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New stadium a hit with Mets fans

In a manner befitting the team’s hard−luck history, the New York Mets inaugurated their $800 million new home Monday by losing to the San Diego Padres 6−5 before a capacity crowd of more than 41,000, but scoring a big hit with fans who appeared to enjoy Citi Field’s more intimate feel and cutting−edge facilities.

The Mets also lost their home opener at Shea Stadium in 1964, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4−3, and last game Sept. 28. before the stadium was torn down.

A small galaxy of flash bulbs erupted from the stands followed by cheers as Mets opener Mike Pelfrey tossed a strike for the first pitch. But on the third pitch of the game, Padres center fielder Jody Gerut smacked the ball into the right field stands, setting the tone for the evening.

The crowd booed.

They also booed Gov. David Paterson, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D−Manhattan) and state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans) when the loudspeaker announced they were in the ballpark.

But the crowd was impressed with the Mets’ new digs. Fan after fan praised the architecture of Citi Field, admiring the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and the fan−dedication bricks laid into the walkways outside.

Frank Pappas, 46, of Bayside, said he first saw the new ballpark during a preview the previous week.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Definitely superior to Shea.”

Nick Costidis, 41, of Whitestone, spent 2 12 years watching the park take shape while working there as a contractor. He brought his niece, Angie Bletsas, 12, to the first home game.

“I was a big part of building the stadium and I hold that in my heart,” he said. “Even though I did a lot of work at Yankee stadium, but it doesn’t mean as much to me as this place because I’m a Met fan.”

Angie said she had fond memories of Shea, but was excited about the new ballpark.

“We’re all becoming a bigger family with Citi Field, because we’re all bonding together,” she said. “We’re all one big Met family.”

Other fans waxed nostalgic about Shea’s shabbier charms.

“I remember, I was like 5, coming on the train,” said Elmhurst resident Johanna Sanchez, 23. “I would kneel on the seats just to see the lights, just to see the figures of the men on the outside. I already miss the signs, that they don’t say ‘Shea’ anymore.”

Rosedale resident Yveto Gaboton, 30, recalled fond memories, like the Mets’ 2006 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth game of the American League Championship Series.

“I love Shea, but a new stadium will definitely help the Mets’ fans look a lot better,” he said. “It’s an exciting time.”

In the hours before Monday’s game, the plaza area in front of the No. 7 train steps became an impromptu forum for Mets dissidents, including a boy holding up a sign saying “Bring back Shea” and a man in a superhero outfit protesting Citi Group’s continued $400 million naming contract.

“These people are just throwing the government’s money away,” said organizer Doug Fahey, who enticed passersby to discuss alternative names for the field with “Downsize Man,” aka Stan Wilkinski.

Not everyone could be there in person to usher in the Mets’ new era. At the First Edition bar in Bayside, Mets fans packed the stools to watch the action on more than a dozen televisions. The Padres were leading by three runs by 8:20 p.m.

Whitestone resident Darwin Gallegos, 42, said he was looking forward to seeing how the oddly shaped right field boundary of the ballpark would affect gameplay. He was less optimistic about the Mets themselves.

“So far it’s a new field, but it’s the same team,” he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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