The Bullpen Gate
Given the new stadium’s re-orientation along 126th Street (not a pretty sight, but that’s a different conversation entirely), the Bullpen Gate is definitely one of the more intriguing new ways to enter the stadium. For one thing, right smack in front you – you can’t miss ‘em, really – is the gated bullpen of the opposing team. (The Mets bullpen is just behind them, closer to the field). Basically, fans can get up close and personal with the opposing team’s pitchers all game long, although not as close as Fenway fans can, thank God. (With some additional thanks going perhaps to what can only be described as a moat – well, you’ll see.) Even better, though, it’s at the Bullpen Gate where one of the last vestiges of the original Shea is preserved in all its grandeur, the much-beloved Home Run Apple, which routinely celebrated home team dingers by rising up and out of a big black hat (although perhaps not as often as many fans would have liked!) A new version graces the new ballpark just beyond the center field fence, but back here at the Bullpen Gate, and in a stadium where hundreds and hundreds of potential photo ops abound, the Home Run Apple has quickly become a pretty universal fan favorite.
The Shake Shack
Regardless of where your assigned seats are, the Shake Shack has very quickly established itself as the place to meet for an in-game snack. While lines can be a bit long at times, they are certainly well worth it, and there’s more than enough to occupy you while you’re waiting. For one thing, the Shake Shack anchors one of the more expansive open-air concourses in the ballpark (something the Mets call “Taste of the City), directly behind the center-field scoreboard, a definite boon to patrons once the weather starts improving. And we absolutely must tip our caps here to the stroke of genius that put video on the back of the scoreboard, too. (Shea veterans will note that this area behind centerfield was formerly an absolute no man’s land: a parking lot, the batter’s eye, some photographers, and the guy who triggers the home run apple basically.) That’s all changed now, and this is definitely the place to be. And wait, hold on, we haven’t even begun to talk about the food yet – which is easily as good as any other of impresario Danny Meyer’s highly touted Shake Shack establishments in Manhattan. The burger here is called a Shackburger, and at $5.75 it’s a definite bargain (and still less than a far more inferior one used to cost at Shea). The fries are exceptionally good here, too, but more to the point, this is called the Shake Shack for a reason, and if you’re a first-timer, you might never have had a creamier or thicker concoction in your life. (Best bet here is the Black & White, in our humble opinion.) Lastly, one of our favorite things about the Shake Shack, and another thing that makes it a must-visit destination, is that sitting atop it, almost like a crown, is the actual skyline that served as the crest of the centerfield scoreboard at Shea, and yes, still including those red-white-and-blue memorial ribbons draped around the Twin Towers. In essence, it serves as a tribute to all three buildings at once, all part of our collective memory now, and it’s definitely something worth reflecting on a bit as we baseball fans march boldly into the future together.
Mr. Met’s Kiddie Field
Ya gotta give the METS some credit. Their self-described “Fan Fest” at SHEA used to be outside the ballpark, underneath a couple of big tents, and while baseball-oriented in nature, really had more of a carnival sideshow feel to it, and a rather downscale one at that. CUT TO: citiFIELD 2009, where the 2K SPORTS FanFest is now an integral part of the ballpark experience, and it just happens to be a pretty great one, too. Located in the oh-so-happening area behind the centerfield scoreboard (the home of the SHAKE SHACK, BLUE SMOKE and others), the 2K SPORTS FanFest lets youngsters of all ages try their hand at pitching, hitting, and base running, and there’s even a live DJ on hand to help encourage them and spur them to greatness. (Sometimes Mr. Met will even drop by to do so, in his own inimitably silent way.) There are some video kiosks here too, of course, and even a dunk tank (a blatant Hershey Park promotion), but if you ask us, the crown jewel of all of this is what’s hereby called “Kiddie Field.” (Get it – rhymes with “Citi Field”?) Anyway, Mr. Met’s Kiddie Field is a scale model replica of the actual field you’ve come to witness in action, complete with markings on the outfield fence telling us that dead center is 408, left and right are 330, etc. etc. – just like in the real ballpark (although we’re thinking now, perhaps those might stand for inches!) The most high-falutin’ game of T-Ball you’ve ever played, there’s an opportunity for fielders to get out there and give it a go too, while batters hit a wiffle ball off a tee, far far above the streets of Flushing, with nothing but sky behind them. Clearly, when spring and summer finally arrive in full bloom, this entire centerfield area is a must-visit destination at citiFIELD, and by the way, weather permitting, the entire 2K SPORTS FanFest is open two and half hours prior to game time, all the way up until the 7th inning. (Which is a vast improvement on the previous incarnation, and also way, way longer than any actual ballplayers have to be functional!)
The PEPSI PORCH
Anyone who’s been to citiFIELD by now will gladly tell you – the best thing about the place is how much room there is to walk around. See, it doesn’t really matter where your seats are, you’re probably not going to be in them for nine innings, anyway – not by a long shot. And yes, despite reducing the capacity of the new ballpark to 41,800 from SHEA’s 57,000 plus, citiFIELD is oh-so-spacious, and proved decidedly roomy even on Opening Night (something which bodes well for its next true test, the Subway Series in June). One of our favorite examples of said neo-spaciousness, and where citiFIELD seems most to evoke Fenway Park and Camden Yards and other ballparks, is the newly-christened and somewhat self-explanatory PEPSI PORCH.
The PEPSI PORCH is essentially an overhang, one which extends eight feet into fair territory over Ryan Church’s head, and which will no doubt help to provide a bit of shade on occasion to the METS rightfielder (although this is not its primary function). Consider this 1,284 seat section the right-field beer garden, if you will, crested in grand scale by one of the largest PEPSI-COLA signs on earth (a sign modeled after the Long Island City version that once stood proudly along the East River). With a number of picnic tables above the seating area, and a vast expanse of concrete even further up – for mingling, schmoozing and general carousing – the PEPSI PORCH just might wind up being an even more communal gathering place than the aforementioned “Taste of The City,” where the much-adored SHAKE SHACK resides. Admittedly, there’s been some controversy about sightlines here in right field, and a couple of seats actually do have somewhat obstructed views, given certain game situations, but how bad could it really be if METS COO Jeff Wilpon owns seasons tickets here, right? “It’s actually one of my favorite aspects of the ballpark,” says Wilpon, one of the driving forces behind the PEPSI PORCH, which is modeled very much on the overhang at one of his favorite ballparks as a young boy, Tiger Stadium in Detroit. “Fans sitting in the Pepsi Porch will really feel like they’re part of the action on the field.” And if not, at least there’s ample opportunity – and room! – for distraction.
The ACELA CLUB
Okay, so maybe from far off, you might think it looks like some giant Pachinko machine the way it sits out there in left field, all glass-enclosed, all multi-leveled, multi-tiered or whatever. But make no mistake – the ACELA CLUB is definitely one of the crown jewels of the new citiFIELD. You see, the fact of the matter is, the orientation of the place is so damn intriguing, it doesn’t even matter who the METS are playing – heck, it probably doesn’t even matter if they’re playing at all! – because the view from here is quite a spectacular one, as is the configuration of the restaurant, especially with regard to those diners closest to the field. Pure and simple, the ACELA CLUB is a restaurant, one which affords its diners incredible views of the game, but more than that – it’s a luxury dining experience inside a baseball stadium! (Okay, I realize both new ballparks can boast the same thing, but folks, lest we all get a bit too spoiled and jaded much quicker than we should, isn’t this just a fabulous time for baseball fans all around… truly.) Anyway, the ACELA CLUB has two seatings for every METS home game, and seats a total of 350 per. Their price-fixe options hover around $48, and include delights such as macaroni and white cheddar with pancetta, or Heritage Pork porchetta with kraut and grilled skirt steak, and more. The menu is the brainchild of no less an NYC culinary maestro than Drew Nierepont of NOBU and TRIBECA GRILL fame. And that’s why – no matter what the METS-ies are doing on the field – the view, and the Rosemary Rubbed Prime Rib of Beef, Grilled Fennel Sausage, etc. will guarantee that your visit to citiFIELD is a rather pleasurable one. (But get there early, just in case – you know, before September – because after that, results may… how shall we say… vary?)
The METS Batting Practice Show
Admittedly, batting practice at citiFIELD has a bit of controversy surrounding it these days. As of now, only those fans with tickets to the seats surrounding the dugout – Sections 110 to 125, basically – can really get up close and personal with the ballplayers taking their swings in the cage. However, necessity being the mother of invention, we’re kind of impressed with one of the things the METS have done to compensate for same, and that is the fact that batting practice is now broadcast live throughout the entire stadium for all to see, in all its glory on their fantastic new hi-def scoreboard. Which might not mean much to some folks, but it can certainly be a bit of an eye-opening experience when Messrs. Sheffield, Delgado and Beltran (just to name a few) are launching dingers over citiFIELD’s quirky new home-run fences. However, what we really think makes Batting Practice a little bit more of an event these days – and one which aims to connect aspiring sluggers with those laboring in the pre-game cage for the home team – is the way citiFIELD intersperses shots of youngsters taking their T-ball swings upstairs on Mr. Met’s Kiddie Field with shots of Wright, Reyes, et. al. in the batting cage down below. That, you see, is what constitutes the “METS Batting Practice Show,” a combination of METS and MET fans, united on the scoreboard, if not in actuality. (Of course, both groups of hitters are far too focused on their swings to notice the synchronicity, but for all else in full view, it’s definitely a nice touch.) Now, an even nicer touch would be to re-open batting practice to the wider audience it once enjoyed at SHEA. After all, why risk reducing the number of patrons who make it a point of coming to the ballpark early – to watch “BP,” grab a hot dog, a beer, buy some merchandise, etc. etc. Why risk reducing those numbers, right?
The MODELL’S CLUBHOUSE
Anyone who’s been to citiFIELD by now has surely grown curiouser and curiouser about the folks behind the right field fence who definitely seem to be havin’ a good old time, no matter what’s going on out there on the baseball diamond. The reason for their exuberance? They’re partying at one of the must-visit destinations in the new ballfield, the MODELL’S CLUBHOUSE, which sits just underneath the afore-mentioned Pepsi Porch in right field and seats some 400 of the most passionate (and luckiest!) baseball fans you’re ever going to encounter. The MODELL’S CLUBHOUSE, you see, in a nod to the old Knothole Gangs of yore, is right out there on the playing field, right at ground level and separated from the unmistakable dirt of the warning track by nothing more than a chain-link fence. (Which some have referred to as a “cyclone fence,” but why any shameless promotion of the club’s A-ball affiliate is warranted in this case, I’ve certainly no idea.) Anyway, dugout-style benches bring MODELL’S CLUBHOUSE attendees right up close to the action – at the same time providing a ton of comfort and casualness to the typical “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” experience, as well as a whole lot of maneuverability and flexibility. It’s the perfect space for a birthday party, reunion, retirement party and the like, and can accommodate up to 80 patrons. (Although we’ve been told that the club will also accommodate smaller parties as well, pending availability.) If you’re interested, you can just contact Heather Collamore at (718) 803-4032, and she’ll give you all the details. Rest assured, whether it’s rightfielder Ryan Church who first catches your eye while here, or maybe relievers Frankie Rodriguez or JJ Putz, you’re definitely getting one of the best seats in the house. (And once you’ve experienced that, you’ll no doubt be returning again and again!)
The Parking Lot
Yeah, yeah, I know… “What’re you kiddin’ me? The Parking Lot?!” But folks, this is no ordinary parking lot, is it now? Why, this particular parking lot is the final resting place of once glorious William A. Shea Stadium. And if you don’t think that has some inherent sentimental value, then head to citiFIELD some night and check out the fans staring wistfully out those big CAESAR’S CLUB bay windows at the thing, as twilight sets across Northern Boulevard and the Manhattan skyline, and what was once SHEA vanishes into the darkness. The other thing we like about the parking lot? For those of us still foolish enough to arrive at citiFIELD by car, that last stroll through the Parking Lot affords us quite a decent view of the FanWalk and the Jackie Robinson Rotunda as we arrive, making for a much grander approach and entrance to the stadium, certainly a far cry from the horrendous lines – and ill-conceived color schemes! – of lovably ugly SHEA. (To be perfectly honest, though, the absolute best way to arrive at citiFIELD is via the reliable old 7 train, whose new Mets-Willet Point platform stairs descend directly into the Ebbets Field-style arches that make up the grand entrance into the Rotunda.) Still, let’s give the METS some credit here, because even though some might see this as just a parking lot – a whole mess of asphalt with a lot of white lines drawn over it – as a definite tip of the cap to never-dimming nostalgia for dear ole SHEA, the organization took great pains to mark what we now sadly understand to be “footprints,” the ghostly reminders of where said edifice once stood. There’s home plate, there’s the mound, and there’s all the bases, never to be forgotten. And yes, here finally is your chance to re-create up close and personal that fateful night of October 25, 1986 – the night when, as Bob Murphy so aptly put it, “It gets by Buckner!” (But make sure you check twice just in case any cars are coming… those kinds of errors the METS p.r. department definitely doesn’t need!)
Here’s another classy METS idea we definitely kind of dug here, and one that, for some fans, just might have helped ease the transition from ole SHEA to citiFIELD somewhat. The citiFIELD Fanwalk afforded MET fans the opportunity to become a permanent part of the new stadium through the purchase of individually engraved bricks surrounding the main entry of citiFIELD. Okay, the cost was a bit steep for some – a couple of hundred dollars each – but it should be pointed out that fans who contributed messages or shared memories also helped make a contribution to the community. (Net proceeds from the purchase of Fanwalk bricks have been donated to the METS Foundation, an exemplary organization which supports area charities and causes.) Just prior to game time, it’s always quite touching to see fans seeking out their bricks, or even just having a look at those placed there by others. Especially in memory of those Metropolitan fans who are no longer with us, there’s something rather poignant about the fact that these timeless tributes engraved directly onto the plaza bricks outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda are the very first things we encounter as we come to the ballpark. Chalk one up for the Wilpons, because that’s a nice little statement right there that it’s the fans who come first, above all else. (Or at least, before all else…) We actually had the good fortune to get an up close and personal peek recently at one of the complimentary replica bricks that got shipped with each order, and in our humble opinion, those are actually pretty impressive, too. Anyway, next time you’re heading to citiFIELD, why not leave a little extra time for meandering about the Fanwalk for a while beforehand. It’s something that definitely puts the idea of what it means to be a baseball fan in perspective, as well as serving as a distinct reminder of the truly sentimental place the METS have held in a lot of our hearts for generations now. (By the way, since the internet these days is usually the next best thing to being there, you might want to check out a METS blog called www.MetsFanwalk.blogspot.com, where one generously enterprising fan has given brick purchasers their due, and allowed each and every brick to be recognized individually, as well as some of the anecdotes or memories they’re paying tribute to. Pretty cool, you should check it out.)
The Jackie Robinson Rotunda
It is without question one of the earliest aspects of citi FIELD to have made it onto the draftsman’s table. In fact, as long as there’s been talk of a new stadium for the Mets, it’s generally been understood that said stadium would always incorporate some sort of dramatic and definitive homage to dearly beloved Ebbets Field. And why not? Weren’t the Mets the first team to rush into the breach after the Giants and the Dodgers departed in the late 50’s? Isn’t so much of their heritage closely intertwined with those teams? Heck, it’s where all that orange and blue originated, isn’t it?
Consequently, the exquisite red brickwork that adorns the front entrance to citi FIELD will surely remind fans of a certain age of some of their favorite ball parks of yore. A great many of the Met faithful have complained vociferously that there is not nearly enough Met history adorning said rotunda, a point which is certainly well taken. And yet, regardless of one’s feelings about the Dodgers or about how much Met history is chronicled therein, it is an indisputable fact that an arrival at citi FIELD ushers you inside through one of the grandest entrances in all of baseball. The picture-perfect arches, the cathedral-style vaulted ceilings, the terrazzo flooring, even the majestic escalators, all combine to give us a sense of the possible future while at the same time paying homage to the past. More to the point though, the Rotunda is about celebrating one of the most famous men in the history of our national pastime – Jack Roosevelt Robinson – a tribute that, again, some Met fans have taken considerable issue with. I would submit this, however – the Jackie Robinson Rotunda is no more about celebrating the Brooklyn Dodgers than it is about celebrating the Kansas City Monarchs, or any other team affiliated with Robinson. Rather, in paying tribute to Robinson, it is about one of those remarkably special moments in baseball history when baseball actually stands for something – for something larger than all of us. Look, maybe the Yankees should have built themselves a “Lou Gehrig Rotunda.” Or the Cardinals a “Curt Flood Rotunda.” But this is not a Dodger thing we’re talking about here. It’s not a New York thing. It’s not even an African-American thing. It’s a baseball thing…
Well, nine things actually, because what the Rotunda also pays tribute to are Robinson’s nine values, the nine things he tried to keep in mind at all times despite the tremendous adversity he encountered in breaking baseball’s color-bar (all very nicely detailed in a book by daughter Sharon, I might add, “JACKIE’S NINE”). Courage. Excellence. Persistence. Justice. Teamwork. Commitment. Citizenship. Determination. Integrity. I’ve always found even more impressive the quote that gets attributed to Robinson, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” This, too, is prominently displayed in the Rotunda. That someone so fleet of foot, so talented on the baseball diamond, could also be possessed of such personal eloquence, is truly astonishing, even these many years later.
Next time you’re at citi FIELD, stand at the top of the escalator some evening and take it all in, as you watch the teeming masses making their way into the ballpark slowly but surely. Or pose for a photo in front of the bright blue No. 42, a personal honor that forever links you with Jackie Robinson and one of baseball’s most famous numbers. But whether you happen to be entering the ballpark or exiting it several hours later, you can definitely tell that the noise level is somewhat muted in the Rotunda. There always seems to be a slight hush that pervades it, a bit more reverence and respect than you might find elsewhere in the ballpark. Which is exactly as it should be…