Architect Rem Koolhaas once wrote, "We do not build pyramids," reprimanding Western society for its pervasive shopping centers and lack of lasting cultural landmarks.
He missed the point, I think, because this society is nothing like Ancient Egypt, where they worshipped pharaohs as god-kings. Here in the contemporary Western world, we're ruled mostly by capitalism, for better or worse. The very malls that Koolhaas lamented are lasting cultural landmarks, even if they're not built to last as long as their counterparts from Ancient Egypt.
From an airplane flying over the United States, baseball fields and stadiums are the nation's most distinguishing feature. I often wonder if, after our empire someday crumbles, future civilizations won't point to them as the lasting achievements of our society. Our ability to play, enjoy and spend money on sports, after all, is inextricably linked to the success of capitalism here. Perhaps stadiums are our pyramids.
Some of the pratfalls of capitalism have brought controversy to the Mets' new home, Citi Field, but I am not here to discuss that issue because I realize I don't entirely understand it. I'll put that aside and examine the stadium itself, which I was able to tour on Tuesday.
Stadium architecture might be something of an oxymoron (in the U.S., at least), but it's long been an interest of mine. I've been to 22 Major League stadiums and countless Minor League parks. Some are nicer than others, but I've enjoyed every last one of them because of a single unifying factor: They play baseball there.
From a spectator's standpoint, Citi Field will stand with the best of them. Though it will be impossible to make definitive judgments about the stadium until it's officially open for business, the sightlines were great; I couldn't find a bad seat. Fans used to the distance and pitch of Shea Stadium's upper regions will be shocked by Citi's intimacy.
All the seats have plenty of legroom and cupholders, and bigger bathrooms combined with wider concourses and more concession stands will mean fans won't have to ever miss much of the action on the field. And Citi's food, I'm told, will represent a significant upgrade over what was available at its giant blue predecessor.
They had me at "taco stand."
As for the aesthetics of the place, I'm on the (asymmetrical) fence. I love the bridge in right-center field and found myself fantasizing about Carlos Beltran bombs sailing over it. But the bridge is positioned under one of two tremendous scoreboards, between the new Home Run Apple and the Tiger Stadium-style right-field overhang, and gets lost a bit in the mix. Between all that and the nooked-and-crannied wall, there's so much going on in the outfield that there's almost a homogenizing effect. No single element can stand out because there are so many elements.
The Jackie Robinson Rotunda, though still incomplete, was impressive in its scale. Before Tuesday's tour, I'd seen plenty of renderings of the stadium's most subway-friendly entrance, but they didn't do it justice. The grand proportions and high ceiling make the area feel almost like a church, and render it a suitable tribute to an icon of Robinson's stature.
I've never been in love with the type of non-structural brick veneer that surrounds most of Citi Field, but the new stadium is undoubtedly easier on the eye than Shea.
Don't get me wrong: I'll miss Shea Stadium very much, but unlike many fans I've spoken to, I have no doubt that I'll be able to take to Citi quickly based on one indisputable fact:
They're going to play baseball there.
When they do, it will be interesting to see how the field plays. The Mets worked to keep their new home a pitcher's park, like the old one, but trying to predict how a stadium will affect the baseball played therein is a fool's game (and one I'm about to play).
There was a strong breeze on Tuesday blowing off the Flushing Bay, through a stadium opening down the third base line toward an opening in right field. I initially suggested that it could push fly balls over the left-field fence as a similar airflow pattern does in Philadelphia, but upon further examination, the wind appeared to be blowing decidedly from one foul territory to the other. The gusts seemed more likely to push balls out of play than outta here, but it stands to reason that the number of flies to right pushed foul would be balanced out by the number of flies to left pushed fair.
Speaking of foul territory: There's a lot less of it in play. That seems to me like a big plus for hitters. Fewer foul outs mean fewer outs. Like the Mets, I'd prefer a pitcher's park, but given how much closer the lack of foul territory puts the fans, it seems like a worthy compromise. Plus, that massive left-field wall should turn plenty of home runs into doubles, balancing out the absence of foul ground.
But then again, who knows? I'm sure there are any number of factors I've failed to consider that will affect the way games are played and watched at Citi Field. The only sense I'm sure I took away from the tour is one of longing.
It will be four months of hot-stove nonsense until Citi Field opens and I'm not sure I can stand the wait. And whether you believe that stadiums like the Mets' new home are lasting signs of societal achievement or merely temples where we can worship superhumans named Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Santana, if you've read this far you're no doubt anticipating Citi's opening as much as I am because it will accompany something inexplicably awesome:
They're going to be playing baseball.