The Mets open their new ballpark tonight, and Mom and I plan to be there a few hours early to enjoy the place in its bunting-adorned glory.
This is the new beginning. The old, multi-purpose stadium is gone, the rubble — I expect — cleared away and the parking lot paved. The subway stop has been renamed and the dominant color you see on the approach shifted from a cool blue to a warming brick red. It is, we Mets fans hope, the beginning of a new, successful era on the field, as well. The ghosts of 2007 and 2008 — even 2006 — went down with that final section in February.
There’s a lot of talk about what to call this grand new home, and since the name was announced, I’ve tried to overlook it. I’m no fan of corporate names — calling it Brendan Byrne Arena felt much more homey than Continental Arena or the IZOD Center, and I’d hoped that Lakewood’s local Pine Belt Auto Group would come forward with the cash to name the minor-league ballpark there so that people outside the Jersey Shore area would realize that Pine Belt Park was actually the result of a naming rights deal.
But when Citi Field was announced, I focused on the bright side. For one, if you didn’t see it written, you could think of it as City Field — a generic moniker that could have been home to a club in the Dead Ball Era. And at least it doesn’t have the work “Bank” in the name, like in Philadelphia, or an acronym. One early guess by a colleague was HSBC Bank. That would’ve been worse. And at the time, before all the requests for additional tax breaks and bonds, it looked like the Mets were footing the bill –at least the bulk of it — and not directly getting taxpayer money, in the form of higher taxes, the way some cities have done to build their parks. (As such, I hope the Nationals never find a corporate sponsor for Nationals Park.) My feeling was that if the Mets were paying for it, they could decide how to name it. Maybe if the Yankees weren’t so arrogant and had sold naming rights to their ballpark (instead of just every restaurant, bar and half the sections inside), they wouldn’t have had to ask for so much money from New York City. (Or they could have not signed three players in one month for half a billion dollars, either.)
But now, with the economy in shambles and the banks unable to manage themselves, Citigroup is not in anyone’s good graces. I still find myself saying, “When we went out to Shea” when talking about the St. John’s-Georgetown game two weeks ago. A co-worker came up with “The Shea After” as a nickname. One fan wants to essentially put David Wright’s face on the place (which also has a historical reference). And in the comments over at Uniwatch, someone refered to it as Debbits Field, which is so appropriate, considering the similarities.
A part of me is definitely hoping that Citigroup’s struggles will lead to a removal of the name, though only if the loss of revenue from the naming rights deal doesn’t hinder the franchise’s operations and player acquisitions. If they have to take the Citi off, they won’t be able to go with City Field, because that will be too close to the failed original name. Mets Field would surely only be temporary in that instance, so hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. But maybe they’d go back to what works and call it Shea Field. Don’t do what the White Sox originally did and put the exact old name on the new stadium — new Comiskey Park was more stadium than ballpark — but continue to honor the man and the family who brought the Mets to New York.
Or maybe — just maybe — they’d go the final step in honoring one of New York’s greatest heroes and name the whole place after Jackie Robinson. Should they do that, go for the inside-the-park home run instead of settling for the triple, we’d know that it was here to stay. You can’t put Jackie’s name on the ballpark and then take it away.
But for now, like many others out there, I think I’ll stick with the alternatives, either Shea or, in print (or bytes), City Field. Or maybe I’ll just sing Barenaked Ladies lyrics whenever I talk about the ballpark. As clever as Debbits Field is, that only draws attention to the black eye.
Tonight, though, I’m just ready to call it “home.”