A few weeks ago, I took what was likely my last trip to Citi Field, at least for the foreseeable future. The good guys won, a 2-1 nailbiter against their World Series nemesis, the Royals.
I took a few good looks around, soaked up the sights and the smells (mostly the sights), and the first real wave of New York nostalgia began to set in. This is real, folks. I’m moving to Austin in less than a week.
So it seems like as good a time as any to pay tribute to the city’s best ballpark, and maybe the most underrated park in the majors. Here’s what I’ll miss most about the place the Mets call home:
1. The food
Everyone talks about Shake Shack. Well, screw Shake Shack*. The two places to hit are:
-Catch of the Day
-El Verano Cantina
The first one is where you can get a way-better-than-it-has-to-be fish sandwich, or lobster nachos if that’s your thing. (The chef is the guy from Esca, which is Mario Batali’s excellent seafood spot in the Theater District.) Also: Blue Point on draft, always a winner.
The second is where I go for my nachos. Go to the Cantina (not the Taqueria) line, which usually has approximately three people in it. Order the chips and salsa, and ask them to give you cheese, too. (Sometimes they upcharge you two bucks, sometimes they don’t.) The quality is way better than what you’ll get at the actual nacho stand, and for some reason it’s like five dollars cheaper.
2. The beer
It’s not exactly Good Beer, but they have a crazy selection of local brews, and they always seem to have something new.
Now if only they’d bring back Schaefer...
3. The fans
I was there a few years ago during an 11-0 laugher when Anthony Recker—a backup catcher—made his pitching debut in the 9th. It was June 30, and the Mets were already 13 games out of first. A lost game in a lost season.
And yet there were fans, loud fans, fans that buzzed with excitement over seeing that rare thing, a position player pitching. Fans who went wild when Recker induced a pop-up with his first pitch. Fans who loved (and still love) the game, even when it’s bringing them nothing but blowout losses and last place finishes.
Recker ultimately gave up two runs, on a homer to Ian Desmond of all people, but came off the mound to well earned applause.
4. The fans’ style
During the NLDS last year, I went to a game and saw a guy wearing a patchwork Mets sweater that looked like something my (old) boss would make if he’d grown up in Queens instead of the Bronx. Two guys who worked at the stadium were walking near me, and saw the sweater, too. We all busted out laughing at the same time, and started talking about how cool it was. Eventually, the dudes gave me one of the high sartorial compliments of my lifetime, telling me “You could pull that off.”
5. The vibe
A stadium is like a cast-iron skillet or a new pair of jeans: it needs some wear and tear to establish its character. Now, a few years in, Citi Field has a patina. The Shea Bridge isn’t so fresh and shiny; the seats have had god-knows-what spilled on them. It’s not Wrigley or Fenway—and never will be—but that new stadium smell is gone, and something better has taken its place. Which sounds disgusting, now that I re-read it, but I mean it as a compliment.
When Citi Field opened, I looked around and thought “This place is built for playoff games.” It’s intimate—even the cheap(ish) seats are right on top of the action. Well, it took six years, but the Mets finally got to the postseason, and I was lucky enough to attend Citi Field’s very first playoff game. The opponent? The Dodgers, whose Chase Utley had broken Wilmer Flores’s leg with a hard slide earlier in the series. Matt Harvey was on the mound, a welcome sight after he had hinted that he might need to skip the postseason for health reasons. The air was electric.
Our seats were … not bad, exactly, but we weren’t especially close. Binoculars wouldn’t have been out of place in our section. And yet, it felt like everyone was hanging on every pitch (because they were), and our sightlines weren’t bad at all. The best of five series was tied 1-1; a win would put the Mets a game away from advancing, and a loss would put them on the brink of elimination.
Yasmani Grandal hit a bases-loaded double in the top of the second, putting the Dodgers three runs up (and giving them, per Baseball-Reference, an 84% chance of winning the game). It was spooky quiet.
After one amazing David Wright catch, and a bit of solid hitting, the Mets were down 3-1, with bases loaded, two outs, in the bottom of the second. Cue my favorite player, Curtis Granderson, who is exactly one day older than I am, slugging the ball off the Geico sign in center-right, putting the Mets ahead for good. The place exploded. At long last, Citi Field had fulfilled its destiny.
6. Mr. Met’s Kids Club
Unfortunately, we’re moving to Texas before Rose is old enough to really go to a Mets game.
Fortunately, the Round Rock Express have a pretty great deal, too.
7. My friends
Who else will tell me that, now that the former Pepsi Porch bears a Coca-Cola logo, it’s known as the Coke Den? Or remind me that I attended an Aaron Heilman one-hitter, even though I have literally no memory of it**? Or indulge me as I go nuts trying to catch a shirt from the t-shirt cannons? Or when I belt out the “One! Two! Threeeeee!” in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”?
For whatever reason, Citi Field is just conducive to sitting back with your buds, cracking open a tallboy of Brooklyn Summer, and shooting the shit for three hours or more. That monstrosity in the Bronx just doesn’t compare.
I saw recently that Roger Ailes’ standard for hiring men was whether he could imagine going to a ballgame with that guy and not getting bored. Now, Roger Ailes is a sexist asshole. But there’s some truth to the idea that, more than anything, a ballpark is a temple of bonding, of friendship, of sitting in silence next to a person and being completely cool with it. I’m happy to say that, during the nearly 13 years I’ve lived in New York, I’ve been able to worship at that temple (Citi and Shea) with my friends (male and female), my wife, and my daughter. More than anything, I feel pretty lucky that they let me tag along.
And now, a brief list of what I won’t miss: taking the 7 to the G; the irregularity of express 7 trains; fans in Phillies hats; noisy plane traffic from LGA; the lack of Shea-level ticket prices; Matt Harvey’s obnoxious walk-up music remixes.
*-Not really. But there are many, many fine Shake Shack locations across this city, and country (including Austin!), so no need to wait in line for it at a ballgame.
**-Almost certainly because I was too distracted by talking to said friends.