Being at Shea for Game 6 of the NLCS

I went to the game last night with my sister Stefanie and her friend Jeff.  I was supposed to meet them by Gate A at 7:30.  I got there early and waited for them behind the little outdoor studio set up for Gary Cohen and Ron Darling.  It was a great scene.  Gary and Ron were immaculate in their suits and ties, sitting in these director’s chairs on a raised platform under bright lights that lit up the plane trees. Gary and Ron looked as if they were having dinner in a fancy outdoor restaurant in France or LA. 

Except that thousands of people were walking by them, dressed in all of the colors of the rainbow except red, yellow, green, indigo, or violet.  There were people in jerseys from Seaver to Green, people with orange wigs, and one guy who looked like an accountant dressed in an American flag outfit with a blue and orange face.   A big crowd gathered behind the two men in suits, making noise continuously, aware that it was their responsibility to show how psyched the crowd would be tonight.  There was a sense that the Mets were now home and we knew what to do. 

We would be, as we have been before, the tenth man on the field.  No other fans had our lung power, no other fans were so free of the restraint that keeps most people from painting themselves, singing in public, or booing a called ball.  We were the raucous soul of the mighty city you saw from the escalators as you climbed to the upper deck.  Okay, I live in Connecticut and the people I was meeting live in Montclair.  But we are part of this.  Our folks played stickball on Brooklyn streets and snuck into Ebbett’s field.  We can still scream as loud as anybody.

As I was waiting, I saw a little boy about nine years old in the crowd behind Gary and Ron.  He was on his father’s shoulders, and he was holding and pumping a sign that said “Ya Gotta Believe/ Remember ’86.”  The kid couldn’t have been born before 1997.  Yet he knew Tug’s mantra from ’73.  He knew that ’86 meant something.  Okay, maybe he didn’t.  Maybe these were just the feelings of the graying, sweating fortyish guy whose face I couldn’t see behind his son’s legs.  But the kid was pumping that sign, as if what he held in his hand was the key to the Mets’ victory tonight. 

You can never kill something like this.  You can’t bury a spirit like this under any number of years of disappointment.  Millions of people love to be Mets fans.  For a time like this, when the point is not to win another trophy to put on in a closet with a whole bunch of others.  The point is to all get together and scream real loud.  And if we win we will be so happy.  And if we don’t win we will be here next time screaming real loud again.

As the stadium filled, as gametime approached, the Diamond Vision showed Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, with her ruby red slippers, saying “There’s no place like home.”  Everybody knew this.  Everybody responded.  They should have also had the scene from Peter Pan where you clap your hands as loud as you can so that Tinkerbell doesn’t die. 

Tinkerbell didn’t die.  And the evening showed how true it was that there is no place like home.  Throughout the evening, through Jeff’s binocs, I saw how happy the Mets were in the great bath of crowd noise.  At points we may have given them a jolt, but I think it was more that we provided a big featherbed on which they could relax, after having been in a witch’s castle where snotty hankies had been waved at them by scary red gnomes with chin hair. 

It was so much fun.  We saw how loud we could be when Jose Reyes hit his leadoff home run and we could do the Jose song at top volume right away.  Most people in their whole lives will never hear what John Maine heard as he walked back to the dugout.  And when Paul Lo Doca hit his two-run single, we felt what Hemingway suggested you only feel maybe once in a lifetime.  The stadium moved.  I’m not trying to be poetic here.  I don’t mean that I was so overcome with emotion that it seemed as if the ground was shaking.  No.  The fricking thing moved.  Literally.  The concrete bounced and twanged like a guitar string.  It was scary.  It was wonderful.

The ninth inning was scary too.  Not wonderful.  We gave Billy Wagner the welcome he deserved because of the incredible season he gave us.  And we better give him that next time too.  That’s all I have to say about that.  No Wagner talk here.  There is nothing to talk about.  This man is one of the best relievers in baseball and we need him desperately.  He’s a little rattled at the moment but he has earned the uncritical love he will need in order to get back to where he should be for those cold evenings in Detroit.  Wagner, I know, didn’t pitch as well as he should have.  He gave up two runs and I began to feel a hellish foreboding when I realized that Albert Pujols could wind up in a position where he could happily pee on our wonderful season.  But the third out came.  And it was good.  And as strangers slapped hands and sang the Jose song and chanted “Lets Go Mets” and loudly and politely emptied the stadium, we all felt that we had done well and that the Mets were beautiful and that tomorrow night they would win the pennant they had earned.

I meant to write more about the game itself.  But I’ve run out of space and time.  You can read about the game itself on the wonderful blogs I link to.  But this is what this evening at the game felt like to me.


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