Now it's a Citi of big dreams for Mets

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Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets bats against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. (April 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.

Lucas Duda became the first player to take advantage of Citi Field's new dimensions Saturday when his fourth-inning blast cleared the GEICO sign about two sections to the right of the Home Run Apple.

A year ago, the ball would have been in play, and that's the laughable part. Duda's homer traveled an estimated 410 feet, an absolute rocket, and he might have taken it the wrong way when a reporter later said he was the proud owner of the park's first fence-aided home run.

"Yeah, thank goodness they moved the walls in," Duda deadpanned. "The wind was blowing a bit too, so that probably helped out."

That probably counted as sarcasm for the ultra-laid-back Duda, and to be fair, it is kind of silly to attach an asterisk to a ball that rocketed more than 400 feet. But that's how frustrating life was for the Mets in old Citi Field.

Ike Davis, for one, had no problem describing his emotions when he watched Duda's drive clear the new blue-padded fence. "It's a gorgeous feeling -- gorgeous," Davis said. "Did that ball even hit the back wall? That's amazing."

Davis knows that spot well. The original 12-foot-high black wall used to be marked 415 in big orange numerals that seemed to taunt him from the other side of an imposing green canyon in centerfield. The Mets are ecstatic that it's a welcoming grassy meadow now.

When Terry Collins saw Duda's homer land between the two walls, just as the long drives did during spring training at Field 7 -- the Citi Field replica -- the manager couldn't help but smile.

"That's a great sign," he said. "As we get into the summer, as guys are getting comfortable with the ballpark, I think you're going to see a big difference."

Yes, Citi Field is in the hitters' heads, but this time it's in a good way.

David Wright didn't need any help from the adjusted walls in the first inning when he launched a 430-foot rainbow that landed in the visitors' bullpen.

"I think it has a lot to do with the fact that he's getting much better backspin on the ball," Collins said, "and I think that's going to help the ball carry some more."

Wright refuses to put much stock in the new wall's effect on the Mets' psyche, but there's no arguing with the numbers. It's only two games, but Wright is 5-for-8 with Saturday's home run and the winning RBI single in Thursday's opener.

Coincidence?

"It's difficult to do this," Wright said. "But I feel good, I feel healthy, and the biggest thing is you've got to go up there with some confidence."

Bingo. That's the operative word -- confidence. Compare standing at the plate now to past seasons, when hitters had a 16-foot black wall mocking them in leftfield and a cavernous expanse in right, including a 16-foot-high Modell's sign to knock down well-struck balls.

Those old structures still exist, but they're harmless now, fronted by the friendlier blue fences.

Only the first of Duda's two homers needed help from the new walls. His second was a 360-foot laser shot down the rightfield line. The Braves' Martin Prado hooked his barely inside the leftfield foul pole.

In a surprising trend, the Mets improved to 22-0 at Citi Field when they go deep at least three times. But again, this is about more than home runs. It's about developing an offensive swagger, something that was tough to do at Citi in the past. Even visiting clubs recognize that.

"The big thing about Shea Stadium was -- and I know it was this way, especially with David Wright -- it's a comfortable feeling walking up to the plate knowing you can leave the yard from foul pole to foul pole," Chipper Jones said. "Now these guys can walk up to the plate and know that they can do ultimate damage.

"The last few years, you could see guys trying to hook balls, trying to hit balls out of the park, and that makes you a .250 hitter instead of a .300 hitter."

The bottom line is the Mets are 2-0 at new Citi, Wright looks like a wrecking ball again and Duda is doing the Duda thing -- speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Is it the new walls? Why the heck not?

"I've said it a million times," Wright said. "You ask a hitter if they like hitting in a more hitter-friendly ballpark and that's an easy answer."

Mystery solved.

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