Wilpon brings Brooklyn to Queens
Jackie Robinson Rotunda, array of flowers highlight Citi Field
PORT ST. LUCIE -- He's known in business, real estate and baseball. He is philanthropic, nostalgic and successful. He still can break off a curveball, and pick up the phone and get Sandy Koufax anytime. We know about Fred Wilpon, his son, his team, his new ballpark and his vision. Did you know this? He's got a green thumb. Or at least an abiding appreciation for those who are so blessed.
And that being the case, expect Citi Field to have some country flavor -- flowers.
Wilpon acknowledged as much the other day.
"Judy and I do like flowers," the Mets' CEO said simply.
It likely is as an understatement ... as some workers are applying finishing touches to the ballpark in anticipation of the exhibition games against the Red Sox on Friday and Saturday, others are landscaping, planting scores of flowers and some of the 1,000 trees and shrubs that will enhance the Citi experience.
Wilpon already has brought some Brooklyn to Queens. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the focal point of the new ballpark, is right out of Ebbets Field. With his appreciation for flowers, Wilpon has brought a touch of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, too.
A generous amount of flowers will brighten the area not far from the Rotunda, greeting those who visit the inscribed pavers, those coming off the trains that are likely to transport most of the Citi Field patrons. It will be another touch -- much grander -- borrowed from Shea Stadium, where small areas of the Diamond Club lobby were lined with bright yellow flowers.
Citi is quite different from Shea, inside and out. But a few traditions have made the move a few hundred yards to the north. The home run apple, unique to Shea, was spared and installed in an area between the bullpens and 126th Street. It is visible from the street, as are the bullpens.
David Howard, the Mets' executive vice president, recalls when the apple was "planted." It was the brain child of one-time general manager Al Harazin and not always embraced by Mets personnel.
"I remember every time a home run was hit and the apple would rise," Howard said, "Frank [Cashen, Harazin's predecessor] would say 'Harazin's Folly.'" But the apple became iconic.
"The emotional connection was profound," Howard said. "The response we got in favor of keeping it or moving it was 89 percent. You can't get 89 percent of any group to agree on anything. I couldn't have imagined that until I looked at it through the eyes of children."
The transplanted apple will not be operational. But it has been restored, repaired and, Howard says, "It probably looks better than it ever did."
The responsibility of celebrating home runs has fallen to its successor -- more modern and significantly larger.
"Truly the big apple," Howard said.
It is located in almost straightaway center field.
The only other component of Shea to make the move is the skyline silhouette that had been atop the original scoreboard in right field. It now rests in center field atop two concession stands, the "9-11" ribbon still affixed.
Though Shea no longer stands -- most of the ballpark's footprint will be a parking lot by home Opening Day, April 13 -- the Shea diamond eventually will be marked off in the parking lot -- the plate, the bases and, of course, the pitcher's mound. Citi Field is, after all, supposed to be a pitcher's park.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.