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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 [1] 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.