The Magic of Baseball

Returning to Citi Field Was a Field of Dreams

ROBBINS NEST,The New Yoek Extra/

By Lenn Robbins

We all have these wonderfully poignant post-pandemic stories, even as the Delta variant threatens to pull us back to mask ages. We have grandparents meeting grandchildren, friends seeing friends for the first time in some 18 months, fans returning to a live sporting event.

Sunday was my first live game since the coronavirus and all its evil cousins became our family. My son, Harry, and I went to the Mets-Blue Jays game at Citi Field. He played the role of fan. I played the role of human cash machine even though Citi Field is cashless, which is understandable in this age of COVID. But as Steve Martin said in the over-the-top comedy, “My Blue Heaven,” I don’t believe in tipping. I believe in over-tipping.”

I loaded up on singles and we took the “L” to the “4” to the “7,” to this gem of ballpark where a team owned by one of us, Steve Cohen, astonishingly took the field in first place despite enough injuries to fill half of Rusk Rehabilitation.

Yes, wearing a mask on the subway is as comfortable as wearing one of those disposable hospital gowns, but a small price to pay to keep us all safe. And it’s amazing that one fare can get you from Stuytown to Flushing. We barely had to wait for a train – on a Sunday! – so kudos, MTA.

We received our complementary, quaint Mets Six-Can Cooler which certainly won’t keep anything cool for the length of a game but free is free. Our seats, Section 427, Row 1, Seats 23 and 24, we’re a bargain at about $35 per ticket. We encountered no alcohol-fueled knuckleheads. Even the weather cooperated beautifully.

The toughest decision of the day for us – Mets manager Luis Rojas would face his in the sixth – was what to eat. Kudos to No.1 son for choosing Danny Meyers’ Blue Smoke. We used to live right across the street from the Manhattan restaurant and virtually had a house account there. The pandemic forced Blue Smoke to close so this was a culinary walk down memory lane – pulled pork, brisket, corn bread, washed down with a cold Blue Moon for me, a water for him.

We went through a trove of napkins as we recounted the last time we had been to a game. I was still taller than him, which isn’t saying much considering there might be some rides I still can’t get on. But he has sprouted, grown facial hair and helped me call up the tickets on my IPhone.

Newly acquired Rich Hill made his first start for the Mets. The 41-year-old threatened to hit 90 on a few of his four-seam fastballs and mixed enough of those with his curveball to get in and out of trouble. Through five innings the Mets had a 1-0 lead and Hill had a four-hit shutout.

The sun was shining but not pulverizing. The humidity was present but not suffocating.

The barbecue gave way to a shared box of popcorn and discussions about his upcoming junior year of high school and a fun spur-of-the-moment game in which we had to pick the home country of each player. He won 20-18, getting bonus points for knowing Marcus Semien was not just from California but San Francisco.

There was laughter. There was thought. There was camaraderie. Anyone who has or is raising teenagers knows those moments are precious.

Hill dug himself a sinkhole in the six, hitting George Springer to lead off the inning. Rojas thought about making a change but allowed the veteran to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 6-2, 250-pound spring-loaded power hitter. He lashed a four-seamer into right center that must have had a jetpack on it. After Hill walked Simien, his afternoon was over. The crowed of  23,675 appreciated his debut.

Seth Lugo promptly gave up a single to Bo Bichette and a fielder’s choice to Teoscar Hernandez before getting three quick outs to end the top half of the inning. A 1-0 lead had become a 3-1 deficit.

But there’s this optimistic vibe at Citi Field that wafts through the stands. When Pete Alonso came to bat with Michael Conforto on second and Ryan Borucki on the mound, the guys who walk from section to section playing the cowbell went Will Farrell and started hammering away.

Alonso had obliterated a Borucki offering Friday night, sending it some 450-feet into the second deck in a 3-0 Mets win. This time he didn’t thoroughly embarrass Borucki. His 405-foot blast didn’t make the second deck but it tied the score, 3-3, and suddenly we were high-fiving strangers. Alfonso looked like Crash Davis as he turned to the Mets dugout and raised both palms up as if to say, “Who knew?”

 Jeff McNeil would single in two and it’s 5-3 Mets. Everyone sang along to Billy Joel’s, “Piano Man.” This was fun. This was Sunday afternoon baseball in late-July when your team is in it and those dreams in April live.

It was 5-4 in the top of the ninth when Edwin “Mr. Interesting” Diaz took the mound. He struck out George Stringer and walked Guerrero, which we counted as a win. Diaz cut down Semien and Bichette, in between a wild pitch of the high school variety, just to make it well, interesting.

The crowd chanted “Let’s go Met’s!” as we walked down the ramp. We bought a couple of ice cold waters for $1 each and actually got seats on the “7.” We sat in quiet reverie, content in having had this day and this time together.

My son then asked the sweetest of questions: “When can we come back?”

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