This is the people's history and it has flesh and breath that quicken to the force of this old safe game of ours.
This is how a ballpark becomes your ballpark: by having something happen there that really means something to you. Not that I don't care about any given Mets game, but there has to be something at stake besides the dwindling contents of your wallet and the National League East standings to really get you going about a place. For me, there was on Sunday.
There was a winning streak. My own personal winning streak. If the Mets could beat the Marlins, I would set a record for bearing witness to uninterrupted Mets winning: seven in a row. All seven would take place in this merry, merry month of May and all seven would be taking place at Citi Field.
Me and Citi Field making history together. I never would have believed it as recently as April.
Yes, the Mets won. And I won: my seventh consecutive win, a streak never accomplished in my first Log or at my first ballpark. Long live Shea Stadium, but six straight was all I ever notched there in the regular season, twice, ten and eight years ago, respectively. I've been sore at Kevin Appier since August 10, 2001 for blowing a 5-0 lead to the Cardinals in what was certain to be the seventh consecutive win (we lost in ten). So this was quite a while in the making. When you write down the result of every game you've ever attended, it's a bigger deal than you'd think to string together seven in a row.
And it happened at Citi Field. We now have that, me and it.
Bill says, “Let me tell you something, Cotter.” Then he pauses and grins. “You got quite a grip, you know. My arm needs attention in a big way. You really put the squeeze on me.”
“Lucky I didn't bite. I was thinking about it.”
During the eleven seasons in which the Pepsi Party Patrol did its thing at Shea, I never caught a t-shirt. I can't say it was up there on my list of priorities like “catch foul ball”; “see no-hitter”; or “win seven in a row,” but if such things are going to fly through the air, it struck me that it would be nice to grab one of them. The last thing that struck me where the shirt giveaway was concerned was some dude's elbow to my shoulder when a shirt was coming right at me. That was in 1998. The bruise healed. The scar apparently remained.
But that was a Koonce age ago, back when I didn't win seven in a row or catch t-shirts. Today, out in the Big Apple section (I would've loved a piece of the consulting action on naming everything here), the Launch crew appeared before us and a shirt was popped toward the sky. It began to fall. There was no one sitting to my left. The shirt was heading in that direction. I put out my hand. I felt cotton in my palm. Could it be?
Yet maybe not!
Somehow the shirt that landed in my left hand was making its way into somebody else's hand. I'm pretty sure I had it first. And let me tell you something: I had it last. I've always been a little dismissive toward those Pepsi shirts given what I do for a living, which involves knowing people at beverage companies. “If I really want a Pepsi t-shirt, I could just make a call,” I liked to huff. But that isn't exactly true. I could call somebody, but if you really want something, you should have to grab at it like it means something.
It meant enough. I grabbed and I got it. I got the shirt.
I GOT THE SHIRT!
Then I got another. Really.
I'm sitting there, exulting in my soft hands, when a shirt appears from the right. It bounces out of a crowd. It bounces toward the airspace of the guy next to me. It bounces off his chest when he's not looking. And it bounces right into my hands.
There. Just like that. No shirts for eleven-plus years. Then two shirts in about sixty seconds. Go figure.
I happily gave the second shirt to the guy who just missed it because he was the reason I was out in center to begin with: Faith and Fear Fantasy Camp Correspondent Jeff Hysen. You might recall we turned the blog over to Jeff for a few days last January and he reported to us on what it was like to travel to Port St. Lucie and play ball like a pro under the tutelage of the pros. The addendum to that wondrous week is the campers are invited to Citi Field to a) line up on the warning track and have their names read over the public address system and b) play some ball in a big league stadium — this one — once the Mets leave town.
Jeff lives in the Washington area, which made this trip a bit complicated, particularly since the organizers aren't letting his group pitch, hit and catch until Tuesday. He was going to skip the Sunday game but became convinced that lining up where the Mets play and hearing his name over the loudspeaker was nothing to take lightly. Part of the deal was they gave him two tickets for Sunday. In the same manner I was perfectly positioned to catch two t-shirts, I was in the right spot to accompany him.
My role in his official activity was to take some pictures from over the centerfield wall. It wasn't easy because all the other campers had somebody trying to do the same for them and because I was looking for someone wearing No. 17.
Guess what the most popular number among fantasy campers is.
But I picked out HYSEN 17 and shot as best I could. I take t-shirts better than I take pictures, but I think I got a good one of Jeff with coach Ron Swoboda. (Ron smiled for my camera without bringing up that Thanksgiving 1977 awkwardness that still haunts me if not him or Lee Mazzilli.)
The crowd, the constant noise, the breath and hum, a basso rumble building now and then, the genderness of what they share in their experience of the game, how a man will scratch his wrist or shape a line of swearwords. And the lapping of applause that dies down quickly and is never enough. They are waiting to be carried on the sound of rally chant and rhythmic handclap, the set forms and repetitions. This is the power they keep in reserve for the right time. It is the thing that will make something happen, change the structure of the game and get them leaping to their feet, flying up together in a free thunder that shakes the place crazy.
Jeff helped kick off this seven-game surge of mine on May 9 when he made his first Citi Field trek and invited me to join him and his sons. It occurred to me then that he was the first person with whom I ever watched a game at the new place who never joined me at the old place (though we had taken in Mets road games in Philly and D.C.). Perhaps it's appropriate that he was the man on the scene for the record-breaker, not just because he helped jumpstart the damn thing three weeks ago but because a new stage seems to require new characters. The Mets required six flu-riddled innings from John Maine Sunday, to be sure, but somehow this month has been about Citi Field Mets more often than not. Playing key roles in victory Sunday were Gary Sheffield, Omir Santos, Fernando Martinez, Bobby Parnell and Frankie Rodriguez…Met names not cemented as such at Shea Stadium. Maine and Wright and Beltran and Santana aren't going anywhere soon, and they are no doubt fit to bridge the gap from ballpark to ballpark, but I'm reminded of what I've read of the Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles. They still had several Boys of Summer on the roster, but who was the face of the transplants who won the pennant in 1959? Someone who never played back east.
“He helped establish the new identity that distinguished the team from its Brooklyn ancestors,” Neil Sullivan wrote in The Dodgers Move West. “Hodges and Snider were familiar stars of a club still associated with Ebbets Field, but Wally Moon, by way of the St. Louis Cardinals, was the first star of the Los Angeles Dodgers.”
Wally Moon had the jury-rigged L.A. Coliseum configuration working in his favor in '59. Omir Santos has the stars aligned for him at Citi Field a half-century later.
You never know what you'll find when you look to the sky.
The steps from the Dodger clubhouse are nearly clear of people. Thomson has gone back inside but there are fans still gathered in the area, waving and chanting. The two men begin to walk across the outfield and Al points to the place in the left-field stands where the ball went in.
“Mark the spot. Like where Lee surrendered to Grant or some such thing.”
Russ think this is another kind of history. He think they will carry something out of here that joins them all in a rare way, that binds them to a memory with protective power.
We needed some new history Sunday beyond what Log II was privileged to record, beyond my good times with Jeff, the shirts, Swoboda and our A.M. tailgating friends from Jersey and Connecticut. We needed to beat the Florida Marlins on a Sunday at home, wherever we call home. We didn't do it the last three times we had a chance, two of those, notably, being the final game of 2007 and the final game of 2008. Those are inscribed in my original Log and remain charred on my brain. No need to dwell on the significance of those particular results.
The last time the Mets defeated the Marlins on a Sunday at Shea was August 12, 2007. I was there for that, too. The day included a pregame ceremony for a Mets pitcher I never particularly wanted pitching on my behalf. But he had just won his 300th game and the Mets were honoring him. I snorted and sniffed through his ceremony until I'd thought I'd come to an understanding with him. By the end of the gripping and grinning and golf ball presentation, I was on my feet applauding T#m Gl@v!ne, New York Met.
As I approached Citi Field Sunday morning via mass transit, I thought back to that day, how I decided to go along and get along with the prevailing sentiment of Metsopotamia even though it remained anathema to me. By August 2007, as he was being toasted for his career accomplishments, I was one of the last anti-Gl@v!ne holdouts. Maybe, I decided, I was being unnecessarily stubborn about a pitcher who was in his fifth season as a Met and had pitched some fine games in our uniform. So I dropped the anti-Gl@v!ne thing for the next several weeks.
I can't swear there's a connection to the Mets never again beating the Marlins on future Sundays at Shea when it really, really mattered, but I was untrue to my instinct that day and, karmically, I paid for it. I paid for it on September 30, 2007 and I paid for it again on September 28, 2008.
Having decided while riding the 7 (of all numbers) that there might be a connection, Sunday May 31, 2009 became about not just extending the winning streak but breaking the curse of he whose name I cannot bring myself to spell without swearing. The curse, maybe, was broken. Or nothing had to do with anything. Still, it all floats toward the top of my mind because T#m Gl@v!ne was the last piece of Mets merchandise I mistrusted the way I've mistrusted Citi Field. Slowly I've been moving off the mistrust angle. It's a ballpark. It's a ballpark where my team plays. It's not perfect by my reckoning and I will always resent it at least a little for replacing the imperfect place I loved, but I don't want to be anti-Citi Field for the rest of my days — not in the way I absolutely can't stand the thought that Mr. Brave, Mr. Players Association Hardliner, Mr. Disappointed N. Devastated was one of us.
Thing is, thirteen games in to my life with it, it's not a stretch for me anymore. I don't love Citi Field, I may never love Citi Field, but I don't hate it. I don't reflexively snarl when I see it or think about it. I don't have to be talked into liking it. I do like it — kind of. I don't plan to be unduly influenced by what anybody who claims to love it says about it and I don't plan to be unduly influenced by what anybody who claims to hate it says about it. I respect all opinions, but I have to keep forming my own.
Right now, I know I like it OK. Maybe a little more than OK at this moment because I got a genuine piece of intense personal history out of it when Frankie struck out Ronnie Paulino to secure my seventh straight win.
But I am having a hard time with something from early in Sunday's game and I do instinctually blame Citi Field for it the way I will never stop blaming T#m Gl@v!ne for the culmination of September 2007. It was one of those pointless text polls Verizon sponsors. This one was a multiple-choice quiz that asked a pretty easy question:
Where did the Mets originally play their home games?
• Shea Stadium: 7%
• Ebbets Field: 52%
• Polo Grounds: 41%
A majority of those who responded got it wrong. When Alex Anthony read the tally and identified the correct answer, he sounded embarrassed. As for the sound I made, if you heard a distant yowl of pain coming from the general direction of centerfield on PIX11 this afternoon, it had nothing to do with Angel Pagan's groin.
How does this happen?
Does it happen because someone owns a team and doesn't care about portraying its history in any meaningful fashion?
Does it happen because he cares mostly about the team that left town more than a half-century ago and therefore erects tributes to its former players and ballpark while practically ignoring the actual team that's on the premises?
Does it happen because his organization does not see fit to mention anywhere within the current home of that team that the identity of its first home was, in fact, the Polo Grounds?
You could just slough it off on Generation Text being young, uninformed and goofy enough to cluelessly respond to a poll like that, but I can't. It is a disgrace that Citi Field's slobbering evocation of Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers have made a question about where the Mets first played baseball unanswerable to so many visiting it on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
So Citi Field and I…we have that, too, and that will be an issue until Mets management makes its own history — not just half of its heritage — a priority.
But I'm a Mets fan, so I'll hold out hope that it will actually happen. Being a Mets fan is all about hope. After all, I never gave up hope I'd someday see them win seven games in a row in person.
All the fragments of the afternoon collect around his airborne form. Shouts, bat-cracks, full bladders and stray yawns, the sand-grain manyness of things that can't be counted.
It is all falling indelibly into the past.
—Don DeLillo, Pafko At The Wall
If you somehow missed it or just want to relive it, you can follow Jeff Hysen's January journey through Fantasy Camp starting here.
Jason and I had a blast Sunday evening with EJ & JB on the Happy Recap radio show. Go here and click on the 5/31/09 show.
And for more intense personal history, 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.