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Move On Up, Come On Down

For any Mets fan who survived 2009 by telling yourself it couldn’t get any worse, this one’s for you. It’s 2010, and, technically, it didn’t get any worse.

The 2009 Mets limped to the finish line with 70 wins — and required a three-game sweep of the Astros the final weekend to accumulate that many. The 2010 Mets, on the other hand, have blown by their most recent predecessors with nearly two weeks to go. These Mets can boast of 71 wins and…

…well, not much else at this point, but improvement is improvement. The Mets may not have learned anything about sharp management of their affairs, and they may be playing out the string in too-familiar Quadruple-A fashion, but…um…

Did I mention they now have more wins than they did last year?

For lifting the 2010 Mets to heights the 2009 Mets could only dream of, you can thank non-2009 Met Dillon Gee for taking the ball and giving the Mets six scoreless innings in return; non-2009 Met Hisanori Takahashi providing the Mets two more scoreless innings toward the end; non-2009 Met Ruben Tejada —a non-starter in Jerry Manuel’s addled mind — doubling to deep left with one out in the tenth; and 2010 non-entity Nick Evans pinch-singling into the third base hole while Tejada ran to score the game’s only run as the mysteriously indispensable Luis Hernandez took a breather.

Evans was a semi-essential component of the last Mets club to improve its previous year’s record by one game. That was in 2008 (89 wins), when young Nick emerged from the Binghamton bushes [1] and gave the Mets a relatively competent performance across 50 pennant race games. With everything on the line two years ago, when the Mets needed to improve on their 2007 total (88 wins) by two games, Evans started in left and batted fifth, behind Carlos Delgado. The Mets lost, Shea Stadium closed and Nick Evans all but disappeared from view.

Nick — with 80 major league plate appearances since 9/28/08 — is supposed to be in the lineup tonight, starting in left for the first time in just over a year, filling in for entrenched incumbent Lucas Duda. It’s not all bad for Lucas, however; now that his average has sunk to .031, he is entitled to a discount at Baskin-Robbins [2]. Tejada will also be granted the privilege of starting at second over Joe Morgan Luis Hernandez this evening. Now that the Mets have clinched a better record for 2010 than they had in 2009, I guess Jerry can afford to tinker with his set lineup.

The thrill of edging the 48-95 Pirates 1-0 in extra innings [3] for a landmark 71st win will likely prove Evansescent in the scheme of things, but at least the hundreds who attended the game at Citi Field and dutifully reported to their Promenade locations were given a cheap thrill when they were waved down by Alex Anthony to fill in some of the empty seats in the expensive Field Level sections. The Mets could afford to be generous, as rain diminished whatever enthusiasm existed to begin with for a Mets-Pirates matchup in the middle of September. Announced paid attendance, which is generally fiction as regards bodies in the ballpark, was 24,384, an all-time low for a regularly scheduled Citi Field game (14,733 were on hand for Jon Niese’s June 10 one-hitter, but that was a makeup date).

Just as improvement is improvement, a good deed is a good deed, even if it cost the Mets absolutely nothing to invite everybody to sit downstairs once it became abundantly clear downstairs would otherwise be a ghost town. I suppose it became abundantly clear months ago, when MON for Monday and PIT for Pittsburgh intersected amid the September portion of the pocket schedule. The Jets opening their new stadium (with a Same Old [4] result) likely would have dampened physical attendance whether it rained or not. There’s a reason a series like this in stamped with the dreaded Value classification. It’s a dog whistle to the most slightly attuned fan that these games aren’t really worth your time or money — diehard company excepted; I’ll be at two of the next three games. (The only dog whistle I ever hear is METS! and I instinctively howl at the moon.)

Among the many insults perpetrated by Mets management toward Mets fans this 71-win-and-counting season is the BETTER SEATS LOWER PRICES [5] campaign that pretends you’re being done by a favor by being offered tickets that start at $11. All things considered, eleven dollars for a Major League Baseball game — even a lonely, rainy Mets-Pirates game — seems fair. But the implication in those ads is that’s $11 per ticket (plus service charges and handing fees if you order via phone or Web) for what we, the Mets, consider the worst of our inventory: weeknight games against the lamest team we could find. Implicit in the deal, also, is you will sit as far from the action as we can put you, unless we recognize the folly of our overall pricing scheme and realize it’s kind of silly to isolate you up there.

In which case, come on down.

Value…interesting concept at Citi Field. If, for some reason, you envisioned September 13-16 against the Pirates as the series for you, and you decided this was the series when you’d like to break out of the de facto upper deck, what were your straight-up options? Put aside StubHub and take the Mets up on their BSLP offer. What else could you buy for this series that wasn’t the left and right field wings of Promenade? According to the ceaselessly fascinating Seating & Pricing guide on mets.com [6], the next least expensive seats are $15, Promenade Infield. There are some good views up there (just as there are in Promenade not Infield), but let’s say we’re being aspirational. This is the Pirates, we should be able to do better, right?

Next up is Pepsi Porch, a singular section of upper-level outfield bleachers with an intriguing perspective, where tickets for Mets-Pirates start at $24. Start? You mean there’s an end point? Indeed, there’s Pepsi Porch Gold, for $36. Those are for the first two rows of Pepsi Porch. So for twelve dollars more than Row 3, you get to sit in…Row 2. When the Brewers are here in two weeks — a Bronze set (which you have to have to come up with these prices) — the Row 3/Row 2 disparity will grow to sixteen bucks: $32 vs. $48.

Think about that: The Mets want you to sit in the outfield for a game against the Brewers for as much as $48 plus fees and charges. That’s per person. The same dynamic holds in Left Field Landing and Left Field Landing Gold: $32 for Rows 3 and back, $48 for Rows 2 and 1.

Included with Gold versions of Pepsi Porch and Left Field Landing but not with regular Pepsi Porch and Left Field Landing: access to the Caesars Club, where you get a voucher for a free…check that, you just get to come in and buy stuff if you want something.

The Mets are very big on Gold and, for that matter, Platinum, even if the night in question is framed as Bronze. They figured that by casting their lower rows on a given level in a more precious metal, they could ask for more paper. The Caesars Club seats, outside the airport lounge for which the Excelsior level is commonly known, can be pretty nice. How nice? Mets-Brewers in Caesars Club Bronze will run you $80 per ticket plus fees and charges. But if you wanted to sit in the first two rows, that would jump you to $96. For the Value-able Pirates series, Row 2 is a mere $72…a $12 step-up from Row 3.

Not included with any of these seats: a deep-tissue shoulder massage.

I could go on with this until we’re well into triple-digits, but you get the idea. And you see why there are so many empty seats at Citi Field for Mets-Pirates games and Mets-Brewers games and, for that matter, Mets-Phillies games like those Gold games played this past weekend. I was fortunate to come into a very nice ticket on Sunday. My Sunday ticket had no price listed on it, and I was very grateful to have it and use it, no questions asked. Curiosity, however, drove me to examine the Seating & Pricing chart to see what that ticket would have gone for had it been sold through standard channels.

It was conceived as a $204 ticket. A $204 ticket for one baseball game. The Mets created a pricing structure built on the idea that a very good ticket — not the absolute best in their portfolio, but a definite no-complaints seat — should or could fetch $204. Since most people go to games with other people, the idea was at least $408 would be spent for two tickets in this section. If it was a family of four that wanted four very nice seats, it would become $816.

For one baseball game. That was the thinking.

As Sunday’s funereal procession of Met outs ensued, I partook in a bit of getting up and walking around — Citi Field’s designed for that — and when I came back to my section, it didn’t seem to matter where I sat. There were, for the Gold game against our division rivals, plenty of empty seats. I plopped myself down at one point in a seat a row or two behind where my theoretical $204 seat sat. It was conceived with an asking price of $174. Nobody came along and told me I was sitting in his or her seat. It was unoccupied before I got there because it was unoccupied all day.

A little rain came toward the end of Sunday’s game. Sure would be nice to get out of it. Fortunately, the last several rows of my section were covered. I went back there, found an entire row of $144 seats that weren’t being used and waited out the inevitable final strikes from Roy Oswalt. The Mets were all wet, but I stayed dry.

$204…$174…$144…you don’t have to pay that to go to a Mets game, obviously, but the Mets thought somebody would. I’m sure somebody somewhere did. I’m sure even in this economy there are companies that gauged such seats as an investment or legitimate business expense. I’m sure there are individuals who really like those seats and can swing the payments. I’m sure that now and then somebody decides to splurge for a special occasion.

Yet it’s a baseball game. It’s a Mets game, one of 81 they play at Citi Field in a given year. Sometimes it’s Platinum, sometimes it’s Value, sometimes it’s one of three shades in between. But mostly it’s ridiculous.

Absolutely ridiculous.

I’m guessing the pricing of Citi Field tickets wasn’t pulled out of some Met executive’s deepest, darkest cavity. I’m guessing there was an examination of what other entertainment options were asking and getting and a study to determine what the market would bear. I’m guessing there was some semblance of logic applied to portraying certain games as hot tickets and others as bargain specials. I’m guessing somebody saw asking substantially more for Row 2 than Row 3 as clever as opposed to gouging. I’m guessing there’s a balance sheet somewhere in somebody’s office that proves this is supposed to make sense.

It makes none to me, no more than the extended tryouts given Lucas Duda and Luis Hernandez make, to put it in baseball terms.

Y’know, I love Mets baseball enough to have watched the Mets and Pirates Monday night with only brief excursions to check in on the Jets and Ravens, the Yankees and Rays and the Nadals and Djokovics because all those headline events are secondary in my book compared to the Mets and Pirates.

I love Mets baseball enough to celebrate a 71st win because it’s more than 70.

I love Mets baseball enough to have scared Avery the Cat off the couch when I whooped it over Nick Evans driving home Ruben Tejada in the tenth inning.

I love Mets baseball enough to accept just about every gracious invitation I’ve received these past two sodden years to Citi Field and to arrange not a few outings on my own.

I love Mets baseball enough that I have plans to see the 71-73 Mets six more times this season and am honestly wondering if I should go a seventh or eighth time besides because there will be no more chances to go at all pretty soon.

Sure enough, I love Mets baseball, but even someone with as much love for what they mean to me finds the way they market their tickets hateful. It’s arrogant and mean-spirited and I don’t blame anybody for leaving thousands and thousands of their seats empty game after game. The subpar product is one thing — lousy seasons happen to even well-run organizations. But the Gold and the Silver and all of that? The slicing and dicing of our blue and orange veins in the hope our wallets will bleed green? The pretense of doing us a big favor by selling us their worst seats for a reasonable price a big four times over the final four months of the season? The idea that the lowest ticket price for this weekend’s series against the Braves is $23 (plus fees and charges) because back in February it seemed like it might be an attractive matchup and if you can attract people, the next thing you do is shake them down for as much as you can get from them?

You’re not attracting fans with this way of doing business in 2010 and you won’t do it in 2011. You’re doing the opposite. You’re repelling them. The market is not bearing your delusional pricing structure. You’re in the second year of a new stadium and nobody cares. Whatever you envisioned with World Class Citi Field — and however lovely it is in spots — has not come to be. The scare everybody felt at the prospect of being left out as if these were the early ’90s and Citi Field was going to be jam-packed Camden Yards has passed [7]. It got you through 70-92 2009 with 3.15 million tickets sold. Whatever the final record in year two, even though it will be better than it was in year one, you’ll be nowhere near 3.15 million tickets sold. And wherever you wind up in attendance after 81 games this year, chances are you won’t see it next year.

My most basic advice? Cut it out.

Cut out the Platinum, Gold and so on crap in 2011. What you’ve got isn’t glittering. Your Value setup wherein the left and right field seats are $11 and the ones in the middle are $15? Split the difference and make them all a lucky $13 for every game next year. Make your so-called Promenade boxes $18. Do what you want with your suites and übercushy home plate seats, but come to grips with the rest of your locations being fine and dandy but not Rockefeller & Vanderbilt and price accordingly. Price realistically. Remember that your customer, ultimately, is not some imaginary high-roller with $204 to drop at will, but the diehard Mets fan who comes out in the rain on a Monday night in September when there are objectively better things to watch on television so he or she can see his or her favorite team play and — hopefully — beat the Pirates.

Do more for that person than telling him or her that this one time, we’re gonna give you a break…but just this one time.