Friday, May 31, 2013

How to Be a Met Fan In Washington -- 2013 Edition

Next week, the Mets will be going to the Nation's Capital to face the Washington Nationals -- the team that was the Montreal Expos from 1969 to 2004.

Last season, the Interleague schedule meant that the Yankees also played a series there.  This season, they will not.

Before You Go.  Check The Washington Post for the weather.  D.C. can get really hot in summer, and I'm definitely counting early June as "summer." Remember to stay hydrated.

Getting There. Getting to Washington is fairly easy. However, if you have a car, I recommend using it, and getting a hotel either downtown or inside the Capital Beltway, because driving in Washington is roughly (good choice of words there) as bad as driving in New York.

It’s 229 miles by road from Times Square to downtown Washington, and 238 miles from Citi Field to Nationals Park. If you’re not “doing the city,” but just going to the game, take the New Jersey Turnpike all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (a.k.a. the Twin Span), across the Delaware River into the State of, well, Delaware. This should take about 2 hours, not counting a rest stop.

Speaking of which, the temptation to take an alternate route (such as Exit 7A to I-195 to I-295 to the Ben Franklin Bridge) or a side trip (Exit 4, eventually leading to the Ben Franklin Bridge) to get into Pennsylvania and stop off at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly can be strong, but if you want to get from New York to Washington with making only one rest stop, you’re better off using the Delaware House Service Area in Christiana, between Exits 3 and 1 on the Delaware Turnpike. It’s almost exactly the halfway point between New York and Washington.

Once you get over the Twin Span – the New Jersey-bound span opened in 1951, the Delaware-bound one was added in 1968 – follow the signs carefully, as you’ll be faced with multiple ramp signs for Interstates 95, 295 and 495, as well as for US Routes 13 and 40 and State Route 9. You want I-95 South, and its signs will say “Delaware Turnpike” and “Baltimore.” You’ll pay tolls at both its eastern and western ends, and unless there’s a traffic jam, you should only be in Delaware for a maximum of 15 minutes before hitting the Maryland State Line.

At said State Line, I-95 changes from the Delaware Turnpike to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, and you’ll be on it for about an hour (unless you want to make another rest stop, either the Chesapeake House or the Maryland House) and passing through Baltimore, before seeing signs for I-895 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Exit 62.

From here, you’ll pass through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Take I-895 to Exit 4, and you’ll be on Maryland Route 295 South, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Crossing into the District of Columbia, M-295 will become the Anacostia Freeway. Take Exit 3B for South Capitol Street East, go over the Frederick Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River, and you’ll be right there.  The official address of Nationals Park is 1500 South Capital Street SE.

If all goes well -- getting out of New York City and into downtown Baltimore okay, reasonable traffic, just the one rest stop, no trouble with your car -- the whole trip should take about 4½ hours.

Washington is too close to fly, just as flying from New York (from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark) to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, doesn’t really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train.

The train is a very good option, if you can afford it. Washington’s Union Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, within sight of the Capitol Building. But Amtrak is expensive. They figure, "You hate to fly, you don't want to deal with airports, and Greyhound sucks, so we can charge whatever we want." New York to Washington will run you anywhere from $82 to $149 each way, depending on what time you go and how fast you want to get there, and that’s before you add anything like Business Class or, God forbid, Amtrak’s overmicrowaved food. Still, it’s less than 3 hours if you take the Acela Express (formerly known as the Metroliner, this is the $149 option), and 3 hours and 15 minutes if you take a regular Northeast Corridor train.

When you get to Union Station, pick up copies of the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. The Post is a great paper with a very good sports section, and in just 6 seasons (now into a 7th) has covered the Nats very well, despite the 1972-2004 era when D.C. had no MLB team of its own. As a holdover from that era, it still covers the Orioles well. The Sun is only an okay paper, but its sports section is nearly as good as the Post's, and their coverage of their town's hometown baseball team rivals that of any paper in the country -- including the great coverage that The New York Times and Daily News give to the Yankees and Mets.

Do not buy The Washington Times. It was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1982 as a replacement for the bankrupt Washington Star as the area’s conservative equivalent to the “liberal” Post. (That’s a laugh: The Post has George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson and Kathleen Parker as columnists!) Under editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden, the Times was viciously right-wing, “reporting” every rumor about Democrats as if they were established, proven fact, and giving Republicans a free pass. Moon’s “Unification Church” sold the paper in 2009, and Pruden retired the year before. But it has cut about 40 percent of its employees, and has dropped not only its Sunday edition but also its sports section. And now, there’s another paper, the Washington Examiner, owned by the same company as the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and it is so far to the right it makes The Washington Times look like the Daily Kos. It is a truly loony publication, where Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute and Byron York of National Review are considered moderates.

So avoid the loonies and the Moonies, and stick with the Post. Even if you don’t agree with my politics, you’re going down to D.C. for baseball, and the Post’s sports section kicks ass.

If you don’t want to spend all that money on Amtrak, you could take the bus.  Greyhound is much cheaper, $76 round-trip from New York to Washington.  And Greyhound has moved its D.C. operations from the glass-and-steel 1960s box in the ghetto behind Union Station (at 1005 1st Street NE) to Union Station itself.  This is a tremendous relief.

Washington’s subway, the Metro, was not in place until 1976, far too late to help either the “Old Senators” at Griffith Stadium or the “New Senators” at RFK Stadium (though both locations are now accessible via Metro), but it works just fine for Nats games. Take the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, and transfer to the Green Line to Navy Yard-Ballpark station. (Those of you who watch the TV show NCIS will recognize the Washington Navy Yard as home base for Leroy Jethro Gibbs & Co. Rule Number 14: Never go anywhere without a FareCard.) Since this week’s games will take place on weeknights, and you’ll be arriving during rush hour, it’ll be $2.10 on your FareCard going in, but $1.70 on your way back.

Coming out of the Navy Yard-Ballpark station, you’ll be at M Street and New Jersey Avenue SE. Turn right on M, and walk past 1st Street and Cushing Place to Half Street. Yes, between Capitol Street (in effect, the city’s north-south “zero line”) and First Street is “Half Street.” Make a left on Half Street, and in one more block, there is Nationals Park. From Union Station to the ballpark, via subway and then foot, should take 25 minutes, about as fast as it does to get from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium and slightly less than to get to Citi Field.

Tickets. From their 2005 arrival through the end of 2011, the Nats were terrible. But now, they're defending National League East Champions.  No Washington baseball team had been in first place late in the season since 1945, and none had finished in 1st place since 1933.  In 2011, a losing season, they averaged 24,256 fans per home game.  In 2012, they jumped to 30,010.  This season, so far, it's 32,990, making them one of only 4 teams in the majors with an increase of over 1 percent.  (Everyone's attendance will get better after school lets out.) Better than most of their seasons in Montreal, though 8,500 or so short of a sellout at Nationals Park (officially, capacity 41,487).

So getting tickets for a baseball game in Washington is a bigger problem than it's been since the 1924-25 Pennant-winning Senators, and a lot of New Yorkers & New Jerseyans may have the same idea as you – and many of them are federal government employees or college students already living and working in the D.C. area.  (In fact, the transient nature of the federal government was a big reason the Senators never made it: People came in from places that had teams, and rooted for them, not the Senators; only went to Griffith Stadium and its successor RFK Stadium to see their hometown teams; and rarely went back home having been converted to Senators fans. The Nats seem to have the same problem, and it remains to be seen if winning will prove to be a long-term cure.)

Field Level seats will run you from $45 to $80, but in the Mezzanine Level, you can see a game for $36. In the third deck, the Terrace Level and the Gallery Level, tickets run from $26 all the way down to $10.

Going In. The city, of course, was named for George Washington, although its "Georgetown" neighborhood was named for our previous commander-in-chief, King George III in England.  Both the city and the "District of Columbia" -- named for Christopher Columbus and, to their chagrin, not a State -- were founded in 1800.

Like a lot of cities, Washington suffered from "white flight," so that, while the population within the city limits has seriously shrunk, from 800,000 in 1950 to 630,000 today; the metro area went from 2.9 million to double that, 5.7 million.  As a result, the roads leading into the District, and around it, the Capital Beltway, Interstate 495, are rammed with cars.  Finally, someone wised up and said, "Let's build a subway," and in 1976, the Metro opened.

In spite of what some movies have suggested, you won't see a lot of tall buildings in the District.  The Washington Monument is 555 feet high, but other than that, no building is allowed to be taller than the Capitol.  Exceptions were made for two churches, the Washington National Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Old Post Office Pavilion was built before the "unwritten law" went into effect.  In contrast, there are a few office buildings taller than most D.C. buildings across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, and in the neighboring Maryland cities of Silver Spring and New Carrollton.

The centerpoint for addresses is the Capitol Building.  North and South Capitol Streets separate east from west, and East Capitol Street and the National Mall separate north from south.  The city is divided into quadrants: NW, NE, SE and SW, although because of the Capitol's location, NW has about as much territory as the other 3 quadrants put together.  In fact, the Navy Yard and the Nationals Park area take up about half the SW quadrant.

Remember: On street signs, 1st Street is written out as FIRST, and I Street is written out as EYE, so as to avoid confusion.  And for the same reason, since I and J were virtually indistinguishable in written script when D.C. was founded in 1800, there is no J Street.  Once the letters are expended, they go to to 2- and then 3-syllable words beginning with the sequential letters: Adams, Bryant, Clifton, etc.

You're likely to walk in at the center field gate, at N & Half Streets. There, you will see three statues: Walter Johnson, “the Big Train,” the great pitcher for the “Old Senators” from 1907 to 1927, the game’s former all-time strikeout leader with 3,508 and still its all-time shutout leader with 113; Josh Gibson, the catcher for the D.C.-based Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, the man so powerful he was known as “the Black Babe Ruth” – although some black fans suggested that Ruth be called “the White Josh Gibson” – and Frank Howard, the slugger for the “New Senators” known as “Hondo,” “the Monster” (he was 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds in his prime, and was also played basketball at Ohio State and was drafted by the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors) and, due to D.C.’s status, “the Capital Punisher.” You might remember Howard as a coach for both New York teams and, briefly in 1983, the Mets’ manager immediately before Davey Johnson came in and turned the franchise around. Now 76, Howard works for the Yankees as a player development instructor.

You might also notice the Racing Presidents, four men dressed as the Presidents whose faces are on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. When I visited on July 26, 2009 (a 3-2 Nats win over the San Diego Padres in 10 innings), the huge-headed Presidents were dancing outside the gate, while “oldies” played over the stadium loudspeakers.

This was bad enough, until “Billie Jean” was played – this was within days of the death of Michael Jackson – and, cue The Awkward Moment, the guy dressed as Jefferson danced right into my line of sight as soon as Jacko got to the words, “The kid is not my son!” I also noticed that the costumes, all four of them, were filthy. Doesn’t the club wash them?

Seating capacity is listed as 41,418.  The field is natural grass, but the dimensions are not symmetrical: 337 feet to left field, 377 to left-center, 402 to center, 370 to right-center, and 335 to right.  The park seems to favor pitchers, but not by a lot.

The longest home run yet in the new park was hit by Adam Dunn, then with the Nats, in 2009, 458 feet.  Frank Howard hit the longest at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, a 500-foot shot in 1970.  The longest at Griffith Stadium is hard to figure: Although Mickey Mantle was credited with a 565-foot blast in 1953, every quoted eyewitness confirms that the ball hit a scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers before flying into a backyard a block away.  Since you're only supposed to measure from home plate to where the ball first hit something, that was more like a 460-foot homer; still, it was the only ball ever to clear those bleachers.  Babe Ruth may have hit a longer homer at Griffith in the 1920s, and Josh Gibson may have done so while playing a home game there for the Negro Leagues' Homestead Grays (who divided their home games between Washington and Pittsburgh -- Homestead is a town outside Pittsburgh), but this isn't clear.

When the location for Nationals Park was chosen, the idea was to have a view of the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, they can only be seen from the 1st base/right field half of the stadium. But in the outfield, they planted another Washington trademark: Cherry blossom trees. That’s nice, but by late April, let alone the early June of this roadtrip, the blossoms are already gone.

Food. Very good. Not only do they serve good hot dogs and other standard ballpark fare, but “Frozen Rope” (Section 135) serves good ice cream, and they also have that “futuristic” ice cream known as Dippin’ Dots. The Red Loft Bar, in the second deck in left field, is their version of a McFadden’s. They serve pretzels in the shape of the script "W" logo that they inherited from the "New Senators."

And the Nats do not have to look up I-95 at Boog’s Barbecue in Baltimore, Bull’s Barbecue in Philly, Brother Jimmy’s at Yankee Stadium or Blue Smoke at Citi Field, and feel any envy. In the right field corner is their own Blue Smoke stand.  I kid you not: They serve the best piece of ballpark food I have ever eaten, a big hunk of meat named “the Rough Rider” in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. Eating that gave me more pleasure than any ballpark experience this side of the Aaron Boone homer. It’s $12, but it will be worth every flick of the tongue.

Team History Displays. The “old” Washington Senators played from 1901 to 1960, and moved to become the Minnesota Twins. The “new” Senators played from 1961 to 1971, and moved to become the Texas Rangers. The Nationals have history, but until last season, it was all in Montreal.

Nevertheless, there is a tribute, not just to the history of Washington baseball but to all of Washington sports.  The Washington Baseball Ring of Honor, patterned after the multi-sport Hall of Stars at RFK Stadium, was erected at Nationals Park in 2010.

It honors these figures from the “Old Senators”: Pitcher/manager/owner Clark Griffith, pitcher Walter Johnson, 2nd baseman/manager Bucky Harris, left fielder Henry "Heinie" Manush, right fielder Sam Rice, shortstop/manager Joe Cronin, left fielder Goose Goslin, catcher Rick Ferrell, pitcher Early Wynn and 3rd baseman Harmon Killebrew.

It also honors some Homestead Grays: Catcher Josh Gibson, 1st baseman Walter "Buck" Leonard, center fielder James "Cool Papa" Bell, pitcher Ray Brown, 3rd baseman Ernest "Jud" Wilson and outfielder/manager/owner Cumberland Posey (who had the retroactively obscene nickname "Cum").

And it honors the 2 Hall-of-Famers from the Nats' Montreal Expos years, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.  Oddly, while Frank Robinson, manager of the Expos/Nationals franchise during the switch, is in the Hall of Fame (for his accomplishments as a player), he is not on the Ring of Honor.  He deserves to be honored at Nationals Park at least as much as Casey Stengel deserved to be honored by the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Old Senators Joe Judge, Ossie Bluege, George Case, Cecil Travis, Eddie Yost, Roy Sievers and Mickey Vernon (who also managed the New Senators) were honored on the old Hall of Stars, but not yet on the new Ring of Honor.  This is also true of New Senators Gil Hodges (he managed them between retiring as a Dodger and Met player and becoming Met manager), Frank Howard, Chuck Hinter and George Selkirk (the former Yankee outfielder had been their general manager).

The Expos retired Number 8 for Gary Carter, Number 10 for both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson, and Number 30 for Tim Raines. All of these numbers were returned to circulation after the move, and, except for the Number 42 retired for all of baseball for Jackie Robinson, the Nats have no retired numbers. Nor do they yet have any Hall-of-Famers of their own, unless you want to count Frank Robinson, who was already in the Hall of Fame for 23 years when the team arrived in D.C. And, unlike the Mets, who retired 37 for Stengel even though he won nothing for them – far too close to being literally true – the Nats have not retired Robinson’s 20.

Stuff. There’s a team store called Rushmore’s in the left-field corner. It’s got loads of jerseys, T-shirts, caps, and stuffed toys such as the Racing Presidents and the mascot Screech the Eagle.

Looking for team DVDs? You’re out of luck: All they had on my 2009 visit was a commemoration of their first season back in Washington, 2005. They can’t even sell official World Series highlight films, like the Mets’ package of the 1969 and 1986 films, because the only Senators’ World Series, in 1924 (won), ’25 (lost) and ’33 (lost), came before MLB started making official highlight films in 1943. The Nationals franchise never made it to a World Series in Montreal, and they’ve never yet had a winning season in Washington. So there’s nothing celebrating anything like that, because, so far, there's nothing like that. If you’ll forgive the near-Yogiism.

The only decent book yet written about the team was published earlier this month: Beltway Boys: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Rise of the Nationals, by Elliott Smith and Bob Carpenter.  Although, with both of those players, and, really, the team as an instutition, being so young, the book may be a bit premature.  After all, it's not like the Nats won the Pennant.

During the Game. You do not need to fear wearing your Met gear to Nationals Park. Despite the boisterousness of Washington fans when they watch their NFL Redskins and soccer's D.C. United, there’s a far more relaxed atmosphere at Nats games.

That could, of course, be due to the fact that, until last season, you had to be over 70 to remember when a Washington baseball team was in a Pennant race. Just as George Washington was said to be “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” Washington the city was long said to be "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." The old Senators finished 1 game behind the Detroit Tigers in 1945, and that was basically their only Pennant race after 1933. The new Senators had just 1 winning season, a 4th-place finish in 1969. That being the Vietnam War era, it was said that Washington was now “Last in war, last in peace, and last in the American League.

It remains to be seen what Washington fans will do when passion for a winning baseball team is unleashed over more than one season -- let's wait until they put together a 2nd all-year-old run before we start considering the current Nats to be "for real" and last year to not have been a fluke -- but you still probably wouldn’t have to worry about your safety. When the Redskins were winning, their fans were really loud, but they didn’t really give anybody outside of Dallas Cowboys fans a hard time, unless provoked (and New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles fans, a short trip down I-95 or Amtrak, have been known to do that). Nor do the current, Alexander Ovechkin-led, Washington Capitals generate much ire: Their fans don’t much like the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, but, as their 2011, '12 and '13 Playoff series with the Rangers proved, they generally leave fans of the 3 New York Tri-State Area teams alone.

The Nats have a fight song, “Welcome Home to the Nationals.” It’s not exactly as stirring as “Hail to the Redskins,” or even “Meet the Mets.” After "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch, they play "Take On Me" by A-ha.  They don’t have a postgame victory song, but at least they don’t do “Cotton Eye Joe” like the Yankees and Phillies or “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” like the Orioles.  They do, however, in tribute to their Navy Yard location, blast a submarine's horn for each Nats home run.

The Nats have a mascot named Screech, a bald eagle. Sounds natural enough. They also have the Presidents Race. In a takeoff of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Sausage Race, in the middle of the 4th inning, the four guys wearing the Mount Rushmore President costumes, with the huge foam caricature heads, break out of a gate in center field, run to the right field corner, and down the first-base line, where the first to break the tape is the winner. Over their period costumes, they wear Nats jerseys: GEORGE 1, TOM 3, ABE 16 and TEDDY 26, for their places in the chronological order of Presidents. Screech is the referee, in case anybody tries any funny business.

Which leads to, literally, a running gag: Teddy never wins. Sometimes he leads and trips. Sometimes, like the minor-league mascots who race kids around the bases, he gets distracted, for example when players from the opposing Atlanta Braves caught his attention in the first game at Nationals Park in April 2008. Sometimes he gets sabotaged, as in June 2008, when, in an Interleague game with the nearby Orioles, the visiting Baltimore Bird tripped him just short of the finish line. (In a special grudge-match race the next day, Teddy outraced the Bird, but it was announced that this wouldn't count in the victory totals). Sometimes he just plain screws up: At the final game at RFK Stadium in 2007, a lot of people figured he’d finally be allowed to win, and the other 3 stayed back to “throw” the race, but Teddy went to the nearly-finished Nationals Park instead.

And sometimes... he cheats. (No doubt the real TR would have been appalled at all of this, but especially at the cheating.) When I went, Teddy got on a motorized scooter (leading me to yell, “Holy cow!” in memory of Phil "the Scooter" Rizzuto), and won the race that way. Naturally, “Honest Abe,” who finished 2nd, complained to Screech, who declared Abe the winner by default.

However, on October 3, 2012, the season finale, in honor of the Nats finally winning the Division, Teddy was allowed to win.  And he got on a winning streak: He was allowed to win all 3 races at Nats home games in the NL Division Series.

This season, a 5th contestant was introduced: William Howard Taft (BILL 27).  Why him? He's the only President to also be a Supreme Court Justice, and, along with John F. Kennedy, one of only 2 Presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  (There is a JACK 36 character, but so far he hasn't raced.) But I'm guessing the main reason is that, on April 14, 1910, Taft became the first President to throw out the ceremonial first ball on Opening Day, starting the tradition.  (The story that, on the same day, he started the tradition of the 7th Inning Stretch has long since been debunked: That tradition was already long in place.) Bill won his first race on May 11, followed the next day by Teddy winning for the first time since October.

As of this writing, May 30, 2013, the season standings are as follows: George has won 14 races, Tom 9, Teddy 2, Bill 2, and Abe only 1.  Overall, according to LetTeddyWin.com, Abe has won 215 races, George 176, Tom 170, Teddy 6, Bill 2.  Even Jayson Werth has been credited with a win -- funny, I don't recall Werth ever having served as President.  Tom was the overall leader in 2006, George in 2007 and 2012; Abe in 2008, 2009 and 2010; and Tom and Abe tied for the overall lead in 2011.

After the Game. If you’re looking for a postgame meal (or even just a pint), you’re probably not going to find it. Although there are condos going up adjacent to the stadium, it’s not exactly a neighborhood hopping with nightlife. If you’re only down for the one game, the best thing to do is to get back to Union Station, grab a bite there, and hop on your train; or, if you’re driving, just hit one of the rest areas on the way back up I-95.

If you’re staying for the whole series, your best bet may be to head downtown, near the Verizon Center (home of the Wizards and Capitals) at 6th & F Streets NW, on the edge of Chinatown. You’ll find a lot of good (and maybe one or two great) nightspots there. I recommend Fado, an Irish-pub-themed place nearby, at 808 7th Street NW. (One of several around the country, including the Philadelphia one I’ve also been to; they’re the same company as Tigin, which has outlets at JFK Airport and Stamford, Connecticut.)

If you came to Washington by Amtrak, and you're not spending the night, you’ve got a problem: The last train of the night leaves Union Station at 10:10 PM (and arrives at New York's Penn Station at 1:50 AM), and since MLB games tend to last around 3 hours, you’re not going to make it unless it’s a pitcher’s duel.  (Though at the rate both the Mets and the Nats are going this season, that is a distinct possibility.) The next train leaves at 3:15 AM (arriving in New York at 6:40 AM), but do you really want to be in downtown D.C. from 10 at night to 3 in the morning? Better to go for a weekend series, to come down on Friday afternoon or early on a Saturday, get a hotel, enjoy the sights on Saturday afternoon, see the game on Saturday night, and then on Sunday, choose between going to a second game and seeing something away from downtown. You'll be glad you did.

51st State, at 2512 L St. NW at Pennsylvania Avenue, is a known hangout for Mets, Yankees, Giants, Knicks and Rangers fans.

Sidelights. There aren’t a whole lot of sites in the District related to baseball other than Nationals Park itself.  The Ellipse, just south of the White House on the National Mall, has baseball fields. (If you’ve ever seen the original 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, that’s where Klaatu’s ship landed.)

* Griffith Stadium. There were 2 ballparks on this site, one built in 1892 and one in 1911, after the predecessor burned down – almost exactly the same story as New York’s Polo Grounds. The second one, originally called League Park and National Park (no S on the end) before former pitching star Clark Griffith bought the team, was home to the old Senators from 1911 to 1960, and the new Senators only in 1961. The Redskins played there from 1937 to 1960, and won the NFL Championship there in 1937 and 1942, although only the ’42 title game was played there. There was another NFL title game played there, in 1940, but the Redskins were beaten by the Chicago Bears – 73-0. (Nope, that’s not a typo: Seventy-three to nothing. Most points by one team in one game in NFL history, slightly ahead of the ‘Skins’ 72-49 victory over the Giants at RFK in 1966.)

While the Senators did win 3 Pennants and the 1924 World Series while playing at Griffith, it was not a good home for them. The fences were too far back for almost anyone to homer there, and they hardly ever had the pitching, either (except for Walter Johnson). In 1953, Mickey Mantle hit a home run there that was measured at 565 feet – though it probably shouldn’t count as such, because witnesses said it glanced off the football scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers, which would still give the shot an impressive distance of about 460 feet.

The Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays also played a lot of home games at Griffith, although they divided their "home games" between Washington and Pittsburgh -- "Homestead" is a town outside Pittsburgh. Think of the Grays as the original Harlem Globetrotters, who called themselves "Harlem" to identify themselves as a black team even though their original home base was Chicago (and later moved their offices to Los Angeles, and are now based in Phoenix).

By the time Clark Griffith died in 1955, passing the team to his son Calvin, the area around Griffith Stadium had become nearly all-black. While Clark, despite having grown up in segregated Missouri during the 19th Century, followed Branch Rickey's path and integrated his team sooner than most (in particular going for Cubans, white and black alike), Calvin was a bigot who wanted to move the team to mostly-white Minnesota. When the new stadium was built, it was too late to save the original team, and the “New Senators” were born. Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, and Howard University Hospital is there now. Florida & Georgia Avenues NW. Green Line to Shaw-Howard University Station.

* Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Originally named District of Columbia Stadium (or “D.C. Stadium”), the Redskins played there first, from 1961 to 1996. The new Senators opened there in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy threw out the first ball at the stadium that would be renamed for his brother Bobby in 1969. (There was a JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, formerly Municipal Stadium, where the new arena, the Wells Fargo Center, now stands.)

The new Senators played at RFK Stadium until 1971, and at the last game, against the Yankees, the Senators were up 7-5 with one out to go, when angry fans stormed the field, and the game was forfeited to the Yankees. The ‘Skins moved to their new suburban stadium in 1997, after closing the '96 campaign without the Playoffs, but with a thrashing of the hated Cowboys in front of over 100 Redskin greats.

The Nats played the 2005, ’06 and ’07 seasons at RFK. D.C. United, the most successful franchise in Major League Soccer (although they’re lousy at the moment), have played there since MLS was founded in 1996, winning the league title, the MLS Cup, 4 times, including 3 of the first 4. Previously, in the North American Soccer League, RFK was home to the Washington Diplomats, featuring Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. And the Beatles played there on their final tour, on August 15, 1966.

It was the first U.S. stadium specifically designed to host both baseball and football, and anything else willing to pay the rent. But I forgive it. It was a great football stadium, and it’s not a bad soccer stadium, but for baseball, let’s just say Nationals Park is a huge improvement. And what is with that whacked-out roof? With the Nats and ‘Skins gone, United are the only team still playing there, and plans for a new stadium for them are on hold, so it will still be possible to see a sporting event at RFK Stadium for the next few years. 2400 East Capitol Street SE. Orange Line or Blue Line to Stadium-Armory. (The D.C. Armory, headquarters of the District of Columbia National Guard, is that big brown arena-like thing across the parking lot.)

The plan for a new D.C. United stadium is for one at Buzzard Point, on land bounded by R, 2nd, T & Half Sts. SW, 2 blocks from Nationals Park.  Prince Georges County had a proposal for one near FedEx Field, and Baltimore offered to build one, leading New York Red Bulls fans to mock the club as "Baltimore United." With the economy still slow to recover from the conservative-caused recession of 2008-09, don't expect DCU to get a new ground anytime soon.

* Uline Arena/Washington Coliseum. This building was home to the District’s first NBA team, the Washington Capitols, from 1946 to 1951. They reached the 1949 NBA Finals, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan, and were the first pro team coached by Red Auerbach. Firing him was perhaps the dumbest coaching change in NBA history: By the time Red coached the Boston Celtics to their first NBA title in 1957, the Capitols had been out of business for 6 years.

The Coliseum was last used for sports in 1970 by the Washington Caps (not "Capitols," not "Capitals," just "Caps")of the ABA. It was the site of the first Beatles concert in the U.S. (aside from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 2 nights before), on February 11, 1964. It still stands, and its interior and grounds are used as a parking lot, particularly for people using nearby Union Station. Unfortunately, it’s in a rotten neighborhood, and I wouldn’t recommend visiting at night. In fact, unless you’re a student of NBA history or a Beatlemaniac, I’d say don’t go at all. 1140 3rd Street NE, at M Street. Red Line to Union Station, and then it’s a bit of a walk.

* Capital Centre. From 1973 to 1997, this was the home of the NBA’s Washington Bullets, who became the Wizards when they moved downtown. From 1974 to 1997, it was the home of the NHL's Washington Capitals. The Bullets played in the 1975, ’78 and ’79 NBA Finals there, although they’ve only won in 1978 and clinched that at the Seattle Kingdome. The Cap Centre was also the home for Georgetown University basketball, in its glory years of Coach John Thompson (father of the current coach, John Thompson III), Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Remember those 1980s battles with the St. John’s teams of Louie Carnesecca, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry?

Elvis Presley sang there on June 27, 1976 and on May 22 and 29, 1977. (He never performed in the District.) It was demolished in 2002, and a shopping mall, The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, was built on the site. 1 Harry S Truman Drive, Landover, Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside the Capital Beltway. Blue Line to Largo Town Center station.

* Verizon Center. Opened in 1997 as the MCI Center, the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals, the WNBA's Washington Mystics, and the Georgetown basketball team have played here ever since. Only one Finals has been held here, the Caps’ 1998 sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. (Georgetown has reached a Final Four since it opened, but those are held at neutral sites.) But it’s a very good arena. 601 F Street NW, at 6th Street. Red, Green or Yellow Line to Gallery Place-Chinatown Station.

* FedEx Field. Originally known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, for the Redskins owner who built it and died just before its opening, it has been the home of the Redskins since 1997. RFK Stadium has just 56,000 seats and was the NFL’s smallest facility for years, but with close seats even in the upper deck, it provided one hell of a home field advantage. In contrast, FedEx seats 91,704, the largest seating capacity in the NFL (the arch-rival Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium can fit in 110,000 with standing room but has “only” 80,000 seats), but the seats are so far back, it kills the atmosphere. Being out in the suburbs instead of in a hard part of the District doesn’t exactly intimidate the opposition, either. (Think if the New Jersey Devils had been an old team, starting out in an old arena tucked away in a neighborhood in Newark, and then moved to the spartan parking lot of the Meadowlands, and were still there, rather than going back to Newark into the Prudential Center.)

As a result, the Redskins went from 5 Super Bowl appearances, winning 3, while playing at RFK to just 2 Playoff berths and no visits to the NFC Championship Game since moving to FedEx. 1600 FedEx Way, Landover, practically right across the Beltway from the site of the Cap Centre, although you’d have to walk from there after taking the Blue Line to Largo Town Center in order to reach it without a car.

* The Smithsonian Institution. Includes the National Museum of American History, which contains several sports-themed items. 1400 Constitution Avenue NW. Blue or Orange Line to Federal Triangle. (You could, of course, take the same lines to Smithsonian Station, but Fed Triangle is actually a shorter walk.)

If you're into looking up "real" TV locations, the Jeffersonian Institute on Bones is almost certainly based on the Smithsonian.  And the real NCIS headquarters is a short walk from Nationals Park, on Sicard Street between Patterson and Paulding Sts. Whether civilians will be allowed on the Navy Yard grounds, I don't know; I've never tried it.  I don't want to get stopped by a guard.  Or "Gibbs-slapped." And neither do you.

Of course, The West Wing was based at the White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.  Prior to NCIS, the best-known D.C.-based show that didn't directly deal with government officials was Murphy Brown.  The FYI studio was said to be across the street from Phil's, whose address was given as 1195 15th St. NW.  Neither the bar nor the address actually exist, but if the address did, it would be at 15th & M Streets.  This would put it right down the block from 1150 15th, the headquarters of The Washington Post.

The University of Maryland, inside the Beltway at College Park, can be accessed by the Green Line to College Park and then a shuttle bus. (I tried that for the 2009 Rutgers-Maryland game and it works very well.) Byrd Stadium is one of the nation’s best college football stadiums, but I wouldn’t recommend sitting in the upper deck if you’re afraid of heights: I think it’s higher than Shea’s was.

Across from the stadium is Cole Field House, where UMd played its basketball games from 1955 to 2002. The 1966 and 1970 NCAA Championship basketball games were played there, the 1966 one being significant because Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) played an all-black starting five against Kentucky’s all-white starters (including future Laker, Knick and Heat coach Pat Riley and Denver Nuggets star Dan Issel). Elvis sang there on September 27 and 28, 1974. The Terrapins won the National Championship in their final season at Cole, and moved to the adjacent Comcast Center thereafter.

Remember that Final Four run by George Mason University? They’re across the Potomac River in Fairfax, Virginia. Orange Line to Virginia Square-GMU.

I also recommend visiting the capital’s museums, including the Smithsonian complex, whose most popular buildings are the National Archives, hosting the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; and the National Air and Space Museum, which includes the Wright Brothers’ Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis (first plane to break the sound barrier), and several space capsules including Apollo 11. The Smithsonian also has an annex at Dulles International Airport out in Virginia, including a Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb.

*

Have fun in the Nation’s Capital. And if Teddy wins, that’s okay. If the Nats win, well, maybe not. But a loss in Washington is usually a better experience than even a win in Philly.

It Can't Get Any Worse? Oh Yes It Can

Bill Cosby, Temple University track star, had a story about his first time headlining as a comedian in Las Vegas.  This was in the early 1960s, when a black man starring in a comedy show, or in anything else, was still quite rare.  Apparently, his newfound fame wasn't helping him win in the casino:

You should never challenge "worse." Don't ever say, "Things couldn't get worse." Worse is rough ... I was down to my last two hundred dollars. I mean, not to my name, but I lost all I could sign for. And I said, "I'm gonna win something! It can't get worse!"

I went over to the roulette wheel. And got two hundred dollars' worth of quarter chips. Covered the table -- I mean, covered the table! Red and black, even up. I'm going to win something before I go to sleep. And the guy spun the ball and it fell on the floor.


*

The Yankees just got swept 4 straight by the Mets.  Two in Flushing, two in The Bronx.

It can't get any worse than that.

Yes, it can: The Yankees could have lost the 2000 World Series to the Mets.  If they had, that would have been a thousand times worse than what happened with the Red Sox 4 years later.

Ah, but the Yankees didn't lose the 2000 World Series to the Mets.  The Yankees won it.  

Counting that World Series, and the 4 games just played, the Yankees have won 58 games, the Mets 41.  That's a .586 winning percentage for the Yankees, drawn out to 162 games it's 95 wins.

And there are some Met fans crowing on Facebook and Twitter over this sweep.

One of my Facebook friends said, "If the Mets were to sweep the Yankees four straight in October, maybe I'd be a bit more impressed."

One of his friends, a Met fan, said, "Let us enjoy the moment!"

In the immortal words of Crash Davis, "Moment's over."

Maybe I was wrong, a few days: Maybe the Mets aren't "the Tottenham of New York," but their fans are the Tottenham fans of New York.  They think their team is a big club, but it isn't.  They're forever in the shadow of a big club in town.  Their fans crow more over the slightest of achievements (a win over the Yankees, a one-hitter that they want to say is a no-hitter, a come-from-way-behind win over the Atlanta Braves that did absolutely nothing to get them back into the race, their all-time greatest player getting his 300th win as a pitcher against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium when he wasn't a Met anymore).

And, like Tottenham, their season ends in May.

27 > 2.  Eight-six, never again.  Please watch the gap.

*

Okay, now that that's out of the way, time for me to treat yesterday's game as if it happened against any other opponent.

Vidal Nuno started for the Yankees, and he pitched well enough to win.  He pitched 6 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks.  The bullpen -- Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain -- pitched 3 innings, allowing 1 run on 1 hit and 2 walks.  Hardly a bad performance.

Robinson Cano hit his 14th home run of the season, and added a single.  Other that that, the Yankees got just 2 hits, singles by Brett Gardner and Brennan Boesch.

Against Dillon Gee, whose record advanced to 3-6.  Mets 3, Yankees 1.

Keep in mind, in the last 2 games, Met starters Jeremy Hefner and Gee came in with records of 0-5 and 2-6, respectively, and they both won, because the Yankees didn't hit, leaving Nuno (1-2) out in the cold.  (Though, to be fair, the night before, Phil Hughes didn't pitch well enough to win against the Bad News Bears.) Bobby Parnell got his 9th save for the Mets.

36 innings, 7 runs.  That is unacceptable, I don't care who your opponent is.  And in only 1 of those games did the Mets score more than 3 runs.  Unfortunately, it was the 1 game in which the Yankees did the same, and the Mets won, 9-4.

*

So where do things stand? Well, the Yankees are no longer in 1st place in the AL East.  They trail the Boston Red Sox by 2 games, although only 1 in the loss column.  The Baltimore Orioles are 2 1/2 (2) back, the Tampa Bay Rays 3 (2) back, and the Toronto Blue Jays 9 1/2 (9) back.

The Mets? They are 9 (8) behind the Braves in the NL East, and 9 1/2 (8) out of the NL's 2nd Wild Card.

Wow, that sweep really made a difference for the Mets, didn't it?

The Mets' record is 22-29.  The Yankees' is 30-23.  If they were in the same division, the Mets would still be 7 (6) games behind the Yankees, even with the sweep.

In other words, this sweep doesn't prove that the Mets are the better team.  Not by a long shot.  Please watch the gap.

*

All that series proves is that the Yankees didn't hit the way they'd been hitting until that series, and that they need to start again.

As in, tonight.  As in, all those runs the Yankees didn't score against the Mets? They better be saving them for the Red Sox this weekend, because The Scum are coming to town.

Tonight, 7:00: CC Sabathia vs. Jon Lester.

Tomorrow night, 7:00: Hughes vs. Felix Doubront.

Sunday night, 8:00 (ESPN): Hiroki Kuroda vs. Clay Buchholz.

Yes, things can get worse.  Much worse.

We could be the Mets.

Time to stop "worse." BEAT THE SCUM!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Phelps Self-Destructs In Five Batters, 3rd Straight Loss to The Other Team

The Yankees hit rock bottom last night.  Losing to The Other Team at home.

It gets worse: Before last night, Jeremy Hefner had started 8 games for the Mets this season, and the team won a grand total of none of them.  That is no longer the case.

David Phelps started for the Yankees last night.  He'd been pitching pretty well.  You remember Mission: Impossible? The TV show, not the Tom Cruise film series that's as much of an abomination to its memory as J.J. Abrams' films are to Star Trek (which also featured Leonard Nimoy)? The message would begin, "Good evening, Mr. Phelps," and end, "This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

David Phelps self-destructed in five batters.  Well, eight, actually.  Here's how the top of the 1st inning went:

* Ruben Tejada singled to left.

* Daniel Murphy doubled to center, scoring Tejada.  1-0 Mets.

* David Wright drew a walk.

* Lucas Duda struck out.  1 out.

* John Buck singled to right, scoring Murphy.  2-0 Mets.

* Joe Girardi sends pitching coach Larry Rothschild out to calm Phelps down.

* Rick Ankiel walked.  Bases loaded.

* Marlon Byrd reached on an error by Jayson Nix.  Hell, Eduardo NunE5 could have done that.  Wright scored.  3-0 Mets.

* Ike Davis -- Ike Davis! -- singled to center, scoring Buck and Ankiel.  5-0 Mets.

* Only then does Girardi pull Phelps, and bring in Preston Claiborne, who gets Mike Baxter to ground into a force play and Tejada, batting for the 2nd time in the inning, to fly to left.

Maybe Claiborne should have been the starter.

As for the Yankees:

1st inning: Robinson Cano singles with 1 out.  Stranded.

2nd: Brennan Boesch leads off with a single.  Forced out, Ichiro Suzuki on 1st.  Nix singles.  1st and 2nd, 1 out .  Stranded.

4th: Boesch hits a home run to right.  Making it 8-1 Mets.  Ichiro singles with 1 out.  Stranded.

6th: Travis Hafner leads off with a single to right.  Lyle Overbay hits a ground-rule double.  Boesch beats out an infield single, scoring Hafner. Ichiro pops up.  Nix singles to left, scoring Overbay.  1st and 2nd, 1 out.  Stranded.

8th: Ichiro singles with 2 out.  Stranded.

9th: Brett Gardner singles with 2 out.  Advances to 2nd on defensive indifference.  Cano singles to left, scoring Gardner.  He advances to 2nd, then to 3rd, on defensive indifference.  Hafner strikes out to strand Cano and end the game.

Mets 9, Yankees 4.  WP: Hefner (1-5).  No save.  LP: Phelps (3-3).  Phelps' ERA for the game? 5 runs, "only" 4 earned, times 9 is 36, divided by 1/3, or, rather, 36 times 3, = 108.00.  His WHIP? 4 hits, 2 walks, 1/3 of an inning, = 18.000.

So that's 27 innings against the Mutts, and just 6 runs.  All these runs they're not scoring against the Mutts? I hope they're gonna use them against The Scum this weekend.

A few days ago, Hafner got an RBI single, and a guy impersonating John Sterling on Twitter said, "Suzyn, that hit by 'Pronk' is sponsored by Viagra.  Viagra: When you need to come through in a key situation!"

Hafner then advanced on defensive indifference, so I tweeted to the impersonator: "And Hafner's advance on defensive indifference is sponsored by Cialis: What to use when you just can't give a fuck." (Shoutout to Epic Rap Battles of History for inspiring that line.)

I've been saying for years, especially since the Yankees beat the Mets in the 2000 World Series, that this is not a "Subway Series," since that only means a World Series between 2 teams in the same city.  I've been saying that the Yankees should treat the Mets like any other opponent.  (In other words, beat them.)

Maybe the Yankees have gone too far in the realm of "just can't give a fuck."

So, the Mets have won the season series, and can complete the sweep tonight, as Vidal Nuno pitches against Dillon Gee.

It doesn't matter: 27 is still > 2.  Since 1986, 5 is still > 0.  We're still the greatest franchise in the history of sports.  They're still The Other Team, a small club in Flushing.  And we're still the team that won a World Series at Shea Stadium.

And no amount of trash-talking by the urban equivalent of rednecks is gonna change that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mariano Blows Save to a Small Club in Flushing

Yesterday, during the Yankees' game with The Other Team, I was on Twitter using the hashtag #YankeesSoccerSongs.  This is what watching English soccer, and Arsenal in particular, has done to me.

To the tune of "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys, a variation on "One-nil to The Arsenal": One-nil to the Pinstripe Boys! One-nil to the Pinstripe Boys!

To the tune of "Volare": Brett Gardner, whoa. Brett Gardner, whoa. He comes from Holly Hill. He hits and fields with skill. (Yes, he's from Holly Hill, South Carolina, same birthplace as Willie Randolph. Although Randolph moved with his family to Brooklyn as a boy, while the Gardners stayed put.)

Also to "Volare": Kuroda, whoa. Kuroda, whoa. He comes from O-sa-ka. Bet-ter than San-tan-a.

To "The Caisson Song": Overbay, over fence, he will hit the ball again, as the Yankees go rolling along!

To "Mrs. Robinson": And here's to you, David Robertson. Jesus loves you more than you will know! Whoa whoa whoa!

To "Que Sera, Sera": Robbie Cano, Cano! Estrella Dominicano! He hits it and watch it go! Robbie Cano, Cano!

When Mark Teixeira comes off the Disabled List, I can use, to "Volare": Teixeira, woah. Teixeira, woah. He comes from Maryland. He'll hit it out again.

When Curtis Granderson comes (back) off the DL, I can use, to "The Candy Man": Who can take a baseball, hit it out of sight, drive in lots of runs so that the Yankees win tonight? The Grandy Man! The Grandy Man can! The Grandy Man can, 'cause he hits the ball with love and makes the world seem good!

When Mariano Rivera came out to pitch the bottom of the 9th, to protect a 1-0 lead, to "Guantanamera": One Mariano! There's only one Mariano! One Mar-i-aaaanoooo! There's only one Mariano! (This can also be used as "One Derek Jeter" when he returns from the DL.)

Alas...

It wouldn't have mattered if the Yankees had gotten more than 1 run last night. Or the night before, for that matter. Just as they wasted a fine performance by Phil Hughes on Monday, they wasted an even better one by Hiroki Kuroda last night: 7 innings, 4 hits, no walks, no runs, 7 strikeouts.

But, just as the Mets wasted one by Jonathan Niese on Monday, they wasted one by their latest "answer," Matt Harvey, who stood to be the losing pitcher, because, in the top of the 6th, Gardner led off with a single, he advanced to 2nd on an error by right fielder Marlon Byrd (who used to be a very good player but really needs to hang up his cleats), got advanced to 3rd on a Cano groundout, and then came home on Overbay's single.

To make matters worse for the Mets, in the bottom of the 6th, Ruben Tejada was on 2nd with 1 out, but David Wright -- whom Met fans are calling "Mr. Clutch," having the gall to do that on the 75th Birthday of Jerry West, who actually won a ring in his sport -- struck out, and then, with Lucas Duda up, Kuroda picked Tejada off 2nd. At first, the umpire called him safe, but then switched to "out." The instant replay showed he was out by a mile. And the change of call is probably why Met manager Terry Collins came out to argue, and he got ejected.

Have you ever seen a team's manager get thrown out of the game by an umpire, and then come from behind to win? I can't remember ever seeing it before.

Robertson atoned for his blowing the game on Monday by pitching a scoreless 8th. But in the 9th, Mariano, who'd been 18-for-18 in save opportunities so far this season, didn't get a batter out: A ground-rule double by Daniel Murphy, a single by Wright, a throwing error by Gardner got Wright to 2nd, and then Duda singled Wright home.

Mets 2, Yankees 1. WP: Scott Rice (3-3 -- no, I'd never heard of him. He made his major league debut on Opening Day, even though he was already 31 years old.) No save. LP: Rivera (0-1).

What really botheres me, beyond losing to the Mutts, is that Mariano always seems to have this one stretch, usually early in the season, where he blows back-to-back save opportunities, or 2 out of 3. If what happened last night is the first half of that happening, it couldn't have come at a more troubling time: A stretch of 7 straight games against the Mets and the Red Sox. The Other Team and The Scum. (The latter being another term I adopted from watching English soccer.)

Attendance: 31,877. Okay, I know it was a rainy day, and the start of the game was delayed by rain. Still, the Mets were playing against the Yankees, the team their fans hate the most. Their new precioussssssss, Matt Harvey, was starting. The Yankees had all those injuries, thus (theoretically) making it easier for the Mets to win. And they had 10,000 seats not paid for? I won't say "empty seats," because not all 31,877 showed up. This, after they got only 32,911 the night before.

Then again, the Tampa Bay Rays aren't exactly drawing big for their home games against the Yankees, either. But 32,911? Not that long ago, the Red Sox could only get that many for a game against the Yankees -- because that's all the fans that would fit in Fenway Park. They have since found a way to jack the official seating capacity to 37,499.

When an English soccer team is facing a team it doesn't like, they sing, to "Guantanamera" -- assuming the place name fits the rhythm of the song, "Small club in (place name), you're just a small club in (place name)!"

The New York Mets: You're just a small club in Flushing!

Oh well, at least they haven't "done a Tottenham" and rush-released a DVD of these games.

Right, the Wilpons probably can't afford that right now.

Besides, Met fans are so dumb, they can't spell DVD.

The series continues tonight and tomorrow, at a real ballpark, in front of real home fans. David Phelps starts for the Yankees. The Met starter will be Jeremy Hefner, who is 0-5 -- in fact, he's made 8 starts this season, and the Mets have lost all 8 of them.

Which means that, most likely, at the end of the night, we Yankee Fans can say, as they say on the London Underground, "Normal service has resumed."

Not to mention, "Mind the gap." Or, in its New York version, "Please watch the gap."

27 > 2.

#FlushingHeathen

#PleaseWatchTheGap

#86NeverAgain

#CurseOfKevinMitchell

#SmallClubInFlushing

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Mets Are Not Tottenham

I've often called the Mets "the Tottenham of New York." And I've called Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (a.k.a. "Spurs") "the Mets of London."

This is unfair.

To the Mets.  Since 1961, the Mets have won their League 4 times.  Tottenham? Zippo.

Why do I make the comparison? Simple: Like Tottenham, in comparison to Arsenal in North London, the Mets are a distant second to a far superior local team.  Yet their fans seem to think that, somehow, their team is superior, both competitively and morally.  And they treat every win over their neighbors as winning the Champions League/World Series.

*

Like last night.  Phil Hughes, who has a ring, and Johan Santana doesn't (nor does any other Met player *), pitched superbly.  He went 7 innings, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and no walks.

But Jonathan Niese was equal to the task for the team from aptly-named Flushing: 7 innings, 1 run on 8 hits and 1 walk.

The Yankee run came in the top of the 6th: Brett Gardner led off with a blooper on which Lucas Duda tried to make a great catch and failed, and it went for a triple, and Jayson Nix singled him home.  But Robinson Cano grounded into a double play, and that pretty much ended the threat.

The Met run came in the bottom of the 7th, when David Wright led off with a home run.  Sure, it's easy to hit home runs when you have no rings to pull your batting gloves over.

The Yankees had the bases loaded with 1 out in the top of the 2nd, but Chris Stewart grounded into a double play.  They had 1st and 2nd with 1 out in the top of the 7th, and then 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs, but couldn't get either of those runners home.

Since it was the bottom of the 8th, Joe Girardi looked in his Binder, and it said, "Bring in David Robertson.  The score does not matter." Sometimes, I wonder if he'd make better decisions if he consulted Mitt Romney's "binders full of women."

Robertson got Ike Davis on a called 3rd strike, or, as some people are saying with Davis' monumental slump, a strIKEout.  But Mike Baxter drove one down the left-field line, and it bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double.

Then D-Rob walked Jordany Valdespin.  Yes, you read that right: David Robertson walked Jordany Valdespin.  Jordany Bloody Valdespin.

To make matters worse, Stewart mishandled a Robertson pitch for a passed ball.  There's a big difference between 1st and 2nd with 1 out, and 2nd and 3rd with 2 out.

The Yankees nearly got out of it, as Ruben Tejada grounded to 2nd, and Cano threw  Baxter out at the plate.  But Valdespin got to 3rd on the play, with Tejada on 1st.

And Daniel Murphy -- there's a parallel with Tottenham, they had a good player named Danny Murphy, who's now with Blackburn Rovers -- singled home Valdespin.  2-1 Mets.

Then Robertson hit Wright with a pitch -- almost certainly accidentally, since it loaded the bases.  Incredibly, Boone Logan, whom Girardi brought in to protect a 1-run deficit with the bags juiced, did not pour gasoline on the fire, as he struck out the hopeless Duda.

That was the final, as Bobby Parnell struck out David Adams, walked Ichiro Suzuki, struck out Lyle Overbay and got Travis Hafner to pop up to end the game.

WP: Brandon Lyon (2-2).  SV: Parnell (8).  LP: Robertson (3-1).

The series continues tonight at Citi Field, with an actual ace, Hiroki Kuroda, starting against a faux ace, Matt Harvey.  Then it moves over to Yankee Stadium II for games tomorrow and Thursday.

*

Top 5 Reasons Why the Mets Are Not "The Tottenham of New York"

5. The Mets got a new ballpark built.  Say what you want about the Mets, on the field or in the boardroom, but they got it done.  And say what you want about Shea Stadium -- I and many others called it "The Flushing Toilet," just as Arsenal fans call White Hart Lane "The Shithole" -- but Citi Field is a good ballpark, full of modern conveniences, with good sight lines.

In contrast, Tottenham have been trying for years to get a deal to build a new stadium to replace The Lane, which seats just 36,000, just a little less than Arsenal's old home of Highbury but well under the new Emirates Stadium's 60,000, thus giving "the Gunners" the kind of game-day revenue that Spurs can only dream about.  And, although there have been modernizations that have esssentially made it a 1990s stadium, it's still one built on an 1890s foundation, and expanding it further is impossible because it's boxed in by the city blocks.

Spurs' attempts to get a new stadium have included trying to get the 2012 Olympic Stadium.  But they were beaten out for it by West Ham United -- a team with an even spottier past than Tottenham!

4. Better logo.  The Mets have a stylized skyline inside a baseball.  Spurs have a chicken standing on an old-time soccer ball.

Sure, they say it's a "cockerel," or a fighting cock.  Well, I once looked up the definition of "cockerel," and the definition I got was "an immature male chicken." Sounds like a Spurs fan to me!

3. The Mets are more successful.  As I pointed out at the beginning.  Spurs last won their League on April 17, 1961.  (That's the same day that the failed Bay of Pigs invasion began.) At that point, the Mets existed only on paper.  Since that time:

Tottenham: 5 FA Cups (which is nothing to sneeze at), 4 League Cups, a European Cup Winners' Cup (making them, as they love to point out to Arsenal fans, the first British team to win a European trophy of any kind), and 2 UEFA Cups (the tournament now called the Europa League) -- but no League titles, and only 2 qualifications for the European Cup/Champions League, reaching the Semifinals in 1962 and the Quarterfinals in 2011.  Arsenal have since won the League 6 times, the FA Cup 7 times (5 from 1993 onward, as many in 20 years as Tottenham have won in 52 years), 2 European trophies, and 18 qualifications for the European Cup/Champions League, reaching a Final, 1 other Semifinal, and 3 other Quarterfinals.  And have finished ahead of Tottenham every year from 1995-96 onward, 18 seasons in a row.

Mets: 2 World Series, 4 National League Pennants, 5 NL Eastern Division titles, 2 Wild Card berths.  But no World Championships and just 1 Pennant since 1986.  Just since 1996, the Yankees have won 5 World Series and 7 Pennants, and have finished with a better record than the Mets every year but 1 (2006) from 1992 onward, 20 out of 21 seasons.

But the Mets have still done better than Tottenham: 5 first-place finishes to 0, 4 league championships to 0, 7 postseason appearances to 2 Champions League appearances.  (There isn't really a baseball parallel to the FA Cup, or the League Cup.)

And the Mets aren't dicks about their few-and-far-between achievements, either:

2. If the Mets were Tottenham, they would have released a DVD of last night's win already.  While The Essential Games of Shea Stadium includes a very non-essential, virtually meaningless win over the Yankees in the Mets' 2006 NL East title season, and highlights of "the Matt Franco Game" in 1999, they haven't released a DVD showing highlights, much less full game broadcasts, of any old win over the Yankees.

Whereas Tottenham sold one of their 5-1 win by their starters over a bunch of Arsenal reserves in the Semifinal of the 2008 League Cup, which they've called "The Perfect Game." Now, baseball fans define a "perfect game" as a pitcher allowing no baserunners, at all. Now, I realize we're talking about a different sport.  But how can that 5-1 Spurs win be "perfect" if they allowed a goal?

Spurs even sold a DVD of a 4-4 draw with Arsenal at Highbury, one where they did came back from 4-2 down after 88 minutes.  That's right: Tottenham sold a DVD of a tie game.  This has led Arsenal fans to have a pisstake or two.

1. The real "Tottenham of New York" are the Rangers.  Which, at first, makes no sense, until you realize that Tottenham are an older club than Arsenal (1882 to 1886), and achieved success first (1901 to 1930), but have had a pretty pathetic history (Tottenham, no League titles in 52 years and just 2 in 131; Rangers, 1 League title in 73 years and 4 in 87).

And, as with Tottenham, Ranger fans went from enjoying stylish, if not always victorious, play by their team to deep bitterness when "noisy neighbours" (as they would say in England) started having more success.

The New York Islanders' Playoff win over the Rangers in 1975 was roughly equivalent to Arsenal winning the League at White Hart Lane in 1971, turning a very passionate fan base rather mean.  The Arsene Wenger run of Arsenal success, including the Invincibles season of 2003-04, which in turn included clinching the League title at The Lane again, was roughly equivalent to the Islanders' 4 straight Cups of 1980-83.

Ranger fans now treat that 1994 Stanley Cup the way Tottenham fans do their 1981 and 1991 FA Cup, 1984 UEFA Cup, and 2008 League Cup wins.  This, despite the fact that the Rangers and the Islanders have since been surpassed by the Devils.  (But, please, don't compare the Devils to Chelsea.  They may change head coaches as fast, but they don't spend like Chelsea.)

In addition, the Rangers have the most thuggish fans of any of the Tri-State Area's teams (and that includes the Red Bulls' ultras, who can get nasty with words but almost never resort to physical violence), while Tottenham fans will celebrate winning a fight even when their team have gotten slaughtered in the game.

Finally, the Rangers have been talking about moving into a new Madison Square Garden for years now, even though the current Garden is still thought of by many people as "the New Garden."

So, no, the Mets are not the Tottenham of New York.  The Rangers are.

Which is why I call the Rangers "The Scum," and not the Mets.

Besides, the Yankees' real rivals are the Boston Red Sox -- and they come to town this weekend.  Beat The Scum! But, first, beat The Other Team!
...
* Unless you count new acquisition Rick Ankiel with the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals when he was injured the entire season)

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!