02/22/12 4:15 PM EST
Mets previewing Citi Field changes in Florida
Spring practice field mirrors home park's new dimensions
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Earlier this winter, the staff in Port St. Lucie erected new outfield fences in front of the old ones to reflect the changes in Citi. One stretch of fence covers what used to be the "Mo Zone" in right field. Another spans the old left-center-field gap.
It was that latter portion of fence that interested Lucas Duda late Wednesday morning as he approached Field 7 wearing basketball shorts and no batting helmet. Already having dropped a few balls over the right-field wall -- "that counts for two," Daniel Murphy quipped after one particularly impressive homer -- Duda stepped into the left-handed batter's box and shot several more off the fence in left-center.
"I saw David [Wright] hit like four or five balls that last year wouldn't have been over the fence and now they're homers," Duda said. "I saw Murph hit one out the other day. It's the first day and the wind was blowing out a little bit, so you've got to factor it in. But it was a good day."
Not much of scientific significance can be drawn from a half-hour batting-practice session with a generous wind blowing out from home plate. But the past three seasons so convinced the Mets of their home park's pitcher-friendly qualities that, after months of exhaustive studies, the team chose to make significant changes to its dimensions this winter.
Gone is the most vexing stretch of 16-foot wall in left-center field, now neutralized by an angled eight-foot fence in front of it. Gone is the deepest portion of right-center, also covered up with a new stretch of wall. Gone is the "Mo Zone" and the quirky swath of warning track beneath it, replaced by a more traditional fence.
Gone too, the Mets hope, are the mentally draining aspects of a park that has spent three years humbling left-handed power hitters and enfeebling right-handed ones.
"Today shows you that there's a big difference," Mets manager Terry Collins said after Murphy, Wright and Duda christened Field 7 with a late-morning round of batting practice. "It's going to change the way these guys think when they're at home plate."
Ask Wright or Jason Bay, the team's two most prolific right-handed hitters, and they will say that Citi Field has had a minimal effect on their power struggles in recent seasons. And from an analytical standpoint, that very well may be true. Despite its reputation, Citi has hardly been the league's most hitter-averse park over the last three seasons.
But the mental aspect is hard to define, and one that Collins believes has played a significant role in his team's offensive decline. There is no telling how much Wright and Bay -- consciously or not -- have changed their approaches in recent years, based on the difficulty of right-handed batters lifting homers to left field, and the near-impossibility of hitting them to right-center.
"You want to be rewarded for having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard," Wright said. "You do everything you can possibly do to hit a ball as hard as you can, so obviously you get a little frustrated with that. But from what I've seen and what I've heard, it looks like the park's going to play relatively fair."
In addition to complimenting Wright's natural right-center power, Collins said, the new dimensions should help left-handed hitters such as Duda and Ike Davis successfully drive the ball to left field -- something that Duda in particular tends to do more than most.
"I just think this is going to ease some minds," Collins said.
The Mets do not play their Grapefruit League games at Field 7, meaning they will not be able to produce any game data with the new dimensions until Opening Day.
But once they do take the field at Citi -- where the walls are padded but the foul poles are still orange -- the Mets believe they will experience a change for the better.
"It's not something that you'll probably think about too much until you hit that ball that maybe you're used to not hitting out of the ballpark," Murphy said. "Then you're like, 'All right! I don't have to kill it.'"