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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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A Prayer for the Citi

2008 was the final season for Shea Stadium. 2009 is the first season for Citi Field. A little over three months from now, the 2009 Mets will find their positions on the field, a batter for the Boston Red Sox will walk to the plate, and from then on Citi Field will no longer be the stuff of hypotheticals and future tenses. It will be where the New York Mets play baseball.

What kind of place will it be? By now we're familiar with its exterior, having watched it rise beyond the Shea walls for the last few seasons. Its interior is still relatively unfamiliar, though. We've watched its field evolve from vague lines in dirt and rubble to a blank space below a rising grandstand to a place with actual grass and an infield. We've started to wonder how its quirky outfield dimensions will play and realized those walls are too high for Endyesque takeaways and Finleyesque getaways. We've realized it has bleacher seats, and tried to imagine those not being a novelty. We've heard about the restaurants, the rotunda (quite a lot about the rotunda), the green seats, the huge scoreboard. What we don't know about yet — because for the most part they don't yet exist — are the landmarks we'll eventually use in navigating to our usual bathroom, or to get a Carvel helmet cup, or find the ATM.

Which is what I'm wondering about.

Last year, before Johan valiantly but vainly screamed “CLEAR!” and applied the paddles to the chest of our season, Greg and I sat in the upper deck (I desperately hoped it wasn't the final time for me, while suspecting it was) and had a … lively debate about the transition from Shea to Citi. (It wasn't an argument — that's not really our style — but it was impassioned.) Given Shea's imminent fate, it would be both impolite and irrelevant to reiterate its shortcomings here, and it wasn't the heart of what we discussed then either. We knew each other's feelings on Shea and Citi pretty thoroughly by then.

From a Shea Stadium perspective, late September was the era of the stadium fire sale. The seats had been put up for sale — I'd even plunked down money my unemployed self didn't particularly have for a pair — and now everything else was on the block, too. This is the pricelist MeiGray sent around, as reproduced by our colleagues at Loge 13. And that is where our discussion started to get impassioned.

It wasn't that MeiGray was selling just about everything that was about to no longer be nailed down — that's so thoroughly the 21st-century American way that kicking against it is a bit like complaining about gravity. It wasn't that countless banners and signs bearing the name Shea Stadium were up for sale — obviously those would be of no use in the new park — or that MeiGray had the audacity to sell off a priceless piece of Met history like the MAIL ROOM AUTHORIZED EMPLOYEES ONLY sign. (I hope whoever parted with $75 for that one is happy with it — heck, looking over that list, I kind of wish I'd spent a mere $50 to buy Greg one of the signs that used to warn hapless fans of the curious fact that ELEVATOR DOES NOT STOP ON THIS FLOOR.) Big organizations don't take the old place's furnishings with them when they change locales, because they want a unified style that fits the new place. All understood.

But why were the Mets selling off all this stuff that seemed like it could be reused? Take those giant banners from the concourse. Why wasn't the huge Gary Carter with his hands in the air making the trip? Was there no room at Citi Field for a big, triumphant Todd Pratt, or an oversized Cleon Jones or Tug McGraw in exultis? After thinking it over a bit, I told Greg we of course couldn't know whether the banners fit the new concourse. But surely we would find their equivalents at Citi. So what if it wasn't the exact same Joyous Tug banner greeting you on your way to your seats in the Platinum Centurion Level (or whatever the heck it is) — the important thing was that there would be a Joyous Tug banner. And there would be, right?

And that's where I started to get a bit worried.

Like why were all those posters of yearbook covers from the Diamond level up for grabs? How could framed yearbook covers not work with the new Citi Field look? Did the retired numbers from the outfield wall really need replacing? Because Citi Field would have a spot for 14 37 41 and 42, right? Why would the Mets sell the flags for their two world championships and two N.L. pennants? I don't want to see updated versions of those at Citi Field — I want to be able to look out at the same ones I saw flying proud or hanging disconsolately all those years at Shea. (Celebratory flags will fly somewhere at Citi, right? Right?) And while it's obvious the Mets are getting new lockers, why wouldn't you keep one for the new place? Like, say, Tom Seaver's? The $41,000 price tag on the Franchise's locker was a nice historical nod, but why sell it at all? (Greg and I had no bone of contention regarding this point. To the contrary.) Why not put it behind plexiglass in the new concourse, with an old-style 41 uniform and Seaver-era gear in it? You'd have an instant spot for pilgrimages when we needed a starter to come up big — like, say, Johan did against the Marlins. Hang on, man — this is a big game, I need to go tap Tom Terrific's locker for luck. What? It worked in Game 7 of the '09 Series, didn't it?

(While were on the subject — who the hell let Aaron Heilman occupy the Seaver locker?)

In the last years of Shea my position regarding the Mets' home was firm and clear: The memories of miracles on that green field and what it was like to watch them with friends and loved ones from the stands would forever be dear to me, but they had nothing to do with the architecture, which I would neither miss nor mourn. I was ready to move on. Eager to do so, in fact. But there was a bargain assumed in that point of view, one I figured was obvious and so never felt the need to spell out: The Mets' new home would celebrate the Mets' history, even if it hadn't unfolded in that exact spot.

And that's what's come to worry me more and more. From the Shea sale to the Citi Field renderings to the Mets' statements, sometimes I get the uneasy feeling that the Mets see nothing wrong with rewriting or even restarting their history, casting aside the jumble of lovable futility, unlovable futility, championships won by an underdog and an overdog, ignoble chokes and noble failures for a simpler narrative: Once there were Brooklyn Dodgers, we won two titles, isn't Citi Field great?

There has been no Met communique to that effect that I'm aware of. There is nothing whatsoever to say that is what will happen, beyond one Met fan's uneasy feelings shaped in part by winter paranoia. But after 33 years of close-up Met viewings, I refuse to discount these forebodings out of hand. And Citi Field needs to put them to rest if it wants to be not just a new place but our new place.

Everything doesn't have to be just so on Opening Day — like any new building, Citi Field will need some time to get the kinks out and find the right way to do things. But I can tell you, in broad outline, what that right way is. It's got to celebrate 1969 and 1973 and 1986 and 1988 and 1999 and 2000 and 2006, in as much detail as possible. It's got to honor what was done by Casey and Tom and Jerry and Gil and Krane and Tug and Rusty and Willie and Maz and Davey and Mookie and Doc and Nails and Straw and Mex and the Kid and Mike and Tank and Al and Johnny and Robin and Fonzie to appreciate what will be done by David and Jose and the Carloses and Johan. It's got to have a place for the eye to alight and remember that no, nobody in our colors will take this field wearing 14 or 37 or 41 or 42, and if you don't know why, ask the guy next to you. It's got to remind us that the Sign Man and Banner Day and Mr. Met in his various incarnations and the Bullpen Car and the K Corner and random aerialists and rushing the field are iconic images in these parts.

And ideally that would be the beginning, not the end. When Greg and I first started imagining a new Met home, we talked of Met statues by the various entrances, of trading Gates A, B, C, D and E for, say, Casey and Tom and Tug and Keith and Mike. I daydreamed of a concourse where the Holy Books became marble, with the name of every man to take the field for the Mets on a wall. The Mets don't have to do that. But whatever they do, it has to make Citi Field a place that does more than just provide a better view of the ballgame amid better amenities. It also has to let visitors soak up as much Met history as they can hold — from the forebears who wore blue and orange to the Continental League to the Polo Grounds to Shea. And then — and only then — to Citi.

12 comments to A Prayer for the Citi

  • Anonymous

    Great post Jayson and a Happy New Year to you and partner.
    I asked Adam Rubin about the new park and if there was any data yet on what type of a park it would be. He told me that not too long ago, they secretly brought in Nick Evans, David Wright and I think he said Dan Murphy, to take some pitches and get a feel for the place. He also said that the Mets have made provisions to increase the walls by five feet if necessary down the lines, if it turns out to favor the hitters too much.
    I can't wait to see the place. It's going to be so much fun taking it all in for the first time.

  • Anonymous

    oops, sorry I misspelled your name Jason.

  • Anonymous

    I've talked myself hoarse and typed my fingers raw expressing these same thoughts for I don't know how long. And I've seen/heard nothing to dispel my fears.

  • Anonymous

    “beyond one Met fan's uneasy feelings…”
    Rest assured you are far from the only fan concerned about the dismissal of our history. We've had Dodger/Ebbets nostalgia beaten into our heads for two years now. It's a good sign they're displaying the old apple somewhere, but yeah – let's have some statues and pics. Gosh, what a great idea a Vietnam Wall-type of display of every Met ever, updated annually, somewhere in or outside Citifield would have been. Allow us to make rubbings of our favorites.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, you're obviously not alone.
    First off, the Mets could follow one bit of greedy logic in response to the banners, yearbook photos, etc: they could just print duplicates to hang at Citi. It may cost them a few grand when all is said and done, but they'll have made–i don't know–a hundred grand selling the ones at Shea. After all, if I see a reproduction of my favorite Met banner at Citi (Grand Slam Single), I'm not gonna storm out screaming “they shoulda kept the old one!!!” I'll just be happy it's there. I'll also be happy I wasn't suckered into buying it (like I have that kind of money).
    Maybe we need to cut the Wilpons some slack. Sure, I may complain that you can't find a Keith jersey at the team store while child-size Pee Wee Reese jerseys are for sale, but Willie Mays has the untouchable uniform number, not Duke Snider. And the Wilpons have done a great job of pulling out the stops at recent on-field ceremonies.
    Then again, maybe they do too good of a job at that. At Shea's closing ceremonies I was a little extra emotional because I couldn't shake a feeling that I was saying goodbye to these players forever. It was like the Wilpons were saying “get it out of your systems now fans, it's your last chance to thank these men.” Maybe part of that is true. I'm sure we'll see Tom and Mike again at Citi, but will we see the Stork again? Hell, will we even see Fonzie again? I don't know. I certainly hope so.
    There will be those who will love Citi immediately, and there will be those who will despise it for years–probably including a handful who refuse to step inside of it. But I get the feeling even the most hardened of Met fan will come around eventually. All we need is one great game, or one special story. One single memory that will make us smile forever when we think of Citi. Once we have that, we'll be on our way.
    And besides, as much as we revel in our beleaguered past, nothing truly matters quite like the present, and Citi's gonna have bags fulla that. It will make it's own history.

  • Anonymous

    At Shea's closing ceremonies I was a little extra emotional because I couldn't shake a feeling that I was saying goodbye to these players forever. It was like the Wilpons were saying “get it out of your systems now fans, it's your last chance to thank these men.”
    Exactly. “The past is the past, get over it already. This is Mets 2.0, Dodgers Edition. We're starting from scratch.” It's disgusting. I don't share the Dodgers fetish and I'm tired of having it shoved at me, like “you'll eat it and like it.” Why weren't the Cyclones–little Dodgers instead of little Mets–enough for him?
    What hasn't been sold off is being locked away, seemingly never to be referred to again. And I take offense to the whole thing, because it's like they're taking a big part of my life away and shoving it in the attic with the rest of the useless old crap that doesn't matter anymore, but you can't throw away because grandma will make a scene. This team means nothing but dollars and cents to Wilpon… the only heritage and history he values belong to the Dodgers. I wish he'd just buy them instead. Eff this.

  • Anonymous

    As the post above demonstrates, I agree to a certain extent. But it feels like you're thinking as if a lot of things that might happen already have, and I don't know what that does other than make you more angry in a vacuum.
    Am I worried that the Mets will give their own history short shrift as they settled into Citi Field? Sure — as attested to.
    Am I certain it will be that way? No. Not at all.
    If it is that way at the beginning (which is only the beginning, after all), will it be the product of some conspiracy to disenfranchise those who loved Shea? Of course not — even if the Wilpons did only care about dollars and cents, that would be bad business.
    My worry isn't that the Mets (or the Wilpons, or whatever entity you want to ascribe motive to) are up to some deliberate whitewash of the Shea era. Rather, it's that in ginning up enthusiasm for the new place and trying to make some parts of the experience different (which I assume we can all agree does need to happen), they'll make mistakes in the Shea-to-Citi transition that will make it harder for all of us to connect back to Shea, and by doing so settle into Citi as our new place. It wouldn't be a shock — we've all seen the Mets be tin-eared about such things.
    But sometimes they aren't. If anything, the closing ceremonies gave me hope. They were far more a celebration of Shea than I would have expected — and having the likes of Stork Theodore and Doug Flynn show up was extraordinary. That was the kind of thing you'd have expected to read about if Greg was choreographing an imaginary ceremony, not if Sterling Mets LP was actually putting one together.
    I have worries about the new place — which I've gone to the trouble of making public. But I'm wary of letting my worries get in the way of my curiosity and excitement and everything else. Sometimes good things happen, even to us Met fans.

  • Anonymous

    Let us imagine good things in January. We have April to October for the rest.

  • Anonymous

    Well, you are making sense. I suppose it makes no business sense to say, “get a load of our new digs! Wasn't out last home awesome?!” Maybe we'll just have to sit through a season or two of the Mets trying to go all Lacuna on us fans so they can get their new place over. I'm sure once our team takes the eventual turn-for-the-worse and people stop paying 40 bucks for nosebleeds, they'll be forced to bring back our Shea heroes to boost attendance for a few games a year. They understand we want to see our old friends, and certainly wouldn't put a “Sandy Koufax night” over a “Tom Seaver night”.
    Though I wouldn't put it past Fred to do both.
    Anyone who sat through the embarassing Ted Williams Night and Hank Aaron Night can attest to that.

  • Anonymous

    Is there another Joe D. in this group? Wish I could take credit for such a great posting, but this was not one from the original new breeder.

  • Anonymous

    Amen. Your points about the selling off of our baseball heritage are well taken. Maybe I've been in too big a funk after Sept. 28 (I was there) to think about it, but you really hit that one out of the park (would that Ryan Church had done the same). I only hope that all of us are all pleasantly surprised when we make our first pilgrimage to CitiField. That said, I would like to see a 30th anniversary tribute to the 1979 Mets, who valiantly won their last six games to avoid the ignomy of a 100-loss season. Considering the team's final-week performance in 2007 and 2008, this is a feat worthy of a celebration.

  • Anonymous

    (This is weeks late, but hey, it's the offseason) We're all nervous and excited about the new place. some more of one than the other. I hope they don't skimp on the Mets history stuff too, but on the other hand, they have to make room too.
    What people that go to pieces and foam at the mouth at the mention of the place and the Dodgers fail to realize is that for every Dodger reference we see in/at the Citi, that that's it. There will be no more, maybe ever. They're started the stadium with a Dodger base (sound familiar?) But everything that happens afterwards will be pure Mets.
    We can argue and debate about which stuff they thought was important against what we feel is important, but no one is going to walk into the place in 15 years and think there is a lot of Dodgers (or Giants) stuff.