Mets will find way around Citi soon enough
With hoopla of debut out of way, team must be the story
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets built spacious Citi Field, their new $800 million ballpark, as a friendly haven for pitchers. From home plate, looking toward the outfield, you can see forever. There's that much green grass.
Almost from the moment this franchise was born in 1962, its heritage was pitching. You know -- Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, et al.
So, it figures that when owner Fred Wilpon and his brain trust designed Citi Field pitching was on their minds.
But a funny thing happened in Citi Field's first game on Monday night, spoiled by the Padres' 6-5 victory.
Three pitches into the inaugural, before many of the ecstatic fans in the sell-out throng of 41,007 found their comfy seats, San Diego's Jody Gerut launched a rocket to right field off starter Mike Pelfrey and it was 1-0.
In the fifth, with San Diego already up 4-1, Adrian Gonzalez led off with a homer.
Add to that a three-run shot by David Wright in the Mets' half of the inning, and I wondered if this magnificent palace really is for pitchers.
Three home runs in the opening of a ballpark that is supposed to make them scarce. What gives?
The question was asked again in the sixth in a bizarre way when the Padres scored what proved to be the winning run on a balk by New York pitcher Pedro Feliciano. No field is large enough to keep that from happening.
Luis Rodriguez, who reached third base after Ryan Church misplayed his fly ball in right field, was able to trot home from third base.
Maybe the ballpark, like the Mets, had Opening Night jitters and will settle down.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel certainly hopes so.
There was such a buildup for Citi Field's opening that he thinks it's good to get that behind and start concentrating on the season and the tough National League East.
"Yeah, it is good to get this behind," he said. "We would have liked to have gotten it behind us with a win, but it's good to move forward. We have to figure some things out as we go. We shouldn't have any problems getting accustomed to this beautiful ballpark. There are going to be a lot of good things happen here."
As the Mets and Padres went through the motions of their three-hour, 11-minute history-making game, I couldn't help but think back to the hundreds of hours I spent in Shea Stadium, now a parking lot behind Citi Field.
I knew the late Bill Shea, who was instrumental in bringing National League baseball back to New York after the Giants fled to San Francisco in 1958. He was proud of the stadium named after him when it opened in 1964.
I recall the unlikely 1969 World Series victory, the bizarre championship over Boston in 1986 (remember Bill Buckner?), Jim Bunning's perfect game on a steamy June Sunday in 1964 and even Johnny Callison's home run in the '64 All-Star Game.
Yes, there were special moments in Shea, but frankly it was never a great stadium. In the end, it was a dump.
Citi Field, with all the amenities baseball architects can concoct, is superb.
Wilpon, who grew up in Brooklyn as a Dodgers fan, made sure there's a reminder of Ebbets Field here. The Robinson Rotunda adds that old-time feel to his spanking new stadium.
It's obvious, though, it is going to take time for the players to get comfortable in it and I'm not talking about their opulent, large clubhouse. It's so big, players might need appointments to see each other or use a GPS.
Church's three-base error on what normally is a routine fly ball is an example.
"I think he lost the ball a little bit, got turned around," Manuel said. "Normally, he makes those kinds of plays. That's a part of getting used to your surroundings, knowing where you are.
"He's an excellent outfielder, possibly one day a Gold Glove winner -- he's that good. To have the mishaps out there right now, I'm not overly concerned but unfortunately it cost us."
Even though the Mets were home, they seemed to be disoriented in the new park at times.
Manuel agrees, that it takes time to get accustomed to such a different venue. Even for the manager himself.
"I feel like I'm a long ways from the field in the dugout," he said. "I gotta get some new glasses or something. I'm not seeing some stuff I like to see. But I'll get used to it."
A jarring setback on such an important date in Mets history is especially excruciating.
"Losses bother me all the time no matter what day of the week it is," Manuel said. "They're tough to deal with, but I think we're at a point where we have to figure out what we are, where we're going.
"I'll be all right tomorrow, get up and do my thing. There's a lot of good things we're doing that are going to manifest themselves."
On Wednesday, the Mets play just a regular-season game in a ballpark that isn't as new as it was Monday.
It's time now for the Mets to be the story, not the ballpark.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.