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 359 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
4/8/08 Tu Philadelphia 16-19 Perez 10 195-164 L 5-2
The Mets lost the final Home Opener in Shea Stadium history to the Phillies. But I won. I usually do.
I am hesitant to admit what fun I have at Shea even when the Mets lose, even when the Mets collapse. But it is fun for me to go and be what I can’t possibly be anywhere else. I can’t be completely in my element anywhere else. I can’t be completely surrounded by Mets fans anywhere else. I can’t do what I honestly believe I’m supposed to do anywhere else. Those feelings are enhanced by Met wins. They are surprisingly little diminished by Met losses.
By the time I get home after a loss, sometimes the loss overtakes me as it did Tuesday, especially as it did Tuesday. It really was too much like what ended last year when I was almost having fun in spite of the Mets, at least until the Mets cut off their noses to spite our faces. But that was at the very end of a very long season when the whole concept of fun becomes subordinate to angst. Tuesday was the beginning of what is not yet a long year. Tuesday you could lose one and by Thursday you could wonder, the unhelpful 5-2 result notwithstanding, why you were so upset.
You had fun at Shea Stadium with your friends who are Mets fans just like you and were surrounded by smiling strangers (the sober ones) who are Mets fans just like you. You hadn’t been immersed like that in a Koonce age. How could you let a score get you down? How could you not let a score lift you up?
The score of the second part was from 1970’s Company, which opened on Broadway twelve days after the Mets raised their 1969 World Championship flag. I told you last week how I like to listen to soundtracks from Broadway musicals en route to Shea. It was by rigged chance — its insertion in the Amazin’ 2008 playlist was intentional, the timing of when track 11 would click on a coincidence — that as I began to ascend an ancient staircase from a teeming commuter railroad platform I heard this lyric through my earbuds:
Another hundred people just got off of the train
And came up through the ground
While another hundred people just got off of the bus
And are looking around
Yes, and they were all wearing some variation of orange, black and blue. And better yet I heard it seconds after receiving a phone call from Dan, waiting for me at Gate E. I’ve been to a handful of Mets games with Dan since 2002, the dreariest of them a death march to mediocrity in September 2005 when Reyes was a foal, when Wright was a pup, when Beltran was a deer in the headlights, when Martinez was not yet Old Yeller, when Jose Offerman romped in fields of gold….when nobody expected much of our Mets and even fewer were showing up to confirm their lack of expectations. It was during that sorry series, a Nationals sweep, that I connected Company and “Another Hundred People” to the Mets, fans exiting a briefly rolled bandwagon that had halted by the hundreds, by the thousands. But there were me and Dan, still on it then, as we had been individually and together all those years, with no substantial clue that the wagon would regain traction in 2006 and expectations would soar and another million people would get on to our train for the next few seasons.
I could have looked to any number of people to keep me Company at the last Home Opener Shea Stadium would ever host. I thought of Dan first. I thought of September 2005. I thought of a spectacularly warm midweek afternoon in April 2002 when we converted our e-mail relationship to face time in the middle innings of a hard-luck loss to the Braves (as if there’s any other kind). I thought of late March 2007 when we chatted and I declared that I could live without attending that particular Opening Day at Shea (a lie, it turned out), but it sure would be nice to be there in 2008, the last one. Yes, Dan said, that is something to think about. I figured Dan had probably moved on to other thoughts in the intervening year, but that’s OK. Remembering conversations like those is what I do.
That and pine for Shea Stadium, something I backed off from doing after one particularly hectic Home Opener a few years ago until a trusted friend with an impeccable Met pedigree — Dan, again — turned me back around, convinced me it wasn’t Shea’s fault some fans were louts, some were drunks, some were unpleasant and that it wasn’t Shea’s fault that the Mets ran the place out of the FEMA handbook and into the ground. Don’t take it out on Shea, Dan more or less said. The message sunk in. Embrace what will come later later. Embrace what is here now. I tracked down two tickets on my own a couple of weeks ago and contacted Dan. He arranged for the day off from work and to await me by noon at Gate E.
“Do I pick you up or do I meet you there or shall we let it go?”
“Did you get my message? ‘Cause I looked in vain.”
“Can we see each other Tuesday if it doesn’t rain?”
“Look, I’ll call you in the morning or my service will explain.”
And another hundred people just got off of the train.
My cell phone rings at home at 9:45 AM. I’m only very recently showered. The readout says it’s Sharon. I had told her I’d look for her and her husband Kevin and her all-world son Ross in wherever they’re keeping the parking lot. Her family tailgates on Opening Day. I had never done any such thing. I didn’t know how I’d find them, but I’d try. If she was calling at 9:45, I was guessing there was some terrible traffic between Central Jersey and Shea, that they were running late, that the tailgating was off.
No, that wasn’t it at all. They were already there. Was I there? Because if I was, I could come by right away.
I haven’t even left the house yet, I said, but by 11:30, you’ll probably see me if I can see you. Where are you?
You’ll see us, she said. You can’t miss us.
If Sharon, Kevin and Ross Chapman are the Beatles of Mets fan families — and for my money they are — then I’m their Murray the K. Depending on how many kids are involved on any one of their outings (they have another son and a daughter who are not big into baseball), I am the fourth or fifth or sixth Chapman. It’s a fab group to latch onto, especially on Opening Day.
As another hundred people got off of the aforementioned train, I made my way across the LIRR boardwalk, through the 7 station and down the new staircase that — once made permanent — will presumably glide us right into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Halfway down those stairs, I couldn’t miss it: no, not the Rotunda; the Chapman minivan. They got what will probably be Space 1A in 2009. It was actually pretty damn good for 2008.
Sharon greeted me with a media guide. Kevin offered me a quesadilla (their menu honored Ollie Perez’s Mexican heritage). Ross peppered me with minor league trivia that I couldn’t answer. And I was, for the first time in my life, tailgating at Shea Stadium. Citi Field, too.
Hold on, I said, I gotta go get Dan. Given that Space 1A didn’t exist until this season (I think this is where we used to get off of the train), I had no idea you could park so close to Gate E.
They find each other in the crowded streets and the guarded parks
By the rusty fountains and the dusty trees with the battered barks
And they walk together past the postered walls with the crude remarks
And they meet at parties through the friends of friends who they never know
I had goaded Dan into taking an early enough Metro-North so there would be no way we’d be gypped out of our magnetic schedules and the laying on of Shea family horseshoe wreaths and all the pomp of Opening Day. But now I was shaking his hand, twenty to twelve, and telling him, “I’ve got these friends, they’re tailgating, they’re right over there and…”
“Let’s go,” Dan said.
Within about two minutes, it’s quesadillas all around, Dan and Sharon comparing notes on the concert she’s attending that night (Santana — who else?), Kevin inviting passersby to partake in his bounty and Ross doing shtick with a plush version of the Home Run Apple. My blolleague Coop, who finds me when I’m not finding her, stops by with her dad, our fifth accidental meeting in our last seven games. (There would also be a Very Special Laurie sighting in the upper deck as she searched high, low and unsuccessfully for a pretzel; we agreed it was good Shane Victorino didn’t hurt himself colliding with Jayson Werth because neither of us wanted to feign sympathy for a fallen Phillie.) More than an hour before the last first pitch and I’m eating, I’m drinking, I’m quite happy to be here. I’m watching wave upon wave of Mets fan tromp on by. They drove. They parked. They dressed for the occasion. So many blue caps. So many satin jackets. So many worn blankets. So many who sense the sincerity of the last opener for the ballpark about to gain dignity by dint of its death sentence.
I suppose I should be impressed or taken aback by Citi Field having gone and grown into a big boy over the winter, but I had spent the wee hours Monday night surfing from one Web album to another tracking its progress just so I could avoid shock. I wasn’t surprised the successor was taking definitive shape. I was actually a little surprised that I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I should have used spoiler tags and not looked so I would be surprised. But it was too tempting. How could I not look? I still don’t know what to make of Citi Field except that someday when it’s the only ballpark on the premises, I hope to take a guided tour of it or perhaps be told of its wonders by those who gain admission to an actual Mets game.
It’s a city of strangers
Some come to work, some to play
A city of strangers
Some come to stare, some to stay
And every day
Some go away
Citi’s the stuff of some other time. Tuesday was the stuff of Shea, before the game, when even the strangers were familiar, when even the post-apocalyptic Mets were worth our anticipation, when even the cops didn’t seem to notice Kevin’s Margaritas were as delightful as his quesadillas. At some point Dan and I pulled ourselves away from the feast to assure ourselves of magnetic schedules and a fighting chance at special-edition programs and all the Shea you could get, the last time you could get it for the very first time all year.
While another hundred people just got off of the bus
And are looking around
At another hundred people who got off of the plane
And are looking at us
Who got off of the train
And the plane and the bus
There were many fine perspectives on Shea’s First Finale amid the Metsosphere this week, but two deserve special note: Dana Brand as he comes to grips with all the day’s juxtapositions and The Legend of Cecilio Guante narrating a one-of-a-kind photo essay that shows why Shea is Shea…and why it won’t be for much longer.