Chicago stopped into my office around 2 pm yesterday and casually asked me what I was doing later that night. Turns out, he had tickets for the Mets-Cubs game and the guy he planned on going with couldn't make it. Something about not having enough time to get a baby-sitter for his newborn baby - is there any better argument for postponing procreation?
Anyway, I jumped all over it and had my student worker run across campus to pick up the ticket from him later that day. I knew something was up when she handed it back to me - Field Level, Section 147, Row AA. I had never even heard of that row, but a quick check on the soon-to-be-outdated seating revealed that we would be sitting in deep right field. Box seats at Shea!
Fast forward to about 6:45, when I hopped off the 7 train and met Chicago in front of Gate D. We walk into the stadium, grab a few beers and find our way to the section. As I start to walk down the aisle to find the seats, I begin to notice that it's taking an awful long time to reach Row AA. As we get closer and closer to the field, our progress was stopped by a simple chain blocking off the auxiliary stands from the regular orange seats. No usher was there to direct us, but all of a sudden it dawned on me - Chicago had come up with front-row seats for the game!
I have only sat front row once before - a Mets-Pirates doubleheader in the early 90s on a sweltering June day that was so hot I actually considering leaving the stadium to find some air conditioning. Those seats were behind the Mets dugout, the seats where you actually place your drink on the top of the dugout itself. These seats had nothing but a small plywood wall blocking access to the field and allowed for a ground-level view of the entire stadium. It was amazing.
Now Chicago, as you may have guessed from the nickname, is a Cubs fan. He is not shy about this fact. Actually, Chicago isn't shy about much of anything, as I soon found out. The last time he went to a Mets-Cubs game at Shea, he happily informed me, he had an entire beer poured over his head for celebrating too enthusiastically. When I asked how that matter was resolved, he cryptically informed me that he "took care of it."
The chatter began from Johan Santana's first pitch and didn't end until Chicago left in the bottom of the fifth because of a late-night staff meeting on campus. He leapt out of his seat in celebration for every Cubs hit and cheered wildly for every Mets out. He happily celebrated along with the many Cubs fans around us and laughed off the verbal assaults from the Mets fans who weren't expecting his antics.
I used to be like that. I used to have so much joy and enthusiasm for being at a Mets game that I would be rooting along with every at-bat, standing and clapping for every two-strike pitch, screaming at umpires for every bad call. Now, I sit sullenly and complain about the noise betwen every pitch, the incompetence of the worst players on the field or the lack of vision the front office has for roster construction.
Somehow, Chicago has retained the simple joy of going to a game and rooting hard for your favorite team. Maybe that's what happens when you still actually like the team you root for, instead of following them out of force of habit.
I realized last night that I haven't really liked the Mets for years. I like individual players, of course, and I want the team to win every time they play, but there is an animosity toward the Mets always bubbling right beneath the surface. It probably started sometime around 2003, when the Wilpons decided Art Howe could light up a room with his winning personality. Things eventually got so bad that I actually began a personal boycott after the 2005 season, in response to how disgusted I was with The Former Manager's ineptitude. In that wonderful 2006 season I only went to three games, all because someone dropped free tickets on me.
Last year, of course, was a disaster that shook the foundation of any Met fan's faith. Watching them spit the bit in 2008 has brought all that animosity right back up again, as you have no doubt noticed in the last few days.
Anyway, Chicago's enthusiasm rubbed off on me a bit. I started chattering as well, exhorting Santana through the difficult early innings and rooting on the Met hitters to finally break through against Sean Marshall. The fifth and sixth innings finally brought some satisfaction, although it was disappointing that I didn't have a chance to give Chicago a taste of his own medicine at the end of a 6-2 victory.
As for the game itself, Santana was brilliant. He strugled through the early innings, no doubt, but acted like an ace by finding his rhythm, continuing to grind away and pitching a scoreless eighth inning to take some pressure off of The Arson Squad. The off-season trade for Santana has been an unqualified success, at least for 2008, and there's no reason to believe he won't be a top-of-the-rotation ace for years to come. If he's pitching in the last game of the season with a playoff berth on the line, the Mets will be in capable hands.
The seats were, as I mentioned before, amazing, and it was a terrific way to see my second-to-last game at Shea Stadium. I'll be there one last time on Friday night, in Row C of Section 24 in the Upper Deck (you can buy me a beer if you're there). Here's a picture of me and Mr. Met last night - don't bother using the tired old joke about who has the bigger head, it's played out!