If you read other people’s ballpark ratings, you notice that there are only a handful of parks where there seems to be wild disagreement on their merits. Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Kauffman Stadium are three. But one of the most polarizing of the bunch is Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Some critics absolutely rail on the place calling it a colossal missed opportunity. Others, on the other hand, love it. I’m in the latter camp.
There are some flaws like odd sightline issues. And the scene immediately around the stadium may be the worse in baseball. But Citi Field reset the standard for ballpark fare. It showcases its own team history nicely while also conjuring up some New York baseball history. And it’s home to passionate, cynical, hard-scrabble New York fans that provide the best banter in MLB.
Of the two New York ballparks, I marginally prefer this one. Compared to Yankee Stadium, good seats are easier and cheaper to come by. The food here is incredible, and the beer offerings are strong. The immediate surrounding area is bad, but the rest of New York City is just a 7-train ride away. So, get your creative insults ready and come on down and meet the Mets.
Exterior aesthetics 9/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 9/10; Sightlines & seating 7/10; Amenities & entertainment 9/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 4/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 6/10; WOW Factor 20/30. Total 80 points divided by 2 for 38.
Why did the Mets build a red brick retro park in the middle of nowhere? The romantic would say it was designed to be an homage to Ebbet’s Field. The cynic says it’s a copycat structure of red brick exterior with rotunda, black wrought iron and dark green seats. I side with the romantics here.
- While the big grand entrance rotunda can be found in other ballparks, like Seattle and Colorado, I like this one the best. Not because it fits in to the aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood (there is no neighborhood really in which to fit) but because it reflects another romantic NY ballpark of yesteryear. It’s one thing for Tiger Stadium to be replicated in Texas where there’s no connection between the two structures. But it makes sense that Long Island’s current ballpark honors Long Island’s most famous ballpark.
- The inside of the rotunda is impressive with inspirational décor commemorating Jackie Robinson. Robinson, of course, never played for the Mets, but he did break the color barrier with Brooklyn, and one could argue it makes more sense to honor him here than in LA.
- The Mets added a nice Hall of Fame honoring its past greats. While not of the scale of the Yankees or Braves, it’s still a nice exhibit
- Given the park is amidst chop shops and scrapyards, there’s no need for a view of the outfield, so the Mets enclosed the place. The outfield view has a bit of a Times Square feel with three large scoreboards and a lot of advertising. It’s a bit of visual overload that would feel out of place in, say, Kansas City, but works well here in NYC. I only wish it was a little more symmetrical which would make it more visually pleasing. I can see a day in the future, as videoboard technology continues to evolve, when an absolutely mammoth scoreboard replaces the center and right field boards.
- There’s a good kids’ area in center field if you need one
- The concourses are open allowing for a view of the field as you stroll around the park
- They replicated the janky Big Apple home run celebration from Shea which, despite feeling like amateur hour, somehow brings a smile to my goofy mug
- The plentiful club areas still feel less elitist here than other parks, perhaps because a lot of fans end up in these seats through the secondary market, bringing with them their enthusiasm and blue collar ethos. From one of those clubs, the Foxwood Club on the 300-level, there are some good (albeit distant) views of the Manhattan skyline. And from the Delta Club, you can watch teams hit from their indoor cages, making Citi Field one of the first parks to offer this cool feature.
- There is a lot of cantilevering here. Some of it feels haphazard as it can lead to some fairly obstructed view seats in desirable parts of the park. For instance, some higher-row lower-deck seats along the first base and third base sides have views partially blocked by an overhang from the Hyundai Club seats. You could end up with an expensive ticket and a lousy view.
- Between rails and plexiglass barriers, low rows in upper decks can also have sightline issues. For some reason, this seems to be a bigger problem here than any other ballpark.
- The Shea bridge which connects the rightfield seats to the amenities in center feels contrived
- Because it’s enclosed, there’s less of a visual sense of place here
Overall, it’s a humungous upgrade from Shea. As one fan so eloquently put it, “It’s nice to have a park where you just can’t urinate on the walls”.
The Mets did a bang-up job here offering great bites from local purveyors. The result is the best ballpark food experience in MLB and one that is being emulated by other teams as they improve their game.
If you’re from out of town, you can basically do a NYC food tour in CitiField. Consider:
- It was the first park to have a Shake Shack, the amazing NYC burger joint now found in most major markets.
- Fuku offers a spicy chicken sandwich that would be THE signature concession in most other parks
- Jacob’s Pickles offers another fantastic chicken sandwich, served on a biscuit. as well as fried pickles.
- You can get an amazing Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich or a full service sit-down meal at Pat LaFrieda Chophouse if you have fancy tickets in the Delta Club
- You can get a NYC slice of pizza from legendary pizzeria Patsy’s
- The Polar Burger is amazing: a great patty topped with maple-spiced caramelized onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, cherry pepper bacon jam, and Special Sauce served on a brioche bun brushed in duck fat.
- The Metropolitan Fry Factory sells “ripper” dogs including one with Swiss fondue, caramelized onions and crispy onions that made me make a happy sound when I bit in.
- The Hot Pastrami on Rye is legit (and delicious)
- Big Mozz sells cheesy delights
- Cento Percento offers a simple, yet fresh paninis that replaces the now-defunct Mama’s of Corona Italian Hero sandwich as best Italian sammy in the park
- Lobster Shack offers decent lobster rolls
- Lil Sweet Chick does a good Chicken and Waffle
- Daruma offers a variety of sushi, including salmon belly rolls and spicy crunchy tuna.
- The Promenade level features NYC stalwarts Murray’s Mac & Cheese and Pig Beach BBQ
- Nicoletta offers two parm sandwiches that hold up really well
- And you can even get a Dole Whip
- My Personal Fave is the 6-pack of Arancini Bros. rice balls which are a near-perfect ballpark food that seems to be unique to Citi Field. Enjoy a Ragu, Bianco, Pizza ball, Taco ball, Mozz ball and a Nutella in a half egg carton of yumminess,
Grab your stretchy pants and come hungry.
Citi Field is dominated by the macro brews, though with some hunting you can find local stuff from Interboro, Brooklyn Brewery, Coney Island Brewing, EBBS, Five Boroughs, LIC Beer Prooject, Montauk, Ommegang, Radiant Pig, and Sloop Brewing. Dogfish Head, Allagash and Sam Adams also pours.
Wine drinkers also have a fair range of choices with a couple of dozen wines available throughout the park.
I mourned the closure of the wonderful Mikkeller brewery that was just outside the right field gate. Ebbs Brewing took over the space and the equipment for their beer and makes some good stuff of their own (IPA No. 7 was a really good hazy). Mets fans once again have a relatively-affordable, convenient place to pre-game for good suds and some bites.
In one of the earlier years of Citi Field’s life, I decided to hit one of the delis next to all the chop shops to try to get some “local flavor”. Navigating the potholed streets that were filled with liquid of some sort (despite no rain for a couple of days), I stepped over a dead cat and dodged two large rats before determining this was a bad idea.
There are plans afoot to turn this neighborhood into something other than this dystopian industrial wasteland. Until then, pre-game by grabbing some dumplings in Flushing or empanadas in Corona. Or grab a few drinks before getting on the 7-train. Or eschew pre-gaming and just take a walk through the nearby US tennis center and the grounds from the 1964 World’s fair in preparation for the calories you’ll likely consume.
Kudos to the Mets for pricing sanity compared to their crosstown rivals. It’s NYC, so things won’t be cheap, but there are several places more expensive. And if the Mets disappoint as they seemingly do annually, you can get some good seats on the secondary market for a fair price.
The 7 train drops you at the park doorstep. If you catch an Express train from Manhattan, it’s a much quicker ride from Time Square than a similar ride to the Bronx for a Yankee game. You can also take the LIRR for a nice quick trip if you’re staying around Penn Station. Parking is plentiful and not crazy-priced for NYC, so if you’re stuck with a car, you have options.
Like all cities north of the Mason-Dixie line, early season games can be cold or wet. Fortunately, you can just eat your way through any rain delay.
Mets fans combine a little of the New York bravado with a sense of self-loathing. Their cynicism helps them cope with the team’s consistent failure to play up to the hype. They may be the most optimistic and most fatalistic fan base at the same time. But man are they fun a crew with whom to watch a ballgame. I learn more new insults and statements to express frustration here than just about anywhere. But they’re also largely into the game, are loud, and give the game a bigger sense of importance than most other parks.
A good example of Mets fans: One game I was sitting behind a group of 4 large dudes with thick Long Island accents in really good seats. The National Anthem that day was being song by a group developmentally challenged elementary students. The fact that these kids were overcoming their own insecurities and singing a tricky song to a large crowd was somewhat inspirational even though the quality of the singing was, by objective measures, awful. About halfway through the song, one of the louts behind me says to his buddy in a semi-hushed voice, “Dude, I dare you to boo” (inappropriate, but hilarious) only to be met with a “Shaddup and let the little retards sing.” That’s your stereotypical Mets fan: rough around the edges with a sense of gallows humor, but ultimately good-hearted.
Other things make a Mets game fun. The rendition of Lou Monte’s Lazy Mary after the 7th inning stretch is one of the better follow-up songs in baseball. Mr. Met, when he’s not flipping the bird, is a cool mascot. The “Meet the Mets” ditty that comes pre-game is one of the better vintage team songs. The T-shirts they fire from the T-shirt cannons are better quality than freebies in other parks. And the constant flow of planes in and out of nearby LaGuardia remind you you’re still in an urban area despite being in an enclosed stadium.
It’s almost as good a baseball experience as it is a dining experience.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun NYC eateries:
- Leo’s Lattcini and Lemon Ice King of Corona (Corona. Leo’s is the home of the original Mama’s sandwich, which you can no longer get at the park. Walk a few more blocks and wash it down with one of 36 flavors of Italian ice, which is so silky, you’d swear there was dairy in it. You can walk to Citi Field from there if it’s not too hot.)
- White Bear (Flushing. Great dumplings and wontons at this hole-in-the-wall place less than a mile walk east of the stadium. Order the #6 like everyone else.)
- Di Fara Pizzeria (Midwood. Nowhere near the stadium, this hole in the wall in an ungentrified section of Brooklyn is often rated as the best slice in NY. It’s worth the trip and the inevitable lineup.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
Assuming you want to something besides EBBS (which is a very viable option).
- Kelly’s Pub (Flushing. Classic cash-only Irish dive bar in the middle of Chinatown, one subway stop or about a 15-20 minute walk east of the ballpark)
- COOP Restaurant and Bar (Flushing. A hip place with killer Korean fried chicken and good cocktails a 15-minute walk east of the ballpark)
- TORST (Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This is a bit of a cheat since it’s not a Mets bar, nor is it particularly close. It’s an upscale gastropub 9 miles from the ballpark, with an incredible beer selection, and very professional service).
One bar in the area worth hitting:
McSorley’s Ale House. (East Village. America’s oldest continuously operated bar. Sawdust on the floor and inexpensive but good house ale by the mug. With mottos “Be good or be gone” and “We were here before you were born”, you get an great old school NYC blue collar vibe.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Other Half Brewing (Red Hook, Brooklyn. NYC’s best craft brewer offering killer IPAs in an always-packed taproom).
- Three’s Brewing (Gowanus, Brooklyn. Just five blocks south of the Barclay’s Center is this brewer with a nice mix of experiential home brews and guest taps.)
- Brooklyn Brewery (Williamsburg. Large craft brewer offering tours and a large tasting room).
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum (downtown Manhattan. A somber memorial to that fateful day)
- Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty (You have to do the Statue once even though security is ridiculous and the views are better from the Staten Island ferry. Ellis Island is a sobering tour.)
- Coney Island (Ride the Cyclone, grab some brews from Coney Island Brewery, and, assuming it reopens, enjoying some pizza from Totonno’s coal-fired oven.)
If you want to get a real sense of the amazing city of New York, come here. The fans and the food give you a taste of the greatness of Gotham even though the place sits in a dumpy area. Bring your kiddies, bring your wife. You may just have the time of your life.