Citi Field Opens with College Baseball Game

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Itwasn't a major-league baseball game. It wasn't even a major-leaguebaseball exhibition game. But Sunday will go down in history as the dayCiti Field opened to paying customers as St. John's faced Georgetown ina college baseball game.

The Mets' new stadium passed its first test with no problems and gave fans aglimpse of a glitzy ballpark that was supposed to evoke memories ofEbbets Field, but really is all about the way a 21st-century baseballstadium is supposed to look and feel.

It's not Ebbets Field, and it's also not Shea Stadium, and thankgoodness for that, especially since Citi Field had an estimated$800-million price tag. Mets fans have gone from a hovel to a luxuryhome, from the outhouse to... well, maybe not quite the penthouse, butCiti 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 10blank scoreboard advertising panels -- and nobody knew their wayaround. But that was part of the fun for the fans who bought $5 ticketsor received freebies through area community groups.

The 42,000 seats were about half-full full at any one time. But thatfigure would have been higher had the crowd stayed put during the game.

Many fans walked around Citi Field's spacious concourses, checked outthe centerfield food court -- the gourmet eateries were selling alimited menu -- and peeked into the dizzying array of food and retailchoices. The Mets were proud to point out that concession prices areabout 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, mistydrizzle greeted fans when gates opened at 10:40 a.m. and was stillhanging around when the college players from St. John's and Georgetownbegan their Big East game at 1:10 p.m. Skies brightened a bit duringthe middle innings.

Staging a college game to open a major-league field let to anotherimportant difference: no crack of the bat. Instead, it was the "PING!"of NCAA-issue aluminum.

St. John's and Mets alum John Francothrew out the first pitch in a Red Storm jersey. Georgetown, thedesignated home team, picked up a number of "firsts" -- first hit,first run, first home run -- but the first batter in Citi Field historywas Red Storm junior centerfielder Brian Kemp, a Chaminade High Schoolgraduate 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 outfieldfences were designed to be quirky, and the design worked: Citi Fieldhas seven different fence heights, and rightfield has a asymmetricaltriangle 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 thecenterfield wall. The old apple has been consigned to rise no more, butat least it's on display at the Bullpen Gate, which is expected to bethe final repository for many of Shea's faded treasures.

The bullpens are back to back in rightcenter. The rightfield upper deckhangs over the field; that was supposed to look like Detroit's defunctTiger Stadium, but in reality reminds one more of Rangers Ballpark inArlington, Texas.

In fact, "which park does this remind you of" was a favorite gameplayed by many on Sunday. You might see Philadelphia's Citizens BankPark in the centerfield concourse, or Denver's Coors Field in the upperdeck, or any other number of new stadiums when you make your firstvisit.

"I think a little bit of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati," Franco said. "Butevery 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.

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