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Farewell to a part of my childhood

All good things must come to an end.

This past Sunday, sports fans from all over were glued to the events in The Bronx, N.Y. as America's version of the Roman Coliseum, minus the gladiator fights and slaughter of Christians, better known as Yankee Stadium shut off the lights for the final time.

Many tears were shed and memorable stories were shared as fans, players and media personal alike reminisced about the countless magical scenes that took place at this epic venue located on East 161st Street and River Avenue of this northern most borough of New York City.

In the prelude and aftermath of the final game, we heard people talk about their first visit to Yankee Stadium with nostalgic feelings of childhood innocence; before we grew up and were corrupted by players' mega contracts or network broadcasting rights.

I also had flashbacks of my first trip to Yankee Stadium as a youngster in 1987 and seeing those sparkling uniforms with the blue pinstripes, the white facade that outlines the top of the billboards and of course Monument Park.

However, while taking in the sights at The Stadium was fun and seeing it's curtain close was sad, my real tear-jerking moment will take place this Sunday when final ticket stubs are torn at Shea Stadium as the Mets host the Florida Marlins at 1:10 p.m.

Although the Yankees dominate the press and cast a large shadow over the New York metropolitan area, any die-hard Mets fan will tell you that real New Yorkers wear orange and blue.

My first time seeing a baseball game in person was at Shea Stadium as a nine-year-old with my grandfather in the summer of 1985.

As a child, I sometimes spent weekends with my grandfather in Queens riding around town in his old green station wagon. I'd stay up late watching TV on Friday nights, just to pop up early for a chore-free Saturday to catch cartoons without any interruptions.

However, this one particular weekend, he presented me with a life-changing surprise when he announced he had tickets for Saturday's game against the Houston Astros. For all I cared, the Mets could've been playing a team from China and my excitement still would've remained the same.

I remember riding on the packed No. 7 train, where almost every passenger was donning their blue caps with the orange interlocking N.Y. emblem, and impatiently pressing my face against the window in hopes of finally arriving at the ballpark.

When we got off, my eyes were captivated by this building that appeared larger than life in person and the loud planes that flew over from nearby LaGuardia Airport. But once we got inside, my level of enthusiasm went from excitement to border line hysteria as I saw guys like Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez take the field for the top of the first inning.

From that moment on, it was hook, line and sinker for me. I was pledged into the nationwide fraternity/sorority of Mets Phi Mets, and there was no turning back.

The following year, I was treated with a championship as the Mets knocked off those Astros in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series en route to beating out Boston to win the World Series.

Although they won it in seven, baseball fans throughout all remember Game 6 and Bill Buckner's blunder at first base.

Shea Stadium was rocking and I was bouncing around like a pogo stick as they mounted an against-all-odds two-run, two-out rally, which was capped off by legendary sportscaster Vin Scully's call - "So the winning run is at second base, with two outs, three and two to Mookie Wilson. A little roller up along first...behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!"

It was late on a Saturday night and I was supposed to be asleep for church the next morning. But like any mischievous kid, I snuck up to watch the game with the volume turned down just low enough to hear without alerting my family. I don't know how, but I managed to mute my cheering from my mother as I celebrated one of the greatest moments in Shea Stadium and World Series history.

I wasn't born yet to see Tom Seaver or the 1969 'Miracle' Mets, but my most cherished memories of the ballpark include Game 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series, Robin Ventura's grand slam single in Game 5 1999 NLCS versus Atlanta and the first professional sporting event in New York City following Sept. 11 when Mike Piazza belted an eighth inning homer lift the Mets to a 3-2 win over the hated Braves in front of an emotionally-charged sellout crowd.

Although the images of their new home, Citi Field, look great, I can't help but get choked up over seeing the final regular season game at Shea. When the final pitch is tossed from the mound, a piece of my childhood will end. I know every Braves fan knows what I'm going through after seeing Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium close and Turner Field arise.

My grandfather has since passed away, but I'll always remember my first outing at the ballpark as we watched our favorite team together.

Despite their recent slide in the standings, all is not lost, and hopefully they'll be playoff baseball in Flushing, Queens this October, capped off by another World Series miracle.

Farewell hallowed Shea Stadium. Farewell to one of the last symbols of my childhood innocence.

Lets Go Mets! Ya Gotta Believe!

(Rory Sharrock is a sportswriter for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at rsharrock@news-daily.com)