At the Bad New Ballparks

Having won 103 games in the regular season, more than any other major league team, the Yankees returned to the postseason after a year in purgatory. The new stadium into which the team moved in April had, like the team, with its $208 million payroll, done its job, and Yankees fans, who had earlier fretted about too many home runs rocketing over a short right-field fence and badly devised seats with partial views, focused instead on the playoffs and World Series, which is what Yankees fans really care about. The stadium’s flaws receded and the building, with its comic-book resemblance to a giant bank—the immense limestone, granite, and cast stone façade, the scalloped frieze along the upper deck, the immense portals and gilded lettering, harking self-consciously back to the original Yankee Stadium that opened in the Bronx in 1923, the “House That Ruth Built”—provided the imperial franchise in its autumnal glory with a big, pompous stage.

By contrast, the Mets ended yet another year in heartache, this time not making a historic last-minute nosedive, as they did in 2007 and 2008, but wallowing in next-to-last place in their division. Their fans, including their devoted bloggers, seemed as the season progressed to sour on Citi Field, the team’s own new digs, about which hopes were high last winter. Many Mets fans were happy to say good riddance to Shea, which it replaced. Citi Field promised fresh, smart surroundings. But all that changed, with the team’s fortunes.

It’s worth recalling that in its day Shea represented a mid-century vision of the future: when it opened in 1964 as part of the World’s Fair in Queens, it was the sporting equivalent to Helvetica type, or to the Gemini rockets, or to Sony color television sets—a modern design symbolizing some bright, shiny postwar tomorrow. Over the years, as it deteriorated, it became the reverse: an architectural piñata for detractors who despised precisely its utilitarianism and bland enormity.

Replacing the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, as the Mets had replaced the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the two National League teams that quit town for California at the end of the 1950s, Shea abjured the quirks and irregularities that had made each of the old fields, like the old Yankee Stadium, distinct, but that had also included supporting beams that blocked views, creaky wood seats, cramped passageways, few amenities, and fewer toilets. It was a metal and concrete shed for 55,000 spectators, adaptable to football, shaped like a doughnut with a bite taken out of one end and providing a view onto, well, nothing in particular: an inchoate tangle of expressways, a gray river, and a former U-Haul warehouse in a marshy nowhere lot off the Grand Central Parkway.

When games turned dull, fans could watch the 7 train rumble by on the elevated tracks beyond the scoreboard. Every few minutes a low-flying jet on its way to or from LaGuardia Airport next door …

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