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April 3, 2007 > Baseball building boom bites Big Apple

Baseball building boom bites Big Apple

By Karen Matthews

NEW YORK (AP), Mar 31 _ The home plate of the New York Mets is marked with green paint in the gravel. The infield is a construction site teeming with men in hard hats. The seats of Yankee Stadium rumble not with cheers and boos, but with cement mixers and excavators.

Forty-three years after the last major league stadium was built in New York City, both the Yankees and the Mets will play their home openers against the backdrop of two huge construction sites. Fans will be able to get a look at both their teams and their future homes, which are rising alongside the familiar ballparks.

Construction of both stadiums started last year, and they are scheduled to open in 2009, joining a building boom that has remade the face of baseball over the last decade.

``It's a long time coming,'' said Jeff Wilpon, chief operating officer of the Mets. ``The rest of the country's now going to be looking at New York and saying, 'Wow, look what they just did.'''

The new $800 million Mets stadium will be called Citi Field, part of a 20-year sponsorship deal between the Mets and Citigroup Inc. that is reportedly worth more than $20 million annually. The new $1 billion Yankee Stadium is going up just north of the House that Ruth Built, which will be demolished once the new ballpark is built.

The Mets start the regular season on the road and play their home opener April 9 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Fans attending games at Shea during the 2007 and 2008 seasons will be able to watch the new ballpark rise in a former parking lot beyond the outfield _ and via Webcam on the Mets' official site.

``We thought the whole process is something that's exciting to people,'' Wilpon said.

During a visit to the Queens construction site last week, the six towers that will house Citi Field's stairs and elevators were in various stages of completion, and two 35-ton trusses awaited being positioned for the scoreboards. Home plate was marked in green paint.

Wilpon said construction was on schedule.

At the new Yankee Stadium, 10-story cranes are visible from the street, but a wooden fence painted black shields the site from close inspection.

The best view of the new stadium is from the elevated subway platform on the No. 4 line. During a stop there last week, cement mixers churned and excavators scooped dirt as the structures that will be the stands took shape under scaffolding.

The Yankees, who open their season at home Monday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, declined to discuss the new stadium or to allow a reporter onto the site.

Parks advocates sued unsuccessfully to halt construction of the new Yankee Stadium because it required paving over large portions of two city parks and cutting down hundreds of trees.

``The community did not have the resources to launch an adequate legal defense for their issue,'' said Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Parks Advocates. ``It's really sad.''

The Yankees promised to pay for new parks to offset the lost green space.

Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said the biggest piece of new parkland won't be built until the existing Yankee Stadium is demolished in 2009. Ballfields, basketball courts, a soccer field and a running track will replace the historic ballpark that Babe Ruth christened with a home run. ``It'll be a real Mecca for active recreation,'' he said.

A smaller park just west of the existing Yankee Stadium will open this spring, Kavanagh said.

The Mets and Yankees join a long list of teams that have built new baseball parks in the last few years.

Like other stadiums that have opened since Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore pioneered the retro look in 1992, both of New York's ballparks will feature old-time touches designed to evoke baseball's storied past.

Yankee Stadium's designers have incorporated elements of the original stadium, including the frieze that hung from the roof, that were lost in a 1970s renovation.

Citi Field will have a multi-arched exterior facade recalling Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn Dodgers' home before they left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

The link with the Dodgers will be made explicit with a Jackie Robinson Rotunda at the entrance. The rotunda will pay tribute to the Dodger great who broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947, and will include a statue of him.

Wilpon said his father, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, grew up attending games at Ebbets Field and wanted to recreate the experience for younger generations. ``He really felt it was a piece of him and he wants other people to have that feeling walking through the rotunda,'' he said.

Both new stadiums are supposed to be more intimate and at the same time more opulent than the ones they are replacing, with fewer seats but more luxury boxes.

Citi Field will have a capacity of 45,000 including standing room. It replaces the 57,333-seat Shea, which opened in 1964.

The new Yankee Stadium will have 53,000 seats, down from the current capacity of 57,478. The current Yankee Stadium was built in 1923 but was extensively remodeled in the 1970s. It is the third-oldest ballpark in the major leagues, trailing Boston's Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago's Wrigley Field (1914).

The dimensions at Yankee Stadium will not change. The playing field at Citi Field will be smaller than Shea down the lines but larger in the gaps: 335 feet to left field, 408 to center, 330 to right. Shea is 338 to left, 410 to center, 338 to right.

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