The Mets have two stadia right now. One is full of I-beams and sand and occasionally hard-hatted men. The other is full of peanut shells, people and occasionally drama
. The latter, of course, is William A. Shea Municipal Stadium. Big Blue. The Ol' Coffee Can. The House that Guilt Built. The former is Citi Field (or will be; should a building be called by its name before it's been used?), looming past the outfield over its predecessor, like your lower-salaried replacement hovering over your desk on your last day at work because of an HR screw-up.
The Mets marketing department (the group of people responsible for such level-headed campaigns as "Next Year Is Now", "The Team. The Time" and "Your Season Has Come") has been toiling to prepare six months of retrospection to help us remember Shea Stadium with all the dignity it deserves. Loud, bombastic, distracting dignity, often with kooky typefaces, displayed throughout every home game.
I'm not a native New Yorker, so I have to excuse myself for not having deep-seated mommy-and-daddy memories of Shea Stadium from my youth. But I am a native Mets fan, which led to being a Baseball fan, which in turn led to wanting to be in few other places more than at a live, well-played Baseball game (I include "well-played" in there just to make it clear that I am only going to your kid's little league game as a strict courtesy to you, because I'm a nice guy). So I take the stadium experience very seriously. Far more so, apparently, than the stewards of most modern stadia do. And the Mets, unfortunately, are no exception. Here's a rundown of some of the sights and sounds that await you every half-inning at Shea:
Player introductions - Whether these are done in a calm, non-hyperventilating manner, you will never know, because you are still traveling from work on the 7 train or stuck in line at the turnstiles.
John Maine hosts "Maine Street USA" - John Maine encourages you to guess an American city based on three clues. Example: Ohio State. Okay, stop right there because I know the answer. Oh, and the namesake discovered America too? If you're going to drag popularly-held misconceptions about world history into it, then I give up. Are the Buckeyes from Eriksson, Ohio? Is there a city there named for an anonymous paleolithic tribe of nomads?
[This slot was previously filled by 'Professor Reyes', an often-hilarious and far-superior segment hosted by Jose Reyes, wherein we see regular Mets fans try to pronounce Spanish words or phrases like Aeropuerto, crosscut with encouragement or derision by Jose. (Sample response from Professor Reyes: "A-ha! You cheated! You espeak espanish!") This segment seems to have been discontinued, possibly due to the perception that public overexposure somehow led to Jose Reyes' fade down the stretch last season. Highly speculative, yes, but no matter if the switch was made due to hypocrisy, a double-standard, or just shoddy decision-making, the result is the same: This year's educational segment sucks.]
Dancing with the Mets - Two tween-age children are hoisted out of the crowd onto the tops of the opposing dugouts to dance arhythmically along with Mets cheer-squad members. The rest of us, if we're not ignoring this spectacle completely, are encouraged to text our choice of the two to win some mystery prize. The only thing about this that would interest me is to find out the total number of texts that are sent to determine this contest. Because if it's over 10, then the possibility that election fraud occurred is the only compelling part of it. And really, the only people who are close enough to see the contestants are also seated within earshot of the cheer squad, who might as well say, "Why don't you just tell me the name of the best dancer!"
Virtual Home Run Derby - Another, even younger, Mets fan is given a video game controller by a set of disembodied off-screen hands, and implored to hit two home runs on MLB2K8. Either the kids these days can jack a video game homer with their eyes closed or the play control pre-settings on this game have been turned up to 11, because the kid jabs out at least one of three pitches every time. Not that it matters, because they always end up with a copy of MLB2K8 for their efforts. How climactic!
The Guessing Game Contests - A staple of entertaining every captive audience when they don't need to be entertained. The Mets have a variety of ways to hand out gift certificates to area restaurants: The classic team-related trivia game; what year did such-and-such happen, etc. Guessing some arcane multiple-choice fact about one of the players. Video three-card monte, with animated Citi Fields dancing around instead of cards. And sometimes you run out of ideas, and make some fan simply pick one of three numbered boxes. Hey, I understand, most times I just want to get the hell out of the office too.
'Meet the Mets' - This one I approve of. It's totally corny, and I don't even sing along myself. But I appreciate the Mets clinging to this one genuine manifestation of their early-60s roots, back before writing a song like this would have been either brutally market researched or contaminated with irony. I wish they'd play the whole song though. Like any true American anthem (Star-Spangled Banner, Battle Hymn of the Republic), 'Meet the Mets' has additional, but lesser known, verses. C'mon people!
Pepsi Party Patrol - Like any good party, this one follows a rigid script from start to end. The PA guy first tells us to welcome Mr. Met and the PPP onto the field. Mr. Met is accompanied by 5 PPP members while music plays. Again, like any good party, it is the same exact mid-90s psuedo-dance song every time. They throw branded t-shirts into the field sections, or launch them out of two of those pneumatic clothing cannons into the Loge and Mezzanine sections (the Upper Deck was purposeles and ingeniously designed to be just out of the range of these apparel armaments). The number of shirts distributed to the crowd can be greater than 30, but can under no circumstances be over 35, or Mr. Met will be sporting stitches by tomorrow. Well, MORE stitches anyway. Capisce?
Seventh Inning Stretch - Sometimes features God Bless America. Or maybe always; that's how unimportant that song is, either to the Mets for not programming it every night, or to me for ignoring it half the time. Followed of course by Take Me Out To The Ballgame, which is weird when you have a team name of either one or five syllables because that's hard to insert into the "Root, root, root for the [insert team name here]" part. Immediately following that is a crazy novelty Italian song by Lou Monte. This is the best part of the stretch, if only because it is so bizarre. Old people and kids love this song.
Eighth Inning Sing Along - Last year, the Mets tried to install (and I use that word in much the same context as when you read "the US-installed Shah in Iran") 'Sweet Caroline', only without the appearance of spontaneity or cheer, as it is with some other teams. Just tossing out an idea here, but when you make it a point to announce a sing along sponsored by XM radio, seems like it would be a service to both your fans and your sponsor that the song be, I don't know, different each night? Seeing as your sponsor is actually in the business of broadcasting a variety of music. I guess that's why I'll never get that MBA. Anyway, after having that song once again crammed down my throat in a new stadium, only in a more degrading manner, the Mets announced this year that the Eighth Inning Sing Along would be determined by a fan poll, which was predictably Rickrolled.
The status of the sing along is still undetermined, though the Mets might be thinking about a platoon situation here with 'Sweet Caroline' and The Monkees' 'I'm A Believer'. This might be the best way to go, since Caroline can't hit lefties for shit.
Ninth inning - If Billy Wagner isn't coming out of the bullpen to the opening riff of 'Enter Sandman', then there are probably fewer Mets fans around to care about what is going on instead. There isn't anything else in particular to replace this in those cases anyway.
All told, the Shea Stadium experience is constant noise and motion, but amounting to approximately nothing. Kids dancing who can't be seen from 94% of the stadium; random contests, the results of which we don't care about; rote, pedantic exhortations of "fun"; it's all just pointless, impertinent bullshit. The wait between innings doesn't have to have anything of import going on at all; it isn't THAT long. Just play a song, put up some trivia, make community-related announcements, it'll all be over in two minutes anyway. But the triteness of what IS being chosen seems actually to endeavor to degrade the entire package on account of the constant poking and prodding us to pay attention to its worthlessness. If all you want to do is run a string of ads during the inning breaks, you know what? I'd be OKAY with that. I'm bombarded with ads from the time I step out of my office until I get home. I can cope. But it's actually the transparent bundling of those ads into lame attempts at crowd excitement generation that leaves me with a bad impression of the thing I actually paid to see in the first place: A Baseball game.
On top of all that, I can't see how the team management figures this noise is even helping generate the crowd excitement in the first place. I've never seen Shea Stadium filled with 55,300 people. I haven't been there for a Yankees game, but if they have to rely on their hated crosstown rivals to sell out a game, then they're doing something horribly wrong. Every other game I've been to hasn't yielded a boffo combination: Braves games, Phillies games, interleague games. Warm sunny matinees, Friday evenings, holiday weekends. Pennant races or wire-to-wire winning seasons. Every combination of favorable conditions for attendance still leads to empty seats. Maybe it's an 'on-paper' sellout, but that didn't lead to people in those seats, which really diminishes the quality of the atmosphere. Not only is the between-inning fabricated rigmarole probably not helping, but I'm reasonably certain that it's actually hurting. It isn't doing anything to bring in more casual fans and lessens the ability for a more passionate fan to take the experience seriously, even if he or she really wants to.
As it happens, Sports Illustrated published on-line a poll-derived ranking of the MLB stadia.
Unsurprisingly, Shea finished in 28th. It finished in the bottom 3 in half of the categories. Some things, like park amenities, will get taken care of (hopefully) with the move. But by improving the general feel of the Shea experience, in an addition-by-subtraction sort of way, could do a lot for the, admittedly arbitrary and hard to define, categories of "tradition", "atmosphere", "hospitality" and even "fan IQ" (whatever that means). Shea itself is a lost cause and a lame duck, but treating the game like the event it is supposed to be, and not just incidental action taking place at a mall, can only increase interest with the fans, which is going to be worth taking with the team into their new home.