Fans pay top dollar for Citi Field opener

April 13, 2009 9:19:07 PM PDT
Of all the fans who paid top dollar to attend Monday's official Citi Field opener, perhaps no one beat the father and son in section 11, row 8, seats 5 and 6. Those were the Bernard Madoff seats - the spots auctioned Sunday by the trustee overseeing the liquidation of the disgraced investor's assets.

The man who paid $7,500 for the pair of tickets to the New York Mets' game against San Diego would not give his last name. He identified himself as 47-year-old Kurt and his 16-year-old son as Mike, said they were from New York state and produced ticket stubs for the $525 seats matching those sold by trustee Irving Picard.

"I didn't expect to pay what we had to pay," Kurt admitted before the Mets' 6-5 loss. "But when you get on eBay and you refuse to lose, you know, you end up paying more than you want."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sat not far away, in the front of the Delta Club section, in a $695 first row seat. New York Gov. David Paterson also was scheduled to be at the Mets' home opener, as was baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Mets Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver threw out the ceremonial first pitch to retired catcher Mike Piazza. Former Met Darryl Strawberry also was on hand, as was comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

"I thought the dirt was beautiful. I'm not being facetious. They had a tough time at Shea with the drainage," Seaver said.

A cat briefly interrupted play by running in foul territory in the fourth inning - a tan cat, as opposed to the famous black one that appeared at Shea Stadium during a Mets-Cubs game during the 1969 pennant race.

The cast of the Broadway revival of Bernstein's "West Side Story" had just sung the national anthem and four U.S. Marine F18 Hornets had flown over the ballpark when Jody Gerut homered on Mike Pelfrey's third pitch. When Shea Stadium opened in 1964, the first home run also was allowed by the Mets, to Pittsburgh Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.

The Mets lost their Polo Grounds opener 4-3 to Pittsburgh in 1962 and their Shea Stadium opener by the same score to the Pirates two years later. The Mets finished 1,859-1,713 at Shea, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Hour before Citi Field's formal opener - they played a pair of exhibition games against the Boston Red Sox on April 3-4 - Mets owner Fred Wilpon showed guests around, pointing up at the 10 Sterling Suites, 44 Empire Suites and three owner suites.

Fans said the 41,800-seat ballpark, which cost $800 million, was a big improvement over 57,343-seat Shea, which was razed and is being converted to a parking lot for Citi Field. The new place gets its name from Citigroup, a company that received government bailout money to stay in business.

"It's just nicer" than Shea, said Jennifer Gallagher of upstate Fishkill, N.Y. "You can see the field better from wherever you sit."

Gallagher had more than a passing attachment to Shea. She worked as a beer vendor there during her college years, met her late husband there and held her wedding reception at Shea's Diamond Club - her husband's idea - in 1995.

"It's bittersweet," she said of Monday's game. "It's turning over a new leaf."

Selig praised Citi and the new Yankee Stadium as the latest additions in baseball's building boom. By the time Minnesota's Target Field opens next year and the Florida Marlins' new ballpark comes on line in 2012, only Oakland and perhaps Tampa Bay will be seeking new stadiums.

"It's really been a remarkable wave," he said. "Obviously, they've been great for baseball."

Only Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914) remain from pre-expansion ballparks.

"Fenway and Wrigley Field are just cathedrals. If at all humanly possible, they shouldn't be destroyed for a long time," Selig said. "The problem this sport had in the '60s and '70s, they built bowls. They all looked alike. They really weren't baseball stadiums. I used to make a joke, but I was sort of facetious, is that if you had a little too much too drink and you woke in one of those parks, you wouldn't know if you were in Pittsburgh, St. Louis or Philadelphia because they all looked alike."

Selig doesn't have a problem with the increase in revenue for the Mets and Yankees that come with the new ballparks.

"New York teams have always had an inherent advantage, and that's fine. That's the way it is. If people are sitting worried, and complaining about that, they should have better things to do," he said.

Seaver took note at what remained of Shea - rubble being removed by 10 back-hoes.

"I see a parking lot. It was not interesting architecturally whatsoever," he said. "That doesn't mean there aren't sentimental memories there, but it's about the people."

Fans getting off the subway let out a whoop at the sight of the new stadium, whose brick facade was designed to evoke Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913-57, where Wilpon attended games in his youth.

Two hours before game time the line to get into one of the many stores selling Mets merchandise snaked around the 40-plus-foot-wide concourse, which circles the field level.

"I'm in line for a new fitted hat," said Jim Johnsen, of Sayville, Long Island. "I buy one at every game I go to. Sometimes two."

Johnsen said he and girlfriend Colleen McDonald attend 10 to 15 Mets games a season.

McDonald was sad to see the end of Shea. "That was my childhood," she said. "But we'll tell our grandkids when they take down Citi Field that we were here on this day."

Many fans paid steep prices to attend the sold-out game. The average price of a ticket sold on StubHub.com was $349, with prices ranging from $60 for a promenade (upper deck) ticket to $1,471 for a seat in section 113 behind the Mets dugout.

Dave Abish, of Bellmore, Long Island, said he and brother Scott bought $245 face-value tickets for $400 each on StubHub.

"I figure it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be here on opening day of a new ballpark," he said.

Some have complained of obstructed views, arguments the Mets have minimized.

Lines were long at the concession stands, where choices included a $3 hot dog and a $17 lobster roll. It was reservations only at the Acela Club, a sit-down restaurant on the second deck in the left-field corner, where $48 prix fixe meals don't include drinks. Colin Ungaro of River Vale, N.J., had the Acela Club's skirt steak and garlic fries but still had room for a $6.50 milkshake at the Shake Shack, a spinoff of restaurateur Danny Meyer's popular Bryant Park hamburger joint.

"It was all worth it," he said.

Fans roared and high-fived each other when the Mets' David Wright tied the score 5-5 with a three-run homer in the fifth inning.

"D. Wright, baby, D. Wright!" yelled Fred Hill of Union, N.J. "I'm dizzy now!"


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