CITI NEEDSGARDEN

Craig Swann and bullpen catcher Joe Pignatano in the Shea bullpen garden c. 1980 via © Bettmann/Corbis

For many of the years that the New York Mets played baseball at Shea Stadium, beyond the right field fence and adjacent to pitchers warming up, a vegetable garden grew. It began in April 1969 when bullpen coach Joe Pignatano noticed a stray tomato plant growing next to the outfield wall. As any good bullpen coach would do, Joe identified a potential good luck charm in this fledgling plant, dug it up and transported it to the safety of the bullpen. Over the six months he added radishes, pumpkins, zucchini and peppers and the Mets did the unbelievable and won their first World Series Championship. The vegetable garden became a tradition for the duration of Pignatano’s tenure through the 1981 season.

The revived bullpen garden c. 1999 via Baseball-Fever

From what I gather, the garden went dormant following Pignatano’s departure only to be revived by groundskeeper Chris Murphy in the 1998 season. For the revived plot, Murphy had higher hopes and planted watermelons, corn and sunflowers – much taller plants than those of Pignatano’s garden.  As fall rolled around the corn and sunflowers grew to heights well above the eight foot outfield wall – swaying in the Shea Stadium wind. One season the plants were so big they blocked the view of the Mets’ bullpen from the visitors dugout forcing the Mets to cut them back. This view blocking instance aside, the garden was great. There was something wonderful about seeing it develop and grow over the course of the season and it created a unique link between the baseball season inside the stadium and the agricultural season outside. The positive affect the outfield farm had on the team’s performance didn’t take long – in 1999 the Mets made the playoffs and in 2000 they won the National League pennant.

Alas, with many Met traditions established at Shea Stadium, the garden did not survive the move across the street to Citi Field in 2009. Not surprisingly, the Mets have been nothing short of dismal in their new home. The reasons to resurrect the garden are numerous, here are a few:

1. Citi Field identity – Citi Field is a fairly generic, Camden Yards-ish, neo-traditional ballpark. Since opening in 2009, Met fans have been calling for it to feel more like the Mets home field. Last season the Mets made modifications to make Citi Field more Mets focused: the outfield wall was painted blue, a Mets Hall of Fame was built in the entry rotunda and banners were added outside – bringing back the bullpen garden would help to further establish such identity for the ballpark and creat a link with great Met teams of the past.

2. Go Green – This report by the NRDC highlights the push to make sport facilities more sustainable. Citi Field already has waterless urinals and a green roof, a vegetable garden would be a small gesture but would symbolize a further commitment to this wonderful development in stadium management.

3. Local food – The locavore movement is hot right now, especially in New York. Get on board Mets.

4. Good food at Citi – The Citi Field food options are second-to-none in Major League Baseball stadiums. I imagine Danny Meyer and company would embrace the idea of having locally grown produce to pick from.

5. Everyone else is doing it – The San Diego Padres installed a garden in the Petco Park Bullpen this season and the Red Sox, Tigers and Braves too.

6. Its good luck – Try it, it couldn’t hurt, not much else is working.

As we head into another fall with the Mets playing terrible baseball, creative thinking is needed to turn their fortunes around. With a few good signings, some savvy trades and clever planting this offseason, 2013 will be the start of something great in Flushing.