Just for a moment, for fans exiting the No. 7 train at Willets Point, Shea Stadium actually looks like a ballpark. Out of sight are the fluorescent stick figures adorning its wall, the expansive parking lots, the ornate orange. All that's visible is green grass, white bases, and a blue Chase Bank billboard.
This is the view from the orbicular subway exit ramp that juts out about 200 feet toward the stadium from the elevated tracks. For lots of fans, this backdrop is a good opportunity to pose for pictures. But others have found it an ideal locationthe cheapest, if not the nicestfor taking in a Mets game.
"You have to have a radio, though, because the scoreboards are all facing the other way," notes Shoaib Sheikb, who hops on the 7 at Main Street. "I come two or three times a month and stay a few innings. And the best thing is, it's free."
On most nights, only a handful of fans will take in the game from the 7 platform. But for big games, those that draw around 50,000 inside the park, 30 to 40 will gather on the ramp.
"I don't like the crowds inside the stadium," says Paul Smith, who grabs the train from Times Square after work and says he's rarely missed a game since 1985. Toting his two daily sports sections, a Walkman, and bottled water, he enjoys the view from 40 yards past the Mets bullpen. "All those years and I've never been inside once," he says. "I get tickets, but I give them away. Sometimes some business people have some extra ones from their company that they can't use or I'll get them from the cops who take them from the scalpers. But I don't go in. Sometimes I sell them.
"I also used to watch games from the platform by Yankee Stadium," Smith remembers. "But that was before they redid it. That was back when people used to sit up on their roofs and watch the games."
Since the paving over of old Yankee Stadium, the only free view of the big ballyard is the fleeting glimpse that comes by way of a passing No. 4 train.
"You'd have to make like 100 trips to watch a game," Smith jokes. He's only been back to the Bronx once since the remodeling, and that was because his brother was visiting from London and wanted to take in a game.
"And that was back in the Dave Win field days," Smith adds.
Unlike old-time sneaks who relied on tall shoulders or holes in outfield fences, this modern-day knothole gang has MTA-provided amenities. These include an actual public restroom that is clean and never has lines, an afforded leniency toward smoking addiction, and an understood rule about alcoholic beverages: just keep 'em in a paper bag.
There are no seats on the platform, but according to Smith its steps make for good bleachers on cool days. "Since they're steel, the sun really heats that shit up. You really need a pillow if you're going to sit on them some days."
Other seating options include an unused newsstand on the platform's edge, but most who dare attempt roof sitting are chased away by police.
Officer Dave Merrill, one of the three regular transit officers who patrol the platform areawhich is only opened on game dayssays he rarely has problems with the Met fans who watch the game from the ramp. "I'm just here to make sure everybody has fun, "he says. "That's all."
And to make sure everybody is safe. One time, according to another officer, a spectator sitting on the ledge of the platform fell off. Portable metal barricades are usually in place to prevent further incidents.
As for the Willets Point station workers, they're a little puzzled by the platform crowd, but they don't mind. "I don't think they have tickets and that's why they stand there and watch," says station agent Victor Wu. "I admit that I do it occasionally too."