Last night I went to Citi Field in Queens, the shiny new stadium where the New York Mets usually play. Only I didn’t see the Mets. I saw a Mexican soccer team, Club America, play an Italian soccer team, Juventus, in the outfield of the baseball diamond.
I went because I thought it would be interesting to see a soccer game at a baseball stadium. If the two teams had played at Giants Stadium or Red Bull Arena, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much. There was something about watching a sport outside of its natural habitat—where it doesn’t really belong—that appealed to me. (Seems like that appeals to a lot of other people, too. From Philly to Texas to San Diego, sports played in unconventional spots are popping up everywhere lately.)
There were about 20,000 people at the game, one leg of the Herbalife World Football Challenge that also features such famous clubs as Manchester United and Barcelona. My friend Steve and I started on the fourth level, behind home plate, but we were a hell of a long way from the action, so after 30 minutes, we moved to left field. Ironically, because of the configuration, the left field bleachers were pretty much the best seats in the house. They were the 50-yard-line, to bring in yet another sport.
But that wasn’t the only confusing, topsy-turvy thing about the night. A few other quirks:
>> Next to a big digitized soccer ball, the scoreboard high above left field listed all the out-of-town baseball scores. Not usually a big priority at soccer games.
>> The big apple in centerfield—famous for rising up after a home run—lay in wait as always. Chilling. Steve asked: “If someone scores a goal, will the apple go up? That would be sweet.”
>> When errant shots flew into the crowd, fans couldn’t keep the ball like at baseball games. Or at least they assumed they couldn’t, because they always threw it back.
>> There was a rain delay, which is very rare for a soccer game, but rather common for a baseball game. It was almost as if the soccer game was taking on the properties of the ballpark it was in. (And so much for a soccer game being over in two hours.)
Eventually the rain delay ended, and the game resumed. A few minutes before half, Juventus scored. Club America goalkeeper Armando Navarrete botched his clearance of a cross, and the ball bounced right to young forward Cristian Pasquato, who volleyed a wonder strike into the upper corner, past two defenders and the goalie. It was a great goal, essentially a perfect shot. The apple did not rise up.
At halftime Steve and I moved farther down the third base line, behind Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon was the starting goalkeeper on the 2006 Italian national team that won the World Cup. So he’s kind of a big deal—tall and bronzed and handsome and good. He seemed to have a healthy relationship with the Club America fans. He would smile at them and give them a thumb’s up when they threw the ball back to him, and they would yell “puto” (Spanish for “male prostitute”) when he kicked goal kicks. (This has very little to do with the game being played in a baseball stadium. I just thought this was funny.)
Behind the goal, I asked fans what they thought about watching soccer in a baseball stadium. Alex Messina, a 20-year-old Brooklynite in a Juventus jersey, said he didn’t really like it because it sucked for all the fans “over there” (pointing to home plate and first base) because they were so far away. He also said he didn’t think the grass over the infield was very good.
Meanwhile, Palma D’Agostino, a middle-aged woman who drove from Allentown, Pennsylvania, with about a dozen family members, all clad in Juventus and Italy gear, looked around at the half-empty stadium, smiled and said, “It’s nice.” Fair enough.
Then it was on to the players. The Club America guys were a little inaccessible, but some of the Juventus guys stopped to chat. (Perhaps this had something to do with Juventus winning, 1-0.) The first guy I stopped was attacking midfielder Milos Krasic, the Serbian Lionel Messi. I asked him how he liked playing in a baseball stadium. He smiled and said, “Huh?” I asked again. He seemed to give me a thumb’s up. Then again, he could’ve just been throwing away a wad of tape. It happened pretty fast.
Then I asked Buffon, the World Cup winner, the same question. He said either “usual” or “beautiful.” Actually, it sounded like he said “busual.” So he was no help.
Then I came to the goal scorer, Pasquato. With the help of an Italian journalist acting as an interpreter, I asked him the same question: how did he like playing in a baseball stadium? His eyes lit up. He said “bellissimo” followed by a lot of “bellos.” Then he said some other words. According to the journalist, he said, “It was very nice. They arranged it very well and it felt like playing in a soccer stadium…the field was very good.”
Just for the hell of it, I asked Pasquato if he had a favorite baseball team. He said he liked baseball but he didn’t know the teams. Mets? I said. Yankees? He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know.
In other words, I wouldn’t look for pinstripes in Torino anytime soon.