Saturday, April 7, 2012

Queens

On All Future and No Past

Citi Field
Not Shea Stadium, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012
Atlanta Braves vs. New York Metropolitans
Not Shea Stadium
MLB, National League East
Queens, NY
1:10 PM


Outside the Game:
The first real game of the year -- it is all untapped possibilities and unfulfilled dreams. I awoke early on Saturday after not quite enough sleep to begin the slog out to Queens. After the necessary ceremonies and procedures, I set off into the Hoboken morning to begin the "mass" part of my transit. As I made each train switch, I was joined by more and more people obviously on the way to the stadium as well.

Finally on the 7 train, there was another gentleman sitting across from me. He had on the orange and blue, and had his own game bag and camera. We sat in silence for the duration of the ride, rising nearly at the same time to watch Not Shea come into view a station or so out. And then, as we exited, he dropped a conversational "Let's go Mets." And, in a reflexive responsorial, I gave him a "Let's go Mets" back in response, and off into the Queens morning we went.

After some fiddling around outside, it became clear that the Mets again were following the asinine policy of only letting season ticketholders in two-and-a-half hours before game time, as opposed to two hours before for everyone else. Hint to management: We're not going to buy season tickets for a "privilege" that was a right until last year, and all you're doing is pissing off your most ardent fans. Regardless, the announcement that the one open line was only for season ticket holders was made once, and a large number of us conveniently "forgot" that information quickly, got on the line, and were admitted without incident. Top notch work, there, Lou.

Post-game subway
Fight for it

Say what you will about anything else, they really have gotten the post-game process down to a science. Everyone gets fairly comfortably and quickly herded up the big stairwells to the L trains, and the diamond expresses run frequently. I was able to dash onto one right before the doors closed and headed back to Manhattan as speedily as possible. I eventually made my connection to the PATH and fielded two inquiries from Mets fans about how the game went after they saw me working on my scorecard.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center. Citi Field
Home plate to center field, Not Shea Stadium

The big news in the offseason was, of course, the inevitable dimension changes made to the outfield walls of Not Shea. The area in left has become the "Party City Deck." The thin strip of tables was populated during the game, though how the attendees were chosen for the honor is unclear. Nothing has been done with the new real estate in right, which is just some dirt behind the braces holding up the new wall by the bullpen. There were four home runs in this game, so something has to be said for the improvements.

There was also a refresh done to the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. They had a new exhibit up for the Mets' 50th Anniversary, and they incorporated some elements from the Mets' two previous homes into the space, with seats and the dedication plaque for Shea Stadium and some seats from the Polo Grounds awkwardly propped up in front of a power outlet. Elsewhere, there were some tweaks to the exhibits, but nothing much more.

Statue
These are a few of my favorite things

Outside of the stadium, they added some more commemorative plaques for the 50th anniversary, and they ranged from the obvious (Mr. Met, the stadiums, the Home Run apple), to the pandering (Mets fans), to the bottom of the barrel (the neon figures at Shea, championship banners, the new Home Run Apple). Sometimes I really, really wonder if the people running this show even like the Mets at all.

The only other big change to Not Shea was the addition of the black "Kid 8" logo to the left field wall. In my yearly buying spree in the team store, they were also selling pins and magnets with the logo, all of which was going to support Gary Carter's charity. I've said it before, but Carter's death really hit me hard for some reason. So far, the ownership hasn't messed up their tributes, but I still await suspiciously. Miss ya, Kid.

Mr. Met
The Mister

The crowd was copious, as you'd expect this early in the season, but there was an unpleasantly large Braves contingent in the audience as well. One amusing note is that the give-away for the day was Mets "texting gloves" (fingerless gloves sponsored by Verizon suddenly become "texting gloves"). The gloves were welcome on the slightly chilly April afternoon, but all the clapping for the day was curiously muffled, as everyone was trying to make noise while wearing wool covers on their palms.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Cold scoring

The first weekend game of the season is filled with nearly universal goodwill towards man, as this early in the season, even the Mets aren't out of it yet. And that first visit to the stadium is always just potential and hope. And if you get there early enough, there is just more potential to be had -- such as walking right up to the Shake Shack and placing your order without a half-hour wait. And watching kids do an infinite loop at the wiffle ball field, taking their turn at bat and then immediately running back around to take their place in left field to start the rotation around again without an intervening line. Watching them, I had a transcendent moment as a gangly and seemingly uncoordinated-looking kid got his chance to hit off the tee and blasted one off the scoreboard in center to the amazed delight of his father, and then promptly headed off at full speed to third base.

I sprang for Caesar's club tickets again, sitting on the third base side in the redundant shade out of the April afternoon. The place was as packed as you'd expect, and one of the pin ladies was sitting in my section, which seemed a good harbinger of things to come. The only hint of discord was an older couple sitting in the row behind me who objected to the vicious and well-deserved plastering many of us were giving to Jason Bay. After a triple got past him in the sixth, I again shouted out my opinion of Bay. The gentleman took issue that no one could have made the play on that ball, to which I responded that fact didn't make my statement any less true. For the record, Bay went 1-4 that day, with two questionable flubs in the field.

(To be fair, as a human being and a baseball aficionado, I can't imagine what he must be going through. To spend your entire life devoted to one thing and become literally one of the best in the planet at that chosen task, only to watch helplessly as your talent slowly and inevitably slips away must be akin to being in a coma and having an out of body experience. That said, if he doesn't hit, sit his ass.)


The Game:

First pitch, Braves vs. Metropolitans
First pitch, Braves vs. Metropolitans

The optimism of the start of the season ends as soon as the game starts to be played, and, in this case, it was almost immediate. The Braves led off with a double past a badly out-of-position Jason Bay, and promptly moved him to third with only one out after a slow ground-out to short. You could feel the season deflating almost instantly. And it looked to be all over but the writing of the story when Dickey uncorked a wild pitch. But the ball didn't get that far away, and the season suddenly found a second life as the runner got cut down at home and the batter flied out weakly to a moderately awake Jason Bay to end the half inning with no damage.

The Mets went down in order until David Wright walked magnificently up to the plate as if some Grecian god and deposited a pitch over the right-center field wall to put the Mets up, 1-0. Each team had a scattered baserunners in the second inning, and outside of a minor Mets threat in the third, things went quietly. In the fourth, the Braves got people in scoring position thanks to a single and wild pitch, but the Mets ended the threat with no one across. In the bottom of the inning, Lucas Duda sent a one-out homer into center, making it 2-0 Mets. A further rally materialized with two outs after two singles and a walk, but Murphy flied out to left to end the escapade.

The Braves would get some back at the top of the next frame, where a two-out walk was followed by a two-out homer, making it 2-2. The Mets came right back with a one-out walk and a single, before a new pitcher came in to get a pop-out to third. But a Josh Thole single then brought in a run, making it 3-2, Mets, before a ground out to short ended the inning.

The Mets worked out of a two-out Braves triple in the top of the sixth before stranding their own men on second and third in the bottom of the inning. The Braves went in order in the seventh before Duda hit his second one-out homer of the game, making it 4-2 Mets. A couple more singles went for naught, leaving the score as stands at the end of the inning.

Both sides went in order in the eighth, and the Mets called on Francisco again to save it. In the best tradition of Mets closers, he endeavored to make it interesting, giving up a lead-off single to put the tying run at the plate before getting a quick strikeout and fly-out to third in foul territory. As the crowd raised to their feet, Francisco gave up a two-out single to center, putting the go-ahead run at the plate. The crowd more tentatively got to their feet again, but Francisco did, in fact, strike out the last pinch-hitter, finalizing a 4-2 Mets victory.


The Scorecard:

Braves vs. Metropolitans, 04-07-12. Metropolitans win, 4-2.Braves vs. Metropolitans, 04-07-12. Metropolitans win, 4-2.
Braves vs. Metropolitans, 04/07/12. Metropolitans win, 4-2.

This was my first time trying out my new Baseball Writers Association of America scorebook. The scorebook had been subject of great praise from various writers over the years, and this year they went on sale to the unworthy public as well. The spiral-bound book had enough pages to score an entire MLB season in them, and had a convenient, compact design that was easy to use even while seated. It may have been a little on the small side with the boxes, but I think if I go to straight corner progression with the notation, there may yet be room to sneak in balls and strikes. As this was a Metropolitan home game, I was rocking all three colored pencils in addition to the regular graphite.

There were some scoring oddities of note. That wild pitch in the first inning lead to a run-of-the-mill "Caught Stealing 2-1" putout. Also, it was the Mets Neuwenhuis' first game in the bigs, so nearly everything that he did for the first time (at bats, hits, etc) was notated until I got bored with the process.


The Accommodations:
Hoboken, again


Addendum: 

Speaking of Hoboken, the Tuesday after I went to this game, The Baseball Project was playing at the legendary Maxwell's uptown. I found out about this appearance almost by accident, so it seemed fate dictated that I had to go. Since the "supergroup" is made up from members of the Dream Syndicate, Robyn Hitchcock, and R.E.M., it also most likely marks the very last time I will be the youngest person at a show in Maxwell's, and perhaps the first time that has been true for a good twenty years. Mike Mills was performing with them that night as well, making perhaps 50-75% of R.E.M. present, depending on how you want to do the math.

I only found out about the existence of this group last year when they played the Spring Arts festival in Hoboken. Upon consultation with everyone of baseball knowledge that I knew, it was determined that I was the last one in the world not to know of their existence. I literally bought up their merch table and proceeded with the "Baseball Project Project," by which I kept all their albums and nothing else on my iPod for the entirety of the baseball season. This lead to a couple of realizations about their work, such as in "Fairweather Fans," nearly all of them are, in fact, admitting to being the worst kind of fairweather fans, despite their lyrical protests, and in "Buckner's Bolero," I can only wonder what can they possibly mean about the real Doctor K pitching, because Gooden was miserable in the series.

Nevertheless, this was the first time I had paid to see a band in a good decade. Being in Maxwell's again sparked some pretty extreme deja vu, as it hasn't changed nearly as much as I did, and I couldn't help think about where I was standing in that same room in the countless shows I had been to over the years. As I settled in to the spot near the stage next to speakers that I previously held at an Archers of Loaf show in '95, the opening act was closing up and the slow switch to main gig began. Starting the customary half hour after their scheduled stage time, they came out and played for a good hour and a half, including encores. Mostly it was Baseball Project stuff, but the encores inevitably veered towards the hits from their main meal tickets over the years. Given the demographic of the crowd, the participants nervously looked to their watches as midnight approached, concerned with early work meetings the next day or paying overtime to annoyed baby sitters. I didn't get up the nerve to ask for "El Hombre" in the encores for fear of being clawed to death by forty-something soccer moms who really wanted to hear "Rockville" live one more time before they died.

And so it goes.



2012 Stand-Alone Trip.