11th and Washington

11th and Washington: August 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Picnic in the (ball)park

Sitting in Shea Stadium's picnic area was all that I'd hoped it would be. While not quite on the level -- even a smaller level -- of Wrigley Field's bleachers, Shea's small section of metal benches and close proximity to the left fielder brings a different feel to the game.

In Flushing, the picnic area leans more toward families, with plenty of small rumps to fill seats on the bleachers and not make it feel too crowded. In Wrigleyville, the bleachers are definitely the adult section behind the curtain at the video store.

Casey and I got there early enough that we had our pick of seating areas in the top half of the bleachers; we were too late to find much open space in the first half-dozen or so rows that lead down closest to the fence. But we had a good view and didn't get too crowded out as the benches filled in.

The Mets didn't disappoint, either. In the first inning, David Wright sent a towering home run into the picnic area, about 30 feet to our left. We could see the ball quickly climb beyond the edge of the top of the stadium, a small white dot against the darkening sky that quickly grew larger as it soared toward us. It came down almost directly to our left, and when they later announced the distance as 410 feet, I had to look over at the landing spot again to see where they got that measurement from. I was certain it was 10-15 feet deeper than the 410 mark in center field, but perhaps it was further left of center than I realized. Later, Carlos Delgado provided the only other run of the game -- on a home run to the left of center that also came our way. It couldn't have gone much better.

Ironically, though, for a section named "the picnic area," the food there is a much more limited selection of the basic crap sold inside Shea Stadium. Don't get me wrong -- I love the Mets and will buy concessions from time to time. But neither New York ballpark is going to top any lists of the best ballpark food in America. Things will change when Citi Field opens next year, but for now, I always bring my own peanuts to push back hunger in case lukewarm pretzels or hit-or-miss pizza or Nathan's fries don't entice me. Having gorged ourselves at lunch earlier in the day, there was no need for us to visit the concession stand, other than the soda I got to quench my thirst. And I did nibble on a few of the peanuts in my bag.

As for the bleachers themselves, as any high school or college football fan knows, extended time sitting on the ridged metal will numb the bum and ache the back, so we took to standing between each inning and, as everyone got up for the seventh-inning stretch, made our way down to Long Ball Alley beneath the stands. There, a small souvenir stand hawks merch and a few round bar tables fill the space and give the fans a standing-room area to watch the game through the chain links in the outfield wall. Josh Willingham stood much closer to us and the crushed red brick of the warning track lay on just the other side.

Having seen a game from the press box -- also the same level as the "luxury" boxes -- there remains only one section open to fans from which I haven't watched a game, and probably never will: The StubHub DreamSeats in the left- and right-field corners. Maybe there's a chance I'll get updated at one of these last games -- 25 to go, after tonight's 8-6 win over the Marlins, and at least four I expect to attend -- but if I don't make it, I won't have any regrets. I may not remember much of the changes that have been implemented at Shea in its four decades, but I do know that the DreamSeats are less than a decade old. There's no remorse in missing out on a recent gimmick.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

The time is Wright for a walk-off

On Wednesday night, I turned to a co-worker after David Wright committed the error that allowed the Padres to tie the game. "He needs a day off tomorrow," I said. After baserunning blunders the last two nights, some limp at-bats in clutch situations, and now this error, he looked worn down, sluggish. He looked like he needed a break.

Thankfully, he talked Jerry Manuel out of it. Wright had three hits and belted his first career walk-off home run on Thursday afternoon at Shea. That it came after Scott Schoeneweis could not hold a one-run lead in the ninth -- giving up a game-tying homer to Jody Gerut of all people -- was barely remembered on the 7 train back toward Manhattan. Though there are plenty of Mets fans who are only happy when they're bitching about something (Scott Kazmir actually came up, again, on the train ride back. Get over it, people), Wright rounding the bases was the lasting image in my mind as I counted the stops to 74th and Broadway and an escape from the packed, stuffy car.

I'm heading back to the ballpark tonight, my wife and I, for one more first-time-and-last-time experience at Shea: We're sitting in the picnic area. In 23 years of attending games there, I've only looked down at Shea's small section of bleachers and watched the home runs land there. Mostly a group-seating area, it is only opened for general purchase for certain games, and tonight was one of them. With just 27 dates remaining on Shea's calendar (postseason TBD), the opportunities are dwindling.

And for the first time in at least a decade, I'm going to have to bring my glove to the game.

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