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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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A Beaten People Rising Up

Citi Field is loud, and it’s wonderful.

I reflexively started to type “loud again,” then stopped myself. Because that wouldn’t have been true. Citi never has been loud. This is the first run of games in which the crowd is a factor, in which the buzz is focused on the field and the players are aware of it.

Citi Field started off dealt a lousy hand. It opened during a wrenching recession, the third pitch thrown in its official history became an enemy home run, management missteps alienated hardcore fans, and that first season began with months of weather that was lousy to the point of peculiar. By the time it warmed up, the Mets were broken and bad and the season was lost, leaving acres of those new green seats empty.

That was 2009, and the story hasn’t been fundamentally different at any point since. The Mets fixed some of their park’s flaws and we got used to some others, but the biggest problem came to seem intractable: the Mets were never good enough long enough for enough people to notice. That left Citi Field a reasonably nice place with lots of good food, a really big HD screen … and a baseball game somewhere in the middle of it.

Until now.

The party started with Yoenis Cespedes and the Nationals arriving and hasn’t stopped. But Wednesday night was my first chance to see it for myself. I was sitting with my pal Jeff in the second row of the Pepsi Porch, barely in foul territory, and marveling at the sights and sounds around me.

First of all, I could see people. People in their seats, watching baseball. Sure, there were a few swathes of seats mostly unoccupied, but the field level was nearly full, and above that you saw blue and orange gear, waving arms, people getting up when the game demanded it, and directing their attention at the field.

And you could hear those people. The ones around us were talking about our young pitchers, and Cespedes and his contract, and David Wright down in St. Lucie, and the adventures of Wilmer Flores, and how the Nats might fare against Clayton Kershaw (They lost, 3-0!) They were talking baseball, and cheering for it down on the field — roaring for it down on the field, in fact.

When Jacob deGrom reached two strikes they were up and howling for a third. When Juan Uribe rifled a ball over Charlie Blackmon‘s head in center they were yelling for Juan Lagares to hurry home, and then they did the same for Uribe when Michael Cuddyer smacked a ball into center. They roared for Cespedes’s first Citi Field clout (while wearing a yellow sleeve to match the feathers of a confused parakeet who’d taken up residence among the A/V cables), and at the end they stood and exhorted Jeurys Familia across the finish line.

Baseball is a different experience depending on whether you’re in the park or in front of the TV. I was 380-odd feet away in the Pepsi Porch, so don’t ask me to say anything smart about deGrom’s pitches — all I know is they resulted in Rockie after Rockie trudging away from home plate with barely used lumber. But the tradeoff was being borne up by the noise and fervor when deGrom was in a tight spot and looking for a little more life on the fastball, and being buffeted by the joy at seeing him find it.

None of the above is particularly extraordinary; it’s fun watching a good baseball team on a nice summer night as part of a big crowd. But it’s new for Citi Field — new, and oh so welcome.

I shed no tears for the demise of Shea, a battered rattletrap that exuded decay and bred hostility. But I have mourned the new place’s failure to engage us collectively, to feel like more than a short-term rental. Some of that failure reflects a sea change in parks and they crowds they attract: different economics and a different audience, the distraction of myriad non-baseball options, and the fact that we all now have ludicrously powerful pocket computers competing for our attention. But the real problem has been a lack of anything to engage us, to make us look up from our tweets and text messages and decide some other evening would be better for standing in line for burgers.

That’s no longer true. Now our eyes are on these Mets and their improbable summer story. We’ve found something that’s got us … well, that’s got us hollering and cheering and jumping in our seats, whether we’re butchers or bakers, or consultants or content providers. Some part of me had feared that never would happen again, that it had been lost somehow. But it’s not so. It’s happening right now — and however overdue it may be, it’s wonderful to find yourself part of it again.

16 comments to A Beaten People Rising Up

  • Matt in Richmond

    I will be there for the last 2 games of the season to experience it myself for the first time. Even watching on TV the difference in energy is obvious. It was quite entertaining watching Chris Rock (seated right behind home plate) jump up and wildly pump his fist after Familia poured in the final strike tonight.

  • Steve D

    It’s nothing like Shea was in 1969, 1973, the mid 1980s, the late 90’s or 2006, just to put this in historical context…some nights it is half the number of people (remember they count tickets sold now, not actual attendance). This ballpark is smaller of course and during this pennant race, should be sold out every night going forward. It will take a long time to build this fanbase back up…hopefully not with all front runners either.

  • Dave

    I’m currently vacationing in the wooded far upper regions of Red Sox territory with a lousy internet connection. My news is this site, the faceless avatars on Gameday (when they work), and my free USA Today. So I only just experienced the beginning of this recent phenomenon of CitiField being a place where one could not bring an infant to get caught up on their napping. It’s been a long time coming, and unlike some other professional sports venues, all genuine noise, doesn’t have to be pumped in.

    Enjoying the trip, not eager to get back to the office or the commute, but definitely looking forward to getting back to games and GKR.

  • Shawn B

    Cespedes looked like a ’76 Mets Topps card last night.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    All of a sudden the attendance jumped to 37,000 last night. Did somebody push a tweet button somewhere??

    After the game I watched a few innings of Nats vs. Dodgers on Rooting for the Dodgers with Vin Scully doing the play by play. All was right with the world.

    PS: Congrats to Cespedes on tying MiLB Home Run King Mike Hessman on the all time Mets HR list.

  • Eric

    10 games above .500, which ties the high water mark from the 11 game win streak.

    Syndergaard v [Butler, Vogelsong] v Strasburg.

  • Rich Jaroslovsky

    Joy is more joyous when it arrives after years of misery. As any of the multitudes of my fellow Giants faithful who suffered through decades of lousy teams in empty, freezing Candkestick Park can now attest. Tonight, I’ll be along with 41,000 others, rocking and rolling at AT&T Park, and all doing our best to do your Mets a favor vs. the Nats.

  • cleon jones

    This team is for real!!! Lets go Mets!!!

  • mikeski

    One thing I can’t do is stand with 2 strikes on the batter. In 1987, I learned that when you anticipate Strike 3 in that manner, what happens instead is that Terry Pendleton destroys your season with one swing.

  • sturock

    Let’s go Mets! This team is a lot of fun– as if you didn’t already know that! They are developing a 1969-ish vibe: shutdown pitching, just enough offense, and (one hopes) a big August-September surge.

  • Bob

    Jason–as to Shea being a “battered rattletrap”–I recall we said- “Shea may be a dump–BUT it’s our dump”

    Great article–Thanks!
    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Gregnugget

    I enjoyed your description of the new atmosphere at Citi. I’m looking forward to experiencing it on 8/29. However, I will take exception to any devaluing of Shea. There was noise and people milling around in the aisles rather than some bridge and banners and it shook when packed. It may have been worn from neglect of ownership fixated on corporate suites, the Ebetts experience and shopping malls rather than watching a ball game. Luckily I have my two Loge seats to remind me of the good times.

  • Bob

    I don’t know what it’s like today, but I was there in April in the midst of the 11 game winning streak and it was pretty loud then too.

  • JackH

    Nice column Jason and it is indeed nice to hear to roar of the crowd, albeit at a distance for me, in Port St. Lucie.
    Your assessment of Shea, while aesthetically correct, also included your observation of the shortcoming of Citi to fully engage it’s fan load.
    No such problem at Shea, where the old rickety contraption rocked and swayed to the rockin’ crowd on a Friday night with Doc on the mound and Straw banging the ball off what once was the most beautiful scoreboard in baseball.
    Shea still is a magical place in my memories, during both good times and bad for the field club. It’s where I first seen the greenest green I ever seen, where the futuristic (for me) train cars of the 7 line left us off, hand fully gripping my dad’s, where the World’s Fair was a neck crane away from the platform, and where guys named Ron Hunt, Roy McMillan, Tug McGraw, and Sandy Koufax were waiting just for me.
    In the 80’s, when I was old enough to afford a partial plan in the Loge and lucky enough to get in in ’84, the mood now at Citi may be similar to what I felt then – and that is a very good thing!
    Hopefully one of the less desirable side shows at Shea back then will not repeat itself at Citi and that is punks pummeling each other in the stands. Be cool, watch the game, and let a 9 year old build his/her own great memories without learning a new language. Let’s Go Mets!

  • […] But there those messages are, delivered brightly and confidently by Branden and Alexa on the 62% Larger Videoboard seemingly every other inning. And, all hard-earned common baseball sense notwithstanding, it doesn’t sound crazy in the context of the modern history of Citi Field. In the modern history of Citi Field, the Mets are a very good team. The Mets are a first-place team that doesn’t look fluky or transient sitting where they do, and the Mets fans — not just the stubbornly diehard but the ones whose heads were buried in texts or whose feet were planted in food lines only weeks ago — are fully absorbed. […]