The Mets throw all sorts of obscure statistics on their scoreboard in the hours before a game starts, including how they’re doing at home on a given day of the week. For example, before the Mets opened against the Rockies, word was posted that the Mets were 9-0 this year on Tuesday nights at Citi Field.
Coincidence? Biorhythms? The tides? Whatever. Tuesday’s obviously a good night for home games in 2010.
This most recent Tuesday was a great night at Citi Field.
You’d think a ballpark you’ve been hanging out with for 55 games plus various and sundry events isn’t capable of showing you much new, but you’d be wrong. Then again, I spent more than 400 games with another ballpark and I was always getting something unexpected out of it. Part of why we go to ballgames is for the constancy it provides our lives — familiar team, familiar people, familiar sensations — but its magic is also embedded in giving you what you hadn’t experienced before.
I keep going and I keep getting the best of all worlds.
Some of what was new to me from Tuesday…
• The Empire Suites. Through one of those Degrees of Separation you had no idea existed from you to this person as well as to that person, Stephanie and I made our Citi Field suite debut. Until last night, this level was merely a rumor to me, something behind carefully guarded doors, somewhere Kevin Burkhardt materialized every few nights to interview whichever Met alumnus didn’t rate the SNY booth. Gary, Keith and Ron got Mike Piazza, Kevin got Benny Agbayani.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Benny Agbayani. But I didn’t see Benny on the Empire level. I did, however, break through those doors and saw what there was to see.
I saw what an Empire Suite looks like (gracious living, no more over the top than the Diamondview Suite of yore).
I saw the ballgame from between home plate and the visitors’ dugout (at approximately Loge level; yes, I still translate most things into Shea).
I saw a very nice spread of ballpark fare for dinner (try as I might to translate, there is no word to describe how much better the Citi Field rendition of the chicken tender is than that which emanated from the Shea kitchen in 2004 and literally made me sick).
I saw the most padded seat I’d ever been permitted to sit in for a ballgame and, shall we say, sat my ass off.
I saw CNN instead of SNY on the men’s room monitor, though I guess the real story is the Empire level has a TV in the men’s room.
And I saw a lovely woman named Felicia who attended to our suite with a plateful of courtesy and chocolate chip cookies.
The real treat for me, besides the view and the — wait for it — amenities was getting to personally inspect the oversized Topps baseball cards that line most of the Empire level hallway. Ever since they were affixed to the walls early in the 2009 season, I strained to make them out from the Rotunda, and never did any better than 1983 on the right to 1988 on the left. Who, I wondered, was represented? Was every year up there? What other fun stuff were they hiding from those of us who were not Emperors?
I can now tell you there is indeed one Topps for every Met year, starting with 1962, 1963 and 1964 which, for some reason, are represented chronologically by cards from 1963, 1964 and 1962, respectively. I’d love to issue whoever hung them the benefit of the doubt, but no, I can’t. You put stuff like this up for people who will obsess on them. Don’t get them wrong.
Just because Marv Throneberry’s signature year was 1962, you can’t place his 1963 card first and call it 1962 on the nameplate (even though the Mets are Capital-A Awesome for continuing to embrace Marv Throneberry when the Astros likely haven’t done a damn thing for Al Heist  since LBJ was vice president). Duke Snider’s only Met year may have been 1963, but his card is a 1964 model. Stick him over the 1964 tag, let Throneberry live in 1963 where his card belongs and for gosh sake, Casey Stengel’s 1962 card — in which he’s wearing a pinstriped jersey and an airbrushed cap — should not be filling the 1964 slot. By 1964, even Topps had pictures of Casey Stengel in the right pinstriped jersey with the right NY cap.
That said, what a collection. Yogi’s 1965. Mets Maulers from ’67 (Kranepool and Swoboda, who Mauled to the tune of 22 combined home runs in ’66). The legendary Ryan-Koosman/Koosman-Ryan rookie card from ’68. Matlack horizontally in ’74. Grote in full gear in ’76. Mazzilli’s bedroom…I mean dugout eyes from 1979. Then the good players of the ’80s for as long as they will last into the ’90s (Eddie Murray shows up eventually, but no Bonilla), followed by Valentine’s Men of Valor — Fonzie! Oly! Robin! — and a smooth transition into the recent relatively good times of Floyd, Reyes, Martinez, Wright, Beltran, Santana, Delgado and, standing up for 2010 for reasons nobody will be able to adequately explain to the Empire Suite holders of 2020, Jeff Francoeur.
Then again, I kvelled from Marvelously Misplaced Marv nearly a half-century removed from his not touching first or second , so the cult of Frenchy may have legs. It’s not like it has a batting eye.
But to reiterate, no Benny.
Except for a few framed photos of Mr. Met and Citi Field construction workers, there wasn’t much else that Metsified the otherwise chilly corporate Empire level. I could make suggestions, but I don’t expect to be up there to inspect again for a while. As with the oversized Mets yearbook covers that line the corridor that leads from the press conference room to the field, what a shame this kind of cool Metabilia is seen by so few fans. Then again, whoever’s paying big bucks for a suite deserve some kind of premium. They get a cookie and they get a big Jeff Francoeur.
• The Chasins. True story from our trip to Philly on Sunday . A kid named Alex, early teens I’d guess, came up to me to tell me how much he was enjoying my book, which I appreciated, of course, but I thought he was a friend of the birthday boy we were there to fete, and it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary that someone who knew the Chapman family would have read Faith and Fear in Flushing. But he wasn’t part of the Ross celebration. It was a chance meeting between two Mets fans on foreign turf — one who wrote the book the other was currently reading — which made the bump-into rather unusual and particularly wonderful. Or as Alex’s mother said to me when I came across their brood a few minutes later, “He reads one book in his whole life, and he meets the author. I told him he should read more books.”
Sound advice, no matter who you meet.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet or correspond with dozens and dozens of former strangers who read FAFIF and not one demanded his or her money back. It’s amounted to an incredible emotional annuity for me since it began happening with the release of the hardcover edition in March of 2009, and it continues to humble me now that it’s in paperback .
Within that realm of being recognized or sought out, nothing has ever compared to the Ryder Chasin experience.
The back story is here , but the Baseball Digest version is Ryder was, last September, a newly minted 13-year-old with a burgeoning Mets obsession that was on pace to match my own. He’d read my book and wrote me a letter that asked, really nicely, would I mind attending his Bar Mitzvah party at Citi Field in November?
Would I mind? Would Jeff Francoeur mind swinging on three-and-oh?
Stephanie and I were delighted guests of Ryder and his parents at a memorable affair last fall, an event whose only drawback was it didn’t come with a baseball game. That little detail we took care of Tuesday night.
That’s where the Degree of Separation I mentioned comes into play. It turns out Ryder, a young man of many talents (and nearly a head taller from when I last saw him ), was pitching a whale of a season at the Babe Ruth level in his Connecticut hometown this summer. Somehow it came up in conversation between Ryder’s dad and the dad of a teammate that I was at Ryder’s Citi Field Bar Mitzvah.
And the dad of the teammate said, hey, I know that guy.
Small world strikes again. The dad of the teammate is somebody with whom I’ve communicated intermittently in one of my other online Met incarnations. I knew him only by screen name. It took Ryder to tell me his real name — Nick. And then I found out Nick has access to a suite…and since we’d been talking about going to a game together…and Nick (who couldn’t make it himself Tuesday) turns out to be a super nice guy in real life…there we were, Stephanie and me, Ryder and his dad Rob, getting the cookie and the oversized cards and the outstanding view and a really fantastic evening that would have been off the charts even without Mike Pelfrey’s crucial contribution.
It also would have been wonderful without benefit of a suite, but who’s going to turn one of those down the only time it’s offered?
When we met outside the park, Rob and Ryder were all, “We’re following you, you know your way around this place.” But the Chasins showed me at least one thing I had never seen at Citi Field. They showed me the Hershey’s Dunk Tank. It was one of those things I vaguely knew existed but wasn’t sure where it was and had never been curious enough to track down what it was. It’s pretty cool, actually. The Mets make an employee (who treats it, truth be told, as grim duty) put on the opposing team’s jersey and wait for a patron’s pinpoint fastball to release the mechanism that will send him or her plunging into wetness. I don’t know why they don’t get dunked in chocolate since it’s Hershey’s. Probably insurance reasons.
Nick had clued me in that Ryder showed quite an arm in his summer league. I can confirm that. On the second of Ryder’s three pitches, down went the grumbling “Rockies” player into the tank. Great velocity. Great control. Great fun. Only feature they could improve would be having Oliver Perez serve as dunkee. It’s not like he’s doing anything else.
Dunking done, the four of us together then discovered the Empire level, and from there we discovered all over again the properties that make the constancy of baseball so appealing.
How many so-called diversions can bring together people who didn’t know each other a year before — and had only met once since then — as if they were all the oldest of friends? How many “events” are perfect for following intently while simultaneously chatting amiably? And how many topics come replete with an expansive vocabulary that give every user instant comfort? Go flag down somebody on the street and get into overuse of middle relievers or runners scoring from second on ground balls or long ago 0-0 scores and they’ll look at you funny (or worse). Ryder and Rob and Stephanie and I…we all spoke the same language.
It was a terrific Bar Mitzvah last year, but this was better. This was a ballgame.
• Upstairs. It’s worth noting that the date we arrived upon with Rob and Ryder wasn’t so random. Sharon Chapman told me she and Ross (Stephanie’s and my original 2009 Mets-themed Bar Mitzvah  boy, he of the Citizens Bank birthday gala on Sunday; I swear this week has been like a reunion tour sponsored by Manischewitz) would be inviting a couple of people on August 10 I might like to meet — they were all going to their first Mets game together, too. Nice symmetry, it occurs to me now.
Sharon, as you know if you’ve been following this blog, has been training diligently for the New York City Marathon and, in concert with her running, raising funds for the Tug McGraw Foundation . The Foundation works like Sharon trains — all out — in search of a cure, better quality of life and awareness where brain tumors are concerned.
Sharon’s and Ross’s guests were another mother and son, Sharon and Connor McKean. Connor, just a little younger than Ryder and Ross, is who Sharon Chapman is running for. He and his family are dealing with something called ependymoma. It’s a tumor Connor was diagnosed with three years ago. It’s no understatement to say the McKeans have been waging a battle ever since.
Tuesday night, however, was a Mets game. Connor’s a Mets fan. He was wearing a BELTRAN 15 jersey, which was nice to see not only for loyalty’s sake but because Ryder, who joined me to say hello to these nice folks up in Promenade, was also wearing BELTRAN 15. More symmetry. More shared vocabulary.
I didn’t get much of a chance to say anything more than hello to Connor and his mom before Ryder and I headed back to rejoin my wife and his dad in time for first pitch. I wouldn’t have known what else to say besides enjoy the game. And I’m guessing they did.
The Mets are now 10-0 on Tuesday nights this year at Citi Field .
Scattered observations besides…
• A quick visit to the Hall of Fame and Museum before leaving filled me with naches or what people who don’t get to too many Bar Mitzvahs would call pride. Pride of the Met variety. I wanted an up-close look at the four new plaques for our four new Hall of Famers . It gave me chills to see one for Frank Cashen, one for Davey Johnson, one for Darryl Strawberry and one, at last, for Dwight Gooden, Mets pitcher from 1984-1994.
Except the plaque says he pitched for them from 1984-1995. Which he didn’t. He wasn’t under contract to the Mets in 1995. Doc was suspended by Major League Baseball in 1994 for violation of his Aftercare Program. He was cut loose during the strike, before the new year. All in 1994. Back among the Empire card collection, Doc’s Topps image is captioned with the correct dates. Other than it taking far too long to enshrine this quartet and establish a physical Hall of Fame, I can’t think of a bigger mistake in this vein than getting an easily confirmed fact wrong. This is worse than the Game Seven “win” with which the Mets temporarily credited Sid Fernandez on the Fanwalk. Sid’s middle relief really was the key to victory in 1986, Roger McDowell’s gaining of the decision notwithstanding. Doc, on the other hand, did not pitch for the Mets in 1995. Doc was not a Met in 1995.
So why does his plaque say he was?
• Citi Field attracted just over 30,000 fans Tuesday night, a respectable showing for a home team that’s been amazingly lousy for six weeks and an opponent that, despite its quality, is forever flying under the National League radar. The 30,000 sounded like 3,000 most of the night, and that’s not just the suite level talking. It’s simply not a season to get noisy about anymore. That’ll happen.
But the Mets A/V squad, bless their button-pushing souls, is always trying to rev us up, particularly with meters and metrics to let us know just how loud we are and how loud we should aspire to be. This has been a staple of DiamondVision prompting for years. I can never remember whether “FRENZIED” is suitably voluble or whether it falls short of the desired “CRAZY”.
Tuesday night Stephanie and I were fixated in the late innings on a new loudness measurement, one that likened our mass reaction to an array of venues. From lowest to highest, depending on the decibels we generated, it contained five steps:
LIBRARY (Universally understood as quiet)
CAFETERIA (Within the context of a school, louder than a LIBRARY)
SUBWAY STATION (Like a Mets game, those can be ear-splitting or deadly silent, but let’s assume they meant when a train is rumbling through)
OK, let’s back up here…
SMALL ARENA? What is that, a Family Feud answer? Name something that makes lots of noise…survey says…sorry, nobody said “small arena”.
How big are arenas supposed to be? I think of arenas, I think 20,000 tops, like Madison Square Garden. So what’s a “small arena”? Like a practice rink? An ABA home court? Why not just ARENA? Stephanie figured a really loud arena, 20,000 strong, could make more noise than Citi Field, particularly when most of the 30,000 Tuesday night seemed disinterested in a scintillating pitchers duel or had already left. I wondered if there had been a meeting about this.
“C’mon people, we need one more level of loudness, something between subway station and Citi Field.”
“You know, I don’t want to be counterproductive here, but I’ve been in some subway stations that are louder than Citi Field. It can get really loud at rush hour and it doesn’t get all that loud here. I’m just saying…”
“You’re being counterproductive.”
“Well, we’re twice as big as the Garden. We’ve got to be twice as loud, right?”
“I dunno. I was at a Rush concert there once and it got pretty fricking loud.”
“Rush can really blow the roof off a place, all right, but what if the roof wasn’t as big. How much noise could they conceivably make in an arena that’s not as big as the Garden?”
“Are we counting the fans? Because if you add Rush to Rush’s fans, I imagine it could get pretty loud.”
“What if it’s not the Garden. Not every arena’s that big. Why don’t we just say ‘small arena’?”
“C’mon, Citi Field’s gotta be louder than that.”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been in cafeterias that get pretty intense at lunch time. Citi Field not so much.”
“Enough counterproductivity. Just write down SMALL ARENA and we’ll come back to it later.”
• Continental Airlines ads have replaced Budweiser ads in the Mets-Willets Point station. The Budweiser ads had Mets logos that I took great care to tap or rub on my way in and out of the 7. The Continental ads have U.S. Open logos. Thus begins the annual anti-tennis jihad from the baseball fans who resent the imminent August intrusion of that which doesn’t exist from April through July. The Mets won 14 in a row while I was tapping and rubbing. “Don’t blame me if they lose tonight,” I warned Stephanie. They’re 1-0 since Continental moved in. We’ll see how this goes.
• The only Rockie I wouldn’t have encouraged Ryder to dunk in the Hershey’s tank led off the eighth pinch-hitting for Ubaldo Jimenez. When I recognized him, I applauded heartily for Melvin Mora, one of the last of the 1999 Mets still active. I’ll applaud any 1999 Met  not named Bobby Bonilla, but Melvin with extra fervor. I fell in baseball love with Melvin on October 3 of that unforgettable year  and never fell out, despite his being gone from our midst by July 28, 2000. Melvin Mora remains one of my all-time favorite Mets. If there’s a quotient reflecting time spent as a Met to my ardor for that Met, Melvin Mora would quite possibly rank as my favorite Met. But you can’t apply sabermetrics to the heart, just as I can’t get enough of the utilityman who sparked the rally and scored the run that made those playoffs possible.
So I applauded heartily. I sensed some momentary confusion from Ryder (who turned three years old at the outset of the extraordinary stretch drive of 1999), but he catches on quickly. He joined me in my applause for our nominal enemy.
Don’t get me wrong, I assured my young friend — “I hope he strikes out.” The applause was for 1999. The rooting interest is firmly planted in the present.
By the way, perhaps inspired by the return of Melvin Mora to the National League, I finally figured out an antidote to the unwieldy
WILD CARD &
banners (Bullpen Plaza  and left field wall , respectively) that don’t quite do justice to the year of seven-game losing streak; the Olerud grand slam off Maddux; the heartbreaking eleven-inning defeat the next night; the Friday night resurrection against the Pirates; the Reed shutout; the Brad Clontz wild pitch that allowed Mora to score; the Leiter two-hitter; the sneak attack on Randy Johnson; the Fonzie grand slam off Bobby Chouinard; the Tony Womack drop; Pratt; the 0-3 hole in the NLCS; Olerud again, off Rocker; the fifteen innings; the Grand Slam Single; Leiter’s awful first inning; the comeback to take two leads, including one in the tenth at Turner Field; and dying with our boots on, Kenny Rogers or no Kenny Rogers. By not winning a division, a pennant or a World Series, it’s not easy to encapsulate how 1999 is forever wallworthy.
But this might do the trick:
• Since April 3, 2009, I’ve reflexively referred to “Shea” when I meant Citi Field too many times to count. I wasn’t making a t-shirt kind of point . It was just habit. Last night, on our way home, I was telling Stephanie some story from long ago and reflexively referred to “Citi Field” when I meant Shea. Good lord, time really does march on.
Sharon Chapman’s run for Connor McKean and the Tug McGraw Foundation has surpassed its goal of raising $4,500 and has now hit the $5,000 mark. Let’s help Sharon keep that total running. Please, if you can, donate here  to a great cause.