After my third time at Citi Field (two games and a public workout) on Wednesday, it has become apparent that the first-year ball yard is perfect for the Mets of current vintage. By that I mean, the star of the show is most certainly not the team on the field, which is currently rather unremarkable, but rather the field itself. It’s like PNC Park in Pittsburgh, except it’s not nearly as dire a situation for the Mets.
At least so far. When you see the picture at right and wonder if new Knicks draft picks Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill feel like having a summer job, you know things are not going well. I mean, that pitch Hill is throwing probably had a better chance of finding the plate than many that Oliver Perez (seven walks) offered up on Wednesday.
There is zero question that at least at this point, the on-field product takes a back seat to the park experience. And to be certain, it’s great for fans. It’s a perfect place to simply hang with friends, drink a beer and sort-of watch a game.
If you’re a baseball traditionalist who scores a game by hand — probably while wearing a derby hat and smoking a cigar — this park was not designed for you. What they had in mind was a place where you can wait on a line for a “Shake Shack” hamburger while watching the game on a screen on the back of the scoreboard. A place where you can get sushi, if you’re so inclined. (I usually am, but not at a ballgame) A place where you can frequent a center-field beer garden — which, despite the flowery name, is indistinguishable from any other beer vendor.
If you simply want to sit and pay close attention to a baseball game, well, nobody’s stopping you. It’s just that in the back of your mind, you know they didn’t make the park for you.
Before I start to sound like the grizzled curmudgeon yelling, “Get off my lawn!” — it’s probably too late for that — I’ll point out that the ballpark is aesthetically beautiful. (My good friend who came to the game, a die-hard Yankees fan, glumly had to admit that Citi is aÃ‚Â nicer stadium than the Yankees’ new Ode to Excess) I love the brick everywhere and the enormous old-style Pepsi sign up on the “Pepsi Porch,” which is where my actual seats were. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda is of course a nice touch.
A Mets win is a nice touch too, sends the crowd home happy. Usually I don’t see much I haven’t seen before, but Daniel Murphy’s Rafer Alston impression qualifies. And any time you get to hear Sandungueoso, it’s a good night in Queens.
But after every trip to Citi Field, a part of me just ends up thinking about Shea Stadium — where occasionally, a Mets player would hit a home run.
Was Shea as visually appealing as Citi Field is? Of course not. Was the food as good? No, it was your standard hot dog fare (heaven forbid).
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ But I saw my first baseball game at Shea against the Expos back in September 1989 — the 23rd, to be exact — when my uncle, who passed away three years later, slipped an usher some money to upgrade us from mezzanine to loge. It was ski hat night, appropriate for the climate, and the last great Mets night for Gary Carter, who had five RBIs.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Then there was my second game in 1990, the one time I saw the great Darryl Strawberry hit live. Frank Viola, who I adored, won his 19th.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Fast-forward a few years, to when Mike Piazza helped the City heal after 9/11. Greatest live sporting event I’ve been to.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ My lone playoff game, when Beltran hit it off the scoreboard in Game 1 of the 2006 NLCS, and of course, Darryl threw out the first pitch.
Citi Field is a nice place to get some good food — while a baseball game is going on. But Shea had a definitive identity, and of course, held lots of memories for lots of people. Any time a new stadium replaces an old, beloved entity, this is always going to be an issue.
Is Citi Field progress? Probably.
But all the Shake Shacks in the world won’t change that the new Mets park has a lot of catching up to do.