You know how Frankie Rodriguez gets a save and then points skyward? I used to think he was giving thanks to the Heavens for instilling in him the talent and fortitude to close out baseball games for the New York Mets. I now realize he was just saying “hi” to the folks in Row 17 of Promenade.
“Hi” back, Frankie. Thanks for the save.
And thanks to a nice man and great Mets fan named Michael Garry who showed me how the upper half lives Friday night, for I got an unexpected and by no means unfulfilling taste of the last row of Citi Field for the first time. The last shall be first, or something like that, which is fine when the Mets win. When the Mets win, every seat in the house is one of those unfillable Field Level niches — Metropolitan Box! Field Box! Baseline Box! Let's Name More Overpriced Boxes We Can't Sell At Full Price! — for which I'm continually receiving mets.com e-mail come-ons. From high atop Citi Field, way back in Section 537, you can see a lot of empty green way the hell down in the territory you'd infer would be the first to fill in. But that's not how it works in 2009. People don't particularly care that a visit by the A.L. champion Rays has been deemed Gold by the Mets marketing department. They care that they have enough silver in their pockets to get home after a night at Citi Field.
When the invitation from Michael was extended my way via his co-worker and my blood brother Jim Haines to tag along on their office outing, I assumed we'd be seated more or less where we were. When your ballpark suddenly accommodates 41,800 instead of 55,300, group sales isn't quite the Mezzanine field trip it used to be. The intimacy the Mets hail in hyping Citi Field takes on a whole new perspective when it sends you to the last row in left field. For example, you get an intimate view of the out-of-town scoreboard. Not the scores, just the board, because we're staring at its back. Fortunately its back is dotted with hi-def monitors, so you're not exactly at a loss trying to follow a Mets win. Michael wasn't far off when he joked this was a different kind of suite level. Except for the fact that nobody in a maroon jacket was going to stop you from gaining access to Row 17, it did feel oddly exclusive up there.
I won't pretend the sky and a majority of the outfield weren't welcome sights when we moved down a whole bunch of rows for the bottom of the eighth, but this season at Citi Field is about getting to know the place, and getting to know Row 17, spiritual descendant of Shea's Row V, had its small, unanticipated rewards. For example, I found my attention occasionally drifting to the Willie Mays Bridge, of which we had an uncommonly great view. Jim and I marveled at how there was a steady stream of pedestrian traffic each way throughout the game. Where were all these people coming from and going to exactly? One of the innovations I heartily approved when this place opened was the potential for walking around. I partook a couple of times until I realized I was missing the game. I like access to snacks and the opportunity to stretch my legs as necessary, but mostly I like to watch the Mets when I go to a Mets game.
The Mets were going somewhere at least. We got a great view of the monorail route Brian Schneider's homer took to shockingly deep right-center. By dialing up his first dinger, BriSchnei killed my private statistical notation in which every individual Met's home run total could be expressed as Schneider Plus, as in, “That was Gary Sheffield's eighth home run of the year, or Schneider Plus Eight.” Oh well, I imagine I'll find something else to carp about with him. Nothing but hearts and flowers, however, for Fernando Nieve, who has never done anything wrong in a Mets uniform. We had hopes as high as Row 17 for Eric Hillman and Alay Soler and a lot of two-start wonders over the years, but let's ride the Nieve wave as long as we can. If he can generate six splendid innings every time out, I'll hike up to top of the park every time he starts and call that slightly claustrophobic corner of Citi Field Fernando's Hideaway. And we'll point right back at Frankie for a job well done, even if he can't possibly see us behind that scoreboard.
What you won't find in any boxscore or seating chart is the revelation that the longstanding dark night of Jim, me and Mets games has reached an end. Ten consecutive night games we'd attended dating back to 2005 dealt us ten consecutive losses, darkening our mutual mood to a stark jet black. A sample of what it was like for us leaving Shea Stadium on those occasions:
September 22, 2006: “I find myself growing snippy and impatient after schlepping to Shea for another subpar game.”
May 15, 2007: “It was more annoying than entertaining.”
September 28, 2007: “Jim and I were owed at least one beer for our trouble, so we stopped in a watering hole he knew not far from where he grew up. And after letting loose an ear-steaming monologue probably far more entertaining than anything I am capable of piecing together at the moment, I noticed I had become another cliché: my head was literally on the bar and I was figuratively crying in my beer.”
May 30, 2008: “I know they kind of suck and am learning to accept it. Jim knows they kind of suck yet it still bothers him. It leaves him questioning why he likes baseball, why he watches baseball, why he allows the Mets to disturb his biorhythms, why do they HAVE TO SUCK SO MUCH?”
June 27, 2008: “[S]omehow it came to pass that on the very day our beloved New York Mets crushed the despised New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium and swept, in however delayed a fashion, their entire season's slate of games in The House That Uncouth Built, I concluded the night more anguished than ebullient. Timing is everything.”
September 26, 2008: “Not so deep down, though, I kind of wish the Mets and all their nonsense would just go away.”
Jesus, either we or the Mets are incredibly depressing. I don't know how our mutual and preternaturally optimistic friend Matt from Sunnyside puts up with us.
But our relentless Met fatalism was not a problem last night, not from the back of the house, not on the leisurely amble down the left field ramps, not as Jim as I merrily strolled the path to the Row 17 of parking lots, a.k.a. the Queens Museum (at $18 less than the $18 it costs to park adjacent to the facility so aptly named for a bank, it's totally worth the extra strides). The walk to Jim's car — swell guy to give me a lift, by the way — was an angst-addled march into the dimly lit recesses of the Mets fan's soul on those defeat-tainted occasions of the past few years. One time we walked past the well-lit and surprisingly active USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the idea that anybody was enjoying anything athletic sickened me. How dare tennis balls be struck with glee when baseball is making us so goddamn miserable? Last night, it was game, set and match Mets. I was so happy, I could have hopped over the nearest net.
It marked an encouraging change from all those nights when I could have been carried away in one.
Our heartiest congratulations to Friend of FAFIF Roger Kowalski — Kowalski to you — for winning the Mo Maniacs contest and the sweet season tickets it brings. He and Sal the Sign Man (whom I don't know but see on my train sometimes) were chosen as the Mets fans best suited to hyping up the crowd down in the Mo's Zone. Veterans of Sundays in the left field Mezzanine know Kowalski is totally the man for the job. Matt Artus of Always Amazin' shares the details here.
If you missed METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball Thursday, an enterprising blogger covered it like it was the newsworthy event it was. Go to Section Five Twenty-Eight and enjoy the observations of Paul V. And if you're wondering what all the fuss is about, Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Makes a great last-minute Father's Day or Graduation Day present, I hear. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.