Mets break ground on Citi Field

NEW YORK – A state-of-the-art, open-air facility planned around the image of Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, the Mets' new home will take the name Citi Field.

The team officially broke ground on the facility Monday, shuffling dirt in a ceremony beyond the centerfield wall of Shea Stadium.

"This represents the next step in the transformation and development of the Mets, on and off the field," Mets chairman Fred Wilpon said. "Clearly, this organization has momentum. We truly believe the best is yet to come."

The 45,000 capacity stadium is expected to be ready for Opening Day 2009 and will feature a rotunda that pays tribute to Jackie Robinson, Mets chairman Fred Wilpon said.

"Within the rotunda, we will going to tell the story of Jackie Robinson, not only as a great baseball player but also as a great American," Wilpon said.

"Within the rotunda, we will going to tell the story of Jackie Robinson, not only as a great baseball player but also as a great American."

Local politicians – including New York State governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – joined Mets manager Willie Randolph and three players – shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman David Wright and pitcher John Maine – shoveling symbolic sand to commemorate the official beginning of construction.

"We will never forget Shea Stadium," said New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "The 21st century Mets deserve a home befitting an emerging baseball dynasty, and they will have that."

Of course, construction did not wait for the politicians to don their hard hats. For months, workers have been drilling into the area formerly used as Shea Stadium's parking lot, and Jeff Wilpon said that more than 2,000 of the planned 2,800 foundation piles are already in place.

"We're on schedule," Wilpon said. "We're making very good progress."

Citi Field is expected to be known for its elaborate rotunda, a structural steel bridge motif that represents the team's connection to New York City, and a right-field porch that will hang eight feet over the playing field, like ballparks of yesteryear.

The new facility will rise in a neighborhood familiar to Mets fans. Bloomberg said he expected Citi Field to be part of an age of renewal in Queens, with re-development planned for the adjacent Willets Point "Iron Triangle."

"When people fly into New York, they'll be able to say, 'Hey, isn't that wonderful?'" Bloomberg said. "It will benefit Queens, it will benefit the city, it will benefit Willets Point. A lot of things that will come out of this are nothing but good."

The stadium's name comes from Citigroup, Inc., a financial services company which served as the lead underwriter on the Mets' stadium bonds. Though Fred Wilpon declined to discuss specific finances, the deal has been reported to be worth upwards of $20 million per year to the Mets over the next 20 years.

"Citigroup has just won the World Series of sports sponsorships," said Lewis Kaden, the firm's chief administrative officer. "We are very excited about all the different aspects of our joining together with Sterling Equities and the Mets. We're delighted to have our name on this wonderful stadium."

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