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Citi Field nearly ready to open its doors

Citi Field nearly ready to open its doors

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NEW YORK -- The left-field wall rises conspicuously high at Citi Field, making it both a point of note and, recently, a point of contention.

"Eighteen feet," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon guessed on Tuesday, before a site worker pegged the actual height at 16 feet. And Wilpon was pleased.

Citi Field, he said, may retain its predecessor's reputation as a pitcher-friendly park, but it hardly caters only to those on the mound. Toward the end of September, in fact, Wilpon invited players David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans out for a private batting practice session at the new park, and all three of them managed to yank a pitch over the wall.

"Evans put it halfway up the left-field deck," Wilpon said. "It's totally reachable."

Such details of the new stadium have now become focal points, because Citi Field is so close to completion. A stroll through the park on Tuesday revealed that all the seats have been installed, the press box and Diamond Club are already encased in glass, and workers have begun installing major appliances within the concession stands.

Yet of greater interest to Wright, Murphy, Evans and others in uniform, of course, is what lies deeper within the stadium. Lockers have been fully installed in the home clubhouse -- Wright has already chosen his -- and the carpet and bathroom tiles feature images of the fluorescent icons affixed to Shea Stadium's exterior walls.

Adjacent rooms lead to some typical clubhouse amenities -- the manager's office, kitchen and weight room, to name a few -- save for one in the back that houses a hot tub, a cold tub and an underwater treadmill. Unlike anything at Shea Stadium, that room, along with one for indoor batting cages and pitching mounds, will allow players to rehab injuries at Citi Field, rather than always fly to the team's Spring Training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

In designing this ballpark, the Mets patched together ideas and influences from stadiums around the country. An overhang in right field, for example, protrudes above the warning track in a nod to the old Tiger Stadium. In the upper deck, a two-tiered layout reveals influence from Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. Pieces of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Coors Field in Denver are present, though Wilpon noted that his greatest influence in the design of Citi Field was seven-year-old PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

"I wanted to super-size Pittsburgh," said Wilpon, who went on a nationwide ballpark tour before building his own. "I really liked Pittsburgh the best."

Yet the one influence, even more than Pittsburgh's, that Wilpon wanted to capture was that of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn -- the inspiration for Citi Field's exterior and perhaps its most prominent feature, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

Still incomplete, the rotunda will become Citi Field's main entranceway, allowing fans to spill out of the Willets Point subway station and into a miniature baseball shrine. An escalator leads up to the seating bowl and down below, Robinson's nine values -- a staple of the Jackie Robinson Foundation's message -- are featured. Before Opening Day, workers will also erect a nine-foot No. 42 for fans to see as they enter the park.

Steps outside the rotunda lies something similarly striking, if only for its incompleteness. Shea Stadium, home of the Mets for 44 years, has been reduced to an empty dirt bowl, its seats stripped, its sod removed and nearly all of its signage disappeared. Wilpon said he hoped that Shea would be completely disassembled and converted into a parking lot by Opening Day, with small markers at the site of home plate and the pitcher's rubber.

Already, Shea Stadium's frame is nearly lost in the shadow of Citi Field, which -- despite holding only 42,500 seats, roughly a 25 percent drop from Shea -- seems built on a much greater scale. There are open areas for picnic tables and standing room, and a "GA Club" behind home plate in which ticket-holders can mingle. There is a Diamond Plaza near the rotunda where Shea Stadium's old home run apple will rest, and a large concrete basin in center field for Citi Field's new apple.

There are tiered bullpens in center field -- the Mets will have the lower one, closer to the field -- and a plaza outside the rotunda for greenery.

Wilpon was steps away from that plaza, inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, when he looked up and admired his handiwork.

"Powerful, right?" he said. "It's now becoming what we want it to become."

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

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