Friday, April 17, 2009

citi field of dreams

And then it was gone.

I had been looking forward to my first trip to Citi Field for some time, and yet when it finally arrived, there was a sense of anxiety that welled up in my gut. The moment had at last come for me to take in the finality of Shea Stadium's demise. As I wrote last fall, it was like an old friend had gone out to pasture, never to return. Seeing photographs of the battered old stands, first stripped nude, then knocked down and picked apart by giant metallic arms, it reminded me of watching a dead animal decomposing. I had friends who went out to watch the demolition of the last piece, but I had wanted nothing of it. And without a reason to head out to Flushing for the past six months, I suppose I was keeping myself stuck in the denial stage of grief.

But then, as I sat on the north side of a surprisingly uncrowded rush-hour 7 train around 5:30 yesterday evening, the emotions took over. The familiar sight of the bright blue cylinder off in the distance, usually sporting some snazzy new slogan like "Amazing Again" or "Our Team, Our Time," simply didn't materialize. With Citi Field a bit further east, it appeared for a moment as though I'd see nothing but trees where once a grand, albeit quirky, stadium once stood. I'm sure this sounds completely ridiculous to those of you who aren't sports fans, but I'm a sucker for sports drama, and will admit to shedding a tear at the drop of a hat for things like a player getting his number retired, the death of a beloved sports announcer, and, yes, even some of those cheesy profiles they dish us during the Olympics. So I suppose I should have guessed that this might happen, but I honestly wasn't expecting to feel so overwhelmed.

That said, it was a day for hello, not goodbye, and my little moment was eclipsed by the view of a really spiffy-looking new ballpark! After pulling into the newly re-christened "Mets - Willets Point" stop, I took out my camera and got ready to use it. In front of the main gate, I met my friends, who, to my amusement, were decked out in as much Mets gear as I was. After looking unsuccessfully for the home plate location commemorating Shea (that part of the parking lot wasn't paved over yet, so I guess we'll catch it next time), we headed into the new Jackie Robinson rotunda.

My first impression was that it's certainly a nice entryway. There are two sets of stairs flanking a series of escalators and a giant "42" statue, along with photos of and quotations from the late Jackie Robinson. At this point I have to mention that although I grew up a Mets fan and will die a Mets fan, I also root for the San Francisco Giants, because my father grew up rooting for the New York Giants before they moved out west. You probably already know that the Mets took the colors of the Giants and the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers after those two teams left for California in the 1950s, leaving New York without a National League team. And you may have also heard that Brooklyn-born Mets owner Fred Wilpon basically designed his new stadium to look exactly like the Dodgers' old Ebbets Field. Well, I can tell you right now that it's kind of ridiculous how much the Dodgers have a place in this stadium over not only the Giants, but over the Mets themselves. In the entryways and the walkways, the Mets are nowhere to be seen except in the occasional appearance of a friendly Mr. Met. There are some photos of former Mets along the far left field façade of the building, but that's pretty much it. The Dodgers are recalled not just in the design of the entryway, but in the fact that the whole rotunda celebrates a Dodger, and also in a gigantic photograph of Ebbets field that greets you as you enter the main field level. This, as opposed to Shea, where all around you had posters and photographs of historic Met moments and our Mets heroes. Honestly, I was disappointed big-time in this lack of celebration of our team, and I truly hope that in coming years the powers that be do something to rectify the situation.

But wow, what a view once the field came into view. Since we got there early, we decided to take a long stroll around the entire stadium before heading up to our seats. The sight lines looked amazing, the colors were vibrant, the field was very, very green, and it was almost surreal to think that this was my new baseball home. The ushers were spotty about letting people down into the lower seats to take photographs, which was a departure from the ability to walk down for autographs until just before game time at Shea. It was great to see the new, gigantic Mets apple. That, plus the orange foul poles, were really the two things that said "Mets" about the field itself. Incidentally, my brother pointed out to me recently that the outfield walls, with their orange lettering on a sea of black, were reminiscent of the old Polo Grounds, home of the baseball Giants back in the day, and the first home stadium that the Mets ever played in. Okay, I will give them that. But I honestly don't think that whoever designed that wall was doing so with the Giants in mind! People have also suggested that the seat color of green was done as a nod to the Polo Grounds, and again I say hooey. Stadiums with forest green seats are pretty much the norm these days.

Aside from the field itself, we of course had to take note of the food situation, which had been written about in numerous articles over the previous several weeks. Although it was an hour before game time, the field level was absolutely swarming with people, and where a few of the main "gourmet" food booths, including the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke, were located, it was a genuine mob scene. You could barely move just to pass on through, and I can only imagine how long the wait was for a Shack burger. I can't help but wonder whether the Mets might have been better served to place some of the nicer booths higher up in the Promenade level... It was nice to see probably the most prominent reminder of Shea in this area, though: the old New York skyline, which had been nicely re-lit and which still had the ribbon over the former Twin Towers. And I don't want to forget to mention a small but important point: The Mets are finally featuring recycling bins next to their trash cans! As annoyed as I always was that Shea never EVER had recycling, I was very glad to see those special bottle-and-can receptacles dotting Citi Field.

Anyway, around the corner, behind right-center field we noticed some picnic tables, which seemed like a cool idea. It'll be interesting to see if those become a place where people run to in order to stake out spots for the evening, as the views are probably better from there than from a lot of seats. Behind those, we discovered a nice area where the old Home Run Apple was quietly hiding. There's actually a second entrance at this part of the field, just across the street from all the chop shops of Willets Point. But few people were taking advantage of it. That said, a couple dozen fans had lined up to have their picture taken with the dented old apple, which had clearly seen better days. I'm glad that the Mets decided to bring it over, though, as there had been some discussion about its future.

The only other real surprise was a mini supermarket located underneath the Pepsi porch area. Never in a sporting arena have I seen a place to buy foodstuffs like gummi bears, rice crackers, cookies (loved the orange-and-blue black-and-whites), prepackaged cold foods like pasta salad and sandwiches, etc. The prices were pretty high for what they were, but if you consider you're gonna pay for convenience, it wasn't outrageous. After that, we headed up to the middle level (which we skipped completely except for my five-minute stop in the very girlie Alyssa Milano Mets store; no return trip necessary), and then straight up to the Promenade, which is, for all intents and purposes, the upper deck.

It's been said that the Promenade at Citi Field is as high as the Mezzanine level at Shea. And it shows. The views, especially closer to the plate, are excellent. I truly doubt that there are any bad seats in the whole place. In the front sections there were loads of seats available for handicapped fans to bring their wheelchairs, which was really nice to see. And the sight lines were quite good no matter where you were. Our seats were up in the left field corner, just to the left of the foul pole. We definitely couldn't see the left field wall, or a good 10 feet in front of it, and that did cause us to miss a couple of plays. But overall you had a stellar view of 99 percent of the field, even from pretty far away.

By the time we got to our seats, we had worked up an appetite, so it was time to try the culinary offerings. I've decided to eat something different at each of the nine games I have tickets for this year. So for this first night, I had the grilled sausage sandwich. I'll save my review for another post later in the year, but I will say that I was happy to see they are finally letting us keep the bottle caps for our drinks! Temperatures were in the low 40s for the evening, and with steady winds whipping around, we were pretty much freezing from the moment we sat down. Food lines at regular old hot dog stands were relatively long until about the 6th inning, when some people actually started to leave (I'm telling you, it was chilly). Around that time, I took a long stroll to check out some of the team stores—and to get some blood flowing to the outer extremities, which were starting to lose feeling—and they had some nice new wares at the main shop on the Promenade level. I did notice there are a lot fewer stores than at Shea, so the main shop was crammed with people—although the fact that it was the third game in the life of the new stadium and that the store was heated probably also had something to do with it.

In the late innings, we decided to move closer to the plate, and into the lower reserved Promenade section (there was no trouble in doing so). Once again, I will say that the view was amazing, and we were still in the top level of the stadium! The game itself was a typical Mets game: get a lead, give up a lead, desperation catch-up push at the end that falls just short. But I think it's safe to say that the day was less about the baseball game before us than about taking in the new situation. After the last out was recorded, we headed for the exits, which weren't as crowded as I'd prepared for (but again, many people had left early). The parking lot was easy to navigate, and we were on the highway in less than 10 minutes. All in all it was a stellar evening, and I came away with the feeling that Citi Field is going to be an awesome baseball stadium for a long, long time. They built it. Now, let the championships come!

5 comments:

  1. I was there last night. Indeed, a beautiful ballpark! Looking forward to attending more games this season. And congratulations to Gary Sheffield on his 500th homer!

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  2. Anonymous5:47 PM

    The Wilpons did absolutely nothing to honor the New York Giants or the Polo Grounds.

    The outfield walls at the Polo Grounds were covered with advertising signs in the 1930s and 1940's until 1947 when the signs were removed and the walls painted dark green.

    Don't believe the nonsense that the green seats have anything to do with the NY Giants.

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  3. Thanks for the review, Maia. Now when I go, I'll know what to do and what to avoid!

    It's a shame Citifield exhibits so few remembrances of the Polo Grounds and even its immediate predecessor, Shea, but it's not too late to write or call Fred Wilpon and let him know that this oversight (or snub, which is closer to what it actually is) is not acceptable! There are myriad ways the Mets could rectify their neglect, even now, and the more (and louder) we keep raising our voices about it, the greater the probability that they will eventually do something about it.

    Thanks for the "happy recap" of the new ballpark, Maia.

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  4. Your blog makes me want to go to a baseball game again; it's been a while...I enjoyed your excellent review. There's an issue in which I dissent from you, and which you have mentioned in two blogs, the one about Jackie Robinson. He is not just a hero to the team he officially played for, but to all of baseball and to all of American society. I am sooooo glad that the Mets claim him. He certainly doesn't belong to those teams wearing historic names in California. People forget that the integration took place in New York, across town from a Yankee organization that, for all its might, chose not to be at the forefront of racial equality (I don't know that part of baseball history well, but that's my understanding). So, if the Mets don't claim him, who will? And what he did went beyond sports. To me, he stands for all those humiliated Negro League players who were better than their white counterparts and never had a chance to prove it. AND, for all those black kids who never even went for baseball, thinking the big leagues were closed to them. Breaking that barrier changed the game forever. No pristine ERA, no stratospheric batting average can possibly match this accomplishment. If Rachel R. lets us own the man, I'd say, let us grab him. I'm not sure Mets fans are any less racist as a group than Yankee fans, but a posthumous embrace of the cause ain't all bad.

    Although I haven't been to the stadium, however, I applaud you for suggesting to management that all that's fine and well, but that there should be a place for the Mets heroes who mean so much to loyal and long suffering Mets fans. We should start nominating candidates. I'd like to nominate Casey Stengle and the trio Seaver-Koosman-Matlack, whose rotation kept the low hitting, no power team in contention in the early 70s. I also nominate humble players like Felix Millan and Wayne Garret, players who seemed to know how to fabricate runs, with sac flyes, bases on balls, whatever it took to move the runner. They had pitiful numbers, yet they played the game as craftsmen. I somehow remember them more fondly than the big sluggers with fat paychecks who came later.

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  5. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. The previous post in particular raises some good points. It does sound like enough fans are making their voices heard, so I'm somewhat optimistic that the Mets will have more of a presence in their new home. Here are two articles (NY Times and NY Post) that say just that! But there were people saying some of these things even before the stadium opened, so we'll see.

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