Thousands at 'Shea' to screen Joel documentary

Fans watch Billy Joel's "Last Play at Shea"

Fans watch Billy Joel's "Last Play at Shea" at Citi Field. (Aug. 21, 2010) (Credit: Jin Lee)

Hot dogs were eaten, beers were downed and fans filled the seats behind home plate, but Citi Field last night looked more like a movie theater than a baseball stadium when it hosted the official premiere of the documentary "Last Play at Shea."

"It is a little odd," said Noreen LoStrappo, 47, sitting with friends at a table that offered a good view of the Jumbotrons that would show the film above an empty ballfield. "But it's a nice night, and we thought it would be fun."

About 30,000 people attended last night's unusual screening of the film, which tells the history of Shea Stadium, the Mets, and their impact on New York City. Produced in part by Billy Joel, the movie features music and footage from his concerts in July 2008, the last the venue ever saw.

Demolition of Shea Stadium wrapped up in February 2009, and its replacement, Citi Field, opened soon after.

Though Joel was in attendance last night, clips of him speaking at a news conference earlier that day served as his introduction to the film.

"This is one of those amazing events," he said. "My life just keeps getting more amazing."

The documentary, which began around 8:30 p.m., seemed well-suited to the venue. Fans stood during footage of Joel's rendition of the national anthem and cheered for on-screen Mets figures like Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Mentions of the Mets' early record of failures, and of their notoriously run-down venue, drew affectionate laughter.

Shea Stadium's part in musical history, as the site of The Beatles' galvanizing 1965 concert, also figured in the film. For the British, "Shea Stadium was never this baseball legend at all," Sting said. "It was where The Beatles played."

Many of the loudest cheers came during the film's moments of local boosterism, as when Joel recalled his childhood in the Levittown-Hicksville area and sang his hit "New York State of Mind" accompanied by Queens native Tony Bennett.

The film scored an emotional home run when it briefly touched on New York's dark and economically depressed 1970s, a decade when Joel was busy taking the Los Angeles-based music industry by storm. After reading enough headlines, Joel recalled, "If the city's going down the tubes, I'm going with it. I'm moving back."

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