We Can’t Have Nice Things, Can We?

I know Satchel Paige said don’t look back, but for days it was all I could do. I was obsessed with the signs of doom for the Mets that I chose to ignore. Not on the field. I wish I could have ignored those, but I would’ve needed to gouge out my eyes and get a lobotomy. I mean signs from my life.

Because going into the last game at Shea Stadium, I was sure that the Mets would pull out a win and at the very least force a one-game play-in game against the Brewers. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind this would happen after Johan Santana’s unbelievable performance against the Marlins on Saturday–a three-hit complete game shutout on three days’ rest after throwing more pitches than he’d ever thrown in his professional career while secretly suffering from a TORN FUCKING MENISCUS.

But now I look back and see the little signposts thrown my way, and I realize the Mets were doomed.

* * *

On Saturday, I stood on the 7 train platform, shuffling nervously, wondering how Santana would respond to the pressure and the fatigue. At least they’re playing the Marlins, I thought. Not because the Marlins were a cupcake team, but because the Marlins always ensured a more pleasant stadium-going experience.

See, I had a partial season ticket plan with seats in the mezzanine. The seats were in the last row of seats with a clear view of the field, so the rows behind me were among the last seats to sell for any game. That meant they tended to go to fans of The Other Team, whoever The Other Team might be.

If there’s anything worse for me than watching the Mets lose, it’s watching them lose while sitting in front of a whole row of Braves or Phillies or Dodgers fans. And if there’s anything worse than that, it’s watching them lose while sitting in front of fans of Some Random Team like the Astros or the Diamondbacks or the Rockies. It takes all of my strength to not stand up and scream HOW DARE YOU BE HAPPY?!

But one thing I could always count on: I would not see a Marlins fan at Shea Stadium. The simple reason for this is that Marlins fans don’t exist. I don’t blame Floridians for rejecting the team, considering how badly the franchise has been mismanaged. But the Mets would draw 50,000+ to Shea on this Saturday, while the Marlins would need two months to get that many paying customers.

And just as I’m thinking this, the 7 train pulls up, the doors open, and I see two Marlins fans inside the car. They were my height and my build, wearing glasses and Marlins Starter jacket. As if they were my twin doppelgangers from an alternate universe. (Based on the Starter jackets, time stopped in this alternate universe around 1993.)

When one small thing that you can count on is completely turned on its head, that’s a bad sign.

* * *

After the game–which would have been one of the greatest I’d ever been to, had subsequent events not conspired to make it a footnote–my brother and I hopped back on the 7 train. Everyone on the train was pumped up. Everyone felt hopeful. Everyone felt confident.

Everyone but one bitter passenger. He was a Yankees fan, which I know because he made a point of mentioning it in every other sentence that came out of his mouth. He spent the entire train ride spreading disinformation about the Brewers/Cubs game that had just started. He fake-checked his cell phone and tried to convince everyone that Prince Fielder had just hit a grand slam. “6-2 Brewers! It’s over!” he bleated, in a voice that sounded like the kid from The Wackness (with the annoying factor amped ten-fold).

I knew he was lying because I was obsessively monitoring the game via own cell phone. About three seconds before this “grand slam,” Prince Fielder had actually struck out.

Everyone else on the train seemed to know as much as I did, because they did their best to pay him no mind. That didn’t stop this douche from continuing his ruse that neither fooled nor amused anyone. He was a graduate of the Jimmy Fallon School of Laughing at Your Own Punchlines.

I don’t know if any other team have ever experienced this. But there are Yankees fans who went to Shea for no other purpose but to needle Mets fans. Who would spend tons of good money and have it all go to a team they ostensibly hate, just so they can mock strangers? You tell me, because I’ve never been able to figure it out. I suppose it’s some combination of Mommy-Never-Hugged-Me-Itis and Tiny Penis Syndrome.

The thing is, these kind of people usually lay low after Mets wins. But this douchetard kept his schtick up the entire train ride. Maybe he was trying to get someone to take a swing at him, a la Fight Club. I resisted the temptation, but I wondered to myself, I just watched one of the gutsiest pitching performances I’ve ever seen. My team is still alive going into the last day of the season. Can I ride on the god damn train and not have some asshole Yankee fan ruin my day?

But what I really should have considered is that my day was already ruined.

* * *

After we shook The Wanna-Be Bob Newhart, my brother and I met up with some friends at a bar in Woodside. (Need I mention that it was an Irish pub?) We drank Guinness and cheered on the Cubs as they cruised to a win over the Brewers, which temporarily dropped Milwaukee into a tie with the Mets for the wild card lead.

Milwaukee/Chicago was a Fox game, and the local affiliate flipped between that game and the Philly/Washington game. And also, for some retarded reason, gave constant updates from Fenway, where the Yankees/Red Sox tilt was in a rain delay. It was a game that  meant absolutely nothing to anybody, had no playoff implications whatsoever, and yet Fox was committed to airing extensive footage of the puddling tarp in Boston. It was like they
still couldn’t cope with a Yankee-free October, and they hung on to every last bit they could, hoping to wring blood out of a stone.

Within minutes, I forgot all about the asshole on the 7 train. I high fived strangers when the Cubs escaped a 7th inning threat, and when Kosuke Fukudome hit a decisive home run. It was the kind of sudden but virulent camaraderie that only sports can inspire (beer helps, of course).

And then, all of a sudden, things got weird.

The bar’s jukebox wasn’t exactly cutting edge. It played music you’d expect to hear in an Irish pub in Queens: AC-DC, U2, Johnny Cash, a few Irish folk tunes. Then, out of nowhere, a creepy baritone: Love…love will tear us apart…again… Someone had requested Joy Division.

If the jukebox had only played that relatively well-known song, I would’ve thought little of it. Except that two more Joy Division songs immediately followed it (“Transmission” and “She’s Lost Control,” in case you’re interested).

On the day the Mets had notched their biggest win of the year, someone paid money to hear a triple shot of the most depressing band ever.

I scanned the room. None of the patrons looked the least bit out of place. They were exactly the kind of folks you’d expect to see in a bar in Woodside after a Mets game. Cops. Firemen. Sanitation workers. Businessmen and steakheads waiting for the next train back to the Island. No sign of goths whatsoever.

I tried to shrug it off. But then, right after the Cubs beat the Brewers, the same three Joy Division songs played again. And I scanned the room for a second time, and I still couldn’t spot anyone who looked like they’d drop some dough to hear DANCE DANCE DANCE DANCE DANCE TO THE RADIO!

I realize it now. I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The Mets were about to hang themselves, Ian Curtis-style. On Sunday, the Jumbotron might as well have played Stroszek.

* * *

There was a lot of talk this year about Negative Mets Fans. About booing. About how they didn’t show up and support their team. This was the media narrative that emerged early on in the season and hung around for most of the year. Like most media narratives, there was some truth to it. But also like most media narratives, it also became a crutch for
lazy beat reporters to fall back on when they got writer’s block at the ol’ ThinkPad.

Or lazy radio hosts like Mike Francesa. Deprived of his mascot, Francesa spent most of the
season giving unrequested etiquette lessons to Mets fans and obsessing over attendance figure fudging by the Wilpons–when he wasn’t busy being horribly wrong or just plain making shit up. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Francesa isn’t qualified to
lecture anyone on any topic, unless that topic is How To Inhale 7 Liters of Diet Coke Daily.

But I wish all of these critics could have been at Shea at that last game. Because Mets fans were given every reason in the world to boo. To go nuts. To burn Shea to the ground if they were so inclined. Let’s list the litany of crimes committed against them, shall we?

The Mets assed away a playoff spot for the second straight year. And though their 2008 collapse was nowhere near as epic as the 2007 version, it was actually worse. They played two-thirds of the season with a fire completely missing from the previous season. In 2007, you pretty much knew they were gonna blow it. For a good chunk of 2008, it looked like they’d learned their lesson and were determined to prove everyone wrong. But that determination evaporated in the last two weeks of the season, gone the way of the dodo and any capable arms in the bullpen.

Fans were asked to celebrate a stadium that had never appreciated them. Shea’s disrepair went well beyond its structural/aesthetic shortcomings, which are well documented. Maybe things were different when the place first opened in 1964. All I can say from my 20+ years of going there is this: Think of what any sane service industry businessperson would do to please their customers. Then, think of the exact opposite of that, add a sprinkling of unfocused Kafka-esque bureaucratic rage, and you will have an idea of how Shea Stadium treated its patrons.

Every aspect of the Shea Stadium Experience was either an enormous inconvenience or a baffling ordeal. Everyone who worked there–from the ancient toupeed ushers to the foam-happy beer vendors to the angrily apathetic food handlers–acted as if you’d showed up unannounced on their doorstep demanding to be entertained. Only at Shea could you go to the snack counter during the 7th inning on Opening Day and be told that the hot dogs were still frozen, and have the girl behind the counter seem both drained and demeaned from the mere act of deflecting your request.

The Mets held their Shea Stadium Celebration after the game. So after watching the Mets fall to the Marlins, seeing their playoff hopes dashed yet again on the rocks of those undeservedly cocky assholes for second year in a row, fans had to stick around if they wanted to bid farewell to the dump they called home. Why was the celebration scheduled for after the game? Ask the Wilpons. Better yet, don’t ask them. I don’t want to know want to hear their burnt synapses misfiring. This is the family that expends zero energy honoring the heritage and history of the team they own, but is prepared to spend close to a billion dollars building a monument to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Add all these things up, and I’m sure you wouldn’t blame Mets fans if they stormed
the field with pitchforks and torches. For a few moments, I thought it might get to that point, when the start time of the celebration kept being put off, and workers spent an inordinate amount of time setting up cardboard monuments on the outfield grass. There was a palpable feeling among the crowd, and that feeling was essentially fuck this, let’s go.

But as more and more time passed, I could also sense another collective sentiment. It was a curious defiance. It was everyone in the crowd independently arriving at the same conclusion: Fuck you, I’m staying.

Fuck you, you fucking chokers, laying down and dying for the second year in a row. Fuck you, dumbass ownership, for getting everything ass backwards. Fuck you, beer guy, for two decades of nothing but overpriced foam.

Fuck all of you. I love this team, and I saw some amazing games here. So despite everything you did to piss me off, I am going to sit here and watch some of my
favorite players come back to this dump and pay tribute to those wonderful moments. You can’t do any more to me than you’ve already done. So fuck off, I’m going to enjoy this.

I won’t attempt to recount the whole affair, because you really had to be there (plus, Faith and Fear in Flushing did a great recount already). But by my unofficial eye-scan, 85-to-90% of the crowd stuck around. By all rights, it should have been 0.

The crowd cheered everyone who dared show up, except for Al Leiter for some reason (was it the YES Network connection or the Scott Kazmir trade?). My favorite moment was seeing Edgardo Alfonzo back in a Mets uniform, something he should never have shed in the first place (another black mark on Steve Phillips’ cosmic ledger). And the enormous reception that Doc Gooden received was truly moving.

As usual, it was impossible to get out of Shea quickly, but not because of leaky pipes or bags of garbage left on the exit ramps. It was because nobody really wanted to leave. We all shuffled slowly out, taking pictures of everything, smiles on their faces. Smiles on their faces!

People were actually chanting LET’S GO METS! Even though there was nothing left to go. Sometimes lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for. And friends, it don’t get more loster than the New York Mets.