How Citi Field will play still in question
Players need to adapt to differences between new home and Shea
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Nick Evans will tell you it was a fluke. He's just being modest. Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, for one, thought differently, taking Evans' home run as a sign that Citi Field will be a hitters' park.
And at least for one day in September, it was.
Hours before one of their final home games last year, Evans, Daniel Murphy and David Wright stepped onto the dirt of Citi Field for a makeshift batting practice session -- the first in stadium history. Under the watchful eyes of Wilpon, Wright took his initial hacks, refusing to leave the batter's box until he had become the first Met ever to put a ball in the seats.
Then the rookies hit, taking pitches from bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello. Murphy, like Wright, yanked a ball into the stands. And Evans drilled one into the second deck in left field, prompting Wilpon to reconsider his opinion of Citi Field as a pitchers' park.
"He's got severe power, though," Murphy said. "Not all of us possess that."
"I think the wind was blowing out that day," Evans laughed.
Whatever the circumstances, Murphy, Evans and Wright came away from that session skeptical that Citi Field will completely retain its predecessor's reputation as a pitchers' park. Based upon dimensions alone, the new stadium does seem capable of doing so. But there are winds to factor in, fences to consider, outfield quirks that could change how the park plays. It may take months before the Mets have an idea, years before anyone can know for sure.
Murphy, for one, thinks it might play as a "doubles park," with deep dimensions and lots of room in the gaps. Evans thinks it may be "similar to Shea." But neither is certain.
"I think that it's going to play pretty fair," Murphy said. "It seemed fair the day we hit there, with the little experience that I had. If you get one, you get one. If you don't, you don't."
Citi Field's dimensions are roughly similar to those of Shea. Slightly shallower down the lines and in straightaway center field, the new stadium is noticeably deeper in the gaps. And what it lacks in depth in some areas, it makes up for in height. The left-field wall at Citi Field stands at 15 feet, roughly twice the height of its counterpart at Shea Stadium. And that figure rises and falls like a city skyline from one side of the park to the other, peaking at 18 feet in right field.
There, an overhang juts out over the warning track, throwing another quirk into the mix.
"It's going to be a big adjustment," Evans said. "If you went back to the wall at Shea and the ball was over your head, it was a home run. If you go back to the wall here and it's over your head, it's going to bounce off. You have to learn which balls you can get to and which you can't."
To that end, every Mets outfielder will spend time becoming acquainted with his respective part of the wall. They've all done so to an extent at Spring Training, participating in drills on practice Field 7, which has the same dimensions as Citi Field. But the Mets can only learn so much about their new park without seeing an actual baseball carom off the actual wall.
For someone such as Murphy, who is simply learning to play left field to begin with, the task is made even tougher.
Murphy has been working daily with third-base coach Razor Shines, learning proper positioning, technique and fundamentals. Converted from an infielder late last season, Murphy spent weeks learning the relatively tame intricacies of Shea Stadium's wall. Now, he'll have to do it again.
"That'll probably be the first thing Razor will make me do," Murphy said. "He probably won't even let me take any swings before he says we've got to go work the wall. It will probably be something that I do every day, just get in a routine with and try to get comfortable out there."
There's a steady depth progression from the left-field line to left-center, a center-field wall that is flattened rather than rounded, and a noticeable inward slant in right-center. Right field seems most vexing, with a deep portion that lies underneath the overhang, and a shallower piece toward the foul pole. From there, the wall races inward down the line, with almost no foul territory.
Those quirks are the ones that will define Citi Field, in a way that no one can know for sure quite yet.
"It's tough to tell how the ball's going to carry," Evans said, "without actually hitting there."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.