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Nobody Goes There Anymore (But I Do)

When they opened it in 2009, the Mets of Fred and Jeff Wilpon dedicated themselves to convincing potential patrons that Citi Field would present a premium ballpark experience because it would grant those with the right kind of ticket access to exclusive clubs. That first year, very specific castes were established in terms of who could go to what club. For example, Jason and I discovered during a rain delay in the initial Mets-Red Sox exhibition game designed to test-drive the spanking new facility [1] that although our seats were in Field Level — closest to the field and therefore traditionally the hoity-toitiest of locations — we were not allowed to enter clubs on the Excelsior or Promenade levels. We just wanted to get dry. We were told to get lost.

The next year, the Mets broadened access to their enclaves. For example, if you had a Field Level ticket, even all the way in the outfield, you could slip into the Caesars. At some point, I heard purchasing a ticket plan would be enough to usher you in from out of the cold, heat or whatever you couldn’t take any more from watching Mike Pelfrey [2] and Manny Acosta [3]. The only ticket that entitled you to nothing but a seat and a license to walk the concourses was plain ol’ Promenade, the spiritual successor to Upper Deck at Shea.

Well, the Mets’ classist plans backfired on two counts. For one, judging by physical as opposed to imagined attendance, nobody seems attracted to Citi Field by the promise of clubs, clubs and more clubs. (Nobody seems attracted by anything, but five going on six consecutive losing seasons will curb appetites across the board.) When I have a ticket that says I am privileged enough to deserve to go into one, I might make a cameo for climate or convenience reasons, but I’m not inside the Acela or Delta or whatever the one you run smack into as you escalate up from the Rotunda is called this week cutting deals and networking away. If they were generally accessible, I might think to stop by and see what’s for supper. But they’re not, so I usually skip around them, preferring to see the field.

The other count the Mets didn’t count on is that you can’t get more exclusive than a September evening in relatively low-rent Promenade. It’s so uncrowded in Citi Field’s highest tank that I can assure you nobody goes there anymore.

And if that’s not exclusive, I don’t know what is.

I spent the bulk of Tuesday night in what I shall refer to as Club 518. It is exclusively located between Clubs 517 and 519. To get in, you have to show uncommon interest in the actions of the New York Mets as they play out their season. That and maybe go on StubHub and lay out $6.99 as I did.

Club 518 doesn’t allow just anybody in. Maybe it does, but who can tell? At its fullest on Tuesday, this 306-seat section just to the third base side of home plate hosted 13 of us. When somebody would go to get a beer, the population dipped perceptibly. The quiet, however, rarely varied.

So consider me a member of the 4.3%, named in honor of the portion of seats that were filled somewhere between innings one and nine. I doubt we would have checked ID if somebody else wanted to join our intimate gathering, but nobody did.

By being one of the 4.3% during a game when I’m told Bud Selig was on cable television toasting the grand health of the local franchise that plays to perhaps fours of thousands on a typical weeknight [4], I had a very good view of Brad Penny [5]’s induction into an even more exclusive club than 518. I watched him give up a pair of home runs to Wilmer Flores [6]. That makes him only the sixth pitcher who has surrendered even one homer to the young slugger whose next baseball card should probably list him as “INFIELDER?” What’s more, Penny is the only pitcher in the 145-year history of professional baseball to have allowed at least one home run to both Flores and Todd Zeile [7].

Flores is still fairly new to the major leagues as 2014 comes to a close. Zeile was vagabonding toward the twilight of his career in 2001 when he a) took Penny satisfyingly deep and b) exchanged hostile words with his victim. Something about “sucking on it for Shinjo” when the Mets and Marlins hated each other [8] as much as Mets fans hate the Marlins’ existence to this day. I was at Shea that night with a legitimately counted crowd of 40,000 or so. We were pumped for Todd Zeile when his seventh-inning three-run homer tied the game. We were pumped for Timo Perez [9] when he won the game in the tenth by singling home Lenny Harris [10]. It was Merengue Night and Timo grabbed a Dominican flag from out of the stands and waved it in triumph. Timo Perez, Jason declared, was the King of Merengue.

(Bet you don’t remember Timo Perez doing anything but going into a premature trot on a ball Todd Zeile hit the October before; Zeile went into a trot, too; hard to believe we lost.)

Veteran Todd blasting young Brad made for a great Friday night a long time ago. Tuesday in the here and now rated as a lower-key great night in its own way. It had a much older Penny looking bad (ha, a “bad Penny” reference — bet Brad loves those like I loved “Prince Spaghetti Day” reminders on the first-grade bus) and it had the Mets burying the Marlins, 9-1, or practically one run tallied for each of us clubby types in 518.

I’m probably in another fairly exclusive club as a result of Flores and friends’ Fish fry. Tuesday night gave me my 100th win as a spectator at Citi Field. I write them all down, so I know “my” record is 100-80. It took six seasons — 30 games per year with a couple of games to go this year — to reach triple-digits, landing me there competitively and chronologically faster than I arrived upon the same number at Shea. I didn’t get to 100 wins until I’d seen 184 games in all at the old place and by then it was 2000, which sounds pretty late in my Sheagoing life, considering my first game there was in 1973. The slow build was an offshoot of having been a child, adolescent and young adult who didn’t necessarily possess the agency to follow his muse to Flushing at the relative drop of a hat or hint.

The hint to go to Tuesday’s contest was sent from abroad. A fine fellow named Mark — whom the blessedly thorough reader might recognize as Black Country Met from our comments section — told me he was going to be at Citi Field for this game, which would be no big whoop except Mark was traveling from the U.K. for a baseball buffet (this game, Wednesday’s game and a couple of games elsewhere in our beautiful country). If Mark could cross an ocean, I could hop the 5:11 to Jamaica and make my usual transfers in order to meet him. His ticket was “posh,” by his reckoning, for he was willing to pay more than $6.99 in exchange for the rare opportunity to watch Wilmer Flores up close and personal. I decided I’d be happy if I got in cheap, since my primary goal was meeting Mark in person and chatting Met baseball pregame.

Which is what happened, and it was a bunch of fun taking apart and putting together our roster with him and, for a moment, reliving my fleeting interest in this past summer’s World Cup [11] (they really like soccer in England, you know). Then, shortly before first pitch, we parted ways, Mark for the swankiness of Delta, me for the exclusivity of 518, where the quiet was my companion, occasionally interrupted by Wilmer’s booming bat. It was tranquil, which a ballpark ideally isn’t in September, but lacking a pennant race or a Merengue Night, placidity, when effectively meshed with winning Mets baseball [12], is not to be underrated.

When not glued to Colon mowing down Marlins, I saw fit to tweet reports from 518 to a waiting world until my battery wound down. One of those who saw my dispatches was another fine fellow named David. He was over in 515. He called out my name. I waved. On September nights at Citi Field, you can pretty much conduct conversations from three sections’ distance without disturbing too many souls. Now and then we gestured at each other (twirling an imaginary towel for Flores; shrugging in confusion at Collins’s mid-inning hook of an in-command Colon). As personal Win No. 100 was about to wrap, I left my exclusive perch and deigned to join David for a delightful late-game chat about managers who underwhelmed us and catchers who got a raw deal in left field. Club 515 was rather exclusive, too, though I think there were more than 13 people there.

I didn’t see Bud Selig anywhere in Promenade. We would’ve made room for him. We had plenty of it.