Citi Field taking shape

Citi Field taking shape

NEW YORK -- It's not much to look at right now -- a twisted mass of concrete and steel, hovering low beyond Shea Stadium's outfield wall -- but the cranes bobbing and weaving systematically through the rubble are a tangible sign of something happening.

After decades of talk and years of planning, there's action.

It's the first glimpse Mets fans have of Citi Field, the new $600 million stadium set to open its doors for the 2009 season. And though it's only now beginning to take physical shape, the hive of activity buzzing behind the scenes infuses a heightened sense of excitement into Queens.

"It's very, very, very exciting," said Dave Howard, the Mets' executive vice president of business operations. "To have been working on this project now since the mid-90's and to see it physically taking shape is thrilling. To actually see the structure coming up, it's exciting for all of us."

And though the skeleton that exists now still leaves plenty to the imagination, the progress is notable. A glimpse inside shows the main concourse about 75 percent completed, with the outline of the entire lower deck slowly taking shape. The base of the scoreboard is in place in center field, and crudely drawn foul lines snake forth from where home plate will rest.

It's that main concourse that has Mets senior executive vice president Jeff Wilpon most excited, and for good reason. At an average of 46 feet wide -- more than double that of most areas at Shea -- the concourse should transform the gameday experience for fans. And with open-air views toward the field, the area will offer a pleasant experience for those taking a quick trip to the bathroom or the concession stand.

"Having 40 feet at a minimum throughout the main concourse level is, to me, pretty amazing," Wilpon said. "The fans are really going to feel the difference."

Wilpon should know, from what he's seen. While the actual Citi Field grounds are currently little more than a glorified mess, there is plenty of excitement in a showroom tucked into a quiet wing of Shea Stadium.

It's here where every aspect of Citi Field is being dissected and scrutinized -- the core of a massive architectural experiment. Many of the details of the future ballpark exist in the room, from samples of walls, carpets, tiles and ceilings, to the future lockers of stars Jose Reyes and David Wright, to a mock luxury box jammed full of amenities.

And the entrance is adorned with a mockup of the planned red-brick exterior of Citi Field that fans will soon find quite familiar.

"Compared to what we have right now, [the new stadium] just blows it away," Wilpon said. "We've got a lot more to do, but so far, so good."

There will still be plenty to do even after the stadium opens its doors in 2009, as executives see Citi Field as the first step toward a revitalization of the entire Flushing area. Howard, in particular, envisions a gameday experience not unlike those found outside Camden Yards in Baltimore and Fenway Park in Boston.

"I think this is going to be the catalyst for a major revival and revitalization of this area," Howard said. "We'd love to have a village here, with the energy and the activity on a year-round basis. It's almost as if this is the first stage in a redevelopment that will dramatically change what [the area] was."

Some not so obvious improvements also have Mets executives excited. Access to the subway, for example, will be be made more convenient. Currently, fans can only reach the 7 train behind the outfield walls -- where, at Shea, there are almost no seats. But Citi Field has been constructed so that access to public transportation is right behind home plate, and right in the middle of all the action.

They're ambitious goals, to be sure, but that's what makes the bare steel beams beyond the outfield such a welcoming sight. It's evidence that those dreams are grounded not in mere hope, but in expectation. After years of waiting, there's finally proof.

"Citi Field is on its way," Wilpon said, laughing about the fans who won't stop asking him when they'll get to see some progress. "I don't think we can turn back now."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.