By Dana Brand
Today is the first anniversary of the most disappointing game I ever attended at Shea stadium. To mark it, I would like to share a portion of a chapter of my new book The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan. I hope other Mets fans can appreciate this. I think that most of those who enjoyed my first book, Mets Fan will enjoy The Last Days of Shea. It does not just deal with the disappointments of those last days. It also deals with the love and the sense of community we all experienced in the stadium that is no longer there.
... Now we were still a game ahead of the Brewers and a game and a half behind the Phillies.
On Wednesday, September 24, I got to Shea a little after 5. I had tickets to see the game in the picnic area as part of fellow Mets author Matt Silverman's "Goodbye to Shea" celebration, wake, or whatever. I met up with two of my favorite bloggers, Greg Prince of "Faith and Fear in Flushing" and Mike Steffanos of "Mike's Mets." We were also joined by Greg's friend Dave, a photographer who was taking a lot of pictures. We got our pink bracelets and ate our hot dogs and then found places in the bleachers.
Everybody in the picnic area was excited about seeing such an important ballgame. A lot of people in the bleachers were part of some group that did a German folk dance on the field before the game and so there were a lot more people in lederhosen and feathered hats and dirndls than you usually see at a Mets game and that gave everything a slightly unreal but festive air. Adding to this sense of festivity was Matt Hoey, the tall guy who wears a blue and orange "Cat in the Hat" hat, who for many years was always the first in line to buy single tickets at Shea and who is featured in the film Mathematically Alive. I had heard that Matt was in an accident but I was glad to see he looked okay, even though he was pale and was walking with the help of a cane.
This was my first time sitting in the picnic area and Saturday was going to be my last. It was wonderful. I actually felt as if I was in the outfield, ready to catch a ball hit to me. I saw the whole stadium and all the people in it. I saw the broadcasting booths like little lit boxes in the center of the big curve of the crowd. And I was closer than I had ever been to the exact spot where Cleon Jones caught Davey Johnson's line drive to end the 1969 World Series.
The game started. The Cubs went ahead and we tied them. Then we loaded the bases and Carlos Delgado came to the plate and the stadium got loud. There was a great swell of jagged, hopeful sound. As I watched Carlos taking his check swings, I had that sense of time-stopping quiet you get at a noisy moment that you are trying to preserve for all time. There was something about facing the whole crowd that gave everything an historic aura. And then, sure enough, we leaped up as we saw that the ball was climbing into the bright black sky and it was climbing and heading right towards us and we were calling to it and it came to us and the sound was so loud I couldn't hear it any more. I was in it. I was in the sound and the Mets were in the playoffs and the brightness of the stadium felt like the brightness of my spirit when I heard the sound of the crowd change from hope to joy. We were four runs ahead.
Oh, how happy everybody was. Mr. Met came by to say hello and so did "Cowbell Man," who, like Matt Hoey, was limping and walking with a cane that made it hard for him to bang his cowbell. I guess Mets fans are kind of bunged up, I thought. No matter. We were four runs ahead.
Looking back, I don't know why I felt as good as I did. The company was fine, the stadium looked wonderful. But around the edges of my mind there were demons who were muttering all kinds of negative things. I did say to Mike and Greg that it was so strange that a whole long season was all coming down to just a game or two that mattered completely. Normally, it didn't matter that much if we won or lost any individual game. But if we won this particular game, and the Brewers and the Phillies lost, we'd have something like a 90% chance of making it to the playoffs. If we lost and they won, we'd only have something like a 50% chance. Individual games, and hence individual innings and at-bats shouldn't matter so much. But they did. I didn't mind this when Delgado hit his grand slam, but on principle, I didn't think it was such a good idea.
Then the Cubs tied it up, because we didn't have the pitchers to prevent them from doing so. Then they went ahead but we tied it with a walk that brought home a run in the eighth. In the seventh, eighth, and ninth, all three times, we had runners on third with nobody out. But only one of those runners scored. The crowd cheered with a shrill urgency in the seventh and eighth, and after Daniel Murphy hit his leadoff triple and pounded the third base bag in the ninth, you heard an open-throated, happy expectant roar. How wonderful to win a game like this, to gain a game on the Phillies! But it didn't happen in the ninth and when the Cubs went three runs ahead in the top of the tenth and the big family group in front of us all stood up and hugged and kissed goodbye and the picnic area and the whole stadium started to empty, all you could think of is how many chances they had blown.
I saw the bottom of the tenth with a hushed, restless smattering of a crowd. I heard someone shout "The real Mets fans are still here." We were and there weren't enough of us. How could anyone leave a game like this? What had they come to the game for, if they could leave a game like this? Wouldn't they feel like assholes if they missed the Mets winning a historic victory with a grand slam or a sizzling rally in the bottom of the tenth? But nobody did anything in the bottom of the tenth. With two outs, Jose Reyes hit a few fouls that you watched as they made an arc against a bank of empty seats. Then he struck out.
We stood up and looked around at the almost empty and emptying stadium and picnic area in the bright shadowless light. Beer bottles were scattered everywhere, pointing in all different directions among papers and plates and wet, dirty rally towels.
I offered to give Mike a ride to his car in the lot of the train station in Fairfield. We walked through parking lot A. Mike said,"I can't believe I wasted 4 hours on that fucking game." We got into my car and drove out of the stadium, through Flushing to the Whitestone Expressway and then right into an apocalyptic traffic jam that had us spending an additional hour and a half just to get over the Whitestone Bridge. It was fun to talk to Mike for a couple of hours. It was a better distraction and comfort than turning on the radio and listening to Steve Somers, which is what I usually do when I leave the stadium after a night game. Although I worship Steve, I was not in the mood for him tonight. And I didn't want to listen over and over to news about the bailout that was supposed to save the worlds' financial markets from collapse, hearing every ten minutes about the nor'easter barreling up the coast that was supposed to begin as showers on Thursday afternoon and then develop into a steady, soaking rain.