Friday, July 15, 2011

It Will Always Be Shea

When last we left our heroes....(see previous post to get caught up)

I went to sleep, and prayed that my new blood brother didn’t have a cold.


I overslept.

I would like to blame this on my travel companions for the game, since they were all up and moving.  Any one of them could have given me a shake long before 8:56 AM Thursday morning.  First pitch at Citifield for the Mets-Athletics game wasn’t for another 4 hours, but we needed to take a car to the train to the next train to the field, and we did want to arrive a bit early to soak up the experience.

With only time for a bagel with cream cheese, the traditional Jersey breakfast delicacy, the four of us headed out to the Hamilton train station.  This was Thomas’ first ride on a real train (DC’s Metro system does not count), and it was mostly uneventful.  He did see where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, and where Springsteen’s machine was “all stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey”.  We passed the Elizabeth station, where I stood on many a dark night with my brothers headed to the blue seats at Madison Square Garden for a Rangers game some 35 years earlier.  The stop looked scary, even in the light of day.  I warned Thomas not to make eye contact with anyone on the platform, even at 65 mph.

We had a few minutes in between trains at Penn Station so I could take Thomas upstairs to see the Garden from the outside and view the familiar round shape of the building’s exterior.  Thomas was in New York City, and the noises, the sights and the smells overwhelmed his senses for a few moments.  His eyes told me that he was alone with his thoughts while surrounded by thousands of people, and he sported the classic tourist ‘head tilted up’ look.  Earlier in the week, I had told him that NYC was like downtown Washington, except times 100.  Now he knew what I meant.  What I noticed most were the umbrella salesmen.  It was raining, and rain is kryptonite to outdoor baseball.  Rain outs were not factored into the schedule, and a rain out was now a distinct possibility.  The clouds above were heavy.

Because of the rain, our view of the Garden was brief, reminiscent of the scene from Vacation, when Chevy Chase sees the Grand Canyon, nods his head for a moment, and then says, “OK, let’s go.”  We could only dawdle for a NY minute.  We had another train to catch.

To complete the trek to Citifield, we opted for the Long Island Railroad instead of the subway #7 train.  For those of you who remember John Rocker’s rant to Sports Illustrated, you’ll understand why.  We were in town for baseball, not for a tutorial in social deviance.

Approximately 2 ½ hours after we left my sister’s house in Jersey, we could see the new home of the New York Mets out the train windows.  It was thrilling and sad.  Thrilling because we were finally there, and the place looked spectacular against the gray skies.  Sad because this was not Shea Stadium, so that made this place a graveyard.  I had attended something like 30 (50?) games at Shea over the years, and 10 Opening Day games in a row, so the place had memories for me.  I could see the highway overpasses under which we would relieve ourselves after several hours of Ruthian tailgating.  I could see the auto repair and illegal chop shops that used to line the avenue alongside the old parking lot entrance.  Alas, Shea was gone, reduced to some plaques in the parking lot marking the former site of the bases, but this was no time to mourn.  It was time to enter the future at Citifield in Flushing, NY.

Remember when I earlier mentioned “soaking in the experience”?  “Soaking” might have been an ironic choice of words.  As we approach the stadium, we were greeted by the normal compliment of ticket buyers and seller, and an abnormal number of plastic poncho vendors.  Bad omen.  They were doing a brisk business.  Purchasing a poncho, however, would be admitting defeat and accepting the rain.  We would not relent.  “We don’t need no stinkin’ ponchos!”  It was a misty drizzle, not a downpour.  Suck it up.

I snapped a picture of this four legged Mets fan on the way in.  He would have been a star during the old Banner Day celebrations at Shea, when fans could walk their homemade signs in through the centerfield gate and show off their colors and their spirit.  Met fans are a simple breed.  We are easily entertained, probably because the history of our franchise has required a decent sense of humor.  This dog was the prototypical Mets fan – all dressed up, and content with a good meal, the occasional bathroom break, and a few patronizing pats on the head.

First positive development of the day: our printed 8 ½” x 11” Stub Hub tickets were accepted at the gate.  We were not victimized by an Internet scam.
Once inside the new digs, we were greeted by a large acrylic blue #42, honoring Jackie Robinson, former Brooklyn Dodger and now baseball’s ambassador of white guilt.  For non-seam heads, the #42 has been retired by every major league team, never to be worn again by any other player (Mariano Rivera, who we hope to see tomorrow, is the last active player with 42 on his jersey).  Thomas, ever the product of a public education, worships the Jackie Robinson story, and has written reports about his struggles for acceptance in the game.  He immediately asked for his picture to be taken next to the #42.  I obliged.  The Branch Rickey memorial was nowhere to be found.

The 42 was in the middle of a large atrium with rounded staircases going up from either side towards the mezzanine seating.  There was ample brick and iron everywhere, and the architects obviously took great pains to provide the feel of the old Ebbetts Field, home of the Mets’ ancestral club, the Dodgers.  It worked.  It was both new and old at the same time.  It was a ballpark and a museum.

We were at least an hour from scheduled first pitch, so I led the group into the Mets Hall of Fame, just off to our right.  The Mets Hall of Fame, as far as I could tell, was there to honor and commemorate both years of the franchise – 1969 and 1986.  Any first time visitor would have thought that 2011 must be the club’s 3rd season in existence, not its’ 49th.  Thomas loved seeing the giant Mr. Met and the 1986 World Series trophy on display.  I loved seeing a plaque honoring my boyhood hero, Cleon Jones.

Cleon and I have had a special relationship throughout my life, mostly because of my decision as a 5th grader to choose “Cleon” as my confirmation name.  Joseph Cleon Sherrier.  I loved the sound of that, and I filled several spiral notebooks with that autograph.  (Note: This was long before Cleon was arrested after being caught with an underage girl in the back of his van).  My mother eventually broke the news that the Catholic Church preferred that I select the name of a saint, so the dreams of Joseph Cleon were dashed on the altar of conformity.  Joseph Wolfgang Sherrier didn’t fly, either, but that’s a blog for another day.

To be continued...tomorrow: Game Time

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