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The Cost of Hope

One of the benefits of sticking around to the final out when many have flocked despairingly to the exits in the face of howling winds and widening deficits is seeing things you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t experience them for yourself. Minutes after Jason bolted the imminent initial Met demise of 2014 [1], he was joined by most of the lower half of Section 523. By the bottom of the tenth, I was literally one of four people left in the front ten rows of what had been a packed Promenade perch innings earlier — and two of those who remained were Nationals fans.

But you do see a few things. For example, when David Wright lifted a two-run homer off Jerry Blevins to pull the Mets to within 9-7, I was jumping up and down, partly for warmth, but mostly because I was delusional enough to think if Curtis Granderson could work his way on, Anthony Recker would tie it up. That would get us only to 9-9, and I wasn’t necessarily anticipating John Lannan morphing into the better long-relief angels of Shaun Marcum [2] — and goodness knows I was cold enough to want to seek shelter inside a room with a roof ASAP — but this was Opening Day [3]. Who wants to see the Mets lose on Opening Day?

I didn’t. But I saw it anyway. My best-case scenario turned into a called third strike and the Mets lost in ten. Oh well, I thought, that’s it.

But that wasn’t it. Because the Mets aren’t done with you just because their players are.

Y’know those “in-game hosts” the Mets introduced [4] Monday? It seems Alexa and Branden [5] weren’t hired simply to entertain the Citi Field patrons. One game’s worth of watching them on the video screens would convince you there’s nothing the least bit entertaining about what the Mets have them doing. Their job descriptions, however, go far beyond conducting contests and filling space between innings.

I learned this as I was leaving. Alexa and Branden stopped me right outside 523 in very cheery fashion.

“Sir, do you have a moment?” Branden asked. “We’d really like a moment of your time.”

I wanted to make the 5:24 at Woodside, but I figured I had a minute, so I said sure.

“Sir,” Alexa explained, “we noticed you seemed very happy when David Wright hit that home run.”

Sure, I said. I thought we had a chance to come back. Branden cut me off right there:

“It’s great you said ‘we,’ there. Not everybody in the stands would.”

Well, I explained, it’s kind of a figure of speech. I’m a big Mets fan and when you’re a fan of a team, you tend to speak interchangeably between the first- and third-person.

“That’s great, sir,” Alexa said. “Because as part of the team, you know ‘we’ all have to contribute something.”

Uh-huh, I said, nodding but not exactly sure what she was getting at.

“Sir,” Branden explained, “we were watching you all day.”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“Sir, as you know Citi Field is a World Class ballpark that is always enhancing its world class technology,” Alexa said. “Maybe you noticed the upgraded scoreboard, for example.”

Yes, I said, I had. I told them I thought the graphics were much improved, though the balls and strikes were a little hard to find at first…kind of like they were for Tim Welke, I added with a chuckle.

Branden didn’t acknowledge my little shot at the umpiring, instead choosing to continue as if he had memorized a script. “Sir,” he said, “as a loyal member of Team Mets, you’ll be happy to know that Citi Field’s world class technology has allowed us to install multiple cameras that allow us to monitor every movement of our most loyal Team Mets fans, Team Mets fans very much like yourself.”

I told him I wasn’t sure I understood. And what was this “Team Mets” business?

“Sir,” Alexa said, picking up the script, “when you cheer in exceedingly loyal Team Mets fashion, our Fan Focus cameras record in algorithmic detail just how much you are enjoying the game. And when you enjoy the game to an excessive degree, we deduct an Improvement Fee from your Mets First account.”

Mets First account? What the hell were they talking about? Branden was all too happy to explain.

“Sir,” he said, “Citi Field’s World Class technology now incorporates Amazin’ Face recognition software so it can be inferred to a 99.94% accuracy rate your level of enjoyment, hope, belief and other Positivity Indicators.”

Even as I noticed Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me [6]” played over the PA instead of the usual post-loss recording of Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind,” I still wasn’t getting it. Alexa filled in the rest:

“Sir, during game action, not including pauses for pitching changes or replay challenges, your every exclamation and gesture is recorded so an accurate tabulation of how much your Mets First account should be debited can be made.”

She then withdrew a tablet from a tote bag she’d been carrying to show me a split-screen highlight reel. On the left were the Mets doing good things, like Andrew Brown homering or Jose Valverde getting out of that bases-loaded jam and on the right were my joyous reactions to it.

Holy crap, I said — that’s me.

“Sir,” Branden said while quickly tapping keys on one of those handheld devices you see the vendors in the Delta Club seats carry, “you enjoyed today’s Mets game to an excessive degree on eleven discrete Action Occasions, for which you owe Sterling Mets, L.P., and its affiliate companies and shareholders nine dollars and ninety cents. Along with the nine-dollar convenience fee that we apply in advance as a courtesy to all loyal members of Team Mets, your total owed comes to $18.90.”

Hold it, I said. I owe the Mets eighteen dollars and ninety cents after a game I bought a ticket to?

“Sir,” Alexa said, “loyal members of Team Mets all want the Mets to do well and win 90 games this year and say they’d do anything to make that happen, which is why the Get Better challenge has been instituted. It’s an Interactive Way we can all help the Mets ‘get better’ [7]. This and all elements of the Money Mouth initiative are detailed on the back of your legally binding ticket.”

I reached into my back pocket, took off my glasses and squinted. Sure enough, right between the boilerplate about how “the ticketholder assumes all risk” and “injuries, death, or loss of property,” was everything Branden and Alexa were telling me, down to the letter. It was all on the back of the ticket the Mets sold me the whole time.

OK, I said, I see it here for myself, but how did you get that total?

“Sir,” Branden said, “our 90 Wins goal will not be reached merely with ticket, television, radio, parking, merchandise and concession revenue or the financial resources of Sterling Mets, L.P. and affiliate companies and shareholders. Team Mets needs everybody to pitch in. That’s why in 2014 we have instituted Dig Deep Days, including but not limited to games played on weekdays, weeknights and weekends, in which select fans will be Drafted Specially to help make Our Mets the 90-win team we all want them to be.”

“To make certain this is a Fun Investment,” Alexa continued, “every Game Development to which loyal members of Team Mets like yourself; members of your family; friends and acquaintances of you; those sitting in sections adjacent to you; or those with whom you exchanged pre-game eye contact in the concourses, restrooms, shops or Jackie Robinson Rotunda of Citi Field demonstrate enthusiasm for is subject to a 90-cent Get Better surcharge — plus the overall nine-dollar convenience fee that we apply in advance as a courtesy.”

“Sir,” Branden said, “90 cents to win 90 games is the Team Mets way.”

I didn’t know what else to say, so I went into my wallet for a twenty. But Alexa stopped me.

“Sir,” she said, “cash is not necessary. As a loyal member of Team Mets like yourself you have already made payment of $18.90…along with an additional $9.90 Full Explanation fee.”

Alexa handed me a receipt for the entire Emotional Transaction and assured me the proper deductions had been made from my Mets First account that was helpfully linked to my major bank debit or credit card.

“All part of the service,” Branden said. “Have an Amazin’ Day!”

I reflexively thanked them but was otherwise left speechless, with no time to think if I wanted to make the 5:24, so I just shoved the receipt in my coat and got a move on. But at least I know what’s going on now with the whole 90-win thing. So just be warned on this day [8] after Opening Day: If you stick around to the end of a game and get your hopes up, I imagine it’s gonna cost you.