Archive for June, 2009

I’m Getting Out of Here Until After the All-Star Break

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

No, I’m not giving up on what’s left of them.  I am very upset about all of it, but I will take meager comfort in the fact that no one expects anything of them now.  This means that the season will either be a bust, or a wonder.  There you go.

As it happens, I planned, long ago, to take a two-week vacation with my wife and daughter in Spain and France.  I’ll be back in Mets loony land on July 15.  I probably won’t blog between now and then.  I might though.  But don’t count on it.  In the meantime, I’m sharing some of the blurbs that will be on the back of my book when it appears in August.  These are from some very kind people who have seen advance samples of The Last Days of Shea

 “The Last Days of Shea is a truly terrific book.  Filled with passion and sincerity, it offers a deeper understanding of what it means to be a fan.”  Gary Cohen — SNY Mets broadcaster

To me and millions of others, Shea was beautiful.  I loved it when it had blue and orange steel plates on the outside and I loved it at the end.  My memories of the place will last forever.  In this wonderful homage, Dana Brand ties together our experiences of Shea, in a celebration of a place that, in memory, will always be far more substantial than most historians will care to admit.”  Howie Rose — WFAN Mets broadcaster


“When I read Dana Brand’s books, I feel as if I’m learning about the heart and soul of the Mets fan.  The Last Days of Shea is a great
tribute to Shea stadium and to the spirit of the fans who made it such a wonderful place to play baseball.”  
– Jerry Koosman, pitcher, New York Mets, 1968-78

Dana Brand is one of the true Believeniks, and he’s earned his Shake Shack burger the hard way: an x-ray of his heart would show a Shea-shaped scar.” Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude

“Why care so much about a baseball team?  Dana Brand has igured out a way to articulate that pleasurable or frustrating heartache and make it understandable and even forgivable.  If Mets Fan was filled with delights, The Last Days of Shea goes deeper: its real subject is loss and grief, and its prescription the consolations of philosophy.  Brand is a first-rate personal essayist, who has chosen baseball as his focus the way Baldwin chose race or Hoagland nature.  As Hazlitt and Liebling wrote about the art of boxing, so Brand writes about the psychology of the baseball fan.–  Phillip Lopate, author of Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan and Writing New York
  
   

  

Out of Luck

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The Cardinals series gave us hope and the Phillies’ slump kept us alive.  Now the Yankees have brought us down to earth.  If you can’t beat Chien Ming Wang, whom do you expect to beat?

I guess we’re in serious trouble, although I’m not ruling out the possibility that everything can turn around in the next series.  I’m not betting on it, but I’m not ruling anything out given the way the world is behaving lately.

It has rained every single day since April 1.  The world has sunk into a financial crisis no one foresaw a year ago.  The earth is off its axis.  The planets are in places they don’t normally go.

The Mets have had the worst conceivable luck with their regulars, who were all on deck last year.  Yet they have had remarkably good luck with the replacements.  They have played some of the worst baseball they have ever played this year. Yet they are at .500, 2 and a half games out of first.

And everything is totally strange because they are not playing where they have always played.  They are in an unfamiliar place, where balls don’t reach the walls that seem to recede as soon as you hear the crack of the bat.  The Mets have hit fewer home runs in a half season, but not right after hitting so many home runs so many years in a row. 

This could be a particularly sour season.  Or it can be a particularly memorable one.  I cling to the hope that we are seeing 1973 all over again.  If we are, we might be all right if we can stay within ten games as we go into August.  We might be able to afford to spiral downward through the rest of July.  And then again we might not.  Somebody in the division might suddenly figure out in which direction they are supposed to run.

The Mets are temporarily out of luck.  They ran out of gas a while ago.  Adam Dunn is not going to fix this, amigos.  This can’t be fixed.  It must either be followed or endured.  Hang on. 

 

 

Going to the Game With My 18-Year Old Daughter

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

 4762_215562150412_744855412_7379256_6076055_n by you.

 I went to the ballgame yesterday (June 23) with my daughter Sonia.  We’ve been going to ballgames together, just me and her, since she was seven.  The first time we went together, she made a commemoration of it on some construction paper, with the score (we beat the Cardinals, 9-4) and the information that I was the best dad ever.  It hung in my office for quite a few years.  Last night’s game was to be the first time we’d go together, just the two of us, to Citi Field.

I made sure that we left the house a little later than we normally do.  Luckily she was having trouble burning a CD, so I had to help her, and that made it seem natural.  I didn’t want to get down there and have to experience what I feared would be the pain and anguish of a Citi Field batting practice.  Let me tell you, when you’ve been going to a Shea batting practice for over a decade and you remember the excitement of your little daughter at all these different stages of her childhood as she got to see Mike Piazza and David Wright and Cliff Floyd all close up, the last thing you want to do is take her to a Citi Field batting practice, which just makes you feel like garbage.  Later, I told her that I had gotten us out of the house later for this reason and she said that it wasn’t necessary to protect her.  I was just protecting myself, which is what parents often do when they think they’re protecting their kids.  She said she already knew that “they did that.”  I thought her phrasing was interesting.  Somebody did that.  Somebody made that decision, without any consciousness of the effect that it would have on people.  Or maybe they did think, if we’re charging people almost $200 for those seats, they have a right to not have the riffraff on top of them if they get there early.  Well, if they thought that, I want them to know that I was talking with someone who came to one of my speaking engagements and she told me that when she was a kid, she’d get to batting practice early at Shea and there was almost no one in the seats, but often Mrs. Payson was.  She said that Mrs. Payson really seemed to get a kick out of all the die-hard fans and kids getting to batting practice early and she never seemed to have a problem with all of them hanging around where she was sitting.  Maybe if we could get the people sitting in sections 100-125 to tell the Mets that they should let everyone in 2 and a half hours before the game as long as they were gone without a trace an hour and a half before the game.  Maybe then. 

Anyway, we missed batting practice.  We had a great ride down though.  For over a decade our rides down have been devoted to sharing our impressions of our places in time and in the universe (no shit).  But this was a particularly poignant ride down because Sonia is graduating from high school tomorrow and I think she’s a bit overwhelmed by the degree to which this can be considered a major turning point in her life. 

We parked and hung around our brick, which was cool.  And we went and had supper.  Sonia was too attached to all of our years of eating hot dogs and knishes from the kosher cart to try anything else.  So we got her supper from the kosher cart on the field level with the bearded guy in the green t-shirt whose name tag indicates that he’s a rabbi.  Then we went over and I had a not-terrifically-kosher meal of the pulled pork sandwich from Blue Smoke and the grilled shrimp po’boy from Catch of the Day.  We ate at one of the stand-up tables and observed how nice the stadium looked.  We finished the second half of our meal at a different stand-up table up on the Pepsi Porch, which is where we were going to sit.  We saw that one thing that’s nice about the standup tables is that if you’re only two, you need to share them, and so then you can get into a nice conversation with other fans.  We had a good time talking with a father and son about the same ages as us.  They were Red Sox fans from Yonkers and they had just been to the new Yankee Stadium and thought it was lousy compared to Citi Field.  We talked about stadiums and about baseball and we didn’t talk about the most important perception all of us were having, which is that there is nothing quite like going to baseball games with your kid or your parent. 

It was cloudy and there was a strange looming sunset and the lights were so bright up around our seats on the Pepsi Porch.  Sonia observed that the stadium was beautiful and that the Pepsi Porch was wonderful.  I agreed.  We both liked the fact that you watched the game as you were facing the entire stadium.  You could never have that experience at Shea unless you were in the picnic area.  We both noted that we liked the eating areas and plazas of Citi Field.  We affirmed that even though she was now just about officially grown, we would come together to Citi Field many times in the future and we would like it and we would always love the Mets and we would never be as at home in Citi Field as we were at Shea and that we would just get used to that fact and accept it.  To mark the occasion, I got up and bought a couple of beers.  They carded me since they have to card everybody.  I brought the two beers back to her seat and gave her her choice.  She chose the Beck’s over the Brooklyn Lager because she found it refreshing.

The start of the game was fun.  Everybody on both teams was hitting the ball on the ground and I calculated that if things kept up like this, it would be the shortest game in history.  Then the heavens opened and everybody got up and huddled under the overhang and we got to look at the whole rest of the stadium with all the people in wet clothes or ponchos huddling under all the many overhangs.  It looked like there were all these strange birds in wet gray light.  The marshmallow-colored tarp on the infield reflected the stadium lights.  Everybody was wet, but everybody still seemed happy to be there.  Everybody seemed awfully nice too.  This wasn’t the same universe as the talk shows.  People were cool and friendly and philosophical.  And the generous sprinkling of Cardinal fans, blond, in red, curious about the new stadium, just seemed part of the whole scene.

The rest of the game could have been better, of course.  But it was mercifully short.  At three hours, it may have been the shortest game ever that included an hour-long rain delay.  Livan Hernandez continues to be incredibly impressive.  We don’t really have any offense, even though yesterday I said that we kind of did (who needs power when you’ve got grit, yeah right).  The outfielders seemed like little league outfielders, the guys who can’t field who are put out there because no one ever hits the ball into the outfield. 

The game ended and we heard Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”  The mood in the gray damp with the brilliant light and the tired, contemplative crowd seemed perfect for that song.  Sonia and I went out through the rotunda and then headed across the vast expanse of the new parking lot.  We were in a ridiculous mood and we sang silly verses we made up on the spot about the lousy game, to the tune of “New York State of Mind.”  This was the kind of thing we used to do when she was eight. 

We got into the car and drove home.  She posted some pictures on Facebook and worried aloud whether she was a curse on the Mets.  Many many people responded to her status, because she has like 700 friends on Facebook. I don’t think I’ve met 700 people in my entire life.  Anyway, she got a kick out of that.  She made the mistake of saying that she was cold and wet which you should never do if your mother reads your Facebook.  Anyway there we were again in the car, after so many years and with so many years to come, me and her driving home from a ballgame.

 

Call Me Crazy, But I Could Really Get Into This

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Have nine Mets ever been on the disabled list?  Have we ever had, on the disabled list, three of our four most important offensive players, two of our starting pitchers, and our second most important reliever?  I think that this may be the most “injured” Mets team ever. 

Should we despair?  Should we demand a move that, given our situation, we can probably not get away with making?

Well, let me first admit that I am afraid.  This has become an absurd situation.  But let me also be frank.  If games like this one can happen (the 6-4 win over the Cardinals in the first game of the series), I could really start enjoying this.  Enjoying?  Actually enjoying?  Yeah.

I enjoy this because if gives me a glimpse of something for which I have a guilty, secret attraction.  I love to watch a Mets team with solid pitching and a dubious lineup, a team that can only win when it summons reserves of grit, when it finds pockets of surprise.  What is actually more fun than watching a washed up mediocre pitcher throw a fine game, as a former third catcher no one had heard of on opening day goes 4 for 4, as a young player who was not making the grade as a regular suddenly starts to earn his keep, as a veteran replacement shortshop emerges as a team leader, as the last major offensive player in the lineup continues to lead the league in hitting?  What is more fun than being reminded of what the Mets used to be?

Oh, of course, I don’t want to see them go on like this.  I want the real team back.  But what would be cooler than watching the tough second team holding their own through the hardest part of the schedule, until the real team comes back and sails through August and September as if it were 1969.

I know a lot of fans want to talk about what could have been done better as this team was constituted.  They have a lot of good, valid points to make.  And I know that I’m probably just dreaming if I think that this is just going to be a fun interlude in a dramatic, brilliant season.  But let me tell you something.  A trade is not going to save them.  The only trades Omar is likely to be able to make are the kind of trades that we are likely to regret later.  All that can save them is the dream coming true.  All that can save them is the unlikely.  We will only have a good season if some players do more than we would have any right to expect of them.  This is what baseball fandom used to be.  I liked it.  I still like it.  A game like tonight was so much fun.  Lets enjoy our decimated team.  Let’s have something a little different. 

I’m going to the game tonight (6/23).  I want to see it happen again.  I’m checking out the Pepsi Porch because it looks like fun and I’m looking for my home in the stadium I’m still not yet at home in.  A team like the one I saw tonight could make me feel at home.  I’ve seen guys like this before.  I’m getting into this.  You see, it will not be entirely satisfying if the Mets just do with this particular core what they should have done these past two seasons.  They have to do something a little different.  They have to be the 2009 Mets.  They can’t just be what should have happened.  They have to be their own miracle, if they are going to carve out their own space in our memory.

 

I’m just saying

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

The Mets had a rough week, but the Phillies had a horrible week. Tonight, Brian Schneider drove in three runs, Daniel Murphy had three hits, and Ryan Church had two. Nieve was brilliant again. I’m just saying. 

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The Mets are now 33-30, 3 games out. In 1999, after 63 games, they were 33-30, 4 games out. In 1973, they were 29-34, 8 games out. At this exact time last year, the Mets were 30-33, 7.5 games out. As you may remember, if they’d won one more game last year, they would have been in the playoffs. If you look at these facts, you might derive some degree of encouragement.

You might also be interested to know that although the Mets had a record of 35-28 at this point in both 1969 and 2000, they were 5 games out at this point in 1969 and 5.5 games out in 2000.  So in any fair accounting of the situation, the Mets are in decent shape after 63 games.  I’d go so far as to say that the Mets have had a decent season so far, and may even be considered to have had a remarkable season given the length of their disabled list.  The heroics in this first half of the 2009:  the play of Wright, Rodriguez, Santana, and Beltran; the stepping up of Cora, Sheffield, Hernandez, and Santos; will deserve to be remembered by lifelong Mets fans.  Whether or not they will be remembered will depend on how this all turns out. 

If you know something about medieval pilgrimage traditions (I don’t know much but I know a little because my wife is thinking of writing a book about them), you know that there is a portion of the pilgrimage trail that is the real killer.  It comes somewhere in the middle and it is the bleakest, hardest, hottest, most barren part of the trip.  If you make it through the roughest part, you can feel okay about your chances of making it all the way to the end.  This portion of the trip is the analogy to all of the wastelands people have to wander through in the Bible before they can get to the Promised Land or enter Jerusalem.

The Mets, fortified by their respectable performance so far, are now about to enter the hardest stretch of their pilgrimage.  After this game tonight in Baltimore, all the teams the Mets will play between now and July 16 currently have a better record than they have.  This is pretty extraordinary when you think about it.  This will not be easy.  We are not likely to emerge unscathed.  We are three games over .500.  If we get to the end of this stretch with a .500 record, I will be satisfied. 

What???!!!!! (You’re thinking).  .500 at the All-Star Break and he would be satisfied.  Yeah.  Go to the Mets website and click on the schedule.  Look at the second half of July and the months of August and September and tell me whether you would or wouldn’t be satisfied, especially considering we’re going to get at least some of the wounded back on the roster.  We could win this thing.  The combination of the early injuries and the unbalanced schedule could produce the most dramatic Mets season ever.  But we can’t lose hope in the next month.  We must fear no evil. 

If any of you are going to Metstock tonight (6/18 at 7) on the Lower East Side, I look forward to meeting you there.   This event, whose name commemorates the two most culturally significant events of 1969, will be a great opportunity to meet the authors of these three fine Mets books:  Faith and Fear in Flushing by Greg Prince, A Magic Summer by Stanley Cohen, and Mets by the Numbers by Matt Silverman and Jon Springer.  Anybody who enjoys this blog will enjoy these books.

 

 

Everybody Should Pause

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Everybody should pause for a second and think about what they would have thought about the Mets if Castillo had caught the ball and the Mets had won that extraordinary game.

My point is that if you would have thought that, if the play had been made, then there is not enough of a reason for you to feel this, because the play was not made.  If the Mets are so close to that, they cannot be this.

I do think that Jerry Manuel should give vent to some of the disgust that the fans of the Mets are feeling.  I do think that any mental error, or even any egregious fielding or baserunning error, from this point forward, should be punished with contempt and a couple of days out of the line-up.  I do think the Mets need to be smacked upside the head.

But I don’t think that we should give up on them.  I don’t think there is rottenness.  The Mets are what they’ve been the last three years:  a good team right on the line.  There is more reason to be happy than unhappy with the way they are playing this year, given their calamities.  The season isn’t over.  And because we fans are bleeding from wounds too numerous to count at this point doesn’t mean we aren’t going to make it through.  Howl.  But pause. 

Dropping a Pop Up

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

They had lost two games that they could have won, because they were beaten by a team that played better.

They could hold their heads high.  I had no trouble with the way the Mets were playing.

They had come back three times against the Yankees.  They had beaten Rivera.  They had beaten A-Rod.  I loved the way he hit the ground with his bat as the ball went up into the air.  I felt so happy.  But looking at Castillo, I could see something was wrong.  He put his glove up with a kind of fear on his face.  He was in the right place.  But he was not going to catch that ball.  It was as if something was compelling him to not make the simplest of plays.  He didn’t make it and he didn’t even put his right hand up to his glove to keep the ball from spilling onto the field. 

I would rather they had clobbered us.  I would rather that A-Rod had hit a home run.  I would rather not have to remember that pop up forever and I hope and pray that I won’t have to.  But this is the way I think things will be this year.  If we lose it, if we don’t get where we want to go, it won’t be because we have been clobbered.  It won’t be because someone else has hit a home run.  If we lose, it will be because we have dropped a pop up.

The Current Situation and Father’s Day Recommendations

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I am used to the fact that every Mets season finds its own way of becoming the weirdest Mets season ever.  The thing is that in many ways I like the current season so far.  I know how much there is not to like but if you had told me that all that would happen would happen to our personnel (I don’t need to make a list), I would never expect to be 31-27 at this point.  What I like most is the fact that certain new main elements of the team (Rodriguez and most of the new middle-relief configuration) are so good that the Mets should be truly formidable if they get some of their lost players back.  I also love Beltran and Wright hitting for batting averages up in George Brett territory.  This is a cool experience.  Something feels different about the mid-.300s as opposed to the low .300s.  This was one of the pleasures of the unheralded 1998 season, when Olerud and Piazza were up on this plane.  I loved that sense of unprecedented confidence that there was going to be a hit when the middle of the order came up.

I know perfectly well that these Olympian batting averages from two players (who are also experiencing a power drought) is not enough to enable the Mets to play right now in the same league as the Phillies.  But it is a sign of how good Wright and Beltran actually are.  And although it isn’t enough, there is something exhilarating about watching the heroics of Cora, Santos, Hernandez, Redding, and to a certain degree Sheffield.  Face it, the Mets should be in free fall right now, and although they’re just hanging onto a ledge, they are hanging onto a ledge.  They’re screwing up plenty here and there, but they are also playing well considering.  If they can hang on, or if fortune starts kicking around the Phillies in the way it’s been kicking us around, I think that this could be a very exciting year.

In the meantime, Father’s Day is coming around and there is a crop of good new Mets books.  I had hoped to have read and reviewed all of them by now, but right now I’m in the middle of reading and correcting proofs and making an index for my own book and I’ve got a tight deadline.  I will get all those reviews up within the next couple of months.

In the meantime, of course I recommend my own book Mets Fan to anyone whose dad doesn’t have a copy yet.  But assuming that most readers of this blog already have given Mets fan dads a copy of Mets Fan, I want to particularly draw your attention to three recent books that would make great Father’s Day presents.  The first of these is Greg Prince’s instant classic Faith and Fear in Flushing.  You can read my review here.  This is my favorite kind of baseball book, one that is about baseball and life.  The thing is that in addition to being able to write about baseball and life, Greg Prince also has a richer and more complete knowledge of most of Mets history than anyone with the possible exceptions of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose.  Two excellent new books that would also make fine presents are Ron Darling’s The Complete Game and Shea Goodbye, written by Keith Hernandez and Matt Silverman.  I admit that I have not had the time I had hoped to have to read these books yet, but I have looked through my copies carefully and I can see that both have great merit and shouldn’t be lumped with the kind of books baseball players often write.  Darling (no surprise) is no ordinary ballplayer and he seems to have written a book about the internal and external dynamics of pitching that may very well be the best book anyone has ever written about this infinitely complex activity.  What’s great, from what I can see so far, about Shea Goodbye is that the entirely unique voice of Keith Hernandez comes through clearly, with all of its penetrating insight and occasionally too casual inattentiveness, with all of its great charm and offbeat humor.  Keith is a piece of work and this is why we love him.  Shea Goodbye looks as if it’s a hoot and it looks as if it offers an entertaining privileged perspective on a season that should have turned out better.

Two other books I’d like to recommend to anyone with a serious interest in the history of the Mets are William Ryczek’s The Amazing Mets, 1962-69 and Jacob Kanarek’s From First to Worst:  The Mets in the Seventies.  I have read the Ryczek book and I made it halfway through the Kanarek book before I had to drop everything to do my page proofs.  I’ll review these this summer as well.  Both are superb examples of well-researched baseball history by real fans.  If you lived with the Mets through the emotional rollercoaster of their first two decades, you’ll love these two books.  If you didn’t, you must read them to know the whole story, the whole saga of our team.  Both of these books are published by McFarland, the company that published Mets Fan.  If you’re not familiar with this publishing house you should be.  They publish more good books about baseball than anyone else.  The only problem is that because they are essentially an academic or scholarly press, their books are expensive and have to be bought on order or online and not in ordinary bookstores.  My new book, The Last Days of Shea, will be published in August, not January as it says on Amazon, by a more traditionally commercial trade press and therefore unlike Mets Fan, it is not expensive at all (list $16.95, on Amazon pre-order for $11.53).  Still, check out the McFarland catalog.  The books are not that expensive.  I know how much some of you pay just to go to a game.  You should support good baseball authors too.

P.S.  And as always, I’m happy to sell discounted (at cost) inscribed copies of Mets Fan to anyone who’d like one.  It’s not too late to get one for this Father’s Day.  E-mail me at danaabrand@yahoo.com if you’re interested.

Going to the Game on June 9

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

On June 9, 2009, I went to see the Mets play the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field.  It was a historic game, for me.  It was the first time I ever went to Citi Field and had an unambiguously great time.  I enjoyed myself as much as I would have enjoyed a comparable game at Shea. 

This didn’t happen because the game was wonderful.  A wonderful game wouldn’t be enough to make me love a new stadium I didn’t like.  The reason I enjoyed myself so much is that my baseball psyche is making an adaptation.  I am beginning to appreciate Citi Field’s merits more and care about its faults less.  I still care deeply about some of what I have identified in the past as Citi Field’s shortcomings, but I am reaching the point where I can go to a ballgame and not let my awareness of these shortcomings mar the whole experience.

One thing I did was I arrived later than I used to.  I got there around ten to six instead of my usual quarter to five.  Mets batting practice was over and so I didn’t have to think about what I hope will be the temporary loss of one of my favorite game-going rituals.  When I have the platform that my new book will give me, I’m not going to shut up about how awful it is that in Citi Field you can’t get close to batting practice unless you have a ticket costing more than $180. 
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It was fun to park in the Roosevelt Avenue lot.  Yeah, you read that right.  That lot is a mess.  It hasn’t been renovated at all.  But when you get out of your car in the lot and smell the slightly salty windy air and look around at the elevated train tracks and the metal fences and see all the cops and the kids and the Reyes jerseys and Santana jerseys and people in folding chairs next to their cars, you feel as if you’re absolutely in the city and that is so cool.  I’ve been spending too much time lately in quiet Connecticut. 

I loved climbing over Roosevelt Avenue through the subway station and seeing the subway crowd joining the parking lot crowd, flowing into the LIRR crowd.  I loved the walk across the big plaza, open to the sky, in front of the Rotunda.  You saw everybody looking for the people they were supposed to meet.  You saw people looking for and taking pictures of themselves with their bricks.  You saw the little Master Card or Newsday tents or whatever they are and the little crowds they attracted.  You could see inside the rotunda and see the escalators filled with people.  I’m really developing an affection for this entrance.  It gives you even more of a sense of the entering crowd than Shea ever did.  The crowd isn’t spread out all around the circumference, with everyone finding their own little hole through which they can enter the building.  There is a place where a big and interesting crowd gathers: a crowd you can watch as you stand by your brick.  And then there is a grand space to enter and a magical and continuous elevation of the crowd by the escalators. 

I entered the building and poked my head into the main gift shop.  And here’s something new folks.  Although it isn’t actually announced as such, and although it was kind of buried and obscured by piles of posters and little boxed replicas of Citi Field, there was a kind of cabinet that was kind of sort of a book section.  In the shelves of this cabinet were four books:  Ron Darling’s The Complete Game, Keith Hernandez and Matt Silverman’s Shea Goodbye,  Alyssa Milano’s Safe at Home, Rusty Staub and Phil Pepe’s Few and Chosen.  Literacy is making progress at the Mets stadium.  I wonder how far this will go. 

After my trip to the store, I indulged in what has already become one of the great pleasures of going to the game at Citi Field:  the sweet, salivating contemplation of what one will have for dinner.  I always knew what I was going to have for dinner at Shea.  But Citi Field really does offer a cornucopia of affordable marvels.  That area out by the bridge is like a gigantic tapas bar.  I settled on the 3-taco sampler with the fabulous sauces and the Elote corn.  I know that that’s what I had the last time I was at Citi Field, but I have been thinking about that meal ever since the last time I was at Citi Field and I had to have it again.

To eat my delicious dinner, I went up to my seat, for which I did not have great expectations.  I had bought my ticket on the Web at the last minute (I had been afraid that it was going to rain).  The cheapest seat I could get was a Promenade Box way out overlooking Left Field where you could famously see only one outfielder.  Okay, I thought, at least I’ll see what the worst seats in the stadium were like. 

Hey guys, those seats weren’t bad.  In fact I loved them, even though it was true that I could only see one and a half outfielders (I say that because I could see the centerfielder if I leaned far forward in my seat).   I realize that I’m just going to have to explore the affordable areas of the stadium to find my niche or niches.  What’s cool about these left-field Promenade Boxes is that you are looking towards the batter and you also have the whole crowd in your field of vision.  The crowd becomes the backdrop of the game.  This almost makes you feel as if you’re inside the game.  The home runs are hit towards you.  This is a striking effect that you could only have, to some degree, in the picnic area at Shea.  Next time, I want to try the Pepsi Porch, because that looks as if it would offer another version of what I enjoyed about my Left Field Promenade boxes. 

I had fun talking, throughout the game, with the guy to my left, who identified himself as a “67-year old retired government employee.”  He was an old Brooklyn Dodger fan and he could remember what it was like to be a five-year old black kid when Jackie Robinson made his debut.  We reminisced about Shea.  His top moment was seeing Seaver’s near-perfect game.  My top moment was either the Agee Upper Deck home run or the Melvin Mora wild pitch.  We talked about how both of us had bought tickets in the Loge behind the infield for around $25 for years.  We laughed at how they had finally figured out that those were the best seats in the house and now, in the new stadium, they were selling our old seats for $250.  As I gazed towards the great bank of seats that cost more than I would ever pay to see a baseball game (everything below the Promenade except the Mo Zone), I didn’t feel the bitterness I was feeling a couple of weeks or a couple of months ago.  I didn’t like it, but I was getting used to it.  These seats were fine. 

As evening descended, I liked the seats more and more.  The reason for this is that I really liked the light effect in these specific seats.  One thing about Shea at night is that the light was extremely even.  You were always in the same poignant, brilliant atmosphere.  At Citifield, the old-fashioned light arches create a very uneven lighting effect.  In some seats, this can look unpleasant, I think.  You can be in darkness looking around at darkness interspersed with a kind of glare.  But there was a very beautiful lighting effect in the seat where I was sitting (434, 4, 10) that reminded me of the way I remember New York streetlights in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, before they installed the too-bright mercury lights.  It was a soft, white, vintage, almost black-and-white movie kind of light.  I loved it.  And although this isn’t the kind of thing people usually talk about when they go to a ballgame, it is very important to me.  How a stadium feels when it is lit up at night is extremely, almost ridiculously important to me.  It’s a hard thing to talk about because it is hard to find the vocabulary.  When I watch a ballgame in a stadium at night, I like the light to create the impression that I am looking both into the past and into the future.  What I just said doesn’t make any literal sense and yet I can’t be any more precise than this.  It’s not enough to me that the players can see the ball.  I need to have a certain sense of the poetry of the light, a sense that I am looking at a moment that looks backward and forwards.  For some reason, the light in section 434 had that quality and I want to go back there again. 

The game was the kind of game that makes you realize why you love baseball so much.  Here was a contest between two teams whose identities are now intertwined.  Right now, they are the team that came from behind to beat us twice.  They have nothing to prove but something to defend.  We have everything to prove.  We already have a close pennant race.  They are strong where we are weak.  They are weak where we are strong.  This could be one of the most dramatic seasons in the history of both franchises, and this is exactly the point, after one-third of the games, where seasons begin to settle into the patterns that will characterize them forever.

Santana was brilliant in the beginning, getting the Phillies to pop up all over the place.  He struck out both Howard and Ibanez the first time he faced them, and I started to feel so confident.  Maybe all we need is a run or two and then, after all the talk about David Wright not being able to hit home runs anymore, he hits one and thrills the crowd.  Beltran hits another.  It rises towards me and falls into the section just below me.  We’re up 3-0 and our offense feels formidable.  The crowd is loud and filled with passion and chanting whether or not the scoreboard is prompting it.  All of my fears that the crowds at Citi Field will be quieter are gone completely.  That was just shyness.  Mets fans are as loud as they ever were. 

And we’re worried as Howard and Ibanez hit their homers off Santana.  Their 18th and 20th?  What?  What?  Our whole team has 34.  How can we beat a team that hits so many homers?  Can their pitching be that bad?  What if it gets good?

The Mets play with determination.  Santana gets his groove back.  Gary Sheffield makes a fabulous catch in the sixth, right up against the side wall.  And then Jimmy Rollins, the man we hate because he annoyingly keeps saying, before it happens, that what will happen will happen, breaks our hearts by hitting a two-run homer to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.  But the Mets are still playing.  Tatis seems to score to tie the game but the home plate umpire doesn’t think so.  And then with runners at first and second, with two outs, after two failed bunt attempts, Santana shows bunt, pulls his bat back and whacks a double down the right field line to tie the game.  Cora drives in the go-ahead run and then brilliantly takes second when the ball goes to the plate.  In the seventh, Santana grabs from the air a Victorino line drive headed for center and throws to first to double up Bruntlett.  We’re not only getting offense include home runs, we’re getting smart baserunning and great fielding!  What more can we ask for?  How about a Ryan Church home run to bring the score to 6-4?  A home run that was sorely needed, as Utley comes through with the seventh homer of the game.  Pedro Feliciano is brought in to make Mantle and Maris look like Heckyll and Jeckyll.  And Frankie Rodriguez comes in and does what he always does.  Always.  It’s like having Mariano Rivera.  Does anyone really understand what something like this feels like to a Mets fan?  Hell, we’ve had great relievers before but have we ever had such a reliable one?

The home run barrage was hilarious, of course, considering all anyone’s been talking about all week is how hard it is to hit home runs in Citi Field.  It’s still pretty hard to hit home runs in Citi Field, however.  You can tell that by a feature of Citi Field crowd noise that I noticed for the first time at this game.  At Citi Field, if a ball is hit really well by a Met, there is the crack of the bat and the corresponding swell of the crowd in response.  As the ball travels, the swell increases and lifts and then flattens as some hesitation creeps in.  Then, if the ball bounces off the wall and onto the field for an extra-base hit, there is an “awwwwwhhhhh” sound.  You never heard this at Shea for a double or a triple.  The crowd kind of knew from the crack of the bat or the arc of the ball whether it was a home run or not.  The crowd doesn’t know this at Citi Field because hearing the home run crack and seeing the home run arc will sometimes mean the ball is leaving the park and sometimes it will not mean that. 

The game was great.  The crowd was in it.  And all the Phillies fans (there were a lot of them) gave the game and the crowd dynamic extra color.  They had their Championship shirts and banners and what difference does it make?  Would any Mets fan begrudge the Phillies fans their joy in their team?  I congratulated the Phillies fans sitting on my right.  Isn’t the point really that we want our team to be more the way their team has been the past two seasons?  For the first time I walked down the ramp that is on the outside of the stadium on the left field side and I had some of the old feeling that I used to have on Shea’s outer ramps.  Mets fans and Phillies fans gave it to each other.  We were so happy and loud, and they were not that unhappy, and they were not afraid to be loud either.  It was so much more fun than the parking garage staircases people walk down in the other parts of the stadium. 

It was a memorable game, and even more importantly to me, it was a truly pleasant stadium experience.  I will always miss Shea, but I can’t do without the Mets.  And although I love to watch them on TV or on the radio and listen to our superb broadcasters, radio and TV are still mediated encounters.  Being at a ballgame removes a layer of mediation.  You are there.  You are in the midst of it.  You are in the light, and in the pennant race, and in the past and in the future.  You are there.  And there is just about nothing that is as much fun than being right there where it is happening.

 

Sigh

Monday, June 8th, 2009

I just got an exceptionally civil e-mail from Jeff Pearlman that makes me feel like crap for having lost my temper in the post below.  He says he’s a regular reader of my blog and that he actually enjoyed my bashing.  That’s pretty classy, I suppose.  I still didn’t like his piece in Sports Illustrated this week, and I still have the problems I said I have with his argument, metaphors, and word choice. 

But the truth of the matter is that I don’t really detest The Bad Guys Won.  I take that back.  I enjoyed it very much when I read it, even if I found the prose overly fevered.  The problem I have with the book, as I told Jeff, is that it has fixed an image of the 1986 Mets in people’s minds that may be true for all I know, but is at odds with my own loving sense of them.  His image of a successful baseball team, in that book, has too much of an influence on our own idea of how the Mets should behave.  As the kind of fan who likes a Carlos Delgado more than he likes a Lenny Dykstra, as the kind of fan who believes fervently that Mike Piazza should not have charged Roger Clemens on the mound, as the kind of fan who really doesn’t want to know the degree to which very good ballplayers may in fact be drunken, sexist bozos from time to time, I am going to continue to have a very seriously ambivalent attitude towards The Bad Guys Won until the end of my days. 

I give Jeff Pearlman a lot of credit for writing to me.  And I am not just making up with him because he said he just finished reading Mets Fan and loved it.  I’m apologizing to him because I think that I charged the mound and I shouldn’t do that given how much I always criticize players for doing that kind of thing.  In my defense, I’ll say that I get really sick and tired when people give up on the Mets and criticize them for a lack of grit, when people declare this season over, when people say that Mets history is a sorry story, when people don’t appreciate Mr. Met.  Still, if I am Mr. kinder-and-gentler, Mr. don’t-boo-Mets, Mr. grit-is-overrated, I should keep my cool.  At the core of the disagreement between me and Jeff Pearlman is a very serious question to which I don’t have the answer.  Does it actually help every once in a while to charge the mound and throw the batting helmet?  Does it help more to get pumped and pissed or steady and calm?  How upset should a team and a fanbase be when the team loses?  I’m not sure. 

In any event, I tip my cap to Jeff Pearlman.  He’s not an idiot.  And even though I have serious problems with it, The Bad Guys Won is a good book and it is worth reading. 

Jeff Pearlman is an Idiot

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I am, as my readers know, an optimistic, tolerant person, slow to anger. I try not to say bad things about people. But I have had it up to here. Let me say first of all that I try never to say anything bad about fellow Mets authors, most of whom are very worthy writers. The one popular Mets book I detest is The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman. I have no idea whether or not it is a piece of competent journalism. It might be, for all I know. But I think it is lousy writing and it is written from the perspective of a smart-ass who has created his own myth of what the 1986 Mets were all about. From my perspective as a Mets fan, Jeff Pearlman has no understanding at all of what the 1986 Mets were about. Below please find my comments about this piece of shit I just scraped off my shoe after stepping on a copy of Sports Illustrated. My admittedly intemperate comments are in brackets and bold italics.

From a column with the amusing title “Pearls of Wisdom” in SI, June 5, 2009

Ghost of the New York Mets

Story Highlights

When Shea Stadium was demolished Mets fans hoped things would be different

But the curse of injuries, sloppy play, ineptitude have lived on at Citi Field

This year’s Mets have exhibited little life and appeared doomed again

The ghost exists.

Close your eyes, and you’ll see him, flying up and down, left and right, through the glistening, freshly painted hallways of Citi Field and onto the crisp green grass. He laughs a lot — not in wicked tones, per se, so much as a sadistic, Jim Carrey-in-The Cable Guy sort of way. [Not in wicked tones PER SE?? Mr. Latin? Can someone please tell me how a sentence like this or half of the ones below made it past a magazine editor?]

When Shea Stadium was demolished last winter, there was hope — faith, even — among Mets fans that the phantom would be crushed along with it; that the blue-and-orange clouds of dust and debris would fill the wicked wretch’s pores and chop off its tongue. [Yes dust and debris will chop off its tongue. We have command of this metaphor. Yes that the way Mets fans thought. We hoped that the destruction of Shea was going to lead to the end of all that had been experienced there. You got us pegged all right. Boy were we glad to see that thing go down, after all the bad stuff we had experienced there.] Yes, the Metropolitans had spent most of their 4 1/2 decades living under his reign — drafting Steve Chilcott over Reggie Jackson; [Yeah, what about lucking into the signing of Tom Seaver, the name of our team picked out of a hat when there was an irregularity with his original signing. What about the signing of Gooden and Strawberry, the magnetism of the ‘80s team, the simultaneous development of Wright and Reyes and all the other good fortune fans of this franchise have actually enjoyed?] George Foster and signing Vince Coleman and Bobby Bonilla as high-priced free agents; [So that’s all there is to our history? You've carefully chosen all the most representative details, haven't you?] relinquishing leads and hope with staggering regularity and employing as their mascot an inane big-headed baseball [You’re saying that Mets fans don’t like Mr. Met? You're saying that having Mr. Met as our mascot is a sign of the bad fortune of the franchise?  This is how well you know us?]. But the true, all-encompassing hex had only been implemented within the modern era, [The true all-encompassing hex was implemented, huh? Boy, I wish you were in one of my classes. I’d implement your fucking hex.] when the team blew back-to-back gimme playoff births [Playoff births huh? It's obvious that Sports Illustrated no longer employs editors.  But they could have saved a few berths for proofreaders.] and sent its legion of fans seeking out the nearest bridge. So surely, many believed, the downing of Shea would mean the downing of the torture; [Downing of Shea and downing of the torture? Great word choice.  "Downing” is exactly the word that works here.] that, after all too long, the Mets would be free at last.

To the dismay of New Yorkers, the ghost who supposedly vanished is bigger and badder than ever before. [I guess the dust didn’t chop off its tongue.] Carlos Delgado’s hip? The ghost. Jose Reyes‘ right hamstring? The ghost. Oliver Perez’s body swap with Anthony Young? The ghost. J.J. Putz’s emergence as, well, a putz (albeit, an injured one)? The ghost. David Wright’s amazing — and puzzling — Sean Burroughs impersonation? [That Wright does stink. He makes an out more than half of the time.] The ghost. The team’s blah 28-24 record? The ghost. [28-24 is pretty damn blah. It certainly is time to declare their season doomed. Every other team that’s going to win this year undoubtedly has a better record than 28-24 right now.  Nobody's ever come back from 28-24.]

Most alarming, the ghost has found a way to take a clubhouse that has long been — if nothing else — lively and transform it into a visit to the Mahopac Public Library. (Writer’s note: I grew up going there. Very nice facility — but extremely subdued.) [You should have spent a little more time there, I think.] To be a Met these days is to live in fear of failure; to talk and talk about the renewal of a ballclub, but to be mentally crippled by the knowledge that, come season’s end, you will, somehow, blow it. [I’ll grant that this is a problem. But I think that it is a problem that can be dealt with, and that the Mets were dealing fairly well with in May.]

Nine years ago, the Mets reached the World Series with a significantly less-talented cast than their modern brethren. Their starting outfield — perhaps the worst in the history of the Fall Classic — was Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Timo Perez. Their shortstop was Mike Bordick, with Todd Zeile manning first. The final three spots in the rotation were handled by Glendon Rusch, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones. Armando Benitez (egad) closed and John Franco, age 1,658, set him up. In short, on paper the Mets frightened no one. [I seem to remember a few other guys on this team, who might have made a significant contribution to that team’s success. And if you remember, Agbayani, Peyton, Rusch, and all had pretty good years in 2000, even if their careers did not continue at the same level. I don’t remember anyone marveling that a team with the talent of the 2000 Mets won 94 games.]

Yet those Mets played with heart, spunk and tenacity. After every win, someone would inevitably blast Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way on the clubhouse stereo, turning the room into a loud, bubbly bastion of glee. Veterans like Al Leiter and Robin Ventura set the tone, and Mike Piazza seemed to hit a game-winning home run whenever one was needed. Manager Bobby Valentine, slightly less stable than a one-legged emu, walked and spoke with a swagger that, though often mocked by his players, proved invaluable. The Mets wouldn’t lay down — for anyone. Ah, memories. Burnt out ends of smoky days. The still cold smell of morning. A street lamp dies, another night is over. Another day is dawning.

These Mets lay down — for everyone. They play with little gusto, and less aggressiveness. They rarely hit in the clutch, and make lackluster opposing pitchers appear to be the second coming of Steve Carlton. [I’ll accept this if you’ll just explain to me why this team was 19-9 in May.]

When the Yankees suffer through a conga line of injuries, the organization never offers up the maladies as an excuse. [It doesn’t?!!] The Mets, on the other hand, all but seek out injuries to cite to the media. If only we had Delgado. If only we had Reyes. If only …

The future has been written for the 2009 New York Mets, and it is not good. [Oh, it has, has it? How long have you been following baseball?] They are modern day Jobs, all of them. Only in this run, there is no reprieve. A team with baseball’s second-highest payroll will win, oh, 85 games and finish 10 games behind Philadelphia. [This may happen.  And it may not.] They will add someone — Aubrey Huff? Nick Johnson? — to the mix, sing his praises, find a groove, then sink back to reality. They will fire their manager, trade off their prospects, talk about the new Mets, the fresh Mets, the exciting Mets. But they’re still the haunted Mets.

[This kind of article from a sports "writer" makes me desperately hope the Mets do well this year. Look, I know we're in trouble.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared.  But I marvel at fans who would look at our blah 28-24 record at this point and give up.  These are like the people at the stadium who leave after the sixth inning because we're behind by a run.  Why did they buy their ticket?  If the Mets have a ghost, what do other teams have? I’m talking about the majority of teams that have had even less success than we have had in the last 46 years, in terms of pennants and world championships. To hear Jeff Pearlman tell it, it’s been a waste to root for this team because we haven’t won enough. Our history, he thinks, hasn't given us any pleasure, only pain. He was glad to see Shea come down because it wasn't a house of champions often enough.  If baseball and baseball fandom and Mets history were what Jeff Pearlman says they are, I wouldn’t have anything to do with any of them.

I love you, Mr. Met. If you could speak, you would never say anything about implementing a hex. Watch out, Jeff Pearlman. The good guys might win it this year.

 P.S.  If you're not afraid of ghosts, Mets Fan makes a great Father's Day gift.]