Compared to the frenzy of reactions to the new Yankee Stadium and whether the Steinbrenners screwed the pooch on this one (verdict here: pretty much), there’s been relatively little chatter about the Mets’ new Citi Field beyond some gripes about obstructed views and discussion of the fate of the old apple. So I was eager to check out the place myself last night, at what in Flushing used to be called Second Opening Day.
First, some caveats: Citi Field is a typical HOKPopulous modern stadium, with all that goes with that: Field-level seats close to the action, a wall of luxury/club seating in the middle, an upper deck that’s higher than you’d expect at old-time ballparks, overly quirky outfield dimensions, more places to buy overpriced food than some (present company included) might think necessary. The Mets owners have been fond of comparing their new taxpayer-aided home to Ebbets Field; the comparison doesn’t hold much better here than it did for Miller Park, which made the same claim.
That said, it’s immediately clear that the Mets got most of the details right here, especially compared to their rivals across the East River. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda may be a bit of a ham-fisted nod to history (it didn’t help that last night was Jackie Robinson Night, with a pregame ceremony featuring people wearing jerseys with words like “COMMITMENT” and “INTEGRITY” on their backs), but it’s nicely human-scaled and functional compared to the Yanks’ gratuitous Great Hall. Thanks to a relatively teensy 42,000 capacity, the upper deck isn’t quite so distant as in the Bronx, about the equivalent of the back of the old Shea mezzanine — Mr. Met could almost even reach it last night with his T-shirt cannon — though the lessened seating has helped contribute to hikes in ticket prices.
And most of all, unlike the Yanks’ new home, Citi Field reeks of baseball. There’s plenty of attractive brick and steel, the scoreboards are useful but not overly imposing, and even the non-game attractions let you know that you’re at a baseball game, not a mall: free batting cages and a Wiffle ball diamond out beyond centerfield for the younger set. (This was such an insanely huge hit last night, with my son among others, that I wonder if the Yankees are at risk of losing an entire generation of New York baseball fans here.) It may not seem like using brick-colored cinderblocks instead of grey ones should make a big difference, but it does.
The other thing that immediately stood out: As predicted from ticket pre-sales, the upper deck was packed, while the $60-and-up seats down below were half-empty, an odd sight at a baseball game. It’s hard to say if this was more a function of overpriced seats going unsold or season-ticket buyers staying home on a chilly spring night (it actually wasn’t bad for Flushing — I didn’t put my gloves on until the 6th inning), but looking at StubHub, there are plenty of seats availablefor most games for below face value. (Last night, for that matter, I sat in $30 seats that I paid $24 for on the Hub.) If we see a similar scenario after Yankee Stadium opens for business today, it seems likely that the New York teams are going to need to adjust their ambitious pricing plans to reflect the new economic reality — either that, or Mr. Met is going to need a stronger T-shirt cannon.