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

Close Afield

Field Level was always aspirational. It was the part of Shea you saw on TV, the part of Shea closest to the Mets, the part of Shea that was listed first when you thought about buying tickets. Beginning in the middle of 1980, it was flaming orange, which gave it cachet (or ca-Shea) to burn.

That said, Field Level was not necessarily the best seat in the house. It could be in a given location, but when it wasn't, and you found your neck in a constant state of crane, it was no more outstanding than the right Loge, Mezzanine or perfectly positioned Upper Deck slot. What Field Level always had going for it was it was the only one of the four primary levels of Shea Stadium where they made a point of keeping you out.

Field Level was the most exclusive normal part of Shea. Forget the Diamond View Suites and the Picnic Area. We know those were designed to be off limits. But Field Level was just seats for a Mets game. There were days when for a reasonable incremental investment, I could purchase them out at the ticket window. What if I didn't? What if they weren't available? What if I just wanted to come down to say hello to somebody? Or what if I wanted to buy something to eat or to wear that was sold only there?

Oh, I was so not getting in.

Wednesday night, I sat in Field Level for the final final time. Twice this season I assumed my orange ass-quaintanceship was over, that every time I had gotten in was a fluke. But one friend, with his mitts intermittently on the third base box of a company whose sole business as far as I can tell is to maintain four seats it never uses, kept making encores happen for me. He invited me to join him five separate times in 2008 and arranged for me to forge an unforgettable reunion [1] a sixth time. I am extraordinarily grateful to this gentleman [2] and urge you to consider buying every [3] one [4] of his Mets books [5] if you haven't already (not because they're swell seats, but because they're good books). Anyway, Matt Silverman brought me into the orange circle for a last look around last night and it didn't disappoint.

The things you notice when you sit about a dozen rows from the field in a seat whose number is even and a little under 100:

• Balls down the line, their fairness and their foulness.

• The Pepsi Party Patrol girls smiling like they mean it when they dance on the visitors dugout. (I've been at Shea so much lately that I've come to know their names from their nightly DiamondVision turn…and have come to believe Crystal has an Aunt Sarah in Alaska.)

• Third base coaches are not hired for their athletic body types.

• How much camaraderie there is between opposing players before first pitch (except, apparently, between Elijah Dukes and human beings).

• The desperation on outfielders' faces when a dying quail approaches.

• How determined David Wright is to catch everything.

• How safe Jose Reyes is when he sets a record.

• Your leaning forward is bad news for the patron to your left.

• One person stands, everybody is screwed.

• Less maneuvering room than that which exists in Row Q of the Upper Deck. If the most petite of Olympic gymnasts [6] would be physically challenged by the logistics of pulling a bag out from under an orange Shea seat, what hope have I [7]?

• Cupholders!

• Too many people tap away on PDAs during ballgames for which their tickets were too expensive to somebody.

• There is little awareness by people who get up to get something or come back with that same something during critical pitches in crucial at-bats (though that, like the Palms and the BlackBerrys, is true in Mezzanine and everywhere else in the industrialized world).

• Field Level wasn't designed for waiter or waitress service. It's barely designed for vendors.

• An oversampling, by Shea standards, of older fans; those who can't as easily make the trip upstairs; probably prosperous fans who are the ones who can (or could) afford season tickets; loyal fans whose nameplates have been in place since way before any of the current nameplates over the clubhouse lockers were applied.

• Teens who are given somebody's unwanted tickets for a night don't really get how lucky they are.

• Kids who probably think this is where you always get to sit.

• At least one men's room is pimped out with space age urinals — like something out of a MolliCoolz [8] brochure — and features both hand driers and towel dispensers (packing towels no less!).

• You're still not getting a ball. Not a pop fly, not a pity toss. It's never going to happen.

• There is an inevitable foot traffic bottleneck right behind home plate in the concourse just as there is in the Upper Deck. In this sense, Shea Stadium inconveniences everybody equally.

Now and then in my Field Level seatings I have to confess I've looked up at a relatively full stadium and thought how odd it is that people are sitting elsewhere. Don't they know this is the place to be? To be fair and unelitist, I've flipped the equation. Upper Deck is God's Country! Those swells don't know what they're missing! But the Field Level seats, in theory anyway, are different from yours and mine. Like I said, not always better, occasionally around the corners worse, but definitely different.

I laughed to myself when on the final concession stroll of my Field Level career I landed in right, at the “food court” outpost that sells brisket (it was my 34th game of the year — I'm running out of things I haven't tried). I laughed because I knew that I would have to show my ticket to get back to the concourse. It was the sixth inning, the Heilman frame as they call it in bowling. I'd be carrying a sandwich. Where the hell else would I be headed but to my seat? But I would have to prove it in a way I wouldn't have to in Loge or Mezzanine or Upper Deck. With not a dozen regular-season games remaining, the reins remain tight on Field Level. A guard is stationed to keep you out in 2008 as a guard presumably was in 1964, as a guard has always been to my recollection.

I indeed had to show my ticket. I laughed again.

It's nice down there, y'know? It's nice because you don't get down there much and it's nice because there's a game going on nearby. But it's not that nice that it needed to be informed by the aura of a restricted country club. If I look forward to one thing about World Class Citi Field it's that the Mets have declared you can get up and walk where you want like an adult and not be eyeballed, frisked and inspected for proper credentials. They told us this at the World Class Citi Field Preview Center last September. They volunteered it, as if they understood how inane their standing policy had been for 44 seasons. But here in the 45th season, they keep it up to Shea's dying day. As fan/guest/customer relations told me ages ago when I protested, “It's policy.”

Barring a postseason miracle (hey — I see one victory balloon before this thing is called and…yeah, you better run [9]), I'll take in the rest of my Shea viewing from other vantage points. I won't be able to flash that golden ticket. I won't be one of the chosen thousands allowed to ante up for sushi on a whim. I will have to argue with somebody in an orange golf shirt or blue windbreaker if I want to partake of one more California roll for the road. I almost absolutely surely said sayonara to my beloved Daruma [10] last night. It was tougher, I swear, than watching Pelfrey and the pen surrender ten runs to the freaking Nationals.

Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. All I ever craved was unfettered access to the only sushi stand at Shea Stadium.