Glad you liked what you saw in every sense of the word. I had to miss the ninth last night while on a train, too. But I was coming at it from another direction. From the north. From the past.
It was New York Giants Fan Club Night in Riverdale, my once-a-year day of paying live homage to the team I dote over in absentia. To retrace my tracks, it is best to go inside the numbers.
49: Seasons since the Giants left the Polo Grounds. I hate Horace Stoneham.
33: Seasons since I first read about their leaving and decided I was one of their decade-displaced followers. We wear the same NY!
7:00: Meeting time in the northernmost Bronx, inconvenient in the sense that it coincided with meeting time in Philadelphia, but it was the consensus choice.
4: The LIRR to Penn Station, a 1 to Times Square, the S to Grand Central, the 6:25 Metro-North to a magical-sounding station on the Hudson called Spuyten Duyvil. Four trains to get to a gathering of baseball fans at a Chinese restaurant where there's no TV to watch a mildly crucial baseball game in progress. What's wrong with this picture?
20: That's approximately how many of “the guys,” or old-time Giants fans, showed up (though one of the guys was a gal). Bill Kent, our organizer, had predicted “15 guys” would make it.
15: Copies of various Giants and Polo Grounds articles, written by me and others, that I had made and put into snazzy Staples-bought folders to give out. What I can't offer in first-hand anecdotes I can least make up for in Xeroxing. I figured there'd be leftovers. Instead, there's a shortage. To those whom I was able to hand out bulging folders, I am a hero. To those I shortchange, I am a cad. I feel guilty.
2: Guys Bill picks up at Spuyten Duyvil. Me coming from the city, Ed coming from Tarrytown. Bill's a full-service welcoming committee. His car is filthy, he apologizes, because he doesn't drive much. There are no cabs at Spuyten Duyvil. And he's apologizing?
1: Giant fan, Neil, who greeted me as “Mr. Met,” based on his having seen me and/or my writing credit on Mets Weekly. Me, Mr. Met? It's enough to give a fella a big head.
1: Yankee blogger (and Curt Flood biographer) in attendance, Alex Belth of Bronx Banter. We have maintained back-channel diplomatic relations via e-mail over the months, linked in part by our mutual fondness for Bill Kent the Giants guy. It's our first face-to-face. Hands are shaken. Peace in our time. Alex is one of those reasonable Yankees fans who make you feel small for hating his team. I already feel guilty about not having enough copies of articles and such, so I don't mind feeling small.
26: The number on the wrong NY t-shirt Alex is wearing. It says HERNANDEZ, for El Duque. He's Alex's favorite pitcher. He's my No. 4 starter. More common ground! Alex is gracious in his praise toward the 2006 Mets. I don't say a damn thing about the 2006 Yankees.
75: Willie Mays' latest birthday, a fact commemorated by another author, Gary Brown, who is writing a book about the '54 Giants. Gary has prepared a list of 75 feats accomplished by Willie Mays as genius-in-residence at the Polo Grounds. Gary and I acknowledge 75 is lowballing.
6-5/8: Bobby Thomson's cap size. Charlie from the Staten Island Advance has brought along a number of artifacts ex-Richmond County resident and all-time Giants hero Thomson recently donated to the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame. His cap. His glove (it's tiny!) from his rookie season. His warmup jacket from 1951 (1951!). A framed Willard Mullin original cartoon sent by the artist to the slugger. We pass these around and ooh and aah and I try not to drop any of them into the wonton soup.
4-3: Mets lead Phillies the first time I furtively sneak a bud into my ear. Gary had been kindly answering my question about how a staff consisting of Lemon, Wynn, Garcia and Feller could get swept in 1954. There was a long enough pause when dinner started coming out so that I thought I could check the score. Gary continues his analysis and then apologizes when he sees me listening to the game. I apologize for my rudeness but only half-mean it. We're baseball fans. We should all have buds in our ears.
5: Approximate minutes between the next-to-last person being brought his entrée and me being brought my entrée. There's always somebody whose dinner doesn't come with the rest. Tonight it's me. When it is, I always feel it's intentional. Perhaps karma is upset with me for not making 20 copies.
4-4: My steamed chicken and vegetables come but they can't be as steamed as Jason and Emily, I'm thinking, at Glavine for not having it. How many home runs did he give up? FOUR? But Jason is probably so busy sharpening his Shea axe that I'm guessing he's compartmentalized his anger.
140: Giants games Bill tells Chris, who has come from San Francisco, he is able to watch by satellite. Bill is miffed that he doesn't get all 162, a perfectly good miff. I attempt an explanation, based on my Extra Innings experience, as to why he doesn't get all 162. Chris asks me how many Giants games I get. Chris came late and doesn't know I'm Mr. Met. I tell him, despite the black cap with the orange NY on my head, that I'm not a San Francisco Giants fan. He asks me what I'm doing here. I explain I stopped rooting for the Giants five years before I was born.
0: San Francisco Giants fans at the table who were happy that Barry Bonds hit his 715th homer. I think I got a bigger kick out of it than they did. But then again, I was mostly rooting against Babe Ruth.
2: Platters of complimentary Hunan Balcony ice cream that arrive after dinner. Bill reminded the hostess that he had brought in a party of 20 and with 20, you get ice cream. When it arrives, he proudly announces he had “finagled” us dessert. At first I thought he said “enabled,” but really, in this case, it meant the same thing.
6: Ibuprofen I had taken in the course of the day. I thought I had shaken my headache but the sun glinting off the Hudson and shining into my eyes on the way up and glancing through all the thoughtful articles being passed around without my reading glasses exacerbated it. I love the New York Giants, I dig the mementoes, I like The Guys, but I'm itchy to get out, get on a train, get back to the Mets. (I wonder if the real Mr. Met has headaches that match the size of his head.)
2.5: Milligrams of Zomig that I will take as soon as I get home. If I have a cluster headache, that stuff's da cluster bomb.
1: Very tall gentleman who showed up as the party was breaking up. He brought a duffelbag of framed photos. Of Thomson and Branca, of the PG, of Mel Ott. Promised to bring copies next time, 10 bucks each.
24: Willie Mays' number, yes, but also minutes remaining before the 9:39 to Grand Central. I want to linger over the treasures of the duffelbag as much as any of the guys, but I also want to make my train. When I politely mention to Bill, who is our host but also Ed's and my ride, that there is a train to catch, Bill takes off like the gray tornado. Bill walks up and down the hills of Riverdale every day. Bill is in better shape than me. Bill is like a half-block ahead and on his way to the parking lot before I realize where he is. I rush out after him, rudely not saying goodbye to Gary Brown. Gary should be used to my rudeness by now.
11: Mets who came to the plate in the sixth, according to Tom McCarthy, whom I plug into en route to Bill's car. I let out a WOO! while digesting the wonton, the chicken, the vegetables, the quarter-scoop of finagled pistachio I managed to lay my spoon into and the brand new score, Mets 9 Phillies 4.
3: Quick arithmetic reveals to me a problem. If we sent eleven men to the plate and we scored five runs, that means with three outs, we left the bases loaded. I know we're the greatest team in the world, but I don't like leaving the bases loaded. Not in Citizens Bank Park. Not in Shibe Park. Not in Silver Lake Park where Stephanie and I used to feed the Baldwin ducks.
1: Bump my head takes on the sloping roof of Bill's Acura as he speeds us back to the Spuyten Duyvil station. McCarthy mentions a five-run lead isn't all that comfortable at Citizen's Bank. Bill's back seat isn't all that comfortable either. That Zomig's looking better and better.
10: Minutes approximately that I have to sit at Spuyten Duyvil before the 9:39, thanks to Bill's diligence. It's idyllic. Warm evening, calm Hudson, sizable if not comfortable lead. Commuting on the LIRR is work. Commuting on Metro-North is a busman's holiday.
2: Innings Willie wants to get out of Pedro Feliciano, so he lets him bat. Middle relief has been Amazin' of late. Tom and Eddie C. explain over and over again what a job Chad Bradford did cleaning up Glavine's mess. I'm more impressed with Bradford than I am concerned about Glavine. He and Pedro are entitled to a couple of bad starts, a dead arm period or whatever they would call it. Just don't let it become a habit.
100: Yards, no more it appears, that separate the Hudson line tracks from Yankee Stadium. On the Harlem line, I'm usually staring across the River for a long glance at the four towers that stand where the Polo Grounds used to sit. But on this trip, we wind perilously close to the House that Malice Built. I have to admit I like the idea that big league (even American League) baseball is being played so close to where I'm riding. I finally understand all those complaints about the lack of a Metro-North Station for Yankee Stadium. These tracks are closer to that building than the LIRR's Shea Stadium station is to Shea. Then again, what do I care if Yankee fans are inconvenienced? (Except for Alex…good guy.)
33: Minutes between my alighting at Grand Central and my train at Penn Station. Choice: Walk the 15-20 minutes to 34th and 7th and enjoy the play-by-play of what is surely going to be a calm and happy ending (it was still 9-4 when we went into the tunnel) or take the Shuttle and the 1 back to Penn to be on the safe side because I really want to make the 10:34 home. I choose the Shuttle.
Several: Yankees fans who have returned from their game against Cleveland. Seems early. I'm assuming the Indians were winning 14-0 and they all bailed out, the front-runners.
1: Older man in Carolina Hurricanes t-shirt, UNC baseball cap, St. Louis Cardinals pin on cap sitting across from me on the Shuttle. I was going to wish him luck with the Stanley Cup except a) hockey? and b) I carved out a quick backstory in which he and his wife, both easily impressed tourists from the Raleigh area, were coming back from the Yankee game and didn't know enough to be in New York to see a real team play. The hell with him and the Hurricanes and everybody else on the train. What are you all doing here? Unless you were at a meeting of fans of a defunct franchise, you should all be home or in Philly watching the Mets.
1: Lady with rolled up fatigue pants and a RIVERA 42 t-shirt in Times Square station. I rudely cut in front of her on the way to the red line, but it's not rude if you cut in front of someone like that.
1910: Year Penn Station opened. Though it is a most depressing terminus, especially when compared to my beloved, restored and maintained Grand Central, there remain a few bits and pieces of its glorious heritage barely above the surface. For example, if you get off the 1 train in the right spot, you walk down a corridor that has tiles that survived the hateful 1960s renovation and a sign pointing you to the R.R. I can never remember which exit takes me there, but that's where I got out last night. Since I tend to forget this pathway is there, I also forget a relatively new restaurant's back end is visible, a place called Tracks. Tracks has these wide windows intended to replicate a classic train. And through those windows you can see a television. The television is tuned to SNY. There is a real clear view.
9-7: 9-7?!?!?! How the fudge did it get to be 9-7? It's the top of the ninth, according to the upper left hand corner of the screen, so I blame Heilman or Sanchez. What's with these guys? But the Mets are threatening, so maybe Citizens Bank Park will be no more comfortable for the Phillies than it is for me.
13: Minutes before the 10:34. Plenty of time to stand and watch if I so choose. Why wouldn't I choose? I like to jump on my train as early as possible to get a window seat to get optimal FAN reception, but there's a TV showing me the game right here and we can put it away, so just stand here. Something will happen.
2: Commuters who settle in to watch Paul Lo Duca bat: me and a guy headed in the other direction for the subway. He asks for confirmation that the score is indeed 9-7. I confirm and then give him a recap as best as I've been able to absorb it along the way. Lots of home runs. Glavine not sharp. Beltran hit one out. We scored five in the sixth but left the bases loaded. And now Lo Duca is hit to load them again. And Carlos B is coming up!
2: Waiters who keep finding reasons to service the empty section of Tracks with the flatscreen TV. They peek at every other pitch.
2: Yankee fans down from (genuflection alert!) The Stadium who wander by and note the score without rancor. I sense a bandwagon effect. Or perhaps more of them are reasonable like Alex and less like the lady in fatigues. But then my worldview would need adjusting and I'm not ready for that.
9…8…7…: The minutes until the 10:34 tick off. Surely they've called my track by now. Surely the train is filling up. Surely this at-bat is taking forever. Surely I'm already in Penn Station and it's not going to kill me to wait for another pitch and then another. Surely I'm not going to miss my R.R. train. There's a TV with a Mets game in front of me and I'm watching it with a total stranger and we're both into it. What's the rush?
3: Called strike on Beltran. How could he take that pitch?
1: DAMN! that I let out before bolting for the 10:34.
5: Minutes before my train. Yeah, I'll make it.
1: Empty window seat in the second-to-last car that I grab. My head is pounding. Long Island Yankee fans, my least favorite substrata of the genre, are on board, but they're quiet (wow, they must have really gotten their asses handed to them by Cleveland). I'm in a seat behind one of those facing seats and the guy who's facing me is leaning into talk to his girlfriend but it feels like he's leaning in my face. And he's wearing an Astros cap. I'm annoyed.
10: Reasons I'm annoyed. The headache. The lack of Mets company on the 10:34. The high-pierced shriek of static that buzzes through the earbuds until we start rolling. The uncertainty of what's going on a hundred miles away. The near certainty that Billy Wagner's coming in. The fear that Billy Wagner is rusty and will treat his return to Philadelphia like he did the ninth inning of that Yankees game. The suspicion that Tom McCarthy is half-rooting for the Phillies, his employer of the last five years, the way Ted Robinson never stopped talking about the Giants, the San Francisco version (Tom sure knows a lot about the Citizens Bank comfort level). The missing of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose who I know would get me through this, who I know would find me in this tunnel (I'm sure spending a lot of time in tunnels). The dread that Eddie and Tom call every fly ball like it's an out and yet in Citizens Bank Park it's a homer because Citizens Bank Park is built on top of an old air hockey table. The dread that it's 9-7 and that the Phillies have a way of turning 9-7 deficits into 10-9 victories and that they'll be 5-1/2 out and the four-game sweep against Arizona will be for naught and maybe the Braves came back and it was all looking so good and why did I have to schlep all the way to that meeting tonight when I could've been home at least finding out that everything had gone wrong, cripes it's not like the New York Giants are going anywhere?
0: Change in the score from the window of Tracks to out of the East River tunnel. Mets win 9-7. It apparently took some fancy defense, but fancy defense is allowed. Mets finagle a win. Phillies lose by extension and trail by 7-1/2. Braves lose and are 11 back. Nationals lose and are 11-1/2 back. We pick up a game on everybody except the Marlins, who are as relevant to our standing now as the Nationals and the Braves and almost the Phillies. Yankees, it turns out, won 1-0, but I don't much care. Giants are playing late in Bill Kent's apartment in Riverdale. He invited everybody over but I doubt anybody took him up on it since I practically chased him out of Hunan Balcony to the Spuyten Duyvil station. I get home, pop my Zomig and wonder why SNY doesn't show the game over and over again like a Mets channel should.
3-0: Mets record when I make my annual New York Giants Fan Club pilgrimage. I'm not sorry I schlepped before I slept. But I still hate Horace Stoneham. And Walter O'Malley.