I left early to get to Citi Field in time to see batting practice, and as a result I didn’t see many baseball fans on the trip. There was a crowd of people lining up at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda gate by 10:30 a.m., but once they opened up at 10:40 a.m., it was quick to get through the security check to get inside.
A small number of fans went to watch batting practice, but most seemed like they were headed to the shops to see what kind of Opening Day / 50th anniversary merchandise was available for sale. All of the Mets players and coaches wore Gary Carter jerseys during batting practice, which was a very nice tribute. (On the other hand, it didn’t make it easy to recognize the new players… especially for those of us who don’t have the greatest eyesight.)
When the Mets were finished, I decided to do my shopping. I picked up the Opening Day pin, another pin for the 1964 All-Star Game, and a Gary Carter memorial patch at the main gift shop on the field level. I considered the commemorative Mets 50th anniversary Official Major League Baseball… until I saw the $40 price tag. (If you look on eBay, you can find them for half that cost.) Checkout was again quick & painless.
I was going to back and watch the Braves take batting practice and see if I could get close enough to the field to try for Livan Hernandez‘s autograph, but I got a phone call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while and ended up talking to him instead. Later, I did some more souvenir shopping at the main store on the Promenade level so I could pick up another Carter patch for him. That was a less fun experience, since the cashiers were having issues with ringing people up and making change…
When I went to eat lunch around noon, the Shake Shack was the only place on the center field food court with a long line. I was able to walk right up to El Verano Taqueria and order.
By 12:30 p.m., I’d made my way upstairs, found my seat and filled out my scorecard. Preparations were underway to start the Opening Day ceremonies, but I’d estimate three-quarters of the seats were empty at this point.
The ceremony was understated, but well done. There was no military flyover, no famous anthem singer, no giant American flag across the outfield… but none of that was needed. Instead, we had Ralph Kiner introduce the Mets starting lineup and we had a chance to show Gary Carter’s family that we missed him.
When the game finally started — about ten minutes later than scheduled — the seats had filled in pretty well. By the middle of the game, Citi Field looked as full as I’d ever seen it, and when the game was over it took quite a while to get to the stairs and head out of the stadium.
If Johan Santana isn’t the same Cy Young caliber pitcher that the Mets traded for in 2008, he showed that he’s still capable of getting major league hitters out and pitching well enough to win games.
Daniel Murphy can hit — though apparently only when he walks up to the plate to “I’m Shipping Up To Boston.” I didn’t recognize the song he walked up to in his other at-bats, but I hope I don’t hear it again. (No, I’m not really that superstitious… I just didn’t like the song.)
David Wright came through with the hit to break the scoreless tie in the sixth inning, and that earned him Player of the Game honors from the Mets. But my Player of the Game recognition went to Tim Byrdak. We all wondered if he’d be ready to pitch on Opening Day. When Terry Collins called on him in the seventh inning, Braves rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky was standing on third base with one out. Byrdak struck out Jose Constanza and Michael Bourn to leave him there, and that was the turning point in the game.
Byrdak combined with Ramon Ramirez, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to pitch four scoreless innings in relief of Santana… I never expected that after watching the relievers struggle all spring.
After the game, I stopped to check out the Mets Museum before I left Citi Field. The exhibits have been re-done to reflect 50 years of Mets history instead of focusing on the 1986 season. (I couldn’t get too excited about last year’s exhibits when Mitchell & Ness would sell you replicas of just about every jersey or jacket on display.)
My favorite new additions were a pair of metal chairs from the Polo Grounds that are on loan from the Baseball Hall of Fame, and a scorecard from Tom Seaver‘s famous “imperfect game.” (I didn’t get a picture of the chairs, but I’d love to know where precisely they were used. They didn’t seem as though they would have been standard stadium seating.)
I’m looking forward to going back through the museum next time I’m at Citi Field, when it will probably be less crowded.
Here’s my scorecard from Thursday’s game. Saturday I’m off to Trenton for my first minor league game of the year.