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Rotunda an homage to New York's past

Rotunda an homage to the past

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Citi Field and its immediate environment is close -- close to done, close to opening. It creates a sense of closeness. And now, as it serves as the vehicle for the Mets' present and future, it also brings the past closer. And that's a good thing.

If there is one component of the Mets' new home that distinguishes it from other entries in the current generation of big league parks, it is the link to a specific element of its city's baseball history -- as exemplified by the magnificent Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

It is the centerpiece of the Citi. It is to this Citi what the Golden Gate is to the City by the Bay, what the Eiffel Tower is to the City of Lights. It's a decidedly Brooklyn accent in Queens.

The early 20th century rising up in the first decade of the 21st, a piece of Flatbush in the middle of Flushing, the signature of Ebbets Field in the faded shadow of Shea Stadium.

Once baseball wisely repudiated the cookie-cutter concept that begot Veterans, Riverfront, Busch and Three Rivers stadiums, hope for an architectural renaissance was born. And since the Baltimore franchise went retro with the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the early 1990s, most new stadiums have created a general sense of nostalgia, mixing brick exteriors, dark green seats and asymmetrical playing fields.

Distinctions exist, of course: Oriole Park has the warehouse, Minute Maid Park in Houston has Tal's Hill, AT&T Park in San Francisco has the glove and McCovey Cove and Coors Field in Denver has the Mile High Line and the Rockpile.

But none is so strongly and specifically linked to the baseball history of its city as is Citi's Rotunda. It is the equivalent of the Brooklyn Dodgers competing in the National League East.

The Rotunda hardly is identical to what existed in the long lost and quite lamented home of the Dodgers; it doesn't try to be. It won't have that European feel that existed in Brooklyn. No one knows yet whether it will foster echoes as the Ebbets rotunda did -- "Tunda, tunda, tunda." And 'Tunda II is much larger.

But if Jackie's new room were situated in Budapest and bore no identification, any Brooklyn Dodgers fan would recognize his or her immediate surroundings and expect Dazzy Vance, Abe Stark, Pee Wee Reese or Jackie himself to appear.

Fred Wilpon's vision has restored a piece of New York's rich baseball history, righted -- in small part -- the O'Malley wrong, and afforded patrons of the Mets' new home an unmistakable point of reference.

In Pittsburgh, you can meet your buddy at the Willie Stargell or Roberto Clemente statue. On the north side of Chicago, you can gather under the marquee or at the corner of Addison and Sheffield. At Citi Field, it'll be "I'll meet ya by the Rotunda, Vinny."

It is the focal point of the Mets' new digs, even though there is so much else to take in. There is grandness to the Rotunda, with its sweeping stairways, gigantic chandeliers and the homage it pays to the man for whom it is named. Within the Rotunda, the name Jack Roosevelt Robinson is as prominent as the name "Citi Field" is elsewhere.

And that only enhances the sense of nostalgia and underscores Robinson's role in the history of the game and in the nation's social evolution.

"It'll be up to the fans to say whether they like it," chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said in early February. "We think they will. The Rotunda is unique. We think we've got something special. If they like it, then we've hit a home run."

The Rotunda isn't the only entrance to or exit from Citi Field, but it some ways, it ought to be. Passing through it will prepare the fans for what awaits inside. It will serve as an overture of sorts. Egress through the Rotunda will be a return -- perhaps unwanted -- to reality.

The interim time will be spent in the comfort of a baseball cocoon, in as intimate a setting as can exist when a gathering numbers in the 40 thousands. The inside of Citi Field -- not the interior areas -- is so different from Shea Stadium. Citi brings its patrons closer to the action than National League fans in New York have been since 1957, when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles and Ebbets Field was shut down.

Players and the fans closest to the action will be separated by a railing, the warning track and foul territory small enough the average suburbanite could mow on a weekend afternoon, not the acres necessary to accommodate Namath-to-Maynard completions. Smaller somehow contributes to nostalgia.

The green seats do, too. And the giant Pepsi-Cola sign in right field -- it doesn't say merely Pepsi -- suggests a bygone era and brings the eye to a touch Jeff Wilpon borrowed from decommissioned Tiger Stadium. The Pepsi Porch is an upper-deck overhang that might turn a falling fly ball that wouldn't reach the lower stands into a home run. The Mets might not protest someday if it also were identified as the Pennant Porch.

Other influences -- some from other, less venerable parks -- are everywhere. Above the primary scoreboard in right field is a horizontal steel arch, similar to others throughout the park that are evocative of the nearby Hell Gate Bridge that connects Queens to Ward's Island.

In some places, Citi Field looks similar to the homes of the Rangers, Reds, Indians and Padres. And it should; they're all ballparks. But so was Shea.

Those in the closest seats will hear the game as they might never had in Shea. The crack of the bat will sound different, if only because of the proximity; the umpire's strike call will reach more ears. And with significantly more speakers, located throughout the park -- not just in center field -- driven at significantly lower levels, there maybe will be a greater semblance or peace in our time. Citi Field is not apt to sound like your father's ballpark.

But LaGuardia still has departures.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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