Now in its second season, Citi Field finally feels a little bit more like the home of the Mets. For fans who went to games there last year, it was nice and it had that new ballpark smell, but something was missing.
Mets officials have tried to sort that out for the 2010 season, and all-in-all, I think they've done a pretty good job. There are some big changes, like adding a museum to chart the club's history, and some subtle tweaks, like painting the stairwell walls orange and blue.
Seems obvious, right? Yet this eluded the club 12 months ago. They've also rearranged the locations of the bullpens to make them easier to see, opened up the area in right-centerfield where the kids' zone was, and added more photos around the stadium.
There will always be people who say it still doesn't feel like home, but it's a step in the right direction.
Here is a brief guide to Citi Field, highlighting some of the new changes, and pointing out some of the things to see and do when you arrive at the park.
Citi Field actually has decent public transport options. It's not like you have to get the subway two stops, then transfer to a free shuttle bus, then walk 15 minutes.
Citi Field is on the eastern end of New York City's No. 7 subway line, about 45 minutes from the center of Manhattan.
If you are coming into Manhattan, you can connect to the No. 7 train from the A, C, E, 1, 2, 3, N, Q, R, W at Times Square 42nd Street, from the B, D, F, and V trains at Bryant Park, or from the 4, 5, and 6 trains at Grand Central Station.
Be sure to get the express train, which is indicated by a red diamond on the subway car carriage. The cars with a green circle make all local stops and it will add at least 20 minutes on to your journey.
Alternatively, you can get the Long Island Rail Road to Mets-Willets Point, which is the first stop on the Port Washington line in you change at Woodside in Queens.
Either method gets you right outside the stadium. Just follow the signs for Mets Baseball.
One of the first things that will greet you at Citi Field is the home run apple from Shea Stadium. The organization moved it from the old stadium to behind the back of the bullpen for the inaugural season, but then decided to relocate it to the walkway between the subway station and the main rotunda.
It's a nice welcoming sight when you get to the ballpark. With the spring flowers neatly potted around it, it's a popular place to meet friends or get take nice photos with the stadium in the background.
One of the criticisms of Citi Field last year was that it lacked any real history or hometown feel. However, markers (showing fans where the old bases were located) were put in place prior to the start of the 2009 season.
If you walk about halfway down the outside of the stadium down the third base line, there are plaques marking all four bases and the pitching rubber in the car park on your left.
It may take you a few minutes to find them, but if you look hard enough for the glistening metal markers, it is quite cool to see just how close the old stadium really was.
Kneel behind home plate for a picture or run around the bases with your kids. If you're tailgating at the stadium, try throwing your dad or sister out at second base with a tennis ball—it's a lot further than you think!
Another nice feature outside Citi Field is the fan-walk brick display. The fan-walk is an area of 12 sections outside the Jackie Robinson rotunda featuring permanent bricks with engraved messages from fans.
Families and individuals bought the bricks before the start of last season, and they provide a unique collection of memories from fans across the world.
If you were one of the lucky people to buy a brick before they sold out, make sure you get there extra early to find your little piece of Mets history.
It's been discussed and debated by Mets fans to death, but yes, the first thing you see when you actually scan your ticket and enter the ballpark in the main rotunda is the tribute to Jackie Robinson.
I'm not going to get into the merits of having it there, but I will say that what is there is nicely done.
There's a large blue 42 monument in the center of the rotunda in the middle behind the escalators and there are photos in between the exposed brickwork underneath the nine values he embodied: teamwork, persistence, determination, courage, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment, and excellence.
Between the throwback arches of Ebbets Field to the history of Robinson, it's a nice piece of baseball history, even if it's not specific to the Mets.
These next few pictures are from the new Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.
Last season, this area, located directly to the right of the entrance in the rotunda, was one big team store. The shop has been pushed further back for 2010 and in its place is a nice little shine to the history of the Mets.
It is a much-needed addition to the ballpark, and adds a touch of New York nostalgia to a stadium that was distinctly lacking that home-field feel 12 months ago.
There are many nice artifacts in the museum, including David Wright's signed game-used jersey from Opening Day at Citi Field, press pins from the Mets World Series appearances, Mike Piazza's catching gear, and a brief history of the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, and Citi Field.
One of my favorite things on display is this original Mr. Met costume. The head looks like one massive paper mache ball with drawn-on eyes and mouth.
I know it was from more than 40 years ago, but still, how small was the budget back then?
Another nice feature of the museum is the display of Hall of Fame plaques remembering players, managers, and broadcasters from the club's history.
Inset in this picture is the plaque for Mookie Wilson, remembered by Mets fans across the globe for his dribbler that got between the legs of Bill Buckner.
His plaque reads: "Renowned for one of the most memorable moments in Mets history in Game Six of the 1986 World Series...Wilson's trickling groundball brought home the winning run, capping a three run rally in the 10th inning...upon his retirement, led the Mets in stolen bases (281) and triples (62)...Wilson's postseason heroics and energetic play over 10 seasons made him one of the most popular Mets of all time."
And to finish my look at the Hall of Fame and Museum, I wanted to share with you Darryl Strawberry's original free agent player report, taken by Mets scouts in 1980 when Straw was an 18-year-old kid playing out in California.
Among scout Roger Jongewaard's observations were that although the former World Series champion had below-average hitting ability, power, speed, fielding, range, and aggresiveness by Major League standards, that he had the potential to be an above-average power hitter with an accurate, strong arm.
He estimated that Strawberry was worth $60K, although he was "feeling a lot of pressure from Sports Illustrated and NBC doing a story and TV spot on him."
The Mets took him as the No. 1 overall pick two months later, Strawberry collected Rookie of the Year honors, and he went on to become one of the best power hitters in Mets history.
Within five years of being at the Mets, he was earning $516K a year. When he signed with the Dodgers in 1991, he received $3.8 million.
Well, scouts can't be right about everything.
Once you've left the museum, you can either go into the team store or head upstairs to the main level. You can go left and head down towards the third base line, or you can go right and make a bee-line for the Shea Bridge, bullpen, and kids zone.
I normally tend to get seats in left field, so I typically head right and do a loop of the stadium before getting food and heading to my seat.
If you decide to go that way too, there's a stand selling game-used memorabilia, including batting practice jerseys, bats, helmets, lineup cards, and the like. On the left are the first of dozens of places to grab food on the right.
The Brooklyn Burger place has everything you would expect, but I would recommend the BBQ bacon burger ($6.75) or Nathan's crinkle cut chili and cheese fries ($6.00).
The regular beers aren't really worth the $5, so go for the large at $7. It's still extortionate ballpark-priced alcohol, but it's a little better value for your money.
Not hungry just yet? That's okay.
Keep heading through the concourse and you'll see giant old-school, full-color baseball cards of historic Met icons hanging on the walls as you head towards the field.
Who ever gets tired of Keith Hernandez's 'stache?
This area above the concessions stand used to display the Mets daily batting lineup, but that has since been moved to the main rotunda, clearing the way for these historic cards down the first and third base lines.
The best thing, though, is that when you're down this low you get a really nice view of the park, and you can wander all around the field-level decks.
I remember my first trip to Shea Stadium back in 2004. I had a pretty cheap upper-deck ticket, but I wanted to have a look from the field level before the game.
Not a chance.
If you didn't have a ticket for a seat in the lower tiers, then there was no way you were getting down there.
All that has changed at Citi Field, and even though there are slightly restrictive rules about where you can go for BP, it is generally a lot better.
If there's one thing I love more than the game itself, it's getting to the park early to watch batting practice. You can get to most of the front rows of the stadium, with the exception of directly behind the dugouts and slightly up each line.
I generally take in a bit of the action down right field before later watching from just to the side of the giant apple in the outfield.
If you like getting photos of your favorite players, this is a great chance to see them close up. Here's one of the shots I got of uber-prospect Jason Heyward.
Some things to bear in mind though. The teams don't always take batting practice on day games after night games, and the Mets always take BP and infield drills before the visitors.
Here's a general timeline. For 1:10 p.m. starts, the Mets take BP at 10:40 a.m. and infield practice at 12:15 p.m.
For a 4:10 p.m. start, the Mets swing some bats at 1:40 p.m and field balls at 3:15 p.m.
For night games, you can catch batting practice at 4:40 p.m. and infield drills at 6:15.
Gates open 2.5 hours before the first pitch, and this is the time when the Mets first start warming up on the field, so if you want to catch the full thing, plan on being there on time.
I spent way too long in the museum and missed the Mets taking BP, but I did get to watch the Braves when they were out.
If you head out to right-center field you will cross over the Shea Bridge, named prior to this season in honor of William Shea (who the former stadium was also named after).
Speaking of history, remember when Ike Davis hit his first big league home run—a 3-2 fastball of Kenshin Kawakami that made it to the bridge? What an absolute bomb!
There is also plaque inset just to the right of the bridge that explains how Shea brought National League baseball back to New York.
If you're looking for seafood while you're at the ballpark, look out for this sign: Catch of the Day.
While their crab cakes might not be as tasty as the ones served up at Camden Yards, you can't go wrong with fried calamari for under $10.
The fried flounder sandwich looked good, although I haven't tried it, but $17 for the lobster sandwich? Really, New York Mets?
Who goes to watch a ballgame and eats lobster?
Down behind right-centerfield is the kids' zone.
There are MLB 2K10 video games, dunk tanks (with sponges instead of water), kids' batting cages, and Kiddie Field, a miniature version of Citi Field where children can hit whiffle balls off a tee.
I've always been impressed with the children's attractions here at Citi, more so than the picnic area at Shea anyway. Besides, I think it's a nice thing for the family to do if they've got some time to kill.
Mr. Met also makes three appearances throughout the day for photo opportunities, and a DJ who sits on top of the games zone spins tunes to keep the mood alive.
The format is a little more open in 2010. The video games are where the dunk tank was and the batting cages are behind the Kiddie Field, making it more spacious for people to eat and drink.
Speaking of eating, centerfield is the pride and joy of the food at the stadium. Just make sure you get there early.
While Cascarino's pizza is okay, it's all about Blue Smoke and, more specifically, the Shake Snack behind the centerfield scoreboard.
Blue Smoke makes the most amazing pulled pork sandwich I've ever had. It's on a fresh brioche bun drizzled with an awesome savory sauce. At $10 a pop, it's slightly more expensive than the bologna sandwich ($9.50) but cheaper than the Kansas City spare ribs.
Behind you closer to the field is Big Apple Brews. If you wanted something more than a bottle of Budweiser, then this is the place for you.
Besides your standard domestic beers, they also have Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Czechvar, and O'Douls. The concept of a designated driver booth is nothing new, but if you're not drinking, be sure to visit the DD stand down.
This is located near the first base line on the field level towards home plate, and DD's get free sodas. You can also enter for a chance to win prizes.
If you're looking for gifts or memorabilia, then there are certainly lots of places to part with your money.
Besides the main team store next to the museum at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, there's a second store opposite the Champions Club, and a third near section 414 on the promenade level.
There's also the '47 Shop on the field level at section 106, a kid's store near the 2K sports game booth, and a Nike store at 131.
Alyssa Milano' Touch Ladies Boutique is a few floors up on the Excelsior Level near section 306, and the Heroes and Heritage shop has memorabilia on the top level at 431.
Once you've taken in some of the sights, make your way up to your seats.
Tickets for the less popular games (yes, I'm looking at you, Washington) can be purchased for as little as $11, with left field seats and Pepsi Porch seats typically starting at $24.
I personally like the Promenade Club seats, although there's really not a bad seat in the house.
This picture shows the view from my second-row seat in section 425. Pretty good for only $21, right?
One thing I would say though, is that if you buy your ticket online, try to avoid the front row in any one section. The seats are slightly angled, and the pesky railing in front of you can sometimes obstruct your view, forcing you to sit forward.
If you want a slightly different view, the Pepsi Porch is a pretty cool place to hang out. Tickets are a little more expensive, but the view of right and right-center field is excellent.
You're actually on top of the action—overhanging the field by some seven or eight feet—on a ball hit down the first base line into the corner.
At the back of the Pepsi Porch is a small picnic area where you can relax, grab some food, and watch the game. There's a nice amount of standing room here too if you want to stretch out your legs without missing the action.
For those of you who want to get an up-close shot of your hero but aren't willing to drop a minimum of $460 for seats behind home plate, walk down the third base line of the field level towards section 121.
If you move up to the railing behind the lower level of seats, there's a great angle for you to get some nice action shots, without having to have a $2,000 camera with a mad zoom.
If you're all about getting freebies on your trip to the ballpark, be sure to check out the promotions schedule.
I found myself there on skicap night, which is always pretty sweet. The home run apple on Opening Day proved to be a huge hit, and the Mets have plenty of free stuff to give out, including scarves, bobbleheads, water bottles, and collectors cups.
My wife knew that I needed a new hat, so this was the perfect two-in-one gift.