The most beautiful view last night at Citi Field, the Mets' new ballpark in Queens, was the pre-game shot on the massive centerfield video screen of Rachel Robinson, resplendent at age 86 and a glowing, regal presence during the opening game ceremonies honoring the 62nd anniversary of her late husband's gift to the American nation. On a day that saw thousands of dead-enders, 9/11 conspiracy fanatics, immigrant haters and keyboard revolutionaries "rally" against the American form of representative democracy in so-called "tea parties" around the country, you got the feeling that Rachel Robinson could walk into any of these surly mobs in Cincinnati or St. Louis or Pasadena and part the waters of intolerance by the force of elegance and history alone.
Some conservative bloggers think baseball's annual tribute to Jackie Robinson is "over the top" and has "reached the point of absurdity," and perhaps they've got a point: teams should stick to their increasingly corporate business plans and steroid-damaged product, rather than pausing once a year to recognize the one true American baseball hero, who first suited up in Major League flannels 62 years ago yesterday. Let April 15th merely pass as tax day, when all ballclubs can cheer their anti-trust exemption and most can toast their tax incentives and stadium construction deals paid for by the American dime.
Yet last night, from my top-deck seats in the relatively modest and intimate taxpayer-assisted Citi Field - built on the Fitzgerald's Valley of the Ashes next to the No. 7 line in the former parking lot of the now-deceased Shea Stadium - the Robinson-flavored celebration was perfectly pitched to our times: a relatively subtle yet urgent tug on the sleeves of younger generations. That tug suggests a pause to consider the ideals Robinson embodied, as well as his evident humanity and brilliant baseball skill. Sketched around the outside wall of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the Mets' main entryway built to evoke the ghost of Ebbetts Field in the neighboring borough, is the man's famed epitaph: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Robinson was famously a Republican, of course - but more of the Rockefeller variety, and he destroyed William F. Buckley on his own Firing Line program in 1964 by arguing forcefully (and accurately) that the John Birch wing of the party was dominated by racists. The former Dodger remembered the encounter with pride in his autobiography: "A man who prides himself on coming out of verbal battle cool, smiling, and victorious, he lost his calm, became snappish and irritated, and, when the show was over and everyone else was shaking hands, got up and strode angrily out of the studio."
April 15th was the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but the entire 1947 season was his long trial, and into retirement he continued to civil rights and tolerance in tough but civil discourse. As his widow spoke about his legacy in Queens to a crowd of Mets fan that included my son (who reveres Jackie Robinson as his personal hero and raced down the aisle to snap a cellphone shot of Mrs. Robinson on the field) the recalcitrant and long-growing roots of American intolerance sent up a few shoots into the spring sun shine. You probably saw some of the "Tea Party" signs, and reached for your trusty weed-wacker (or felt the sudden need for a shower):
"Wake Up! Fresh Prince of Belair (sic) is Destroying Us -- Stop Drinking the Red Koolaid."
Obama's Plan: White Slavery
Somewhere in Kenya a Village is Missing itsw Idiot
The American Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's Ovens
Obama Socialist Pig
Ostensibly an anti-tax movement in the long tradition of anti-tax movements in this country, yesterday's pathetic teafest was in reality just an excuse to vent: frustration at the failure of the conservative movement and the end of Reagan revolution, anger at the incompetence of the Republican leadership and the rise of the Democrats, some legitimate frustration with massive tax-funded corporate bailouts - and a whole lotta good old-fashioned Confederate flag-waving American intolerance, keyed to the inescapable fact that the President of the United States is not a white man.
Numbers guru Nate Silver estimated the total turnout nationally for the Fox-driven, Republican approved Tea Parties at around 250,000 people. Small, when you consider some of the largest protests in recent American life - the ones in favor of immigration, as James Wolcott recalled:
It's remarkable and telling how some of the biggest peaceful political rallies this country has ever seen took place only three years ago, only to be flushed down the memory hole. I'm speaking of the tremendous pro-immigration rallies that took place in 2006, with an estimated half-million people assembling in downtown Los Angeles alone. Those rallies did not lack energy, enthusiasm, or organization, and I daresay among those hundreds of thousands of people lobbying for enlightened immigration legislation were low-income workers with "real jobs."
As Al Giordano noted, the tea-baggers - steeped in stupidity, I just can't help it - lacked any kind of thematic coherence: "They’ve served up a menu of (some of them contradictory) complaints and conspiracy theories (some rail against “socialism” and “world government,” with large doses of the same paranoia and victimhood of that kept the United States left self-marginalized for three decades and more until now)."
Sure, some of the turn-out was driven by legitimate concerns about government spending on the propping up of failed finance companies; and the campaign of Rep. Ron Paul for President last year attracted some intellectually consistent (if wrong-headed) small-government conservatism. Yet Paul's campaign was also a mirror to yesterday's "tax" protests," in the form of a wild mish-mash of anger-driven reactionary sloganeering and hate speech riding shotgun next to the libertarians.
Some unfortunate Republican pols mistook it for some kind of right-wing grassroots tsunami that would flood the voting booths with anti-Federalist voters who don't want roads or cops or teachers or stimulus spending. They lumbered to the barricades of American dis-Union, like comic book versions of their 1861 predecessors - only to find themselves windmilling like Wile E. Coyote over the precipice when they realized they appeared foolish.
I don't think Jackie Robinson would be particularly surprised that one corner of mainstream Republican political action is still driven by intolerance. I do think he'd be gratified how that small that hate-driven movement is.
Some notes on Citi Field: It's a fine ballpark, scaled for baseball rather than majestic brand-building, and filled with nooks and crannies - and decent food.
By far the worst part of the new stadium is (ironically, considering yesterday's Robinson festivities) the overt class segregation for ticket holders. While it pales against the moat (I kid you not) that the Yankees built to keep the unwashed from the high-rolling swells on the field level of faux Yankee Stadium, the class lines at Citi Field are nonetheless onerous and do not do the team's ownership or its municipal funding partners proud. The best seats behind the plate are predictably padded, wider, serviced by waiters and cut off from the rest of blue and orange humanity - and, quite noticeably on television, oftentimes empty of paying customers. Several clubs featuring bars and food service are available only to patrons who hold a certain ticket level. They too (I peeked in the doors) are half-empty and have to be costing ownership more than they bring in in bar bills. Given the bailout money that flows from Citicorp to the team, I expect either the Obama Administration or New York State Attorney General Andrew to open those no-go areas forthwith, or fire the team's management. (Or not).
So the Mets built parts of their ballpark for the economic era just ended, when a certain percentage of patrons would think nothing of dropping several grand at the game. That's the bad news. The good news is that the Mets limited the hoi polloi seclusion, and built an intimate 40,000-seat park that has plenty of great sitelines, interesting angles, and fun places from which to watch the game and do what Mets fans did at Shea Stadium for four decades: kvetch cheerily about the Mets. My seats are in the upper deck, second to last row of the stadium - yet they're closer to the field than most of the seats in the old middle deck at Shea. The main field level concourse is wide open: anyone with a ticket can traverse the full 360 degrees around the field, and the game is visible for most of the walk.
Particularly in the new outfield areas, beyond the black and orange fences (a hat tip to the old New York Giants), the Mets have convincingly slammed a hanging curve. They're terrific - very open, replete with wiffle ball for the kiddies, and filled with New York food outlets like Blue Smoke and Shake Shack and authentic ethnic grub. As my son said last night: centerfield is like a Mets carnival before every game. And "Pepsi Porch" overhangs rightfield like the old Tiger Stadium; Carlos Delgado hit a majestic drive up there to cap the Mets first win in the new park.
I was looking around from my high perch last night and the panoramic view beyond the stadium seemed emblematic of the place, moving counter-clockwise from my right: the old Iron Triangle of chop shops and muffler joints in rotting Quonset huts, the Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges in the distance, the water of Flushing Bay twinkling below the jetliners cruising into LaGuardia, the distant skyline of Manhattan on clear evening, the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center just beyond the subway el, and just past that, the old Unisphere of the '64 World's Fair. A view Robert Moses would certainly have approved of.
But also the right view for the Mets, whose comfort in "second team" status to the conglomerate Yankees now seems both apparent and somewhat charming. It's very much a National League park for New York: all steel trusses and dark seats and out of town scores, and boisterous fans streaming in from the bridges and the subway. Unlike the Woodlawn-worthy slab of granite across town, Citi Field looks forward despite its name and its awkward class-conscious grabs for the high-rollers - it plays lightly with history, and roots along with the fans.