It's no secret that Shea can be a boorish place, full of drunks who've advanced directly to Seriously Antisocial without ever having landed on Amiable or Funny, dimwits who can't find their seats and aren't interested to hear they're in yours, asleep/feckless ushers, catatonic cashiers and people who apparently forked over $18 to $25 to yap on their cellphones about how bored they are. There's no such thing as a visit to the big blue rattletrap without at least one of the above; on a bad night you'll find yourself beset by all of them and wondering why you didn't just watch it on TV.
But then every once in a while you get the opposite: convivial seatmates, a cheerful, interested crowd, and an all-around fine time — one that can make the occasional stopped escalator, geysering toilet or unplugged Carvel kiosk just something to shrug aside as colorful scenery.
Happily, this was one of those nights I got the Anti-Shea.
It started on the subway: My car was taken over, in a good way, by a six-foot-plus Montana cowboy, complete with a deep tan, the kind of moustache Sam Elliott sports in “The Big Lebowski,” 10-gallon hat, giant belt buckle and gorgeous ostrich boots. Anyone who got within five feet of him got cheerfully greeted and interrogated; to him, New York City was a rollicking good adventure, from the subway he was on to the folks on their way home to Flushing and the subway musicians who came by to entertain us and the view out the window and the prospect of the ballgame he was headed to. It was tempting to follow him and watch how many people he could befriend on the ticket line, but I had a friend of my own to meet, so I let him go his way, silently thanking him for putting me in such a fine mood. (And New York City is a rollicking good adventure, if you let it be.)
My pal Aileen had been kind enough to offer me a spare ticket; she and I made our way to the upper deck, ejected two puzzled but nice-enough interlopers from our seats and got down to the cheerful business of drinking beer, chatting about baseball and work and writing and childhood misadventures and enjoying a wonderfully cool summer evening with the playoff-bound Mets on the national stage. An efficient, pleasant vendor kept us supplied with Budweiser (and returned at the last minute with ice cream), didn't sweat a forgotten ID and offered an explanation of the vendor trade (vendors pick what they'll haul around in order of seniority, if you're curious), along with stray but welcome bits of existentialism. The guys behind us were loud and boisterous (after they left I noticed an impressive number of little airplane bottles of booze under their seats) but knew their stuff, down to Maine's newfound reliability and Wright's new contract and Utley's old hitting streak. The guys in front of us looked like “Dazed and Confused” extras, and were lackadaiscally babysitting a couple of junior metalheads, which meant protesting if their charges didn't check in every two innings or so and good-naturedly giving them crap about constantly needing more money. But all involved were just fine, and having a good time.
The nearest thing to a badly behaved fan? It was me, at least for the moment I noticed the Mets were fawning on Joe Morgan and had to scream “MORGAN! YOU SUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKK!!!!!” at the fullest volume I could muster.
One of the vaguely babysat metalheads could have passed for me circa 1981, in fact: He had long blond hair, was decked out in Iron Maiden garb and around the eighth inning was frantic to spend his last $20 or so of ballpark money on some souvenir — any souvenir. The kid returned with a fascimile autograph ball bescribbled in machine black, and it was all I could do to laugh out loud. On the few occasions I got to Shea as a kid, inevitably in the back of somebody's mother's station wagon, I'd spend the first four or five innings obsessing about what to get with whatever ballgame money my mom had given me, then spend two innings dithering or inhaling soft ice cream, and then realize the game was almost over and wind up racing frantically around the stadium (having been threatened with eternal grounding if I wasn't back before the ninth), only to find all the shutters had come down on all the forerunners of the clubhouse shops. I'd return at the last possible moment with a Toronto Blue Jays pennant or something equally stupid, which I'd lose within a week or two. Mrs. Heingartner kept a better eye on us and certainly didn't preface every other word with fuckin', but the overall effect wasn't dissimilar. Nice to see some things don't change.
Anyway, all good, helped by the fact that down on the field John Maine was flinging Phillies aside like bowling pins and Jose Reyes was celebrating his contract in grand style and all was right with the baseball world. Nice place, this Anti-Shea. It could grow on a fella.