As important as any player, coach or executive on a ball club is the place where that team welcomes its fans to enjoy the game. A ballpark conveys the philosophy, the vision, the energy, the complete self-perception of what a team hopes to be. They’re like $400 million t-shirts of your favorite band. The New York Mets play baseball in a beautiful ballpark called Citi Field which has an “out loud” name that is almost perfect enough to make one forget about the corporate money backing the written version.
You’d think given how deeply the Mets’ recent financial troubles are tied to Wall Street, they’d want to distance themselves as far as possible from the scene of the crime, though like most fools, Fred and Jeff Wilpon just can’t keep themselves from making befuddling choices. And their paradox-laden stadium is no exception. But let’s not allow ownership get too much in the way of a good time, here — not on the most glorious day of the Major League Baseball calendar.
When the seven train bends towards the “Mets-Willets Point” stop and Citi Field fills your bouncing, scratch-graffiti laden subway car window, you can’t help but feel pulled towards some place grand and timeless to watch a game in which time does not exist. Orange bricks and blue-painted trimming are comforting features, though like the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the Mets always seem to want to remind you that they are more of a rolling homage to New York ball rather than a baseball team unto themselves.
For better or worse, you’re getting the character-building “Wait ‘Till Next Year” aspect of the old Brooklyn Dodgers spiked now and then with the unexpected fervor of the 1951 New York Giants. Every once in a while (OK, once), 1986 happens and you’re also reminded that for all the bandwagon fans across town, this is still a National League city, one that has no qualms over booing the Mayor off the mound. Some things will never change — even if it would be real nice for the Mets to make a few changes themselves.
Not that that matters on Opening Day when the Mets have the best all-time winning percentage. This is the day when fans get to pack the ballpark with exuberance and high expectations, and that sort of excitement buzzed from the first Nathan’s hot dog stand I encountered to the packed escalator ride towards section 331 and even almost kept things warm out back in the smoker’s paddock where one guy in a varsity-style 1969 jacket commented, “18 years of Opening Days and I’ve never had to wear long johns before.” We all shivered in agreement.
Outside of the Wilpons, the wind and some of the fans maybe having too good a time, Citi Field is an amazing place to see a baseball game; that’s not going to change any time soon. As Dillon Gee stepped to the rubber to kick off the season and you felt that crescendo of fevered emotion, none of the extraneous noise mattered; the game was back in town.
After Gee’s first pitch was low and away from the Washington Nationals‘ Denard Span, the gods gave us one more early reminder – the Mets will need much more than a pretty ballpark to keep this energy swirling for 161 more games.
Or 90 more wins, whichever comes first.