Friday, June 13, 2008

New York, I Love You But You're Freaking Me Out

Note: My thought processes sometime scatters like buckshot, and I left my disposable camera on the 6 train. D'oh! Thus, all visual memories of Shea remain irretrievably stored in my mind. As for Yankee Stadium, who cares? Rent Pride Of The Yankees if you want to see what it looks like.

Since 1964, the New York Metropolitans have called home one William A. Shea Municipal Stadium, a locale I've heard described as an "inaccessible, doleful mule trough." Really? I didn't think it was bad at all. The park, while clearly built in the style of the time, reminds me a bit of Chavez Ravine, a semi-traditional stadium that has a charm of its own, a degree of history you can't fashion with concrete and steel, with ghosts that haunt and harass. You think I'll ever forget what happened down the first base line? Granted, I didn't care for the ride out of Manhattan on the subway, next to some kid with purple hair, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids...

Actually, being from Los Angeles, where public transportation is as alien a concept as bad weather, I enjoyed riding on the subways around New York. If I may quote Chesterton, "Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Baghdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria." Indeed. I stepped on the 6 train and lo and behold found myself in Queens.

But back to the ballpark. William A. Shea Municipal Stadium opened in 1964, with the Mets a two-year-old consolation prize for New Yorkers who lost their Giants and Dodgers to California. A slave to the tradition (or that's what I've been told), home plate was planted to face north-east, leaving the large centerfield opening to face into Queens rather than towards a more majestic view of the Manhattan skyline. The Mets do have a giant "Home Run" apple in the outfield that pops out after a Met hits one out. I have to admit, that is pretty cool. And lot less noisy than the fireworks at Comiskey* The apple will not be moving across the street as they're getting a new one. Thus tradition is formed.

Because this would most likely be our only trip to Shea, my brother and I wanted to do something special, so we got tickets to see the Mets play the Yankees. According to the ticket, the seats were worth about $32. According to Stubhub, they were worth $88. And those were the cheap ones! I'm reminded of St. Augustine's tale of the pirate confronting Alexander the Great, "You have a navy, and are an admiral. I have a boat and am a pirate." You stand in front of the stadium and sell tickets, you're a scalper. You sell them over the Internet, you're just a good capitalist.

But there is no price on memories, especially good ones, so I paid, unrepentantly, and went to the game. The Yankees scored in the top of the first, but Reyes, long before his sad September collapse, singled to start the bottom of the inning, promptly stole second, and moved to third on an infield single that hit Yankees' pitcher Darrell Rasner in the hand, knocking him out of the game. He then scored on a sac fly by Carlos Beltran. I'd seen Reyes on TV but it wasn't until I was in the stands that I saw how fast he is. Next up was David Wright, who hit what would be his first homer of the day. The Mets were ahead and never looked back, eventually winning 10 - 7. In the 3rd, Wright hit another home run, this one to deep center, completely leaving the stadium and bouncing into the construction site of the new field. I later found out that Mets announcer Howie Rose jokingly referred to it as the "first home run" hit in Citi Field. The Mets had an 8-3 lead at the top of the eighth, but the Yankees made a game of it, scoring four in the last two frames and having the tying run strike out to end the game.

Shea, as I mentioned, lacks the quirky qualities of a Fenway or Wrigley, but doesn't have the traditional feel of a Camden Yards. It sits, for now, alone with Dodger Stadium as a big, professional ballpark. It's the crowd that gives the Stadium its flavor. Though I have to admit, it could stand to add a few more restrooms.

But what surprised me most of all was the banter in the crowds. Though mainly Mets fans, Yankee fans had made the trip from around the Apple to see the game, and though some ribbing and name-calling was heard, it was surprisingly subdued, with none of the malice I was expecting from New Yorkers. At the time, the Mets were (so it seemed) safely in first place while the Yankees were 10 games behind the surging Red Sox, whom my brother and I had seen two nights prior beat the Tigers in what is called "the Hinske game." The moniker derives from Eric Hinske, a backup outfielder that making a spectacular, run-saving catch before hitting a two out, two run homer to give the Sox the lead. Our seats in the bleachers were such that we didn't actually see him make the play, but saw the replay on the screen behind us. We cheered though, when word spread through the stands that he'd caught the ball. Same with his home run.

The Mets game was on Saturday. Sunday was spent around the city. Monday, we had tickets to the Yankees/Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, which is accurately described as a "drab concrete box." First, though, we'd had to move from our Manhattan hotel to one in Queens, as we were leaving from La Guardia the next morning. We subwayed back to the city and spent the afternoon at a diner (I had an egg cream) and the Museum of Natural History (the dinosaurs, wow!) before going to the Stadium. I opted for neutral observer attire, wearing a brown coat and a Dr. Seuss tee that had "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" written on it. I was hoping for colorful eccentric, hoping to blend with the crowd. My brother wore a white tee with a Pabst Blue Ribbon hoodie and a Red Sox cap. This was, it turns out, a big mistake.

There were three thousand ejections from the Stadium that night, a fact we later heard from our parents, who were watching the game on ESPN. My brother and I saw too many fights to remember, as the beer and fists were flying throughout our section the further we got into the game. I was keeping score in my notebook, and was reminded by the large gentleman sitting two rows down and one row over every time the Yankees scored that I should "put that in your !@#$% book." He also seemed to think my name was "cough sufferer," or some variation thereof.

It was during the top of the sixth that I found my right sleeve (our seats were on the end of the row) spattered with beer while the woman directly behind me was absolutely soaked. It was then, while the Red Sox were up, that a huge brawl began further up the tier, and the two teens began to cheer on the slugfest. A woman, late 40s/early 50s, told them to sit down so that she could watch the game.

"Suck on this lady." Was the reply, with the appropriate body language. When said lady began to chastise them, I could only think to myself of what our mother would do to us today if my brother and I offered a similar retort to such a reasonable request.

Before I could consider the ramifications, a woman stood up next to the youths and said, "Don't you talk to my sons that way!"

It was around this time that they stopped selling alcohol.

I've been to rivalry games before. Cards/Cubs in Wrigley, which is polite, passive-aggressive Midwestern frustration. Red Sox/Yankees at Fenway, with completely justifiable loathing of the visiting team. Dodgers/Angels at Dodger Stadium, with the mild commitment of Southern Californians, who know no matter the outcome, they're going to the beach when the game ends.

This, I was genuinely afraid of what the crowd would do when denied their one obvious pleasure with Yankees looking at first place ten games away before school was out. My brother and I decided that during the seventh inning stretch, we'd casually make our way to the exits, not only to escape the further potential for an "incident," but also spare us having to hear "Cotton-Eyed Joe." Of all the parks I've visited in my travels, we'd never left a game early no matter the score.

Start spreading the news, though, because we were getting the hell out of there.

*My sis-in-law's family is from the South Side. They all call U.S. Cellular Field "New Comisky." Thus, so shall I.

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