I’m a Wild Card waiting
In the middle of the deck
You’d better get a bigger gun
I’m not dead yet
—Ralph Covert and the Bad Examples
Your 2008 Mets: By no means dead yet.
That was the win the Wild Card-leading Mets needed Tuesday night. We need more of ‘em, but that one was the prerequisite. We can’t take Advanced Pennant Race until we pass the remedial course in Winning When Your Ace Is Pitching — extra credit for doing it while your divisional foe is losing, your consolation prize foe is struggling and your psychic foe is statistically disappearing from view.
I needed that, too. I needed it no more than any other Mets fan did from a competitive perspective — we all needed a win — but I needed it from a tenth consecutive game with five to go at Shea in September standpoint. I needed something to remind me why I keep showing up not just every night but so damn early, too.
The highlights of my sojourn to the end of the road have come more often than not this year from the six o’clock hour, before the game starts, before any announcements are made, before most anyone is seated. I wouldn’t want Shea to be empty in the 1979 sense, but I’m discovering I like it better before the seats are filled. I like it when nothing’s on the line, when Shea is in the final stages of coming together for its 7:10 curtain, when nobody is getting on anybody’s nerves about where they’re sitting or where they’re standing or where they’re supposed to be. I get the sense that although Gate C opens 2½ hours before first pitch that they’re not really expecting you for quite a while. It’s almost like you’re sneaking in at six o’clock.
I prefer taking Shea by surprise. For such a big place, it feels cozy when you get to know its nooks. I’ll find something to eat (the cuisine is fresher at six) and temporarily camp out in some unoccupied row deep in Loge and just gaze about. My last Loge game got September off on a really flat foot in terms of both baseball and the quest for deeper meaning, so I’ve needed to revisit Shea’s best vantage point when it’s just me and a knish and maybe a Bubba Burger. Or perhaps I’ll skip Loge and cruise the left field edge of the Mezzanine concourse. Mezzanine equals Shea in my mind. If I wind up on another level, it was probably a fluke. If I’m in Mezzanine, it’s kinda normal. I’ll meander to the end of Mezz in left, where I can stare out at the Picnic Area and marvel how well kept a secret it was to me for almost thirty years. I’ll give Citi Field a reluctant once over and then I’ll turn around for an inspection of the tapestry of highways to the west and watch the sun linger over the Manhattan skyline. At that hour, if I proceed to my Mezzanine seat, I’ll see that same sun glint through the ramps and onto the hind end of the Upper Deck above me. That’s my six o’clock sun.
None of this helps the Mets beat the Cubs or gain ground on the Phillies and Brewers. None of this shows up in or even approaches the boxscore. But that’s the Shea I’m fondest of now, Six O’Clock Shea. Sometimes I have no choice regarding entrance time and it’s Seven O’Clock Shea or nothing. That isn’t the best Shea. That’s trip over people Shea, “excuse me” Shea, sorry I’m running late Shea. Somewhere between the first welcome from Alex Anthony at 6:30 and the final strains of “Let’s See How Far We’ve Come” around 7:05 Shea gets its snarl on. When I arrive at six, I don’t notice it developing. When I arrive at seven, I head straight into the teeth of the snarl and it’s like giving up three in the first.
Six O’Clock Shea, unfortunately, doesn’t last. You go from the tranquility of almost nobody else in the park to being vaguely offended by how relatively few have shown up for an important game, to suddenly noticing tens of thousands were nice enough to join you. You want them here — an actual game is better with more people than less — but you kind of miss the solitude from six. By then, however, you’re more concerned with the scoreboard than any other fragment of Shea.
Before the Mets put together the ten-game July winning streak that vaulted them into legitimate contention, I was resigned to their finishing well out of the money and figured I could make the best of it by lavishing my attention on the final month of Shea Stadium on its own merit. Then they had to go out and be good, which meant I could forget about turning Shea Stadium into the Flushing Meadows Garden of Meditation. It’s better that they’re playing for something. The fortunes of the Mets and the spirit of Shea have not existed independently of one another for any of its 45 years; this would be no time to try it. Keeping Shea going into October is way more important than sealing it with closure in September.
But that’s made the hours after 7:00 most difficult on me, because when we move from contemplative to competitive, I need a lot more than I’ve been getting from the tens of thousands keeping me company. Quite frankly, they’ve been doing a lousy job. And that’s taking into account the Mets not being up to snuff in the verve department themselves until midgame Tuesday.
Can’t do anything about the Cubs fans (too many of ‘em, but I’ve seen worse ratios). It’s not the Cubs fans or the Phillies fans who have been wet blankets in September at Shea. It’s the ostensible Mets fans, specifically the ones who don’t seem to realize what a special interval in history they’ve alighted on when they come to Shea this month. This is the last of Shea and this is the Mets in a fight for first or something comparable. And these people simply don’t get it. A lot of us do, I’m sure, but the overwhelming sense I get is that of an ordinary night at the ballpark, as if either phenomenon — the end of an era, a team in a race — is commonplace.
It’s not. Lousy relief pitching and all, the Mets are lunging toward a playoff spot in reasonably effective fashion. Plenty of Septembers have come and gone without that little bonus. The Shea closing part, whatever your opinion of Shea’s contribution to the stadium aesthetic, is undeniably unprecedented for every single one of us. The Dodgers didn’t close Ebbets Field — they abandoned it. Same for the Giants and the Polo Grounds. The Mets were just borrowing the latter for a couple of years. We are witnessing a stadium that has served its occupants loyally for almost half-a-century being given a finite farewell, and too many of my compatriots are only interested in getting up and getting a beer and not paying attention to what’s on the field and not shutting up for two seconds when somebody’s making an announcement that has anything to do with what isn’t his or her personal petty concern.
Whad’ya do last night?
Went to the Mets game.
Wow, you were at one of the last games ever at Shea Stadium? What was it like?
I talked vapidly, moved around a lot, used my phone and drank.
I try not to project, but I do anyway. I realize not everybody goes to a ballgame the way I go to a ballgame. I laugh at the idea that going to a ballgame — or, in my case this month, every ballgame — is “fun”. It is many positive things, but I do not view it as “fun,” or the idea of fun as mindless entertainment. My whole thing, even without the Shea countdown to destruction in effect, is commitment. I commit to things. I commit to every game I go to, I commit to every trip I make to a ballpark, I commit to the outcome, to the process, to my companion(s), to taking in all of the details. That is my idea of fun, as opposed to “fun,” which I equate with running around in circles until the teacher calls out to you that recess is over.
Fun is to be had in whatever way one chooses to have it, I guess. Fun can be yammering away and paying little mind to the featured attraction and ignoring the overtones of your setting. I can’t imagine that’s any fun at all, but go ahead, knock yourself out. Just don’t do it in my space. When the mets.com fates have forged proximity between us, I request you watch the game, cheer for the Mets, limit your conversation to that which is pertinent and intelligent should I be forced to overhear it and sit and think for a few seconds between innings about what’s here and what won’t be pretty soon. How you can enjoy yourself without doing that escapes my comprehension.
But that’s me. I’m fun that way.
I eventually had the kind of fun I seek Tuesday night. I had it at Six O’Clock Shea when the kid working the Topps stand was kind enough to indulge my 100th anniversary Fred Merkle symposium (he made the mistake of admiring my Giants jacket). I had it in the fifth and sixth when the Mets did their freakish-style scoring and captured most everybody’s imagination, even those who think a seat at the ballpark exists for texting. I had it in the ninth when the out-of-town scoreboard worked its magic, revealing the Phillies’ loss to the Braves (a little chopping was in order) and the Red Sox’ elimination of the Yankees (a burst of GOODBYE YANKEES! followed by the more pedestrian but ultimately liberating YANKEES SUCK!). And of course I had big fun after Luis Ayala kept Johan Santana’s masterwork intact. I had fun en route when my friend and fellow Giants obsessive Rich — a son of Flushing — picked me up for my final car ride to Shea and enhanced, as he always does, my understanding of the neighborhood, such as showing me where Mike Jorgensen played high school ball. (Rich and I may have been the only two fans in attendance who dedicated this particular Met win to the memory of Merkle.) We had fun watching a throwback run-on-the-field moron evade two security tackles like he was Freeman McNeil before the full wrath of the New York Sack Exchange dragged him to points unknown. I even had a quiet fit of fun during tense at-bats when I noticed a fluorescent bulb in our section flickering off while the commemorative Shea logo on the left field auxiliary board flashed spastically as if a prop from Field of Dreams. I was hoping Shea and the Mets weren’t going to short-circuit in one massive heap, but I was having my kind of fun, the kind of fun I craved when I committed to this All In ethic for September 2008.
Shea would be a better place the next five days if more people would act like me. But so would the world, I think to myself as I chew my knish in Loge solitude at a quarter after six.
“Took some time during quiet moments to remember where my eyes saw various things,” he relates, “be them Ventura-related, Piazza-related, Endy-related or lesser-scale Shea moments, like David Wright jumping into the stands, Rick Reed’s near perfecto or various walkoff home runs, pitching gems and amazing plays. I needed a night like this. Now I’m ready to Shea goodbye.”