Monday, May 27, 2013

How to Be a Yankee Fan at Citi Field -- 2013 Edition

I had intended to have this year's updated edition of "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Tampa Bay" up well in advance of this past weekend's series between the Yanks and the Rays, but real life intruded.

However, the next series, beginning tonight, is going to be unusual.  The Yankees will play 4 Interleague games against the Mets.  Monday and Tuesday at Citi Field, Wednesday and Thursday at Yankee Stadium II.

Then come The Scum.  It'll be the first time the Yanks have played the Red Sox since the Boston Marathon Bombing -- not to mention the recent Knicks Playoff win over the Celtics, and the current Rangers-Bruins series.

(Of course, in that one, it's the New York team that's "The Scum." If you know the Rangers suck, and they'll never win the Cup, if you know the Rangers suck, then clap your hands! Clap, clap!)

Have you, as a Yankee Fan, been to the Mets' new ballpark? This is the 5th 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, it's supposed to be warm, in the high 60s.  But from tomorrow night into Wednesday morning, it's supposed to rain.  Wednesday night and Thursday should be dry.  So, yet again, we may have at least one postponement, and a day-night doubleheader with one game in one park and one in the other.

The Citi Field games, for the moment, have official starting times of 7:10, and, weather permitting, will probably be held to those.  The Yankee Stadium games are officially starting at 7:05, which means they'll probably start at 7:07 or 7:08.

Getting There.  Since most people reading this will be local, posting the 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 averaged 28,035 fans per game last season.  Officially.  Most people who went to Met home games looked at the thousands of empty seats among the official capacity of 41,922, and thought those figures were inflated.  This year, over the first 3 months, they're officially averaging 26,249.  That number will go up a little with the 2 sellouts that the Yankees will provide.

As for those sellouts: Against any other opponent, even the Phillies or the Braves, 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 "Dynamic Pricing," so prices for the various sections are not constant.  For most games, Field Boxes will be from $65 to $90. But the majority of tickets will be for $60 on down, making a Met game cheaper than a Yankee game -- unless, of course, it's a Yankee game AND a Met game.  In which case, you probably won't get in for less than $100.

Going In. You're likely to walk in at the home plate gate, through 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 decided against it.  I figured, she left New York 60 years ago, so everyone she knew there is dead or in a retirement community elsewhere; and, 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.

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.

While Shea pointed due east, Citi Field points northeast.  The field is real grass.  Structurally, it may resemble Ebbets Field on the outside, but on this inside, it's closer to Baltimore's Camden Yards, with three wraparound decks going from left-center, around the left-field pole, around the plate, and down the right-field line, with bleachers in right field.

Unlike Shea, Citi is not symmetrical.  The left field pole is 335 feet from home plate (Shea was 341 until the Jets moved out in 1984, eliminating the need for the movable baseline stands, thus shortening it to 338), left-center is 358 (same as at Shea), deep left-center is 385 (371 at Shea), straightaway center is 408 (410), deep right-center is 390 (371), right-center is 375 (358), and the right-field pole is 330 (341/338).  Citi is definitely a pitcher's park, as Shea was, although this has been slightly reduced due to the outfield fence having been lowered a bit, as the Mets have had a lot of trouble hitting there.  Funny, but the Yankees never seem to have trouble hitting there on their visits.

Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins has hit the longest home run in Citi Field's short history, a 465-foot drive on May 16, 2011.  The longest at Shea Stadium was probably hit by Mo Vaughn, during his brief, disastrous tenure as a Met, 505 feet off the Budweiser sign on the big right-field scoreboard, on June 26, 2002.  Shea didn't have much of its grandstand in fair territory, so it was very hard to hit a fair ball into the upper deck.  The only player who ever did that was Met center fielder Tommie Agee on April 10, 1969.  The spot where the Agee homer landed was painted with the date and his name and uniform Number 20.

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.  (They really 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, and across the City with Brooklyn Burger at 7 different stands.  New York's legendary Nathan's hot dogs are all over Citi Field.  And while Subway sandwich shops didn't start in New York, there are 2 stands for it, at 125 and 413.

The Mets have a gluten-free stand and a Candy Cart at Section 105.  They Carvel ice cream stands all around, and Ittibitz (a variation on Dippin Dots) at Sections 104, 118 and 424.  Like the Yankees, they have lots of Premio Italian Sausage stands.  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: 

* From the early days, 1962 to 1968: Owner Joan Payson; executives Bill Shea, George Weiss and Johnny Murphy; manager Casey Stengel, and 1st baseman/outfielder Ed Kranepool.  Gil Hodges was a 1st baseman in the early days, but was hurt so often he couldn't make much of a contribution; he's in the MHOF as a manager.

* From the 1969 World Championship: Mrs. Payson, Weiss and Murphy (Shea was no longer officially involved); manager Gil Hodges; pitchers Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Frank "Tug" McGraw; shortstop Darrell "Bud" Harrelson; outfielders Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones; catcher Jerry Grote; and Kranepool.  Although Nolan Ryan was on this team, and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he is not in the MHOF, probably because the Mets don't want to remind everyone that they let him get away 295 wins, 5,221 strikeouts and 7 no-hitters too soon.  In fact, since being traded away, he has been back to a Met game only once, in 2009, for the 40th Anniversary celebration of this team.  Not honored from this team, but should be, is outfielder Ron Swoboda -- ironically, a native of Baltimore, whose Orioles the Mets beat int he World Series.

* From the 1973 Pennant: Mrs. Payson (Weiss and Murphy had died by then), Seaver, Koosman, McGraw, Kranepool, Harrelson, Jones, Grote, and outfielder Daniel "Rusty" Staub.  Although Yogi Berra managed this team, is in the Cooperstown Hall, and was invited to the Shea closing ceremony in 2008, he has not yet been elected to the MHOF.  Nor has Willie Mays, also on this team and invited to the Shea closing, but he was a Met for less than 2 full seasons.

* From the 1986 World Championship: General manager Frank Cashen, manager Davey Johnson, pitcher Dwight Gooden, 1st baseman Keith Hernandez, catcher Gary Carter, and outfielders Darryl Strawberry and William "Mookie" Wilson.  Although Koosman has been back since doing 6 months in prison for tax evasion, I don't think we'll be seeing Lenny Dykstra honored by election to the team Hall of Fame by the Mets (or the Phillies) anytime soon.  But 3rd baseman Howard Johnson, and pitchers Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda and Jesse Orosco are possibilities for future election.

* From the 2000 Pennant: Pitcher John Franco.  Mike Piazza has not yet been elected, and they may be waiting for him to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Pitcher Al Leiter and 2nd baseman Edgardo Alfanzo are possibilities as well.  No one has yet been chosen from the 2006-07-08 close-but-no-cigar Mets, although the only one retired and worthy of much consideration is 1st baseman Carlos Delgado.  3rd baseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes are still active, but, of course, Reyes is no longer with the Mets.

* Crossing the eras: Broadcasters Nelson, Murphy and Kiner.

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 these honorees was 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 are the only people who were in uniform for both of the Mets' clinchers, albeit in Davey's case he was in uniform for the opposition in 1969, making the last out for the Orioles, a fly ball caught by Jones.  As the 1st base coach in 2000, Mookie is the only Met since 1973 to have been in uniform for at least 2 Pennants.

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.  Only Stengel is honored with plaques in both ballparks.

That's 26 people for 51 seasons of service.  In contrast, Yankee Stadium's Monument Park honors 26 people for 111 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 57.  (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 more than half a century, they have some history to honor.  Some of it is even honorable.

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 there 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 facing of the upper deck down the left field line 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 food court is named Shea Bridge.  And at the back of that area is the "skyline" that once crowned the Shea Stadium scoreboard, including the red-white-and-blue "ribbon" that covers the representation of the World Trade Center.

Stuff.  The Mets sell lots of team stuff, including the variations on the Mets caps and jerseys caused by their unfortunate experiments with using black, and orange, as base colors.  You can always tell a real Mets fan (but you can't tell him much): He's got a blue cap with an orange NY, and/or, weather permitting, a blue jacket with an orange NY, not one of the later blue/black/orange combos.  Mr. Met gets the souvenir 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 walkoff in '85, the last inning of 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 last inning of 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, 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 it 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 serving as the burying of 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 some 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 27-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, appears to 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.

Nearly everything about Citi Field is an improvement over Shea Stadium.  One thing that is not 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 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 inside the new park.

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, or are willing to pay through the nose to a scalper, you're not going to see any of these 4 City Series 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!

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