Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Wright And Wrong Report: 3 Days of Wonder, 1 Day of Worry

I was going to attempt to write an entry for each day of my recent baseball extravaganza, but I just couldn’t find the time or the energy, for reasons that will come readily apparent as I tell my tale. Last Wednesday I wouldn’t have dared dream it, but it would become the best three days of my baseball fandom to date.

Advance Scouting
I didn’t set out to attend three Mets games in three days while traveling through three different states. When the schedule was first announced over the winter, I saw that the celebration of the 1986 champs was set for August 19th. I knew I had to be at this game. So I also roped in three Mets fans who also happened to own Brooklyn bars—my longtime friend Erik of Vegas and Lee and William from Magnetic Field (the place where I live out my rock star side). I got into work wicked early on that Saturday in February, and scored us seats in the loge section.

And then we had to wait seven months until the game, and I had to repeatedly remind each of them when it was taking place.

Hank, my junior year roommate from IC, is from Philadelphia and has suffered the ups and downs of that team’s interesting existence. Back in late May he suggested that we take in one of the Mets-Phillies weekday games at Citizen’s Bank Park. Always being up for a road trip (and knowing a cheesesteak would awaiting me when I got there) I told him I was down for August 17th. I even planned ahead and took the day off.

My friend Jocelyn is also a longtime Mets fan (she was at Game 6 in 1986 and is the only person I know who was there at Shea that fateful night), and her job at WFAN gives her some perks that the average Flushing faithful doesn’t get. A month ago she told me she was trading in tickets from a rainout, and that she picked August 18th because it was the night the ticket office had the best seats available. She asked if I wanted to go, so I said yes. (I had already missed going to the Marlins doubleheader she had tickets, so I wasn’t going to miss out here.) So I knew in early July that I was going to have back-to-back-to-back nights of Mets games—and I wondered if I would get through it.

The first wrinkle in the plan came Monday when Jocelyn emailed me to say she had gotten batting practice passes for Friday’s game. That meant she and I and her friends Pam and Bob (both veteran radio folk like myself) would be on the field during batting practice—and that I had to get there at 4:30 to take advantage of this. I knew getting out of the office that early after I had the previous day off (and had an interview out of the office as noon) would be next to impossible. Fortunately I had and ace in the hole, as I had to work on Monday, which was technically my vacation day. I proposed to my boss (and occasional DJ collaborator) Ira that I take Friday off, but do my interview so no one else would be bothered by it. He agreed, so now I was not only go to go to there games, but I was going to put my feet on the same ground near home graced by Mike Piazza, Todd Hundley and Gary Carter.

August 17th Game 1: Mets vs. Phillies, Citizen’s Bank Park, Philadelphia 1p.m.

The trip to my first game started off on a rough note. Accompanying Hank and I on the trip down was Alli, a baseball fan who unfortunately has chosen the Evil Empire as her favorite team. However, she doesn’t have a problem rooting for the Mets and wants to see as much baseball as she can. So we let her join our posse for the day. Alli was to pick me up at the Brooklyn offices of Zisk and then we would head over to Jersey to Hank’s place and ride down in his car. Late the night before she called to tell me she was already in Jersey moving stuff into her new pad and was going to spend the night there. (Rooting for the Yanks is a bad mistake, but spurning Brooklyn for Jersey? Heresy.) So that meant I had to hop on the F and then the PATH train to Hoboken. That also meant getting up about an hour earlier than I had planned, which my Mets-beer addled brain did not like one bit.

We have a saying on Brooklyn—F means forever. And indeed that was the case this particular Wednesday, as the 35 minute ride to West 4th street took over an hour. I sprinted (well, as fast as I can sprint—no one will mistake me for Marion Jones) from the subway to the PATH, and finally made it to Hoboken at 9:30. I hopped in Alli’s truck, we discussed why WFUV was playing shitty ’70s songs that day, and somehow listened to Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” for more than half of the drive to Hank’s place.

After a brief tour of his lovely house, we piled into Hank’s car and set out for Philly, only 20 minutes behind schedule. Then the second snag of the day hit 90 seconds later, as Hank had a run in with a gas station attendant. Let’s just say the whole event ended with Hank rolling up the window and calling--in a somewhat raised voice--the guy an asshole. Having lived with Hank in college, it had been a long time since I had since his angry side come out. It was fun--I had missed Angry Hank.

Somehow we made it to Philly in time to pick up the other Phillies fan in our posse Nick (we had to balance the rooting karma out) and made it to the park in time to wait in line 25 minutes for cheesesteaks. (I take mine “wit wiz,” as they say in the City of Brotherly Love.) As we settled into our seats, I realized that we were right in a pack of Mets fans. In fact, there were Mets fans everywhere. And as the game went on and the Mets extended their lead, it seemed to me that Phillies fans got more joy rooting against their own players than against the Mets. Some of the comments I heard people behind me say about Pat Burrell were so cruel I don’t think I would have ever said them about Victor Zambrano.

Well, maybe I would if he were still pitching for the Mets.

The way back home was that much sweeter with a Mets win...although I think Hank made sure the A/C didn’t reach the backseat of his baking car just to punish Alli and I. Maybe I’m just a bit paranoid. To complete our trip, we went to a Wawa and I bought an entire box of Tasty Kake Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, which are the best snack food ever. (I proceeded to eat almost all of them in one sitting once I was back home.) Peanut butter and chocolate taste much better when your team snaps a three game losing streak.

August 18th Game 2: Rockies vs. Mets, Shea Stadium, Flushing, 7 p.m.

After killing two hours at Snakes on a Plane, I hopped the 7 out to Shea very early on Friday afternoon. It was so early that when I got there at 4:30, the vendors hadn’t yet even entered the ballpark. Jocelyn and Pam and Bob showed up a bit late--each of them was frazzled due to traffic. That feeling went away when we were led in through the bowels of Shea by this woman Heather (who may be the cutest person I have ever seen working for a MLB team) out on to the field.

Yup, onto the field, right behind home plate. And I did something so clichĂ© that I almost wanted to hit myself over the head with a bat because I had stooped this low--I reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt. Unfortunately I didn’t have a baggie, so I only made my hand dirty for the few minutes I held the dirt and pebbles in my hand. But it gave me a feeling that’s almost indescribable. It was almost overwhelming standing there and looking at David Wright 15 feet away from us taking hacks in the cage. During that first minute of standing there I had visions of every memorable game at Shea I had either attended or seen on TV--and now I was standing on that same field, and got to hang there for almost an hour. It was something I will never forget.

As an added bonus, Jocelyn introduced me WFAN Mets beat reporter Ed Coleman, and in the 10 minutes I got to speak with him, I quickly determined that this was one of the better people I’ve met in the radio business. (And trust me; the radio business is filled with a lot of shitty folks.) We spent a good deal of time talking about the viciousness of Phillies fans--and that fact that he got his start spinning albums at a rock station outside Boston. The rest of the night was kind of blur--the Mets won, we got to eat some free food at the WFAN suite, I got a lift back into Brooklyn and we hit no traffic on the way there. It was an incredible day, the best I’ve ever experienced as a baseball fan, and one of the best I’ve ever had in New York.

August 19th Game 3: Rockies vs. Mets, Shea Stadium, Flushing, 7 p.m

After the previous day, even the 86 reunion seemed to me like it would be a letdown.

It wasn’t.

Other folks have written extensively about the ceremony and the visits to the booth by former teammates. All I can say is that when Mookie Wilson came out on the field, it sounded like a jet plane was taking off from third base. The “Mookie” chant is probably still echoing across Long Island sound. If these players didn’t realize how much the 86 team meant to a generation of Mets fans, they do now. When the ceremony was done, I could have cared less about the game...until I realized the Mets were being no hit. So I got up and walked around, found my friend Erik at some other seats, and as soon as we started talking the Mets rally started. I left the park drained, and with a perfect 4-0 record at games I’ve attended this year.

After the baseball orgy was over, I rested all day Sunday and got to listen to Keith Hernandez say he liked to work on tipping beers back during off days in 1986--and how Tom Glavine’s career might be in jeopardy. Fortunately, today’s news about Glavine is all good. And tonight I am yet again traveling out to Shea for my fourth game in six days--and after spending so much time there in the past few days, I can say with certainty that they can’t bring the new stadium on fast enough. Being on the field was great, but have a better place to sit without weird food smells in your face all game would be better.

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