Monday, March 27, 2017

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Tampa Bay -- 2017 Edition

Next Sunday, April 2, is Opening Day! That's the good news. The bad news is, the Yankees will open the season in Florida, to play a 3-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last year, I saw a blog post (don't know who wrote it) by someone who called San Diego "the Tampa of California." I think he owes San Diego an apology.

Before You Go. While the games will be indoors, you'll still have to get around, so you should know about the weather.

For the 4 days over which this series will be played - Sunday, then Monday off, then Tuesday and Wednesday - the Tampa Bay Times
(formerly the St. Petersburg Times) and the Tampa Tribune are both predicting high 80s for daytime and high 60s for night. Tuesday is the only day for which they're predicting rain, which won't be a problem during the game, but you won't be indoors the entire day.

Florida must be where the cliche, "It's not the heat that's so bad, it's the humidity" began. So even if you manage to avoid the rain, be prepared to sweat when you're outside the dome, especially if your visit is later in the season.

The Tampa Bay region is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to change your watch, or the clock on your smartphone. And while Florida was a Confederate State, you won't need to bring your passport or change your money.

Tickets. The Rays averaged just 15,879 fans per home game last season -- dead last in the major leagues, 30th out of 30. It was an improvement of about 600 per game over the year before, also last.

Aside from their 1st season, 1998, when they could count on the novelty of even having Major league Baseball, and drew an average of 30,942, their peak attendance is 23,147 in 2009, the year after they won their Pennant.

This was disgraceful support of a winning team, and if they can't draw fans to a lousy ballpark with a winning team, it begs the question, "Can they draw fans to a good ballpark with a winning team?"

Considering the trouble they've had getting a location, let alone a deal, we may never find out. Along with the Oakland Athletics, the Rays are the current MLB team most likely to move in the next few years. The factor that may keep them in the Tampa Bay area is that nobody else seems to have a suitable ballpark ready for them, unless MLB wants to go back to Montreal and its Olympic Stadium.

So, even with all the ex-New Yorkers and ex-New Jerseyans in the Tampa Bay area, you can probably show up at the Trop on the day of the game and get a decent ticket.

The Rays classify a game against the Yanks as a "Diamond Game," meaning they will charge their highest prices: Lower Boxes (infield) are $75, Baseline Boxes (corners) are $60, Outfield seats are $30, Press Level are $55, Upper Boxes are $30, and Upper Reserved, including the left field Party Deck (a.k.a. The Beach) are $26.

Getting There. It is 1,136 road miles from Times Square in Manhattan to downtown Tampa, and 1,167 miles from Yankee Stadium II in The Bronx to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Sounds like you're gonna be flying.

If you play your cards right, you can get a round-trip, albeit not a nonstop, flight for only $367 - diet cheap, especially considering the distance. (Tampa International Airport was originally named Drew Field, after John H. Drew, a land developer who gave it to the Army.)

If you want to take a side-trip to Disney World, you could fly to Orlando (it's 92 miles between the downtowns of Orlando and Tampa) and rent a car, but I suspect that hotels will be cheaper in the Tampa Bay area, and get more expensive the closer you get to Disney.

Amtrak is longer, and, this time, not much cheaper: $332 round-trip. Tampa's Amtrak station is at 601 N. Nebraska Avenue, and you'll need a bus to get across the bay to St. Petersburg. Amtrak's Silver Star train leaves Penn Station at 11:02 every morning, and arrives in Tampa at 12:23 the following afternoon. That's right, 25½ hours.

You can get a Greyhound bus out of Port Authority at 11:00 Saturday morning and be in St. Pete by 4:45 Sunday afternoon. That's 29 1/2 hours, but it gives you time to get to the game (and maybe even a hotel in-between).

Round-trip, $231. The catch is that you'd have to change buses 3 times: In Richmond, Orlando and Tampa. Unless you get a hotel in Tampa, in which case you'd only have to change buses twice. And the layover in Richmond is 3 hours and 15 minutes. And I don't like the Richmond Greyhound station, and I doubt that you will, either. There's also hourlong layovers in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Jacksonville.

Greyhound's St. Petersburg station at 180 9th Street North, a 5-block walk from Tropicana Field. The Tampa Greyhound station is at 610 E. Polk Street, 4 blocks from the Amtrak station. To get from either to the Trop without a car, you'll have to take the 100X bus to Gateway Mall, then transfer to the 74 bus. It will take an hour and a half.

If you do prefer to drive, see if you can get someone to split the duties with you. Essentially, you'll be taking Interstate 95 almost all the way down, turning onto Interstate 10 West at Jacksonville and then, after a few minutes, onto Interstate 75 South.

Taking that into Tampa, you'll soon go onto Interstate 275, and cross the Howard Frankland Bridge – a bridge so traffic-ridden it's known locally as "Frankenstein" and "the Car-Strangled Spanner" – over Tampa Bay and into St. Pete. Take Exit 23B onto 20th Street North, and it's just a matter of blocks until reaching The Trop at 16th Street South and 1st Avenue South.

It should take about 2 hours to get through New Jersey, 20 minutes in Delaware, an hour and a half in Maryland, 3 hours in Virginia, 3 hours in North Carolina, 3 hours in South Carolina, 2 hours in Georgia, and a little over 5 hours between crossing into Florida and reaching downtown Tampa.

Given proper 45-minute rest stops – I recommend doing one in Delaware, and then, once you're through the Washington, D.C. area, doing one when you enter each new State, and then another around Orlando, for a total of 7 – and taking into account city traffic at each end, your entire trip should take about 26 hours. Maybe you can do it in 24 if you speed and you limit your rest stops to half an hour each, especially if one of you drives while the other sleeps, but I wouldn't recommend this.

Once In the City. "Tampa" is believed to be a Native American name meaning "sticks of fire," while St. Petersburg, like the city of the same name in Russia that was known as Leningrad in the Soviet era, is named after the first Pope, the Apostle Peter. Tampa, founded in 1849, is home to 350,000 people; St. Petersburg, founded in 1888, is home to 250,000; and the metro area as a whole 2.8 million, so while neither city is big, it's a decent-sized market (and thus should be drawing a lot more people for baseball games).

In Tampa, Whiting Street divides the city's streets into North and South, and the Hillsborough River into East and West.  In St. Petersburg, as I said, Central Avenue divides the city into North and South, and while there appears to be no East-West divider, 1st Street seems to set off a section with Northeast addresses.

Although the locals -- the ones who are not transplanted New Yorkers or New Jerseyans, anyway -- really, really hate the Yankees and Yankee Fans for repeatedly "taking over their ballpark" (as if it were much of a task, or much of a prize), they will not fight you. Aside from the occasional brawl between football players in the "hate triangle" between the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Miami, there is rarely violence at sporting events in Florida.

HART, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, runs buses, $2.00 Local and $3.00 Express. PSTA runs $2.00 buses around St. Petersburg. So taking the 100X bus from downtown Tampa to St. Pete ($3.00) and transferring to the 59 to the stadium ($2.00) will be $5.00 each way.

The sales tax in Florida is 6 percent. ZIP Codes in Tampa begin with the digits 335, 336 and 346; in St. Petersburg, 337; in nearby Lakeland, 338. The Area Code for Tampa is 813, 727 for the St. Petersburg side of the Bay, and 941 south of Tampa Bay.

Going In. Tropicana Field has an official address of 1 Tropicana Drive, 2 miles northwest of downtown St. Petersburg and 22 miles southwest of downtown Tampa. It is bounded by 1st Avenue South on the north (Central Avenue, St. Pete's north-south divider, is 1 block north), 16th Street South on the west, Stadium Drive on the south, and a service road and a creek to the east.

Opened in 1990 as the Florida Suncoast Dome, and nicknamed the White Elephant because of its exterior color and lack of a tenant for the sport for which it was intended, the name was changed in 1993 when the NHL's Lightning came in, making the stadium the ThunderDome. But they were only there for 3 seasons, until the building now known as the Amalie Arena opened.
In their home opener, October 10, 1993, the Bolts set what was then an NHL record of 27,227 fans in the quirky seating configuration the place had at the time. So an expansion hockey team -- in Florida, mind you -- in the era before you could buy game tickets online, managed to outdraw a winning, Internet-era baseball team.

Anyway, when the Devil Rays (as they were known from 1998 to 2007) arrived, the stadium's name was changed to Tropicana Field -- but, make no mistake, this blasted thing (or, more accurately, this thing that should be blasted) is a dome. In 1999, it became the only building in Florida (so far) to host an NCAA Final Four, in which Connecticut beat Duke in the Final.

According to the team website, the Rays provide carpoolers access to free parking in team-controlled lots, Lots 2, 6, 7, 8 & 9. Vehicles with 4 or more passengers may park free for all Sunday games. For all other games, the first 100 cars with 4 or more people park for free up to an hour before game time, with other main lot Tropicana Field parking rates ranging from $15 to $30 per vehicle. Fans attending games at Tropicana Field are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy tailgating and baseball activities.
Gate 1, the Rotunda, is at the northeast corner of the stadium, dead center field. Gate 2 is at 1st base, Gates 3, 4 & 5 behind home plate, and Gate 6 at 3rd base. Gates 1 & 4 are Will Call pickup areas. However, unless you're a season ticket holder (and, being a Yankee Fan, you're not), the only gate by which you can enter is Gate 4.

The official current seating capacity is 31,042, but that's with several sections of seats tarped over. The actual number of seats is 42,735, but even the reduced capacity doesn't give the Trop an "intimate setting." Like the hardly-mourned Kingdome in Seattle, the high, gray roof gives the stadium the look of a bad shopping mall.
Those "catwalks" around the rim don't help. And that awful field -- one of the few ever to have a dirt infield with the rest of the field being artificial turf, instead of just dirt cutouts around the bases -- may make you nostalgic for Giants Stadium's awful experiments with real grass. But the seating design itself may look familiar to you, in shape if not in color: It was copied from Kauffman Stadium (formerly Royals Stadium) in Kansas City. Don't look for fountains in the outfield, though: That would be too classy for this joint.
The Trop may turn out to be the last MLB stadium built with the bullpens in foul territory, which was always a bad idea. It is also, with the Minnesota Twins having gotten out of the damn Metrodome, currently the only non-retractable domed stadium in Major League Baseball, with Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Seattle and Toronto having retractable roofs. And, with Toronto planning to put real grass down at the Rogers Centre in time for the 2018 season, a year from now, The Trop will turn out to be the last MLB stadium with artificial turf. Good riddance.

Yes, that is a pool in center field, which is reminiscent of the one in right field in Phoenix. No, it is not for people. They have a live cownose ray in there. No, I'm not kidding. It's called the Rays Touch Tank, and while they do let people touch the ray (very carefully), it is not the kind that killed "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, so you can relax. If you're into that sort of thing. I am not.
The roof slopes downward toward center field. The field is not symmetrical. The left field pole is just 315 feet from home plate, the right field pole only 322. In spite of this, it's generally a pitcher's park, which goes against the trend of the domes built in the 1970s and '80s. The power alleys are 370, and center is 404. In 2001, Vinny Castilla hit what remains the dome's longest home run, going 478 feet.

Food. Whatever I say about this ballpark being bad, I cannot fault it for its food, which reflects the Tampa Bay region's Spanish and Hispanic heritage. Cuban sandwiches, featuring freshly sliced ham, pork, and Genoa salami on toasted Cuban bread with Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, are sold throughout the stadium. According to a recent Thrillist article detailing the best food at each MLB stadium, that's it at Tropicana Field.

Stands for Everglades BBQ serve barbecue-themed items. The right field concession area has a Checkers burger stand. Both the First Base and Third Base Food Courts have stands for Papa John's Pizza, if you don't mind giving money to a billionaire who raised his prices to offset the cost of Obamacare, because he was too cheap to provide his employees with health insurance.

The First Base Food Court has the Del Ray Cantina, a full-service bar specializing in tropical drinks, and the Third Base Food Court has the similar Oasis Bar and the Outback Steakhouse Food Court -- in recognition of Outback's Tampa headquarters and the NFL Buccaneers' hosting of the Outback Bowl, which was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl when it was held at the Bucs' old stadium.

The thought of having an Outback Steak appeals to me -- especially since I watched the 1st 5 innings of the 2009 World Series clincher at the now-closed Outback at 56th & 3rd on the East Side -- and the idea of having a Bloomin' Onion at a ballgame, while hardly healthy, also has, pardon the pun, appeal.

Oddly, considering the stadium's name, there is no juice bar. I'm reminded of the time the Yankees played the Houston Astros, and Charlie Steiner said to his radio broadcast partner John Sterling, "You know, John, I understand that, at Minute Maid Park, the balls are juiced." Sterling didn't miss a beat: "Ah, that's just pulp fiction."

Team History Displays. Stop laughing. The Rays do now have some history. The area could have had more, but near-miss moves by the Chicago White Sox for the 1989 season, the San Francisco Giants for the 1993 season, and seriously considered moves by the Minnesota Twins in the 1980s and the Seattle Mariners in the 1990s, all fell through.

(Can you imagine the Yanks and the Tampa Bay Mariners -- the region's nautical heritage means they wouldn't have had to change the name of the team -- being AL East opponents? All the Jeter and A-Rod comparisons? Plus all those times having to face Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki?)
The Rays' 2008 and 2010 AL Eastern Division Title banners are to the left of the center field scoreboard and the "K Counter" on a small wall.

Over the Captain Morgan Deck, the Rays post their 2 retired numbers, plus the universally-retired Number 42 of Jackie Robinson. The 1st was the Number 12 they retired for Tampa native Wade Boggs, who played the last 2 years of his career (1998-99) with the Devil Rays and got his 3,000th career hit at the Trop. (Boggs was also named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players in 1999, and named the Rays' fans choice for the DHL Hometown Heroes poll in 2006.)

They've also retired a number for Don Zimmer. A native of Cincinnati, Zim and his wife Soot had long lived in Tampa, where the Cincinnati Reds used to have their spring training camp. When Zim finally had enough of George Steinbrenner after the 2003 season, he decided enough was enough, but the Rays offered to let him coach in uniform, and he wouldn't have to take roadtrips. He accepted, and continued the shtick he'd been doing since becoming part of the inaugural coaching staff of the Colorado Rockies in 1993: Making his uniform number the number of seasons he'd spent in professional baseball. He died after his 66th season, and so 66 was the last number he wore, and the Rays retired it.
But the stadium's big feature, history-wise, is the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. It was moved to the Trop after its original facility in Hernando, Florida (the town where Ted lived the last few years of his life), went bankrupt. It houses exhibits on Ted's careers both with the Boston Red Sox and the United States Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War, and the monuments to the members of the Hitters Hall of Fame, complete with memorabilia. Ted did not induct himself into his own Hitters Hall of Fame, and was inducted in 2003 only after he died.
The museum is only open on game days, opening at the same time as the park and closing after the 7th inning with the concession stands. Admission is free, and the museum is open to all ticketholders.

The Florida Sports Hall of Fame is located at Lake Myrtle Sports Park in Auburndale, 48 miles northeast of downtown Tampa and 70 miles northeast of Tropicana Field. There are 4 figures connected with the Rays who are members, all Tampa natives: Boggs, Lou Piniella (the former Yankee outfielder and manager managed the Rays from 2003 to 2005), Tino Martinez (played for the Rays in 2004) and Fred McGriff (played for the Rays 1998 to 2001 and again in 2004). It also includes a pair of Als: Al Lang, the businessman who brought spring training to Tampa Bay, and Al Lopez, Hall of Fame catcher and manager.

Stuff. The main Team Store is located in Center Field Street near Gate 1, and is open during Rays home games and special public events. Additional merchandise locations and novelty kiosks are open throughout the stadium during all home games.

As you might guess, having been to one World Series (and lost it) thus far, the Rays don't have team history videos on sale. But there have been a few books written about the Rays, and they may be available at the Trop. Most notable, probably, is The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, by Jonah Keri.

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article listed the Rays 21st on a list of "Baseball's Most Intolerable Fans": "After all these years and some pretty good teams, the few real Rays fans that exist have come to terms with the fact that they're still the best place to see your real favorite team after you retire, thanks to the lowest attendance in all of MLB."

The few real Rays fans don't like it when Yankees, Red Sox, whoever else fans "take over the ballpark." Well, there's a simple remedy for that: Buy tickets, show up, and sit in the seats before opposing fans can do those things. 

Nevertheless, these people are more laid-back Floridian than chip-on-their-shoulder Southern: They won't try to stop you from cheering on your team. After all, you probably outnumber them.

"The Happy Heckler" is a fan by the name of Robert Szasz, a Clearwater real estate developer. He has season tickets near home plate, and is known for his rather boisterous heckling. He is so loud that he is clearly audible on both TV and radio broadcasts. Of course, that's possible because the Rays get small crowds, so individual fans can be heard, much as Cleveland phone-company worker John Adams could be heard on his drum all the way out in the bleacher of Cleveland Municipal Stadium when he was surrounded by 65,000 empty seats, less so now that the Indians are in Jacobs Field and drawing much better. Szasz is considered an "ethical" heckler, heckling opposing players only based on their play, and never throwing personal insults. Despite this, he has drawn the ire of some opposing players.

Just as the Yankees have Bleacher Creature Milton Ousland and his cowbell, and the Mets have Eddie Boison, with "COW-BELL MAN" and the Number 15 on his Met jersey, the Rays have cowbells as well. It was originally a promotional idea thought up by principal owner Stuart Sternberg, who got the idea from the Saturday Night Live "More Cowbell" sketch. Since then, it has become a standard feature of home games. Like the Happy Heckler, this is an annoyance.

The most famous proponent of the cowbell is Cary Strukel, who is known as "The Cowbell Kid." Strukel can be seen at most home games sitting in right field and wearing some kind of costume, typically topped with a neon colored wig (like former JOHN 3:16 banner guy Rollen Stewart) or Viking horns. The cowbells are rung most prominently when the opposing batter has two strikes, when the opposing fans try to chant, and when the Rays make a good play.

The Rays will be giving away Magnetic Schedules on Opening Night, Sunday. On May 20, also against the Yankees, it's Hawaiian Shirt Night. I guess no one told them that neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg is in Hawaii. On May 21, they will be giving away a "Super Rays Comic Book," though it now appears the only superhero they had was Chicken Man (Boggs). Joe Maddon, Jose Canseco? Both of them are super-villains. And, as the Yankees will be playing away to the Rays on September 11, the Rays will hold Salute to Service Monday that day.

The Rays hold auditions for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular. Their mascot is Raymond -- at least the name makes sense. He's not a ray -- manta, sting- or otherwise -- he is a furry blue creature wearing a large pair of sneakers and a backwards baseball cap, completed with a Rays jersey. He is described officially as a "seadog," and bears a physical, though not in color, resemblance to Slider, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.

They also have a secondary mascot, a disc jockey in a cat suit. No, not a nice-looking woman playing records while wearing a catsuit. I mean a man in a cat costume, D.J. Kitty, based on a video showing a real cat, with help from special effects, spinning records while wearing a tiny Rays jersey.
Raymond and D.J. Kitty. This, among many other reasons,
is why Rays fans can't have nice things.

The Rays have a "mascot race" between people dressed as Pepsi products: Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Aquafina and Sierra Mist. I guess they didn't want Diet Pepsi in the race, figuring, being on a diet, he'd be in better shape, and thus have an unfair advantage.

The Rays do not have a regular song to sing after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch. Their postgame victory song is "Feel the Heat," by Derren Moore.

On occasion, the Rays will wear "throwback uniforms," even though they've only been in the majors since 1998. In 2000, when the Mets came in for an Interleague series, to promote the film Frequency, which uses the 1969 Mets as a plot device, they had the Mets wear copies of their 1969 uniforms, while the Rays wore copies of the uniforms of a team the Mets never played, the 1969 Tampa Tarpons, who, as a Cincinnati Reds farm team, wore uniforms that looked like those of the Reds. Sometimes, it will be the Tampa Smokers. Sometimes, it will be the St. Petersburg Pelicans.

But their usual "throwback," or, as some would say, "fauxback," is a variation on the uniform of the 1978 San Diego Padres. Only, if you can believe this, even more ridiculous, due to the color combination.
Don't say I didn't warn you.

After the Game. Downtown St. Petersburg is not an especially high-crime area, and, as I said, Rays fans do not get violent. You might get a little bit of verbal if you're wearing Yankee gear, but it won't get any worse than that.

There aren't a lot of interesting places to relax with a postgame snack and drinks near the Trop, although Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill, at Central Avenue and 13th Street, a 10-minute walk from the dome, is described by one source as "a popular haunt right after a game, for the Rays fans and Rival fans alike."

The Birchwood Hotel, at 340 Beach Drive NE at 4th Avenue, caters to New Yorkers, including at its rooftop bar, The Canopy. It's a mile and a half from the ballpark, though -- but that still makes it a lot closer than Legends Sports Bar, Billiard, Hookah and Grill, the home of the New York Giants Fan Club of Tampa Bay. But it's at 1339 E. Fletcher Avenue, on the north side of Tampa, 31 miles from the Trop. The home of the New York Jets Fan Club of Tampa Bay, Peabody's Bar & Grill, is similarly far away, at 15333 Amberly Drive on the north side of Tampa, 35 miles.

If  you visit during the European soccer season (which is now drawing to a close, but will start up again in mid-August), and want to see your favorite club play on TV, the best soccer bar in the Tampa Bay area is MacDinton's, in Hyde Park, about 2 miles over the Hillsborough River and west of downtown. 405 S. Howard Avenue at Azeele St. Bus 30 to Kennedy Blvd. & Howard Avenue, then 3 blocks south on Howard.

Sidelights. The Yankees' spring training home, George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field), is at Dale Mabry Highway and Tampa Bay Blvd., across from the home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium. (Raymond James is a financial holding company, not a person native to Tampa who deserved the naming rights.) The University of South Florida (USF) also plays football at Raymond James, and the U.S. national soccer team has played 4 games there, and has never lost, winning 3 and drawing 1. It is 1 of 4 stadiums currently being considered to host Super Bowl LIII, in February 2019, or Super Bowl LIV, in 2020. So it has a 50-50 chance of hosting one of them.

North of Raymond James was Al Lopez Field. North of that was the Buccaneers' first home, Tampa Stadium, known as The Big Sombrero because of its weird shape. It was built in 1967 with 46,000 seats, and expanded to 74,000 when the Bucs were expanded into existence in 1976. The Giants won Super Bowl XXV there. It also hosted Super Bowl XVIII, in which the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins, and 3 games of the U.S. soccer team. It was demolished in 1999.

The entire group of current and former stadium sites is north of downtown Tampa, near the airport. Take the Number 30 bus from downtown to the Number 36 bus to the complex.

One of the legendary homes of spring training baseball, Al Lang Field (now Progress Energy Park), named for the Mayor who promoted St. Pete as a spring training site, is at 1st Street SE & 2nd Avenue S., 2 miles east of the Trop, in downtown St. Pete on the shore of Tampa Bay.
The spring home of the Yankees from 1947 to 1961, the Mets from 1962 to 1987, and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1947 to 1997, it is no longer used as a major league spring training or Florida State League regular season facility. In fact, the new Rays ballpark was supposed to be built on the site, but they haven't been able to get the funding, so Al Lang Field remains standing. It is the home of the new version the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in the new version of the North American Soccer League, the second division of North American soccer. Bus 100X to Bus 4.
Tampa-based teams have won Florida State League Pennants in 1920, '25 (Tampa Smokers), '57, '61 (Tampa Tarpons), '94, 2001, '04, '09 and '10 (Tampa Yankees). St. Petersburg teams have done it in 1975, '86 (St. Petersburg Cardinals) and '97 (St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who won a Pennant before their parent club had even played a game). The Clearwater Phillies won a Pennant in the same year as their parent club in Philadelphia, 1993, and won another under their current name, the Clearwater Threshers, in 2007, presaging their parent club's success.

The Amalie Arena, formerly the Tampa Bay Times Forum, formerly the St. Pete Times Forum, formerly the Ice Palace, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, is at 401 Channelside Drive in downtown Tampa, near the Convention Center, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Tampa Bay History Center, and a mall called Channelside Bay Plaza. They're a 15-minute walk from the Greyhound station, or 5 minutes on the Number 8 bus. The Forum hosted the 2012 and 2016 NCAA Frozen Four, and the 2012 Republican Convention, at which Mitt Romney was nominated for President.

Tampa Bay does not have an NBA team, nor is it likely to try for one in the near future. The Orlando Magic play 93 miles from downtown Tampa, while the Miami Heat are 279 miles away. Yet, mainly due to LeBron James (but also due to Shaquille O'Neal being much more recently in Miami than in Orlando), the Heat are more popular in the Tampa Bay region than the Magic are -- and the Los Angeles Lakers are nearly as popular as the Magic, probably because of Shaq and Kobe. If Tampa Bay was an NBA market, it would rank 20th in population.

The Beatles never played a concert in the Tampa Bay region. Elvis Presley played many: In Tampa, at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on May 8 and July 31, 1955, and on February 19 and August 5, 1956; and at Curtis Hixon Hall on September 13, 1970, April 26, 1975 and September 2, 1976; in St. Petersburg, at the Floridian Theater on August 7, 1956, and the Bay Front Center on September 3, 1976 and February 14, 1977; in Sarasota at the Florida Theater on February 21, 1956; and in Lakeland, at the Polk Theater on August 6, 1956, and at the Lakeland Civic Center on April 27 and 28, 1975 and September 4, 1976.

This should provide you with a couple of non-sports things to do in the Tampa Bay region. And, if you want to go there, Walt Disney World is 70 miles up Interstate 4, an hour and 15 minutes by car from downtown Tampa.

No President has ever come from Florida. Two men who served as Governor ran for the Democratic Party's nomination for the office, but neither came particularly close to the nomination: Reubin Askew dropped out after the 1984 New Hampshire Primary, and Bob Graham didn't even make it to calendar year 2004, much less the Iowa Caucuses.

Malio's, in downtown Tampa at 400 N. Ashley Drive at Kennedy Blvd., is a locally famous restaurant, known around there as George Steinbrenner's favorite. He had a private room there, as does the still-living Tampa native and Yankee Legend Lou Piniella.

Steinbrenner is buried at Trinity Memorial Gardens, 12609 Memorial Drive, in New Port Richey, in Trinity, 28 miles northwest of downtown Tampa and 41 miles north of Tropicana Field. It is not reachable without a car.

The Tampa Bay region doesn't have a lot of tall buildings. The tallest, at 579 feet, is 100 North Tampa, named for its address at Whiting Street downtown, formerly named the Regions Building.

Oh, and, get this: As New York is known as the Big Apple, Tampa likes to call itself the Big Guava. In the words of the immortal Jack Paar, I kid you not.

*

So, if you can afford it, go on down and join your fellow Yankee Fans in taking over the Rays' stadium. Let's just hope the Yankees' bats and arms are as good as their fans. We need to make a statement against these guys. Tell them, as Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) said in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "You'd better mind your P's and Q's, buster, and remember who you're dealing with!"

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How to Go to a Mets Game -- 2017 Edition

I decided not to wait for the Yankees' annual trip to Flushing Meadow to show you how to go to a Mets home game in the 2017 season. Their opener is on Monday, April 3, at home at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, a 1:10 PM first pitch, against the Atlanta Braves.

I'm going to put aside (most of) my usual trash-talking, and try to be as objective as possible.

This is the 9th season that Citi Field has been in operation, so, if you live anywhere in the Northeastern United States and love baseball, you should have gone at least once by now -- as a neutral observer, if not in a City Series game.

Yes, "City Series." It's only a "Subway Series" if it's a World Series. Nobody called it a "Subway Series" when the New York Giants played the Brooklyn Dodgers in a regular-season game up until 1957. Nor did they call it a "Subway Series" when they played each other in the 1951 National League Playoff.

I wouldn't recommend going there for a City Series game: Then, the natives get restless, and you could be in trouble. I saw 2 such games there at Shea, and I wouldn't go back to one, even if their hatred of the Yankees is slightly diffused by their hatred of their own ownership, which put them in a down era that began with the new ballpark's opening and the Bernie Madoff-caused collapse in 2008-09, and (seemingly) ended with the 2015 NL Pennant.

For those of you wanting to go to one of those City Series games, or any other Citi Field game, here are my guidelines. Follow them, and you shouldn't have a problem.

Before You Go: If you read this blog regularly, there is a 99 percent chance that you live in the New York Tri-State Area. So you've seen a weather forecast.

Tickets. The Mets had an official per-game attendance figure of 35,809 fans last season. That's out of an official capacity of 41,922, so that's about 84 percent of capacity. And if you believe that, you might be willing to buy the Queensboro Bridge. Most Met home games actually had maybe half that. 

Here are the Mets' usual ticket prices, which go up for opponents like the Yankees, Phillies, Nationals and Braves: Infield seats: $125. Baseline: $59. Outfield Reserve: $42. Left Field Landing and Coca-Cola Corner (formerly Pepsi Porch): $41. Excelsior Box: $57. Promenade Box: $31. Promenade Reserved: $22. Promenade Outfield: $18.

Do not order tickets in Section 140, 141 or 142, in the center field bleachers ($39). That's the home of "The 7 Line Army," a Met fans' group that patterns themselves after European soccer "ultras." Never mind the fact that you'd be surrounded by the Mets' pale (or, at least, orange) imitation of our own Bleacher Creatures: Those seats might be the first to sell out on game day.

If your preference is for a promotional game, the Mets have Free Shirt Fridays on April 7 vs. the Miami Marlins, April 21 vs. the Washington Nationals, May 5 vs. the Marlins, May 19 vs. the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, June 2 vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, June 16 vs. the Nationals, June 30 vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, July 14 vs. the Colorado Rockies, July 21 vs. the Oakland Athletics, August 4 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, August 18 vs. the Marlins, September 8 vs. the Cincinnati Reds, and September 22 vs. the Nationals.

They have Fireworks Nights on April 8 vs. the Marlins, June 3 vs. the Pirates, July 15 vs. the Rockies, and September 23 vs. the Nationals; and Bobblehead Days for Asdrubal Cabrera on July 1 vs. the Phillies, Noah Syndergaard with "Thor" Helmet on July 22 vs. the A's, Yoenis Cespedes on August 20 vs. the Marlins.

They also have Rally Towel day on April 9 vs. the Marlins, Matt Harvey Garden Gnome Day on April 22 vs. the Nationals, Tote Bag Day on April 23 vs. the Nationals, Noah Syndergaard Hair Hat Day on May 6 vs. the Marlins, David Wright Starting Lineup Figurine Day on May 20 vs. the Angels, Sunglasses Day on May 21 vs. the Angels, Father's Day Cap Day on June 18 vs. the Nationals, and Batting Helmet Day on July 2 vs. the Phillies.

Seriously: A Garden Gnome of one of their "stars." Then again, the Yankees once gave away a Jason Giambi "Celebri-Duck."

Getting ThereSince most people reading this will be local, posting the plane, bus and (except for the Subway) train information does not apply. If you are local, then you know how to do this: Take the Number 7 train, known as the International Express (even when it's a Local) for all the different ethnicities in the neighborhoods that it goes through.

If you haven't been to a Mets home game since they were still at Shea Stadium, there is one change: The station used to be named "Willets Point-Shea Stadium." Now, it's named "Mets-Willets Point."
Alternatively, if you're coming from Port Authority Bus Terminal, you can take the E train to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue, then go upstairs and transfer to the 7, where the station will be known as 74th Street-Broadway. Either way, it should take about 35 minutes. If you're coming from Grand Central Terminal, or any Subway or Metro-North line going into Grand Center, again, take the 7, and it should take about 32 minutes.

If you're coming from Penn Station, you may be better off following the Port Authority alternate route, or (if you don't mind paying a little extra) taking the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to its Mets-Willets Point station. The fare will be $8.25 outbound on weeknights (remember, rush hour), and $6.00 outbound on weekends and back inbound. So, round-trip, either $12.00 or $14.25.

If you want to drive, you'll have better parking options than at Yankee Stadium (old or new). Citi Field is at 126th Street & Roosevelt Avenue. It is bounded by Roosevelt on the south, 126th and the Van Wyck Expressway on the east, Northern Boulevard on the north and the Grand Central Parkway on the west.

If you're coming from Manhattan, don't fool around with the streets: Take the Subway. If you're coming from points north (The Bronx, Connecticut, or Westchester on up), take any road leading to Interstate 87 (the New York State Thruway north of the City, the Major Deegan Expressway inside), to the Triborough/Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, to the Grand Central, and take Exit 9E and follow the signs.

If you're coming from Long Island, take the LIRR. The Port Washington Line will take you directly to a station across Roosevelt Avenue from the ballpark, adjacent to the elevated 7 line. From the other LIRR lines, take any westbound train to Jamaica, and transfer to any Penn Station-bound train that will take you to Woodside. From there, switch to the 7 Train. If you'd rather drive in from The Island, take any westbound highway to the Van Wyck.

If you're coming from Brooklyn, it depends on whether you're coming from the west or east side of it. From the west side, get to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), stay on it until it becomes the Grand Central, and then follow the directions from points north. From the east side, take either the Shore Parkway or the Jackie Robinson Parkway to the Van Wyck, and follow the signs. If you're coming from Staten Island, get to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and follow the directions from Brooklyn (and take your pick).

If you're coming from New Jersey, it's probably best to take a bus into The City and then take the 7 Train from Port Authority; or to take a train in and then take the LIRR from Penn Station. But if you'd rather drive, then, from North Jersey, get to the George Washington Bridge, and then follow the directions from points north. From Central Jersey, get to the New Jersey Turnpike, and take Exit 13 for the Goethals Bridge, and, from there, follow the directions from Staten Island.

If you want to plug in an address for your GPS, it's 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue, 8 miles by foot (10 by road) east of Midtown Manhattan. Speaking of Queens addresses:

Once In the City. Queens is a little different from the rest of The City, particularly in regard to street addresses. They come in this form: xx-xx (or xxx-xx) Streetname Street/Road/Avenue/Drive. Example: The Starting Gate, a bar I like in Queens, is 59-10 Woodside Avenue.

Also unlike the other Boroughs, Queens doesn't have a single "city name," breaking it up. ZIP Codes for the Floral Park area begin with the digits 110, Long Island City 111, Flushing 113, Jamaica 114, and the Rockaways 116. (115 is for Nassau County.) So the official address of Citi Field, as was that of Shea Stadium before it, is 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing, NY 11368. So think of it as 123 blocks from the East River. It's 11 miles east of Port Authority.

Other than that, you're already there, so this usual category is pointless. Let's move on.
Times Square

Going In. One of the main features of Shea when it opened is that, unlike previous New York ballparks, it had lots of parking, enough spaces for 12,000 cars. Now that the Shea site has been cleared, Citi Field, which replaced it in 2009, has about that many parking spaces again. Parking costs $22.

Citibank bought the naming rights, even though the Mets are much more associated with Manufacturer's Hanover, a bank that advertised with both New York teams in the 1970s and '80s, bought out by Chemical Bank, which was bought out by Chase. The name became a problem because the ballpark was under construction when the Crash of 2008 happened, and lots of people didn't want it associated with a bank. Also, the name could be rhymed as "Shitty Field" (which could also have recycled Shea's unpleasant nickname, "The Flushing Toilet") or "Pity Field."

You're likely to walk in at the home plate gate, through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. True, Robinson never played for the Mets, and I have seen no evidence that he ever even set foot inside Shea Stadium. But the Mets, for better are for worse, are the spiritual descendants of both Robinson's team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and their arch-rivals, the New York Giants. The rotunda is, in effect, the equivalent of the museum portion of a Presidential Library for Jackie.

On the way in, especially if you're coming out of the Subway or LIRR station, you'll pass the original Home Run Apple from Shea, which has been restored, and serves as Citi Field's "meet me at this spot" spot, their equivalent to the old Yankee Stadium's smokestack, The Big Bat.
You'll pass a brick walkway where fans could "buy a piece of the ballpark" to commemorate a great moment in their fan experience, or memorialize a loved one who didn't live to see the new park. I had considered doing this for my grandmother, a Dodger-turned-Met fan from Queens, but I decided against it.

I figured, she left New York in 1955, so everyone she knew there was already either dead or in a retirement community elsewhere, and thus wouldn't see the commemorative brick; and, considering how much my parents hate going into New York, and how my sister has also taken to the Yankees (but also to the NFL's Jets, who played at Shea but not at Citi Field), the only person there who would know who she was would be me -- and I go there only once (maybe twice) a year.

Inside the rotunda, before you go up the escalators, behind them will be a ticket office. Off to your left will be a team store. Off to your right will be the Mets Hall of Fame. (More about that later.)
While Shea pointed due east, Citi Field points northeast. The field is real grass. Structurally, it may resemble Ebbets Field on the outside, but on this inside, it's closer to Baltimore's Camden Yards, with green seats in three wraparound decks going from left-center, around the left-field pole, around the plate, and down the right-field line, with bleachers in right field.
Unlike Shea, Citi is not symmetrical. The left field pole is 335 feet from home plate (Shea was 341 until the Jets moved out in 1984, eliminating the need for the movable baseline stands, thus shortening it to 338), left-center is 358 (same as at Shea), deep left-center is 379 (371 at Shea), straightaway center is 408 (410), deep right-center is 375 (371), right-center curves back out to 383 (358), and the right-field pole is 330 (341/338).

Citi is definitely a pitcher's park, as Shea was, although this has been slightly reduced due to the outfield fence having been brought in a bit and lowered a bit, as the Mets have had a lot of trouble hitting there. Funny, but the Yankees never seem to have trouble hitting there on their visits.

The longest home run in the brief history of Citi Field was by Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, 466 feet, on May 30, 2015. On June 30, 2016, Yoenis Cespedes tied this record.

The longest home run at Shea Stadium, and the longest ever hit by a Met at home, appears to have been a 515-foot blast by Dave Kingman on August 14, 1981. (Darryl Strawberry's 1988 home run in Montreal is said to have gone 535 feet, which would make it the longest in Met history.) Shea didn't have much of its grandstand in fair territory, so it was very hard to hit a fair ball into the upper deck. The only player who ever did that was Met center fielder Tommie Agee on April 10, 1969. The spot where the Agee homer landed, about 480 feet from home plate, was painted with the date, his name, and his uniform Number 20. As far as I know, no effort was made to save this piece of concrete and put it in the team Hall of Fame at Citi Field.

No football games have yet been played at Citi, but it has hosted futbol. Four soccer games have been played there: 3 international games (Ecuador 1-1 Greece in 2011, Ecuador 3-0 Chile in 2012, and Israel 2-0 Honduras in 2013) and 1 club match (Italy's Juventus 1-0 Mexico's Club America).

Oddly, despite its smaller (and thus easier-to-reach) capacity, its better shape for the sport, and its good car and public transit access, New York City FC spurned Citi Field as a home ground for the new Yankee Stadium. It would have made much more sense, for those reasons, and for the reason that, like the Mets, NYCFC are doomed, at least for the time being, to be the Number 2 team in their sport in the New York Tri-State Area.

The NHL announced a few days ago that Citi Field would host the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2018, with the Rangers hosting the Buffalo Sabres.

Just as the Beatles played the 1st concert at Shea in 1965, former Beatle Paul McCartney played the 1st concert at Citi Field in 2009. Billy Joel played the last concert at Shea in 2008, and, as one of the biggest Beatles fans alive, invited Paul onstage with him. At the 1st Citi Field concert, Sir Cute One returned the favor, and brought the Piano Man on.

Other concerts at Citi Field include the Dave Matthews Band in 2010, Food Fighers in 2015, and Beyonce last June. In spite of her scandalous appearance at Citi Field in 2010, Lady Gaga is scheduled to perform there on August 28 and 29 of this year.

Food. One area where the Mets always had the edge over the Yankees was in food. But that is no longer the case. Not because of taste (far from it) or price (Met food isn't much lower than Yankee food), but because of accessibility. They had years to get this right, and, instead, they have ended up with massive lines.

On my first visit to Citi Field, I was on line at Shake Shack for the entire 5th inning, and missed a home run that turned out to be the only run that was scored in regulation. (The Mets won in extra innings.) I stood on that line, deep behind the center field fence, looked back, and saw a stadium with maybe 10,000 people in it. Were the remaining 21,000 the average says the place has all on line at Shake Shack? Actually, if you've ever been on that line, you'll find that concept very believable.

Shake Shack is in center field, behind Section 139. A Blue Smoke barbecue stand is nearby at Section 140, and also upstairs at Section 414. On top of the building that houses both Shake Shake and the adjacent McFadden's is the stylized New York skyline that was on top of the old main scoreboard at Shea. A McFadden's restaurant is at the 126th Street entrance.

Keith's Grill, named after Hernandez, is at Sections 132 and 415. Unlike the Phillies with Greg Luzinski, the Orioles with Boog Powell, and a few others with barbecue stands named for players, Hernandez doesn't actually watch over it and control it. (As Elaine Benes, played by Julia-Louis Dreyfus on Seinfeld, would say, "Who does this guy think he is?" As Keith responded then, "I'm Keith Hernandez!") It's not his fault, really, since he's a Met broadcaster, and he has to work during the games. They really should have had a barbecue stand named after Rusty Staub, who was both a better hitter than Keith, and equally famous as a cook.

The Mets go around the world with Daruma of Tokyo at Section 105, El Verano Taqueria at 139, Two Boots (for the shapes of Italy and Louisiana) at 141, 317 and 512; and Kosher Grill at 114, 130, 401 and 528. They go around the block with Little Astoria and Mama's of Corona at 105, and across the City with Brooklyn Burger at 7 different stands. New York's legendary Nathan's hot dogs are all over Citi Field. And while Subway sandwich shops, in spite of their name, didn't start in New York (not that far away, though, in Bridgeport, Connecticut), there are 2 stands for it, at 125 and 413.

The Mets have a gluten-free stand and a Candy Cart at 105. They have Carvel ice cream stands all around, and Ittibitz (a variation on Dippin Dots) at 104, 118 and 424. Like the Yankees, they have lots of Premio Italian Sausage stands. And they do something for me that the Red Sox also do, but my beloved Yankees won't: They put a Dunkin Donuts in their ballpark, in Citi Field's case at Section 125. So I got that goin' for me when I visit, which is nice. And a Coolatta is still cheaper than a Black & White at Shake Shack.

A recent Thrillist article on the best food at each MLB park says the best food at Citi Field is a chicken sandwich at Fuku, outside Section 102. Or, as the article says:

New York's NL squad lacks for quality food like it lacks for young flamethrowers who look like they're into Thor cosplay. That's a baseball-nerdy way of saying they have a smorgasbord of sexy food choices in the concessions at Citi Field... and a litter of blonde, long-haired starters.

With all apologies to the honorable Shake Shack and legendary Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, the crown goes to David Chang (duh) and his transcendent spicy chicken sandwich from Fuku. It's the best thing to happen to the Mets since Keith Hernandez and his mustache came to town.

The best thing to happen to the Mets since Keith Hernandez came is a sandwich. I've tried to avoid trash-talking, and telling you that the Mets are a joke franchise. But, sometimes, there's no way of getting around it.

Team History Displays. As I mentioned, the old Home Run Apple is outside, and the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum is on one side of the rotunda. It includes their 2 World Championship trophies, seats from the Polo Grounds and Shea, the original Mr. Met costume, and tributes to legendary Met broadcasters Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.

The Mets Hall of Fame includes plaques for the following inductees:

* From the early days, 1962 to 1968: Owner Joan Payson; executives Bill Shea, George Weiss and Johnny Murphy; manager Casey Stengel, and 1st baseman/outfielder Ed Kranepool. Gil Hodges was a 1st baseman in the early days, but was hurt so often he couldn't make much of a contribution; he's in the MHOF as a manager.

* From the 1969 World Championship: Mrs. Payson, Weiss and Murphy (Shea was no longer officially involved); manager Hodges; pitchers Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Frank "Tug" McGraw; shortstop Darrell "Bud" Harrelson; outfielders Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones; catcher Jerry Grote; and Kranepool. Although Nolan Ryan was on this team, and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he is not in the MHOF, probably because the Mets don't want to remind everyone that they let him get away 295 wins, 5,221 strikeouts and 7 no-hitters too soon. In fact, since being traded away, he has been back to a Met game only once, in 2009, for the 40th Anniversary celebration of this team. Not honored from this team, but should be, is outfielder Ron Swoboda -- ironically, a native of Baltimore, whose Orioles the Mets beat in the World Series.

* From the 1973 Pennant: Mrs. Payson (Weiss and Murphy had died by then), Seaver, Koosman, McGraw, Kranepool, Harrelson, Jones, Grote, and outfielder Daniel "Rusty" Staub. Although Yogi Berra managed this team, is in the Cooperstown Hall, and accepted an invitation to the Shea closing ceremony in 2008 (and even wore a Number 8 Met jersey), he has not yet been elected to the MHOF. Nor has Willie Mays, also on this team and invited to the Shea closing, but he was a Met for less than 2 full seasons.

* From the 1974-83 interregnum: Nobody outside of the preceding and the following.

* From the 1984-90 glory days, including the 1986 World Championship and the 1988 NL East title: General manager Frank Cashen, manager Davey Johnson, pitcher Dwight Gooden, 1st baseman Keith Hernandez, catcher Gary Carter, and outfielders Darryl Strawberry and William "Mookie" Wilson. Although Koosman has been back to Citi Field since doing 6 months in prison for tax evasion, I don't think we'll be seeing Lenny Dykstra honored by election to the team Hall of Fame by the Mets (or the Phillies) anytime soon. But 3rd baseman Howard Johnson, and pitchers Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda and Jesse Orosco are possibilities for future election.

* From the 1999 Wild Card berth and the 2000 Pennant: "Catcher" Mike Piazza and pitcher John Franco. Pitcher Al Leiter and 2nd baseman Edgardo Alfonzo are possibilities as well.

* From the 2006 NL East title and the 2007 & '08 close-but-no-cigar Mets: So far, nobody, although the only one retired and worthy of much consideration is 1st baseman Carlos Delgado. 3rd baseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes are still active. They could, I suppose, elect Baseball Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, but do they really want to open those cans of worms?

* From the 2015 Pennant: Obviously, nobody yet.

* Crossing the eras: Broadcasters Nelson, Murphy and Kiner.
Aside from Casey (who, of course, won 10 of them as Yankee manager, 3 as a New York Giant player and 1 as a Brooklyn Dodger), all of these honorees was involved with at least 1 Met Pennant.

As the 3rd base coach in 1986, Harrelson is the only Met who has been on the field for 3 Pennants, while he and Davey are the only people who were in uniform for both of the Mets' World Series clinchers, albeit in Davey's case he was in uniform for the opposition in 1969, making the last out for the Orioles, a fly ball caught by Jones. As the 1st base coach in 2000, Mookie is the only Met since 1973 to have been in uniform for at least 2 Pennants.

Bob and Johnny Murphy were not related, although Bob's brother Jack Murphy was a sportswriter who heavily lobbied for major league sports to come to his adopted hometown of San Diego, and the stadium used by the Chargers and formerly by the Padres was named in his honor until Qualcomm bought the naming rights. Johnny Murphy was a Yankee reliever in the 1930s and Weiss was a Hall of Fame GM for the Yankees, but neither is honored in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park. Only Stengel is honored with plaques in both ballparks.

That's 27 people for 55 seasons of service, or 1 for every 2 seasons. In contrast, Yankee Stadium's Monument Park honors 37 people for 114 years, or 1 for every 3. (That doesn't count Jackie Robinson's Number 42, the 9/11 tribute, and the Plaques honoring the 3 Papal Masses and the speech by Nelson Mandela delivered at the old Stadium.) If the Mets honored people at the same rate the Yankees did, they'd have 18; if the Yankees did so at the same rate as the Mets, they'd have 56. (And if the Mets honor Kranepool, how low would the Yankees have to lower the bar? Possibly to Bucky Dent or Jim Leyritz.)

So while the Mets' Hall of Fame plaques were not on public display for a long time, it can no longer be argued that the Mets have failed to properly honor their history -- and, after more than half a century, they have some history to honor. Some of it is even honorable.

The Mets have retired 4 numbers: Stengel's 37, Hodges' 14, Seaver's 41, and, as of last season, Piazza's 31. Of course, Jackie Robinson's Number 42 was universally retired in a 1997 ceremony at Shea Stadium (I was there, having taken my Grandma there to honor her favorite athlete of all time). When Shea entered its last season in 2008 they gave Bill Shea, the esteemed lawyer whose work got the Mets established in the early 1960s and got the stadium named after him, a stanchion with his name on it that stood in for a "retired number." They have now done the same with a microphone for Ralph Kiner.

Those 6 stanchions are now above the left-field roof, instead of on the left-field wall as they were before this season, as they were at Shea Stadium. On July 30 of this seasons, they will be joined by Piazza's 31.

Not officially retired, but rarely given out, are: 8, Gary Carter, catcher 1984-90; and 24, Willie Mays, center field 1972-73.

Seaver was the only player with a serious Met connection named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players in 1999. He was also chosen by Met fans as their representative in the 2006 DHL Hometown Heroes poll.

On the facing of the upper deck down the left field line are the "pennants" honoring the Mets' 7 postseason berths: The 1969 and 1986 World Championships; the 1973, 2000 and 2015 National League Pennants; the 1988 and 2006 N.L. Eastern Division titles; and the 1999 Wild Card & N.L. Championship Series berth.
Photo taken prior to the 2015 Pennant.

A walkway from the right-field stands to the center-field food court is named Shea Bridge.  And at the back of that area is the "skyline" that once crowned the Shea Stadium scoreboard, including the red-white-and-blue "ribbon" that covers the representation of the World Trade Center (as seen in my opening photo, above).
Stuff.  The Mets sell lots of team stuff, including the variations on the Mets caps and jerseys caused by their unfortunate experiments with using black, and orange, as base colors. You can always tell a real Mets fan (but you can't tell him much): He's got a blue cap with an orange NY, and/or, weather permitting, a blue jacket with an orange NY, not one of the later blue/black/orange combos. Mr. Met gets the souvenir highlight treatment, nearly as much as the Phillie Phanatic gets at Citizens Bank Park.

A DVD with the highlight films of the 1969 and 1986 World Series is available, as is a collection honoring the 1986 World Series (all 7 games, plus the clinching NLCS Game 6 in Houston), the stadium tribute Shea Goodbye, and The Essential Games of Shea Stadium.

This last DVD's "essential games" are: 1969 WS Game 4 (Swoboda's catch), 1986 NLCS Game 3 (Dykstra's walkoff), 1986 WS Game 6 (Bill Buckner), 1999 NLCS Game 5 (Robin Ventura's walkoff), September 21, 2001 (the 1st game back after 9/11, won by Piazza's home run), and May 19, 2006 (a walkoff hit by Wright beats the Yankees, for all the good that did).

The set also includes these highlights: The last inning of the '69 WS, Carter's Opening Day walkoff in '85, the last inning of the '86 NL East clincher, highlights of  '86 WS Game 7, Matt Franco's steroid-aided walkoff against Mariano Rivera in 1999, Todd Pratt's homer to clinch the '99 NL Division Series, the last inning of the 2000 Pennant clincher, 2006 highlights including the NL East clincher, the Endy Chavez catch from '06 NLCS Game 7 (for all the good that did), and an interview with Bill Shea.

Books about the Mets abound, especially now that they've passed their 50th Anniversary. Greg Prince, co-author of the blog Faith and Fear in Flushing, wrote a book with that title, and until someone writes a book that includes details of last year's Pennant, and perhaps well beyond that point, this will likely remain the definitive book about what it is like to be a Met fan. As Prince says, "Mostly, I love the Mets because I love the Mets." It doesn't make sense, but then, since when has baseball made sense? To paraphrase Bart Giamatti, baseball boggles your mind, it is designed to boggle your mind. And the Mets, even in their good times, boggle the mind more than most sports teams.

Back to the subject of DVDs: The film Frequency is, sort-of, a time-travel story, in which a cop living in 1999 (played by Jim Caviezel) uses his father's old ham radio (in some ways, the Internet of its time) to talk to his fireman father in 1969 (Dennis Quaid), stop him from dying in a fire, and then solve a mystery. The 1969 World Series becomes part of the solution. The father in 1969 and the son in 1999 live in the same house, at 343 42nd Avenue in Bayside, Queens. This address does not exist in real life: Although there is a 42nd Avenue in Queens, there's no 343, or 3-43, or 343-01. (The film was released in 2000, so the number was not chosen to honor the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11.)

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article, ranking all 30 MLB teams' fans on "intolerability," listed Met fans 8th -- 4 places behind (i.e., not as bad as) the Yankees and 3 behind the Phillies.

"They get to stake out the claim as the hardscrabble, die-hard outsider fans," the article says, "just wallowing in the nether regions of Nassau County while the Yankees soak up all the attention. Mets fans would have you believe they have suffered in ways few fans can possibly understand."

Well, they got the geography right: Long Island (Lawn Giland), counting their home Borough of Queens, is pretty much the only place where Met fans outnumber Yankee Fans, even after a new Pennant. And their team has, much more often than not, made them suffer. If I'm being objective, then I should leave it to you do decide whether they deserve it. (Hint: A majority of Yankee Fans would say, "Hell, yeah, they do." So would a majority of fans of the other 14 teams in the National League.)

For the most part, Met fans do not abuse fans wearing opposing teams' gear. But I wouldn't wear an Atlanta Braves cap or shirt to Citi Field. I definitely wouldn't wear Philadelphia Phillies stuff.

As for Yankee gear... The simple act of wearing Pinstripes or the Yankee cap inside the Mets' ballpark is enough for their fans to consider it a provocative act. Like being a Red Sox fan, being a Met fan means you have to hate the Yankees nearly as much as you love your own team.
As shown by the friendship between Mr. Met
and Wally the Green Monster.

It's in their blood: Giant and Dodger fans hated the Yankees as much as they hated each other, and, with the creation of the Mets serving as the burying of the hatchet between the Hatfields and McCoys of baseball, they were united in the twin causes of loving the Mets and hating the Yankees.

I seriously doubt that they will start a fight with you, simply because you show up in your teams' colors. Still, if even one Met fan out of a thousand is willing to start a fight, that means, somewhere in the joint, there are between 10 and 42 fans who will want to. So be aware of the possibility.

And if they do give you some verbal, do your best to ignore them. Don't respond with anything harsher than, "We'll see what happens in this game."

Do not bring up the 27 World Championships to 2, or the 30-year Met drought: They'll just say the Yankees "cheated" or "bought their titles." As if the '86 Mets didn't have the biggest payroll in the NL at the time, and the failed Mets of 1987 until the 2009 fire-sale era didn't have one of the top 3 payrolls in the NL all those years, and Mike Piazza wasn't also an apparent steroid user.

The Mets hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. Since the franchise's birth, they have had a theme song, "Meet the Mets." I have to admit, it's a better song than "Here Come the Yankees," even if "the butcher and the baker" and others (the milkman?) have been mostly replaced by supermarkets.

As I said in the "Tickets" section, the Mets have "The 7 Line Army," a group of fans that think they're better than our Bleacher Creatures, but, being Met fans, are delusional. They sit in the center field bleachers, in Sections 140, 141 and 142, and, if you're a visiting fan, it's best to avoid them.

Mr. Met, a guy in a Met uniform (Number 00) with a big baseball head, appears to have been the original man-in-a-suit mascot at big-league baseball games. Don't worry, he's designed to be harmless, unlike the Phillie Phanatic, whose "tongue," however inadvertently, has hurt a few people. 

He's the only guy who can smile all the way through 81 Met home games, and he's the only Met who's allowed to have a big head. Unquestionably, he's the New York Tri-State Area's best major league sports mascot. Who else is there? N.J. Devil?
Mr. Met, Mrs. Met, and all the Little Mets.

Mr. Met has occasionally dressed in other costumes, including a superhero (Hero Met), The Fonz, Vegas Period Elvis, and others. Sometimes, he shows up with his wife, Mrs. Met, a.k.a. Lady Met. Sometimes, the Little Mets show up, too. But not on a school night.
Although I do not remember Mrs. Met having that huge ponytail.
Or having that fine booty. Mr. Met got it done!

In 1979, the Mets phased out Mr. Met, and brought in a new mascot: Mettle the Mule. This was a major public relations blunder. First of all, Mr. Met is revered by Met fans. Second of all, a mule had already been used by the Kansas City/Oakland A's.

And 3rd of all, Mettle (meaning "strength" or "courage," and having "Met" in the name) was introduced to the fans by pulling a wagon around the field. And seated in the wagon was the owner at the time, Lorinda de Roulet, daughter of Mrs. Payson, who died in 1975. Mrs. Payson was beloved, as the woman who brought the Mets to the NL-deprived fans. Mrs. de Roulet was despised, as the woman who let team chairman M. Donald Grant do whatever he wanted, including trade away the players of the '69 and '73 Pennant winners, even going so far as to drive Seaver away from the team. Like Dandy, the weird mascot the Yankees introduced the next season, Mettle the Mule was quickly scrapped, and has not been missed. Mr. Met returned.
Pretty soon, even Mrs. de Roulet couldn't stand the thing anymore.

Nearly everything about Citi Field is an improvement over Shea Stadium. One thing that is not is the planes taking off from neighboring LaGuardia International Airport: I think moving the field a few hundred yards to the east actually made the problem worse. However, the truly loud ones are only those taking off. The ones landing go on a different runway, further away, and are usually not disruptive. The old "plane race" on the video board (which inspired the Yankees to do "The Great City Subway Race") has been retired.

When a Met hits a home run, the Home Run Apple is activated. Originally placed in Shea's center field after Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon bought the team from Mrs. Payson's estate in 1980, it was supposed to be a play not just on the New York nickname "the Big Apple," but also on the slogan of the time: "The New Mets: The Magic Is Back." It was a magician's black top hat, inverted, with the white letters "HOME RUN" on the front, and a big red apple with a Met logo on it would rise out, and the logo would light up.

In 1998, when an accident forced a brief closure of the old Yankee Stadium and the moving of 1 Yankee home game to Shea, Strawberry, who hit more homers at Shea than anyone, hit one for the Yankees, and the apple was rigged to rise to only half its height, so only the top half of the Met logo could be seen, showing the stylized New York skyline but not the word "Mets." I thought it was a good touch.

Knowing that Shea would be demolished, an Internet campaign went up to "Save the Apple." It worked: The old apple, which really was in bad shape, was restored and put outside Citi Field, and a new, larger apple was put in the center field hitter's background inside the new park.
The main Met fans' chant is, of course, the rhyming, "Let's go, Mets!" For many years, in the 1990s and 2000s (but I haven't seen them do it at Citi Field), they would, during some late rallies, cue up the scene from the movie Network, when Peter Finch's news anchor Howard Beale demands that people yell out their windows, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" so that it's rigged to say, "I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell... LET'S GO METS!"

In the 7th Inning Stretch, after Mr. Met leads fans in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the stadium speakers will play Newark native Lou Monte's half-Italian, half-English song "Lazy Mary." Why? Probably due to New York's huge Italian community and the song's inclusion in the New York-based film The Godfather. (Never mind that the recording was released in 1958, or 13 years after the film's opening wedding scene, which includes the song.) After the game, if the Mets win, they play "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Eventually, win or lose, even though Billy Joel is a Yankee Fan, the Mets play his song "New York State of Mind."

After the Game. Like Shea before it, Citi Field is an island in a sea of parking. Fortunately, the Mets do keep McFadden's open for a while after the game, and they list a lot of restaurant and bar ads in their game program. Sadly, Rusty's, Staub's once-wildly popular Midtown East Side restaurant which he based on the cuisine of his native New Orleans, is long gone.

A bar associated with the 1980s Mets, because some of their players liked to get tanked there, is Finn MacCool's, at 205 Main Street in Port Washington, 6 blocks west of the Port Washington station on the LIRR. If you want to go, go to the LIRR station across Roosevelt Avenue, and get on an eastbound train instead of a westbound one.

If you're visiting New York during the European soccer season, as we are now in, there are many places where you can watch your favorite team. The best "football pub" in The City, and, indeed, in the country, is The Football Factory, downstairs at Legends NYC, at 6 West 33rd Street, across from the Empire State Building, and 2 blocks east from The Garden. B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square.

Sidelights. This could get long, so I'll limit it to Met-centric sites.
Shea Stadium during the Payson family era, 1964-1979

The Flushing Meadow site has been the Mets' home since 1964, with the site of Shea Stadium just to the west of where Citi Field now stands. Shea was also home to the AFL/NFL Jets from 1964 to 1983, the Yankees during the renovation of the old Yankee Stadium in 1974 and 1975, and the Giants in 1975 -- making 1975 the only time a single venue in North America hosted 4 different major league sports teams.
Shea Stadium during the Doubleday-Wilpon era, 1980-2008

Across Roosevelt Avenue and the LIRR tracks is Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, site of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair (the Queens Museum is pretty much all that's left of it) and the 1964-65 New York World's Fair (a few more structures survive, including the Unisphere globe).
Not destroyed by the Men In Black. That was just a movie.

It includes the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, including the main stadium, named for tennis legend Arthur Ashe, and a smaller one that used to be the main stadium, named for music legend Louis Armstrong, who lived nearby in Corona, loved baseball, had season tickets for the Yankees until Shea opened, then became a Met fan, and, for some reason, loved tennis, going to the Open when it was still being held at the Forest Hills Stadium.
You might be cool, but you'll never be Satchmo talking on the phone
while wearing a Mets cap and pajamas in his home recording studio cool.
Funny, but when Jack Klugman wore pretty much the same outfit
as Oscar Madison on The Odd Couple, he wasn't nearly so cool.

Louis Armstrong Stadium was originally the Singer Bowl, built for the '64 World's Fair. It was converted into 2 venues, attached to each other, for the U.S. Open, and reopened in 1978, seating 18,000. When Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997, Armstrong Stadium had its top deck removed, and capacity was reduced to 10,000. It was demolished last year, and will be replaced with a 15,000-seat stadium, also named for Armstrong, in time for the 2018 Open.
The BJK NTC at FMCP, 2015.
Ashe Stadium in the center, Armstrong Stadium to the right.

In their 1st 2 seasons, 1962 and 1963, the Mets played at the Polo Grounds. It was home to the baseball Giants from 1911 to 1957 (and a previous stadium on the site, which burned down, hosted them from 1891 to 1911), the Yankees from 1913 to 1922, and the football Giants from 1925 to 1955. It hosted a few Army-Notre Dame games, including the one in 1924 where Notre Dame's backfield ran all over the place and was nicknamed The Four Horsemen by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice.
I recognize this photo as one I first saw in black and white.
Clearly, it has been colorized.

Fordham's football team also played some home games there, including a famous scoreless tie with Pittsburgh in 1937, when ended the season ranked Number 1 and Fordham, with a line known as the Seven Blocks of Granite and including Brooklyn native Vince Lombardi and South River, New Jersey's Alex Wojchiechowicz (both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame), finished at Number 3.

Jack Dempsey knocked out Luis Firpo there in 1923, retaining the heavyweight title despite Firpo knocking him all the way out of the ring at one point. Joe Louis came from behind to knock out Billy Conn there, retaining the title in 1941. Floyd Patterson became the 1st fighter ever to regain the heavyweight title, knocking out Ingemar Johansson there in 1960, after Ingo had knocked him out at Yankee Stadium the year before.

Demolition of the Polo Grounds began on April 11, 1964, by the same company and using the same wrecking ball, painted to look like a baseball, that had demolished Ebbets Field. This was right before Shea opened -- in other words, if Shea hadn't been ready on April 17 (and it nearly wasn't), the Mets would have been screwed, because the Yankees weren't going to let them in.

Polo Grounds Towers opened on the site in 1966. At the entrance to one of those towers, roughly where home plate was, is a plaque honoring the old stadium. Just to the north is a playground (not an actual field) named Willie Mays Field. Across 155th Street is Rucker Park, home to a renowned summer basketball tournament. 2955 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (what 8th Avenue is called above Central Park). B or D train to 155th Street. Definitely a place for a sports fan to visit during the day. Definitely not a place for anyone not from Harlem or Washington Heights to visit at night.

Speaking of Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 to 1957 stood at 1700 Bedford Avenue, at the corner of Sullivan Place. B or Q train to Prospect Park. Again: Visit during the day, not at night.
A rare overhead color photo of Ebbets Field.

It was demolished in 1960, and in 1962, Ebbets Field Apartments opened on the site. Across McKeever Place was Jackie Robinson Intermediate School. It is now named Ebbets Field Middle School.

There are plenty of memorials to Jackie, including the Rotunda at Citi Field, and a statue of him and Dodger Captain Harold "Pee Wee" Reese outside the current home of Brooklyn baseball, MCU Park (named for the company formerly known as Brooklyn Union Gas and KeySpan).
That's the Coney Island Parachute Jump in the background,
over the stadium's right field corner. It's restored so it won't collapse,
but it's no longer a working ride.

The ballpark opened in 2001, and the Brooklyn Cyclones, named for the nearby roller coaster, won the New York-Penn League Pennant that year, but haven't won it since. They still sell the place out nearly every game, though. Their season starts in mid-June, always with a home-and-home 2-game series with their arch-rivals, the Staten Island Yankees.
1904 Surf Avenue. D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Avenue-Coney Island. It's a relatively safe neighborhood these days, but it takes an hour to get there on the Subway from Midtown Manhattan.

*

As long as the Mets aren't playing the Yankees, with a deep hatred that goes back well before the Mets were even an idea, Citi Field is well worth a visit. You might be impressed -- by the ballpark, if not by the home team.

And if you're not, hey, it could be worse: You could have been at Shea Stadium, the old Flushing Toilet!

So much for objectivity.