Mets have other teams thinking of moving in fences

The Mets erected a new fence in front

The Mets erected a new fence in front of the old wall at Citi Field, lowering the height needed for a home run to 8 feet from as much as 16 and cutting the distance from home plate by up to 12 feet. (April 3, 2012) (Credit: AP)

German Rosario looked as skinny as anyone would imagine a 16-year-old shortstop to be, and at 6-3, 170 pounds, even thinner than that.

Signed to a record $1.7-million bonus this year, Rosario stepped to the plate at Citi Field before an August game against the Rockies and took his first swings in a Mets uniform. On the fifth one, Rosario connected for a low line drive that clanged around the seats of the Party City Deck in leftfield.

Rosario never reached the rows further up, the ones beyond the tall, black, imposing concrete barrier that Mets broadcaster Howie Rose nicknamed "The Great Wall of Flushing" during Citi Field's first three years of existence. Then again, he'll never need to.

The next generation of Mets won't be saddled with the psychological baggage thrown onto the shoulders of David Wright, Jason Bay and Ike Davis, to name a few. That in itself has been a moral victory in a season with too few of the regular kind. And by turning what began as a blueprint for change into the more "neutral" building they had imagined, the Mets may have spurred some copycats around Major League Baseball.

 

Mets are trend-setters

"I think people want to see that something can be done successfully and that it doesn't result in any blowback," Mets general manger Sandy Alderson said. "We were bold enough to actually do it."

At least three more teams have discussed bringing in the fences, and it's a trend that's likely to continue as other clubs realize the entertainment value and overall benefit of making their ballparks more hitter-friendly.

The Padres, after more intensive field studies of Petco Park this year, could make significant alterations in time for next season. The Mariners have listened to complaints about the difficulty of hitting home runs at Safeco Field since the stadium first opened in 1999 and could be softening on their previously hard-line stance on keeping the current dimensions.

Even the Marlins, who began play at their new retractable-dome ballpark this season, might be considering some nips and tucks for the building's cavernous outfield. The Mets have shown that it can be done in a way that is beneficial to the overall product on the field, as well as making it an aesthetic upgrade to the stadium itself, with new seating and added features.

How dramatic has the change been? Last season, Citi Field served up an average of 1.33 home runs per game, which ranked 14th out of 16 teams in the National League. This year, that average has jumped to 1.82, which is ninth.

The most difficult place to hit a home run this season is San Francisco's AT&T Park, which yields 1.00 per game. The most prolific spot has been Milwaukee's Miller Park with a 2.84 average.

By placing somewhere in the middle, the Mets have accomplished what they set out to do. They didn't want a launching pad and managed to come up with the appropriate measurements to make Citi Field, in essence, play fair.

That's fostered similar thinking among other clubs and probably will continue to do so in the future. The era of creating pitcher's parks appears to be over. As Alderson notes, "Offense sells."

Josh Stein, director of baseball operations for the Padres, said he spoke to Alderson earlier this season about the reaction of the Mets' players to the pulled-in fences. But the internal discussion involving Petco Park's spacious dimensions is nothing new. In fact, it's been going on since 2005, when Alderson, then the chief executive officer of the Padres, had the fence in right-centerfield moved in.

That was as far as Alderson got with the project, but Stein has continued to study the flight of balls hit at Petco with an eye toward more alterations in the near future. Petco averages 1.17 homers per game, second-lowest in the majors.

"Petco at this point is an outlier," Stein said. "It's one of the more extreme pitching environments in baseball. The plan would be to make the environment more neutral."

 

It's not about current team

As the Mets did leading up to Citi's makeover, officials from other teams are quick to point out that none of their studies, or proposed changes, would be tailored to a current roster or specific segment of players.

Though conventional wisdom suggests shrinking a ballpark could turn a light-hitting club into a more powerful one almost overnight, that doesn't necessarily safeguard against injuries or attrition.

Look at the Mets. They've hit 52 home runs in 67 games at Citi Field, which ranks 12th in the NL. Away from Flushing, the Mets have 65 in 72 games, good enough for 11th.

The balance between how much the changes help a home team and potentially hurt it is a concern when mapping out any new dimensions. In most cases, that outweighs any cosmetic adjustments or seating additions.

"I think we've always tried to do things that are in the best interest of the organization," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "And this is really a decision that's driven by on-field play. What's best for your baseball team. At the end of the day, we're a baseball organization and this is a baseball field."

After years of discussion among fans and players in the Seattle market, Zduriencik treats the subject with sensitivity. Unlike the Padres, who acknowledged their internal studies and willingness to alter the fences, Zduriencik is more reticent about the subject.

Entering Saturday, the Mariners were last in the AL with 43 home runs in 70 games at Safeco -- nine fewer at home than the Royals, who have played one fewer game at Kaufmann Stadium. Overall, Safeco's 1.34 average also is at the bottom of the AL, with the Rays' Tropicana Field the next closest at 1.62.

The Mets are familiar with that type of frustration -- or used to be. With less than a month remaining in the inaugural season of "new" Citi Field, they feel comfortable with the renovations. But with other teams considering similar changes, Alderson cautions that there is some guesswork involved.

"We wanted our ballpark to play more fair, and I think we accomplished that," Alderson said. "At the same time, the outcome was difficult to predict. Ultimately, this is not a science. There's more Kentucky windage in this than sabermetrics."

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