2006-11-17 / Sports

Mets New Citi Field Ballpark Hits Home Run

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

FLUSHING, NY - As the fall leaves fell and Shea Stadium continued to be winterized, the New York Mets brought back the warmth of summer with their long awaited ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility being built in the parking lot.

State and city officials - including outgoing governor George Pataki and mayor Michael Bloomberg - gathered into a picnic area tent adjacent to the construction site and praised owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon for their cooperation on the project.

"The number of people sitting here reminds us of how many people it takes to accomplish anything big in New York," said deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff. "It reminds us of something Casey Stengel, the Mets legendary first manager said. He said, 'Ability is the art of getting credit of all the home runs someone else hits.' We all know in the case of this new ball park, that someone else are the Wilpons - Jeff and Fred."

But more importantly than the shovels entering the ground, the Mets made their strategic partnership with Citigroup, Inc. official, while also honoring the man many felt the ballpark should be named after.

The newly named Citi Field will bring the franchise a reportedly $20 million dollars for 20 years and could be expanded for 15 more. It's the largest deal of this kind in history and will help subsidize the $600 million dollars in bond debt the Mets incurred with this project.

"We have a great impact with a partner like Citigroup and that helps us pay off the financing," said Jeff Wilpon. "We thought we were going to get a good number, but we got a great number. There is no stress for us to watch things."

The deal will go beyond naming rights, but will also include community outreach programs and Citigroup buying time of SportNet NY. Other international sports marketing projects will come in the future.

"Citigroup has just won the World Series of sports sponsorships," said Lewis Kaden, Citigroup's chief administrative officer. "We are very excited about all the different aspects of our joining together with Sterling Equities and the Mets.

"We're delighted to have our name on this wonderful stadium."

Although the corporate name delighted those in the financial end, baseball fans will be more interested in the naming of the main gate. The Ebbets Field-like entrance will be called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, in honor of the Brooklyn Dodger great who broke the color barrier in 1947.

"It is my hope that, as individuals and groups walk through the rotunda, they begin to be inspired," said Robinson's widow Rachel on Monday. "They will begin to think about their own lives and what the meaning of life is. I hope it will spread not just joy, but also critical thinking about society."

According to the mockups, pictures of the second baseman's career will line the Citi Field main gate and inscribed in the walls will be the Robinson quote, "A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives."

"Millions of people should go through the rotunda and think about that," said Fred Wilpon. "Within the rotunda, we will be going to tell the story of Jackie Robinson, not only as a great baseball player but also as a great American. The more the world knows and adopts Jackie's ideals, the better we all will be."

Manager Willie Randolph, who has a picture of Robinson on his desk at Shea, says that he felt that this is a tribute to a great man. "It's something that will be great for the fans," he said. "And especially the young fans, to see and experience - to learn about Jackie and what he meant to the game, not just to baseball, but to life."

Jeff Wilpon mentioned other stadium gates may be named for former Met greats, and his father added William Shea's legacy will also have a place in the new stadium.

So the Mets have their bases covered. And maybe that's the reason why no one could find fault at the future Citi Field on Monday.

"This new place will give us an awful lot of jobs in the city," Bloomberg proclaimed. "It will give us a new venue for other kinds of events. It's going to benefit Queens. It's going to benefit the city. ]

It's going to benefit Willets Point.

So there is nothing bad to say about this."

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