Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I saw there for myself, namely 402 regular-season and 13 postseason games in total. The Log recorded the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
9/28/08 Su Florida 17-18 Perez 18 218-184 L 4-2
The roses in the window box have tilted to one side
Everything about this house was born to grow and die
Oh it doesn’t seem a year ago to this very day…
—Elton John, “Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”
I don’t know how many times during 2008 that I read or heard some variation on the sentiment that we should be thankful the final game ever at Shea Stadium didn’t take place at the end of the 2007 season. You wouldn’t want to see them lose, be eliminated and then have to endure a closing ceremony with everybody in a horrible mood, we told each other.
We can quibble away the details that delineate apocalypse then from apocalypse now, noting there was no Manchurian Brave raining on our parade in the sequel, just a squishy bullpen and a lack of bat. The 2008 Mets, far more likable as a bunch and far more encouraging in terms of trajectory once Jerry Manuel replaced Willie Randolph, never raised the hackles of Metsopotamia the way their direct predecessors did. The expectations in 2007 were onerous. 2007 was supposed to extend 2006 by one NLCS win and four more victories beyond that. We expected it. It made us prickly when we didn’t get it. I don’t know that we ever expected a whole lot out of 2008. I couldn’t get mad at this team. They frustrated me down the stretch but they rarely antagonized me. It pained me to realize they would meet the very same fate the ’07ers did, but that was more out of empathy for rather than ire at them.
But try telling that to 56,000 of my closest friends.
It has become a recurring meme in 2008 to say the Mets could screw up a one-car funeral. Perhaps. They sure know how to mess with the last rites of a stadium. All they had to do was not do what they did in 2007. They had 161 games during which they could have cleared the decks, taken the pipe as Pete Franklin was fond of saying and gotten themselves ousted from playoff contention.
They couldn’t do that. Instead, they screwed up a one-park funeral. Our park. My park.
I’d had a gauzy idea for years of how the last day at Shea would go. It would be sunny. There’d be just the slightest nip in the air. The Mets would…I’d had no idea what the Mets would do. I assume they would have won, ideally, but it never entered my thinking. What I anticipated was an aura of satisfaction and completion for the Princes in their autumnal sweaters. I’d gather my wife and my young son (I’ve never particularly wanted a kid, but for this occasion and this occasion alone I dreamed one up after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir) and we’d reflect about what a great day it had been, what a wonderful place Shea was, what we could look forward to in whatever kind of new park awaited us. And then we’d go to a diner.
Nothing of the sort happened. Well, I was there and Stephanie was with me and Shea did close. Everything else followed no script that I would have conceived. But I’m not a screenwriter.
The reality is I did anticipate this for a long time, and as it drew closer, I grew anxious about it. I worried my career would take some unseen turn that would demand I be in another city on September 28 and that I would have to decline because there was no way I couldn’t be at Shea Stadium on its last day. I worried that someone I was related to would take ill and I would be obligated to attend to them and that I would be the kind of person who would resent them forever if they dared to tear me away from the last day at Shea Stadium. I stepped gingerly all the week before just to make sure I didn’t trip on something and make myself physically incapacitated. There were two dates I always swore I wouldn’t miss: Bob Murphy’s farewell and Shea’s goodbye. I couldn’t imagine either would actually come, but I knew I had to be on hand for both. One came and went five years ago. Murph was gone but Shea persevered. Until Sunday.
How nervous was I in the hours preceding the event? So nervous that I got out of bed at four in the morning to fetch the camera from downstairs, knocked over the glass of water I keep by the bed in the process (breaking the glass as a bonus). So nervous that I brought my bag from my office to our bedroom because once in a while the office door sticks and I fretted I wouldn’t be able to access my stuff. So nervous that why did I bother to try to go to sleep?
Meanwhile, Stephanie coughed and blew her nose a lot. Our viruses overlapped in September and she added the trappings of a head cold to hers on Saturday. “Are you going to be able to make it?” I asked with her health almost uppermost in my mind. She was noncommittal. At three in the morning my wheels were churning. Do I call somebody else? I can’t go with anybody else today. Do I go alone? Do I make some stranger’s day and sell it at face value? Would I get arrested? On the final day? Do I risk her well-being? Stephanie — who long ago signed on despite suspecting it would be a more emotional occasion than she could withstand — doped herself up with over-the-counter medications (as if marrying me wasn’t dopey enough) and slapped on her Faith and Fear shirt and we were off on the 10:58 for a 1:10 start.
First minor annoyance: our car didn’t have a two-seater together, so we sat single-file (not a biggie, but never preferred). Second minor annoyance: the 11:31 from Woodside to Shea couldn’t wait around for those of us who detrained at 11:33 even though its job is to take people like us to Shea. It was less having to dip into the Metrocard than not getting to take the LIRR that momentarily bugged me. My second trip ever to Shea involved that boardwalk. The subway was never part of the equation until much later. I wanted that boardwalk approach on my final day. I wasn’t getting it.
But big deal, it would turn out. We were standing on the platform upstairs at Woodside, awaiting the 7 when I mentioned to Stephanie that there was going to be a “nostalgia train” rolling out of Times Square that morning at eleven. Before I could add that it probably ran through here a lot earlier, what should appear before our eyes but a host of 1964-era subway cars? Yes! The nostalgia train! We’d toured these at the Transit Museum a couple of years earlier and now we were going to get to ride one for real…to Shea!
Screw you, Long Island Rail Road. We’re riding the nostalgia train. And it’s an express!
This was great. These things were wider than Mo Vaughn. Real straps to hang on. Rheingold ads preserved for posterity. Shoot, I’ve gotta take some pictures of this. Let me just delve into my bag for that camera I brought upstairs at four in the morning…
Couldn’t find it. As I pawed around all the crap that I tote with me to Mets games, I realized that camera was sitting on the floor next to where the bag had rested the night before. Amateur bleeping mistake.
In this day and age, of course, you’re never out of luck completely because your phone has a camera. It’s not as good, it’s not the same, but amateurs who leave their camera on the bedroom floor can’t be choosers. We got some shots, most of them blurry. But we were on that train.
Then we were off it, in the rain. I began noticing drops speckling the LIRR windows somewhere before Jamaica. Friday and Saturday were supposed to be the wet days, but the Mets played without interruption and only the slightest delay. Today, the last day, the sunny day I sought, was turning into a soaker. But it wasn’t going to be like that all day…was it?
To wait out the rain, we sought refuge under the tent of Team Chapman. You can’t count on the weather, you can’t count on the Mets, but you can always count on the Chapmans. They — Sharon, Kevin and Ross — were there for me on Opening Day, they were there for us prior to Billy Joel, they just have this way of being in the right place at the right time, sort of like Edgardo Alfonzo in the middle of a rally. The Chapmans were hosting their final Shea tailgate, of course, and we waded through the rain to join them.
Good move. Kevin had the quesadillas (breakfast quesadillas, for cryin’ out loud) going, Sharon was pouring CaberReyes from Longball Cellars — the Santana’s Select Merlot went quickly…perhaps a bottle of Jose instead? — and Ross was monitoring the FAN for start time updates. The tarp was on the field and we were clearly not getting a 1:10 first pitch. Which was fine, because we were having a swell ol’ time out in the parking lot off the 7 staircase with the Chapmans, with assorted Crane Pool stalwarts, with one of my blolleagues with whom I’d somehow never crossed paths ’til this final Sunday, with some other nice folks whose names I didn’t retain, with the neighboring tailgaters. Thirty-six years of going to games at Shea and it took me ’til the 36th to discover the appeal of standing on a grassy knoll before a Mets game, eating heartily and drinking furtively.
Fun as it was, my mind was racing. When’s the rain gonna stop? They are gonna get this in, aren’t they? Will I get a lanyard? Will I find a program? Will I see any of the old Mets pulling up to that “red carpet” I read about? Will the Mets make the playoffs? Will there be a play-in tomorrow night? Will I be able to go? Will I be at the playoffs? Will we know which will be the real final game in Shea Stadium history? Will it be a win? Will it be a loss? How is Stephanie holding up? How can I put her through another rain delay? How horrible a husband am I? How could I forget the camera? What are they going to do after the game? Will it be the best thing ever, the worst thing ever or, as Stephanie fears, the saddest thing ever? Will I ever be able to look in the direction of the Citi Field parking lot without choking up? Will the Mets choke again? When’s the rain gonna stop?
The rain stopped. Once it did, I retrieved my bags — during the last week I mysteriously added a shopping bag to my schlep bag as part of my ballpark ensemble — said my thanks for the quesadillas, arranged to meet back later win or lose and Stephanie and I made off to good old Gate E. Delighted by the lack of a punishing security line, we queued up immediately, we weren’t hassled by security and I removed the tickets from my bag (didn’t want to bend them in my wallet) for scanning. Once through the turnstile, we got our lanyards. But then I remembered that I forgot to buy the program where the guy was hawking them outside, and it was the Final Day program, and it was in demand — like Opening Day 1993 when speculators were scooping up scorecards by the greedy handful because it was the first-ever game for the Colorado Rockies — and it was going to be impossible to find one inside.
Forgetting the camera was an amateur mistake. Forgetting to buy the program was a rookie mistake. Had I ever even been to Shea Stadium before?
So no program and, due to whatever foodstuffs and beverages I had crammed into my shopping bag, no reason to drop a dime inside Shea Stadium for the second day in a row (which wasn’t a bad thing). After a few feints toward a few stands that weren’t selling the program — mind you I had already anted up for the Final Week edition on Monday, the vultures — I led us to a working escalator, a quick pit stop on Mezzanine and then up the final escalator I’d ever ride at Shea Stadium until we landed in right field, Upper Deck.
Our seats, Seven Pack seats, were in Section 3, so this would be a winding walk. I didn’t mind. I wanted to take in as much Shea as possible, and nowhere was there more Shea than in the crowded concourses of UD. More people between Sections 47 and 3 than I’d seen in ages. Nobody wearing anything that wasn’t Mets stuff. This wasn’t going to be one of those phony sellouts. Somewhere along the way, Mets tickets had become disposable to Mets fans; use ‘em, don’t use ‘em. Not today.
Too bad in at least one case, but we’ll get to him in a bit.
The hike to Section 3 proceeded through heavy traffic. Then it was one final schlep up those golden stairs to Row Q, to my Seven Pack seats. It was steep, but I’d gotten used to it. I wasn’t running out of breath ’til Row O by now. I’d been satisfied with this view, with this setup. The moron factor was relatively low up here since discovering the lay of the land in early July. Not perfect, but not abysmal. Not yet anyway.
As we arrived, the grounds crew was removing the tarp. It was muggier than I’d imagined years ago, more uncomfortable than I figured this morning. I had wanted to wear my $70 SHEA STADIUM THE GREATEST BALLPARK EVER! hoodie but it was too hot. For only the second time, I broke out my 1969 Tom Seaver Mitchell & Ness jersey. I wore it to Game Six of the ’06 NLCS and I set it aside for today (to go with my gray Shea Stadium Built 1964 t-shirt and my 1981 Cap Night mesh cap…as if I didn’t have every detail that I could control planned weeks in advance). But it was too darn hot and I shoved Tom back in the shopping bag. Well, I thought, better a little steamy than too chilly, better damp than wet. The rain had passed, an old-school start time of 2 o’clock was announced — we’d be on the same pace as the Brewers and Cubs — and, for good measure, somebody in the row in front of us put my face and Stephanie’s shirt together and recognized me as half of Faith and Fear. Heck, somebody Stephanie works with recognized her and said, “I didn’t know you were a Mets fan!” (I was delighted to hear her characterized that way even if she was quick to point at me like it was my fault she’d become one of us.)
I was going to be drowning in melancholy, I thought, but my mood took a decidedly upbeat turn. Between 1 and 2, I was less at the last regular-season game at Shea Stadium than I was at the game the Mets had to win to make the playoffs. That’s where my head went for a while. Thus, I embraced every single twitch from the PA and DiamondVision. Anything that was designed to rev me up revved me up. They played a little Twisted Sister, I declared I wasn’t gonna take it anymore. They gave Peter Finch another encore, I got out of my chair. They introduced the starting lineups, I booed every Marlin and I roared for every Met. I removed my cap, placed it over my heart and sang every word of the National Anthem loudly and proudly (though, thanks to the way singers vamp now, it was impossible to stay in cadence with Marc Anthony). I was on my feet, fidgeting and jumping around, for the better part of a half-hour. I yelled LET’S GO METS! with and without provocation. No way we’d lose today, I decided. Couldn’t tell you what would happen to the Brewers, but no way does Ollie lose, no way do the Mets not do themselves proud in front of their predecessors, no way do they let down Johan after Saturday, no way do they do anything to us remotely resembling what they did one year earlier.
We had great energy. We had great energy last year, too, but this felt different. Last year they played “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins. Meta-commentary for a Met team that had buried itself. This year it was “Welcome To The Jungle”. This year it was “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. No, Dee Snider and Axl Rose were going to kick Kenny Loggins’ ass this year.
This was going to be great.
Then it wasn’t.
The bane of my existence arrived in Row R, and if given the choice between T#m Gl@v!ne magically reappearing on the mound for us and having this person sitting directly behind us, I would have taken T#m Gl@v!ne in a hot minute.
When I entered seventh grade, it was like being cast down with the Sodomites in The Shawshank Redemption. For two months, I was thrown in with total strangers, almost all of whom by luck of the alphabetical draw seemed to be ill-natured dullards, dimwits and deviants. These were the 12-year-olds who looked 16, smoked in the boys room and threatened you as a matter of course. I was not comfortable and was thrilled when they regrouped us by academic track. Our four groups, FYI, were Sets, Jets, Mets and Bets; I was a Set (World Team Tennis, anyone?) and damn happy in that context to be away from the Mets.
Sunday afternoon, I was back in seventh grade. I was back in those first two months where I was just another kid being processed through the system, where nobody in charge knew me, nobody understood what I was all about and nobody cared. I was just lumped in with whoever was sent to the top of Section 3.
So was my bane. I don’t know his name. I suspect I never will. But I can hear his voice, at least to the extent I can still hear given that he was intent on piercing the eardrums of all those around him. I’m still carrying around my disdain for him. I’ve come to this page and unloaded on all variety of morons who have cramped my style and impeded on my game these past four seasons. Sometimes I feel like Jennifer Grey in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Edie McClurg asks, “Jeanie, who’s bothering you now?” Eventually they go away. They were just idiots for one day or night. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads…they linger on only as anecdotes. But I’m having a hard time letting go of my bane. He was not a righteous dude.
He was Shea Stadium’s last colossal jerk who sat in the row behind mine. And he — not Scott Schoeneweis, not Luis Ayala, not David Wright or Ryan Church — ruined its final game for me and my wife.
The bane came looking, I believe, for trouble. He announced to nobody in particular that it was going to get ugly today. He was on the phone promising that the “torches and pitchforks” would be out if the Mets lost. He didn’t drink, which would at least explain away some of his behavior if he had; I assume he was under court order not to. That’s what made him all the more scary. He was a stone sober jerk.
I could sense the trouble. He was loud from the outset, before the game started, and he was fond of repeating the same things over and over (and over and over) again. Before a pitch was thrown, he declared (over and over) that the bullpen is a pig pen. “BULLPEN’S A PIG PEN! BULLPEN’S A PIG PEN!” He rattled off a list of explosive actions that either the bullpen was going to partake in or that should be unleashed on our relievers (“MOLOTOV COCKTAIL! BLUE-TIPPED MATCHES! WHAT’S IT GONNA BE?”) There were sporadic “YANKEES SUCK!” outbursts that seemed to remind him of happier times during a Subway Series game. There was even, who knows why, a Tomahawk chop chant of “BRA-AVES SU-UCK!” despite the utter irrelevance of the Braves on this Sunday. Every single fly or foul ball brought, as if for the first time, “I GOT IT!” [Texted Jim Haines from Section 28, “Tell him, yeah I got it, too — VD…FROM YOUR MOTHER!”] When DiamondVision featured Mr. Met’s sentimental journey around the infield, I heard “MR. MET IS HOMELESS! MR. MET IS HOMELESS!” to great self-cackling. Every squeezed call that befell Oliver Perez was cause to admonish Gerry Davis, “C’MON BLUE, YOU’RE MISSING A GREAT GAME”…which devolved soon enough into “RAT BASTID!” and “UMP’S A COMMUNIST!” You’ve heard variations on all three at the ballpark hundreds of times — blaming and correcting the umpire is as much a part of baseball as your team losing a playoff spot on the last day of the year. But when you hear it repeatedly, really loudly, in your ear, on the afternoon you’ve been picturing all your life…it is not acceptable.
I thought of Peggy Olson in Mad Men trying to comprehend the motives behind Joan Holloway’s snippy self-improvement advice. “I just realized something,” Peggy told Joan. “You think you’re being helpful.”
What was I doing up there? Didn’t my many-layered, forty-year, cut-my-veins-open Mets fandom earn me any karmic juice with those who assign seats? I bought this frigging “Shea Goodbye” Seven Pack the second it went on sale. I ran to a doctor two weeks earlier so I could take a course of antibiotics to make certain I would be healthy enough to attend. And Stephanie…she sure as hell didn’t need this. Her ears didn’t need the volume. The inane “C’MON KID, ROLL IT TO SECOND, GET TWO” (over and over and over) you could live with. A certain amount of frustration expressing itself in irritating ways? Listen, it was the Mets and it was Game 162 and it was edging into 2007 encore territory, so sure. I get it. We all get it. But it was just a nonstop package of stupidity and idiocy. And before you put it all on devoted fandom, understand this: He’d stop his yelling long enough to answer the phone and talk relatively calmly to whoever was on the other end to discuss his football picks. “The Jets are winning, huh? How about Jacksonville? I’ve got them in the pool. I’m at the Mets game. Yeah, it’s getting pretty ugly.”
The turning it on and turning it off convinced me there was both something wrong in the head with this guy and that he was not a Mets fan. I don’t care that he wore a Mets jersey. I don’t care that somewhere in the middle of his blather he was familiar with the Mets. I tried very early on to engage him when he said, after Ollie retired his first Marlin, that at least we knew he was better than T#m Gl@v!ne. I turned around and said, with mock horror, “Hey, don’t even mention that name (ha-ha).”
I got the blankest stare you ever saw.
By probably the fifth, I was scouring the Upper Deck to see if any two seats had been abandoned. Drat the luck, they hadn’t been. So we were stuck there for the duration. I felt so bad for Stephanie. And not a little bad for myself. I’d have felt bad for the whole section except nobody else seemed terribly upset by it. Maybe they were all here for the game, which was 2-2 by the seventh. I was here for the final day in the life of my ballpark, multitasking forest and trees. I wanted to be experiencing one free and clear even if the other was slipping away. Maybe I’m just a bigger priss than everybody else.
Seventh-inning stretch comes. As with everything before the game, I leap to my feet. I don’t care for “God Bless America” at the ballpark. I think the national anthem covers everything just fine, thank you. But I was determined to sing with all my heart because this was the last time I’d hear it at Shea Stadium. Glenn Close began singing and I joined in.
Then I hear this behind me:
“Hats off….hats off…hats off…”
My cap stays on during “God Bless America”. It comes off and goes up against my heart for “The Star-Spangled Banner”. That’s my code, cemented since I spent a beverage-related evening on an active aircraft carrier docked on the West Side shortly after “Mission Accomplished” was declared and “God Bless America” was introduced and not a single sailor and very few officers put down their beers or stopped their conversations. It’s not our national anthem. There is nothing official about it. And whatever I or anybody else thinks about it shouldn’t be of any concern to you if you’re the colossal jerk standing in the row behind me. You take off or keep on whatever you like. I don’t care how often you yell “UMP’S A COMMUNIST.” Don’t you fucking dare to pretend to be the arbiter of what makes an American.
I honestly don’t know if my bane was directing “hats off” toward me or if it was yet another of his obnoxious tics. But I sang “God Bless America,” cap on, with such force that you’d think I was related to Irving Berlin.
This is what the final game in the history of Shea Stadium became for me. Not the pitchers’ duel. Not Ollie’s gutty 5-1/3 innings. Not Beltran’s homer that tied it at two just as I was thinking “he’s gonna hit one out here, I can feel it” (don’t be too impressed; I thought that about Church all day). Not the desperate “Let’s Go Mets!” I kept chanting whether or not the scoreboard was suggesting it. It was putting up with somebody behind us who I couldn’t believe was rooting for the same team I was. I swear at one point as he was ostensibly encouraging Ryan Church, I instinctively approved that Church struck out. Geez, I thought, I want my team to win, but I want that guy’s team to lose.
This was no way to send off Shea. And the eighth inning hadn’t even happened yet. Scott Schoeneweis comes in, surrenders a home run to Wes Helms and…
PIG PEN! PIG PEN!
BULLPEN IS PIG PEN! BULLPEN IS PIG PEN!
GAS CAN SCHOENEWEIS! GAS CAN SCHOENEWEIS!
PUT A GUN IN YOUR MOUTH SCHOENEWEIS! PUT A GUN IN YOUR MOUTH SCHOENEWEIS!
In a loop. Turned up to eleven. I’m glad my hypothetical son didn’t have to deal with this.
You don’t think I wasn’t pissed off that Schoeneweis and then Ayala gave up homers? You don’t think I wasn’t angry and bitter and upset that the Mets were down 4-2 and that the Brewers were winning and that it was becoming astoundingly obvious that the Mets were going to do the one thing none of us could imagine them doing two years in a row? You don’t think I was eaten alive over the final game at Shea Stadium being a playoff-eliminating loss? Yet somehow I and a plurality of Mets fans managed to keep it in check (shoot, could you be surprised that the Mets were doing this?). Don’t try to tell me you, because you’re louder and crasser and more vulgar, have a territory-exclusive on expressing your anger.
There have always been idiots at Shea Stadium. There has always been viciousness in the stands. There will always be fans who are too quick to boo, no matter the team and the ballpark. But this guy in particular and too many like him have infected my surroundings for too long. The booing and the crassness back in the day, it used to seem rooted in something. You got mad at the Mets because you cared about the Mets. You got mad at the Mets because you derived joy from the Mets when you weren’t mad at them. Does my bane and do the thousands like him feel that? Why on earth do they come to Mets games except to ruin it for others and, I’m guessing, not make it easy on themselves?
Did this guy have any sense that this was Shea Stadium’s last day and what that’s supposed to mean? In my April Fool’s Day post, I constructed a dream scenario in which bloggers like me would get to screen potential attendees for admission to this closing day. He was who I was trying to keep out.
And I failed to stanch him in real life. I didn’t turn around, I didn’t tell him to shut it, I didn’t get into it with him. At no point, with the possible exception of “hats off,” did he say a word directed at me. I was in the position of simply being annoyed to the point of distraction. Do you tell somebody, quite possibly a psycho, to shut the fuck up and risk an actual brawl in the middle of a Mets game? When you’re 45 years old and three decades removed, you thought, from junior high?
While I contemplated this and the end of the season, I heard Stephanie say, “HEY! YOU’RE SPITTING ON ME! STOP IT!” The guy was ranting away on his phone, expressing his opinion of Scott Schoeneweis between receiving football scores. “Sputtering,” Stephanie would call it. Well fuck, there’s my opening. I slapped him across the leg and said, “SIR! SIR! YOU ARE SPITTING ON MY WIFE! CUT IT OUT! NOW!”
He kept yammering away on the phone and gave me the slightest nod as if to say yeah, whatever.
Big man I am. But at least there was no more spitting.
The Mets got two on in the eighth but Arthur Rhodes retired Delgado. The Marlins threatened in the ninth (more PIG PEN!) but Bobby Parnell, throwing the final Met pitch in Shea Stadium history, kept them off the board. For the bottom of the ninth, I put my earbuds in. I wanted to hear Howie Rose describe the end, just as I sat in the Upper Deck and listened to Murph on his night in 2003, just as I listened to the first half-inning of Shea Stadium on CD the week before at home.
I should have put the earbuds in 8½ innings earlier. Really drowned out the neighbors. Nevertheless, I barely remember anything Howie said, other than it was obligatorily hopeful and a little on the eloquent side. Wayne Hagin, forever the bemused visitor to Metsopotamia, noted at least the Astros, not the Marlins, would be at Citi Field the final series next year, and that had to be good news.
It wasn’t until Howie pointed it out that I noticed that all over the park flashbulbs were exploding. They’re taking pictures of what might be the final pitch ever at Shea Stadium, he said, which I found utterly ghoulish. The final pitch, unless we had two on, would signify only Met elimination.
Damion Easley, pound for pound my favorite Met in 2008, disappointed the flashers by working out a walk with two out. It was left up to Ryan Church, for whom I was still forecasting a home run. Two pitches in he got off a good swing and the ball jumped off his bat and for a moment I was leaping from my couch in East Rockaway in 2000, believing against the odds that Mike Piazza had hit the tying homer in the fifth game of the World Series when in actuality he was flying out to Bernie Williams. Church’s ball died in front of the center field track, right into Cameron Maybin’s glove. The Mets were done.
We’ve got to stop melting like this.
I couldn’t keep the earbuds in forever. When I took them out, I was assaulted by the tsunami of booing from which it was very easy to pick out my bane. “PIG PEN! PIG PEN!” And on and on. He was showing no signs of letting up. No way I was going to have this piece of filth ruin my closing ceremony the way he ruined my last game. The only good thing about the Mets’ loss is it chased out just enough of those who couldn’t see the forest for the trees. You’re a Mets fan who would skip out on Shea’s last rites because you’re ticked we lost 4-2? Great — I’m grabbing your seats.
C’mon, I told Stephanie, there’s got to be somewhere else to go. If that meant leaning in a tunnel and being chased by overly officious orange-shirted tools (say, how come nobody in one of those SUPERVISOR jackets ever made it up to Rows Q and R to enforce a little bit of decorum?), I’d risk it. As it happened, we found Row B had been entirely abandoned, so we plopped down there. Stephanie said she could still hear our bane making a spectacle of himself. I apologized on his behalf, as if I had arranged his presence.
Listen, nobody who wasn’t a frolicking Florida Marlin was happy inside Shea Stadium at 5:05 PM, the instance of the last out. Somebody else in Row R was experiencing a meltdown of his own. You’re entitled. You can boo David Wright and his 124 RBI as many did if that’s really going to help you cope. But at some point, on this particular day, you cut it out. You STOP IT! as Stephanie put it to the sputterer. You have to live outside your own sorry head if you’re going to take your act in public. I don’t care if your hat’s on or your hat’s off, but you are required to conduct yourself with a modicum of self-awareness when a ballpark is being put to sleep.
I’m trying to picture a world in which I make this speech to the bane of my existence and it has any impact.
Ah screw it, we moved when we could and we tried to put him more than fifteen rows behind us. In the interminable interval between escaping our bane and the commencing of high Met mass, there was plenty of time to contemplate the Mets and the way they deflated down the stretch, the way it was all in front of them but they couldn’t do anything with it, the way they let down Johan Santana, the way they let down every Met from the ’60s to the ’00s who came to watch them today. I’d add in that they let down their fans but I wasn’t all that empathetic with the booers and the banes. They deserved to be let down, even if I didn’t.
Still, there would be no playoffs at Shea. In the worst manner possible, the 2008 Mets squirmed out of a sure thing just as the 2007 Mets had. I was here last year and watched a once-in-a-lifetime disintegration. One year later I was back seeing it for a second time. Choking was now our thing.
To borrow from Peter Gammons, they killed our slightly younger selves and now the sons of bitches were coming for us.
Below us, the scene was Shearreal. The Marlins took forever to congratulate each other on a strong third-place finish. “OFF THE FIELD!” many chanted. It seemed to work. Who’d have thought the crowd could put up a better fight than the Mets? The PA had played “Welcome To The Jungle” before the game and the Mets lay down like pussycats.
The Marlins left. A phalanx of security and police and black-clad event organizers overran the premises. There was a very precise measuring in the outfield. A dozen or so…what were they? Sandwich boards? Kiosks from the mall? They portrayed great moments in Mets history, none from 2007 or 2008. I assumed we’d see Mets greats stationed by them or pop out of them or something having to do with them. It would turn out, in true Mets fashion, to be a lot of pointless posturing. They were carefully placed and otherwise contributed nothing.
Like so much of our roster.
I’m being hard on the 2008 Mets now. Someday I won’t be. Someday I’ll go back to thinking of Marlon Anderson in the realm of his inside-the-park pinch-hit homer off the Angels, not his total loss of skill. Someday, as soon as Opening Day 2009, Wright will impress me again. At the moment he does not. No Met who isn’t Johan Santana (we didn’t even know about the knee on Saturday) and maybe Beltran got anything of substance accomplished in the final week. They overachieved until it was time to achieve, until it was the middle of September.
And yet I kept coming back. This was a close-enough replay of 2007 and I kept coming back. I didn’t have any intention of staying away. I saw 44 games at Shea Stadium in 2008. That’s more than 10% of all the games I ever saw at Shea Stadium. That’s why I felt so proprietary about the way it would meet its end. That’s why I felt I deserved something more than the bane and the boos. Then again, when I muttered to my mind “what I have done to deserve this?” I flipped it. I was with my wife, our first date having been in an Upper Deck Box in Section 8. I was at Shea for the 415th Mets game of my life (plus two exhibitions, one intrasquad, one concert and one card show…I always feel compelled to include those even if they were never Logged). I, like John Lennon, saw the top of the mountain at Shea Stadium. I lived out my childhood dreams hundreds of times. My childhood dreams all involved going to Shea Stadium. Seriously. And I got to do it over and over and over again. I overcame collapses. I overcame banes. I saw the place I salivated over on TV in person. Nobody made me and nobody stopped me. I’d been coming here since I was 10, been a semi-regular here every season since I was 30, had practically lived here in recent years. When confronted by all manner of unpleasantness, it bounced off me. I was back the next night, the next homestand, the next season. It always made me happy.
What did I do to deserve that?
They could only measure and delay for so long. People could only stew so much. The long-rumored ceremony, the one I’d anticipated forever, the one I fretted would be bungled the way too much the Mets touch is bungled, was at hand.
It was Metsian, it was. It both saluted and ignored history. It was cheesy and it was beautiful. It had everything you could want and there was the sense it was lacking.
It was Shea Stadium.
First, they sent out Mr. Met. He’s not homeless (dope, he’s gonna be in Citi Field, which is right over there). He’d been charged with removing the Lincoln Mercury 1 from the countdown. What would it say underneath?
It had the Citi Field logo. And people booed. Cripes, I booed. Mr. Met took it like a trouper. It wasn’t him being booed. It wasn’t even the New World Class Home of the New York Mets. It was just the presumptuousness of it all. Sure we just blew it for the second year in a row, but come on over and spend more money with us, y’heah?
Howie Rose, unseen emcee, read off a roster of those who couldn’t or didn’t want to be with us today: Jim Hickman, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Grote, Jon Matlack, Hubie Brooks, Todd Hundley, Ray Knight, Mookie Wilson, Davey Johnson. It reminded me of Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy in Do The Right Thing paying homage to about a hundred black musicians he might play on his twelve-hour show on WE LOVE RADIO 108 FM. Then Howie took to introducing members of the extended Met family: the Mandts, the Flynns, the Plummers, Joye Murphy, the Hodges, the Agees, the McGraws, a couple of Sheas, Ralph Kiner. Another nice touch though I had a hard time tracking them among the hired goons lining the field. Why bring out Joan Hodges only to stick her behind a line of headsets and golf shirts?
This was all well-meaning prelude to the main event, the main reason I’d worried for years that I’d miss this day. This was when the Mets, the Mets who wear their history lightly but occasionally proudly, would bring back the players.
Who would come out? And what would it mean?
Many would come out. And it would mean everything.
The old guys..the relatively older guys were first, the guys I never saw play as Mets: Jack Fisher, Ron Hunt, Al Jackson, Frank Thomas. I stayed on my feet and applauded heartily for them. I thanked them for getting this thing started in 1962 and 1963 and 1964 and wanted them to know that even if I didn’t remember them first-hand that I would never forget them.
Jim McAndrew, the first to come out from my era, ’69 and the early ’70s. His won-lost record frustrated me. He never got any support. But he did get it from me right then and there. Just to hear his name…Jim McAndrew. Goddammit, I’m seven years old again.
The first names to blow my mind were Craig Swan (a little) and Doug Flynn (a lot). They were remembering the Mets of the late ’70s and early ’80s? The barren years. That was too great. I screamed like a bobby-soxer for Doug Flynn, more than I ever did in real time.
Between them, for the record, George “The Stork” Theodore. All I really remember about him is his nickname and his collision. He survived. This day he is adored. By me.
Ed Charles…just missed him as a six-year-old, but I love him. Wild, wild applause.
Shamsky…Garrett…those are my guys, too. YAY! YAY! These were the least sarcastic YAY!s I’d ever exuded. I’d break that record again and again in the course of the introductions.
DAVE KINGMAN? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Dave Kingman from 1975 when I was sure the addition of him and Joe Torre and Del Unser and Gene Clines and Bob Gallagher was going to turn the corner? Dave Kingman who led the civilized world in home runs until he made the mistake of playing defense? Dave Kingman who came back years later and was just as powerful and just as terrible but just as ours? YAY! YAY! YAY!
I was jumping up and down by the time we got to Dave Kingman. I was smiling and laughing and crying. I was crying because this was it, as Kenny Loggins would say. This was the end, but how can you be sad at Shea Stadium? At Shea we laugh. At Shea we smile. Dave Kingman was reportedly a jerk. Dave Kingman hit longer home runs for me than anybody before him did.
Felix Millan…a little less of a chemical response because I’d seen him before at these types of things, but he was still appreciated. Before I could catch my breath, John Stearns.
JOHN STEARNS? From when all we had was John Stearns? YAY!
George Foster? Really? People actually booed George Foster. They were looking for something. Screw them. YAY! on George Foster.
Tim Teufel…ohmigod, it’s an ’86 guy! Are we out of older guys? Is that it for the late ’60s and the ’70s and the futility of being a Mets fan in the early ’80s? Where’s Mike Vail? I guess Steve Henderson is coaching in Tampa Bay. Howie had said some men had “baseball obligations” or something important-sounding. But Teufel…’86…YAY!
Then we’re fast-forwarded to Todd Zeile. Zeile? Really? He was just here four years ago. He hit a home run in his final-ever at-bat. The Mets gave him the key to the city that day. Todd Zeile won us a pennant, too. YAY!
Ron Swoboda, two hands on the left field bullpen archway…not unexpected but an electrical charge, as if the Shea royalty factor was just amped up…YAY! I remember Ron Swoboda scoring in Game Five in ’69. I’m still trying to figure out how he became an Expo so soon thereafter.
Mazz…he works for SNY, but it’s still good to see Mazz in uniform. And he’s in the 1979 gear! Lee Mazzilli has been brought out not as the ’86 Met he got to be late but as the hope of the franchise he always was. YAY!
Wally Backman: shady present, perfect past. YAY! Ron Darling: Not as thrilling for the familiarity, but he’s still Ron Darling. YAY! El Sid…looks elated to be here (not). YAY! of course. HoJo…two nights earlier I was grumbling that HoJo and Straw accepted Greatest Moment honors from Nikon for Game Six even though neither of them was involved — Straw was sulking in the clubhouse and HoJo was on-deck in the tenth inning. HoJo was still wearing his game cap. HoJo, except when he was doing something good, never thrilled me on contact. But what the hell? YAY!
Bobby O…gray and YAY! Robin…wow! Robin Ventura’s an old-timer now. Last I saw Robin here he was belting a grand slam for the Dodgers. Now he’s a Met again. Now he’s belting the grand slam that didn’t count but will always add up to more than four runs. There’s something about those first-time old-timers, the first time they’ve opted to return your love, the first time they let on that you’re in their good graces the way they’re in yours.
Al Leiter…an undercurrent of boos. Al works for YES. Al became a Marlin and a Yankee. It was a little cute that he got booed. But only a little. Have to make up for it…YAY! YAY!
Ed Kranepool. This is Ed’s house. Ed was always here. He still is. He’ll never leave. YAY! YAY! Clearly we’re in double-YAY! territory now.
Cleon Jones. Of course he’s coming in from left field. Left field is where he ended the 1969 World Series. YAY! YAY! You should have been voted onto the All-Amazin’ Team ahead of Dykstra.
Buddy! All Buddy has to do is show up and the day is better (now that he’s not managing us anymore)…YAY! YAY!
JESSE OROSCO! Boy was he disliked here for a long time and boy does nobody remember anything but the end of the NLCS and the World Series. YAY! YAY! You are living history!
And now one of the two moments I’d been waiting years for…
Edgardo Alfonzo in a Mets uniform. Not playing second base. Not even playing third. But no longer running into a force field of almost being a Met again at Shea Stadium. With almost no time left, somebody stitched ALFONZO 13 on the back of one of those pinstriped models (even if the Bobby V Mets at the height of their powers almost never wore the pinstripes) and he’s emerging from right field.
YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY!
I was literally tired from clapping, but not tired of clapping.
YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY!
Did the Mets lose earlier today? I don’t remember anymore.
Next, John Franco. A necessary breather. I toned down my yays and applause. Still welcome, just never my favorite. Not even close.
RUSTY! YAY! (So much for the breather.)
LENNY! YAY! (I wondered how his investing savantness was going.)
GARY CARTER! I wasn’t sure if he was on the outs with the organization since attempting to throw Willie Randolph under the bus. Gary Carter couldn’t throw all that well once he became a Met anyway. YAY! YAY! YAY!
JERRY KOOSMAN! He started my first game here, July 11, 1973. He was here then, he’s here now…like me…YAY! YAY!
Yogi Berra…should have started George Stone. YAY! anyway.
KEITH! KEITH HERNANDEZ! I don’t care that he’s plenty familiar from the booth now. There’s Keith Hernandez in a Mets uniform! There’s Keith Hernandez leaning by the left field bullpen as if he had just swallowed a canary! That’s Keith Hernandez who came here from St. Louis and drove in every important run for the next five years. Ohmigod! YAY! YAY! YAY!
Straw. The impact’s been lessened by his returning to the fold already, but where else would you want him but right (and not running into Teufel)? YAY! YAY! YAY! Nobody hit more home runs as a Met than Darryl. YAY!
And now the second of the two moments I’d been waiting years for…
Goodness. There he is. Don’t know where he’s been or what he’s been doing. But there he is. He looks a little worse for wear. But he’s here. At Shea Stadium. This was where Doc Gooden pitched and they hung K’s. This is where we came almost expecting 16 strikeouts every night he pitched. This is where we watched him begin to grow up and then just kind of stop. This is where we welcomed him back once but had to let him go twice. This is Doc Gooden from 1984 and 1985 all the way up, it’s hard to remember, to 1994, but really from 1984 and 1985. Doctor K was the pinnacle of Mets talent and achievement then. He was the best in a way that no Met, not even Seaver, was the best. He had been gone since 1994. I had waited 14 years to see Doc Gooden…to see Dwight Gooden wear a Mets uniform that said 16 on the front…to see Dwight Gooden wear it in something more than archival footage.
And there he was.
I didn’t have nearly enough YAY!s to go around.
Who could follow that up but Willie Mays? Willie needed help for the walk down the foul line. We’d all help Willie if we could. He’s Willie Mays. He played for the Mets. I’ve never understood how anybody needs more information than that.
Mike Piazza…in Mets colors again. Jesus, of course. Enough with the Padres and the A’s. That’s our guy. Mike was my era. My era the way Jim McAndrew was and Dave Kingman was and Doug Flynn was and Tim Teufel was and a bunch of guys who didn’t show their faces are. But Mike Piazza is really my era. Mike was never my favorite Met. He didn’t have to be. His job was to be more than that. And boy oh boy did he do it. And now he was back to confirm it, that we didn’t just imagine it, that he was a Met from 1998 to 2005, that he did hit all those home runs for us, that he did block all those plates for us, that he did expose himself to all those cameras and microphones and pens and notebooks for us. Mike Piazza came home and everybody knew what it meant.
Everybody — even the dolts upstairs — knew Tom Seaver would be the last of them. The first shall be last, that’s how these things work. There was no surprise in Tom Seaver participating. Tom is on the payroll as an ambassador, as a legend, as a god. That’s Tom’s job. There was a time when he was away. I don’t mean Cincinnati, but in retirement. It was a big deal in 1999 when Tom came home to the organization. Somebody’s always coming home who’d been off in a snit, team-induced or otherwise. Darryl was gone for a while. Doc was gone forever. Gary keeps dribbling away. Keith and Gary got half-hearted goodbyes in 1989 as players. Mookie’s disappeared. Mike had to be sent packing for the good of something called the future. Fonzie…Robin…Ed Kranepool. Nobody gets to stick around Shea Stadium. Shea Stadium doesn’t get to stick around Shea Stadium.
But we’re here. We, the fans. We, not the idiot fans but the ones who care about Doug Flynn, who are suffering from applause fatigue because we’ve spent a half-hour clapping for Doug Flynn like he was the guy he was traded for on June 15, 1977 (cripes, did we really trade Tom Seaver for Doug Flynn and Steve Henderson and those other guys?). We’re not the idiots. We’re geniuses because we care so goddamned much for this team no matter what they do to us on the last days of seasons. It makes us happy. And our Franchise is Tom Seaver.
The last YAY! is for us. Us and Tom.
We met the Mets. The Mets from 1962 and 1964 on to 2005 when Mike was encouraged by management to leave. The Mets since 2006 were in the clubhouse wondering where it all went. The Mets of Wright and Reyes and Beltran and Delgado and Martinez and Chavez and Heilman and Feliciano were a part of this, too, and they either deserved to be out here or should have been directed out here. This was David Wright’s house as much as Ed Kranepool’s. Nobody’s ever been as great for four seasons with a bat and a Met uniform as David Wright. David Wright was booed when he led off the ninth by popping out. They’re all my eras, every one of them. This had been my era all month at Shea Stadium. I gave my all to Wright and Reyes and Beltran right through to Ryan Church with two out and one on in the ninth. They were escaping to the offseason and to Citi Field and to a place where they could, once again, try to put it all behind them. Too bad. They’re still family.
A quick video was shown. Every sign of an ’08 Met was met with derision. What’s the matter with people? What’s the matter with those who ignored the ceremonies and posed for pictures right off my right shoulder? What’s wrong with people who got up and left between Swan and Theodore? During the Southside Johnny montage? Why am I both constantly praising Mets fans and constantly disgusted by Mets fans?
The worst thing about watching the Mets at Shea Stadium was being among other Mets fans. The best thing about watching the Mets at Shea Stadium was being among other Mets fans. It all depends upon your appetite.
Video over, Howie announced what was next. All the Mets lined up between first and third would turn around and touch home plate. Couldn’t make out the faces on the field but I sensed the guys, forever ballplayers, thought this sounded a little fruity. For a team that scored five runs in three games over the weekend, crossing home plate didn’t seem appropriately symbolic at all. But we do love our cinematic moments, so let’s go.
It was arranged that Willie would go first. He stooped over and touched the plate with his fingers. And ladies and gentlemen, if Willie Howard Mays of the New York Giants and the New York Mets, the man who touched home for real 2,062 times — seventh-most in major league history — could partake in this little oddball ritual in a way that showed it meant something to him, then you can all take a turn.
Ron Hunt touched home. Jack Fisher (the first man to throw a pitch at Shea…why would a pitcher want to touch home plate? And why were half the Mets coming from the direction of first base? No wonder we never score…) touched home. Doug Flynn strolled across. George Theodore gave it a little oomph. Buddy Harrelson seemed to score a winning run. Fonzie pointed skyward.
The guys came and crossed. The line on each side of home grew shorter. The gloaming was overtaking the sky. And then it hit me what I was watching.
My life flashing before my eyes. The single most important edifice in my life, its seconds ticking down. The players, as great as they were, as Mets as they had been, were no longer the players. Those were the years of my life crossing home plate.
There goes 1973: that first trip from Camp Avnet. I went home nauseous and threw up from the kosher salami sandwiches that sat badly in the sun. Now I was getting queasy again.
’74…my first win, a Matlack one-hitter. Matlack couldn’t be here today. My first All-Star vote. My first Mr. Met pennant, the one on which he’s accompanied to Shea Stadium by Lady Met.
’75…one-and-a-half innings with Randy Tate and then rain but they played and it counted.
’76…the Ziggys giving Suzan and me a ride when they found us en route to the station. Seaver brilliant, Andujar wins anyway.
’77…me, on my own, leading two Yankee-fan friends (’cause I couldn’t find anybody else) on my first unsupervised LIRR jaunt. Roger Freed taking Craig Swan deep
’78…an unprecedented tour of the souvenir closet. Another loss.
’79…high school newspaper night…Richie Hebner on a late August afternoon saluting Joel and Larry and me and the other 6,000 on hand for saluting him. Four games in all. Four entire games in one season for me.
’80…The Magic Is Back. They never won when I was here in 1980, but the Magic Was Back.
’81…”Thank God I’m A Country Boy” blasting while the scoreboard stayed blank. Dave Roberts…and still I came.
’82…The Billy Smith guy threatening Rick Monday. The box seats the guy sold me for five bucks while I waited in the ticket line. Randy Jones being blown out.
’83…Darryl’s first Shea home run. My first doubleheader. Nolan Ryan defeating Mike Torrez in utter silence.
’84…Keith besting Neil Allen. The ramps exploding with “WE’RE NUMBER ONE!” and “STEINBRENNER SUCKS!”
’85…A Gary Carter grand slam in May. A bittersweet farewell on the final Sunday, my first final Sunday.
’86…Rob Costa and I and several Budweisers in the Upper Deck, left field, way up, like 20 games ahead of everybody. Later, my mother’s final visit, her thinking the chant goes “Let’s Go Mets Go!” and in 1986, who’s to say she’s wrong?
’87…Stephanie’s first baseball game…”neat!”
’88…”BEAT L.A.! BEAT L.A.!”
’89…Chuck’s first Mets game since his childhood in New York…buying the tickets out of the trunk of some scalper…the foul ball that comes toward us but we miss…Dave Magadan’s walkoff homer…Chuck’s totally over-the-top “FUCK YOU PIRATES! FUCK YOU!” and he’s not even a Mets fan.
’90…Learning to bring gloves in April the hard way.
’91…Gooden battling Dennis Martinez and wondering why there are only 25,000 here.
’92…A deluge shortens Tom Seaver Hall of Fame Night. We get posters anyway. Tom goes away ’til ’99.
Keith touches the plate and makes with his batting stance. Jesse raises his arms in the air. Cleon recreates the last out.
The years are still crossing home plate, but it’s taking longer. From 1993 on I’m going to more games. The images begin to cause a traffic jam. We’ll need a traffic cop more skilled than Luis Aguayo.
The Rockies are born…Joe and his scorebook…Anthony Young not winning more than anybody has not won…showing up days after my first trip to Camden Yards and wondering why we were stuck with this place…somebody calling Rico Brogna “the Italian kid” when I thought he must be Hispanic from that “Rico Suave” song…brushing the players strike off my shoulders and returning almost as soon as they would let me…Bill Pulsipher is called up…Jason appears from Washington…Carl Everett…Rob Emproto…moundball…Laurie in right field…Paul Wilson…Jackie Robinson Night…Bobby Jones…Interleague…the final Sunday in 1997 when I called out Let’s Go Mets! and others joined in even though the game was over…14 innings on Opening Day…sitting, thanks to Laurie, with Dee Reed, and Rick Reed, thanks to Laurie again, leaving me tickets…all those doubleheaders…running the bases…the prehistoric first collapse…Mike Piazza rising above it all…Bobby Bonilla returns and it doesn’t seem so offensive…another John Franco Day…the ’69 Mets’ 30th anniversary…Richie and his son…Matt Franco!…The Greatest Infield Ever…nearly another collapse…but then John Olerud and a grand slam off Greg Maddux…and Melvin Mora…and the miniature bats they wouldn’t give us even as we left…and my first postseason…and Pratt…and losing to the Braves 1-0.
Yogi misses home. Darryl crosses safely. Doc blows us a kiss.
Ill-fitting throwback night and Armando strikes out Ken Griffey…the ten-run inning…four games in five days, all wins…my one-hundredth win…another Wild Card…Benny and the Dogs…the one-hitter…Zeile and the upper deck shaking and practically unhinging…Cow-Bell Man and his entourage…a pennant…the Tuesday/Friday package…the guys who yelled “MAH! SHEEN!” at Ordoñez…the last game before 9/11…the first game after 9/11…Brian Jordan…all those games after 9/11…the new era with Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar…B.J. Surhoff in right throwing out Jeff D’Amico at first…Shawn Estes’ one-hitter…Jason and Emily are expecting…the horrific doubleheader against the Diamondbacks…August and September unraveling…Fonzie leaves quietly…the Tuesday/Friday package is not renewed…a new job…access to the Drayton McLane seats…Olerud comes in with the Mariners…Fonzie with the Giants…Cliff Floyd is revered…Murph calls it a career…Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson look pretty good…Joshua’s first game…Jim and Laurie and Jason and I give a hello to Joe Hietpas and an au revoir to the Expos.
Then 2005 and Faith and Fear and home plate is too crowded to make out clearly for four incredible seasons. But when the dust of all those who made ’05 and ’06 and ’07 and ’08 what they’ve been settles, it’s obvious what has to be done.
1973 takes to the mound and throws one final pitch to 2008.
It’s a perfect strike.
The years go falling in the fading light. Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza go up the middle. They close the center field gates. I yell Let’s Go Mets! a few more times. Nobody joins in. Streamers and confetti waft down on Row B. One long orange strip elicits a tug of war between me and some kid behind me.
Then, apparently, it is over. Those who waited for the end begin to file out. I look up Section 3. My bane stayed the whole time. As he steps past, I can’t help myself.
“I HOPE YOU GET CANCER! PTUI!”
He didn’t react.
Though I surrendered my seat after a few minutes, I couldn’t quite force myself out of the Upper Deck. I stood and leaned against a railing, looking at the field, then the seats. The field and then the seats. Those were two of the three essential components of Shea Stadium. The third was the people, whether they were on the field or in the seats. The field people had touched home plate. The seat people, my seat people, they had been touching me since 1973.
There was a lot of loitering. A lot of being lost in thought. I saw a kid, maybe in his twenties, probably Spanish. He crossed himself before leaving. Seemed to be mouthing a prayer. Perhaps for the dying. Perhaps for our offense.
I let go of the railing and let go of the Upper Deck. I really had to go to the bathroom. The men’s room was always the reality check at Shea Stadium. If you can still be sentimental about Shea Stadium after the men’s room, then you really care.
“This is the last time I’ll be taking a piss in this shithole,” somebody announced.
“It’s not so bad,” somebody else said. “It’s better than that thing where they all touched home plate.”
For the first time all day, I laughed without tears.
Stephanie and I approached the ramp. It was jammed. How could it be jammed? The game ended hours ago and the ceremony was over for at least 20 minutes. It wasn’t a backup, it was everybody stopping to take pictures of and from the ramp. The ramps were Shea Stadium as much as the field and the seats. There’s the Shea you saw on TV — which is the one I first fell in love with — and then there’s the Shea you actually saw when you went. That’s the one I fell in love with 400-some times. Those ramps were how we left, where we chanted, where we let the game permeate our pores and, if necessary, where we could climb up if we had to get back. There’d be no going up one of these ramps again. Or down it. No wonder everybody was taking pictures. It would last longer.
I did a quick turn into Mezzanine. I wanted to say goodbye to each level. Walked up the tunnel, poked my head out, took in the green and left. As we got back on our ramp, I realized I who took such pride in my familiarity with this building was on the wrong ramp if I wanted to get to Loge. And forget about Field Level. We were headed to Gate C.
So that would be it. Never again inside Shea. I was about to cross the border that separated me from in the park to out of the park. Right at the line, I did the only thing I could think to do.
I kissed a brick. I mean lips planted directly on one of those tan numbers. I love those bricks. They don’t demand your attention like the red ones in so many of the new places. They are the foundation of Shea. Nobody ever remarked on Shea’s bricks. But I always noticed them: outside; in the left and right field corners; propping up the batter’s eye. If I had to kiss something besides Stephanie at Shea Stadium, it was going to be a brick.
It probably wasn’t the most sanitary thing one could do. But I have all winter to recover.
Those who said the Mets were insane to schedule the ceremony for after the game and after Collapse II didn’t understand. This was what I needed, what a lot of us needed. I needed separation from the bane and the loss. I needed the goodbye on its own steam. How do you send Tom and Mike through the center field fence and then send Oliver Perez to warm up? No, the Mets who don’t do everything right and could have invited hundreds more players and can always do better with the pretzels and such…they did this right.
The last piece of Shea Stadium that got to me in the present tense was Gate E. Gate E was my meeting spot for the past decade. It actually used to be Gate D, but Gate E was just easier after a while. First one closest to the subway, I’d say. Somewhere between that little concession and the back of the ticket windows. That was my corner, my niche. Staring at those bricks and knowing I wouldn’t be meeting anyone there ever again was very difficult. Stephanie asked me if I wanted to kiss that, too.
We passed Shea’s footprint. We walked by Citi Field. “My new home,” I thought, not quite believing it. We made it back to the parking lot and the Chapmans. Sharon was saving me the CaberReyes bottle. I helped myself to a Coors Light — perhaps a Silver Bullet tonight — and downed it like I usually down Aquafina. I don’t really drink, but I was making a very obvious exception. I was delighted to be flouting open container laws in the shadow of the ostentatious NYPD tower. What did they think we were going to try to steal from Shea Stadium? We’re the ones who gave it our souls, our hearts, our youth. We gave it everything. We would never take.
Finally I pulled a Babylon schedule from one of my bags. It is the most pedestrian of acts but it symbolizes that the day or night at Shea is just about over. Now it meant a more final ending. There’d be a 7:54 at Woodside. We gave our best to the Chapmans and everybody else who remained. Then we had to yell at an MTA person to not lock the doors to the Willets Point station — had we really been that long? — and we waited on a local. The express had stopped running and the only nostalgia train left was the one rumbling through my head.
Eight stops later, we were in Woodside. We bought a sandwich at the deli downstairs and split it on the LIRR. Soon enough we were in Baldwin. Shea Stadium, undeniably, was in the past.