Story Time: The Shea Bleachers

We’ll do the Top 5 next week. This week, (a) I don’t have as much time tonight as I thought and (b) I just plain ain’t feelin’ it.

Inspired by Caryn Rose’s post over at Metsgrrl, I’ve felt it’s time to just write a little story from my (short, granted) past.

Starting some time in the late 1990s (probably ’98, but I couldn’t tell you), the Mets ended day-of-game sales of the bleacher (“picnic area”) seats, allowing only for large group sales. (Now, the site of these bleachers was the same since ‘temporary’ bleachers were put in place for the 1969 playoffs at Shea, where they remained until the ballpark closed in 2008, but that’s besides the point entirely). There was a catch to this, though: every Friday night (later changed to Wednesday night), the first 500 fans would get to go into the game, for free, with a Pepsi can or bottle.

Judging by the fact that the Mets were, more or less, good (especially in 1999 and 2000, when they made the playoffs), and that these were free tickets – for a pretty good view, I might add – including during the summer, this brought out a lot of crazies to the ballpark, including a then-40-year old and his 7ish-year old son.

The Line for the Picnic Area was a long game of catch, listening to WFAN, and just talking to fellow Mets fans (and for the folks lined up way back near the players entrance, the chance at autographs – I swear I got Jason Phillips and J.T. Snow to sign a ball once, but I can’t find it anymore). Most of these people were regulars, and a few of those regulars were insane. My favorite among these (second-place goes to a very, very rotund man who smelled bad and read books about pro wrestling during the game) was a young Asian man. He wasn’t a tall guy, had a small amount of facial hair, and generally wore a black mesh Mets jersey. After batting practice, he would heckle.

Now, that’s not surprising in New York, but he saved his heckling not for any of the Mets players (and in the mid-2000s, there was a lot to heckle), nor the coaches, but the head groundskeeper Pete Flynn. Apparently, he felt wronged that he refused to autograph his hat, so every Wednesday, it was “Pete Flynn Sucks! Pete Flynn Sucks!” He got that Pete Flynn sig around 2005, but still kept chanting. I still think about where he is.

The Pepsi promotion ended in 2005 when Champion Mortgage took over sponsorship of the Picnic Area (and it’s not like you could bring a loan application to get in free), but the Mets did have a few free nights (generally in April or for Sunday games that went from day to night games due to ESPN coverage) via Flushing Flash e-mails. They did that for the next two years, but it wasn’t quite the same – granted, it was free baseball, including for the team’s division title in 2006, but it just wasn’t the same.

As part of the Picnic Area crowd, I saw quite possibly the best pitched game I’ve ever seen in person (I still remember the sun’s glare that night); saw Mo Vaughn’s 400th Home Run on the second day of the 2002 season (one of only two positive, memorable Mo Vaughn moments, along with his ridiculously hard-hit home run halfway up the scoreboard); cheered for Brian McRae, Rickey Henderson, Jay Payton, and even Timo Perez out in the outfield; caught a few BP balls, and not only remember but stood next to the infamous “John Rocker fence.” The seats were painful and being out in the Picnic Area meant being sequestered from everywhere else in the ballpark, but memories were formed out there that will last a lifetime.

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3 thoughts on “Story Time: The Shea Bleachers

  1. Pingback: Top 5: Favorite Posts « Daniel Pecoraro's Random Musings, Trivia, and Year in Review.

  2. I still remember your 1st bleacher game v St. Louis 1996.
    You were 4 with a broken arm and I was 46. I was going to exchange rainout rainchecks but some guy saw you and your arm and gave us 2 tickets to the bleachers free of charge.
    Cards reliever Tony Fosas, who was almost as old as I was, and who looked a little like Columbo with his rumpled warm-up jacket, was running the warning track. I called out to him and I think he appreciated someone recognized him (us old guys have to stick together) tossed us a ball. An employee gave you a ball. I got the balls signed by SS Rey Ordonez (flashiest fielding SS I ever saw).
    In another Pepsi game I also got to see the Mets clinch the 2000 wild card by beating the Braves – the only Mets clincher I ever got to see.
    Another game – this was a Pepsi game- 2b Edgardo Alfonzo hit his 99th career HR into the visitor’s bullpen and a great Shea employee named Jimmy threw it up. Eventually I got Alfonzo to sign it at Sports Authority.
    At the end of the season the Mets honored the people like me who arranged groups to games during the season with an actual picnic in the picnic area – great food + they gave us a pick of the giveaways that were left over. They also held a raffle – we won a line-up card from the Metrodome & a Seaver baseball. There we saw the last game the Expos ever played. In that game we saw Todd Zeille’s last HR (he played catcher that game too). The HR looked like it was put on a tee by the pitcher – as if a farewell gift to a real pro. On the down side, we watched Glavine self-immolate v. the Marlins to destroy the 2007 playoff push.
    And then there was our final night in the bleachers v. the Cubs the last Thursday night of the season in Shea’s final season. Every game counted. I still have the picture of the family in the bleachers (me in my Mercury Mets jersey) from that night. You had to leave early (school the next day). Those of us who stayed had to hide underneath the bleachers and watch the game through the plexiglass to avoid the pouring rain. The Mets won after a great comeback (I think Reyes scored the winning run covered in mud).
    A lot of people like modern CitiField over Shea. I still favor William Shea MUNICIPAL Stadium – a people’s park owned by the city. Thanks to my late father I saw my first ballgame in the Shea Pressbox in 1970 (Camera Day). RIP Dad. RIP Shea, RIP.

  3. Our 1st Shea Bleacher game was August 3, 1996. It was Kahn’s Baseball Card Night. The Mets beat the Cards 5-4.
    Pete Harnish got the win and John Franco got the save.

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