“I have to go home.”
“You are home.”
—William Miller and Penny Lane on tour with Stillwater in Almost Famous
You going to a game? You go to the game — then you go home. Not Sunday. Not the day-night doubleheader. The first rule of day-night doubleheader is it is not a doubleheader. A doubleheader is two for the price of one; Sunday was two for the price of two. Also, in a doubleheader, you stay in one place for one price. Not here. Here you took your sorry self down the ramps and vamoosed. Then you boomeranged.
It's like you were never there. And like you never left.
In a sense, this is an ideal arrangement. Somewhere deep into your adventure, it no longer feels bizarre to come and go and come again through Gate E. It feels normal. It feels like you've just stepped out to run an errand, grab a bite, get some air. Then you're in for the evening. You live at the ballpark!
It's not really home, but Shea Stadium is indeed the place where, when you have to go there twice in the same day, they have to take you in.
What an epochal episode in the late life of Shea, in the life of a Shea denizen who is spending almost as much time there this month as any three feral cats. It's not so much that it was two games in one day. That's precedented. It's not even that it was eighteen innings. During the last weekend of July, I followed up a 14-inning midnight marathon with nine innings the next afternoon, 23 innings spread over 21 hours. But then there was separation, a changing of the calendar, a bit of shuteye even.
Sunday, no sleep 'til nightcap. Between the last out of the afternoon game and the first pitch of the night game, I didn't have to go home but I couldn't stay there. That's the second rule of day-night doubleheader: You buy one ticket for one game, you remove yourself after that game. You have another ticket? It makes little logic to you that you have to make like a banana and — as you were aching for the Mets to do — split. But that's the rule.
The afternoon game was the afternoon game and the night game was the night game and never did the twain meet. They were different tickets. They were different seats. They were different uniforms. They were different promotions (afternoon: Clicky the Corporate Icon warned your children away from bloggers and other unsavory characters; night: a well-meaning Greek-American with a mandolin wrecked “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”). They were, with the exception of the differently prioritied types like myself, different crowds. It's just that it was the same day.
Was it really that weird?
Yes! Yes, it was! Weird but, having averted disaster, wonderful. You have no idea unless you've done it how strange it is to walk out on Shea knowing you're gonna go back, Jack, and do it again 120 minutes hence. It is downright bizarre to know you will reprise a portion of your inbound journey. It is puzzling to think someone's empowered to rummage through your belongings again. It is challenging to rev up your baseball energies a second time when your instinct is to put them away for the evening, especially after such a discouraging afternoon.
The weirdest part, however, wasn't in the coming back the second time. It was in the leaving the first time. The simple process of exiting Shea Stadium only to return to it two hours later was probably worth the price of admission(s). With a whole new guest list expected at 8:00, our hosts threw themselves into tasks they presumably perform when no one's around. Winding toward the right field ramp in the Upper Deck, I saw cleaning crews diligently readying row after row of section after section for the series finale. My first thought was Shea Stadium has cleaning crews? It never occurs to you anybody bothers to meaningfully spruce Shea Stadium, permanently disheveled as it is. But if you think about it, usually there is no detritus at your feet when you ascend to your seat. It just sort of mounts up when you're not paying attention…like Marlon Anderson's pinch-hitting appearances.
Job well done for everybody who punched in after five. Those were some sweet sounds comin' down on the night shift, primarily echoing off the bat of Carlos Delgado, but also among those taking in their second game of the day or — pikers — first. Befitting an overall pattern I've followed for the local 2008 season, I've gone from detesting to tolerating to embracing the Mets' participation in Sunday Night Baseball. It's still a dumb idea (especially when it's rescheduled), it's still superfluous programming (especially when it provides an outlet for Messrs. Morgan and Miller) and it's still a whopper of an inconvenience to most normal people (if not especially me), but if ever a matinee left the Mets and their minions in dire need of an immediate rewrite, Sunday's was it.
I hail my fellow Mets fans even more than I salute the cleaning crew. The enthusiasm was unsurpassed, the surliness was limited, the spirits were, like my spot in Row Q, high. A surfeit of “LET'S GO METS!” (as if there could be too much). Love for Delgado. Love for Santana. Crazy love for a canned feature on Latino great Edgardo Alfonzo. Mad adoration for Endy Chavez's embarrassment-evading catch in the ninth. Plus the northern climes of Section 3 knew how to take care of the Phillie interlopers in our midst…not with booze, not with brawls, but with the best chant I've heard all this decade:
I also hail the eight-year-old behind me who was a nonstop fount of baseball questions for his pop:
Dad, why are those seats down the line by the orange seats different from all the other seats?
Dad, why does Johan Santana have four doubles?
Dad, can Carlos Delgado hit a home run into the Upper Deck?
Dad, can I say “Phillies suck”?
The answers were they're sponsored by some company; because he can hit; maybe; and “yes, because we're at Shea Stadium, but not at home and not at school.”
“Phillies suck”… this pennant race is so hot that for the only intraleague instance I can recall, Shea Stadium's mass-identification of suckage was assigned to a unit that was actually inside Shea Stadium. Isn't it ironic, don't ya think, that at last the fourth-place Yankees really do fit the general parameters of chant-eligibility, yet pointing it out is no longer top priority?
But we haven't gone soft, at least not one of us. Wrapping up the interregnum in Woodside, Laurie (my day shift partner only, but she was heading back for more baseball, too) and I were asked for the fourth time in an hour how the Mets did today. Lost, I said, but there's another game tonight. Our interlocutor commiserated as if we were all in this together. “The Yankees just lost in the ninth,” he grumbled. Before I could work up a passably polite sympathy-feign, Laurie was almost doubled over in laughter at the guy's team's misfortune.
“Hey!” he snapped. “I saw that!”
All I saw Sunday was the Mets — the Mets and Phillies and the path leading to them, from them and to them again. A long, long day. A long, long night. Perhaps it all got to me toward the end, in the eighteenth inning, in the eleventh hour, counting back to when I left for the very first train of my adventure. The first-place Mets were about to be neither swept nor tied. This September was about to be not last September. That, obviously, was awesome. But I was an out or two from having to get off the tour. Even when I was gone between 5ish and 7ish, even when I was in Woodside chowing down on fish cakes and a mountain of spaghetti, I was sure there was literally no place but Shea. I had no idea what was going on anywhere else. If I hadn't seen a crawl on a monitor, I wouldn't have known the Jets had won. If I hadn't overheard a men's room line conversation, I wouldn't have known Tom Brady was done.
The Mets, since Friday a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom, were about to beat the Phillies and extend their lead to two games. I was with a friend of mine on his last Shea visit, somebody I've known nearly two decades, somebody with whom I've spent far more face time inside Shea than out. As has occurred to me several times this season in similar circumstances, this was a confluence of events I never imagined. Emotions from an impending 6-3 win in September used to be simple. Sunday night, after Sunday afternoon, after 2007, after 36 seasons, they were more complex than a high-five and a yeah! could suitably express.
I'm surprised my Dippin' Dots, the alleged ice cream of the future, didn't warn me in advance.