The Turner Field review brought out a nice debate among the commenters about the ballparks of the NL East. Namely, which of the parks was least disappointing? Was it Turner, which is too large and not intimate? Nationals Park, which looks like an office building from the outside? Citizens Bank Park, which feels extremely contrived? Marlins Park, which feels a little too mall-like to be an authentic ballpark? Or Citi Field, Fred Wilpon’s attempt to bring the Dodgers back to the East Coast? Alas, my answer to that critical issue will have to come another day. For now I’ll just focus on the new park in Queens.
As much as the Mets are Wilpon’s team, Citi Field can easily be called The House that Bernie Madoff Built. By the time reports about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme surfaced in late 2008, the bulk of Citi Field had been built. With only a few months to go before the stadium opened, all that remained was some finishing work and to button up the ballpark. All of the expensive parts had been installed. Initial reports had Wilpon losing enough money that he’d have to sell the Mets. It turns out that Wilpon turned to Madoff to set up investment vehicles for various Mets employees. A lawsuit brought by defrauded Madoff investors sought as much as $300 million from Mets (legacy) ownership. They settled for $162 million. The extent of Wilpon’s and Howard Katz’s complicity will forever remain alleged, not proven. Which means that if there was any justice in the world, Wilpon should’ve been forced to sell the Mets.
Yet Wilpon remains, cutting payroll $40 million a year until debts are paid off, quashing hope among Mets fans. Even phenom pitcher Matt Harvey couldn’t escape the Wilpon taint, as his season was cut short in late August thanks to a bum elbow (he got Tommy John surgery last week). No matter, the Mets have a nice ballpark, right?
The thing is, they do have a pretty nice ballpark. Sure, the silly outfield dimensions had to be pulled in to encourage more offense. The Mets Hall of Fame was horrendously belated. At least it’s there, right next to the rotunda. Citi’s spacious, has good concessions and all of the amenities needed to bring in the big revenue when the team starts to contend again. The façade looks reminiscent of Ebbets Field (Wilpon’s obsession) from the outside. It looks nothing like Ebbets (AFAIK) from the inside. The rotunda is impeccable, yet feels somewhat removed from the concourses and the seating bowl.
Look carefully at the picture above. How many glassed-in levels do you see? If you guessed five, you are correct. Behind the plate there are the very exclusive Sterling Suites. Above that is another suite level, then another suite level, then the press box, and finally the promenade club along the upper deck. Every new park provides another example of the stratification of moneyed fans. By this measure, Citi Field is among the worst offenders. That’s the kind of modern, business-driven compromise we’ve come to expect of new ballparks. There are mini rooftops behind the plate that could be perfect places for, oh I don’t know, seats? Just a thought.
Citi Field was built in the parking lot between Shea and the industrial wasteland of Willets Point, much the same way Great American Ball Park went up in the shadows of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Unlike Riverfront’s enclosed cookie cutter design, which required to have the outfield stands demolished to accommodate the new ballpark in a very tight fit, there was enough space for Citi Field in the lot. Another proposal to build a new form of multipurpose stadium for both the Mets and Jets came and went quickly, allowing then-mayor Rudy Giuliani to focus on separate ballparks for the Mets and Yankees while the football teams partnered up for MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. Building on the same site allowed the team to utilize existing infrastructure, which includes stations for the #7 subway, Long Island Rail Road, and proximity to the Grand Central Parkway, Van Wyck, and Long Island Expressways.
It’s telling that Citi underwent significant changes in its first two off seasons. Bullpens were moved around, the Mets Hall of Fame was added, and the fences were brought in last year. All that generates the feeling that the ballpark was the product of ticking features in a checklist, rather than designing the park holistically. Misgivings have only been magnified by the enormous amount of negative press surrounding the team and ownership. Over time this should subside, and what will remain is that Citi Field is a substantial improvement over Shea, albeit an extremely expensive one. Both Shea Stadium and Ebbets Field lasted 45 years for the Mets and Dodgers, respectively. Hopefully the Mets can get at least 45 years out of Citi Field.