When Citi Field was being completed during the horrible stock market crash of 2008, many New Yorkers snickered when the naming rights were announced. Instead of calling the stadium "Citi Field", fans preferred calling it "Debits Field," a pun on Ebbets Field, the old Brooklyn Dodgers ballpark. The irony was inherent that a taxpayer bailed out bank would use taxpayer money to pay for a taxpayer-subsidized stadium. We all had a good laugh over it. Then the news hit about Bernie Madoff ripping off the Mets' owner Fred Wilpon for hundreds of millions of dollars. (This number was proved to be much less later, but still significant.)
Then, shortly thereafter, it was also reported that many of the Mets' deferred payments to players, including the hilariously long Bobby Bonilla contract, was also wrapped up with the crook Madoff. It seems Wilpon found it more lucrative to pay players less now and more later, so he could keep making money with Madoff. What happened was, Madoff made off with the money, and Wilpon still owes Bobby Bonilla $1.19 million a year until 2035. Fred Wilpon was also given a loan by MLB to shore up his finances and forced to sell part of the team. The "Debits Field" joke was one thing. But after the Wilpon-Madoff story broke, all of my Mets fan friends said, "That's so Mets."
Living in New York City for 17 years, away from my beloved Cubs, presented me with a dilemma. I love baseball, lived by Yankee Stadium, but hate the Yankees. So I did what all the National League fans of NYC had to do after the Dodgers and Giants abandoned NYC for sunny California, I waited five years and started rooting for the Mets. (Unless of course the Cubs were in town). I used to hate the Mets with a passion when the Cubs were in the NL East, which I outlined in my article "I Miss Hating the Mets". Many more of you who were around in 1969 when I was negative five years old, hate the Mets even more for good reason. But when given a choice between going to Mets or Yankees games, I rode the No. 7 train over an hour to Queens instead of walking a half hour or so to Yankee Stadium. Why? Because that's so Mets.
I was at Citi Field when Johann Santana pitched his fake no-hitter after a fair ball down the right field line was called foul. I was on an OK Cupid date with a girl who didn't look like her picture and laughed like Muttley the dog. I would have left early and ended the date, but couldn't because of the no-no. Santana never pitched well again after that game and I never saw that girl again. Why? Because that's so Mets.
I was at Citi Field on Opening Day a few years back where I saw Donald Trump going inside a private entrance with his entourage. I hurled obscenity-laced insults in his general direction, much to the delight of arriving Mets fans, some of who joined in the tongue lashing. At Yankee Stadium, I probably would have been tackled and pepper sprayed, but not in Queens where the real New Yorkers watch baseball.
I was at old Shea Stadium in 2007 and watched the Mets melt down, going 5-12 in their last 17 games, handing the N.L. East to the Phillies. And again in 2008, when they choked for a second straight year. During a 6-1 loss against the Marlins on September 26, right after the Cubs had beaten them two of three, the crowd stood and booed the team for what seemed like a full minute. The Mets were plagued with an exhausted bullpen and were adept only at leaving dozens of runners in scoring position. The crowd booed and booed as the Brewers went to the playoffs and the Mets melted down for a second straight year. That's so Mets.
Sound familiar, Cubs fans?
You can wear a dark blue Yankee cap with an expensive suit and still look sharp, but the blue and orange Mets hat is only for a ballgame. That's why I became a transplanted Mets/Cubs fan. The Mets are nowhere near the national underdog that the Cubs are, but they certainly are the underdog of NYC, and for that, I always felt at home out in Queens as opposed to the Bronx. Besides, as far as new stadiums go, Citi Field beats Yankee Stadium (built the same year) hands down. The beer and food is better and cheaper, the fans are more authentic, real New Yorkers, and the Mets are just so Mets in the same way the Cubs are so Cubs.
So a few weeks ago, it was more than a pleasure to return to Citi Field, three years after moving back to Chicago. Not only because the Cubs swept the series, going 7-0 overall against the Mets this year, but also to taste their delicious Italian sausages again, and reconnect with the real baseball fans of NYC. From the red brick facade to the Jackie Robinson rotunda entrance directly across from the No. 7 train, Citi Field's style is retro modern in a way that harkens back to the classic days of National League baseball in New York City, with all the amenities of a modern stadium. Shea Stadium felt like a dirty municipal swimming pool, but Citi is charming and clean. Bankee Stadium... ummm... I mean Yankee Stadium, is more like a shrine to their egotistical franchise. You can read my opinion of the place here. It really does look like a Bank from the Harlem River Drive. But Citi Field is more like a Camden Yards which is trying to be Wrigley Field. Classic ballpark charm.
Even better, the stadium sits on Flushing Meadows parkland and many days, I'd pregame with a game of pitch and putt golf while drinking tall boys served by old guys in golf carts before entering the stadium. Or, I'd get off the train a few stops early and order the Parrilla at El Gauchito Argentinian restaurant, gorge myself on flank steak, morcilla, and alfahores, and then walk the rest of the way to the stadium. Or if there was no time to eat before the game, I'd hit many of the Citi Field concessions where you can order a Shake Shack burger, Pat La Frieda's Filet Mignon sandwich or meatball sub, or my personal favorite, the Premio Italian Sausage with peppers and onions, which are ubiquitous throughout the park. The Premio Sausage is available at any grocery store, but somehow tastes better coming off of the seasoned grills at Citi.
As far as stadium flair goes, the official mascot is Mr. Met, who my ex-wife's niece Tati hated with a passion for his inherent baseball headed creepiness. But there also exists the unofficial mascot of Pin Man, who is at most games wearing a shirt and hat covered in pins. In the three years I've been in Chicago, he's also included LED message boards in his getup.
The Mets' sanctioned mascot, Mr. Met, shoots T-Shirt cannons and leads the seventh-inning stretch and their post-stretch song "Lazy Mary", a tribute to the many Italians who settled in Brooklyn before it was a hipster paradise. Meanwhile the video board shows everything from tie tieing races, to dance contests, cup stacking races, to kiss cams. Plus, celebrity Mets fans like Chris Rock and Kevin James lead the crowd in "Let's Go Mets" chants. All of this superfluous garbage I usually find incredibly annoying, but for some reason, at Citi Field, I kind of like it. It feels authentic in its New York gaudiness.
As far as getting to Citi Field, the No. 7 train brings you right there and links up with almost every other subway line in Manhattan at Times Square or Grand Central. Your best move is to take the "Green Diamond Express" No. 7 Train, as opposed to the "Red Circle Local Train," during rush hours, as it will shave off at least 20-30 minutes of the commute. But once again, the express only runs during rush hours. The Long Island Rail Road also brings you to Citi Field, but I've never personally taken it.
Surprisingly, you can also park for free near Citi! For some reason, NYC parking police look the other way at the longstanding tradition of parking underneath the Grand Central Parkway and Whitestone Expressway, although you have to get there early to secure a spot and an open liquor container is never allowed for tailgating.
Furthermore, for night games, you can park all around the chop shops, umm, I mean auto body repair shops, that surround Citi Field, after 7 p.m. You might be a little late for the game, but you'll save on the parking fee, and you won't wait in the parking lot after the game to get out. If you park under the expressway or on the street, you're right by the entrance ramp to the highway. Easy on. Easy off. To my knowledge, it's some of the only free parking in the five boroughs and Mets fans would have a hissy fit if the city tried to take it away from them.
I'm sure I had such a great time at these three games because the Cubs swept the Mets in historical fashion. That always leaves a great taste in any Cubs fan's mouth. I bet I would have written a better review of Busch Stadium in St. Louis had the team swept the Cardinals as well. But it's more than that. Mets fans like the Cubs and their fans. Mets fans feel our pain because they've felt it too. And a handful of them even said they hope we win the World Series. We came up with hypothetical trades between our two teams in the stands. Castro for DeGrom anyone? Baez for Harvey? Mets fans are down to earth and passionate. And sorta like Cubs fans, they've got a bit of an underdog chip on their shoulder. Yes...I much prefer the crowd in Queens as opposed to what happened to me last year at Yankee Stadium.
Mets fans reserve this kind of booing for their own players, not visiting fans.
After Thursday's day game "W" that completed the seven-game season sweep of the Mets, my band Bad Teenage Moustache, headed to Chinatown for a raucous concert at "The Unicorn," which is a performance space/music comedy school run by my friend Jessica Delfino. Jessica improvised a musical tarot card reading. My old Brooklyn roommate Killy "Mockstar" Dwyer, who was an Andy Kaufman Award finalist, rocked her loop machine in a funny performance art set. My baseball buddy Bryan Zeigler, who is an hilariously offensive and amazing writer/guitarist, played a few off color numbers. And finally, my band Bad Teenage Moustache was heckled through a set by a college buddy's drunken ex-girlfriend, who our bass player Genghis Cohen had hooked up with the night before. If you wanna see some of the set...
I've included links to everyone involved in the hopes that you all will give them a little love. We all toil in relative obscurity for our music. So, Pandora us. YouTube Us. Google Us!
The gig went great. I love drunken hecklers and I love my friends even more. At the ballgames and gig, I hung out with bandmates, old cast mates, and people I've known for over 20 years. We even got free tickets from my drummer Dogmeat who is starring in "Wayra," which is the third installment of the De La Guarda/ Fuerza Bruta multi-media experience. (see photos)
After three Cubs wins and a trip down memory lane, a successful gig, and reconnecting with my past of nearly two decades living in NYC, I felt as if I had swept my own series. Exhausted and voiceless, my girlfriend Nicole and my sister Alyssa hopped in the car and drove straight back to Chicago. As Donald Trump will tell you: "You can never have too many homes." I have at least two, New York and Chicago.
So, I consider myself uniquely qualified to settle the age old debate about whose pizza is better. When offered a slice of pizza, whether New York or Chicago style, always answer, "Yes, I would like some pizza."
Enjoy the photos!
And special thanks to all who housed us and helped with tickets! You rock!