Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a not completely forgotten milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this ninth of ten installments, we go to the only ballpark we’ve got.
Citi Field and I have had a strained relationship these past seven seasons. We grin and bear each other, all the while never truly feeling at mutual peace. It correctly senses deep down I’ve never forgiven it for succeeding Shea Stadium. Yet I’ve learned deep down that I can’t live contentedly without regular exposure to Shea Stadium’s successor.
As of Saturday it had been thirteen days between visits to this Gelbs/Figueroa of a ballpark. Thirteen days isn’t that much in human time. When you factor in the Mets’ road swing to Pittsburgh, it means all of eight home games had been played without my presence, which isn’t an interminable stretch. I’ve absented myself from Citi Field for longer terms than that. Under normal circumstances, it would be no big deal.
I’m not dealing with normal circumstances at the moment. Normal took a holiday on May 20, the day we got word that my father had to go to the hospital. On May 20 I was supposed to be granted my first exposure to the Party City Deck. My friends Sharon and Kevin were celebrating their wedding anniversary up there and graciously invited Stephanie and me, among others, to join them. I’d held the tickets since January. We looked forward to it. By game time May 20, nothing seemed less important or appropriate than cheering on the Mets from the Party City Deck. We had to bow out.
My father was in North Shore LIJ. The tickets became glossy bookmarks. Another friend, Brian, asked if I’d like to join him that Thursday for the matinee finale of the Cardinal series. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and explained in brief why I couldn’t make it. Jacob deGrom  pitched a gem that afternoon. I noticed it and appreciated some of it on TV, but it wasn’t a priority.
Friday the Mets went to Pittsburgh. My father went in for surgery. As luck would have it, Jason was out of town, so the weekend was mine to blog, which, quite frankly, was the last fucking thing I wanted to do, until the blog presented itself to me as the outlet it can be when I require one. I wrote an uncommonly brief recap that night, marveling at the skills and promise of Gerrit Cole  and Noah Syndergaard . That wasn’t one of those “geez, I have nothing to say about this game” situations. Considering what my father was undergoing, I was struck by the power and the beauty  of strong young arms in action. It honestly moved me. Also moving me that night: the successful operation to remove as much of the tumor that had been found on my father’s brain as possible.
I alluded to that procedure and its aftermath last weekend. The Mets were getting swept at PNC Park. You have to believe me when I tell you I didn’t mind, and not necessarily in that big picture vs. Mets picture. I was just happy the Mets were around. On the road, but available. I could commune with them if just for moments at a time. Don’t underestimate the pull of a baseball team in a time of personal crisis.
The Phillie series came and went. I was down and up during that better-angled sweep. On Monday, Memorial Day, there was a moment in the hospital room when my mental muscle memory was taking me back to 1988, when my mother was the patient and I was 25. I wanted to throw something at a wall, which I would have then. Now I’m 52 and throwing things is best left to the Syndergaards and the Coles. But I did have to duck out of that room before the room swallowed me. I had to escape the claustrophobic scene that was enveloping my inner self. I couldn’t say anything to the several people in there. I couldn’t say “this is all of a sudden difficult for me,” because in no way was it more difficult for anybody than it was for my dad, and what am I complaining about? I can stand up and walk out of here if I feel like it.
So I did. I walked outside the hospital, with my schlep bag over my shoulder. I dug through its contents and fished out my radio. I plugged its buds into my ears. I took a few deep breaths, emitted a whiny scream and listened to the final three innings of the Mets taming the Phillies before going back up. I figured I’d hear a half-inning and then turn it off.
OK, maybe another half-inning.
All right, the eighth, but that’s it.
The game’s probably in hand, so I can just leave it to Familia and…
Oh, what the hell, might as well stick around for the last out…
And the replay review that confirmed it.
The WOR detour did a person an iota of good on a day that otherwise produced little.
Tuesday worked better. I spent some time in the emotional cage, worked on my swing and ultimately contributed. I helped the team off the bench. I’m convinced of that.
By Thursday, by which time my dad had been moved to a rehab facility, something hit me. It hit me how much I wanted to go to Citi Field. The Mets weren’t playing that day, but they would over the weekend. Saturday 4:10 PM appealed to me. I’d been thinking about that game a few weeks earlier. I like 4:10 starts (and think the elimination of 1:10 starts on Saturdays is absurd). I like beach towel giveaways. I don’t go to the beach, but I have a thing for Mets beach towels, particularly those with beverage company logos. Folded neatly in our linen closet are the Coca-Cola Mets beach towel from 1992 and the Rheingold Mets beach towel from 1998. I wanted to add the Pepsi Beach Towel from 2015 to the pile.
But mostly I wanted to be at Citi Field, where I never feel fully at home, except I do more than I care to admit. Citi Field is where I go. In the frigid winter of 2014-15, when baseball seemed too far away to fathom, I began to reflexively dream of being at Citi Field, which was significant. Every winter of my life that dream had been of being at Shea Stadium, even in this now eternal post-Shea period. Shea was the offseason ideal. Citi Field was a summertime nuisance, where I went because there was no Shea. It took seven Decembers and seven Januarys to finally subconsciously accept that Citi Field was where I want to go.
And in late May of 2015, boy did I want to be there again. It had been too long. It had been almost two weeks and one life-redefining operation ago.
After consulting with my two most trusted day-to-day advisors, I decided three or four hours at a ballpark in the midst of a loved one’s recovery would a) not kill the patient and b) probably improve the spirits of the guy off the bench. Friday morning I checked StubHub, found a reasonably priced single ticket in a desirable portion of Promenade and went all in.
I was going to a Mets game at Citi Field. I had done that 187 times before. Rarely had I looked forward to it as much as I was now.
Saturday Stephanie and I visited the rehab facility. It was my third day in a row of making the not easy logistical trip. The time with my father, I’d like to think, has been good for both of us. It’s time we wouldn’t be spending together in better circumstances. I’d prefer better circumstances for him. He wants out of there. We all want out of there. In the interim, “there” is there. It’s a necessity. As long as he’s there, I’ll be there more often than not.
But on Saturday, when we said goodbye (and others had come by to say hello), I needed to be somewhere else. I needed to engage Game No. 188 at Citi Field. Stephanie headed home and I headed to the place you’ll usually find me when I’m not home.
By dint of prevailing logistics, it was a later approach than I usually take to go to a game, especially when a “First 15,000” giveaway is on the table. I believe everybody who buys a ticket to a promotional date is entitled to the promotional item. I believe it’s goodwill to your fans. I believe the reason the Mets don’t do it is because those who make those decisions and count your money rub their hands gleefully knowing they’ve compelled you into their facility to spend your money. You’re there, the game is an hour or more away, you’ll buy something. The sponsor picks up the promotional tab and it’s pure profit for the ballclub. You can almost hear them thinking, “Ka-CHING!”
This is all to say I didn’t get a towel. I was not among the First 15,000. In another season, even given the logistical complications, I would have been. In another season, the Mets would not necessarily attract the number of fans that equaled the number of items promoted. In 2015, on “Super Saturdays,” the equation works to the advantage of the gleeful hand-rubbing moneycounters and to the disadvantage of 24,000 fans who had other things to do before first pitch.
Oh well. It’s a nice towel, but it’s not a crying towel.
I did make it for first pitch. I did have a positive entry experience (sans towel), which was a challenge earlier in the season. I’ve relocated my entry point from the Rotunda to the Left Field Gate. Didn’t like the way I was treated at the Rotunda since my favorite guard moved on. I found a new favorite guard. It’s not a small thing after 188 games.
You should be treated well at every gate. But this is Citi Field. You, the customer, pick and choose your spots.
No towel, but one seat. Nobody on either side of me, which I appreciate. One jolly group to my left which kept needing me to get up to let them by because what’s nine innings of baseball without nine innings of beer and bathroom trips? That I don’t appreciate. I went from grinning to bearing to glaring.
I doubt I’ve bought three hot dogs in the stands since Citi Field since the place opened in 2009, but yesterday, without proper time to make a deliberate noshing decision, I went that convenient culinary route. Six-fifty for a Nathan’s frank. Kid lugs them up the steps, so I tipped generously. He was very nice. Gave me a pair of ketchups and a pair of mustards. I opened a ketchup. I attempted to open a mustard. I tried six ways to open a mustard. Then I tried to open the other mustard. They were unopenable to me. So it was a hot dog and ketchup for me in the first inning. My inner five-year-old was briefly sated.
Later, when the satisfaction was waning and the Mets were trailing, I made a beeline to the Pat LaFrieda stand on Promenade. I hadn’t visited either Pat location since last year. I had a small Citi Field gift card in my pocket. It was translatable to the Steak Frittes, exactly what I didn’t need, but I’ve learned if I don’t try the intriguing new thing once and get it over with, I’ll build it all out of proportion into my life’s desire. These were just waffle fries with bits of cheese, onion and steak melted into them. Not worth an obsession. It’s not like it’s a Mets beach towel with a beverage logo.
I ordered the Frittes. I handed over my card. It actually registered (I never believe anything at Citi Field will). Then I was told it would take “three or four minutes”. I had hoped to get back to my seat to watch Lucas Duda  bat. Lucas Duda is as close as we get to a can’t-miss at-bat these days. I wouldn’t have gotten up to grab Frittes or whatever existed in Darryl Strawberry ’s day. (I saw somebody in a STRAWBERRY 18 jersey yesterday and pinched myself that we used to have a team with him, Carter and Hernandez playing for us every day, with Gooden pitching every fifth day. The food was terrible in those days, but the baseball was beautiful.)
I asked the nice young man at the LaFrieda concession if the sandwich was readily available. I’d take that instead, pay the difference and move on so I could get back to the game I’d really, really wanted and, yes, needed to see. This frightened the hell out of the guy. “The order’s already in,” he said, almost shaking.
Ah, process. Can’t screw with that. So I waited. I waited only a moment, really, when someone came back from the kitchen with an order of Steak Frittes. OK, I thought, that’s not so long a wait after all.
As I was walking away, I heard frantic cries of “SIR! SIR!” Turns out that wasn’t my order. It didn’t have onions. I wouldn’t have noticed. Thus, I turned around, gave back the incomplete Frittes so it could go to its onion-averse owner and watched the Mets bat on the monitor at the counter. The monitor is a very handy device when you’re waiting for your order, but when you carefully choose the line with the fewest people and complete your transaction, and you aren’t handed your food in a timely fashion, you’re left to deduce, “I could be watching this game on a monitor at home, which wasn’t the idea of being here.”
It took far longer than three or four minutes for my Frittes. I curbed my instinct to throw a Fritte fit when the wait wound past six or seven minutes and the entire half-inning (featuring Duda flying out) ensued without my personal eyewitness. I was a little short with the nice young man when I was finally handed my order, and that I felt bad about because my parents taught me to be polite and I’d like to think I’ve always followed through on that. My father’s been nothing but polite to every doctor, nurse, aide, therapist and social worker he’s encountered. A little of that’s a coping mechanism, I’m pretty sure — if he collects enough points, maybe he’ll be released earlier. Most of that is he’s a good person who treats others well. I shouldn’t have snarled at the guy who took too long to hand me the Frittes.
The guy should’ve told me it was going to be six or seven or more minutes before I went with the Frittes and missed Duda. The Frittes were, like all snacks of that nature, delicious upon first bites, too salty by the time you’re in the middle of them and a regretful decision by the end. But I’ve had them and now I won’t obsess on them again.
I can obsess on things, you might have noticed.
Though I was full, the Mets were starved for runs (nothing new) and competent starting pitching (something unexpected). I came to Citi Field intending to offer my full-throated support to Jon Niese . By the fourth, it was all I could do to maintain politeness. The Marlins were up 5-1 in the fourth and making an excellent case for a five-man, all-righty rotation once Dillon Gee  returns. The Marlins play insipidly, manage accidentally, float through the league without obvious wires keeping them aloft. Yet they were sticking it to Niese with relative ease. The Marlins don’t deserve to get to tee off on Jon Niese, who will never again be asked to endorse the Nissan Altima  if I have anything to say about it.
Surprisingly, the Mets scored four in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game off Tom Koehler , whom they tried to behead in the process. I was at the game in April when the Mets were doing nothing at bat until they clobbered Koehler. The Mets won easily while losing d’Arnaud and Blevins. Saturday they lost the game but maintained their health. As my father will politely tell you these days, that’s the important thing. “Don’t ever get sick,” he says. From what I’ve observed over the past week-and-a-half, that’s great advice.
Somebody must’ve told the Mets to “don’t ever get runs after the fourth,” because they didn’t. They hung around to string us along. It was only when Giancarlo Stanton  walloped one deep into Coogan’s Landing and Jeff Baker  followed with a more conventional roundtripper that 9-5 inevitability  was surrendered to. We 39,0000 — towelful and otherwise — piped up when there was hope and mostly held our tongues when hope was dashed. We made a pretty decent amount of noise, something I’m still getting used to at Citi Field. It’s been so quiet and lightly attended since the novelty of 2009 wore off well ahead of 2010. That’s the quiet place I think I was thinking of when I decided I needed to be at a ballgame Saturday. The atmosphere Saturday (which I opted to drown out with the help of my pals Howie and Josh) didn’t give one over to serene contemplation as the weeknights of Septembers past have as a matter of course.
It’s a good sign for the overall health of the franchise. It’s kind of grating when you just want to sit where you want to sit and get away from everything else. As with the invisible towel and the unopenable mustard and the languidly ladled Frittes and the eleven Met baserunners not driven in, you can’t always get what you want.
But sometimes, you might have heard, you get what you need. I did need a late afternoon at Citi Field yesterday. I needed that, specifically. Not a day at the ballpark in the generic sense and not even one at Shea Stadium (which I can’t ever get). Citi Field was my chosen destination, just as it was in my wintertime ruminations. We’ve finally come together in some sort of spiritual bond.
Citi Field can be a stupid place. But it’s my stupid place.