There’s the Shea we all know as ordinary fans. I’ve written about this place many times and I will keep writing about it even when it is only a memory haunting a parking lot.
There’s also a hidden Shea. It’s part of the same building and it exists in a tantalizing proximity to the one we know. We see that it exists but we don’t go there. We can’t go there. The players can go there, and the announcers and the reporters. But the ability to go to these places is what makes them them and us us. We have the grills in the parking lot. We have the vistas from the Upper Deck. We have the long escalators and the echoing exit ramps. But there’s a hidden world in our midst, a magical place we can’t enter. This is a part of Shea we can only imagine. It is also being torn down, and we have never been there.
On Thursday, I went to the game as a guest of Lynn Cohen, Gary’s wife. Lynn is a reader of my book and my blog and she contacted me to ask for help assembling a list of reputable bloggers (no jokes, please) to whom she could send a press release about the Gary, Keith, and Ron charitable t-shirt project she’s organized. To thank me for my help, she invited me to have dinner in the Diamond Club and to watch a game with her and some other people. Okay, so there I am, on my way to the Diamond Club to meet Lynn at 5. I am excited. The Diamond Club, for me, has always been an important part of the hidden Shea. When I was a kid, I thought that the Diamond Club was probably the most glamorous place on earth. I was really taken by the idea that there was this exclusive club-like restaurant in the hidden recesses of the stadium where celebrities and reporters and announcers rubbed elbows and ate prime rib and drank martinis. I imagined it as a swanky nightclub, glittering with lights like a diamond. I thought it might be like Toots Shor’s, a once-famous restaurant in Manhattan where ballplayers used to hang out together, after they put on their suits for their night on the town.
Let’s just say that the Diamond Club is not really like this. It’s a very nice place and the food is genuinely good. There is a preponderance of casually but decently dressed older men and some very pampered grandchildren. There’s a great view of the big green field. But, you know what? The Diamond Club I imagined when I was a kid still exists in my head. And it is part of the eternal glamour and mystery of that thin level of Shea that separates the Mezzanine from the Loge. Ever since I saw my first game at Shea in 1964, I have dreamed of the lives that are lived in that level. I have imagined great things: the Mets executive offices, sky boxes like executive suites in Manhattan skyscrapers, the long curved continuous desk where reporters sat jowl to jowl, chomping on their cigars. In my mind, though, the most glamorous places of all in that horseshoe of wonder would always be the booths: the little spaces right behind home plate from which the game was broadcast. I remember how I focused my binoculars in the 1960s and enjoyed the thrill of seeing Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy, in shirtsleeves with ties. I saw that they were real people. I saw them talking to each other, suspended above home plate at the exact center of the stadium, like the Emperor Flavian in the Coliseum in Rome. How many times have I looked at that space, in the navel of Shea. It may not be quite as sacred as the dugout or the clubhouse, but those are mouseholes, low places from which the players emerge and into which they disappear. The booths are elevated, they connect the field to the immense world beyond the stadium, where millions watch the Mets in living rooms and listen to them in cars. The booths are not where it happens, but they are where we all see it from, where we watch and process. The booths and the men in them are the eyes and mind of this whole thing. They are awesome, magnificent places, even if they just appear to be tiny little booths.
I met Lynn, and her son Zach, and Zoe Rice, one of the bloggers I recommended, whom I had met before at my book launch party , in a seat by the window of the real Diamond Club, not the imaginary one. I had a terrific dinner and a fine time. Lynn is really something else. I’d never met her except in e-mails and yet I felt immediately as if I’d known her for a long time. We have similar backgrounds and many of the ideas and perspectives associated with those backgrounds. We live somewhat similar lives in the same area of Connecticut, with adolescent children going through a lot of the same bullshit (Zach reminded me a lot of my daughter’s nicer male friends). We have the same favorite movie theatre and fifties-style diner. The biggest difference seemed to be that her husband has this incredibly demanding job which required him to be away from home a lot, leaving her with the bulk of the work of the Connecticut parent (driving, being in specific places at specific times to watch specific things). My wife has a less demanding schedule and we get to go places and do stuff. Lynn and Gary have to squeeze their vacation into the All-Star break.
One thing that really struck me was how curious Lynn was about the world that fans like me and Zoe know and take for granted. For all that her life is like mine, Lynn lives, on a daily basis, in the world of the ring between the Mezannine and the Loge. She has said to me that she’d love to just walk around the parking lot and get a sense of the flavor of the tailgate parties. She likes to read the blogs and used to read the mets.com board until it started to upset her and Gary asked her why she was doing that to herself. So I told her about such kinder, gentler, more reliably smarter forums as thehappyrecap.com and grandslamsingle.com. She has this great curiosity about the world of the fan. In a way, it’s as glamorous to her as her world is to me. And this Gary, Keith, and Ron charitable t-shirt project that she’s gotten together seems to be, in part, an effort to connect the worlds. It makes her part of what we have. It gives us a chance to be part of Gary, Keith, and Ron’s humanity. At the core of this whole Mets thing are people, real people you’d actually want to know. At the center of all of this is a noble, festive human enterprise that is not ruined by the whiny anger or crassness or greed that sometimes seems to have taken over everything.
After dinner, we went to our seats in the Loge behind home plate, where we were joined by Gary and Lynn’s neighbor Steve, a diehard Mets fan and weary veteran of the same Connecticut highways. The game, as you already know, was inspiring and so was the positive and hopeful crowd. Cow Bell Man came by wearing one of the Gary, Keith, and Ron t-shirts and he stopped to tell Lynn about how much he admired and respected Gary. After seventh-inning stretch, Lynn flashed her pass and took us up through the Diamond Club bar into a narrow hallway leading to the SNY suite, which was like a hotel room with a lot of free food lying around. We watched the rest of the game from seats suspended from this hotel room with a couple of guys whom Lynn explained were sponsors or prospective sponsors. There were TVs up in this hotel room and when Post Game Live was over, we walked down the narrow hallway back to the Diamond Club bar where Zoe and I and Zack sat down at a table right by the entrance to the hallway. Lynn disappeared for a minute or two and then waved to us to follow her. We went back into the hallway and turned right into an even smaller hallway. We then stepped down into a little place with a view out to the field where there was a desk and some guys with headphones picking stuff up. There too were Lynn’s husband, and two big men around my age who were unmistakeably Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez.
I was in the booth.
As those who know my book, and particularly my chapter on meeting Tom Seaver know, my instinct in a situation like this is to retreat into respectful silence. My existence was briefly, but pleasantly and politely acknowledged. More outgoing and better prepared Zoe had a camera and got pictures. We were introduced as bloggers who had helped with the t-shirt project. I stood without a camera and just felt the incandescence of a reality that was really just down a hallway from the one in which I lived. My brain received impressions that will never get less distinct than they are right now. How small and ordinary the booth was. It was a workplace, and here were the guys who worked in it, with their eternally familiar voices. But they were not voices or projections. The men I met in that booth were real. They were human beings. That is obvious, but you know it is not. The booth was not a shrine with infinite depths. The only depths it had were in time, not in space. I thought of Murph. I thought of all the years this tiny space has played a role in my life. How much has happened here. How much has been viewed and seen and felt by so many. How soon this will be just airspace above a parking space.
Zoe and I went down the elevator with the Cohen family, Gary wheeling his stuff like airplane luggage. We stepped out of the stadium and Gary was greeted by fans, including Cow-Bell Man, who obviously knew that this is where he always came out. I said goodbye to Gary, Lynn, and Zach and walked with Zoe to the subway and then to my car, with which I would, like the Cohens, drive over the Whitestone Bridge and home to Connecticut.