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A tale of two new ballparks

This just proves that all rookies need a while to settle in, even a pair that came in together with a massive buildup and a combined $2.3-billion price tag. All that New York can say to the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field after a sometimes rocky, sometimes pretty first half-season is what the city always says to a bonus baby: Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

The new homes for the Yankees and Mets sure were the talk of the town, as expected. It's just that the clubs who built the stadiums (or, as they prefer, a stadium and a ballpark) never imagined the conversation would be about obstructed views, empty seats, muted tradition and, above all, too many or too few home runs.

Everyone in the big leagues has heard the buzz. In his first hour as a Met on Saturday, former Brave Jeff Francoeur said: "You're not going to go out and hit 45 home runs in this park. If you want to do that, you've got to go 10 miles down the road."

Nothing like each other

Yes, the park built for intimacy is playing like the Grand Canyon and the stadium built for grand stature is playing like a neighborhood slow-pitch softball diamond.

Yankee Stadium, next door to the slowly disappearing old Yankee Stadium, has become the Cape Canaveral of ballparks. It's a launching pad for four-base hits and one-liners. It has been called Coors Field East because it appeared to be a challenger to break the Denver stadium's record for homers in a season (303).

Citi Field, next door to the vanished Shea Stadium (now a parking lot), has become baseball's Great Plains, a paradigm for the Mets' offensive drought. The first reason cited for acquiring Francoeur was that he is good enough to track down balls in the roomy, quirky outfield.

Even for a couple of phenoms, replacing a combined 129 years of history isn't easy.

Both clubs (especially the Mets) point out that most fans really like the new parks. And as for the kinks, each side said it is working on them.

Back in March, the Yankees reduced the prices of some bleacher seats that didn't have full views. In April, in the face of ridicule over the sight of so many empty, padded premium seats right near the field, they announced a huge markdown and/or rebate, especially on the $2,500 tickets.

They'll let it play out

A Yankees spokesman said Monday that the club is not commenting on the Stadium now, instead choosing to see how the rest of the season goes. Hal Steinbrenner, the managing general partner, recently did send out e-mails to some customers inviting them to meetings at the Stadium or Rockefeller Center, and "telling us how we are doing and how we can make the 'Yankee Stadium Experience.' "

Bloggers have objected to relentless promotions on the public address system, the fact that Monument Park is basically hidden behind the centerfield fence and that the place just doesn't have the electric feel that the building next door had. Visiting players have privately said the new Stadium is not as verbally intimidating as the old. Blue Jays first baseman Kevin Millar, formerly of the Red Sox, said he preferred the original: "I got booed a lot louder. I like to get booed. I don't know if it's all corporate, but they're too nice to me here."

Home of the home run

The real major story, though, is the long ball. The Stadium's home run binge isn't what it was, but it still is booming. The total of 142 through 42 games is on pace for 274, as opposed to 160 next door last year. In 46 road games, the Yankees and their opponents have hit only 102.

At first, the Yankees blamed it on the weather, but a meteorologist disputed that, releasing a study backing the contention of It attributed the power surge to the lack of curvature in the rightfield wall (to accommodate a vintage-looking auxiliary scoreboard), effectively making the field smaller.

Early in the season, A.J. Burnett spoke on behalf of all pitchers when he said, "This ballpark, obviously, is in your head." But the Yankees have won 20 of their past 29 at home, to which reliever Phil Coke said, "Even though, early on, it seemed like this place was going to yield the same amount in home runs as it did [in dollars] to build it, we're going to get the job done."

Manager Joe Girardi said last week: "I love coming here; the players love coming here. Even though our ballpark has so much to offer and has so many new things, I think a lot of people have seen a lot of it and I think now the game is the main attraction. I don't know because I'm not in the stands, I'm not in the Great Hall, I'm not in the restaurants, but that's just kind of a feeling I get."

Not enough Mets

Dave Howard, the Mets' executive vice president for business, said Citi Field has been "extremely well received," with people commenting even on their reception in the parking lot.

He did acknowledge early-season criticisms: Some seats have obstructed views and that there is less celebration of Mets history than the Brooklyn Dodgers' legacy. As much as there was a "good riddance" feeling about Shea, there was an uproar Sunday when one of its traditions, the apple, failed to pop out of the centerfield hat for the second of two home runs. "We've heard our fans," he said.

So, he said, the Mets received permission from Major League Baseball to show the live feed on video screens the instant the ball is in play, allowing fans to follow action they might not see live. Also, an additional video board will be installed in the rightfield corner after the All-Star break.

Howard added that more Mets memories will be reflected with displays in the park this summer, and that there are bigger long-term plans to give the place a Mets atmosphere.

Whether they will make it a more hitter-friendly atmosphere by bringing in the fences or lowering the walls is a decision for the offseason. Howard did say that if the Mets are healthy, the park can work to their advantage because of their gap hitters, fly ball-oriented pitchers and mobile centerfielder and rightfielder. Backup centerfielder Angel Pagan said, "I need room to gallop, so this is the right place."

Howard said, "I think it gets in other teams' heads, too."

The question is, does it get in Mets' heads, especially David Wright's? There is some feeling that he and other Mets have taken their Citi Field swings on the road, where they have hit even fewer home runs than they have at home (24 to 28).

"You have to adjust your approach, you have to adjust your philosophy to this ballpark because it's not a launching pad,'' Wright said. "It's not a place where you're going to go out and get a lot of cheap home runs."

Gary Sheffield, who had a fondness for Shea ever since his uncle Dwight Gooden pitched there, said: "I love Citi Field. The atmosphere is electric. It's a challenge, but if you hit the ball square, it goes out."

The half-season has not been a solid hit or a full whiff for either park. But this week will be big in both spots. Yankee Stadium will import memories from next door with Oldtimers Day on Sunday. Citi Field will strike a chord with concerts by Paul McCartney, who played Shea with the Beatles in 1965, and with Billy Joel, who helped close down Shea last year.

Having gotten into heads and under skin, the two rookies, clearly here to stay, are trying to make their way into people's hearts.

New York Sports