Had things went differently in 2005, you might be riding the 4 train to see the Mets play this season. If New York had won the bid to get the 2012 Olympics which will ultimately begin this July 27th in London, the Mets would have been playing their home games this season in Yankee Stadium. What?
Back in June of 2005, once the West Side Stadium deal fell through, the City of New York had to scramble to figure out how to make a serious bid for the 2012 Olympics. In a last ditch attempt to get the city of New York to host the summer of 2012 event, the Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, agreed to offer their proposed new ballpark, still on the drawing board at the time, to play host to the ’12 Olympics. It was a long shot for New York to get the Olympics and likely the Wilpons knew that. But never the less, putting their loyalty behind the city, the Wilpons claimed they would be willing to alter their stadium’s design so that it would open for baseball in 2009, be reconfigured in 2012 to be the centerpiece of the Olympics, then retro flitted back to a baseball only facility for 2013.
The Mets also stipulated that the offer would be contingent upon the city’s agreement to move forward with the ballpark bonds regardless of the Olympic decision or no deal would be made. Although the Mets would be paying the construction costs on what would eventually become Citi Field, they needed the city to float the necessary bonds to make cash available to complete construction. The Mets would pay back the city in the years that followed construction. It was a similar deal the Yankees were getting to build their new 1.6 billion dollar “Death Star” in the Bronx. How could the city refuse with Mayor Bloomberg and others desperately wanting the Olympics?
The Mets had sought a new ballpark long before the Yankees had. The city, without an Olympic stadium available really had nowhere else to turn. A new Jets stadium was also conceived for Flushing Meadow Park that would first open with the 2012 Olympics. However, the Mets stadium plans were complete and the Jets showed very little interest in leaving the New Jersey Meadowlands where a new stadium there was being contemplated for both them and the Giants.
With a new stadium having to be designed from scratch with a completely new environmental impact study and getting the appropriate votes by local government officials, a proposed Flushing Meadows Olympic/Jets stadium was never a realistic option. With very little precious time before the Olympic committee voted, it was pretty clear the new Mets stadium solution was the best and only option available. There was no question from the outset of where a new Mets ballpark would be placed. Construction would take place in the east parking lot of Shea Stadium where environment impact studies had been completed years before.
The deal was struck, the announcement was made. Now all the Wilpons had to do was to sit back and hope another city would get the Olympics. That last statement is purely my conjecture but I believe behind closed doors, the Wilpons had to know there was very little chance New York would get the Olympics. All they really wanted, and rightfully so after so many years of delays, was to get the city to move on the bonds so they could finally build a new ballpark that had been publically discussed since 1998.
But what if the city had gotten the Olympics?
First, the design of the Mets new ballpark would have to be altered. Instead of the current configuration of the triple level outfield stands in left and the Pepsi Porch in right, temporary stands would have been set up greatly reducing the stadium’s capacity. These stands would be in place for three seasons. After 2011, the temporary stands would have been torn down with the left field and right field grandstand extended to form a completed oval (see illustration above). With construction continuing into 2012, the Mets would have had to play their 81 home games at the new Yankee Stadium. Once the two week Olympic events concluded, construction would begin to restore the Mets ballpark to a baseball only facility. The extended grandstand would have been torn down and the permanent outfield configuration we see today would have been constructed.
Of course, London got the nod. The Mets completed their final plans and on April 6, 2006, officially announced the development of a state of the art facility that would eventually become Citi Field.
Interestingly, the gesture by the Mets was a onetime offer. If New York were to get the 2016 summer games, they would not be held at Citi Field. To insure this, the Mets actually moved the Citi Field footprint about 150 feet north of where the original survey indicated. This would insure there would not be enough room on the land to alter Citi Field to an Olympic sized stadium in the future. Whether it was a shrewd move on the Mets part or not, the Mets finally got what they wanted, a new ballpark to replace aging Shea Stadium.
The illustration above was the only image ever released as to what the Mets ballpark would have looked like had New York gotten the Olympics. You can see the baseball configuration where home plate would be on the lower left of the design with the oval extending out from first base to left field. This was a similar concept to Turner Field in Atlanta which had first been built as an Olympic stadium for the 1996 games. Ultimately, Turner Field was always intended to be a baseball venue. After the ’96 games, stands were razed and new ones created in left field to create a more intimate setting for baseball. The difference with the New York plan was that the Atlanta stadium was first designed for the Olympics before it was later converted for the Braves. The Mets stadium would have had to have been configured for baseball temporarily, then the Olympics, then finally permanently for baseball.
London was awarded the Olympics. The Mets got their deal in place for a new stadium. All is well that ends well even though New York did not get the Olympics. It could always happen down the road now that Met Life Stadium has been built in the Meadowlands. Perhaps Citi Field could become part of an Olympic event in the future but for that to happen, baseball will have to be reinstated as an Olympic event. It boggles my mind that it was removed from this year’s games, especially when you consider how many countries around the world now play baseball.
Personally I am glad the Mets never had to build an Olympic Stadium. I would have hated seeing the Mets play their home games at Yankee Stadium. That would have been too much to take.