Guaranteed to have the time of your life

I was eager to go to Opening Day at Shea last week was to see the Citi Field construction. Checking out the blogs during the winter was tantalizing -- at first it was hard to tell from the photographs exactly what was missing. Until I saw references to a demolished "Passarelle Extension." Only one thing could have such an idiotic name: that big cylinder with the spiral staircases beneath the ramp from the Willets Point subway station. If you ever took the 7 train to a Mets game you'll remember feeling trapped in this cage -- like a figure in a little model in Robert Moses' office, circa 1960, or like a rat in a maze.

The Passarelle Extension embodied the pleasure and the pain of Shea. The walk down the ramp from the subway gave you the thrilling view of the bright green outfield grass -- before they rebuilt the station, and the massive scoreboard, you could actually stand there and watch the game, or most of the left side of it. 
At the end of the station ramp, you followed the circular staircase down the cage to the exit turnstile like a marble rolling down a plane and spinning through a funnel. The Passarelle Extension spit you out, dizzy and late in almost the worst possible spot: foul territory outside right field, about half a mile from home plate. From there, unless your seats were above the Mets' bullpen, getting to your section required a obstacle run around the park through concrete security barriers, decorative obelisks, scalpers, and fellow fans milling excitedly in an orange-and-blue hajj. You had a good chance of running into someone you recognized, or knew from the ballpark -- a scalper, a beer vendor, that deranged-looking elderly woman dressed in orange and blue and carrying matching Met bags. Or witty exchanges between Ranger fans and Islander fans.
After the game -- trapped again! No matter how cleverly you navigated the ramps to get closer to Gate E, there was no place to go thanks to a brick wing sticking out of the south end of the ballpark built sometime during the Giuliani administration, whose sole seeming purpose was to pinch the foot traffic -- between the edge of the ballpark and traffic headed out to the Grand Central Parkway through which you and the rest of the rabble need to squeeze through -- through a gap about ten feet wide. Slowly fleeing a loss -- say, yet another of the most horrific end-of-season collapses in New York baseball history -- inching through the Passarelle Extension in a close-quarters conga line made for an agonizingly uncomfortable Metsugee evacuation.
Shea is a scrapbook of patchwork fixes. After it started to decline in the seventies, forcing Leon Hess to move the Jets to Jersey, each year's opening day brought some new bandage or botox injection. It still looks naked to those of us who remember the cheerful orange and blue sheet-metal squares fastened to the exterior structural cables. They seemed to float magically, like pop-art confetti celebrating the return of National League baseball, in contrast to the somber cornice decorating Yankee Stadium. Those panels got taken down somewhere around the time the Serval Zipper sign got replaced -- or was it during the Mazzilli Restoration Era? -- probably because rust and wind threatened to rain them down for real.
Even the signature Mets blue has changed over nearly half a century. Caps and helmets were originally a shade of sky blue, but somewhere around when the neon outlines of a pitcher and a batter went up on Shea's eastern facade, the park was painted a vibrant cobalt, and hats and jerseys soon followed. Some of the defects found novel ways to endear: as distracting as the jet noise was, when you're the one in the plane flying over Queens, Shea is unmistakeable, looking like a giant birthday cake decorated with garish blue icing, a big greedy slice cut out of it.
Crumbling concrete, out-of service escalators, and flooded bathrooms were the reality. But the dream of the Mets sparked Shea to life and made it loveable. For us Met fans, winning for was never anything like a birthright -- given the departure of the Dodgers and Giants, the Mets were lucky to be alive. Shea was the cheap development house where we got to enjoy our toddler crawling and making a mess.
Part of what's hard about giving up the old park and all the things we loved to hate about it is giving up the idea of the Mets being a brand-new expansion club and perpetual, lovable underdog. It's a plotline that's gotten old -- not especially useful for a frontrunner, judging from what happened last September. Taking a long walk around the new park on the way back to the subway was a great way to get rid of the taste of the Mets' disappointing loss. Standing by the western edge of Citi, you could glimpse what looks like a monumental but intimate interior, lying in wait for the memories.
And by the way, a big part of Shea's old ratty feeling is already gone -- the Passarelle Extension has been replaced by a nice, wide set of staircases a few hundred yards from what will be the rotunda entrance to Citi Field.
Let's go Mets! -- out of our old house with our heads held high.