- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Citi Field Embraces Its Inner Shea

Sweaty day from an atmospheric standpoint. Horrible day from a hamstring [1] standpoint. Resilient [2] day from an adversity [3] standpoint. Relaxing, perhaps invigorating [4] day from a post-delusional [5] standpoint (if the Mets and Cards should meet in the playoffs it could get pretty steamy [6] 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 [7] 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 [8] 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 [9], 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 [10], 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 [11]. 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 [12]. 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 [13]. 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.


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 [14] 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 [15]-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 [16], Barnes & Noble [17] or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook [18].

The Global Sports Fraternity [19], meanwhile, has some great behind-the-scenes footage of what really goes in the Mets front office. And Mets Walkoffs [20] uncovers the additional delight embedded in the details of an immensely unusual — even for the Mets — 9-0 triumph.