Archive for March, 2009

The Inaugural Game at Citi Field

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Do you know how sometimes you have a dream where you go to a familiar place (the house you grew up in, your workplace, etc.) and you know it is the place, but it doesn’t look the way the place actually looks? 

I experienced something like this when I went to St. John’s-Georgetown baseball game that inaugurated Citi Field.  I took the 7 train, on a route through Queens that has been familiar to me for decades.  I arrived at the familiar station and walked down the stairs and looked ahead of me.  I felt a chill, of fear and wonder.  There was nothing to my left, except some piles of rubble.  Ahead of me were arched lights in a rainy fog.  Without Shea beside it, the new stadium looked further away.  I was disoriented.  I had come to the same place.  But it was a different place.

In front of the gates to the rotunda, everyone was looking for their brick.  People had gotten numbers in the mail telling them what section their brick was in.  They had gotten numbers, but there was no indication on the pavement of the number of any of the sections.  Everyone seemed as disoriented as I was.  “Is this 13, is this section 20?”  Nobody knew.  Maybe I could find my family’s brick, just by looking.  The inscription would say “Mets Fans Forever – the Brands.”  I went to each of the sections and looked at the bricks that were the right size.  I couldn’t find it.  But I found plenty of other families who called themselves Mets Fans Forever.  As I walked around the squares, scanning all the inscriptions, I honestly felt as if any one of them could be my family’s brick.  There was a lot of forever, a lot of always, a lot of memorial bricks.  Various people were said to still be watching the Mets from up above.  As I walked around these squares filled with so much emotion, so much filial love, so much love for the New York Mets, I almost felt hypnotized.  The beautiful square pattern of the bricks looked like a geometric pattern in a mosque or a temple that is supposed to focus your prayer.  Over and over the loudspeaker blared that elegant little speech the Mets always have about how a few drunken louts should not ruin it for everybody else.  And in between this speech, a keyboard played a Russian folk song called “Kalinka.”  This was my father’s favorite song.  It’s not very well known and I had never heard it on the Shea keyboard.  I totally flipped out. 

They eventually let us in.  I was disappointed by the rotunda.  I liked the light streaming into the stadium and the Robinson tribute was dignified.  But I had expected an arched ceiling and not a knotted mass of metal supports and cables.  I had had the impression from the fly-through on the Web that the lampposts would be classy old New York.  They were more ’80s mall.  I had expected Grand Central station.  But this looked more like the late sixties addition to my old high school.  I also still had the problem I resent having to have.  I would be happy to have a shrine to the great Jackie Robinson at Citi Field.  But I think that the most important public space at Citi Field should immediately help us to know and to feel that we are in the home of the New York Mets.  We shouldn’t have to look at people’s jackets and jerseys to determine which team plays in this stadium. 

The stadium?  The stadium is really nice.  It is really nice.  There are comfortable seats and leg room.  It is simply wonderful to walk all the way around the stadium, to go into the outfield eating areas and find capacious plazas for meeting and picnicking.  My hamburger from Shake Shack was excellent.  It’s cool to feel as if you walk in and out of the stadium as you go around it.  It is even cool to see what’s actually on the roofs of the chop shops of Willet’s point (bumpers, hoods).  I liked the Caesar’s Club, which looked like an airport lounge with casino light bulbs in the ceiling.  There was a lovely view out to the dramatic ruins of the World’s Fair.  The new stadium is intimacy and cozy.  I got a kick out of all of the irregularities, the defiance of symmetry, the strange angles, bridges, and unfamiliar spaces.  It’s unique and unpredictable.  There were points where I felt, as I walked around the park, as if I was making it from one level to the next of a video game.  I had to find my bearings in each new landscape.  I had to find how to get to the next level.  There were other points where I was reminded of an old game I used to have when I was a kid, where you had to assemble a structure where a ball would have to get from one place to another by rolling down different ramps and down through holes to other levels where it would find other ramps.  I felt like that ball.

I still don’t feel that I know what Citi Field is like.  Not very many people were paying attention to the game, so you couldn’t get a sense of what the stadium will sound and feel like when the Mets are playing in it.  Does it have the capacity to tremble, as Shea did?  Something tells me it doesn’t.  I am curious to see what effect the enclosed design will have on the sound and feel of a game.  Right now I think I will miss the open-endedness of Shea.  I loved how a ball could be hit towards the scoreboard and the parking lot and you felt it was climbing into the sky and could even go into the parking lot, into the world beyond the stadium.  I will miss that sense that Shea gave you, that home plate was the apex of a triangle whose broad base opened up to the heavens and out to the world.  We will not have that sense in this new place.  But we might have something different.  We might have a sense of encompassing, embracing the Mets, being closer to them.  I will wait and see and have an open mind and I will let you know.

It really will be a wonderful place to see a baseball game.  I still feel a sense of uneasiness about how much the heritage of the team is going to be present and visible.  After I got home, I heard that there are pictures of great moments in Mets history over the Left Field Gate, but I didn’t enter through that gate.  I didn’t see the retired numbers or the championship banners or those new sculptures of Mets moments I’ve heard about.  I hope they will be in their places soon.  I hope there will be more of them, of us, of what is now almost fifty years.  I hope there will be the sense of continuity, the sense of identity, of the past connecting to the future that I heard and I felt among the people searching for their bricks on the Fan Walk.  In a little corner of the stadium, hidden away past the center field fence, the old Home Run Apple from Shea was receiving supplicants and worshippers, like a King, or like a Santa Claus.  An impromptu line had formed in front of the Apple.  People took pictures of themselves and their kids.  It was so close and so dear. 

I will find the Mets here.  I will remain receptive and I hope the Mets will meet me halfway.  I will find my brick. 

 

My Review of “Faith and Fear in Flushing”

Friday, March 27th, 2009

 321 by you.

Greg Prince’s Faith and Fear in Flushing is a wonderful book. This will come as no surprise to regular readers of the blog “Faith and Fear in Flushing,” which Greg writes, along with Jason Fry. Everyone who inhabits the Mets blogosphere has “Faith and Fear in Flushing” bookmarked on their browser. They should now also have Faith and Fear in Flushing, the book, on their bookshelves.

Subtitled “An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets,” Faith and Fear is an intense personal history of the author’s involvement with his team. It begins with a chapter on the importance of endings, in which Greg thinks about why he always likes to make it to the final home game of the season. In this chapter, he considers the way in which baseball appeals to us, providing us with stories with all kinds of endings, and with numbers that acquire a mystical finality on the last day of the season. In his next chapter, “Taking It Personally,” he considers how this thing made up of stories and numbers finds its way into our lives. Then, as if to illustrate what he’s talking about, he sets off on a journey. He travels deep within himself and backwards in time. He finds the beginnings of his Mets fandom in his fascination, at the age of six, with a cartoon duck, on the back of the New York Post, who marked off the progress of the 1969 Mets towards their miracle. Moving forward from the miracle season, Greg visits all of the most memorable moments of Mets history. He allows us to relive them and he shows us the significance of these moments by describing, with flair, humor, and accuracy, the emotional landscape of each individual Mets era. As he does this, he is never just writing about baseball. He is always also writing about himself. Greg grows up and goes off to college. After college, he moves back in with his parents and tries to establish himself as a free-lance writer. He gets married, loses his mother to cancer, and finds his niche in the world of freelance writing. He starts going to Shea more often, he starts his blog, he becomes part of a community of Mets fans, he loses Shea stadium.

In Faith and Fear in Flushing, the life of the Mets and the life of Greg Prince are parallel. They become intertwined. Reading Greg’s direct, playful, conversational prose, we come to feel as if we are experiencing the history of the New York Mets in the company of someone who has become our friend. This is a sweet guy, someone we want to know, someone who isn’t afraid to be a little goofy and sentimental. This is someone who is completely attuned to the generosity and pathos of Mets fandom. This is someone who knows more and cares more about the Mets than anyone else we’ve ever met.

Why does he care so much? This is the question the book poses again and again. And it is not a question that can be answered easily, given the acute disappointments and miseries Greg recounts, which are relieved by relatively few moments of unambiguous triumph. The trick of writing about being a fan of the New York Mets, as I myself know, is figuring out a way to write about the experience so that the reader can sort of understand why you don’t regret being a Mets fan, so the reader can understand that it has actually made you happy. Greg pulls this off masterfully. Throughout his book, he shows us how much fun it is to be so intimate with a continuing story that means so much to millions. He shows how rich a baseball moment can be when you can place it in a context with all that you know about the long history of a team. He shows you that baseball fandom is something deeply serious, even spiritual. When you’re done with “Faith and Fear in Flushing,” you come away with the sense that being a fan of the New York Mets has been worth it to Greg because it has given him his richest and most continuous experience of loyalty, identity, and community.

There are a lot of treasures in this book. All of the accounts of the major Mets moments are beautifully paced, lively, and emotionally convincing. Greg is also reliably surprising. Having missed the 1973 World Series because his parents take him and his sister on a brief vacation to the Catskills, Greg presents the Series in the form of a hilarious imaginary conversation with a therapist. This inventiveness will remind readers of Greg’s blog of the way in which he loves to use unusual techniques and genres to present the experience of the Mets: lists, dialogues, fantasies, glossaries, etc. There’s a funny and awkward account of an encounter with Lee Mazilli and Ron Swoboda at a sports weekend at an upstate hotel. There’s a moving account of the way baseball brought him closer to his mother in the last year of her life. There’s a fine consideration of the impression Shea created by being open rather than enclosed.

Another thing that’s impressive about the book is the way in which Greg shows how the individual experience of baseball is filled with idiosyncrasies. It is never predictable or clichéd. A big fan from the time he’s six, Greg doesn’t get to go to Shea until he’s ten. After having missed what was supposed to be his first game because he got sick, his first actual visit is anti-climactic. Greg’s parents don’t bring him up to be a Mets fan. They’re completely indifferent, until they inexplicably become fans after Greg leaves the house and then that becomes the basis for a new and puzzling connection with them. All through his life, Greg’s experiences are just what they are. They are completely unique. Each of us is unlike any other Mets fan. Yet when Greg offers us one of his beautifully paced accounts of the great moments of Mets history, and describes with care what he was feeling at each and every step, we realize that we Mets fans are all different and all the same. Here too is one of the features that make Faith and Fear in Flushing such a valuable book. It shows us that there is no such thing as a typical Mets fan. There’s certainly nothing terribly typical about Greg Prince. But as Greg shows, this is one of the reasons to be a baseball fan. Baseball makes us less unique and therefore less alone. Someone as untypical as Greg can actually speak for so many people who are not at all like him. One of the best things about Faith and Fear in Flushing is the way Greg Prince shows us how baseball fandom can bring people closer to their common humanity.

Are there any flaws in this fine book? All books have flaws, but there aren’t many in this one. Greg says at one point that physical description is not his thing. He’s actually very good at it (there are some excellent, brief descriptions of Shea). I think that the book would have been even better if it had had more physical description, so that we might have had a bit more of a sense of the look, feel, and smell of the emotional moments of Mets history Greg describes so well. There are also a few points in the book where Greg seems to be saying essentially, well, now I have to move on to this next point and I have to have something in here so that the transition is not too abrupt, or, well, by the way, did I tell you about this person with whom I went to a lot of games? These moments of slight awkwardness, however, don’t detract from the experience of the book. They contribute to the sense of the book’s authenticity. Greg is writing about his own experiences. He’s not inventing a perfectly smooth narrative. And so at a few points, we see him having to improvise a little to get in everything he wants to put in here.

Faith and Fear in Flushing is a fine book, a gift, from one of us to all of us. It invites us to explore our own understanding of what the New York Mets are in our lives. It’s an affirmation of something that is deeply serious but is nevertheless still just a game. Greg doesn’t discover the meaning of life as he explores the role the Mets have played in his life, but he does discover how much he loves to be a Mets fan. He shows us that it is an indispensable part of his existence. He makes sure that we understand that, like all truly deep love, Mets love can’t entirely be explained. But it doesn’t have to be. As Greg observes at several points, it justifies itself. It just is. And it is like nothing else.

Review and a Video

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Prolific Mets author Matt Silverman has inaugurated his Mets book review series with a very nice review of my Mets Fan.  Although Mets Fan was published in August 2007, it is still relevant and worth reading, I think, because it deals with the whole history and philosophy of Mets fandom.

Matt wonders if there is going to be an audio version and he is kind enough to praise a reading I gave of my piece “For Shea” at the 2008 meeting of the New York city chapter of SABR.  I’m not sure I could read that essay now without breaking down.  If you’ve never seen me read, you might enjoy this video of my reading at the Chappaqua library.  I expect to do some readings from my new book this summer and fall.  When I was giving readings from Mets Fan, I met quite a few of you, and that was a real pleasure. 

The Hurt That Hasn’t Healed

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

In this week’s New York Magazine, there’s an unpleasant but actually quite decent article about the current situation of the New York Mets.  It’s by Will Leitch and it is entitled “The Hurt That Hasn’t Healed.”  In it, Leitch takes note of the dull boredom of this particular Mets spring (I’m with him there) and he suggests that there really “ought to be a greater sense of urgency surrounding the team.  It’s a critical year for the Amazin’s.”  Leitch goes on to cite Greg Prince’s theory of “The Legacy of Yadier Molina,” the idea that Molina’s devastating home run in the ninth inning of the 7th game of the 2006 NLCS was particularly crushing because the 2006 Mets team was such a wonderfully quintessential Mets team:  “young, fun, energetic, loopy, and most of all, ‘scrappy,’” the opposite of the “plodding … monolith” the Yankees had become.  That team was wonderful and it was supposed to bring us something like what we had in 1969 and 1986.  But the Molina home run, and its echoes in the unfathomable collapse of 2007 and the final falter of 2008, have now created an unpleasant situation.  It’s not so much that the Mets are in danger of losing again.  The problem is that losing again will expose the “team’s essential fallacy.”  We have an essential fallacy?  Uh-huh.  It is that we love to think of ourselves as underdogs when we are actually a rich team with the second highest payroll in baseball.  Our sense of ourselves as underdogs doesn’t make sense.  But we are attached to it.  Our embrace of our “status as the Other team in New York  … salves (our) wounds with meaning:  Watching the Mets continuously fail to push the rock up the hill gives cheering for the franchise gravitas and depth, as opposed to the arrogance (we) perceive in (our) Yankee fan counterparts.”  Yet it is a “fallacy,” and Leitch wonders “with a shiny new ballpark, how long they’ll be able to keep up the illusion.”  Shea’s decrepitude made it easier for us to pretend that we were rooting for “scrappy overachievers,” but Citi Field is expensive and has gourmet food.  What if we can no longer hide from the fact that the Mets aren’t “cursed underdogs” so much as “disappointing millionaires?”  “What if the warm fuzzies fade?  What if enough is enough?  … Can the Mets, as a franchise, possibly survive another collapse, or even a frustrating, listless season?”  These are fair questions.  And they lead Leitch to the fair observation that this season is more vital to the Mets than to the Yankees, and it is more vital to this year’s team than to “any other Mets team in recent memory.” 

Now I’ve looked hard at this argument in a desperate attempt to say it’s wrong.  But it’s not wrong.  It’s right, I guess.  But it describes what the situation might look like to others.  It does not describe what is inside the head of a Mets fan. 

What I mean by this is that what we believe does not deserve to be called a fallacy.  It is more like a fiction.  It may not be true, but it is worthy of some respect.  It hasn’t been true for decades that the Mets are scrappy working-class underdogs fighting their way to improbable triumph.  They are more like the neurotic younger brother in a rich family, whose older brother gets more attention and parental love.  The younger brother makes bad decisions, he screws up a lot, he has talent, but nothing comes together for him.  This guy isn’t as worthy of admiration as a genuine underdog, but there is still a kind of nobility in rooting for him.  The Mets shouldn’t be underdogs.  But they don’t win, and terrible things happen to them.  We root for them anyway.  There is something beautiful about this, something defiant and gloriously irrational.  We like being this way.  And we already know all the reasons why the Mets may not be worthy of the love and loyalty we are so proud to give them.    
 

This year it would be great if Mets fans got something wonderful.  But they may not get anything.  And if the season is not a success, people who are not Mets fans will have every reason to think, once again, that Mets fans are misguided, pitiful, masochistic, and insane.  Let them think that.  Let them also wonder at the fact that we will be prepared to do it again.  We will find the rock again and we will try to push it up the hill.  This is what we do.  This is who we are.  We are happy to do this.  We are proud to do this.  And we don’t care if it doesn’t make any sense.  It made no sense that the Mets lost the 2006 NLCS.  And if that hurt is ever healed, it will have to be healed by something that does not make sense. 

 

A Very Important Plug

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Please visit garykeithandron.com and click on “GKR events” to reserve your places at the three scheduled events scheduled for the season by GKR or “Pitch in for a Good Cause.”  Lynn Cohen, who established and runs this foundation, was able to raise a significant amount of money for the three charities who are the beneficiaries of all of this Mets fan good will.  I also recommend checking out the GKR Shea Farewell video on that page.  It’s a great little spot made by the makers of Mathematically Alive and the young lady you see on the main page before you hit the play button is my daughter Sonia.  That day was a wonderful day for 1200 people, thanks to Lynn.  I write all about it in my forthcoming book, which now has a subtitle:  The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan.

The Ides of March

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

 420_caesar_assasination by you.

It’s almost March 15 and I don’t really have much to say.  I expect to get into full blogging gear after I visit Citi Field for the first time on March 29, but this year I just don’t have much to say before the season starts.  This is to some degree an effect of the past two years.  When you have two seasons in a row where you don’t know if the Mets are going to the playoffs after 161 games, you might feel silly expressing an opinion about going to the playoffs before a single game is played.  This isn’t stopping others from offering such speculations and I recommend that you check out my colleagues in the blogosphere if you want informed speculation about filling the fifth spot in the rotation. 

I’m also backing away from the keyboard for the time being because the really big Mets news is the opening of the new stadium.  I don’t want to say much before hand, because I want to go into this entirely fresh.  Regular readers of my blog know the struggle I have gone through to accept the physical destruction of Shea.  But it is now time to give Citi Field an opportunity to win me over.  I’m not going to try to guess how my relationship is going to develop with the new place because I honestly have no idea how I am going to respond to it.

One thing I do know already is that Citi Field appears to be more complicated than Shea, when it comes to buying tickets.  Instead of a field level and three decks split into reserve seats and boxes numbered in such a way that you know exactly what you’re going to get when you see the ticket, we are now going to have a myriad of clubs, terraces, porches, boxes, and even an alley and an orchard.  We have Olympic-style metals to tell us just how good our seats are, and there are even a few sponsors’ names to designate new and at this point mysterious regions.  It will be interesting to see who’s the first person to claim that they have sat in every part of the new stadium. 

Since it is almost March 15, I will say that one part of the stadium that particularly amuses me is the Caesars Club.  Caesars Palace in Atlantic City is a highly visible sponsor of Citi Field and so they get to put their name on some of the best and most expensive seats in the new stadium.  Forgive me, but Caesars Club sounds like the kind of place where you’d sit and watch Christians getting fed to the lions.  You’d figure that given all that the Romans are known to have done in stadiums, they’d have avoided Roman connotations in names.  But as Fred Wilpon pointed out to the New York Times, “In this economy, you don’t turn down sponsors,” Wilpon said. “Anyone who’s willing to pay. …”  Fair enough.  But I’d like to know what parts of the stadium are up for naming rights if Viagra comes by with their checkbook.  The same Times article points out that Caesars Club has already been booked for bar mitzvahs.  Okay.  Take that, Romans, for destroying the Second Temple. 

So, it’s two more weeks and one day before I have the opportunity to figure out where the hell my baseline boxes are.  And I have to find our brick.  How weird will it be to go to a game in Flushing and have no idea what you’re going to see, think, or feel?
 

 

The New Home of the Old Home Run Apple

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Yesterday, I went inside Citi Field.  I’m talking about the pretty spectacular 4th floor, where the executive offices are.  Along with a couple of colleagues from Hofstra, I had a meeting with some Mets executives about the conference we’re going to have at Hofstra in a few years to mark the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets.  The Mets could not have been more helpful.  We’re probably going to have an official announcement of the conference next month.

Unfortunately, because everything was encrusted with snow and ice, we didn’t get a tour.  I wouldn’t have been able to take any pictures on a tour, but while I was at Citi Field, I was able to take some pictures.  This first one is heartbreaking and needs no comment or elaboration.  

 100_3568 by you.

There, that’s done.  These next two are pictures of The Home Run Apple.  This is not the new 16-foot, 4800 pounder that will actually go up and down at Citi Field when a Met hits a home run.  As you can see, this is our old friend, the 9-foot, 582 pounder.  This is its new home.  This is where it is going to be now, under a bridge out in right-center field, visible through the railings along 126th street. 

 100_3564 by you.

The apple took me by surprise as I walked towards the entrance to the offices.  I had heard that it was being brought over, but I didn’t know where it was going to be.  Well, it’s here.  And look at it covered with snow. 

 100_3563 by you.

I can’t help but think that this image contains a great deal.  On the one hand, the old Apple, this symbol of what the Mets have been in the past, looks like a troll perched under a bridge.  It could be friendly, a remnant of the past gazing benignly at the bright new world that has replaced it.  Or you could think it looks a little forlorn or resentful.  Out in right field.  Under a bridge.  I can’t be sure until the stadium opens whether this will be a prominent spot or a kind of Siberia.  Just as we don’t know how Shea, or the Mets’ past, will figure in the minds and hearts of those who will see ballgames in Citifield.  The Mets site says that there is a bridge motif in the new stadium, symbolizing the bridge with the Mets past.  I like that.  Let it be like that. 

I’m glad the apple has been brought over.  As I wait to form my impression of the new stadium, I will choose to think that the bright red giant Apple looks like a heart.  This is where I want the heart of the new stadium to be.  We may not have racked up a great many championships in those first 48 years, but we accumulated a very great amount of heart.  Enough emotion has been expended at Shea to power several civilizations.  And it is all right here in these 582 pounds of fiberboard.  The new apple will be bigger (the only thing about Citi Field that will be bigger).  But the old apple contains more tears, grit, and hoarse-voiced happiness than Citi Field can possibly contain for a very long time.  Welcome, old friend.  It is good to see you in the new place.  It is good to see someone we know.  

 

Tickets for the First Game

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I just did something I have never done before and never expect to do again.  I bought a ticket to a college baseball game on StubHub.  You know what else?  I paid six times face value.  I admit that wasn’t a lot of money.  But still.  College baseball?  StubHub?  In my gross stupidity, I never imagined that I would have to get online as soon as the tickets were for sale as if I was trying to buy Springsteen tickets. 

I’ve never seen a college baseball game.  I almost did once, in 1980.  When I was a graduate student at Yale in 1980, my friend Rick called and asked if I wanted to go see a game between Yale and St. John’s.  Yale had this incredible pitcher named Ron Darling that everybody knew about and who people said was good enough to make it to the majors (a very rare thing in Ivy League sports, of course).  Darling was going to pitch against some phenom from St. John’s named Frank Viola.  I told Rick I had too much work.  I always had too much work in grad school.  If I really wanted to go to this college baseball game to see these two kid pitchers, I could have.  But I didn’t.  And so now the fates are getting revenge on me by making me pay six times face value to see a St. John’s baseball game.

This will, as you know, be the first game ever in the new place.  That makes it more attractive to me than the exhibition games against the Red Sox, which would have cost a lot more.  Obviously what I would really like are tickets to the home opener.  But I didn’t win the lottery and tickets are going for a minimum of $250 on StubHub right now.  I would find it hard to justify paying that much for a ballgame.  Of course, if anybody reading this has an extra ticket (please excuse my absolute cravenness), I’m willing to pay face value plus 5 free signed copies of my new book plus a mention in the acknowledgements.  If I do another book, I’ll even write all about how you were nice enough to get me a ticket to the home opener of whatever the stadium will eventually be called.  Is anybody interested in whatever immortality I can provide them with?  Plus, you would get my company, which may or may not be a selling point.

I want to get in there.  I didn’t expect to feel this way, given how attached I was to Shea, and given how skeptical I still am about the new stadium’s small size.  But this is the way I feel.  I’m actually going to go to Citifield tomorrow to meet with some people from the Mets about the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference were organizing at Hofstra.  I’ll report back to you about my impressions of the new stadium.  I want to like it.  Shea is gone.  And I can’t give up the Mets just because it is.