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Keith Strudler: A Shorter Porch At Citi Field

It will be slightly easier to swing for the fences next year in New York’s Citi Field. That’s because those barriers have been moved slightly closer to home plate. Around 10 ten feet in right center field. This is the second time those pearly gates have moved in since the parks opening in 2009, both moves done to create more regular home run opportunities for Mets power hitters. This time it’s so that Curtis Granderson and others might reap the benefits of what this year were simply near misses. That, according to Mets logic, would increase Mets scoring, let them win more games, and, by default, fill seats, of which there will be a few more thanks to the extra space in right field.

The Mets are by no means the only team that’s moved fences recently. San Diego and Seattle have moved them in. Detroit did it last decade. The Marlins are resisting it. Really, outside of your roster, the distance between batter and freedom is probably the one thing teams can control.

There’s no automatic relationship between less turf and more runs. Moving the fences might make home runs more attainable, but it might cut down on singles, doubles, and triples, since defenses can cover more real estate. There’s even less tie between ballpark dimensions and winning. For all the hype around moving walls for your personnel, the reality is that short fences work for both teams. And over the duration, minus some real long range strategy, these kinds of knee jerk architecture are more gimmick than genius.

It’s not that America, and in this case Mets fans, couldn’t stand a few more home runs. League home run production is considerably down from its halcyon in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when they essentially could have put the fences in the parking lot. One can debate whether or not baseball players are still juicing, but this much is undeniable. If they are, they’re not doing it as well. So Americans have largely been robbed of what became the most exciting and identifiable part of the game – the long ball – and replaced it with things like pitching and traditional run production. That’s how the San Francisco Giants won this year’s World Series. It’s also a series that was watched by fewer people than might attend a Kardashian divorce hearing. Hard to infer causation, but the correlation is certainly there.

In some ways, ballparks are one of baseball’s quirky appeals. They aren’t all the same, and there’s no mold for the playing surface. It’s the opposite of football, a game of inches where hash marks stand at attention and replay cameras document every move. So for those who enjoy baseball’s organic nature, moving fences is just another adorable characteristic of a storied past time. Just remember that Hershey’s sells a lot more candy than that natural chocolatier down the street. People crave standardization, even if they say they don’t. And while baseball might appreciate its purists, its existence depends on everyone else.

In the end, that’s really what this is all about. Not the imminent future of a Mets team that’s likely to miss next year’s playoffs even if the fences barely circle the infield. But rather the long term health of the sport. For a good decade, baseball fought its inevitable losing battle to sports like football and basketball and now even soccer by its fixation on power and performance. With McGuire and Bonds and Sosa, brute athleticism was on clear display – for some of them, over 70 times a season. That kept casual sports fans around simply to watch what seemed preposterously super-human. Only problem is that it actually was just that – technically super-human, not just metaphorically so. So when baseball bodies deflated and hitting production came back down to Earth – even though they still far exceed most of baseball’s history – fans maybe realized they’re not entirely in love with baseball any more, at least not as much as with the NFL and the NBA, where athletic prowess is on vivid display. There’s nothing in baseball that can rival the jaw dropping appeal of a windmill slam dunk or an 80 yard touchdown reception. Certainly not the nuance of a perfectly managed 1-0 win, where the true heroes are the statisticians. That’s baseball’s problem. And I’m not certain whether moving gates a few feet might make the difference.

I suppose it’s worth a try. If nothing else, at least the sport is trying to swing for the fences.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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