Wednesday, April 29, 2009

batting practice at Shea

Inspired by the words of Dana Brand, in his recent post telling about going to see batting practice at Chez Amazin', I bring you this generic memory from my days at Shea.

I don't remember exactly when I discovered batting practice. I don't know how I did either. It was some time in the late 1990s, maybe 1997 or 1998. It always seemed to appeal to me because I was a Mets fan who wanted to get up close and get autographs. Something about that back then was fun. You could hear the players joking around. You could really hear the crack of the bad when Mike Piazza got in the box. You could stand just behind the Mets dugout, touching the top of it, as I often did when I went.

From the dugout, players would pass right by you before disappearing into the abyss below. David Wright, Robin Ventura, Julio Franco. They all walked past. So did so many others. Some would stop and sign when you asked. Others said to hang on because they had to go hit or taking fielding practice. Some would come back, others wouldn't, and sometimes you'd be gone trying to get an autograph from somewhere else.

It was a time to be around some real fans. Those pushing and shoving, sometimes, to get to the front of the line to see that it wasn't Piazza who was signing. Others just wanted to get down that close because they never had before, or they knew that they'd never be able to sit that close when we all knew these were season tickets and we couldn't have them. For me, it was a little of everything. I only got to sit down there once. That post is coming tomorrow.

Ya, batting practice was fun. Shea had the music going. There was still daylight before a night game. Or it was just early in the morning for an afternoon game. Back in the days when I started going early, there wasn't as much separation between the field and stands. I don't remember the photo box being such a separation as it was towards the end. The dugout didn't have that railing and screen in front like they all do today. Players weren't physically forced to enter/exit the dugout through the two openings left, which would limit the good places to stand to get autographs.

The foul lines didn't have that extra section of off-limits premium seats until a few years ago. That really limited what you could do. I remember in the great 1999 season, I went to quite a few games, maybe 9 or 10. That's a lot for me to go to. Some of the fondest memories I have about going to Shea weren't the games I saw that year, but being at BP. I got Piazza's autograph behind the dugout and almost gave myself a hernia trying to reach and get my program back.

There was one or two times where I could hang out with Bobby V and some other fans just past the camera well along the foul line. He was always good about doing that and joked with us. Al Leiter was great too (of course, not on the days he pitched). I was hanging out in the RF corner with him and some fans after he had pitched the night before. It was that game in the final week of the season where he kept the Mets alive by beating Atlanta, and Yoshii was pitching that day (the game I went to). Al's just loose as can be at that point, hanging out with us, and he tells us "don't boo Yoshii every time he has a 3-ball count".

Sometimes, you'd get screaming line drives right down the line that you could reach over and grab bouncing off the dirt. I have a couple BP balls from that season alone.

Some of that fun fell away in the last few years of Shea, with all the obstructions and the new attitude brought on by Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya. Now we're all forced to be down the foul line where the obstructions are built-in at the new park. The fun days are now just fading memories.