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Taking a Seat (or Two)

Emily and I knew our beach vacation would have to share mental space with the Mets, the Phillies and assorted opponents of the day. But yesterday I found myself pursuing another order of business — one I never thought would move me to action. I found myself on mets.com, ordering a pair of Shea Stadium seats.

If you're a veteran reader of this little blog, you probably know I'm not sentimental about Shea Stadium. I love the team that calls it home, of course, and any wedge of green grass and tan dirt used for the most beautiful game in the world will get a happy sigh from me. (Last fall, coming back from a long trip to Europe, the plane dipped down over Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York; looking down, I grinned broadly to once again see baseball diamonds — whether razor-edged and immaculate, vaguely diamond-shaped, or totally overgrown — dotting the landscape.) I have lots of wonderful memories of Shea, but they have to do with games and players and friends — to paraphrase Tom Seaver, the architecture's not part of them. Between its rusting beams, sticky floors, exploding bathrooms, sleeping vendors, bad food, and surly Aramark drones, Shea resembles a North Korean government building that happens to have a baseball game in the middle of it. I respect my friends who feel differently, but so long as the game is still played nearby, I won't exactly be sad to see the building go.

So given all that, what was I doing agreeing to shell out more than $900 for a pair of plastic seats from the old barn? Particularly when I'm in an, um, career transition? (Do you need a vocation to be on vacation?)

Practically speaking, I thought of our backyard deck and how it would be simple to take up a couple of boards of Trex, bolt down two seats and reassemble things. The seats would add a little character to the place, and we were always hauling plastic chairs back there for people to sit on anyway. People would get a kick out of the Shea seats, and run no risk of falling backwards into the vinca after a few too many, as has been known to happen with plastic chairs and the uncharted edge of the deck. As for Emily, she kind of shrugged at the idea — you might describe her as “accepting,” “acquiescent,” “indulgent” or even “resigned,” but she wasn't “opposed.”

But of course “practically speaking” never has much to do with the question of why one is buying expensive surplus baseball-park seats. So what was I doing?

I suppose it's this: While I'm happy about CitiField, I don't pretend that it won't mark a new era in the history of the baseball team I've followed my whole life. Parenthood has cut down on my Shea visits in recent years, and I know that'll be even more true at CitiField, at least until the novelty wears off for the city as a whole. I'm not particularly worried about being shut out: Rightly or wrongly, I figure I'll get by via StubHub and friends with plans and lagniappe, and soon enough I'll know the new place as well as I know Shea, from where the better food is to the quickest escape routes. (And where the Shake Shack outpost is — I'll have that one figured out after Visit No. 1.) But all this will take a while, and even then, with fewer seats, deciding to go to Citi will likely never be as simple as deciding to go to Shea. I'm pretty sure I'll be happy at CitiField, but that's not the same as knowing for sure.

The team that will play at CitiField will look more or less the same in terms of uniforms and fan-bestowed myths, and I hope the company will include many of the same people. But while the architecture won't be the focal point of those new memories any more than it is of Shea reminiscences, it will be different, and memories will inevitably be Shea memories and Citi memroies.

Which gets to the heart of the matter.

I saw my first games as a baseball-mad child at Shea, rooting for Mike Phillips and Joel Youngblood and Lee Mazzilli. Years later, having moved back to the area, I met my blog partner and good friend Greg Prince at Shea, no doubt outside Gate E, for Bill Pulsipher's major-league debut. Which kicked off a hell of a run in Queens: I saw Rey Ordonez introduce himself to New York with an unbelievable relay to home plate; John Franco get ejected for fighting and so not be available for a save opportunity on John Franco Day; Todd Hundley's 41st homer; Mike Piazza's first game; John Olerud erase weeks of frustration with a grand slam off Greg Maddux; Brad Clontz uncork a wild pitch that kept 1999 going; Pratt hit one over the fence; Robin Ventura's grand-slam single; the 10-run inning against the hated Braves; Benny Agbayani's extra-inning home run; Bobby Jones send Jeff Kent and the Giants home with a one-hitter; Timo Perez leap into the air to get us to the World Series even faster; and David Wright's major-league debut. (And I've left space for two more months of good things, should the baseball gods provide.)

Did Shea have a lot to do with these memories? Not really, though I did enjoy (with a touch of anxiety) watching the stands flex under 50,000 ecstatic die-hards. But it would be small-minded and mean-spirited to ignore the fact that these things happened at Shea. Those two green seats (because that's where I usually sat) will be an homage to all those times — and, OK, an acknowledgment that I'm a little more sentimental than I thought.