Built where the former parking lot behind the left field fence of Shea Stadium once was, Citi Field is the majestic new home of the New York Mets. Having spent many days and evenings of my childhood at “big, beautiful Shea” from 1964-71 and loving everything about it as seen through the eyes of a young baseball fan, I am very impressed with the new structure and all it has to offer today’s modern fan.
I first experienced Citi Field in 2009, the year it opened, and just returned this year for the first time since, watching a game in late April and then taking in the last two games of the 2014 regular season the final weekend of September. First, I had to walk around the new parking lot, now situated where Shea Stadium once proudly stood and since demolished. In the parking lot, there is a plaque where home plate and the pitcher’s mound once were located. So, I could stand at the plate, thinking about Cleon Jones batting .340 in the Amazin’ Mets first Championship year in 1969, or toe the rubber at the site of the mound, imagining I’m Tom Terrific Seaver tossing another shutout or where the great Nolan Ryan began his illustrious Hall of Fame career. Then, I walked toward the main entrance to the new stadium crossing what would have been the outfield of old Shea. I actually was on that actual outfield once, and it was not before, during nor after a baseball game. I was actually at the last New York Jets NFL game of the 1970 season and many the fans in attendance that day, including me, ran onto the field after the game just for the fun of it! Yes, Joe Namath actually performed his feats in the same stadium as my baseball heroes!
So, now I walk into the main entrance of Citi Field and am completely absorbed by the simplicity, yet grandeur of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda that greets me. This area just exudes warmth and also captures the dignity and spirit of the only man to have his uniform number retired by each one of the 30 MLB teams – #42. And there it stands, a six foot replica of his number decked out in old Brooklyn Dodger blue! Thus, a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man! To the right of the rotunda, is the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. From their legendary first manager, Casey Stengel, through their four pennant winning teams and all the stars of their 53 year existence, the museum does a very nice job of highlighting the teams and players of the past five decades and the generations of fans that have faithfully followed them. The highlight for me was seeing the World Series Championship trophy from 1969, the year of the Miracle Mets, who went from laughingstocks of the major leagues without ever having a winning year during their first seven seasons, to an improbable 100 win campaign culminating with a triumph over the Baltimore Orioles in a five game World Series.
You can take either an escalator or a staircase up to the next level, which is actually the first concourse that leads to the lower seating level. On this concourse, you can do a 360 degree walk around the entire stadium. When you do, stop and enjoy all the amenities located directly behind center field. In a tribute to nearby Coney Island, this area comes alive with quite a variety of food options, carnival type games and numerous kids’ interactive activities. You almost feel like you are on the boardwalk at the famous beachside attraction that it replicates. As you stroll from center field to right field on the main concourse, you cross the Shea Bridge, an homage to the old structure that linked Shea Stadium to the elevated subway platform. And speaking of bridges, the entire façade of Citi Field features a bridge motif, as not only is New York linked to the rest of the area by over 2,000 bridges, but the Mets themselves are a “bridge” to the New York National League teams of the past – the Brooklyn Dodgers and NY Giants.
As the old saying goes, there’s not a bad seat in the house. As a kid, my buddies, (including Pic who was with me many times during the 60’s and is with me today) and I would sit in the upper deck directly behind home plate at old Shea, in what was affectionately referred to back then as “nose bleed seats.” We didn’t care as we were in the ballpark and could still see what was happening out on the field. Today’s upper deck doesn’t seem so far away as it did in the past and you have a great panorama of the entire stadium, the surrounding community and, of course, the jets taking off and landing at adjacent LaGuardia International Airport. I stayed glued to my seats most of the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games that I attended on a beautiful early Autumn weekend, not because either the Mets or their opponent, the Houston Astros, were in a pennant race. I was there, really, to hopefully witness the first batting championship ever attained by an Astros player. And after an “O-for” on Saturday night, I was rewarded on Sunday afternoon!
Astros 2nd baseman Jose Altuve, all 5’6” of him, who was not in the original line-up, but asked his manager to let him play, banged out two more hits to finish at .341 and capture the major league batting title! The Mets and Astros entered the major leagues together in 1962 and both now have exactly one player each who has accomplished this feat. (For the Mets, it was Jose Reyes in 2011.) Not only did Altuve lead the majors in hitting, he also led in hits with 225, breaking Craig Biggio’s franchise record in the process, and his 56 stolen bases paced the American League.
So, after enjoying the aforementioned Cleon Jones hit .340 (which was good for 3rd in MLB) during the magical year of 1969, 45 years later I got to enjoy another player have a great season filled with astonishing accomplishments and almost an identical batting average, .341 – congratulations Senor Altuve! And I got see history in the making, then and now, with one of my boyhood chums, Pic!