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.
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.