Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ben's Top 5 Best (and Worst) Things About Citi Field

The Mets opened Citi Field's shiny new gates to the public for the first time on Sunday, March 29th for a Big East college baseball game between St. John's and Georgetown. I was there, and I have to admit, it was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. I've attended hundreds of games at Shea Stadium over the years, fell uncondtionally in love with the place, and cried my eyes out during the farewell ceremony at the end of last season. I knew that it was going to be difficult to not only accept this new ballpark, but to simply endure it. From the moment the 7 train made the final approach to the newly-named "Mets-Willets Point" subway stop, it was rough. I looked out the train window and the first thing I saw was one last pile of rubble, smattered with blue durasteel -- all that remains of good ol' Shea. And then, a moment later, emerging in all its new-fangled glory... CITI FIELD.

I know, I know... I'm sure the place will grow on me over time, but my first impression was... well... a little mixed. So as we welcome the start of the baseball season, let's take a look at my Top 5 Best (and Worst) Things About Citi Field:


5. MORE SPACIOUS GROUNDS OUTSIDE -- Back in the day, it would get cramped very quickly when approaching Shea, especially when there was a packed house. There were twists and turns and narrow staircases and walkways to deal with before you even got to the entry gates. At Citi Field, you simply walk down the new subway steps and into anopen expanse of land, perfectly suited to accomodating the 44,000 people that will be there almost every day. Should never get too cramped -- in fact, it should be downright pleasant and scenic, since the stadium itself is very pretty indeed. And then there's the Fanwalk, a collection of personalized bricks surrounding the stadium entrance. This makes for a very cool and interesting nostalgia trip, since 90% of the bricks make reference to Shea and other aspects of Mets history. My friends and I bought a brick of our own, and it was a thrill to finally see it in the ground. Plus, unlike at Disney World, where the supply of brick space is pretty much endless, at Citi Field there is a limited supply, so it feels even more special!

4. THE PEPSI PORCH -- This is nifty and probably my favorite new physical feature of the stadium. The right field stands overhang the field by about 8 feet, so deep fly balls that would be long outs in most ballparks could now very well be homers. I hope this doesn't hurt the Mets more than it helps them... but it is an awesome place to sit, with an interesting perspective. Wonder who will be the first Met to launch one into the Porch? (My money is on Carlos Delgado after he gets a hold of one!) Plus I like the big Pepsi-Cola sign!

3. SHEA NOSTALGIA -- A brand new, larger, shinier Home Run Apple has been installed beyond the center field fence, which is nice. But if you explore the deepest nooks and crannies of the stadium, you will find a section called the Bullpen Gate, where you can not only watch the bullpens in action up close and personal..... but you can also find the ORIGINAL Shea Stadium Home Run Apple in all its top-hat glory! It is pretty awesome, and made me very happy to see it. Another Shea artifact that made it is the NY skyline that used to sit atop the giant scoreboard -- it now appears above the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke concession stands, complete with the ribbon over the Twin Towers. Definitely a nice touch. (I was there during the day, but I wonder if they turn on the lights at night?) Lastly, I believe the plan is to mark the former location of Shea's home plate and bases in the parking lot where they once stood, so people can pay their respects at any time. Nice.

2. FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD -- Simply put, the culinary options at Citi Field are VAST and RIDICULOUS. Pretty much every kind food you can imagine is available, and it all looks really, really good. You have your usual ballpark grub, like hot dogs and pretzels and stuff. But then you've got a tremendous variety of specialty foods and brand-name establishments. The most noteworthy addition is the unparalleled SHAKE SHACK, which makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Right next door, there's Blue Smoke, a BBQ joint where I intend to get a pulled pork sandwich at the next opportunity. Around the corner, there's a Belgian frites place, complete with dipping sauces, as well as a Mexican place that looks mighty good. The list goes on. But perhaps the best new culinary feature at Citi Field is... wait for it... SELF-SERVE HOT DOG TOPPING STATIONS. Seriously, I was probably TOO excited about this. Gone are the days at Shea when you could only top your hot dogs with crappy ketchup, mustard and relish packets. Now you can go to one of these stations and load up your dog with fresh saurkraut, onions (chopped & grilled), relish, jalepenos, lettuce, tomato and more. It is AWESOME. And since the hot dogs cost the same as they did at Shea ($4.75), you are actually getting MORE bang for your buck. NOW THAT'S AMAZIN'.

...and the very best thing about Citi Field is....

1. IT'S A GREAT PLACE TO WATCH A BALLGAME -- Seems like this should be a no-brainer, but you never know these days. Fortunately, I explored the whole stadium and caught a glimpse of the field from pretty much every section, and there really isn't a bad seat in the house. The field is lovely and there are are no obscured views that I could find. Because the stadium is much smaller and more "intimate," you really do feel closer to the action from every vantage point (though this does raise a whole other issue, which we will discuss in a moment). My Saturday plan seats are in the third-to-last row of the Promenade (the uppermost level of the stadium), and the seats are probably equivalent to my old Mezzanine seats, which is not too shabby. Even the center field bleachers somehow feel closer to the action. The seats are comfy (even the cheapest ones), with individual drink holders, and they are angled towards home plate for easy viewing. So, yeah... yay, baseball!


5. NOT ENOUGH SEATS -- I mentioned how Citi Field is small and intimate and thus you feel closer to the action, which is good... but on the other hand, I always loved sitting in the Upper Deck at Shea because tickets were cheap and plentiful, and though you were far from the field, you could still see everything and it really wasn't THAT bad. So the question is, would I sacrifice Citi Field's intimacy if I could get back the missing 12,000 seats, thus ensuring that I could snag an affordable ticket to a game any day of the week? The answer to that is a resounding YES.

4. TOO MANY BELLS AND WHISTLES -- There is so much stimuli in this stadium that you could conceivably spend an entire day there and never catch a glimpse of the ballgame. Hell, if you make a beeline for the Shake Shack/Blue Smoke pavilion, you could go an entire day without even seeing the field! I realize that's the way it is with new stadiums nowadays, as they try to make them more "family friendly" or turn it into an "experience" or whatever... but it's a damn shame. When I was there, I overheard a kid ask his parents (who were enthralled in all the sights & sounds of the stadium), "Are we ever going to watch the game??" It was funny but also a little sad, because I bet the answer will often be "no!"

3. IT'S REALLY JUST ANOTHER "COOKIE-CUTTER" PARK -- The problem with all the new "retro" stadiums nowadays is that while they are very nice and comfortable and have their little quirks here and there, overall they look pretty much the same. I've been to the stadiums in Philly, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and they are all more or less interchangeable. Unfortunately, Citi Field falls into this category, as well. It has its quirks -- the Home Run Apple and Pepsi Porch and such -- but otherwise, it's more of the same. The look of the scoreboard, the drab green seats, the aforementioned bells & whistles... I've seen it all before. Say what you want about Shea, but at least it had some unique character! From the multicolored seats to the giant scoreboard to the open-air outfield to the neon ballplayers...for better or worse, there was no other ballpark like it. But there are several other ballparks like Citi Field, and I'm sure there will be even more as time goes on.

2. THE PLACE WILL NEVER SHAKE -- One of the coolest things about Shea was that when the crowd was really rockin', the stadium would literally SHAKE under your feet. I experienced this phenomenon many times, including the 10-run inning, the '00 NLCS clincher, Endy's catch, and more. There was really nothing like it... and it's a shame to think that even when the Mets are leading with two out in the 9th in deciding game of the World Series with K-Rod on the mound and the crowd is in a mad frenzy of blissful delirium....... Citi Field will be still.

...and the absolute worst thing about Citi Field....

1. IT'S A GREAT TRIBUTE TO THE STORIED HISTORY OF.... THE DODGERS -- I realize that the stadium is modeled after Ebbet's Field and the rotunda is a tribute to Jackie Robinson, all part of Fred Wilpon's childhood Brooklyn Dodger fantasy. But jesus, last I checked Citi Field was the home of the METS... yet there are Dodgers references EVERYWHERE, from the video screens in the rotunda showing Jackie Robinson clips, to friggin' Dodgers t-shirts for sale in the Team Stores. It's one thing to have "Brooklyn" t-shirts with Jackie's name on them... it's another thing to have an entire rack of stuff that actually says "Dodgers." I am kind of afraid of what it will be like the first time the Dodgers visit Citi Field -- I think their fans will have a field day and make themselves at home, and it is going to suck. This really is a big problem that needs to be addressed. Tone down the Dodgers stuff, for God's sake. You can still call it the "Jackie Robinson Rotunda" if you must, but maybe get rid of the Dodgers video clips! Oh, and while you're at it, how about adding some more stuff about the METS?? I think it's safe to say that they've managed to cobble together a pretty storied history of their own, but when I was there last Sunday, there wasn't a single banner, poster, sign, or any kind of tribute to Mets history. Nothing about '69 or '86... nothing about Seaver, Darryl, Piazza or Wright... NOTHING! It was very disconcerting. Now, I think this may have been a work in progress -- at the time, they hadn't put up the retired numbers yet, either, and I see that those are now there -- and I think they now have some sepia-tone banners around the outside of the park. So maybe next time I go to Citi Field, there will be Mets stuff all over the place. God, I hope so, or we're going to have a serious problem!

All in all, the park is very nice and I am excited to watch 16 (at least) games there this season, thanks to my 10th straight season as a Saturday ticket plan holder. I am also hopeful that many of my concerns will be rectified, or prove to be nothing more than unfounded pessimism. And of course, while Citi Field will never, ever replace Shea Stadium in my heart, it will be a lot easier to get used to the place if the Mets bring home a World Championship... so.... BELIEVE!

(By the way, for a full photo gallery of pics from my first Citi Field Experience, CLICK HERE)


  1. We'll Mets the place up!

    Boo on no me that's the worst.

  2. My father would be horrified by the amount of Dodger stuff at Citi. He became a Met fan after being a lifelong Giants fan. The Dodgers were his mortal enemies. And now to see his team embracing the enemy...ugh.