Since Citi Field opened in 2009, it has been known as a pitcher's park, with deep outfield walls in almost every direction.
For 2012, the Mets have changed the outfield walls significantly and added a new seating area reminiscent of Fenway Park's seats on top of the left field wall. There are now 102 "Party Seats" to try out in left field, and they will be popular. In right field, a fence has been added in front of the Modell's sign, adding 45 seats.
On Opening Day, the Mets unveiled a tribute to Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter who played for the Mets during their 1986 World Championship season who died in February.
Citi Field now sports three new outfield wall sections that make the field a bit more friendly to power hitters like their own David Wright and Jason Bay. Both seemed frustrated in reaching the distance fences in the original configuration of the park. During Citi Field's first three years, only 1.43 home runs were hit per game, the lowest total in MLB (according to STATS LLC).
On one visit to Citi Field, I saw a game-winning home run for the Mets clear the original left field wall, landing in the second row. The stadium announcer said the ball had gone over 400 feet—this is about what it took to to hit a home run at Citi Field in the past.
Soon after the end of the 2011 season, the Mets announced the changes and the new dimensions.
Only time will tell. The new configuration is more of an opportunity for hitters, but it is not like home run-friendly Yankee Stadium across the river in the Bronx. Citi Field still contains an odd corner in right center field that will kick a few balls away from outfielders and turn into possible inside-the-park homers.
On Opening Day, the fans had a delightfully sunny opportunity to see the new outfield walls in the four-year-old ball park.
Let's take a walk around Citi Field and take a look at the outfield wall from a couple of viewpoints.
The way to enter Citi Field for the first time, or if you want to take in the ballpark atmosphere, is to go through the main entrance behind home plate. Outside is a plaza where the names of Met fans appear on bricks and key victories in the team's history are commemorated.
After showing your ticket, you enter the impressive Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which commemorates the life of the baseball immortal who played in Brooklyn. Some Met fans say they should have more Mets identification in this space, but honoring Jackie Robinson was a special idea that provides a sense of history.
Since the grand opening in 2009, the Mets have added team identification and many images of their past stars throughout the park. They have an excellent "Hall of Fame" located on the far the side of the Rotunda, just behind the staircase in the photo. Seeing the plaques of their former stars, trophies, uniforms and photos is definitely worth a stop during your visit to Citi Field.
For a quick tour, like many fans, we started the day with a walk around the lower level concourse which circles the field and contains many of the stadium's special features.
We went up the escalator through the Rotunda and headed left towards the third base stands to get a look at the new left field wall.
The Mets say the new left field wall takes the fence in a maximum of 12 feet. It is eight feet high, as much as half of the old wall.
Where the new wall starts, just beyond the foul pole, the first distance marker is 358 feet. Way out in left center, it is 385 feet, which may give power hitters something of a sweet spot to aim for.
(Interesting to note, I just thumbed through the Mets 2011 Media Guide, and they did not provide the playing field dimensions.)
The top of the fence has an orange line which indicates home runs, but will cause controversies when balls are hit close. I like fences in which the ball either goes over the wall or hits it and and is in play. There is a three-foot decorative fence in front of the new seats, which is a home run when hit.
On first sight, the new wall is visually appealing with the new seating area.
Let's get a bit closer.
The new left field wall is a platform built to provide two rows of special seats. The first row is regular stadium seating with a row of round bar table seats that have proved popular at many sports facilities.
The seats provide a catered menu of ball park items that will be served to guests before and during a game. It is also prime territory to catch balls during batting practice and a home run during the game, so if you are lucky enough to get these tickets, bring your old mitt to the game.
The Mets really came up with a smart idea here, because it brings a group of fans very close to the game and provides animation to what would otherwise be an empty space behind a temporary wall. This will be a feature that will be talked about and will be a prized ticket for fans.
Reducing the dimensions will, unsurprisingly, also encourage more home runs, although the prevailing wind at Citi Field on Opening Day was away from Flushing Bay towards center field where the park is still quite spacious.
Let's keep walking towards the corner, closer to the new seating area.
From this angle, the new left field wall actually bulges out a bit to accommodate the two rows of seating. We will have to see if this is a sweat spot for home runs right in the middle of left field.
As you can see, the new wall and seats extend all the way to center field, cutting off a portion of the batter's eye. The Mets' retired numbers are displayed on top of the deck on the far or near side.
The wall in front of the batter's eye background has not changed; as you can see, the distance is labeled at 408 feet to straightaway center field.
Good job by the Mets on creating this new left field section.
This is the view towards the infield at Citi Field from the top of the lower seats. Of course, those sitting in the new seats on top of the left field wall will have an intimate opportunity to watch the game.
My observation of online ticket prices and of fans at the new ballparks is that lower level seating is increasingly popular. Denver and Philadelphia have similiar walk around the stadium concourses. The first of these was in Chicago at the White Sox new ballpark.
Some fans do not want to climb up to an upper deck; in the early season, you certainly feel more of the wind.
The concourses which circle many of the new ball parks are very popular. A fair number of fans who have upper deck seats often decide to just hang out at one of the bar rails which offers views of the field, or in a restaurant where you may have a somewhat distant view but can watch the game on a screen.
My preference is an upper deck seat around the infield that provides a great view.
Let's take a look at the new center field area.
Now, looking towards center and right field, two more new fences appear, one of which also provides more seating area.
A new fence comes across from the center field stands to the right of the batter's eye creating space in front of the visitor's bullpen. This shortens up what had been a very distant right-center field.
There is no extra seating, but enough space was created for the batting practice cage to be stored here. In the summer, the ball tends to carry towards this part of center, as it is possibly the only open area of the park which the wind tend to head for.
You can see in right field that the new fence is set out about ten to fifteen feet in front of the Modell's sign, which used to be the outfield wall. This new fence is still recessed slightly below the upper seats of the Pepsi Porch, but not as much as it used to be.
One element of the stadium that has been a disappointment, is the right field upper stands known as the "Pepsi Porch."
This part of the park was designed based on the overhang in the old Tiger Stadium, where the Wilpon family visited during summers growing up. The short overhang in Detroit was always feared by pitchers. The upper deck stands at Citi Field are too far back to attract all but solidly hit home run balls.
Even with the new fence, don't expect many cheap home runs to right field here.
Now, let's travel to Shea Bridge.
The Shea Bridge connects the center field concourse area with the right field seating areas. It crosses the area where the bullpens and a picnic area are. During the game, this a popular place to stand and watch the action.
The new fence separates itself from the original bleacher wall and the bullpen area, then cuts back steeply, forming a corner to the right of the "Xerox" sign.
The sign states it is 375 feet to the back of the corner in right center. The sharp angle will cause some balls to kick straight across towards the right field foul pole. Watch for triples or more to emerge from a ball hit to this odd spot of the park.
Over the Xerox sign and into the vistors bullpen could be a second "Sweet spot" for hitters.
This section of the Citi Field outfield is far from boring, unlike the symmetrical outfield at Turner Field in Atlanta. The question is, will the new fencing catch more home runs or knock line drives in odd directions?
Let's keep walking along the outfield concourse and past the "Shake Shack", which always has a long line. Then let's cross the Shea Bridge and go under the "Pepsi Porch" and around to the right field concourse to get a better view of the new center field corner.
The fencing in front of the bullpen has been retained, but the new wall starts to the right of the 375-foot sign. This new fence parallels the old wall that presents the Modell's sign.
The space provides room for a number of extra picnic tables to be added, expanding the group party area, which originally just fit under the right field stands.
In the old days, the grounds crew might have sat in areas like this, but now every bit of space close to the field is made available to paying customers.
From here, let's head up two escalators from the right field concourse to the upper deck so we can get a view of the new outfield fences from a higher view.
From the upper stands, you get a great view of the changes to the center field wall.
A space of about 15 feet is opened up in front of the bleachers, big enough for the batting cage to be stored. Then, a new space is created in front of the visitor's bullpen dugout. The wall then cuts across in front of the Mets' bullpen and dugout.
Citi Field had to change the bullpen configuration soon after opening. Originally, both bullpens paralleled the field with the visitors in the back. Someone must have objected because the bullpens were soon changed to have a 45 degree angle to the field.
There is a picnic area behind the bullpens separated by just a wire fence. This is a great place for a pregame picnic while you watch pitchers warmup or workout before the games.
Here is another view of the right field stands at Citi Field, which shows the overhang of the "Pepsi Porch" over the new fence.
The new fence will help a few line drive home runs reach the new seating area, but the upper deck will still catch the fly balls.
Too bad this deck was not built about ten feet closer to the infield where it would more frequently be in play. It would be a more distinguishing feature of the park than it is now, which is simply, a popular place to watch the game.
In one game, a fly ball glanced off the yellow sign on the front of the "Pepsi Porch" and landed back on the field. The outfielder played the ball like it was still in play and the umpires were not sure if the ball was a home run or not. It was only after watching a half dozen or more replays that they were sure the ball had hoit off the front of the upper deck and was, in fact, a home run.
Here is a view of the new left field wall and deck in front of the imposing left field stands at Citi Field.
Some have complained that from the upper left field stands, you can not see the warning track or left field wall. This is a bit of a design compromise as the stands were built to be as close to the field as possible in order to provide a good view of the infield.
Where the new deck juts out a bit in left field (from the right of the retired numbers over towards left-center) is probably the biggest change in the playing characteristics of the park and could be the most
In the summer, the wind tends to help balls hit towards the break in the stands in left-center. It will be interesting to see if this area will be a draw on home runs.
Walking across the upper deck concourse to my Opening Day seats behind third base, we have another view of the new center field fence with the 390-foot sign in right-center. This takes about ten feet or more off of potential home runs.
My observation is that the balls in summer tend to carry well towards the gaps in the stands to either side of the big center field scoreboard. This new fence runs from in front of the right center field bleachers to the Mets bullpen dugout under the "Wise Snacks" sign.
This area could catch more than a few extra home runs when the air is warm and the breeze is blowing toward center during summer time.
From the upper stands we have another view of the new fence with the orange top, which cuts about ten feet or more off in front of the Modell's sign (the original wall).
For those who get the chance to sit in this area, which is set aside for groups, they will enjoy virtually walking onto the field when they go to the new outdoor seats.
We will have to see if this new fence makes much of a difference. Most fly balls hit this far will still reach the overhang of the "Pepsi Porch". It will help a few line drives make the stands, and the angles on either side could cause balls to bounce in odd directions.
A special commemorative logo was unveiled on the new left field wall in honor of former Met Gary Carter who died in February. A Hall of Fame member, the Met catcher was a veteran leader of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Carter's family was on hand to unveil the logo which will be worn as a patch on the Mets uniform this year.
As we conclude our tour of the changes made to Citi Field, we take a second to describe the Mets Opening Day pregame ceremonies.
The Mets did a terrific job honoring Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Carter, who died of brain cancer in February.
The color guard and national anthem remembered those who serve our country, past and present.
For the Mets and Braves opener, the national anthem was performed by a joint service choir that included SFC Mary Kay Messenger, who we hear perform frequently as a vocalist with the West Point Band.
Now let's take one last look around Citi Field's new outfield from an upper deck view.
The Mets really did a great job with this new left field fence and seating area. They have created 102 seats which are literally on top of the field and will be the place to be in NYC this summer.
The area from the 358 sign over to the Verizon sign looks like it could be a "Sweet Spot" for home runs. We will have to see if the wall plays like the short left field fence in Philadelphia.
Adding seating also creates a strong visual impact with the two rows of seats adding another deck to the stadium. The blue coloring with orange stripe brings the Mets colors into the stadium.
My observation of Citi Field has been that well hit balls carry well to center field in the summertime.
With the right center field fence in front of the visitors bullpen brought in over 15 feet, this area could produce a significant number of home runs especially as the weather gets warmer.
The new right field fence provides 45 excellent patio seats to watch the game in what used to be known as "Mo's Cove". We will have to see how many line drives clear the new fence in this section.
The sharp corner to the left side near the Mets bullpen entrance shows the potential to kick a few balls away from outfielders.
Hopefully the Mets will stay competitive in 2012 and continue to draw large crowds like the over 42,000 which attended "Opening Day".
Happy Holidays everyone!
Ken Kraetzer covers Iona basketball, West Point football and occasionally Mets baseball for WVOX 1460 AM in New Rochelle, NY. Follow him on Twitter @SAL50NYRadio