September 29, 2008

SHEA-ing Goodbye Is Hard To Do!! (Part Two)

By David Rubin

Well, this is going to be even harder than I thought, in light of yesterday's elimination. Going back in time to describe my last visit to Shea some 16 days ago was, I thought, going to be a great way to say good-bye to the regular season, and give me enough to write about while waiting for the first play-off game on Wednesday vs. the Cubs...and now, it's a real coda to the season, to this team and to this website. I'll explain each in greater detail.

As I mentioned in part one yesterday, Jon and I attended the Friday night rain-out, expecting to see Johan take apart the hated Braves, instead spending around $60 to eat dinner in Shea amidst the rain. That meant that, since we had tix for Saturday, we were going to see one last double-header, not even a day/night one, and double-headers were always my favorite part of the schedule growing up. However, as Jon quickly pointed out, there was no way, with our bullpen, that we were going to win both games, and it was very important that we saw a win in our last visit to Shea- which meant that, if Niese were to win the second game, that meant that Johan couldn't win the first if luck were to hold true to form.

My friends Mark and Danny joined us for the double-header, and we got there 2 hours before game time, enough time to browse the depleted racks of the team store and grab the first of 3 ballpark meals of the day. And by depleted, I mean "filled with Castillo and Perez and Wagner and Wright/Reyes stuff" with no Santana or Pedro or Delgado or Pelfrey or even Church stuff to be found. Thankfully, we had hit a Modell's prior to the game, so we restocked our t-shirt collections sufficiently enough to call the trip a success (on that front, at least.)

We had great seats in the loge section, between home and third base, and it looked like the rain would hold off, leaving a cloudy but cooler day for baseball. For Jon and I, it was fitting that we'd be closing out our Shea years with a performance by Santana, who steps into a long line of great Mets' pitchers (Seaver, Kooz, Matlack, Gooden, Cone, Leiter, etc) and whom we saw pitch his first official game in a Mets' uni on opening day in Miami oh, those many years ago (at least, that's what it seemed like!) and Niese, who represents the future of our home-grown pitchers. Not to labor the point, because we all know what happened- Santana pitched great in the first game, and we lost...Niese pitched incredibly in the nightcap, and we won. Sunday, while my father's life was being memorialized, the Mets dropped another one to the Braves and the sinking feeling came back to us, which couldn't be helped. Perhaps saying good-bye to the soon-to-be-levelled Shea would take all of the hurt and unfulfilled expectations with its demolished concrete and steel shell.

The memories would remain in our head, but IF we could start the 2009 season fresh, in state-of-the-art facilities, in a first class ballpark, for once, perhaps we could indeed hope for a better tomorrow! And yet, walking out of Shea nearly 9 hours after our arrival, we couldn't help but shed tears, as we realized what being a Mets' fan really is about - dealing with the myriad disappointments, with just enough incredible seasons sprinkled throughout our history to give us hopes each and every season...and that's what it's about, folks- HOPE!!! Otherwise, why buy the merchandise? The tickets? Give up doing other things when the game is on? Buying the bigger screen tv? Sweating and hurting with every loss? It's all because of that deadly, 4-letter word that brightens the shores of Mets' fans everywhere, come February...HOPE!! You feel it in spring training, when all teams are tied for first, where the next Dwight Gooden might show himself, or where the "next great free agent signing" debuts to thunderous applause, making it that much harder for him when the first regular-season boos are heard when he strikes out three times in a game or gets taken deep for a homer to lose a game.

HOPE is what Shea Stadium stood for- after all, isn't that what the founding of the Mets gave to New York-based, National League lovers whose teams had left him for the left coast a mere 4 years earlier?! Shea was the first of the new stadiums, and other than Dodger Stadium, I can't think of any others that are still standing. Fenway, Wrigley and the soon-to-be-replaced Yankee Stadium are all older then Shea, but each has its own unique characteristics, even if the Cubs haven't seen a major victory in 100 years, and its only been 4 years since those same Sox finally got their reason to "reverse the curse." Yankee Stadium is more than a ballpark, its an institution that isn't replaced easily...and yet, by creating the biggest spectacle this side of the Cowboys new megalith, Yankee fans will soon fall in love with a stadium that pays 100% homage to their teams' roots while offering amenities that no ball-fan this side of Donald Trump could even dream of.

What does Shea's replacement offer? Well, it's going to be smaller, and a lot "prettier" but it's also paying homage, some would say too much so, to the childhood dreams of owner Fred Wilpon in its similarities to Ebbett's Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Wilpons' high school teammate, Sandy Koufax. It's Wilpon's $$ that is building Citi Field, so he has the right to create something that plays into his dreams/desires. Mets' fans will come, regardless of how close the stadium looks to Ebbett's Field, or how the Jackie Robinson pavillion honors one of the greatest and most important ballplayers to ever lace up their cleats, but who is also a former Dodger great. It's not so much that homage is being paid to the Dodgers as it is that there is still so little Mets' history, and what history there is seems to be paid less attention to then some would like. The bottom line is that whatever your opinion of Citi Field is or will be, that is the only place the Mets will be playing their home games at for many years to come, and the hope is that newer, and better memories will be made and in shorter order. It took the Mets 5 years to win the World Series after moving into Shea...will Mets' fans be that patient if it took that long to get there in Citi Field? I don't think so...and I sure hope not!

Finally, the memories of Shea that most stand out for me are these, in no particular order:

...buying pins of players outside the stadium (right, Gary Cohn?); hot pretzels on the way out; bat day and walking through the autobody area with the bats at the ready; the planes overhead; looking into the bullpen to see Joe P's tomatoes; plastic practically shrink-wrapped on top of my warm cup of RC Cola; won't you try, extra dry, Rheingold beer, then Schaefer, is the, one beer to have when you'r having more then one (never knew what THAT meant as a kid but could sure sing it!); watching Tug McGraw kick Spalding rubber balls up to the upper deck during batting practice; going to Lum's Chinese restaurant after a game and seeing various Mets' eating dinner there; waiting outside the players' entrance for autographs, especially Lee Mazzilli; seeing Shea for the first time from the GCP after moving to California; the wave, when it meant something, during the '86 season; the "K Corner" when Doc pitched; Tom Seaver on Kiner's Korner after a win; Ed Kranepool at first base yet again; and, finally, walking down the concrete ramps after a victory, my dad holding hands with my brother and me, creating our own brand of "sports talk radio" in the car ride home while waiting for 1010 WINS to have a brief sports report giving us what we already knew- that the Mets' won! Those things come with me, wherever I go, and while Citi Field will NEVER be Shea, I think, at last, I am ready to make some new memories....

Where does this team go from here? It's too soon for me to speculate, as we've already heard, in less than 24 hours, that we should trade either Wright, Reyes or Beltran, sign K-Rod, fire Omar, etc...I haven't even fully recovered from yesterday, let alone be in the right frame of mind to think about what we need to do in order to make the play-offs next season, beyond the obvious. However, one thought keeps reverberating in my head- for all of the strength that we believed our rotation offered, here are some interesting stats- Mike Pelfrey's last victory came on August 25th - Ollie Perez's on September 3rd - Pedro Martinez's on August 31st and John Maine has been hurt the second half. Our starters failure to last longer in games caused extra wear and tear on an already challenged bullpen; without Wagner, we were doomed for failure! There's no excuse for losing, especially when you have such a well-paid team and considering that we seemed to have left the Phils and Brewers for dead just a few short weeks ago. The Yankees and Mets can both attest to the fact that expensive rosters don't equate to victories- just ask the Rays!! But, without starters beyond Santana who can keep us in the game, even with Wagner healthy we still wouldn't be able to last against the Cubs, Angels, Red Sox or Rays. Next year, our sentiment has to be thrown out the window, and Pedro can't come back as a starter that we are counting on. We have to get younger, and half the battle towards creating a better bullpen is putting together a rotation that can go deeper in the game more often. Innings-eaters are great, but successful ones, a la Santana and Sabathia, are worth their weight in gold. Let's hope that Maine regains form, or becomes our closer, and Niese can step up and grab the 5th starter role leaving 2 openings for Omar to fill. We'll discuss this in greater detail, once we've had a few days to consider what's happened this season and have had time to let at least some of the anger and shock diminish...

Regarding our blog, I know it's been way too long between posts, and for this I truly do apologize. John Young, founder of this site and someone who it's been a pleasure to root with these past 3 years, has moved to Florida and no longer seems to have time to blog- we only hope that, right now, he's not too angry with those Marlins and isn't ready to move back quite yet; Jonathan works in the housing business, and enough said about that; I've left my job and have gone into consulting, with hours that are far more unreliable; and, the name of this blog, Shea Nation, is one that won't quite represent the future of beloved Mets. Therefore, for now, we'll post sporadically, as things come up, and we'll have our usual preview of the Winter Meetings and our own best guess as to what's "best" for this team, player-wise, before the meetings begin (start with Derek Lowe, Orlando Hudson and K-Rod and go from there)...however, the name of this blog will be changing, probably in January of '09, as we move into the future with the Mets and hope for an even better season in '09.

As always...LET'S GO METS!!!!!!! And good-bye Shea, my old friend, and thanks for the memories!!!
PS: Special thanks to all who helped with and contributed to this blog this season: Daren, Aaron, Jack, Ed, Steve, Ed, Marilyn, Lisa, Reed, Michael and, most of all, to Jonathan and John, without whom this blog wouldn't be here! This season, in spite of the ending, was dedicated to my dad, Al - I guess it's fitting that we came close, but no cigar...but you deserved better, pop - so wait 'til next year, huh?


Flushing Mike said...

I hope you guys are around in 2009 as well, whatever you call yourselves. You've got the best mets blog, and I loved your Shea-Goodbye!!! It's tough, as I've lived here all 41 years of my life, like Seaver, but I can't wait to see how nice Citi Field will be.

Anonymous said...

I used to eat at Lum's. I heard they're a Korean BBQ now but that they're using the angular shapes of the old Lums signs. I can't go there...thanks for some great memories! I'll miss Shea.

David Rubin & Jonathan Elfenbein said...

I was at Lum's one night in 1973 with my folks and brother, and I spotted Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver eating dinner with their wives at a table not far away. I was staring at them all night, and my dad said I could talk to them ONLY after they had finished their dinner. I took FOREVER to eat that night, to ensure they'd finish first, which they did, and I walked over to Kooz and he happily signed my program, asked if I had been to the game, told him I had, and he called over Matlack, who had pitched, and he signed, too. GTS didn't but he had to go make a phone call and all I could think about was that I was in the presence of "greatness." Man, that was some night- and the food was amazing, as I recall...great egg rolls...they can't make them right out here on the "left coast." No good Cantonese food out here!

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