Photo by Dennis Crowley
“Citi Field,” the New York Mets new home, is a misnomer. Someone needs to coin a word to describe a venue that is part amusement park, food court, a Brooklyn Dodger mini-museum, sports specialty shop, tourist trap, and that by the way, also happens to contain a poorly designed baseball playing field.
My first visit prompts this assessment.
Arriving on the Flushing Line #7 subway and approaching the front of the building on foot, it is indeed an impressive site. The classical baseball stadium façade mimics and upgrades old Ebbets Field memories, while Jackie Robinson memorabilia and a photo-op with his number 42 dominates the rotunda.
In general, the facility ignores the New York Giants history (Willie who?), as well as the early and not-so-early Mets history. It is understandable, given the Wilpon family nostalgia and their friendship with the O’Malleys and the Dodgers. (It’s their prerogative, since they own the team.)
Approach or bypass the stadium by car from the east and there is another completely different visual experience. The outside reminds me of some junked-up construction sites, with an annoying array of posters, billboards, and a jumble of signs.
Access to the innards of the building is easy. “Visitors” and “Guests” — sorry, the staff of greeters and workers are encouraged not to call us “fans” — are funneled to the enormous main gift, sports shop or the first array of restaurants and bars. From there, guests are encouraged to circulate the concourse of food courts before heading for their seats. Along the way are numerous, spotless restrooms, quite a change from Shea.
There is a Kosher corner, Caribbean food, Hispanic food, Asian food, Italian food, seafood, soul food and in case you don’t fit any niche, a food-serving supermarket. Premium beers of all caliber from around the world are of course available at some premium prices. Steak sites multiply and frank and burger spots diminish.
When you finally get to your section of the ball field, you are chuted to your seating area. No longer can you enter the stadium anywhere and just walk around the stands, looking at the field and absorbing the baseball atmosphere, as you move to your section.
Oh yes, there is a ball field within the building. The seats are closer to the field and many are angled so that viewing the game from the foul lines doesn’t result in a stiff neck . But it has a strange configuration, with overhangs, corners, and fence heights varying without rhyme or reason.
Unlike Shea Stadium, where almost every seat had unobstructed views, there are whole sections at Citi where the only way to see the play in a corner, or down the line is — you guessed it — by watching it on the TV scoreboard as a replay. Unfortunately, it is also no longer easy to peer into the dugouts or the bull pens.
Once you find your seat, you discover you are in a long — a very long — row of seats. And with minimal in-the-stands vendor service — you’ll see an occasional ordinary beer vendor, a hot dog seller, a peanuts guy, — the guest is encouraged to go to the concourse for food and services. This means the visitor is constantly standing up to let someone come or go. Not to worry, though, there are TV sets all around the court and you can watch the game on a TV as you wait in a line somewhere.
And I’ll ignore the outrageous increase in ticket prices, the disappearance of promotion days savings, parking rates with an astronomical hike — after all, visitors and guests are likely to be more well-heeled than baseball fans.
All in all, an interesting tourist attraction, or a business meeting distraction. What are missing are the fans just going to a ball field to watch a game and root for their team.
Peter F. Eder recently retired from the marketing career he began in the mailroom at J. Walter Thompson. He’s written for The Futurist magazine and served nine years in the New York National Guard as a Sergeant and qualified Army engineer. His passions include the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Mets.