Find Cuppy, which should be familiar to any recent visitor to Citi Field, is one of those things that’s so absolutely stupid that it begins to grow on you to the point where you kind of look forward to it. For the out-of-town or inattentive, between half-innings early in every Mets home game, public address announcer Alex Anthony directs our attention to CitiVision to introduce us to the contestant who is going to sit behind a video camera and zoom in on the promotion’s sponsor’s mascot.
That’s Cuppy. He’s an oversized cup of coffee with eyes. He’s almost always waving hysterically from the Party City Deck or the Shea Bridge. Now and then he’s visiting Left Field Landing. (I once saw him wandering the bowels of the stadium, but that’s a whole other story.)
Sometimes we root our contestant home successfully. Sometimes he or she just can’t focus fast enough. Sometimes Cuppy’s so elusive to the guest camera operator that it seems safe to infer Cuppy is out having a smoke. Eventually Alex reveals Cuppy’s whereabouts, a valuable sponsor’s prize is presented regardless of who or what gets found and we return to our ballgame…better known as the non-commercial interlude between Find Cuppy and the bit where the auto parts company sponsors Anthony Recker laughing hysterically at Dillon Gee’s knock-knock jokes. (“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “You, if by ‘there,’ you mean Las Vegas.”)
I find Cuppy himself not at all endearing — perhaps because I never developed a taste for coffee — but the mild absurdity of the exercise has drawn me in. Consider the hopes and dreams of the people filling whatever portions of the stands at Citi Field are filled during a given game. Think how many want or wanted to be ballplayers. Think of how many think they could manage or umpire or broadcast.
Who thinks it would be fantastic to operate a video camera at a baseball game? Somebody must, because people do that for a living, but you’d sort of figure that would be less aspirational than vocational. If your dream is to operate a video camera at a baseball game, you’re probably not imagining doing so; you’re probably working to make it happen. And it’s a fine thing if you are — it would be hard to enjoy the game from the comfort of our homes without you.
Wednesday afternoon, however, I was getting by superbly without the aid of Citi Field’s cameras, plugged instead into my radio as I tooled about the greater Astoria area. Howie Rose and Josh Lewin occasionally rely on a video replay. I occasionally rely on them. We go well together. My only problem with their word picture Wednesday was I kept taking my eye off the ball at crucial moments of the Mets-Braves game they were telling me about. I had the radio off when Josh Satin homered. I had the radio off when Jason Heyward went down. But I had it on as the bottom of the ninth commenced.
The timing and setting couldn’t have been more fortuitous.
By the bottom of the ninth, I was on the third floor of the Museum of the Moving Image, a place Stephanie and I last visited in 1992. We said we’d come back one day and 21 years later we were as good as our word. Swell place, highly recommended in-season or offseason. The best part Wednesday was how well 101.9 FM came in (the FAN simulcast has been a radio reception dream). I had no difficulty hearing Justin Turner double with one out and represent the winning run. Ditto for the Wilmer Flores grounder that moved Turner to third. I allowed myself to believe the Mets were on the verge of prevailing in this stubborn 1-1 tie.
They had to. I had an extra karmic boost going for me, I figured. See, I had stumbled upon a wall that replicated a bank of video monitors. That’s par for the course at the Museum of the Moving Image. What made this bunch of screens stand out was they were 100% Metcentric, displaying nothing but baseball from Citi Field. Yet they weren’t transmitting the game that was transpiring mere miles away in Flushing; rather, they were beaming what was identified on the wall as the bottom of the second inning from the afternoon of June 10, 2010, the first half of a day-night doubleheader. Officially, this is the installation that caught my eye:
A simulation of a live TV control room, taking visitors inside the room where director Bill Webb called the shots for the broadcast of a game between the New York Mets and San Diego Padres.
It was part of Behind the Screen, the museum’s core exhibition, “a one-of-a-kind experience that immerses visitors in the creative and technical process of producing, promoting, and presenting films, television shows, and digital entertainment.” Most of it had nothing to do with baseball. But this bit of business had everything to do with baseball…Mets baseball! In a non-baseball museum!
I sat down, waved over Stephanie (who no longer finds it peculiar that I discover Metsiana no matter where we wind up) and we watched 21 pitches in the life of a long-ago game from every angle possible.
You’ve heard Mets announcers dating back to Tim McCarver sing the praises of Bill Webb or Webby. This was a chance to discover what all the fuss is about. The job he does is indeed fussworthy. In this simulation, you are taken inside the truck with Webb and his associates. He is mic’d so you can hear him literally direct his army of camera operators. We see what he sees: about a dozen different takes on the action and inaction at Citi Field. One monitor is fixed on Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez. Another is on the mound. Center field’s camera stays on the batter. Everybody else — every screen is numbered and identified by the operator who’s at the controls — is keeping an eye on just about everything else.
So I’m listening to Howie let me know that Fredi Gonzalez has opted to intentionally walk John Buck and pitch to Travis d’Arnaud. But that’s got only a third of my attention. Because I’m also listening a little to Gary mention how much the fan base appreciates these Mets’ — these 2010 Mets’, that is — renewed commitment to fundamentals, which is when the “PROGRAM” monitor displays leader of men Jerry Manuel thinking hard in the Mets dugout. I’m mostly listening to Webb deploy his battery of cameras. If Webb wants Alex Cora or Jeff Francoeur or Mike Pelfrey, that what Webb gets and that’s what Webb shows.
As you might gather, the afternoon of June 10, 2010, provides an Amazin’ time capsule. Granted, you weren’t nostalgic for this particular game or season or team, but you can’t pass it up. It’s practically a Mets Classics outtake. Blessedly, it’s not Endy Chavez drag-bunting on the Rockies for the 83rd time. It’s something you haven’t seen in more than three years if you saw it all, so it’s fresh and invigorating. It’s our baby ballpark with charcoal walls, far-away dimensions and now-ancient ads; the gaudy gold Caesars billboard in the left field corner might as well be Abe Stark’s “HIT SIGN WIN SUIT” in right at Ebbets Field. We’re reminded of problems that are no longer our problems via tight shot on Jason Bay. We’re reintroduced to Mets we’ve mostly forgotten about. “Now batting,” says 2010’s Anthony, “the catcher, Henry Blanco.”
Gonzalez’s plan to pitch to d’Arnaud doesn’t help Atlanta’s cause and Travis walks to fill the bases. Meanwhile, Mat Latos can’t quite retire Blanco to get out of his inning, either. Webb is now and again impatient. The maestro occasionally barks at his orchestra. Tony on Camera 6 absorbs a scolding for missing something deemed obvious. Rob on Camera 1 is sardonically welcomed back, asked whether he thought he needed an invitation to join us. Mostly Webb gets it done. He commands a low-level picture from the first base side that encompasses all the umpires and it appears, complete with graphic identifying the day’s men in blue. Gary and Keith discuss Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut from the night before and the statistics that perfectly complement their conversation magically materialize.
Finding Cuppy is a breeze compared with what the director and his crew pull off. I would have guessed the nearly seamless SNY production we are treated to almost daily is harder than it looks, but this installation teaches us what an achievement it truly is to sort through a dozen moving images plus a baseball in flight and create from all that a coherent visual narrative on the fly. No wonder Bill Webb needs a second truck for all his accolades. The talented professionals who obtain him his pictures deserve an SUV’s worth themselves.
Finally — and that’s Webb’s word, as Blanco’s at-bat takes 10 nearly interminable pitches to resolve — something happens. With David Wright (the only 2013 face plainly visible in this trip to 2010), Blanco strokes a ball to deep left. It’s going, going…it’s outta here! Henry Blanco muscles the Mets a 2-0 lead…which is more than Juan Lagares can do with the bases loaded in 2013, sadly. But never mind what’s going wrong in the present. In the recent past, Webb has a home run to manipulate. We see Blanco. We see Latos. We see everybody because, like the director, we have every screen available to us. And when my vision sets upon one of them, I get so excited that I momentarily forget the Mets and Braves are right this very minute dragging toward a tenth inning.
“Hey!” I tell Stephanie. “Look! Somebody’s wearing a Faith and Fear shirt!”
A beat passes.
“Hey! That’s Jason!”
Sure enough, my blogging partner, sporting those iconic retired numbers, is on camera. He and his son Joshua are celebrating Henry’s homer. At first I think they or somebody near them caught it, but no, that’s impossible, they’re seated behind first base. They’re just happy it was hit; they’re good Mets fans that way. Wow, I think, Jason and Joshua were on TV! How come I never saw this? How come I never heard about it?
Then I realize they weren’t on TV. They were on Bill Webb’s bank of monitors. Camera 3 — Frank — picked them up, but Webby declined to put them on the air. If you didn’t eventually go the Museum of the Moving Image, you wouldn’t have known they were captured by SNY.
But I did, so I do.
The 2013 Mets received no karmic boost from my find — and I managed to miss the radio call of all the fun associated with Jerry Layne’s sound judgment. As for the 2010 Mets, their three-year-old 2-0 lead eventually dissolved into a 4-2 loss that never matched the excitement produced by Blanco’s blast, according to the man who exulted in it with his kid. Later came the night portion of the twinbill, when Jon Niese didn’t quite throw the first no-hitter in New York Mets history but came pretty close. Hence, the bottom of the second inning from that June afternoon got obscured pretty quickly. Yet its moving image and everything that went into transmitting it lives on in a loop. You should go take a look at it sometime. It’s more fun than looking for an oversized cup of coffee.