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Making Their 'Presence' Felt

Earlier this week, esteemed FAFIF commenter Kevin from Flushing sent me a link to a video report [1] out of Minnesota regarding the new Twins ballpark with the following warning:

“kick in the balls 23 seconds in”

I didn’t necessarily want a kick there or anywhere, but with a come-on like that, how could I not click? I did and, as promised, at 0:23, Jana Shortal of KARE-TV wound up and delivered. As the camera lingered over a wall devoted to an immense image of Kirby Puckett, she let loose with what caused Kevin and now me to cringe in agony:

“Reminders of past Twins greatness at every turn.”

Target Field is opening in April and it will not be shy about letting you know who plays there and, just as significantly, who played in the Metrodome and Metropolitan Stadium. Target’s the name on the front, but Twins is the clear subtext. In May 2009, more than ten months before a first pitch would be thrown at the new Minneapolis ballpark, the team announced [2] the following:

The opening of Target Field will not only mark a new era of the Minnesota Twins, it will launch the 50th season of Twins baseball. The Minnesota Twins, in conjunction with the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, have unveiled their plans to recognize every Twins player since the inaugural season of 1961 on the Twins Tradition Wall, a dramatic piece of artwork that will be located on Target Plaza.

Here’s some more information [3] on Target decor from the Minnesota Ballpark Authority:

All of the handles on the exterior gates are in the shape of the state of Minnesota. Pictures of players are highlighted in the signage on the concourse level. Hardwood murals of Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew are featured in atriums on the club level. A collection of all-time great lines from Twins broadcasts are etched in wood planks on the wall outside the radio and TV press box. The original flagpole from the old Metropolitan Stadium has been installed on Target Plaza.

In addition, the celebration sign in center field features the original Twins logo from 1961. The logo is two characters dressed in old-time uniforms — one from Minneapolis and one from St. Paul — and whenever a Twins player hits a home run, the sign will light up, making it look like “Minnie and Paul” are shaking hands across the Mississippi River.

If I were a Twins fan living in the vicinity of Target Field, I’d be plenty excited. If I were a fan of the Pirates or the Orioles or the Reds or the Cardinals or just about any team that has opened a new ballpark in the past twenty years, I’d simply nod reading that, knowing that that’s how you inaugurate your new place: by celebrating as much about your heritage as you can as you pave the way toward a hopefully stellar future.

As a Mets fan, I cringed in agony.

We know what the Mets didn’t do for the first year of Citi Field. We were assaulted by the lack of Metsiana for four months before we were granted a taste [4] in the final third of the season with a few small murals on heretofore blank surfaces; with some overdue [5] lightpole banners between the Rotunda and the subway; and with the seven postseason markers [6] on the high left field wall, insignias that had been hidden from common view prior to August.

It was something, but it wasn’t enough. When you plan a ballpark for three years and wait until four months into the fourth year to get serious about your history, it’s going to take some time to even begin to approach enough.

I was reminded just last week how little the Mets’ history mattered to the Mets organization when I visited the park for the Ryder Chasin Bar Mitzvah [7]. As pleasant a space as the exclusive Acela Club is — with brickwork and steelwork evocative of the rest of Citi’s theme park architecture — there was not one picture of any Met nor any hint of Met lore on the premises. No hint of Mets greats, Mets mediocrities, Mets anything. I wonder if Fred Wilpon meant for it to be called the Ace L.A. Club as a tribute to Sandy Koufax and something was simply lost in the translation. And as I sat by those glass windows in left (where I don’t expect to be sitting again for a long while) and took in the sweeping vista of the field, the signage, the stands…nothing screamed or even said Mets unless you squinted real hard. Citi Field was as bereft of team association in November as it was from April to October.

The Mets had grudgingly made noise in the direction of the right thing as part of their dreadful dog and pony show [8] right after the regular season. The Mets also made the slightest peep about it when they dedicated the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, but only when the principal owner was asked and only when he answered the query as vaguely as possible. Thus, when I (as most New York sports fans were no doubt doing this fine Saturday afternoon) was watching the yet again bowl-eligible USF Bulls [9] trample the Louisville Cardinals on SNY, you could have colored me a surprised shade of blue and orange when the news crawl announced the Mets would have a greater Mets “presence” at Citi Field in 2010.

My first thought was, “This is news?” I’ll bet it wasn’t news in Minnesota that the Twins were building their ballpark with a Twins presence, just as nobody was surprised when the current iteration of Yankee Stadium came with a Yankee presence or that the Nationals, with what little history they had, managed to gin up some National presence at Nationals Park. It’s what you do…unless you’re the Mets. Then it’s not what you do. Then it’s news when you actually do it.

My second thought, after being singed by my raging cynicism on this matter, was “well, good.” I put aside the Bulls and went to read the Mets’ news release [10]; odd that they’d issue it on a Saturday, but it’s not like we stop being interested in the Mets during non-business hours.

The SNY crawl was borrowed from the awkward headline the Mets themselves issued:

Mets expand club presence at Citi Field

Kind of sounds like they’re going to be removing rows of seats and putting in more private clubs, doesn’t it? But that’s not what they mean…I don’t think.

Here’s the lede from the release:

FLUSHING, N.Y. — The New York Mets today announced plans to expand the presence of club history at Citi Field next season in a variety of ways including renaming areas of the ballpark after Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver and William A. Shea.

I’m really trying to resist the impulse to ask where this announcement was last November, and instead greet it with unalloyed enthusiasm this November. Last November and last season are over. The Mets are trying to make up ground. So let’s let them try. Here’s what they’re naming after their loftiest legends, the three men whose numbers have been retired for what they did while wearing Mets uniforms and the one New Yorker above all others who ensured there would be Mets uniforms:

The Mets will rename and visually theme Citi Field’s VIP entrances and outfield bridge after individuals who made an indelible mark on the club.

I can’t argue — nor would I want to — that Stengel, Hodges, Seaver and Shea aren’t Very Important People to us. How many fans will get to enjoy the upgraded VIP gates is unclear. I was able to use them a handful of times last year and noticed they were the only areas where, once inside their doors, you saw Met memorabilia. You saw yearbook covers and framed photos and all the stuff we who weren’t usually VIPs had been hollering for. Now, I’m inferring, users of those entries will get less of a hodgepodge and more of a Hodges podge while the bully security guards high on authority recklessly frisk them and randomly demand surrender of their bottles of water. I also assume (always dangerous, particularly in a Met context) the exteriors will be dedicated to the greats in question, so that should make for some nice photo-ops outside the park.

First Base VIP will be named after Hodges to honor the manager who led the Mets to their first World Championship in 1969. Third Base VIP will honor Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher and Mets leader in wins, earned run average and strikeouts. Left Field VIP will be named after Stengel, the first manager in Mets history.

Gil was a first baseman. Casey’s Stengelese seemed to come from out of left field. That leaves Seaver for third, and he did briefly lead the National League in triples early in the 1983 season. Whatever the alignment, it’s a nice gesture. One hopes there is more. A statue of each man, visible to all — even those on the outside consigned to non-VIP entrances — would be most appropriate.

The outfield bridge will be dedicated as Shea Bridge, honoring the legacy of the man who was the driving force to bring National League baseball back to New York after the departure of the Dodgers and Giants.

I called some time ago for that span to be named for Willie Mays [11], a Giant and a Met in New York and an immortal always. I’d love at least one damn iota of Citi Field to permanently acknowledge our Giant DNA amid all the Dodgerness, and I thought Willie’s career represented a great metaphor, bridgewise. That said, I’m not disappointed at the naming of the Shea Bridge, not at all. It’s a fine decision.

If it were up to me, 126th St. would have been christened Bill Shea Way [12] on the hundredth anniversary of our founding uncle’s birth in 2007. Shea never owned the Mets, didn’t own the Stadium for which he became known and had no official ties to the organization. Yet he’s the baseball-loving attorney who moved mountains to get the National League back where it belonged. The Mets did well to “retire” his name before the final Shea Stadium Home Opener [13] and I’m thrilled he’s going to get some of his due inside the ballpark that succeeded Shea Stadium. It means the Shea name stays alive and it also means, I believe, that the Mets are no longer insecure about acknowledging that they existed before 2009. I honestly think they were so hung up on Citi Field being Not Shea that it made perfect sense to them (and them alone) to ignore both the old yard and the great man when they opened the new place.

Excellent makegood. I look forward to a suitable plaque and explanation for all generations of who William A. Shea was and why we should appreciate what he did. Present it correctly and I will cross Shea Bridge with pride for the rest of my fan days.

Here’s the other big news, via the release, regarding club presence:

The Mets also have re-formed the Mets Hall of Fame Committee, and will increase the number of visuals commemorating great players and moments both inside and outside the ballpark. The Mets previously announced a 2010 opening of the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum at Citi Field.

Whoa! As Terri Nunn of Berlin implored Tom Cruise on the Top Gun soundtrack, take my breath away. Seriously. That’s as Very Important as it gets around here.

The Hall and the visuals are two separate issues, so let’s skip to the less breathtaking but still key aspect of appearance.

Next season, fans will be greeted by Mets colors as they approach Citi Field with full-color banners of Mets players on Mets Plaza in front of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Mets logos will be added on entry points to the parking areas and on the light poles in the parking lots. The addition of team colors will continue inside the ballpark with staircases painted with blue and orange and more Mets logos throughout the ballpark. Flowers in the gardens at Mets Plaza in front of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda will also be blue and orange.

OK, my breath is back.

This is so simple that a child running a major league team would have come up with this before 2009. Logos? Team colors? Blue and orange flowers? Parking areas not adorned (to borrow my wife’s line on this portion of the release) with Disney characters so you can remember that you parked in Lot Goofy? This took a year to come up with? This was something on which, as Dave Howard’s quote puts it, the Mets had to “hear our fans loud and clear”?

Whatever. I don’t know the cost of these augmentations, but imagine the public relations grief the Mets would have saved themselves in ’09 had all this pretty obvious stuff been installed while measuring the dimensions of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and studying photos of Ebbets Field. If there’s any gladness to be had that it took the Mets drowning in a steady stream of complaints to do Team Image Basics, it’s that we’ll probably appreciate these items a little more now than we might have had they been where we (rightfully) expected them last season.

The most interesting promise here is the “full-color” banners. Jason’s brought up on occasion [14] that what pictures there have been have been in black and white and that he didn’t think it was a proper Metropolitan look. Those current exterior banners are not bad by any means, but since when are we a black and white franchise? The Mets were conceived as a Technicolor production, particularly when they emerged into the future of 1964 next door to the World’s Fair. It’s one thing to pay a little homage to their forebears. It’s another to pretend the Mets are bathed in sepia. Full-color is the way to go. Good call.

And anything that makes the staircases feel less like an elementary school fire drill is welcome.

As for the Hall of Fame…here goes my breath again:

The centerpiece for Mets memorabilia will be the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum, located adjacent to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and accessible from both inside and outside the ballpark. A re-formed Mets Hall of Fame Committee will evaluate potential inductees, and is comprised of a combination of media members with a long-standing connection to the club and Mets front office staff.

My breath is still not back. I am shocked and delighted that the too-long dormant institution will be figuratively unshuttered and physically created. The devil will be in the details, but the details we’ve been dealt are delightful, too. They’re almost shocking in how delightful they are, particularly this set of them:

Media members on the committee are: Marty Noble, the Mets.com beat writer who is entering his fifth decade covering the team; Gary Cohen, the New York native and voice of the Mets on SNY who has been a Mets broadcaster for 21 years; and Howie Rose, a Queens native and radio voice of the Mets on WFAN who has covered the team for 21 years on radio and television.

If you asked me to name the three traditional media members I’d want representing the best interests of Mets history, I’d name Noble and Cohen and Rose without blinking. You know Gary and you know Howie. They are a Mets Hall of Fame unto themselves [15] every time they speak into a Met microphone. Among tenured everyday writers, Marty Noble is institutional memory personified. If you’re not as familiar as you should be with his work (he was a staple for us Long Islanders during his extended term with Newsday), check out Mets By The Numbers’ exclusive [16] three-part [17] interview [18] with him from early 2008.

The Mets committee members are: Dave Howard, executive vice president, business operations who has been with the organization for 18 years; Jay Horwitz, vice president, media relations who just completed his 30th season with the team; Tina Mannix, senior director, marketing who has been with the Mets for nine years; and former Mets pitcher Al Jackson, a pitching consultant who is entering his sixth decade with the Mets. Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon serves as ex-officio.

Al Jackson and Jay Horwitz, impeccably Met-credentialed as they are, strike me as great choices. Dave Howard, despite the quotes [19] that have caused some of us the shakes [20], has a lot of experience with and a lot of passion for the Mets. Tina Mannix I’ve never heard of until now, but then again, Tina Mannix has probably never heard of me, so I’ll have faith that she’s up for the task (though marketing the team and selecting its Hall of Famers seem, on the surface, like disparate disciplines).

I can’t find a full list of the previous longstanding Mets Hall of Fame committee. I know it included both Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner, along with all-time beat writer Jack Lang, Original Met official Bob Mandt and, in some capacity, Frank Cashen. There were several others, I’m pretty certain. It was a marvelous group, one that sadly couldn’t stay intact forever. The only thing that was substantially wrong with the Mets Hall of Fame selection process between 1981 and 2002 was that it was allowed to go intermittently and then indefinitely dark. Most of those named to the new committee could have been named as replacements on the old committee years ago. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that the light has gone back on.

Wherever they establish it adjacent to the Rotunda (I can’t imagine the Mets will remove retail in deference to celebrating their history), I look forward to visiting the actual structure. Judgment is, per usual, reserved until it opens and we see what it shows us. One of the great disappointments I had at my beloved Shea was that the only manifestation of the Hall of Fame there was a pair of trophy cases in the lobby to the Diamond Club. It was a low bar I’d like to believe the Citi Field Mets are capable of clearing.

From the release once more:

“The re-formation of the Mets Hall of Fame Committee is central to our concerted efforts to better connect our present and future to our past,” said Wilpon. “It reinforces the organization’s and our fans’ shared desire to recognize our greatest players. With our 2010 opening of the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum at Citi Field, now was the time to bring this group together.”

That Jeff Wilpon is making the whole thing sound magnanimous is, of course, laughable. What “shared desire”? I personally have been desiring this publicly since 2005 [21] and making detailed suggestions on its behalf since 2006 [22]. And I know I haven’t been the only one. Maintaining annual inductions into the Mets Hall of Fame has been our desire. Establishing a physical Mets Hall of Fame has been our desire. If management shared that desire, it would have been done by now.

It’s about freaking time that it has.

You know, when the Mets first started inducting Hall of Famers in 1981, it was partly an effort to distract the fans from the dismal baseball that had pervaded Shea for too long. When the Mets put up player banners throughout the concourses in 1994, it was partly an effort to distract the fans from the dismal baseball that had pervaded Shea for too long. When the Mets decorated the facing of the press level with photography that marked great moments and personalities from their past in 2003, it was partly an effort to distract the fans from the dismal baseball that had pervaded Shea for too long.

Sense a pattern here?

Do the Mets really have to sink to new depths to get some history up in here? Is that the tradition that’s made its way to Citi Field? If the Mets were coming off a good year in the standings and had a Halladay or a Holliday waiting in the wings for the holidays, would any of the flowers be replanted?

My breath is taken away as much by shock as by delight from this sudden devotion to a Mets Hall of Fame & Museum, but however it got here, here’s to doing it right. We know nothing is guaranteed where future Met performance is concerned, but they have every opportunity to finally nail their past.

According to the release, Hall of Fame “candidates will be evaluated on their impact on the field while in a Mets uniform, how they represented and affected the organization and their place in Mets history.” Just as “the Mets will announce further details about the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum in the coming weeks,” I’m sure we’ll all have a word or two to send the Mets’ way vis-à-vis doing it right.

Like the man said, shared desire.