Maybe there’s another world in which tonight’s game went down in history as the Juan Lagares game — the contest in which our young centerfielder hit a game-tying home run off Addison Reed, which led to the Mets winning the game in extras, Lagares securing a job with the Mets he’d never surrender, multiple World Series rings and No. 12 going up on the wall one evening in the 2030s.
But in this world Lagares struck out and this dull Mets loss will be remembered, if anyone actually bothers, as “wasn’t that the game where Justin Turner fell on his face?”
It was all that and less — torpid and annoying, over in a relatively tidy 3:09 yet seeming to last several hours longer. In terms of on-field happenings, Jeremy Hefner was unlucky and the Mets didn’t hit (again), which is sufficient recap because a very small number of fans were there and a far smaller number paid any attention. I’d normally tut-tut about such behavior, but the yappers and tappers of smartphones had the right idea tonight. If you ever get a chance to introduce someone to baseball, you pray to God that you aren’t stuck with a never-risen souffle like this one.
I was at the park for a blogger event, so I had a credential. But I decided I didn’t want to spend the game in the press box — unless it’s your workplace, the press box is interesting exactly once. Instead I wandered around Citi Field, changing levels and sitting in seats and sections I hadn’t seen in a long time, and then seeking out vantage points I’d wondered about but never gotten to investigate up close. (I didn’t try to get into the fancy clubs, terraces like the Party City deck, or the cushioned seats behind home plate where rumor has it they deliver Shake Shack — that would have been rude and wasn’t what I was interested in anyway.)
So off I went, spending a half-inning here and a half-inning there. First I headed for the Pepsi Porch, plopping myself not far from where Lucas Duda’s home run had landed a few minutes earlier. Then I hung out at the Shea Bridge and had some steak tacos and a beer. Then I marched upstairs, to the Promenade in left field, then worked my way around to the deck above the rotunda. Then it was down to try various spots on Field level. I sat in an oddly canted row of seats down the left-field line, then in the seats by the Home Run Apple that are normally taken by groups. (Not a problem tonight — “group” was a relative term and I could sit anywhere I fancied.) From there it was on to Utleyville, where I may have found the worst seats in Citi Field — Seat 2 in each row is directly behind the foul pole. Then I worked my way down the first-base line, trying out the oddball rows of two seats where the angles of different sections come together. And finally, I camped out right next to the mural of Gary Carter and Willie Mays (great views, it turns out), where I saw Turner fall down and the Mets kind of rally but not really.
For a while, Citi Field’s shortcomings and the differences between it and Shea were a topic of major conversation on this blog. (Here are two examples. There are many more.) But walking around tonight, I was struck by how much that has receded in my memory. Sitting up above left field in the Promenade, it’s true that I was left wondering once again how a team could design a park with vast swathes of seats from which a good chunk of the outfield is invisible. But I’ve gotten used to these things, just like I came to accept Shea’s North Korean prison vibe anywhere you couldn’t see green grass, and the Dallas police recruiting posters in the upper deck’s Superfund-worthy bathrooms, and many other horrors of the Mets’ old home. Shea had things I liked about it, of course — the happy march down the ramps after a win, the views of the distant city at sundown, and most of all the way the unassuming cement bowl would flex and reverberate and roar when enclosing a capacity crowd. By now I’ve come to like all sorts of things about the new place, too: the cheerful, rollercoaster-on-the-first-drop feel of the Pepsi Porch, the sharp angle of the Promenade stands above you as head for the plaza with the big baseball, the Shea Bridge with its constant tide of friends meeting and helloing, as well as the green seats and the graceful curve of the lights and the maroon and beige brickwork.
Mostly, though, I like that it feels like home — it’s where there’s baseball, even on nights when that baseball is indifferent and not particularly absorbing. I don’t go to ballgames alone very often, but I don’t think I’d feel lonesome if for some reason I did. There’s never a shortage of people to talk to and even the most tongue-tied fan is surrounded by conversation-starters. (Here are two: “Wow, Matt Harvey.” “Wow, Ike Davis.”) And even if you’re not in the mood to chat, you’re surrounded by baseball. You’ve got the familiar sounds of the game and the park, the rituals of players at bat and marketers between innings, and of course the many and varied rhythms of the game, from the ball being thrown around after a strikeout to the ump trudging out to intrude on a manager tending to a spooked-horse pitcher to the frantic carousel of a bases-loaded double. Whatever the park and whatever the angle of the seat, it’s the game. And being surrounded by it is a pleasure.
* * *
On Thursday night, Greg will return to Gelf’s Varsity Letters sports literature series, where he’ll be reading from and discussing The Happiest Recap. The event starts at 7 at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St. in Manhattan; directions are here. Also reading (and keeping things Metsie Metsie Metsie) will be Christopher Franke, author of Nailed!, an account of Lenny Dykstra’s rise and fall. As a warm-up, check out this interview of Mr. Prince conducted by Max Lakin.
To my sorrow, I can’t go. But you should.