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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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49,383's A Crowd

In one of the scoops of the winter, Ben Shpigel noted in the Times last week that the Mets want to sell a lot of tickets in 2007. I also hear they’d like to win as many games as possible.

To be fair (even if it’s not as much fun), Shpigel’s angle was the Mets’ push to set new and ridiculous attendance records this year. If you didn’t notice, we wound up contributing to 3,379,535 tickets sold in 2006, by far the best gate in Mets history. On average, we sat 43,327 strong at Shea per every date — 78 of them, thanks to three doubleheaders — of the regular season. Or at least we intended to.

It’s a little misleading to compare attendance figures from before and after 1993, and not just because 1993 marked a presumable increase in Mets fan suicide attempts. That was the year the National League adopted the American League policy of reporting paid attendance based more on the paid — how many seats were sold for the game — than the attendance — how many were filled.

There can be a dramatic difference between the two. In 1984, the Cal Griffith Twins were making googly eyes toward Tampa-St. Pete, hoping to desert one depressing dome for another that was on the drawing board. Minnesota had an escape clause based on paid attendance. If it fell below a certain figure, they could adios the Twin Cities and head for the theoretically more receptive climes of the Bay Area. To preserve the dormant pride of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Metrodome suddenly began selling out, though it wasn’t a surge among the common folk that turned the trick. Business interests, led by that Pohlad fellow who eventually bought the team, snapped up all extant tickets one day to make a statement of support. I can still see the wire-service photo of a nearly empty Metrodome whose announced attendance that afternoon neared 52,000.

We haven’t experienced quite that vivid a dichotomy between ducats and the fannies that account for them, yet there’s almost always some disparity at play. I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating the Shea house over the years and I’ve learned to pad my guess upwards a few thousand over appearances because I know looks are officially deceiving. On the quiet Monday night we set the current record, the paid attendance was 34,027…yeah, only if each Fandini distributed was counted as a person. Still, having sat through some dismal seasons amid some sparse crowds, it’s nice knowing you’re pretty much guaranteed substantial company at Mets games these days. It’s indicative of the overall success of the franchise and the mass response to it. You’ll take a 2006 over a 1993 any day in 81.

How much company does one really need, though? Shpigel’s article said the Mets are targeting 3.5 million in 2007, with the author suggesting 4 million isn’t completely out of the question. It would take 49,383 tickets sold for 81 home dates (no rainouts, no twofers) to reach this previously unreachable star.

Keep your feet on the ground, I say. I don’t want to be part of 4 million. 3,379,535’s good company. Four million is a crowd.

Attendance is going to be a tricky issue for the next few seasons. The Mets will draw in 2007 because of their momentum from 2006. They’ll draw in 2008 because it will be the last year of Shea. They’ll draw in 2009 because it will be the first year of Citi Field and, assuming the place isn’t an artistic disaster and they themselves don’t completely go in the tank, they’ll draw very nicely into the early 2010s.

Without so much as a Post-It to warn us, the days of walk right in, sit right down and put your feet right up are over. Showing up at Shea is no longer synonymous with spreading out and kicking back. The nights when you could lean any which way you chose and chat with your neighbor and have your run of the concessions to say nothing of your choice of Leon Hess Memorial Urinal probably ended in 2005. Unless you’re going to rough it on one of those Arctic April nights when the paid attendance is more a ghost story than a trustworthy statistic, you’re going to be sardining away your remaining days at Shea.

Better to be uncomfortable for a contender than at ease amid ineptitude. We’ve each and every one of us spent far too many years of our lives as the oddball Mets fan in any given situation to not welcome the critical mass we’ve gathered and figure to maintain for a few years. Yet as the Shea calendar prepares its inevitable tearaway from 162 to 0, I’ve been looking forward to at least a few more nights as I remember them. Not 1979/1993 remember them, but just, I dunno, normal. Gimme a humming crowd of 25,000, 30,000 on a weeknight, maybe 40,000 on a Sunday. Gimme people on each level but don’t necessarily cram us in until we figuratively can’t breathe. Gimme a playoff atmosphere fairly often (gimme playoffs for sure) but gimme a mellow afternoon and a slow 7:10 once in a while. And for those who (or whose corporations) buy the good tickets but don’t use ’em, gimme your tickets.

It’s a quality-of-life issue, albeit a nuanced one. I don’t want the Mets to slide back so far on the field that empty orange acres dominate the SNY tableau. Mets games seemed filled last year with Mets fans mostly, not cultists for out-of-town one-trick ponies or area victims of front-runneritis. If the Mets are going to continue to be as good as they were in 2006 and make Mets fans happy, then oh yeah, I want us all to share in the good times.

But I’m going to miss the manageable evening out, the row that isn’t filled butt to gut, the late decision to meet and buy something decent in the mezzanine. Regular ol’ single-game tickets have yet to go on sale and the Mets are already implementing postseason-like registration for their platinum affairs, Opening Day and the Subway Series. Register for a chance to buy a ticket. Not a ticket, but a chance.

And this is Shea. Citi Field will be a whole other dealio. Current capacity is more or less 56,000 (seems to narrow and widen at will if you check the agate at the bottom of the boxscores). The future — here sooner than we can imagine — will give us a far smaller playpen in which to fight it out for seats. lists Citi’s projected capacity at about 45,000 including standing room.

Standing room? Welcome to the new new New York Mets, indeed. Three years ago, in the largest market in the National League with what was by then the biggest ballpark in the National League, the Mets ranked 11th out of 16 franchises in attendance. Now we’re going to be sold the privilege to stand and deliver. That’s progress.

Of course those gym spots will look pretty good when seated attendance tops out in the 42,000s.

Small is beautiful when it comes to ballparks. That’s been the retro rule since Camden Yards. Nobody liked 65,000-seat monstrosities like the Vet. Almost everybody loves Fenway and Wrigley.

Has anybody bothered to ask, though, why retro parks are called that? They’re throwbacks to the early part of the 20th century when the stadiums were smaller because the crowds were smaller. Attendance records get set these days because more people show up, especially when a club is at the top of its game. In last-place 2003, 42,000 seats available for a Mets game would have meant plenty of good seats were generally still available when the first pitch was thrown. Per-game attendance was 26,757 for a terrible team. Despite every logical instinct to the contrary, that was about the average attendance in 1969 for a great team. (In those days, however, you had “total attendance” and “paid attendance” announced, which would explain everybody’s insistence that there were more than 59,000 on hand for Tom Seaver’s imperfect game yet a shade under 51,000 in the fine print; you also didn’t have the tickets sold factored in, though who the hell would have a ticket for the 1969 Mets and not use it?)

Used to be a million a year was splendid, two million astounding. But now? A million a year gets you practically contracted. Expectations everywhere have ratcheted skyward, especially here. 41,723 X 81 at Shea last year when pennant race suspense was minimal. 43,210 X 81 this year for the 3.5 million projection to be hit (with the Mets squeezing every bit of ticket-package revenue out of their fans before putting the bulk of singles on sale, it will probably be exceeded). We will likely have more than an entire Citi Field’s worth inside Shea every date in ’08 given the goodbye impulse.

Then we shrink. Citi Field will be a veritable boutique at the very moment the Mets have shed their boutique brand equity. It may be ideal aesthetically, especially after one too many Mount McKinley climbs up Shea’s highest deck, but it will be de facto exclusionary. The only way tickets will be readily available is if the Mets are readily terrible. And none of us wants that. We want it to be so crowded that everybody goes there yet not so crowded that we can’t.

One can easily contradict himself in terms of what one wants out of all this. A good team. A jumping joint. A big crowd. But not too big. And don’t jump too much. But don’t suck. And give me a nice ballpark. But give me a place in it. And don’t take away one of the things I took for granted about the old ballpark, its size and general accessibility in terms of admission. Except I always thought it was too big. And all those empty seats were a rather glum sight. But reassuring in their way, for come the day we contend, they’ll be filled. We’ll have a good team. A jumping joint. A big crowd.

And plenty of parking.

Need to warm up on a cold night? If you haven’t seen Wednesday’s Daily News, go to their site and read Christian Red’s dynamite reporting from the Dominican Republic on Pedro Martinez’s rotator cuff rehab. It’s a great and encouraging story on the most charismatic personality this team has ever seen. Shea, Citi, a patch of dirt on a highway median…I’d buy a ticket to watch Pedro pitch anywhere right now, temperature be damned.

13 comments to 49,383’s A Crowd

  • Anonymous

    Oh GOD, isn't it April YET???? If not for the Caribbean World Series, I'd be climbing the walls.
    The offseason is just TOO LONG. But wasn't it great to see Pedro's smiling face today? It was suddenly springtime!

  • Anonymous

    About that parking……most of the parking lot has been taken over by CitiCranes and CitiEarthMovers. Where on earth are we going to put 4 million people on their way to Shea this year? The #7 platform is already a nightmare of orange and blue squashing bodies during the busier games. Maybe I'll just drive to Corona Park's zoo and walk from there.

  • Anonymous

    Per-game attendance was 26,757 for a terrible team. Despite every logical instinct to the contrary, that was about the average attendance in 1969 for a great team (in those days, however, you had “total attendance” and “paid attendance” announced, which would explain everybody's insistence that there were more than 59,000 on hand for Tom Seaver's imperfect game yet a shade under 51,000 in the fine print”).
    Hi Greg,
    How things change.
    With today's ticket prices (which cause a family of four to take out a loan in order to attend a game) season attendance under 2 million paid is considered poor. Yet, in 1969, when ticket prices were much more affordable, the Mets finished second in season attendance but (as you point out) failed to reach the two million mark.
    At that time, the season attendance record of just under 2.8 million belonged to the Dodgers, set in 1962 when Dodger Stadium first opened. The only way to see the Dodgers was to go to Chavez Ravine – home games were not televised (Dodger cable broadcasts only started in 1964) and with maybe one doubleheader on the schedule O'Malley's team still only played in front of an average of 35,000 per game (maybe 8,000 more than the 2003 Mets). If one catches the box score, only 44,000 showed up for the final playoff game that year.
    While the paid attendence was about 51,000 for Tom's near-perfecto, it was also a promotional coupon night (present a certain amount of coupons clipped from Borden's milk cartons and get in for free). So even though all but 4,000 available tickets were sold the Mets had to honor guaranteed entrance to the first 5,000 showing up with Borden's coupons along with service men who also got complimentary tickets. That accounts for the more than 59,000 squeezed into Shea. The “black cat” game against Chicago was also a coupon night so there was a total attendance just under 49,000 with only 44,000 paying their way in (rain kept the overall attendance down).
    If coupon promotions existed today they would probably appear on cans of Rheingold and anyone able to cut them off without bleeding to death would be deserving of free admission.

  • Anonymous

    I keep harping on this because nobody else seems to talk about it. But take a look at the renderings for Citi and you'll see the story is even worse than the gross numbers indicate: Not only will there be a lot fewer seats, but a higher percentage of them will be BAD seats, way out beyond the outfield walls and unprotected from sun or rain.
    Sure, the good seats will be much better than the current Shea, closer to the action and with fine sight lines. But those are the ones you and I will never be able to get hold of or afford.
    For the ordinary fan, the CitiField experience is likely to be a substantial DOWNGRADE from Shea, where now we can at least hope to get a decent pair in the mezzanine on a weeknight, above the infield and out of the drizzle. In the back of the bleachers, you are even further from the action than you would be in the low-number sections of the Shea upper deck, with even less chance to see for yourself what a pitcher's stuff is like or follow plays as they develop. A pretty, “retro” building and nicer concessions and bathrooms hardly compensate for having to pay scarcity-inflated prices to squint at uniformed ants way off in the distance with their backs to you, doing Casey knows what.
    I hope I turn out to be wrong, but from the looks of things, Citifield will be Suckyfield for altogether too much of the crowd, namely you and me.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone I know has been excoriating the Mets from the day the Citifield seating capacity was announced. The artificial scarcity will indeed drive up prices, and the real fan will be shut out while “brokers” make a fortune. This is a terrible decision they've made.
    I am fortunate to have a business associate with spectacular sason tickets, about the eighth row behind the plate, and he invites me out a couple of times a year. It kills me that every game, the five rows of cushy blue seats they crammed in front of him several years ago and sold to big-ticket corporations are almost completely empty. The utterly worthless ushers swoop down on anyone who tries to improve their lot, even late in the game when it's patently obvious the ticketholder isn't showing up. People can stand in the aisles for innings on end, swear, throw stuff and otherwise make your outing unpleasant with no interference, but if two teenagers sit in these empty seats in the eighth inning these jimholes are on them before the next pitch. It sucks that these tickets weren't offered for sale to real fans like my friend, and it sucks that they sit empty 75 games a year. But who ever thought for a minute that owners cared about fans?

  • Anonymous

    Actually, the beat will simply go on because even now the average Met fan is unable to get really good seats except for those evening games played in the cold month of April. Other than the upper deck, the choice of infield seats are those in the back rows of the loge and mezzanine or front rows and boxes near the foul poles.
    While overhangs offer protection from rain the architectural design cuts off some viewing of high fly balls for those sitting toward the back (not even the message board can be seen in the last two rows).
    I think the upper deck at Citi will be just as far away from the field as the current mezzanine seats are at Shea. There are no overhangs so each level is actually behind the other instead of partly over it. I suspect this will also place seats behind home plate further away from the field than Shea's mezzanine since this area is the closest point to the field as far as length is concerned.
    While Citi will be beautiful to look at, we will also be deprived of the spectacular view of Queens and Long Island lit up at night since it will be blocked by the multi-level bleachers and scoreboard.

  • Anonymous

    Scary good memory, Joe. Thanks for the detail.

  • Anonymous

    “The baseball intelligence of a given fan is in inverse proportion to the price paid for the ticket.” — Bill Veeck, the last owner who actually did care about the fans.

  • Anonymous

    In which case, save for a few value dates, we're all nimrods.

  • Anonymous

    But if we have to be nimrods, at least we're MET nimrods!

  • Anonymous

    Best slogan since The Magic Is Back.

  • Anonymous

    Been to many of the new retro ballparks and have managed, often in the first year or two of operation, to get pretty decent seats. Not behind home plate or anything but not out in the Ohio river either. Of course those were generally special trips, planned in advance and I wasn't too concerned with ticket price as it would likely be the only time I'd see the place. Also, these are smaller markets where the team may or may not have been a hot item, so who knows if it's comparable to Citi.
    We're probably in for some novelty years and higher demand than supply and, as one of the Anonymii pointed out, some less than choice locations. I'm hoping it will ease up at some point (though not at the expense of winning baseball) and that the new normal isn't altogether prohibitive in terms of price and seat location.

  • Anonymous

    I was sort of partial to “Bring Your Psychos to See Our Psychos.”