With about forty tropical rain squalls descending upon the New York metropolitan area, I winged east with a mission.
I was going to say goodbye to the home ballpark of my youth. And a lot of my adulthood. It was the last regular season baseball weekend at Shea Stadium. Indeed, the Mets were still in the running for a wild card berth that would extend the life of the Flushing arena for perhaps a few weeks longer. But, nevertheless, this would be the last Saturday I would ever sit in those seats that my father and I picked out in January of 1968. Loge, Section 7, Row E, Seats 1 and 2.
The air was damp and so were my feelings as I walked up that Section 5/Section 7 ramp one last time with my high school best friend Danny, who would be an appropriate attendee for this last game. Oddly, for perhaps the first time ever, I hoped for extra innings. A four or five hour contest with a three hour rain delay. A stay of execution in a state where the governor is legally blind and can't dial a phone. But it was not to be. The Mets' Johan Santana put together an ultra-efficient complete game shutout that kept the Mets in the hunt and got me out of the stadium in 2 hours and 17 minutes. So, my time to relish anything more than the hot dog was limited. But I got to savor the view one more time from a mental treasure chest of delight.
From the famous Cowbell man who banged his way past our section one last time. Bang-bang-bang. Let's-Go-Mets. Bang-bang-bang.
To one last glimpse of the scoreboard where we watched Milwaukee's progress on Saturday, but I can recall many days of tracking similar scores from the Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pennant races of days gone by.
To one last pitch and one last out and one last fist pump and wave to 41 years of "owning" this very special location on Saturdays at Shea.
And one last get-together with my seats' "next door neighbors" for the past 15 years, Debbie and Craig. Not knowing whether the Mets will offer partial plans in the new place come 2009, we have pledged to come together at Citi Field for several Saturdays anyway. If the Mets won't have us officially, we can at least still have each other. As we lingered longer than usual after the game before our long walk to the soggy parking lot, Danny tapped Seat 2 several times as you might touch the casket of a loved one when saying goodbye. It was my first teary moment of the weekend.
There would be more. I wanted Shea to go on for just a while longer. I didn't have tickets to the Sunday finale, and a friend of mine was not able to score reasonable seats on Stubhub. But, I vowed to get there, even if I was destined to go by myself. And, surely, there was at least one seat still available on Sunday morning via the internet. It was up in the Mezzanine around third base. The mark-up was about 400%, but I dickered silently with the financial advisor who resides in my right frontal lobe and we reasoned together that this would be worth it.
For a last drive to Shea Stadium, I went out in grand style. Traffic was backed up to the Whitestone Bridge. I got off the parkway and took the surface street route. I found myself following the Q44 bus, which brought me back to the days of my collegedom when I would ride that same conveyance from the Bronx to Shea. Figuring that parking would be a nightmare around the ballpark, I sought out the municipal lot in Flushing a subway stop away. I remembered we parked there for all of the playoff games in the World Championship year of 1986. In the 22 years since, that area, however, has morphed into Seoul, Korea. There are so many Asians driving and walking the streets that I was waiting for Mothra to sweep down for its next battle with Godzilla. I wound up driving aimlessly around as I got to watch an episode of Oriental Wacky Racers play out in front of me. Luckily, an ongoing rain storm had delayed the game start for about an hour. Somehow and some way, I parked in the garage for the NY State Department of Labor, which inexplicably is open on Sundays.
My mezzanine seat equivocated to the upper deck at the new Citi Field. But, I didn't really care. I was part of the 56,000 jammed in the old park, perhaps the first time this year that the Mets' announced attendance matched the actual throng. Of course, given the notion that the Mets could be eliminated from post season play that afternoon, the prospects of a post-game Shea closing ceremony loomed as the ultimate fan injustice. Most stadium closings occur after the last game. Even, the Yankees would have probably done that had ESPN not changed their game time to an ungodly Sunday night.
Naturally, when it comes to bad luck, the Mets have long had it in spades. Within three hours, the Milwaukee Brewers were the wild card winners for 2008 and the Mets were headed off to the golf courses across the United States and Latin America. There would be no last "two out, two strike" miracle at Shea Stadium.
Most sat in numbed silence. Perhaps about 10,000 Met fans were so disgusted that they left before they got the chance to see alumni such as Jack Fisher and Ron Hunt grace the Shea field one last time. You sat there waiting, but you didn't know why. Waiting to celebrate the end of Shea twenty minutes after watching the end of the 2008 Mets was something akin to having a doctor pronounce your wife dead and then asking her out for a date. But, I didn't leave. I couldn't leave. I was there for life. Or at least one more hour.
First, there was Mr. Met removing the game count on the centerfield wall. One game left would become none. But, behind the "1" was a cheesy logo of Citi Field. Could they have had something better to show there? I thought that great photo of Casey Stengel winking at the camera would be ideal. Indeed, of all the Met history shown on Sunday, the "Ole Professer" was oddly absent. But, this would be the only misstep in an otherwise idyllic hour.
One by one, Met greats entered from the bullpen areas. 1964. 1969. 1973. 1986. 1999. 2000. And others in between. I noticed some older fans around here had tears streaming down their faces. When Dwight Gooden was announced, so did I. I was thinking about my parents, both who became Met fans. My mother, who learned about baseball from Tim McCarver, started rooting for the Mets in Dwight's rookie season of 1984. She absolutely adored him. Her heart broke when the drug problems started. As he walked down the warning track, my mother was in the seat beside me. When my father's favorite Met, Lenny Dykstra, entered, I felt him in the seat on the other side. And, up and down the road, I imagined all the friends I had gone to games with over the past 45 years. Some still in my life. Others are not. Sunday, we were all back together again. Along with Rusty, Yogi, Willie, Keith, Gary, Darryl, and Wally.
They first lined the infield and then, one by one, they all symbolically walked up to touch home plate one last time. The last two to do so would be Mike Piazza and Tom Seaver, who then proceeded to form one last battery. One more pitch from the mound. One last ball to the catcher behind home plate. They walked out to centerfield and closed the gate. Lights were turned out. Blue and orange fireworks rimmed the stadium. The ladies in front of me were now a mess.
So was I. Tears flowed like the cheap Budweiser at the concession stands. And, when it was over, many people lingered about. Digital cameras abounded. One last look. One last picture. One lasting memory.
My best friend from college was also there and we cell phoned plans to meet again in the loge level. First, we ventured over to Sunday plan seats he held for several years. Then, we walked over to Section 7. To Row E where the area underneath my seats looked like the morning after a college kegger. Regardless, I wanted my seats for one final sit. Unless something changes, he and I would be the last people to sit in Seats 1 and 2, Row E, Loge. We posed for a picture of us and the view I had for 41 seasons.
I look awful in the picture, but excess humidity and sadness has a way of doing that to a person. I turned back to my seats. Another look. A final snapshot. So long and goodbye. You served me well.
On Monday morning, I looked at this picture and made a decision. Prior to them dismantling the park brick by filthy brick, the Mets are pretty much selling anything that is or isn't nailed down. Bathroom signs, napkin holders, soap dispensers. You name it. And you can buy a pair of seats allegedly cleaned up and mounted on some metal frame that is not as rusted as the ones above. The cost for two is $869...wink, wink, nudge, nudge, the price tag is so clever. I had known about this for a while and wondered how to justify this expenditure and just where the hell I would put these suckers. But, Sunday, the heartstrings got all tangled up with the purse strings. I decided to buy my seats.
Sadly, I discovered that all the blue seats are sold out. And, for me, no other color will do.
One final Shea Stadium disappointment. Goodbye.
Dinner last night: Vegetable beef soup.