Archive for April, 2010

The Mets Are in First Place

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

SCROLL DOWN FOR MY REVIEW OF THE NEW FILM:  “LAST PLAY AT SHEA”

Yesterday, 4/27, I went to Citi Field for the third time this year.  I enjoyed the long walk through the parking lot, seeing the back of the Apple’s head, and noticing that there no longer seem to be an excessive number of ads on the outside of the building.  Is this really true, or am I just getting into a more tolerant mood?   I think it’s true.  My impression certainly remained with me when I got inside the stadium.  The ads on the scoreboard and elsewhere seemed less bright and tacky than they were last year and there seemed to be fewer of them?  Maybe they were able to sell less billboard space.  Maybe they decided that there had been too many ads.   Whatever accounts for it, you certainly now get a greater sense of the beauty of the stadium, from the inside and the outside.  I went up the escalators, taking note of the museum.  This feels like a different place this year.  All of the good stuff is adding up. 

Anyway, I got there just in time to see the last inning of the first game of the double header.  I got to see the crowd celebrate the Mets’ seventh victory out of eight, a shutout, which now doesn’t seem to be quite as unlikely an event as it once did.  When the first game was over, I went and got a combo taco platter from the Taqueria and some of that unbearably delicious cheese-coated corn.  I went up to my seat, in the first row of 508 and ate a wonderful meal in the absolutely freezing cold wind. 

It’s all right, I think.  This place is on my way home from work.  I like being here.  Of course I love to come here with people, but I really do love to go to a game by myself.  One thing is that the food tastes a lot better, or rather, you pay it more attention.  There’s something intrinsically wonderful about solitude in a bright, loud place.  There’s just you and the river of your impressions.  The food was so good.  The wind was so cold.  The sun was setting and the lights came on.  I like the lights, I decided.  I didn’t at first because they didn’t make the evening grass as brilliant as it was as Shea.  But the new lights have a nice silvery glow.  I’m getting to like this place.  The Mets have won seven out of eight.  Let the game begin.

The game begins and the noisy, happy freezing little crowd enjoys a three-run first inning.  They enjoy Jason Bay tumbling to catch a ball and the new vivid presence of Jose Reyes.  They cheer the loudest for the new favorite, the young man whose arrival seems to have brought the resurgence, a wind like the one we were sitting in, strong and filling everybody up and bringing the team back from the shame and despair with which we all began the season.  “I Like Ike!  I Like Ike!” everybody cheers, and for the first time in my life I regret that my parents voted for Stevenson and we don’t have any old buttons around.  How many delights there were to savor in the freezing cold!  There was reliable Takehashi, and Bay with his triple, and the hitting of Henry Blanco and Luis Castillo.  Everybody is good.  Everybody contributes.  This is how it’s done.  But most important of course was seeing again the swift, sure strokes of David Wright and especially the triple that, with the bases loaded,  ran to the wall in the triples gulch and brought everybody home.  Everybody’s home.  The Mets are home.  We’re home.  As Steve Somers would say, “What was there not to like?”  There was nothing not to like, I felt, as with the happy few that toughed out the whole ballgame, I danced from foot to foot to keep warm in my empty section.   When the game was finally, thank God, over, I walked back through the parking lot and saw the 7 train rattling beautifully under the full moon.  We had won eight out of nine, and the Phillies were later to lose and then today, we won the ninth out of ten.  We stand, 13-9, in first place near the end of April.

Oh we all know it is only the end of April.  But isn’t it extraordinary how the absolute shock of this team doing well has sucked all the cynicism out of our universe?  Isn’t it wonderful, as Steve said, to kvell, to once again, as we did on a few historic occasions, just think about the Mets in vacant moments and smile and savor?  This is the joy of Mets fandom.  Finding you’re alive when you thought you were going to die.  Finding yourself pardoned when you were facing a long sentence.  Finding joy, but never expecting it.  Looking around you and saying “Who me?”  “Who us?”  This feeling, which Billy Joel expressed in “Last Play at Shea,” the film I on Sunday and have reviewed below, a film I hope every Mets fan will have a chance to see soon, is rare and precious and good.  Let us enjoy it.  Even Francesa, this afternoon, after the game, could not deny that he was impressed.  No “it’s only April!” from him even though we still know it is only April.  He said that he hadn’t seen a turnaround like this since 1969.  Okay, let’s believe this.  (How sad that everyone has so soon forgotten the sustained turnaround of the summer of 2008!)  It’s ’69, friends.  A team that doesn’t look as if it’s all that good is playing as if it really is good, and most importantly, as if everybody else is bad.  This makes it look like magic.  Maybe it is again.  It is certainly fun to see people making so much out of something so early.  This series against Philadelphia could even feel like that series in early July against the Cubs.  Everybody paying attention really early because it really does mean something.  Ah hope.  But remember too, that in 1969, after it seemed as if it was all turning around, the Mets fell down to earth in late July and early August.  They fell as far as 9 ½ game out and people were already talking about the 1969 Mets as a mirage.  But then the mirage came back, and stayed.  It’s still there, fluttering in the cold night air between the moon and the tracks of the 7 train.

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I just want to remind people of my Mother’s Day deal.  Buy one of my books for your mom and I’ll write a very personal inscription in it.  You can read about it at thelastdaysofshea.com

And Brooklynites!  PLEASE NOTE:  My reading in Brooklyn has been POSTPONED!  It will be held at 7 pm on Monday, June 14, (NOT Monday, May 3 at 7pm) at The East 4th Street Kensington-Windsor Terrace Veterans’ Memorial Garden, located on East 4th Street between Ft. Hamilton Parkway and Caton Avenue.

And if you’re interested in the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Giants or the Mets or baseball in general, you may enjoy meeting me at 7 pm on Thursday, May 6 at the Rye Public Library in Rye, NY, where I will be introducing and moderating  a program with  Joshua Prager, the author of the wonderful book The Echoing Green, and Ralph Branca, the great Brooklyn Dodger pitcher who threw the pitch that Bobby Thompson hit into the echoing green imagination of baseball fans everywhere and New York baseball fans in particular.

My Review of the Film “Last Play at Shea”

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Last night (Sunday, April 25), I went to see the world premiere of  “Last Play at Shea” at the Tribeca Film Festival.  I don’t normally like to write a review of a film until I have seen it more than once, taking notes on it the second and third time.  I’m breaking from my own tradition here because I want to get the word out about this film.  It’s extraordinary.

“Last Play at Shea,” directed by Paul Crowder, is an unusual film, but it is so successful because it is so unusual.  It focuses on the final concerts played at Shea Stadium on July 16 and 18, 2008 by Billy Joel and the people he invited to play with him (notably Tony Bennett, Roger Daltrey, Steve Tyler, and Paul McCartney).   The film includes extensive footage from these concerts and it captures the powerful emotional bond between the crowd and Joel and McCartney in particular.  It is a great concert film, but Crowder has made it much more than a concert film.  By interweaving the related stories of Billy Joel, Shea, the Mets, and New York over the past half century, Crowder turns the historic concert into a celebration of the way in which great art and championships aren’t things from another world.  They can rise up out of our midst, out of the imperfect and the unlikely.  Shea, as the film makes clear, was a very ordinary and imperfect stadium.  The Beatles when they started, were, as Joel mentions in the film, an ordinary group of British working class guys who at the time didn’t fit anybody’s idea of what pop stars were supposed to look and sound like.  Billy Joel, as the film frankly illustrates, is himself ordinary, imperfect and even more unlikely than the Beatles.  The Mets, Joel’s favorite baseball team, were even worse than ordinary and imperfect.  Yet  Joel, the Beatles, and the Mets brought miracles to the kind of ordinary people who filled the stadium and made the  upper deck shake.  The last concert at Shea celebrated the way the miraculous can emerge from the ordinary.  The film shows us the concert, and it enables us to realize and cherish what it meant. 

One of the most impressing things about “Last Play at Shea” is the way it tells its stories without getting confusing or bogged down.  The editing and pacing are brisk.  There is a constant sense of excitement, of being in a visually arresting moment that sounds great and is moving you forward.  There is a crisp and effective use of interviews with a wide range of people.  You hear from Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Steve Tyler, Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray Joel, some of Billy’s musical and business associates, Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, Ralph Kiner, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Pete Flynn, me, and Greg Prince.  Clips from these interviews are embedded in spectacular original footage.  You will enjoy the horrifying haircuts and raw talent of the early Joel, and you will feel as if you’re onstage with the Beatles as they try to hear the music they’re playing over the screams of the teenagers.  You seem to be following Mookie Wilson’s ball through Bill Buckner’s legs.  Footage of the actual concert is included throughout the film, and it is often used to illustrate subtly whatever the film happens to be developing at the point where it is introduced.  At various times, amusing and creative animations explain relevant facts about the history of New York and the way in which Billy Joel’s life and Shea’s existence connect to it.  The most significant unifying element in the film, however, is Billy Joel’s own voice.  In his interviews throughout the film, Joel comes across as being every bit as articulate and as approachable as you dream he might be.  Joel has a proud yet bittersweet understanding of who he is and what he means to people.  He is humbly amazed at people’s love of him, at his own unlikely success and survival.  At one point, he looks out at the 60,000 people in the stadium and wonders how he has been able to fill this grand space when he hasn’t released an album with original material for 15 years.  Very few superstars would be humble enough or honest enough to say this to so many people, or to allow it to be included in a film.  But you get a sense that this is what Billy Joel is about.  He’s not going to lie about himself, just as it doesn’t make sense to lie about the Mets or about the shortcomings of Shea stadium.  In this moment, as in other important moments in this film, we have the sense that there’s never anything intrinsically wrong with being honest or being limited.  The Mets’ triumphs after years of drought, like Joel’s triumphs after years of struggle, show us that getting something means so much more when you never in a million years thought you were ever going to have it.         

In  “Last Play at Shea,” the sublime ordinariness of Shea, the Mets, the Beatles, and Joel, are also associated with the city in which they have all come together.   “Last Play at Shea” is very much a New York story, but it is not the story that the Yankees or Wall Street would tell us.  It’s not about being king of the hill or top of the heap.  It is also not just about Manhattan.  Rather it is a kind of celebration of Queens and Long Island, of the vast, often boring sprawl of the whole metropolis, an enormous place that, like Shea stadium, can be gritty and not always presentable, a place that has had its ups and downs.  Like Shea, however, the New York celebrated in this film can inspire the kind of intense loyalty Joel and millions of others feel for it.   It also has a tradition of inspiring a hopefulness that will every once in a while call a miracle down from the sky.  This metaphor is movingly developed in the climactic sequence of the film, where Joel appears, at the end of the concert on the 18th, to be calling a star, an airplane from London containing Paul McCartney, down to earth.  McCartney lands and in what any New Yorker will recognize as the greatest miracle in the film, makes it from JFK to Shea in eleven minutes.  It is exciting to follow his motorcade and it is moving to see him arrive.  As ordinary as you could ever ask anyone to be, McCartney gets into the bullpen cart driven by groundskeeper Pete Flynn, who reminds him that he also drove the Beatles onto the field for the concert that created the stadium concert on August 15, 1965.  The story, and the cycle of miracles, come full circle as the film nears its end.   As Joel and McCartney come together on stage, as 1965 and 2008 are connected, we feel that New York itself is about hope and loyalty, family and memory.  It is about tolerating and transcending imperfection and failure.  These are ideas I have always found in the great sixties myth of the Mets, something that you don’t find in the myth of the Yankees, or in the minds of those who boo Mets players struggling to emerge from a slump.  I am so glad somebody made a film about this other aspect of New York.   It needs to have a voice and in this film we see how Billy Joel struggled to give it a voice in this last concert. 

McCartney’s miraculous arrival prepares us for the full emotional experience of the last three numbers performed:  “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Piano Man,” and “Let It Be.”  The audience for the film was as moved by these performances as the audience it was watching on the screen.  In the camera’s sweeping views of the crowd in the stadium, in the familiar music we were hearing performed by the men who created it, we were treated to a final revelation of the way in which extraordinary ordinary people create most of what there is to value in this world.  Here is the true wonder and power of the great city.  Here is the sense of community that made Shea into a cathedral of music and sport.  I am so grateful that our local miracles have received such a worthy tribute from Billy Joel, Paul Crowder, and everyone else who had a role in making this generous, illuminating, and powerful film.

Visiting the Champions’ Club and the Delta 360 Club

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

On Wednesday, April 21 I had the unusual opportunity to go somewhere I have never been before.  Thanks to my friend and fellow Mets author, Matt Silverman, I was able to go to Citi Field to see the game from a seat in the famous Champions’ Club.  The Champion’s Club used to be the Ebbet’s Club, but in an act of sensitivity to Mets fans who thought that there wasn’t enough to commemorate the Mets at Citi Field, they renamed it the Champions Club to honor the ’69 and ’86 World Champion New York Mets.  The ticket I had indicated that I had the right to enter the stadium through a VIP entrance and that I had a right to enter all clubs.  All of them.  That is one powerful ticket. 

The only problem is that you can’t enter the stadium through all of the VIP entrances unless you go in one and go out and then go into another and go out and so on and if you did that you would feel like an idiot.  So my first task as I stood by my brick, holding my ticket of power, was to decide which VIP entrance to enter through.  I made the wrong decision.  I didn’t know it was the wrong decision until later, when I learned that Rusty Staub and Al Jackson were greeting people in the Seaver VIP entrance.  So even if I have a ticket that gets me into places I’m normally excluded from, it turns out that the place I go to isn’t really the place where the good stuff is happening.  It’s as if there is something about me that is intrinsically not on anybody’s “A” list.  I entered through the Gil Hodges VIP entrance, where I had a particularly polite and respectful searcher, then a guy in a suit to scan my ticket for me, then a guy to point out the way to the elevator and tell me to tell the guy on the stool by the buttons in the elevator to take me to the third floor.  This was all great.  I’m sure that if I needed my nose blown, somebody would have been there to at least give me a tissue.   The funny thing was that when the elevator brought me to the third floor and I was urged to enjoy the game by the man in charge of pushing the buttons, I was deposited right at the familiar spot in the regular stadium near the entrance to the upstairs portion of the gift shop and right across from the kosher hot dog stand.  For a second I wondered if they had sized me up as an interloper and had therefore directed me to the elevator where trespassers were dumped back into the regular stadium.  But then I realized that this was all supposed to happen and I was supposed to walk across the concourse of the regular stadium, crossing the stream of regular people on the way to the food area, in order to go through the doors to the Champions’ Club, which were guarded by wary but smiling women in navy blue suits. 

I walked across the stream of regular people, marveling that their world and my world existed in such proximity.  Could any of them have detected that I was not one of them, not for this evening at least?  I reached the door of the Champion’s club and showed one of the women in the blue suits my magic ticket.  She smiled and held the door open for me.  I went in. 

What was this?  I was in what looked like an empty hotel lounge, all by myself.  I felt like the astronaut at the end of 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  Was I going to get old?  Was I going to get turned into a giant baby?  Was I in the right place?  I was.  A very pleasant woman came up to me and asked me if I wanted a drink.  Why would I want a drink?  I had come here to see a baseball game.  I guess I could have asked for a beer, which I never thought of as being “a drink,” but I said I would wait until the people I was with arrived.  She smiled sweetly at me.  There was a table with free potato chips and nuts.  I went and got some because that is a very important thing to do when you go someplace where they have them. 

I walked around the empty hotel lounge.  There were nice blown-up pictures of old Mets scenes on the walls, but otherwise it was a pretty radically ordinary space.  Your average sports bar is more imaginatively decorated.  After walking around a little, I figured I’d come back later.  Since my ticket said “all clubs,” I was going to take it at its word.  I walked out of the Champions’ club, went down the stairs to the floor of the rotunda and then I showed my ticket to the guy guarding the half-way up elevators to the Sterling Level.  Impoverished, underprivileged reader, I have been to the Delta 360 Club and I have come to tell you all about it.

I wish there was more to say.  It’s a nice place.  It really is.  But, as you might expect, it’s a kind of funny place.  It’s a little more upscale than the Champions’ Club because even if champions are allowed in there, this is really the area for the people with the $350 tickets, not the people with a $168 ticket like I had.  The most impressive thing about it is that they have all these armchairs, arranged in groups of two, tilting towards each other and facing walls.  This makes it look as if they expect captains of industry to come here, sit in the armchairs facing the wall, and clinch big deals.  There was also a lounge area where you could have four guys around a table if it took more than two guys to clinch a deal.  The main thing is that it looked as if everything was set up for moving and shaking and captaining industry.  If it weren’t for the millions of TV screens all around, you wouldn’t have had any sense that there was a baseball game anywhere around.  Baseball wasn’t the point, any more than horse racing is the point at Ascot or boat racing is the point at Newport or golf is the point of a lot of golf games.  The point is getting the important people in one place so that they can do important stuff, while appearing not to be doing important stuff.

There was a wine cellar.  One of those ones you see through a transparent wall.  I went and checked out the labels and I can report that I only saw one wine with the name of the actual vineyard on it.  All the other wines had the name of a grape variety or a town.  So that’s one thing to learn.  Baseball stadiums like to deal with negociants.  The one vineyard represented was of course GTS Vineyard in Calistoga, California, the only first class wine made by a Hall-of-Fame pitcher traded away at the height of his career by the New York Mets. 

I looked at the menu.  This was the biggest surprise, and it went with the surprise I had later when I bought myself the $18.95 buffet in the Champions’ club.  The food was extremely affordable.  It was an entirely prosaic menu, not gourmet food by any stretch, but the entrees were only mainly in the mid-teens.  Why would people charge hundreds of dollars for a ticket, but no more than a diner for the food?  This was certainly a place of mysteries.  Who was eating here?  All kinds of people.  I did see one group of guys who looked like older, less handsome, paunchier versions of those guys who are supposed to be living your life in the Caesar’s Palace commercial, but other than that, the few people I saw eating in the Delta 360 club looked as if they wouldn’t be out of place in the rest of the stadium.

One thing I will say about both the Delta and the Champions’s club is that every person I dealt with was unbelievably nice and pleasant.  I was walking around writing in my little notebook, looking like a reporter or a spy, and everybody was still as nice to me as they could be.  And yet if I tried to get into this pretty empty place without the right kind of ticket, if I had wanted to eat in the affordable Delta 360 club restaurant even though I was just sitting in the Promenade Level, people wouldn’t have been nice enough to let me in.  This is the thing about exclusivity.  It looks entirely different depending upon which side of the door you’re on.  I felt that in the Delta 360 club.  Here again we were dealing with a stadium divided for no apparent reason into alternate universes.  I hope the Mets will eventually let anyone who wants to make a reservation at the restaurants, and that they let anybody with a reservation sit in the deal-clinching armchairs.  It would make everything feel nicer.  It would make it more like a fancy Manhattan restaurant where, as long as you have a reservation, you belong.  Clubs are not something you want to have in a baseball stadium.  They break the rhythm.  They mess up the feel.  They don’t go with the idea of being at a ballgame.  That’s just my opinion.

Hey, does anybody have any idea of why they call the Delta 360 Club the Delta 360 Club?  There was nothing 360 degrees about it.  It went, at most thirty degrees around the stadium.   

The seats in the Champions’ section were very good.  They were cushioned and they were elevated right behind home plate, just like the seats I used to buy for $25 in the Loge at Shea.  I got to experience some of the vaunted intimacy of Citi Field.  Now at least I know what they’re talking about.  But sitting in such a sparsely settled area, in the middle of an arc of luxury boxes that appeared empty, right by an owner’s box that was occupied, I felt that I wasn’t really at the ballgame with the people who had come to see it.  It wasn’t a big crowd, but there were people there, paying attention to the game.  I missed being with them.  Being the pain in the ass I always am about this particular issue, I missed my memory of the days when the owners and the movers and shakers didn’t sit in luxury boxes but sat instead near the dugout, where they could be seen to be a part of the same crowd we were in.  I’m really not criticizing the Mets for this, because I understand that this is just the way baseball is now.  But I couldn’t help but feel that this new order of things wasn’t good for anybody.  There wasn’t a whole hell of a lot in these hidden areas of the stadium.  There wasn’t much of a reason to envy the people who could get into all the clubs.  So why did they need them?  Why did they have them?  Why couldn’t they just make the big bucks selling television commercials.  Why did the delicate democratic fabric of the national pastime have to be shredded to make stadium spaces like this?  Why couldn’t the captains of industry ditch the armchairs and go and sit with the rest of us in the seats.  It’s much more fun in the real part of the stadium.  And the food is one whole hell of a lot better.

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Check out this article from the Queens Chronicle, for which I was interviewed.  This Sunday, I will be attending the world premiere of “Last Play at Shea,” a movie that is in large part about my favorite stadium.   I can’t wait to see it.

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=20424794&BRD=2731&PAG=461&dept_id=576260&rfi=6

Turning Point?

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

I remember April 15, 1968 as if it was yesterday.  I was 13 and it was the first time I had ever stayed up way into the morning on a school night, without anyone’s permission, under the covers, wide awake and absolutely transfixed, listening to a transistor radio.  I wish I could tell you that I listened to all 24 innings.  I gave out at inning 22.  The score was 0-0.  This was the first time anything like this had ever happened, in all of baseball history.  I had to hear it, and I did.

A lot of things were happening at this time that had never happened before.  Martin Luther King had just been shot and Lyndon Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Bill into law.  I had just seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had just opened and students all over the world were demonstrating.  The future was now.  There were omens everywhere.  And the Mets and the Astros playing for 24 innings before the game finally ended with the Astros winning, 1-0, seemed like an omen.

The game was a great pleasure of enormous tension.  After awhile, you stopped caring who won.  You just wanted it to last as long as it could.  You just took pleasure in loving the one game that did not absolute have to end, the one game that could theoretically go on forever.

It was different this time.  I felt, as we entered the eleventh, that the game was going to go on for a very long while.  I knew that this was an important moment in Mets history.  I knew that if the Mets lost this one, after the heartbreaking loss last night, they were sunk and over.  I knew that if they won this game, they might have a chance to have a season.  For the first time all year, I feel that the Mets will very much have a season.  Their offense is dormant, but offenses can sleep and wake up.  This team has pitching.  It actually does.  I didn’t think it did.  But it would be hard to look at the last three games, the last 38 innings, and avoid the conclusion that it does.

This is the moment.  This is the turning point.  The Cardinals did not score off of us for 18 innings.  There are omens in the sky.  There are asteroids and Northern lights.   There is hunger.  There is need.  And tonight, at long last, there was the turning face of fortune.

The First Week of the Season

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I’m sure it is not necessary to observe that every Mets fan wishes that the 2010 Mets had not begun the season by losing four out of six games at home to the Marlins and the Nationals. 

I am sure it is not necessary to observe that every Mets fan wishes that the season had not begun with a several of the sort of baserunning mistakes that plagued the team all last season.   

I am sure it is not necessary to observe that the Philadelphia Phillies began the season looking like a truly fearsome team, and that the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins aren’t bad teams either.

It is not necessary to observe that no one in their right mind would give the Mets more than a one in three chance of making the playoffs (as I did when the season started) and most people in their right mind would give the Mets considerably less of a chance than that.

Having gotten the obvious out of the way, may I please make a few points that are not as obvious? 

The Mets played two games last week in which they appeared to be dominant.   Two other games came very close to being won and in one of those games, the Mets came back from a five-run deficit.  The Mets’ 2-4 is not terrifically far from a 4-2.  I know what people like to say about needing to win the close ones and needing to beat the weaker teams.  All that is true.  But in only six games, things like this can easily happen.  There is no reason to feel that the Mets have proven themselves to be a bad team.  They haven’t proven anything yet.  They haven’t even proven that the dumbness is continuing from last year.   A lot of players do dumb things in the first week of the season.

Another thing I’ll point out is that the bullpen was virtually flawless this week and Mike Pelfrey pitched beautifully.  Perez and Niese did not pitch badly at all.  We’ve only gone once through the rotation.  We appear to have five healthy starters and we have no reason to be sure that any one of them is going to be lousy this year.

The offense was generally unimpressive.  But the Mets did score six or more runs in half of their  games.   If they can keep that up, they’ll win some games.    

Another thing I’ll point out is that, as we know from last year, sometimes Livan Hernandez is unhittable.  If he was always  lousy, he wouldn’t have lasted so long. 

I am not happy with the first week of the Mets’ season.   But anybody who would write off a team that has played as the Mets have in their first six games is writing too quickly.  It is too early to lose hope.   It is too early to do anything, except watch and think and give them a chance.

Happy Recap and Mother’s Day Deal

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Catch “The Happy Recap Radio Show”  for Sunday, 4/11 at 6 pm.  I’m the special guest, offering my impressions of the stadium changes and the new season.  Even if you’re reading this after 4/11 at 6 pm, you can still hear the show if you click on the link.

Are you looking for a great Mother’s Day gift?  How about a copy of one of my books, with an entirely unique personal inscription?  Read about my special Mother’s Day offer on my main book site.   Bear in mind, that because this deal is so cheap, you’re still going to have to get her something else as well.

Mets’ 2010 Attendance Issues

Friday, April 9th, 2010

We all know that not  much can be gleaned from the three-game series against the Marlins.  We see that there is stuff to worry about and stuff to be hopeful about.  We knew that four days ago.  I won’t speculate much about the team’s prospects until we have gone at least twice through the rotation.

I am a little puzzled, however, by the way in which several reporters and bloggers have made a point of noting that there were only 26,000 fans in attendance on Thursday night.   The smallest crowd in the stadium’s history! 

Surely, this isn’t a surprise.  Although we don’t know the figures, it has to be obvious to everyone that season ticket sales must have been way down.  The Mets drew more than 4 million in the last year of Shea and everyone thought they were in good shape for 2009.   Ine the first year of the new smaller stadium, many people must have bought season tickets for 2009, fearing that if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to get into the park.   Well, we all know what happened. 

Everybody knows that you don’t need to buy season tickets this year, and so this year we’re not going to have the situation we had all of last year, where there was an announced attendance of 40,000 and only twenty something thousand in the park.   There’s always a drop-off after a bad year, just as there is always an increase after a good year.  I feel pretty confident saying that even if the Mets have a good year this year, they won’t draw three million.   And I predict that unless the season gets really exciting, most weekday games will be in the 25,000 – 30,000 range.   This fact will not put renewed pressure on ownership.  They already know that it is going to be this way.  The pressure is already there. 

As I’ve said before, I have a certain liking for smaller crowds of true enthusiasts.  This is what I expect to find this year, as I go to the stadium with my $10 StubHub special.  Too bad they don’t sell parking spaces on StubHub.  Still, I like it even better when there are big crowds of enthusiasts, and I hope to see that someday soon.   And you know what I really like?  Yeah, you know.  I like a crowd of 55,300 enthusiasts in the largest city in the US.  That’s what I really like and will never see again. 

In the meantime, enjoy the cozy little crowds.  It doesn’t mean anything that you don’t already know about.

Mets Opening Day, 2010

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

This morning I drove down to the Opening Game of the Mets’ 2010 season.  I was in an excellent mood, the kind of anything-can-happen-and-I’m-on-board mood I’ve been in for the past few days contemplating the upcoming Mets season.  It was a beautiful, uncharacteristically temperate Opening Day.  The traffic wasn’t bad.  To put myself even more in the mood, I turned on the radio station that broadcasts my team and listened to the Boomer and Carton show.  I listened the whole way down, hoping something would happen or change.  I must report that listening to Chris Carton being a funny Mets fan didn’t put me in the mood for Opening Day.  It put me in the mood for murder. 

That was the only bad thing that happened all day.  Listen to me.  I went to Opening Day, saw the changes to the new stadium, saw a whole ballgame, saw lots of people I knew and didn’t know, and the only thing all day that made me unhappy was Chris Carton.  This is what we call a good Mets day.

The Home Run Apple, the old one, the real one, the one that is bunged up from three decades of being cranked up and cranked down, was sitting proudly at the entrance of the Mets’ stadium.  Surrounded by concentric circles of blue and orange pansies, it looked gorgeous and gleaming in the April sunlight.  It greeted everybody walking up to the stadium like an old-fashioned friendly  New York City apartment doorman.  The sweet, honored apple was no longer hiding like a troll under a bridge, secretly photographed by fans who remembered its now forgotten fame.  It was right out in front, as if it was supposed to be there all the time.   It was the main event.  This thing behind me, it seemed to say, the thing with the pretty arches and the now a little less ugly ads, is my friend.  Have you met it yet?  It’s still a little awkward around Mets fans, but I am here to introduce you!

Hello, Citi Field.  It is nice to be introduced to you.  I think I met you last season.  So!  You’re a friend of the Home Run Apple?  Me and the Apple go way back.  Any friend of the Apple is a friend of mine. 

I go inside and guess what I get to see?  A terrific little museum (I say little museum because if the world were perfect, I could happily spend a few hours in a Mets museum say, the size of the Whitney).  But the world isn’t perfect and the world doesn’t share all of my obsessions, and this museum, folks, is just wonderful.  It has a Mets Hall of Fame that looks just like the one at Cooperstown except with considerably less formidable admissions standards.  It has objects of major importance and pathos.  It has wonderful video streams, with glorious footage.  It has  literate, informative text.  It shows every sign of having been put together by people who knew something about the Mets, and who knew how to select the few details and images that could most effectively represent the whole.   As I was there, Jeff Wilpon walked through the place and if I had not been worried about security, I would have liked to have patted him on the back. 

This is how good a mood I was in, having been welcomed by the Apple, having been able to visit the museum.  I am a Mets fan because I like being a sucker about something and not feeling bad about it.  I am sucked in again.  Oh, how differently I would have felt if all of this had greeted me when I came here, full of mistrust, at the opening of last season.  Oh how differently I feel now, coming to Citi Field now that the Apple is there to welcome me home, now that I know that within the stadium is the frightening smile of the original Mr. Met, an astonishing little sculpture of Casey Stengel, and momentous eternal black and white film of the New Breed marching slowly and forever with their banners.  How I enjoy the slightly sepia posters they now have everywhere of great Mets moments and players.  It feels as if the Mets past inhabits the building.  Koosman leaps onto Grote at the entrance to the Champion’s Club, from which I feel slightly less resentful being excluded than the Ebbets Club.  Everywhere there is memory, honor, and home.  And the Jackie Robinson Rotunda now feels like a welcome part of it all, a component, not a strange reminder of what is missing.

I met lots of my Mets friends.  And everyone seemed to feel good and to be happy with the changes.  The Carvel mosaic bathroom floors came in for particular praise.  I visited the Shea Bridge, and had the new crabcake sandwich at Catch of the Sea.  It was wonderful.  Lot of  actual crab, hardly any filler stuff or onions.  They feed us well in our new home. 

It is my new home.  Until its small capacity prevents me from going to a playoff game, me and the rehabilitated Citi Field are on the very best of terms. 

And the team that plays here.  Didn’t they look marvelous today?  David hitting a home run in his first at-bat.  Bay’s single and triple.  Barajas’s double.  That inning when all the runs blossomed and you saw that Johan’s wonderful pitching would not be wasted?   The way the ball would go looking for that Bermuda triangle in the Marlin’s shallow center field.  The way their balls all found their way into Gary Matthews’ mitt.  Everything was good and solid and promising.  And the broad bank of fans in the bright sun, whipped by the wind, roaring their pleasure, eating and drinking and slapping their hands, all made me feel that feeling that a good Opening Day blesses us with.  That feeling that would have survived a whole afternoon of Mike Francesa saying “Folks!  It’s only one game!” had I been foolish enough to turn the radio on on my way home.  That feeling that we are in the morning of the world, at a moment that has never been lived before, that is waiting to be lived, by us, by those of us who are left, by those of us who can see the crooked smile of the first Mr. Met  … and smile back.     

A special thanks to Terri Herschlag, who enabled me to have the ticket for today, as she made it possible for me to get a ticket for the last game at Shea, and to Ed Marcus for taking the above picture of me.   It was a pleasure to see all of the many Mets friends I saw today.   I think we have a special and rare community.   You can hear some of my impressions of the stadium improvements on The Happy Recap Radio Show this Sunday, 4/11, at 6:15 pm.

On the Eve of the 2010 Season

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

In 2010, I expect the New York Mets to win more than 80 but fewer than 90 games.  The key to the season will be the health of the players, and whether or not there is enough starting pitching after Santana, and enough relief pitching after Rodriguez.

Do you realize that just about every single person who has expressed an opinion about the Mets’ 2010 season could have written the two sentences I just wrote?  Have you ever seen this much consensus in your entire life?  Have you ever seen so many words from so many columnists, bloggers, radio hosts, TV analysts expended when in fact almost all there is to say is contained in just two sentences?

Yeah, I know that there are refinements that can be discussed, whether or not to bring Tejada or Mejia to the majors now, whether to keep Carter around or not, but face it everybody, we all know what the keys to the season will be.  We just don’t know what is going to happen. 

I don’t even begin to know how to guess what is going to happen.  I never trust what I see in spring training, particularly when the people involved are Mike Pelfrey and John Maine.  To entertain you, I will say that I think (and I really do think) that the Mets have a 20% chance of winning their division (I’d give the Phillies a 50% chance, the Braves a 20% chance, the Marlins 8%, and Washington 2%).  If the Mets don’t win the division, I give them a 20% chance of winning the Wild Card, with serious competition from the Giants, the Braves, and two Central Division teams to be named later.  That means that I think that the Mets have a 36% chance of making it to the playoffs.  I would guess that they will win 85 games. 

The important question to consider right now is not how the Mets are going to do.  Even though that is the most important question, we do not have what we need to talk about this issue in any way that adds meaningfully to the two sentences above.  What I feel I can consider is a different question that is both simpler and more complicated. Will we have fun this year? 

My very tentative answer to this question is “yes, I think so.”  Bear in mind that last year, I thought the Mets would win 92 games, but I did not think we were likely to have fun, because I thought that after what had happened the two previous seasons, we would never be able to feel secure or hopeful, no matter how well the Mets were doing.  So we were going to feel badly if the Mets did badly, and we were going to feel fearful if the Mets did well.  We were in a no-win situation, so psychologically it didn’t matter very much that we lost.

This year, I think we will have fun because we do not expect to win anything, we are good enough to stay close, and any sign that we might conceivably be able to push through to the top will be an occasion for joyful hope.  Plus, people who care that much about winning have been weeded out of the fan base.  All that’s left is us.  And that means that we can enjoy each other’s company.  The best thing about the bad periods of Mets history is that only true Mets fans were left in the stands.  This year, we are likely to experience something like that again.  There may be less booing.  There may be more old-fashioned Metsy hysteria.  And since the Mets are going to have difficulty selling tickets this year, we’re all going to be able to buy our tickets cheaply on StubHub and that is going to make us feel less exploited and therefore more generous.

All I ask of this year is to stay in contention, and in the era of the Wild Card, that means to just stay around .500.  Every decade or so, something suddenly comes out of the blue and lifts a mediocre Mets team up over the line.  I would say that we’re due, except that doesn’t mean anything.  But I think that after last season a lot of us have forgotten how good the Mets actually are.  We have forgotten what it feels like to feel really good about them.  I think we may have some very pleasant surprises in store.  And if we don’t, it’s no big deal, because nobody is picking us to win.  And we have some great young guys just short of being ready.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride.  But it’s spring.  It’s life.  It’s love.