It’s Jewish Night at Shea Stadium and I Am There

A few weeks ago, the Mets’ management dressed its players in spacesuits for Turn Ahead the Clock Night. As I sat at home watching the game on the tube, I pictured the veteran Orel Hershiser at home, his wife shoving him out the door, telling him it would be all right. He wouldn’t look like a fool. It may even look O.K., she says, muffling a chortle.

As it happened, Mr. Hershiser wondered aloud that if ballplayers had to dress up to sell tickets, why even play?

My question was, is baseball’s late commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, spinning like a rotisserie chicken?

On Sunday, Aug. 8, the uniforms were back to normal, but Shea as theme park continued. This afternoon it was Jewish Heritage Day, part of the Mets’ International Week. Having struck the set from Irish Night, the team now welcomed the Jews. Jews go to the ball park: a year’s worth of material for Pat Cooper. It was a gray afternoon in Queens. Not the crisp, cut-grass feel of a George F. Will day at the park. Still, kids ran ahead of their dads, mitt in hand, Met cap on top.

And yes, there were Jews, set off by the yarmulke. All kinds of Jews. Jews in dragging khakis and white T-shirts. Jews in full Met wear. Jews sporting blue and orange skullcaps.

Lesley Cohen and Daniel Werber loitered, buying cheap tickets as they do every day. This was Mr. Cohen’s 122nd game (Yankees and Mets).

Mr. Cohen (wistfully): “Ever heard of a non-Jewish Cohen?”

Mr. Werber: “Friday night, we were here. Saturday night, we were here. Tomorrow night, we’ll be here. What is it? African-American night?”

Mr. Cohen: “Dunno. You should put his picture in the paper and underneath write, ‘He hates everyone.'”

Mr. Werber’s Star of David hung low, peering out from the folds of his plaid shirt. He used to wear a chai , but recently found this chain under a pile of shirts.

Still, this day at Shea was hardly an Israeli Day parade. The yarmulkes came by in drips and drabs, like the rain, which plunked down for a few innings. Up and down went the umbrellas.

In the deep workings of the engine room of spaceship Met, however, it was a different story. Jewish Day, like others in the International Week constellation, was a major production.

“I hate to be rude to ya, Phil, but I got a million things to do. Irish Night, Jewish, African-American … I gotta go,” said Chris Granozio, assistant video director of the Mets’ video productions department. That was Thursday. He did, however, put me in touch with Simon Spiro, who would be singing the national anthem Sunday.

Saturday evening, Mr. Spiro phoned.

“I played the Concord Resort Hotel for 3 years until they closed last year. It was great fun,” he said in a sprightly British accent, referring to the Catskills resort. “Have you seen The Jazz Singer , with Neil Diamond playing the cantor, a pop singer trapped in a synagogue? That was me. At 22, I was a fully trained cantor in the top synagogue in St. John’s Wood in London. One of the top cantorial jobs in the world, really. I won’t work on Fridays, so I missed playing Charles and Diana’s pre-wedding ball in ’81.”

I propped my feet up onto the desk, the pixie Brit-speak racing through the phone.

“I toured with Sheena Easton for three years. It was in the early 80’s. Now she’s home taking care of the kids. I do a lot of backup for Duran Duran, Kenny Rogers, Leo Sayer-you know, Xanadu . I sang backup for the Spandau Ballet compilation album, which should be out soon. The Mets called me last Friday and I started writing the arrangement.

“My Jewish liturgical arrangements are more friendly-like the Carpenters. I don’t do the old Germanic shit. For the Mets game, I’ll start with a Jewish medley, a lovely little bit about Ellis Island. Very pretty, very pretty. I’m tremendously excited to do it. Whitney Houston kind of sucked at the Super Bowl; a bit over the top. I model myself after Luther Vandross and George Benson. I’ve heard lots of national anthems-in fact, I sang ‘God Save the Queen’ at Wembley Stadium before a football game. But it kind of sucks as an anthem. It’s only 31 seconds long! The Canadian one is O.K., but a bit morbid. ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is wonderful. Usually, it’s in three parts. I’ve made it four. It has this simplistic beginning, then the middle gets this really agitated excitement and at the end there’s this huge blast of adrenaline. I added these great tubular bells … very bloody big!”

He put me on hold.

“Sorry, that was a pal, a cantor, he’s covering for me at Beaver Lake in the Catskills. It’s the Three Tenors show, you know, Pavarotti and such.”

The next afternoon, I took my loge-level seat, third-base side, and, lo and behold, there was Simon on the Diamond Vision screen. He had chosen a snappy black suit accessorized by a thin bow tie and high polka-dotted waistcoat. And he was singing “Livin’ la Vida Loca” in Yiddish, shimmying around home plate.

By anthem time, Shea was mostly full, despite the close weather, and Simon belted out the two anthems-Israeli and American-in a nice tone. He stayed in key and avoided Whitney Houston syndrome. The finale-four rousing “Americas”-came out as well as can be expected before an amphitheater of 30,000 fans.

By the fifth inning, the Dodgers were up 6-1, beating up on Masato Yoshii.

The guy behind me, neatly settled, his tummy forming a kind of proud crown, pondered aloud: “Would they yank him if this was Asian night?

It’s Jewish Night at Shea Stadium and I Am There