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Nice Day*

Sunday was Father’s Day. My kid woke me up with a card he’d made. It showed us in the stands, with the figure in green with a mitt on one hand and a ball descending toward the two figures’ outstretched arms. The card read HOME RUN! Pretty nice way to start the day.

We got to the park early because it was Keith Hernandez Bobblehead Day. Tons of dads and kids — young kids, older kids, former kids. Lots of moms too. The crowd was generally agreeable from the get-go — Mets gear of all eras, including doofy ballpark-only variants, a sprinkling of mild-mannered, well-behaved Reds fans in pinstripes and snow whites and t-shirts (but weirdly no solid red togs), the occasional outlier in a Pirates or Giants or even a Yankees hats. Cyclones gear spotted here and there. (Monday’s Opening Day!) A Brooklyn Dodger hat now and again. New York baseball garb on parade, in other words. Nice to see.

We went in the bullpen gate, which I’ve decided (provisionally) is the new go-to Citi Field entrance. No line, plenty of bobbleheads. Very different than, say, the magnetic-schedule disaster [1] of Opening Day. Nice start.

The Keith Hernandez bobblehead, in truth, looks kind of like Howard Johnson with a longer, vaguely Keithish nose. And the arm fell off Joshua’s after minimal nine-year-old poking and prodding. But it was well-packaged, the uniform is faithfully rendered, and Keith’s promo bobbling his own head made me laugh every time I saw it for a good week or so. Not perfect there, but pretty nice.

The Verano line was too long, but the Box Frites wait was tolerable. Joshua got two Frites Dogs — if you haven’t had them, I’d rank them well above Nathan’s in terms of quality, if not tradition. I got the sweet potato fries with some kind of deplorably addictive bacon sauce. And the summer shandy rules. To be honest, the speed, friendliness and competence at the various Citi Field eateries has slipped to a worrisome extent since a good start back in 2009 — but the guy behind the Box Frites counter was super-helpful, fast and friendly, ending by wishing me a happy Father’s Day. Thanks, man — that was nice.

We got to our seats after a batter or two. The fans around us were fine — which was a relief, since these were seats usually used by Emily and her Dad, and they’re often thick with visiting fans. Didn’t matter for the Reds; can be really annoying with the Phillies; I don’t even want to think about what a Yankee game would be like there. The woman in front of us, in fact, was the kindest neighboring fan I’ve ever seen at Citi Field. She switched seats with her husband because she was concerned Joshua couldn’t see over her. Then a guy farther down the row accidentally dropped ice cream on the elbows of a guy and girl in the row in front of him, walking on in ignorance of what he’d done, and she fished around and found napkins for them. Next time I’m stuck in front of Braying Drunken Guys Who Want to Fight, or next to Terminally Bored Girls Who Are Going to Go to the Bathroom Again or Walk Around or Something, or behind Angry Man Who’s Had It With These Millionaire Ballplayers Not Hitting Home Runs Every Time, I will remember today’s fan and remind myself that the Republic is not, in fact, on a one-way express elevator ride straight to hell. She was amazingly nice.

Joshua and I had a good time chatting about the ballgame. We analyzed Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s epic, smart, ultimately disappointing battle with Johnny Cueto. We marveled at the fact that Cueto could look good so early and then manage to walk a pitcher who’s nearly seven feet tall. We talked about Chris Young and why he might be hard to hit. We talked about prospects and hopes and how those hopes may or may not turn into reality. We cheered David Wright’s diving catch and Daniel Murphy’s nice over-the-shoulder grab and hurried throw home and Josh Thole’s interception of a bunt attempt. We noted that Lucas Duda in motion looks remarkably like his Bunyanesque video-game self. I told him that yes, David Wright’s dad really was named “Rhon.” Very nice.

We were in the shade, and actually got pretty cold. So we decided to find some other vantage points for the last few innings. We hit the Promenade for some chocolate ice cream, watching Young and the Mets on the big screen up there and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” together. Then we saw the last couple of innings from atop the Pepsi Porch. I think the Pepsi Porch might be my favorite non-premium place [2] at Citi to see a game. I love the angle, though I’m still adjusting a bit to a view that didn’t exist at Shea. While I implored the Mets to do something, Joshua scuffed around in the standing-room areas under the watchful but not overly censorious eye of a young usher. He was nice. The Pepsi Porch is nice too.

Surveying the pigeons waddling across the field, we discussed what would happen if one of them got hit by a ball. I told Joshua that had really happened, and sent mild imprecations in the way of Dion James [3], whereever he might be. The fan standing next to us brought up Randy Johnson and the HBP that put a dove on the infinite DL. Dave Winfield and the seagull never came up. We missed the squirrel, though I suspect Dusty Baker [4] sent his young pitchers up the tunnel for four-hour stretches to try and corral it. Young arms are strong and elastic; no point babying them. After the game, Wright remarked that it had been like a petting zoo out there. Nice quote.

For the ninth, we exited the bullpen gate and got on the line for the Mr. Met Dash. It was long, but everyone was friendly — the Dad next to me told Joshua about seeing a young Dwight Gooden, and the tomato plants in the Shea bullpen, and other bits of Mets history that are part of a kid’s education. After 20 minutes or so the line began to move, policed by maroon-clad Citi security guys. They were great —¬†genuinely friendly, instead of freaking out about brief breakaways to take pictures or overly excited kids trying to kick up chalk on the foul line or Dads gawking, or acting like the extra event was a huge imposition. Joshua ran the bases, slapped hands with a guy in a Mario suit (Nintendo World was sponsoring the run or something), and proclaimed it good. I didn’t run the bases, but I did get to walk on the warning track at Citi Field and see everything up-close. I’ve been lucky enough to do that a few times; I will always think that it’s pretty nice.

After exiting the Stengel gate, I quizzed the kid on the identity of the Mets adorning the exterior walls. He needs a little work on the ’69 team, but got Gooden and Carter and Piazza right away. And he noted that surely the walk will soon have a big black commemorative square for Johan Santana and his no-hitter [5]. Good point, and nice job, kid.

The 7 train came right away and whisked us home, to where Mom was waiting and the time was getting to be just about right for Sunday grilling and eating in the backyard. Always nice.

* Whatever was going on down there on the field wasn’t particularly nice [6] — it was alternately boring and annoying and frustrating, as it’s been since the Mets left St. Petersburg. But one good thing about baseball is you can be in junky seats surrounded by more than your share of annoying fans and be irritated with the ushers and uninspired by the food and a great game can redeem it all. Another good thing about baseball is that a crummy, forgettable game can be redeemed by sunny skies and nice folks and a good hot dog and talking about your favorite team with someone you love. Can’t have everything, but all in all, very nice.