Sunday, March 26, 2017

How to Go to a Mets Game -- 2017 Edition

I decided not to wait for the Yankees' annual trip to Flushing Meadow to show you how to go to a Mets home game in the 2017 season. Their opener is on Monday, April 3, at home at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, a 1:10 PM first pitch, against the Atlanta Braves.

I'm going to put aside (most of) my usual trash-talking, and try to be as objective as possible.

This is the 9th season that Citi Field has been in operation, so, if you live anywhere in the Northeastern United States and love baseball, you should have gone at least once by now -- as a neutral observer, if not in a City Series game.

Yes, "City Series." It's only a "Subway Series" if it's a World Series. Nobody called it a "Subway Series" when the New York Giants played the Brooklyn Dodgers in a regular-season game up until 1957. Nor did they call it a "Subway Series" when they played each other in the 1951 National League Playoff.

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 put them in a down era that began with the new ballpark's opening and the Bernie Madoff-caused collapse in 2008-09, and (seemingly) ended with the 2015 NL Pennant.

For those of you wanting to go to one of those 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: If you read this blog regularly, there is a 99 percent chance that you live in the New York Tri-State Area. So you've seen a weather forecast.

Tickets. The Mets had an official per-game attendance figure of 35,809 fans last season. That's out of an official capacity of 41,922, so that's about 84 percent of capacity. And if you believe that, you might be willing to buy the Queensboro Bridge. Most Met home games actually had maybe half that. 

Here are the Mets' usual ticket prices, which go up for opponents like the Yankees, Phillies, Nationals and Braves: Infield seats: $125. Baseline: $59. Outfield Reserve: $42. Left Field Landing and Coca-Cola Corner (formerly Pepsi Porch): $41. Excelsior Box: $57. Promenade Box: $31. Promenade Reserved: $22. Promenade Outfield: $18.

Do not order tickets in Section 140, 141 or 142, in the center field bleachers ($39). That's the home of "The 7 Line Army," a Met fans' group that patterns themselves after European soccer "ultras." Never mind the fact that you'd be surrounded by the Mets' pale (or, at least, orange) imitation of our own Bleacher Creatures: Those seats might be the first to sell out on game day.

If your preference is for a promotional game, the Mets have Free Shirt Fridays on April 7 vs. the Miami Marlins, April 21 vs. the Washington Nationals, May 5 vs. the Marlins, May 19 vs. the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, June 2 vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, June 16 vs. the Nationals, June 30 vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, July 14 vs. the Colorado Rockies, July 21 vs. the Oakland Athletics, August 4 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, August 18 vs. the Marlins, September 8 vs. the Cincinnati Reds, and September 22 vs. the Nationals.

They have Fireworks Nights on April 8 vs. the Marlins, June 3 vs. the Pirates, July 15 vs. the Rockies, and September 23 vs. the Nationals; and Bobblehead Days for Asdrubal Cabrera on July 1 vs. the Phillies, Noah Syndergaard with "Thor" Helmet on July 22 vs. the A's, Yoenis Cespedes on August 20 vs. the Marlins.

They also have Rally Towel day on April 9 vs. the Marlins, Matt Harvey Garden Gnome Day on April 22 vs. the Nationals, Tote Bag Day on April 23 vs. the Nationals, Noah Syndergaard Hair Hat Day on May 6 vs. the Marlins, David Wright Starting Lineup Figurine Day on May 20 vs. the Angels, Sunglasses Day on May 21 vs. the Angels, Father's Day Cap Day on June 18 vs. the Nationals, and Batting Helmet Day on July 2 vs. the Phillies.

Seriously: A Garden Gnome of one of their "stars." Then again, the Yankees once gave away a Jason Giambi "Celebri-Duck."

Getting ThereSince 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, known as the International Express (even when it's a Local) for all the different ethnicities in the neighborhoods that it goes through.

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. Either way, it should take about 35 minutes. If you're coming from Grand Central Terminal, or any Subway or Metro-North line going into Grand Center, again, take the 7, and it should take about 32 minutes.

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. The fare will be $8.25 outbound on weeknights (remember, rush hour), and $6.00 outbound on weekends and back inbound. So, round-trip, either $12.00 or $14.25.

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.

If you want to plug in an address for your GPS, it's 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue, 8 miles by foot (10 by road) east of Midtown Manhattan. Speaking of Queens addresses:

Once In the City. Queens is a little different from the rest of The City, particularly in regard to street addresses. They come in this form: xx-xx (or xxx-xx) Streetname Street/Road/Avenue/Drive. Example: The Starting Gate, a bar I like in Queens, is 59-10 Woodside Avenue.

Also unlike the other Boroughs, Queens doesn't have a single "city name," breaking it up. ZIP Codes for the Floral Park area begin with the digits 110, Long Island City 111, Flushing 113, Jamaica 114, and the Rockaways 116. (115 is for Nassau County.) So the official address of Citi Field, as was that of Shea Stadium before it, is 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing, NY 11368. So think of it as 123 blocks from the East River. It's 11 miles east of Port Authority.

Other than that, you're already there, so this usual category is pointless. Let's move on.
Times Square

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, which replaced it in 2009, has about that many parking spaces again. Parking costs $22.

Citibank bought the naming rights, even though the Mets are much more associated with Manufacturer's Hanover, a bank that advertised with both New York teams in the 1970s and '80s, bought out by Chemical Bank, which was bought out by Chase. The name became a problem because the ballpark was under construction when the Crash of 2008 happened, and lots of people didn't want it associated with a bank. Also, the name could be rhymed as "Shitty Field" (which could also have recycled Shea's unpleasant nickname, "The Flushing Toilet") or "Pity Field."

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 even 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 "meet me at this spot" spot, their equivalent to the old Yankee Stadium's smokestack, The Big 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 in 1955, so everyone she knew there was already either dead or in a retirement community elsewhere, and thus wouldn't see the commemorative brick; 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 379 (371 at Shea), straightaway center is 408 (410), deep right-center is 375 (371), right-center curves back out to 383 (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 brought in a bit and 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, 466 feet, on May 30, 2015. On June 30, 2016, Yoenis Cespedes tied this record.

The longest home run at Shea Stadium, and the longest ever hit by a Met at home, appears to have been a 515-foot blast by Dave Kingman on August 14, 1981. (Darryl Strawberry's 1988 home run in Montreal is said to have gone 535 feet, which would make it the longest in Met history.) 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, his name, and his 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).

Oddly, despite its smaller (and thus easier-to-reach) capacity, its better shape for the sport, and its good car and public transit access, New York City FC spurned Citi Field as a home ground for the new Yankee Stadium. It would have made much more sense, for those reasons, and for the reason that, like the Mets, NYCFC are doomed, at least for the time being, to be the Number 2 team in their sport in the New York Tri-State Area.

The NHL announced a few days ago that Citi Field would host the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2018, with the Rangers hosting the Buffalo Sabres.

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.

Other concerts at Citi Field include the Dave Matthews Band in 2010, Food Fighers in 2015, and Beyonce last June. In spite of her scandalous appearance at Citi Field in 2010, Lady Gaga is scheduled to perform there on August 28 and 29 of this year.

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) or price (Met food isn't much lower than Yankee food), 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.) I stood on that line, deep behind the center field fence, looked back, and saw a stadium with maybe 10,000 people in it. Were the remaining 21,000 the average says the place has all on line at Shake Shack? Actually, if you've ever been on that line, you'll find that concept very believable.

Shake Shack is in center field, behind Section 139. A Blue Smoke barbecue stand is nearby at Section 140, and also upstairs at Section 414. On top of the building that houses both Shake Shake and the adjacent McFadden's is the stylized New York skyline that was on top of the old main scoreboard at Shea. 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!") It's not his fault, really, since he's a Met broadcaster, and he has to work during the games. 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, in spite of their name, didn't start in New York (not that far away, though, in Bridgeport, Connecticut), 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. So I got that goin' for me when I visit, which is nice. And a Coolatta is still cheaper than a Black & White at Shake Shack.

A recent Thrillist article on the best food at each MLB park says the best food at Citi Field is a chicken sandwich at Fuku, outside Section 102. Or, as the article says:

New York's NL squad lacks for quality food like it lacks for young flamethrowers who look like they're into Thor cosplay. That's a baseball-nerdy way of saying they have a smorgasbord of sexy food choices in the concessions at Citi Field... and a litter of blonde, long-haired starters.

With all apologies to the honorable Shake Shack and legendary Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, the crown goes to David Chang (duh) and his transcendent spicy chicken sandwich from Fuku. It's the best thing to happen to the Mets since Keith Hernandez and his mustache came to town.

The best thing to happen to the Mets since Keith Hernandez came is a sandwich. I've tried to avoid trash-talking, and telling you that the Mets are a joke franchise. But, sometimes, there's no way of getting around it.

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 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 Alfonzo 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. They could, I suppose, elect Baseball Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, but do they really want to open those cans of worms?

* From the 2015 Pennant: Obviously, nobody yet.

* 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' World Series 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 55 seasons of service, or 1 for every 2 seasons. In contrast, Yankee Stadium's Monument Park honors 37 people for 114 years, or 1 for every 3. (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.) If the Mets honored people at the same rate the Yankees did, they'd have 18; if the Yankees did so at the same rate as the Mets, they'd have 56. (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 4 numbers: Stengel's 37, Hodges' 14, Seaver's 41, and, as of last season, Piazza's 31. 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). 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." They have now done the same with a microphone for Ralph Kiner.

Those 6 stanchions are now above the left-field roof, instead of on the left-field wall as they were before this season, as they were at Shea Stadium. On July 30 of this seasons, they will be joined by Piazza's 31.

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. He was also chosen by Met fans as their representative in the 2006 DHL Hometown Heroes poll.

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, 2000 and 2015 National League Pennants; the 1988 and 2006 N.L. Eastern Division titles; and the 1999 Wild Card & N.L. Championship Series berth.
Photo taken prior to the 2015 Pennant.

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 (as seen in my opening photo, above).
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 1st 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 someone writes a book that includes details of last year's 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.

Back to the subject of DVDs: The film Frequency is, sort-of, a time-travel story, in which a cop living in 1999 (played by Jim Caviezel) uses his father's old ham radio (in some ways, the Internet of its time) to talk to his fireman father in 1969 (Dennis Quaid), stop him from dying in a fire, and then solve a mystery. The 1969 World Series becomes part of the solution. The father in 1969 and the son in 1999 live in the same house, at 343 42nd Avenue in Bayside, Queens. This address does not exist in real life: Although there is a 42nd Avenue in Queens, there's no 343, or 3-43, or 343-01. (The film was released in 2000, so the number was not chosen to honor the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11.)

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article, ranking all 30 MLB teams' fans on "intolerability," listed Met fans 8th -- 4 places behind (i.e., not as bad as) the Yankees and 3 behind the Phillies.

"They get to stake out the claim as the hardscrabble, die-hard outsider fans," the article says, "just wallowing in the nether regions of Nassau County while the Yankees soak up all the attention. Mets fans would have you believe they have suffered in ways few fans can possibly understand."

Well, they got the geography right: Long Island (Lawn Giland), counting their home Borough of Queens, is pretty much the only place where Met fans outnumber Yankee Fans, even after a new Pennant. And their team has, much more often than not, made them suffer. If I'm being objective, then I should leave it to you do decide whether they deserve it. (Hint: A majority of Yankee Fans would say, "Hell, yeah, they do." So would a majority of fans of the other 14 teams in the National League.)

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.
As shown by the friendship between Mr. Met
and Wally the Green Monster.

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 teams' 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 between 10 and 42 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 30-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 3 payrolls in the NL all those years, and Mike Piazza wasn't also an apparent steroid user.

The Mets hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. Since the franchise's birth, they have had a theme song, "Meet the Mets." I have to admit, it's a better song than "Here Come the Yankees," even if "the butcher and the baker" and others (the milkman?) have been mostly replaced by supermarkets.

As I said in the "Tickets" section, the Mets have "The 7 Line Army," a group of fans that think they're better than our Bleacher Creatures, but, being Met fans, are delusional. They sit in the center field bleachers, in Sections 140, 141 and 142, and, if you're a visiting fan, it's best to avoid them.

Mr. Met, a guy in a Met uniform (Number 00) 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. 

He's the only guy who can smile all the way through 81 Met home games, and he's the only Met who's allowed to have a big head. Unquestionably, he's the New York Tri-State Area's best major league sports mascot. Who else is there? N.J. Devil?
Mr. Met, Mrs. Met, and all the Little Mets.

Mr. Met has occasionally dressed in other costumes, including a superhero (Hero Met), The Fonz, Vegas Period Elvis, and others. Sometimes, he shows up with his wife, Mrs. Met, a.k.a. Lady Met. Sometimes, the Little Mets show up, too. But not on a school night.
Although I do not remember Mrs. Met having that huge ponytail.
Or having that fine booty. Mr. Met got it done!

In 1979, the Mets phased out Mr. Met, and brought 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 Kansas City/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 the next season, Mettle the Mule was quickly scrapped, and has not been missed. Mr. Met returned.
Pretty soon, even Mrs. de Roulet couldn't stand the thing anymore.

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. However, the truly loud ones are only those taking off. The ones landing go on a different runway, further away, and are usually not disruptive. 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 the moving of 1 Yankee home game 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 the center field hitter's background inside the new park.
The main Met fans' chant is, of course, the rhyming, "Let's go, Mets!" For many years, in the 1990s and 2000s (but I haven't seen them do it at Citi Field), they would, during some late rallies, cue up the scene from the movie Network, when Peter Finch's news anchor Howard Beale demands that people yell out their windows, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" so that it's rigged to say, "I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell... LET'S GO METS!"

In the 7th Inning Stretch, after Mr. Met leads fans in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the stadium speakers will play Newark native 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, if the Mets win, they play "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Eventually, win or lose, even though Billy Joel is a Yankee Fan, the Mets play his song "New York State of Mind."

After the Game. Like Shea before it, Citi Field 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, at 205 Main Street in Port Washington, 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.

If you're visiting New York during the European soccer season, as we are now in, there are many places where you can watch your favorite team. The best "football pub" in The City, and, indeed, in the country, is The Football Factory, downstairs at Legends NYC, at 6 West 33rd Street, across from the Empire State Building, and 2 blocks east from The Garden. B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square.

Sidelights. This could get long, so I'll limit it to Met-centric sites.
Shea Stadium during the Payson family era, 1964-1979

The Flushing Meadow site has been the Mets' home since 1964, with the site of Shea Stadium just to the west of where Citi Field now stands. Shea was also home to the AFL/NFL Jets from 1964 to 1983, the Yankees during the renovation of the old Yankee Stadium in 1974 and 1975, and the Giants in 1975 -- making 1975 the only time a single venue in North America hosted 4 different major league sports teams.
Shea Stadium during the Doubleday-Wilpon era, 1980-2008

Across Roosevelt Avenue and the LIRR tracks is Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, site of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair (the Queens Museum is pretty much all that's left of it) and the 1964-65 New York World's Fair (a few more structures survive, including the Unisphere globe).
Not destroyed by the Men In Black. That was just a movie.

It includes the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, including the main stadium, named for tennis legend Arthur Ashe, and a smaller one that used to be the main stadium, named for music legend Louis Armstrong, who lived nearby in Corona, loved baseball, had season tickets for the Yankees until Shea opened, then became a Met fan, and, for some reason, loved tennis, going to the Open when it was still being held at the Forest Hills Stadium.
You might be cool, but you'll never be Satchmo talking on the phone
while wearing a Mets cap and pajamas in his home recording studio cool.
Funny, but when Jack Klugman wore pretty much the same outfit
as Oscar Madison on The Odd Couple, he wasn't nearly so cool.

Louis Armstrong Stadium was originally the Singer Bowl, built for the '64 World's Fair. It was converted into 2 venues, attached to each other, for the U.S. Open, and reopened in 1978, seating 18,000. When Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997, Armstrong Stadium had its top deck removed, and capacity was reduced to 10,000. It was demolished last year, and will be replaced with a 15,000-seat stadium, also named for Armstrong, in time for the 2018 Open.
The BJK NTC at FMCP, 2015.
Ashe Stadium in the center, Armstrong Stadium to the right.

In their 1st 2 seasons, 1962 and 1963, the Mets played at the Polo Grounds. It was home to the baseball Giants from 1911 to 1957 (and a previous stadium on the site, which burned down, hosted them from 1891 to 1911), the Yankees from 1913 to 1922, and the football Giants from 1925 to 1955. It hosted a few Army-Notre Dame games, including the one in 1924 where Notre Dame's backfield ran all over the place and was nicknamed The Four Horsemen by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice.
I recognize this photo as one I first saw in black and white.
Clearly, it has been colorized.

Fordham's football team also played some home games there, including a famous scoreless tie with Pittsburgh in 1937, when ended the season ranked Number 1 and Fordham, with a line known as the Seven Blocks of Granite and including Brooklyn native Vince Lombardi and South River, New Jersey's Alex Wojchiechowicz (both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame), finished at Number 3.

Jack Dempsey knocked out Luis Firpo there in 1923, retaining the heavyweight title despite Firpo knocking him all the way out of the ring at one point. Joe Louis came from behind to knock out Billy Conn there, retaining the title in 1941. Floyd Patterson became the 1st fighter ever to regain the heavyweight title, knocking out Ingemar Johansson there in 1960, after Ingo had knocked him out at Yankee Stadium the year before.

Demolition of the Polo Grounds began on April 11, 1964, by the same company and using the same wrecking ball, painted to look like a baseball, that had demolished Ebbets Field. This was right before Shea opened -- in other words, if Shea hadn't been ready on April 17 (and it nearly wasn't), the Mets would have been screwed, because the Yankees weren't going to let them in.

Polo Grounds Towers opened on the site in 1966. At the entrance to one of those towers, roughly where home plate was, is a plaque honoring the old stadium. Just to the north is a playground (not an actual field) named Willie Mays Field. Across 155th Street is Rucker Park, home to a renowned summer basketball tournament. 2955 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (what 8th Avenue is called above Central Park). B or D train to 155th Street. Definitely a place for a sports fan to visit during the day. Definitely not a place for anyone not from Harlem or Washington Heights to visit at night.

Speaking of Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 to 1957 stood at 1700 Bedford Avenue, at the corner of Sullivan Place. B or Q train to Prospect Park. Again: Visit during the day, not at night.
A rare overhead color photo of Ebbets Field.

It was demolished in 1960, and in 1962, Ebbets Field Apartments opened on the site. Across McKeever Place was Jackie Robinson Intermediate School. It is now named Ebbets Field Middle School.

There are plenty of memorials to Jackie, including the Rotunda at Citi Field, and a statue of him and Dodger Captain Harold "Pee Wee" Reese outside the current home of Brooklyn baseball, MCU Park (named for the company formerly known as Brooklyn Union Gas and KeySpan).
That's the Coney Island Parachute Jump in the background,
over the stadium's right field corner. It's restored so it won't collapse,
but it's no longer a working ride.

The ballpark opened in 2001, and the Brooklyn Cyclones, named for the nearby roller coaster, won the New York-Penn League Pennant that year, but haven't won it since. They still sell the place out nearly every game, though. Their season starts in mid-June, always with a home-and-home 2-game series with their arch-rivals, the Staten Island Yankees.
1904 Surf Avenue. D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Avenue-Coney Island. It's a relatively safe neighborhood these days, but it takes an hour to get there on the Subway from Midtown Manhattan.


As long as the Mets aren't playing the Yankees, with a deep hatred that goes back well before the Mets were even an idea, 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!

So much for objectivity.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to Be a Red Bulls Fan In Houston -- 2017 Edtion

This afternoon, the New York Red Bulls hosted Real Salt Lake, and couldn't get the job done, playing to a 0-0 draw.

Next Saturday, they travel to Texas to play the Houston Dynamo. They did not visit them last season, so I had to do a Trip Guide for the Dynamo's home match with New York City FC.

Before You Go. The Houston Chronicle is predicting low 80s on Saturday afternoon, and a cooler mid-70s for gametime. The heat is often a problem, since, unlike Houston's baseball, football and basketball teams, the soccer team plays open to the elements. Certainly, it will be warmer in Houston than in New York and New Jersey at this time of year. The paper is also predicting a 30 percent chance of rain, possibly a thunderstorm.

When I last did this guide for the Astros last July, I bemoaned the fact that Houston could have built an overhead walkway system like Minneapolis, or an "Underground City" like Montreal, in their cases to protect pedestrians from their cities' notoriously cold Winter. I have since been informed that there is a "Houston Tunnel System," begun in the 1930s, and inspired by New York itself, by the system under Rockefeller Center. Regardless of how much this may help, remember to stay hydrated.

Houston is in the Central Time Zone, so you'll be an hour behind New York time. Although Texas was a Confederate State, you won't need to bring your passport or change your money.

Tickets. The Dynamo averaged 19,021 fans per game last season, down about 1,600 from the season before. However, this being soccer, it wouldn't matter if they averaged a sellout (22,039), because MLS teams always set aside tickets for visiting fans.

The Dynamo put visiting fans in Section 240, in the southwest corner. This section, and the entire West Stand, is pretty much the only part of the stadium that doesn't give you a good view of the impressive skyscrapers of downtown Houston. Tickets are $30.

Getting There. It's 1,629 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Houston, and 1,619 miles from Red Bull Arena to BBVA Compass Stadium. You're probably thinking that you should be flying.

Flying from Newark to Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (That's named for the father, not the son) can be done for as little as $573, nonstop on United Airlines. Bus 102 will get you to downtown Houston in about an hour and 20 minutes.

There are 2 ways to get there by train. One is to change trains in Chicago, and then change to a bus in Longview, Texas. The other is to take Amtrak's Crescent out of Penn Station in New York at 2:15 PM Eastern Time 2 days before you want to arrive, arrive at Union Station in New Orleans at 7:32 PM Central Time the day before you want to arrive, stay in New Orleans overnight, and then transfer to the Sunset Limited at 9:00 AM, and arrive in Houston at 6:18 PM. (In other words, about an hour before kickoff.) The station is at 902 Washington Street, a mile and a half west of the stadium.

No, I'm not making any of that up. And it would cost $434 round-trip. You don't want that, so let's just forget Amtrak, and move on.

Greyhound takes about 42 hours, requires changing buses at least twice, and $346 round-trip. You're better off spending a little extra and flying. The Houston Greyhound station is at 2121 Main Street, a mile and a half southwest of the stadium.

If you actually think it's worth it to drive, get someone to go with you, so you'll have someone to talk to and one of you can drive while the other sleeps.

You'll be taking Interstate 78 across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, where you'll pick up Interstate 81 and take that through the narrow panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia, down the Appalachian spine of Virginia and into Tennessee, where you'll pick up Interstate 40, stay on that briefly until you reach Interstate 75, and take that until you reach Interstate 59, which will take you into Georgia briefly and then across Alabama and Mississippi, and into Louisiana, where you take Interstate 12 west outside New Orleans. Take that until you reach Interstate 10. Once in Texas, Exit 770 will get you to downtown Houston.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 3 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in Maryland, half an hour in West Virginia, 5 and a half hours in Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Tennessee, half an hour in Georgia, 4 hours in Alabama, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Mississippi, 4 hours and 30 minutes in Louisiana and 2 hours in Texas. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic, we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.

Once In the City. Houston was founded in 1836 as Allen's Landing, and was renamed for Sam Houston, "the Father of Texas." There are 2.2 million people in the city proper, making it the 4th-largest in America, and 6.2 million in the metropolitan area, making it 5th.

The weather in Houston is so bad! (How bad is it?) A "bayou" (BYE-yoo) is a body of water, typically found in a flat, low-lying area, and can be either an extremely slow-moving stream or river, often with a poorly-defined shoreline, or a marshy lake or wetland. And Houston is known as the Bayou City.

When people talk about "the bayou," they usually mean Louisiana. But Southeast Texas is also bayou country, and it frequently leaves Houston hot, humid and muggy. It's a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The Astrodome had to be built not just to promote Houston, or to protect people from the heat, but to protect them from the bugs. Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers said, "Some of those mosquitoes are twin-engine jobs."

The sales tax in the State of Texas is 6.25 percent, but in the City of Houston it goes up to 8.25 percent. The city doesn't appear to have a "centerpoint," where the address numbers start at 1, but there is a Main Street, running northeast/southwest. ZIP Codes in the Houston area start with the digits 77. The Area Codes are 713, with 281, 346 and 832 as overlays.

There is a light rail system, called METRORail, but you probably won't need it to get from a downtown hotel to the ballpark. One zone is $1.25, and the price rises to $4.50 for 4 zones, so a daypass is a better bargain at $3.00.
Going In. BBVA Compass Stadium, its naming rights bought by a Spain-based banking corporation, is in the East of Downtown neighborhood, or EaDo, separated from Downtown Houston by Interstate 69, the Southwest Freeway. The mailing address is 2200 Texas Avenue. Parking is $20. It is served by the EaDo/Stadium METRORail station.
Opening in 2012, the stadium nicknamed "The Oven" is also home to the Houston Dash of the National Women's Soccer League, and the football team of Texas Southern University. The University of Houston played football there in 2013, while their new stadium was built on the site of their old one.
Despite the "pub culture" of soccer, this is Texas, this is the South, and the Dynamo organization is one of the few in MLS that actively encourages tailgate parties. They set aside Lot B and Lot C for fans who want to tailgate. (The Red Bulls allow it, but there's a difference between allowing and encouraging. It's part of the culture in the South.)

The field is real grass, and is aligned north-to-south -- well, northeast-to-southwest, anyway. It's hosted 8 men's international matches, including a U.S. draw with Canada on January 13, 2013; and 1 women's international match, a U.S. win over China on December 12, 2012.
Food. Being a "Wild West" city, you might expect Houston to have Western-themed stands with "real American food" at its stadiums. Being a Southern State, you might also expect to have barbecue. Being in South Texas, you might expect Mexican food. And you would be right on all counts.

They have Texas Fare at Sections 105, 110, 117 and 136; Pizza on the Pitch at 107 and 138; Taqueria Los Anaranjados (Spanish for "the Orange Ones") at 115 and 135; Extreme Dogs & Nachos at 122; Bayou City BBQ at 125 and 133; and Far Post & East End Grill at 127 and 139;

Team History Displays. The 1996 MLS charter club version of the San Jose Earthquakes (replaced in 2008) moved to Houston for the 2006 season, and, in shocking fashion -- shocking not just for the bright orange jerseys -- won the next 2 MLS Cups. They also won Conference Championships in 2011 and 2012, although they lost the MLS Cup Finals on those occasions.

The Dynamo hang banners for their titles under the roof at the south end. They do not have any retired numbers, or a team hall of fame. Nor did they announce a 10th Anniversary Team last season.

They also contest the Texas Derby with FC Dallas, and have won it 6 of the 11 times it's been played, including this season. The winner gets a trophy named El Capitán, a replica 18th Century mountain howitzer cannon.
El Capitán, at The Oven

And they annually run the Dynamo Charities Cup, a friendly against a club form another country, usually in mid-season so that said club won't have to interrupt its own league season. They beat Monterrey of Mexico in the inaugural match in 2009, C.D. Águila of El Salvador in 2010, Stoke City of England in 2013, Santos Laguna of Mexico in 2015, and Real Sociedad of Spain on penalties last year; while losing to Bolton Wanderers of England in 2011, Valencia of Spain in 2012, and Aston Villa of England in 2014.
Agúila forward Rudis Corrales, manager Carlos Mijangos,
Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear and midfielder Brad Davis,
with the 2010 Dynamo Charities Cup

Stuff. The Soccer Shop is located opposite Section 114 on Texas Avenue, toward the northwest corner of the Stadium, and is open for up to one hour before gates open. Fans must have a valid ticket to enter on matchdays. Whether they go along with the Western/Texas theme and sell cowboy hats with the team logo on them, I don't know.

While there are commemorative DVDs for their 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup seasons, and this year marks their 10th Anniversary in town, as yet, there appear to be no books about the Dynamo.

During the Game. If you were wearing Dallas Cowboy gear to a Houston Texans game, or Texas Longhorns gear to a Texas A&M Aggies game (or vice versa), or FC Dallas gear to this stadium, you might be in trouble. But Dynamo fans aren't especially hostile to New Yorkers, so safety shouldn't be an issue.

Knock, knock. "Who's there?" Orange. "Orange who?" Orange you glad whoever designed the Dynamo's uniforms didn't design your team's uniforms? They're so orange (How orange are they?), they make the Dutch national team look like men in gray flannel suits! They even have "Forever Orange" as one of their slogans. So if you don't antagonize anyone, and you keep hydrated so you don't overheat, the greatest danger at a Houston Dynamo match will be to your retinas!

Upon the move from San Jose, the club was originally named Houston 1836, in a nod to German sports clubs naming themselves after their year of founding. Obviously, this soccer team wasn't founded in 1836 (no existing professional sports team, anywhere in the world, goes back that far), but the City of Houston was. But the new team's original fan base, with perhaps a plurality of Mexican-Americans, was infuriated: For them, 1836 was the year that Mexico lost Texas.

So the name was changed. But while "Dynamo" is a name that suggests power, it was also the name of several teams founded by Communist countries for the "company teams" of their secret police units, including in Moscow, East Berlin, Kiev, Tblisi, etc. How did that go over in right-wing Texas? For once, the State's penchant for ignorance helped: Nobody seemed to notice the similarity.

A Mexican citizen named Gabriel Brener is the majority owner of the club, but boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya is a part-owner. The club accepts applications for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular do it. Unlike most MLS clubs, they have cheerleaders (this is Texas, after all), known as the Dynamo Girls. Their mascot is a fox named Dynamo Diesel, who looks suspiciously like the Car Fox character from the Carfax commercials.
Dynamo Diesel and the Dynamo Girls

The main Dynamo supporters groups all sit in the North End, or La Zona Naranja (The Orange Zone), Sections 215, 216 and 217. They include the Texian Army, named for the army that won Texas' independence from Mexico in 1836; La Bateria (The Battery); the Brickwall Firm; and El Batallón (The Batallion).
"Forever Orange"

Many of their songs are in Spanish, including the standby used by the Red Bulls and many others: "¡Vamos, vamos Houston, esta noche, tenemos que ganar!" (Let's go, let's go Houston! This night, we have to win!"

One unpleasant side of Dynamo support was homophobic remarks made on one of the groups' Twitter feeds in the Spring of 2013. They have since accepted the backlash, and cut that stuff out.

After the Game. Houston is a comparatively low-crime city, and not a city known for having particularly nutty fans. As long as you behave yourself, they'll probably behave themselves, win or lose.

Lucky's Pub appears to be the go-to bar for New Yorkers living in the Houston area. It is at 801 St. Emanuel Street at Rusk Street, a block west of the stadium. Stadia Sports Grill, supposedly a haven for Jets fans, is at 11200 Broadway Street in Pearland, but that's 15 miles south of the ballpark.

If your visit to Houston is during the European soccer season (as this match is), and you want to watch your favorite club play, you can do so at the following locations:

* Arsenal, Manchester City and Barcelona: The Richmond Arms, 5920 Richmond Drive, 8 miles west of downtown. Bus 20 to Sage Road & San Felipe Road, then transfer to Bus 32 to Fountainview Drive at Richmond Drive.

* Liverpool: The Gorgeous Gael, 5555 Morningside Drive, 5 miles southwest of downtown, near the Rice University campus. Bus 20 to Shepherd Drive at Memorial Drive, then transfer to Bus 27 to Greenbriar Drive at University Blvd.

* Chelsea, Everton and Celtic: The Phoenix Brewpub, 1915 Westheimer Road at McDuffie Street, about 3 miles southwest of downtown. Bus 82 to Westheimer at Hazard.

* Manchester United: The King's Court Bar and Kitchen, 903 Hutchins Street at Walker Street, across from the South End of BBVA Compass Stadium.

* Real Madrid: Atlas Pub, 5102 Washington Avenue, 3 miles west of downtown. Bus 85 to Washington Avenue at Reinerman Street. This is a few doors down from their former home, the now-defunct Taps House of Beer at 5120 Washington.

* Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich: BarMunich, 2616 Louisiana Street at Dennis Street, just south of downtown. Light Rail to McGowen. If you can't find your favorite club listed here, this place is probably the best choice, because of its early opening.

Sidelights. The Dynamo's 1st home, from 2006 to 2011, was Robertson Stadium. They had their 2006 and 2007 championship seasons there, although they didn't play the MLS Cup Finals there. In 2006, they beat the New England Revolution at Pizza Hut Park, now Toyota Stadium, home of their arch-rivals, FC Dallas. In 2007, they beat the Revs again, at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.

Built in 1942 as Public School Stadium, and known as Jeppesen Stadium from 1958 to 1980, Corbin J. Robertson Stadium (named for a member of the University of Houston's board of regents) seated 36,000 people at its peak, and was also home to the University of Houston football team from 1946 to 1950, and again from 1998 to 2012; and was the 1st home of the Houston Oilers, from 1960 to 1964.
The Oilers won the 1960 American Football League Championship Game there, over the Los Angeles Chargers (who moved to San Diego the next year), but lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game there to the Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs the next year). They won the 1961 AFL Championship Game on the road.

TDECU Stadium, the new home of University of Houston football, has been built at the site. 3874 Holman Street at Cullen Blvd. Number 52 bus.

The Oilers played the 1965, '66 and '67 seasons at Rice Stadium, home of Rice University. Although built in 1950 and probably already obsolete, it seated a lot more people than did the Astrodome, and so Super Bowl VIII was played there instead of the Astrodome in January 1974, and the Miami Dolphins won it -- and haven't won a Super Bowl since.

It has been significantly renovated, and Rice still uses it. University Blvd. at Greenbriar Street, although the mailing address is 6100 S. Main Street. Number 700 bus.

Before there were the Astros, or even the Colt .45's, there were the Houston Buffaloes. The Buffs played at Buffalo Stadium, a.k.a. Buff Stadium, for most of their history, from 1928 to 1961, when the Colt .45's made them obsolete.

The Buffs won 8 Texas League Pennants: 1928, 1931, 1940, 1947, 1951, 1954, 1956 and 1957. The stadium was at the southwest corner of Leeland Street & Cullen Blvd., about 2 1/2 miles southeast of downtown. A furniture store is on the site now. Number 20 bus.

In 1965, the Astrodome opened, and was nicknamed "The Eighth Wonder of the World." It sure didn't seem like an exaggeration: The 1st roofed sports stadium in the world. (Supposedly, the Romans built stadia with canvas roofs, but that's hardly the same thing.) The Astros played there until 1999, and then moved into Enron Field/Minute Maid Park for the 2000 season. The Oilers played at the Astrodome from 1968 to 1996, when they moved to Tennessee to become the Titans.
In 2002, the new NFL team, the Houston Texans, began play next-door to the Astrodome, at NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium), which, like Minute Maid Park, has a retractable roof. Suddenly, the mostly-vacant Astrodome seemed, as one writer put it, like a relic of a future that never came to be. (This same writer said the same thing of Shea Stadium and, across Roosevelt Avenue, the surviving structures of the 1964 World's Fair.)

Once, the Astrodome was flashy enough to be the site of movies like The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Murder at the World Series. (Both in 1977. In the latter, the Astros, who had never yet gotten close to a Pennant, played the Series against the Oakland Athletics, who had just gotten fire-sold by owner Charlie Finley.)

The Astrodome also hosted the legendary 1968 college basketball game between Number 1 UCLA (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then still Lew Alcindor) and Number 2 University of Houston (whose Elvin Hayes led them to victory, before falling to UCLA in that year's Final Four), the 1971 Final Four (UCLA beating Villanova in the Final), and the cheese-tastic 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the "Battle of the Sexes."

Elvis Presley sang there on February 27, 28 and March 1, 1970 and on March 3, 1974. It hosted Selena's last big concert before her murder in 1995, and when Jennifer Lopez starred in the film version, it was used for the re-creation. In 2004, the same year NRG Stadium hosted the Super Bowl (which was won by... Janet Jackson, I think), the Astrodome was used to film a high school football playoff for the film version of Friday Night Lights; the old Astros division title banners can be clearly seen.

Today, though, the Astrodome seems, like the Republican Party that held a ridiculously bigoted Convention there in 1992, stuck in the past, and not just because they renominated failed President George H.W. Bush. The former Eighth Wonder of the World is now nicknamed the Lonely Landmark, and while it served as a shelter for people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, since 2008, when it was hit with numerous code violations, only maintenance workers and security guards have been allowed to enter.

The stadium's future is not clear: Some officials are worried that demolishing it would damage the new stadium and other nearby structures. The current plan, not yet underway, is to raise the floor where the playing surface was, and turn the dome into a giant parking garage for the complex.
NRG Stadium hosted the Final Four in 2011 (Connecticut beating Butler in the Final), and earlier this year (Villanova beating North Carolina). It hosted Super Bowl LI this coming February, with (take your pick: The Atlanta Falcons choking, or the New England Patriots cheating).

It was built roughly on the site of Colt Stadium, which was the baseball team's home in their 1st 3 seasons, 1962, '63 and '64, when they were known as the Houston Colt .45's (spelled with the apostrophe), before moving into the dome and changing the name of the team.

The windows in the roof made it impossible to see the ball in the Sun. So they were painted, and then the grass died. So the 1st artificial turf in sports had to be laid down in 1966, known as AstroTurf. Sandy Koufax, he of the mosquito quip, hated the turf, saying, "I was one of those guys who pitched without a cup. I wouldn't do it on this stuff. And Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies, looking at the 1st artificial field in baseball history, said, "If a horse can't eat it, I don't want to play on it."

The Astrodome hosted a 1988 match between the national soccer teams of the U.S. and Ecuador, which Ecuador won. NRG Stadium has hosted 2 such matches, a 2008 draw with Mexico and a 2011 win over Panama. The Mexico team has made it a home-away-from-home, playing several matches there.

The NRG complex, including the Astrodome, is at 8400 Kirby Drive at Reliant Parkway. Number 700 bus.

For the 2000 season, the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park, at 501 Crawford Street at Texas Avenue, 4 blocks west of BBVA Compass Stadium.

The NBA's Houston Rockets played at the Summit, later known as the Compaq Center, from 1975 to 2003. Elvis sang at The Summit on August 28, 1976. It's been converted into the Lakewood Church Central Campus, a megachurch presided over by Dr. Joel Osteen. 3700 Southwest Freeway at Timmons Lane. Number 53 bus.

The Rockets now play in the Toyota Center, at 1510 Polk Street at Crawford Street. It's 9 blocks south of Minute Maid Park, and a little bit southwest of BBVA Compass Stadium.

The Houston Aeros, with Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, won the World Hockey Association championships of 1974 and 1975, while playing at the Sam Houston Coliseum, before moving into the Summit in 1975 and folding in 1978. The ABA's Houston Mavericks played there from 1967 to 1969. Elvis sang there on October 13, 1956, and the Beatles played there on August 19, 1965. Before the opening of The Summit, the Rockets played at the Coliseum, and at the Astrodome.

The Sam Houston Coliseum was built in 1937 and demolished in 1998. It replaced Sam Houston Hall, where the 1928 Democratic Convention nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, who thus became the 1st Catholic nominated for President by a major party.

The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is now on the site. 801 Bagby Street, at Rusk Street, downtown.

The nearest NHL team to Houston is the Dallas Stars, 242 miles away. If Houston had an NHL team, its metropolitan area would rank 10th in population in the NHL.

In addition to the preceding, Elvis sang at Hofheinz Pavilion on November 12, 1971; and June 4 and 5, 1975. He also sang at the City Auditorium on October 8, 1955 and April 21, 1956. That's better known as the venue where R&B singer Johnny Ace mistakenly shot himself before a show on Christmas Day, December 25, 1955. The Jones Hall for the Performing Arts replaced it in 1966. 615 Louisiana Street at Capitol Street, downtown.

Also, early in his career, Elvis sang in Houston at the Paladium Club (8100 S. Main Street, near the Astrocomplex) on November 26, 27 and 28, 1954; Cook's Hoedown (603 Capitol Street, around the corner from Jones Hall) on November 27 and December 28, 1954, and April 24 and August 7, 1955; Magnolia Gardens (12044 Riverside Street, no public transit) on April 24, May 22, June 19 and August 7, 1955; and Eagles Hall at 2204 Louisiana Street on January 1 and March 19, 1955 (2204 Louisiana Street, downtown). All of these have since been demolished.

Elvis sang near the University of Texas campus in Austin, 160 miles to the northwest, at Dessau Hall on March 17, 1955, the Sportscenter on August 25, 1955, the Skyline Club on January 18, 1956, and the Municipal Auditorium on March 28, 1977. And he sang near the Texas A&M campus, 100 miles to the northwest, at the Rodeo Grounds in Bryan on August 23, 1955 and the G. Rolle White Coliseum in College Station on October 3, 1955;

Elvis also sang in South Texas at the City Auditorium in Beaumont, 85 miles to the northeast, on June 20 and 21, 1955 and January 17, 1956; at the football stadium at Conroe High School, 40 miles to the north, on August 24, 1955; in Corpus Christi, 200 miles to the southwest, at the Hoedown Club on July 3, 1955 and the Memorial Coliseum on April 16, 1956; in Galveston, 50 miles to the southeast, at the City Auditorium on January 16, 1956; at the baseball field in Gonzales, 130 miles to the west, on August 26, 1955; at Woodrow Wilson High School in Port Arthur, 90 miles to the east on November 25, 1955; and at Southwest Texas State University (LBJ's alma mater, now "Texas State"), 165 miles to the west, on October 6, 1955.

There are other places that might be considered "South Texas" where he sang, but I'll include them with "West Texas" when I do this for the San Antonio Spurs.

The tallest building in Houston, and in all of Texas, is the JPMorgan Chase Tower, formerly the Texas Commerce Tower. It was built in 1982 at 600 Travis Street at Texas Avenue, downtown, and stands 1,002 feet tall, rising 75 stories above the concrete over the bayou. It is the tallest 5-sided building in the world.

Houston's version of New York's American Museum of Natural History is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, in Hermann Park, at Main Street and Hermann Park Drive. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is at 1001 Bissonnet Street, just 5 blocks away. Both can be reached by the Number 700 bus.

Of course, the name "Houston" is most connected with two things: Its namesake, the legendary Senator, Governor and war hero Sam Houston; and the Johnson Space Center, the NASA control center named after President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, as Senate Majority Leader, wrote the bill creating NASA and the Space Center, because he thought it would bring a lot of jobs and money to Houston (and he was right).

Most historic sites relating to Sam, however, are not in the city that bears his name. As for reaching the Johnson Space Center, it's at 1601 NASA Parkway and Saturn Lane. The Number 249 bus goes there, so if you don't have a car, Houston, you won't have a problem.

Although Houston is the post-Presidential home for George H.W. and Barbara Bush, his Presidential Library is at Texas A&M University, 100 miles away in College Station. I don't know the Bushes' address, and, in the interest of privacy, I wouldn't print it here if I did.

The Alley Theatre, downtown at 615 Texas Avenue, opened in 1968, and in 1976 hosted the Vice Presidential debate between Senators Walter Mondale and Bob Dole. This is where Dole named World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars as "all Democrat wars" -- forgetting that the Republicans wanted America to get into all but World War II, and didn't want that one because they liked the Nazis' anti-union status; and that it was actually the Republicans who got us into Vietnam.

There have been a few TV shows set in Houston, but the only one that lasted was Reba, starring country singer Reba McIntire. But it was filmed in Los Angeles, so if you're a fan, you won't find the house in Houston.

Films set in Houston, in addition to the sports-themed ones, include Brewster McCloud (which also used the Astrodome, and not to be confused with Dennis Weaver's show McCloud), Logan's Run (which used the Houston Hyatt Regency for some scenes), Telefon (set there but filmed in California), Terms of EndearmentReality Bites, and, perhaps most iconically, Urban Cowboy.


Houston can be hot, but it's a good sports town, and, best of all, it's not Dallas. So there can be a good old time in the hot town tonight.