BEEN THERE: I paid a visit on October 2, 2008, during the final phase of construction.
It was in February 2006 that the Mets announced plans to build a new stadium on the east side of Shea Stadium, and after some legal challenges to the project's tax-exempt status, public funding was approved during the summer. At first there was a proposal to have retractable roof, but that idea was abandoned as too costly. Construction began in November 2006, as the name of the ballpark was announced. Under the terms of a 20-year naming rights contract, Citibank will pay over $20 million per year. (In spite of criticism, the recent bailout of CitiGroup by the federal government will not void this contract.) The new stadium was completed on time, and the Mets played their first game in it on Monday April 13, 2009, losing to the San Diego Padres, 6-5. Attendance was 41,007.
The new home of the New York Mets has a lot going for it, but one gets the sense that the architects went a bit too far in trying to be all things to all people. The design is unique, with several interesting features, and follows a logical scheme, but is not arbitrary, or a case of "contrived asymmetry." The overall trapezoidal shape, with a large rotunda in the apex behind home plate (below the bottom edge of the diagram), borrows heavily from Ebbets Field, quite obviously. The brick exterior and arched windows are patterned after it as well.
Some design features are rather unusual, if not downright radical. The second-deck overhang in right field (essentially eliminated after 2011) pays homage to the Polo Grounds, but it actually bears more resemblance to Tiger Stadium. It is almost the same situation in deep left field, where the second deck extends to directly above the outfield wall, like the right field upper decks in Coors Field. Upper deck fans out there will miss some of the outfield action, but will have good views of the infield -- just like at RFK Stadium. The grandstand upper deck is "split-level," as at most other newer ballparks; I consider it to be a single deck. Between the dugouts is a small deck of seats that extends forward from the elite club suites, and I don't think any other ballparks have such a seating configuration. Another unique feature is the shape of foul territory, which is fairly small and with an angled backstop, not curved. The backstop distance is very short, about 45 feet. Other than Citizens Bank Park, this is the only Neoclassical ballpark like that.
Compared to the Mets' previous home, Shea Stadium, most of the seats at Citi Field are closer to the diamond. As originally built, it had a slightly larger outfield, especially in right field. After the first three years, it was decided that it favors pitchers over batters, way too much. The main exterior wall is only ten or twenty feet behind the black screen in center field of Shea Stadium. One drawback is that the main scoreboard / video screen is significantly farther away than the old one at Shea Stadium, and is angled away from folks on the first base side.
Various modifications were made to Citi Field in the years following its opening. In 2010, the bullpens which used to be parallel to the right-center fence were reoriented becoming diagonal. In the original configuration, visiting team pitchers could hardly see the field from where they sat. Also, the fence in center field was lowered from eleven feet to eight feet. On June 7, 2011, a soccer match between Ecuador and Greece was played at Citi Field. After the end of the 2011 season, several changes in the outfield fences were announced, aimed at reducing the size of the outfield. There is a new "Party Deck" behind left field, with one or two rows of seats with tables for food and drinks; the new shorter fence in front of that section is 10-15 feet closer to home plate than the original "Great Wall of Flushing." That raised capacity (originally 41,800) by 122 seats. In addition, a new inner fence was erected in the deepest corner to the right of center field, and the ground-level "Mo's Zone" section in right field was expanded, reducing the overhang. The fence height was made uniform 8 feet across the outfield. The original wall had varied in height from 12 feet at the left field foul pole, rising to 15 feet (dubbed "the Great Wall of Flushing"), then dropping to 11 feet in center field and 8 feet in right field. The Mets did better than expected during the first half of the 2012 season, but the shorter outfield distances apparently helped the visiting teams more than it helped the Mets, according to figures they compiled.
After the 2014 season, the fence in right-center field was moved in for a second time, in hopes of giving the Mets more of a home field advantage. (David Wright often hits toward right field.) The orientation of the bullpens is expected to change, but the exact layout is not yet certain.
FAN TIPS: John Crozier, Brian Hughes, George (?), Mike Zurawski, Terry Wallace, Harry Heller, Trepye