Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tour 2009: Citi Field

Photos of Manhattan, Corona Park, and Citi Field available on Flickr.

Tuesday morning came early after spending the previous evening watching nearly every televised baseball game at a local bar. By the time Pete and I rolled out of the hostel, it was time for lunch so we headed to the Shake Shack, the best burger joint in Manhattan. It was not too far from our hostel to the Shack, so we decided to walk it. After making quick work of a couple burgers, fries, and beverages, we decided to cross another tour must-do thing off the list, going up in the tallest building we could. I thought that the Empire State Building was located some where in the 40's streets, a walk of another 20 blocks or so. Turns out, its actually between 33rd and 34th, a considerably farther distance to walk. As we made our way down the isle of Manhattan a brief rainshower force us inside for some souvenir shopping near Times Square. Upon our arrival at the Empire State Building, the line was massive and the price very steep, so we did what we usually do in those situations, we went to the bar. There is a nice little brew pub located in the basement of the Empire State Building. We made friends with the bartender and one of the regulars and tried a sampler set of their beers. After quenching our thirst, it was time to head to Queens, our 4th borough of the trip, and the Mets new ballpark, Citi Field.

We walked the short distance to Times Square to catch the 7 train to Queens. As we pulled into the Mets-Willetts Point station, we were immediately impressed with Citi Field. Gone are the massive blue walls, with 1980s style neon baseball players displayed across them. Shea Stadium has been replaced by a gorgeous brick and steel ballpark. Upon exiting the station, you see the exterior of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, with its arched openings soaring high above the entrance gates. Adjacent to Citi Field is the parking lot where Shea once stood. The location of the pitchers mound, home plate, and the three bases are all marked by bronze plaques and we had a lot of fun posing with each of these. When the gates opened we headed into the park, hoping to take in some batting practice, but as I mentioned, it had rained briefly earlier in the day and the field was still covered. We took this opportunity to walk all over the park, take tons of photos, look in at every team store, and have an early dinner. One thing that is very noticably different about Citi Field from Shea, is the advertising. It is everywhere you look in the new park: on the outfield wall, surrounding the two video boards, on the on deck circles, even on the back of the scoreboard. The team stores are also divided by brand: Nike has a store, Majestic has a store, there is a separate store for baseball cards, and Alyssa Milano's clothing line even has its own store. As you circumnavigate the park, there are also many features that establish Citi Field as unique: the entries from all sides are below grade and require you to ascend to the first deck, there are two large food courts behind the scoreboard and in the upper deck behind home plate, there is a pedestrian bridge connecting center to right field, and there is a market in the right field corner where you can buy snacks and small souvenirs. All of these things put together make the ballpark very user-friendly, with many nooks for people to gather, and it has that closed-in community feel of Camden Yards, despite Citi Field being so far from everything.

The game itself was quite interesting. It feature the return of Manny Ramierez, a New York City native, who was playing his 4th game after sitting out 50 for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Knowing New Yorkers general unhappy moods and having been warned all day by ESPN to expect the worst, we did. The reaction though was mixed. There were a lot of Dodger fans in attendance and Manny was greeted by about an equal mix of cheers and boos. His night was marked not only by this mixed reaction but by an ejection as well. After taking a ball that was clearly outside for a called third strike Manny flung his bat and helmet towards the Dodger dugout and began walking out towards left field. Along the way he removed his arm guard in disdain and flung it into the air. When it landed near home plate, the umpire ejected Manny who simply turned and left the field. The Dodgers did not need his bat though, thumping the Mets 8-0 and running the Mets scoreless inning streak to 22. With Manny out the Mets surffering through another bad loss, many of the fans decided to beat the traffic and the ride back to Manhattan was thankfully not crowded at all.

We started off Wednesday by taking a boat tour around lower Manhattan. Our tour guide was excellent. As we were sitting in the dock, waiting for everyone to board the ship, he offered his ideas for where people could spend the rest of their day after getting off the boat. Once we got underway, he was very informative, pointing out the sites and differnet neighborhoods as we sailed down the Hudson River. Among the interesting facts we learned were that Bob Hope immigrated through Ellis Island from England, and that the Mets are terrible this year. The boat reached the tip of Manhattan and headed out into New York Harbor to pass by the Statue of Liberty and head north on the East River. We passed under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridge before turning around to head south again. Our tour guides final message before turning around? "In front of us is the Bronx...don't go there."

After arriving back at the dock, and once again walking to the subway, we headed for Katz's Deli. Here I enjoyed a delicious salami and mustard sandwhich on rye bread, while Pete tackled a Reuben. We both enjoyed a cool glass of beer with our meal and chatted with the owner, who was making his way from table to table, for a bit. When we finished, it was time to head back to Queens. This time, when we got off the subway, we turned away from the ballpark adn spent a little time walking around Corona Park, the home of the 1964 World's Fair. The first sight we took in was the Unisphere. This is a large globe that was built and donated by US Steel for the Fair. The surrounding pool hadn't been filled yet, so I climed up onto the globe and took some pictures. Next, we headed over towards the observation towers. These are run down and have clearly been left to fall apart on their own, with no upkeep being performed by the city. It's a shame because I bet there is a pretty nice view of the park, and especially of Citi Field from the top of theses towers. Our final stop in Corona Park was the National Tennis Stadium. Then we headed to the ballpark. Today there was batting practice and Pete and I camped out in the left field seats hoping to snag a home run. Unfortunately, the wind was knocking everything down and we came up empty. When batting practice ended, we grabbed some food from the centerfield food court and headed for our seats in the upper deck.

This game was a lot more competitive than the first. The Mets finally snapped their scoreless innings streak in the 2nd and Oliver Perez marked his return to the rotation by giving up only 2 runs over 5 rough innings of work. The Mets took a 5-3 lead into the 9th inning and had Fransisco Rodriguez coming in. But, they are the Mets so things were about to get interesting. Manny Ramirez led off the inning with a home run to right. K-Rod then walked Casey Blake on 4 straight pitches. Mark Loretta recorded the first out of the inning by fanning on a change up. Russel Martin then stroked a single up the middle to put the tying run on second with only one out. Fortunately for the Mets and their fans, Andre Either sent a bouncer to SS Alex Cora that the Mets turned for a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

Citi Field is now in Pete's top 5 ballparks, and I also really enjoyed it. Tomorrow it's back to Coney Island for some short-season A-ball!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 9
views from park - 4 (good view from concourse to East River and Manhattan, but not from seats)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 3 (park is nice but right now there is nothing happening around Citi)
food variety - 10
nachos - 8 (homemade chips, lots of toppings including steak, pico de gallo, beans, and cheese)
beer - 3 (Mets beer sales = go to store, buy six pack, charge $7 per bottle)
vendor price - 5 (specialty items were very reasonable, ballpark staples were steep)
ticket price - 2 (way more expensive than Shea and much harder to get)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 8
parking proximity - n/a (subway $2.25)
concourses - 7 (Field Level concourse is nice but crowded, upper levels leave something to be desired)
team shop - 9 (bonus points for having multiple large shops, but points deducted for not all stores having same items in stock)

best food - Corn-on-the-cob covered in mayo, cheese and cayan pepper
most unique stadium feature - Jackie Robinson Rotunda
best jumbotron feature - Mr. Met leads 7th inning stretch
best between-inning feature - Citi Field organist plays today's pop hits

field dimensions - 335/408/330
starters - Clayton Kershaw (LAD) v. Mike Pelfrey (NYM), Hiroki Kuroda v. Oliver Perez
opponent - Los Angeles Dodgers
time of game - 3:13, 3:30
attendance - 39636, 40027
score - 8-0 L, 5-4 W
Brewers score that day - 5-0 L, 5-4 W

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