Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 358 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
6/4/04 F Florida 12-7 Trachsel 13 150-119 L 5-1
You know, when I was a little girl, I always dreamed of being in a Broadway audience.
I have until early Tuesday morning to complete one of my tasks for the 2008 home season. I have to nail down my Amazin’ playlist.
Though I was late to the iPod (let me guess — they’ve all been phased out by smaller, faster, more expensive devices that will themselves be outmoded by the time I break down and buy one), I embrace the opportunity to be my own Vito Vitiello and produce my own Shea Stadium soundtrack, or at least a pregame warmup. Without boring you to tears or scaring you half to death by the breadth of my banality (like I haven’t already), I’ll let it be known that no Amazin’ playlist would be complete without a Broadway component to it.
Meet that rare breed: the straight man born after World War II who is capable of really, really loving without irony Broadway musicals. You probably thought we were an urban myth.
Nope, we’re real. And at least one of us thinks the really great ones are that much better because they complement baseball so perfectly.
Not that a lot doesn’t, but it all makes airtight sense to me and my earbuds. I listen to ballgames to get the scores on my way to see Sunday matinees. I listen to the scores of Broadway musicals as I enter Shea. Either way, I sit in a large audience, the tickets overpriced, in the hopes of being roused, of being moved, of remembering what I just saw and heard for years to come, of not feeling ripped off in terms of time and money. I stop listening to my soundtracks once I reach my seat at a game. I stop listening to a game once the curtain rises on a show unless the first no-hitter in Mets history seems to be in progress (May 23, 2004, T#m Gl@v!ne vs. the overture to Bombay Dreams, impossible radio reception inside the Broadway Theatre on 53rd Street and Kit Pellow; no wonder he didn’t get it — he was triple-teamed).
So it’s before whichever performance I’m en route to that I get my fill. Where the Sheabound trips are concerned, it’s generally on the train and until I meet whomever I’m meeting, provided Mets Extra hasn’t lured me away with the promise of an injury update. I’m alone at that point, alone and suggestible to whatever I’m hearing.
Before the iPod, there was the Walkman, an unbeatable invention — or so it seemed. It had a radio and a cassette player. I stayed with the Walkman long after the rest of civilization had moved on to the Discman, well into the iPod era. I was the master of the compilation tape into the early 2000s in ways that I’m sure there are some skilled silversmiths and elevator operators who can kick ass in this century should anyone ask them to. Nobody asked me to make tapes by 2004, but I was still doing it through that spring. Man, the segues I could produce! I’d describe them, but as indicated, the banality would strangle you.
But I have to mention this one number, because it is the nexus of baseball and Broadway for me. It has no business being so, but that’s what it became four years ago and remains to this day. Its pull on me is so strong that I can no longer listen to it without turning to jelly, even though I didn’t much the like the show it’s from, even though it has no relationship to the Mets except for the backstory I created for it.
It’s November 2003, the baseball season is safely tucked away. I’ll agree to see most anything when there’s no Mets conflict, even Wicked, something Stephanie was interested in, something that had something to do with The Wizard Of Oz, something that darn near coincided with our wedding anniversary. Couldn’t turn it down.
The first act was a drag. The show was new yet felt stale. They could have shown The Wizard Of Oz on a big screen and that would have been fresher. We could have been home watching The Wizard Of Oz on our own screen and it would have been cheaper. I love great musicals. I like really good ones. The crappy ones are just three hours out the window, like those comic-strip iterations of $10 bills with wings. Lots of $10 bills.
My mind wanders. I don’t know if it wanders more than other minds because mine’s the only one I’ve had access to while sitting through events that have dead spots. All events have dead spots, even baseball games. If baseball games have dead spots, you can be damn sure everything else has dead spots. This is where the mind goes during a musical’s dead spots:
I’m watching a live event that required a ticket in a large public space with lots of other people. This reminds me of baseball. This reminds me of the Mets.
Like Gl@v!ne most nights in 2003, the cast is down 3-0 in the top of the first. They’ve gotta bear down to grab back my attention, because if there’s not a graspable plot twist or a knockout solo, they’re losing me to free agent signings (“If we get Guerrero, then it’s not such a bad lineup”), the memorized pocket schedule if it’s out (“I really want to go to that Expos game…can’t believe the bobbleheads are for 14 and under”) or, most distracting of all, the past.
This show blows… wish I was doing something else… wish the Mets were playing… wish the Mets were playing right now… the Mets now suck… wish they were better… they used to be better…remember when the Mets were good?
As the CPR of baseball nostalgia gives me mouth-to-mouth, funny thing about Wicked. It’s still not much good, but the score is beginning to get to me. It’s got that late ’60s, early ’70s Broadway feel the more I listen, that modern, hopeful vibe I associate with, well, the Mets. It’s that moment in time when New York, whatever its problems, is congenitally optimistic yet humble. It loves the underdog and is willing to throw off the musty odor of the past. It loves the Mets. It’s embracing a more contemporary style of musical, just like it loves Shea more than any other facility. It’s got Company. It’s got Pippin. Seaver to Sondheim to Schwartz…
Hey! Pippin! The guy who wrote Pippin, Stephen Schwartz, wrote this! Well no wonder it seems familiar. Pippin may be more than 30 years old in the fall of 2003, but its soundtrack, at least a little of it, is timeless to me. Its opening number is one of my Mets songs. In 1998 and 1999, I played Magic To Do over and over again because it, like critical junctures of those seasons, put me in mind of 1973 because a commercial for the show ran over and over again that September.
That’s how this mind works. Wicked‘s getting interesting in the sense that I’m in a pennant race now, first ’73, then ’69, at least the way I’ve idealized it. 1969 is a transfer point for the 7 at Times Square. And we all know that once you hop the 7, anything is possible.
Like the 2003 Mets growing into something palatable in 2004.
Like being what they were only a few short years ago.
Like those almost halcyon days when The Best Infield Ever flew across the Shea dirt like those dancers up on stage are doing.
Like when Ventura and Olerud and Alfonzo and Ordoñez were…
What’s that song they’re doing? “Defying Gravity”? Wow, I like this! It soars! It’s the first song I’ve heard all day that I like. And what a theme. “Defying Gravity,” that could be a whole new “Mojo Risin’” for when we get good again, like I know we will even though we’re saddled with Art Howe and T#m Gl@v!ne. What a shame this song wasn’t around in ’99. Rey Ordoñez, now there was someone who defied gravity. Can’t you just picture some latter-day Sign Man holding up one that says DEFYING GRAVITY after Rey-Rey leaps into the air? Or Robin goes to his back hand? They could bring Kristin Chenoweth or Idina Menzel to Shea to sing the national anthem! They could make t-shirts! I’d buy one!
“Defying Gravity” ended the first act. I was loving Wicked at intermission. Even if I spent the second act ignoring it so I could deconstruct Game Six of the ’99 NLCS (again), it was well worth whatever we paid to see this show.
The day the soundtrack was released, I bought the CD. When the time came for another compilation tape, I added “Defying Gravity” to the mix. And when I finally got to my first game of 2004, which wasn’t until early June, I hauled to Shea for probably the last time my Walkman to listen to that cassette. It just so happened that as I alighted at Gate E to wait for Laurie and her friend, “Defying Gravity” came up. As I leaned against the closed side of the day-of-game ticket windows, I was back in my nexus, Broadway meeting the Mets, 1969 meeting 1999, the two of them pecking on the cheek the slight but tangible promise of 2004. I expected nothing out of this year, yet it was somehow overdelivering. The Mets were winning a bit more than they were losing. The Mets weren’t hellaciously out of first. The Mets were…
The Mets were defying gravity!
I could never again listen to that song without a fistful of Kleenex at the ready. And I could never resist the temptation to listen to it when I or the Mets needed a boost. Come the afternoon of October 18, 2006, it was the last song I listened to before leaving the house for another Game Six in another NLCS. Come the evening of September 28, 2007, on the first iPod playlist I ever made, it was the track that stopped me dead in mine on the LIRR as I tried to figure how a one-game deficit on a Friday night might revert to a one-game lead by Monday. On a random Sunday afternoon last December, I heard it and paused it. I couldn’t handle it, not in the offseason, not after the way September ended, with the Mets not defying but submitting to gravity.
A new season means a new playlist and that means all new. None of last year’s 16 will be among this year’s 64 (I’ve gotten more comfortable with the iPod of late). No more BTO. No more Metallica. No more “All Right Now” even if it figures to be applicable well into the 2010s. And no more “Defying Gravity” in my ears en route to Shea in 2008. In the last year of the old ballpark, I won’t need nearly that much help being roused or being moved.