Recap - Mets 2, Phillies 0
There's no more fitting way to start my 'journey' than on opening day in the home ballpark of my favorite team.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a fan or how many games you’ve been to, attending a game on Opening Day is a very special and unique experience.
The long wait of winter is over – the meaningless Spring training games in Florida are in the past. The teams are all back home and for the next 6 months – baseball is here - through the spring , into the heat of summer and back into the crisp fall air. America’s Freaking Past time is back. I couldn’t be happier. No baseball fan could be happier. It's opening day!
I’ll be taking a lot of roadtrips this year by plane, train or automobile (or who knows by what else) but today I only needed to travel an hour or so from my home. And today I brought along Luke, the 11 year old son of my friend Diane and a staunch Mets fan, for his first opening day which will hopefully be a lifelong memory for him.
I’ve been to Citi Field many times already and while I’m sure it's far from the best park in baseball, it’s an enormous upgrade over Shea Stadium (their former home which fell into disrepair and became a bit of a dump).
Completed in 2009, Citi Field is modeled after the old Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers played. The home plate gate leads into an area called the Jackie Robinson rotunda named after the former Dodger great and baseball trailblazer. The rotunda is meant to be a close replication of the one from Ebbets and features lots of great old photographs of Robinson and his teammates. From the rotunda there are escalators up to the main level and to the right of the rotunda is the Hall of Fame & Museum.The museum is not particularly big but does have some really nice artifacts including the '69 and '86 World Series trophies and lots of uniforms , equipment and memorabilia from the best moments in team history. It also has a mannequin wearing the outfit of the original version of the Mets mascot, 'Mr. Met', which looks a bit 'Stephen King-esque' creepy. The museum is free, but empties out into the Mets team store where fans have the opportunity to buy a $120 pullover.
There are plenty of displays around the park which feature former great players especially from the '69 and '86 World Championship teams. Two of these real life 'artifacts' can be found up in the broadcast booth calling the game - Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez.
I made sure that we got there early to see batting practice and walk around the park to soak in all of the opening day atmosphere. Citi Field has some interesting features including an open concourse behind the outfield scoreboard with games, activities and the stadium's best eating options. To get there, you walk across a pedestrian foot bridge called Shea Bridge (an homage to their old park) which was designed to resemble the Hell Gate Bridge in Queens. There are also some nice artifacts around the park from the 2013 All-Star Game that was played here.
There are some really nice food options including great bbq at Blue Smoke, Two Boots pizza , Pat LaFrieda sausage and steak sandwiches, 'Mex burgers' at Keith's Grill, the Taqueria and my favorite - Shake Shack.
Whichever you decide, be prepared to wait on some really long lines - especially with a crowd like there was today.
There were also some nice pre-game festivities where they paraded out some of the former players and former Met star Mike Piazza threw out the first pitch. This was followed by the unfurling of a giant flag, the national anthem and a US Navy helicopter flyover.
The game was a pitcher's duel between the Phillies Aaron Harang and the Mets defending Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom, who was masterful. The only runs of the game came on a Juan Lagares RBI single in the 4th and a Travis d'Arnaud sac fly in the 6th. The fans were enthused from start to finish despite the lack of on field action. A fan favorite is the playing of the Mets two traditional 7th inning stretch songs - 'Piano Man' by Long Island native and lifelong Met fan Billy Joel and Lou Monte's 'Lazy Mary' . I'm not sure what the latter has to do with the Mets or Queens or anything, but the fans do love clapping along.
Citi Field isn't in a very accessible downtown location, but by mass-transit, it isn't too hard to get to. Hopping on either the 7 Line Subway or Long Island Railroad is a lot quicker and less stressful than trying to drive either the Grand Central Parkway or the BQE. Before most games (especially Sunday day games or big event games) there are lots of activities going on outside the stadium including the occasional 'meet and greet' of former players. The central meeting point and photo op outside the stadium is the old Shea Stadium 'home run apple' (there was a new one made for Citi field which pops up every time a Met player hits one out). Another holdover from Shea is Coffee, the pan-handling pit-bull who wears sunglasses and a Mets hat and jersey while holding a pipe in her mouth.
Once the game ends, there is nothing to do in the area except head back to your car or to the train. On the walk from the gate to the train, the best post game 'dining options' are buying cans of beer from a shirtless man who has a bunch of 6 packs on ice in a stolen shopping cart, buying slices of mango from a woman who is usually accompanied by 5 or 6 small children some without shoes or buying burnt 'soft' pretzels off some guy who heats them up over cans of sterno. Or, you can hop on the 7 train to mid-town Manhattan where there are better options.
So, it was a wonderful day. Perfect weather. Mets win. Luke and I had a great time
My first game of the journey has been crossed off the list. In the words of Met's radio announcer Howie Rose , "You can put it in the books".
Next up for me– the 'Friendly Confines' of Wrigley Field on May 1st.
Fans - A+ - How can I give any less to my fellow Met fans? Especially since they were all in such a great mood for opening day
Features - B - The Ebbets field design, the rotunda, the hall of fame, the numerous clubhouses, the Shea bridge and the Pepsi porch are all nice features. The park has a real 'old-school' intimate setting while still being roomy and comfortable
Location - D - Not hard to get to by train. Only 2 stops / 14 minutes from Penn Station in Manhattan, but absolutely nothing to do after the game but try and beat the rush of the crowd to the train home
Food - B+ - Some solid choices - but high prices and long lines
Game - C - The game was really low scoring without any adrenaline inducing moments, but it was great watching deGrom work his craft.
Overall Experience - A - Any other day, I'd say a B, but this was opening day!