Even if Citi Field had not been ready for the 2009 season it might have been time to dismantle Shea Stadium. The stadium was out of date, but also filled with the failures of the last few seasons. The Mets needed a new home and they have it now, beginning Monday night.
Mike Pelfrey draws the opening assignment, maybe fittingly as the only starting pitcher in the Mets' rotation that is a product of their own system.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Pelfrey said Sunday morning. "I know it’s going to
be a crazy atmosphere with the fans. It’s going to be sold out, a lot of fans
are going to be there. I’m trying to approach it as it just being another
start. I don’t want to get too amped up and start overthrowing and get away
from executing pitches. I’m going to go into it like it’s going to be another
start, but the reality of it is it’s the opening of Citi Field. It’s going to
be an awesome time."
It surely will be, a day when the Mets can push aside the memories of the past, not to mention the memory of the bitter loss Sunday in Florida. The festivities may not rival the closing of Shea Stadium, but many of the same cast will be on hand.
Tom Seaver will be back to throw out the ceremonial first pitch - just a few months after he threw out the last pitch at Shea. And he will reunite with his batterymate from that day, Mike Piazza. On hand will be Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Rusty Staub and Ralph Kiner, and of course Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez.
There will be a sold out crowd - minus Bernie Madoff, but with his seats filled after the ebay auction to sell those seats off netted $7,500 for the pair. There will be fans as desparate for a part of the debut as there were fans saying goodbye to the last home.
"I feel like I should be able to handle that," Pelfrey said. "The fans are going to be into it. It’s going to be nuts. I’m very excited to be a part of that and get the opportunity to do that. We’ll see how I keep my emotions in check.
"I’ve never been part of the playoffs, but I’d imagine it’s going to be like a playoff atmosphere with all the fans and everything and all of the excitement. We’ll see. I think I’ll pretty much be able to handle my motions and stuff like that and just make it another game and worry about executing pitches."
The park will be almost as much an unknown for the Mets as it will be for the Padres. The team got its first glimpse on April 2, late at night when the team bus detoured through after spring training concluded. But the three days of workouts were abbreviated by poor weather conditions.
"I wish we would have had a little more time to get to know the stadium before we go open in it, because playing in New York is already a big home-field advantage," David Wright said. "But especially with some of the tricky bounces and some of the angles that the ball is going take, it’s going to make it that much more of a home-field advantage for us. It’s going to take a little time to learn those ins and outs, but I think we’ll be ready. When you put 45,000 crazy, screaming New York Met fans in there, it’s going to be a tough place for visitors to win."
Wright said he thought it might play like Petco Park in San Diego with the huge outfield - or Coors Field without the mile-high air. The park itself reminds some of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia just on its appearance. But it's home for the Mets, no one else.