It wasn't a major-league baseball game. It wasn't even a major-league baseball exhibition game. But Sunday will go down in history as the day Citi Field opened to paying customers as St. John's faced Georgetown in a college baseball game.
The Mets' new stadium passed its first test with no problems and gave fans a glimpse of a glitzy ballpark that was supposed to evoke memories of Ebbets Field, but really is all about the way a 21st-century baseball stadium is supposed to look and feel.
It's not Ebbets Field, and it's also not Shea Stadium, and thank goodness for that, especially since Citi Field had an estimated $800-million price tag. Mets fans have gone from a hovel to a luxury home, from the outhouse to... well, maybe not quite the penthouse, but Citi Field does have 646 clean restrooms.
Not everything was ready -- no distances painted on the outfield walls, no retired Mets numbers or championship banners displayed yet, about 10 blank scoreboard advertising panels -- and nobody knew their way around. But that was part of the fun for the fans who bought $5 tickets or received freebies through area community groups.
The 42,000 seats were about half-full full at any one time. But that
figure would have been higher had the crowd stayed put during the game.
Many fans walked around Citi Field's spacious concourses, checked out the centerfield food court -- the gourmet eateries were selling a limited menu -- and peeked into the dizzying array of food and retail choices. The Mets were proud to point out that concession prices are about 6 1/2 percent lower overall than in the final year of Shea.
Exploring under cover was a good thing to do since a steady, misty drizzle greeted fans when gates opened at 10:40 a.m. and was still hanging around when the college players from St. John's and Georgetown began their Big East game at 1:10 p.m. Skies brightened a bit during the middle innings.
Staging a college game to open a major-league field let to another important difference: no crack of the bat. Instead, it was the "PING!" of National Collegiate Athletic Association" id="OREDU0000001">NCAA-issue aluminum.
St. John's and Mets alum John Franco" id="PESPT002371">John Franco threw out the first pitch in a Red Storm jersey. Georgetown, the designated home team, picked up a number of "firsts" -- first hit, first run, first home run -- but the first batter in Citi Field history was Red Storm junior centerfielder Brian Kemp, a Chaminade High School graduate from East Rockaway. Kemp flied to left.
Patrolling centerfield could be an adventure for Carlos Beltran, and rightfield could be a nightmare for Ryan Church. The outfield fences were designed to be quirky, and the design worked: Citi Field has seven different fence heights, and rightfield has a asymmetrical triangle wall that is similar to the one in San Francisco's AT&T Park.
A new home run apple is tucked behind a 16-foot portion of the centerfield wall. The old apple has been consigned to rise no more, but at least it's on display at the Bullpen Gate, which is expected to be the final repository for many of Shea's faded treasures.
The bullpens are back to back in rightcenter. The rightfield upper deck hangs over the field; that was supposed to look like Detroit's defunct Tiger Stadium, but in reality reminds one more of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.
In fact, "which park does this remind you of" was a favorite game played by many on Sunday. You might see Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park in the centerfield concourse, or Denver's Coors Field in the upper deck, or any other number of new stadiums when you make your first visit.
"I think a little bit of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati," Franco said. "But every ballpark has it's own character. Once guys start playing here, this place will have its own."
The place will get a few days off before the Mets play their first exhibition games on Friday and Saturday against the Red Sox. The regular-season home opener is April 13 against San Diego.