Archive for October, 2009

Contest Results! My Favorite Publication

Friday, October 30th, 2009

I want to thank everyone who submitted guesses about the article that has just appeared in my favorite publication.  All of the guesses were good ones, but nobody actually got it.  I will, however, award the prize to Stormy, who guessed my second-favorite publication:  The New Yorker.  Stormy, please e-mail me at danaabrand@yahoo.com to claim your prize.

As for my favorite publication.  Well, although I read a lot about sports on the Web, and regularly read the sports sections of the two newspapers I read, The New York Times and Newsday, I don’t really like any sports publication very much.  If there was a sports journal written as well as Faith and Fear in Flushing, I’d subscribe to it.  But there isn’t.  The only sports publication I recommend to anyone is the Mets Annual put out by Maple Street Press.

The New Yorker is my second favorite publication and I often read and have the highest regard for Harper’s and The Atlantic.   I also always read and generally like The New York Times.

But my absolutely favorite publication is the one that Esquire has called ”the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language.”  It is.  This is why it fills the baskets in my bathroom.

My favorite publication is  The New York Review of Books

You have no idea what it means to me that the issue that has just hit the newstands contains an article by Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic for the New York Times, that focuses on my book, “The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan.”  This is an intellectual’s dream come true.  Mr. Kimmelman says some very nice things about “The Last Days of Shea” and he actually refers to me at one point as “the Proust of Mets bloggers.”  I’ll take that for an identity.   Kimmelman’s article is terrific and, with the help of my book, he says a number of things about the new baseball stadiums in New York, and about what stadiums mean to people, that need to be said in the context of an intellectual journal.

I had hoped to have a link to the article, “In the Bad New Ballparks,” but this is as far as I can take you.  If you don’t subscribe to the NYRB, and if you don’t want to shell out for a copy, you can find it in most libraries. 

Even if you don’t know the New York Review, you may know it through Woody Allen, who often mentions it as beloved by New York intellectuals.   In “Annie Hall,” when the guy on line in front of him in the movie is going on and on about Marshall McLuhan, Allen’s character says of the couple:  ”They probably met through an ad in the New York Review of Books: Thirtyish academic wishes to meet woman interested in Mozart, James Joyce, and sodomy.”   And in Allen’s priceless short story, “The Whore of Mensa,” a character says:  ”I devised a complicated scheme to take over The New York Review of Books, but it meant I had to pass for Lionel Trilling. I went to Mexico for an operation. There’s a doctor in Juarez who gives people Trilling’s features – for a price. Something went wrong. I came out looking like Auden, with Mary McCarthy’s voice. That’s when I started working the other side of the law.”

Seriously, though, if you’re interested in literature, art, politics, and ideas in general, I can’t recommend any publication to you more highly.  Check it out.  And those personal ads really are like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Mets Fans Should Root for the Phillies

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

      

One of the October rituals of a New York Mets fan is taking a break from leaf-raking and planning Halloween costumes in order to decide who you’re going to root for in the World Series.  Some years, there will be a team you can convince yourself to like and you root for them.  Other years, there will be a team you don’t like and you can root against them.  In many years, you are indifferent to both teams and so you remain indifferent to the outcome of the Series.

Only rarely do two teams you strongly dislike make it to the World Series.  When this happens, you face a peculiar problem.  As much as you’d like to remain indifferent, you can’t.  There is no conceivable way in which a Mets fan can be indifferent to a Yankees-Phillies World Series.  We are so used to responding positively to the failure of these teams, and so used to responding negatively to their successes, that we can’t just suddenly pull the plug on our emotions.  The problem, obviously, is what are you supposed to do if a single event (say Howard hitting a homer off of Rivera) would simultaneously flood your neurons with happy chemicals and unhappy chemicals?  You don’t want to explode and you can’t neutralize your emotions.  To keep from exploding, you have to pick one of these two teams and root for it.

In the upcoming World Series, I am rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies to defeat the New York Yankees.   Here is why.

Yankees fans right now are very happy about facing the arch-nemesis of the Mets.  They see an opportunity to get us on their side, to unite the city behind their team.  They think we will join them in celebrating the exploits of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.  They think that when we see what this is like, we will realize that it is actually not so bad.  Our hearts will melt, and since our own team has given us so much heartache lately, we might even consider, on the very edge of our consciousness, the possibility, dare one say it, of a change in loyalty, or a dividing of loyalty, in order to enjoy this sweet ambrosia of frequent winning.  It’s not so bad to win, is it?  Feels kind of nice, doesn’t it?  There are some good players on that team in the Bronx …..

WAKE UP!  Throw a pail of cold water over your head!  Don’t fall asleep!  Don’t ever do it!  Don’t be replaced by the pods in the basement and always resist the seductive but specious arguments of the Dark One. 

Mets fans!   Remember that no matter how successful the Yankees become, the one thing we can always deprive them of is the right to claim that they have unified this city, that they are “New York’s team.”  To this day, you will hear Yankees fans, their eyes misting with tears, remembering how the city came together behind the Yankees’ noble, doomed quest for a fifth consecutive World Championship in 2001.   Mets fans know that this didn’t really happen.  We weren’t very demonstrative about this, out of respect for what many Yankees fans had suffered in the attacks, but I am willing to tell the world that I know that in the New York metropolitan area, it wasn’t just my chips and dip table that got knocked over in exhilaration when Luis Gonzalez singled off of Mariano Rivera to drive Jay Bell home with the run that gave the Arizona Diamondbacks the 2001 World Championship. 

Mets fans cannot root for the Yankees under any circumstances.  It is as simple as that.  I understand that Yankees fans feel morally superior to us because they can, on occasion, root for the Mets.  The chutzpah is amazing but I’ve actually met Yankees fans who think they deserve credit for having rooted for the Mets in the 1986 Series.  Still, everyone needs to understand that Mets fans can’t ever root for the Yankees because for us, the dynamic is so much more complicated.  The Mets mean nothing to the Yankees.  The Yankees mean a great deal to the Mets.  We are the slighted younger brother.  We are Cain and they are Abel.  Hating them is central to who and what we are.  Think of it, Mets fan.  What will it feel like to you to hear them celebrating their 27th World Championship in this year of all years in Mets history?   Would you rather hear them gloat or would you rather hear their anguish at being denied that to which they are so certain they are entitled?   

The Phillies are just our division rivals.  They are not wrapped around the tree trunk of our very existence as Mets fans.  If we root for the Yankees, we may cease to exist.   If we root for the Phillies, for this one series, it doesn’t make any difference.  It’s not as if there is any chance of us becoming Phillies fans, in the way that there is always a chance that a Mets fan might become a Yankees fan.  Sure, if the Phillies win, they will have bragging rights.  But what do they have now, please?  Are you worried that a second World Championship in a row will make the Phillies fans more obnoxious?  Who would you rather see get more obnoxious, Phillies fans or Yankees fans?  And hey, why shouldn’t these people be obnoxious?  They’ve earned it.  We just wish we could be this obnoxious to them.  We’re resentful that we can’t be.  When Phillies fans show up at Citi Field with their banners and their Championship shirts, I wish I could say something cutting and witty to them, but I can’t.  I hang my head.  I can’t find a good reason to hate the Phillies.  I’m just mad because they beat us, dramatically, three times in a row.  And I’m not going to start hating them because they treat the Mets with so much contempt and disdain.  Why do Mets fans feel that they are the only ones allowed to treat the Mets with contempt and disdain? 

It might even be fun for the Phillies to have won two World Championships in a row.  There will certainly be no question, when the season starts, about the team to beat in the National League East.  Even if the Phillies lose in four to the Yankees, there will still be no question about this.  They are the team to beat.  We are the underdogs.  That will make victory more fun if we can beat them.  Look, there’s nothing that can happen now that can hurt the Phillies in terms of their standing relative to the Mets.  As we all know, there is nothing shameful about losing a World Series, unless of course you lose it, when you have a better team, to a hated crosstown rival to whom you are often compared.  That can’t happen in this Series.  One of these teams will emerge as the 2009 World Champion and the other will be a respected pennant winner. 

Do it.  Root for the Phillies.  Sweeten the pot of our eventual triumph over them.  Deny the Yankees.  As much as we would like to, we can’t sit on the sidelines for this one.  There is too much at stake and too much going on.  Yes, this is a nightmare for Mets fans.  But face it, some nightmares are worse than others.  Oh, and if against everyone’s expectations, the Angels pull it out, and we have a Phillies-Angels World Series, root for the Angels.

For an excellent treatment of this same topic, check out the ever-reliable Faith and Fear in Flushing.

And if you haven’t submitted an entry yet in my Last Days of Shea  mystery article contest, please see the post below.

A CONTEST!!!!

Monday, October 19th, 2009

I’m not a contest person, but I have been inspired to have a contest.  Here’s the story:

At some point in the next few weeks, a lengthy article will appear in which my book, The Last Days of Shea, will be prominently featured and appreciated.    The article will appear in what is, without question, MY FAVORITE PUBLICATION.   I read this publication as soon as I get it.  I savor it.  It fills the basket on top of the toilet in our main bathroom.  I’ve been a subscriber to this publication for many many years, but otherwise I have no connection to it. 

Do you think you can guess where this article will appear?  Do you think you know what might be MY FAVORITE PUBLICATION?  You can have one guess, which you can leave as a comment on this post.  You may not guess any publication that someone else has already guessed.  I will reveal the identity of the publication only after the article is published.  No one who has ever gone to the bathroom in my house or who works for the publication may participate in this contest. 

The person who has made the correct guess will receive a free copy of my book, inscribed in any way he/she instructs, along with a copy of the publication in which the article appears. 

Excuse the self-indulgence of this, but this is a real Mike Myers moment for me.  Not only am I not worthy, I am totally verklempt.

Appearances and Announcements

Friday, October 16th, 2009

1)  I am featured, along with Al Weis and his family, in a terrific article by Mark Herrmann in today’s Newsday, commemorating what happened forty years ago today (October 16, 1969).

2)  On October 16, I was an in-studio guest on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” an episode of Colin McEnroe’s Show on Connecticut Public Radio.  Will Leitch of New York Magazine was another guest, as was Jefferson Singer, a psychology professor at Connecticut College.  The topic was the psychology of baseball fandom and the 50-minute show, if I do say so myself, will strike some of you as more worth listening to than a whole year of daytime WFAN.  Give it a try the next time you’re picking up the kitchen or organizing your closets.  You can also download it to your I-Pod.  You can find it right here:  Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

2)  Sunday, November 8, I will be on Sports Talk Live with Frankie the Sports Guy at 10 pm on 1240 WGBB AM

3)  Tuesday, November 10, I will be giving a reading from my new book at 7:30 pm at the South Huntington (LI) Library.

4)  Tuesday, November 17, I will be giving a reading from my new book at 7:30 pm at the Teaneck (NJ) Library.

5)  Tuesday, December 1, I will be giving a reading from my book from my new book at 7pm at the Hillside Library, New Hyde Park (LI).

I will have more information soon about other appearances, etc.  Once again, if you want to read about my book, see samples, blurbs, reviews, and ordering information, follow this link:  The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan.

The Intimacy of Citi Field: An Open Letter to the New York Mets

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

bedsheet.533 by you.

Late this afternoon (10/5), Mike Francesa interviewed Jeff Wilpon, David Howard, and Omar Minaya for an hour and a half.  Mike observed, in the course of the interview, that after some criticisms that were made in the first month, virtually everyone liked Citi Field now.  He asked Dave Howard what it was that the fans praised the most.  Howard said that what he heard most from the fans is that they appreciated the “intimacy” of the new stadium, they liked the smaller size of the stadium and the sense of closeness to the field and the players. 

I have been a fan of the New York Mets since six months before they played their first game.  My loyalty is deep, complete, and incomprehensible.  I will never cease to be a Mets fan.  Whatever the Mets are, I want to be close to them.  Like most fans, I crave intimacy with my team.

I find the experience of baseball in Citi Field to be less intimate than the experience of baseball at Shea.  Please understand that there are many fans who feel as I do, and please do not dismiss us as impractical sentimentalists pining for our lost Shea.  I have spoken to a great many Mets fans over the past six months and although I have heard them praise Citi Field for its food, bathrooms, legroom, and cupholders, I have never heard a single person praise it for its intimacy.  While I will take your word for it that you have heard such praise, I ask you to listen to those of us who feel differently. 

Citi Field does not feel intimate to me because when I arrive two and a half hours before the game is scheduled to begin, I am not permitted to stand in the area behind the dugouts to watch batting practice.  I am required to stand far from the players in a clump of people out in right or left field.  If I try to enter the enormous and virtually empty area of the field boxes near the players, guards rush down to tell me to return immediately to the clump.   At Shea, for 45 years, I was always able to watch the players up close during batting practice.  I saw them talking and clowning around, fifty feet away from me.  It was a wonderfully intimate experience.  If you are truly concerned with creating an intimate experience of baseball for your fans, you shouldn’t take away an intimate experience they had for decades and replace it with a policy that degrades them and distances them from their team.   I ask you please to restore the batting practice policy that had always been in effect at Shea.  Let everyone into the area behind the dugouts and require those who do not have tickets in that area to leave when batting practice is over.

Citi Field does not feel intimate to me because, like most middle-income fans, my seats at Citi Field are further from the field than they were at Shea.  Perhaps the field level seats are closer to the field, but I consider myself priced out of field level seats at Citi Field.  I found all of the seats at Shea to be affordable, including the field level, where I sat occasionally.  My usual $25 seats behind the infield in the Loge offered me a superb and intimate view of the game.  My current $25 seats in the Promenade are just all right.  There is nothing superb or intimate about the view from the Promenade.  If you have to pay the price of a Broadway show to experience intimacy in a new stadium, after you have for years had fine seats for one-quarter of that price in the old stadium, then you are going to feel anger towards anyone who tells you that the experience of the new stadium is more “intimate.” 

Shea was immense and, with a big crowd, it could feel sublime.  There was a beauty to Shea that derived in part from its enormous size, and from the sound that was made by an enormous crowd.  And yet in spite of the immensity of the crowd and the stadium, there was something intimate about the experience of Shea.  Everybody was in the same place, doing the same things.   We were all together.  When I go to Citi Field, I don’t feel as if we’re all together.  I feel that many of us are in well-guarded, exclusive areas closed off to the rest of us.  Many of us are behind plexiglass.  I feel as if we’re a fragmented stratified crowd that could never join together, as Mets crowds have in the past, to make the whole building tremble.   The crowd at Citi Field may be smaller, but the experience of the crowd seems less intimate. 

Another thing that detracts from the intimacy of Citi Field is the overwhelming presence of immense, ugly ads.  Citi Field was a beautiful piece of architecture when it first went up.  There were lovely arches and colonnades, a kind of retro-brownstone beauty.  

That beauty is still visible if the building is approached from some angles.  But from most angles of approach, this gentle aesthetic effect has been destroyed by the size and appearance of the billboards.  Inside the stadium, the ads dwarf the scoreboard and take up far too much of our field of vision.  All of this ugliness prevents intimacy.  As fans, we are looking for things we have always been intimate with:  the team’s vivid blue and orange colors, the wonderful logo, etc.  We don’t see those things, and we don’t see much about our history and heritage except for the recently installed Nikon ads.  We don’t see ourselves, we don’t see our team, but we see ads everywhere.  This too prevents us from feeling any intimacy in the new stadium. 

When people raise the kinds of objections I am making, everyone always says that you have to remember that baseball is a business and the owners need to make money so that they can afford to put the best team out there.  The argument is that they have a right to charge as much as the market will stand for tickets, they have a right to make stadiums smaller to increase the demand for the tickets, they have the right to fill the place up with ads.  I do not agree with these arguments.  I think that a business is something someone starts to satisfy people’s needs and compete with others who are trying to satisfy the same or similar needs.  Baseball is not a business in this way.  It is a monopoly.  It is most analogous to a privately-owned utility.  The only thing that prevents a privately-owned utility from doubling its rates is government regulation.  Nothing, apparently, prevents the Mets from doubling the price of what they offer.  What little government regulation there is of baseball is a joke.  So you get to determine the size of our stadium, the price of our tickets, and the nature of our experience, without having to get our approval or anyone else’s.  You don’t have to worry about competition from anyone else’s Mets.  If people want the Mets, and there are millions of us who do, you are the only game in town.  This gives you enormous power.  But I would say that it imposes upon you an immense responsibility.

You don’t just own a business.  You have been given a public trust that will bring you considerable profits that you have a right to take and a responsibility not to maximize.  The purpose of baseball is not to earn you as much money as you can make from it.  The purpose of baseball is to provide the glue of families and communities, to provide a wonderful pastime to enrich the lives of hard-working people who deserve it.  By all means make enough money to go out and get a starting pitcher and a power hitter.  But you can earn enough to do that, as the previous history of the Mets shows, by giving us a big enough stadium with reasonable ticket prices and such truly fan-friendly amenities as accessible batting practice, Old Timers’ Days, Fan Appreciation Days, Banner Days, room for all with reservations in the Acela Club, a museum that is not just a Hall of Fame but that also celebrates the diverse history of the Mets and the rich fan culture that has grown around this unique team.

You see, this is the kind of intimacy we’re craving.  We want you to see us.  We don’t want you to get on the radio, and along with Mike Francesa, deny that we exist.  If you really think that everyone is happy with Citi Field as it is, and that everyone is particularly happy with the “intimacy” of the new stadium, then you are betraying your sacred trust by being willfully blind.  Your job is to go down to those clumps in the outfield who stand and bitterly complain among themselves during batting practice.  Ask those people how they feel about batting practice at Citi Field as opposed to batting practice at Shea.  Your job is to head up to the Promenade and out to the outfield seats and ask the people there how they feel about the seats they can afford in Citi Field as opposed to the seats they could afford at Shea.  Your job is to watch a game from left field.  It may be that you can become more intimate with an outfielder if you can only see one of them, but if you ask the people around you, you will find that they prefer to see three, and their experience of the intimacy of the game is negatively affected by having to watch some of it on a video screen.  Your job is to find fans who can remember Old Timers’ Days, and Fan Appreciation Days, and Banner Days, and the whole history of this team and ask them what they think should be done so that the tradition we’ve given so much of our life to can be perpetuated.   Your job is to know what we’re actually thinking.  Your job is to stop saying that everyone is pleased with the intimacy of the new stadium when anyone who goes to the ballpark can tell you that this is simply not true.

You are in charge of an important part of our lives.  Hear us.  Know us.  Care about us.  Do this not only because it will enrich you in the end (it will).  Do this because it is the right thing to do.  We will appreciate it.  If you listen and respond, we will enjoy the intimacy of the new stadium you have built.  We will enjoy a sense of community and solidarity with each other and with you.   Please.  Listen.  Drop the PR.  And do the right thing.

*******

If you’d like to remember some of the intimacy Mets fans have experienced in the past, please check out my two books about New York Mets fandom:  the newly released The Last Days of Shea and the still very relevant and up-to-date Mets Fan  (2007).

The Last Saturday of the 2009 Season

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

100_4039 by you.

Yesterday, I stood on the warning track and looked it in the face. 

I was with hundreds of people in our Gary, Keith, and Ron t-shirts attending Lynn Cohen’s end-of-the-year Main Event.  A year ago, we, the same people, stood on a different warning track at the end of a different season and looked into the face of a different stadium. 

I was happy to be in this crowd once again.  I was interested to be standing on the ground in a major league baseball stadium.  So this is how far it is from deep center to home plate!  If the seats were occupied, this is what a crowd would look like from down on the field!  This was instructive.  But the string was not vibrating.  There was no sound.  And I was looking into the face of a stranger.

Last year, I was looking at something that had so much dimension, that was so big and colorful and open out to the green tower of Flushing.  And it was as big in time as it was in space.  I was where so much had happened, to me, and to millions.  I was right next to Cleon Jones and Mookie Wilson.  I was beside my sisters, between my father and my daughter, wheeling my mother onto the packed dirt track.  I was ten and I was fifty.  I was there.  In my $1.35 green General Admission seat, or my General Admission seat that would turn into a bright orange Loge seat after the second inning, or my $27 Loge seat right behind homeplate, cramped but close to the field, with the most glorious possible sightlines.   I was there, all of me was there, with a thousand people in shirts commemorating the greatest TV broadcasting team in history.  At the third consecutive miraculous second-to-last game of a Mets season.  As time passes, my memory of that game does not dim.   I will remember forever Johan Santana’s change-up and what it was like to stand on that field, to be overwhelmed by my own past, by the past I shared with all of these people, standing as if in the center of a beloved building shaped like an embrace. 

I am sorry.  It was not possible for me not to remember this, as I stood with the same people up against forbidding black walls that were far too high.  As I stood out under the darkest possible daytime sky, under a scoreboard buried under vast ads for Arpielle rental equipment, gold merchants, and Fox News.  I looked across at the blanket of inaccessible yet empty seats on the field level.  I looked at the rows of inaccessible yet empty boxes and lounges behind durable plastic.  I looked at where I watched a game last week, at Citifield’s mezzanine, where you could sit in an expensive and undistinguished Excelsior-level seat whose main advantage is that you had the right to visit Caesar’s Club, a lounge that would not have been out of place in Akron, but would have been very much out of place on the Palatine Hill.  Yes, along the top of Romanland was my now-familiar Promenade.  Yes those seats were fine and reasonably priced.  But if you stand on the warning track or sit, as I sat out by the new Home Run Apple on steroids that is getting rusty from lack of use, you looked into the face of what? 

You look at what replaced Shea.  You looked at a poorly planned party after it ended in disaster.  You looked at the seats you wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to very often, that you expected to pay around $100 for every once in a while, that you were able to buy this year for $9.99 to see baseball that wasn’t even worth the price of admission.  Next year, I hope that the baseball will be worth what I pay for it.  I am hopeful.  I am bored and haven’t really cared about the outcome of a Met’s game for a couple of months.  But I have had enough time to forgive this season.  I forgive.  I have forgiven the Mets for half my life.  And they have rewarded me in the other half.  That is enough.

But how sad I was to stand there and to feel so little love for the home of my Mets. 

As I’ve said before, they’re not going to tear Citi Field down and build something new.  A big enough new stadium affordable for all, welcoming to all, with reasonable field dimensions, proudly proclaiming itself the home of The New York Mets is not going to rise up out of the vast parking lot on the shore of Flushing Bay.  I am going to have to learn to love this small, strange, and still, to me, obnoxious place.  I ask for help from the Mets and their owners.  Maybe I will get it and maybe I won’t.  I have a gut feeling that if I am ever to love this place, it won’t be in spite of or because of its physical being.  It may not even be because of the beautiful games that may someday be played here.  It will be because of this stream of humanity strung along the high dark walls, the stream of humanity on the line for hot dogs and pretzels and diet Pepsi and autographs from Gary, Ron, and Kevin.  It will be because of Lynn and her elves and all of the colorful, happy if grindy New Yorkers in the shirts picknicking down by the real Home Run Apple.  It will be because of the bloggers who write their stuff for nothing on the electronic wind that blows out of this strange noisy corner of Flushing by the chop shops and the elevated subway tracks and the airports.  It will be because there is something about baseball that has become indispensable to me, that makes me feel part of my family, the human community, and the stream of sights and sounds I am privileged to have for the time I will have it.

****

If you care about the Mets and cared about Shea, you’ll love my just-released book, The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan