Last year, New York’s other baseball team opened its brand-new stadium. This year, they’re already modifying the park’s dimensions. This is not an example of good planning.
It seems that when the Mets commissioned Citi Field, nobody stopped to think that it was going to be one very difficult place to hit home runs. Oh, executives talked about the daunting power alleys and high fences in the park, but they quickly added that they didn’t want to build a bandbox, and besides, they were building around speed and pitching. In that case, a big park would suit them perfectly.
This was a mistake before the first brick was laid and will remain one until the Mets spend whatever it takes to reconfigure the field into one conducive to the most entertaining part of the game — the home run.
Home runs sell tickets. They make fans happy. At Citi Field, they thrill kids because the big apple comes out of the hat in center field when a Met leaves the building. They win ballgames. They forge legends. Last year, the best National League team at hitting homers was the Phillies. The best American League team was the Yankees. They met in the World Series.
I’m not saying speed and pitching aren’t important. The Yankees were pretty good at stealing bases, and the Phillies were even better. The Yankees had a great bullpen and three great starters. Both teams could manufacture runs if needed. But what made them exciting was the power they brought to the park.
No such luck for Mets fans. Their team last year was last in the major leagues in home runs, and their park, Citi Field, was the fifth-hardest park to hit a home run in. They also had the third-worst record in the National League, finishing ahead of only woeful Washington and pitiful Pittsburgh. David Wright was so spooked by the distant fences he went from 33 home runs and 124 RBI to 10 and 72. As paltry as that RBI total was, it led the team.
Losing happens. The Mets had a lot of injuries last year and never had a chance. But there’s no excuse for being a bad team and also a dull one. And a team that loses 92 games and hits just 95 home runs on the season is both bad and dull. No wonder so many fans came to the park, went to one of the many bar/restaurants in the park, and never returned to their seats.
The Mets insist that things will be different when Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran (and perhaps Carlos Delgado in a long shot) return this year. To help them a tiny bit, the team is knocking the 16-foot wall in center field down to 8 feet. This is supposed to make things better.
This is not a solution or even a particular help. Citi Field is still impossibly huge. The alleged power alley in right-center field is still 415 feet. Most of the fences are still at least 11 feet high and some are as tall as 18 feet. The park is still too big to produce many home runs, too big for the excitement that fans expect for the price of a ticket.
And the Mets can’t use that line about going for pitching and speed. Their big free-agent acquisition is not a sprinter but a slugger, outfielder Jason Bay. As for pitching, well, they don’t really have any worth mentioning after Johan Santana, and they passed on free agent John Lackey.
In short, the Mets are still screwed, cursed by their own architecture until such time as owner Fred Wilpon bites the bullet, brings in some heavy machinery, and rebuilds the outfield stands to make it a cozier place to hit home runs.
There are a lot of reasons why moving the fences in is an idea that needs no more discussion. One is located in the Bronx, where the Yankees shaved a few feet off the power alleys in the new park. Combined with better air flow, the stadium turned into a launching pad.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Yankees probably went overboard on the bandbox concept, but the fact remains it’s more fun to watch games in their building, where no lead is safe, than it is in Citi Field, where home runs — and excitement — exist more in theory than in practice.
The Mets may not challenge the Phillies this year, but at least they put on a show. Lowering one bit of fence isn’t going to get it done. Sooner or later, the fences at Citi Field are going to have to come in.
Why not sooner?
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