Today, the New York Mets will play their home opener at Citi Field, with Chris Bassitt on the mound and a new statue of the late ace Tom Seaver being unveiled before the game. And as usual, fans will be able to buy hot dogs, beer and Cracker Jacks while they watch the game. But there are lots of new features at the ballpark in 2022, and on a chilly, overcast March day, a scrum of reporters (including this rabid Mets fan) were ushered into the Citi Field press room to learn more.
There, a variety of speakers addressed everything from game-day promotions – a Francisco Lindor bobblehead gnome, a Pete Alonso polar bear bobblehead – to some pretty futuristic technology. “Our new Mets Express entry technology… will allow fans to use their face as their ticket to enter the ballpark,” explained Oscar Fernandez, the Mets’ vice president of technology solutions.
We were escorted onto the warning track to see new 4K video displays, which was pretty cool, and to the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum, where a new exhibition celebrating the team’s 60th anniversary is on display. “We have both Stengel and Hodges’ jerseys from the inaugural season, which is the coolest,” said curator Alicia Juillet. “We have Ron Swoboda's glove from the catch; we have Mookie Wilson's Game Six 1986 World Series cleats.”
But what everyone really wanted to do was sample the food. The ballpark food vendors set up tables for a tasting menu in one of Citi Field’s restaurants.
“We're just not chicken tender vendors anymore,” said Jason Eksterowicz, the Mets’ executive chef. He pointed around the room. “We have about 19 different vendors’ offerings from local vendors, as well as Citi Field exclusives, that you could find throughout the ballpark – anywhere from a burger to a fried pickle to a fried chicken biscuit sandwich to tacos. We've kind of got it all for you here today to try through… and enjoy.”
So I did. While I didn’t taste everything, I stopped by several tables, including some from local businesses new to Citi Field, like Jacob’s Pickles. I met Jacob Hadjigeorgis, the owner.
“I'm born and raised from Queens, and this is our first outpost in Queens. So, what better place to be than Citi Field?,” Hadjigeorgis said, smiling ear to ear. “So, we're featuring a couple of our signatures here. We have our fried pickles. And then, of course, our signature fried chicken biscuit sandwich – the honey chicken and pickle sandwich – to get a little bit of that spice, a little bit of the sweet and savory.”
The sandwich was a very tasty if slightly messy bite, with honey dripping off the sides of the biscuit. I moved on to Pig Beach Barbecue, a Brooklyn-based restaurant. The vendor offers a variety of menu items, partner Shane McBride said, including “these super awesome Sidewinder French fries with a cheese sauce, slow smoked pork shoulder and pickled jalapenos and a little bit of our spice rub on there.”
Super awesome seemed about right. Also, a kind of super messy finger food.
Finally, I made my way to Murray’s Mac and Cheese. “We actually were supposed to bring Murray's Mac to Citi Field in 2020, and we all know what happened to that baseball season,” spokesperson Deena Siegelbaum said. In addition to traditional macaroni and cheese, they offer “Buffalo Mac, which is just a super fun spin on the classic with melty cheddar, buffalo chicken and some cheese and sauces to really kind of spice it up.”
It was delicious – and a bit less messy, since a fork was involved.
With the new season just a week old, both the team and the stadium, with its new amenities, are giving Mets fans (including this one) something to look forward to.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Ron Swoboda's name.