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Scott Ostler

Now for a Sneaky Preview of New York World Series: Escape From Shea Stadium

September 24, 1986|Scott Ostler

Normally I read with amusement reports of bizarre social behavior in New York City. That's because normally I read these reports with a 3,000-mile buffer zone separating me from the action.

I chuckled when I read about the Shea Stadium fans celebrating the Mets' division title wrap-up by ripping apart the field, like berserk pirates searching for buried treasure without a map.

Then it occurred to me that if the Angels get into the World Series and play the Mets, I will be right there at Shea Stadium, armed only with pen and notebook, the next time the city's sodbusters go into a feeding frenzy.

This has caused me to take a more serious look at the situation.

I've been wondering, for instance, how the grass actually gets torn out. Have you ever tried to pry up a hunk of turf the size of a hotel mattress with your bare hands? These people must be using tools. Serious tools, like picks and shovels.

Arriving for a World Series game at Shea, walking into the stadium, must be like going down into the coal mines, or walking to work with the Seven Dwarfs. Only these people are mental midgets.

What causes thousands of loony fans to storm a baseball field like the Marines hitting the beach at Guadalcanal? I don't know. Maybe they're frustrated farmers. This in New York City, cradle of civilization.

Los Angeles fans would never rip apart a ball field. Especially not in Orange County, where people know better than to claim a piece of land before it clears escrow.

New York fans are a different breed. A breed that missed a rung or two on the evolutionary ladder. New York fans have thrown knives at players. They have attacked umpires on the field.

In the days when bullpen cars were used at Yankee Stadium, one visiting relief pitcher told of the first time he was called into the game there: "I get into the car and the driver tells me to lock my door."

Before the Mets clinched, I heard catcher Gary Carter on a radio interview, pleading with the fans of the city.

"Please don't hurt us," Carter said. He didn't seem to be kidding.

The fans heeded Carter's cry. They didn't hurt any Mets during the celebration, although Dwight Gooden was knocked down when he was caught going the wrong way in the one-way land rush.

Yes, New York loves to party.

"Say, honey," a typical New York fan must say to his girlfriend, "I've got tickets to the Mets game tonight. They could wrap up the pennant, you know."

"How grand!," she answers. "We'll have hot dogs and peanuts, cheer the boys on, drink about 18 beers each, use some PCP, and, if we can still stand, we'll storm the field, assault the armed security guards, snatch hats and shoes off the ballplayers as they flee for their very lives, then dig up about 20 square feet of center field as a souvenir."

"Jolly!" he says. "It will make a marvelous throw rug for the guest bedroom. You get the binoculars, dear, and I'll grab the tire iron."

New York fans are not greedy or wasteful. They take only what they can eat. After the Mets clinched the division, the fans left several sizeable patches of Shea Stadium grass intact.

They work quickly and efficiently. You could make millions of dollars by busing these fans to L.A. and turning them loose on suburban lawns, if you could teach them to remove only the crabgrass.

The field at Shea has been repaired. Still, in the playoffs and Series, the Mets and their opponents will be forced to play winter rules. Any batted ball that winds up in an unplayable lie--in a crater, or under a slab of new sod--the nearest fielder will be allowed a free drop, and the batter will not be charged a stroke penalty.

No matter how nifty the repair job, playing a championship series on this patchwork field will be like holding a championship bowling tournament in a real alley. Met management would love to avoid another fan invasion if and when the Mets clinch the National League title, but they're not sure what to do.

They have considered erecting a barbed-wire barrier, digging a moat around the field, bringing in attack cockroaches. But these security measures are standard at New York apartment complexes and have proven ineffective.

My suggestion would be a simple promotion night. Designate every Mets home game "Sod Night." The first 30,000 paying fans will each receive an 80-pound chunk of turf stuffed into a gunny sack.

As an added deterrent, have the stadium PA man make a stern announcement: "Absolutely no one will be allowed to leave the stadium immediately after the game, in an orderly fashion!"

Chances are, though, should the Mets win anything else this season, there will be no way to keep the fans from their appointed rounds, from hacking the Shea Stadium grass into two acres of green cole slaw and carrying the turf off to the subways.

If you plan to be there, but as a non-pillager, my only advice is this: Don't wear green.

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