Sunday, June 14, 2009

Let's Go Mets!

Before I moved to Queens, I would actively root for the New York Mets to do well (provided they weren’t playing the Yankees). I quickly realized that Mets fans are sometimes worse than Red Sox fans in their hate for my favorite team. During the first few months of the season, when the Yankees would inevitably be off to a slow start, I would hear more garbage coming out of Mets fans mouths about how they were the best team in New York. The last two Septembers were especially sweet when the record was set straight (never mind the fact that the 2008 Yanks were choking as well).

That being said, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Shea Stadium, the Mets former home which is now a parking lot.

It was a blue and orange concrete bowl lacking in any sort of definable character, but I always ended up having a great time whenever I got the chance to go. It always seemed to be raining or threatening to rain when I was there which made the stadium seem even more of a dump. It did offer a lovely centerfield view of the scrap yards and auto chop shops as well.

The concerts that I saw there will always be what I’ll remember most about Shea. My second year in college I scored a ticket for Bruce Springsteen and had a blast all by myself. I missed a Bob Dylan guest appearance by a night, but I did get to see former Mets starting pitcher Al Leiter take a turn on the tambourine. Springsteen rocked as always.

I was also lucky enough to see Billy Joel’s "Last Play at Shea” last summer. I can say without a doubt that it was the best concert I’ve ever been to. Joel seemingly played for hours, performing every hit in his lexicon. However, his special guests were what made the night really special.

To begin with, Tony Bennett, in all his 82-year-old splendor, serenaded the crowd with a great version of ”New York State of Mind”. As soon as Joel started into ”Shameless”, Garth Brooks, a favorite of mine since birth, came out wearing a Mets jersey and belted out the song that had ended up being a hit for him. My voice was gone for the rest of the night at that point. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith made an appearance and sang ”Walk This Way” and Roger Daltrey of The Who came on and performed one of the great rock songs of all time, ”My Generation”. If all of this wasn’t enough, Paul McCartney brought the house down with ”I Saw Her Standing There” . The upper deck above my seats was literally shaking up and down uncontrollably. After Joel performed ”Piano Man”, we all figured the concert was over because Joel didn’t have any songs left. McCartney had one up his sleeve however. Along with the rest of The Beatles, he had played the first concert at Shea in 1965 at the start of the group’s famous first U.S. tour. Fittingly, his voice was the one to send Shea off, delivering a stirring version of ”Let it Be”. I had chills for hours.

So even with fond memories of what happened inside Shea, I was not at all sad to see it go. That feeling was justified even further when I walked up to their beautiful new ballpark.

The exterior of the new Citi Field, designed to resemble the Brooklyn Dodgers former home Ebbets Field, has a very distinctive and inviting look. The stadium is surrounded by broad walkways that are lined with trees that made me question whether I was still in Flushing. It definitely succeeds in being a throw back to the past with perfect modern touches. I couldn’t wait to get inside.

Fans are welcomed into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda upon entering the stadium. If you don’t get goose bumps immediately, then you just aren’t a true baseball fan. The sheer history of the room was overwhelming.

The Rotunda puts on display the life and career of the incredible man that broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Robinson not only showed unassailable courage day in and day out on the field during his major league career, but went on to be a tireless advocate of black rights until his death in 1972. Paying tribute to him was a very classy move by the Mets and I hope a new generation of fans will be able to appreciate Robinson’s legacy for years to come.

I went to the game with a good number of people on my softball team, the Noreasters of the BASL. We have an interesting blend of Yankees, Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Red Sox and Phillies fans (okay, just one Philly fan, Brad) which made for a pleasant evening of wise cracks, personal insults and good-natured slams. That choking sound you hear is our third baseman Chris making fun of the Mets’ past two last season collapses.

My buddy Chris’ family’s unending jokes about how high up we were notwithstanding, I thought that we actually had a decent view of the whole field. As long as a ball wasn’t hit to left center or left field, we could see basically everything. Everyone eventually acclimated to the high altitude and the Mets were gracious enough to supply a team of Sherpas to help us up the steep slopes of the upper deck.

The Mets were facing off against the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies, whose lineup on paper made the Mets batting order seem like it was a Triple A Minor League team. With several of the Mets big hitters (Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado) hurt, Luis Castillo was batting leadoff and Gary Sheffield was batting clean up. With the exception of David Wright and Carlos Beltran, it wasn’t exactly a Murder’s Row compared with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez of the Phillies. Also, Cole Hamels, last year’s World Series Most Valuable Player, was on the mound coming off several strong starts. The vaunted Phillies sluggers were facing off against Mike Pelfrey. It did not bode well for the Amazin’s.

As always when it comes to me and Chris, we found something to debate about the entire game. I said to him early on that Mr. Met was the best mascot in baseball, maybe even in sports. I mean, you really can’t get better than a mascot with a giant baseball as a head.

He disagreed immediately, saying that other mascots were way better, including the Phillies’ Philly Fanatic. I laughed in his face for this ridiculousness. Trish, the manager of our team and a rabid Mets fans, said it was a no brainer. She said that she couldn’t even think of another mascot in sports, never mind one that was better than Mr. Met. When I mentioned the Philly Fanatic, she told us a story how she had taken her family to a Phillies-Mets game in Philadelphia where the Phillies mascot appeared to urinate on a gorilla wearing a Mets jersey. Our debate ended there, mainly because we were doing our best not to laugh at Trish telling us how scarred she had been. Feel free to weigh in, but I defy anyone to come up with a better mascot.

Chris and I also brought upon ourselves a slew of jokes about how we wore the same hats without any kind of advanced planning. I can’t remember how many times his fiancĂ© rolled her eyes at us, but it was constant throughout the evening. Chris was also sought out by a beer guy who admired his Transformers hooded sweatshirt. The guy then showed us the Autobot symbol and Deceptican symbol tattoos on his forearms. Not to be outdone, Chris showed off his Autobot tattoo on his calf. It had to be one of the nerdiest moments I’ve ever been apart of and that’s saying something.

The game actually ended up being really exciting. Hamels didn’t have a particularly good start, especially considering that Pelfrey ended up with two hits against him, including a double and RBI single. The Mets had numerous chances with the bases loaded to blow the game wide open, but failed to get a big hit. They ended up banging out 16 hits with only four runs to show for it. Utley ended up being the hero in the top of the 11th, smacking his second homerun of the game into the right field seats. The Mets went down quietly in the bottom of the evening.

After the Mets failed to score in the bottom of the tenth, most of our team hit the road. I stuck around until the end however and I got to thinking how much I missed watching baseball in person. After being spoiled at St. John’s, being able to see 60+ games a year at some of the best fields in the country, live baseball games have come few and far between. With the outrageous ticket prices in both stadiums, there’s no telling when my next game might be. It was all about the game during the last couple of innings and I could have sat there all night taking it all in. The constant drowning sound of 40,000 voices talking, cheering and laughing; the crunch of peanut shells under your feet and the taste of beer in your mouth; and the heavenly smell of hot dogs and sausage being grilled seemingly all around you (Noreasters feel free to supply your snide comment here).

Luckily for me, several people stuck around and I got to do what I enjoy most; bullshitting about the game with a wad of sunflower seeds tucked away in my cheek. Our outfielder Dan, also a Mets fan, admitted his former love for the Cincinnati Reds during the Big Red Machine era and impressed us all by listing what seemed like their entire roster. Our shortstop Rachel, who is cool despite her love of the St. Louis Cardinals and Red Sox, Brad and I had an interesting discussion about who was the best player in baseball. We all agreed it was Albert Pujols, but some other interesting names were thrown around, including Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez. I still don’t agree with Brad that Pujols will rival Ted Williams as the best hitter in baseball, but can agree that he’ll be in the top five if he continues his brilliant start to his career. It was a great way to end the night, especially after watching Brad jump out of his skin when Utley hit the game breaking homerun.

As I made my way out of the stadium, I couldn’t help but be thoroughly impressed by the new Citi Field. As Brad accurately pointed out, it has a real small town ballpark feel to it. It is sparkling clean, completely distinct from its Bronx counterpart and just an enjoyable place to be all around. I think I’ll leave the final words to the drunken Mets fan who provided a couple of innings of entertainment trying to incite the upper deck to do the wave.

Let’s go Mets!

A Good Man

Unfortunately, I have to end this post on a sad note. My Uncle Jimmy passed away this past week after battling an illness. If you look up Frenchman in the dictionary, odds are there is a picture of my uncle next to the entry. He was a short, stubborn, muscle-bound, scrappy guy who had a laugh that filled up the whole room. I have no doubt that he is now with his older brothers sitting around a poker and trying to drink each other under the table. Should you be enjoying a Sunday cocktail, please raise a toast with me to a good man who deserved a longer line of credit.

Godspeed Uncle Jimmy. You will be missed.


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