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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Citi Field is a Cavern

And a big one at that.

Last night I watched an aging mere mortal, Chan Ho Park, twirl an excellent game for the Phillies, only to lose to the best pitcher out there, Johan Santana, 1-0. The Mets held the Phillies to 3 hits, and Santana struck out 10 (making Jason Werth looking particularly silly on several occasions; Werth was one of the hitting heroes of the Phillies' previous series in St. Louis).

Last night was my first glimpse at Citi Field. A friend who is a Mets' fan lamented to me over the weekend that the fences were too far back, that fly balls die there, and that the Mets will have to shorten the fences at some point. Otherwise, it will be dubbed "Petco East" in a hurry. (The wags will have a fun time with the analogy of a company that, among other things, sells dog food to a commercial bank, but lest I digress. . .).

The comment piqued my curiosity, because when Citizens' Bank Park was launched about 5 years ago it was dubbed a launching pad, and many fans, writers and pundits publicly worried about the Phillies' future. (Contrary to some popular opinion, CBP is not the best hitters' park in baseball. The last time I checked Baseball Prospectus, it was only the eighth best hitters' park, with Coors Field and the park in Arizona being the best). They worried that good pitchers wouldn't sign as free agents or stay in Philadelphia, that teams built around power haven't been successful all the time (they pointed west to Chicago and Wrigley, and many of their comments were on the eve of the Red Sox' winning two World Series, which, of course, disqualified the lament to a certain degree).

And they worried too much. The Phillies managed to build a solid hitting lineup, fortified their bullpen and had enough starting pitching to stay in the games. They adapted, and they won the World Series last year. Somehow, the concern about the fences at CBP and the carry didn't matter all that much.

And they probably, in the scheme of things, won't matter all that much at Citi Field. The Mets will learn to build a team to their advantage, even if their pitchers will need to be cautious on the road, where balls will carry better (the Mets' pitchers could get a little less careful given that balls don't carry all that well and then learn on the road that a warning-track flyout in Citi will be a home run in Cincy). The Mets have a good core of position players, have money to spend (unless Bernie Madoff's transgressions mortally wounded the Wilpon family's finances), and have a good ability to adapt. Instead of having Citi as a place that kills the home team's bats, opposing teams will come into the stadium overswinging, knowing that runs could be hard to come by.

The reactions to the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are interesting and somewhat predictable. Many will point out what they are not, and fewer will enjoy what they are -- at least if their home teams are struggling and the stadium seemingly is playing a role. But while the ball carries in the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees' pitching hasn't been all that good, either. And while the ball doesn't carry in Citi, the Mets' bats haven't woken up. During the long haul, it seems like the stadium factor evens itself out, while a team's shortcomings become more magnified.

All that said, Citi is a cavern, and the ball hasn't carried so far. Whether that lack of carry gives Mets' pitchers a false sense of security when they go on the road remains to be seen, as does whether the Mets will milk the built-in advantages of their home field for all their worth.

Even if it means fewer home runs from the lumber company of Delgado, Beltran, Wright and Reyes.


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