yankees reign in New York – it is their town above any other team.

The Mets aren’t just the ugly stepchild – they are the ugly stepchild that intentionally carves up its own skin like an angst-filled teen aged girl. Maybe the answer is for an intervention where the team brass is assured that it will all be OK and that people like them.

It’s OK if they like themselves, too.

Come on out and meet the Mets

tug_mcgrawNEW YORK – Compared to the last time the Phillies came to New York to play the Mets, a lot of the pizzazz has been stripped off the rivalry. Mostly that has to do with the Mets since they can neither stay healthy nor win ballgames.

Perhaps that’s what separates the truly good teams from the paper tigers – when the Phillies had piles of injuries they still figured out a way to get it done. The Mets? Not so much.

Still, the last time we were here all sorts of trouble broke out. That whole Raul Ibanez/small-time blogger thing was in full fester. Plus, the New York-based scribes were trying to get something from Chase Utley to fuel some sort of fracas. The problem was there wasn’t anything there.

Remember that?

As Pelfrey explained it at the time, he was upset about Utley stepping out of the box just as he was about to deliver a pitch. As such, Pelfrey barked at Utley, who returned with ignorant surprise that someone was talking to him.

“I was about to step into the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch,” Utley said after taking a second to figure out what the hell was being talked about. “I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was trying to put a good at-bat together.”

Pelfrey kind of said the same thing

“I don’t even know the guy,” he said. “It was too much adrenaline, I guess.”

The funniest part was when Charlie Manuel was asked about the non-controversial controversy. Instinctively Manuel thought Pelfrey was upset with Shane Victorino because usually, at any given moment, there is someone peeved at Victorino about something. He certainly drives Charlie nuts sometimes.

So there it is. Thanks for trying.

Nevertheless, the visiting clubhouse at brand-new CitiField was filthy with media types last June. They were crawling out of lockers, videotaping things with cell phones, saying silly things and basically just cluttering up the place like guests who refused to go away.

This time… not so much.

No, there were just six of us Philly guys hanging with the ballclub last night and there are only five of us today. In fact, just to fill out the space Scott Franzke and Tom McCarthy joined in, which was nice.

But this does not mean the New York media is not out in full force. Oh no. They’re crawling all over the place again – getting into things and sullying up the landscape.

Tonight they are here for the big ceremony to celebrate the Mets’ World Series title of 1969. All the old Mets are here, including Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Tug McGraw’s sons, Mark and Matt.

We don’t get to see too many of those ceremonial events in other places mostly because it’s a crap shoot. Besides, opposing teams don’t need to trot out the special ceremonies when the Phillies are in town because the defending World Champs pack ‘em in.

So it will be kind of cool to see the old Mets strut around and take in the cheers.

mrmetSpeaking of old Mets, surely the large media contingent will be back out on Sunday afternoon when Pedro returns for the Phillies. Actually, Pedro (and then Cliff Lee going on Monday) might sway some more Philly folks to venture north up the Jersey Turnpike and into the hinterlands of Queens.

If they were smart they’d train it up here, because there is no easy path. Thank you Robert Moses, thank you…

Needless to say it will be a bittersweet moment for Pedro when he gets on the mound in Queens tomorrow. He wishes it could have worked out better with the Mets, but seems to be getting a redemption of sorts with the Phillies.

“I left last year in a sad way,” Pedro said. “Not only that we lost in a bad way, I didn’t perform like I wanted to for the Mets. It wasn’t the way a pitcher like me should have gone away. After working through so much to regain my health, it wasn’t fair to me or my dad’s wishes to leave the game on such a sad note.

“The better I felt, the more committed I was to making it back and giving my dad the opportunity – I guess from heaven — to see me in a different way, having fun, healthy and refocused on the game. That was my biggest motivation.”

Nice new park, same crappy location

queensAfter a quick stop for two days in St. Louis, the Phillies and Mets meet up again in New York. Who knows, maybe the arrival of the Phillies to the Mets’ new ballpark will finally get CitiField a sellout?

How about that? That house of horrors called Shea Stadium is all gone, nothing more than leveled ground, replaced by a fancy new ballpark paid for by every taxpayer out there.

You’re welcome Mr. Wilpon.

But here’s the thing about Shea and the Mets’ new bailout ballpark – it’s still located in the same spot. If it’s possible to be in the middle of nowhere in a city of more than 8 million, Robert Moses and New York nailed it with the ballparks in Flushing.

Worse, there is no easy way to get to get out there to those ballparks. There are no back routes or shortcuts. Take the Verrazano Bridge through Staten Island and over to Brooklyn and you will get stuck on the Belt Parkway. If you go farther north to the George Washington to cross through the South Bronx over the Triborough into Queens and you’re done before you get off 95.

The best move is to go through the Holland Tunnel and then through Manhattan to the Queens Midtown Tunnel to the Long Island Expressway and finally to the Grand Central. But even that’s a crapshoot depending on all sorts of variables.

If the natives have any secrets to get to the old stadium deep in the heart of Queens, they didn’t trickle down our way, aside from the trusty Amtrak to Penn Station followed by the short walk to Grand Central to hop on the No. 7 train all the way out into the deep of Queens.

But even that’s stressful, though not the way confirmed moron John Rocker would lead one to believe. The worst part about taking the No. 7 train from Grand Central to Shea isn’t the other people – that’s the best part. In fact, it’s very difficult not to be entertained and/or to make friends on the ride out to Flushing.

No, the worst is getting on the local train and making all the damn stops.

It takes forever.

In the past the journey led to a non-so magnificent destination in Shea Stadium. Frankly, the place was a mess. Even in the press box there are obstructed views, tight quarters in a room with far too few seats and a work area built for a different era when people were the size of Shetland ponies and weren’t lugging around laptop computers. The media dining room is just as cramped, but at least they have a sundae bar and a real caterer.

But you know, so what? Essentially all media people need are electrical outlets, a table, a view of the game and access. Everything else is cream cheese. The problem at Shea was the outlets sparked small fires and the table didn’t quite have enough girth.

Otherwise, it was OK.

It was just as nice for the players, too. Both the home and the visiting clubhouses are small with amenities that clearly aren’t up to date. The dugouts are old, deep and seemingly crumbling.

The elevators don’t work well, the parking is scarce and the location is a drag. Nothing against Flushing or the borough of Queens, but seriously, what was Robert Moses thinking? He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and he didn’t anticipate the traffic?

Some visionary he was.

parksNevertheless, that proposed stadium on the west side of Manhattan doesn’t seem likely so it’s back to Queens we go. Only this time the new joint looks pretty nice. Looks like there is plenty of space and lots of electrical outlets.

Still, it’s fair to say that Shea Stadium gets a bad rap from guys like me. The truth of the matter is that there are places far worse than Shea that are celebrated with unironic and overwrought prose about the nostalgic ardor about such buildings. From this vantage point, Fenway Park, the Palestra, Wrigley Field are not great either, but there are no plans to replace any of those places.

So here’s the question: did places like Shea Stadium (built in time for the 1964 World’s Fair), RFK in Washington or even Veterans Stadium get old really fast? Or did our needs change?

In other words, did we get soft?

Certainly Veterans Stadium limped to the finish line, and clearly RFK was not properly equipped to host Major League Baseball for three years. But Shea hosted a World Series not too long ago and the more popular and “historic” Yankee Stadium had last year’s All-Star Game and plenty of World Series games over the past handful of years.

But after we get through all the traffic, the crowds, the stress and all that goes with it to find our way out to Queens, chances are we’re going to see something interesting. After all, it is New York where even the most mundane occurrences seem to take on greater importance.

Shoot, The Beatles, The Clash, Pope John Paul II and Bill Buckner all played Shea. They all rocked the house, too.

Just 80 more to go

SheaThere is no easy way to get to Shea Stadium. There are no back routes or shortcuts. Take the Verrazano Bridge through Staten Island and over to Brooklyn and you will get stuck on the Belt Parkway. If you go farther north to the George Washington to cross through the South Bronx over the Triborough into Queens and you’re done before you get off 95.

The best move is to go through the Holland Tunnel and then through Manhattan to the Queens Midtown Tunnel to the Long Island Expressway and finally to the Grand Central. But even that’s a crapshoot depending on all sorts of variables.

If the natives have any secrets to get to the old stadium deep in the heart of Queens, they didn’t trickle down this way.

Nevertheless, the best way to get to Shea to see the Mets is Amtrak to Penn Station and then a short walk over to Grand Central Station to hop on the No. 7 train.

But even that’s stressful, though not the way confirmed moron John Rocker would lead one to believe. The worst part about taking the No. 7 train from Grand Central to Shea isn’t the other people – that’s the best part. In fact, it’s very difficult not to be entertained and/or to make friends on the ride out to Flushing. No, the worst is getting on the local train and making all the damn stops.

It takes forever.

It’s one thing if an arduous journey leads to a magnificent destination, but that’s not the case with Shea. For folks like me with a press pass, Shea is a mess. Even in the press box there are obstructed views, tight quarters in a room with far too few seats and a work area built for a different era when people were the size of Shetland ponies and weren’t lugging around laptop computers.

The media dining room is just as cramped, but at least they have a sundae bar and a real caterer.

It’s not much better for the players, either. Both the home and the visiting clubhouses are small with amenities that clearly aren’t up to date. The dugouts are old, deep and seemingly crumbling.

The elevators don’t work well, the parking is scarce and the location is a drag. Nothing against Flushing or the borough of Queens, but what was Robert Moses thinking? He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and he didn’t anticipate the traffic?

Some visionary he was.

blueprintsAnyway, as most folks who follow this sort of thing have heard, this is the last season for the Mets at Shea Stadium before the team moves across the parking lot to spanking new Citi Field. Judging from the way the new ballpark is sprouting over the outfield fence and casting its big shadow over tired, old Shea, it looks as if things are moving as planned.

Thankfully, there are 80 games to go at Shea.

Still, it’s fair to say that Shea Stadium gets a bad rap from guys like me. The truth of the matter is that there are places far worse than Shea that are celebrated with unironic and overwrought prose about the nostalgic ardor about such buildings. From this vantage point, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, the Palestra, Wrigley Field are not great either, but aside from Yankee Stadium there are no plans to replace any of those places.

So here’s the question: did places like Shea Stadium, or RFK or even Veterans Stadium get old really fast? Or did our needs change?

In other words, did we get soft?

Certainly Veterans Stadium limped to the finish line, and clearly RFK was not properly equipped to host Major League Baseball for three years. But Shea hosted a World Series not too long ago and if the more popular and “historic” Yankee Stadium weren’t also being retired at the end of this year, chances are Shea could have been home to this year’s All-Star Game.

But after we get through all the traffic, the crowds, the stress and all that goes with it to find our way out to Queens and Shea Stadium, chances are we’re going to see something interesting. After all, it is New York where even the most mundane occurrences seem to take on greater importance.

And lots of things have happened in the not-so distant past at ol’ Shea. To prove it, I dug up an old essay from two years ago:

It Happened at Shea
The Beatles at Shea In 1964 when Shea Stadium opened, it was probably a really big deal. Right next door was where they were having the World’s Fair, which sounds like it was a pretty big deal. A World’s Fair? Can you imagine such a thing? These days there would be a Serbia and a Montenegro booth.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of history at Shea Stadium since 1964. In fact, the very first stadium concert occurred there in August of 1965 when the Beatles played on a stage just beyond the infield dirt. In Beatle-insider Peter Brown’s account of the event in The Love You Make, the group was pretty weirded out about being at Shea. You see, back in those days the monitors, microphones, and sound system wasn’t very good. There were no fiber optics, wireless devices or Clair Bros. rigging up the sound. So in 1965 the Beatles had trouble hearing the notes they played or the words they said or sang. Mix that with blinding lights zeroing in on them and the area in front of the stage lined with cops and handicapped kids in order to keep both out of harm’s way, and the Beatles felt as if they were in a Dali painting.

When the Beatles looked out to the audience at Shea, they couldn’t hear even though they were making noise and all they could see was crippled kids and cops just inches away.

Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki at Shea, while Joe Namath and the Jets, the Yankees, Pope John Paul II, and Darryl Strawberry all played there.

Just off the infield dirt behind first base is where Buckner missed the ball and there isn’t even a plaque or a statue to commemorate it.

Better yet, Shea Stadium is where The Clash put the final touches on their conquering of America with two shows in October of 1982 in support of The Who. Soon, after the legendary shows famously documented by filmmaker Don Letts, The Clash officially were dubbed “the only band that matters.”

You’re damned right.

But for the baseball scribes of Philadelphia, Shea is where all the bleep goes down. In 2003, Matt Yallof and Larry Bowa had a bit of run-in along the third-base line in a taped segment of “Bowa Unplugged.” Later, Yallof spent the entire ride back from Queens to Philadelphia performing an interview where yours truly posed as Bowa and he was a old-timey and fast-talking reporter from the 1940s lost in the new century.

After the second hour, the act got a little old but we still pressed on.

BucknerThe fallout from the so-called “Snub,” where Pat Burrell refused to slap five with Bowa by taking the back entrance to the dugout, followed quickly by the Tyler Houston ouster occurred the day after Yallof’s little tiff. I’ll never forget the look on Camden Courier Post columnist Kevin Roberts’ face as he walked out of that tiny little visitor’s clubhouse – the same clubhouse where Bob Costas waited to give Red Sox owner Jean Yawkey the team’s first World Series trophy since 1918 during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, only to watch as workers scurried to tear down the makeshift podium and protective plastic covering the lockers as the Mets rallied. The workers somehow tore down a podium, protective plastic, removed the champagne and all evidence of an impending celebration in the time it took for the ball to trickle through Buckner’s legs until the team stomped off the field, through the passageway in the dugout and into the clubhouse.

I’ll also never forget what Sully Stansberry said to me when I asked him how he saw Pat Burrell give Bowa the snub.

“I watch the [!] game,” Sully said.

Good idea.

The next year, in 2004, Billy Wagner was tossed from that game on Sept. 11 while 2005 was nearly the scene of the a rumble between some writers and Tomas Perez as he took it upon himself to defend the honor of Miss Venezuela. If the Pie Man won’t stand up for a beauty queen, who will?

What will happen next at Shea? God only knows.