Citi Field signifies new era for Mets

Citi Field signifies new era for Mets

NEW YORK -- Roughly two hours after Heath Bell put the final stamp on the inaugural game at Citi Field, quiet hushed over the ballpark. A lone television crew wrapped up its work in one corner of the field. The dazzling red light of the Pepsi-Cola sign glared down on them from right, and a line of high-definition video displays shot light into the air at regular intervals.

But for a place so vibrant, so alive only hours earlier, Citi Field was unnervingly still.

A glance at the mound evoked memories of the first pitch in Citi Field's history, at 7:11 ET, a fastball from Mike Pelfrey to Jody Gerut. It evoked memories of the runs that Pelfrey had allowed, five of them in all, leading to a Mets defeat. Leading to disappointment for most of the 41,007 fans who saw it.

More than that, it evoked memories of a legend, of Tom Seaver, Tom Terrific, who preceded Pelfrey's pitch with one of his own. A bullpen session in California and some exercise in Queens allowed Seaver to deliver it straight and true, into the glove of Mike Piazza.

Popularity met popularity with a pop.

And how fitting it was that it was Seaver, and no one else, who delivered the pitch.

"Were they going to ask another Hall of Famer?" Seaver asked.

On this day, only the best in Mets history would do. That's why Dwight Gooden was here, taking his place among the team's all-time great pitchers. That's why John Franco was here, celebrating his role as one of the club's greatest relievers. That's why Piazza and Darryl Strawberry and Rusty Staub and broadcaster Ralph Kiner were here, all of them significant to the Mets in their own different ways.

Yet even the presence of those men, an ancestry in blue and orange, was not what David Wright was going to remember about this day. Citi Field belongs to Wright, perhaps more than to anyone else. It's unlikely he'd admit that -- his modesty won't allow it. But Wright did step onto the Kentucky Bluegrass on Monday and admired -- if not what it might become -- what Citi Field already is.

His memories began to form. He already loves this place.

"It's the atmosphere," Wright said. "Taking the field for the first time. Hearing your name in the starting lineup for the first game here, just the fans' reaction to us taking the field. It's just kind of the little things that are stored in the back of your mind that you'll really appreciate down the road."

Certainly, it was an event. Jerry Seinfeld was here. Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended, even snagging a souvenir ball in the ninth. Four U.S. Marine F18 Hornets were here, flying above 200 members of the military and 41,007 civilians. Broadway singers were here. And a ways to the west, even hours after the game, the Empire State Building shone blue and orange, much in the same way the Pepsi-Cola sign shone red.

Maybe Mets manager Jerry Manuel was right when he called this place "beautiful." It is pristine. And the Mets hope that they will age along with it, a team and its home becoming connected in the way that the Yankees identify with the old Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox with Fenway Park, the Cubs with Wrigley Field.

This, the Mets hope, is more than a ballpark. It's their ballpark. It's their Citi Field.

And so Mets players milled around the spacious home clubhouse prior to the game, drinking in every last detail of their home. Some played pinball. Others played pool. Still others hit in the batting cages, soaked in the whirlpools, studied in the video room. This place was theirs, they knew, but they wanted to make it so.

How the Mets fare this season will prove significant to the ballpark. They want to win, and the fans who plan on crowding the concourses all season long want them to win, too. Right now, Citi Field is defined by the concessions and the sightlines and the massive scoreboard in center field. But in a decade or two, it will be judged like every other park is judged: by the quality of the teams that played in it, and the history those players forged in it.

The Mets want to make some history here, at Citi Field. They don't want it to be quiet, without even wind whipping through the promenade level. No, the Mets envision a day when hours after the game, they'll still be here, tired, dirty, but unwilling to leave. They want to have a reason to celebrate here, at Citi Field. At their park.

"It's not about the stadium when you're a player," Seaver said, offering the perspective and the wisdom of someone who's won. "It's about the team."

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