Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic at Citi Field gives the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner an opportunity to reflect on the Mets’ home venue, opining that since the ballpark’s opening in April of 2009, there’s been little to recommend besides expanded play areas for kids, cheaper (and more plentiful) tickets than the New Yankee Stadium, and of course, The Shake Shack. Most worrisome of all, however, is Citi’s spacious outfield confines, which met the following reaction from San Diego’s Jody Gerut (he of the leadoff HR off Mike Pelfrey in the stadium’s first official plate appearnace) during batting practice : “it was like, suddenly, somebody took a pin and popped out all the strength and conditioning I’d done for the last 10 years…I remember thinking, ‘David Wright’s in trouble’.” YOU SAID IT, BROTHER.
Troubling, of course, was how the players on the field handled the distant dimensions. Wright homered in that first game but hit just four more at Citi Field in 2009. The original distance to the right-field power alley was 415 feet. Left field had a 16-foot wall.
“David Wright, he’s obviously one of those franchise guys,” Pelfrey said. “You’d probably want to accommodate him more than anything and his natural power to the opposite field. The 415 isn’t going to help anybody.”
The decision on the outfield fences was made above Omar Minaya, then the Mets’ general manager, but Minaya said he still believed the team could thrive in the new park. The Mets seemed to have a strong rotation and speed in the outfield to track down long fly balls.
“I think what we ended up realizing was that it was like San Francisco,” Minaya said this week. “San Francisco is a big pitchers’ park. I remember talking to Brian Sabean” — the Giants’ general manager — “and Brian saying that what works there is right-handed pull power.”
The Mets signed just such a hitter, Jason Bay, before the 2010 season. Bay had become a star at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which favors pitchers, but his power almost completely disappeared during three seasons in Flushing. Minaya was fired after the first.
By then, at least Wright had overcome the elements. He hit 12 homers at Citi Field in 2012 (and 29 over all), and his new contract ties him to the Mets through 2020.
The decision above Minaya, of course, would be the handiwork of Jeff Wilpon, who mysteriously plays no role in Kepner’s article. And with all due respect to the Times baseball scribe, there’s something slightly screwy about claiming David Wright has managed to “overcome the elements” at Citi Field. Indeed, he hit 12 home runs in Flushing in 2012, but that’s compared to 21 HR’s at Shea in 2008. Wright’s OPS at home in 2008 was 1.055 ; in 2012 his home OPS at Cit Field was .895. So far in 2013 at Cit? .855.
None of which is to say David Wright is a terrible baseball player or that he is solely or even slightly to blame for the team’s struggles. But if you’re going to establish a narrative in which he’s the franchise player (hardly a stretch) and then claim he’s regained his old form despite playing in the Grand Canyon (with fewer people watching), it would help if that was actually true. The nicest possible thing you can say is that Wright has managed to not let Citi Field completely wreck his offensive production on the road, which isn’t exactly the same thing as “overcoming” a park that was clearly built for a pitching staff / defensively adept trio of outfielders that certainly didn’t take the field in Mets uniforms in 2009. If Jeff Wilpon fantasized about Jose Reyes hitting triples, hey, fair enough, who didn’t? But that’s not who the club chose to resign (let alone negotiate with).