TAKING THE CITI FIELD TOUR.
UPDATE: It seems that recent tours may not be as enjoyable or informative as the one I took at their inception. There’s no word yet if they’ll be continued in the off season, but please do read Greg Prince’s article so you have both viewpoints, and make your decision from there.
Starting May 29, the Mets are offering ballpark tours of Citi Field on weekends when the Mets are on the road. I took one of the first tours Saturday morning, and as a ballpark tour addict, I am happy to report that it is worth your time and money.
The tours assemble in the ticketing office on the left side of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda (there’s an entrance there). Since you’ll be picking up your tickets from the box office over there, the meeting point makes sense. The first stop is obviously the JRR itself. The party line for the rotunda is “Since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in New York, playing for a National League team, we honor him”. With (surprisingly, but more on this later) not much more beyond that that, the group was ushered upstairs to the field level.
While waiting for the elevator, the guide pointed out the Champions Club, and noted that there were two lounges, one for each Championship the Mets had won. (Yes, the term “revisionist history much” did float through my head, but I was polite.) The group next headed up to the Excelsior Level, where we got to gawk at the scoreboard control room.
The one thing I wanted to see was the button that makes the Apple goes up and down, but you can’t see it from the viewing window. (I had to ask about that, the guide didn’t mention it. But once I did ask, the supervisor was happy to explain in detail how it worked. And it’s not a button.)
We then headed for the Caesar’s Club, where we walked through the club, heard the promo spiel, admired the view of Manhattan, and had the location of the Shea plaques in the parking lot pointed out to us. (With all things on this tour, keep in mind that ballpark tours are meant for non-Mets fans or casual fans as much as it is for diehards.)
The next stop was the press box. This is a standard feature on tours, and one I always personally enjoy for the view. Also, given the interaction with the beat writers on Twitter, it was fun to see where everyone sits. We were shown where Jay Horwitz and the official scorer sit as well.
We were then taken through a suite on the Empire Level, which would have been more interesting to me had I not had the opportunity to do so when I took my ticket plan holder tour of the park before it opened. That said, I don’t have photos because I don’t care. Even if I was rich enough to afford a suite I would still buy tickets right behind the third base dugout (so I could see into the Mets dugout). The suites anywhere are just not that interesting to me – they’re always luxurious, they always have great views, but are a curiosity more than anything else. I realize that’s a personal preference, and that a lot of fans will never have a chance to see inside a suite otherwise.
That said, I’m not sure we needed to see two suites, as we were then taken down to the Delta suite level. The differences between the Empire Suites and the suites on the Delta level were almost negligible, except of course for the cushiness of the chairs and the seating location. The group was taken through the Delta 360 Club and down into those magic seats behind home plate.
That, of course, is where things got the most interesting, as the guide opened that magic gate and I stepped out onto the warning track. The sound of my feet stepping onto that dirt – you all know that sound – was absolutely unbelievable.
The next stop was the dugout, but what the Mets didn’t take into account is that everyone who is on a tour is going to want a photograph of themselves standing dead center with home plate and the scoreboard behind them. The Cardinals, for example, knew this cold, and when we got to that point of the Busch Stadium tour, the guide stopped and cheerfully offered to take pictures for anyone who wanted them. Eventually, everyone finished and the group headed for the dugout. Of course, everyone wants a photograph of themselves here too, and the Mets should just figure that into the tour time – most tours I have been on let people linger there for quite a while, and for good reason. That said, being in the dugout is just about as great as you think it is going to be. You want to sit on all the benches, you want to lean back and stretch your feet out. The supervisor told one of the kids to pick up the bullpen phone, and we could hear it ring all the way out there. I loved seeing the ballpark and the field from the players’ perspective – I always enjoy this part of any tour but when it’s my ballpark and my team, it means so much more. For example, this is the players’ view when they look over the dugout roof:
Or through the net below the railing:
Finally, we were escorted down the warning track to the right field corner, where people were encouraged to practice running into the outfield wall. I did not engage in this, but it was interesting to see the thickness of the padding and feel how thick it is (or isn’t) and see the places where the paint had worn off from baseballs hitting it, to look up underneath the Pepsi Porch and realize how difficult it must be to find a ball heading in that direction.
I enjoyed being able to look into the bullpen warming huts:
The tour does allow into the Mets bullpen and see what it looks like from inside looking out. (The bullpens are artificial turf, in case you didn’t already know – like me – or never stopped to think about it – like me.)
The next stop was the Modell’s Clubhouse. It’s a cool space but at this point it started to feel a little too much like a sales pitch. I would have rather had more time in the dugout, because that’s a place I will never ever go otherwise, while you can get into a suite eventually – even the GKR Foundation has had events in suites.
Finally, we headed down the tunnel and towards the clubhouse. The tunnels always fascinate me, the place behind the scenes where all the action takes place before, during and after a game. It’s less interesting on a non-game day, but still a place most fans don’t get to see. And then, finally, the Clubhouse:
We walked past the massage room, the x-ray room, the examination room, another room or two, and then got to peek into the training room and the NY branded weights. On our right was an enormous shelving unit with mail cubbyholes for the players and managers – the guide said “Please don’t look at that too closely” but I would suggest they station one of the THREE security guards that came on the tour there and just walk the group by and don’t let them linger.
The player’s meeting room was graced by an enormous round table, and everyone cracked jokes that it looked like a place to play cards. The lounge, right across the hallway, had couches, a kitchen, an enormous shelving unit full of boxes of every type of energy bar you have ever heard of, a guitar and drum controller for Rock Band, and (in my opinion), the piece de resistance is the pool table. I care about the pool table so much because – rumor had it – that it was brought in for the Rolling Stones when they played Shea as part of their tour rider, and then left behind after the concerts. The Mets recovered it with blue and orange and kept it. (This had been a rumor for years amongst my Rolling Stones compatriots.)
And then, we got to peek into the locker room proper. You’ve probably seen photos of it, so you know about the Aeron chairs and the carpeting with the neon players from Shea, but what you need to look for are the smaller details, like how David and Jose both have two lockers, the amount of shoes each player has, the way the uniforms are hanging up. I would have liked to have had more time but we had a group on our tour who absolutely hogged the front of every location for an inordinate amount of time, and I was too busy taking photos and notes to be working to be up front too. (The only place the guide said “Please move and let others have a chance to see” was when we were in the bullpens – this is something they should monitor.)
As you may have noticed, there were no photographs allowed in the clubhouse. I know that the season ticket holders who got tours this winter got to take photographs, but as the tour supervisor who was with us pointed out to me, “You can’t take a photograph of a jock strap in December.” (This just means I will have to take the tour again in the off season if one is offered – more on that later.)
Finally, we saw the press briefing room – this is supposed to be a ‘surprise’ but the room itself is just not that interesting. It’s not like there’s any emotional weight in the room, and as the guide points out, the big signing announcements/player introductions take place in the Caesar’s Club. But it was a long, long wait while most of the tour group took photos posing with the backdrop and at the podium.
The final stop is the Hall of Fame. I confess that I completely zoned out on what was said here because I didn’t need it and was more interested in taking photos of the HOF with no people in it. You are left to view the HOF for as long as you want – most of the group left immediately and only a few people stuck around, and eventually we were the only people in there for quite a long period of time. I appreciate that we were not rushed out, even though that meant a security guard had to stay behind and watch us. This alone could make the tour worth it, as opposed to having to wait in line to view it with a crowd of fans pre-game.
The final sendoff was a “Let’s Go Mets!” keychain and an announcement that you could show your tour ticket stub for a 20% discount at McFadden’s the same day as your tour. I thought both of these were a nice touch.
Other notes, positive and negative:
I appreciated that there was almost zero upsell going on during the tour; the guide would answer questions about pricing and point out features of clubs, but there was no hard sell or constant mentions of availability, which has happened on other tours I have taken. Given the current attendance problem, this demonstrates a tremendous amount of restraint.
The level of customer service and unabashed cheerfulness from the personnel involved with the tours was absolutely outstanding. I felt like a very, very welcome guest at all times. Questions were happily entertained, my need to take a photo of the official scorer’s spot in the press booth was allowed without question, security was present but not heavy handed. The only thing that makes me sad about this is that as we all know, this is not consistent enough at the ballpark. But whoever is in charge of the tours did a fantastic job in choosing who is representing this public face of the Mets.
The tour had a good pace, but seemed to spend too much time in some areas (like suites and clubs) and not enough time in areas on the field that fans will otherwise never have a chance to get to and want to take photographs of. Everyone is going to bring a camera on these tours, and if they don’t, almost everyone has a cell phone camera these days and will want that field or dugout photo. I think we could have done without one of the suites, and could have passed up the right field corner in favor of more time in the dugout/on the warning track.
There was not enough – or rather, any – Mets history on the tour. The retired numbers and championship banners were barely even pointed out. Dumping the group in the Hall of Fame is not a substitute for a basic mention of Mets history. I realize that the target audiences for the tour right now are going to be Mets fans, since tours are only being given on weekends when the Mets are on the road. However, it was clear that the tour script was written with non-fans in mind, so I don’t believe the omission was because someone said, “Oh, everyone is a Mets fan so we don’t need to explain who the retired numbers are.” There was no mention of the Shea Bridge, there was no mention of the Ralph Kiner broadcast booth. This is inexcusable, but should probably not be surprising. I appreciated all the little bits of trivia, and learned a few things, but you have to talk about who played in the building as well as talking about the building.
Finally, while I realize that the Rotunda is a sore spot with a lot of fans, but that’s no reason to rush the tour through it at the beginning or at the end. I would have liked to have heard about some of the details we heard during construction, how they tried to make it look like the entrance to Ebbets Field, that even the floor was reminiscent – but we got none of that information, and Jackie Robinson’s career and the plaques that are honoring him are completely glossed over – “Around the rotunda you can see some of the phrases that describe the values he stood for.” was the extent of the mention. If I’m an out of town fan, I’m going to stand there and think, “They built the showcase entrance to the ballpark in honor of Jackie Robinson and that’s all you’re going to tell me?” The Wilpons did it, they can’t change it, so just own it and be proud of it – ignoring it is just silly.
The end result, however, is positive. I was happy with this tour. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone, Mets fan or non-Mets fan. The price is more than fair (I just bought tickets for the Giants and the Dodgers tours, and those were more money) and the level of access exceeds standards. It is well worth your time to buy a ticket and come out – I can’t imagine any Mets fan that would not want a chance to sit in the dugout and walk on the warning track, or see the clubhouse. The tours will only be offered on weekends while the team is out of town, and only until September, after which time they will evaluate demand and make a decision about how (and if) to extend tours to game days or offseason.
Tickets are available at mets.com/tours.
Disclaimer: I am not mentioning every single item that was shown or talked about on the tour because it’s not going to be much fun if there are no surprises left by the time you take it!