Saturday, April 10, 2010

Queens

On Fixing What Shouldn't Have Been Broken


Citi Field
Not Shea Stadium, 2010

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
Washington Nationals vs. New York Metropolitans
Not Shea Stadium
Major League Baseball, National League East
Queens, NY
1:10 PM

Outside the Game:
It was the best day of the year -- my first ballgame of the season. I got up extra early to arrive at the stadium as soon as it opened, and even that early, the 7 train was packed with other Mets fans with similar goals. Getting there and back was of no incident, though the ride back seemed longer.


The Stadium & Fans:

Rotunda
Rotunda

Not Shea Stadium withered under a torrent of fan abuse last year predicated on the park being a fine tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers -- but they moved out west and have a stadium of their own and everything. The Mets ambiance was severely lacking in the inaugural season of 2009 and was countered with the protestations of ownership that they were going to get around to the Mets stuff this year. To which most fans shook their heads sadly and muttered to themselves, "How can the Mets be an afterthought in the Mets' stadium?"

All of that said, the ownership did at least address those discrepancies this year. The change in focus is obvious as soon as you get off the subway. Visitors are now greeted by the old home run apple in a planter filled with orange and blue flowers, in a courtyard filled with banners of Mets starts past and present. (This marked a significant improvement over the previous location of the old home run apple -- discarded under the least-used entrance to the new stadium.) The three executive entrances have been renamed Hodges, Seaver, and Stengel, and great moments in the team's history are commemorated on bricks along the fanwalk outside the stadium.

Once inside the Robinson Rotunda, the big addition, and now the soul of the new park, is the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum, cut out of the too-large main team store from last year. The museum does the history up right, with remembrances on every aspect of the Mets from the start. The centerpiece are the two World Series trophies and the related interactive exhibits. Another wall is dominated by the Mets Hall of Fame itself, with Cooperstown-ish plaques, though perhaps of a slightly lesser grade of artisanry. In the back of the main room is a truly disturbing statue of the original Mr. Met paper-mache costume, right next to an interesting wooden statue of the Ole' Professor, Casey Stengel.

The Prof
The Prof

Throughout the stadium, there were other lesser, but still important,  de-Dodgerfications and other improvements. The starting lineups are now presented at the top of the Robinson Rotunda in giant-sized Topps baseball cards, there's a lot more Mr. Mets and Mets logos around, the "Ebbets Club" has become the "Champions Club," the unnamed bridge out in right has been dubbed "Shea Bridge," and the kids area has been rearranged and the kids version of Not Shea given its own mini-jumbotron. I even got there early enough that (due to a grill problem) I arrived at the Shake Shack just as it was opening and only had to wait for five minutes to get food.

Mr. Met
Mister Met to you, buddy

As for the fans, there was that pungent mix of optimism and wariness that only an early-season Mets game can inspire. The stadium was nearly full, and there was a definite excitement in the crowd, especially in reaction to all of the new improvements in the park proper. Everyone was there for a ballgame, and despite all of our rational instincts, I think we had some optimism about the game, especially considering that this would be star shortstop Jose Reyes' first game since going on the disabled list last year.

But then there was the starting pitcher...


At the Game with Oogie:

World Series
As close as I'll get

With the drop in ticket prices due to last year's injury-plagued wasteland, I sprang for seats in the Excelsior Level, which gives access to the special club areas, including private bathrooms, concessions, and access to the Caesar's Club, the second-swankiest area in the park (outside of the home-plate luxury club). Having visited such places in many other stadiums, I've got to say that the shorter lines, better food, and cleaner bathrooms are almost worth the extra money by themselves.

I was sitting on the third base side of the "bronze" club seats, which were the least nice of the nice seats that still got you all the perks. However, my seats were covered (important for this afternoon game) and gave a great view of the field. I was actually on the same physical level as the broadcast booth, and from my vantage point, I could see inside, watching Gary, Keith, and Ron doing their thing throughout the game.

Broadcast Booth
Broadcast Booth



The Game:

First pitch, Nationals vs. Metropolitans
First pitch, Nationals vs. Metropolitans

Ollie Perez was pitching for us, so there's really nothing more that I should need to tell you about this game. This was still early in the season, and we had some potential hope that "good Ollie" would show up that day. Of particular interest was that I had nearly an identical conversation with several Not Shea staff members, which was generally a three-pass exchange beginning with them telling me to enjoy the game, my responding back with the question if Ollie was pitching, and then generally being met with a shrug and a dejected reply of "Yeah..." The older woman at the counter at the team store gave the most positive response, offering that we might score a lot of runs. That is the actual extent of enthusiasm that actual Metropolitan employees could muster for this jackwad.

(In further evidence that some of the staff were as fed up with this selfish, under-performing, over-paid jackass as most of the fans were, there was an interesting episode on the scoreboards. In the new place, there are two main scoreboards, in center and right fields. While at bat, information on the player is shown on both boards. During Oliver Perez's first at-bat, the center field board had a picture of goateed Perez from last season, and the right field scoreboard had a picture of clean-shaven Perez from this season. This told me two things: 1) Someone was making a visual joke about "Good Ollie/Bad Ollie," and 2) Someone running the scoreboards was a Star Trek fan.)

Mirror, Mirror
Mirror, Mirror

After 1-2-3 firsts for both teams, Perez managed to strike out the side in the bottom of the 2nd... while giving up two runs in the interim. The Mets got two back in the bottom of the inning, so perhaps the store clerk had the right idea.

I was quickly disabused of that notion as the Mets managed to get bases loaded with no outs in the next inning and not score a run, while that Nationals came back in the top of the 4th with two runs as Ollie was handing out walks like hall passes. When a Mets rally in the 5th only managed to get across one run, I was pretty much resigned to my fate for the rest of the day. Outside of an abortive threat by the Nationals in the top of the 8th, it was relatively quiet until the bottom of the 9th. Reyes led off with a single (his first hit after coming back from the disabled list since last season -- and damned if he didn't look like he enjoyed that hit more than anything in the world after going 0-3 at the start of the day), and he was sacrificed over by Cora. Wright and Franceour walks bracketed a Bay strikeout, leaving two outs, with bases loaded for Barajas. Realize, this was early in the season before anyone knew the breakout year he was going to have, at least up to this point. Barajas took the first pitch, and lined it on a rope, bringing the stadium to its feet, as everyone was sure they were watching the game winning single. But the Nationals' Harris snagged the ball an inch before it hit the ground in a truly incredible play that those bastards on Sports Center no doubt played later that night, and the game was lost, 4-3.

The Scorecard:

Nationals vs. Metropolitans, 04-10-10, Nationals win, 4-3.
Nationals vs. Metropolitans, 04/10/10, Nationals win, 4-3.

The scorecard was the standard Mets $5 program with paper scorecard centerfold. In what I'd like to believe was an outpouring of complaints by people last year, the scorecard has now gone from last year's dark background to a lighter white/blue background that you can actually take notes on. This does, however, keep with the theme of fixing things that shouldn't have been broken in the first place. I can't tell you the good, hard look at myself that I had to take after being so legitimately overjoyed by this turn of events. It... it wasn't pretty what stared back at me.

The Accommodations:
Hoboken, sweet, Hoboken


2010 Stand-Alone Trip