Well, that was stupid.
There may be nothing dimmer one can do than go to Shea Stadium and wait out a rain delay that never ends. Nothing. And notice I said “Shea Stadium” specifically, not “the ballpark” generically. I don't doubt that postponements in other places are lame, but I know for a fact that Shea-outs are as insipid as they come.
In retrospect, there was no good reason to seek this game out. In advance, however, there were at least three:
• First, it was the Texas Rangers, the only Rangers @ Mets series Shea will ever see. I collect Interleague opponents, at least one of each. I've been waiting since 2002, when the East-only rule for AL visitors was rent asunder, to collect 'em all. Entering this year, the Rangers and White Sox were my only outliers left. Oh to have them to show so I could ink them in The Log! By dint of the seemingly random dice-roll of the schedulemakers, the White Sox remain eternally at large, but I thought I'd finally gotten Texas lined perfectly in my sights. I had a mild other-league crush on the Rangers when I was 11 and 12 and, ironically, I had a chance to see them play at Shea versus the…gawd, I can't even say it. There used to be another baseball team that played home games at Shea Stadium — temporarily, that is. A day camp trip to see the Rangers take on that team was arranged for July 7, 1975. Yet at the last minute, I begged off. I couldn't stand the idea of going to see the Yankees in any ballpark, let alone as the “home team” in mine, so I sacrificed my fleeting Rangers fetish on the altar of righteousness. I stopped caring about Jeff Burroughs & Co. shortly thereafter…and 33 years later, I was paid back for my loyalty to principle by getting drenched.
• Second, they were handing out miniature Shea Stadiums to the first 25,000 fans, meaning the second 25,000 fans could, as official policy explicitly dictates, suck it. That was enough lure to get me there as early as the LIRR and the 7 would have me, and even then Laurie — for whom a little Shea is a lot appropriate — was already waiting in the security line. “I've been in this thing three times already,” trying to save us a spot so they wouldn't run out of Sheas. We got ours and they are wonderful if not lifelike. For example, the miniature Shea doesn't leak when it rains. The box is pretty neat, too (I can never bring myself to throw out the cluttering cardboard things like these and bobbleheads come in). It says “Final Season Shea Stadium” and “Replica”. I was worried that the box, in fact, contained a replica of 2008…which I think would violate health code ordinances if you tried to carry it onto a train.
• Finally, it was a baseball game.
'Twas supposed to be anyway. Laurie and I were due in Row Q of Section 3 of the Upper Deck but never made it all the way up there. Monsoon season had come to Queens in the hours before scheduled first pitch (ants seeking safety swarmed Laurie's leg at her bus stop), so it seemed foolhardy to climb those golden stairs only to run for more cover than Row Q would allow. So we did the only sensible thing one can do in the Upper Deck on a Saturday.
We ran for CharlieH, denizen of Section 22's glamorous Row A since April 2007, a must-stop for me when I'm within hailing distance of it. Charlie brought his strapping nephew Scott, who I figured was in his junior year at Montclair State. In fact, he's 14. (I cannot judge age.) Charlie and Scott waited out the rain in the rain when there wasn't all that much rain. Laurie and I showed up and the rain returned. The rain we could handle with an umbrella, when I wasn't accidentally poking young Scott in the back with mine. DiamondVision was entertaining us with the '86 highlight film (“tell me McDowell isn't loaded here,” Charlie astutely observed of the legendary hotfoot segment), the parking lot was entertaining us with mysterious billows of black smoke (either the excitement at Citi Field was already heating up or the traditional parking lot car fire coincided with Replica Night) and we were entertaining each other with nuanced appraisals of the Mets' final season at Shea Stadium (consensus: “we suck”). The thunder, though, was quite jarring and the lightning seemed best avoided. Thus, the four of us moved our party to the concourse outside Section 22.
There's so much to occupy your time while you're waiting out a rain delay in the Upper Deck at Shea Stadium. For example, there is standing. There is getting out of the way of others. There is dodging raindrops. You don't have to be outside at your seat to do that. The standard line you've heard spouted a thousand times since the Mets began to tell us how badly they needed to replace Shea is “it's a dump, but it's our dump.” I would like to qualify that.
It's a dump because it's been run like a dump. You're gonna tell me somebody couldn't have patched the roof or tightened a pipe or whatever the hell it is that makes the Upper Deck concourse the East Coast answer to the swimming pool at Chase Field? The whole place moans of neglect, no matter how many coats of red paint they've added, no matter how many men in orange golf shirts form a phalanx that is forever “coming through!” on their way to nowhere, no matter the black hole the Upper Deck obviously was in the planning of the future former home of your New York Mets. I excused myself for a bit from our gang to say hi to Mike and Lisa Steffanos of the Mike's Mets Steffanoses who themselves were avoiding the tsunami at Section 5. Cow-Bell Man tried to fill the void by good-naturedly clanging away nearby, but without baseball as his backdrop, Cow-Bell Man's injection of himself into a discouraging interlude like a rain delay creates merely a noisier rain delay. When I attempted eventually to wade back to 22, I encountered the most baffling bottleneck of customers and staff. It wasn't that anybody was doing anything to cause a standstill; it was just that everybody was standing still.
If you squint real closely inside your Shea Replica, you can see there are still a few Upper Deckers waiting to find out if the game was postponed or what. I sure hope World-Class Citi Field provides world-class communications to its hoi polloi in the Promenade (the New Age term for Upper Deck as you'll see if you roll your cursor over this bad boy long enough). Waiting out a rain delay at Shea Stadium is like sitting on a tarmac in a blizzard. Nobody knows when we're gonna take off, nobody knows when we're gonna land, nobody knows if we're gonna fly at all. Nobody knows nothin'. It's all rumors and speculation. The usher at Section 22 offers a different take from the usher at Section 20. It's one big whisper campaign in lieu of solid or even mushy information. Yet it's all we have. The monitors are showing golf (what, no Beer Money marathon?). The scoreboard flashes All-Time Save Leaders and somebody's birthday. The PA features announcements from the faculty of Charlie Brown Elementary (mwah mwah mwah mwah). Nobody thinks to beam via closed-circuit a radar screen or hint that maybe we're thinking of releasing you people on your own recognizance by 'X' o'clock.
When word came down that in fact there would be no baseball game Saturday night (sheet cakes of rain, the sky's vertical hold askew, Shea Stadium rocking in ways Fran Healy couldn't possibly imagine — who would have guessed it would be called?), it was no less confusing. Nobody believed they'd play a regular doubleheader, an “old-fashioned” doubleheader as it's now sadly known. Nobody immediately grasped the process by which rain checks are exchanged for other games. You can be certain a measurable percentage of Saturday night ticketholders will show up Sunday afternoon expecting to be seated. Phil Mushnick will have a good time with this one.
Immediate physical logistics were no less clear-cut. Charlie and Scott bolted like Flushing lightning while I was fighting my way back from Section 5. Mike and Lisa caught up with Laurie and me. We all figured standing around a few minutes would help us wait out the foot traffic. Not really. Somebody in an orange jacket told us we couldn't walk in the direction of right field, to the Upper Deck's Gate E ramp sequence, the sanest direction to take for us subway-bound types desiring minimal laughter in the rain once on the ground. Why couldn't we walk over there? “Ya can't go there.” Oh. Fortunately, Laurie and I crossed up the system by veering off once we reached Mezzanine and then availed ourselves of the little-used food court ramps to make a beeline for Gate E's only open portal.
“You realize,” she said, “that the same people will be running the new place next year.”
I'm a little less grumpy now than I was when I realized I'd devoted five hours of my life to commuting to; standing around under; and commuting from a storm with a baseball stadium somewhere inside it. Two baseball stadia, counting the replica. I don't get to Log the Rangers as I didn't actually get to seem they play ball. I thought about giving them a mostly blank line to commemorate that I gave it an honest effort, but after lying awake nights debating the Randy Tate situation, I decided this is no time to inaugurate weird precedent. Besides, the only Texan I spied with my little eye was Milton Bradley, who was signing a ball for a kid by their dugout (or, perhaps, penning him a threatening letter). Sunday's old-fashioned doubleheader is inconvenient for me to enjoy even on television, let alone in person, so my Ranger-Met contact for the weekend will be fairly limited. But there was, as Anne Murray cried out for long ago, a little good news today:
The Mets didn't play, but they didn't lose.
You have no idea how many times we heard that on the ramps. “Hey, we didn't lose!” “Hey, we picked up a half-game!” “Hey, Wagner didn't blow a save!” (My mouth hung open in disbelief when I noticed Billy the Skid is this month's program cover boy.) These rib-jabbing wink-winks started out as rank sarcasm, but as the trip down the ramps brought us closer and closer to Casey Stengel Plaza, you could sense palpable relief — almost happiness — that for all the standing around, all the getting wet, all the absolute lameness of a night when no baseball was played at Shea Stadium that, well, no baseball was played at Shea Stadium, no frustration with our team needed to be vented, no managerial deathwatch would be fed more fodder at least until between games Sunday when one assumes a loss in the opener will mean Jerry Manuel's the skipper in the nightcap.
And though it is ridiculous what we fans willingly engage in when the elements are so obviously awful that they would preclude everyone but the clinically insane from leaving their homes — how could you possibly explain the culture of the rainout to someone who isn't immersed in baseball? — there was the collective understanding by the voluntary participants in this psychiatric experiment referred to casually as rooting for the New York Mets that this is what we do. We show up when the ticket says we must. We gain our door prize or, if we are not alert enough, do not. We trudge to the general vicinity of where we're supposed to sit so we can stand uncomfortably in a crowd. We while away a mandatory wait that in any other context would be considered rude and inconsiderate. We pony up for $4 pretzels and $7.50 beers without benefit of a ballgame to make them go down easier.
We're suckers, I swear we are. But at least the Mets didn't lose.
Worth noting, as I dry off…
• Happy 20th anniversary to Nuke LaLoosh! Bull Durham, the best baseball movie ever, opened on this date in 1988 and Tim Robbins, the true Mets fan who portrayed the archetype 10-cent head/million-dollar arm phenom, describes his real-life allegiance and more to ESPN The Magazine in honor of the occasion.
• Happy 25th anniversary to Mex the Met! Yes, today is a quarter-century since circumstances conspired to send Keith Hernandez to New York from St. Louis for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey (I still can't believe that when Joel called me to report two Mets had to become Cardinals so the best first baseman in baseball could become ours that my first reaction was “we didn't give up Bob Bailor, I hope”). Keith Hernandez and we were made for each other. On a night like Saturday night, I hope he avoided every gully that tempted him.
• Happy birthday to all the fathers out there. If John Maine or Pedro Martinez wishes to produce a Jim Bunning replica this afternoon at Shea Stadium's unexpected final Father's Day doubleheader, all the better.