Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Citi Field Experience

I'm not going to deny the fact that last night at Citi Field was a magnificent, magical night, but I think the whole evening can be summed up in six words:

Beautiful New Ballpark, Same Stupid Team.

Things were just a little bit off for me yesterday, starting with my meeting a friend outside the stadium. We'd agreed on a 6:30 meeting time so that we could get inside for the introductions and the national anthem and the Piazza/Seaver First Pitch to bookend the last pitch at Shea in September.

Well, the Subways weren't cooperating, and his 7 Express suddenly became a 7 Local. By time he arrived, I'd logged enough time staring at the back of Chris Carlin's bald head, listening to an assumedly drunk Craig Carton drop F-Bombs (mostly pertaining to the Yankees) over a hot microphone and listening to Alex Anthony tell me to "Have a Great Time at Citi Field." He came dashing up around 6:50 and we made our way in, through the Rotunda, navigated our way through the Field Level just as they were wrapping up the American Flag and were finally in our seats in time to see Piazza and Seaver walk in from the Bullpen.

(I'd love to show you my pictures and video of all this unfolding, however circumstances beyond my control have prevented me from doing so at this point. You'll have to wait until tomorrow. Or later today, perhaps.)

And, with all that out of the way, it was time to start the game.
And things more or less went downhill from there.

It's rather frustrating that the Mets have a habit of gagging in these marquee games, but given that the team on the field hasn't changed all that much in the 7 games separating my last game from last night, I guess it's not totally surprising that the result was the same. I mean, things started off well enough, Pelfrey fired in a first pitch strike, but then Jody Gerut, in a style reminiscent of a game I went to last season, sent Pelfrey's 3rd pitch screaming down the right field line. It looked to be curvng foul, but it didn't quite get there, tucking itself just barely fair and giving Gerut the first Hit, Run, Home Run and RBI in Citi Field History and pretty much serving as a Buzzkill to the entire evening.

I suppose I could give Pelfrey a pass for that, I think it's awfully easy to be more than just a little amped up on a night like last night. But things took a rather frustrating turn for him in the 2nd inning when, after he somehow managed to trip over himself and fall off the mound with 2 outs and nobody on base, he proceeded to give up four straight hits, including one to the pitcher, and just like that, the Mets are in a 4-0 hole.

Of course, the Mets looked mostly clueless at the plate against the 32-year old Rookie, Walter Silva. They scraped across a run in the 2nd when Castillo doubled in Schneider, which was possible because the Padres gave a good chunk of the line in Right to Castillo, and when he hit the ball that way, it just seemed to roll forever. It wasn't until the 5th when Silva really unraveled, and when Wright hit his HR, tying the game, the crowd was sent into an absolute frenzy and it looked like things were finally going to settle down and go our way.

Nope. Luis Rodriguez started the 6th by lining an at-'em ball right at Ryan Church, who appeared to be battling the ball just a little...And off his glove for a 3-base error. But Stokes and Feliciano appeared to be up to the task of the houdini act of getting out of a man on 3rd, no out jam until puny little David Eckstein started fouling off pitches and taking balls and jumping and pointing and squealing about a Balk that didn't particularly look like a Balk from where I was sitting, and the lead run scored.

I thought that Feliciano should have stuck the next pitch in Eckstein's ear after that.

No matter, though, it's a one-run deficit and the Mets have 4 innings to make it up, and the Padres Bullpen is full of guys you've never heard of, and Heath Bell.

In the 6th, the Mets loaded the Bases before Jose Reyes swung out of his shoetops and flew out to Left.

In the 7th, Wright made a strong bid for his 2nd HR of the game, but his drive to Center died at the Warning track and Jody Gerut ducked a flying beer to make the catch.

In the 8th, Duaner Sanchez reappeared (I didn't know the Padres had picked him up) and set the Mets down 1-2-3, which was pretty galling.

In the 9th, Heath Bell, the newly anointed Padres Closer, came in and threw gas I didn't think he was ever capable of throwing (my thoughts on Bell remain the same. He wasn't good with the Mets and he was never going to be good with the Mets) and the Mets went down 1-2-3.

And, much like the last game I was at, that was that.

Despite the loss, there still seemed to be a festive atmosphere among the crowd. I don't believe what I seem to be hearing from WFAN hosts, the stadium seemed to be plenty loud last night, and loud at the right moments. I think, in the long run, this will prove to be a loud stadium. But there were a few complaints I have about Citi Field. Not many, but a few.

1) Acoustics - The acoustics are pretty bad. I know that there are PA speakers above each section, and I wonder if they were hooked up or turned on, because I couldn't hear any announcements, introductions or music, or anything. Or if I did, it was faint and muffled. If they were on, and it sounded like that, that's a problem.

2) Egress - With now only one ramp, in the Left Field Corner, and only a lot of staircases to get down after the game, the backup to get downstairs after the last out was bordering on insanity. In the Promenade, behind Home Plate, the backup was bad enough that I prompted my friend to follow me further out into Right Field, where it wasn't any better. And when you get an especially drunk fan who might not be well-equipped to walk down the stairs, it could get ugly. People move on the stairs, but it was slow.

3) Concessions - Because I was so late in getting in, I didn't have a chance to get to any of the high-end concessions in the Field Level lest I miss a big chunk of the game. So I stuck to what was in the promenade around the 4th inning. What I noticed was that if you waited in the big courtyard behind Home Plate, you couldn't see the Field, and there weren't any TVs around to see the game on. If you walked out towards the lines, not only could you see the Field, but the Concession stands out there had TVs. Why aren't there TVs at the stands where you can't see the Field?

4) The Team - We've already covered this. But beyond the obvious problems, there's this: You're not supposed to lose the last game in your beloved old Stadium, and you're not supposed to lose the first game in your beautiful new Stadium, and they've successfully managed to do both.

5) Surrounding Fans - I usually tend to have a problem with a few of them. I was in a row where people were going in and out and making me stand up 2 or 3 times per inning. Also, had I known my seats in section 518 were in the same section as the gang of Angry Old Men that used to inhabit UR1, with the bellowing and the chanting and the whining, I would have tried to get seats in another section.

Then, there's the field itself and the way it plays
. What I've noticed is that while the fact that the whole field is encircled makes it appear smaller, the Outfield is enormous. It swallows fly balls completely. The three HRs were hit to Right, Right and Left field respectively. The two to right looked to be about to hook foul, but just barely stayed fair, and carried. But it appears that this may be the only spot in the ballpark where the ball will carry at all. Wright's HR looked to be crushed to Left, but even that ball seemed to die at the end of its flight, and just barely made it into the first row in Left. If you're going to hit a HR to Left-Center, Center or Right-Center, you're really going to have to CRUSH the ball. Wright and Beltran hit deep drives to Center that, off the bat, looked like they had HR written all over them. Both of them died at the warning track. Plus, because it's such a large outfield, it appears that you could just dunk a ball in over 2nd base or shortstop for a hit, and if you get one down the lines, particularly the Right Field line, it's going to roll a long way. This is going to be a great extra-base hit ballpark, but NOT a Home Run park.

Also, it appears that the foul area around Home Plate is larger than normal, particularly around the dugouts. There were a number of popups that I was certain would have reached the seats, but were caught.

Wind does not seem to affect play much. I had a stiff, strong breeze at my back for most of the game (and thanks to the fact that I am a a veteran of April night games, I dressed accordingly, I was just fine), but I didn't see any players get thrown off by balls getting wind-swept, or at least not quite as much as you might see in other wind fields. Remains to be seen.

All things considered, yes, the evening was a buzzkill based on the way the game turned out. But, if nothing else, we're going to have a great time watching them in this magnificent new stadium, which is finally here, finally open and, finally, we're on our way.

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