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Mets break ground on new ballpark

Mets break ground on ballpark

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NEW YORK -- Prepared with shovels, inspirational words and a name for their 21st century field of dreams, the Mets and a cast of dignitaries officially broke ground on their new stadium Monday.

A state-of-the-art, open-air facility that will conjure images of Brooklyn's beloved Ebbets Field, the Mets' new home will be known as Citi Field.

"This represents the next step in the transformation and development of the Mets, on and off the field," Mets chairman Fred Wilpon said. "Clearly, this organization has momentum. We truly believe the best is yet to come."

With naming rights acquired by Citigroup Inc., the 45,000-capacity stadium is expected to be ready for Opening Day 2009.

Citi Field will prominently pay homage to the spirit of the Brooklyn Dodgers -- not only with its granite and limestone facade, but also with an exquisite rotunda area that will pay tribute to Jackie Robinson.

A statue of Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, is planned for display, to be designed by a skilled local artisan. An educational museum relating to Robinson's life and achievements will greet the thousands of fans who enter Citi Field for each game.

"Within the rotunda, we will tell the story of Jackie Robinson, not only as a great baseball player but also as a great American," Wilpon said.

Groundbreaking took place just beyond the left-field bleachers of Shea Stadium, with an assortment of local politicians -- including New York State governor George Pataki and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg -- joining chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and president Saul Katz in kicking off the countdown to 2009.

Mets manager Willie Randolph and three players -- shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman David Wright and pitcher John Maine -- were also in attendance as the ceremony took place under cloudy skies, with the group donning hard hats and shoveling symbolic dirt as construction continued feet away.

With visually striking architecture designed by HOK Sport, Citi Field is expected to be known not only for its elaborate Ebbets Field rotunda, but also a structural steel bridge motif that represents the team's connection to New York City, and a right-field porch that will hang eight feet over the playing field, like ballparks of yesteryear.

The new facility will rise in a neighborhood familiar to Mets fans, taking hold in the parking lot of Shea Stadium. As jets from La Guardia Airport roared overhead, Bloomberg said he expected Citi Field to be part of an age of renewal in Queens, with re-development planned for the adjacent Willets Point "Iron Triangle."

"When people fly into New York, they'll be able to say, 'Hey, isn't that wonderful?'" Bloomberg said. "It will benefit Queens, it will benefit the city, it will benefit Willets Point. A lot of things that will come out of this are nothing but good."

"This new stadium is all about optimism ... optimism for the future of New York City," added deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff.

In line with other new stadiums that have dotted the baseball landscape in recent years, Citi Field promises a variety of new dining, shopping and entertainment options, as well as improved sightlines that will better involve fans in the action.

The stadium's name comes from the Mets' agreement with the financial services company Citigroup Inc., a 20-year agreement that is expandable up to a 35-year agreement.

The partnership also includes the purchase of media on SportsNet New York, the introduction of community outreach initiatives and development of international business opportunities in sports and entertainment.

"Citigroup has just won the World Series of sports sponsorships," said Lewis Kaden, the firm's chief administrative officer. "We are very excited about all the different aspects of our joining together with Sterling Equities and the Mets. We're delighted to have our name on this wonderful stadium."

Though Wilpon declined to give financial details, multiple reports have indicated that the strategic alliance between the Mets and Citigroup will be worth more than an average of $20 million per year to the team.

"I think we'll be in New York and in this relationship with the Mets for a long time to come," Kaden said.

The deal with Citigroup -- one of the world's largest full-service banks with 200 million customers in more than 100 countries -- would represent a new record for stadium naming rights in the United States, surpassing a 32-year, $300 million contract between the NFL's Houston Texas and Reliant Energy, Inc.

Construction began early last summer on the facility, with a large section of Shea Stadium's parking area cordoned off for excavation equipment.

Upon Citi Field's completion, Shea Stadium is slated for demolition. The Mets' home since 1964 and the host of thousands of baseball games, as well as numerous special concerts and events, Shea's location is planned to serve as the main parking area for the new facility.

"We will never forget Shea Stadium," said New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "The 21st century Mets deserve a home befitting an emerging baseball dynasty, and they will have that."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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