Citi Field is a lovely ballpark to look at, and has a pleasant atmosphere, but functionally and operationally it’s a perfect microcosm of the franchise that resides there. Citi Field is run as ineptly as the New York Mets.
1) Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Citi Field is light years ahead of Shea Stadium. Not even the most patriotic Mets fan laments the demise of Shea: that concrete abomination, that blue-and-orange blight, that pimple on the ass of Queens. The most noticeable feature of Shea was the constant swarm of airplanes flying overhead, drowning out the game’s ambient noise. It was utterly charmless with no redeeming design elements, and not even ironically appealing like the Metrodome or something. Citi Field is a legitimate ballpark. Shea was an atrocity.
2) The Mets’ standing as New York’s second team, and the franchise and fans’ attitude about that standing, pervades the park. You enter Citi Field via the Jackie Robinson rotunda, featuring 360 degrees of photos of Robinson as a Brooklyn Dodger. When Citi Field first opened, Mets fans were upset that owner Fred Wilpon’s obsession with the Brooklyn Dodgers could be felt throughout the stadium. Amazingly, even though the Mets have acted to remove some of the Dodgers vibes, it would still be easy to believe you were entering the home park of Dem Bums as opposed to the Mets.
The team tries to counter this imbalance by positioning the Mets Museum near the park’s main entrance. But the display of memorabilia therein only reinforces the franchise’s minor-league reputation. The vast majority of the showcased items are relics from the 1986 champion squad, unquestionably the highlight of the Mets’ 50-year existence. But the focus on that particular year is so intense and all-consuming that neophytes could easily persuaded the ’86 World Series was the only accomplishment or point of interest in the team’s history. There’s nary a mention of the 1973 and 2000 National League pennant winners, and barely any tribute paid to the 1969 Miracle Mets. Every square foot of space behind the glass display cases is consumed by Lenny Dykstra’s bats and Doc Gooden’s cleats.
The quality of the memorabilia itself is also questionable. While one imagines a warehouse across town storing boxes of World Series trophies and Babe Ruth autographs that can’t make the cut to actually get into the Yankees’ Museum, the Mets make space for Wally Backman’s luggage tags.
3) Citi Field is an operational and functional disaster. The park was seemingly designed by architects who spent every last ounce of their energy and concentration trying to make their creation beautiful and nostalgic, and had nothing left to give when it came to day-to-day operations. Crowd control? Layout? Parking? Fuck it. We blew out the budget building a bridge in center field.
The staff appears untrained and clearly has no idea how to handle a crowd. Luckily for them, the Mets have ongoing issues drawing fans. (The day I attended, the team set an attendance record for the new park — odd, considering the Yankees have already visited for two other series and a shiny new ballpark usually brings in good crowds for at least a year or two regardless of won-loss record.)
The vending situation is a nightmare, even aside from the infamous lines for Shake Shack, which seemed even worse than advertised. Any mid-game trek to grab food or beer will cost you an inning and a half, minimum. Mobile beer vendors are few and far between. Lines move at an interminable pace. And it’s difficult to move from the lower decks to the upper decks — the simplest way is via a punishing staircase, not good news from the old and handicapped.
Leaving the park after the game, the crowd is herded toward too few exits, creating awful bottlenecks — which is nothing compared to how long it takes to get out of the poorly conceived parking lots.
Citi Field’s logistical difficulties can be summed up by this picture:
Notice anything missing? There was no seat 18 in my row….it just goes right from 17 to 19. Did that stop the Mets from selling a ticket to seat 18? It most certainly did not.
4) All that being said, once you’re in your seat, if your seat exists, Citi Field provides a damn pleasant atmosphere for watching a ballgame.