Sellout crowd greets Shea on final Opening Day

By Stephen Stirling

The Amazin's opened their season at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that unseated them last year as National League East champions after the Mets completed one of the worst collapses in Major League Baseball history. Despite a raucous sold-out crowd, the Mets were unable to deliver a win Tuesday, falling 5-2 to their division rivals.The Mets started off well, carrying a two run lead into the seventh inning, but some fans did not get to see them build it. Traffic was snarled in all directions in and around Shea Stadium and parking, exacerbated by the construction of the team's new stadium, was at a premium.”Am I even in Queens anymore?” Paul Peters, a Toms River, N.J., resident asked as he trekked toward Shea.Peters said he left his home at around 10 a.m. to make it to Queens in time for the first pitch at 1:35 p.m., but hit traffic when he got close to the stadium and eventually was forced to park outside the New York Hall of Science and walk to the stadium, more than a mile away. As he approached the stadium the crowd roared, reacting to what he later found out was a solo home run hit by Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado in the bottom of the second inning.”I've been coming here for years and it's never been that bad,” Peters said.The construction of Citi Field, scheduled to open in 2009, compounds parking issues as its construction cuts 2,100 spaces from what has typically been available for baseball games. The Mets and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have been pushing fans hard to take public transportation to home games to avoid the traffic and parking nightmare, offering extra trains before and after games on the No. 7 subway line and the Port Washington line of the Long Island Rail Road.”It was crowded, but I was in my seat maybe 30 minutes after I got on the train,” said Chrissy Matos, a Jackson Heights resident who took the 7 train from 82nd Street. “I'd probably still be in my car if I drove.”The atmosphere was decidedly different inside the stadium, where smiles beamed across most of the fans' faces, disappearing only momentarily when a few Phillies fans were spotted.Between innings when the crowd quieted down, the clangs of construction could be heard behind the outfield as workers continued to work on the Mets' new home, Citi Field, being built just a home run's distance away from homeplate. Much of the outer skeleton of the stadium is complete and the Mets have said they are ahead of schedule and the stadium should have no problem being ready for Opening Day next year.”It looks amazing,” said Julia Windstrom, a Douglaston resident. “I just can't believe how fast it went up. I was here for Opening Day last year and there was nothing. It almost looks like we could move in today.”Despite the favorable reviews, many fans said they will miss Shea Stadium, which has seen the Mets win two World Series titles in its more than four decades in Queens. Life-long Mets fan Erica Kagan said she hopes they can make it three before they pack their bags.”I think it would be a perfect send-off, especially since we're not getting the All-Star game in our last season,” said Kagan, a law student from Brooklyn. She was taking a jab at the New York Yankees, who will host this year's All-Star game before moving into a new stadium next year. “We're just going to have to show who the better New York team is and win it all.”Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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