The Great Burden of 1958

sheaThe view from my season tickets at Shea Stadium – Loge Reserve Section, 11 Row E, Seats 5 and 6. I took this photo right before the first pitch of Game 4 of the 2000 World Series, which Derek Jeter popped over the left field fence for a home run. The Yankees took the series in 5 games.

My hometown The Bronx New York has a reputation that doesn’t need to be explained to anyone.

When I lived in London at age 18, my Aussie and Kiwi roommates were amazed that I didn’t carry a gun to protect myself. Poet Ogden Nash famously wrote “The Bronx? No Thonx”. The teachers that taught me there were often so damn ignorant they told us the borough’s namesake Jonas Bronck was Dutch (he was actually a Swede).

No, I didn’t like growing up there at all. On top of everything, I was freakishly tall as a kid, and as my height outpaced my musculature I was an easy target. There were kids in my 6th grade class who had been left back 3 times and had siblings in prison, and they didn’t fuck around.

Worst of all, I had to root for The Mets.

The most successful and storied professional baseball franchise in United States history, the New York Yankees, makes it’s home in The Bronx. Even people who’ve never watched a baseball game in their entire lives have heard of the “Bronx Bombers”. The Babe. Lou Gehrig. Pride of the Yankees. “My hometown team”. When I tell other Baseball Fans I’m from The Bronx and despite this root for The Mets, they want to put a bullet in my head.

Please let me explain how this all happened.

My father spent his teenage and young adult years living in a residential hotel in Midtown Manhattan with my grandfather. They spent many weekend afternoons at the Polo Grounds, enjoying the superb play of the New York Giants baseball team who were a perennial contender in those days. The Polo Grounds was demolished many years ago.

Directly across the very narrow Harlem River from the Polo Grounds site, sits Yankee Stadium, home to the mortal, sworn enemy of every baseball fan in the universe (multiplier effect applies to all fans of the Boston Red Sox, and NY Mets in that order).

The year was 1958, and the owners of both the Giants and Dodgers diarrhea’d all over their loyal fan base and brought the franchises to California. New York City was without a National League team until 1962 when the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club came into existence. The “Mets” began their generally hapless existence by losing many, many games in splendid fashion at the Polo Grounds, shitting all over the greatness of Willie Mays and others (ironically Mays would join The Mets as their star player during the swan song of his playing career).

There was just no way any Giants fan could possibly become a Yankees fan. That would be like me joining the nazi party while simultaneously swearing allegiance to oliver cromwell. For this reason, my dad (like all good Giants fans) became a Mets fan. I inherited this condition.

Nobody who follows baseball in New York City, in a sincere and genuine fashion, ever roots for both teams. It just isn’t done. When I meet someone from New York who roots for both Mets and Yankees, it reminds me of the girls I dated in college who were dating me and had romantic relationships going with other girls at the same time. Way too scattered to focus on anything.

As luck would have it, my sworn enemy the Yankees had one of their Golden Eras in the early 1970’s when I was a child growing up in The Bronx. All of my friends witnessed the greatness of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Thurmon Munson and so many others. Billy Martin kicked sand on umpires. Crucial playoff games were won on impossible walkoff home runs. Fans rained down thousands of chocolate bars upon the Red Sox outfielders on “Reggie Bar” day. Full size bats were given to every fan as a promotion, and somehow nobody killed anyone. It was a magical time to be a Yankees fan.

Us Mets fans? Not so much. 1973 did give us a National League Pennant under the leadership of the great Yogi Berra as manager, but after that we had Dave Kingman, George Foster, and an overall Zen and mentality that I can best describe as “Quantum Losership”.

That’s not to say we didn’t have an absolutely wonderful time at Shea Stadium watching The Mets lose. You could spend $3 for a General Admission ticket that would grant you access to any seat you wanted in the expansive Upper Deck. People smoked cheeba and performed sexual acts on each other in the upper rows and nobody gave a shit. Wacky promotions by the team included a live Mule and mule cart which transported visiting relief pitchers from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound. It was never, ever, ever boring. Best of all, it was quality time bonding with my dad. No distractions other than the inept play on the field, and the occasional death threats issued to each other by random drunken fans.

In my High School years, I used Shea as a refuge, sometimes taking the 40 minute QBx1 bus ride from Co-op City to Flushing, then jumping on the 7 train for the 1 stop ride to the stadium to watch the game by myself.

Shea Stadium was one of those projects that tried to be too many things to too many people, built in an architectural era defined by concrete. It was designed for both baseball and football games, as well as concerts and other types of events, and as a result wasn’t particularly well-suited for anything at all. Everyone remembers The Beatles famous performance there (which my Dad attended and, like everyone else who was there, he will tell you that nobody could hear a damn thing aside from the sound of 50,000 hysterical teenage girls).

In 1986, when I was a sophomore at SUNY Purchase, The Mets won the World Series. The final game was wrapping up during an orchestra rehearsal, and my roommate Roger Lee pumped his fist in the air every time The Mets scored a run (he had his Walkman on tuned to the game, and the conductor was for some reason willing to tolerate his occasional hysterical outbursts from the Trumpet section). By the time rehearsal was over and I’d returned to the dorms, The Mets had won it and the place was going bezerk. A sweet little hippy chick I knew named Serena was running back and forth down the halls screaming like a lunatic. I don’t think she’d ever even seen a baseball game in her entire life.

After that, I stopped caring about baseball for many years. Then, in the late ’90’s my friend Paul Morrill invited me to partner on a pair of Mets season tickets with himself, our pal Dan Petrafessa, and a friend of theirs named Alex who they knew from the Jam Band scene (Paul and Dan worked as lighting designers for the band Blues Traveler –  my bandmates and I were friends with those guys as well as the guys from Spin Doctors. A story for another time.). I figured “what the heck” and went in with them. We went to lots of games and had a blast. Yukked it up with the lunatic fans, ate hot dogs and drank beer with the great bassist Bobby Sheehan (RIP) and many other friends, and delighted as my borderline-psychotic section-mates razzed Matt Dillon when he sat next to us during the 2000 World Series. You never saw a celebrity take such abuse. “HEY MATT!!!! WHASSAMATTA, YOU COULDN’T GET NO BETTER SEATS THAN THIS?!?!?!”

The 1999 and 2000 post-seasons were a dream. We chanted so loud at Larry “Chipper” Jones and John “Racist Bastard” Rocker of the Atlanta Braves that it completely messed with their heads and The Mets nearly took the pennant in ’99 after a 16 inning game in the rain that ranks as one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life.

But then, in 2000, The Yankees kicked our asses in the World Series and it was all over. I gave up my seats the following year.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2005, I remained loyal to The Mets. Yes, I adopted the Giants as my new #1 team. I have this as a birthright due to the shit I went through as a kid that resulted from my father’s loyalty to the NY Baseball Giants. I wore my Mets stuff whenever the Mets came to town, and relief pitcher Billy Wagner even tossed me a ball during batting practice, a ball which I still keep on my desk to this day as a stress relief toy.

Today I’m pure Giants. When The Mets come to town I root against them. I hope the scumbag owners who now own The Mets get forced to sell.

If some crazy event happens in my life that makes me a billionaire, I will buy The Mets and help make them the best team in baseball. I will then put The Yankees out of business for good.

The new stadium that replaced Shea, the Citibank Field or whatever it’s called, I have zero interest in whatsoever. I’ve driven past it many times enroute from JFK to The City and back, and it looks like nothing more than a corporate billboard.

Shea was a shithouse, yes. But make no mistake. It was MY shithouse.

The last pitch I witnessed with my own eyes at Shea Stadium, the year before they knocked it down, was the last pitch of Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. Carlos Beltran had just looked at strike three down-the-middle with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, and the Saint Louis Cardinals had a good old celebration on our field before flying back to Missouri with the Pennant.  Dan Petrofessa had hooked me up with seats to the game, as always, and he & I sat together in the very last row of the farthest reaches of the deep right field upper deck, where I watched so, so many games with my dad as a kid. They don’t let you smoke joints in those seats anymore.

In the far reaches of the upper-deck at Shea, the trajectory of the ball appears Kafkaesque. This is the domain of the most rabid variety of Met fan, those who will stop at nothing to be at the game. They would sit in the lighting rafters above, risking their lives, any day of the year, if stadium management would let them. So would I.

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