Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mets getting a feel for Citi-Field early, pull in the fences at Port St.Lucie


The New York Mets won’t have to wait until opening day to gage how the pulled-in fences at Citi Field will lead to more long balls.

One practice field at their spring training complex replicates those exact dimensions, including before and after markers that illustrate the radical makeover.

At practice Field 7, just outside the main diamond at Digital Domain Park, there’s plenty of room in the power alleys where there’s space to drive a truck between two chain-link fences — a 16-foot high monster that kept balls in play the first three years at Citi Field, and the hitter-friendly 8-foot wall the park will have this season.

The Mets estimate 29 more homers — including both teams — would have been hit last season. So the reconfiguration figures to improve the power profile of a team that was 13th in the NL with 108 homers last year.

It’s no accident the field is adjacent to the main field, there for all to see on a daily basis. All it takes is a bit of imagination.

“I think balls that might have one-hopped the wall last year, I think it’s going to bounce off the wall or maybe even go out,” outfielder Lucas Duda said. “Obviously it’s a chain-link fence vs. a pretty solid wall, but it gives me a chance to kind of get used to the dimensions and get a head start.”

Manager Terry Collins is hopeful that the redone dimensions will do more than lead to home runs. He believes it’ll provide a mental lift for players who might have become pull-happy in the past.

“It’s going to mean a lot because David, right-center is where he made a living,” Collins said. “It’s where he became a star. I think it’s going to be back in his game again.”

Wright hit 14 homers in an injury-shortened 2011, nine of them on the road. Now, he anticipates the splits won’t be so different.

“You want to be rewarded for having good at-bats, hitting the ball hard,” Wright said. “Sometimes you do everything you can possibly do and hit a ball as good as you can, and obviously you get a little frustrated with that.



“From what I’ve seen, from what I’ve heard, it looks like the park’s going to play relatively fair.”

Since it opened in 2009, Citi Field has been one of the most difficult parks to homer in. No Met totaled more than 15 homers last season.

The new-look stadium is a good bit chummier for a lineup that perhaps needs a boost. The power alley in right-center is perhaps another warning track closer to home plate after being reduced from 415 feet to 398 feet. In left field, a 16-foot high wall known as the Great Wall of Flushing has been lowered to 8 feet.

“They want more offense. Apparently they found we weren’t fair on the pitching side, the defensive side, so they shrunk it,” knuckleballer R.A. Dickey said. “Down here, it might give you more of an indication of what you can get away and what you can’t.”

Collins predicts improvement across the board, judging that Mets pitchers have done well in some of the most hitter-friendly parks like Cincinnati and Philadelphia because the short porches require extra focus.

“I think maybe sometimes at Citi Field, because of the spaciousness of the ballpark we lost concentration a little bit,” Collins said.

Pitchers don’t seem to mind that some of their margin for error is gone.

Mike Pelfrey surrendered seven homers in 93 2-3 innings at home and 14 in 100 innings on the road. Of the 14 homers Jonathan Niese allowed, eight came on the road.

“When you look at the positives, our outfielders will have less ground to cover and the bloop hits that fell are going to get caught,” Niese said. “I’m not going to change what I do, I’m got to get early contact and try to get ground balls. It’s not going to play a factor with how I pitch.”
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