Each and every time Emma and I have been to the United States together we have been to see a baseball game. Sometimes two, as with this trip. It's become a traditional part of our transatlantic treks. We've been to the homes of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres and tonight we are travelling to Citifield, home of the New York Mets.
Which is at least in New York City. The Rays play in St.Petersburg while New York's two NFL teams share a stadium in New Jersey. A different state! The Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington while from next season the San Francisco 49ers will play in Santa Clara, some 45 miles away. This is the equivalent of Manchester United upping sticks to Leeds. In American sports teams are located wherever their already rich owners believe will make them the most money. It's not about the team, the fans or the city they represent but about the 'franchise'. Franchising is the single worst thing that has ever happened to sport in which there has been no loss of life. Forget about diving, spitting, biting, top eight playoff systems, Grand Finals, rugby union as a concept and even Eddie Hearn. The smug parasite. Placing sports teams in the hands of capitalist greed-hounds and allowing them to move those teams to wherever they like is utterly anti-sport and shows a complete lack of regard for the many rich traditions and histories that have been built throughout all sports. Progress, in other words.
Now that the politics is out of the way the important point to make is that this will be the first time we have ever taken the subway to a baseball game. Emma's dad drove to St.Petersburg, while Emma herself did the honours in LA. We took the tram to Petco Park in San Diego. It was all every easy. But getting to Citifield in Queens promises to be a little more problematic. As I have alluded to in earlier entries the subway station serving Citifield is not accessible to wheelchair users most of the time. Mets-Willets station only has one accessible platform. That is one platform which can be used to reach a lift or a ramp to get out on to the road across from the stadium. Feeling rightly guilty about this, MTA have decided that they will use that platform (and therefore make the station accessible) from 90 minutes before every Mets home game and for 45 minutes afterwards. That is the plan in any case. The reality, as regular readers currently sighing into their coffee at this moment will already know, is somewhat different.
You have to take the 7 train to Mets-Willets station from 42nd and Times Square. Except there are two 7 trains. You can't take the 7 express because it doesn't stop at the right platform at Mets-Willets. You have to take the 7 local. Figuring this out is easy enough if you do your research, but the problem with it is that, not being an express, it stops at what seems like 746 stations on the way. It takes well over 45 minutes to get to Mets-Willets this way, which may have been a little shorter if there had not been a delay of at least 10 minutes due to signalling problems. At least that is what I think it was. The announcements on board the train are quite muffled and hearing them is doubly tricky when you consider that they are delivered in a heavy New York accent.
Eventually we arrive at Mets-Willets station and the doors to the left of the train (if you are facing the front) open. We disembark, feeling a wave of relief at having reached our destination. It is short lived. This platform is not accessible. Unfathomably, the doors have only been opened for the inaccessible platform. We needed to have exited the train on the other side. We're stranded. The advertised access within the 90-minute time frame is exposed as a lie and the words to the letter of complaint are already forming. At this point we have a stroke of luck. Ordinarily the 7 local would leave Mets-Willets and carry on to Main Street in Flushing. But today it will not. Today Mets-Willets is the end of the line. After a brief and exasperated discussion with the platform staff about how the feck we could have been led out on to the wrong platform they agree to hold the train and open it up again. We will get back on board and be allowed to exit on the other side where we can get out towards the ramp leading to the road across from the stadium. It's a narrow escape and leaves us even more apprehensive about the journey back. We already know that we will have to get back on the 7 local travelling in the wrong direction before coming back on ourselves because of the access situation. Now we are having doubts about the feasibility of even that.
A very nice and helpful gentleman greets us at the ramp. He wearily listens to the wrong platform tale as if he has heard it all before, which if the level of access we have experienced is anything to go by he probably has. Then he reveals to us the secrets of the wheelchair user exits at New York subway stations. The swipe cards are for wheelchair users who live in and around the New York area and so therefore are regular users of the system. Tourists have no need for them. It turns out that either your companion can swipe through and then open the gate, or you can do it yourself if you know how to follow the incomprehensible instructions. You are instructed to roll your arm over, which sounds like something Shane Warne used to do. However, you are also told that if you open the gate an alarm will sound, so why wouldn't you think that there was some sort of swipe system in operation for everyone to make sure that fares have been paid? It's all very confusing. That roll of the arm they mention is more like a roll of the wrist as it turns out, and whether or not an alarm goes off seems to be pot luck.
Once across the road and on the stadium grounds we are directed to 'Hodges' which is the posh bit. The VIP area. We pass a dog dressed in a Mets cap and shirt with a fake pipe in its mouth. Really. Then we are checked over for explosives and ushered through to a large lift. Its operated by stadium staff and we are advised that we need the fifth floor. We get off and head straight for the food and drink. We pay $29 for two hot dogs and two Bud Lights. That's about £18. This is where wheelchair users attending alone might have a problem. From the kiosks on the fifth floor you then have to head down another long corridor which is heavily sloped. Difficult to do if you are carrying a hot dog and a Bud Light. I'm sure the staff would have been happy to help but that isn't really the point. It would have been nice to have a kiosk somewhere nearer to our seats.
The seats themselves are in a fantastic spot in terms of the view. Being up on the fifth floor we are way up on a platform (an accessible one with no sign of any trains) just in front of the broadcast booths. We can see the stadium announcer as he warms up the crowd and tells us all about who is in the line-ups for the two teams. Just along from him, possibly working for a radio station is Bob Uecker. Bob played Harry Doyle in Major League Emma tells me, but I don't remember him. I have seen Major League once or twice, but the only thing I can clearly remember about it is a character in the crowd shouting 'wild thing, you make my butt sting' at an off-form Charlie Sheen. The Mets are facing the Milwaukee Brewers which leaves us in the possibly unenviable position of away supporters. Emma has been a Brewers fan since she first saw them in Wisconsin many years ago. And why should we support the Mets anyway given their pitiful level of access? We would have gone to Yankee Stadium had the world's most hated sports 'franchise' been playing at home during our stay. Surprisingly we are not on our own as a large group of Brewers fans get louder and louder as a direct consequence of their alcohol intake. By the end they are rivalling the barmy army, but perhaps with a little less wit.
Being at baseball is fun. Those who carp on about how it lasts too long are missing the point. The reason I don't watch it on television at home is that it is currently covered by a broadcaster who's channel I don't subscribe to and who have to put it on too late because of the time difference. Also they play a jaw-dropping 162 games during the regular season, a fact that Greg Dyke's barm-pot commission might want to consider next time they are discussing burnout as a possible reason for the disappointing performances of the England football team. In the end we are a little disappointed ourselves as the Brewers go down 6-2 to the Mets, but we know better than to express any dismay. In the lift on the way out a woman explains how she was happy for an opposing player because he had hit his first home run of the season. I try to imagine myself feeling happy for any player who had just scored a game-winning try against Saints or a goal against Liverpool and I can't find it in me. Maybe like the movement involved in franchising, wishing an opponent well after a notable achievement is a part of American sports that I'm never going to fully get.
The journey back is mercifully uneventful. The 7 local takes us to Main Street in Flushing, where we have to wait for it a while before it begins its journey in the opposite direction back to 42nd and Time Square. We are back here on Sunday for the visit of the San Diego Padres, another team we have a slight affection for after our hugely enjoyable stay there in 2011.
Something tells me that journey won't be simple.
Several weeks later we received this fob off....er....response from MTA;
This is in response to your e-mail message to MTA New York City Transit regarding an incident you experienced at the Mets-Willets Point station.
We care about our ADA customers and make every attempt to ensure accessibility at our ADA-compliant stations. New York City Transit, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has a long-term plan that provides for making a total of 100 key subway stations accessible. In connection with federal guidelines and in cooperation with ADA advocacy organizations, the MTA identified 100 key stations and facilities where compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would benefit the most people, analyzing such factors as high ridership, transfer points, and service to major areas of activity. These stations were given priority in our station-renovation program. This will create a network of stations which, when combined with our fully-accessible bus fleet, will make almost all of NYC Transits service area accessible to senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
The Mets-Willets Point station is not an ADA-compliant station. However, on game days, No. 7 trains open onto a special events platform on the south side of the station which ramps down to the overpass to Flushing Meadows Park. This creates a wheelchair accessible route to Citi Field. Under normal circumstances, we would not have scheduled a service change on a game day, but the sheer volume of work on the No. 7 line this summer required this change. Nevertheless, we have procedures in place should a customer in a wheelchair detrain at a station other than at an ADA accessible station, or at an ADA station where the elevator is inoperable. In this situation, you should have been advised to ride the train one more stop to the Flushing-Main Street station which is ADA-accessible and then ride the Q48 bus back to the Mets-Willets Point station. We apologize for any incorrect information you received from our employees.
In the future, we will post signs on our trains when the ramp is not accessible.
Please also note that the MTA Guide to Accessible Transit, which includes accessible station information, is readily available on our website at http://web.mta.info/accessibility/
We take the concerns of our customers seriously and thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.