- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

It's Business Time

You know that baseball season that began a few weeks ago on a Sunday night in April? It's one hundred games old now. Time has alternately flown and dragged, but somehow we have again reached triple digits.

And?

We're 57-43, in first place in the N.L. East, four games in front of the second-place team, holding the best record in the National League.

One year ago?

We were 59-41, in first place in the N.L. East, 11-1/2 games in front of the second place team, holding the best record in the National League.

Big difference in one of those descriptors, to be sure, but otherwise we have practically the same record 100 games in to 2007 as we did 100 games in to 2006. We have played lethargically for most of the past two months, yet we maintain a solid if not overwhelming margin in our sector of the circuit. Some nights are better than others. Some are undeniably worse. But we're 57-43. We're in first place. We're almost shadowing '06, not after a third of a season [1] but nearly two thirds.

We're all right, I think.

Mind you, I'm not giving up the toughlove [2]. This is no time for curtain calls, unless another Mets pitcher hits another home run [3]. Nor is it time for pats on the back for six decent innings against an eminently beatable team, even if I am enjoying the 9-4 molehill we've mounted since the All-Star break and am looking forward to Tom Glavine achieving his milestone. I just don't want to revel in this recent burst of eptitude too much, lest my favorite squadron of Nye Mets [4] take a casual attitude toward work.

Wednesday night's baseball match at Shea (where I've been spending many a happy, sweaty evening of late) was fine and good. It got the job done. [5] All wins are created equal from this seat in the mezzanine. But there remains in me the nagging feeling we could be doing more to grind our heels into the Pirates' generally useless throats and we're not. This is the one team to whose level we really play down. Did it last year [6], doin' it to a certain extent this year. The last two games were won by scores of 8-4 and 6-3, both of which are fairly satisfying tallies.

Y'know what, though? We should have won by more. Not to run up the points in case of a tiebreaker and not even to stick this bizarre Milledge-plunking fixation down their throats, but because we can and we haven't. This team's gotta keep takin' care of business. This team's gotta bring runners home from third with nobody out. This team's gotta shred desperate bullpens. This team's gotta be safe at second when it has the refreshing moxie to attempt the extra base. This team's starters gotta avoid letdowns even as they edge one win shy of 300. This team's outfielders gotta stop hurting themselves. (Plus I don't think featuring Moises Alou in DiamondVision's “Whatever Became Of…?” segment sends a positive message.)

I'm verging dangerously close to whiny Mets fan territory here, you know the “we never beat anybody who we're playing right now” supporter, the one who can't get over how every trade has backfired, every move was the wrong one, every ex-Met who takes us on beats the crap out of us with a vengeance (oh wait, that one is true [7]). I'm trying to not do that.

We're doing all right. We could be doing better is all. We could've done better last October. It would be most sweet to take another swing at that particular month.

From my 19th visit to Shea Stadium in 2007, a few observations:

It's too darn loud. The bloggerhood was in full effect Wednesday night: me and Mike Steffanos of Mike's Mets [8] converged for our first-ever mutual win. We made a point of arriving early so we could sit and chat for the hour before first pitch. This is where you insert a laugh track. It was Discover Queens [9] Night, which is when you discover if you still have an eardrum. For 20 minutes before the national anthem we were treated to a blaring cacophony of Queens' finest cultural attractions — something Latin, something Asian, something rockin'. None of it is why Mike or I (or you) go to Shea. There was also a presentation of Mets Good Conduct certificates to various Queensians, also loud for no sane reason. This all reeked of municipal payola. From 1964 to 2005, the Mets barely acknowledged their borough. Now it's head-hitting-over time. You promote the county, we approve whatever zoning variances you need to build your ballpark. Both parties somehow do everything with a straight face. (The DQ people handed out a brochure that strongly intimated Shea opened in 1962 — I guess this really is a marriage that Discovered convenience and religion at the same moment.)

It's too darn commercial. This hasn't been news since Harry M. Stevens first sold Breyers to the Indians, but boy are all the ads and sponsorships grating. Usually it's background noise. Last night, as one conversation after another had to be put on hold for another commercial, I wanted to reconsider capitalism as an economic system. I kept telling myself that as long as whatever money the Mets are making by pimping the new Jackie Chan movie and Bon Jovi CD is going to building an effective on-field product (and I'm just assuming that), that it's a small price to pay. It's not, actually, but that's what I told myself. Meanwhile, Mike noted after the twin assaults of Kiss Cam and Smile Cam, “They have too many cams here.”

It's not too darn crowded. But there are a lot of people at Mets games all the time now. Mets' attendance is the great underreported story of the summer. That four-game series against the Reds after the break drew 203,515. The Reds. It set a record for a four-date set at Shea, breaking by 4,000 what the Mets and Pirates drew in 1988 when they were dueling for first place in the heat of summer (note to anyone who just began following baseball over the past 15 seasons: the Pirates used to be competitive against everybody). These last two games have brought more than 49,000 per game to Shea. Against the Pirates. The Pirates. Even if the tickets-sold thing is a fudge versus the ol' fannies-in-the-seats metric and even if Six-Pack extortion gooses the advance, that's bleeping amazing. The Mets weren't giving anything away the last two nights, not even ballgames. Also, kudos for — after more than half a season of not doing so — making the trains run on time. Or making the foot traffic flow smoothly after games. The weeknight express 7 seems to be making a difference. It more than makes up for the disappearance of the perfunctory April and May “Welcome to Shea Stadium” greetings that have vanished as I predicted they would (right after I predicted the sun would come up most mornings).

It's so darn close, or at least getting closer. The bricks on the 126th St. side of Citi Field are in place. Noticed them Tuesday night when my buddy Rich, who discovered Queens a long time ago, took us to his special parking place. I walked over myself Wednesday night, through a very dusty rightfield parking lot (where precious spaces were given over to tailgater setups…more Fan Magic at work), to press my nose up to the chain link fence that keeps us and the future separated. It's stunning, as in I'm stunned the bricks are already there. My first impression is it looks more like the side of a school than a ballpark, but that's quite a sketchy, incomplete take. For the first time, I hear myself referring to Citi Field as living thing, not just a marketing concept or a construction site — which scares the bejeesus out of me on behalf of my big blue friend due west of there. Maybe life begins when you lay the first brick. I noticed there was a Jay Buckley Baseball Tours [10] group sitting near us in Mezz Section 6, folks who travel the country going to a different ballpark every night. I thought about asking what they thought of Shea, but then I decided it would be nice if the volume on the PA would be cranked so I wouldn't have to hear an objective analysis.

It's gonna have cats! Thanks to Loge 13 [11] for this link to a Times story [12] on what will likely become of our furry, feral friends as we move across the asphalt. Come home, King Felix [13]…all is forgiven.