- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

MIAMI (AP) - On his first visit to Citi Field, New York Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey was happy to see the high outfield wall and 415-foot sign in deep right-center. He figures the spacious dimensions will look especially appealing when he stands on the mound Monday night to throw the first pitch against the San Diego Padres as the Mets open their sparkling new ballpark.

“I might as well just throw the ball down the middle and let them hit it,” Pelfrey said. “They might have to hit it twice just to get it out of there. It’s definitely a big park. It definitely seems that way. I guess we’ll find out.”

While the early consensus is that Citi Field will be pitcher-friendly, the Mets figure it will take much of the season to fully assess their new home. The $800 million ballpark with 41,800 seats replaces Shea Stadium, the team’s home since 1964. The Mets played in the old Polo Grounds during their first two seasons, 1962-63.

The club went 3-3 on a season-opening trip that ended Sunday with a 2-1 loss at Florida, then headed for Queens and a night of pomp and celebration.

Hall of Famer Tom Seaver will throw out the first pitch to former New York catcher Mike Piazza, and the Broadway cast of “West Side Story” will perform the national anthem. The game will be televised in Rockefeller Center and Times Square, and the Empire State Building will be lit in Mets’ orange and blue.

Pelfrey, who went 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA last year in his first full major league season, will pitch in the brightest spotlight of his career.

“I imagine it’s going to be kind of like a playoff atmosphere with all of the fans there and the excitement,” he said Sunday. “I don’t want to get too amped up and start overthrowing and get away from executing pitches. I’m going into it like it’s going to be another start, but the reality is that it’s going to be an awesome time.”

The most expensive seats at the new stadium average $495, but under the Mets variable pricing format they cost $695 for opening night. Two tickets owned by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities were sold for $7,500, the highest of 68 bids in an eBay auction that ended at 9:56 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Citi Field gets its name from Citigroup, criticized by some congressmen for its $400 million, 20-year naming rights deal with the Mets because the company accepted a government bailout to stay in business.

With its intricate brickwork and Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the cozy ballpark was designed to invoke the charm of Ebbets Field, beloved home of the Brooklyn Dodgers until 1957.

The Mets played two exhibition games at Citi Field against the Boston Red Sox in early April, and reviews were favorable. Players liked the training room, the weight room and a clubhouse 2 1/2 times the size of the Shea locker room.

“It has all the best new amenities you can put in a ballpark,” third baseman David Wright said. “That’s only going to help us. You feel comfortable, and guys start showing up a little earlier. You get more of that team chemistry. It’s going to make it a lot more fun coming to the ballpark every day.”

But Wright and other Mets said there will be a learning curve because of the crooked angles along the outfield fence, the wall that changes height seven times, and the small amount of foul territory.

“It will take time for everybody,” center fielder Carlos Beltran said. “It’s a new atmosphere with new dimensions. We have to learn how to play the ball in the outfield. How the sun and wind are going to play, we don’t know.”

Mets manager Jerry Manuel agreed.

“It’s going to take us until we get through a summer to understand what the park is going to do because of weather, wind, those kind of things,” he said.

While it may take awhile for the Mets to become comfortable, they figure they’ll have an immediate home-field advantage thanks to the intimate atmosphere.

“The fans are right on top of you,” Wright said, “and everybody knows they voice their pleasure and displeasure. With the fans being closer, I think that’s going to be good for us.”

Everyone agrees Citi Field will be better than Shea, a multipurpose facility that seated 57,343 and cost $28.5 million to build. Its final traces were razed in February.

“I was tired of walking through the halls at Shea with water dripping on you in the tunnels,” Pelfrey said.

It will be a week of new-stadium extravaganzas in the Big Apple. Eight miles from Citi Field, New York’s other major league team plays its first regular-season game in the new Yankee Stadium on Thursday against Cleveland.

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