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Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

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Citi Field Embraces Its Inner Shea

Sweaty day from an atmospheric standpoint. Horrible day from a hamstring standpoint. Resilient day from an adversity standpoint. Relaxing, perhaps invigorating day from a post-delusional standpoint (if the Mets and Cards should meet in the playoffs it could get pretty steamy once more…though if the Mets are in the 2009 playoffs, October will be a most chilly month in Hell). Most importantly, one sweet day from a reunion standpoint. But the standpoint I think I'll remember most from Wednesday is Citi Field's embrace of that which it so assiduously avoids obvious association.

Citi Field got its inner Shea Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

New World Class Home of the New York Mets, my Aase. Its facade may self-consciously scream Ebbets Field, but deep down, the soul of Shea stirs. Not the happy, fun Shea either.

My goal in going to Citi Field Wednesday was onefold. Dave Murray, whom you hopefully know as the Massapequa expatriate turned Mets Guy In Michigan, was going to be there with his dad, his son and his cousin for the very first time. Knowing my attendance record at the ballpark I never particularly wanted built is pretty constant, he asked me if I'd be there.

I will now, I said.

Thanks to a very thoughtful friend and blogger-in-arms, I had obtained admission to the matinee. That the seat I had was in Promenade and the seats Dave's family had were in Field Level didn't make me much nevermind. I just wanted to say hello, shake hands and fix a time and spot to meet so we could watch an inning or two later on. The beauty of Citi Field, as Jeff Wilpon and Kevin Burkhardt relentlessly repeated in those SNY infomercials all winter and spring, was that the new place would have plenty of “cool places” where Mets fans could “hang out”. I had no intention on intruding on either Murraypalooza '09 or seats to which my ticket didn't entitle me. I just wanted to arrange to “hang out” in one of those “cool places”.

Should have been easy to nail down, right? That's why they invented cell phones. Except repeated pregame calls and texts by me to Dave after I arrived were going unanswered. Maybe he was busy. I know he likes to take a lot of pictures and he had plenty to photograph. I don't always hear or feel my phone at a ballgame either (because I'm often watching the ballgame). I knew what section he'd be in, so I headed there and could see him, resplendent in a No. 41 jersey, shooting away.

I called him again. No answer again. Well, maybe I can go down there.

Not so fast.

Citi Field has done away with the usher concept that was such an impediment to the Shea Stadium experience. In this inaugural season, I've seen no filthy rags, I've been ostentatiously guided to no locations I could find myself, I've kept my singles in my wallet (at least until they found their way into the coffers of various concessions). I haven't missed the ushers one bit. If my seat is wet, I'm on my own, but I know where napkins are kept.

But there are ushers at Citi Field, even if they're not called that, even if their job description has been realigned to enforcing rules that are at best semi-sensical. I've heard, for example, that they're expert at keeping many fans away from Field Level for batting practice. As we all know, unauthorized asses can sap the cushioning from Field Level seats, so this is a perfectly reasonable protection of the literal fabric of Citi Field. And if a kid from some other part of the ballpark can't get an autograph from a Met…well, let the kid go out beyond centerfield to one of those distractions they've implanted to keep him or her from paying attention to the main attraction of a baseball game. I'm sure it will serve the Mets well when that same kid forms no particular attachment to the Mets because going to a game winds up being one big blur of bells and whistles indistinguishable from everything else that attacks his or her senses in the course of growing up.

So anyway, about ten minutes before gametime I'm at the top of the section where I can see Dave, whom I hadn't seen in three years. And I tell the non-usher my situation: my friend is down there from Michigan, I just want to let him know I'm here, I can't reach him on the phone. The man was professional and courteous in that way they obviously drill into them. “I'm sorry, sir, I can't let you down there without a ticket” And I explain again that, yes, I understand, but I just want to alert him to my presence — I'm not trying to sit there, I'm not trying to pull a fast one, you can even have my bag as collateral.

I was told he couldn't watch my bag.

“Do you mind if I stand here and shout for his attention?” I asked.

That was OK. So I start to lean as close in as I can, but that wasn't allowed either because I dared to cross the bar that separates the concourse from the last row (mind you, the game had not begun yet), so I was asked to step back. I apologized to a woman standing nearby for my imminent rudeness and let loose.

“DAVE! DAVE MURRAY! DAVE! DAVE FROM MICHIGAN!”

Predictably, despite timing my plaintive cries for delivery between public address blare, this proved ineffective. It occurred to me at the same moment that it occurred to the woman next to me (while the non-usher stood by impervious to the stupidity he had helped create) that the answer here was to find someone who was walking down in Dave's general direction and ask that person to get his attention for me. I felt like a 19th century street urchin begging for the aid of someone more well off than myself, but it was, at that moment, my only option. I indeed found a man walking by the non-usher and tapped him on the shoulder just before he got away and asked him, please, if you don't mind, I hate to be a bother, but would you be so kind to get the attention of that fellow down there wearing No. 41? Just point him my way.

And because that man is not an employee of the New York Mets, he was most helpful. He went to Dave, and moments later, Dave and his dad were bounding up the stairs to greet me.

There. Was that so hard?

Dave's phone wasn't getting any reception, he said, but he, too, wanted to hang out. I told him where I was sitting and that he should come up later and until then, please enjoy the game with your family.

I wonder if I became the first fan in the history of Citi Field to convince somebody on Field Level to sneak up to Promenade.

As you may have figured out for yourself, what wound up happening after a few innings — considering the plethora of empty seats on all levels for a 12:10 start designed to convenience no one but day campers and ballplayers with a westbound flight to catch — is Dave came to Promenade with his dad's ticket for me to flash downstairs (to a different non-usher) and I spent roughly the second half of the game hanging out with my usually misplaced Midwestern blolleague and his kin in the coolest place of all at baseball game: seats with a view of the baseball game. That I landed closer to the field than I started…well that was nice, too, but I swear that purloining proximity was not my mission. I just wanted to watch the Mets in person in the company of a friend who wanted to do the same in the least onerous manner possible. Like I said, there were loads of empty seats, so I don't think anybody suffered in this transaction. (Hope this doesn't inspire Citi Field's management to replace paper tickets with Dark Angel-style barcodes on the backs of our necks to discourage this form of insidious fan behavior in the future.)

Organizationally speaking, the Mets can indulge their brick fetish to an extreme that would intimidate even the biggest, baddest wolf on the block. They can overwhelm you with retail options that leave you wondering how they ever managed to squeeze a ballfield into the middle of this shoppers paradise. They can deign to sell you consistently edible food that, if you're in the right frame of mind, seems almost worth the price. They can burnish the thrill of a New York Mets win by projecting a reel of Brooklyn Dodgers highlights as you exit. They can even train their personnel to call you “sir” almost as if they mean it. But they can never quite conceal their contempt for their customers or trust their guests enough to stop suspecting most of us are small-time criminals on the make.

And I keep coming back.

Approved reading on every level: 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.

The Global Sports Fraternity, meanwhile, has some great behind-the-scenes footage of what really goes in the Mets front office. And Mets Walkoffs uncovers the additional delight embedded in the details of an immensely unusual — even for the Mets — 9-0 triumph.

20 comments to Citi Field Embraces Its Inner Shea

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    Bet if you used one or two of those singles that “non-usher” would have tapped Dave's shoulder for you.
    At least paint the seats orange and blue so Citi Field would resemble something Mets rather than being Ebbets Field revisted.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Greg. And let's keep the resentment smouldering. I am still enjoying the team, but I am still not enjoying the way Citi Field makes me feel, as Shea never made me feel, as if I am travelling third class on the Orient Express (or in steerage on the Titanic). Your story, however, brings out an interesting issue about Citi Field's design. As you know, if all this had happened at Shea, you still wouldn't have been able to contact Dave. You couldn't even have gotten into the Field Box level after they closed up batting practice. But because they wanted to create universal access to the walkways and to the best food concessions on the Field Level, they now have to make the ushers serve as bulldog-bodyguards. They can't close off our access to the field level, and so, ironically, we become more and not less aware of our lower-class status because someone has to personally tell us about it. I miss the guys with the rags. It was a ceremony with them, like tasting the wine at a restaurant. Sorry to have missed you at the game.

  • Anonymous

    I hated those guys with the rags. Granted, it's only a dollar or two, but I resented feeling obligated to give these cretins anything. I've sat in the same seats for years, I don't need a surly pantload to guide me to it. I see it less as a wine-tasting ceremony, and more as dreading your trip to the ATM because of the bum holding the door open trying to cadge a buck from you.
    And once the game starts, they become more useless. Ourageously bad fan behavior goes unchecked, but try and move down a couple of rows because your eight-year-old can't see over the drunks standing in front of her, and the usher swoops on you like Batman: “Can I see your tickets?”. I hope they're all unemployed, their homes repossessed, their wives departed, and otherwise miserable.

  • Anonymous

    Well, you know how I feel. Shea had great memories, but I can't imagine ever having to watch a game there again.
    They do treat us like small-time criminals. Maybe I'm just desensitized to it. (And being younger, I don't have as many memories of when things _weren't_ crazy.
    I mean, Best Buy thinks I've somehow fit a HDTV into my tiny bag in the 10 steps from the cash register to the door. Every rider on the 7 train is a prospective terrorist. Tourists with cameras taking pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge are planning the best way to take it down. I think I'm just thankful the patting down outside the stadium is mostly for show 95% of the time and there are no metal detectors. Well not yet anyway.
    I'm going to the Red Sox game in town tonight, I'm sure that'll make me think the Mets treat us like saints in comparison as well.

  • Anonymous

    …further proof that CitiField stinks, IMO.
    Let's recap, once again, what's happened in Met land since the Mets unveiled their new home, a tribute to the former home of heartbreak and ineptitude, in 2006:
    2006: Pedro and Duque go down before the playoffs, Trachsel goes down during. We lose to the 83-win Cardinals.
    2007: Nuff said.
    2008: Now featuring worse PR!
    2009: Citi needs a bailout. Wilpons get Ponzi'd. Mets rapidly approaching 20 trips to the DL (if we haven't reached that already!)
    Citi Field is a freakin jinx.

  • Anonymous

    I understand the requirement that the ushers check tickets for the premium levels — it's an unavoidable side effect of the new, open design. Which I find vastly preferable to Shea, so I can accept the new situation.
    What needs to happen now is a little common sense applied to the rules. Does this look like a guy who's going to go down, tap his friend on the shoulder and come back up? Are there lots of empty seats and you trust this person is going to chat with a pal for an inning and leave? (That happened to me and Greg the other day when Coop came for a visit, apparently unintercepted.) Etc.

  • Anonymous

    the “No Exceptions” Policy does kinda suck. But of course, how do they know? They don't have any way to actually enforce it if you walked down and disappeared into the crowd. (I've got another thought on this, but nothing I'd say publicly)
    I may have mentioned this before, but the Saturday preseason game against the Sox, I had a similar issue where my hat literally blew off my head, landed in the Excelsior level. “could I go retrieve it? please? I'll be right back? look at my head! hat hair! i'm not lying!” “no.”

  • Anonymous

    I do agree with you, KingmanFan. I hated those guys and used to do everything I could to avoid them. But I miss Shea so badly that I miss even them. Nostalgia can even make the ceremony of the rags look good.

  • Anonymous

    I think if it comes to the loss of a particularly prized hat I might take a shot at just pushing past the guy. He'd then have the choice of trying to physically restrain me, or just chastise me when I got back. I suppose he could call Security, but I have to hope they might have a little more capacity for independent thought. If they throw me out they throw me out; better than losing, say, my blue corduroy '86 World Champs cap. So did you get yours back?
    Tuesday night they were surprisingly lax about allowing people to move down. I was on field level, and there were more people in the rows ahead of me in the 10th inning than there were in 8 and 9. To be honest, it was a litle annoying: hordes of kids trotting down right in the middle of play, standing in the aisle looking for a spot, excuse me-ing their way in and out of rows every time they saw a newly empty seat 2 rows closer.

  • Anonymous

    There are usually holes and ins to find if you're looking to move down. At least once you're already on the field level. They're looking outwards mostly.
    It was just the standard issue hat, nothing special. I would've considered pushing past if It wasn't my first shot at actually seeing the Mets in the place. We called down from above and got some fans to toss it onto the field level, where I was able to retrieve it (it was still Batting Practice)

  • Anonymous

    “But they can never quite conceal their contempt for their customers or trust their guests enough to stop suspecting most of us are small-time criminals on the make.”
    Perfect fodder for Bernie Madoff types.
    Joe D. – Citi's seats are Polo Grounds green. Not sure of the color of Ebbets seats. Don't believe they were Citi green.

  • Anonymous

    I was at Tuesday's game in the Uecker seats under the OOT Scoreboard (not too awful, actually… I got to see the Castillo/dugout drama unfold as it was happening). Thankfully I was up high enough so that people standing atop the staircase to the Promenade did not disturb my view, however I did notice it had become an every-other-inning problem. I thought to myself, “shouldn't they hire someone to stand at the bottom of the steps to yell at anyone self-centered enough to watch the game from there?”
    Late in the game I saw a guy walk up the steps, turn to the field and lean on the railing, settling himself in. He was immediately followed by someone in a green “staff” jacket. I thought, “good, he'll inform this guy that he's being a douche.” Guess what happens! The staff guy turns and watches the game alongside him! Fucking amazing.

  • Anonymous

    Most aisles (at least on Field level) have staff standing at the end. Would love to see them have these people make fans wait until a break in the action to return to their seats the way they do in Toronto.

  • Anonymous

    Intruding? You're considered family, Greg! I'm so happy you made the effort, and I'm thrilled you were able to meet the rest of the family and spend the game with us.
    Of course, as family you are obligated to head to Michigan for Thanksgiving…..

  • Anonymous

    The worst – the absolute worst – is the people they have hired to do nothing more than say “welcome to citi field”. I want to smack them. By the time I have barreled through the citibank minions handing out hat-shaped entreaties to deposit my money with them, and then had my bag searched and my food verified and my bottle seals checked and then patted down by someone who wouldn't know a security risk if it was dancing the tarantella in front of them and then ticket scanned (by ticket takers who no longer take tickets but instead point at a laser beam), well, i'm sorry if i don't feel very welcomed. nor do i want to stop to be welcomed, i want to get to my seat.
    the whole 'welcome' thing would be better left in the midwest or something. here it just smacks of the type of disneyfication that doesn't fly. what next – a pair of cartoon hands on “citi vision” saying “two strikes” and urging us to clap? applauding *for the effort*?
    feh.
    The truth is i feel more 'welcomed' by the people who work at Citizens Bank Park. Not by the other inhabitants, mind you. But the staff working there has never been anything but unfailingly kind. Except for the House of Evil, I have felt more welcomed at every out of town ballpark we have ever been to than at Citi Field.
    *rant over*

  • Anonymous

    You're very kind to make that consideration, Dave. Of course I have a familial track record of avoiding Thanksgiving like the plague, so let's just stay good friends ;)

  • Anonymous

    They deployed “welcome” troops intermittently the last couple of years at Shea. I never quite got the purpose. It was as if somebody said “they're not as friendly as they could be” and it was interpreted as a desire to have greeters. And I don't get the weird inconsistent enforcement of “sealed bottles only” and things like that. I want to like CF more than CBP for obvious reasons, but it's been a tough sell.

  • Anonymous

    I'm not sure what everyone's fascination with Citizen's Bank park is. It always struck me as pretty much the most generic of the new stadiums from the first time I was there (pre-Phillies hate even)

  • Anonymous

    That's just it (at least from my perspective). CBP, to me, is the baseline for new ballparks. Not the standard, but the baseline. It's functional, modern with sufficiently retro touches, reasonably inviting, well run by human beings. It's not a mold-breaker, but it works. I'd like CF to blow it away. It doesn't for my money.

  • Anonymous

    They don't? They did just that when I was there for the last game of the Subway Series in June. They told me that I couldn't walk down the stairs until a timeout.