No love lost between Burger and the NY Mets

by Mark Burger

Last week I detailed my memories about Ernie Shore Field, which has quietly gone into that good night after more than 50 years. This week, I’m taking it to another level — the major-league level. I had only ever been to Shea Stadium once before, more than 20 years ago. I watched them beat up on my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. The final score, as I recall, was 13-3. I think it was also the first time I’d ever seen a grand-slam home run. Now, after 44 seasons, Shea Stadium is going the way of Ernie Shore Field and countless other ballparks. Come season’s end, Shea will come down. Next door stands the new, nearly completed Citi Field, which is scheduled to open its doors next season. (One guess what New Yorkers have already, vulgarly, nicknamed the stadium.) But they said the same about Shea, so named for William Shea, the man who brought baseball back to New York after the departure of both the Giants and the Dodgers to the greener (as in money-wise) pastures of California. For 44 years, Shea has been home to the New York Mets, whose inaugural 1962 season record remains the all-time worst (40-120) in 20 th -century baseball. But the “Amazin’ Mets” won their first World Series in 1969 and their second in 1986 — the latter in a remarkable comeback against the Boston Red Sox that Sox fans still rue to this day. (Be very careful when mentioning the name Bill Buckner.) I have little or no nostalgic affection for Shea Stadium, outside of it simply being a baseball park. The reason I wanted to commemorate its final season was — in addition to writing this article, of course — that the Mets were playing the Phillies. In the last few years, the National League East rivalry between the Phillies and the Mets has intensified, in part because both teams are in the same division, and especially after last season, when the Mets underwent a devastating collapse in the last weeks of the season, squandering a seemingly insurmountable lead and paving the way for the Phillies to roll into first place and take the division on the last day of the 2007 season. There’s even a full Wikipedia listing detailing the ongoing Mets/Phillies feud. Here’s a sample of that entry: “Games between the two rival teams are intense between fans, as beers are occasionally thrown, and fights commonly break out in the stands. Fans of both teams often direct derisive and abusive chants at opposing players and opposing fans whenever games between the two teams are played. It is not uncommon to hear foul language and obscenities when at a Mets-Phillies game as well.” Can I get an “Amen”? That the Phillies were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Colorado Rockies last year almost didn’t matter to me; the Phillies had managed to finally make it back to the postseason after 14 long years. It remains one of the true highlights of my life when, at the age of 12, the Phillies won their first World Series in 1980. Hardly a week (or even a day!) goes by that I don’t pop in the DVD of Game 6 to watch Tug McGraw strike out Willie Wilson and send the city of Philadelphia into that pure, holy baseball euphoria that comes with being world champions. It had only taken 97 years reach that pinnacle. Thank God I was alive to have seen it. I hope to be around the next time it happens. The Phillies also hold the marvelous distinction of being the only professional sports team to notch 10,000 losses — a dubious record not likely to be equaled, much less surpassed, in our lifetime. None of that matters. I will always root for the Phillies. First place, second place, third place, last. I grew up in New Jersey (please don’t hold it against me), but I was born in Philadelphia. I’m stuck with the Phillies, and they’re stuck with me. The relationship between Phillies fans and Mets fans is a tenuous and sometimes terrible one. I was joined in my pilgrimage by my stepsister Mindy and Steve, an old friend, both die-hard Mets mavens. They don’t like the Phillies, and have no hesitation in saying so. I, of course, have no hesitation in saying anything — period. Just for the record, I don’t like the Mets, either. I don’t hate them as much as I hate the Yankees (only a few ex-girlfriends and political figures are entitled to that distinction), but there’s no love lost between me and the Mets. Shea Stadium is located in Queens, NY, in a neighborhood not far from where Archie Bunker was supposed to have lived on the long-running sitcom “All in the Family.” According to one in our party: “It was a dump when they built it, it was a dump in the seventies, it was a dump in the eighties, and it’s a dump now.” Amazingly (or “amazin’ly”), it’s one of the Mets fans who utters that statement, although I happen not to disagree. The day of Shea has come and gone — but Shea did have its day. Just when is debatable. Maybe when Chico Esquela was playing second base? The close proximity between Philly and New York means that there’s a significant contingent of Phillies Faithful on hand, although few of them traveled so far a distance as I did to attend. “Ewww,” remarks Mindy as we encounter two such gentlemen. “There’s more of you.” Later, an exasperated Steve observes: “They’re like vermin — rats! They’re everywhere! You can’t get rid of them!” (Much like the Mets can’t seem to be rid of the Phillies, actually.) Mindy and Steve are clad in Mets regalia, and I am resplendent in my Phillies gear. It’s a pretty sight. (Me, I mean.) All three of us have seen baseball fanaticism get out of hand. Some good-natured razzing is surely in order, even if it’s in bad taste. And, to be on the safe side, I decide to forego drinking during the game. For one thing, beers are $8 a clip. For another, Hurricane Hanna has pushed the clouds out of the sky, so it’s an extremely bright and extremely warm day. I don’t want to get dehydrated. This is likely the last Phillies game I’ll attend this season, and I want to remember it. (I hope.) The Mets may win the division (they’re still in first as I write this), but they didn’t win the game we went to — which had to be postponed a day when Hanna came a-blowing. I’m the only person I know who would fly out of a hurricane (here), only to fly right back into it (there). Just to see the Phillies. Watching 45-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer, the oldest active player in the majors, hold the Mets to two hits over seven innings was one of those special baseball memories I’ll cherish a good long while. “He’s throwing 75-mile curveballs and 80-mile fastballs,” grumbles Steve. “He’s throwing batting practice — and the Mets can’t do shit!” Watching Phillies third baseman Greg Dobbs, one of several Phillies whose bat really seems to come alive against the Mets, crush a three run home run in the fourth off the once-mighty Pedro Martinez was one of those special baseball memories that Mindy and Steve will not cherish. That 0-1 pitch was gone — and quickly. The game highlight for me, however, would have to be the bonehead play in the same inning, which saw Jimmy Rollins’ pop fly drop in for a double and drive home the Phillies’ sixth (and final) run of the day. There was some kind of miscommunication between Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (even I have to admit he’s a pretty terrific player) and left-fielder Nick Evans. Even from our vantage point in the upper deck (Section 28, for those keeping score at home), it’s quite a sight to observe Rollins, as shocked as anyone that the ball dropped, go from a half hearted jog to a full-tilt run and easily make it to second. Mindy’s comments regarding this incident froze the blood and chilled the heart, both in its intensity and its creative use of profanity. Basically, it boiled down to: “If you call for the ball, then catch the ball.” (Feel free to insert “goddamn,” “motherfucker” and/or “shithead” at random points throughout that sentiment.) Mindy and Steve, like many Mets fans, hate Jimmy Rollins, due in part to his boast in the 2007 pre-season that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East — a prophecy that came horrifyingly true for the Mets on the last day of the season. When Rollins earned his first MVP Award last year, I raised my glass (or was it a bottle?) — and not for the first time — to toast his achievement and the fulfillment of his diabolical prediction. “What’s next,” groans Steve, “the Apocalypse?” “Bring it on,” I respond. “Bring on Armageddon!” (Rooting for the Phillies can be tantamount to the same thing.) Which brings us to the eighth inning of our little ballgame, as the Phillies’ bullpen comes on and gets roughed up, with the Mets scoring two runs on a succession of extra-base hits — to which Steve observed: “You’re not saying all that much.” Indeed I was not. I was visualizing a Phillies collapse. When it comes to Philadelphia sports, my motto is “No lead is safe.” Those words have haunted many a Philly fan. But the Phillies hang on to win the game, 6-2, and my crazy trip to New York — conceived in a moment of inspiration (and inebriation, to be sure) — is completely worthwhile. There are some post-game insults traded between the fans in blue and the fans in red but, as one Mets fan said to me: “You’re the one going home with a shit-eating grin.” Indeed I am.

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