Tag Archives: Terry Collins

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.

New York Mets Amazing Comeback over Pittsburgh Pirates

NEW YORK–The next time Terry Collins rips into his team he should make sure the next day’s starting pitcher is there. Thursday’s starter, Mike Pelfrey, had long left the ballpark when Collins gave the Mets a motivational tongue-lashing after Wednesday night’s game.

Pelfrey allowed three runs in the first inning, three more in the second, and seven total in his five innings of work. But the Mets’ hitters certainly got the message, overcoming a 7-0 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-8 at Citi Field on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. It tied the second biggest comeback in franchise history.

The first sign of life came on a three-run home run to left field by Carlos Beltran in the third inning, a missile that hit the facade of the second deck. “When you need him, he’s there for you,” Collins said, a truth that many Mets fans often forget. Collins had been asking his three hitter if he wanted a day off, but Beltran told his skipper he felt good. “Guys are out,” he said, referring to David Wright and Ike Davis, among others. “I need to be in there.”

The view from the press box.

Beltran got the Mets started but Ruben Tejada, a 21-year-old who looks 16, collected a huge hit in the four-run seventh. With the bases loaded and two outs, it was Tejada’s single to right that plated two and cut the deficit to 7-5. Two batters later he scored the tying run on a wild pitch. In a bizarre eighth inning, his sac fly gave the Mets the lead.

Mets manager Terry Collins addresses the media.

After the game, reporters surrounded Tejada’s locker. After getting dressed, he stood up to leave. “We’re here to talk to you,” a reporter informed him. “Oh,” said the shy Tejada before returning to his locker to quietly answer questions.

Mike Pelfrey was happy to get off the hook.

It is refreshing to have guys like Tejada on the big league roster. I could see him at shortstop in the near future but I’d rather see him next to Jose Reyes for the next six years or so. For now I’ll enjoy watching Tejada sparkle in the field and continue to improve at the plate. “I think he can be a very good major league hitter,” Collins said.

Carlos Beltran and his stylish Hawaiian shirt

He also said he hoped the win would be something they could feed off, but baseball usually doesn’t work like that. Sure enough, the Mets blew a 3-1 lead in the eighth last night and lost to Atlanta 6-3. The Mets have been outscored 82-33 in the eighth and ninth innings this season. Collins can’t turn this group into a playoff contender, but for one afternoon at least, the Mets gave fans a reason to cheer.

If this were A-Rod wearing an A-Rod shirt, it would be pathetic. With Wright, it’s humorous.

Three Strikes: World Series Fix, Dodgers Debt, and Sac Bunts

Cubs may have thrown 1918 World Series

The infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox may have gotten the idea to throw a World Series from their north side neighbors, the Cubs. At least that is the implication of a recently released court document. The evidence is vague and far less convincing than that in the Black Sox scandal, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think the Cubs may in fact have fixed their 1918 World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Say what you will about escalating salaries for major leaguers—at least we don’t have to worry about games being fixed (by the players, that is). Money, of course, was at the root of the World Series scandals. Players felt their owners were being stingy and so they opted for a quick and easy (if morally despicable) cash grab. These were players who worked other jobs in the offseason and used Spring Training to actually get into playing shape, two aspects of the game that are almost beyond believable considering player salaries today (the league minimum is $414,500).

While we can only hope higher salaries ensure pro athletes will play hard, we can guarantee they keep them from accepting bribes.

The same can’t be said of the officials, which is why we still can’t be certain games are always fair. We’ve seen it uncovered as recently as 2007 when NBA referee Tim Donaghy was indicted on charges of gambling on playoff games.

Gamblers betting big bucks can offer officials big bucks, enough to get them to believe it is worth the risk to fix a game, apparently. I don’t think the salaries of officials should be elevated to the point where accepting a bribe would be preposterous, so we can only hope the leagues do their best to prevent such behavior in other ways.

I doubt the rise in player salaries had anything to do with fixed games, but it is an unintended consequence that benefitted the game.

Dodgers seized by MLB; are Mets next?

After it was revealed that the Los Angeles Dodgers arranged a $30 million loan from the FOX television network in order to meet payroll, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball seized control of the club yesterday. “I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club,” Selig said in a statement.

In an interview earlier this month with Peter Keating of ESPN the Magazine, the commissioner was asked about the financial situations of various teams.

The Mag: How do you decide when a team is extended too far into debt? There have been reports of the Mets getting help from baseball, and the Dodgers have asked for a credit line.

Selig: We have debt-service rules that are a part of our economic structure. In the Mets’ case, there was a loan made, as there was to Texas, because a circumstance warranted it. We have a repayment schedule that makes sense. We made a business decision. We lend somebody money, they pay us back.

The Mag: About how many teams’ debt levels are you comfortable with right now?

Selig: Almost all.

It seems Selig added the word “almost” because of the Dodgers. Here in New York, Mets fans are wondering whether their team will suffer the same fate as their fellow National League club on the opposite coast. Only time will tell. At least the Dodgers don’t have the worst record in baseball.

Sacrifice bunting: Is it ever wise?

Speaking of the Mets, last night they hurt themselves in several ways, as they seem to do every game. Here’s one example: In the 9th inning, with the Mets trailing 4-3, manager Terry Collins ordered No. 2 hitter Josh Thole to bunt with speedster Jose Reyes on first and no outs. Statistics—of which there is never a shortage in baseball—show that sacrifice bunting is a bad idea in most cases. A team’s chances of scoring a run that inning decrease if a sac bunt is used (in this case, stats show that a runner has a better chance of eventually scoring from first with no outs than he does from second with one out).

I think this is especially true in this situation, where you have one of the best base stealers in baseball on first, a player who could get to second base on his own without giving up an out (and we won’t even get into whether the Mets should have been playing for more than one run considering their weak bullpen). The result of this play was Thole popping up his bunt attempt and Reyes getting doubled off first. Some blame goes to Thole for failing to get down the bunt; a little more goes to Reyes for losing focus; but the most blame has to go to the manager for calling this play in the first place.