A Queens story

Stadium status

Back in the winter, when the Mets announced Nas would do a postgame concert after a game in July, I decided that if I went to Citi Field just once this year, a distinct possibility, it would be that one.

For better or worse, I’ve been a Mets fan since fifth grade, and — same qualifier — Nas is my favorite rapper. It seemed one of those times where everything comes together, like when I ran into Darryl Strawberry while covering a boxing match, or far more importantly, when I met my future wife while participating in a zombie walk. (We’re all the way on the right.)

Having worked in baseball for nine years, I no longer identify with the people who insist a night at the ballpark is heaven on earth, or whatever. I still like going to the occasional game, but for the most part, I endeavor to keep my work and leisure time as separate as possible. Not to mention, I turn 34 this week, and I’ve come to cherish a night consisting of a quiet dinner and watching American Horror Story on the couch.

All that said, I couldn’t help romanticizing the idea just a bit: A cool summer night, watching a ballgame without having to edit stories about it, then watching Nas tear it up — in theory — in his home borough.

I asked my wife if she would go with me as an early birthday present. To say she doesn’t like baseball is to put it nicely, and she literally could not care less about Nas. But since she’s the greatest, she gamely agreed to go.

*****

Montana and I both worked long days before the game, so we met up at Penn Station already a little worse for wear. We wedged our way onto a packed 7 train and arrived a few batters into the game, which rapidly became a complete debacle.

Rico suave

By the time we got to our seats midway through the first inning, Jeremy Hefner had already allowed four runs. The Phillies then eviscerated Hefner for seven runs in the third, leaving virtually no reason to continue to watch in earnest. Factor in that it was about 150 degrees that night, and even the kid in our section proudly sporting a Rico Brogna shirt looked deflated.

Luckily, we had an appealing option; our tickets gave us access to the air conditioned Acela Club restaurant in left field.

When Citi Field first opened, I lamented that the bells and whistles had seemingly superseded the ballgame itself. Most people appear to look forward more to getting a Shake Shack hamburger than actually watching the game, though to be fair, it doesn’t help that the Mets haven’t had a winning season since the stadium opened.

Still, I had fond memories of dilapidated but endearing Shea Stadium, where you had no choice but to sit and watch the game since there was literally nothing else to do. Besides, if you started looking around, you might see a rat mugging someone.

Over time, though, I’ve come to appreciate the contingency plans the newer ballparks offer. Baseball isn’t exactly the fastest-paced sport — it is, in fact, arguably the slowest — but when a game is close, there’s at least some inherent intrigue. When your team is down 11-0 in the third inning, the thought of sitting there and watching every pitch is akin to sitting through the world’s longest, slowest movie.

Past reticence be damned, the Acela Club was clearly the way to go. The food was great, and we stretched our dinner out over the next five innings; my only regret is we didn’t stay for a sixth. The huge glass windows of the restaurant overlooked the field, so every once in a while, we could steal a glance to make sure the Mets weren’t launching some miraculous comeback. (They weren’t.)

We rejoined our friend Sam at the seventh-inning stretch — he was fervently shopping for furniture on Craig’s List — and enjoyed a meaningless David Wright home run in the ninth while we waited for Nas.

Nas is coming

*****

Across town in the Bronx that same night, Jay-Z was performing with Justin Timberlake at a sold-out Yankee Stadium, the performers and the venue connoting high society.

It seemed oddly fitting that Nas performed for a couple thousand die-hards and stragglers after a miserable Mets loss.

While Jay-Z uses an extravagant, elaborate stage show, the setup for Nas looked like what you’d see before a high school musical. We looked on bemused while 30-year-old trucks dragged pieces of the stage crookedly across the diamond, eventually setting up around second base. After watching about 15 minutes of disjointed preparation, Montana blurted, “Are you kidding me?”

Things picked up significantly when Nas bounded across the field in his now-familiar Mets jersey with his name on the back. Performing at his home borough’s most significant landmark, Nas was spirited and energetic. Backed by a live band, he performed pretty much anything you’d ever want to hear him play: Made You Look, Nas is Like, Street Dreams, Hate Me Now, One Mic, a half-dozen cuts from Illmatic. The crowd responded in kind, chanting lyrics as well-worn and comfortable as their favorite pair of sneakers while the aroma of marijuana wafted across the Citi Field stands.

As always with Nas, you have to take the bad with the good. Talented as he is, he simply isn’t equipped to carry a stadium show: The crackly PA system rendered his beats indistinguishable, while the intricacy of his lyrics was diluted by having to bark them out to make sure they reached the stands. Plus, with so much material and a limited amount of time, he went into full-on medley mode; we rarely got more than one verse of most songs.

It has become apparent to me over time why Nas and the Mets are such a perfect match: They’ve given us moments of unquestioned brilliance, but they unflinchingly let us down the vast majority of the time.

But then we’ll always have Illmatic, and Orosco throwing his glove to the sky. So we keep coming back out of respect to how wonderful those things were, and as Quixotic as it may seem, there’s forever the hope that something like that will happen again.

Stillmatic

*****

Our trip home was as much a fiasco as Jeremy Hefner’s performance. It was a typical Friday night in NYC, which meant we were completely surrounded by loud, drunken morons. To boot, we got stuck on a painfully slow local 7 train and missed our NJ Transit connection by literally two minutes.

Sweaty, cranky and exhausted, we wouldn’t get back to our home in New Jersey until about 2:30 a.m. I did have to laugh when Montana confided in me before we went to bed: “I have to be honest. I don’t really like Nas.”

As much an ordeal as Friday night was, Saturday was the complete opposite. With the puppy visiting Montana’s parents, we were free to sleep in for once. We hung out in bed reading, napping and watching television late into the afternoon. It was basically a perfect way to spend the day.

As it turned out, my favorite part of our odyssey to Citi Field wasn’t Nas, and it certainly wasn’t the Mets. It was spending some time with someone who’s willing to go all over the Tri-State Area to make me happy.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s not where you’re at. It’s who you’re with.

Esoteric

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.