Here's a confession whose content should surprise you, the regular reader, as much you were stunned when you heard Pete Rose admit he gambled:
I didn't like Citi Field.
I didn't like Citi Field when it began to rise. I didn't like Citi Field when I first set foot in it for an exhibition game. I didn't like Citi Field when I attended my first game that counted. I didn't like Citi Field when I attended my first Mets win there. As the weeks and months went by, I continued to not like it, even though I had some wonderful times with some wonderful people, even as the Mets mysteriously won game after game with me watching.
I didn't absolutely hate it but I didn't really like it. I tried, I swear I did. I contorted my perspective to find individual elements I could praise, I reasoned that Rome (let alone Shea) wasn't built in a day, I tamped down my raging lack of enthusiasm so I wouldn't be a total wet blanket when blogging about our new ballpark.
But honest to god, I just didn't like it.
Yet I do now. I like Citi Field. I am home from a Friday night at Citi Field feeling none of the simmering antipathy I'd been carrying around for it as a concept dating back to 2006 and in tangible terms since early April. I am not angry at it, I do not resent it, I won't spend the rest of my evening wondering why I can't gather any affection whatsoever for it.
I don't love it, but I don't not like it. That is to say I do like it. I might very well be channeling that cheerleader at the end of Revenge of the Nerds who can't believe she's in love with a nerd. I'm not in love, and I may never be, but at long last, I'm in like with Citi Field.
What's not to like?
Oh, enough, still, I suppose, but for the first time in 2009, none of it got on my nerves. Instead, I was sated by the upgrades the Mets have begun to implement — better late than never and better to listen to your fan base even if you missed the obvious the first time around — and I was charmed by something that's been sitting there since day one.
The changes, simple stuff, really lifted my spirits, none more so than the seven playoff team banners that now adorn the tall wall in left center. I stood on the bridge and almost wanted to cry when I saw 1999, 2006 and 1988 (in order of my esteem) acknowledged for the world to see. Yeah, they've been down in the bullpen basement for a while — duplicates still are — but it wasn't the same. And I know there are flags lying limp over right field for the pennant-winners, but the banners are bolder. I missed them and I love the seven seasons they represent.
I didn't cry when I saw them, but I stood on that bridge and I applauded softly, briefly, yet heartfully. It's the first thing at Citi Field I ever felt proprietary of. Thank you for bringing them back.
Thank you, too, for the miniaturized versions of the '69 and '86 murals that adorned the sides of Shea. Those are gone, but a little reminder lives on. Darryl, Keith and Doc are in right, just off the Pepsi Porch. Gil, Tom and the Koosman-Grote tango can be found under the left field escalator. They're not big, maybe they're not quite prominent, but they're there. I've been told a bunch more adorn the staircase entrances in Promenade, but I haven't seen them yet. I'll say thanks for those, too, on good faith.
From a practical standpoint, I was delighted to see two new big-ass screens designed to show the action to the obstacle-impaired, one in right field, the other in the Promenade food court. These were lacking, they were easy fixes and, stunner of stunners, they provide a solution. From where I was sitting, per Citi Field's wacky dimensions, I couldn't see all of the outfield. No problem: I turned to my new video screen and I was good. It's like the Mets realized something didn't work and made it their business to correct the problem.
As for my seats, I am enchanted by the Pepsi Porch. I was enchanted by Tiger Stadium, too, but I groaned when I heard that this was supposed to evoke that. It all sounded a bit adorable for words. Not a lot of fly balls have come up to the Porch this season, so I don't know if it's really destined to play the same role the right field overhang did at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, but never mind that. It's just a fantastic view and a lot of fun. It's separate from everything else but unlike the neighboring Excelsior/Caesars Club level, it doesn't leave you feeling isolated from the baseball game.
As I sat and watched our new No. 2 starter mow down the San Franciscans (maybe we should call this area the Parnell Porch), I looked around Citi Field and I finally got it. It looked just about every bit as special as they promised. You don't see it from Field Level, you don't see it from Promenade, you don't see it from the Big Apple seats, you don't see it even from the nauseatingly named Ebbets Club. But I saw it from the Pepsi Porch. I saw a cohesive structure, one that looked like it was constructed by somebody who cared — not by accident as has been my suspicion all year.
The Mets winning was a lovely touch, but I'd seen nineteen other wins and none really brightened my mood vis-à-vis Citi Field. As has been the case without exception this inaugural season, the experience of watching the Mets was immeasurably enhanced by keeping company with some great friends, but damn fine people like Sharon and Dave and Mark (my Friday quorum) have been on the scene since April and I was still not quite comfortable with my surroundings. So was it all about what was new and where I hadn't before planted myself? Maybe, plus a little this 'n' that.
• The grass was painted with a 1969 tribute in advance of the fortieth reunion next week. If that had been done in April, I assume they would have painted it over as they planned to do to Doc's signature.
• The quasi-throwbacks looked kind of all right (though they could have sprung for matching pants*) and I love the idea behind them — honoring the Mets' ancestral connection to the NY Giants, that is, not the presumed cash grab in the team store.
• Mad Men fan that I am, I was pleased we were party to a steady stream of promotional announcements for the best show on television, and I wasn't too sore that my section wasn't the one chosen to be favored by those snazzy fedoras with the blue and orange bands (the lucky stiffs who won 'em were one bunch to our left). I guess I was too relaxed to be a mad man.
• By showing up unusually early, I got to the Shake Shack before there was a line. To paraphrase Hank Hill, I tasted the meat, not the hype.
• There was a blue and orange fiberglass Amazin' Cow, lifesize, in the Promenade food court. Don't tell it about what I so enjoyed from Shake Shack.
• Nobody in a golf shirt told me I couldn't go somewhere, possibly because after 25 games I've kind of figured out where I'll be hassled and what's worth hassling over.
Did I mention I don't yet love Citi Field and may never? It wasn't a flawless presentation, you know. They could have turned down the unnecessary pregame music and I wish they'd pick a less depressing song than Louis Armstrong's “It's a Wonderful World” for when we win. I also wish the crowd would buzz a little more in a close game, but maybe we were all in shock by what's been improved and how quickly the Mets emerged victorious.
I know I was a little in shock. Maybe that's what this is. Maybe I'll go back to muttering to myself next time. But I don't think so. I feel good about Friday's visit to Citi Field. It was a nighttime version of Ice Cube's good day, non-usage of AK and all.
*Closer consideration of the shirts and pants indicate a matched set. I swear they looked otherwise Friday night, but perhaps it was the Porch perspective messing with my perception.
I think you might like Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.