July 2018

Home Pinstripes or Alternate Blues?

As some of you might know from Twitter, I’m an avid fan of Mets uniforms, and there have been plenty of oddities over the years.

However, it’s safe to say that I like the Mets current uniform lineup. The home and road primary jerseys are fantastic, and the blues are a nice touch, especially considering how infrequently they are worn (if they were shoved down our throat every day, I probably wouldn’t like them as much).

Well, after a weekend of wearing the pinstripes against the Dodgers (and getting swept in them) it wasn’t the craziest sight to see the blue uniforms in the locker room before game time.

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This continued into the warmups and even the pregame press conference where Mickey is clearly seen wearing the home alternate cap:

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I then went to the ballpark, got in my seats, and saw them take the field in their white pinstripes, which Dom modeled for the Mets twitter account:

I’m not upset about this, at all. The pinstripes are a fantastic, clean look, but why change the uniform minutes before game time? Did Lugo decide to make a last minute switch, or did they not have a blue jersey for the new reliever?

Watch: Mo Vaughn’s Blast to Right Field

Anyone else wish Chase still sponsored the Mets? Just kidding….

Nice to see #42 in a Mets uniform, looks kind of weird, but nice.

Citi Field Facts, Figures and Thoughts

One of the most popular questions I get on a daily basis from Mets fans is what to do at Citi Field. While most fans live in New York, a lot of fans live outside of the Metropolitan area or simply do not have the time or the means to visit. So, I decided I would write a small post, a beginner’s guide of sorts, with some brief history, facts & figures, and my personal opinion on the stadium that is turning eight years old this April. 


The first thing I will say about Citi Field is how every fan has a different opinion on the stadium. Some fans hate the stadium, citing a plethora of Dodgers references, and some fans love the stadium, stating that it’s family friendly activities make it a great experience for a Sunday afternoon.

This is a trend among stadiums in the 2000s, starting with Oriole Park in Camden Yards, is the movement of “Retro Modern” stadiums, something Citi Field follows to a tee, where a stadium will look rustic and display heritage on the outside, but look pristine on the inside with all of the modern amenities.

One of the biggest examples of this is the facade, known as the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:

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Like the title suggests, this rotunda, designed by POPULOUS (or HOK Sport like many call it), is designed after the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some of Jackie Robinson’s best quotes and pictures are adorned inside a replica of the Dodgers fifth and most popular stadium, Ebbits Field.

So why is this entrance criticized so heavily? Well, Citi Field is the home of the Mets, not the Dodgers. When you walk into Citi Field, a lot of Mets fans would have preferred statues of Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez, even the press has written about it at length.

And while the Mets haven’t added statues yet, they did listen in 2010, when, one year after the ballpark’s first game, they opened a “Mets Hall of Fame and Museum” with commemorative plaques, jerseys and even the World Series trophy.

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Another tactic the Mets have done to try to make the outside more Mets centric is the addition of fanwalk bricks, which is very cool to see in practice, as I’d much rather see quotes from Mets fans than Geico advertisements,  but is very costly for the fan.

Moving inside the stadium, we see another new ballpark trend. Team Stores. Two, to be exact, less than 50 steps from the entrance. This no-frills tactic, where you don’t pay much on a ticket, but are forced to pay a lot for merchandise and concessions is a truly brilliant move. If you are a fan that wants to watch the game and nothing else, you can buy a ticket for $6 dollars, and enjoy the game. If you want to have fun with your family, you can enjoy all of the concessions and fun games at Fan Fest (currently called Send In The Clowns Fan Fest, but that always changes….) like dunk tank, a fast pitch game and event  virtual simulator. Additionally, young fans can run the bases after Sunday Home Games (known as the Mr.Met Dash), which is extremely fun for the little ones, and is another example of how teams are becoming more accessible and interested in “opening up” their stadium. Ten or twenty years ago, when ballparks were considered “sacred” a post game dash would never be allowed.

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Another ballpark staple is food, and Citi Field doesn’t disappoint there. The New York Post and other newspapers have often called Citi Field the best stadium in the world as far as eats, and I don’t disagree.

Last summer, MLB sent me to Citi Field to do a “Culinary Citi” feature. (Well, two actually…. I like ballpark food) And, I completely understand why people feel this way.

From Blue Smoke to Fuku to PRESSED, to Taqueria to Shake Shack (where people will miss 3 innings of a game just to get a milkshake) there are nearly infinite options for dining. Fans that want an elevated dining experience can dine at the Porsche Grille with excellent stadium views or the Pat La Frieda Chop House (again, it’s officially called the Pat La Frieda Chop House presented by Delta Airlines, but, I fly United, so I don’t mention that.)

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While the food at Pat La Frieda’s looks good, I kind of question the idea of an indoor steakhouse at a Baseball field, but, I digress.

The actual baseball field has evolved as well (and yes, it’s very ironic that we have made it so far in a ballpark review without actually talking about the field), in 2009 the left field wall and parts of the right field walls was 16 feet high, which is double the size of a standard fence, eight feet high. Another criticism in the wall was the color of the wall.

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The above picture was taken in 2009. The black wall, a reversal from the Blue wall from the Mets previous home, Shea Stadium, was met with a lot of condemnation. In fact, the only similarity between the fields were the orange flag poles, something unique to the Mets.  Because of that, the Mets have changed the dimensions of Citi Field three times, in 2010, 2012 and in 2015.

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Today, the wall is Blue, and has two interesting areas in the space between the old fences and the new fences, both of which offer un-parralled views of the stadium, come with free food and drinks, and come with a hefty price tag.

Another thing that Citi Field improved on with the new fences was their capacity, which is technically 41,922, but is actually over 42,000 when you consider club level seating. The record attendance was the sole All-Star Game that the Mets hosted in 2013. In that mid-summer classic, 45,186 went through the turnstiles, which included a lot of standing room tickets, something the ballpark was meant to include.

Another feature of the stadium that is ultra fan-friendly (and great for fans like me that still keep score in a old fashioned scorebook) are these new ginormous Daktronics boards:

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These boards feature all of the statistics one could ever want, from batting average to WAR+, and yes, that is a baseball term.

Off the field, Citi Field hosts a lot of events through their Metropolitan Hospitality Division. A corporation that is owned by the Mets, and one that I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with in the past.

Some of these events include Tours, the Bacon + Beer Classic, The Color Run, various concerts and most notably the Meadows Concert, which, while it might have been fun for spectators, created quite a problem for the Queens Ballpark Company, which is the  company that owns Citi Field; and my hunch is the Meadows will be canned or re-located after this upcoming year.

Simply put, Metropolitan Hospitality does everything, from a birthday party to a lacrosse tournament, which, while un-conventional for a baseball stadium, is better than having the stadium stay closed all winter.

So, we’ve touched on all the elements of Citi Field. Most everything is positive, and all of the negatives have been rectified, but here’s the interesting thing. I personally wish Citi Field wasn’t built. 

I know, I know, that’s crazy, but I’ll explain.

Citi Field is infamous for being funded with $615 Million Dollars in Public Subsidies, and is privately owned. Furthermore, New Yorkers don’t have any attachment to something that they payed for, something that is very different from a lot of privately owned stadiums.

Citi Field was made without the fans input, and the owners paid for that. Attendance was very low the first few years, despite good transportation options with un-limited parking, the New York City Subway and the Long Island Rail Road. Many people were outraged by the lack of “Mets” in the ballpark, instead featuring nods to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the favorite team of Mets owner Fred Wilpon when he was a child.

Additionally, many people took objection to the naming rights deal, which was given to CitiCorp for $20 million dollars per year, the first major sports team in New York to have such a deal. T-Shirts were made reading “I’m Calling It Shea!”, and were worn by popular figures, like Jonathan Lethem, during occupy Wall Street.

Yes, Citi Field has grown on me, and has grown on many other fans, and I do realize that some children, teenagers and even adults need alternate forms of entertainment during a baseball game, citing the game is too slow, but there was something nice about Shea Stadium, a classic ballpark and a real marvel of it’s time.

It was no beauty, but with a renovation, I think it could have been a better solution. At the end of the day, however, Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark, and, you don’t even have to like baseball to attend a game, but wether or not that’s a good thing is something that has been bothering me ever since I walked into Citi Field for the first time in April of 2009. Unfortunately for me, owners have a different question nowadays: Wether or not an amenity is profitable.

Cyclones Legends of The Hidden Temple Night this Friday!

The minor leagues are known for their phenomenal promotions and theme nights, but no team does it quite like the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Yesterday, it was Stranger Things. Tomorrow night is (the fifth annual) Seinfeld Night, and on Friday, is 90’s Nick night, with my all time favorite game show, Legends of the Hidden Temple.

The 6:40 pm game will feature two Legends themed giveaways, including a Shrine of the Silver Monkey puzzle and an Olmec bobble lip.

 

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Personally, I think this is one of the most creative promotions that the Cyclones have had in a long time, and I can’t wait to get my hands on these giveaways, and get in a nice game of baseball.

To purchase tickets to this event, click here.

 

 

 

Review: 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game

Yesterday, at around 3:00pm, I packed my bags, got my final folio from the Renaissance Columbus, and took the six block walk down Broad Street to the bus stop, where I would take the COTA AirConnect to John Glenn Airport, and, after a quick stopover in Chicago, make my way back to New York.

However, something extremely unusual happened at the bus stop. As I was waiting for my bus to arrive, another bus was pulling in, and after all the customers had boarded, the bus operator, whom I had never met before, says “Hey! You write about the Mets, right? My son follows you online!”

We ended up having a nice (and brief, the bus was still in revenue service) conversation about the Triple-A All-Star Game, and about Columbus.

And while it wasn’t the first time that I’ve been recognized in public, it was a first outside of the New York Metropolitan area, and it truly made not only my day, but probably my entire trip.  Best of all, it was a euphemism of the culture in Columbus, one of happiest and most welcoming cities I’ve ever been to.

From the folks at the visitor centers, to the amazing hotel staff, and of course the local men and women on the streets; everyone, and I mean everyone, was so passionate and genuine.

The game itself embodied the same Columbus values. My entry experience was flawless, and I was given a game program detailing the rosters for both teams, and a breakdown of the days festivities.

As I approached my seats, an usher asked me “Do you know where you folks are headed?” instead of the usual snap call for “Tickets!”, “Let me see your tickets!”

It’s amazing how a little re-phrasing can make someone feel so much more welcome.

There were various familiar faces (to Mets fans) in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Eric Campbell was the starting Second Baseman for the New Orleans Baby Cakes (Marlins), and Adam Wilk pitched for the Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers).

I was in my ticketed seats for the first two innings of the game, but eventually moved out to the berm in left center, which reminded me of the one in Tradition Field during Spring Training. All of the typical sights, from the kids rolling down the hill, to the catches between parent and child, and the wide variety of colors on beach towels were present.

My favorite part of the ballpark were the tree-lined outdoor concourses. At certain times, I didn’t even think I was at the ballpark.

Even the covered concourses were nice and airy.

I eventually moved closer to home plate, behind the third base dugout for the last three innings.

I loved how there wasn’t much netting obstructing the field of play. This is a touchy subject around professional baseball, but I’ve never been a netting fan.

The Pacific Coast League won the game, only their second victory in the last ten years, which was fitting for me, as I will once again be rooting for the International League in 2019, as the Mets move their Triple-A Affiliate to Syracuse, New York.

Thank you to the Columbus Clippers for hosting a fantastic event. Without any semblance of doubt, this was the best Triple-A All-Star Game I have ever been to (and I’ve been to eight now), and they have truly set the bar, thanks in part to being great with the intangibles. Columbus has trained their employees with poise and elegance, and it’s comes off on the fans.

El Paso, you’re up next!

Review: 2018 AAA Challenge-Skills-Derby (Part 2)

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Yesterday, we covered the basics of the fan experience, or the soft product of the Triple-A Skills & Challenge competition.

This installment will focus on the actual events themselves, which differed from the Home Run Derby’s of years prior.

Previously, there would be a Home Run Derby, divided into three different rounds, featuring eight hitters, which was narrowed down to four, and eventually two in the final round.

This year, the format was completely overhauled. As previously mentioned, the all-stars were divided into teams, with one player from each team participating in each event. Each team would wear a certain color, and would be cheered on by sections wearing that color’s t-shirt.

The five events were:

  • Catcher’s Throwing Challenge.
  • Pitcher’s Bunting Challenge
  • Outfielder’s Throwing Challenge
  • Specialty Hitting
  • Home Run Derby

And, while the Catcher’s Throwing Challenge was exciting, I’d by lying if I wasn’t saying the other events fell flat.

During the pitcher’s bunting challenge, no one could bunt a ball into one of the hoops, so they had to modify the rules mid-game to speed things up.

The mid-event entertainment was also lackluster with the same t-shirt toss over and over again (remember, every fan was already given a few free t-shirts, so the prospect of a t-shirt toss wasn’t too exciting at that point).

Luckily, the home run derby re-energized the crowd. One of the participants was Mets’ own Zach Bournstein, who hit four home runs, including two to the opposite field, which was nice to see.

After the derby was over, the winning Orange team was given a gift, and the Columbus Gay Mens Choir serenaded us with fireworks in the background.

 

Review: 2018 AAA Challenge-Skills-Derby (Part 1)

Day one is in the books!

Not bad, Columbus, not bad. Certainly not a perfect event, especially from a gameday experience standpoint, but it was a fun night of minor league festivities.

When I arrived at the ballpark, I was extremely happy to see that there was no security theater, like you see in most Major League parks, and some minor league parks, like the Tacoma Rainers’ Cheney Stadium (last years host venue).

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Once inside we proceeded to the Columbus Cargo shop on the right hand side. The shop, at least 2300 square feet, was very impressive, and featured a nice collection of general Clippers gear and All-Star commemorative gear.

Usually, these shops get pretty busy, but there were no lines as far as I could tell, which was good. I purchased a curved cap, with the commemorative logo on the front, my eighth.

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Once you exit the main store in left field, most fans will turn right into the main concourse, which will take you most of the way around the ballpark, but not all the way around.

The concourse itself is absolutely stunning. For a portion of time, it is tree lined, and even the covered sections are nice and have faux-wood finishes, which creates for an upscale but comfortable setting.

There was no giveaway at the gate, but each seat featured a t-shirt with a tonal version of the commemorative logo. There were six different t-shirt colors, each promoting a different group of players.

 

For example, as someone who was on the Orange team (sections 1 thru 4), I rooted for the players wearing the orange Pacific Coast League top. There were six different players in each game, the same number of color groups in the stands.

The Clippers were nice enough to provide all fans with the shirt of their size, so if you couldn’t fit into the shirt provided, you could exchange out your shirt with a staff member.

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Unfortunately, the Clippers placed too much trust in their fans. By the two hour mark (no innings to give relative time…) when the staff had left their post, these boxes were left out un-attended to the masses, in which people stuffed their bags with as many shirts as they could get their hands on.

Even at the end, people were walking around the seating areas grabbing un-claimed shirts, walking across the street, and selling them for $10.

Back inside the stadium however, I was impressed with all of the ballpark’s amenities. The restrooms were nice and clean, and there was a general admission porch in right field with a fantastic view of the game.

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As far as the eats were concerned, there was a good amount of ballpark favorites, and a few local places, like Bob Evans, a local burger place, and City Barbecue, the place where I got my food.

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The coleslaw was super fresh, and the pulled pork hit the spot, with tangy barbecue sauce. Overall, this was very good food for a minor league ballpark.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this review, coming out tomorrow! 

Triple-A Challenge and Derby Schedule

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Today, starting at 5pm through 10:30, part one of the Triple-A All-Star week in Columbus gets underway!

The gates at Huntington Park open at 5pm sharp, and once folks are inside, there will be an autographs session, which will run from approximately 5:15pm until 6:20pm.

Following the autographs, there will be an exhibition game, following the rules of 1880’s Base ball (yes, base-ball) featuring the Ohio Muffins (whoever they are…) against the local media.

Before the main event starts, there will be a flyover, and then the brand new Triple-A Skills competition gets going! This is brand new, as in years prior, the Home Run Derby was the only feature event on the Monday.

The Derby will still be held, just slightly truncated and not until 9:00pm.

Following all of the fun and excitement, there will be a fireworks show to send everyone off.

Be sure to follow along all night long on Twitter @NikoMetsPlus (including some live streams)!

 

The Venue: Huntington Park

Hello from Washington Dulles International Airport!

The last twenty four hours sure have been hectic. I re-booked myself at least four different times to try to find the most comfortable way to get to Columbus, Ohio, and I’m now lounge hopping in one of the world’s biggest airports (drafting this in the Turkish Lounge, will probably post in the British Airways Lounge or the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse).

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Anyway, as I depart from New York City and head to Columbus, I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide some fast facts on the venue of the upcoming Triple-A All-Star Game, Huntington Park!

The park, named after the Huntington Bancshares company, opened in 2009 (the same year as Citi Field), when it was named the Ballpark of the Year by Baseballparks.com, in a competition including all Major and Minor League parks (Wrigley, Fenway and Yankee Stadium included).

Huntington replaced the iconic Cooper Stadium, which was the home for minor league baseball in Columbus for just under a century.

The park, with it’s open concourses, seats approximately 10,100 folks, and has 12 luxury suites. The home club, the Columbus Clippers, is the Triple-A affiliate of the nearby Cleveland Indians.

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This is the first Triple-A All-Star Game for the park, but, as the main outdoor venue in Columbus, has hosted many concerts, and international sporting events.

The stadium is also one of the few in professional baseball that have no outfield wall advertisements, which amounts to a clean look for the park (Mets, take notes!)

I look forward to sharing my experiences at the ballpark later tonight and on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

2018 Triple-A All-Star Week Preview

As is usual every year, I’m making my annual trip to Columbus, Ohio to see the Triple-A All-Stars in person.

This is my eighth annual all-star game, and it’s a trip I’d like to make (god willing) for the remainder of my lifetime.

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I’ve been doing this since 2011 in Salt Lake City, and have done trips to Buffalo, New York City, Durham, Omaha, Charlotte, Tacoma and I’m now looking forward to the week in Columbus.

Representing our Mets (well, Las Veags) in the Triple-A All-Star Game is outfielder Zach Borenstein, after Ty Kelly and Jeff McNeil backed out at the last moment.

You can follow along the coverage all week long on Twitter @NikoMetsPlus, and here on the blog.