Citi Field’s Quirky Official Opener

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Mike Pelfrey, more or less upright.
Mike Pelfrey, more or less upright. Photo: Getty Images

The New York Mets officially opened their new ballpark last night — that is to say, Citi Field hosted a game that counted and that didn’t involve aluminum bats — and it didn’t take long for Mets fans to start grumbling. It took three pitches, actually: That’s when Padres center-fielder Jody Gerut hit the first home run in Citi Field history. The crowd was booing by the second inning. They were doing the wave by the fourth.

In the end, it was an unremarkable 6–5 loss to the San Diego Padres. But it was still a weird opening night: There were cats on the field (mercifully, not a black one), a Keystone Kops moment when Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey fell flat on his face while attempting to throw a pitch, and a game-deciding balk.

A few observations from Citi Field’s grand introduction.

It is unwise to hit the ball to center field. After taking batting practice at Citi Field in the offseason, David Wright told MLB Network that the ball was “hopping” off his bat and predicted Citi Field would be a “launching pad.” That may be true to left field — the power alley is a very manageable 375 feet — but knocking one over the center-field wall is going to require jet packs. Wright’s three-run homer in the fifth was just doinked over the left-field wall, but in the seventh, with the Mets needing a tying run, Wright hit a mammoth shot to dead center that died just short of the 408 sign. This is going to be a great park for right-handed pull hitters. Everyone else is going to need to hit line drives.

The fans are in mid-season form. Forget any notion of Mets fans gaping at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and treating the stadium like it’s a couch they’re afraid to take the covers off of. In addition to the second-inning boos, they were giving Pelfrey the sarcastic clap for finally notching his first out (on the third hitter). Also, the team hastily put up tarps over the right-field bullpens, lest fans pour their beers on opposing pitchers. Or their own, for that matter.

Unscientific straw polls. A line of politicians was paraded before the fans before the game, including Sheldon Silver and Governor Paterson. Those two were booed lustily. Mayor Bloomberg received about 65 percent cheers and 35 percent boos, which speaks well for his reelection campaign.

The apple looks great. The Mets brought over the Big Apple from Shea, and it made its debut after Wright’s homer. It’s a little splash of Shea at the shiny new digs, and it works: Who knew anyone had nostalgia for the old yard? Speaking of which: Jose Reyes's Spanish Academy is back!

They don’t have the most impressive corporate sponsors. The scoreboard in center field features ads for GoldUSCoins.com and Arpielle Equipment, a construction company, perhaps a sign of traditional big-money advertisers laying low for now. (The only sign you’ll find for Citibank here is in the stadium’s name.) And they’ve had trouble selling ads on the other side of that sign, the part of the stadium that faces Shake Shack and the restaurants in center field. The ads that are visible from the field are artlessly designed, just sort of slapped on the walls, like at a minor-league stadium. When done well, stadium ads can have a certain iconic status. (Think the Budweiser sign at Fenway Park, or the Coca-Cola sign at AT&T Park in San Francisco.) This is certainly not the case at Citi Field. The Xerox tarp in right field is particularly slapdash.

The toilets rule. The fancy-pants urinals at Citi Field were remarked upon every time you entered the restroom. (See a photo of the environmentally friendly devices here.) Our favorite comment? “This is how Yankees fans piss!”