Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Field 7 and the Extra Feet to Mets Glory

Photo from Metsblog

Once upon a time, there was a man named Charlie Ebbets. Mr. Ebbets desperately wanted to build a steel-and-concrete double-decked ballpark for his beloved Trolley Dodgers because their ballpark in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was too fire prone. So he secretly purchased several adjacent parcels of land until he had an irregularly-shaped city block: 638 feet on the Cedar Place/third base side, 479 feet on the Sullivan Place/first base side, 475 feet on the Bedford Avenue/right field and center field side, and 450 feet on the Montgomery Street/left field side.

Using every available inch of space, the man built his vision for the team and the people of Brooklyn, but without a double-decked grandstand in fair outfield territory. One day, after Charlie Ebbets had passed, the heirs renovated the place to include a double-decked grandstand in the outfield, increasing the seating by some 12,000 and further lessening the distance from home plate to a left, left-center and center field. When it was all said and done, the ballpark dimensions were 348 feet down the left-field line, 393 feet to the left-center field nook, 376 feet to the right-center field nook, and 297 feet down the right field line. This was rare for its day, with most ballparks (such as the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium) involving vast stretches of outfield grass.  Some people compared the way the Ebbets Field dimensions played to baseball's version of a pinball game.

Some of the most memorable baseball games of all time were played in Ebbets Field, witnessed by many passionate Brooklyn Dodger fans. One of those fans was Fred Wilpon.

Fred Wilpon grew up to become a real estate mogul and one day was able to afford to buy a major league baseball club, just like Charlie Ebbets. When it came time to build his own ballpark, dreams of that childhood haven danced around his head. He wanted to incorporate the famous Ebbets Field Fa├žade on the outside and the quirkiness of the outfield dimensions on the inside. So he had the field architect make different angles here and there, different wall heights there and here. He was sure everyone would appreciate the intricacies the same way he did growing up in Brooklyn.

But what Fred Wilpon failed to realize was that the quirkiness of Ebbets Field was out of necessity. They didn't manufacture the pinball feel of the place. It is what happened naturally when built within such an irregular city block. And since they were building Citi Field on the land of a massive parking lot and preaching "pitching and defense", the quirkiness was happening what felt like miles away from the swing of the batters. They had a modest 408' to straight away center but a ridiculous 415' pocket in right-center, taking away the sweet spot of their franchise player's power. They made it a modest 330' down the right field line, but to the left of that created this outlandish sponsored pocket of outfield. They made it a pretty fair 335' down the left field line, but as it traveled to left-center, it quickly went back 25 or so feet and was raised to 16 feet high, in what became known as the "Great Wall of Flushing." Endy Chavez's catch never happens if Citi Field existed in 2006.

Luckily, smarter heads have prevailed.

A lot is being made of the batting practices occurring on Field 7 in St. Lucie (which is designed to duplicate the Citi Field dimensions) and its nice to hear they are already a factor. Clearly, we won't know how they play until Opening Day. When they first released what the new outfield dimensions are going to be, it was everything I had hoped they would do. Yes, more opponent home runs will be hit as well, and you will get people saying, "Well, that wasn't a home run last year."

Yeah. That's true.

But they were absurd to begin with.

Come on.

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