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Shouted Down

Isn’t it nice when the Mets behave as we prefer them to? Pelfrey slick instead of sick; Beltran boasting upper body strength and no discernible knee problems; Reyes on the fly; Rodriguez setting off anxiety attacks but giving up no runs. We can accept all that and we can enjoy the results [1].

The atmosphere surrounding a series between our humble little engine that occasionally can and the last team to win the World Series, however, is another matter. It was unacceptable and it was wholly unenjoyable.

Where did all these San Francisco Giants fans come from all of a sudden? Out of the success-carved woodwork, one presumes. It happens. You take a team from a large metropolitan area, have them achieve a substantial victory, and let their followers — however long they’ve been followers — know their recently successful team is going to be in town, and what happens is what I witnessed first-hand at Citi Field Tuesday and Wednesday nights and what I could make out intermittently while watching/listening semi-committedly Thursday afternoon.

I saw a ton of orange and black without the saving grace of any blue, and I heard a torrent of “LET’S GO…” without its logical conclusion. It was wa-a-a-a-ay too San Franciscan in Flushing this week, right down to the chill wind blowing off the water.

When I say I’d like to see some Giant influence represented within our Ebbets Faux ballpark, this isn’t what I had in mind.

Too many modern-day fans were rooting for the modern-day Giants, who were the modern-day New York (N.L.) team’s opponents. It’s distasteful, but except for the proportion, it wasn’t tangibly worse than Phillies fans materializing by the multitude in 2009 or Cubs fans taking up an uncomfortable chunk of Shea’s seats in 2004. Those teams became happenings and our town has lots of people from other places (as well as unfortunate proximity to Pennsylvania). It’s also reminiscent of the oodles of star-fudgers who donned Cardinal red or Cub blue at Shea in the late ’90s because they had absolutely adored Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa ever since somebody told them to. Whereas any given Mets series used to attract a relative smidgen of the Other Team’s fans, I guess it’s become fashionable and fairly simple for every “Other” fan who wants in at a given series to get in.

(And it’s not like the mere presence of Mets fans by the Paysonload hasn’t annoyed hardcore patrons in Miami or Washington or Pittsburgh or Baltimore or, in days of yore, Philadelphia or Montreal.)

The sad part isn’t that Giants fans made more noise than Mets fans for three games. It’s that Giants fans felt they had more reason to make noise for three games — and that Mets fans are in such an ongoing funk that we tend to generate mostly the sounds of silence. Tuesday night, I overheard one excited younger Giants rooter innocently ask his companion, while the Mets were at bat in a very close game, “Why aren’t the Mets fans cheering? This is when their team needs their support.”

I don’t have a good answer for that guy, even as I agree with his premise. I mean, yeah, we’ve been beaten, battered, bruised, psychologically kicked in the mental nuts for the last bunch of seasons…we all know the litany. And I could throw in, as I have off and on since it was built, how Citi Field wasn’t designed to inspire organic fan enthusiasm for anything more than upscale eats. Though I still believe there’s something at odds between our ballpark’s legitimate appeal and the ideal of what a ballpark is actually for, I’m not going to blame Citi Field specifically for the shush factor that prevails at most Mets games.

We’re Mets fans. We know about behaving like Mets fans in the classic sense. We grew up with the Shea ethos and by now most of us have been reminded, courtesy of SNY’s Mets Yearbook series, of what that’s supposed to look like and sound like.

But we don’t look like that any more and we don’t sound like that anymore. Maybe, because of the miserable course of events that have suffocated our Metsian instincts, and because the amenities of post-Shea life distract us so, we just don’t have it in us anymore…or maybe we do, but it’s buried too deep down to instantly access in a late and close situation.

If we go to Citi Field and we don’t enjoy the sensation of the Other Team’s fans filling the silences with their excitement, we — as Mike Piazza puts it on the big screen during rare rallies — know what to do. Most of the time, there’s more of us than there are of them. Even this week, there were more of us than there were of them (though not by many and not by the ninth). So why don’t we outshout the opposition? Why don’t we have such a wall of sound going that it would never occur to them (whoever them may be) to challenge our vocal hegemony?

And why are there so many tickets available to them anyway?

’Cause we haven’t been buying what the Mets have been selling. We’re under no obligation to, of course. It’s a shame that we’re not running, mousing and clicking over each other to the box office, to mets.com, to StubHub, to whatever it would take to get a foot in the door. It’s a shame that the Mets in 2011 aren’t attracting us en masse like they did as recently as 2008. There’s a fistful of legitimate reasons — from tight money to lousy players — but it’s still a shame. On some level I love that I, as a diehard, can go when I want and sit, within reason, where I want and not have to stand in overly long lines (save one) but I’d rather be banging my head against the bricks that I can’t score a ticket for that big game, because I want there to be a big game and I want there to be filled sections and I want there to be more Mets fans than there are Mets seats.

There are more than 42,000 Mets fans, obviously. There are zillions of us out here as well as sometimes in there. Last-place team,  $19 parking, geometrically skewed sightlines once you get deep into the 520s…good reasons why zillions aren’t crowding into Citi Field. Believe me, comrades, I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anybody for not going to more games. You’re probably paying for cable, you might have bought a nice TV, you count up your kids and multiply the cost of what they’ll want if you take the plunge and go to a game…and then you consider it’s not such a great product at the moment.

I wish it were. I wish it were shoutworthy. I wish I shouted more. I don’t know what the average age of the “LET’S GO METS!” shouter was when it was going strong, but I’m sure it was younger than me now. Still, I try. I joined one of my neighbors last night in a desperation chant in the ninth as Brian Wilson secured a 2-0 lead that may as well have been 20-0. What’s the point of straining your throat if you don’t think you’re really helping? It’s cold, our team’s not good, we’re terribly outnumbered by now…“LET’S GO…” ah, whatever.

If it occurs to anybody that maybe they ought to start shouting, likely futility is a reasonable reason to draw the opposite conclusion. If, that is, you’re the kind of fan who does a cost-benefit analysis as you root. Maybe you are. To invest in a night at Citi Field, you kind of have to be the kind of fan who does a cost-benefit analysis.

One thing I’ve noticed the last few years, maybe even back to the end of Shea but definitely at Citi, is how hard these chants are to sustain through one lousy pitch. A Met gets on base, “LET’S GO METS!” gets on the DiamondVision, a plurality of the crowd gets going and, as the Other Team’s reliever goes into his motion, everybody stops. Not sure when a baseball game turned into the Masters. You’re shouting, and then you halt, presumably to see what happens, maybe because by MLB rule the video board can’t continue prompting you once the batter is in the box and by now a generation has grown up thinking you only rev up when an electronic image instructs you to.

It’s weird. It’s antithetical to Mets fan behavior as we knew it. We — and by we, I mean the we you see in those ’60s and ’70s and ’80s highlight films — were fine making it about us. We cheered because we were Mets fans and didn’t get too hung up on whether it was going to be effective where the final score was concerned. We made it about us. I find it ironic that in a society in which individuals are increasingly making everything about them, the segment of society that goes to Citi Field to ostensibly support the home team is hesitant or reluctant or oblivious when it comes to a big, showy display of what “we” stand for.

Dance cam? Kiss cam? Pizza box cam? Green eggs and cam? At somebody else’s direction, in short spurts, the Mets fan can be as demonstrative as possible. Left to our own devices, figuratively and literally, we seem to want to be left alone. We’re still Mets fans. We’re still dwelling on what’s wrong with our team and what it would take to make our team right again, but it generally doesn’t occur to us to express it spontaneously, loudly and — should such expression gain a scintilla of momentum — in unison. It’s just not what we do anymore.

When I first saw and heard the San Francisco fans making a collective spectacle of themselves, I was surprised at how they overshadowed us. After experiencing it up close and from a distance for a few days, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen every series against every Other Team.