I have no particular love for Shea Stadium. Never even been inside. From what I hear, it's not a lovely place. Leaky pipes and "curious smells," says one report. "A dump," says another.
Still, I'm sorry to learn that last week's New York Mets season opener will be the ballpark's last. More to the point, I'm sorry to learn that next year they'll be playing in a new park called Citi Field. As in Citigroup, the banking giant with offices in Africa, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States. It leaves me wondering if there remains any public space in this country without a corporate logo on it.
William Shea was, according to those who knew him, a garrulous man who could talk your ear off about baseball. When the Dodgers and Giants left the Big Apple, he led the push to bring another Major League team to town. The Mets played their first game in 1962, and when their new stadium opened two years later, it seemed appropriate to name it for him.
We don't do that so much anymore, name public spaces for people who have done things. Nor even for the cities in which things are done. The Miami Heat used to play in the Miami Arena. Now they play in an arena named for an airline. The Los Angeles Lakers' home court is named for an office supply store. The San Francisco Giants? A phone company. The Detroit Lions? An automaker. The Pittsburgh Penguins? A bank.
There is, yes, an obvious financial upside to all this for team owners: Citi is paying $400 million to chisel its name onto the Mets' new ballpark. But there is also, I think, a less obvious downside for the rest of us.
By which I mean the ongoing corporate invasion of our every public space. Consider a sampling of what has been contemplated or enacted in recent years: movie ads on home plate in baseball, subway stops named for corporate sponsors, company logos on police cars, public schools selling vending machine rights to soft-drink makers.
It's hard to fault those who are seduced by such offers. A school is strapped for cash and Coke is willing to pay to put its vending machine in the quad? Why not? The police departments that were promised free cars if they would put corporate logos on them were too broke to get cars any other way, so again, why not? And $400 million? Who's going to leave that much money on the table?
Still, what does it say about a society's priorities when its schools and cops are that desperate in the first place? What does it tell you about its quality of life when there is no public space safe from the incursion of advertising?
Yes, in a very real sense, nothing changes with this deal. Hot dogs, pretzels and beer will be sold on summer afternoons in Citi Field just as they were in Shea. Little kids with big catcher's mitts will still angle to catch foul balls. Nothing changes but a name.
And also, in increments, a nation. Where once there were mom-and-pop stores and people serving people, now there are superstores and self-serve checkouts and "Press one for more options." Where once there were institutions whose names reflected civic pride or noteworthy citizens, now there are institutions branded like cattle by corporate America.
This is not progress, it's pollution. It's corporations creeping like kudzu into the nooks and crannies of our lives.
For the record, yes, I know the Mets are within their rights to name their stadium whatever they want. But I am within mine to wish there were, at day's end, a few more places where it was possible to simply be, without being sold to.
Such places are becoming rare.
And I'm thinking they'll soon have to change the sign at the border: "Welcome to the United States of America. Brought to you by ..."
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears weekly in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.