Picnic in the (ball)park

Sitting in Shea Stadium’s picnic area was all that I’d hoped it would be. While not quite on the level — even a smaller level — of Wrigley Field’s bleachers, Shea’s small section of metal benches and close proximity to the left fielder brings a different feel to the game.

In Flushing, the picnic area leans more toward families, with plenty of small rumps to fill seats on the bleachers and not make it feel too crowded. In Wrigleyville, the bleachers are definitely the adult section behind the curtain at the video store.

Casey and I got there early enough that we had our pick of seating areas in the top half of the bleachers; we were too late to find much open space in the first half-dozen or so rows that lead down closest to the fence. But we had a good view and didn’t get too crowded out as the benches filled in.

The Mets didn’t disappoint, either. In the first inning, David Wright sent a towering home run into the picnic area, about 30 feet to our left. We could see the ball quickly climb beyond the edge of the top of the stadium, a small white dot against the darkening sky that quickly grew larger as it soared toward us. It came down almost directly to our left, and when they later announced the distance as 410 feet, I had to look over at the landing spot again to see where they got that measurement from. I was certain it was 10-15 feet deeper than the 410 mark in center field, but perhaps it was further left of center than I realized. Later, Carlos Delgado provided the only other run of the game — on a home run to the left of center that also came our way. It couldn’t have gone much better.

Ironically, though, for a section named “the picnic area,” the food there is a much more limited selection of the basic crap sold inside Shea Stadium. Don’t get me wrong — I love the Mets and will buy concessions from time to time. But neither New York ballpark is going to top any lists of the best ballpark food in America. Things will change when Citi Field opens next year, but for now, I always bring my own peanuts to push back hunger in case lukewarm pretzels or hit-or-miss pizza or Nathan’s fries don’t entice me. Having gorged ourselves at lunch earlier in the day, there was no need for us to visit the concession stand, other than the soda I got to quench my thirst. And I did nibble on a few of the peanuts in my bag.

As for the bleachers themselves, as any high school or college football fan knows, extended time sitting on the ridged metal will numb the bum and ache the back, so we took to standing between each inning and, as everyone got up for the seventh-inning stretch, made our way down to Long Ball Alley beneath the stands. There, a small souvenir stand hawks merch and a few round bar tables fill the space and give the fans a standing-room area to watch the game through the chain links in the outfield wall. Josh Willingham stood much closer to us and the crushed red brick of the warning track lay on just the other side.

Having seen a game from the press box — also the same level as the “luxury” boxes — there remains only one section open to fans from which I haven’t watched a game, and probably never will: The StubHub DreamSeats in the left- and right-field corners. Maybe there’s a chance I’ll get updated at one of these last games — 25 to go, after tonight’s 8-6 win over the Marlins, and at least four I expect to attend — but if I don’t make it, I won’t have any regrets. I may not remember much of the changes that have been implemented at Shea in its four decades, but I do know that the DreamSeats are less than a decade old. There’s no remorse in missing out on a recent gimmick.

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