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A Fitting Name for the New York Mets New Ballpark: Jackie Robinson Field

The City of New York and the New York Mets have unveiled plans for the new stadium that will replace Shea Stadium on Opening Day in 2009. One major question is this: what should be the name of this new park? Shea Stadium was named for lawyer William Shea, whom Mayor Lindsay at the time noted was the most instrumental person in getting the place built, thus the appellation for the place that the Mets have called home for 42 years was odd but understandable; however, they will have to give the new stadium a different name, and I believe it should be Jackie Robinson Field.

The connections between the New York Mets and the Brooklyn Dodgers are quite tangible and most vivid for Mets fans, especially those persons who are 55 years old and older. Just like our Mets, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the underdog team in a city dominated by the damn Yankees across the river. They were a blue-collar team to be sure (as Newsday sportswriter Jon Heyman has noted, the Yankees are “about as blue-collar as Monte Carlo”), having a deep fan base in the poor and working classes in Brooklyn, Queens, and later Long Island. While they had some amazing players over the years (Duke Snider no doubt being their best all-around player, eventually rivaling Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as the top centerfielder in baseball), none had such a visceral and long-lasting impact as Jackie Robinson.

Whatever the motivation was for Branch Rickey to sign Robinson (and I have heard many varying stories over the years), the fact that the first black player in the Major Leagues was on the Dodgers changed baseball and American society forever. World War Two had ended only two years before and the armed forces were still segregated during that time; when the Korean conflict started a few years later, our forces would be integrated and there would be a move across the country to do the same thing in schools, the workforce, and in communities.

Jackie Robinson opened the door and behind him hundreds of other black players were waiting. Robinson was an exemplary person, an extraordinary ballplayer, and his success and good will were felt by players of all colors. Because of Robinson, the Major Leagues slowly became diversified and play rose to an infinitely better level. My grand uncle, who played in the minor leagues in the 1920s, said, “Our white team was always beaten when we played against the black teams in pick-up games because the blacks were better players,” so this influx of talent certainly pushed all players to be better athletes out of necessity.

Another reason the new stadium should be named for Jackie Robinson can be found along a snaking road that connects Brooklyn to Queens and Long Island that used to be called The Interboro Parkway. It is a terrible road with sharp curves and narrow lanes, and I know because I’ve driven along it many times in my life. The traffic is always backed up along this route; it has only two lanes going in either direction, and the precipitous turns and short exit and entrance ramps make drivers slow down for safety. Back in 1972, my 18-year-old cousin was killed in an accident while riding his motorcycle along its most dangerous stretch through Cypress Hills, where quite fittingly there are cemeteries on either side of the road.

I guess you can understand why I’ve never felt fondly about The Interboro Parkway, that is until a few years ago when the name was changed to The Jackie Robinson Parkway to honor the groundbreaking ballplayer from the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was along this curving thoroughfare that winds its way through Brooklyn cemeteries and Queens parklands that Mets manager Willie Randolph’s father used to drive him from Brooklyn into Queens to see Mets games. Little did young Willie know that the parkway would one day be renamed for the great Jackie Robinson whom he so admired or that he would be the skipper (and first black manager) of the team that he so loved.

As I watched the presentation about the new stadium (I saw it here in New York City on the new Mets Channel SNY), I knew many people would be excited by this development, but I felt it was bittersweet for I have so many memories connected to that place. Shea is hallowed ground for Mets fans: most notably left field, where Cleon Jones genuflected as he squeezed the fly ball for out number three and the Mets first World Series victory in 1969, and the mound, where Jesse Orosco threw that last strike of the 1986 World Series.

It has also been a site for rock concerts, visits by the Pope, and a venue for other conventions and convocations. Most hallowed of all ground is the area around second base that should be preserved forever to mark the place where the stage stood for the legendary Beatles’ appearance in 1965. Before the Beatles, no rock and roll act could have sold out a 57,000-seat stadium, but they were like no other band before or since. I recall reading once that John always said that the concert at Shea Stadium was not only his most exciting performance as a Beatle, but also was the defining moment for the band in terms of popularity and their legacy.

Despite these things, Shea Stadium has no doubt outlived its viability as a sports arena. If you’ve ever attended a game there, you know that there is a strange alignment of seats to the field. No matter where you sit, it seems you’re pointed toward the outfield wall. My theory on this is that the stadium was built with the thought of also accommodating a football team, which it eventually did (New York Jets). The trouble was that the seats were no better suited for football than they were for baseball, but that was always part of the fun at Shea. There were also the horribly slow escalators, the horrendous odor in the bathrooms, and the tedious wait at the vendor counters in long lines with no way to see the action on the field.

I’ve provided the following information and believe you will find it interesting when comparing and contrasting the new ballpark with old Shea:

NEW BALLPARK
Opening Day: 2009

Total Capacity: 45,000 (approximately)

Seating Categories: Concourse Level: 18,000
Club Level: 7,800
Promenade Level: 15,500

Seat Width: 19” to 24” (21” average)

Legroom Between Rows: 33” to 39”

Wheelchair Seating: 830

Luxury Suites: 58

Restaurants (capacity): Ebbets Lounge: 734
Sterling Lounge: 1,600
Left Field Club: 500
Promenade Grill: 500

Field Dimensions: Left Field: 335
Left Center: 379
Center: 408
Right Center: 391
Right Field: 330

SHEA STADIUM
Opening Day: 1964

Total Capacity: 57,333

Seating Categories: Loge: 8,852
Mezzanine: 14,156
Field Level: 11,149
Upper Deck: 20,420

Seat Width: 19” to 20” (19” average)

Legroom Between Rows: 32”

Wheelchair Seating: 174

Luxury Suites: 45

Restaurants (capacity): Diamond Club: 309
Grill Room: 219

Field Dimensions: Left Field: 338
Left Center: 371
Center: 410
Right Center: 371
Right Field: 338
*Statistics taken from New York Newsday

Fortunately, all the many things that have plagued fans at Shea have been considered in the planning for the construction of the new ballpark. It seems the first and foremost priority was aesthetics, and that is very pleasing to this fan. Reminiscent of the old home of the Dodgers in Brooklyn, the new structure will have striking brick arches along the façade with limestone and granite flourishes; the arches will contain semicircle windows in the top of each arch just like the ones in Ebbets Field. There will be space made for commemorative bronze plaques along the top of the building, and any exposed steel will be painted in rich Mets blue. This kind of return to a traditional-styled park will please most Mets fans, for Shea has always been a clash of 60s modernism and practicality with the harsh reality of its obviously unpleasant structural incongruities.

Also, looking at the statistics above, one can see that the goal was to make the amenities available to a smaller and more comfortable crowd. The Upper Deck at Shea has always been nosebleed land, and the wind whipping off Flushing Bay swooshed around those seats unmercifully. Now there will only be two major seating decks and a Club Level for the lounges and restaurants. All the facilities will have easy viewing of the action on the field, and the Promenade Grill sounds most promising as a restaurant that will be hanging down from that level and almost over the action on the field.

Listening to Jeff Wilpon, son of team owner and former Brooklyn Dodger fan Fred Wilpon, talking about the project convinced me that this was a labor of love. There were original plans for a domed stadium prior to 9/11, but Mr. Wilpon indicated that event changed everything, including the vision for this new park. Now the park is being designed to be more intimate, with a good deal less ground in foul territory because of seats that will be extremely close to the field. And, speaking of seats, there has been obvious attention to the fact that watching games at Shea used to be uncomfortable. The seats will be wider and legroom has been increased significantly.

Besides all the technical information that is impressive, most of all I think the city and the Mets organization have done justice to baseball history. The New York Met fans of today would not exist without the Dodger fans of yesterday. Dodger fans lived for their team, even when it was losing, and they went to games in a small ballpark where there was significant opportunity for exchange with each other and the players too. This has been recognized in the planning of this new park, and in my mind it takes a great deal of love to say we will design a park with ten thousand less seats in order that each fan who does attend a game will feel right at home. That’s a design that doesn’t have making money as a top priority (for more seats = more tickets = more money).

The Dodger fans of the past gave birth to the Met fans of the present. It has been a sometimes difficult process, but all the love, sweat, blood, and tears that were transferred meant more than just the change of a borough (Brooklyn to Queens) or change in name (Dodgers to Mets). For in the end, the quintessence of passion, spirit, and love of team has been passed on to Mets fans. Anyone who has ever been at Shea when it’s a full house and has heard the fans screaming “Let’s Go Mets” will know exactly what I mean.

The Mets are recognizing their connection to the past with the new stadium taking on the ghost of Ebbets Field and giving shape to a new and lasting presence in brick and steel. Now that the city and the Mets organization have done so much right in the planning of this new park, it is time to make the right call and name the park after the greatest Dodger of all: Jackie Robinson. In that way we will be honoring his memory, his team’s legacy, and the hope for the future of Mets baseball will be very bright indeed.

About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Gary Berman

    A fitting legacy indeed!

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Victor, nice proposal. Can we name the toilets after Mo Vaughn?

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Suss, we can name the toilets after Big Mo only if the garbage disposal system is named in Bobby Bonilla’s honor. Now, if I could just think of something apropos for Richie Hebner, Stork Theodore, and Bret Saberhagen (maybe Waste Management?)

  • J. P. Spencer

    It’s a lovely idea. Unfortunately, in this time of extreme commerce, naming a stadium after Jackie Robinson won’t make anyone any money in the Mets front office.

    Expect it to be named after some huge multinational conglomerate who’s willing to shell out millions of dollars a year for the naming rights. Hanging a “42″ on the outfield fence, in the mind of Major League Baseball, gets them off the hook. What a travesty!

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Right you are, JP. You know what I find a travesty: that anyplace in baseball could have been named Enron Field. Just a disgrace.

  • joe

    no way,if u want to name the park to a great man fine,not to a baseball player who always would cry the blues and did not like white people,get real,read between the lines of his statements.I would love to see MLK who was for all people,not someone for one people.

  • MCH

    Victor;

    Good idea, it’d be a great tribute to a great pioneer. The obstacles he overcame changed the face of professional sports.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Without specifics and actual sources, I don’t know how to comment on #6 directly.

    At this point in time, everything I’ve ever read about Jackie Robinson has been so positive and an affirmation of his conduct as a player and a human being. Ever hear his teammate Pee Wee Reese talk about him? It’s worth listening.

    Thanks, MCH; I hope Jackie will get the recognition he deserves.

  • Sean

    You want to name the Mets new park (in Queens) after a Brooklyn Dodger?

    Did Jackie Robinson ever play for the Mets?

  • John

    Why not name the stadium after Sandy Koufax. He was a Brooklyn Dodger, the greatest jewish baseball player and a friend of the Mets owner.

    No wait let’s name it after Roberto Clemente. The great Pirate who fought prejudice and died helping victims in a earthquake.

    No let’s name it after Hank Aaron the great home run hitter for the Braves who help lead the fight against racism.

    No wait this is the METS ball park, not the Pirates or the Braves or the bleeping Dodgers. For all the METS fans who were born after the Dodgers left (and the Giants, remember them); any time some old sport writer starts talking about the good ol’ days of the Dodgers, we feel like buying them a one way ticket to LA.

    Why don’t the Dodgers change the name of Dodger Stadium to Jackie Robinson Stadium and just leave the Mets to the MET fans.

    Its a given that Jackie Robinson was not just a great baseball player but, a great American. And one of the most important people in American history of the 20th Century.

    But, we’re just naming a ballpark and while most New Yorkers don’t want to go Pepsi Park or The Home Depot Stadium, there are a lot of fans that are Met fan and want the park to embrace the history of the Mets and not the Dodgers.

  • http://gratefuldread.net NR Davis

    That makes a lot of sense (sez this longtime Mets fan; they’re my National League team). But you know what? Given a choice between Jackie Robinson Stadium and one named after some collective of corporate robber barons, I’ll take honoring a ballplayer. The same holds for a Sandy Koufax, Henry Aaron or Roberto Clemente stadium. But in the end… Fed Ex or Comcast or some other icky entity will get the honors.

    Of course, in Baltimore we ignore that shit. The city’s football stadium is named after a big local bank that shelled out a bundle for naming rights, but ask any real fan – they’ll call it Ravens Stadium. (The baseball stadium, reasonably, is named Oriole Park at Camden Yards, “the Yards” being the historic location of the side-by-side sports facilities.)

  • Doug DeLise

    To All, Jackie Robinson, while being a history maker, did not make ANY history for the New York Mets. There are several baseball parks, stadiums, facilities named for him all across our country. The Cubs Minor League in Daytona Beach has one. When the Dodgers build a new stadium (and they will) it will be up to them to name their new stadium after Jackie Robinson, anything else would be premature. The N.Y. Mets new stadium should bear a name in Mets history, who knows maybe Payson Park?

  • http://www.craigsgallery.com Craig B

    If given a choice between a corporate name or another, business wise the corporate name will take place. So if there was that choice there is no way an owner will pass on 50 Million a year in order to name a park after a player, especially a player that never played for that team.
    Naming the new stadium after Jackie Robinson will indeed be an honor to his memory. However, it would be a dishonor to all the players, coaches, and managers that have come through the Mets organization over the past 45 years. If we must go back on history then name the park after the heart and soul of the baby Mets, Ms. Joan Payson.
    There are so many choices out there, Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, Tom Seaver, etc. Geez, Don Zimmer even played for the Mets. If this is such an important deal, how come the Dodgers never named, or renamed for that matter their park at Chavez Ravine? It has always been called “DODGER STADIUM”. If the organization that had Robinson, and so proudly proclaims that “they” had the first black ball player in the majors hasn’t named their stadium after him why should a team that has NO connection to him do so? I love the Mets because I was brought up with them, my family were Brooklyn Dodger fans, and like millions were stabbed in the back when the O’Malleys took “Dem Bums” from us, but the Mets came in honoring the Dodgers and the Giants with the Orange and Blue – I think that is enough. We have history of our own that s hould be honored first and foremost! Changing the Interboro to Jackie Robinson stadium was okay. The city shold have just gone and renamed Ebbets Field projects after him. People may not know this but there are many things named after him in New York – next to the aforementioned projects is Jackie Robinson Elementary P.S. 375 – in Manhattan is the Jackie Robinson H.S., even a Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture, etc. etc. get the drift? These are proper places for his name. NOT ON THE WALLS OF A STADIUM FOR A TEAM HE NEVER PLAYED FOR!

  • Wong

    They dont need to waste money on a stadium they suck they need to waste money on players not druggy’s either