Shea Day

Derek Zumsteg

I was in New Jersey this past week for an AT&T conference, and I thought I'd go see a Mets game. I'd have attended a Yankees game, except that I think it's immoral to give the Yankees money, and 90% of my threat-related email comes from Yankee-related jabs made on this website.

So at the end of a hard day of conferencing, I took my rental Taurus (steers like a bull, accelerates like a cow) up the Garden State Parkway and into New York. When I first got to Jersey, I was really frustrated by the lack of signage, bizarre road construction, and tolls, tolls, tolls, and I rated New Jersey as "hugely difficult" to drive in, an 8. New York, it turns out, is a 10. Maybe an 11.

I know you're going to tell me I should have taken a subway in, lemme ask you -- how many subways run from Middletown, NJ to Shea? Huh, smart guy?

New York should give up on roads entirely and turn the streets into pedestrian avenues. Maybe allow delivery vans. Anyway, here are the Mets' Official Directions for driving to Shea:

Take the George Washington Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, then go to Shea.

Needless to say, these are wildly inadequate. There were two (2) directional signs on my way. The bridges all cost at least $3.50 to cross, had totally inaccurate and confusing signs on them, weird, inexplicable traffic jams, crazed teens in Jettas ramming my Taurus...I ended up getting to the stadium early, where I sat outside the day-of-game sale window and waited.

There's a subway stop just outside Shea, and there were four big NY metro beat cops standing there, doing those cop tricks with their cop batons. I tried not to look directly at them. People trickled out. And then at one point a tall black teenager came out and the cops started to jeer him as he went by, one making an 'L' with his thumb and index finger on his forehead and jabbering incoherently at the kid as walked away (if anyone can tell me what this was about, please email me). The kid didn't react at all, and I didn't ask him what that was about.

Eventually, Strikethree.com staffer Melissa Hughes, who should write more frequently so she can get her columnist heading back, showed up, and we headed on in to camp in the expensive seats. Here I saw my first unabashed Baseball Annie, a blonde girl wearing a tank top in order to display her primary attention-getting assets. She was unejectable, blondely charming the old ushers, and spent much of her time leaning way, way over the visitor's dugout...lying on the dugout...you get the picture. And while I've read Melissa's accounts of this sort of thing before, I'd never really seen it done so obviously.

Shea's a strange place to see a game, nothing in the way of outfield seats at all (aptly unfinished) but with a scoreboard so large and information-rich it shamed all others I'd seen. It also has the worst location of any ballpark I've ever heard of. Located in New York's famous 'one-lift car repair and chop-shop' district in Queens, surrounded by a warren of streets clogged by totaled, stripped, being-stripped, and suspiciously intact cars, Shea is right next to La Guardia Int'l Airport and elevated train tracks. This means that planes fly directly over the stadium... all through the night. The noise is so loud you can barely think, much less mime talking to the person next to you. It gave me the worst headache I've had in years.

Unfortunately, beer's 5.50 for a 12-oz. can of decent beer/Rheingold or a 16-oz. of Budweiser.

We got tossed from our seats (lacking, aptly, the needed aesthetic requirements) and found other good seats, from which Melissa's magical aura protected us from being ejected for the next...14 innings.

David Wells was pitching for Toronto, and the victim of a cruel, cruel New York conspiracy: The Mets fans cheered for him and encouraged him because they want him to join the Mets, because they think that he'll pitch his heart out to show up the hated Yankees. This is the kind of bizarre rivalry I like, where fans actively work to screw the other team. I don't think the Yankees fans are this sophisticated, because they don't have to be, being spoon-fed pre-packaged, store-bought teams every year.

Wells worked eight scoreless innings. He's a big guy, doesn't look like much of an athlete, but he sure pitches well when he wants to. He reminds me of a younger, more talented Chris Bosio in a way. Wells wanted to go the whole distance, and Veteran Manager Jim "Not Ferengi" Fregosi let him go for it, even when he seemed to be running down. The Mets then socked him for three runs and sent the game into extra innings, during which both teams refused to score for five frames.

Now, Bobby Valentine's supposed to be a good manager, but I didn't have much of an opinion of him either way. After this game, though, I'm convinced he's not all he's cracked up to be. Here's why:

- In the ninth inning, the Mets scored three runs to tie the game. McRae had just doubled, scoring the third run, and Cedeno had been intentionally walked. So with men on first and second, Gold Glove award-winning shortstop Rey Ordonez was up, and Bobby Valentine had a host of pinch hitters, waiting to play. He let Gold Glove award-winning shortstop Rey Ordonez ground out to the pitcher. I've heard people say that the home team can play for the tie, but let's be honest -- there's no reason not to put a real batter up there.

- 12th inning, he lets Gold Glove award-winning shortstop Rey Ordonez bat again in a meaningless AB.

- 14th inning, with men on second and third, that guy bats again, gets a single, wins the game.

Now sure, they got the win, but they got the win because they were lucky that Gold Glove award-winning shortstop Rey Ordonez hacked at something hittable from a weak pitcher and that the Blue Jays didn't capitalize on their chances to score, not because Bobby's faith in his shortstop somehow paid off. What would happen later, now that he'd used all his relief pitchers in one game? Don't you want to end the game early?

As the game went further and further into extra innings, the seats thinned. I appreciated the fact that the ushers ceased to enforce ticketed seats as people left, and the people who cared moved in farther, so the good seats got rowdier and louder even as the game dragged on and total attendance plunged. Hadn't gotten to see that in the Kingdome ("Get in your seat, stay in your seat, get out"). It made me happy to be there, even when people started sneaking smokes.

People actually cared about this mismanaged bunch of mercenaries in a way that I don't get to see in Seattle, where the baseball infatuation seems to be kind of academic, like people forgot that they were the loudest thing in the world in 1995 and now respond to a video "Needle Meter" (don't ask), or in San Francisco, where the crowd's pretty sedate or chilled past movement.

Shea's a unique place to see a game (and I don't mean that in the "little Jimmy has unique talents and is going to be held back to develop them" way), and if you get a chance to get lost in New York and blunder onto it, check it out, especially if you can get Melissa to go with you. Piazza really is single only because he hasn't met her yet.

about the author

Derek Zumsteg has returned to Seattle, but he still hasn't managed to stop saying "not for nothin'." Offer to fix it by stuffing his mouth with Gold Glove award-winning shortstop Rey Ordonez at dmz@strikethree.com.

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