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As Time Goes By

“Everything changed” after September 11, 2001. No need to delve deeply into the litany of all that implies. But to keep it relatively light, has “everything changed” when it comes to going to a Mets game?

I mean once you endure security’s dutiful searches, wandings and pat-downs…and salute the Veteran of the Game…and are asked a second time, if it’s Sunday, to remove your cap for “God Bless America”…and notice that red, white and blue ribbon on the old Shea scoreboard skyline and how the bulbs on two of the buildings remain permanently unlit.

Taking that kind of stuff into account, has everything changed Metwise?

Given what we’ve known for ten years as of tomorrow, those aren’t particularly subtle alterations to the routine of going to a Mets game, and on some level, they and anything else that hints at what went on in New York a decade ago always gets my attention. It reminds me I no longer live in a time when…

• I can walk straight to my gate without pause if I choose;

• “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Lazy Mary” constitute the entire seventh-inning stretch repertoire on any given Sunday or other day;

• ballpark allusions to “veterans” refer primarily to the likes of Lenny Harris;

• and all the lights glow atop that scoreboard skyline.

The awareness that 9/11 happened never fully leaves you at a Mets game, but why should it? It never fully leaves you as a person. The sadness never fully leaves you. Chances are it never will. Think about it too long, and you wonder about Mets fans who went to plenty of games before 9/11 but never again had the chance to do something they no doubt assumed they’d be doing for years to come.

But like I said, I want to keep it as light as possible here. You’ll get all the heavy you can handle by the time Sunday’s over. So excuse me if I skip over the graver, weightier issues inherent in “everything changed.” I’m thinking only in terms of Mets games, as that is what we do in this space if we can help it.

A Mets game, I’m happy to report, is still a Mets game in that way that a Kiss Cam is still a Kiss Cam and a Cy Young is still a Cy Young. It’s not really a fundamentally different experience than it used to be ten or more years ago.

Sure, Shea became Citi, and balls down the line became harder to track, and ticket prices cried out for readjustment, and people didn’t necessarily follow every pitch even if they could see them…but we knew that already. One same old story at a time, please. I’m just talking about some variation on the recurring sentiment that It’s Friday night, it’s six o’clock, I gotta get going ’cause I’m meeting my friend at the Mets game.

You can still do that.

I did that last night, the way I did almost precisely ten years ago. As America prepares to remember (as if it could forget) September 11, 2001, on September 11, 2011, I was reminded of September 1, 2001, on September 9, 2011. 9/1/01, if you will, was the last game I attended at Shea before, you know, “everything changed”. It was a Saturday night with my friend Joe, who was, even then, one of my steadiest Mets companions. We had known each other and been going to Mets games for more than a decade to that point. It’s a decade later and here we are, Joe and I, still going to Mets games.

Did “everything change”? Quite the contrary, I’d say. Mostly, nothing changed.

There are still people in your section you wish would shut up or at least lower their volume.

There’s still too much crap on the video screen between innings (though you’ll never, ever, ever see another animated “airplane race”).

There are still lulls in the action whose pace you dearly wish would pick up already.

There are dratted bottoms of innings that end too quickly.

There are dreaded tops of innings that drag on endlessly.

There are still reasons for Joe and I to hiss not altogether good-naturedly at schools of Marlins, flocks of Cardinals or packs of Cubs. If we’re really hissed off, we’ll take out our frustrations on whichever Metropolitan we deem most culpable.

But — and you knew there had to be a but — there are also people in your section who make the night more entertaining without realizing it (like the round, boisterous woman who kept advising Pelfrey when Cubs were on base, “TAKE YOUR TIME! HE AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE!”). And occasionally the PA announcer surprises you delightfully (by telling you, for instance, that John Olerud is not just the answer to our trivia question but he’s right here at Citi Field…and we applaud heartily). As for those lulls, those really aren’t so bad. They let you fill in literal and figurative blanks, depending on whether you’re keeping score or just catching up.

Best of all, there are some tops of innings that couldn’t go much faster and there is the occasional bottom of an inning that lasts the perfect length. When you get one of the latter late, as we did in the ninth on 9/9/11 or in the eleventh on 9/1/01, and it ends with an RBI double delivered by a likable reserve with the initials J.T. (Justin Turner now, Jorge Toca then), well, that’s what you came for, isn’t it? You came to obtain the small thrill you ideally associate with your obsession of choice. You got a Mets game that, with one fortuitous swing, turned into a Mets win [1]. It’s a soothing, satisfying, stimulating sensation writ a bit more large because you were there to see it, hear it and feel it.

So you let out a roar of approval.

And you high-five your friend.

And you concur with your temporary neighbors — acquaintances with whom you will probably never cross paths again — that this was a fine thing we witnessed together.

And we all scurry off toward home or wherever a little happier than we were when we came in. Maybe a lot happier if the game was that good or the standings are that amenable.

Joe and I are old shoes after knowing each other since 1990, especially when it comes to the Mets. Our steps to, at, and from the ballpark —whatever context the season provides, whatever circumstances the outside world inflicts on the periphery of our chosen obsession — are as sure as can be. We know what we’re doing at Citi Field, just as we knew what we were doing at Shea Stadium. We like it when it works as well as it did on Friday night. We’re not put off by it when it’s not nearly as good. We’ve got a cherished familiarity in progress: as fans, as friends, as guys who go to Mets games.

That’s the familiar part. As for what’s not necessarily the same as it ever was, we’re significantly older than we used to be (that’ll happen if you’re lucky). We’re each more mellow or perhaps just a little less intense than the guys who went to these games in the suddenly distant past. And, of course, we go through security; and we applaud those who’ve served our country; and we stand a little extra longer on Sundays. Yeah, things have changed since we went to that last pre-September 11 Mets game [2] in 2001.

But not that much.