It had felt like an eternity since the World Series in 2000, and now here we were in game seven of the NLCS, and it was amazing, and then it ended in sudden, stunning silence. Who knew then that eight seasons later we'd be smacking our chapped lips for Just Another Taste of New York Mets playoff baseball? Who knew that, eight years later, collective memory and hindsight would reduce game seven to a sad symbol, or, for the especially cynical, a cliche?
All that bitter emotional noise fades to silence when I close my eyes and remember Shea. The memories always start at the beginning: six years old, my first glimpse of the stadium at night, entranced by neon ballplayers. I remember my eyes meeting the field, an impossibly vast expanse of sparkling green, for the first, awestruck time. I remember my dad teaching me “Let’s Go, Mets!” so I could join in with the rest of the crowd, and, once I got it, the exhilaration of joining the noisy thousands. I remember “Daaaaaaarrrryyyyl” when Strawberry stepped to the plate. I remember shouting “Wow!” when Mookie Wilson stole second base.
After a while I time-travel to 2006, to game seven, to my perch in the upper reaches of the upper deck down the third base line at Shea. My life was so different then, and the Mets were so different then, but somehow I step back through the years, and as close as is actually possible, I’m there again.
I can almost feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I can almost feel my aching feet--the ones I’d abused for hours by refusing to sit down even once, and by stomping and jumping at every decent turn of events on the field--and my manic disregard for them. And I can almost hear that voice again: The one I didn’t know before the game and would never know again, but managed to sear itself into my memory.
Those of us who were there--and those who have had the good fortune of attending other extraordinary baseball games--have these kinds of memories of the temporary, anonymous best friends we made at the ballpark.
As game seven wore on and the tension grew, we all started losing our minds a little, at least up where I was standing. Routine, good-natured heckling turned batty. One of my anonymous best friends--an enormous Latin dude in the row below me and my non-anonymous friends--grew agitated as Preston Wilson stood in the on-deck circle.
“Can you believe this fucking guy? He doesn’t think there were dinosaurs! And now he’s a Cardinal. No way this dude came from Mookie--MOOKIE’S NOT YOUR FATHER! MOOKIE’S NOT YOUR FATHER!”
My new best friend hollered his epiphany into the night air in perfect cadence with our old “Let’s Go, Mets” chant, punctuated for good measure--and for time-keeping purposes, I think--by his thump, thump thumping of a kiddie-size plastic inflatable Mets bat onto the seat in front of him.
Those of us in the section around him dissolved into hysteria. He was still shouting it when we caught our breath, and we joined him in solidarity, crazily invested in the conviction that There Stood No Son of Mookie.
The game arrived at its terrible end, obviously. I beheld the awful, eerie sound of 56,000 voices falling instantly silent. I said goodbye to my friends, anonymous and familiar alike, shuffled onto the 7 train, disembarked at Queensboro Plaza, stepped onto the N train, and sat in a crumpled, tearful heap as anonymous Astorians--few baseball fans among them--offered their condolences.
Now, eight years later and 1,800 miles away from Queens, I look back and realize that, old baseball chiches aside, Shea really was a cathedral of sorts: After all, it’s where we loved, hated, suffered, and rejoiced--sometimes all within the span of a few hours. It’s easy to look back and lament its loss, and to indulge a bittered dismissal of our new house, Citi Field. But that’s not what I feel right now. Right now, all I feel is a cherished past, and an anticipation for a future moment when our still-new house becomes our home: when the Mets rise up again, and all we see and hear and feel around us is the jubilation of victory, and of the knowledge that new and wonderful memories are being made.