The New York Mets will be getting a new stadium in time for the 2009 baseball season if all goes according to plan. Media coverage of the announcement was rather animated for a couple of days – lots of speculation about what the new park might look like and what it might be called – before it was abruptly cut short by news that the Yankees would be moving into a new stadium of their own, also in 2009.
Once again the Mets had been eclipsed by the Yankees – one more indication, if any were needed, of how far the franchise and its stadium have fallen in the estimation and imagination of the city’s sporting public.
It wasn’t always so, of course. The Mets outdrew the Yankees for 12 straight seasons from 1964, the year Shea opened, through 1975, and for another nine consecutive seasons from 1984 through 1992. (The pendulum of fan support swung to the Yankees in 1976 when a refurbished Yankee Stadium reopened for business and the team won its first pennant in 12 years, and again in 1993 as the Mets, after reigning for nearly a decade as the kings of New York City baseball, went from bad to atrocious and Shea from dingy to decrepit.)
As Mets fans began digesting the idea of a brand new ballpark in Queens, many were surprised to find themselves growing prematurely nostalgic. Suddenly everyone had a favorite memory, a treasured moment, and for a little while, at least, the litany of complaints about battered old Shea was all but forgotten.
In that spirit, the Monitor offers the following small tribute to a stadium that deserved better and a player who not only made an indelible impression but who, as things sadly turned out, also deserved better.
It was a June evening in 1971. Shea Stadium had been open only seven years, and the small orange and blue tiles that at the time covered the ballpark’s exterior gleamed in the spring twilight. Before the game a bunch of yarmulke-wearing pre-teens were clamoring for autographs while several Mets were playing catch, jogging in the outfield or shmoozing among themselves by the dugout.
Tom Seaver, the Mets’ ace and already a pitching legend in the making at age 26, walked by and smirked. Duffy Dyer, a light-hitting backup catcher, completely ignored the young fans’ pleas. Pitcher Ray Sadecki made a sour face. Second baseman Ken Boswell trotted in from the outfield and gave the kids a rather haughty once-over. Also coming in from the outfield, Bob Aspromonte, one in a long line of forgettable Met third-basemen, winked at the group but disappeared into the dugout without signing a single autograph.
And then, just as the dejected youngsters were about to make their way up to the cheap seats, a stubble-jawed player who’d been watching them from the edge of the infield walked over and said, “Hey, wait a sec, guys.”
And so it was that Daniel Vincent Frisella, a spot starter and reliever who was having a fine season but who would never quite fulfill his potential, spent the next ten minutes signing every yearbook, scorecard and baseball thrust in his face, chatting away as if he were an old friend of those awkward yeshiva boys.
The Mets traded Frisella, along with pitcher Gary Gentry, to the Atlanta Braves in November 1972 for second baseman Felix Millan and pitcher George Stone. Even the yeshiva boys who were made to feel special by an apparently very special human being had to admit the trade was one of the best the Mets ever made, as the team won the 1973 National League pennant with both Millan and Stone playing major roles.
On January 1, 1977, Danny Frisella, by then a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, was killed in a dune buggy accident. Outside of Frisella’s immediate family and closest friends, no one took the shocking and untimely loss harder than several 17- and 18-year-old New York-area Orthodox Jews whom Frisella had briefly befriended six years before on a steamy New York night at a Shea Stadium that still seemed so fresh and new.