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    F I E L D  T R I P S

May 15, 2001

April 15, 2001: Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets, Shea Stadium
Flushing Shea

By the standards of the dyed-in-the-pinstriped-polyester Yankees fan I am a bandwagoneer, having taken to the team only during the renaissance of the Torre Epoch (four world championships in five years, remember?). It thus stands to reason that my resentment of the crosstown Mets would be something less than the genuine article, a relatively recent grudge for the sake of fashion and the Subway Series. While it is true that I have been known to sympathize with the Blue and Orange — especially with regards to their struggles against a certain Turner Empire — any reports of my pledging allegiance to the Metropolitan franchise are greatly exaggerated. I spent two vivid Octobers back in the Eighties rooting for a stake to be driven in their hearts, and old habits do not die hard. I cringe more than a little at the thought of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson, relentlessly fighting off pitch after pitch after pitch until the ball finally dribbles through Bill Buckner's legs. Only warm thoughts of Orel Hershiser can ward off the vampires.

So it is with less than total enthusiasm that I mount an expedition to Shea Stadium, where banners of some of these pinstriped heroes drape from the rafters of the spartan concourse. I had been left a pair of tickets in my metaphorical Easter basket, to a Sunday game in Queens against the Cincinnati Reds. With no plans to hunt for eggs, the promise of a free game on a sunny day was too much to refuse.

Sitting in the Mezzanine, section 16, just beyond 3rd base, I had as splendid a view of the parking lot and the surrounding borough as a denizen of Shea could hope for. The airplane exhaust provided a touch of spring to the moderate breeze, and with accompanying sound effects, no less. Okay, okay, it still beats a day in the office, especially if one focuses on the manicured grass and the 90 feet between bases. But as I've found time and again, the Mets don't really move me unless the wolf is at their door. Put them in a must-win situation against the Atlanta Braves and I'll stay glued for 16 innings of taut playoff suspense, even with the Yankees coasting on another channel. Put them in a game against the Reds, nemeses of my Dodger-Blue youth, and I'll root for them even if I don't get to boo an injured Ken Griffey, Jr. four times a game. But don't expect me to watch their $42 million pitcher labor through five tedious innings without questioning the ways this franchise spends its money.

Time was, Kevin Appier was one of the best pitchers in the game, when he toiled for Kansas City. Or so I'm told. But a shoulder injury cost him a year and a few feet off his fastball. Despite something of a resurrection (sorry) last year in Oakland, where he won 15 games, there is no getting around the fact that Appier has become rather ordinary. Watching him slog through games, one might never guess, if not for the occasional patented Gritty Veteran herbs and spices, that he was much different from fifty other middle-of-the-rotation starters around the league.

Appier slogged through five innings, allowing nine hits to the almost Griffey-less Reds (Junior, still suffering from a torn hamstring, was limited to pinch-hitting, grounded out weakly in his cameo). "Ape," as the scoreboard unflatteringly referred to him before the game, also walked three, and departed trailing 3-1 (yes, I have no banana joke to insert here). That was it for the scoring, though it took seven relievers (yawn) to close out the game. Reds starter Jim Brower, making his National League debut, pitched 5 2/3 effective innings, chalked up the win and got his first major league hit as well, on a bunt single. The win meant a sweep of the three game series for the Reds, while the meager Mets dropped to 4-8.

The Mets' best chance to tie the game came in the 7th, when their Japanese import Tsuyoshi Shinjo led off with a double down the leftfield line and went to third on a fly ball to right. But the best the heart of the order could manage was a base on balls before Mark Wohlers quashed the "rally".

The most noteworthy aspect of the game for me was that it was my first trip to the ballpark with my girlfriend. She had recently returned from Milwaukee, where she visited Brewers' state-of-the-art Miller Park. In that context, Shea must have felt even more like a parking lot to her than it did to me. How interesting is a big apple in a top hat when you've got a retractable roof to admire? She has her share of anecdotes from growing up in a baseball-infused family (ask her about the Jack Morris autograph story some time), and she still has me beaten as far as major league ballparks visited. She's also no small part of this site's inspiration. My kind of gal.

Final score: Reds 3, Mets 1. Zero beers, one lukewarm hot dog, zero Easter Eggs. BOX SCORE