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Overcoming the Home Field Disadvantage

Mike SteffanosTuesday, April 14, 2009
By Mike Steffanos


In 2006 the Mets won 50 games at Shea Stadium and 47 on the road en route to a 97 win season.

The following year, the Mets road record was 47-34 -- identical to the previous season. The difference between going to the playoffs and watching them at home was the 41-40 record at Shea.

Last year the Mets managed a 48-33 home record, which was certainly an improvement. Unfortunately, though, they only managed to win 7 of 15 September home games with the season on the line, and wound up out of the playoff hunt for a second straight season.

While other teams fatten up in their home ballpark, the Mets just don't thrive when they play before their own fans. The hope with the newly-opened Citi Field was that the phenomenon of struggling at home would have been left behind with the old ball park.

While I refuse to fall into the trap of making definitive judgments a week into the season, I have to admit that the Mets 6-5 loss to the Padres in their new home looked a lot like some of the desultory home losses I've witnessed over the past two seasons. One game into the Citi Field era, we once again wonder if the Mets will continue to underperform at home.

The Post's Joel Sherman had an interesting take on the atmosphere in Flushing in his Hardball blog:

I understand that Met fans are angry, particularly over how the past two seasons have ended, and it is possible that some of the fury is being further fanned by higher costs that come with watching a game in a new stadium. But it seems to me strange that so many would come to games to be so miserable so quickly and easily. There is a Legion of Gloom atmosphere that now pervades Met home games, as if near everyone in the place is just waiting for something bad to happen.

It felt last year at Shea that booing had become the in thing, and as if fans were trying to outdo one another by doing it earlier and earlier in games and with more bile. And now that seems to have come across the parking lot to Citi. Heck, I sensed that Daniel Murphy had become a quick fan favorite for being a homegrown player who obviously is working hard. Yet, after his dropped flyball Sunday in Florida helped cost a game, a bunch of fans greeted his first catch of a fly on Monday at Citi with mocking cheers. Is that really the way that Met fans want to tell one of their own how much they like and support him? Now the sarcastic applause was ultimately drowned out by what sounded like encouraging cheers, but this was not just one or two fans being drowned out. This was a large contingent who thought the right way to acknowledge Murphy was to mock him in the first-ever game at the Mets' new home.

There is a quick-trigger bitterness that now exists at Met home games that is part of their season, a kind of home-field disadvantage. The negativity is palpable. It feels like another obstacle to the Mets, and an obstacle that could become more and more oppressive as we head to, perhaps, another defining September.

Now we've covered the booing at home many times, and I don't feel like going into it again. Nobody's mind is going to be changed at this point, and the debate just becomes a tiresome rehashing of the same old bullet points. I go back to a time when the only reasons fans would boo one of their own was a perceived lack of effort, but I realize that time is long gone.

It's a fairly safe bet that there will be a significant minority of fans that will be booing at home games this season. They will be booing early and often, and will irretrievably affect the atmosphere in the ballpark because, as I have so often pointed out, those who are not booing make a lot less noise.

The only way to lighten up the atmosphere in the place would be for the Mets to perform well and win. You can argue that the negativity in the ballpark might work against that, but that's really beside the point. It is what it is.

I really do believe that the vast majority of the people who come to the ballpark, even some of those who are currently booing, would like nothing better than to cheer on a good team that played fundamentally sound, winning baseball. Certainly there is enough talent here for that.

I'm sure that the boos and the negativity bothers the players who, after all, are only human. I'm sure at times it makes it tough to perform -- particularly for a Luis Castillo or Oliver Perez who have a very short leash with the most vocal of the unhappy fans.

I think Sherman is dead on that the negativity is palpable and has become an obstacle to this team winning. However, since it's not going to go away until, paradoxically, the team does win, someone is going to have to find a way to turn lemons into lemonade.

The only way to do this, really, would be to embrace the challenge presented by this "home field disadvantage." Face the fact that it's not going to go away any time soon and get over it. Take an "us against them" mentality if you need to, maybe that makes the team a tighter bunch. Play better and the atmosphere will lighten.

Here's a few other suggestions:

Stop telling us in interviews that you have a "great team". (I have heard David Wright say this on several occasions.) You weren't great in 2006, but you were tough and resilient -- strive to be that again. Greatness is earned over time through success and hard work.

Taking tough at bats and working pitchers is a full-time commitment -- not just something you do when things are going well. At times when this team struggles offensively it looks like everyone is in a hurry to get back to the dugout. Successful teams work their offense even when things aren't going well, which is why they tend to come from behind time and time again. The Mets had that to a great extent in 2006, but not really since.

The Mets organization has made quite a few public relations blunders over the last couple of years that have magnified the fan base's dissatisfaction with the failures on the field. Why don't they just try actually acknowledging that some times? The club's philosophy seems to be that if they ignore everything negative that happens it will eventually go away. If I was them, I'd acknowledge that mistakes were made and make a small gesture every once in a while to win back some of the fans' goodwill.

Whatever we think of it, the atmosphere at the park will continue to be an obstacle to this team's success. Either they find a way past that obstacle this year or they will most certainly shed a manager, some coaches, more players and perhaps even some front office personnel. That's just how it is.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

Comments (3)

I get the part were they say negativity breeds negativity, and that I agree booing is not a motivator. On the other hand, this is a team that was built to perform and produce a consistent winning product. I take into the account there has just been some bad luck, the injuries, players playing out of position, so on an so forth. They marketed this team as a real play-off contender, one that would go deeep in the postseason, and ripe to win championships. Since Beltran took strike three in game 7, 2006, this team has just lacked that umph to get over that hump. There are leaders on this team, but it seems no one wants to lead. No real fire, and they chalk up disappointment or lack of effort with lame excuses or there is always tomorrow. Had the Mets gone into the play-ffs the past two seasons, I don't think we're having these types of conversations. We have been waiting on tomorrow since 2000. Maybe we want this team to succeed so much, that when they don't perform, it feels like a gut wrenching punch. We believe, obviously, because we always come back for more, year after year. We support our team, we love our Mets. But it is like the child you have with all the potential, you support them, say it's going to be alright, do all the things your suppose to do. It just comes to a point where you have to say "sink or swim" and for the past 3 seasons the have sank badly. When you see the same trends developing you have to ask yourself, is this what it is going to be...again? Maybe I like the stress, the adversity, the sad fact that it's a wait til next year already, I don't know. This is the team I root for, support, have liked going on 40+ years. Even some of the worst teams that they have fielded, I have never felt the angst, I have felt the last four years with this team prior. Sure I could go support the 29' accross town, but I'd be just another bandwagoneer! I want my Mets to be the toast of the town for many years, I want this current team to put the peddal to the metal. No one goes 162-0, but knowing even in a loss where no one gives excuses, is something that people can accept if they are sure you are giving your best effort. I believe this team is giving a genuine effort, but someone said last year, all the pieces may just not fit. All we are asking for is the right pieces, no matter the outcome. Lets Go Mets 2009!

lj, good post.i agree with much of what u write.there definitely is a negative vibe with the mets these days.much of it is because of the collapses the last 2 years.i listened to wfan yesterday from 10-4 pm and so many fans are over the top complaining about the ballpark that it is ridiculous.i've been inside and here's my take to the complaining fans.folks, it's a ballpark, it's not heaven.enjoy the new amenities if u wish or go to your seat and watch the game for 3 hours.the nice thing about the new place is we now have that option.in shea there was no choice.to me and countless fans that is a major upgrade.as to the fans complaining about not being able to see some play in the corner's, guess what?? if u don't like the view, sit in a different part of the park next time u go to a game.if u have a season seat utilize the many lcd tv's in the park for replays and if u really dislike the seats, change the location next year.i read a story about all the new ballparks built the last 10 years and they all have some seats that had some blind spots in the corners.i've been to fenway a few times and people would kill to get seats that are behind poles and girders!!lighten up met fans.also take into account that the place is brand new and the park pertaining to height and distance of outfield walls is subject to change the next few years.(especially if david wright ends the year with 14 homers and 73 doubles).i also get links to citizens park in philly advertising buy one,get one free ticket promotions and dollar hot dog nites, so that might be becoming to queens in a few years also.right now let's focus on winning some games and try and enjoy the new ballpark.april games are not that important..as we all know, it's the last 2 weeks of september that counts and hopefully we will finish strong this year..

I think for the most part, fans at Shea! aah I mean Citi-field, (its hard to teach an old dog new tricks.)the relationship is as a brother and sister, love hate thing. The fan yelling and screaming whatever at his favorite player, is the same one who will fist fight if some other team fan says the excact same thing. If the players get to understand this, it becomes a positive thing. The fan feels close enough to that player he can tell him he has bad habits, only because he loves him like a brother. Truth hurts some times but its the truth that will set you free. The light goes on and you become thankful becasue nobody else was bold enough to tell you, your fly is open and you look like a jerk.Most of the booing, is that kind of love, hey snap out of it,your better then that. If I am a player, I should ask myself what are they saying about my playing? is it justified? If it is can I do something about it, and if I can and do, I become a better player for it.The home field becomes the place where they push me to get it right, they drive me to get better.

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