I don't talk about my brother much because he's dead and it's awkward. So when people ask me if I'll miss anything about Shea Stadium, I talk about how it's underrated, and point out how the sightlines are good and you never have to climb over too many people to get to your seat. Both good things, for sure, and in fact both things my brother Chris, an engineer who far favored function over form, always cited when defending the decaying, royal-blue monstrosity that would be an eyesore if it weren't nestled in a sea of eyesores.
But that's not really what I'll miss about Shea Stadium.
That honor belongs to the summer of 1995. Chris had just graduated from college and most of his friends were still in school or scattered around the country. The job market was tough and he could only find work in a Long Island factory that made make-up cases.
He was miserable; he was brilliant and wildly overqualified for the position and missed fraternity life. I didn't care. His asylum was Shea Stadium and he let me tag along. I was 14 years old and I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than head to Mets games -- lots of them -- with my older brother.
He got off work around 6:30, so we never made it for the first pitch. The Mets stunk that year, and by the time we got to the game, they were usually already losing. We didn't care: The score gave us leverage with the scalpers in the parking lot desperate to get rid of their last few tickets, and we could always find a pair for 10 bucks.
Attendance was sparse that summer and it was easy to sneak down to the loge section. We'd sit in right field in home-run territory and hope Todd Hundley would hit one our way. We'd fantasize about the futures of the Mets' young pitching staff -- Generation K call-ups Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen and dominant Triple-A force Reid Cornelius -- and Chris would fret about how Edgardo Alfonzo was the first Met younger than he was (at least according to the roster).
And we spent a lot of time reminding Jeff Kent of how much he sucked.
Thanks to a strong September, the Mets made a late run and finished in second place in a terrible division. We didn't care that they ended up six games under .500. Second place was exciting to Mets fans then, and the players seemed pretty geared up about it too. Except Kent, of course. He was a jerk throughout.
That offseason, Chris moved to Boston. He found a job and a girl and eventually -- sacrilege! -- a Red Sox hat. A couple of months after we found out his melanoma had spread to his lymph nodes (wear sunscreen, kids), we went to a Mets-Sox game at Fenway and Chris, in a misguided attempt to impress his future wife, actually rooted for the Red Sox. We watched one of our favorites from 1995, Carl Everett, get tossed from the game for head-butting an umpire, and Chris cheered when his replacement, future Met Brian Daubach, hit the go-ahead home run.
It felt like my still-beating heart was being ripped from my chest, like in Mortal Kombat, except more gruesome and without the awesome music.
Of course, losing him as a Mets fan paled in comparison to losing him as a brother, and as a human. But the good thing about memory is that it's selective.
I can forget about that game like I can forget about Chris' illness, and the chemo and surgeries and tumors and all the horrifying things that went along with it.
And just like that, I can forget about how Shea Stadium stunk like crotch and peddled crappy food for exorbitant prices. And I can forget about all the heartbreak. In 27 years as a Mets fan, there's been no shortage of that.
When I remember Shea Stadium five, ten, or god willing, 50 years from now, I'll remember the summer of 1995 and my brother Chris, inextricably linked. I'll remember praying for Chris Jones to get an opportunity in a big spot and revering all five of Alex Ochoa's tools.
I'll remember speeding to the park in Chris' white Buick station wagon, inherited from our grandfather, and careening over the divide that separated the Interboro Parkway from the Grand Central because Chris always missed the exit. And getting lost in Flushing and buying fireworks off some kid on the corner.
And I'll remember being inside, craning to see the scoreboard from the right-field porch. Leaning over the bullpen wall and calling out to John Franco on the perch. Heading up to the empty upper-deck section and starting a mocking two-man wave. It wasn't pretty, but it was damn fun.
I understand that shaving 10,000 seats in capacity is a sound business decision, and that luxury boxes and high ticket prices at Citi Field will pay for Johan Santana and everything. But Shea's charm, to me, always rested in how two kids could show up on any given day, pick up a pair of upper-deck tickets on the cheap, and take in a Mets game. I suppose it shouldn't matter to me now, credentialed for the press box and without my brother to sit with, but it does.
Because to me, being a fan has nothing to do with sitting in cushy seats with reasonable legroom and cupholders and many fine dining options. And it has nothing to do with showing up to see a competitive team, as the Mets seem to field every year nowadays. Being a fan is sticking through the summer of 1995, trying to see promise in failure, finding the purity in a game with no postseason implications, and maintaining hope and passion and faith in a team that's just not very good.
Chris taught me all of that, and no matter what happened to him or what will happen to Shea Stadium, I'll always keep them both close. Because though this career -- one that Chris never got to be a part of -- forces me to fake some degree of professionalism, I'll forever be a 14-year-old kid at Shea Stadium, just thrilled to be watching baseball at a bargain rate.
And though he's probably headed for the Hall of Fame, Jeff Kent will always suck.