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See Ya Later, Escalator

According to the 1964 Mets yearbook, spectators at brand new William A. Shea Stadium may reach their seats by 21 escalators, designed to carry 56,000 persons an hour.

Those were the days.

With a night to sleep on the glorious Home Opener — the eighth I’ve been to and the eighth we’ve won, so no complaints, not really — my thoughts aren’t primarily focused on:

* the slick glovework of our infield;
* the newly patented Willieball that earned us our runs in bunches;
* the wriggling out of a critical bases-loaded jam by GlavineĀ (with the help of an amenable strike zone, but he was owed one after last week);
* the restoring of order by the hot-handed Roberto Hernandez;
* the return to reasonable form by Looper;
* or the triumph over my least favorite non-Braves, non-Yankees opponent on the one-year anniversary of the Astros falling into such disreputable company…and I do mean disreputable company.

All those developments were great and it’s all reflected in 2005’s first Log recording, where it is noted for the ages that the all-time record has ticked up to 158-125 and that “I’m” 11-9 against Houston where once “I” was 4-8.

Don’t get me wrong. First day at the ballpark, a win, sunshine…it’s all what my dad would call good stuff. Good, good stuff.

But I can’t get past the idea that 190 days since the place was last needed for anything remotely public, the escalators weren’t working.

Laurie and I (we went in on a six-pack) entered at Gate E and turned right. The moving stairs wouldn’t budge. Fine. So we turned left and escalated up to the Loge. Then we turned to the next escalator. And it was motionless. So we walked/trudged up to the Mezzanine. Despite a fairly slothful winter, it wasn’t a hardship. I was more concerned for the guy with the cane who got on at Field Level assuming he could ride his way to his seat. He, with the help of a companion, struggled along, determined to beat Shea at its own inert game.

What the fudge? Shea Stadium hasn’t needed to run its escalators since October 3. Wouldn’tcha think they’d make sure they’re still working? Or was somebody in the escalator guild not (ahem) taken care of? One escalator is bad luck. Two escalators are a trend. And this was just between Gates D and E. Goodness knows what was going on elsewhere in the building. I know they made a lame excuse for Clemens not being on hand to take his medicine during the introductions, but he could very well have been wandering the Upper Deck, so for once and only once, I’ll excuse his pusillanimous nature.

Given the escalators’ convincing impression of steps, I wasn’t terribly surprised when the batter’s eye blinked and kept the sixth from starting for fourteen minutes. Really, the delay (which apparently threw Pettitte off his timing, so let’s have more delays) felt like justice considering how inundated one is with commercial messages everywhere one looks at Shea. I mean even more than last year if that’s possible. A few weeks ago, the Mets put outĀ a smiley press release [1] about these great new “digital media displays” that were going to transform the game-going experience. What a treat!

I read and reread the release, looking for the slightest nugget that would suggest that all this high-tech wizardry would be put to the use of keeping fans up-to-date on the game they’re missing while they’re away from their gold-tier seats. No? How about providing streaming action from other games? No. All we get is the privilege of seeing more commercials.

That they would do this isn’t surprising. That they’d trumpet this as a big favor to their paying customers, well, that’s Wilponnery for ya. Gotta pay CB somehow.

In the top of the eighth, while the Astros were threatening, I dashed to the men’s room, which is to say I dashed to a men’s room line. As I did, I heard one of those discouraging group OOOHHHs that meant Diaz was diving and missing Jason Lane’s game-tying triple. Slow to plug myself into my tiny radio, I looked for an explanation of the mass moan. No monitors behind any concessions. No helpful tickers. Those new displays? I think I noticed some of Sunday’s NBA scores flashing by.

On my first trip to Camden Yards eleven years ago, I was delighted to have the play-by-play follow me into the men’s room. It was so simple that it was brilliant: beam the WBAL broadcast everywhere the fans might be. They’ve got something at least as great at Turner Field: a bank of monitors showing every game in the Majors (for those fans who don’t want to watch the Braves, a sizable minority at any one of their affairs).

We, in the media capital of the world, get nothing.

Did I really expect any different after these now 33 seasons of attending Shea Stadium willingly and enthusiastically but with expectations hammered down by experience and comparison-shopping? We as a fan base are so easy because most of us think Shea Stadium is what a ballpark is supposed to be given that it is, as a rule, all we know. Shoot, I’ve been to 28 Major League venues and I think that way. Despite being dazzled by Camden Yards and Pac Bell and PNC Park and their gleaming brethren, until yesterday I’ve always been willing to defend Shea to the death.

Which would be a good place to defend it to at this point.

In 1964, on the occasion of the opening of Shea Stadium, Casey Stengel declared it “lovely, just lovely. The park is lovelier than my team.” Forty-two seasons in, I’m glad at least one of those two is on the upswing. Still, I see no reason we can’t have good baseball and a wonderful place to watch it.

Be it ever so crumble (and a piece of it did fall on me in May of ’99), there’s no place like home. But we need a new one. Need. Not municipal-dollars need, but privately funded and quickly erected. My “yeah, it’s a hole, but it’s our hole” rationale has crumbled, too. The Sheaness of Shea just filters to everything about the place.

They can’t run an escalator, they can’t mark their advance ticket windows properly, they can’t sell a yearbook without a ten-minute wait, they can’t offer the Nathan’s franks and the Nathan’s fries at the same tortoiselike concession, they can’t direct pedestrian traffic to the same subway entrances that have been in the same locations for almost half a century. No wonder every idiot with an inkling tanks up and shouts out every dimwitted, insipid thought that crosses his mind as if he’s in his living room. There has to be an implicit bargain: “The place is a sty, so I have carte blanche to act like a pig.”

I’m not campaigning for gentrification over Gentryfication. I love all the beautiful, authentic memories Shea has generated. Plus, there’ll be louts no matter how sleek the sightlines, no matter how fresh the sushi, now matter how attractive the hypothetical demographics. But considering Shea is already charging Citizens Bank Park prices for a Connie Mack Stadium presentation, I’ve finally come around to completely wanting to exchange this place for something better.

Granted, Opening Day always attracts a certain strain of wanna-be derelict. You know the type. He wears shorts when it’s a windy and barely 51, thus he warms up by laying down six-seven bucks per cup of beer and another cup of beer and another cup of beer and so on and so on. (If it wasn’t the weather, it would be something else.) Shea in its current disarray just seems to breed that kind of drinking and the aggressively unpleasant behavior associated with it. It certainly does zero to discourage it.

To name just one fan caught in the crossfire, my diminutive pal Laurie, whose money should be just as good as any other fan’s and thus entitle her to a decent day’s showing, had to put up with a dizzying rotation of swinging elbows, oblivious asses and astoundingly drunken stupid language from the moron on her right (for the record, I was the moron on her left). She was hardly the only one, just the only one whose name I know.

Not to get all Mushnick over this, but there were children in our section as there were presumably in every section. There were mothers. There were fathers. There were men and women who no doubt looked forward to this afternoon all winter. They had to take time off from work. They had to dig deep to pay for the honor. This is what they deserve? To cringe between and during pitches? Do you think a single usher or fan-ambassador or whatever they call them showed his or her face once the binge-drinking showed itself in earnest? (Seeing as how the pre-game imbibing probably commenced at dawn, the answer is no.)

Parts of it were fun, I’ll acknowledge, though ear-splitting, obnoxious-drunkenness didn’t make it so. I was happy to see a guy in a Braves uniform top — Maddux’s name on the back — singled out for mocking. Was even happier that a dude in a 2001 Chuck Knoblauch jersey and distasteful NY cap was jeered mercilessly and continuously for half an inning. And the stone favorite for taunt of the year was delivered early to Pettitte: “YOU SUCK AT BASEBALL!”

When we get our new ballpark, we’ll take that one with us. That and our flags and a few other doodads and the warmth of all the decades that made Shea Shea in the best sense of the place, including the 2005 Home Opener win. But the rest they can keep.