Friday, May 9, 2014

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Citi Field -- 2014 Edition

Well, it's almost that time again: The City Series.

Of course, it's not a "Subway Series." That name is only to be used when two teams in the same metropolitan area meet in the World Series. (It is possible for all 4 metro areas with 2 teams, although in Chicago it's more of an "El Series," and in Los Angeles it's a "MetroLink Series.")

When Interleague play began in 1997, the only 3 games between the Yankees and the Mets were played at the original Yankee Stadium. In 1998, they were played at Shea Stadium. In 1999, they began alternating, with 3 at each park, moving on in 2009 to the replacements, Yankee Stadium II and Citi Field. Then, last year, they tried something new, which has carried over into this season: A single 4-day, 4-game series, 2 at one park, then 2 at the other.

Here's how it's come out:

1997 2-1 Yankees
1998 2-1 Yankees
1999 3-3 Tie
2000 4-2 Yankees
2001 4-2 Yankees
2002 3-3 Tie
2003 6-0 Yankees
2004 4-2 Mets
2005 3-3 Tie
2006 3-3 Tie
2007 3-3 Tie
2008 4-2 Mets
2009 5-1 Yankees
2010 3-3 Tie
2011 4-2 Yankees
2012 5-1 Yankees
2013 4-0 Mets

Total: 58-36 Yankees.

When you count the 2000 World Series, the totals in the game that count -- not counting spring training and all those "Mayor's Trophy Games," which Met fans only seemed to talk about and consider to have "mattered" when they won -- is 62-37 Yankees.

Extend those 99 games to a full 162-game season, and that .626 winning percentage for the Yankees comes to 101 wins for the Bronx Bombers (nearly always enough to finish first), and just 61 for the Queens Princesses (nearly always finishing last). Even if you only count the 58-36 of the regular season, the Yankees' percentage is still .585 -- good for 95 wins (usually enough to at least make the Playoffs), to the Mets' 67 (still usually enough to finish last).

In Spring Training, the Yankees lead 45-32. (Those figures are likely to remain, as they usually don't play each other in Spring Training anymore.) In the Mayor's Trophy Games, once the highlight of the Mets' season (well, that and Banner Day) but now defunct, the Yankees lead 14-11-1. All told, the Yankees lead 121-80-1, for a percentage of .601, good (over 162 games) for 97-65 (usually good enough to finish 1st).

And, of course, the Yankees won the 2000 World Series, 4 games to 1, clinching at Shea. Met fans waited 39 years to play the Yankees in the World Series. You wanted it. You wanted it. You wanted it! Well, you got it, baby! Boy, did you get it! And now, until another actual Subway Series is played (which would require the Mets to hold up their end of the bargain and win a Pennant, ha ha), there is nothing that Met fans can say: We own your sorry asses.

What's that? You say the Yankees cheated with steroids in 2000? Please, you had Mike "Bacne" Piazza. Who lost his cool and went into "roid rage" in that Series: Piazza, or Roger Clemens?

So, no, the Flushing Heathen have nothing to say. The Yankees have the edge over them in everything: Overall record, total titles, titles since the Mets debuted in 1962, titles since the Mets really arrived in 1969, titles since 1979, titles since 1986, better attendance, better ballpark.

Okay, maybe the Mets have better broadcasters and better food. But that's about it.

Makes you wonder why the Mets even bother with Interleague play. Well, it's about the money: MLB makes money off Interleague play; and, for the Mets, every home game against the Yankees, the team Met fans hate more than all the others combined, is a guaranteed sellout. And the Yankee organization doesn't seem to mind getting the home sellouts either. (After all, they can afford to have YS2 fumigated afterward.


Okay, all trash-talking aside, let me be as objective as possible: Next week, a new City Series starts: Monday and Tuesday night, at Yankee Stadium II, first pitch scheduled for 7:05; Wednesday and Thursday night, at Citi Field, first pitch scheduled for 7:10.

Have you, as a Yankee Fan, been to the Mets' new ballpark? This is the 6th season that it's been in operation, so you should have gone at least once by now -- as a neutral observer, if not in a City Series game. I've gone once every season, and, however the game has gone (and I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly there), I've usually enjoyed myself.

I wouldn't recommend going there for a City Series game: Then, the natives get restless, and you could be in trouble. I saw 2 such games there at Shea, and I wouldn't go back to one, even if their hatred of the Yankees is slightly diffused by their hatred of their own ownership, which has put them in a down era that began with the new ballpark's opening and the Bernie Madoff-caused collapse in 2008-09.

For those of you wanting to go to one of these City Series games -- or any other Citi Field game -- here are my guidelines. Follow them, and you shouldn't have a problem.

Before You Go: The weather may be an issue. For Monday and Tuesday in The Bronx, temperatures are expected to be in the low 80s in daytime and mid-60s at night, with no rain. That is not the case for the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in Queens: Rain both days, with daylight temps in the mid-60s and nighttime in the high 50s.

Tickets. Because of "Dynamic Pricing," and the fact that games against the Yankees always sell out, there are 2 ways to judge supply, demand and price: Games against the Yankees, and games against anyone else.

For the City Series games, assuming tickets can be had at all, and you don't want to rely on a scalper: Infield seats: $275. Baseline: $147. Outfield Reserve: $95. Pepsi Porch (right field 2nd deck): $89. Left Field Landing (2nd deck): $65. Promenade Box (400 sections) $72. Promenade Infield (500 sections): $69. Promenade Reserved: $54. Promenade Outfield: $45.

For games against anyone else: The Mets averaged 26,366 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 5 weeks, they're officially averaging 27,058. That number will go up a little with the 2 sellouts that the Yankees will provide. So, for Met "rivals" like Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, and the Cubs, you might have a bit of a wait on day-of-game walk-up sales. But you should be able to get tickets. Against anybody else, you can surely get whatever seats you can afford.

Infield seats: $163. Baseline: $98. Outfield Reserve: $40. Pepsi Porch: $41. Left Field Landing: $35. Promenade Box and Promenade Infield: $27. Promenade Reserved: $20. Promenade Outfield: $17.

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."

Alternatively, if you're coming from Port Authority Bus Terminal, you can take the E train to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue, then go upstairs and transfer to the 7, where the station will be known as 74th Street-Broadway. If you're coming from Penn Station, you may be better off following the Port Authority alternate route, or (if you don't mind paying a little extra) taking the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to its Mets-Willets Point station.

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, and take Exit 9E and follow the signs.

If you're coming from Long Island, take the LIRR. The Port Washington Line will take you directly to a station across Roosevelt Avenue from the ballpark, adjacent to the elevated 7 line. From the other LIRR 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 in from The Island, 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 (and take your pick).

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; or to 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.

The official address is 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue. All addresses in the Borough of Queens are hyphenated like that. So think of it as 123 blocks from the East River.

Once In the City. You're already there, so this usual category is pointless. Let's move on.

Going In. One of the main features of Shea when it opened is that, unlike previous New York ballparks, it had lots of parking, enough spaces for 12,000 cars. Now that the Shea site has been cleared, Citi Field has about that many parking spaces again. Parking costs $22.

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 or LIRR station, you'll pass the original Home Run Apple from Shea, 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 from Queens, but I decided against it. I figured, she left New York 60 years earlier, so everyone she knew there was already either 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 -- and I go there only once (maybe twice) a year.

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. (More about that later.)

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 green seats in 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.

The longest home run in the brief history of Citi Field was by Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, 465 feet, on May 16, 2011. The longest by a Met was hit by Carlos Beltran, now a Yankee, on June 18, 2011. The longest home run at Shea Stadium appears to have been a 515-foot blast by Dave Kingman on August 14, 1981. 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, about 480 feet from home plate, was painted with the date and his name and Agee's uniform Number 20. As far as I know, no effort was made to save this piece of concrete and put it in the team Hall of Fame at Citi Field.

No football games have yet been played at Citi, but it has hosted futbol. Four soccer games have been played there: 3 international games (Ecuador 1-1 Greece in 2011, Ecuador 3-0 Chile in 2012, and Israel 2-0 Honduras in 2013) and 1 club match (Italy's Juventus 1-0 Mexico's Club America.).

Just as the Beatles played the 1st concert at Shea in 1965, former Beatle Paul McCartney played the 1st concert at Citi Field in 2009. Billy Joel played the last concert at Shea in 2008, and, as one of the biggest Beatles fans alive, invited Paul onstage with him; at the 1st Citi Field concert, Sir Cute One returned the favor, and brought the Piano Man on.

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. A McFadden's restaurant is at the 126th Street entrance. Keith's Grill, named after Hernandez, is at Sections 132 and 415. Unlike the Phillies with Greg Luzinski, the Orioles with Boog Powell, and a few others with barbecue stands named for players, Hernandez doesn't actually watch over it and control it. (As Elaine Benes, played by Julia-Louis Dreyfus on Seinfeld, would say, "Who does this guy think he is?" As Keith responded then, "I'm Keith Hernandez!") They really should have had a barbecue stand named after Rusty Staub, who was both a better hitter than Keith, and equally famous as a cook.

The Mets go around the world with Daruma of Tokyo at Section 105, El Verano Taqueria at 139, Two Boots (for the shapes of Italy and Louisiana) at 141, 317 and 512; and Kosher Grill at 114, 130, 401 and 528. They go around the block with Little Astoria and Mama's of Corona at 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 105. They have Carvel ice cream stands all around, and Ittibitz (a variation on Dippin Dots) at 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 plaques for the following inductees:

* 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 in the 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 accepted an invitation to the Shea closing ceremony in 2008 (and even wore a Number 8 Met jersey), 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 1974-83 interregnum: Nobody outside of the preceding and the following.

* From the 1984-90 glory days, including the 1986 World Championship and the 1988 NL East title: 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 to Citi Field 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 1999 Wild Card berth and the 2000 Pennant: "Catcher" Mike Piazza and pitcher John Franco. Pitcher Al Leiter and 2nd baseman Edgardo Alfanzo are possibilities as well.

* From the 2006 NL East title and the 2007 & '08 close-but-no-cigar Mets: So far, nobody, 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 Met 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 27 people for 52 seasons of service. In contrast, Yankee Stadium's Monument Park honors 27 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 and the speech by Nelson Mandela delivered at the old Stadium.) Even if we count the announcements made this week for honoring Joe Torre, Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams over the next year and change, that's still 32 over 112 years. If the Mets honored people at the same rate the Yankees did, they'd have 15; if the Yankees did so at the same rate as the Mets, they'd have 58. (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.

Not officially retired, but rarely given out, are: 8, Gary Carter, catcher 1984-90; and 24, Willie Mays, center field 1972-73.

Seaver was the only player with a serious Met connection named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players in 1999.

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 passed 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 then, 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. Like being a Red Sox fan, being a Met 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.

I seriously doubt that they will start a fight with you, simply because you show up in your colors. Still, if even 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 28-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 2009 fire-sale era didn't have one of the top three payrolls in the NL all those years, and Mike Piazza wasn't also an apparent steroid user.

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.

In 1979, the Mets tried to bring in a new mascot: Mettle the Mule. This was a major public relations blunder. First of all, Mr. Met is revered by Met fans. Second of all, a mule had already been used by the Oakland A's. And 3rd of all, Mettle (meaning "strength" or "courage," and having "Met" in the name) was introduced to the fans by pulling a wagon around the field. And seated in the wagon was the owner at the time, Lorinda de Roulet, daughter of Mrs. Payson, who died in 1975. Mrs. Payson was beloved, as the woman who brought the Mets to the NL-deprived fans. Mrs. de Roulet was despised, as the woman who let team chairman M. Donald Grant do whatever he wanted, including trade away the players of the '69 and '73 Pennant winners, even going so far as to drive Seaver away from the team. Like Dandy, the weird mascot the Yankees introduced around the same time, Mettle was soon scrapped and not missed.

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 stylized New York 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, which includes 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, as long as the Mets aren't playing the Yankees, 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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