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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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The First Year of Citi

Not far from here, Citi Field sits empty, as we’ve known it would for months now. The team that calls it home had the kind of year that makes you want to sleep with the light on. The people who run the baseball operations had a worse one.

Given that, it’s a bit complicated answering what should be a simple question: How was Citi Field’s first year?

For example, we don’t really know what Citi Field feels like with a huge, revved-up crowd making noise inside it. The Mets’ early-season games were marked by the usual spring chill and a certain forgivable inattention as the faithful wandered around and figured out the new park. (I can’t go behind home plate on the, um, Excelsior level? What gives?) That was followed by a strangely cold June, and by the time full summer arrived it was obvious the 2009 club was going nowhere.

We can all remember nights when Shea’s decrepitude was transcended by the enormous, exultant noise of a big, baying crowd, but Citi Field never got one of those, so how can you compare them? Any discussion of the park runs into a similar problem: 2009 was a frustrating, infuriating and embittering year, and the sourness of that will cling to Citi until it's washed away by better days.

But l’ll try anyway — with a few admissions up-front. As longtime readers know, I was never a fan of Shea, which I generally described as a DMV with a baseball game in the middle of it. I have lots of great memories of baseball games I saw there and friends and loved ones I saw those games with. But those are memories of people and events, not of a building. I shed no tears for Shea’s passing and I have not missed it.

From the beginning, some of the things that bothered other people at Citi Field didn’t bother me. I quickly warmed to the Jackie Robinson rotunda (though it’s far more useful as an exit than an entrance), and I never begrudged the Wilpons making the front half of the ballpark into a handsome replica of Ebbets Field. Imagine the Mets had decamped for Sacramento when Shea was torn down, and generations later you found yourself owning the expansion team that replaced them, with a new stadium to build. You’d want to right a historical wrong, too. I don’t mind the green seats and the black walls — there’s no reason for a park’s colors to echo that of the team, and Shea’s variegated seats always struck me as borrowed from the palette of a 70s panel van anyway. Security guards wearing maroon? Not the greatest idea, but they can wear panda costumes for all I care.

For a while it was strange watching a game without people circulating in front of me, as they did in Shea’s aisles. But I soon found myself grateful to be able to watch the game without having to stand and peer irritably around lost tourists or bark “Down in front!” at some moron who’d gone into a coma after coming out of the tunnel. For every Cow-Bell Man or bearer of an amusing/inspiring banner, Shea stuck you with a gang of wandering mooks in sideways Yankee hats, accompanied by dimwitted girls leaking gum-flavored drool into their Sidekicks. I’m glad they’re now up in the concourse instead of down between me and the game.

While Shea was literally two-thirds of a concrete donut, Citi Field has architectural surprises, from the center-field bridge to the funny walkway that leads to the Pepsi Porch to the picnic area atop the rotunda, with its baseball set in the floor. I immediately liked the light towers, with their simultaneously industrial and vaguely organic feel, and the gates down the lines and at the bullpen, marked with iconic silhouettes.

And the park is friendlier to foot traffic, without having that traffic interfere with the sightlines. I’ve rarely been to Citi Field without running into people I know out by the bridge or in the left-field food court, and I love that. The crowd naturally flows through the field-level concourse as game time approaches, and it feels right to stop on the bridge or among the food tables, under the early-evening sky, and chat about the game before moving on to the business of 7:10 or 1:10 or 4:05. Shea’s dank tunnels were no place to stop, unless you liked being serenaded by towel-hawking MasterCard touts.

The food? There's no debate there. Alas, no skirt steak, elote and Sabrosa for me until April.

Finally, there are the seats themselves. There are shamefully bad seats at Citi, about which more in a moment. But when I was able to stay out of those, I was happy. After my first couple of games I told someone that the seats felt like moving down a level and forward by a third compared with their Shea equivalents, and I think that was fairly accurate. They’re angled properly for baseball, they're bigger, and they have cupholders and more legroom, all of which make me happy. It wasn’t until late May that I got out of the habit of sitting Shea style: feet tucked firmly under the chair, shoulders forward to avoid contact with knees or fumbled beers behind you. As for there being fewer seats, maybe I’m just getting old and undemocratic, but this never bothered me either. Shea generally had 15,000 or so empty seats on a given night.

I thought all of that was a great foundation, one the Mets could have built on rather nicely.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. Instead, they undermined their own efforts by making the kind of dopey, tone-deaf mistakes the Mets seem to always make. In doing so, they damaged relationships with a lot of loyal fans who missed Shea and were nervous about what would replace it.

First off, the seats. Yes, they were mostly better. Much better. But the ones that were worse were mind-bogglingly worse. For our first visit to Citi Field, Emily and Joshua and I sat in the Promenade, far down the left-field line. Emily and I settled into our seats for St. John’s and Georgetown and grinned at each other and reminded Joshua to eat his hot dog and compared notes, and we were so busy doing all that that it took me a while to notice something.

I couldn’t see the left fielder.

Nor could I see the center fielder.

What the hell?

Yes, there were seats down the lines at Shea where you lost a corner, and I called the back of the loge the U-boat seats because you lost the top half of the arc of fly balls and had to peer at the field through a slot. But this wasn’t Shea — this was a brand-new, extremely expensive, state-of-the-art baseball-only park that had been relentlessly marketed as everything Shea wasn’t. And I couldn’t see two of the outfielders.

On the FAN, Dave Howard split hairs about obstructed views vs. sightlines. He invoked park geometry, blustering that this was the price to pay for the greater intimacy of the modern parks. Really? In the last 13 months I’ve been to Coors Field and Petco Park and Nationals Stadium and walked around all of them. The only geometrically-challenged seats I found were in one Petco section behind the warehouse around which they built the park — and those were clearly marked when buying tickets. The Mets opened Citi Field with whole swathes of seats like mine. Moreover, balls down the line disappear from view even if you’re in the really expensive seats. Gary, Keith and Ron lose sight of balls in the corners, for God’s sake.

As always with the Mets, it’s impossible to figure out who screwed up. Did someone not vet Populous’s work? Overrule the architects? Ignore their counsel? We’ll probably never know. But someone definitely screwed up — that aspect of the design was negligent and incompetent. It got put right, sort of, with the mid-summer installation of a video board down the right-field line. But that was a kludge for a problem that never should have existed in the first place — the stadium-design equivalent of There I Fixed It. Those seats should be cheap in 2010, and purchasers should be told what they’re getting.

Then there was the other big problem.

In the final days of Shea, Greg and I had a polite but impassioned argument about the selling of everything in the park that wasn’t nailed down and most everything that was. He wanted to know why there was no place for the banners of Tank and Rusty and Franco at Citi Field; I wanted to know what the big deal was. OK, those particular banners wouldn’t be in the new place. But surely there would be other banners, right?

Wrong. Citi Field opened with the silhouettes on the gates, a new apple, a couple of welcome holdovers from Shea, a sepia collage of famous Mets down the left-field line and some sepia banners outside the building. But that wasn’t nearly enough. Contrast that with the soon-to-open Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins, as toured by Ken Davidoff. Its entrance gates will bear the teams’ retired numbers. There are beautiful atriums named after Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew and bearing artwork of them. A 573 bar for Harmon Killebrew. Announcers’ famous calls engraved in stone. That's what the inside of Citi Field should have been like. Instead, its features were either anonymous or evoked Dodger history.

There’s nothing at all wrong with honoring Jackie Robinson or evoking Ebbets Field — I think both those things are great, in fact. (And they’d be even better if from there you were led to an exhibit dedicated to National League baseball in New York, one that acknowledged the Giants and put the Mets in their full context.) But honoring the Dodgers and Giants should have been prologue to celebrating the Mets. If that had happened, few fans would have griped or made jokes about Fred Wilpon’s favorite team. But it didn’t happen. Jeff Wilpon has called the anger about the lack of Mets stuff a fair criticism, and the Mets belatedly tried to put things right with more team imagery. Good. But as with the Promenade seats, it’s disturbing that the team got something so basic so wrong.

Moreover, it’s not clear to me that the Mets understand what’s broken. It’s not just the lack of Mets stuff but the way it’s presented. The Mets went too far in delivering the Anti-Shea, making everything blend in an overzealous effort to class the joint up. That’s fine when you’re talking brick and green seats and black walls (heck, I wish they’d rejected the horrible scoreboard ads on aesthetic grounds), but it’s not right for Mets iconography. Tug McGraw and Lenny Dykstra and Turk Wendell didn’t blend, and we loved them for it. Sepia works for the rotunda, and it works for Ken Burns, but banish it elsewhere. We want our Mets in Technicolor.

And we want a lot more of them. We want a Hall of Fame, of course, but don’t stop there. The interior of Citi Field should be full of Mets stuff. It should be a scavenger hunt of Mets stuff. Give us a wall of honor carved with the name of every player to wear the blue and orange. (I’ll make rubbings of Mike Phillips, Rusty Staub, Edgardo Alfonzo and David Wright. And Al Schmelz.) Tear down the sepia and put up full-color photos. (They can still have a Nikon symbol. Don't care about that.) Put up Shea-style banners in the weirdly barren stairwells. Line the concourse with yearbook covers, biographies of players great, good and merely beloved, and graphics about the Mets’ changing uniforms, past homes and origins. Name the park’s features to honor our heroes — calling the picnic area the Piazza, for instance, is funny and appropriate. (And what the hell's Excelsior, anyway?) Buy back Tom Seaver’s locker and encase it in Plexiglass as a devotional point where fans will gather before big games. Reward exploration and keen eyes. Surprise us.

Citi Field began with two pretty big mistakes that should have been avoided, and that was unfortunate. But they’re fixable, and the Mets have already made some progress. If they finish fixing them, I think Citi Field will be discussed for the many things that were done right, and before we know it the park will be three or four years old and the initial missteps will have faded. What we’ll have then, I believe, is a wonderful park — one where friends meet on the bridge or in line at Shake Shack, then head for their seats past a parade of reminders of the Mets and their rich (if star-crossed) history. Citi Field is the Mets’ home, and ours. With a little work, it can be a happy one for decades to come.

26 comments to The First Year of Citi

  • Anonymous

    Well stated Jason.
    One thing I found they got right at the Citi is the food selection. I'm not talking about Shake Shack and Blue Smoke. But as a dieter, I appreciate the selection of salads and the availability of fresh fruit at games. The concept of being able to eat at ballgames without sabotaging the diet is major for me.
    More Metsiana is definitely in order in the new home, though.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post, as always. Bravo to you sir.

  • Anonymous

    Well said Jason.
    The best I can say about Citi Field is that I no longer hate it. You comment about not hearing a full capacity crowd cheering is a good one – it took going to see Paul McCartney to get me to change how I felt about the place. It was nice to hear 45,000 people actually cheer there.

  • Anonymous

    And _that_ may be the saddest statement on the 2009 Mets yet.
    I agree with pretty much everything. They created a great park, that with a couple of touch ups by a person that gets it would go a long way towards me saying it's the 'best park in the majors' and meaning it.
    I'm curious to see where the price drops are going to come in. They hinted at some sections, but they said they're not lowering the lowest ticket, which means those 526+ sections in deep left field will still be the same. Left Field Landing is the most overpriced section, because you have those obscured views by being close, but you're still in the outfield. Just because it's one level lower barely matters.
    The outer field level seats, metro box and baseline box, and the outer ceaser clubs areas are probably the ones that need to come down a bit. I don't know if 10% will do it, but It would go a long way towards expanding the amount of seats that the average fan could enjoy. It's not so much those 15k extra seats that were always empty at Shea except when it was important, but the number of 'affordable' seats. They're supposedly knocking out a lot of Gold level games, which is pretty much a discount as well.

  • Anonymous

    One of the worst features are the ads connected to the CF scoreboard. It looks like they were stapled to the scoreboard instead of being part of one big message board (as in Nationals Park). These ads would fit in at a minor league ball park. One of the boards is for a tractor supply company which makes sense in NYC. I'm surprised that they don't have an ad for a bail bondsman.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff, but I really hate posts like this. It reminds me of how fucked we are as a fan base, and all the common sense in the world cannot penetrate the thick empty skulls in the Mets front office. You and Greg hit the nail on the head when you post suggestions like these, but we know it will either a) go unnoticed, or b) be taken on by the Mets, but the execution will be an epic failure (they install a HOF, but it's in the Empire level; they present a tribute to all NL baseball, but it's on the wall behind the bar in the Acela Club; etc).
    We wouldn't care about any of this if they were winning. Go out and get Brandon Webb. Sign Matt Holliday. Package Murph and Pelf and Maine for Halladay or Fielder. Any of these steps would be nice. Just don't make the big off-season acquisition Jason Marquis.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    I love the idea of a rotunda honoring Jackie Robinson. Generations need to remember the injustices and cruelty of institutionalized racism and bigotry that was so long a dominant fabric of our country. Recreating the beautiful exterior that was Ebbets Field was a nice touch. True, the Wilpons were shortsighted in their concept of making Citifield a shrine to national league teams of the past (and mostly ignoring the Giants) rather than the Mets 48 year history but as your point out, that is beginning to be rectified.
    I also appreciate the Wilpon’s goal to create a more intimate setting, with the fans closer to the action. But I’m also quite mad. In their eagerness to create such a setting, the Wilpons ignored design limitations quite obvious to even a layman architect and engineer.
    One only needs look at the equivalent seats in any other park. The upper decks are all constructed to begin further back. Field level stands do not jut out from behind the infield dirt nor is the incline raised as high as these seats further approach the outfield. The corner fences are not as high. Auxiliary score and advertising boards are not placed where they block the view like the overhangs did at Shea. This is why those in the promenade are unable to see the outfielders, many in the back rows down the line cannot see anything hit into the air and why every fan is cut off from the action in at least one corner (the worst actually being the most expensive field level seats including those located in the Delta and Metropolitan Clubs). .
    As an original new breeder I loved Shea and was sad seeing it deteriate so much through neglect and finally turn into rubble last year. But I’m not upset that it was replaced with an aesthetically pleasing ballpark that’s more comfortable to sit in. It’s just that (no matter what the reason) little concern was given to the actual viewing of the game. To rectify this problem, outfield fences need to be moved in and lowered, field level stands should jut out less and the corner field level sections have to be lower to the field. Of course, it is doubtful such an overhaul will ever occur.
    There is no excuse for so many to require high definition monitors to see action that should be viewable from their seats. That is why I am so mad. We are stuck with a beautiful park that, with all it's modern amenities, is a monstrosity as far as watching a ballgame is concerned.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. But I do agree it will depend on what the met organization does to improve the team that counts. Citi Field is a very nice ballpark, where Shea was a stadium, a multi-purpose stadium. While I only attended 2 games this year (Opening Night and a June Santana win against the Cards), both were great expereinces.
    My childhood was spent at Shea, great memories, but it was time for something new. Also as one person put it, the memories were of the games on the field and not the stadium. I still remember my first game at Shea, a night game in 1968 against the Philies. Citi is a very nice venue.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn't say its' a monstrosity to watch a game in. I watched 8 games there (9 if you include St. Johns) and I wasn't unhappy with any of my seats. I acquired some way in advance, some within a month of going, and once the day of. In every game I would say my viewing experience was superior to just about anything similar at Shea. (or at least similiar to any other park I've been to, including San Fran and Citizen's Bank)
    There are some bad sections, particularly the outfield seats in LF that Jason mentioned. But otherwise I was happy. At the last game i was in section 523, and I couldn't see some of the LF corner. Of course, no balls ever went there, and I didn't miss anything, so I didn't exactly notice. I enjoyed being closer to the action.
    You say the field level seats don't jut out beyond the infield in other parks. In fact, they do. They do at the new yankee stadium. They do at Citizen's Bank park. They do in Fenway. The corners are also cut off other places as well. I think this is just standard ballpark design these days, not anything specifically wrong with the Mets.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, as always.
    I'm surprised you dismiss the seating and wall colors so easily. Aside from the advertisements, those were by far my biggest complaint. As you mentioned about the players, we like our Mets in full color! I miss different sections having different seat colors, and I definitely miss the blue wall.
    Maybe it will look differently when the stadium is packed, but with so many seats empty, it made it obvious how drab the new place is.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Cetar,
    Didn't mean that other field level seats don't jut out, That is not the problem. It's where they begin.
    Other than old parks like Fenway and Wrigley these seats don't jut out anywhere as close to the infield as in Citi Field. For example, in Citizens Bank Park they begin in a line parrallel with where the outfielders generally position themselves (except for Louis Castillo). In Yankee Stadium they begin about half way down the line and that was done purposly to resemble the configuration of the original ballpark.
    Regarding the corners, note that again except in Fenway and Wrigley the corner walls in foul territory are not nearly as high, not cutting off the anything but the extreme part of the corner. With higher walls those sitting along third base in Fenway never got to see the great plays made in the corner by Yaz and neither did those at Citi Field get to see plays like that big fielding blunder in the next to last game of the season.
    If you look at the pictures of other new parks you will notice the extremeities at Citi Field are the exception and not the rule. Lower walls in the corner and seats jutting out much closer to the outfield. The corners were also more cut-off at the Vet in Philly and that was not repeated at Citizen's Bank.

  • Anonymous

    It's hard to judge from the photos, but I'll have to take a look next time I'm in one of those parks.

  • Anonymous

    Referring to this effect, where the height of the field level stands blocks the pole/corner?
    http://picasaweb.google.com/CeetarsNose/100409_Astros#5389099034058192082

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ceter,
    Regarding height, it is the corner of the field level stands adjacent to the foul line. Regarding cutting off those in the field level area see where they begin to jut out (regardless of height) which will be further away from the infield other than Fenway.
    Both he height in the corner with a tight foul line and the seats jutting out so close to the infield affects the ability of one along the line to see plays in the appropriate corner.

  • Anonymous

    I love the new stadium, but it needs to have more of a Mets feel to it. That can come in time, and steps were made in that direction as the season went (wore) on.
    The critical factor was the product. Take whatever reason you care to consider, but the play on the field was absolutely atrocious. If the season were continuing this weekend with the NLCS, or even if we got no further than the NLDS, it would have made this year in the Mets' new home an unqualified success. I went to five games this year, including one in a Sterling suite, and enjoyed the atmosphere for each one. Four out of the five games were unbearable to watch.

  • Anonymous

    Gotta agree, Jason, and I'm looking forward to (hopefully!) seeing some changes this year to make the place scream Mets. In the face of that other New York baseball team (and it's impossible to avoid the comparison!), we need our mecca, a stadium that serves as a shrine to our team's history and the spirit of fandom that we're all trying our hardest to embrace going forward. Get us pumped up, Citi! It's the least you can do.
    I think one thing that we tend to overlook as critics of the new park is that this was its first year. You've referenced the lack of fan noise and justified it by the fact that we were all wandering and wondering in the summer months, and by the time what was happening on the field was relevant, it was irrelevant… but as far as giving the place its Mets identity goes, how long did it take Shea to take on that feel? Granted, Shea was a new stadium for a new team, and since this was way before my time, maybe even Shea was all dolled up in blue and orange in its first year, and I wouldn't really know… but would it be fairer to judge Citi as harsh critics and diehard fans after we all (management and team included) warm up to the place, and after we've made some memories within its walls? That's not to say that the Wilpons shouldn't push the Mets and the “Metsness” of our home forward – after all, who wants to start from scratch? – and I'm not really directing this at you, because you've been fair in your criticisms, but I'm thinking that we may all be a lot more comfortable in a few months/years/however long it takes. Then again, I guess that goes without saying. We're Mets fans, after all, and we love our team.
    Now, the sightlines, on the other hand, are another story altogether. We'll get used to that too, I guess, but the whole thing just seems ridiculous to me.

  • Anonymous

    Yep, that's a fair point. The sightlines and lack of Mets stuff frosts me because there's no reason to have screwed those things up in the first place. But it's fixable, and the minor stuff will work itself out as we become accustomed to the new place….

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    As you've seen from my thoughts, resolving the site lines is not so easy a task. The problem can be resolved only by both bringing in and lowering the fences in (not moving home plate further out) and this must include reducing the distance of the foul-lines so field level seats block less of the corners.
    To do that, the Wilpons will have to admit the original high walls and tricky bounces they created were not feasible within the manner of which the ballpark was designed and constructed without obstructed sightlines.

  • Anonymous

    I meant they should have thought through the sightline implications during the design phase. At this point, I think the best we could ask for is a price reduction/notification on the one-outfielder-view seats. The problem of the corners is probably just part of the park for a while yet.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Once Howard said the majority of complaints was “overexaggerated” by fans not used to sitting in outfield seats it made me doubt ownership would ever admit to serious design flaws regarding sight lines.
    Wonder how fans feel sitting in the Pepsi Porch with even more obstructed views. Perhaps it is acceptable because the overhang cutting off part of right field was known in advance.

  • Anonymous

    I'll chime in here and say Pepsi Porch is one of the better locales from which to watch a game at Citi Field. That's the one spot where, as was promised, I felt “on top of the action”. Yes, it's frustrating that you miss fly balls to deep right, but you accept it because, as you intimate, you know that's the deal. Ditto with the LF boxes in Promenade and Left Field Landing. You understand why you're missing fly balls right under you. That's fine. It's the weird angles from other spots that form the bulk of the sightline complaints, I believe (at least for me).

  • Anonymous

    IMO, Citi Field was a typical Met operation. Yeah they had mostly the right motives, but they failed to deliver.
    Whether it be the large amount of obstructed view seats, or lack of Met history around (which they scrambled to fix towards the end of the year), the Mets just scraped by with a 'good' ballpark.
    They are the kid in high school that studies enough to get a C and pass, but if they worked harder could be a B+ student.
    In a word, typical.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    Since fans have had the opportunity to get acquainted with Citi Field it would be interesting to know which design option those who often sat in the left field landing and promenade would have chosen (in retrospect) – seats closer to the field but cutting off deep portions of the outfield or seats with views through to the warning track but further away?
    In either case, plays against the left field wall would not be visable to anyone other than Clark Kent.

  • Anonymous

    Some suggestions for a 2010 team motto, a la “Baseball Like It Oughta Be”:
    Your 2010 New York Mets – How May We Alienate You Today?
    Welcome to Citi Field – You're In Dodger Country!
    Your 2010 New York Mets – Where LF Isn't Really A Big Problem Anymore!
    Welcome to Citi Field – There Was Never Anything Next Door, Food Court To Your Left
    And my fave: The 2010 Mets – Tickets Still Available!
    I kid, of course, only because I love….

  • Anonymous

    They are the kid in high school that studies enough to get a C and pass, but if they worked harder could be a B+ student.

    You rang?

  • Anonymous

    I'd hold off on judgments about Citi Field until we get a winning team in there. Only then will we really know what the stadium has the potential to be. And obviously it's far better than Shea.
    Also, check out some New York Mets memorabilia at Steiner Sports, which I represent! METS 2010!
    Hopefully Reyes will be BACK!