Image Source: SI
It took forever, or so it felt. It always seemed like hours on the 7 from Grand Central, even though it was only eighteen stops. You were on an endless journey to a place called Flushing, and by the time you stepped off the train at Willet’s Point, you were already thinking of humping your way back.
Willet’s Point, Flushing, Queens. The Valley of the Ashes immortalized by Fitzgerald in Gatsby. Used to be the city dump, and when they built Shea Stadium, the rubbish of the city was still smoldering underground.
And the stadium was a crumbling, decaying dump on top of the dump. Flaking paint, nasty bathrooms, exposed pipes and exposed ramps that dropped off hundreds of feet to death by concrete. If you were sitting in the upper deck, you were going to be holding on to your sun-scorched arm rest for dear life, as the pitch down to the field was enough to make you feel like you were about to tumble and roll off the face of the earth.
But it was OUR dump and OUR Amazin’ Mets.
It was a kids game played by grown men seemingly cast from an episode of Fraggle Rock: Davey and Mex and The Straw, Nails and The Kid and, fachrissakes, Mookie. And there was joy in their game, and the unspoken swagger that says you will NOT beat us today.
You showed up early for batting practice. You sat in the blazing sun and gladly felt like passing out from the heat trapped in the not-fully-enclosed Shea stadium. Your seat was only a few hundred feet below the flight path of LaGuardia, close enough to be able to read the numbers on the wing. Pilots approaching the runway used to gun their engines so they could hear themselves on the radio play-by-play. And you loved the noise and the atmosphere because it was New York and it was Shea and the Mets and it was where you wanted to be.
It was 1986, and it was THE year. 108-54, smoked Philly by 21 1/2, beat Houston in 16 unforgetable playoff innings, Game 6, Buckner. The greatest team having the greatest season playing in the greatest dump in the greatest city in the world.
It was worth the longest subway ride ever, and so much more.
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