Mets unveil model of new stadium

Mets unveil computer model of new stadium

NEW YORK -- Speaking about the Mets' 21st century field of dreams on Thursday, Fred Wilpon struggled to maintain his composure, his voice cracking with emotion.

As the Mets unveiled their digital visions for tomorrow, releasing images of a new ballpark, Wilpon was thinking not of the computer-generated plans for the striking open-air, baseball-only facility or its modern-day amenities.

Wilpon's thoughts had drifted back to his own personal field of dreams, Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

Suddenly, Wilpon could see himself at eight years old, holding his father's hand and walking through the elaborate rotunda, embracing an afternoon in the sun to watch his beloved team.

"It chokes me up every time I look at the plans," Wilpon admitted.

Suddenly, a new slate of future memories does not appear quite so far away.

Highlighted by the exhibition of a stunning 360-degree, three-dimensional computer model, the Mets' next home was displayed in a ceremony at Shea Stadium's Diamond Club on Thursday.

"We heard Fred talking about the stadium, not in terms of dollars and cents, but thinking back to when he went to Ebbets Field with his father," New York Governor George Pataki said. "You could sense the emotion in his voice. This is not just a business venture; this is a passion of bringing people together."

Designed by preeminent architects HOK Sport, the stadium -- currently called Mets Ballpark, awaiting a corporate sponsorship for naming rights -- is planned to be ready for Opening Day 2009.

Approximated to host about 45,000 fans, the ballpark will be erected beyond the outfield of Shea Stadium in what currently serves as a parking area, with a possible groundbreaking projected for July. Under the plans, Shea Stadium is targeted for demolition.

The Mets have agreed to construct the entire stadium at their own expense; the team estimates that its private investment will total approximately $550 million.

The team will also take over the cost of ongoing maintenance on the park, a cost that the City of New York currently covers on Shea Stadium, while the new facility is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the city and state.

"If there was ever a place to say this, this is the place," New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. "The price is right."

Hugging 126th Street, the new stadium will feature an exterior facade and entrance rotunda immediately reminiscent of the treasured Ebbets Field, paying homage to New York's rich baseball history.

Brick, granite and stone have been selected to replicate the construction materials once used to erect the Dodgers' home in Brooklyn, while a structural steel bridge motif through the ballpark -- using exposed trusses, light towers and an iron-clad scoreboard structure in center field -- will reinforce the Mets' connection to New York City.

Mets fans will also experience the finest in present-day conveniences and comforts, with a historical twist, as evidenced by names for modern establishments like the Ebbets Club behind the plate, Coogan's Landing in left field, the "East Side" stands in right field and "The Orchard" picnic area in center field.

It is a perfect Gotham-centric theme for the Mets, who have utilized a circular skyline logo that embraces all five boroughs since 1961 and are proud of their role and place in the city's pulse.

"This is a New York team if there ever was one," Bloomberg said.

Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, who conducted personal tours of the new stadiums in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, San Diego and Baltimore, among other facilities, promised that the Mets' ballpark will feature sightlines as striking as any currently available in the Major Leagues.

Forty-two percent of the stadium's seating is set in the lower levels of the ballpark, while fans watching games from the upper deck of the park should feel as if they were sitting in Shea's loge.

Fans will also enjoy the ability to walk or stand around the stadium, enjoying a variety of new dining, shopping and entertainment options without missing a single pitch. Whereas Shea Stadium's insides have concrete walls blocking views of the playing field, the new park will feature uninterrupted views of the diamond in most locations.

"I think this will bring everybody closer," Jeff Wilpon said. "All the seats will be great seats with better viewing of the field. It's something that will help sell some more tickets and make it a little more urgent for people to buy season tickets and be a part of it."

The plans for a new stadium have gone through countless revisions and delays since the Mets first unveiled a retractable-roof, retractable-field model years ago -- a mock ballpark that featured Todd Hundley prominently on the scoreboard.

Jeff Wilpon said that the retractable roof turned out to be a "$100 million dream" that the team was forced to abandon, with construction costs escalating each year and value at a premium.

"As we looked more and more into it, it was difficult to let go," Jeff Wilpon said.

Now, the new ballpark's first pitch may still be three years away -- a span of time that seems shorter now than ever before -- but the early reviews seem promising.

"We all know Shea Stadium occupies a place in this borough, physically and spiritually," Queens borough president Helen Marshall said. "It has served its purpose well. But now, it is time to commence the construction of something new."

Like Shea Stadium, the new ballpark's dimensions will be friendly to pitchers, continuing the traditions set by Mets teams centered upon strong moundwork and defense.

One of the first entries in baseball's cookie-cutter, multi-purpose stadium generation, Shea Stadium opened in April 1964 with dimensions of 338 feet down the lines, 371 feet to left- and right-center and 410 feet to center field.

The new park will incorporate a right-field hitter's porch that will hang eight feet over the playing field, with a shorter 330-foot poke down the line. A shot to right-center will measure 391 feet, with center field slightly shorter, at 408 feet. Left field measures at 335 feet, with left-center at 379 feet.

"Even now, I'm looking forward to 2009," said Mets third baseman David Wright. "The fans will rally behind it, and there's more energy and more excitement that surrounds it. I think you have that goal at the end of the rainbow to look forward to, to get to 2009."

The construction of the park is expected to create 6,000 new part-time jobs, while maintaining the estimated 1,000 jobs that currently exist at Shea Stadium.

The new facility is also expected to serve as a centerpiece for the redevelopment of downtown Flushing and the Willets Point area; the so-called "Iron Triangle" that borders 126th Street beyond Shea's outfield parking lot may soon be erased, replaced by what the city envisions to be a hub of parks, businesses, hotels, residences and a possible convention center.

"That will help transform this area into a draw for not only New York sports fans, but for people from all over, cementing this borough's future as a world-class destination," Bloomberg said.

With a bright future on the agenda, spirits were high on Thursday at Shea -- so high, it seemed that everyone was inclined to take a crack at playing comedian.

Pataki recalled taking the subway to the Polo Grounds and invoked the names of Mets players like Choo Choo Coleman, Rod Kanehl and Jay Hook, remarking that he'd cheer them on as they got close in games: "Only 14 or 15 runs down," he said.

Perhaps the line of the afternoon came from New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who leaned over to Jeff Wilpon and intoned, "Bill Buckner called, Jeff. He asked if he could have first crack at demolishing this stadium."

Others weighed in with hopes and predictions for the first contest at the stadium in April 2009. One suggested that the Mets would be defending their third consecutive World Series title, with Pedro Martinez guarding his third straight Cy Young Award.

Those prognostications might not weather over the next three seasons, any better than one could guess the final score of that first game in the new facility. But the chances of enjoying a beautiful day at a stunning new ballpark? Decidedly better.

"No doubt about it," Bloomberg said. "It's a grand slam for all baseball fans and all New Yorkers."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.