As I mentioned in the Nantucket post, one of the joys of travel is taking in an evening of local theater. I remember seeing a production of Annie Get Your Gun at some little community theater in Jackson Hole, Wyoming when we were moving out to California (by RV! We had two dogs, a cat, and two fish, and an RV seemed like the only sensible way to transport them). The production was made up of college kids on break from school around the west and gol’ dern it if it wasn’t one of the more fun evenings of theater I’ve had. It was some combination of the iconic setting and rock bottom expectations, but it can be amazing what you stumble across if you are curious and unafraid.
Incidentally, in the equivalent of a blog selfie, here is a blog I did of our second RV trip – yes, you read that right, we’ve done it twice.
When I travel in the U.S., I try to find a minor league baseball team for many of the same reasons. The quality may not be the same as the big leagues, but you get to sit closer, it’s cheaper, and every so often you see a diamond in the rough who will go on to great things. Some of the same conditions apply when one visits a New York Mets game, which I did the other day. I haven’t been to a Mets game in years. I’m usually too busy when I’m in New York, but since we have a little extra time on our extended visit, it didn’t feel like I had to give anything else up to go to a game. It was a beautiful day for baseball, but given how badly the Mets stink, I was able to grab a ticket on Stubhub that was about half of face value. They’re practically giving them away these days.
Many of you know that I’m something of a Mets fan. I’ve attended Mets fantasy camp twice, and I still play in a men’s hardball league in San Francisco. Fantasy camp is where middle-aged men travel to Florida, put on uniforms, and pretend they’re major leaguers. As mid-life crises go, this one is pretty tame. You can read about that little adventure here if you’re so inclined. (Yikes! Blog selfie #2!) Anyway, fantasy camp is amazingly silly good clean, fun.
Here I was in New York, home of my beloved Mets, so I endeavored to trek out to Queens to hope against hope that they would beat the excellent Washington Nationals and stay in the pennant race for just another day. Citifield is where the hapless Mets ply their mediocre trade.
It’s a lovely, well-designed, but soulless place. Architecturally, it’s the greatest hits of baseball stadiums. The façade and entrance rotunda are copied from Ebbett’s Field, the home of the late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers. The right field bleachers hang over the field like the old Tiger’s Stadium. And there’s a food pavilion that’s stolen from the Orioles’s Camden Yards, and they are said to have appropriated features from at least four other recently-built stadiums. But something is not at all right. They seem to think that they could take Scarlett Johansson’s lips, Betty Grable’s legs, and J Lo’s tuchis, put them on one body, and that would be good. It’s like going to see the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower in Vegas.
On the plus side, there’s a Shake Shack (very good burgers from New York restauranteur Danny Meyer) and an outpost of the Manhattan restaurant Blue Smoke, a barbeque place that made a very edible chopped brisket sandwich. The sauce was smoky, sweet, and tangy, with a nice bit of mouth-numbing heat. Was that Sichuan pepper in there? It was served on a nice, fluffy bun with a few sweet crunchy pickles. Nice. In the old days, you got a dirty water frank with a packet of mustard.
(A non-baseball digression. For some reason, I find that I’ve been eating a lot of barbeque in New York on this trip. New York has never been much of a barbeque town, but the hipsters, with their mountain man beards and plaid flannel shirts, are making it so, and for that I am truly grateful. Go, hipsters! So far, I’ve been to Mighty Quinn in the East Village, Hill Country in Midtown, and Beast of Bourbon in Bedford Stuyvesant. I haven’t been to BrisketTown in Williamsburg yet, and there are a few others on my list, but my current favorite is Mighty Quinn, which made a brisket with such unapologetic unctuous fattiness and tenderness that I nearly wept. As did my cardiologist.)
Of course, every baseball stadium in America now serves good microbrews, so our nation is making progress. After drinking nun’s tinkle for generations, Americans have finally discovered beer. Yay. I also noted the no smoking signs everywhere, which, believe it or not, produced mixed feelings. Whenever I smell a cigar, I am transported to Shea Stadium, the former home of the Mets, where I spent some of the happiest moments of my childhood. At Shea, some old guy would invariably be sitting in front of you huffing on the cheapest, stinkiest cigar you can imagine.
Shea Stadium was a dreary, rotten, ugly albatross of a place, but I loved it dearly. I remember the day that my father pulled me out of school without any warning to take me to a day game. It is my fondest memory of him, by far. On July 4, 1972 I remember watching Tom Seaver’s no-hitter broken up with one out in the ninth in the first game of a doubleheader (remember them?) by a journeyman outfielder for the lowly San Diego Padres named Leron Lee. Leron Lee, how I hated you for that! By the way, Willie Mays went 1 for 3 that day. It would take another forty years before the Mets had their first no hitter. And I remember pitching an inning on the Shea Stadium mound when our fantasy league had a day at the ballpark as part of our reunion.
That was the last year before Shea was to be torn down, and the Mets, in all their cheapness, were avoiding even basic maintenance. I remember that there was a toilet off the visitors’ dugout that members of the opposing team could use during the game. The pipe from the urinal had rusted out but nobody had bothered to fix it. A nice touch. Welcome to Shea Stadium! It was a pit, but it was my pit.
With childhood nostalgia warming my little heart I made my way out to Queens to take in a game (Janine had to make a quick trip to LA to tend to some family matters). As I said, it was nice, but good gravy it’s boring out there these days, unless you happen to be rooting for the other team. The only thing palpable is the ennui. I mean it’s really quiet in there. I looked around and saw that people were sitting in all the sections, but they were scattered around, almost so they didn’t have to talk to each other. Mets fans don’t even want to commiserate any more – it takes too much energy.
One thing that teams do these days to attempt to generate excitement is to allow each player for the home team to select a song to be played when he steps up to bat. It’s fun to hear what players pick. Eric Young, Jr.’s song is “Young Forever” by Jay Z – cute. Daniel Murphy has a song by the Irish band Dropkick Murphys, which is fine, except the song was “I’m Shipping up to Boston,” which seemed like an odd choice. Jonathan Niese, who pitched that day, chose a song by Ted Nugent. The thing is, Ted Nugent is a lunatic. He’s issued a long list of unprintable things from various parts of his body about women and Barack Obama and people who don’t like guns. Here’s just one of many – “Apartheid isn’t that cut-and-dry. All men are not created equal.” I guess we can get into that old debate about whether you can like the work of bad people, but I dunno, Ted Nugent? Seems icky. Just curious, what song would you want them to play when you come up to bat?
The Mets lost 3-0 in typically desultory fashion, although they mounted just enough rallies during the game to fill us with hope yet again, only to dash that hope against the wall, yet again. Being a Mets fan is not as depressing as being a Cubs fan, but it’s pretty close.
And I enjoyed myself all the same. It was a beautiful day. The view from my highly discounted seat was excellent. The brisket was tasty. The beer was hoppy. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.