The New York Mets 55-year history has more than 100 years worth of memories. The people (owners, managers and players), the games and the legendary success (and failure) are enough to fill an enormous amount of space and time.
Recently, I walked through the gates of Citi Field for the first time. I intentionally wanted to experience what a fan experiences, not a member of the media, so I bought my tickets online and planned my visit ever so carefully.
The Mets had just returned home from a nine-game road trip. The team had won seven straight and, to some surprise, held a six-and-one-half game lead in the National League East.
The game itself offered a handful of intriguing storylines itself: Matt Harvey was making his first start after an 11-day rest; David Wright was playing his first home game since April 14; and, the Boston Red Sox were in town. Hello, 1986.
When the gates opened to fans at 5:30 p.m. I passed through the gates into the rotunda. I had seen it in photos, but now, I could witness the expansive Ebbets Field-style entrance. Since its inception in 2009, the design has remained wholly intact.
The Jackie Robinson rotunda was a location of great debate when Citi Field opened to the public; it’s where awe and disappointment collided. The recognition of Jackie Robinson, his baseball legacy and his cultural significance are captured exquisitely in a panaromic tribute of videos, words, classic photos and the over-sized No. 42 beaming over fans criss-crossing the space.
Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, said:
“Our history is linked to the Mets and to New York. For me, the tribute being paid to Jackie actually acknowledges his historic career in baseball and, just as important, his impact on our society. So it’s the man, not just the ballplayer, that is being celebrated there.”
The wrinkle, at least among fans, is in the fact that the Citi Field rotunda is more a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers than its team, the New York Mets. Team owner Fred Wilpon has publicly shared his friendship with Sandy Koufax and love for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a child.
No debate there.
But what about recognizing the current tenants — the Mets?
Once inside Citi Field, you clearly see and feel the presence of the home team by way of the fans, its massive video and graphics boards and big red home run apple. But there is a feeling, a sense, that what happened at Shea Stadium is being left behind.
Let’s start at the core and that very apple. The home run apple that once was a centerpiece of so many magical Mets moments over the years, is now retired and on display outside the ballpark. It has become a gathering place where fans meet before the game, some climb through the flower bed and take a selfie in front as a memory. Lifelong fans reminisce about Darryl Strawberry’s and Mike Piazza’s moon shots that set off the apple. Good times. Understandably, the old apple was replaced by modern technology and a new, polished red apple that creates new memories every home team home run.
Remember the painted championship flags — 1969 World Series Champions, 1973 National League Champions, 1986 World Series Champions, 1999 Wild Card, 2000 National League Champions, 2006 National League East Champions — on the outfield walls at Shea Stadium? They are now static signs along the third base line. They appear much smaller and insignificant in relation to the eye-popping high tech motion graphics flashing between every pitch.
Championships, and winning, are a symbol of success. They should be prominently displayed. At Citi Field, and maybe by no intent, they’re accomplishments are diminished.
The most disturbing display of disrespect at Citi Field is the franchise Hall of Fame. I have always believed that the New York Mets are a team that has one of professional sports richest and deepest histories. Since Casey Stengel, the Mets have fielded teams (and players) and played in some of the most historic games in baseball history. That’s a lot of years and millions of games.
In response, the Mets have managed to create a small corner off the team store that the team calls the Mets Hall of Fame where maybe a half dozen jerseys, a handful of baseball, a wall of plaques, two World Series trophies and a pair of kiosks loop a short documentary of Mets memories.
From Casey Stengel to Marv Thronberry, Jimmy Piersall, Gil Hodges, Joan Payson, William Shea, Tom Seaver, 1969, the shoe polish game, Tommie Agee, 1973, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, the Rose-Harrelson fight, Dave Kingman, the Seaver trade, new owners, Frank Cashen, Darryl Strawberry Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, 1986, Game 6 of the NLCS and World Series, Bill Buckner, Bobby Valentine, 1999, Robin Ventura’s walk-off, Mike Piazza, 2000, Subway Series, 9/11, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Endy Chavez, The Catch, 2006, David Wright Jose Reyes … and so many memorable highs and lows in between. There are so many pieces of memorabilia missing, it’s shocking.
The Mets Hall hasn’t evolved or expanded since it opened in 2010. Sure, some items have been rotated in and out, but no expansion. The Mets public relations team, and team historian, need to take a lesson from its colleagues in Cincinnati, who provide the model for team-centric Hall of Fames.
Of course, the Reds have a baseball history that begins in the 1880s. But like I said, the Mets have ample history — and a wealth of memories. It’s time to get to work.