Alas, it will be a quiet post-season for the city’s baseball fans. Last week, the Yankees bid farewell to their old stadium amid much fanfare; by contrast, the Mets final loss to the Marlins was marked by familiar frustration — yet another late season collapse and an ignominious end to a 44 year run at Shea.
(Half an hour before the Mets’ final out, The Brewers did their part to clinch the NL wild card with a 3-1 win against the Cubs.)
This night in late August, though — my second game of the season — the Mets’ playoff hopes were still alive. J and I arrived during the second inning to find our team had already posted up five runs in the first against the Braves. It was a perfect night for sitting in the stands — unseasonably cool for late summer — and what followed was probably the quickest game I’d ever seen at the stadium. Just about 90 minutes later, we found ourselves chiming in on the eighth inning sing-a-long song: The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer“. (Bitter irony there.)
From up in the nosebleeds, we had a prime view of the Amazins’ future home, whose construction progress we’ve been watching all year.
Soon this will all be reduced to a pile of blue rubble. While Shea was hardly ever a paradise, it will be strange riding the 7 next year, and finding it paved over to put up a parking lot.
I’d promised myself at least one more trip out to Shea before the Mets move on to the nearly complete Citi Field next season, so when SYB offered up a last minute invitation to the watch the boys in blue, I was there.
Tonight: the second home game of the season, number 2 in a 3-game series against the Phillies. (The Mets fell in Tuesday afternoon’s home opener, 5-2. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one feeling nostalgic for the dingy ugliness of Shea; the day before, two Mets fans were arrested after they kicked a stadium seat to pieces and attempted to smuggle out the “souvenirs” under their shirts. (The Post, in its inimitable way, referred to the bumbling pair as “sit-for-brains fan ‘vandals’.”)
The weather during these early season games can be iffy, and I arrived at Willets Point on a chilly, damp night just in time for the Mets’ 6-run third inning. The thundering cheers, which I could hear from the subway platform, continued as I climbed my way up, up, up to the upper deck nosebleeds to meet my friends, JL and the brothers B.
We huddled under the Mets fleece blanket as best we could as the cold and damp settled into our bones; at some point it actually began drizzling lightly, forcing us to move even farther back and up to seek shelter under the overhang. Not nearly enough precipitation to interrupt play, but enough to make us a little unhappy as we shivered in our seats. We (all of us except HYB) were determined, though, to stick it out at least until the 8th Inning Sing-A-Long.
The week before, the Mets had asked fans to vote on the song which would be used for the Shea sing-a-long. Calls to write in Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” were circulated wildly, and when the voting concluded on April 7, the so-cheesy-it’s-awesome 80s dance song was the overwhelming winner with over 5 million votes. That’s the power of the Internets!
Team officials, though, were having none of the Rickrolling. Citing some loophole language in the online contest rules that the final poll tally would only “help decide” the song to be used, they decided instead to pick a winner based upon in-stadium reaction during the first six home games. Inherently flawed methodology aside — applause-o-meter? adjustments for game attendance? — I take issue with the Mets deciding to undermine the results of the democratic voting method, and their subsequent qualifying of the massive write-in as an “Internet attack.” As a conciliatory gesture, Astley’s tune was the first of the songs to be auditioned. It was booed — heartily! — making it highly unlikely that the song will ever be heard at Shea again. Ah well.
Eighth inning came around, and the first (and probably best) of the runoff songs started up: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Granted, it’s a lot more Dirty Jerz than New York, but would we rather have say, the theme song from “Friends”?! Good grief!
Most of the online options were pretty horrid so in the end we were left with five song choices, none particularly inspiring. In addition to “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the stadium will be trying out The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out,” Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup.”
We hopped the special events bus from Port Authority to East Rutherford, New Jersey where we had tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters tonight. The game was taking place at IZOD Center (ne Continental Airlines Arena ne Brendan Byrne Arena), as it will be known for the next five-years under an October 2007 naming rights agreement with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA).
The event was part of “Curly Neal Weekend“; the day before, the Harlem Globetrotters retired the popular player’s #22 jersey in a ceremony at Madison Square Garden. With that, Neal became just the fifth Globetrotter in the team’s 82-year history to have his number retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain (13), Meadowlark Lemon (36), Marques Haynes (20) and Reece “Goose” Tatum (50).
I’ve had a soft spot for the Globetrotters since I was a girl; the Hanna-Barbera animated series (1970-1972) may have predated my time, but I fondly recall their appearances on Scooby Doo and one very special made-for-TV Gilligan’s Island movie. You know: the one where the Globetrotters represent the Castaways in a winner-take-Island basketball game against an evil corporate raider, who is represented by a team of robots? Um, yeah. Though it made for riveting drama in elementary school, I suspect that the movie may not hold up well under repeat viewing.
I don’t know what frame of reference kids today have for these talented ballplayers and their hijinks, but there were plenty of little ones in attendance tonight.
To kick things off, there were the Jabali Acrobats from Mombassa, Kenya: flipping, tumbling, limboing, jumping rope, and creating improbably precarious human pyramids. The troupe returned to entertain at halftime.
Globie the mascot, rallying the crowd for the team introductions:
Before the game, the Globetrotters thrilled the crowd with their signature circle warm-up, set to to the familiar whistling tune of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” After some rapid passing, the players each took a turn in the center of the circle to show off his impressive ball handling skillz.
What to say about the game itself? Over the years, the Globetrotters have played more than 20,000 exhibition games in over 100 countries, mostly against deliberately ineffective teams like the New York Nationals and tonight’s opponents, the Washington Generals. So technically this may have been a competition, but mostly we were there to observe the fun, games, and gags. The Globetrotters are miked during the entire game, so we were treated to running goofy commentary and trash-talking (all very PG, of course), plenty of slam-dunking, ball-spinning, dazzling dribbling, behind the back passing and alley-oops. There were breaks for audience participation and comedy skits; at several points, the game clock continued to tick down even when there was no actual basketball being played on the court. Details, details.
The Generals won their last game in 1971, on an overtime basket for a 100-99 score that ended a Globetrotters’ 2,499-game winning streak. No such luck tonight for the battered team. (The crowd was stacked against them from the very first moments: their coach was introduced as a Patriots fan, earning hearty boos in this arena adjacent to Giants Stadium.)
Throughout the evening, the Jumbotron broadcast a commemorative film, “Number 22 Counts Down His Top 22 Moments,” as fans cheered the familiar-looking bald man on the sidelines. I bet B that the Gilligan’s Island movie appearance would be #1; he believed that guesting on Scooby Doo would garner the top spot. Turns out we were both wrong — our picks were #4 and #7, respectively. Neal’s #1 moment was being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame (as a team member) in 2002.
I guess that’s pretty good, too.
Check out the rest of the game photos on flickr.
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