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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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First the Party, Then the Hangover

Joy of excess? Oh baby, we hadn’t seen anything yet.

Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Phils was a rain of records, superlatives and astonished exclamations. Twenty-four runs, a new club record. Twenty-five hits, a new club record for a nine-inning game. A 20-run margin of victory, also a new club record.

Weirdly, the crazy 24-4 outburst came on the 31st anniversary of the previous club record for runs, 23 against the Cubs. (I remember learning about that game while I was in Maine; it made the national news, with a bemused anchor informing us that “the New York Mets did a terrible thing to the Chicago Cubs.” Perhaps it will make Ranger Suarez feel better to learn that the Cubs starter that day was a young Greg Maddux.)

But there was plenty of other weirdness. Jose Bautista didn’t start the game but ended it with seven RBIs, collecting five in one inning, which is damn hard to do. Compounding the weirdness: Bautista was pressed into service after Brandon Nimmo got a finger mashed by a fastball in the third inning, a HBP that was also a ground out, ending Nimmo’s streak of reaching base in 10 straight appearances. (The streak is broken but the finger, happily, is not.) With the Phils finishing the game with position players, Mickey Callaway acknowledged the white flag and let Jerry Blevins bat in the eighth against Scott Kingery. Blevins promptly laced a semi-eephus pitch up the middle for an RBI, his first big-league hit.

And, of course, the eruption came less than three weeks after the Mets absorbed their worst-ever beating at the hands of the Nationals, losing 25-4 and finishing with a position player of their own on the hill. Does it bug anyone else that when those two games are put together, the Mets are still one run in karmic arrears?

(Personal weirdness: I was in the stands to see the Mets get throttled by the Nats, and yesterday’s Game 1 was a makeup of a game for which I had a ticket.)

Ultimately, there isn’t much to say about mega-laughers like Thursday’s. As we’ve just been reminded, they happen to every team on occasion and are the baseball equivalent of the greyhounds catching the rabbit. The game devolves into wagging tails and chaos, everyone laughs about it (or tries to) and we move on.

One that does strike me, though, is that such curb-stompings are going to become more common, not less. This year has seen managers start routinely turning to position players instead of finding a reliever hiding under the stands and throwing him and his season ERA to the wolves. It’s one of those moments of baseball punctuated equilibrium, like the way the shift went from historical curiosity to oddball Joe Maddon tactic to unevenly distributed strategy and then suddenly reached a tipping point and became routine. Position players on the mound still strikes us as odd, but it makes sense, and within a couple of more years it will barely merit a second glance. That means first games of doubleheaders will become perfect storms, with all kinds of records endangered. Decades from now, a baseball fan who sees a long-ago score of, say, 32-6, will immediately guess “first game of a doubleheader” and be correct. And then she’ll ask just how many innings position players soaked up in that one.

The Game 1 shenanigans meant the back end of Thursday’s doubleheader was an afterthought, which was probably best for our psychic well-being. Steven Matz had nothing, and we’ll have to see whether the culprit was rust or something worse; the Mets played defense much like the Phillies had in Game 1; and a hot start (a 2-0 lead after four pitches) and a furious attempted comeback, with Bautista as the tying run, yielded a 9-6 fizzle. Ah well. What’s a legendary party without regret, penitence and a vow to be better?

* * *

Back to ballparks!

I offered my impressions of Target Field and Miller Park earlier this week; after seeing those parks, the summer tour rumbled on to Chicago, where Emily got her first look at Wrigley Field and both of us made our debuts at the rather tragically monikered Guaranteed Rate Field.

Wrigley has been further modernized since I saw it four years ago, and for the better. For one thing, the bathrooms are no longer dank holes in which you half-expect to find Neanderthal art — they now possess such amenities as light in the visual spectrum and newish urinals. (The troughs are still there, lest you find the above too highbrow.) For the most part, the modern stuff has sprung up outside the park, leaving Wrigley half-ringed with boutique hotels, beer gardens and plazas designed to hoover up your pregame dollars. Which strikes me as fine — commerce gonna commerce, and this outside-in approach has largely preserved the the sturdy functionality that makes Wrigley special. (Here’s Greg’s take on the park.)

A subtle thing I love about Wrigley is that it only has one loop beneath the stands, which has to be used for everything. That means fans seeking bathrooms/yet more alcohol rub shoulders with visiting clubhouse guys moving gear to buses, dudes taking out the trash or bringing in ice, and all the other backstage tasks required to keep a ballpark running on game day. It’s inefficient bordering on chaotic, like a boozy Richard Scarry book, and in no way how you’d design a park today. But there’s also something refreshingly democratic about it — if you’re complaining about being stuck behind a chain of garbage bins, well, you’re supposed to be up in your seat watching the game. Isn’t that what you came here to do?

The day after Wrigley, we took the red line in the other direction, heading south to see the White Sox take on the Yankees.

Harold Baines welcomes you to Guaranteed Rate Field

Guaranteed Rate Field — now there’s a name to get the kids dreaming — has gone down in baseball history as the last of the old parks, the one built a year before Camden Yards changed everything. But that’s more about storytelling than reality.

The stadium originally just called Comiskey Park opened a year before Camden Yards. But like the Orioles’ new home, it was an HOK/Populous project.

The “secret sauce” of Camden Yards, I’d argue, begins with how the hulking B&O Warehouse shapes everything else: the view, the dimensions, even the color palette. But HOK’s original plan called for tearing down the warehouse. In fact, its original plan would have yielded a ballpark that looks a heckuva lot like New Comiskey. The warehouse was saved largely at the insistence of the Orioles’ project representative, Janet Marie Smith, who also pushed for steel instead of concrete, pedestrian thoroughfares, decorative flourishes that honor team history, and the like.

(Here’s another reason Smith is my new hero: at the beginning of her interview, Orioles president Larry Lucchino tested her by asking which league had the DH. Smith’s response: “I’m offended by the question.”)

To be fair to HOK, architects’ starting point is to build what their clients want, and Jerry Reinsdorf wanted Kauffman Stadium. Lucchino, on the other hand, wanted an old-style ballpark that was part of the city around it, rather than being set apart from it. He found a kindred spirit in Smith, whom HOK worked with to turn his basic idea into a detailed reality. But the point remains: it was only after Camden Yards won acclaim that the elements it introduced became essentials of the retro-classic stylebook.

That’s a better context for assessing Guaranteed Rate Field than the more familiar one of “last old-style park.” For a fascinating look at what could have been in Chicago, and a thought-provoking examination of what retro-classic stadiums do and don’t deliver, read Dayn Perry’s terrific piece about Armour Field, a wonderful, Polo Grounds-inspired White Sox park proposed by Philip Bess in the late 1980s.

A loo of their own.

I didn’t know all of the above when I headed for Guaranteed Rate Field. But you can still feel it at work in the park. The stadium has been repeatedly renovated since it opened, with every change pushing it closer to the parks that followed it. The much-criticized upper deck has been shaved down, with a screen replacing the top rows. Blue seats have given way to familiar retro-classic forest green ones. There are statues and a big plaza and old-timey touches, some of which are great: it’s a little thing, but I love that the women’s restrooms are marked by silhouettes of lady ballplayers, a la A League of Their Own.

The redone palette is interesting: the stadium is basically matte black, which feels different than the retro-classic norm but also very White Sox. Classic elements from White Sox history have been brought into the park: the “exploding” scoreboard crowned with pinwheels was there from beginning, and you may be surprised to find a shower behind center field. That was brought over from the old stadium, where it was added by Bill Veeck so fans could cool off on hot days. By the way, if any owner should have a ballpark statue it’s Veeck, a visionary who never forgot that baseball’s supposed to be fun. Predictably yet depressingly, Guaranteed Rate Field instead immortalizes Charles Comiskey. I’d recommend holding tight to your wallet near Comiskey, even in bronze form.

White Sox fans and Mets fans ought to be kindred spirits: we’re both the little brothers in town. After descending from the Willis Tower’s skydeck, I noticed that the gift shop was filled with Cubs gear, with the White Sox an afterthought. Been there, endured that. The Cubs dominate the sports talk, hog the TVs in bars, and generally suck up the fan oxygen. Being a White Sox fan in this Cub era must feel like rebellion. And, of course, their stadium elicits few if any lyrical flights of fancy — hell, Wrigley Field even barged into my own blog post about seeing a White Sox game.

All that made me want to root for White Sox and like their park.

I had other reasons, too. The White Sox lean heavily on local businesses for concessions, which is great: I had some awesome tacos, though the line was epic and kept me from seeing a fantastic catch above the center-field fence by Adam Engel. And they attract a far more racially diverse crowd than I’m used to seeing in a big-league ballpark — certainly compared with Wrigley.

Thank you, Mr. Veeck!

But to be honest, the park left me cold. (Here’s Greg’s take on it.) That began with how Emily and I arrived: the train let us off in the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway, from which we wound our way along various fences and were funneled along the edge of the parking lot. What Emily and I should have done was kept going to the main entrance behind home plate, where there’s a plaza dedicated to the 2005 champs and White Sox history. But the natural thing to do is to enter as soon as you have a chance, and that’s on the third-base side. At least for those arriving by train, the stadium discourages any other approach: it looms over you, distant and forbidding, as you avoid cars and then battle throngs of people pushing in your direction.

You’re basically herded into a side entrance of Guaranteed Rate Field, an approach that does the stadium no favors. You’re shunted between a shop hawking overpriced sports crap and one of those outdoor brewpubs that feels like a game-day holding area, pushed up stairs and along a hallway (decorated, at least, with lore about Sox All-Stars) and dumped unceremoniously into the middle of the concourse. It’s like finding your way to your departure gate at a second-class airport, and it robs you of any sense of how the park’s interior and exterior fit together. And all the renovations and careful touches can’t undo that first impression.

Seeing Guaranteed Rate Park right after getting reacquainted with Wrigley made me realize how much just walking up to a park determines how you’ll feel about it. Wrigley is tucked almost mathematically into its neighborhood — which is called Wrigleyville, after all. Your natural inclination once you descend from the el is to walk around the stadium and explore, joining a parade of fans doing the same thing. Arriving at Guaranteed Rate Park, you feel marooned and want to escape your surroundings.

You can say, well, Wrigley is unique and the train station being in the middle of the highway isn’t the White Sox’ fault and so on. But it didn’t have to be this way. I didn’t love Target Field, but at least it feels connected to its neighborhood. So do PNC, AT&T Park, and Comerica. (Miller Park fails this test, unless you’re tailgating.) And Armour Field would have been very different — Bess’s park would have been embedded in its surrounding neighborhood in a way that’s much closer to Wrigley than, say, Camden Yards.

The White Sox chose a different route. It’s lazy and unfair to say they missed out on building Camden Yards, for all the reasons explored above. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t miss.

Next: The tour ends at Great American Ball Park.

7 comments to First the Party, Then the Hangover

  • Gil

    Give me the Seaver statue outside CITI!

  • I remember leaving for a cruise with my family that day and seeing the game on the boat’s tv before pulling out – I was shocked that the score was so high. I think Carter might have hit his 300th home run in that game too, after an epic homerless streak.

  • mikeski

    What’s a legendary party without regret, penitence and a vow to be better?

    Only the penitent team shall pass.

  • Daniel Hall

    Only had time to see one of the two games on backburner today, picked the wrong one (since I do my utmost to not glance at the box scores before reaching the archives), then in the first inning still came up with a cocky remark of “Since when does Lucas Duda play leftfield for the Phillies?”, but had my smugness rubbed out of me by the baby blue-clad team while they were still sitting on Matzie’s face. Sigh. Baseball.

  • JerseyJack

    How many points does the team batting avg go up after the last few offensive outbursts ?? Five points ? …more?

  • […] First the Party, Then the Hangover »    […]

  • […] about ballparks in general and the retro-classic parks in particular. Guaranteed Rate Field made me realize the importance of a ballpark’s integration with its surroundings and context within them; GABP made me […]