Before any of us could have known what the last day of this season would represent for all time, it was just going to be the last day of the season. I like to go to the last day of the season, probably even more than the first day of the season, though I like going to that, too. I was at Shea on Opening Day this year thanks to a Faith and Fear reader named Jodie. It turned out we were long-lost, non-identical twin siblings…if you factor in vintage, heritage and passion for our baseball team and discount blood relations or anything DNAish. Jodie invited me to Opening Day. I said yes, and we won. Seemed appropriate that I invite my sister-of-sorts to Closing Day. She said yes, and we lost for the ages.
After it was over, she surmised she should have bought the tickets. When Jodie buys the tickets and I go — Opening Day, the Saturday night game against the A’s when she couldn’t make it, the instant-classic John Maine one-hitter — the Mets win. When I buy the tickets and she goes — Closing Day — the Mets complete what is now known far and wide as The Worst Collapse In Baseball History.
Next time, Jodie buys the tickets.
Epic tumbles notwithstanding, I like to see the home season to its conclusion. It’s intended to inoculate me against the offseason doldrums, though its preventive powers are fairly transient. Sometimes you get a good game and it will keep you going for a little while. Sometimes you get a stinker and you can tell yourself, eh, that’s OK, at least you saw a baseball game before there weren’t any more.
Once, and hopefully only once, you get what we got Sunday. Or didn’t get. The details are quite familiar to you by now, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just skip ahead Mets Fast Forward-style to what wasn’t — praise be — in the boxscore.
With Luis Castillo striking out with two down in the ninth on Sunday, a baseball season was completed. Like the Mets themselves, 2007 at Shea Stadium vanished in a flash. We 54,453 who witnessed it would never forget it, albeit for all the wrong reasons, but institutional amnesia set in immediately. I’ve been to fifteen Closing Days at Shea. I thought I knew all the postscripts: warm…celebratory…indifferent…anticipant…relieved…sad. But the actual moment of official appraisal for these Mets? Nada. The Mets turned off the figurative lights as soon as they could. If you didn’t know it was the end of September, the end of the season, you wouldn’t have thought a year had just been put eternally in the books.
In past years, the better ones, the players would assemble on the field, particularly if there were no road games remaining. They would wave. They would autograph. They would toss a cap or two. Go try and find a Met on Sunday who wasn’t hustling into the clubhouse at the end of this trying day at the end of this trying month (when the whole concept of “trying” seemed alien to certain Mets).
Once we went final, the Marlins rushed each other as if they had won something more than their 71st game; their relievers raced in from the bullpen faster than they had for Saturday’s brawl. Backs slapped, they filtered into their clubhouse, presumably to toast their rousing last-place finish. Without Marlins and without Mets, the field belonged to the grounds crew. A few workers took to the plate and the mound for a little manicuring. Maybe they were ordered to keep up appearances in case the Nats scored six quick runs in Philadelphia. More likely, they were just securing the summer house before the last ferry out of Avalon. I wondered how soon they’d disassemble the special VIP boxes by the dugouts, the ones set up for the playoffs that weren’t to be.
The Mets dugout was now conspicuously devoid of Mets. The only uniformed personnel apparent were a couple of batboys rounding up equipment and whisking away the remains of 81 days. These kids’ uniforms said Mets 07 on the front. Even from the upper deck, they didn’t look like big leaguers. Then again, neither did the Mets.
On the scoreboard — to the left and right of the brand new Budweiser ad that heralded The Great American Lager and was no doubt supposed to show up behind every fly ball to center on TV in the coming weeks — the Marlin and Met lineups disappeared instantly. The out-of-town scores stayed lit just long enough to confirm what everybody assumed: F WAS 1 PHI 6. Then those, too, vanished. History was erased as fast as it could be. The end of summer is truly a blank scoreboard.
The colorful message displays generated only a generic THANKS FOR COMING. “Thanks for coming”? It could have been April. It could have been June. No acknowledgement that it was the last day of September. Not even a nod to the record-breaking attendance of 3,853,955. Certainly no video presentation of 2007 highlights, no chance to relive the 159 golden days when the Mets held first place. If there was such a film in the can, it wasn’t about to be fired up. Probably good thinking given that nobody cared any longer about the story arc that got us to this final scene.
The music over the PA was muted. First, we heard Coldplay:
Nobody said it was easy
Oh it’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard
Then, at an even lower volume, Barry Manilow:
I turn my head away
To hide the helpless tears
Oh how I hate to see October go
I hadn’t sat in the stands this long after a game since the division-clincher in 2006. Then it was smuggled Champagne and uninhibited jubilation and Takin’ Care Of Business. Now everything just grew emptier and emptier, quieter and quieter. Upper Deck boxes 746 and 744 cleared out bit by bit. The last fans in our ad hoc neighborhood were intent on picking up every last red Bud bottle with a Mets logo for safe keeping. As they left, one of them said to us that there’s always next year. I tipped my cap in silence.
I wondered if we’d be told to move it along by security. Would be the Mets thing to do, ending the season on you before you’re quite ready to go. A couple of ushers chatted on the walkway above us, but they didn’t bother anybody. They probably knew from Closing Day stragglers. We each lingered unmolested, Jodie in her thoughts, I in mine, the family resemblance uncanny. I looked around. Still a few of the extraordinarily faithful dotting the red seats. The SNY cameras don’t reach up there, but the disappointment was no less tangible than what was shown repeatedly from the field level on that night’s local newscasts.
I looked around some more. Blue sky, punctuated by a few of Bob Murphy’s clouds. Perfect day if you didn’t know any better. I was sitting in shirtsleeves outdoors as if I were always going to be doing that, as if that’s what people do everyday, as if that’s what I would be doing for the next six months because that’s what I’d been doing so often for the last six months. It was occurring to me that I would not be doing this anymore for quite a while.
I turned my view left and observed the left field cutoff. It’s where Section 48 ends, as if they ran through their construction budget before they could tack on a Section 50. Of all that is familiar to me about Shea, it is that view of the way the upper deck cuts off and becomes sky that strikes me as most iconic. I saw it on television when I was six and it instantly said Shea to me. I knew a player traded to the Mets had truly become a Met when he had his publicity photo taken with that particular backdrop of seats and sky over his right shoulder. In 1994, they added the Tommie Agee marker up there. It serves to commemorate the longest fair home run ever hit at Shea Stadium but also as a warning track for those who would venture that high up and that far out: walk too much further, and you will become puffy and cumulus if you’re not careful.
That view…it will be gone after next season. Whatever angles the successor to Shea Stadium provides, they will not have that feeling of infinity to them. Come to think of it, Jeff Wilpon has already gone on record, quite proudly, as describing Citi Field as “a ballpark that will envelop you.” Hmm…I’ve always liked the way the ends of Section 48 in left and Section 47 in right, cutting off and revealing heavens, achieve precisely the opposite effect. They give you the impression that if you sit in Shea Stadium, you can see the world open up before you, offering a rare vantage point of unlimited possibility.
If 2007 taught us anything — and as Closing Day reminds us annually — baseball is more finite than that. Baseball seasons aren’t permanent structures any more than your current baseball stadium is. The schedule you worked around does end. The team you knew inside and out does disband. Your season comes, your season goes. You live in it when it’s here, you roam around looking at your watch waiting for the next one to arrive so you can move in as soon as they’ll let you. You always miss the old one like crazy in the interregnum because, at base, it was the last one you had. Even if it wasn’t as wonderful as you’d projected. Even if it fell out from under you.
Jodie and I concluded our concomitant contemplations and rose from Upper Deck Box 746B, Seats 7 and 8. We turned our backs on the field that I watched so intently from plastic seats like these 35 separate times in 2007, including the final five dates of the year. I’d been at Shea since Wednesday night, essentially leaving just long enough to nap, shower, change and commute back. I had earlier in the season become surprisingly used to coming here as a matter of course, as if watching home games from my couch was the anomaly. Now I was so used to being here that it was strange to realize I was leaving it for six months, that I was going to nap, shower, change and then do something else altogether until April.
Our backs were soon turned on the upper deck, then the mezzanine, then the loge and the rest. I had grown used to living inside a baseball season. As badly as this baseball season had ended, I always regret walking down its last ramp.