Madison Square Garden is a nice building on its own, but it’s no Citi Field.
Yes, you read that correctly. The perpetual drear offseason has me thinking about baseball in rose tinted glasses, and thinking of Citi Field, I suddenly find it less disappointing than I remember.
I watched the Knicks beat the Bucks last night. It was a fine time, relative to the other options available on a January Sunday. in four or five months, I doubt it. But as offseason entertainment goes, Kristaps Porzingis and friends isn’t bad at all.
And then the game ended with a win, and the crowd slowly descended the stairs. And that’s when Citi Field came to my mind. The stairs at Madison Square Garden, the World’s most famous arena, are cramped, dingy, and airless. They go on forever, and there are no windows to speak of.
I remembered descending the stairs at Citi Field after a win, a cool breeze blowing in from the parking lot, the Manhattan skyline visible beyond Queens, the smells of the game coming off the field, the postgame show playing over the speakers over the rotunda. And I may be romanticizing, but if I am, I don’t think it’s the only thing.
We, the fans, were disappointed when Citi Field opened in 2009. It didn’t honor Mets history. Its outfield dimensions were ridiculous. A seemingly random assortment of seats had glass panes in the way of the field. And these were all very legitimate criticisms, but not enough to make Citi Field a bad place to watch a ballgame. We deluded ourselves into thinking that they did, because there was so much wrong with Citi Field that it just had to be bad. But although we didn’t immediately allow ourselves to see it, there was some good to be found.
The main attraction of Citi Field, as it went through construction, was that it was a world class ballpark. That’s all we heard. “When World-Class Citi Field opens in 2009,” or “This virtual tour of the Mets new world-class Citi Field, is brought to you by…” For the most part, the world-class designation was ignored as Citi Field opened. For one thing, no one knew exactly what it meant, and for another, the negatives were so numerous that whatever “world class” meant, we were sure it wasn’t enough.
The negatives to Citi Field, when it comes down to it, are that Citi Field is not Shea Stadium. Many of us didn’t want to see Shea Stadium go, and when it did, nothing could have been enough. And because of it, those who had hated to see Shea go allowed themselves to turn against a very pleasant, if not historical, ballpark.
I myself was sad to see Shea go, and I don’t deny that Citi Field has its share, or perhaps more, of drawbacks. But Shea’s not coming back, and although I myself refused to accept that for the longest time, it’s time now to acknowledge both ballparks for what they were.
Shea was our childhood home. It was that old house with the leaks in the basement and the kitchen too small for the family to eat in, but we loved it because it was ours, and because of the experiences that came with it. It had an internal color scheme that we loved, and an exterior that, while maybe not the most beautiful thing in the world, was unique, and we loved it for that.
Citi Field is the new place in the fancy new neighborhood. We didn’t like it when we moved in, almost on principle. The slick new construction didn’t look anything like the old place that we were used to, and on the inside, everything was a dull shade of green. We didn’t like the new place because it wasn’t the old place. But as we critiqued everything that it wasn’t, we forgot to celebrate what it was.
Just think about all the good things about Citi Field. Unlike Shea, it’s got plenty of space, all open to the outdoors, like baseball is supposed to be. It’s got better food. The views are better, as are the bathrooms and the clubs. Citi Field has the plaza in center field, which we’ve taken for granted, but there was nothing of the sort at Shea.
No, Citi Field is not Shea, and it never will be. It’s lacking in some ways, compared to Shea, and in others, much as we hate to admit it, Citi Field is Shea’s better. And Citi Field has one thing that Shea, regrettably, no longer does: it’s home now. If we’re honest, it’s been home, by letter if not by spirit, since 2009, but after the magical summer of ’15, Citi Field no longer faces a dearth of Mets memories. And if we’re once again honest, that was the last thing holding it back.
When there was nothing left to complain about, we complained that Citi Field just hadn’t seen enough Mets history. As if it was somehow the ballpark’s fault that it’s early years were populated by the Mets of the Manual and early Collins administrations, which didn’t yield any results of note until this past year. Citi Field had seen a no-hitter, and that’s about it. But even before 2015, things had begun to change. After the final weekend of 2014 turned into the weekend of Lucas Duda, it seemed to crystalize in our minds that Shea would not be back, and that we were perhaps better off celebrating what we had. Some resisted, but others acquiesced.
And then 2015 happened, and Citi Field finally saw what some marketing employees termed “Mets Magic” a few years back. Our ballpark saw Wilmer Flores night, the sweep of the Nationals and subsequent movement into first place, the arrival of Cespedes, the terror of the four horseman rotation that was completed when Steven Matz had the best Mets debut of all time, seven playoff games and four wins, and the raising of our first brand new pennant in 15 years. And, of course, Citi Field saw the World Series end, not in our favor, and there’s nothing that brings people together like heartbreak.
And now Citi Field has seen at least a fair share of Mets history for its relatively brief lifespan, and with that, the last major obstacle to full acceptance as Mets fans’ new home has vanished, for all but the most staunch Shea Stadium worshipers. Not that these people are crazy, or anything like that: for the longest time, I was one of them, and even still, Shea holds an allure that I don’t think Citi Field will ever replace. But Citi Field has turned a corner in my mind. Before, I was reluctant, but Citi Field has won my favor. Citi Field is home now.
This all started with a trip to Madison Square Garden, and a realization that Citi Field had nicer stairs. That segued into a reflection on how nice it is for a stadium to have the amount of open, outdoor space that Citi Field does, and from there, my thoughts were off and running.
I don’t know if Citi Field deserves quite so many words right now; it’s not like the stadium is changing, and we won’t be back inside for three months at least. But I think Citi Field has put up with enough, and is just now getting its due as a ballpark that is comfortable, well designed, and fun to attend, if not a carbon copy of Shea Stadium. Citi Field is a heck of a ballpark, as well as now being our home, and I hope I’m not the last to finally acknowledge it as such, but even more than that, I’m glad that Citi Field is finally taking its rightful place as the home of some recent memories of Mets magic, and with that, winning over the hearts of fans who held out reluctantly for so long.
But even more than that, I just can’t wait to get back there.