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The Mets-Fan Graphic Designer Reviving Shea Stadium’s Neon

The Mets-Fan Graphic Designer Reviving Shea Stadium’s Neon

Shea Stadium and its neon figures.
Photo: Jerry Driendl/Getty Images

Since 2016, a graphic designer named Dan Abrams has marked each and every Mets victory by opening up Adobe Illustrator, creating a drawing of a key moment in the style of the minimalistic neon figures that once lit up the exterior of Shea Stadium, and posting it to social media. Shea has been gone since 2008, but Abrams has become the keeper of its neon glow in recent years. Now he’s embarking on his most ambitious project yet: a campaign to get the Mets to bring his designs, inspired by their old ballpark, into their new one. Fans are responding to the idea: His posts about it have generated more than 5,000 likes on Twitter and Instagram, and his feeds are filled with hundreds of comments saying things like, to quote one, “This should absolutely happen.” To a certain type of online Mets fan, Abrams is rapidly becoming Neon Guy.

When Shea Stadium opened in 1964, on the eve of the New York World’s Fair, its signature decorative element was an array of hundreds of blue-and-orange corrugated metal panels. They hung in front of the exterior ramps that made up much of the ballpark’s visible shell. But those panels came down in 1980, when the ballpark’s exterior was painted a brighter blue, and a few years later, before the 1988 season, 90-by-60-foot neon figures of generic baseball poses were added to the stadium’s windscreens, part of a Mets-ification of the park that followed the Jets’ departure for Jersey. Although Shea was no one’s idea of a classic ballpark, the figures were at least a little bit of a flourish, and they provided a nice visual cue to distinguish the Mets’ home from the rest of the grim concrete rings built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Four of Abrams’s designs. Clockwise from top left: Endy Chavez, Starling Marte, Pete Alonso, and Gary Carter.
Photo: Courtesy of Dan Abrams

Abrams was first inspired to create one of these neon drawings during the spring of 2016, when Yoenis Cespedes, then a star Mets outfielder, celebrated a home run with a bat flip. The real Neon Guy origin story came later that year, though, when the website Barstool Sports used a similar motif on a shirt depicting popular pitcher Bartolo Colón. Even though Abrams knew he couldn’t trademark the idea of drawing ballplayers in neon strokes, he decided then he wanted to be known as the Neon Guy, and so the designs kept coming — both the post-victory images and others reimagining great moments in Mets history: Jesse Orosco collapsed on the mound after closing out the ’86 World Series, or Endy Chavez stealing a home run during the 2006 NLCS.

“They bring me back to being a kid and going on Saturdays with my dad and my brother,” says Abrams. “Part of why I do them — it sounds dramatic, but I don’t want to let that die. I’ve done 500-plus of these, and every one I get a kick out of, because that style reminds me of being a kid going to Shea.”

Abrams’s rendering of what his designs would look like inside Citi Field’s Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
Photo: Courtesy of Dan Abrams

For a while, the drawings were a labor of love. Abrams, who’s done design work for athletes, sports leagues, and individual teams, briefly tried selling shirts with his illustrations years ago, but ran into legal issues over the players’ image rights. Earlier this year, though, he began working with the website BreakingT, which has a merchandise license from the Major League Baseball Players Association, allowing him to legally hawk his products. T-shirts featuring Pete Alonso and Taijuan Walker are available now. Car decals are coming soon. Plans are also in the works to sell two-foot-tall working neon signs, starting with one of the late Mets legend Gary Carter, the profits from which Abrams plans to donate to a few Mets-affiliated charities. (He’s already made a Jacob deGrom neon sign for his office and is planning on giving a personalized sign to each member of this year’s team, both as a gesture and perhaps a bit of marketing. He says several players have already either boosted his work on social media in the past or messaged him directly to compliment it.)

Abrams believes so strongly in the neon aesthetic that he wants the Mets to bring a bit of it into Citi Field, and he was sure to tag owner Steve Cohen in his tweet about the idea. He envisions six-foot-tall neon signs depicting classic Mets moments, perhaps on the inner walls of the ballpark’s main entrance, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. And he sees the neons not just as a way for the Mets to nod to their history but as an Instagrammable backdrop for fans.

It’s not a far-fetched idea. Abrams has worked with the Mets before — they once hired him to create spring-training graphics for their social feeds — and the team’s Very Online owner is as likely as any in sports to listen to what fans are clamoring for on Twitter. Under Cohen’s ownership, the Mets brought back their annual Old-Timers’ Day and reintroduced their Piazza-era black jerseys. The neon project, which was well received on social media when Abrams announced it, would appear to strike a similar chord.

Abrams says he hasn’t heard from the Mets about his idea and that the odds of it happening “are maybe 50-50. I would guess it’s less.” Says Abrams, “I would say what bodes well for me is that Cohen wants to do things that the fans like, and very fortunately for me, the fans like the neons.” As they all know, ya gotta believe.