Late this afternoon (10/5), Mike Francesa interviewed Jeff Wilpon, David Howard, and Omar Minaya for an hour and a half. Mike observed, in the course of the interview, that after some criticisms that were made in the first month, virtually everyone liked Citi Field now. He asked Dave Howard what it was that the fans praised the most. Howard said that what he heard most from the fans is that they appreciated the “intimacy” of the new stadium, they liked the smaller size of the stadium and the sense of closeness to the field and the players.
I have been a fan of the New York Mets since six months before they played their first game. My loyalty is deep, complete, and incomprehensible. I will never cease to be a Mets fan. Whatever the Mets are, I want to be close to them. Like most fans, I crave intimacy with my team.
I find the experience of baseball in Citi Field to be less intimate than the experience of baseball at Shea. Please understand that there are many fans who feel as I do, and please do not dismiss us as impractical sentimentalists pining for our lost Shea. I have spoken to a great many Mets fans over the past six months and although I have heard them praise Citi Field for its food, bathrooms, legroom, and cupholders, I have never heard a single person praise it for its intimacy. While I will take your word for it that you have heard such praise, I ask you to listen to those of us who feel differently.
Citi Field does not feel intimate to me because when I arrive two and a half hours before the game is scheduled to begin, I am not permitted to stand in the area behind the dugouts to watch batting practice. I am required to stand far from the players in a clump of people out in right or left field. If I try to enter the enormous and virtually empty area of the field boxes near the players, guards rush down to tell me to return immediately to the clump. At Shea, for 45 years, I was always able to watch the players up close during batting practice. I saw them talking and clowning around, fifty feet away from me. It was a wonderfully intimate experience. If you are truly concerned with creating an intimate experience of baseball for your fans, you shouldn’t take away an intimate experience they had for decades and replace it with a policy that degrades them and distances them from their team. I ask you please to restore the batting practice policy that had always been in effect at Shea. Let everyone into the area behind the dugouts and require those who do not have tickets in that area to leave when batting practice is over.
Citi Field does not feel intimate to me because, like most middle-income fans, my seats at Citi Field are further from the field than they were at Shea. Perhaps the field level seats are closer to the field, but I consider myself priced out of field level seats at Citi Field. I found all of the seats at Shea to be affordable, including the field level, where I sat occasionally. My usual $25 seats behind the infield in the Loge offered me a superb and intimate view of the game. My current $25 seats in the Promenade are just all right. There is nothing superb or intimate about the view from the Promenade. If you have to pay the price of a Broadway show to experience intimacy in a new stadium, after you have for years had fine seats for one-quarter of that price in the old stadium, then you are going to feel anger towards anyone who tells you that the experience of the new stadium is more “intimate.”
Shea was immense and, with a big crowd, it could feel sublime. There was a beauty to Shea that derived in part from its enormous size, and from the sound that was made by an enormous crowd. And yet in spite of the immensity of the crowd and the stadium, there was something intimate about the experience of Shea. Everybody was in the same place, doing the same things. We were all together. When I go to Citi Field, I don’t feel as if we’re all together. I feel that many of us are in well-guarded, exclusive areas closed off to the rest of us. Many of us are behind plexiglass. I feel as if we’re a fragmented stratified crowd that could never join together, as Mets crowds have in the past, to make the whole building tremble. The crowd at Citi Field may be smaller, but the experience of the crowd seems less intimate.
Another thing that detracts from the intimacy of Citi Field is the overwhelming presence of immense, ugly ads. Citi Field was a beautiful piece of architecture when it first went up. There were lovely arches and colonnades, a kind of retro-brownstone beauty.
That beauty is still visible if the building is approached from some angles. But from most angles of approach, this gentle aesthetic effect has been destroyed by the size and appearance of the billboards. Inside the stadium, the ads dwarf the scoreboard and take up far too much of our field of vision. All of this ugliness prevents intimacy. As fans, we are looking for things we have always been intimate with: the team’s vivid blue and orange colors, the wonderful logo, etc. We don’t see those things, and we don’t see much about our history and heritage except for the recently installed Nikon ads. We don’t see ourselves, we don’t see our team, but we see ads everywhere. This too prevents us from feeling any intimacy in the new stadium.
When people raise the kinds of objections I am making, everyone always says that you have to remember that baseball is a business and the owners need to make money so that they can afford to put the best team out there. The argument is that they have a right to charge as much as the market will stand for tickets, they have a right to make stadiums smaller to increase the demand for the tickets, they have the right to fill the place up with ads. I do not agree with these arguments. I think that a business is something someone starts to satisfy people’s needs and compete with others who are trying to satisfy the same or similar needs. Baseball is not a business in this way. It is a monopoly. It is most analogous to a privately-owned utility. The only thing that prevents a privately-owned utility from doubling its rates is government regulation. Nothing, apparently, prevents the Mets from doubling the price of what they offer. What little government regulation there is of baseball is a joke. So you get to determine the size of our stadium, the price of our tickets, and the nature of our experience, without having to get our approval or anyone else’s. You don’t have to worry about competition from anyone else’s Mets. If people want the Mets, and there are millions of us who do, you are the only game in town. This gives you enormous power. But I would say that it imposes upon you an immense responsibility.
You don’t just own a business. You have been given a public trust that will bring you considerable profits that you have a right to take and a responsibility not to maximize. The purpose of baseball is not to earn you as much money as you can make from it. The purpose of baseball is to provide the glue of families and communities, to provide a wonderful pastime to enrich the lives of hard-working people who deserve it. By all means make enough money to go out and get a starting pitcher and a power hitter. But you can earn enough to do that, as the previous history of the Mets shows, by giving us a big enough stadium with reasonable ticket prices and such truly fan-friendly amenities as accessible batting practice, Old Timers’ Days, Fan Appreciation Days, Banner Days, room for all with reservations in the Acela Club, a museum that is not just a Hall of Fame but that also celebrates the diverse history of the Mets and the rich fan culture that has grown around this unique team.
You see, this is the kind of intimacy we’re craving. We want you to see us. We don’t want you to get on the radio, and along with Mike Francesa, deny that we exist. If you really think that everyone is happy with Citi Field as it is, and that everyone is particularly happy with the “intimacy” of the new stadium, then you are betraying your sacred trust by being willfully blind. Your job is to go down to those clumps in the outfield who stand and bitterly complain among themselves during batting practice. Ask those people how they feel about batting practice at Citi Field as opposed to batting practice at Shea. Your job is to head up to the Promenade and out to the outfield seats and ask the people there how they feel about the seats they can afford in Citi Field as opposed to the seats they could afford at Shea. Your job is to watch a game from left field. It may be that you can become more intimate with an outfielder if you can only see one of them, but if you ask the people around you, you will find that they prefer to see three, and their experience of the intimacy of the game is negatively affected by having to watch some of it on a video screen. Your job is to find fans who can remember Old Timers’ Days, and Fan Appreciation Days, and Banner Days, and the whole history of this team and ask them what they think should be done so that the tradition we’ve given so much of our life to can be perpetuated. Your job is to know what we’re actually thinking. Your job is to stop saying that everyone is pleased with the intimacy of the new stadium when anyone who goes to the ballpark can tell you that this is simply not true.
You are in charge of an important part of our lives. Hear us. Know us. Care about us. Do this not only because it will enrich you in the end (it will). Do this because it is the right thing to do. We will appreciate it. If you listen and respond, we will enjoy the intimacy of the new stadium you have built. We will enjoy a sense of community and solidarity with each other and with you. Please. Listen. Drop the PR. And do the right thing.
If you’d like to remember some of the intimacy Mets fans have experienced in the past, please check out my two books about New York Mets fandom: the newly released The Last Days of Shea and the still very relevant and up-to-date Mets Fan (2007).