- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Whelmed

Not overwhelmed. Not underwhelmed. Just whelmed at the moment. And cold. Very cold.

I have now been to my 33rd Major League ballpark to watch a Major League Baseball game, Citi Field, home of the New York Mets in Flushing, Queens. I cannot offer a definitive judgment of how much I love it or how little I like it because I really don't know yet…”yet” being the key phrase. I may not know for sure for quite a while, and that is a very fair way to take Citi Field: slowly.

We don't have to decide right off the bat whether it's the most beautiful sight our eyes have ever seen (which is what Rudy's father called Notre Dame Stadium in Rudy) or whether it's an overpriced, overwrought pile of bricks (which is what I feared from the moment it was etched into our future plans). It's not the greatest thing ever, it's by no means terrible. It is not going out on a limb to refer to it as not bad. Very nice would also do as a placeholder.

The shock of there being no Shea [1] is dissipating quickly. The LIRR, like the Subway system, has eliminated its Shea Stadium stop, opting instead for Mets/Willets Point. That redesignation felt more appropriate than ever when I got off the train, climbed the steps, turned to pace the boardwalk and saw Citi Field on the right, nothing on the left. I somehow expected there to be two parks where there was only one. Oh yeah, I reminded myself, there's not.

My last living remnant of Shea, so to speak, was a pair of rainchecks from September 12, 2008, a horrible night when I was horribly sick [2]. The fine print said they could be exchanged this season or next, meaning last season or this, even with Shea Stadium a goner and Citi Field allegedly in demand. I took my unused tickets to the advance ticket window (it's along the path to the Left Field Gate, FYI) and expected to be hassled. I wasn't. I put their value toward a game in May. Now I have no more tickets to Shea. Why would I?

Finally, I had to make a phone call. With Alex Anthony's warnings about what I could and couldn't take into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda blasting in my ear, I needed a little quiet, so I made my call from the quietest spot in the Citi Field complex: the Shea Stadium outfield, specifically the part that is gravel en route to it being paved. I figured sooner or later I'd stroll over there, so may as well get it out of the way now. Do you know what it was like standing in what I believe to have been short center field at Shea Stadium?

It was like standing in an unpaved area of the parking lot. When I got done with my call, I turned around and headed for the only ballpark on the premises.

Having used the Right Field Gate for the exhibition and the Rotunda for the workout, I tried Left Field on for size (and am testing the Orosco banner for a meetup on Sunday — Gate Jess-E, if you will). I was waiting to be told by the man in red or green, I forget which, that I was doing something wrong by carrying exactly the kind of stuff I've always carried into Mets games. But no, what I was carrying was fine. I was fine. The man in green or red was fine (though I had the sense he really wanted to be cranky). I was through the Left Field Gate and up an escalator and, once more, though this time for keeps, I was inside Citi Field.

Not as weird as it was for the Red Sox game on April 3 [3]. Not weird at all. But crowded. Teeming from the Left Field Gate out to center. I thought an hour before first pitch might win me some latitude toward some of the more popular concessions, but forget it. I wondered for all the celebrated width of concourses why it was so tough to get around. Because people were doing what I was doing: searching for something to buy and in no hurry to decide what they would choose. I wound up back at the World's Fare Market and opted for the Cuban Sandwich and Garlic Fries (with half of the latter falling to the ground in a play at the plate, tagged out by some combination of the cashier, my receipt and me).

The Citi Field Cuban Sandwich, in case you're wondering, is bleeping awesome. If somebody wants to tell me they don't go to baseball games for Cuban Sandwiches, I'll retort that they'll play the game whether you have one or not. I bitched mightily for three dozen seasons that Mets games lacked all but a smidge of Japanese food for edibles. I will appreciate what's good now that it's on tap.

That was just the preamble, or pre-ramble. There was still a matter of swinging through the Field Level to get back to the escalator en route to the Promenade on that side of the Citi. Yes, I could have gone upstairs in right field, but I'm still in that fascination stage with the Field Level, which is actually pretty unfascinating to walk through between the bases as there's no view of the field and, you may have heard, no sign of the home team's history [4] to dwell upon. To be fair, I wasn't thinking “where's the Mets museum?” at that point. I was thinking “more people?”

The real purpose of Citi Field is not the dinner menu or how construction necessitated a whole new parking lot but watching the Mets. Section 527, Row 7 would be the key to whether my first official impression was a dream date or a dud. It wasn't a dud, but everything you've been hearing about obstructed views is true enough. From seven rows up, the left field line is a rumor. Not a little, but a lot. There's still a whole infield and a lot of outfield to garner your attention, but there's enough fair territory blocked by concrete to make you wonder how three years of planning and building missed or, more likely, dismissed this little detail.

Before the game got underway and I settled in, my overriding thought was how small this place is. Never mind intimate. It's small. It's smaller than Citizens Bank. It's smaller than new Busch. It's bigger than Wiffle Park at Chapman Yards [5], but that's only got eight seats and its one club (the back porch) requires no special ticket. It's not a criticism to identify Citi Field as relatively minute. It's an observation. After a lifetime of large, this felt tiny. I spent a while looking for the rest of the stadium. It wasn't there. This is all we get.

The good news is pitch by pitch, minute by minute, it all felt a little less strange. I adapted to Citi Field in person better than I've been adapting to it on television. You look toward the pitcher and the batter and it's a Met versus an opponent. That's not strange. You've got Mets fans sitting around you. That's not strange. The scoreboards and such…a little strange because they are so different from their predecessors, but by the eighth as opposed to the second, they were the scoreboards where the Mets played. And by the eighth, I was as cold as I'd ever been at a baseball game in Flushing.

That's why Row 7 of Section 527 couldn't hold my host Sharon (by providing admission to my official debut at Citi Field, she became Camp Avnet [6] for this millennium) and me. First we were gonna get a hot beverage and come back. Then the line was long and it was growing colder. Colder and windier. I'm almost certain this space in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is more frigid than our previous space in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. I'm bringing a thermometer next time to check for evidence. Anyway, once Sharon got coffee and I got pudding (Kozy Shack [7] survived the move), we decided to try our luck in those generally unattended seats that are scattered about, presumably intended for the differently abled. Well, there was nothing marking them as forbidden and nobody had claimed them and, most importantly, nobody was stopping us, so we sat down in two of them for an inning. And an inning became three innings or so. It was there we watched Ramon Castro validate his presence on the roster. It was there we felt a legitimate “Let's Go Mets!” rise from this shoebox of a ballpark. It was there I grew used to watching the Mets come back on the Padres at Citi Field or at least try their half-assiest.

We shifted our act to the right field Field Level corner for the ninth, partly to get a jump on the exit after we managed a rousing come-from-behind walkoff victory and partly because of the shock that you can do that at Citi Field. In a way this was self-defeating because I wanted to experience the game as a regular game, watching it mostly from my assigned seat. But this is Citi Field, where you're allowed to roam, so it's hard to resist the temptation. It's April; it's cold; we roamed where we wanted, standing still long enough to watch Carlos Delgado — he who bombed Jake Peavy in the first — stand still and take a pitch that was too close to argue to close out the night.

Except for two homers, the game totally, totally sucked. We lost to Chase Headley & Co. [8], which was hard to ignore, even on this personally historic occasion. But I gained a little more feel for the ballpark that will be mine even as the feeling in my legs began to grow icy by the sixth. I'd like to try Citi Field when it's more familiar and less frigid. I'd like to see the line score next to Mets overshadow whatever's above it, too. Until then, everything's pretty good, not bad, generally incomplete. That'll be filled in eventually. For now, I can fill in this:

4/16/09 Th San Diego 0-1 Maine 1 0-1 L 6-5

It's just the first line in The Second Log, the first night of the rest of my Metgoing life. More whelm presumably to come.

How did we get to Citi Field? Retrace our steps through Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon [9], Barnes & Noble [10] or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook [11].