- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

If I Could Save Shea in a Bottle

Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log [1], a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 375 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.

8/13/04 F Arizona 6-5 Benson 1 155-123 W 10-6

7/9/08 W San Francisco 10-2 Santana 4 203-172 W 5-0

I went to a game on a Friday night with three friends four years ago and had a really great time. We talked and talked and talked baseball. Each of those guys really knew his stuff, as did I, I think. Each of us posed hypotheses, all of us debated them, everybody learned from one another.

And except that it rained madly before the game and that I gave up my chicken tenders after the game (as Ron Burgundy said of milk on a hot day, chicken tenders were a bad choice), I don’t remember with specificity a damn thing we talked about. Like I said, I know it was good. It surely involved the starter, Kris Benson, and the trades that brought him and the great-looking starter from the day before, Victor Zambrano, over. No doubt Moneyball was invoked. Use of bullpens is always a hot topic, so I’m certain it came up, too. I’m also guessing these were asked:

When can we get rid of Art Howe?

Will David Wright be the real thing

Is Jose Reyes coming back any time soon?

Why’d we have to sign Kaz Matsui?

We’re not gonna blow this to the pathetic Diamondbacks, are we? We were up 8-0 and now it’s 10-6…

We didn’t blow it even if I did kind of blow it myself after getting home where those chicken tenders were concerned. I’m sorry that’s the only thing I can be specific about. My evening in a dry enough Mezzanine box with my friends Rob, Jon and Dan (Dan D., not Dan G., though he’s a swell guy, too) watching the Mets beat Arizona and talking baseball has faded in terms of the substance.

Too bad I didn’t have a blog then. I would have written it all down. But I do have a blog now, so I can inscribe a few of the salient details of the most recent game I’ve attended before they escape even my memory.

Wednesday night reminded me of that night in 2004. I was part of another foursome, party to another solid baseball conversation, maybe this one veering a little more to other aspects of life given the company and the occasion and the year. I was with three guys, two of whom don’t live anywhere near Shea anymore, one of whom who had been away from Shea for far too many years, all of them introduced to me through blogging, all of this taking place in Shea’s last season, which was the impetus for the get-together.

It was the first chance I would have to meet Dennis, known better to me (and probably you) as NostraDennis [2], now of Orlando, late of East Meadow. Dennis’ sense of the moment, of 2008, was keen enough to arrange a family trip north to see Shea Stadium two more times, once Wednesday night, once Thursday afternoon. He’d be joined by Ray, known better to me and many lucky readers as Metphistopheles [3], the Buffalo-based blogger who has proven distance is nothing when it comes to getting to the heart of all matters Met. Dennis and Ray go back to junior high where they were Mets fans like me, just a little older and a bit to my east. And they’d be joined by two of their online admirers, Mike (of the Connecticut Mike’s Mets [4]) and me.

I love stuff like this. I love the idea that people who grew up somewhere and moved away from it care enough about the thing that’s about to get whacked to see it and sit in it one or two more times. I appreciate endlessly that Dennis, not in the house since Bonilla I, and Ray, with whom I spent a few innings on a June night in 2007 before mysteriously melting into the crowd [5], saw fit to let Mike and me know they were coming. I’m glad Mike and I made certain to join them — and I’m grateful that yet another upstanding member of the Met bloggerhood, Coop [6], arranged for us to get our hands on a pair of tickets that would have us seated in close proximity. The accommodations would come in handy.

Dennis saw us in the Mezzanine concourse before we saw him. He was in his FAFIF finery [7], which was cause for some kidding since he actually writes (very well) for Mike’s Mets [8]. Mike feigned offense that Dennis tried to use one of his Faith and Fear t-shirt pix — he’s taken many [9] — as his MM column photo. Ray and Dennis had picked up their dogs (hot dogs that is; Dennis actually left his real and real photogenic pup [10] in a nearby kennel for the week) and followed Mike and me to the Coop seats. It was a Mezz box not far from the one I’d camped under four summers earlier. The skies threatened and an usher gently goaded, but we ignored both and we chatted up a storm.

About the Mets; about Long Island when Ray and Dennis and I grew up on it; about how Long Island, from Dennis’ vantage point after all this time, looks more like Queens; about radio, the industry in which Dennis works; about WGBB, the official station of snow days in Nassau County; about the Mets some more; about how we’re stuck with Castillo; about second basemen of the past like Kelvin Chapman; about the “Chapman Center” which is how Ray heard the commercials for the All-Star Fan Fest’s venue — no, I said, that’s not the Chapman Center, that’s the Javits Center; about old-time local politicians like Jacob Javits and Allard Lowenstein and Island Park’s Al D’Amato, from more or less my neck of the woods, lucky me; about how Easley’s doing a nice job at second; about how Dennis’ wife gives him a pack of baseball cards every Christmas…will ya look at the one Met he found on Christmas morning?

He showed us Willie Randolph hugging 300-game winner T#m Gl@v!ne.

I don’t remember if it was the sight of Mike Glavine’s brother, even in cardboard, or merely angry clouds that made the bathtub in the sky overflow and start drenching us all one out from an official game. Johan (Dennis had gotten two of him in December when he was still a Twin) had to hurry up and not lose his composure in the top of the fifth. The umpires had to maintain their poise, too, and let him finish off what might have to be an abbreviated 3-0 win. In the fourth, as Castro was blasting Mike’s called shot (Mike sees a lot of things coming, including ugly weather [11], as he and I had withstood a lot of it [12] this year) and all was peachy, we agreed abbreviated games are a sham, that they should all be completed. In the fifth, as the soaking intensified, we agreed five-inning wins were legit.

Santana walked Ray Durham amid the floods. We grumbled and hunkered down under our respective umbrellas. When Santana got Randy Winn to fly to Beltran for the third out, we fled…one section over and a few rows up. Fortunately, Dennis and Ray were officially here with Dennis’ brother-in-law and nephew. But the nephew wanted to run up and down the stairs and his brother-in-law couldn’t have been nicer about the whole thing and the four of us waited out the rain together in covered Row E comfort.

With the break in the action, I headed down to the baseball card stand and bought four packs of 2008 Topps: one for Dennis, one for Ray, one for Mike, one for me (if I’d been on the ball, I would have taken care of the nephew and the brother-in-law, but they were otherwise engaged anyway). Let’s see if we can get a Met, I said, as if we were all 12 again because, well, what’s the point of sitting out a rain delay and remembering your real age? Mike got an Easley. Dennis promised to fling toward Row A any Yankee he got. But he got a commemorative Mickey Mantle and slipped him in his pocket. Hey, he said, it’s Mickey Mantle.

That was fine. As was the weather in a short time. The grounds crew removed the tarp beautifully even if Johnny McCarthy, as either Ray or Dennis noted, was no longer there to lead them as head groundskeeper. We stayed in Row E even if Johan didn’t stay in the game. We fretted the fret that Mets fans fret that Heilman would give it away, but he didn’t. We fretted theatrically that Wagner would enter and be as generous to San Fran as he’d been in Philly, but the Mets added two in the eighth and made Billy superfluous. We kidded and we kibbitzed and we saw the Mets win a very simple if briefly soggy 5-0 game over the sadsack Giants, a team, Mike keenly observed, with a batting order reminiscent of the overmatched 2004 Mets.

When it was over, Dennis headed off with his relatives. “They’re my ride,” he said. Mike, Ray and I ambled to the Super Express. As we stepped onto our car, a round of applause commenced. It wasn’t because Mike’s Mets, Metphistopheles and Faith and Fear in Flushing had been recognized. It was because the Mets had won and we had seen it. “We’re the real fans!” some souped-up teen declared. “We don’t leave in a rain delay! Let’s give ourselves a big round of applause!”

So we did. If you’d just had such a good time at Shea Stadium, wouldn’t you?