A Whole New Ball Game: NYC Ballpark Tour
Sports & Fitness
by Jonathan Zeller, 04/13/2009
The Mets' new home is a cozy yet luxurious "nouveau retro" playground—a sharp departure from the hulking, utilitarian Shea Stadium. "It's a ballpark meant for baseball," raves Mets spokesperson Danielle Parillo, "not a multipurpose, cookie-cutter stadium."
The ballpark—not stadium, as the team emphasizes—combines classic charm with modern comforts.
Before the Game
Mets owner Fred Wilpon loved Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played before heading west, and Citi Field's main entrance was inspired by the entryway that greeted fans at Ebbets. Named the Jackie Robinson Rotunda to honor the pioneering ballplayer, the space has 70-foot archways and a 140-foot-diameter floor inscribed with nine core values long associated with Robinson: courage, integrity, determination, persistence, citizenship, justice, commitment, teamwork and excellence.
Closer to the field itself, a pedestrian bridge spans the bullpen, and other design touches—for example, the top of the scoreboard—continue the bridge theme. This architectural motif, along with seats that are the same green color as those at the old Polo Grounds, where the Mets played during the team's first two years of existence, are "salutes to New York's history," Parillo explains.
Speaking of history, homesick Shea devotees can visit the old ball field's home run apple at the Bullpen Gate. The gargantuan plaster apple, located behind the outfield wall at Shea, would emerge from a top hat when players went deep, and a new version now sits beyond the center field wall. In a bold move, the Bullpen Gate places only a chain-link fence between fans and visiting pitchers. Discourse may become spirited in the heat of a pennant race.
Fans are so close to the action at Citi Field, it wouldn't be surprising to see some of them get drafted onto the team. Bystanders should be sure to bring their glove. The seats are angled toward the infield, so spectators won't need to crane their neck during big moments. They're also wider—now an average of 21 inches instead of 19—and more comfortable. That's welcome news for those who left games with imprints of Shea's chairs on their, ahem, backstop.
Two outfield seating areas are particularly inspired. The Pepsi Porch protrudes 8 feet over the field—a tribute to Detroit's Tiger Stadium, which boasted a similar overhang. In the Modell's Clubhouse area, meanwhile, visitors watch through an extensive cutout in the outfield wall. Separated from the field by a chain-link fence, the spot is so close to the players that spectators, in between counting grains of dirt in the warning track, can be sure that the right fielder will hear their cheers (or, as desired, other shouts).
Yes, the seats are great, but it's hard to stay seated at Citi Field—the park's wide concourses demand movement. Fans can mill around the park, lean against railings, sit at picnic tables and enjoy the game from multiple perspectives.
Citi's field itself is spacious and asymmetrical: the outfield alleys are 379 and 383 feet, and the backfield wall changes height seven times. The quirky setup puts a premium on outfield defense. And, in a continuation of a de facto Mets tradition, the foul poles remain orange—the only boundary markers in Major League Baseball to feature a shade other than yellow.
Peanuts and Cracker Jack
Of all the big names generating excitement at Citi Field—José Reyes, David Wright, Francisco Rodriguez—one makes fans salivate more than any other: Danny Meyer. The restaurateur's Union Square Hospitality Group has a big presence in the new park.
Meyer, a longtime Mets season-ticket holder, has opened an on-site Shake Shack. The joint is crowned by the skyline silhouette taken from Shea's massive scoreboard (say what you want about the old scoreboard, but you couldn't get a ShackBurger or a hand-spun shake underneath it). Other epicurean highlights include barbecue from Blue Smoke, Mexican food at Verano Taquería and posh full-service restaurants such as the Delta Sky360 Club.
Finally, in wallet- and palate-friendly news, Citi Field food prices are lower than Shea's were last year. Some highlights: a ShackBurger costs 21 percent less than a burger at Shea, and beer is similarly discounted.
In summing up the team's goals for the new place, Parillo stresses that everyone should feel welcome there. She says that every detail "is meant to be warm and inviting." If that was the objective, the Mets knocked this park out of the…well, you know. Let's put it this way: if the Mets can find as much success playing in their new home as they did building it, fans will have even more to celebrate.