Saturday, April 18, 2009

Queens

On New Beginnings


Not Shea Stadium, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009
Milwaukee Brewers vs. New York Metropolitans
Not Shea Stadium
Major League Baseball, National League
Queens, New York
1:10 PM

Outside the Game:
There was a huge project going on at work, and my overall opinion on the matter was hovering on the razor's edge between "At least we have a good deal of work in the current economy" and "I'd rather quit than work another 50 hour week." I was having this thought, at work, at 7:30 PM on a Friday, so it added a certain poignancy to the debate. One thing I did decide at the time was that I was going to go to the Mets game tomorrow, because I damn well deserved it. Being an early-season weekend game in the new stadium, I had a some concern if there were any tickets available. My concern should have been "were there any tickets available cheaper than the monthly rent for my apartment in college." Going solo to a game gives the best chance of getting a single seat at the last minute, and there were exactly two seats in the entire stadium left open for under $100: one in left field and one in right; I took the one in left. (One of the biggest open secrets in New York is that the overpriced luxury seats for both the Yankees and the Mets are not selling at all. I mean, who could have foreseen that jacking up ticket prices to over double what they were in the worst economy in 50 years might be a bad move? If I was willing to front $450, I could have sat behind home plate at the game.)

The trip out to Not Shea was the regular uneventful PATH to subway endeavor, although the final renovations to the subway stop at the new stadium are complete, making what was at best a simulation of a cattle run at least a human experience, with wide stairways and even, gasp, a special platform for express trains back to Manhattan after the game. It is as though someone put a half a minute of thought into the process.

At The Game With Oogie:
As mentioned, I got one of the worst $90 seats in the stadium, just shy of the right field foul pole. If I moved two rows over, the tickets would have been $20 cheaper. That said, the view was entirely satisfactory. The right field wall dips back at the foul pole, and the site lines and visibility were all they should have been. It was unseasonably warm for the first time of the season that day, and because of the new stadium's design and location, shadows don't get onto the left field side of the field until later in the afternoon, so there was a good amount of baking before the shadows provided some relief in the later innings.

Not Shea Stadium Giveaways
The Swag

The Stadium & Fans:
This is, of course, the crux of the trip: the triumphant opening season of Not Shea.

I got to the stadium two and half hours before game time right when the gates opened to have the most walking-around time to see the new place. The very first thing that strikes you on the way into the new field is what's left of the old stadium: a tiny area not quite demolished and paved into the new stadium's parking lot. All else that was Shea has become a large parking lot that extends to the horizon. The outside is also spruced up a considerable bit, with the new brick facade and a good deal of landscaping in the Mets' team colors. However, as much as you want to dress it up, it still is just Queens in every other direction.

For most people, their first experience with Not Shea will be the at the main entrance to the park, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. It is a nice enough feature, but not quite well thought out, in that everyone not in the "elite" seating has to go up one small escalator in the center of the rotunda, or use two sweeping stairwells at either side. As you might imagine, things get backed up at the escalator quite quickly. The rotunda itself is a nicely done experience, certainly befitting a man who did easily one of the most important things in baseball history. However, one of the only complaints that other fans have expressed that I do agree with is that the main architectural feature of the new stadium is a tribute to a Dodger. There's no tribute to the Mets and Mets history anywhere, which was addressed by Mets management with a "we'll get around to it." Get around to it? Shouldn't the focal point of the new stadium be the team that plays in it, and not have them relegated to some afterthought? Not surprisingly, there is an industrial-sized new team store where you can buy a ton of merchandise about the team that currently plays there just off the rotunda.

The new facility is certainly an improvement over the last one. One area in which it has made leaps and bounds is the concessions. In addition to the standard ballpark fare, each level behind center field has its own large concession area with specialty food choices. On the main level, those include the Shake Shack (adorned with the old skyline from Shea stadium), Blue Smoke barbecue, and some other restaurants. Much as its Madison Square Park counterpart, the line for the Shake Shack is something to behold. I entered the stadium when it opened, at about 10:40. I wandered back to the Shake Shack no later than 10:55, and the line was already a half hour long, driving me to a pulled pork sandwich from Blue Smoke next door. The containers for the food is also improved, which each item individually packaged in cardboard boxes, making stacking and carrying the food a lot easier.

Also on the ground floor is the World's Fair Food Court, and the Kid's Area, which seems to be becoming de rigor in new ballparks these days. Kids can play wiffle ball in a tiny replica Not Shea, play baseball video games instead of watching the real game (which still doesn't make sense to me), or try their luck at the dunk tank, staffed with an unnaturally cheery employee in the jersey of the visiting team. Even the garbage cans are whimsical, but apparently give kids the impression it is a good idea to throw garbage in players' faces.

On the next level up, there is the Pepsi Porch, which has a picnic area, as well as additional specialty concessions, and a curious unfinished area in back of it. The top level has its own area, where specialty concessions (including a Subway) are available. There is also a women's clothing store on this level, where Alissa Millano was having a celebrity appearance the day of this game. There's such a thing as too much, if you ask me. The "Concourse Level" is also about as close as you can get of directly behind home plate. On all the other levels, the expensive seats are part of clubs that require tickets for admittance, thereby closing off the area unless you shell out over $100 for the very cheapest ticket.

Center to home at Not Shea Stadium
Center field to home plate at Not Shea Stadium

Along the field level, there is small bridge, apparently symbolizing the connections to the five boroughs. It is of note because the only thing it spans is a side entrance that houses the old apple from Shea Stadium.

So, in short, an improvement over Shea, but it will take some getting used to. Although, after finally divorcing themselves from their association with Robert Moses in all but location, it seems to me a particularly bad idea to start off the new stadium with Fox News ads plastered all over the place -- no need to replace old demons with new ones.

The Game:
Those of you with long memories, or nothing else in your lives to remember, may recall that for my last trip to Shea in 2008, I went at nearly the exact same time to see the same opponent. As luck would have it, this game was also the home debut of Johan Santana. Last year did not go as planned, so I was fully prepared for a second coming of last year's debacle.

What I got instead was a tense pitchers duel between Santana and the Brewer's Gallardo. The game moved crisply along, as both sides were being moved down in succession by the pitching, with about a hit an inning sprinkled in for both teams. The Mets finally broke through in the 7th after a pitching change by the Brewers, with a walk, a misfielded sacrifice bunt, and a fielder's choice groundout by Reyes that scored the only run of the game. The Brewers never had a runner past first base, and the Mets only managed four runners in scoring position.

The initial buzz on the game was Garry Sheffield, who pinch-hit his 500th home run the night before. He went 0-3 and got drilled once.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard remains part of the $5 program, on a heavy cardstock. The one change they did make was to extend the blue at the top of the page all the way down across the scorecard, making additional notes difficult to read. I hope they change it back. As Mets games are the only ones where I tally balls and strikes, I also came up with some new ideas on recording them that I will have to try out the next time I'm at Not Shea.

Brewers vs. Metropolitans, 04-18-09
Brewers vs. Metropolitans, 04/18/09. Metropolitans win, 1-0.