They don't make stadiums like Shea anymore in today's ballpark building era, and upon first view it harkens back to the "cookie-cutter," concrete donut building boom of the late 60's and early 70's.
But unlike the fully enclosed, multi-purpose stadiums that were built (and have since been torn down) in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, the Mets' home in Queens was built to be more aesthetically pleasing to the baseball fan.
As a result, Shea Stadium's layout features a semi-circular design with a fully open outfield that is absent of any permanent concrete seats. Although the view mainly consists of the parking lot and nondescript buildings in the distance, the open landscape gives Shea the feel of a "ballpark," as opposed to the more bland "stadium."
Much like New York City itself, Shea Stadium is big and not very intimate. Only Dodger Stadium has a larger official capacity than Shea's 55,601, but Los Angeles has an expansive bleacher section, opposed to New York's small section in left-center. So virtually all of the seats at Shea are located between the foul poles of the five tiered stadium
Putting so many seats in a smaller area means Shea Stadium rises higher into the clouds than most, if not all, ballparks. The upper deck is as large and high as you will find anywhere, while the fourth level loge has an enormous seating capacity.
Shea Stadium really has two signature features and both are visible from anywhere in the park. The can't-miss 175' x 86' right-center field scoreboard has always been one of the largest in the majors, while the Mets Magic Top Hat is distinctly New York. A red Big Apple rises out of the black hat, located just to the right of center field, whenever a Mets player hits a home run.
The only other thing really memorable about Shea is its location, which is across the subway tracks from the National Tennis Center, home to the U.S. Open, and within the flight path of neighboring La Guardia Airport.
Despite what I've heard before, there is direct access between the airport and Shea Stadium, although not on the Metro subway system's # 7 train. I took the Q48 public bus from La Guardia to Shea, which takes about 25 minutes and costs $2 each way.
The bus dropped me off right in front of the stadium, which is blue on the outside and has a series of windscreen panels with neon artwork depicting baseball players.
Although there is ample parking available, the majority of fans do take the 7 train, which drops fans off on a raised platform behind right field. The subway platform is visible inside the stadium from the first base side of the upper deck.
My first game at Shea came on the three year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the game was played before a surprisingly sparse gathering, well below the announced attendance of 21,718.
Having plenty of empty seats nearby turned out to be a good thing as many of them were damaged or slanted downward like a beach chair when you sat in them. My initial seat actually broke after a pair of rivets came off. If Shea Stadium's seats can't hold my 5" 11", 160-pound frame I don't see how they can accommodate the average New Yorker.
Even though it hasn't changed much since it opened 40 years ago, Shea Stadium isn't that bad of a place to watch a ballgame. It won't wow you like the modern ballparks do, but that wasn't what I expected. I also didn't have any problems with airplane noise from La Guardia, as planes are rerouted away from Shea during the U.S. Open tournament, which was being played next door.
Honestly, aside from the condition of the actual seats, the home to the Mets lacks only the history of Yankee Stadium in comparison of New York ballparks. Both have few frills and amenities, it's just the quality of the home team that sets them apart.