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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 Lesser Walls of Flushing

So one thing we knew was coming has arrived: Citi Field will shrink next year. The old walls will still be there, but in front of them will be new ones — lower and closer to home plate. They’ll more or less be in the places you read they’d be in, creating dimensions that are more or less the same as Shea’s.

Oh, and they’ll be blue.

I came around to the idea of bringing in the fences a while ago, based on the psychological effect the current distances seem to have had on David Wright and Jason Bay. Have the dimensions been to blame for Wright’s decline from a deadly clutch hitter with a precocious control of the strike zone to an anxious free-swinger? I don’t know — maybe we should blame Matt Cain, or having to bear a greater share of the load in a lesser lineup, or ill chance, or something we know nothing about. But the numbers sure indicate something happened to Wright when his address changed, and the same thing goes for Bay.

Within a few weeks, Wright will most likely be the last marquee hitter standing in a Mets uniform, and he’s young enough to be restored as a pillar of the team. If bringing the fences in can undo his bad habits, that’s a worthwhile investment. Bay is around for two more years at $16 million, with the last of Omar Minaya’s absurd vesting options looming after that. The Mets are most likely stuck with him for three years, so it would be best if he were a useful player for those 500-odd games.

As for the effect on the pitchers, I’m not particularly worried. It’s not like Citi Field’s being turned into Citizens Bank North. It’ll more or less be Shea II, and Shea was a mild pitcher’s park. Is giving up more homers to opposing sluggers demoralizing? I’m sure it is. So is watching your own hitters slam balls that you figure will put runs on your account until those balls bounce or are caught.

So what’s the problem? It’s that, at least going by the Times’ story about the changes, the Mets seem torn between their sensible new approach to baseball and their old bad habits.

This probably won’t be a popular opinion, but I think it’s stupid to make the walls blue. Yes, the Mets screwed up a number of things about Citi Field. They treated their park as if team history were a subject to be avoided rather than celebrated, and they created terrible sightlines for too many seats. (They’ve done an admirable job fixing the first problem and what they can fixing the second.) The sad thing is those failings obscured a lot that the Mets got right. The Pepsi Porch is a great place from which to watch a game. The Shea Bridge is becoming a beloved landmark, as is the old Shea apple. I don’t use the rotunda as an entrance — way too crowded — but I enjoy leaving the park that way, looking around at the curve of the walls and the quotes from Jackie Robinson and the interlocking NYs on the gates. I love the configuration of the lights and the shape they make against the night sky. And I love the palette of Citi Field — the red bricks and the beige mortar and the green seats and the black walls.

Blue doesn’t work in that palette. It will make the new walls look like hasty additions. Yes, blue will remind veteran fans of Shea — but I suspect it will mostly remind them that Shea is gone. And the decision smacks of desperation, of a concession made to a mob bearing torches and pitchforks. That mob isn’t going to be appeased by the color of the walls — particularly not if on Opening Day their beloved shortstop is a Phillie, Brave, Marlin, Yankee, Brewer, Angel or something else.

Something else bugged me about the Times story. Sandy Alderson spoke wisely and matter-of-factly about hitters’ psychology and eliminating distractions, but Jeff Wilpon undid some of that good work by blaming Omar Minaya and his lieutenants for the park’s previous configuration, then telling reporters that he wasn’t trying to blame anyone, and any blame for the old dimensions (such blame being hypothetical of course) should go on his ledger. Taking responsibility is a bit more convincing when those just thrown under the bus aren’t still writhing in the background. I’d hoped the Wilpons would have learned this a couple of dozen self-inflicted PR disasters ago, but by now it seems that they never will.

Anyway, the new dimensions make sense. I hope they’ll help Wright and Bay, and I think they’ll create some intriguing new places from which to watch Mets games. I just wish the Mets hadn’t marred what does work about their new park, or given us the unwanted sideshow of their owners taking aim — as they always seem to — at their own feet.

20 comments to The Lesser Walls of Flushing

  • Jaime

    I’m there will be PLENTY of time to criticize the Mets for their PR nightmares in the future, but this isn’t one of them. I think blue will work despite soot still being a dominant color in the park. I’ve seen green seats with blue walls (MIL) and it’s not an eye sore at all. It will work. Of course, we all have to see it in person to make a definitive opinion. I think whether or not they sign Reyes (obviously not looking good) they make this move. The Mets have actually done a pretty decent jobs the last couple of seasons in regards to how they treat and listen to their fans. Orange walls at staircases, Mets Hall of Fame, season ticket perks, Shea Bridge, now blue uniforms, awesome pictures around Citi celebrating Mets history, etc. They did all this work going into the 2010 season (except the jerseys and perks) without the potential of losing their all-star shortstop. The blue walls is just another example of the organization listening to the fan base.
    My point is when they don’t listen, they’re being callous and out of touch. ANd when they do, they are called desperate. This is a time where we should give credit since we often take liberties to knock them when head scratching decisions are made (Ebbets Club)

    As for the Wilpon-Minaya thing, well by all means discuss that. It should actually be the headline because it’s wrong, mean-spirited and cowardice.

    • Hey Jaime, that’s well-said — particularly the point that in our eyes they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It’s not that I think blue and green can’t work together — rather, it’s that the stadium will still primarily be black and green, with one swath of blue in a highly visible spot. I’m all for orange walls at staircases or anywhere else, but I think they should have been more careful about messing with the dominant colors where they’re most visible, and had the courage of their convictions there.

      • Dak442

        I like that they’ve finally moved in (and more importantly, lowered) the walls. But I agree with Jason – the blue walls don’t work. The black walls looked cool, and they coordinated with everything else – the scoreboard, Shea Bridge, all the wrought ironwork everywhere. A minor complaint I won’t belabor.

        I wonder how much those new LF seats are gonna be. I bet that’ll be a neat place to see a ballgame.

  • 5w30

    And there goes Jeff WIlpon, spouting his mouth off again.

    Tone deaf from top to bottom. Your New York Mets. They try for good publicity but get killed each time by their own blather [both Alderson and especially Jeff Wilpon are guilty of this] or by circumstance [CC Sabathia’s contract extension with the Bronx team gets the back pages [and even the front page of the Mets’ favorite tabloid, the NY Daily News]
    If it weren’t for the grace of Allan H. Selig …

  • eric b

    I’d rather they kept the walls where they are…It’s the same for both teams, after all…and gives Citi something unique. Ah well….

  • boldib

    This is Wilpon’s quote:

    “It was a group of people — a decision made by the baseball department….Omar spoke about pitching, speed and defense all the time.”

    I think his intent here is to say exactly what he said –the team, at the time, thought they were going in a ‘pitching, speed and defense’ direction and it didn’t work out. Omar was the GM and highly influential in the decision making process. It was a mistake that he signed off on – he says so. There’s no bus.

    Just how I perceive it — I know there’s a ton of vehement disagreement here and I’ve just wandered into a mine field.

    Weird, I find myself being a Wilpon apologist.

  • If whatever combination of market research and anecdotal evidence tells the Mets blue walls present them with an easy public relations win (Wilponian instincts notwithstanding), then call Martin Paint and make like George Gershwin. Blue against black doesn’t look bad in the CGI renderings. Then again, the outfield as originally presented c. 2006 didn’t necessarily evoke the Grand Canyon, so we’ll see.

    If it’s a sop, it’s our sop. In a less “first, let me tell you why those who disagree with us are wrong” atmosphere (pervasive throughout the media, but stoked in our little corner of the world by those whose statistically crafted assertions reflexively mock divergence of opinion as hopeless unenlightenment), the Mets would be seen as thoughtfully reaching out to their spurned loyalists and reacting to a preference of their consumers. Torches and pitchforks? More like unsold tickets and empty seats. The signal blue sends is that of a slightly warmer welcome to those who love this team but have resisted its charms of late. If the color adjustment is part of a larger attitude adjustment, one that veers away from the initial Citi Field credo that the customer is generally wrong, then it’s a very positive step. If it’s just blue because Mets management figured out Mets fans feel more at home with blue, then that’s something to savor, too.

    Plus, personally, I thought the black walls were austere and forbidding, at odds with what a trip to the ballpark is supposed to be. That they came to represent home runs transformed into 7’s and 8’s on scorecards only fed that perception.

    in Moneyball, during a montage of the 2002 A’s on a rampage, there was a clip from a game at Comerica Park, and having just watched the Tigers in the 2011 playoffs, I was stunned by the reminder of how deep it played in its infancy versus how reasonable it seemed on TV in the preceding weeks with its fences long since brought in. That glance made me hope more than ever that the decanyonization of Citi Field wasn’t just a rumor.

    This place may very well live up to its bridges and burgers after all.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Great… most teams are talking about trades, free agents and upgrading talent.

    We get to talk about a wall…..Great Smokescreen….except CC the “Fat Man” crashed the party!

    Season ticket holders make sure you get your deposits early!

  • March'62

    Wait! Who voted to change Shea’s fences from green to blue in the first place? Dark green fences would have been the way to go here. But as Florida says, let’s talk about the roster already. The fence color shouldn’t be the lead story of the offseason.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Maybe the Mets should be looking to sign some Free Agent PAINTERS!

  • Pat O'

    Too crowded to enter the ballpark through the rotunda? Wait till thet start drawing more than 15,000. Actual, not announced.

  • I’d dump Wright and Bay and keep the dimensions the way they were–though the Mo Zone fence was asinine from the beginning. The Mets had a home-field advantage that made other teams’ hitters hate coming to New York and it was a way to spoon-feed a pitching staff that is starting over. The Giants’ park is even bigger but they haven’t touched the dimensions in 12 seasons, and have six 90-win years and a world championship. The dimensions were the only unique thing about Citi. Otherwise it’s just Citizens Bank, only without the crowds or the winning team.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    Wonder how often Gary, Keith or Ron will say “that would have been an out with the old dimensions” like they did with “that would have been a home run at Shea”?

    This can only help the team more than it can hurt despite the fact that our pitching is bound to give up more runs as well. I truly believe the park played a large part in making it difficult for the Mets to come back from large deficits, especially late in the game, with the long ball taken out of their hands; now they can use their power to put them back into a game late which is easier than relying on a multitude of hits.

    Wright and Bay especially will no longer be psyched out – though I hope the impact of changing their natural swings will not have any held over affects. I am confident David Wright will return to form but have mixed feelings when it comes to Jason Bay. Citi Field messed up Jason’s mind and mechanics much more than David and combined with the criticism of not having lived up to his multi-year contract he seemed lost at the plate for all of his two year Met career. Pulling in the fences now might be too late or could be the shot in the arm he needed.

    It’s going to have an overall positive effect on fielding too. Duda will have less ground to cover in right. Outfielders will play a few more feet in and get to short flies that before fell in for Texas leaguers. And as Philadelphia has proved, good pitchers can be successful anywhere, even in a band box. So the Mets need to improve on their pitching. The run scoring, I think, will take care of itself and is no longer a major issue if the hitters perform to their capabilities.

    This is something I wish the front office understood years ago when they first designed the park. However, by blaming Omar for the way the field was originally designed shows the Wilpons are still full of it. Prior to it’s opening Jeff couldn’t stop selling the dimensions and walls as a means to create excitement, which sounds like an owner, not a general manager. I’m sure it’s Omar who also wanted the expensive restaurant in left angled as close to the field as possible even though it caused a third of left field to be cut off for all sitting in the promenade along the foul line. Did Omar also suggest only two sets of restrooms be designed for fans in the upper promenade,escalators not going up to that level along with a multitude of stadium entrances excluded to most?

    As we know, the Wilpons only had Citi Field reflect Met history after fan backlash forced them to. It wasn’t instinctive on their part. Neither was naming the bridge after William A. Shea or creating a Hall of Fame. So they do not deserve credit for whatever positive changes have been made at Citi Field – it’s the fans that caused it to happen and those other than the front office who had a better sense of Met history and its fan base.

  • open the gates

    It’s kinda sad about the Wilpons.

    I still remember in the ’80’s when George Steinbrenner was making an idiot of himself again and again, and Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon stayed out of the limelight, let Cashen and the boys in blue ‘n’ orange do the talking.

    Now it seems like Jeff Wilpon is emulating old George, while the younger Steinbrenners are emulating Doubleday.

    Best of luck to Sandy Alderson. He’s gonna need it.

  • open the gates

    And for the record, I think it’s great that they’re moving in the fences. I think the old dimensions hurt the Mets hitters far more than they helped the pitchers. Mentally if not physically.

  • Guy Kipp

    I am more than a little concerned that this organization is going to try to package and market the reconfigured outfield dimensions as its big off-season acquisition.

  • […] don’t mean that to be cynical — I think the first two are great ideas and the third is worth a try. Distractions in the service of worthy causes can be good […]