Favorite Venues
Wednesday July 23rd, 2008

I was born in a town called Flushing. When you have something like that in your past, you feel a little silly pretending to be a man of great refinement. And so, I will freely admit to preferring a dive bar over a five-star restaurant, a worn-in pair of jeans over a tailored suit. I don't need fancy, I don't need trendy, I don't need scenic. Maybe you see where I'm going with this. Flushing. Plain. Basic.

I'm a Shea Stadium kind of guy.

We have a great deal in common, Shea and I. We both came into existence during the '60s, we're both from that lyrically named section of Queens, and we're both, at our advanced ages, showing some signs of wear and tear. Unlike Shea, however, I am not scheduled for demolition after the 2008 baseball season, at least as far as I know. The New York Mets are tearing the place down to make way for their pretty new CitiField, which promises to be everything Shea is not -- charmingly nostalgic, sparklingly clean, quirkily cool.

Shea, on the other hand, is nothing but a round bowl of concrete set down in the middle of the LaGuardia Airport flight path. It has no distinctive little nooks and crannies, no Green Monster, no ivy-covered walls. Its only attempt at being unique is a cheesy mechanical apple that rises out beyond the center-field fence, one of several misguided efforts at beautification, like the neon outlines of ballplayers that were added to the facade and gave the place that classy, strip-joint feel. Even though it was the scene of some memorable moments, like the Bill Buckner error in the 1986 World Series and The Beatles concerts in 1965 and 1966, the place inspires no poetry, no romance. It's like a big, jowly, slobbering dog, so ugly that you never would have chosen it out of a pack, but so comically unlovable that you can't help but love it.

Although I now live considerably more than a No. 7 train ride away from Shea, I will make it a point to visit and say a proper goodbye before it goes away for good. We've had some times, the two of us. They were not always good times, but they were valuable times, necessary times. I never walked out of Shea Stadium without feeling a little bit tougher, a little bit more like a New Yorker. It was the place I saw my first ballgame as an 8-year-old, and yes, I do remember coming out of the ramp and seeing grass that was greener than I knew green could be, but I also remember the day ending with a 1-0 Mets loss followed by a kid ripping my Tommie Agee poster out of my hand as I left the ballpark. I didn't cry. It was New York. You suck it up.

It was only after I moved to other parts of the country that I learned that my favorite ballpark is widely considered to be a dump. I once heard the San Francisco Giants broadcasters talking about their team's upcoming trip to Shea with such dread you would have thought they'd been sentenced to Attica. If I look at the place with an unbiased eye, I suppose I can see what they were talking about. There are a few restrooms you wouldn't want to enter without a HazMat suit, and sometimes the only thing that drowns out the drone of the planes overhead is the pop music blaring from the sound system that's loud enough to make your ears bleed.

But the disdain that others have for Shea only makes it more endearing to me. You can have your new stadiums and arenas with all their bells and whistles, or your old, landmark spots that are dripping with history. I'll take middle-aged, outdated Shea Stadium. Maybe it never quite felt like heaven, but it always felt like home.

2. Cameron Indoor Stadium The ultimate old-fashioned college-hoops gym. Even if you're not a Dookie, you have to admit the place has great atmosphere.

3. Rose Garden, Portland Clean and comfortable without being antiseptic, it also has tons of info on the scoreboards. If you want to know, say, how many assists Brandon Roy has at any given point, it's up there.

4. Sunken Diamond, Stanford, Calif. Sit on the grassy slopes in foul territory as the late-afternoon sun bathes the valley in gold, and you'll realize why the locals consider this a hidden gem.

5. Dodger Stadium It's feels as if the world has slowed down when you walk in the place, especially on a warm night, with the palm trees in the distance and the sound of Vin Scully on the radio.

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