By any measure, Shea Stadium is the ultimate testament to 1960s stadium architecture. Its unyielding symmetry elevates form over function. The outside view of Shea Stadium is very attractive with a circular layout and an open center field: it does look better from a distance as an abstract sculpture, as anyone who has flown in or out of LaGuardia Airport can tell you.
Year Opened: 1964
Dimensions: 338L, 378LC, 410C, 378RC, 338R
Playing Surface: Grass
League: National League
Parking: Shea Stadium tends to be a favorite of suburban baseball fans for two very good reasons: it’s easily accessible by car, and there is a sea of parking surrounding the ballpark. Parking is inexpensive by major-league standards: $12 for cars.
Address/Directions: 123-01 Roosevelt Av., Flushing, NY. The ballpark is located between Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway. Both are major arteries; Grand Central Parkway goes into Manhattan (via the Triborough Bridge) from Queens. Whitestone Expressway, which runs north of the ballpark, is a major highway servicing Connecticut. From New Jersey, take the George Washington Bridge to the Deegan Expressway; from there go to the Triborough Bridge and onto the Grand Central Parkway to the ballpark. You don’t need a lot of specialized instructions to find the ballpark via highway: it is easy to find. You can also take the #7 line from midtown Manhattan directly to the ballpark.
Written by: Jim Robins
This dates from our 2005 visit to the ballpark.
In a day and age where naming rights are a lucrative source of income, Shea Stadium retains its original moniker: it was named after William Shea, an attorney who worked to bring National League baseball back to New York City after the Giants and the Dodgers fled for the West Coast. To be precise, Shea appeared destined to be a founder of the fledging Continental League (along with Branch Rickey), which looked to put a team in the Polo Grounds and cities lacking major-league baseball (Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Toronto, Denver), but the seriousness of the competitive threat was enough to propel expansion plans forward in order to thwart the upstart movement. It worked, and the Continental League never launched.
Shea Stadium, of course, was built to house the expansion New York Mets, who entered the National League in 1962. The Mets played in the Polo Grounds until Shea was ready to inhabit in 1964, a full year behind schedule. In fact, the Mets held a going-away ceremony at the Polo Grounds at the end of the 1962 season in anticipation of moving into a new ballpark in 1963. But Shea Stadium wasn’t completed in time, consigning the Mets to one final season at the venerable Polo Grounds before moving to Shea in 1964. In retrospect, the timing was good, as the team rode on the World’s Fair momentum and drew 1.7 million fans in that first year.
The most distinctive features of Shea Stadium are a right-center scoreboard that is still one of the largest in the majors and a Big Apple that rises from a black top hat when a Met hits a homer. Relatively few changes have been made to Shea Stadium over the years, except for the addition of luxury boxes in 1985. Due to the circular design of the stadium, though, the arrangement does not allow for the luxury suite experience you expect to find in a modern stadium. In 2005, the Mets debuted four new full-color LED displays at Shea, including two new ribbon boards on the press level fascia and a color message center above the ticket windows between Gates D and E.
Interestingly enough, Shea Stadium is served by public transit but nearby LaGuardia Airport is not. That can be explained by the history of the area. Though Shea is surrounded by parking lots and auto-salvage businesses to the east, it was adjacent to the grand 1964 World’s Fair when first constructed, and the subway was one of the few ways to get out to the World’s Fair. You can still see remnants of the World Fair just south of Shea, including the landmark globe.
At one point architects drew up plans for a roof to cover Shea Stadium, but engineers determined that the stadium’s footings could not bear the added weight. Plans also were prepared to increase the capacity of Shea Stadium to 90,000, mainly by filling in the opening in center field, but they never proved economically viable. For more than a decade now, the economics of Major League Baseball ballparks have shifted, with the goal maximizing profit margins from near-capacity crowds. The days for Shea Stadium are clearly numbered (in fact, the Mets have already announced plans for a new ballpark to be built close to the current Shea Stadium site), and that day will likely mark the end of the cost-conscious, multiple-purpose standardized municipal design circular-symmetrical stadium era that was common in the 1960s and ’70s.
The stadium has a remote, large picnic area gate in center field, catering to crowds of 100 to 1,400. On busy game days, this gate gets crowded and is slow-moving. Two newer picnic area features are the Dugout Shop souvenir stand and the Long Ball Alley beverage service area located underneath the bleachers with access to a ground-level view of the field. The Design of the picnic area allows the booking of multiple groups for a given date. The area also includes two children’s play areas, wheelchair-accessible game seating, and restrooms.
The stadium has expansive parking available on three sides, an attraction for some tailgating before the game (though, technically, alcohol consumption in the parking lot is strictly prohibited by the team). Another nice feature is Mets Fan Fest — offered on the weekends only –- generating some excitement before the games (see For the Kids below for a more-detailed description). If you are sensing that there isn’t much of anything unique or impressive to say about Shea Stadium, then you pretty much have the right idea about the place. On the other hand, there isn’t too much to complain about either — other than having too many seats with a poor view. When it goes away, most likely Shea Stadium will be remembered as a symbol of the 1960s, but not as a classic ballpark. To take a kinder view would be dishonest.
Food choices are fairly standard for the most part, and you will pay New York prices, although at Shea concessions are typically about 25 cents lower than the prices at Yankee Stadium. You have your selection of dogs from Nathan and Glatt ($4.50), as well as a foot long ($5.75) or a Corn Dog ($3). For something slightly different, you have cheeseburgers ($5.75), chicken tenders with fries ($7), or Cascarino’s Pizza ($5.25 to $5.75 depending on the topping selected). If you want authentically New York cuisine, try a tummy-filling Coney Island Gabilla’s knish ($3.75).
Two ethnic stands are interesting and have some unusual offerings. For a Latino flare, you can get a Havana sandwich ($4.50) and wash it down with a Mexican Corona or pick one of our personal summertime favorites – Presidente cerveza from the Dominican Republic (either beer is $6.25). If you prefer sampling a local brew, Brooklyn Lager is a very good, full-bodied option. Mama’s of Corona has Italian specialties including a delicious turkey or salami sandwich; the baskets include sides ($9). Mama’s is also served in the Budwesier Backstop eatery located on the field level behind third base: the air-conditioned restaurant features Carvel ice cream, sushi, and beer. Featured prominently throughout the ballpark are Premio Italian sausages ($5.75) where you might want to think twice before asking for a small bag of chips ($2.50) to go with your order. If you need some caffeine, the generally underrated Dunkin Donuts coffee is sold at the ballpark.
FOR THE KIDS
Perhaps the best aspect of Shea is the effort the Mets put into the Fan Fest area available for 2.5 hours prior to every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday home game. Although open to all, Fan Fest is primarily aimed at the youngster set with a big bouncy slide, electronic games, batting cages, and an obstacle course. Good staffing and security in the tight, popular space adds excitement. Fan Fest is located near the Subway station at Gate E not far from the right-field foul pole.
Shea Stadium tends to be a favorite of suburban baseball fans for two very good reasons: it’s easily accessible by car, and there is a sea of parking surrounding the ballpark. Parking is inexpensive by major-league standards: $12 for cars.