Nobody can unearth a personal baseball milestone the way I can, yet other than acknowledging their existence — My 200th Win at Shea! My 500th Mets Game Anywhere! My 500th Regular Season Home Mets Game! — I don’t seem to do anything about them.
Not this time, though. Not when I saw my 100th game at Citi Field coming from a couple of exits away and gauged that this could be a special evening. I’d love to tell you I ordered up the first home run hit by a Mets pitcher in two years and a heretofore AAA infielder recording three hits and a pinch-hitter taking over the team lead in longballs all in the service of putting away a certifiably hated division rival, but that part was out of my control. If I could control events that effectively, I wouldn’t only have Shane Victorino flop down in center field and a line drive leap off the tip of Jimmy Rollins’s glove, but I’d keep the Long Island Rail Road moving when I have a personal milestone celebration to indulge and I’d keep the rain away for nine consecutive innings.
I can’t do it all, dammit. But I can, after hesitating mightily over the expense, observe my own take on Treat Yo Self Day, which entailed not just my 100th game at Citi Field (we don’t count the exhibition against the Red Sox), but an hour in a room with a guy who has been Citi Field’s signature success story; a door prize sealed with the signature of the signature success story guy; a seat in one of the few sections of the ballpark where I’d never sat; and — this is a loaded proposition for me since February 10 — all I could eat.
To celebrate my hundredth game in my version of style, it would cost me a hundred bucks (plus galling “processing” fees). I hesitated mightily because it’s a hundred bucks for a baseball game. I unhesitated over the course of a week as I amortized the expense and decided it was actually a pretty good deal. And I went for it because if I don’t treat my personal milestones with reverence, ain’t nobody else gonna.
The guy at the center of the celebration was, you might have deduced, R.A. Dickey, author of Wherever I Wind Up, which made the New York Times bestseller list recently. He’s also R.A. Dickey, National League Player of the Week very recently. The Mets offered him up as the highlight of their hundred-buck special. Buy that ticket, get an autographed copy of that book, get to maybe ask a question of him and his “collaborator” (not ghostwriter) Wayne Coffey. If you can get people to pay to see an author, says an author no one’s ever paid a dime to see, that’s some pretty effective book promotion right there. But he is R.A. Dickey and there was a baseball game and food thrown in, so again, good deal.
The R.A. portion of the evening required my showing up at Citi by 5:30, which was going to be a breeze, until the Long Island Rail Road announced it was suspending all service west of Jamaica, which I learned while at Jamaica waiting for the Woodside train. This presented something of a problem for those of us who had bought hundred-dollar tickets and saw them forming wings as if to fly away à la so many clever Archie comics illustrations.
Why the commutation disruption? I learned second-hand that a train hit somebody. The face I made and the comment I muttered when so informed immediately disqualified me from Humanitarian of the Year consideration…and discovering later that it was a “successful” suicide attempt didn’t improve my empathy quotient one little bit. (He had to do it during rush hour?) I can’t decide if this means I’m a rotten person or just a New Yorker in a hurry. As I abandoned the LIRR and scrambled to the E, I mulled what R.A.’s reaction would have been to this tragic development and decided it would have been spiritual, selfless and uplifting, whereas all I could think about was my inconvenience and possible missing of a thing I was looking forward to.
Then I remembered I don’t wear a WWRADD? bracelet and boarded my alternate means of transportation.
I got to the ballpark in time despite the detour, was handed the promised signed copy of the book, grabbed a last-row seat in the press conference room and gave myself over to the spellbinding nature of Mr. Dickey once he took the stage.
He pitches like an All-Star. He talks like a Nobel Laureate.
What category? Does it matter?
Geez, if you think he’s R.A. Dickey in soundbites, you should hear him in extended riffs. He’s so…R.A. Dickey, in every good sense that implies. He’s light without being empty, he contains gravitas without being full of himself, he gets under your skin without getting on your nerves, he is truly one of a kind. I thought about taking notes so I could add to the collected wisdom of the best knuckleballer in captivity, but I found myself not wanting to jot. I just wanted to listen.
Funny how none of the questions from a roomful of Mets fans was in the realm of “what was it like facing Joey Votto with the game on the line?” There was curiosity about his curious pitch and a few tidbits relating to baseball stories from the book, but it was mostly about the things that make R.A. stand out if not exactly apart from his peers: his tastes in the arts; his education; his climb up Kilimanjaro (on which he managed to be funny and poignant in the space of a spoken paragraph); and his writing process, which is something Coffey was clear on Dickey actually having, as opposed to the athlete-autobiographers who don’t read their own books, never mind write them.
How did R.A. approach Wherever I Wind Up? “I wrote it hard,” Dickey said. “I wrote it raw.” Gads, I thought, if I said something like that about myself, I wouldn’t have to throw myself in front a train because I’d die of embarrassment. But when R.A. Dickey said it, you could tell he meant it, you could tell it was a code of honor for him and you could assume the book — which I look forward to ingesting in full after having read only excerpts to date — was that much better for it.
I would have liked to have asked a bunch of questions of my own, but it was a crowded scene and the room voted for group photographs over extended Q&A, so there we were, lining up by row to stand around R.A. and grin. The Mets photographer asked if I, the tall one, wouldn’t mind standing next to the pitcher.
No, I said, I wouldn’t mind at all.
R.A. gave us every minute of the hour that was promoted, but except for a quick “thank you” I offered with my handshake, I didn’t get to say anything to him or, as was my grand plan, exchange Mets-tinged memoirs with him. My book is listed in the Library of Congress catalog; I’d be more excited if it was on the top shelf of R.A. Dickey’s locker.
Ah, but there was to be no real disappointment affixed to Treat Yo Self Night, for as R.A. exited for the clubhouse, I found my celebration would include an unexpected element. I had bought one ticket, pricey as it was, and was resigned to watching the game alone, which would have been OK, I guess, but also a little on the solitary side.
Good thing I was paying attention to the questions and not just the answers at R.A.’s non-bull session because one of them came from a woman who mentioned working at the Metropolitan Opera. Sure enough, it was Susan Laney Spector, whom blog aficionados should recognize as the oboist behind Perfect Pitch, the lately (and sadly) dormant journal of a Met musician/Met fan. Susan, her husband Garry and their daughter Melanie had come to hear R.A.’s linguistic symphony and were headed to the same slice of the ballpark I was, happily guaranteeing me delightful company for the duration.
Our destination was the Champions Club, which I had last infiltrated (through the good graces of one of the Best Mets writers going) when it was still the Ebbets Club, back when I’d been to only a dozen Citi Field games. This was 2009, when anything I liked about Citi Field was overshadowed by how much I couldn’t stand Citi Field. It and I have made strides since then. I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d get to a hundred games there so quickly. Some of that is due to the thoughtfulness of the fellow Mets fans you meet when you blog a lot but I’d also credit the comfort level the ballpark and I began achieving in 2010, once the Hall of Fame and Museum was installed and the place as a whole began feeling less sterile.
In what was either a coincidence of timing or an irony (I’ll have to check with Professor Dickey), a friend of Stephanie’s marveled Tuesday that in my Banner Day story in the Times, “Greg didn’t mention how he hates Citi Field.” I found that observation jarring, because in 2012, I’m so much more mellow on the subject. In 2009, I was bitter that Shea had ceased to exist and was thus turned off by the Mets spewing happy horsespit about all the amenities I never asked for and generally couldn’t afford. I’m still capable of going to a dark cul-de-sac of the soul and stewing about the destruction of my temple, but nothing in that stew can bring Shea back from the hereafter. What’s left in its approximate geographic place is where I go to see the Mets. You can’t voluntarily go somewhere 100 times in a span of less than four seasons and legitimately claim you haven’t come to kind of like it.
As for the former Ebbets Club, it works better with a Mets theme. My early visits to it, courtesy of Matt Silverman, were on the first base side, where the clubbiness is now devoted to the 1986 Mets. My special R.A. ticket sent me for the first time to the third base side, which is a 1969 Mets shrine. My guess is you can’t go wrong with either Champion. You also can’t go wrong with dinner at the Champions Club, which, as noted, is an all-you-can-eat affair.
It was tempting to take them up on their dare. Whereas the Ebbets Club sold you a buffet that your better college cafeterias could have matched, Champions serves you real food. It’s got some ballpark fare around the edges because you’re in a ballpark, but the culinary draw is the roast beef…and the flounder…and the pasta of some sort…and the pork loin (though I didn’t have any)…and the dessert stations (though I didn’t touch any of it)…and the unlimited bottled water and fountain soft drinks. Think about how much any two edible and/or potable items cost at Citi Field, and you begin to see there’s some economy in this arrangement. Then throw in that it’s indisputably real food, and that hundred-dollar expense is suddenly looking not so bad.
And we haven’t even had our ballgame yet! Third base side of the Champions Club is, simply, as sharp a view as you can get at Citi Field. Except for the corners where Mike Baxter might turn an opposing double into a triple, you see everything at what feels like eye level. If you like a ballpark vista that spreads out before you, try it if you can swing it. Under most circumstances, I couldn’t. For comparison’s sake, I had looked into the Champions Club for Banner Day, and the asking price, by the Mets, was $220 per ticket. I love Banner Day, but not that much. Yet for one c-note, when you receive that pitch-perfect tableau, that real food, that book, that author…plus those bonus Spectors…I’m tempted to call it a bargain.
But only if you throw in Jeremy Hefner homering. And Omar Quintanilla ingratiating himself. And Scott Hairston homering. And the Phillies not catching catchable balls. And the paucity of Phillies fans where we were sitting. And Jeremy Hefner outpitching the storm clouds. And the storm clouds not gathering in full force until the Mets had a lead and five innings had been played. The Spectors and I were waiting for the skies to unload and were therefore rooting for the tarp to trump any silly ideas about a Philadelphia comeback. As it happened, the Mets took a bone dry 6-3 edge to the bottom of the eighth before the downpour we’d been anticipating for an hour finally came to pass.
Susan, Garry and Melanie had already left in deference to the impending deluge and a long day besides. Now with no immediate companionship, an indeterminate delay and a room filled with ice cream and cookies (delectable I’m sure, but verboten to me), I decided it was time to treat myself to an exit of my own. It rained just enough to vindicate my decision to bolt until it stopped raining once I was safely east of Jamaica and they wound up playing the final six outs to successful completion. But that was OK. I had Howie, Josh, my little radio and a functioning LIRR getting me home at a reasonable hour.
And a very reasonable marking of a milestone, if I say so myself.