Some baseball games are made for converting newcomers to the sport, for infecting them with the fever, for teaching them about double plays and the hit-and-run and bunts and the infield fly and then blowing them away with the sheer joy of a come-from-behind win.
Tonight's game? It wasn't one of those.
Yes, Bronson Arroyo turned in a fine effort. Ken Griffey Jr. hit No. 548, tying Mike Schmidt. El Duque was good but not good enough. The odds caught up with Chad Bradford. Carlos Beltran hit a monster home run that didn't particularly matter. 4-2, meh, everyone get home safe. I'll remember the strange double play with El Duque snagging Arroyo's bunt attempt and then patiently waiting for Brandon Phillips to accept his remarkable degree of outness (as both teams kind of wandered off the field), but that's about it.
But wait, that's not true. I'll remember something else. Behind the outfield wall, in the parking lot, there are cranes. Cranes and stacked concrete blocks, walled away from the cars and the curious. They're the first signs of new Shea.
And tonight they were particularly welcome, because I'd had just about enough of old Shea. I used two different bathrooms. One had a busted sink; the other was out of soap. Both were flooded. (My suggestion for Diamondvision's next Define This Word contest: crepidahyrdrophobia, the not-unreasonable fear of having to use a flooded Shea Stadium bathroom in sandals.) The beer was warm. With five or six customers still in line, the woman churning out soft-serve ice cream stopped to carefully count the quarters in her register. And that level of decay and dysfunction doesn't even add up to a bad night at Shea these days. Walking out with Greg, I craned my neck to look at the cranes (um) and had a brief fantasy that they were constructing catapults out there, and soon I might get to see those giant blocks hurtling through the air (think the Pepsi Party Patrol, but gigantic and pissed) to level the grandstand and its hot-dog-free hot-dog stands and random caches of escalator parts and pigeon perches and flooded crappers and broken seats and soapless dispensers and urinal ads recruiting for the Dallas police (yes, really). Too harsh? Well, when you've twice had to step gingerly through a lake of toilet water, nostalgia isn't uppermost in the mind. Right now 2009 seems awfully far away.
Ack. Gotta close with something better. Fortunately, I have something. This afternoon for my day job I wound up doing a TV shoot at Sotheby's, which is about to have an exhibition of baseball memorabilia. Not cards and stuff like that (though there are cards, including 1968 Topps 3-D prototypes no one knew existed) but bats used by Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, balls signed by the 1927 Yankees (that's old enough for them to have lost all but a whiff of brimstone), and uniforms worn by Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams and Warren Spahn (as a Met!) and Hank Aaron when he was a rookie. There's a 1858 scorer's report from an All-Star Game in Brooklyn that looks new and one of the first gloves worn by a fielder.
And there's the centerpiece of the show: a Senators road jersey worn by Walter Johnson sometime between 1919 and 1922. I was standing with a Sotheby's official chatting about the uniform and the amazing condition it was in and she said, “It's wool — you won't believe how heavy it is. Here, feel it.”
Um…feel it? Walter Johnson's uniform? Really?
I did. Gingerly. The jersey didn't spontaneously combust. I wasn't carted off to the gulag. It was heavy — heavy enough to pity anyone who wore it in the summer, in fact. Wow, the Big Train pitched in this, I thought. Wore it to face Cobb and Ruth. It's been around for all these years and now it's here. Right here between my fingers.
Even on a night when we lost 4-2 and our park seemed like a particularly shabby antique, I'd call that a pretty good day.