At Citi Field, It’s About the Company You Keep

A trip to Citi Field is a reminder that a fanbase is the only appropriate lens to watch a ballgame through. 

Rarely do I visit both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in the same week. Doing so within a couple of days puts two very different teams with two emotionally opposite fanbases in quick relief of one another. Yankee fans were, at worst, slightly annoyed down 5-0 on Wednesday night, then overjoyed—but hardly surprised—when they eventually won the game. Mets fans on Friday night seemed to be uncertain if it was okay to be happy without exceptions. Both dispositions were infectious. For me, the former was foreign; blue (and orange) is my mood.

Some highlights from a packed Citi Field:

  • Someone mentioned that our stadium was on fire recently, only as if they were talking about a cloudy day.
  • An older fan seated next to me pointed out that Jose Reyes stinks. Reyes got a hit, and we laughed about it. Later, he reiterated that Jose Reyes stinks.
  • Someone behind me was making turkey calls.
  • Mr. Met shot a t-shirt from a cannon that didn’t clear the newly extended netting. The shirt fell back and hit his baseball head.
  • A fan expressed his excitement for the start of a free Busta Rhymes concert taking place postgame. He wanted to watch that instead.
  • Another fan went on a tirade as we exited the stadium, claiming the Mets paid Busta Rhymes instead of paying for players.
  • Jose Bautista’s pop up in the fourth was met with this screamed insult: “BAT FLIP!”

I should add that, by the end of the night, I knew I had a great time at the game even though the Mets lost to the Dodgers. I’ve never really had a bad experience at Citi Field or Shea Stadium before. Watching baseball in Flushing is a communal experience and can only be communally appreciated. Here, misery—and sometimes bliss—loves company equally.

Losing certainly hurts, and it influences the crowd. But it’s processed through the fans with you before it crushes you. Here, emotions aren’t entirely tied to how you interpret the game you’re technically here to see. Here, like most nights in life, how the night will be remembered is linked to how well you ate and drank. But especially at Citi Field, the third crucial part of a memorable night is the most important: it’s all about the company you keep.

During a walk around the ballpark, the field is viewable from just about any angle, any beer tap, any food stand. On a line for nachos or pastrami, the game is just behind you, only to the left or right of you, or on a screen above the register. There’s no rush to get back to your section. But it’s not because the line for artisanal cookie dough may be a bit long. There are hundreds of interactions and conversations to stroll by and pull contact highs and lows from.

When I took my walk, I saw friends reuniting on the coincidence that they both had tickets to this game. I saw people dancing. Smokers exchanged stories of their stressful days. The lady who prepared my nachos laughed about asking me if I wanted beans twice. It felt genuinely funny in the moment. I saw couples holding hands and stealing kisses on Shea Bridge. People were comfortable handing their pricey cell phones to strangers so their whole group could get into a photo. Zack Wheeler was sharp early, and more than one conversation featured a hopeful friend making the case that a playoff run was still in the cards while the skeptical friend did some troubling mental math about the standings. Too many teams to jump. Too many games behind the Braves/Nationals/Phillies. But if Cespedes comes back soon…

My cousin and I sat near first base, not far from the Mets dugout. The crowd around our seats ebbed and flowed with the game. The atmosphere was initially surly; mortal enemy Chase Utley was activated before the game. The news spread between the more connected fans. Boos and bad words were locked and loaded but ultimately used elsewhere.

As Wheeler controlled the Dodgers early, our section was … I’m not sure what the word for it is. Happy, sure. But not unbridled. There was a lot of game to go and a lot of history that said a wire-to-wire good night wasn’t in our cards. A few fans were downright cynical: yeah Wheeler was dealing, but an offense that had been historically poor wouldn’t be able to pick him up if he faltered, and a rickety bullpen was sure to screw it up if Wheeler didn’t. But most importantly, the vibe wasn’t indifferent.

Michael Conforto came up with a dazzling catch on a Joc Pederson shot that was slicing away from him, diving onto the warning track and hitting the dirt with his arms, torso, hips, and legs going wherever they damn well pleased. Jubilation spread cautiously through our section. At first, it didn’t make sense that the play was made. It was a run-saving effort and a miraculous one at that. A guy behind me was chanting, “Get there, Conforto, get there Conforto” from contact as if willing some route efficiency into the young center fielder’s path. When it was clear that yes, Conforto did catch the ball, and yes, he was okay, we let our disbelieving trance give way to delight. As close to uninhibited joy as we could get. It was raining slightly, but every raindrop missed us. We greeted Conforto with reverence and a standing ovation, and then we turned to each other with “wow” faces, as if we each had to confirm with one another that we actually all saw that.

In between half-innings, I thought of the best game I’d ever been to. April 2006, a Pedro Martinez start at Shea Stadium against the Washington Nationals where the benches cleared after Washington’s Jose Guillen was hit twice by Martinez. Guillen was playing right field, the part of the park I was sitting closest to with my sister and my cousin, and our section was raucous. They gave Guillen the raunchiest of business throughout the night.

Nationals players, in general, received infinite threats, and the beers flowed so freely amongst our neighbors, I believed some of those threats to be credible. I was 16. There was a guy in our section everyone called “Gringo” who was the coolest dude I’d ever met at a game. His face was as red as it could get by the third inning. We were wire-to-wire happy. Later that night, we saw Gringo pulled over by a police officer, receiving a sobriety test. It’s always been about the company you keep.

This game wouldn’t be the same. The company was slowly getting loose as Wheeler moved comfortably along. By the sixth inning, they might have been optimists. Then Cody Bellinger launched an upper deck grand slam, and someone behind us screamed: “SELL!” The atmosphere changed in an instant. The crowd regressed into bemused disgust.

The Mets lost, and the stadium emptied slowly because of the Busta Rhymes concert. There were rants all around us on the way out. Walking towards our car, a young lady was wobbling, gripping tightly to a friend’s hand as she stumbled through the parking lot. Her friend begged her to keep moving. After we passed her, we heard a torrent of vomit that sounded like a fire hydrant had been opened behind us. Someone said “Ewww!” My cousin, who is 16, has yet to experience (as far as I know) the aftermath of heavy drinking. He didn’t see her spew, but he heard it, and his face scrunched with an expression that I’d describe as bemused disgust.

He’s a Mets fan. He’s getting to know the company he’ll keep for decades to come.

Khurram Kalim is a Senior Writer for Bronx to Bushville. 

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