Baseball Road Trip

Everybody Wang Chung Tonight

“I’ll drive a million miles, to be with you tonight
So if you’re feeling low, turn on the radio
.” – Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Wang Chung

One of my favorite television shows of all time is Cheers, and also up there is Frasier.  Thus, Frasier Crane is probably one of my favorite characters in television history.  I can watch that video clip above over and over, and laugh every single time.  Certainly a dry humor guy with no interest in pop culture, who loved a good scotch, opera and high art.  Yet, when he deadpans this line, “everybody Wang Chung tonight,” I lose it.  EVERY. TIME.

I felt like a drove a million miles last weekend.  The husband and I do like to take road trips, and we really wanted to get to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, especially this year since the series was over a weekend.  It just so happened that the games were meaningful in and of themselves.  When we had planned to go, we hadn’t really thought about implications if the Mets were going to be in first place or a potential clinching game.  It was more of a…we really need to get Cincinnati out of the way.

Last year, we had planned on going.  Although there was one glaring condition: I’d have to drive.  Since the hub doesn’t have a license, 10+ hours of driving was all on me.  That’s not very enticing for me.  Plus when we checked out airfares, we couldn’t find any fairly prices nonstop flights.  Moreover, we couldn’t find connections that didn’t take like 10 hours themselves.  I figured, we could just drive.  I live in the city so I don’t have to drive all that often or rely on a car.  Again, not an enticing idea.

So we started to scope out airfares early on.  While we found some fairly priced, once again we were faced with not finding decent connections anywhere.  Some people in that area have recommended flying into Columbus, Indianapolis, Lexington or Louisville, all within a two hour drive.  Again, didn’t make much sense, logistically.  Plus I HATE flying.  So deciding to drive was actually the easy part.  Especially since I’ve done the Pittsburgh trip, once as a passenger, once as a driver.  I figured, if I could do that, what’s another 4 1/2 hours?

Of course, I underestimated it.  We had to stop a few times, naturally, but mostly, by the time we made it to Cincy, I was done. DONE.  And I had to do it again.  Thankfully, we had the thought of mind to book a room in West Virginia, about four hours out.

We would leave after the last out of the Saturday game.

When I drive, I need tunes.  We splurged in the rental car for Sirius XM.  I love 80s and New Wave music, and since I was driving, hubby didn’t mind listening to it (also interspersed with some E Street Radio).  I heard “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung several times on the ride.  And every time I hear it, I deadpan the line from Cheers in the Frasier voice.  “Everybody…Wang CHUNG tonight.”  (And I also found out recently that Wang Chung actually means “Yellow Bell.”  So they’re telling you to Yellow Bell tonight.  I don’t know what that means.  Wang Chung tonight to the ears of the imagination sounds a lot better and more fun).

But something else.  The song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” originally came out in the fall of 1986, right before the Mets went on their whirlwind clinching, then historic postseason.  I was 10.  Instead of the hokey “We Are The Champions” or even Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration,” I always thought of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” as a more appropriate song to describe what it was like to be a New York Mets fan then.  It was crazy.  People kissed and high-fived strangers.  The 1980s were a fun time.  For my birthday this year, I’m going to have a 1980s dance party.  It was just different.  The music is ageless.  And I always think of the 1986 World Series when I hear “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” because I’m certain I listened to it in the Shea parking lot after the Mets won the Series.

Great American Ball Park   Celebrate

I didn’t think much of the concept of the Mets clinching the NL East while I was out there.  Many things had to go right, like the Nationals had to lose a game, and the Mets had to win both games while I was there.  Beating the Reds didn’t seem that hard of a task; seen their record this year?  There have been weirder things to happen to the Mets this year.

Also, this would potentially by the fifth clinching game I have seen the Mets play: 1986 Game 7 of the World Series; 1988 NL East Champs (#PostTraumaticMetsDisorder); 2000 Wild Card; 2006 NL East.  Now 2015 NL East.  Hopefully more.  Which leads me to…

The 2015 Mets have provided one of the zaniest years I care to remember.  If this team were a movie, we’d never believe it, because it would’ve never been true enough for us.  Think about it.  A relatively “okay” first half.  Great pitching.  Not enough offense.  Getting swept by the Cubs and Pirates…series swept, mind you.  Wilmer Flores “traded to the Brewers.”  Wilmer Flores cries.  Wilmer Flores stays and hits a walk off home run two nights later, proud to be a Met.  YOENIS FUCKING CESPEDES is traded to the Mets.  And bonus points: he MAKES A DIFFERENCE.  That shit happens to other teams; NEVER the Mets.  Imagine if the Carlos Gomez trade DID go through.  I’m certain the Mets wouldn’t have won the division with well over a week to spare.  Matt Harvey saying, oh by the way, I have an innings cap.  When he was like 10 away from said arbitrary cap.  Oh and how could I forget, the whole elusive three home runs by one player in a home game.  Happened TWICE within weeks (and Kirk Nieuwenhuis?  Really?).  And above all, a career year for one of my all time favorite Mets, Daniel Murphy.

They were written off on day one.  They would have an “okay” team, but clearly, 2015 would be the Nationals year.  And they were a decent team, with a top flight ace pitcher and a bona fide MVP candidate.  Yet, the Mets treated them this year they way the Phillies treated the Mets in 2007.  IT WAS FUCKING BEAUTIFUL MAN.

When I say “Zany,” if you were around for 1986, you might remember the game against the Reds, which featured an easy fly ball out that was dropped by Dave Parker, that led to extra innings, that led to Ray Knight punching Eric Davis, which led to Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco platooning in the outfield and pitching, AND ultimately led to George Foster (former Red) to be released from the team.

In a year where the impossible was possible, that game pretty much encapsulated what it was like to be a Mets fan and following that great team in 1986.

I’ve seen a lot of the Mets, and the Reds have figured into a lot of their history.  Probably most significant happened before I was born, and that was when Buddy Harrelson and Pete Rose got into a scuffle on the baseball diamond in 1973.  Then the fight in 1986.  Then the one game playoff in 1999.  There were many Reds who became Mets, and vice versa.  Foster, Knight, Steve Henderson, to name a few.  Of course, there was Tom Seaver, Randy Myers.

Tom Seaver Quote

The stadium was pretty nondescript, as far as more of the “recent stadiums” go.  This was stadium number 22 for me.  (Twenty-two is also my lucky number, go figure).  We also didn’t eat at the stadium at either game.  We ended up meeting my godmother before one game, and she bought us dinner.  The area by the stadium was pretty cool, lots of bars and restaurants to hang out at.  The Ohio River was pretty cool to see.  The only thing I really wanted was to try the infamous funnel cake fries at GABP.  But they were up in the 400 levels.  Really?  I was not walking to the upper deck to get funnel cake fries!

The Skyline Chili is supposed to be the bomb…however, our friend Fred “Stradamus” introduced us to Camp Washington and well, we didn’t need to be convinced that Coneys and chili cheese fries were meant to be consumed anywhere else.  (But the chili in Cincy is a ritual, so you must have it if you do visit).

And definitely visit the Reds Hall of Fame beforehand.  It is worth every price of admission to see it.  So much bad assery with Reds history.

We literally stayed to watch baseball.  Which is weird because in recent years while we’ve traveled or even been to home games, we rarely sat in our seats.  The New York Mets are playing can’t miss baseball right now.  It’s insane.  The last six years could have defeated me.  But as I said on Twitter a few weeks back, I’m going to ENJOY this shit.  Good or bad or ugly.  Sometimes all three…

In 1988, I thought the Mets were going to win it all.  I mean, that’s what dominant teams do, right?  After the Mets clinched the NL East on September 22, 1988, Uncle Gene, Aunt Melissa and Mr. E were drinking champagne.  They said I could have some.  I was only 12, you guys.  But I did what the team did: I started spraying it everywhere in the Shea parking lot we were parked.  My dad got upset with me; probably thought I was wasting some good alcohol.  After seeing the 1986 party hearty Mets, I was waiting a LONG ass two years to do that myself, like the big guys did.  But the champagne toasts were halted that year.  We’ve been waiting for the World Series ever since.

I managed to get champagne sprayed on me while the Mets fans who stayed behind after the win were greeted by the team.  This year may have been zany; it’s also been one of the most fun years I’ve had since 2006, when I’d get so drunk after a Jose Lima start, I’d have to be carried out of the stadium.  Hey, none of us are perfect.

But I couldn’t help but think of the song I was listening to several times in the car on the way to, where I’d think of my favorite television show and one of my favorite television characters of all time.

“There was a passage from one of those trifle songs that I feel is the keynote for this evening…

Everybody have fun tonight.

Everybody Wang Chung tonight.”

Just like the show, the 2015 Mets make me smile every time.  Sure, they aggravate me (what love affair of 30+ years doesn’t?).  But so much more to smile about than be angry about.

As someone said a few nights ago, this is the 2015 Mets.  They’ll either get swept out of the first round, or win the whole damn thing.

Tune in to see what’s next…

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Turns Out, You **CAN** Go Home Again

One constant you’ll see me harping on in my existence is a place to call home.  I didn’t necessarily move around a lot as a kid, but never felt like I quite belonged anywhere, and as a result I think my moving seven times in a period of 13 years has been a thinly veiled (or not-so-veiled) attempt at finding a place that I could root myself in.  Even in New York City, where I’d always coveted, and always wanted to call home.

Yet one place I’ve always felt confident and comfortable in my own skin is at a baseball stadium.  Shea Stadium served that role for several years, from the time I was eight years old and I attended my first Mets game, till I was something-something when it closed down.

In 2009, I had a hard time adjusting to CitiField.  I was far from the only one.  There were moments though when I felt connected in 2009.  Like Fernando Martinez’s debut, and my friends and I congregated on the Shea Bridge, then unnamed.  The Catch of the Day stand had calamari, and people kept buying beers.  It was like an Italian family gathering.

Then there was the game in August, by then the Mets were decimated by injuries, and Fernando Tatis hit a grand slam to win the game.  I had seen Howard Megdal and Mets friend CharlieH at the game. This was also the same day that a mushroom cloud erupted and Omar Minaya essentially called out Adam Rubin for trying to lobby for a job.

I wanted to go home.  I wanted Shea.  I couldn’t identify with a team that had plan Z’s all over the place (as opposed to Plan A, Plan B, etc).  I didn’t know any of the players.  And a six-week injury was a season long furlough.

But I couldn’t get away from the Mets.  CitiField didn’t feel like home, but I had planned to spend some time on the road, visiting another stadium.

This was the infamous West Coast Baseball Trip of ’09.  It was the last summer I was single.  It was the last summer I traveled alone for a baseball trip (and yes, my solo trip to Rogers Centre last season does NOT count because I’d rather forget about it).

It was the summer I discovered home on the west coast.

It was Angel Stadium, or as Greg Prince once described it to me, “Bizarro Shea.”

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The year 2009 was the year I met my now-brother husband/sister wife team in the Sollies.  While I met them at a Mets game at Petco Park, we became locked together for life.  Most of my west coast trips since then have entailed some time spent one way or another with them.  Whether that was them driving up to the Bay Area to see us at AT&T Park or going to the SF Zoo or even just taking a trip to Alcatraz.  Then there was the lost weekend of 2011 when the husband and I went to see them in their home quarters.

The Sollies say “home” to me.  They’re familiar.  They’re safe.

But Angel Stadium has a special place in my heart.  For baseball fans, 2009 was a tough year.  For one, young upstart pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed tragically by a drunk driver after his first game with Anaheim.  When I visited the stadium, I had it marked on my list, since I’d never been there, but I wasn’t expecting much.  I was blown away by the memorial outside for Adenhart.  It had been months, but still fresh in the mind of the fans.

Southern California baseball had experienced its hey day in the 1960s, which was when the stadium was built.  And there were many reminders of the decades past, not too long ago, around the stadium.  The “Big A” outside which had served as the scoreboard in the outfield.  More recent additions like the giant caps were outside by what was perceived to be the main entrance.  And for a team with only one championship, they really loved honoring their past, like having a Wall of Fame celebrating their stars, like Nolan Ryan…a guy most Mets fans can identify.

The Big A  Caps

Mets fans do love their history, and what was missing in 2009 was a nod to any of their history.  Most fans felt as though they were walking into a Brooklyn Dodger shrine.  And when I found Angel Stadium in 2009, it was exactly when I needed it.  I needed another home.  I love the West Coast.  I found it.

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When I visited the Sollies in 2011, it was basically July at Christmas (or Thanksgiving, since it was November).  We decided to make it a baseball trip, where we visited Dodger Stadium and Petco Park for tours.  We worked in other trips, like Hollywood Blvd, San Diego Zoo and Old Town.  But the focal point was of course our bond over baseball.

As we drove up Saturday morning to hit a Dodger Stadium tour, I saw the Big A from the highway.  And I had a feeling of longing.  I missed it.  And I’d only been there one other time in my life.  But we didn’t plan on taking a tour of it.  If they even offer them.  I hadn’t thought to look, because Dodger Stadium and Petco Park seemed more likely.

I’m rarely in Southern California, especially for business.  When I saw that I had a trip that brought me to the west coast in April, and lo and behold I got there with enough time to hit Anaheim and a baseball game at Angel Stadium, you best believe I took the universe up on that offering.

But my family grew.  Besides the Sollies, I got to see my esteemed podcast frequent guest and Whoomp! There It Is Jake! segment host, uh, Jake.  I also had reconnected with a former coworker who was now in SoCal, MB.  I purchased the tickets when I was waiting for my flight to Long Beach.

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So many things…

Someone had asked if I felt that Shea could have been comparable to Angel Stadium, had it been decided to revamp Shea instead of tear it down.  The consensus was that Shea was old and decrepit (and smelled bad…but yes, I still missed it terribly), and because it was exposed to different elements of weather, the upkeep was probably more costly.  Eh, who knows, it might have still been worth it.

But when I get to Angel Stadium again, it’s a sigh of relief.  See, when I travel, I’m a complete spaztastic spaz.  And this day was no different.  TSA was intent on fucking me over.  My plane got delayed on the tarmac because there was some sort of switch sticking, and maintenance people had to get us to the gate again.  Of course, I wouldn’t have minded if a) this same shit didn’t already happen when I was on my way to Seattle last November or b) if I didn’t have a connecting flight to catch in Las Vegas.  Oh, and I’m already a nervous wreck disaster because I don’t like cross-country flights (though they are more tolerable since I flew to India, an 11 hour flight after a six-or-so hour flight to Germany).

Then I get in a car…in Southern California…during rush hour traffic.

I need serious help.

But when I was driving to the local StubHub office, I drove right past Angel Stadium.  A calming effect, if you will.  I could exhale.  I felt good.

It was home.

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The Buzz Reached Shea Bridge

The Buzz Reached Shea Bridge

Urban legend has it that my dad once wore a suit to Opening Day at Shea one year.  When people asked him why, he said, “Well, it’s Opening Day!”  My family isn’t one to get all gussied for holidays or special occasions.  But Opening Day: that’s Christmas, New Year’s, Mardi Gras and 4th of July rolled into one.  When we’d drive there, or take the train, and Shea came into view, it was always a thrill, that first time of the year.

We had some defining Mo-Mets at Shea, and it was tough to get that at Citi.  Now I get the thrill when I see Citi.  We’ve had some good times, like 2012, with R.A. Dickey winning 20 games, David Wright breaking the all-time hit record and of course the Johan Santana no-hitter.

Last week, there was a buzz around Citi.  It had everything do with Matthew Edward Harvey.  Or as my friend Orlando (who is *NOT* a Mets fan) calls him, “The Truth.”

 

Even with the bells and whistles and focus on history at CitiField, there has been a disconnect between fans and the park.  It’s finally arrived.  With every Matt Harvey start, it’s bringing the energy of a Pedro Martinez start circa 2005 (by the way, FUCK PEDRO MARTINEZ), and the rock concert quality of a Doc Gooden start circa 1984.   Either one of those events took place at Shea Stadium.

Matt Harvey IS CitiField.

And should be for years to come.

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I’m very fortunate to have found my place with the misfits by being a Mets fan.  Yet it’s the only place I’ve found that being weird is a good quality, an acceptable one.

This weirdness got me to the Sollies, and to Jake, and got them to drive from various places in Southern California just to come watch some baseball at my west coast stadium home.

There’s a piece of paradise at this place.

Is it the waterfall in the outfield?  Is it the combination of eras?  Is it that it reminds me of Shea on some level?  I’m not sure.

DSCN6233  DSCN6238

Perhaps it was because at a time when it was hard to accept that things were changing for a Mets fan, I found an oddly familiar home 3,000-some miles away.

I get there, and I’m comfortable.

I get there, and I’m home.

I’m where I should be at home.

Now that Citi is getting to that point with me, I guess the need to visit my west coast home isn’t necessary or as longing.  Still doesn’t mean I can’t miss it when I don’t see it.