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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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Nobody Goes There Anymore (But I Do)

When they opened it in 2009, the Mets of Fred and Jeff Wilpon dedicated themselves to convincing potential patrons that Citi Field would present a premium ballpark experience because it would grant those with the right kind of ticket access to exclusive clubs. That first year, very specific castes were established in terms of who could go to what club. For example, Jason and I discovered during a rain delay in the initial Mets-Red Sox exhibition game designed to test-drive the spanking new facility that although our seats were in Field Level — closest to the field and therefore traditionally the hoity-toitiest of locations — we were not allowed to enter clubs on the Excelsior or Promenade levels. We just wanted to get dry. We were told to get lost.

The next year, the Mets broadened access to their enclaves. For example, if you had a Field Level ticket, even all the way in the outfield, you could slip into the Caesars. At some point, I heard purchasing a ticket plan would be enough to usher you in from out of the cold, heat or whatever you couldn’t take any more from watching Mike Pelfrey and Manny Acosta. The only ticket that entitled you to nothing but a seat and a license to walk the concourses was plain ol’ Promenade, the spiritual successor to Upper Deck at Shea.

Well, the Mets’ classist plans backfired on two counts. For one, judging by physical as opposed to imagined attendance, nobody seems attracted to Citi Field by the promise of clubs, clubs and more clubs. (Nobody seems attracted by anything, but five going on six consecutive losing seasons will curb appetites across the board.) When I have a ticket that says I am privileged enough to deserve to go into one, I might make a cameo for climate or convenience reasons, but I’m not inside the Acela or Delta or whatever the one you run smack into as you escalate up from the Rotunda is called this week cutting deals and networking away. If they were generally accessible, I might think to stop by and see what’s for supper. But they’re not, so I usually skip around them, preferring to see the field.

The other count the Mets didn’t count on is that you can’t get more exclusive than a September evening in relatively low-rent Promenade. It’s so uncrowded in Citi Field’s highest tank that I can assure you nobody goes there anymore.

And if that’s not exclusive, I don’t know what is.

I spent the bulk of Tuesday night in what I shall refer to as Club 518. It is exclusively located between Clubs 517 and 519. To get in, you have to show uncommon interest in the actions of the New York Mets as they play out their season. That and maybe go on StubHub and lay out $6.99 as I did.

Club 518 doesn’t allow just anybody in. Maybe it does, but who can tell? At its fullest on Tuesday, this 306-seat section just to the third base side of home plate hosted 13 of us. When somebody would go to get a beer, the population dipped perceptibly. The quiet, however, rarely varied.

So consider me a member of the 4.3%, named in honor of the portion of seats that were filled somewhere between innings one and nine. I doubt we would have checked ID if somebody else wanted to join our intimate gathering, but nobody did.

By being one of the 4.3% during a game when I’m told Bud Selig was on cable television toasting the grand health of the local franchise that plays to perhaps fours of thousands on a typical weeknight, I had a very good view of Brad Penny’s induction into an even more exclusive club than 518. I watched him give up a pair of home runs to Wilmer Flores. That makes him only the sixth pitcher who has surrendered even one homer to the young slugger whose next baseball card should probably list him as “INFIELDER?” What’s more, Penny is the only pitcher in the 145-year history of professional baseball to have allowed at least one home run to both Flores and Todd Zeile.

Flores is still fairly new to the major leagues as 2014 comes to a close. Zeile was vagabonding toward the twilight of his career in 2001 when he a) took Penny satisfyingly deep and b) exchanged hostile words with his victim. Something about “sucking on it for Shinjo” when the Mets and Marlins hated each other as much as Mets fans hate the Marlins’ existence to this day. I was at Shea that night with a legitimately counted crowd of 40,000 or so. We were pumped for Todd Zeile when his seventh-inning three-run homer tied the game. We were pumped for Timo Perez when he won the game in the tenth by singling home Lenny Harris. It was Merengue Night and Timo grabbed a Dominican flag from out of the stands and waved it in triumph. Timo Perez, Jason declared, was the King of Merengue.

(Bet you don’t remember Timo Perez doing anything but going into a premature trot on a ball Todd Zeile hit the October before; Zeile went into a trot, too; hard to believe we lost.)

Veteran Todd blasting young Brad made for a great Friday night a long time ago. Tuesday in the here and now rated as a lower-key great night in its own way. It had a much older Penny looking bad (ha, a “bad Penny” reference — bet Brad loves those like I loved “Prince Spaghetti Day” reminders on the first-grade bus) and it had the Mets burying the Marlins, 9-1, or practically one run tallied for each of us clubby types in 518.

I’m probably in another fairly exclusive club as a result of Flores and friends’ Fish fry. Tuesday night gave me my 100th win as a spectator at Citi Field. I write them all down, so I know “my” record is 100-80. It took six seasons — 30 games per year with a couple of games to go this year — to reach triple-digits, landing me there competitively and chronologically faster than I arrived upon the same number at Shea. I didn’t get to 100 wins until I’d seen 184 games in all at the old place and by then it was 2000, which sounds pretty late in my Sheagoing life, considering my first game there was in 1973. The slow build was an offshoot of having been a child, adolescent and young adult who didn’t necessarily possess the agency to follow his muse to Flushing at the relative drop of a hat or hint.

The hint to go to Tuesday’s contest was sent from abroad. A fine fellow named Mark — whom the blessedly thorough reader might recognize as Black Country Met from our comments section — told me he was going to be at Citi Field for this game, which would be no big whoop except Mark was traveling from the U.K. for a baseball buffet (this game, Wednesday’s game and a couple of games elsewhere in our beautiful country). If Mark could cross an ocean, I could hop the 5:11 to Jamaica and make my usual transfers in order to meet him. His ticket was “posh,” by his reckoning, for he was willing to pay more than $6.99 in exchange for the rare opportunity to watch Wilmer Flores up close and personal. I decided I’d be happy if I got in cheap, since my primary goal was meeting Mark in person and chatting Met baseball pregame.

Which is what happened, and it was a bunch of fun taking apart and putting together our roster with him and, for a moment, reliving my fleeting interest in this past summer’s World Cup (they really like soccer in England, you know). Then, shortly before first pitch, we parted ways, Mark for the swankiness of Delta, me for the exclusivity of 518, where the quiet was my companion, occasionally interrupted by Wilmer’s booming bat. It was tranquil, which a ballpark ideally isn’t in September, but lacking a pennant race or a Merengue Night, placidity, when effectively meshed with winning Mets baseball, is not to be underrated.

When not glued to Colon mowing down Marlins, I saw fit to tweet reports from 518 to a waiting world until my battery wound down. One of those who saw my dispatches was another fine fellow named David. He was over in 515. He called out my name. I waved. On September nights at Citi Field, you can pretty much conduct conversations from three sections’ distance without disturbing too many souls. Now and then we gestured at each other (twirling an imaginary towel for Flores; shrugging in confusion at Collins’s mid-inning hook of an in-command Colon). As personal Win No. 100 was about to wrap, I left my exclusive perch and deigned to join David for a delightful late-game chat about managers who underwhelmed us and catchers who got a raw deal in left field. Club 515 was rather exclusive, too, though I think there were more than 13 people there.

I didn’t see Bud Selig anywhere in Promenade. We would’ve made room for him. We had plenty of it.

15 comments to Nobody Goes There Anymore (But I Do)

  • Dave

    The Selig interview in the tv booth was surreal…boasts of competitive parity, citing the 2013/14 successes of teams whose fans could’ve been forgiven had they forgotten the franchises even existed after decades of consistent failure. The echoes of a 1979 style 90% empty stadium in the sport’s largest market while he’s crediting parks like CitiField for the increase in attendance. Just as a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican see the same thing and one says it’s their dream come true while the other says it’s proof of the downfall of civilization, Selig and Mets fans are on two very different pages. Of two different books. In two different languages.

  • Paul from Brooklyn

    The hope of our first Rookie of the Year in some time looms large.It reminds me of waiting for R.A. to pick up his Cy Young. Declining ticket sales are probably not the fault of the one who was fired.Will there be hype if de Grom wins ROY? Will Flores play every day next year? Will Harvey come back and mow down the NL with ease? Will the captain return to his rightful glory? Will Chris Rock,Jerry Seinfeld and a few others buy the Mets in a media blitz causing warm fuzziness even in the Bronx? Will management allow those attending a game access to any and all clubs within Citi Field?
    We will be there no matter what transpires. That six game losing streak in a very bleak May and the usual injuries during the year left us short of the Wild Card. Ya gotta believe.We do!

  • Great post Greg. You picked a fantastic night to frequent Club 518, as it saved you three innings of Bud Selig. The Mets should have announced he was going to be on SNY in advance, they might have gotten a small attendance spike for the night.

  • open the gates

    I’m waiting for the day Citi Field becomes “the place no one goes to anymore” strictly in the Yogi Berra application of the term.

  • Chuck

    Um, I remember Timo Perez spoiling Steve Trachsel’s no-hitter by playing too shallow against the Rockies’ pitcher, allowing Chin-hui Tsao to get the only extra-base hit, and one of only two hits, he ever got.

    Maybe, just maybe, if Timo had played deeper, Johan Santana’s career would not have been ruined.

    • Kevin From Flushing

      I’m fairly certain that managers let pitchers keep their no hitters going for the sake of the pitcher, not for the sake of the team and its fanbase.

    • nestornajwa

      June 1, 2012 may have been the final nail in the coffin, but the box was built and the hole was dug during the 2008 stretch “run” which the Mets tried to finish without any semblance of a bullpen. Johan sacrificed a shot at Cooperstown for a shot at one more postseason. What Met ever sacrificed more for the team?

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Timo on Meringue Night, I was there! Great game! Can’t say I remember the Zeile homer but I remember Timo winning it.

    Fun fact: Zack Wheeler has the only CG for the Mets this season. Terry must somehow be missing all the “workhorse” and “innings eater” metaphors that get tossed at Colon. God forbid he ever ever throws 130 pitches.

    Remember last year when Dillon Gee needed to pitch 7 innings to hit his goal of 200 for the season, then Terry pulled him after 6 innings and 89 pitches? Good times. Way to be a player’s manager, Terry. Spectacular treatment for the only starter that didn’t miss a game in 2013.

  • Lenny65

    Compete and the fans will pour through the gates. Shea was an absolute tomb in the late 70s-early 80s and positively (and literally) rocking a few short years later. Like I said a few posts ago, you cannot keep selling “next year” over and over again, the fans aren’t that stupid. Maybe once or twice, but eventually you gotta deliver that “next year”. So get to it, Mets.

  • […] is not news, we know that Citi Field has been a ghost town all year. We also know that Sandy Alderson has said many times that the Mets putrid payroll has no chance of […]

  • Hmm, 6.99 on Stubhub? Still too much in my book after six consecutive losing seasons. But I will offer a glimmer of hope. About four years ago I caught a Mets game in Pittsburgh’s jewel of a ballpark. A hot Friday night in August with the place half filled, I marveled at the beauty of the place and commented if the Bucs ever get their act together the place is going to be a nightly party. That has come to pass. So perhaps in a few years, maybe just maybe, no promises now, when gleaming new structures rise where the chop shops are disintegrating and the Mets are hopefully flourishing, Citi Field will be like PNC and perhaps more importantly rock as Shea once did. I have been accused of being the eternal optimist however.

  • […] Nobody Goes There Anymore (But I Do) »    […]

  • BlackCountryMet

    It was an absolute PLEASURE to meet up Greg, a thoroughly enjoyable chat and discussion/disection of the roster and general Metspotamia. The view from the posh seats was quality as well, I could really appreciate how hard the pitches are. The suite behind the posh seat, meh, a necessary corporate evil unfortunately. Overall, the “baseball buffet”(great term) was superb, PNC was all i’d hoped and I even saw a win at Turner Field! Look forward(as always) to my next Mets live action

  • […] in May 2001, Greg and I were in the stands at Shea for Merengue Night against the Marlins. Greg recently recalled this one for his own purposes — it featured Brad Penny hitting Tsuyoshi Shinjo, after which Todd […]