The days are dwindling to a precious few at Shea Stadium, and looming just beyond the center-field fence is the 2009 home of the Mets with its red-brick façade and Ebbets Field-like rotunda, nearing completion. The Citi Field sign has been hung above the great Jackie Robinson Rotunda, along with other similar signage throughout the new ballpark. "There's one that crowns the big scoreboard that looms over center field," said Richard Browne, the project manager of the ballpark construction site, during a telephone conversation on Thursday. "And when it's illuminated at night, you can see it for miles all over the place."
The new ballpark is about 85 percent complete with 80 percent of the dark green seats already installed. The rotunda may be an homage to the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the green seats pay tribute to the Polo Grounds, the home of the New York Giants until 1957 and where the Mets played their first two seasons in 1962 and 1963. The foul poles have been installed and they're orange instead of the usual bright yellow. Again, orange is a color the Mets borrowed from the Giants, who wore black and orange back in the 1950s and still do now in San Francisco. When the Mets were founded they adopted orange from the Giants and Dodger blue as their basic team colors. The Robinson Rotunda is the main entranceway to the ballpark, which will greet patrons as they disembark from the elevated subway platform now only yards away. With the same archways as the old edifice framing the windows throughout, it is, of course, much larger in size and scope than its predecessor in the Dodgers' old Brooklyn ballpark. The escalators have been installed and the foundation for the famous faux marble "Terrazzo" flooring is now being set. This April 15, during the 61st celebration of Robinson joining the Dodgers to break Major League Baseball's color barrier, Mets owner Fred Wilpon said that the architects of the new ballpark drew from parts of the Ebbets Field rotunda with significant alterations. But the flooring is composed of the same material. "I did some research," he said. "I ran into my old friend Sandy Koufax and asked him, 'Sandy, do you know what the floor was in the old rotunda?' He said, "dirty!' At that dinner, Ralph Branca was there. And immediately he said, 'Terrazzo.' So when he said Terrazzo that cemented it in for us. It's Terrazzo." In the new rotunda, the Terrazzo flooring will be engraved with Robinson's name, each of the nine values penned by his daughter Sharon on how her father lived a productive and well-meaning life, and Robinson's words that are so often quoted as the mission statement for the foundation that bears his name:
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives!" All those pieces are in their final stage of engraving and casting, Browne said. The stadium lighting is in place, as well as the scoreboards. The field turf is growing on a Long Island farm and will be laid down this offseason. That puts the project right where it should be: "On time and on budget," said Browne, with Opening Day next April 13 just a little more than six months away. The project cost is $800 million, some $500 million less than the new Yankee Stadium, which is nearing completion itself in the Bronx across 161st Street from the old building, which played host to its last game Sunday. In Flushing, where the Mets have thrived since they moved from Harlem to publicly funded Shea in 1964, the new ballpark is expected to help redevelop a neighborhood. The ballpark project is the baby of the Mets, who through their construction arm of Sterling Equities, have already built a Minor League park for their Class A short-season team in Brooklyn and renovated their Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Though KeySpan Park just off the beach at Coney Island provides sweeping vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, this new one in Queens clearly is their labor of love. "It's spectacular," said the elder Wilpon, who grew up in Brooklyn where the Dodgers, Ebbets Field and Robinson were all near and dear to his heart. "You kind of think about this as a dream we all had, in particular, knowing what I wanted it to look like. And then when the bricks start coming and you start building, this is exactly what I dreamed." With its airiness and tight sightlines, Citi Field will be much more intimate than Shea, which is scheduled to begin demolition piece by piece shortly after the Mets' season ends. The process should take months and when it's over there will be a new parking lot with plenty of greenery in its place. And on a small portion of that lot there will be an engraved image of home plate and the bases etched in the pavement approximately where the infield sits today. Across the way, Citi Field will stand as the harbinger of a new era. "It is our home," the elder Wilpon said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.