- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Invasion of the Citi Snatchers

I wonder what Mets ownership thought as it looked out the windows from its counting house Thursday afternoon and observed a Citi Field whose live gate was probably 70% (at least) Giants fans. I’m guessing there were two competing thoughts besides, “Hey, look — people!”

1) “What a disgrace that our team has fallen so far by so many measures that the only way we can place posteriors in seats is to be fortunate enough to play an opponent with an unusually rabid following.”

2) “First thing tomorrow morning, let’s call Bud Selig and petition to be realigned into the N.L. West so we can get two more visits a year from these guys. The Giants are gold!”

Maybe I don’t want to know the answer.

Tuesday night [1] there was a vocal and visible Giants fan presence. Wednesday [2] it grew louder and larger, even if it was subdued at the last minute. Thursday, the Mets might as well have dressed in road grays.

I’ve sat outshouted and close to outnumbered in Flushing from time to time by Yankees fans, Phillies fans, Cubs fans and McGwire fans. I felt a bit inundated by the latter-day Giant hordes on the heels of their 2010 world championship early in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. But I swear, never in my 567 regular-season and postseason home Met games, had I found myself so relegated to de facto visitor status in my own park.

There was no fighting it, not without a replay of Zach Lutz and Josh Satin rising to Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda levels of performance,…and we didn’t get that during Thursday’s more typically deflating [3] ninth inning. We tried. As Matt den Dekker actually reached second base, I was joined in ginning up a representative “LET’S GO METS!” by my companions for the day, prolific Met author Matt Silverman [4] and ace WFAN update anchor Bob Heussler [5] (the fella Mike Francesa affectionately/condescendingly refers to as “Mr. Met”; head-size differences notwithstanding, the moniker is well-earned), but we and whatever other hardy souls who rose to orally defend the homeland were no match for that which was black and orange and heard all over. The noise meter, intended to rouse the Flushing faithful, only brought out richer and deeper chants of “LET’S GO GI-ANTS!” which is not how it’s supposed to work.

Matt, Bob and I were none too happy with the proportion of Giants fans to Mets fans, particularly the gaudy dimensions of their accoutrement. (What Bob suggested he’d do to the Giants flag waving nearby if he could have gotten his hands on it is something that could only be aired on seven-second delay.) Of course we didn’t approve. It’s bad enough when your team is concluding a 4-7 homestand and packing a 68-84 record for its final road trip of the year. But to have to wonder where the hell this alleged home game was transpiring was just too large an insult to add atop the overflowing hamper of injuries.

Now that I’m 24 hours removed from exposure to Giants Fever, I’m not quite as riled about it, but I’m convinced it wasn’t a good sign for the long-term health of Mets baseball. I could decide I truly hate the San Francisco Giants, but once Santiago Casilla struck out Anthony Recker (with physically unable to play Justin Turner no doubt spooking Bruce Bochy [6] from the on-deck circle), they went back to essentially harmless and perhaps helpful. I instructed one clump of self-satisfied San Francisco fans to “make yourselves useful this weekend in the Bronx.” They promised, “We’ll kick the Yankees’ ass like it’s the 1962 World Series!” (Great, they’re gonna lose in seven heartbreaking, rain-soaked games.)

I can’t blame Giants fans for materializing in droves when their team comes to town. Their record is nearly as bad as ours, but it didn’t diminish their enthusiasm one iota. From whence did this invasion emanate? Who composes this mob? My guess is Northern California expatriates; front-runners who don’t check the standings too often; kitschy-culty types who latch on to Timmy and Panda and Angel; old-time New York baseball Tories and/or their descendants; and perhaps San Franciscans splurging on a six-day big city holiday. However they came to converge, busloads [7] of Giants fans saw fit to descend on Citi Field on a Thursday afternoon, and Citi Field had no legal means of turning them away.

If the thousands and thousands of Giants fans weren’t there yesterday, that would leave the hundreds and…no just the hundreds of Mets fans who attended. The theoretical cause of filling Citi Field with nothing but the cream of Metsopotamia, thereby precluding the admission of enemy ass, is a noble one, but it’s not mandatory in our free-market system. It may not have been convenient let alone desirable for a critical mass of Mets fans to have shown up on this particular weekday afternoon. Besides, around here, folks tend to check the standings on the reg.

The larger issue isn’t that the secondary ticket market or Internet-enabled travel makes a nominal Mets home game an ideal destination for a visiting fan. It’s that the Mets have lost with disturbing frequency in 2013 much as they lost in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. Nuance aside, every year has felt pretty much the same by the time September is groggily getting itself over with. There is no winning tradition attached to Citi Field, which has established itself five seasons in as — to borrow a phrase from Stephen Colbert — a haunted house of loss and regret.

It’s never more evident than it is in September, a month that has yet to do more than technically exist in a Metsian vein since the current ballpark replaced the former ballpark. These recent anticlimactic endings might have unfolded just as sadly at Shea as they have at Citi (lord knows Shea wasn’t always rocking in September, no matter what Fran Healy excitedly reported), but at Citi, we have no precedent to know what a September with people and possibility feels like. Unless those people are Giants fans and that possibility is a protected draft pick.

Fred Wilpon is ruefully reminded of his unintentionally classic “meaningful games in September” line every year that the Mets’ chances to contend expire well short of the pocket schedule’s final boxes. What’s missed in that easy shot is every September game the Mets have ever played at Citi Field has been meaningful. Most days and nights have meant the Mets are a miserable product and Mets fans would prefer not to invest another scintilla of their valuable time and limited money in it. The Giants series, on the other hand, meant that no matter how numb you think you are to the indignities inherent in remaining loyal to this mud-stuck enterprise, you can still be taken aback by how much the continual losing and the echoing loneliness stings.