Tag Archives: Citi Field

Citi Field Attendance Falls as Mets Fall in Standings

Did you know the Mets are the third biggest road draw in baseball this season? At Citi Field, however, a ballpark that is in just its third season, only 67.7 percent of the tickets are sold on average for each game, 11th best in MLB.

In 2009, its debut season, Citi Field was a shiny new toy every New Yorker wanted to play with. Kids get bored with toys, though, and the same thing happened at Citi—last year brought a 15 percent drop in attendance and the downward trend continues this season.

There are many reasons for the decline but the economy and the team’s on-field success are the two biggest. I have a better idea of what the future holds for the Mets than I do for the economy, but it’s still just a guess. Independent of those two factors, though, the franchise is working to draw fans to Citi Field and make the experience positive—after all, even those within the organization don’t have full control over the economy and the standings.

As the Mets return to Queens tonight for a six-game homestand, there are certainly things the organization could improve upon.

The Team, The Team, The Team

More than anything, New Yorkers want to support a winner. If the Mets, who lost in excruciating fashion last night to fall one game below .500, can become a legitimate playoff contender, as they were in the last few years of Shea Stadium, fans will flock to the ballpark.

Ownership let fans know that the last few years were unacceptable when it fired manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya after last season. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson have brought a measure of respect and accountability to the organization, though Mets fans are too smart to celebrate a regime that simply talks about “doing things the right way.”

A promising sign is how the Mets approached last week’s draft. Alderson said the Mets were prepared to spend over slot, meaning they’d sign players for more than the MLB-recommended amount. We won’t know for a couple of months if they followed through, but it would be a welcome change from the organization’s draft stinginess. In the past five drafts combined, the Mets have spent less than all but one team, according to Baseball America. Giving a couple of million bucks to Gary Matthews, Jr. but not to a potential future starting pitcher doesn’t make much sense.

Another area that could use improvement is player injuries. Owner Fred Wilpon said the Mets were “snakebitten,” and he was presumably thinking about the rash of injuries over the past few seasons. Yes, many of the injuries—especially to so many key players—can simply be attributed to bad luck. But I don’t see how the same trainers and the same doctors are still associated with the organization.

If the Mets medical staff can’t do a better job of preventing and/or rehabbing injuries, the organization could at least improve its communication to the media and public.* I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that a player will miss just one game, then two, then three, before finally being placed on the disabled list. Then, a day or two before his scheduled return, we learn about a setback. Hopefully the medical team can do a better job of diagnosing injuries, but the Mets can certainly do a better job of keeping their fans in the loop.

*Last year I saw a “Mets Organizational Decision-Making Flow Chart” on the internet. It was meant to be a joke, but it wasn’t far from the truth, as all injuries, minor or severe, eventually led to a stint on the DL, a setback, and eventually, a PR disaster.

One thing the Mets certainly have going for them is homegrown talent. Nobody in baseball is playing better than Jose Reyes right now; David Wright is hurt but one of the best third baseman in the game; younger guys like Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, and Jonathon Niese have shown great potential.

The most important of these players is Reyes, a free agent after this season. It has gotten to the point where, beyond any ludicrous contract demands, the Mets must re-sign Reyes. For many fans, Reyes is the only reason they keep watching the team. Trading him would be a crippling mistake, and Mets fans can only hope Alderson has the foresight—and funds—to make the right decision.

Moneyball

The Mets lowered ticket prices by an average of 14 percent for this season. Single-game tickets are as cheap as $12 for certain games and can be purchased on StubHub, a Mets partner, for even less.

“We’ve had very aggressive ticket price reductions the last few years to help with the economic impact of the recession,” said Mets Vice President of Baseball Operations Dave Howard.

Field level seats are still more expensive than most would pay for a baseball game, something that happens 81 times a year, and 162 if you count the Yankees’ home games as well. In other words, nearly every night from April-September, a baseball fan in New York can see a game.

“Our competition in New York for the entrainment dollar is not just the Yankees,” Howard said. “You have to look at everything people can do from an entertainment standpoint because that segment of their income is finite and they have many options. We feel it runs everything from movies to Broadway to bowling and all the sports teams. We need to be compelling and be an event that people want to come to and have a high degree of confidence that they will have a great experience.”

Citi Field had a lot more fans for its first game. (Credit: Metsfan84)

The Mets are certainly a cheaper—if less successful—alternative to the Yankees, as well as most Broadways shows. But despite the Mets’ lower prices, a ballgame for a family is still expensive. Even with $12 tickets, one must consider parking, food, and drinks, a total sum generally over $100. The Mets have nothing comparable to the following package available for Colorado Rockies games: four tickets, parking, four food and drink vouchers, and a program for $59. It’s a different market in New York, sure, but that doesn’t mean families should be priced out.

“We don’t prohibit people from bringing in sandwiches and bottles of water into the stadium if they’d like to save some money,” Howard said. “We’ve always attracted families and we want to provide a good value for their money.”

The Mets certainly provide good value to those fans willing to make a more hefty investment and become season ticket holders. From offseason receptions with the players to opportunities to do everything from taking batting practice at Citi Field to singing the national anthem before a game, season ticket holders are certainly treated well. I’ve joked that if attendance continues to decline they’ll let a lucky season ticket holder throw out the actual first pitch of every game.

The New World Class Home of Amazin’

Empty seats and a disappointing team don’t change the fact that Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark. I’m the biggest Shea apologist you’ll find, but that’s mostly because of the memories I have there. Once the Mets start winning at Citi, I’m sure I’ll come to love it as well, as it certainly has more to offer than Shea.

“We operate Citi Field with an emphasis on treating people with respect in a friendly and safe environment,” Howard said. “Certainly we want the team to win, but we are most encouraged when we receive testimonials from people who have had a great time and they are raving about the staff.”

Fans who show up early for a game can take cuts in a batting cage just outside the stadium, snap photos in front of the old apple from Shea, or visit the Mets museum. Once inside the park, the most popular destination is beyond center field, where Shake Shack, a dunk tank, a tee-ball field, and other food and entertainment options are located. Unlike at Shea, fans can walk around the stadium’s field level and still stay engaged in the game, as the concourse is open air and provides sight lines to the field.*

*The ONLY downside to the open air architecture is that you lose that “wow” moment you had at Shea, that moment when you walked through the narrow passageway from the concessions area to your seat, when suddenly all you saw was an explosion of green. I spoke about this with Mr. Howard and have discussed it with other fans as well. That moment is the most vivid memory many fans have of stadiums like Shea (and the old Yankee Stadium), and you lose that at Citi. Of course the trade-off—being able to see the field when you visit the concessions—is certainly worth it.

When Citi opened, Wilpon drew criticism for the fact that the Jackie Robinson rotunda was too Dodgers-centric and the stadium as a whole didn’t pay much homage to, you know, the team that actually plays there. Wilpon has since admitted that was a mistake, and has worked to correct it by adding the museum, banners of Mets players, and naming the walkway beyond the outfield wall the Shea Bridge.

It’s hard to find something to complain about, other than, of course, the team itself.

And that is why Citi Field can sometimes feel like a “grave yard” according to Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, who made his debut in 2006. “You can feel when there’s an excitement and an energy in the crowd and when there’s not,” Pelfrey said after a home game earlier this season in which the announced attendance was 30,000 but the actual count was probably 10,000 less. “You definitely notice it if it’s down and as a player you don’t welcome that. You want the sold out crowd. You want it to be jam packed because it makes the game even more fun.”

Pelfrey added that even 20,000 New Yorkers can make their presence known because of the city’s passion for sports. “But it’s not the same as if there were 45,000,” he said.

This problem has a lot more to do with the first two items—the team’s performance and the economy—than Citi Field itself. I have little doubt that if the Mets find themselves in a pennant race Citi could shake like Shea once did (figuratively, if not literally).

An abridged version of this article appeared in the June 8, 2011 issue of amNewYork, a daily newspaper distributed in New York City.

Mike Pelfrey: New York Mets Pitcher Looking to Regain Form

I really want Mike Pelfrey to do well. My will for him to succeed is greater than it is for any other Met. I realize Jose Reyes is probably more important to the team winning games, and in the end, that’s all I really care about. But I’ve been following Big Pelf’s career in a unique way, and take a special pride in watching him pitch well.

I was at Shea Stadium on July 8, 2006 when the 22-year-old Pelfrey made his major league debut in the second game of a doubleheader against the Florida Marlins. He was the No. 9 overall draft pick the year before, so Mets fans knew his name and were expecting big things.

Pelfrey’s first inning wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. The first hitter he faced singled and stole second; Pelf hit a batter. But he also retired two of the best hitters in baseball — striking out Hanley Ramirez and getting Miguel Cabrera to ground into a double play to end the inning.

By the time Pelfrey stepped back on the mound, the Mets were up 5-0 thanks to a grand slam by Jose Valentin (who would nearly hit another the next inning, settling for a three-run triple). Pelf would finish his day after going five innings and allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits. He walked four and struck out three, to go along with his hit batter and wild pitch.

Pelfrey got the win thanks to 17 runs of support (16 while Pelf was pitching), and the Mets beat the Marlins — or should I say the Jets beat the Dolphins? — 17-3. (Interesting note: Pelf has not beaten the Fish since; 1-6 in 11 starts with a 5.79 ERA.)

I remember expecting more strikeouts (perhaps a sign of things to come) and that he couldn’t throw his curveball for a strike, but you can’t be too critical of a player’s debut.

Pelfrey made three more starts for New York that season, but the 2006 Mets were not a team fit for a developing rookie — they had a division to win and an epic League Championship Series to play.

Pelf started the 2007 season with the big league club, but would be demoted and recalled twice during the year. He started 15 games that season, and I was at Shea for three of his outings, including his first appearance in relief. I remember going to a game on a Friday night against the Brewers with my friend John, then deciding to stay at my brother’s place in the city and go to the game the following afternoon. All of us were mad because Pelfrey was scheduled to pitch that day, so we likely wouldn’t see a second straight win (sure enough, the Mets lost 12-3). In fact, the Mets were 0-3 in the Pelfrey games I saw that year. He finished the season 3-8 with a 5.57 ERA.

A young Pelf, back in the days when he wore a mouth piece
and chewed on it incessantly while on the mound. (Credit:
Wknight94)

The 2008 season was a different story and fans started to see why Pelf was such a high draft choice. He won 13 games and sported a 3.72 ERA. My attitude about showing up at Shea for his starts changed dramatically.

I saw him pitch four times in ’08 and while the Mets only won two of those games, Pelf had some memorable performances. In May, he took a no-hitter into the seventh against Washington but lost the game 1-0. He threw seven shutout innings against the Giants in July. And in August, I was in the stands for Pelfrey’s first complete game, a three-hitter against the Braves.

The following year I was at the first game in Citi Field, when Pelf’s third pitch to leadoff batter Jody Gerut cleared the wall in right field. Perhaps it was another sign of things to come, as 2009 was supposed to be Pelfrey’s breakout year. Instead, he regressed, posting a sub-.500 record and a 5.03 ERA.

I was at Pelf’s fine performance against the Yankees at Citi in May, as well as his blow-up against the Reds earlier this month. All in all I’ve seen Pelf pitch in person 14 times (13 starts). I’m nearly certain I haven’t seen any other starting pitcher more than that. But as I’ve noted, it’s not just quantity, it’s importance. I’ve witnessed some of Pelfrey’s historic starts. If you asked Pelfrey right now which big league starts he remembers most, I’d guess the debut, Citi Field opener (even if he doesn’t want to remember that one), and his first complete game would be right up there.

He’s a home-grown product, a much-hyped first-round pick with loads of potential. After starting this year 10-2 and looking like an All-Star Game snub, Pelfrey is winless in his last five starts. His ERA has ballooned from 2.71 to an even four. The sponsor of Pelfrey’s Baseball Reference page chose to write, “Is 2010 the year that Mike Pelfrey realizes his potential?” Many thought the answer would be yes, but this latest string of poor outings is leaving plenty of doubts.

When he makes his start tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks, I won’t be in attendance, but like many Mets fans I will be watching. I’ll just feel like I have a little more stake in his performance.

New York Mets Sweep Atlanta Braves

New York Mets and Atlanta Braves fans rarely agree. But for those who watched this past weekend’s series between the two teams, they must be in agreement over what transpired. Because what took place on the field was downright unusual.

You see, Bobby Cox’s club has been the pinnacle of professionalism for nearly two decades. The Braves won the National League East an unfathomable 14 straight seasons, from 1991-2005. It was the Mets who finally ended that streak, and the Phillies who have become the elite team in the division, but Mets fans will always fear the Braves.

So yes, New York’s sweep of Atlanta was a pleasant surprise for the Flushing faithful. But what was really shocking was how it all went down. The Braves committed seven errors in only 21 innings of defense during the series. I hate to say it, but it was almost as if the players switched jerseys on Friday afternoon. It was Atlanta playing sloppy baseball, and the Mets that took advantage of those mistakes. Yes, the tables were turned at Citi Field this weekend.

The biggest gaffe was certainly on Friday night. In the bottom of the seventh with one out and runners on first and second, Jose Reyes popped the ball up to the left side of the infield and was called out on the infield-fly rule. Although the shortstop was settling underneath it, third baseman Chipper Jones cut in front of him at the last moment, only to drop the ball. His misplay allowed the runners to advance.

Forgetting the rules, catcher Brian McCann, who ended up with the baseball after Jones’ boot, walked towards first base before flipping the ball to the first baseman, who tagged Reyes. Again, Reyes is already out. With home plate unoccupied, Angel Pagan made a mad dash and scored before Jones could field the throw and apply a tag. The Mets scored another run two batters later and won the game 5-2.

On Saturday, in the fifth inning of a scoreless game, the Braves had runners on second and third with one out. Troy Glaus lined out to right center. Had Yunel Escobar been paying attention, he would have been able to tag up and score. That’s certainly what Martin Prado was thinking, so he tried to advance from second. The only problem was, Escobar didn’t tag; he wandered a few steps from third, and right fielder Jeff Francoeur fired it to the infield. Reyes eventually tagged Prado for an inning-ending double play. The Mets won 3-1.

On Sunday night, perhaps because they were on national television or maybe because they sensed the rain might stop play, the Braves displayed their ineptitude earlier than usual. In the bottom of the first and two outs, Reyes walked, and then stole second. On the next pitch, Jason Bay hit a sharp grounder down the third base line. Jones made a nice backhanded play, but his throw to first bounced, handcuffing Glaus. Reyes sped around from second and scored. When the game was called due to rain after five innings, that unearned run was the only run, and the Mets had won their fourth straight.

Conversely, it was the fifth straight loss for Atlanta, a franchise that may no longer be the team to beat in the division, but is still above playing careless, lackadaisical baseball. For Mets fans, it was a welcomed role reversal, and regardless of how the Braves, or anyone else, play for the rest of the season, they’d like to see the Mets be the team that looks smart and focused.

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