Get the Mets to a New York hospital.
My goodness: If it's not Ryan Church wearing sunglasses indoors because of a concussion, it's Ruben Gotay gimping about on crutches. Read this morning that in order to avoid some chronic problem El Duque is scrapping his leg kick, which is a bit like hearing BMW is taking its circular logo off the hood. Except if El Duque were a BMW he'd be an early 80s model missing most of its paint, with a trunk held closed with a bungee cord and an engine given to rackety wheezing — still cool, and admirable for its service time, but not necessarily one's first choice when picking a vehicle for a lengthy trip. (Such as, say, to October.)
There's all too much of that right now — I haven't even mentioned the various Mets sidelined with aches and pains of various causes and expected durations. (Wasn't it just a week ago that Duaner Sanchez was the feel-good story of the spring?) Normally at this time of year it's Greg who's struggling to warm up to a new team and the marathon of a long season; this year it's me, waylaid by the demands of work and various fuss but also by the unlikeliness of turning on a spring-training game and seeing actual major-leaguers, instead of guys with nosebleed numbers and no names on the back. I'm all for prospects, but to get the blood flowing in March, I need something with a little more narrative kick than Murphy to Tejada to Abreu.
I also confess to a certain anticipatory weariness about a seasonlong goodbye to Shea. Some of it will be great — I'm eager to see which icons of Met history will pay a visit for the inevitable countdown of home games, for instance. (Though I bet the parallel-universe countdown Greg's putting together with a bit of help from me will be far more satisfying.) And a hopeful early sign, for the faithful like us who care about such things: The patch the Mets will wear on their sleeves is a winner, acknowledging Shea's history in a way that's both iconic and stylish. For an organization with no great track record at being either, it's a good start.
It's Shea itself for which I can work up precious little sentiment. I'm not immune to the tug (or the Tug, if you wanna personalize things) of its history, and I haven't forgotten the many, many happy days and nights I've spent there in good company, watching Mets of various vintages win and lose in exhilarating and excruciating ways. But the on-field history is exactly that -– limited to the wedge of green grass and infield dirt and warning tracks. And the company was there because the Mets were there. Give me the same people and the same game to watch and I would have had nights to treasure at, say, a DMV that happened to have a baseball game on inside.
Which, alas, is a great description of Shea.
It was never a great baseball stadium, emerging in the first wave of multipurpose stadiums designed to accommodate baseball and some lesser game played by brutes in the winter, with the baseball audience getting the short end of the compromise that required. If it seems ungenerous to penalize Shea for the sins it shared with its now-vanished brothers and sisters, it also seems overly kind to excuse it for being one of the last ones standing. Since opening, it's decayed steadily, settling into decrepitude that no annual coat of paint can hide, from its 120-degree-angled seats and sticky floors to its fountaining toilets, rusty-drip girders and inert escalators. Has the city done a particularly good job keeping Shea looking its best? Only the most-determined bureaucrat could make that case, but even in tip-top shape Shea would be dumpy and miscast as a baseball stadium. For a long while, its only saving graces were that it had real grass and wasn't entirely a full donut, like the multipurpose monstrosities that followed it in the 1970s. But that was never much, and the retro-park craze has erased such advantageous comparisons.
Is there a certain sameness to the new retro parks? (Which now aren't so new.) I suppose there is. But as sameness goes, copying the quirks and angles of downtown parks is a lot better than echoing the interchangeable Soviet sameness of the concrete donuts. It's easy to be dismissive of franchise after franchise following the Camden Yards blueprint — it's always easy to sniff at herd-following. But it's a pretty good blueprint. Seats that are close to the field and properly angled for following at-bats? Concourses that let you buy your kid a hot dog without losing track of the game? Brick arches instead of concrete and increasingly exposed rebar? These should be givens in a stadium worthy of baseball, not new features to discuss.
I know Citi Field will be a tough ticket for a while, and an expensive ticket for a while after that. I know that at the beginning we'll be competing with an echelon of baseball tourists whose determined lack of interest in the proceedings will make us long for your average front-running camp follower. (Though perhaps not for the guy in zebra-striped pants who's smoking in the stands and braying through the lip foam of Beer #5 at every batter who dares to take a strike.) But those people will get interested in the new new thing soon enough, and the normal ebb and flow of wins and losses will settle things down. And then we'll have a park I'm confident I'll like — and not just because I get to see my favorite team play there in the company of friends.
The logo? Eh, it does look a little corporate, and uncomfortably like the Domino's Pizza box. But logos are the way of our world, and we've at least been compensated with a name that sounds like an actual place name from the age before corporations ruled the land – not to mention a stipend for one Johan-sized contract each and every year. Twenty million dollars buys a lot of soggy pretzels — if Citibank needs an outlet for a tenth of that a year, I'd be willing to discuss tattooing that logo on my bald head.
Is the seating capacity reduced, and have the Mets been a bit dodgy in their explanations of that? Yes and yes. But the Mets don't draw 55,000 a night — even in good recent years, most games at Shea have been played with acres of red seats in the upper deck. And yeah, I've heard a greater percentage of those seats will go to corporate accounts. But I've been a second- or third-hand occupant of innumerable corporate-account seats in my Shea tenure. I doubt that will change at Citi Field — once the novelty passes, plenty of those seats will find their way via StubHub and other outlets to folks who want to fill them. Including, I hope, me.
Will the Mets do embarrassing things in trying to make their new home glitzy and zingy? Probably — the Mets usually do. Take the apple, for instance. I'm heartily glad that there will be an apple to greet home runs at Citi Field — I've come to appreciate Shea's apple for its mangy, high-school shop-class charm, though it always seems faintly pathetic when seen quiescent amid dust and broken parts in the DMZ beyond the outfield wall. I doubt the current apple would survive the move or fit in at Citi Field, but the prospect of a steel apple on steroids depresses me. I understand why the Mets won't keep the same apple, but I hope they keep the apple the same.
But that's an apple, not a park. I don't begrudge my co-blogger his increasing reluctance to let go of Shea, or some Met friends' longtime attachment to the place. While we all root for the same team, we root in different ways, and find ourselves struck to the quick by different associations bound up with the Mets and their history. I won't shed any tears for Shea, but I'll understand when others do.
And in the end, I'm confident that our shared glue — this team, with all its accumulated glory and tragedy and hope and despair –- will mean far more than whatever we see differently. It's hard to pick a single memory from so many days and nights at Shea, but here's one: Todd Pratt sends the Diamondbacks into winter with an unlikely homer.
Steve Finley, who's pretty much death to flying things, stands at the wall, stretching, reaching. Pratt, for some reason, is exhorting and pointing and staring instead of running. Rey Ordonez is doing much the same, for similarly not very good reasons. 55,000 of us are trying the difficult task of screaming and holding our breath at the same time.
You remember. I remember. But what do I remember? What happened on the field, of course — how Finley came down and looked in his glove and finally hung his head. Pratt floating around the bases, mouth agape and fist raised. Rey Rey leaping in the air. The mad scene at home plate. And other things too — hugging Emily as hard as I could, then finding myself hoisted into the air by Greg and realizing, “Whoa, this is one strong dude,” then trying to hug everybody in range and finally aiming my head at the sky and screaming even though I knew I wouldn't be able to talk above a whisper for a few days. And I remember the simultaneously impressive and somewhat-frightening sight of the upper deck and the mezzanine flexing under all those thousands of people jumping up and down and hugging and screaming, too.
I have faith that sometime in 2009 or thereafter, a backup player will hit another unlikely home run in a huge spot. Perhaps he, like us, will be so caught in the moment that he'll watch instead of run. Perhaps a runner ahead of him will do the same. (And admit it, you can totally see Ramon Castro and Jose Reyes pulling that one, can't you? Maybe Andruw Jones is the one left hanging his head, heh heh.)
When that happens, I have faith that the players will raise fists and leap and dogpile and roar with all the same fervor they did in '99. I have faith that we'll hug just as hard and scream just as loud as we did in '99. And those will be the keys to that memory, just like what I remember from '99.
And you know what? If Citi Field's upper deck holds still, I think I can live with that.