First of all, I'm crazy about the President, Josh. I've been crazy about him for longer than you've known who he was. And I'll keep poking him with a stick. That's how I show my love.
—Amy Gardner on her gadfly tendencies, The West Wing
With no flourishes or ruffles, a personal milestone of sorts was established earlier this month, one that you might say was almost a dozen years in the making.
On the last weekend of August 1997, I attended back-to-back Mets-Orioles games at Camden Yards. Those were my third and fourth games at the Birds' nest, making Camden a solid second on my ballpark list in terms of most games seen (it had been tied with Yankee Stadium and Veterans Stadium with two apiece). Through 2008, I'd notched seven contests from OP@CY in the “Elsewhere” section of my Log, certifying Oriole Park at Camden Yards a solid if perpetually distant No. 2 behind Shea.
On May 10, Citi Field passed Camden Yards for second place when I made it to my eighth Mets game of 2009. Unless I move to Baltimore immediately and become a big-time Orioles fan — or go anywhere else and switch allegiances, I suppose — second place belongs to Citi Field probably forever.
The current standings (games that count only):
1) Shea Stadium — 415
2) Citi Field — 10
3) Oriole Park @ Camden Yards — 7
4) Yankee Stadium II* — 5
5) Wrigley Field — 4
*The “renovated” version that opened in 1976 and closed in 2008.
By week's end, Citi Field's total is slated to rise. It will, like the Mets' Mojo of a decade ago, keep on risin'. Citi Field is here to stay in my life. Yours too, of course, but you probably arrived at that conclusion sooner than I did
Citi Field's probation period is over. I've been to ten games, not counting an exhibition and various walk-throughs. My approach to it as a stranger in a strange land has been altered. It's still a little unfamiliar, I'm still not wholly used to it, I still have my issues with aspects of it and I'm still hyperconscious of my surroundings, but it's no longer some new ballpark whose mysteries consume me. It's where I go to ballgames. It's where I go to Mets games. I find it hard to spit out that it's my home park, seeing as how that phrase will always be reserved for what no longer stands next door to it, but in all practicality it is.
It's either Citi Field or nothing at this point. I'm not prepared to go to nothing.
Maybe it was reaching double-digits sooner than I ever expected. I'd had it as a long-term — like September — goal to beat Camden's total in 2009. I can't believe how quickly Oriole Park fell. Maybe it was the glance to the left where there had been a moderately comforting pile of rubble all season but where now there is just asphalt that is part of more asphalt. Deep down, as long as there was a little something left of Shea, I clung subconsciously to the notion that it was somehow not completely gone, even if a pile of rubble was nothing more than a pile of rubble. But there is, at last, nothing left of Shea and it is completely gone. Its commemorative base markers are down and the rubble's been cleared. There is, at long last, no physical evidence that until very recently there used to be a ballpark right there. There's only the ballpark that is there now, and that's the one I went to for the tenth time Monday night.
The Mets came home. After San Francisco, after Los Angeles, after Boston, the Mets came home. Citi Field was not a strange land Monday night. Citi Field was where they needed to be and, by association, where I needed to be. I needed to see the Mets in home uniforms, even if they wore what appeared to be Nationals caps (it took me about four innings to get straight that I didn't necessarily want the guys in the red hats striking out). I needed them to come off the road, away from the traps and the turmoil that came close to swallowing their season alive but didn't. The Mets needed home cooking. The hot plate's plugged in a little to the east of where it used to be, but that's just a matter of wiring. The Mets came home. It was good to have them back where they belong.
Where I belong, too, I guess.
The tenth game of the rest of my life yielded a positive result through torpid means. When the Foxwoods Resort or whoever sponsors it now turning point of the game requires an off-camera conference of six or more minutes, you know you're getting a later train than you'd like. But if you're going home with three Gary Sheffield RBI and a win in your pocket, you don't mind. You'll wait six minutes for the umpire's finger to twirl definitively in your direction.
I waited in style and comfort befitting a traveler whose flight to Charlotte had been delayed due to mechanical trouble. Monday night was my second trip to the Logezzanine, what the Mets refer to as the Excelsior level. Because I came home in late April half-raving about and half-cursing at the existence of this hidden in plain sight Loge-Mezzanine hybrid — raving because it was nicer than where I'd sat previously, cursing because except for a few Value dates it was prohibitively expensive — Stephanie requested a looksee when the prices would be relatively accommodating. Monday night with the Nationals equaled just such a paradigm, so I grabbed a couple of “reasonable” $45 tickets and gained us admission to the rarefied air of Not Promenade.
It's still nice. It's still not worth putting on a pedestal beyond what good ol' Mezz used to be. It still includes access to that airport lounge they call Caesars Club. I'd happily wait for my flight to be called there. I happily waited for the flight of Gary Sheffield's game-changing home run to be called correctly there. I felt kind of silly, otherwise, munching away in a room at a ballpark while a ballgame was going on out of view. So did Stephanie, though she revealed she's never much cared for eating at her seat (the activities one takes for granted when one grows up partaking in them) which is how we wound up in there for the bottom of the sixth. Citi Field doesn't need a lounge filled with high-def screens showing nothing but an in-progress Mets game. Everywhere else in the world needs that lounge. Imagine how much you'd enjoy everywhere else in the world if that service were in fact available.
Our right field, last row Logezzanine experience, pretentiously isolated from the heart of Citi civilization as we were, put us in mind of the Third Ring of the New York City Ballet…except maybe for the way the ushers at Lincoln Center don't pace behind you cursing out misstepping dancers the way our green-jacketed guy dismissed Parnell and Putz every time they threw ball one. When I find myself enthusiastically spending a stray Sunday at the ballet, do you know what I wish for? A Caesars Club-type refuge: dozens of TVs beaming the Mets game, and maybe a few snacks. There is not a setting in the Western world that wouldn't benefit from the addition of a vaguely Mets-oriented faux sports bar…except for a ballpark where you've got the ballgame itself to entertain you.
Otherwise, the “club” feels like a high school cafeteria that nobody who really knows the school spends their lunch period in, not with everything else that's available on or near campus. I don't really get the exclusivity angle that permits only people who have tickets on that level to come in and pony up for a roast beef sandwich — they didn't restrict access to the TGI Friday's when I went to what was then called Bank One Ballpark, and this isn't even as special as what they had at the BOB. In Phoenix you could see the field from your table; from Caesars you can see the William A. Shea memorial parking lot.
Logezzanine would be an unqualifiedly fine place to watch a ballgame, but the Mets took what should be a simple, swell middle tier of seating, cloaked it in “amenities” and priced it out of reasonable most nights. I assume they have a business model that works for them, but if they lowered the tag on Excelsior seats a bit and opened up the club to anybody and everybody who wandered by and was willing to indulge their curiosity, the environment would probably feel less balletic on that level — and they'd make more money overall moving roast beef sandwiches on novelty alone. Get people walking through there, they'll find something to spend on. It's a sensation endemic to Citi Field.
I grant you this is not a real problem, just a ballpark problem, and not as pressing a matter as the slices of outfield you can't see or the evidence of Mets history that remains camouflaged. I'd like everything to work better, though, not because I don't like Citi Field, but because I do. I'm rooting for Citi Field to work as well as it possibly can. It is my home park, which means I feel a vested interest in its potential, my tone and tendency to list grievances notwithstanding. If it's going to be my home park, I want it to be the best home park it can be. As much as I adored Shea Stadium, I never stopped detecting its drawbacks or informally advising its keepers on how they might improve it. Their ultimate answer was tear it down and replace it. I don't think that's an option with Citi Field for a few decades, so ideally its paying customers and those who operate it should join forces toward an ever brighter tomorrow. As one of our esteemed blolleagues recently reminded me, we're supposed to have a voice in this. It's our place. I just want as much of it as possible to feel that way, and not merely by default because it's Citi Field or nothing.
Looking for something to do while umpires confer on whether a fly ball has cleared the fence or not? Try Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.