ON SEPTEMBER 10
I went to the game on September 10 with a $5 ticket, which actually cost me
$16 once you added various surcharges necessary to cover the administrative, labor,
and material costs of sending the e-mail back to me with a .pdf document attached.
Still, it was a $5 ticket. That’s what it said on the front.
As I got to the stadium, I saw from signs, and from some people in uniforms at
the entrance to the press area, that the theme of the night was going to be 9/11. It was
September 10, but we were off tomorrow.
I had a weird thought. It’s a kind of inappropriate thought but I wondered if
anyone else had it. 9/11, besides being the murder of thousands of innocent people,
was also the destruction of an emblematic New York landmark consisting of two
buildings that every weekday held 50,000 people. The destruction of the WTC
permanently changed the face of New York. It changed what the great city looked like
from an airplane and from many angles on the ground. Suddenly a gigantic thing that
held a lot of human life was gone.
I know that the destruction of Shea is in no significant way analogous to the
destruction of the WTC. But I couldn’t help having this dream-like thought. I couldn’t
help being struck by the apocalyptic similarities. It is as weird as hell to be sitting in a
gigantic building filled with tens of thousands of people and to realize that in a couple
of months it is not going to be there anymore. It’s weirder than sitting in a smaller
building with fewer people. Giant things force on you an idea that they will last a long
time because they take up so much space. How can something so big disappear?
How can something so sublimely real stop being real?
The thing is that, in New York, giant things are often destroyed. Few cities in
the world have a more spectacular list of gigantic things destroyed or demolished.
Shea stadium was about to go the way of the old Penn Station, the 6th Avenue El, the
Singer Building, Coney Island’s Steeplechase, The Crystal Palace, the Croton
Reservoir, the old Madison Square Garden, the ocean liners lined up at the West Side
piers, the World Trade Center. All these big things that once contained living crowds
as large as the one I was in had been dispatched to the great New York of memory.
Only Ebbetts Field had been allowed to come back from the dead.
My $5 seats were in the Upper Deck in that shadow area behind home plate.
On both sides of the shadow, the right and left field stands were illuminated by the
banks of lights that look like teeth at the top of the stadium. Where I was, in row N,
there were a lot of birds, eerily tame pigeons that flew very low over your head the
way the planes do approaching LaGuardia as they come in over the Grand Central
Parkway. It was actually a nice place to sit, on one of these last days of Shea. You
could see the whole stadium and the whole crowd. This is where I used to sit when I
was a kid, so I had a sense that I was looking out over the stadium and looking back
into the life I had spent in this place. I looked towards the just fair point of the Upper
Deck and remembered when I saw Tommy Agee hit the ball there.
There was a lot of 9/11 stuff, which people applauded more than they usually
applaud the people who throw out first balls and take down numbers and stand around
with Mr. Met. The Quantico Marine Corps Band played the National Anthem with
the brassy drama that only a good military band can give it. Somebody near me sang
along with a loud screechy emotional voice, far off-key. And the 7-train rattled loudly
through our moment of silence. But this was all right. New York is no more about
perfection than it’s about permanence.
I liked the feel of the crowd in the first couple of innings. I liked the
spontaneous storms of affection for this team as they got hits and threw strikes and
made plays. I hadn’t felt so much Mets love in a Shea crowd since the first couple of
months of 2007. I particularly loved the joy with which Carlos Delgado’s mere
existence was celebrated. I remembered my anger at how he had been booed all those
months. But I was in a forgiving mood. And then the third inning, when they scored
six runs, was a perfect feast. Jose Reyes (at 25!) broke Mookie Wilson’s all-time
Mets stolen base record. Wright and Beltran hit their RBI singles. I had forgotten
how beautiful singles look from the Upper Deck, how they pop out over the near
portion of the outfield, hang for a second, and then drop and roll onto the green to the
delighted cheers of the crowd. I loved how we all booed the Nationals for walking
Delgado and then how we all got to see more and more runs coming home to us off the
bats of Tatis and Easley. As I watched, I enjoyed the cozy, fragrant warmth of my
pretzel and the smooth earthy coolness of my bright yellow beer. What a feast for the
senses and spirit a good ballgame is! Oh, how much I love the Mets!
But of course, it was a Mets game, so there had to be some strangeness and
trouble. I couldn’t figure out why Elijah Dukes thought that Mike Pelfrey would have
wanted to take the trouble to hit him in a 7-1 game between a first and last place
team. But I understood that the drill was that we would all boo him real loud when he
came up, which of course would eventually distract Pelfrey and Dukes would have a
terrific day at the plate. This is baseball crowd logic. It’s not logical. Then I couldn’t
believe it when we lost a big lead for the second night in a row. And then there was
Hey-ay-ay baybee! I want to know-wo-wo, if you’ll be my girl! And the t-shirts. And
then I changed my seat, moving down to where the Mezannine extends out into left
field. I wanted to get a different perspective on the stadium. So I walked down the
forbidding slope of the Upper Deck, holding the railing where so much red paint had
been worn away by so many hands, stepping on people’s peanut shells, reading their
backs, Wright, Reyes, Santana, Coney Island Polar Bear Club.
As I walked down the aisle of the Mezannine towards my new seats, I looked
up and saw how the lights of Shea illuminate each individual face. When you look at a
well-lit crowd, you see how crowds don’t really overwhelm the individuality of the
people in them. You see how absolutely distinctive everyone’s face is, especially in a
New York crowd, where there is so much variety of color and feature. You also see, in
such bright light, how everyone’s style is also distinctive. The only thing that brought
all of these sharp human impressions together was what was happening in the middle
of all the greenish-yellow light. Everyone cheered, smiled, and grimaced at the same
time. As I was walking, I saw all these faces grimace and that was how I learned that
Heilman had given up a home run to Guzman to tie the game.
When I found my new seat, overlooking the visiting bullpen and the picnic
area, I saw how the big crowd looked different and sounded different from the other
side. It was funny to see the illuminated booth with Gary, Keith, and Ron, like a little
set jewel in the vast bank of seats and faces. It was funny to face the batter instead of
standing behind him. It felt like a different game. And it became a different game as
the Mets regained the lead, and then almost lost it. Wright hit his home run into the
picnic area and right up close I got to see the Home Run Apple rise to the occasion
and take its proud curtain call.
We won, 13-10. Everything felt good as we bounced down the ramps. Our
hitting was good, our fielding was good, our spirit was good, our pitching had been bad,
but in the end we didn’t think of it. The Phillies had lost. We were 3 and a half games
in first with 17 to play. Of course, having lost last year when we were 7 games ahead
with 17 to play, we couldn’t say we were confident. But the odds were on our side.
The odds had been spectacularly on our side last year too. But there was a reason we
could actually feel good. In 2007, we were 5-12 for those last 17 games and the
Phillies were 13-4. In 2008, if we went 9-8, the Phillies would have to go 13-4 to beat
us. How likely was it that we couldn’t manage 9-8, and if we did, how likely was it that
the Phillies would go 13-4? We felt good, because we didn’t smell defeat in this year’s
team. We smelled hot dogs and happiness. We smelled glory.
©Dana Brand 2009