In my spectacularly unambitious existence, one of the recurring mini-plans I harbor is to get up and hustle off to a day game to which I don't hold a ticket. Real spur of the moment stuff. I don't know that I've ever done it, but it always sounds adventuresome. Ultimately, as I sit on the couch and 1:10 comes and goes and the Mets' chances come and go, I think, “ah, just as well I stayed home.”
On the short end of an 8-2 thump, if viewed via Snigh, I imagine I would have reached exactly that conclusion. But I did hold a ticket and I did go and despite the end of the winning streak (to say nothing of my lifelong whammy over the Brewers, which was on borrowed time considering “my” first loss to them had already been miraculously deferred last August), it was just as well that I went.
Don't like to lose. Don't like to Log a loss, even an inevitable, had to happen sometime loss. But I like going to Shea. That's right — to Shea, not generically “to a ballgame”. This was the first chance I had to experience Dead Park Walking for real since it was slapped with its eviction notice more than a week ago. Put aside the inevitable can't-win-'em-all final and it was typical Shea the way I'll likely remember it when it's gone and I myself don't have that long left.
• It was full: Not endless bathroom line full but pretty close. How do they keep setting attendance records? First place and clear skies make for an attraction like no other. There were even multiple scalpers working the LIRR exit. Amazin'.
• It was loud: M-V-P! Let's Go Mets! Hoo-Lee-OH! (First name, not last.)
• It was vibrant: Only Jorge Julio truly killed the mood, and then only until the next half-inning. I'm officially against booing, but it was rather amusing to watch the hapless reliever get it until Beltran made a great third-out catch. Beltran got cheered until the crowd, as one, realized Julio was slinking off the mound without abuse, then they remembered to turn on him again. Until PavlovVision replayed the catch. In a believey mood, I want to believe this guy can be resuscitated, but he can't even seem to tuck in shirt successfully.
• It was colorful: Blue fences, green grass, orange seats…nowhere but Shea. I'll miss the orange seats even though I rarely sit in them. Is anybody ever going to install orange seats in anything that isn't ironic again?
• It was mismanaged: The only thing more useless than a Shea usher is no Shea usher at all. I had the pleasure of hundreds of fans staring at their tickets right between me and the batter because there was nobody to steer them to their seats. I could have helped them, but then where would be my moral indignation?
• It was head-scratchingly stupid: The carnival that occasionally alights on the premises when the Mets are away was open and accepting suckers beyond the left field fence. Why were carnies allowed to pound stakes in the parking lot and operate their cheap thrill rides when there was a sellout throng presumably circling the Van Wyck for a spot?
• It was baffling in its simplicity: In yet another between-innings take on Match Game, a fan was asked to complete the phrase “third blank”. She said “third base,” but if she had found such distractions as these inane questions “third-rate,” would have she still won the prize?
• It was big-hearted: You can't honor Jackie Robinson or Rachel Robinson or Jackie's Negro League predecessors enough, and they always do this with class and dignity. The next joint may look like Ebbets Field, but the ultimate Dodger's memory has been preserved and kept alive for all time at Shea.
• It was too loud: Confidential to Vito Vitiello — please turn down the bass for the next angelic choir that serenades Mrs. Robinson. And us.
• It was situation normal, all fouled up: As the Jackie tribute got underway, Cliff, David and Carlos B. were in right, stretching and tossing and preparing as they normally would have. Once they realized what was going on, they stopped what they were doing and paid respectful attention to the big screen. When it came time for the players to line up for a presentation of some sort, the three of them quietly moved to the right field foul line so as not to disturb the goings-on. I thought that was touching and uncommonly self-aware, a very sweet tableau. But into the void rushed an extremely familiar club executive frantically waving them over to the rest of their teammates. He was just doing his job, I suppose, but from the mezzanine, it seemed overly officious. Here were three Mets (a rainbow coalition, for what it's worth) paying homage to a true legend in what appeared a sincere, adult manner, and here were the protocol cops going nuts. It could have happened on any field, but it seemed business as usual for Shea — rearranging deck chairs while the Titanic's singers nearly blew out my ears, thanks to the bass being turned up to 11.
• It was loyal to a fault: Spotted on the backs of fans who had to shell out and special order them: PHILLIPS 23 and JACOBS 27. Talk about jumping the gun, to say nothing of that old chestnut, the tri-toned PULSIPHER 21. The PIAZZA 31s haven't been abandoned, but the modern look held sway. There was swarm of REYES 7, BELTRAN 15, FLOYD 30 and MARTINEZ 45 and a budding smattering of LO DUCA 16, WAGNER 13 and DELGADO 21. Needless to point out, every middle-aged man in New York is apparently dying to be confused with WRIGHT 5. In one advance ticket window queue after the game, there were three WRIGHT 5s lined up in a row as if for induction into the David Corps. I oughta know, I was the third of three.
• It was geeky to a fault: As I stood in said line, I saw emerge from the METS OFFICES feet away, over a 20-minute span, Mrs. Robinson (elegant as all get out), Howie Rose (rushing off to a hockey game or I would have tackled him, praised him to the high heavens for 20 years of outstanding service then harped on him for some comment he made about the racing stripe unis in 1995, but he was really double-timing it to his car, so I let him go) and Ron Darling (displaying smart suit, briefcase, swagger and bulk, has aged without getting older; looked like he was guesting as an ex-ballplayer turned prosecutor on L.A. Law). After I exchanged last week's rainchecks for a date deep into the future, I hoped beyond hope that I would see one more celebrity. Sure enough, as I turned to leave, and whose path crossed mine but that of…GARY COHEN! Yes, HIM! Hero to thirty/fortysomething bloggers from Baldwin to Brooklyn! Even more so than David Wright! Couldn't tell you about his X-ray vision because he cleverly hid it behind very dark shades. But a scintillating conversation ensued in which I said “HI GARY!” and he said “Hi!” I'm including the exclamation point because he didn't seem to mind that I said hello. A group of three women then told him, “YOU'RE WONDERFUL!” And he told them, “Thank you!”
• It was, if not heaven, close enough.
• It was why we buy calendars and felt-tip markers to count down the days to baseball season. We wait for pitchers & catchers, then the first exhibition game and then Opening Day and, if not's one and the same, the Home Opener. Why do we forget to look forward to the rest?
• It was all vaguely incomprehensible unless you've been to Shea more than 300 times, but even if you haven't, you couldn't have found a better place to sit in shirtsleeves and yell and figure out what you needed to figure out.
• It was home.
What bugs me about the condemnation process and death dance inficted upon Shea is the lazy tack the Bill Madden-Hacky Hackerson types have taken: “It's a dump.” It's not a dump. I will not even concede the popular, more sympathetic, “But it's our dump.” It's clearly not the optimal baseball experience as we (and jaded grumps whose professional credibility depends on how much they themselves can dump on everything) have come to understand it, but on a Saturday afternoon like this particular Saturday afternoon, it's fine. It's more than fine. It contains a baseball game hosted by a first-place team that you and 55,000ish persons are rooting for (give or take a reliever) and it's 78 degrees in the middle of April and it's sunny and, geez, whaddaya want out of life?
Days like yesterday aren't days for the circular debate of how much better a new park can be and how much better, say, PNC Park is. I know how much better PNC Park is than Shea Stadium. I'm the Long Island branch of the PNC Park Fan Club. I'd kidnap PNC Park if I could bring the bridges and the river behind it with me just so I could have somewhere to sit and meditate during commercial breaks. But when our team is going as well as our team is going and we're surrounded by tens of thousands of others who share the same affection for our team and when it's not raining and not freezing — and as long as the toilets are working — then, geez, a day like Saturday at Shea is pretty damn sweet.
I'm glad I went. It was fun.