By all accounts, yesterday was a great day at Citi Field. The sun was bright, the mood in the parking lot was festive, and the ballpark was packed (even though it wasn’t a sellout). To my disappointment, the atmosphere in the ballpark left lots to be desired. Although it was the first game of the season, at most times it only felt that way because it had been over six months since I paid a visit to the home of the Mets. The prolonged absence made it feel unique, not the crowd.
The team certainly delivered, thumping the Padres 11-2. Newcomers stepped up, and long-time members of the team made a positive impact. However, aside from the 860 or so fans who sat in center field as part of The 7 Line’s contingent, the spectators seemed to be treating the season opener as just another day at the park. In other words, the vibe didn’t feel special.
There was some slow clapping when Jonathon Niese had two strikes on one of the Padres, but that was about as rowdy as the crowd got when the Mets were on defense. When the team scored, I often found myself to be one of the only people in my section who was standing and cheering. All around were people who were sitting as run after run crossed the plate – some clapping, some not.
The “Lets Go Mets” chants weren’t heard until the late innings, around the time Collin Cowgill smoked a grand slam to left field. There were no fans exchanging high fives with other fans who were strangers. There was no screaming, no standing in unison as a Met rounded third and headed for home.
I’ve written in the past about how Citi Field will probably never rival Shea Stadium in terms of the rowdiness and togetherness of the fans (I hope I’m proven wrong). What was surprising to me yesterday, was the fact that this year’s Opening Day crowd (in terms of the atmosphere it generated) seemed to take a large step back from even last year’s crowd. Perhaps the fans have been tempered by the pundits who are predicting a 66 or 70 win season, the carnage that was the last four seasons, dissatisfaction with ownership, or a combination of all three. No matter the reason, the result was that I often found myself standing alone during huge plays, cheering while others kept quiet, and clapping as most of the ballpark sat on their hands. To me, that’s unacceptable.
I’m not naive. I understand that most view the 2013 season as a step in the right direction, not something to get excited about. I realize that fans of a team that’s unfairly hammered by both the local and national media will take a wait and see approach. Still, Opening Day is special – regardless of expectations, and the crowd should be a reflection of that. I’ve attended Opening Day pretty much every year since 1993, and yesterday’s crowd was the weakest I’ve ever been a part of in terms of energy and enthusiasm. The result of the game was tremendous, but the feeling I had during it wasn’t. I expected more.
What’s interesting, is that while the energy generated by the crowd left a lot to be desired, Citi Field is starting to feel more like home. As the Mets enter their fifth season post-Shea, the place is beginning to feel familiar. While the vibe wasn’t electric, it was friendly and welcoming – something that can’t be said for the mausoleum masquerading as a ballpark in the Bronx.
Perhaps I’m over-analyzing this a bit. Maybe I’m romanticizing about crowds I was a part of in the past while over-reacting to the one I was a part of yesterday. Still, something felt off.
It’s likely that the 2013 Mets won’t be a Playoff team. There’s a strong chance they won’t be playing for anything other than pride down the stretch of this freshly minted season. What is a fact, is that anything is possible at the dawn of a new season. What fans of the Mets need to realize, is that truly magical seasons don’t begin with expectations of a trip down the Canyon of Heroes. They begin as they did yesterday, with low expectations and players like Collin Cowgill announcing their presence emphatically, with the anchor of a rotation that will soon feature Zack Wheeler tossing 6 2/3 strong innings, and with the Captain of the team setting the tone by swiping two bases.
I’m not asking fans of the Mets to delude themselves. Rather, I’m asking for them to be emotionally involved and invested until there’s a reason not to be. Make your voice heard at the park. Scream and chant until your voice is hoarse. Clap until your hands hurt. Regardless of what the pundits have to say, and regardless of how most fans have been conditioned to feel recently, the Mets have a chance.
Going back to the team’s inception, fans of the Mets have always been unique in terms of their passion. It’s time to rediscover that passion – for the crowd to be representative of a team that’s on the rise. Our voices should be the ones that let the rest of the league know that the Mets are on the way back, and that we’re ready to help lead the charge.