I went to Citi Field today. I wanted to see it again before the Mets went on the road. I wanted to see what a Sunday game would feel like. I wanted to see how my impressions might change on a second visit.
Well they changed and they didn’t change. I liked my seats a lot better this time. I paid $30 for Promenade Reserved Infield instead of $23 for Promenade Reserved. This upgrade is worth it. Trust me. I was high up but I was right behind home plate and not out in right field. The seats were very very good, comparable to Mezzanine at Shea right behind the plate.
So my seats were fine but the thing that made me happiest about my return to Citi Field was my sense that this time, the crowd was actually into the ballgame. They made noise. They clapped. They had a lot of that old Mets fan boisterousness. They didn’t jump up as much because of the seat pitch, but the people around me were very much into the game. This was a great relief to me. I guess that eerie quiet of the other night may have been a temporary thing.
I did enjoy the stadium and I am beginning to see how it can be best enjoyed. One thing that remains weird about it is that it is, as I said, kind of inside out. The seats are okay, but the concourses are wonderful. It’s in the concourses that you can see the crowd walking by you, now that the crowd cannot be seen to be moving in walkways in the stands or on ramps down to the ground. I had the impression, in fact, that the concourses are becoming particularly popular places from which to watch big chunks of the ballgame. There is space, freedom, bathrooms, and food. All through the stadium, people were massed behind the banks of seats, watching, then walking, then doing whatever. I’m still not sure I approve of this. At any one moment, an awful lot of people are not in their seats. But if I am ever to get used to Citi Field, I may need to get used to the different way in which the crowd flows. The crowd at Citi Field is all over the place. It spends a lot of time promenading and vagabonding and eating at picnic tables. This is so different from Shea. I worry about the loss of focus on what’s on the field and in the stands. But maybe this is just something new and not something worse. It certainly felt festive.
The Blue Smoke ribs were spectacular.
So the crowd made noise, my seats were quite good, the concourses were even sort of wonderful, and the food was spectacular. Am I learning to love it? Well, as you might anticipate, some serious issues remain.
The first and easiest to correct is the lack of connection to Mets identity. One thing I did check out is that there is plenty of room near the Home Run Apple, around the barely used Bullpen Gate, for a fun, informative, cracker-jack museum. It also looked to me as if there was space in the Robinson rotunda for some things that could greet the entering fans and let them know right away that they were in the home of the Mets. I was struck again by the way in which the Mets past and the Mets colors and the Mets logo almost seemed to have been banished. But I’m going with the idea that this was an oversight, and that this is something that will come in time. If this omission was intentional, then I have other questions.
A second issue that really struck me this time, because of the location of my seat, was the cheesiness of the new scoreboard. I really dislike it. The ads are particularly ugly and they are so enormous that you don’t even feel you’re looking at a scoreboard. Somewhere in a bank of incoherent dreck you notice that there is a picture of a player and some information about the game. The whole space devoted, on the larger scoreboard, to the purposes of a scoreboard is not even as big as one of the ads. The scoreboards themselves only take up about a sixth (on the left) or a tenth (on the right) of what would be called the scoreboard. For this reason, it is hard to get involved with whatever is happening on the screen. You almost don’t notice it. They had to go through four couples before a fifth couple noticed that they were up on the screen for the Kiss Cam. The welcome messages for groups, birthdays, and even engagements, are now on the smaller of the two scoreboards, which seems particularly tiny in its bed of ads. You hardly notice these messages at all. Noticing the messages had always been part of the fun of being at a game at Shea but it doesn’t look like we’re going to have much fun with these at Citi Field. We are not even going to have as much fun as we once had with the Diamond Vision. Even Professor Reyes is not quite center stage. The Budweiser sign is, and so is an unbelievably busy sign advertising some construction rental firm from Long Island. You know, what’s the point? I’m not going to start drinking Budweiser or start watching Fox News because they are totally in my face at a ballgame. Are you? Is anybody? Can’t I just have a nice scoreboard with homey welcome messages? Or a cute Mets logo like the Beatles played under? Why is there only stuff about Pepsi and Fox Nation and Dunkin’ Donuts? I guess revenue is maximized. But it looks and feels embarassing, considering that a scoreboard is the closest thing a stadium has to a face. Isn’t there some point at which it might be considered worth it to drop a few of the ads for some good will or dignity? I’m not asking for the wonderful old scoreboard scoreboard of Shea’s early years. It’d be okay to just go back to the somewhat less cluttered scoreboard of Shea’s later years.
The third issue I still have with the stadium remains the most serious, because it probably won’t be addressed. When I first read about the restaurants and club areas behind home plate, it was not entirely clear that these areas would not be open to everyone willing to purchase something there. When I first visited Citi Field during the St. John’s game, people roamed through the club areas as if it, like all of Citi Field, was the new palace of the people. That’s not what it was. That’s not what it is. On each level I asked the polite door guards what seats one had to be sitting in to get through the door they were guarding. They gave me the answer. I had a map and I matched it up with what they told me. I walked around the stadium and checked out where I could go and where I couldn’t. The greatest obstacle that will forever stand in the way of me loving Citi Field is the fact that an enormous and highly visible portion of the new Mets stadium has been devoted to areas that I will never be able to enter. In Shea, the areas I couldn’t enter were small and virtually invisible. I don’t want to go to a bar or a restaurant when I’m at a ballgame. But it sticks in my craw that so much of the stadium is devoted to places that won’t have me. When I sat in the stands at Shea, I could look around me and love everything I saw. When I sit in the stands at Citi Field, I see a lot of places that don’t love me and I therefore don’t love them either. Or I see that ridiculous scoreboard. I see very little that welcomes me and says, “I’m glad you’re here, Dana, you’re so important to us because I know you’ve been a big Mets fan since April, 1962. Thank you for buying your $30 ticket and continuing to care about us.” I see stuff that says “you can’t come here” or “buy me.” I know it’s like this in other stadiums. I know Yankee stadium is supposed to be worse. Maybe it’s not as bad in cities where people have never been paid gigantic bonuses on a regular basis for playing video games. But there have always been more super-rich people in New York than anywhere else and until now that fact never had a bad influence on the experience of being a New York baseball fan. I don’t like this. Yeah, I can still get a good seat and see a good game. But I don’t like the idea of this. And even if what these clubs and restaurants and door guards represent is just part of the inevitable future of baseball, I don’t think it should just be allowed to happen without some expression of disdain, protest, and contempt. I come to a baseball game to experience the joys of sharing and inclusion. I don’t come to be excluded.
The jury is still out, for me. I like some things and not others. Maybe some really great baseball will make me fall in love with the place, will make me turn a blind eye to the crassness of the clubland that occupies the area of the stadium where I used to be happily at home. Maybe after awhile I will become blind to the immensity and ugliness of the ads and I will just start seeing the scoreboard. And maybe, for all of its enormous advantages, I will never feel as at home at Citi Field as I always felt at Shea. That’s possible too.