Saturday, September 28, 2002

A View From the Upper Deck by Mike Bonomo

I was reading in the book The 25 Most Amazin’ Games in Mets History, by Howard Blatt, that the Grand Slam Single playoff game at Shea in 1999 was played in a hard driving rain. But for the record, it was a relatively light rain. A mist really. I remember getting home from the game and seeing clips on TV and thinking, “wow, it looks like it’s pouring.” Yes, I saw the game the way I’ve spent most of my time at Shea, in the upper deck.

You see it was really that game that made me love the upper deck. I saw the game for $50. But my seats were behind the plate and that makes all the difference. There are people who paid $150 for that game and sat near the foul pole in the lower deck far further from home plate than my perch in the sky. For regular games I pay $12. (plus the $3 service charge those pieces of shit put on each ticket even though I got them from the Mets club house store. Only buying tickets at Shea precludes this. (It’s part of the amazing Met magic that printing tickets on a laser printer at Shea is $3 cheaper than printing them on a laser printer at the Met store.) Now I must admit right off that if I could afford the box seats behind home plate I would sit there and never look back. But I can’t, so those people are all jerks. I have sat in great seats now and again. I saw St. Louis play the Mets in 2000 from the 2nd row off the field at first base. Sadly Big Mac was out with a hurt back that July. I remember hearing the crowd from the upper deck chanting “Let’s Go Mets!” and yelling that certain players sucked. In the box seats, not a chant or a comment. I suppose if they had flashed stock quotes on scoreboard that might have gotten similar “you suck” chants from the field level. But for baseball, nothing.

I got the NLCS Game 5 ticket from my friend Michael. I am usually an eclectic sports fan (read: pothead) and at that time I didn’t go to many games. I ’m not saying you can’t be a huge sports fan and a pothead, many are, especially the players, but I’m just telling my story. When we got to the game, the rain was slowly coming down. The scalpers were selling on the subway. The Mets had lost the first three games to the Braves and everyone thought they were going down in four like chumps. That and the rain kept ‘em away. Could have gotten seats for $20.

It’s hard to remember now the first innings of the game really. In Howard Blatt’s book (a great book) Masato Yoshi is quoted as saying that by the end of the game he didn’t even remember that he had been the starter. I do, however, remember the antics of the drunks vividly. Guys with Mets logos tattooed on their arms clanging cow bells pointing at sections and getting them to stand up for a rousing “Let’s Go Mets!” In the early part of the game, it didn’t take much to get ‘em going. Somewhere around the 5th inning or so, a drunk jumped on his friend’s shoulders with a cowbell and really got my section screaming. For some fans the walkway that separates the lowly upper reserved section from the upper reserved box seats is a stage to display their various fan cheering talents. The guy with his friend on his shoulders swaying drunkenly and precariously, like a high-wire act that might come tumbling down at any second captured the hearts of Section 8. We cheered along with them mightily and at times even got the entire stadium going.

But then came the long ugly stretch where every Met opportunity came and went. I begged whatever baseball gods I could think of to please, please just let this one guy get a hit, or walk or hit by pitch. Rally caps. Rally knishes, anything. (I’m not sure really how the rally knish works but I think you have to run down, buy a knish and be in your seat before the inning starts for it have effect.) Melvin Mora gunning down Javy Lopez at the plate was the defensive play of the series. But it was just a blip on a long sea of painful moments. I remember Rey Ordonez coming to the plate in a bunt situation. I guess paying the guy millions doesn’t include learning what most Little Leaguers do for free: how to lay down a solid bunt. All year long the Mets, and especially Rey Rey could not execute a bunt. A voice rang out among the tired fans: “If you miss this bunt I’m going to kill you!” This comment got nervous laughter from the crowd. Nervous not so much for the threat, clearly idle, but because we all just knew he was going to miss that bunt. Of course he bunted the ball into the air and when it was caught the boos were unrelenting. Somewhere along this stretch, the drunk got onto his friend’s shoulders and tried to start the crowd. Their voices chanting, “Let’s go Mets” seemed weak and alone among the tired and pained crowd. It had been hours of tough grueling baseball. The only voices met with any agreement were the ones yelling out tremendously long strings of derisive cursing or ever the popular and succinct “You Suck!”

But the big moment came in the 15th. The rain gently coming down was really no bother at all. No, the discomfort was being down by one run in a game that had transcended the series itself. It was watching Keith Lockhart hit a triple to put the Braves up by one run in the top of the 15th on a ball that Shawon Dunston misplayed. It was waiting between innings with the feeling that we were going home losers that day. It was looking in to the bullpen and realizing that they had no one left. Rick Reed standing alone in the rain behind the bullpen fence with his mitt on his hip waiting to see if he would be needed. The big moment was Dunston’s lead off at bat. He worked the count full and then kept fouling off pitches. Right box seats. Left box seats. Straight back. With each foul ball the crowd got more hopeful.

Recognizing that this was the moment, the guy jumped on his friend’s shoulders to get the crowd going. This time the section just exploded. Dunston hit a single and Mets went on to load the bases. When McGlinchy walked in the tying run I went nuts. Arm pumping, fist clenched, screaming at the top of my lungs. “You suuuuck!” The Grand Slam Single brought the kind of joy rarely found in life. Hugging your friends and the guy sitting next to you. High fiving everyone all the way home. Literally dancing with total strangers.

On the 7 train back to Manhattan, the doors shut, and the entire car erupted into a “Let’s Go Mets!” chant spontaneously. Afterwards, the exhaustion of the almost six hour marathon game set in and there was complete silence. Except one guy on his cell phone. “Hey baby how ya doing? What? I was at the game. No really… Yeah, for 6 hours! It was one of the longest games in history…. I swear… but baby…. Here, listen.” At this point he held the cell phone up to the quiet subway car and attempted to get everyone to follow his lead and chant again. We were just too tired and nobody responded. But then a voice rang out from somewhere in the back of the subway. “Aw come on, it’s to save his marriage.” Immediately a string of giant “Let’s Go Mets!” chants rang out with the guy dancing and holding up the phone. I don’t know if it saved his marriage or not, but we gave it a shot.

For $12 I sat in the Upper deck for the first game back after 9/11. Diana Ross, Liza Minelli, bagpipes, honor guard and baseball. We cried during every between inning performance. Even for Liza. She blew the place away. High kicking and dancing in front a backdrop of firemen and cops belting out “New York, New York” while the whole crowd swayed together to the music arm in arm with a tear on every face. Even now when I try to explain this to people who weren’t there I say, “Really, she was that good.” Incredulous stare. “No. Really.” They reply, “Liza sucks.” Then I say, “I know how you feel, I always thought of her as a talentless, boozed up nobody and I too couldn’t believe people paid attention to her, but I’m telling you she was just so unbelievably good.” I get laughed at for this one, but she really was that good. Really.

The worst upper deck moment came just a few weeks later against Atlanta. Armando Benitez on the mound. The Mets way ahead. They had to win and the Phillies had to lose their game. The Phillies had been ahead all day, but at the beginning of Brian Jordan’s at bat, they were behind. The Mets were going to do it. I believed! For just a second, I believed. As Benitez threw fastballs to Jordan, “Strike One!” I yell, “Strike Two!” and again on the third one “Strike Three!” As Jordan rounded the bases I couldn’t believe he had hit one. That was alright, we can’t blow a six run lead. Ah well. As Jordan hit his second home run that inning I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the Phillies had moved ahead. In slow motion I yell out in horror with voice slow and deep at half speed “Nooooooo!” I guess the look on my face must have been priceless. Fate had beckoned ever closer just so it could give me the biggest ball splitting wedgie of a lifetime. This was the first time I almost literally cried over the Mets losing a game.

I went to opening day this year. Sat in the upper deck with my family. It was great seeing a game with my Brother, his wife, my Dad, and a couple of nephews. When Jay Payton hit a solo home run, a guy a few rows in front of us threw his hands up in joy, beer flying out of his open beer bottle unbeknownst to him.

I went to all three Yankee-Met games at Shea this year. These games started out good-naturedly. On the way to the game, as the subway approached Shea, a Yankee fan declared, “Shea Stadium home of gay pride.” I called out, “Piazza may be gay, but at least he’s tougher than Tino.”

The guy’s friends cracked up at that one. It was on. That Friday game was a tough one. Seeing Bernitz get plunked in the head on Friday night and Ventura’s return to Shea with a winning home run really sucked. It was too much to take. The weather was exactly the same as the Grand Slam Single game. A light misty rain that wasn’t too uncomfortable. The only discomfort was my guts ripping from my chest.

The next day the showdown with Clemens was all anyone was talking about at the game. When Estes missed him I remember thinking that I should become a fan of a less sucky team, like let’s say, Tampa Bay. But Estes’ and Piazza’s home runs atoned for it and I felt good about being a Met fan again. (Every time Clemens faces the Mets they snap another of his streaks. Two years ago it was his 17 winning starts in row. Later that year he gave up the first grand slam of his career to Piazza. The Estes’ home run was the first Clemens gave up to a pitcher.)

The Sunday game brought out the ugliness in all fans. I spent the entire time arguing with the guy behind me. It was all in good fun, but it was nonstop. I went hoarse yelling that weekend.

Later this season, at a rain delay, the crowd in the upper deck with nothing to do but wait decides to do the wave. I hate the wave and I was really glad when the 80’s ended and people stopped doing it, but it’s rearing its ugly head again. The worst part is that other fans start yelling at me, “Get up, you’re ruining it.” My friend Blair suggested we do a “NY Wave.” Instead of jumping up and waving our arms like idiots on Let’s Make a Deal. (Hey, I’m old and so are my references.) The crowd, with wave like precision, would flip the bird section by section around the park. Not just a casual old man flip either. But a-left-fist meets-right-elbow-just-as-the-right-arm-forms-a-ninety-degree-angle-and-up-pops-the-middle-finger-like-ya-mean-it flip. Yeah, it could happen. In the upper deck...

No comments: