Sunday, May 31, 2009

Meet Citi Field... But Will You Meet the Mets?

I made my first visit to Pity Field -- excuse me, Citi Field -- on Friday night. The Mets won, 2-1 in 11 innings, over the Florida Marlins. Mike Pelfrey pitched very well, but the Mets just didn't hit for him. Omir Santos, the new catcher, homered in the 5th and singled home the winning run in the 11th. Not a bad game, although a bit of a frustrating one, especially since I had to choose between rooting for the Mets or rooting for a Miami team. Ew.

Now that that's out of the way...

The ballpark itself is great. Looks good, good layout, good views, very good food. And, unlike the Phillies, who took three months to clear away the rubble from Veterans Stadium in 2004, the spot where Shea Stadium stood is now a fully-functioning parking lot, which a ballpark badly needs. The bathrooms were awful at Shea, but at Citi Field they were plentiful and suitable for occupancy.

Everybody who worked there was helpful, although they have had a few weeks to try, as opposed to my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium, where I was in attendance at the 4th game, and even the longtime Yankee ushers, themselves used to the old yard, were still a little unsure. Surely, by now, they're familiar enough to be helpful. The Citi Field employees were fantastic.

I have to say this about one of Citi Field's signature features: Shake Shack is good. Not sure why Met fans made such a big deal about it, but as a Yankee Fan, I didn't know it existed until Met fans started talking about it in connection with Citi Field. It took me an entire inning to get to the front of the line -- naturally, the 5th, when Santos hit the home run -- and I had flashbacks to visits to Great Adventure. But once I got there, the service was good, and the food?

The burger was small, but pretty good. The black-and-white? To paraphrase John Travolta from the film Pulp Fiction, I don't know if it's worth $6.50 ($5.25 at their original location in Madison Square Park), but it's a great freakin' milkshake. Even Daniel-Day Lewis would like that milkshake. He'd drink it up!

Food and parking were two areas in which the Mets always had an edge on the Yankees. The parking issue doesn't effect me. But the food at Citi Field is first-class. The food at the new Yankee Stadium? It's good but not particularly special. The Mets still have the edge there.

I have two complaints with the park. One, the Mets couldn't do anything about: Once they decided to build across from Shea, and to not have a fully-enclosed stadium, no dome, then it was set in stone that the airplanes would remain a problem. In fact, I think it may even be worse.

But there was another problem that the Mets can do something about: They seem to ignore their own history.

After the Mets won the 1986 World Series, they placed notations of that and their 1969 World Series wins on the outfield wall at Shea. By the 1990s, they had four "pennants" on the wall in the right-field corner, also including their 1973 Pennant and their 1988 Division Title. Once won, they added notations for their 1999 "NL Wild Card & Division Series Winners," their 2000 Pennant and their 2006 Division Title. But at Citi Field, the only signs of their success are the flags in right field, and if there's not enough wind to blow them out to their full length, you'd never know that they'd won four Pennants (something half the teams in Major League Baseball, 15 out of 30, haven't done) and two World Series (13 out of 30 haven't done it).

In the right-field corner, where you can look into the visitng team's bullpen (with a pretty good screen to make sure you can't throw anything at the relievers), the Shea "pennants" are on display, and so is the old Home Run Apple. I have to admit, they look a lot smaller close-up. But a lot of Met fans desperately wanted to save that apple, and it has been saved, and they like to get their picture taken next to it. The new apple, in center field, looks about as big as the old one looked.

But that's about it. The retired number signs are in the left-field corner, as they were at Shea. But hardly any reference to Met history, which is quite colorful (and I don't just mean blue and orange), and has had some, to borrow a word, Amazin' moments. At Shea, at the outside edge of the right-field stands, there was a large mural of the 1969 World Series; in left, 1986. Shea had some reflections of its history. But Citi Field? There's the exterior, which purposely resembles Ebbets Field. And there's the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is a terrific tribute to the most important athlete in American history. But... but... but...

To paraphrase Mark Twain... Dear reader, suppose you knew nothing about baseball history. And suppose that you were a Met fan. But I repeat myself.

If you knew nothing about the Mets -- say, if you were Britain's Prince Harry, who visited New York this weekend, as did the much more baseball-familiar President and Mrs. Obama -- you could spend 11 innings at Citi Field, and you'd never know that the Mets gave New York the Miracle of '69, Tom Terrific, the Black Cat Game, the "Ya Gotta Believe!" Pennant of '73, Darryl's tape-measure blasts, Doctor K, Dykstra's Playoff walkoff, Game Six (the Mookie-Buckner one, not the Fisk one), Ventura's Grand Slam Single of '99, and, of course, the 2000 Pennant accompanied by "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

In the 8th inning, the Mets dropped "Sweet Caroline" -- allowing the Red Sox to continue playing a song by New Yorker Neil Diamond, rendering them even more ridiculous -- for the original 1962 theme song, "Meet the Mets." Much more appropriate.

But as far as a first-time visitor to a Met game could see, you'd have no way of knowing this wasn't an expansion team. You'd never know this was a team approaching its 50th Anniversary.

The Mets used to be good about celebrating themselves, particularly when they became a hype machine from 1984 to 1990 or so. They'll never match the Yankees for history and achievement, but they don't have to. They have enough great moments to celebrate. They don't have to have a "Monument Park" (as I suggested in a previous Musing), but at Shea they had banners with photos from their past lining the concourse. Why not bring those back? They have a team Hall of Fame, why not have a display of it with the pennants and the old Apple?

At the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees celebrate the Yankees. At Citi Field, the Mets celebrate baseball. Nothing wrong with that, but if you're going to "Meet the Mets" -- whether it's for the 1st time or the 1,001st time -- shouldn't you have a feeling for what the Mets have been and are?

UPDATE: In 2010, the Mets dedicated a team Hall of Fame to the right of the home plate entrance. So they corrected this major oversight.

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