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.