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

Don’t Get Tied Up in Nots

The sun rose this morning, which was only the second most predictable episode of the past dozen or so hours. Leading the pack was the absolute certainty that the National League would find a way to lose the All-Star Game [1].

And they did. They made the world wait a little longer than usual, but that only made it — to the extent that one took it to heart — that much more frustrating or annoying or painful. Painful’s probably a bit much. By Thursday, the result will have receded quickly from consciousness and by October 22, when the World Series is scheduled to commence in the American League ballpark, there is technically only a 1-in-16 chance that it will have much resonance around here.

Still, it’s a midsummer irritant and it was utterly predictable. Ever since it was decided It Counts, you can count on the National League to develop sweaty palms and to have slip from their grip leads and opportunities. In 2003, “we” led 6-4 in the eighth and lost 7-6; in 2006, it was 2-1 N.L. entering the ninth, 3-2 A.L. when it was all over; last year it was right there for the taking, the National League rallying from down 5-2 in the ninth to make it 5-4, then walking three times to load the bases with two out, only to let the other side off the hook.

It’s embarrassing in its regularity. It’s always coming and it always makes the league we play in look bad. It’s the only night of the year when you can watch the Phillies’ closer take a loss, the Braves’ catcher be a split second late with a crucial tag and the Marlins’ second baseman extend one too many innings with a case of the clanks and derive no joy from it.

As for the us within “us,” I knew (I mean knew) Billy Wagner would cough up a late-inning lead if given the chance, just as I knew (knew) Brad Lidge would end the evening before J.D. Drew could trot in from right to pitch as Terry Francona swore later was his post-Kazmir contingency plan; McCarver and Buck practically wept with delight that poor Tito was spared the agony of forcing young Scott to throw baseballs for a second inning. Wagner’s been pitching well in games that indisputably count, so this isn’t Mets closer here-we-go-againism talking. It’s just…certainty. You know the Wagners and Lidges and Hoffmans and Gagnes will not get the job done on this particular stage. There’s no logical reason to infer it except it keeps happening so you come to the conclusion it will happen again. As a fan of a National League team with fond if distant memories of when you just knew your team’s league would win these things, you’d prefer to be proven wrong. But for a dozen years, you never are.

But I was proven wrong about one All-Star matter and I’m happy to say so. I thought I’d be saving money at the barber because I’d have pulled all my hair out from being exposed to the deluge of holy hosannas showered down upon Yankee Stadium this week. But I’ve still got my hair and my barber can count on me swinging by at some point in the near future.

Was the YS angle, like the NYY business in general, overblown, overwrought and overbearing? Oh, definitely. That Western civilization will even proceed after the final EVER All-Star game EVER played at Yankee Stadium EVER is a bit of a surprise if you took your cues from Fox. The implication that every baseball player, every baseball fan and every New Yorker is in some kind of awe and some kind of mourning at the very idea that Yankee Stadium will close (and that another Yankee Stadium allegedly just like the old one will open) strikes at the heart of everything we’ve found overblown, overwrought and overbearing as a matter of course since approximately the last time the National League won an All-Star Game.

But so what? That’s my big revelation this morning. So the All-Star Game, nominally involving representatives from 30 teams, was practically pre-empted by a Yankfest wankfest. It was as predictable as Wagner blowing a save and no less displeasing on contact. We’re Mets fans. We don’t need to hear it, we don’t need to see it, we don’t need to be reminded of it. It will only rev up again come September and quite possibly October.

We know that. But so frigging what? We’ve got our own thing.

In the last few days, a few well-meaning columnists have gone the semi-contrarian route and written “by the way Shea” pieces, as in by the way, Shea Stadium is also in its last season. The hook is invariably “while it’s not Yankee Stadium,” as in Shea does not have that kind of history, Shea does not have that kind of aura, Shea does not get this kind of attention. Then a few grafs painting Shea as absurd, some stray quote from a fan or a player (Chipper Jones this week [2]) with “yeah, but” fond memories and a begrudging shrug that “it, too, will be missed by some weirdos anyway.”

It’s well-meaning in its lefthanded way, but it’s foreign to me. I’m one of those weirdos who has been very much focused on it being the final season of Shea Stadium, on the history of Shea Stadium, on the aura of Shea Stadium, on giving every ounce of my attention to Shea Stadium until there is no Shea Stadium left to receive it. I’m not interested in Yankee Stadium, the 33-season wonder that masquerades as having been a constant since 1923. It’s understandable that there are people who are and the past week has certainly provided a platform for those folks.

Let ’em enjoy it or mourn it or sit in awe of it. That’s their prerogative. That they do is irrelevant in terms of your, my and our ruminations on the final days of Shea. That they can’t find two nice words for Shea without adding “while it’s not Yankee Stadium” is kind of rude, but also irrelevant. I don’t take my cues from Fox, I don’t take my cues from ESPN, I don’t take my cues from the local columnists with little feel for their constituency. I can figure out what’s important to me for myself. Shea is important to me. Shea gets my attention. Everything else where last seasons of stadiums is concerned amounts to background noise.

I was on the fence between reflexively holding my hands over my ears and singing a loud la-la-LA! to drown out the YS propaganda that would overwhelm All-Star week (and, naturally, overshadow the Mets’ piddling nine-game winning streak) and actually taking advantage of the fact that the All-Star festivities were unfolding in my backyard. After seeing one DHL bag after another parade by me Sunday and Monday, I decided to give in to curiosity and take part. Stephanie and I bought a couple of tickets to the FanFest and attended yesterday.

We knew it would be all Yanked up, we knew the Mets would be an afterthought, we knew it could get suffocating, but we went. And boy did we enjoy ourselves. The NYY influence — one aisle of the Javits Center was renamed Derek Jeter Boulevard, for crissake — was pervasive but somehow easily ignored. It was a baseball event, not a Yankee Way indoctrination seminar. There was enough to dwell on that wasn’t pinstriped. There was plenty to marvel at and drool over. My favorite: the actual Mel Ott Award, still given to the National League home run leader every year, even if few any longer invoke the name Mel Ott [3]. There was way too much to buy, and I certainly did, somehow managing to pass up the bargain-priced game-used Expos home uniforms from 2004. Though I didn’t have the patience to stand in line for anything except free Taco Bell tacos, I could plainly see the Glider, Ed Charles, mere feet from me, dispensing autographs and eliciting smiles.

Ed Charles! Mel Ott! The Expos [4]! Free tacos! All my baseball fetishes lined up for my indulgence on a Tuesday afternoon. Who knew?

There were loads of Yankees fans, sure, but also loads of Mets fans and fans from just about every team in North America. It was a baseball community for a few hours, people wearing their colors, people nodding at each other, people reaching across the badly named aisles to be a part of something that doesn’t come around very often. The cynic in me left early. The fan in me bought a couple of relatively affordable bobbleheads and hung around.

Baby Ruth set up a booth where you could record “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on CD. Since there was no real line for it, Stephanie and I, decked out in orange and blue, ducked in and gave it our best/worst. When we came out, we were greeted by a Yankees fan waiting to go next. “Nice,” he said. “Very nice.”

Better to have sung in harmony than to have covered my ears.