The End of an Era
The Final Games Are Played at Yankee and Shea Stadiums
By Melissa Minners
Sunday, September 21, 2008 marked the end of an era as the final baseball game was played in the Bronx by the New York Yankees in the House That Ruth Built – Yankee Stadium. Across New York, in Queens, a similar fate will meet Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets. Both teams will be playing in new stadiums in April 2009. But the fans of Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium will never forget the memories shared in the stadiums they grew up with.
Located at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium hosted its first baseball game on April 18, 1923. The game featured the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox, bitter American League rivals. The Yankees won the game, the win made extra special by the homerun that one George Herman Ruth, otherwise known as Babe Ruth, hit against his former team. That was the first homerun ever hit in the stadium. Since that day, the stadium has been home to a number of legendary baseball players, including Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Goose Gossage, and many more.
Yankee Stadium didn’t just host the New York Yankees’ baseball games. In fact, the stadium was used to host a number of different venues over the years, most notably, New York Giants football. That’s right, the New York Giants called Yankee Stadium home from 1956 until 1973. Several big bout boxing matches were held here including the infamous Joe Louis-Max Schmelling bout, thought of fondly as the day Joe Louis showed the Nazi Regime just what Americans were capable of. College football found a home at Yankee Stadium as well. In fact, it was here, in 1928, that legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne gave his infamous “win one for the Gipper” speech to his Notre Dame team, inspiring a 12-6 victory over the Army. The stadium also hosted soccer in the years 1971 and 1976. One of the star attractions on the New York Cosmos soccer team was none other than Brazilian soccer star Pelé. Yankee Stadium did not just host sporting events. The stadium played host to a number of international dignitaries, religious icons, and musicians.
Located at 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York, Shea Stadium hosted its first baseball game on April 17, 1964. The game featured an abysmal New York Mets team vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets lost the game by only one point. The Mets would be the underdogs of the National League until the year 1969 when they went on to win their first World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Shea Stadium has also been host to some legendary baseball players including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Gil Hodges, Gary Carter, David Cone, Keith Hernandez, and many more.
Shea Stadium also hosted more than just New York Mets baseball. It was home to the New York Jets from 1964 to 1983. Soccer has also found a home at Shea, the stadium hosting its first soccer game in 1965. The first concert to be held in a major stadium was held at Shea in 1965 featuring a British band you might have heard of – The Beatles. Since then, the stadium has been a venue for musicians of all kinds – Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Paul Simon, The Police, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Billy Joel, just to name a few.
I have rather fond memories of both stadiums. Although I’m a New York Mets fan, my very first baseball stadium experience occurred when my friends brought me to see a game at Yankee Stadium. It turned out to be a special day at Yankee Stadium, featuring a tribute to Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. There is nothing like watching a game at the stadium and after that game, I made it my business to see a game at Shea. Of course, my first game at Shea, although exciting to me, would be deemed tragic by any other baseball fan’s standards – they lost miserably with a score of 12-2. And yet, I couldn’t help but grin – I was bit by the baseball stadium bug. Since then, I’ve tried to see a game once a year or so – the cost of the tickets are climbing and my salary is not.
Many of the games I’ve gone to have actually been rather exciting. I was at Yankee Stadium for the Yankees-Orioles game when pitcher Armando Benitez struck a Yankee and then made light of it, causing both benches to clear. I was seated in the bleachers for that game. As soon as the benches cleared and the fighting ensued on the field, the bleachers cleared, Yankee fans having discovered Orioles fans amongst them. Beer went flying everywhere – it was hysterical. When the melee was over, the next Yankee batter hit a homerun, a sort of slap in the face to Armando Benitez and the sweetest revenge a ballplayer can take after one of his own has been hit.
I remember waking up one Sunday and deciding – hey, I’m going to see a Mets game today. I headed over to Shea in my car and walked in with no thought as to how horrible a seat I might get or how much it would cost me. Tickets were cheap back then and for less than $20.00 I purchased a great seat for what turned out to be a terrific battle, the Mets winning the game by one run supplied by a recently acquired player on his last legs in baseball. What a rush!
Every person who goes to a baseball game secretly wishes that they can bring home a souvenir baseball. Well, the only chance I ever had at doing so turned out to be at Shea Stadium. I was coming back from the concession stands, my hands filled with food and souvenirs, when a foul ball came hurtling towards me. What do I do? Drop everything and try to catch this missile without a glove or let it go and save my money and my dignity? Truth was, I only had a split second to decide and I’m very glad I let the ball go. It struck the pole to my left, close to my shin, with a resounding ring and bounced back into the seats below. Had I tried to catch the ball, I would have had broken fingers, no food and destroyed souvenirs for my trouble. Instead, I had great stadium chow, cool souvenirs and a really neat baseball story to come home with.
I was at Shea Stadium for the special tribute to Gil Hodges where I saw players like Tom Seaver, Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool, Yogi Berra, Ralph Branca, Joe Pignatano, Bud Harrelson, and Ed Charles. At the time, we were in contention for the playoffs. The tickets were a birthday gift from my brother and we were excited – we both love watching the games at Shea. There’s a terrific view from every seat inside this circular stadium. The game turned out to be a thriller. Mike Pelfrey was pitching and I remember telling my brother that this guy starts off wobbly, but gets the job done. I remember saying that we would be seeing big things from Pelfrey in the future. And I was right in my scouting report – Pelfrey did an excellent job that day, exactly as I had described to my brother. How fitting is it that my last game at Shea Stadium should be a blow-out with the Mets beating the Houston Astros 11-3?
I’ll be sorry to see these stadiums go...just as sorry I’m sure as New Yorkers were to see the demise of the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. And although the designers of the new fields promise state of the art facilities in the new stadiums, it just won’t be the same. Both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium had a certain feel to them – an ambiance that defined these stadiums for their multitude of fans - that can never be replicated. With the limited seating and the higher priced tickets, I may never again be able to set foot in the new stadiums and that saddens me. And yet, the memories I’ve accumulated from the old stadiums are enough to sustain me. I will never forget Yankee and Shea Stadium and will continue to tell people about my experiences in both, much like Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants baseball fans gush about Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. These stadiums will live in New Yorkers’ hearts for all eternity.