Friday, June 26, 2009

Through The Looking Glass

The second leg of the 2009 Subway Series slated to get underway at New Shea later this evening. In preparation for this, I made an advance scouting trip to the park last Friday evening. In many ways New York City's other new taxpayer (and bailout) funded baseball stadium is similar to the one in the Bronx; in others it's entirely different. In both regards, it was a bit of a trip to Bizarro World.
The most striking thing about the park is that Shea Stadium is gone. Not even a trace of it. While a trip to the Bronx still gives us a fleeting glimpse of the place the Yankees used to call home, a parking lot now exists where Shea once stood. If you'd never been there before, you'd never know it was once there.

Unlike the new Stadium, the outside of Citi Field features many adornments. In addition to the banners on the structure, the Mets also have a courtyard like area where Mets fans had the luxury of purchasing personalized bricks to be stepped upon for all time. Somewhere Lonn Trost is kicking himself for not tapping this revenue stream. As you can see in the picture below, Hooked on Phonics did not quite work for all Mets fans.

Inside the difference is quite stark. Whereas the Yankees have their spacious but cold Great Hall paying tribute to the legends of their past, the Mets have the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, an inviting and intimate entraceway that is smaller and feels more welcoming. What Jackie Robinson accomplished and endured in breaking the color barrier is remarkable, and he, his memory, and what he represented are deserving of accolades and remembrance. But I find it somewhat off that the Mets feel it appropriate to name their rotunda for him because he used to play in the same league but a different borough more than half a century ago.

Off the rotunda is the main clubhouse store. I happened upon the section called Rehab Row and snapped the shot below. Note the prison jumpsuit orange in the shirt to the left. Not pictured: the Keith Hernandez Collectible Airplane Bathroom (mound of cocaine sold separately).

The concourses at Citi are narrower than at the Stadium. They also lack a frieze of photos of World Championship Mets teams wrapping the circumference of the concourse. 1969 and 1986 can only stretch so far. The Citi concourses, like the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, feel more welcoming than the Stadium's. Instead of cold concrete walls, art galleries, and butcher shops, the walls are covered in a red brick facing. The concourses also have a leg up on the Stadium in that they feature high top tables from which you can eat, drink, and watch the game all at once.

We made our way to the open air food court beyond the bleachers. This is a really cool area. There are arcades and play areas to keep the kiddies occupied and Mr. Met himself was there glad-handing with the fans. Starving, I elected to skip the absurdly long line for the Shake Shack and saddled up for some Blue Smoke Barbeque. I would have taken a picture of the pulled pork sandwhich, but I downed that thing before it ever had a chance.

Now I'm as big a fan of Brother Jimmy's as they come. But as a far as ballpark eating experiences go Blue Smoke > Brother Jimmy's. However, until I see a bartender repeatedly light the bar on fire at Blue Smoke, as far as binge drinking experiences go Brother Jimmy's >> Blue Smoke.

Our seats were located directly behind home plate in the upper deck, with convenient access to the upper deck level open air food court. This made it quite easy to run down and get a beer, which by the way are more reasonably priced than in the Bronx.

Another beef I have with Citi Field is the ridiculously shaped outfield, and not just because it's sapping David Wright's power thereby hurting my fantasy team. There's absolutely no reason for the outfield to be shaped that way. Like the dangerous hill in centerfield at Minute Maid Park, it's weird just for the sake of weird.

Attention owners and architects: old ballparks had quirky dimensions out of necessity. In the days before owners could bilk the taxpayers out of public funds to secure proper land for their parks, the parks were built to fit the cityscape around them. Landsdowne Street begot the Green Monster, Ipswich Street begot the Pesky Pole. Designing your outfield wall to take the shape of a drunken sailor's walk is not retro. It's contrived. It's stupid. It puts players at risk and prevents relief pitchers from seeing the actual field. In Citi Field's case, the dimensions are not that way to work around one of Flushing's prized chop shops. It's an attempt at duplicating Ebbets Field, just another example of Fred Wilpon's sick obsession with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Next thing you know he'll try to move the Mets to L.A. too. End rant.

One note on the game. It was exactly one week after Luis Castillo's error against the Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As two fans both made spectacular barehanded catches on foul balls in the early going, I made sure to point out that they had better hands than Castillo. Later in the night, I shit you not, Castillo dropped the ball as the Mets attempted to go around the horn.

All in all, it was a worthwhile experience. There are few things I enjoy more than a day at the ballpark and I try to check out as many as I can. With a few Mets fans amongst my friends, I make it to a Mets game every year or so. Without a vested interest in the game I usually end up relaxing, having a few cold ones, and thoroughly enjoying myself.

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