x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Dirty, dingy grimy and gritty: I loved it

Second home: Shea Stadium - As any fan of America's national pastime knows, baseball is supposed to be played in ballparks.

As any fan of America's national pastime knows, baseball is supposed to be played in ballparks. Shea Stadium, the now-former home of my beloved New York Mets, was anything but a ballpark. Dirty, dingy, grimy and gritty, Shea was a monument to the 1960s, an era that bequeathed to us a particularly unlovely array of public works projects. But what it lacked in charm it made up for in sheer size. Shea had more than 50,000 seats, almost none of them in the outfield. From the top rows, you could wave to airline pilots as they passed overhead on their way out of LaGuardia Airport.

Ballparks are supposed to be intimate: the only thing intimate about Shea was the illicit activity occurring at the edges of the upper deck. Of course, I loved the place. That is partly for all the same coming-of-age reasons that any baseball fan loves his team's stadium (and that make non-fans gag): sitting through meaningless mid-summer doubleheaders with my dad as a child; years later, when better times came, making the concrete stands shake in celebration.

But I also loved it for itself. Shea was like the Napoleon Dynamite of stadiums, turning its goofiness into a sort of bizarro cool. The things I most associate with it - a gigantic, flashing "Big Apple" that rose out of a top hat when the home team hit a home run; the baseball-headed mascot, Mr Met; the fan known as "Cowbell Man"(his shtick is just what it sounds like) - were incomparably cheesy, and appealing in a way that rendered irony moot.

Come April, the Mets will move into Citi Field, a 21st century entertainment venue built to resemble an early 20th century ballpark. It will be a major improvement in many ways - better sight lines, better seats, better food. I am looking forward to seeing it. But it won't be Shea. * Greg Marx