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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Save Citi's Soul

I don’t care how much they’re paying us or how much icier the easily imagined alternatives are. Citi Field will be born from original sin. Spell it with a space, pronounce it with a pause, cite all the precedent you can and rationalize all the benefits you like. The fact is we’ll be playing in a ballpark bearing the mark of corporate sellout. It’s a sin to the sensibilities of every true blue and orange baseball fan.

To every Metsopotamian who says, “I don’t care what it’s called, just give me a winner,” you’ve got to be kidding. You will care. That’s your new home. To every Metsopotamian who says, “I’ll just keep calling it Shea,” you’ve got to be kidding. There’s only one Shea Stadium. To pretend you can transfer identities between two very different buildings the way you transfer a payment from your money market to your Visa is delusional. Shea is Shea. Citi will be Citi. Let’s not confuse them.

As these are done deals all around, our next task is not to throw ourselves in front of the bulldozers or preach against the sin of corporate namesmanship, but rather to offer the unborn park near-immediate absolution.

No Sheadenfreude here, old-guarders. We need this Citi thing to work for us.

Right now, as planned, Citi Field is essentially a nice pile of bricks. It’s got to have more than bricks. It’s got to have a soul. Twenty million bucks does not buy you a soul. But there is, I believe, a soul-ution.

Homecoming Weekend 2009.

You can’t have a future without a past…your own past. So let’s link what’s come before with what will come later. Citi Field does not get a clean slate or a blank check. It has to reflect where the Mets came from, spiritually and geographically. That’s why we have Homecoming Weekend in 2009.

This is a high school and college conceit, one I picked off from my new favorite prime time drama, Friday Night Lights. It is when your alumni come home and your heroes reappear and your tradition springs to life. It’s more than an Old Timers Day. It’s a vital nod to who you’ve been and who you are and who you hope to be.

Citi Field requires an injection of soul right off the bat. Any new park would, but one whose only clear references are to somebody else’s favorite childhood team and a financial conglomerate really needs the help.

Wider concourses, increased leg room, pretzels baked the same day they’re sold…that’s all great, but going to a Mets game is more than that. It’s looking around and knowing somethin’ Amazin’ happened right over there. It’s saying I was here when that happened. It’s passing it on and paying it forward.

Performance is, as ever, an unknown variable (though a no-hitter on Opening Day would be nice). Hence, it will be a long time before there’s much beyond the novelty of the new to associate with Citi Field. Until there is, we’ve got to imbue it with as much Mets, the Mets we’ve known, as we can. And it’s up to the Mets to make the first, second and third moves. Management must thread the present of 2009 and whatever future it holds to the glorious, yes I said glorious, past from next door. I don’t mean flooding the bathrooms and creating wind tunnels. I mean you make damn sure that when you pack up all the history in 2008 that you don’t just leave it in crates and forget about it.

The Mets do that too much already.

Some of us who haven’t kissed the Citi stone with gusto (reportedly some have) owe our reticence not to Citi sponsorship or Shea nostalgia or retro recycling. Many Mets fans simply find themselves overDodgered by what they’ve seen to date. You won’t find a single human being of any value who doesn’t revere Jackie Robinson. I doubt too many people have a problem with him getting the rotunda. I sure don’t. And if you’re going to crib a classic design, you could do worse than Ebbets. But by the time this baby is delivered, the New York Mets will have put up a pretty impressive history of their own. 2009 will be the 48th season of Metropolitan operation. The Brooklyn Dodgers’ 48th season was 1937. Do you think those Dodgers felt the need to genuflect daily and broadly before their 19th-century American Association ancestors by then?

While a nod to the Dodgers (and Giants…hello?) is not out of line, Citi Field needs to be Met territory. It needs to be Met territory as soon as it can be. That’s where Homecoming Weekend 2009 — a three-day series of celebrations commemorating a trio of conveniently occurring Met milestones — sets things right. Some of what needs to be done will be due. Some of it is already overdue. All of it will be utterly Amazin’, which is not a bad thing to be if you’re planning on being home to the Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ Mets.

Homecoming Weekend 2009.

Clear eyes.

Full hearts.

Can’t lose.

Friday Night Lights. In his rookie season, Dwight Gooden lit up Shea Stadium like nobody before or since. If there was one night that was truly his, it was Friday: Five home starts, five earned runs in 41 innings with 51 strikeouts. Dr. K operated at his best at the end of the week, so it’s appropriate to kick off Homecoming Weekend with the return home of Dwight Gooden, three years clean and sober, on the 25th anniversary of his debut year to induct the franchise’s second-greatest pitcher ever into the William A. Shea New York Mets Hall of Fame and National League Museum — known as Shea for short — an institution that will celebrate the rich heritage of the Mets, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Cubans, the Bushwicks, the Bridegrooms and almost every team that made a mark on Big Apple baseball (almost). “Shea” enjoys its grand opening tonight. It will be open year-round and be easy to find since the mayor has signed a bill that redubs 126th Street between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard Bill Shea Way. Doc, after acknowledging the tough road back and thanking the fans for sticking by him after all this time, cuts the ceremonial ribbon with a scalpel. A strikeout tally board is installed in left field and officially dubbed the Doctor K Korner. Joining Doc in the Mets’ first induction class since Tommie Agee in 2002 will be his first manager, Davey Johnson, marking his own quarter-century anniversary. He thanks Doc for making his first big managerial decision in 1984 — whether to add “the best pitcher I ever saw” to his rotation despite his tender age — an easy one. Following 1997 inductee Keith Hernandez’s presentation of plaques to Doc and Davey, Omar Minaya assures all that the Shea Hall of Fame Induction will be an annual Citi Field tradition. “The Mets have a great history,” he says, “and we’re going to make sure we show it off even as we continue to make new history.”

Saturday In The Park. Was there ever a more exciting moment that didn’t involve playing than when a certain No. 31 emerged from the home dugout at Shea Stadium on a Saturday afternoon in May 1998? Mike Piazza’s debut was so exciting that Mets fans voted it the eighth-greatest moment in team history. It will be an exciting Saturday when Mike Piazza emerges from the home dugout at Citi Field to see No. 31 become the first number since Jackie Robinson’s 42 in 1997 — and the first Met number since Tom Seaver’s 41 in 1988 — officially retired by the club. The occasion meshes nicely with the 10th anniversary of the most exciting season of Piazza’s tenure, 1999, so it’s also a good chance to reunite that particular Wild Card edition of Mike’s Mets. By now, just about everybody from ’99 is also retired, so just about everybody can make it back. And they do. Rickey Henderson takes his time emerging. Al Leiter waves a little longer than everybody else. Bobby V flies in from Japan and dons the mustache and glasses. The greatest defensive infield ever trots out to their positions together, though Todd Pratt tackles Robin Ventura before he can get anywhere near third. Mike himself thanks John Franco for “loaning” him 31 and “borrowing” 45 and returns the favor by calling the crowd’s attention to the newly dubbed McGraw-Franco Mets Bullpen in right. It’s not far from the spot on the right field wall where five numbers are posted now and forever. (Dozens of fans scattered throughout Citi sport updated Faith and Fear t-shirts while dozens of others opt for their worn 2006 models.)

Beautiful Sunday. The Met everybody flocked to Shea to see on any day he pitched will now be the Met everybody sees when they flock to Citi every day of the week. As part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1969 world championship, the CitiVision board takes us live to Stengel-Hodges Plaza, directly outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, where a parade of celebrants — Koosman, Grote, Kranepool, Jones — pulls the tarp from the first statue ever commissioned by the Mets to honor a Met. It’s a larger-than-life likeness of none other than The Franchise himself, Tom Seaver. When we go to games, we can meet by The Knee…the lovingly sculpted joint with the trademark splotch of dirt that Seaver absorbed every time he went into that perfect motion. As his teammates file back into Citi Field, Fred Wilpon presents Seaver with a scaled-down model of the sculpture that will greet every Met fan before every game. Seaver, rarely at a loss for words, is genuinely humbled as he speaks from the mound: “I never pitched here, obviously, but to know I’ll be a part of this great new ballpark means a great deal to me.” He only wishes, he says, his teammates Tommie and Tug and Donn and his pitching coach and his manager could see “that awesome statue and this marvelous place,” but as long as he’s out there, forever pitching in bronze, “all of us from ’69 will be a part of this.”

Tom concludes his remarks and joins every living 1969 champ to ride in a stream of vintage Plymouths around the warning track. An impromptu ticker-tape parade breaks out. The cars depart through the centerfield gate, the grounds crew comes out to clean up the shredded paper and a black cat roams in front of the third base dugout. Way up in the Darryl Deck, somebody pulls out a handkerchief and cries “Goodbye Leo!”

Not everybody gets it, but those who do have a good laugh and share what it means. That’s what you do at Citi Field.

27 comments to Save Citi's Soul

  • Anonymous

    Perfect, just perfect. Why doesn't everyone else see it?

  • Anonymous

    That settles it: Greg, you're hired!

  • Anonymous

    Greg,
    What if a half million or so Met fans come out for the three day homecoming celebration? Wouldn't this create a massive logistical problem to rival what happened at Woodstock that wonderful year of peace, love and the Mets? And how about the all important port-o-sans?
    One can't have a homecoming without long-range strategic planning so perhaps Mayor Bloomberg will appoint you Committee Chairman!

  • Anonymous

    I could see where this might be a problem for the '69 portion.
    Actually, big crowds are probably guaranteed no matter what goes on the first year at CF, which is all the more reason to do HW right away. Build momentum to make this an annual event, don't let the Mets get off with “oh, nobody wants to come to an Old Timers or Hall of Fame day,” which is the excuse they used to off OTDs in the last decade. People will associate the festivities with 2009 and will want in on the tradition year after year, and 45,000 (including SRO) will jam the place.
    Or it could just be the brown acid talking.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds far out and groovy!

  • Anonymous

    Yup. Over-Dodgered, Under-Gianted and WAYYYYYY Under-Metted.
    Wider concourses, increased leg room, pretzels baked the same day they're sold…that's all great, but going to a Mets game is more than that. It's looking around and knowing somethin' Amazin' happened right over there. It's saying I was here when that happened.
    And there you have it.

  • Anonymous

    To quote DJ Wink Dinkerson of KRUT radio, via Cheech & Chong:
    “Well, HIIIIIIIIII, groovyguys 'n' groovygals! Peacelovedope! Beadsbellsincenselightshowscrashpads and a HarveyKrishna all you groovy freaks! Digitrighton and powertothepeopllllllllllle! Grrrrreat, kids, havin' a good time, tonight? Faroutandsolid! Listen, before we bring out this next act, I wanna say it's great to be here and let's have a good time and keep it cleeeeeeeeean, huh, kids? OK, here's the next act. He's the fastest rising blues-singer on the circuit today! He's responsible for that upcoming hit “Goin' Downtown Gonna See My Gal!” Let's give a big warm welcome for Blind Melon Chitliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiins…!”

  • Anonymous

    Greg,
    See what happens when you don't plan ahead for logistics? What started out as a three day homecoming celebration turned into a drug infested, love making hippie reunion!

  • Anonymous

    And the problem with that is…?

  • Anonymous

    One can only hope they have something half as cool planned to commemorate the opening. I also hope they have a going-away party for Shea. A week or two after the World Series, have a final Shea rally. Sell tickets and give the proceeds to charity. Bring everyone of note back, show highlight films, let us out onto the hallowed ground (which I've only trod once, at a Who concert – got some curious looks, and some knowing smiles, when I did a full Seaver windup from where I estimated the mound should be).
    I've been wondering if there's been any talk of redeveloping the imediate surround area. Otherwise, it'll be quite a juxtaposition – a gleaming billion-dollar jewel of a ballpark 50 yards from dirt roads and chop shops. Condemn them all, and build SheaVille – a complex of shops, restaurants, bars, theaters, a couple of World's Fair-themed rides, maybe some hotels. Make it a year-round attraction – who among us wouldn't spend a February Saturday perusing the Clubhouse shops, taking a couple of rides on the Cyclone (they're tearing the real one down!), and having a big rack of ribs and some beers at Rusty's in Flushing?

  • Anonymous

    I do believe something is planned for the chop shop area, and not more chop shops. Shea Village has a nice ring to it but it would presumably be called Citi City.

  • Anonymous

    Well…., didn't exactly say that was a problem, either. LOL. And then we wouldn't care about steroids because everybody would be stoned already.
    “Come on people now, tell all your brothers, everbody get together, gotta love one another right now.”

  • Anonymous

    Great piece. This whole naming is a mess. I love the Brooklyn Dodgers (as a history buff) and would have been very happy had the new place been named for Robinson because I see him as a figure who transcends any given team. In fact he transcends baseball, period.
    But this whole thing is a mess. Its one thing to touch on Ebbets Field (the way Camden Yards touches on old time ball parks) and another thing to do a fake retro stadium. On top of that, slap on the name of a big multinational conglomerate on it, and the whole thing just REEKS of fake, synthetic, identity-less, stupidity. Add to the fact that the Mets (unlike small market teams) didn't actually need to do this naming (as if there were deals that they weren't gonna do absent the $20MM a year), and its just insulting.
    And I also echo the sentiments that the NY (baseball) Giants are getting horribly ignored. Fred Wilpon may not like the Giants because he was a Dodgers fan, but the Mets have deep roots in that legacy, in both their first stadium, and the logo on their hats! Had Wilpon's architects had any courage, they would at least have tried to have the new stadium touch upon Polo Grounds as well.
    It is a sad day when the Yankees are going to beat the Mets in terms of respect for legacy, tradition, emotional appeal, and not being a blatant shill for a corporation. But that is exactly what happened here.
    Good post.

  • Anonymous

    OK–what is wrong with you people?? Let's establish something here. When it comes to naming rights, what are the choices? There is no player or coach that I think is worthy or encompasses the franchise to such an extent that you should name a stadium after him. Not Seaver, not Gil and not Casey. Furthermore, we should definitely not name it after a Dodger or Giants player regardless of their stature. You are left with naming it Shea (which is fine I suppose, but I rather a new building have it's own identity…the original Shea will always be the real Shea), or naming it after god knows what else (Branch Rickey park…sheesh). I think the idea of change mixed with the anti-corporate mindsets of some people are what has people enraged. Those same people should realize that capitalism is the basis of this country and especially New York City. Instead of BASHING what Citibank represents, maybe you should learn something about them first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citibank. They are a New York based bank that formed almost 200 years ago–it is rooted in the history of NYC and America in general. What is the problem. A Stadium's “soul” is not based on what you call it. It is based on the people who work there, play there and cheer there. Shea will always be Shea, it is time to make some new memories. What I DEFINITELY agree with, however, is your assessment of how much Dodger nostalgia is being thrust upon the stadium. We are not the Dodgers we are the Mets, and if a Yankee fan calls the park Sh**ty Field to my face I'll smack him myself

  • Anonymous

    I agree. Citi Field sounds fine, we'll start making great memories there from Day One. Let's not reflexively hate change.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed that corporate names are a part of baseball stadium life and, as noted here, the next big league park named for a player will be the first. If it's an economic necessity or even an advantage, then good that we got a lucrative deal. Doesn't mean it's a boisterous celebration of capitalism that Mets customers have to be thrilled by. I don't ask my bank to sell me baseball, I'd prefer my baseball team low-key the selling of a bank.
    I visited the new Busch Stadium this past summer and every other square inch was sponsored by a car company or a communications company and it was flat out dispiriting. The Cardinals have a ton of history but even theirs, by no means hidden, took a back seat to a slew of corporate logos which — as representative of the fine way of life we enjoy in this country as they may be — really sapped the specialness out of the place.
    Of course the Cardinals went out and won a World Series, so maybe they're on to something.
    First home game of 2009, the Mets do start making memories in Citi Field. Fantastic. I hope they're great memories. I hope that when I'm getting up there in years, should I be fortunate enough to get up there in years, I'm remembering all the great times at Citi Field every bit as much if not more than at Shea Stadium.
    The point here, in asking the Mets to take the initiative and honor the hell out of their past in this great new place, is those memories-to-be should build on the memories that have come before and have a funny way of evaporating if you don't care for them. The only thing wrong with the Mets' history is their institutional history of ignoring it. I'm asking them not to do that. Build the new park, make it a palace, call it what you will and charge whatever price you can get — just don't leave everything that made your franchise special to us, its patrons, out by the curb.
    Here's to the future, indeed. It's the only one we've got.

  • Anonymous

    I think renaming the area “Shea Village” is a great idea. Even though it's officially “CitiField” we can always call it “Shea Village” like the then Los Angeles Angeles Angels did when occupying Dodger Stadium (calling their home field “Chavez Ravine” instead of Dodger Stadium) between 1962 and 1966).

  • Anonymous

    We've forgotten the most important person in Met hstory – Mrs. Joan Payson! A wonderful lady responsible for the birth of the Mets, Mrs. Payson reflected the spirit of those early years with her love for that team of zanies and we original members of the “new breed” saw her as one of us instead of the owner. A part owner of the New York Giants, she was the only stockholder to vote against the move to San Francisco.
    A more moving tribute there couldn't be to the lady most responsibe for giving us our beloved ball club. Having a spring training facility named after her isn't enough.

  • Anonymous

    if a Yankee fan calls the park Sh**ty Field to my face I'll smack him myself
    Cool. More power to ya. But the one thing that Yankee fans will not be able to do is call their new stadium anything other than Yankee Stadium, because as vile as they are, at least they don't crap all over their own heritage. I agree wholeheartedly that they exaggerate and overcelebrate it, but their new stadium is in no danger whatsoever of being renamed Capital One Park. Nor will it stand as a tribute to another team, one they had very little to do with in reality.
    I hate the Yankees more than just about anything in this world or beyond. But one thing I'll say for them is they are proud of who they are, and when they build their new place, the Yankees will be front and center in all plans. As it should be.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and Greg… I keep forgetting, I won't be joining you in the “Goodbye, Leo” chant. I'd sooner cut out my tongue. Which I'm sure I could sell tickets to around here…
    I (Heart) Leo

  • Anonymous

    My prediction…
    Within one year of George Steinbrenner's death, the new Yankee Stadium will get its own corporate name. He's the one that's interested in the whole “tradition” thing; from what I've heard and read over the years, I doubt his heirs will concur when there's money to be made.

  • Anonymous

    I find that hard to believe. Yankee “tradition” (Aura, Mystique and the rest of their stripper friends) is a cottage industry all its own. That's not purely the mandate of The Boss. That's mass hypnosis, and it ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon.

  • Anonymous

    They can call Intangibles Stadium whatever they want… it'll be empty three years after it opens when the team stinks and the new-park novelty has worn off. And all the frontrunners will crawl back into their holes and find another winning team to root for (hopefully not ours) or ,more likely, stop making believe they even follow baseball. Then the Swindals and Steinbrenners will start weeping to the city about how they need to move out of the Bronx, like George did in the 80s back when the miserable afterthought Yankees sucked and no one wanted to see them. You didn't hear too much about tradition, mystique or aura back then, just jealousy and griping. And oh, how I'm looking forward to the redux.
    I hope there's some fallout among the family post-George, like the Maras, and the whole thing goes to pot for a couple of years like the Giants did in the seventies.

  • Anonymous

    no, you've got this wrong — steinbrenner (or his son-in-law or whoever) will not be able to resist the lure of the big naming bucks — it's money they're leaving on the table.
    the only thing mitigating the whole citi field debacle to me is that it's found bucks for the mets; presumably some of it will make the team better (though let's get real — how much or how little trickles down to payroll is left entirely up to the whim of the wilpons).
    meanwhile, every day that goes by with yankee stadium NOT selling itself to the highest bidder will be another day that steinbrenner is ticked off. until, finally, he canst stands it no more.
    and in that moment, when it becomes yankee stadium at viacom field or somesuch, that, my friend, will be when all the stuff and nonsense about the yankees' institutional devotion to history and legacy is shown to be merely its own sort of marketing strategy, a strategy that they have deemed no longer operable. i will laugh loud and long on that day.

  • Anonymous

    I still think “Azek TrimField” or “New York Long Island Honda Dealer's Park” have nice rings to them. But I agree with Greg, this is the future we've got; let's not have a massive disscontinuity in the identity of the franchise. We're shooting for more of an inflection point.
    And, Anonymous, saying that Capitalism is the basis of America and New York isn't necessarily something to be proud of. I look at it as more of an inconvenient truth.

  • Anonymous

    OK, (1) there is something wrong with the name. It insinuates a brand into our conversations and that's wrong. It's a public monument to a private corporation. It takes something away from all fo us.
    (2) Though I have no need for the Mets to induct somebody into the Mets Hall of Fame every year, I'd like them to consider it.
    (3) I loved Greg's scenario. But, to me, Homecoming Weekend should be like what I (naturally) hoped for Bob Murphy to be: a representative from every Met team ever appearing in uniform to thank Bob Murphy for. As early Mets pass on, nothing so much as the passing of Shea will underscore how precious the team's history is, and how much we need to acknowledge it with glory. (Well, maybe the passing of Murphy.) So bring it on next homecoming — “On behalf of the 1963 Mets, Ron Hunt, ladies and gentlemen; on behalf the 1964 Mets, Jim Hick…” and let us clutch their memories in the flesh one more time before they are stolen away from us like Shea. Like Muphy.

    In a stable which is almost in the shadow of the new stone church, a man with grayeyes and gray beard, lying amidst the odor of the animals, humbly seekd death as one would would seek sleep. The day, faithful to vast and secret laws, is shifting and confusing the shadows inside the poor shelter; outside are the plowed fields and a ditch clogged with dead leaves and the tracks of a wolf in the black mud where the forests begin. The man sleeps and dreams, forgotten. He is awakened by the bells tolling the Angelus.
    In the kingdoms of England the ringing of bells is now one of the customs of the evening, but this man, as
    a child, has seen the face of Woden, the divine horror and exultation, the crude wooden idol hung with Roman coins and heavy clothing, the sacrificing of horses, dogs and prisoners. Before dawn he will die and with him will die, and never return, the last immediate images of these pagan rites; the world will
    be a little poorer when this Saxon has died.
    Deeds wich populate the dimensions of space and which reach their end when someone dies may cause us wonderment, but one thing, or an infinite number of things, dies in every final agony, unless there is a universal memory as the theosophists have conjectured.
    In time there was a day that extinguished the last eyes to see Christ; the battle of Junin and the love of Helen died with the death of a man. What will die with me when I die, what pathetic or fragile will the world lose? The voice of Macedonio Fernandez, the image of a red horse in the vacant lot at Serrano and Charcas, a bar of sulphur in the drawer of a mahogany desk?

    “The Witness” by Jorge Luis Borges

    If we do this every year, eventually there will be a season which nobody can stand up for. And let every New Yorker know it, witness it, for then a great light will be extinguished. Until then, long live Ed Kranepool.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and regarding

    You won't find a single human being of any value who doesn't revere Jackie Robinson. I doubt too many people have a problem with him getting the rotunda. I sure don't.

    Not so fast.