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
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
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
flip. Yeah, it could happen. In the upper deck...
Saturday, September 28, 2002
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