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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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A Matter of Trust

When I was a kid, I liked chocolate ice cream. Because I liked chocolate ice cream, I was, as a matter of principle, against vanilla ice cream. Oh, vanilla ice cream was good, but giving it any credit would somehow take away from chocolate's status. As time went by, I found myself increasingly preferring vanilla over chocolate but if you asked me which I liked better, I would've said chocolate. It wasn't until my late thirties that I came to grips with the notion that if I liked vanilla more than chocolate, I should readily admit it.

I like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate ice cream.

It's that sense of loyalty to a flavor or an affiliation or a cause that is at the core of why it has taken me this long to tumble out of the Mezzanine closet and reveal myself as a Shea-basher. In my mind, I was already there. But to admit it out loud was to take a whole other escalator to a whole other level of admission. As someone who has spent his entire life idealizing Shea, mythologizing Shea, dreaming of Shea and going to Shea, how could I turn around and declare for the whole blogging world to read that I don't think kindly of Shea anymore?

Like this: I don't think kindly of Shea anymore.

I guess I already said that yesterday. But I'm sticking to it.

That said twice, I'll be at Shea Stadium at least a dozen more times this season because, as with chocolate ice cream, it's better than nothing. Actually, like chocolate ice cream, it's better than lots of things. It's better than Yankee Stadium no matter what surrounds either one of them. It's better than Madison Square Garden or Lincoln Center or any theater I can think of because they don't play baseball games in those places. It's better than every retro jewel in Baltimore, Pittsburgh or San Francisco because I'm not in Baltimore, Pittsburgh or San Francisco. It's better than any building or arena or stadium that doesn't have Mets games as their main attraction.

Which gets back to the problem. They've got us and they know it. We are each other's enablers. They know we're always gonna fall for the Mets angle. They've especially got Mets fans of a certain vintage who “grew up” in Shea Stadium and don't wanna let go. They've got us by the sentimental short hairs and they show no compunction about pulling hard. They've got the one thing we can't get anywhere else in the world.

They've got the Mets.

Damn them, damn them, damn them.

What they don't have for us is trust. As I continue to deconstruct the matter, that's what gets me about the Shea dystopia.

Are there other things that have turned me into a Shea-shooer? Sure, but they're not fatal. Does it bother me…

* That it's old and leaky? Yes, but so am I.
* That it's got a staff that as a rule would sooner kick you square in the nuts than sincerely wish you a good game? That's not OK, but this is New York. Courtesy would be appreciated but we don't have to get Disneyfied about it.
* That its curdling infrastructure works to raise the vile-behavior quotient up another notch? Really, I can't prove that even though I do sense it. In the prettiest Flushing Field of Dreams of imagination, you're gonna have at least a few drunken idiots as long as you sell too much beer, and they're not gonna stop selling beer. (And however many drunken idiots there are, they're always gonna be sitting in my section.)
* That they've never done Thing One about easing congestion out of the parking lot or toward the subway entrances? This pisses me off greatly and it's inexcusable, but it's only an issue when there's a big crowd and when there's a big crowd, it means we're doing well and if we're doing well, I'm a little more easily bought off. It's still absolutely disgusting that they pretend access issues don't exist.
* That a two-bit city like (almost everywhere in the National League) has a new ballpark and we don't? I do covet my neighbors' brighter, wider, nicer homes, but it's not about new versus old. The White Sox never should have torn down Comiskey Park. I wish Tiger Stadium was still open for business. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park speak for themselves. Needless to say, Shea isn't Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. It never had to be. It could have aged gracefully. It hasn't. But that alone is not the problem.

The problem is the distrust factor. You walk in to that place and you're immediately suspect. No, I take it back. You're immediately suspect just walking toward that place. I understand security and the need for it, but as with everything else, they make you feel like a criminal just for carrying a bag.

I open mine, I unzip my jacket, I do whatever they want me to do before they tell me to do it. I'm not who they have to worry about, but they act as if they do. Me and everybody else. There's something about the way they go through this necessary step that makes me feel like I'm about to join a lineup. My favorite was the guard at Gate E who once took out the book I was carrying, a political one, and opened it. Then he glared at me. What was he hoping to find? Subversive literature? Proof of non-citizenship? The stolen sign for the hit-and-run?

For all that is charged for a bottled beverage, alcohol or otherwise, they should trust you enough to let you carry it back to your seat with its cap on. As I mentioned, I've been to lots of ballparks. Nowhere else do they take the cap away from you. I've asked about this. I've been told two stories. One is, oh, we need the caps to track how many bottles we've sold. I think they have cash registers for that. The other is we don't want people throwing full bottles on the field. Ah, distrust. They think I and most of us just spent four bucks for twenty ounces of water so we can take dead aim at Bobby Abreu from 300 feet and hit him on the fly. Come on. Even the drunkards in my row on Opening Day weren't going to waste pricey Bud (save for what they spilled on Laurie) trying to take out an Astro.

While they don't trust us to act like adults, they do trust us to think like children. A few years back, I was at a game with a friend from work. She noticed these very nice-looking Hot Wings buckets with the Mets logo on them. Neither of us wanted an $18 order of Hot Wings, but it didn't seem unreasonable to try to track down a bucket. We went into the deli/bar where they were sold and asked if we could get an empty bucket. We'll even pay for it, I said (because I automatically assume you can't get something for nothing, let alone virtually nothing for nothing). We were told that if we wanted the empty bucket, it would cost the same $18 as if it came with Hot Wings. We passed on the bucket.

No anecdote or symptom of Shea's and the Mets' distrust and disdain for its paying customers, however, resonates like what happened to Stephanie and me last August. It illustrates my single biggest complaint about how the organization views its fans and runs its venue. It shows how little they respect they have for us.

It was a Sunday afternoon. Some good friends of ours were treating us to the game because it was their son's first-ever appearance at Shea (Brian Buchanan's, too). Having arrived early, I took Stephanie to the Fifth Avenueish boutique the Mets had opened in April. She hadn't seen it yet and I had only been in there once. For other ballparks, a store like this is standard fare. At Shea Stadium, it was an event. The previous time I attempted to get inside, there was a line and a barrier like it was Studio Freaking 54.

We entered the ballpark through Gate C and were able to walk right into the store. We did some t-shirt shopping and such. Brought our items to the front counter. Handed a credit card to the cashier who rang us up and ran it through. Our purchase was completed.

I point this out to note that we were indeed paying customers, not just at the game (OK, you bought us the tickets, but they were paid for) but at their high-end tchotchke shop. We weren't vagrants or loiterers.

As we were leaving, a guard stopped us to look through our shopping bag and match the items to the receipt. This was a little offensive, but that's retail, I rationalized. This was Shea Stadium, not Tourneau Corner, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Either way, it only took a moment.

Now we're standing outside the store, having exited onto the Field Level. That's good, I'm thinking, because I want to take Stephanie to the International Food Court which has been relocated down the left-field line. We can buy our exotica and then take it up to our seats in Loge.

We are stopped at another barrier and asked for our tickets. I show them. I am told these are for Loge, you take the escalator up one level.

Yes, I say, I know. But we just want to go to the food court.

You have to go up to Loge first and then walk all the way down toward left field and come down that ramp to get to the food court.

What?

You have to go up to Loge first and then walk all the way down toward left field and come down that ramp to get to the food court.

But the food court is right over there, I point out. We just want to go buy our food and then we'll go to our seats.

You have to go up to Loge first and then walk all the way down toward left field and come down that ramp to get to the food court.

I blurt out some righteous indignation along the lines of let me get this straight: We have tickets for this game. We have just shopped in your store. We have spent good money in there. What we want to do next is spend more good money right over there, mere yards away. We are adults who have come here on our weekend to enjoy ourselves at what is supposed to be a leisure activity. And you don't trust us to walk over there, buy our food and go to our seats without trying to pull a fast one and sit down here instead of up there despite the fact that I can read my ticket and for what it's worth my wife and I prefer the Loge to the Field Level which you guard like it's a state secret?

You have to go up to Loge first and then walk all the way down toward left field and come down that ramp to get to the food court.

I was also told that this is policy.

Ohhhh…it's policy! I'm sorry, I didn't understand. Policy. That explains everything.

I was also told that if I wanted to register a complaint, I could go find a Fan Relations desk.

Even better! We're here on a Sunday. We came for a good time. And now because we want to go spend more of our hard-earned money on some of your less unpalatable foodstuffs but think it's completely insulting to be chased upstairs just so we can head right back downstairs practically to where we are standing as we speak because you don't trust us to then bring our food to the seats specified on our tickets, we're supposed to engage your grudging-if-we're-lucky bureaucracy to have Policy reiterated to us like we're hotheaded threats to The Way Things Are?

You have to go up to Loge first and then walk all the way down toward left field and come down that ramp to get to the food court.

I didn't have enough self-respect to cause more of a scene and I'm not enough of a consumer-rights nut to have followed through with indignant letters. But once I went upstairs, I never went back down to their food court.

I sure showed them.

Exactly one week later, Stephanie and I visited Citizens Bank Park for the first time. They, too, had a store on what would be their equivalent of the Field Level. Much bigger than Shea's. The selection veered to Phillies-themed items, but one would expect that. We bought another bunch of t-shirts and pens we probably didn't need, took it to the cashier and paid for it. After it was bagged, we walked to the exit.

I looked for the guard who was gonna shake us down. There was none.

I looked for the next guard who was gonna check our tickets to tell us to immediately find an escalator. There was none.

I looked for some authority figure to tell us we were doing something wrong. There was none.

At Citizens Bank and at Minute Maid and at Great American and at every beautiful new ballpark I've been to (hell, even at — Gil forgive me — wretched Yankee Bleeping Stadium), they don't crotchblock you from buying stuff. They may not invite you into their private suites, but they don't put all the worthwhile merchandise on one level and then restrict access to that level. They don't cut off their distrustful noses to spite their Policy-hewing faces. They want you wandering around. They figure you'll spend your money where you wander. And even if you don't, they employ pretty basic business sense and figure you'll have a good enough time so that you'll buy a ticket to come back again and again whereas you might not ever come back if you don't have a good enough time.

Maybe it's the ushers' union that holds a death grip on Policy. Maybe if a fan was trusted to roam the Field Level concourse and one of them dared to use that access to casually wander into an empty orange seat, an usher would have to be nudged awake to angrily check that person's ticket. Maybe the Field Level and the concept of the box seat as province of the swells is so embedded in the New York baseball consciousness from the 1920s that it's beyond the realm to imagine that somebody wouldn't want to “sneak down” into one. Maybe they think the only people who attend Mets games are seven years old.

Maybe Shea Stadium is just a decrepit rathole run by an organization that holds its customers in complete contempt because it knows it can.

Play ball, indeed.

2 comments to A Matter of Trust

  • Anonymous

    You're both about 5 minutes from finally dragging me over to the dark side. All this time I never blamed any of the hostility and filth that exists at Shea ON Shea. Shea is my Mecca. I could no more criticize Shea than I could Jesus Christ. Both are utter blasphemy.
    But I feel myself being pulled in. Or away. It really is no fun to watch a game at Shea anymore. I no longer enjoy being there. By the 3rd inning I want to go home, and it has nothing to do with the Mets. Shea isn't paradise anymore. Shea is the Bronx. There, I've said it.
    And that being said, do I have a choice? Nope. Not only, as Greg pointed out, does Shea have the Mets, but in New York City it's now the ONLY place to see the Mets. I no longer have the option of watching the game from the comfort of my own booze-free, f-bomb-free home, where the pretzels are fresh and the water doesn't cost four bucks. Shea is literally the only game in town.
    One more thing… four bucks is a small price to pay for the heavenly pleasure of clocking Bobby Abreu.
    Laurie

  • Anonymous

    Great, great, great post. You really should send this on to Jay Horowitz or someone. When I was a kid I wrote him a letter complaining about the size of the squares in the program's scorecard. He (or someone) wrote me back, explaining that the scorecard part of the program was actually a Budweiser ad, and they didn't have direct influence over it. But the next season, the bozes were bigger. The next season, I stopped keeping score of games. But anyway, your points are great, and true. I still miss the place though.
    -Mike V
    http://www.transplantedmetsfan.com