David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Field 6 is a test track of sorts for the Mets.
As the only grassy spot with the same dimensions as Citi Field at the team's spring training complex, it's where hitters visualize how their swing eventually might play in Flushing.
When the Mets moved in the Citi walls for the 2012 season, the chain-link fences at Field 6 mimicked that change.
Practice or not, it remains a difficult place to hit a home run.
Jason Bay got his first taste of the original, pre-renovation Citi Field here. Coming off a 36-homer season with the Red Sox, Bay could not have timed his free agency much better and signed a four-year, $66-million deal with the Mets, who determined that his power profile was a perfect match for their cavernous ballpark.
Could the seeds of doubt within Bay have been planted as early as spring training at Field 6 when he tried to tame that first humbling version of Citi Field? Probably not. But it was interesting to see Curtis Granderson -- the next slugger in line to be David Wright's protector -- take his first hacks at the Citi Field replica.
Peering into bright sunshine, with a billowing wind in his face, Granderson launched a number of drives toward the spacious gap in right-centerfield. None cleared the fence. Some dropped a few feet short of the warning track. On one high fly that appeared to be well-struck, Granderson reacted as if it were a goner -- then cringed as the ball dropped harmlessly on the lawn.
Frustration is too strong a word to describe a round of batting practice. But it was fair to wonder if a fearsome hitter like Granderson could be made a tad insecure by the skeleton of his new home.
For the record, neither David Wright nor Ike Davis had much success reaching the fences on that day, either, but they're used to it by now.
"Down here, the elements are a little different," Granderson said. "So you're trying to just get the feel of the swing. The timing, the rhythm, the comfort. As long as you can do those different things, then you adjust as the season goes along."
Bay never was able to adjust during his time in Flushing and any chance Bay had to rebound from his early struggles later was crushed by a pair of debilitating concussions.
In his first year, Bay finished with as many triples as home runs -- six -- in 95 games. In three seasons, he had 26 homers, and the Mets bought out the fourth year of his contract.
Granderson, like Bay in 2010, is being counted on to bring some muscle to a lineup that ranked in the NL's bottom third in run scored (619) and homers (130). They also were second-to-last in slugging percentage (.366). Granderson's four-year, $60-million contract makes him cheaper than Bay by a few million. But the pressure on Granderson seems greater because of the damage he did across town.
Will switching from the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium to pitcher-friendly Citi Field become an obstacle for Granderson? Bay didn't transition well from the Green Monster to the Great Wall of Flushing (hat-tip to Howie Rose). But Wright, who was hurt by Citi in its early years as much as anyone, says the park's dimensions get in your head only if you let them.
"Some of it kind of gets blown out of proportion," Wright said. "It's still a big park, and there are times when you feel like you should be rewarded, and it gets frustrating. But it's not like I think to myself, 'Oh, God, this is changing the type of player I am.'
"Were there times it stunk to hit there? Of course. But as far as saying it changed players' careers or didn't allow players to be the type of players they were before, that's nonsense. I think Jason would be the first one to tell you that it was some inconsistencies, some poor play, some injuries that just kind of spiraled out of control for him."
Granderson was limited to 61 games last season after having his right forearm and left pinkie fractured by pitches. In the two previous years, however, he hit 84 homers, and his monster 2011 season included 136 runs scored and 119 RBIs, both of which led the league and helped him finish fourth in the MVP voting.
Watching Granderson slug away in the Bronx, with high-arcing moonshots flying into the rightfield bleachers, it looked as if his swing was tailored for Yankee Stadium. But how much did he rely on that stadium's short porch?
A closer examination of Granderson's spray chart on hittrackeronline.com shows that eight of his 43 homers in 2012 and three of his 41 in 2011 would have failed to leave Citi Field.
But those stats offer a general sense of Granderson's power-hitting ability. There are other factors to consider, such as how he will be pitched at Citi Field as well as the different atmospheric conditions at Willets Point. It won't be the launching pad in the Bronx, and Granderson is smart enough to realize he will be affected to some degree.
"It had its pros and cons," Granderson said. "I lost a lot of triples because there wasn't much foul territory down the line. And people said at Yankee Stadium, the ball flew. It didn't necessarily fly -- just those balls would normally be doubles and triples in some stadiums. At Yankee Stadium, they got out of the ballpark."
Citi Field is built for doubles and triples. Home runs? Not so much.
In a few more weeks, Granderson will be through with the test drives on Field 6 and will get his first crack at the real thing in Queens. Will he succeed where Bay failed? The Mets are betting $60 million on the former Yankee, and it's one they can't afford to lose.