Friday, June 22, 2012

How to Be a Yankee Fan at Citi Field

Have you, as a Yankee Fan, been to the Mets' new ballpark? This is the 4th season that it's been in operation, so you should have gone at least once by now.

I'll put aside my hatred of the Mutts, and do this as objectively as possible.

Before You Go. The weather situation will have to be observed. Tonight, the current heat wave is projected to break, but that will be due to a front coming in that may drop a thunderstorm on the Tri-State Area. So the Friday game may be pushed back, forcing a day-night doubleheader on either Saturday or Sunday.  The Saturday and Sunday games will be night games, so it won't be especially hot.  If the Friday game is postponed, it will probably be around 85 on Saturday afternoon, and a little cooler than that on Sunday afternoon.  So remember to stay hydrated.

Getting There.  Since most people reading this will be local, plane, bus and (except for the Subway) train information does not apply.  If you are local, then you know how to do this: Take the Number 7 train.  If you haven't been to a Mets home game since they were still at Shea Stadium, there is one change: The station used to be named "Willets Point-Shea Stadium." Now, it's named "Mets-Willets Point."

If you want to drive, you'll have better parking options than at Yankee Stadium (old or new).  Citi Field is at 126th Street & Roosevelt Avenue.  It is bounded by Roosevelt on the south, 126th and the Van Wyck Expressway on the east, Northern Boulevard on the north and the Grand Central Parkway on the west.

If you're coming from Manhattan, don't fool around with the streets: Take the Subway.  If you're coming from points north (The Bronx, Connecticut, or Westchester on up), take any road leading to Interstate 87 (the New York State Thruway north of the City, the Major Deegan Expressway inside), to the Triborough/Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, to the Grand Central, take Exit 9E and follow the signs.

If you're coming from Long Island, take the Long Island Rail Road. The Port Washington Line will take you directly to the ballpark. From the other lines, take any westbound train to Jamaica, and transfer to any Penn Station-bound train that will take you to Woodside.  From there, switch to the 7 Train.  If you'd rather drive, take any westbound highway to the Van Wyck.

If you're coming from Brooklyn, it depends on whether you're coming from the west or east side of it.  From the west side, get to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), stay on it until it becomes the Grand Central, and then follow the directions from points north.  From the east side, take either the Shore Parkway or the Jackie Robinson Parkway to the Van Wyck, and follow the signs.  If you're coming from Staten Island, get to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and follow the directions from Brooklyn.

If you're coming from New Jersey, it's probably best to take a bus into The City and then take the 7 Train from Port Authority Bus Terminal; or take a train in and then take the LIRR from Penn Station. But if you'd rather drive, then, from North Jersey, get to the George Washington Bridge, and then follow the directions from points north. From Central Jersey, get to the New Jersey Turnpike, and take Exit 13 for the Goethals Bridge, and, from there, follow the directions from Staten Island.

Tickets. The Mets are averaging 28,278 fans per game so far this season, down 3 percent from last year's average of 29,044.  Against any other opponent, you could walk up to the gate right before first pitch and pretty much buy any ticket you can afford.  But this is the City Series (I won't insult those who've played in the World Series by calling it a "Subway Series"), so if you don't already have your ticket, you're going to have to rely on a scalper.

The Mets use "Dynmic Pricing," so prices for the various sections are not constant.  For most games, Field Boxes will be from $60 to $94. But the majority of tickets will be for $40 on down, making a Met game heaper than a Yankee game -- unless, of course, it's a Yankee game AND a Met game.

Going In. You're likely to walk in at the home plate gate, with the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.  True, Robinson never played for the Mets, and I have seen no evidence that he ever seen set foot inside Shea Stadium.  But the Mets, for better are for worse, are the spiritual descendants of both Robinson's team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and their arch-rivals, the New York Giants.  The rotunda is, in effect, the equivalent of the museum portion of a Presidential Library for Jackie.

On the way in, especially if you're coming out of the Subway station, you'll pass the original Shea Stadium Home Run Apple, which has been restored, and serves as Citi Field's equivalent to the old Yankee Stadium's smokestack, The Bat.  You'll pass a brick walkway where fans could "buy a piece of the ballpark" to commemorate a great moment in their fan experience, or memorialize a loved one who didn't live to see the new park.  I had considered doing this for my grandmother, a Dodger-turned-Met fan, but, I figured, considering how much my parents hate going into New York, and how my sister has also taken to the Yankees (but also to the NFL's Jets, who played at Shea but not at Citi Field), the only person there who would know who she was would be me.  So I decided against it.

Inside the rotunda, before you go up the escalators, behind them will be a ticket office.  Off to your left will be a team store.  Off to your right will be the Mets Hall of Fame.

Food.  One area where the Mets always had the edge over the Yankees was in food.  But that is no longer the case.  Not because of taste -- far from it -- but because of accessibility.  They had years to get this right, and, instead, they have ended up with massive lines.  On my first visit to Citi Field, I was on line at Shake Shack for the entire 5th inning, and missed a home run that turned out to be the only run that was scored in regulation.  (The Mets won in extra innings.)

Shake Shack is in center field at Section 139.  A Blue Smoke barbecue stand is nearby at Section 140, and also upstairs at Section 414.  Keith's Grill, named after Hernandez, is at Sections 132 and 415.  (Should have had a barbecue stand named after Rusty Staub, who was both a better hitter and equally famous as a cook.) A McFadden's restaurant is at the 126th Street entrance.

The Mets go around the world with Daruma of Tokyo at Section 105, El Verano Taqueria at Section 139, Two Boots (for the shapes of Italy and Louisiana) at Sections 141, 317 and 512; and Kosher Grill at Sections 114, 130, 401 and 528.  They go around the block with Little Astoria and Mama's of Corona at Section 105.  New York's legendary Nathan's hot dogs are all over Citi Field.

The Mets have a gluten-free stand at Section 105.  They have Ittibitz (a variation on Dippin Dots) at Sections 104, 118 and 424.  And they do something for me that the Red Sox also do, but my beloved Yankees won't: They put a Dunkin Donuts in their ballpark, in Citi Field's case at Section 125.

Team History Displays.  As I mentioned, the old Home Run Apple is outside, and the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum is on one side of the rotunda.  It includes their 2 World Championship trophies, seats from the Polo Grounds and Shea, the original Mr. Met costume, and tributes to legendary Met broadcasters Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.

The Mets Hall of Fame includes: Broadcasters Nelson, Murphy and Kiner; executives Bill Shea, Joan Payson, George Weiss, Johnny Murphy and Frank Cashen; managers Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Davey Johnson; pitchers Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw and Dwight Gooden; catchers Jerry Grote and Gary Carter; first basemen Hernandez and Ed Kranepool; shortstop Bud Harrelson; and outfielders Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Mookie Wilson and Darryl Strawberry.

As yet, no figure from the 2000 Pennant winners or the 2006-08 close-but-no-cigar Mets has been honored; aside from Casey (who, of course, won 10 of them as Yankee manager, 3 as a New York Giant player and 1 as a Brooklyn Dodger), all of them were involved with at least 1 Pennant.  As the 3rd base coach in 1986, Harrelson is the only Met who has been on the field for 3 Pennants, while he and Davey (making the last out for the Orioles in 1969) are the only people who were in uniform for both of the Mets' clinchers.

Bob and Johnny Murphy were not related, although Bob's brother Jack Murphy was a sportswriter who heavily lobbied for major league sports to come to his adopted hometown of San Diego, and the stadium used by the Chargers and formerly by the Padres was named in his honor until Qualcomm bought the naming rights.  Johnny Murphy was a Yankee reliever in the 1930s and Weiss was a Hall of Fame GM for the Yankees, but neither is honored in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.  Although Yogi Berra also managed the Mets to a Pennant, he is not in the Mets Hall of Fame; only Stengel is honored with plaques in both ballparks.

That's 25 people for 50 years of service.  In contrast, Yankee Stadium's Monument Park honors 26 people for 110 years.  (That doesn't count Jackie Robinson's Number 42, the 9/11 tribute, and the Plaques honoring the 3 Papal Masses delivered at the old Stadium.) If the Mets honored people at the same rate the Yankees did, they'd have 12; if the Yankees did so at the same rate as the Mets, they'd have 52.  (And if the Mets honor Kranepool, how low would the Yankees have to lower the bar? Possibly to Bucky Dent or Jim Leyritz.)

So while the Mets Hall of Fame plaques were not on public display for a long time, it can no longer be argued that the Mets have failed to properly honor their history -- and, after 50 years, they have some history to honor.  Some of it is even honorable.

In my opinion, presuming that the Mets are not yet ready to induct figures from the Mike Piazza era (1998-2005), let alone the David Wright era (2004-present), the only people who aren't yet in but should be are Ron Swoboda, Howard Johnson, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Jesse Orosco, and, if you want to go there, Lenny Dykstra.  (For the record, while the Phillies Wall of Fame now includes John Kruk and Darren Daulton from the 1993 "Macho Row" squad that was, uh, roughly as rowdy as the '86 Mets, the Phillies have not yet honored Dykstra.)

The Mets have retired 3 numbers: Stengel's 37, Hodges' 14 and Seaver's 41.  Of course, Jackie Robinson's Number 42 was universally retired in a 1997 ceremony at Shea Stadium (I was there, having taken my Grandma to honor her favorite athlete of all time), and when Shea entered its last season in 2008 they gave Bill Shea, the esteemed lawyer whose work got the Mets established in the early 1960s and got the stadium named after him, a stanchion with his name on it that stood in for a "retired number." Those 5 stanchions are now on the left-field wall at Citi Field, as they were at Shea Stadium.

On the right-field wall, as they were at Shea, are the "pennants" honoring the Mets' 7 postseason berths: The 1969 and 1986 World Championships, the 1973 and 2000 National League Pennants, the 1988 and 2006 N.L. Eastern Division titles, and the 1999 Wild Card & N.L. Championship Series berth.  A walkway from the right-field stands to the center-field concessions court is named Shea Bridge.  And at the back of that area is the "skyline" from the Shea Stadium scoreboard, including the red-white-and-blue "ribbon" that covers the representation of the World Trade Center.
The Mets are wearing a 50th Anniversary patch on the left sleeve of their uniforms, and a memorial patch for Carter on the right.  

Stuff.  The Mets sell lots of team stuff, including the variations on the Mets caps and jerseys caused by their unfortunate experimentations with using black, and orange, as base colors.  You can always tell a real Mets fan: He's got a blue cap with an orange NY, or, weather permitting, a blue jacket with an orange NY, not one of the later blue/black/orange combos.  Mr. Met gets the highlight treatment, nearly as much as the Phillie Phanatic gets at Citizens Bank Park.

A DVD with the highlight films of the 1969 and 1986 World Series is available, as is a collection honoring the 1986 World Series (all 7 games, plus the clinching NLCS Game 6 in Houston), the stadium tribute Shea Goodbye, and The Essential Games of Shea Stadium.

This last DVD's "essential games" are: 1969 WS Game 4 (Swoboda's catch), 1986 NLCS Game 3 (Dykstra's walkoff), 1986 WS Game 6 (Bill Buckner), 1999 NLCS Game 5 (Robin Ventura's walkoff), September 21, 2001 (the first game back after 9/11, won by Piazza's home run), and May 19, 2006 (a walkoff hit by Wright beats the Yankees, for all the good that did).  The set also includes these highlights: The last inning of the '69 WS, Carter's Opening Day wakoff in '85, the '86 NL East clincher, highlights of  '86 WS Game 7, Matt Franco's steroid-aided walkoff against Mariano Rivera in 1999, Todd Pratt's homer to clinch the '99 NL Division Series, the 2000 Pennant clincher, 2006 highlights including the NL East clincher, the Endy Chavez catch from '06 NLCS Game 7 (for all the good that did), and an interview with Bill Shea.

Books about the Mets abound, especially now that they've hit their 50th Anniversary.  Greg Prince, co-author of the blog Faith and Fear in Flushing (see link to the right), wrote a book with that title, and until the Mets win another Pennant, and perhaps well beyond that point, this will likely remain the definitive book about what it is like to be a Met fan.  As Prince says, "Mostly, I love the Mets because I love the Mets." It doesn't make sense.  But since when has baseball made sense? To paraphrase Bart Giamatti, baseball boggles your mind, it is designed to boggle your mind.  And the Mets, even in their good times, boggle the mind more than most sports teams.

During the Game. For the most part, Met fans do not abuse fans wearing opposing teams' gear.  But I wouldn't wear an Atlanta Braves cap or shirt to Citi Field.  I definitely wouldn't wear Philadelphia Phillies stuff.  As for Yankee gear... The simple act of wearing Pinstripes or the Yankee cap inside the Mets' ballpark is enough for their fans to consider a provocative act.  Being a Met fan, like being a Red Sox fan, means you have to hate the Yankees nearly as much as you love your own team.  It's in their blood: Giant and Dodger fans hated the Yankees as much as they hated each other, and, with the creation of the Mets burying the hatchet between the Hatfields and McCoys of baseball, they were united in the twin causes of loving the Mets and hating the Yankees.  But I seriously doubt that they will start a fight with you, simply because you show up in your colors.

Still, if one Met fan out of a thousand is willing to start a fight, that means, somewhere in the joint, there are roughly 40 fans who will want to.  So be aware of the possibility, and if they do give you verbal, do your best to ignore them.  Don't respond with anything harsher than, "We'll see what happens in this game." Do not bring up the 27 World Championships to 2 or the 26-year Met drought: They'll just say the Yankees "cheated" or "bought their titles." (As if the '86 Mets didn't have the biggest payroll in the NL at the time, and the failed Mets of 1987 until the current fire sale didn't have one of the top three payrolls in the NL all those years.)

The Mets, since birth, have had a theme song, “Meet the Mets.” I have to admit, it's a better song than "Here Come the Yankees." Mr. Met, a guy in a Met uniform with a big baseball head, may have been the original man-in-a-suit mascot at big-league baseball games.  Don't worry, he's designed to be harmless, unlike the Phillie Phanatic, whose "tongue," however inadvertently, has hurt a few people.

Perhaps the one thing about Citi Field that is not an improvement over Shea Stadium is the planes taking off from neighboring LaGuardia International Airport: I think moving the field a few hundred yards to the east actually made the problem worse.  But I think the old "plane race" on the video board (which inspired the Yankees to do "The Great City Subway Race") has been retired.

When a Met hits a home run, the Home Run Apple is activated.  Originally placed in Shea's center field after Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon bought the team from Mrs. Payson's estate in 1980, it was supposed to be a play not just on the New York nickname "the Big Apple," but also on the slogan of the time: "The New Mets: The Magic Is Back." It was a magician's black top hat, inverted, with the white letters "HOME RUN" on the front, and a big red apple with a Met logo on it would rise out, and the logo would light up.  (In 1998, when an accident forced a brief closure of the old Yankee Stadium and one Yankee home game to be moved to Shea, Strawberry, who hit more homers at Shea than anyone, hit one for the Yankees, and the apple was rigged to rise to only half its height, so only the top half of the Met logo could be seen, showing the skyline but not the word "Mets." I thought it was a good touch.) Knowing that Shea would be demolished, an Internet campaign went up to save the apple.  It worked: The old apple, which really was in bad shape, was restored and put outside Citi Field, and a new, larger apple was put in place at Citi Field.

In the 7th Inning Stretch, after Mr. Met leads fans in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the stadium speakers will play Lou Monte's half-Italian-half-English song "Lazy Mary." Why? Probably due to New York's huge Italian community and the song's inclusion in the New York-based film The Godfather.  (Never mind that the recording was released in 1958, or 13 years after the film's opening wedding scene, including the song.) After the game, win or lose, even though Billy Joel is a Yankee Fan, the Mets play his song "New York State of Mind."

After the Game. If you’re looking for a postgame meal (or even just a pint), you're going to have to get in your car or on the Subway, as, like Shea before it, Citi is an island in a sea of parking.  Fortunately, the Mets  do keep McFadden's open for a while after the game, and they list a lot of restaurant and bar ads in their game program.  Sadly, Rusty's, Staub's once-wildly popular Midtown East Side restaurant which he based on the cuisine of his native New Orleans, is long gone.

A bar associated with the 1980s Mets, because some of their players liked to get tanked there, is Finn  MacCool's, 6 blocks west of the Port Washington station on the LIRR; if you want to go, go to the LIRR station across Roosevelt Avenue, and get on an eastbound train instead of a westbound one.
Sidelights.  Filling this one in is not necessary: If you're a local, you know what the Tri-State Area has to offer.


Unless you've already got your tickets, you're not going to see any of these 3 games live.  But Citi Field is well worth a visit.  You might be impressed -- by the ballpark, if not by the home team.  And if you're not, hey, it could be worse: You could have been at Shea Stadium, the old Flushing Toilet!


Shake Shack said...

Mike, thanks so much for including Shake Shack in this post. We love serving up ShackBurgers and frozen custard for baseball fans at Citi Field!

So sorry to hear that you missed part of the game. We're always striving to help our team improve, so feedback like this is really appreciated.

Even though you're a die-hard Yankees fan, we hope to see you again soon at the Shack!

-Brandy, Shake Shack

Uncle Mike said...

I've also been to the one at Madison Square, although not yet to the one near Port Authority. I suspect the problem at the game was that the Mets hadn't planned properly for how popular it would be.