"I was a kid, but I can remember my dad taking me to Ebbets Field," Rowley said as fond memories bubbled through his mind during a dress rehearsal at Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets, on Sunday.
Citi Field, the dream child of Mets owner and Brooklyn native Fred Wilpon, has some of the same features of Ebbets Field, once the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The first game at the new 42,000-seat, state-of-the-art stadium was a Big East Conference affair between St. John's University, which is located in the New York City borough of Queens, and Georgetown University.
The Mets are scheduled to play two sold out exhibition games against the Boston Red Sox on April 3-4 before hosting San Diego in their 2009 home opener on April 13.
"Both fields, Ebbets Field and the Grounds, I was able to get to both of them," said Rowley, an Old Brook, N.Y., resident who also spent many happy days and nights at Shea Stadium, which is now just a small pile of rubble in a parking lot adjacent to the new ballpark. "But just the whole scene here, the way it looks, the way it is presented, brings back a lot of old memories."
Rowley's sentiments would have greatly pleased David Howard, vice president of business operations for the Mets, who was beaming when he talked with reporters during Georgetown's 6-4 win.
"Overall, a very good day for us," Howard said. "It is gratifying for us to have the energy the fans bring. That's the one equation we hadn't seen yet. Everything worked pretty well. I would say the few glitches here and there are relatively minor, and we are very excited to have this dry-run dress rehearsal opportunity."
What pleased Howard most, other than that most of the new stadium's mechanics seemed to be in pretty good working order, were the expressions he saw on the faces entering the building.
"It's brilliant," said Jenn Polish, a student at Queens College and a Mets fan. "We were just talking about how the rotunda is so amazing, because there are people here who remember all these events taking place. The way they constructed this new field brings all the generations together. It's really great."
Polish's friend, Joshua Blenner, also a Queens College student and avid Mets fan, was equally impressed. While Blenner liked the rotunda, the large entryway that is dedicated to Jackie Robinson, the one-time Brooklyn Dodger and the man who broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues, he also smitten by the entire layout.
"I mean, I loved Shea Stadium," Blenner said. "but there's something magical about the shape of Ebbets Field. Shea Stadium was modeled after the traditional ballpark, with the circular shape. But yet you have this stadium, which has nooks and crannies in the outfield. You've got the bridge [above the field in center that symbolizes the bridges that connect the five boroughs of New York], and the apple [which rises when a Met homers]. It's just a whole different feel, and it is new and exciting.''
People wandered around the wide concourses exploring during the game. Most of the concessions were open, although some had limited menus, and two of the stadium clubs that will be open by the time the Red Sox arrive had yet to do business.
Howard said the Mets decided to invite the college teams to play on Sunday to iron out any problems. There were no distance markers on the outfield fences, some signs had yet to be placed. Construction crews kept busy behind the scenes under the stadium. Retired numbers had yet to be hung. Workmen tinkered with an escalator in the rotunda.
"You can't simulate a game without playing a game," Howard said, adding that the team was keeping a close watch on all stadium operations.
"I made it a point to come in through the rotunda," Rowley said. "And it's beautiful -- very user friendly, beautiful access, spread out and open."
Matthew Juliano, a fourth grader from Fairfield County, Conn., sat and took in the view as he ate lunch from a seat on the third level.
"Wow, this is big," Juliano said, eyes wide.
That statement ought to please Mets pitchers.
"The only thing that reminds me of Shea Stadium here is the planes flying over," said long-time Mets reliever John Franco, a St. Johns alumnus who threw out the first pitch Sunday. "We'll have to see how the ball travels. Shea Stadium was a pitcher's ballpark. From what I understand, this is a pitcher's park, too."
Like the fans, Franco, who has just taken a job with the Mets, was impressed with what he saw.
"They've put a little bit of the old touch into it," the former closer said.
The college players, too, were in awe.
"I couldn't really hear myself think, but that's good when it comes to baseball," said St. John's lead off man Brian Kemp, who led off the game at the plate because Georgetown was the home team this day. "I was taking the first pitch. I decided that last night. The backdrop is great." Right-hander Tim Adelman pitched eight innings to get the win for the Hoyas. "To be the answer to a trivia question is pretty cool, too," he said.
St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said his first impression is that Citi Field is going to be a pitcher's park.
"I think the jury is till out because of the weather being moist and cold," Blankmeyer said of the way the new ballpark will play. "I'd like to see it in the summertime. Right now, I think it plays big. If you are going to get it in the gap you are going to have to hit it good, but let's see what the summer brings."
Yes, it's going to take some getting used to Citi Field, both for the players and the fans.
"I'm sure I'll be calling this place Shea for awhile, until I get used to it," Rowley said. "I have a lot of great memories of Shea. But this looks like a really good replacement, I'll tell you that. This is much more beautiful."
Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less