Friday, July 26, 2013

Five Days of Baseball Heaven in NYC - All Star Game 2013

We went back to Citifield this past Saturday for the first time since the All Star break and the only way I can describe it was surreal. You see, the five days that began with Fanfest and ended with the All Star Game on Tuesday night were about as close to baseball heaven as I think I will ever come and it was strange returning to "our" ballpark for "just another game". We had a lot of fun at Saturday's game and thankfully the Mets managed to squeak out a win against those rival Phillies, but it all just made me think wistfully of the events of the week that had just passed. I found myself glancing up towards section 510, tearing up at the leftover ASG signs and souvenirs, and flipping through the photos in my phone from the various events and games. It was no contest - those five days and everything that came with them were simply some of the most fun I've had in the last year and a half.

On Friday, I was able to bring Domani along with his cousins and his Uncle Derek to the All Star Game Fanfest at the Jacob Javits Center in NYC. We assumed that we would spend a few hours there and then have to sweep the bored kids away and return home, but we ended up spending the WHOLE day checking out as many of the exhibits as we possibly could and having a blast together. We each posed for our very own baseball cards and practiced our aim by *attempting* to throw baseballs through tires (we even got a few in). I got my ASG program autographed by John Franco. The kids got free baseballs, beads, and balloon animals/flowers/swords. We got to see items on display from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and got our picture taken with the World Series Trophy. We ate lunch and snacks and, of course, bought souvenirs. We packed an awful lot into 6 hours.
That smile is me visualizing the Mets bringing this to Queens in a few years (2? 3?)
Ya gotta believe, right?
Joe would be proud of his niece's Mets shirt for sure.

Posing for a quick photo by Matt Harvey's "locker" at Fanfest
Saturday had its own All Star Game festivities although this time it was off to Prospect Park in Brooklyn with my cousin Mike for the ASG 5k. We had an awesome cheering section - his girlfriend Kristin and my friend Scott - and despite the humidity I managed to beat my previous best 5k time by more than a minute and a half, finishing the course in 26:41. It was a fun race and I'm so glad I got to run it with Mike who I don't get to see very often. We already have plans to tackle another 5k soon and although I'm sure nothing will quite compare to getting a send off from Mr. Met I see another PR in my future as the weather cools off.
With Mike after the race

After the 5k I had time for a massage with Nancy before our church's annual Blueberry Festival. And then it was straightening up the house and very little sleep in anticipation of an early morning run to the Philadelphia airport to pick up my friend Justin who was flying in for the rest of the All Star game activities. We picked him up a little before 9am and could only coax Domani away from the airport by reminding him that we were going to Citifield. It was Sunday and that meant the Futures game and the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. I was a little nervous about driving in to the game since I had been getting basically daily emails from the Mets telling us that we should take the train, but I figured that since we were traveling with a full car, including the little guy it was worth attempting the ride in. In the end, it was the easiest drive in and out of Citifield I've ever had. (Which was more than made up for on Saturday when some guy who wasn't paying attention sideswiped us on 278 in Brooklyn while we were driving home from the Mets v. Phillies game!)

Sunday was a hot day and we were relieved to discover that even though our seats were high up, they were under cover. We had a nice view just off to the right of home plate and were mercifully out of the hottest rays of the sun. As a result, we were able to tough it out through the Futures game AND the softball game that followed. It was a great afternoon and special because I was able to bring Domani along, but my favorite part was when the Mets legends were announced for the softball game. I couldn't help but think how much Joe would have loved watching Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Mike Piazza and John Franco take the field in that moment and I was especially moved by the tribute to Gary Carter, who passed away from brain cancer last year. And of course, it didn't hurt that Piazza got himself a nice little homerun so we could cheer like old times. So much fun!

At Sunday's games with a sleepy Domani
By the time we got home on Sunday we were all pretty tired, but it wasn't long before Justin and I were on our way back to Citifield for the Home Run Derby. After a scary incident with a parking deck elevator that just about closed with Justin's arm in it (welcome to New Brunswick!) we made the rest of the trip in without any problems (the problems would come on the trip home!)

I wasn't quite ready for the emotional roller coaster, though, that was waiting for me upon my arrival at Citifield. As I stepped down from the train station stairs and walked towards the stadium there was a VFW vet selling poppies and I immediately thought of my Grandpop. I walked around a little aimlessly as I felt the tears start to well up in my eyes - thinking of him, thinking of my Grandmom who was the biggest Mets fan of all in our family, thinking of those two things together. I was just thankful to have a friend there with me and somehow it helped keep me from completely losing it. But then, for some cosmic reason I will never understand, there was more. 

We walked inside the stadium and no sooner had we scanned our tickets and passed through the turnstile then we were handed a bag with goodies. One thing - a lanyard to hold our ticket - was pretty exciting as Justin had just been talking about buying one the day before. And need - FREEBIE! But in midst of the lanyard excitement I noticed something else...Stand Up 2 Cancer was EVERYWHERE. There was a table in the Rotunda. There was a sign in our bag for us to fill in the name of someone we "stand up for". There was a guy (or a gal, I honestly can't remember) in a SU2C shirt thrusting a marker at us so we could write in the name on our sign. Damn it, I stand up to cancer every day. Every day when I get out of the bed that I used to share. Every day when I look in my son's eyes. Every day when I kill a stink bug or take out the garbage or empty the basement dehumidifier. Why do I have to do it here TOO?! I grabbed the marker, took a deep breath, looked around the Rotunda at this place we didn't get to visit together for nearly enough years and wrote his name. Once again I was glad I had a friend with me because that was one long escalator ride and subsequent walk up to our seats.

Once I was over the initial shock of having SU2C as a constant fixture for the night I decided it was actually a nice thing. The moment when they had everyone stand up with their signs was moving and it was a special way to think about Joe during an event that I know he would have loved. There was nothing like being a part of the Citifield crowd cheering for David Wright when he was announced or watching Yoenis Cespedes smack homer after homer during his 17 home run first round. I've enjoyed many home run derbys from the comfort of my couch, but there was just no comparison to this experience. The ballpark felt electric and I knew I was lucky to be sharing it with my cousin Mike, my Uncle Kevin and Justin. The whole night was so much fun, even from up in the "cheap seats".

David Wright is announced at the Home Run Derby to a cheering crowd

With my cousin Mike and Uncle Kevin
Citifield at sunset on the night of the Home Run Derby, 7/15/13

The journey home that night was a rough one. We had taken the LIRR to Citifield with ease but as we approached the station to take the train back to NY Penn Station it became obvious that something was definitely wrong. As it turned out, the 7 train was shut down due to a fire on the line so EVERYONE was trying to take the LIRR. Thankfully, I had something to distract me while we were waiting on the platform for the train - Matt Harvey! During the Derby, a friend had emailed me the YouTube video of Matt Harvey interviewing New Yorkers about Matt Harvey, so I took this as a chance for a good laugh. I ended up watching the video that night, once the next morning, and several times thereafter, laughing until I cried each time.

If nothing else our ride back to Penn Station was entertaining as a group of drunks on the train serenaded our car with their own stirring rendition of the national anthem. Unfortunately, even the dose of patriotism didn't help us make it to NY Penn in time for the earlier train to NJ so we ended up having to wait until 1:20am to head back to Jersey. The only upside was that it gave us some time to get a head start on our planned adventure for the next (really SAME day) - APPLE PHOTOS!

I call this my "1am crazy" Apple photo.
With the Boston Red Sox Apple at the Party City on West 34th.
Note the Home Run Derby LANYARD. So exciting.
We got home well after 3:30am and eventually got some sleep. Then, it was time for the All Star Game Apple Adventure. In celebration of the ASG being in NYC there were decorated apples placed throughout the city - one for each MLB team, one each for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the NY Giants, one for each of the two leagues, and one for the ASG - 35 in total. There was an Instagram contest running which you were entered if you posted at least 15 photos with the apples so Justin and I set that as our goal. (We found out after the fact that the contest ended Monday at noon, but oh well!) We had just about 3 hours from the time we arrived in NYC until the time we met Karen and Derek, the rest of our ASG crew, at NY Penn, but we managed to pay a visit to all of the following apples:

1) Boston Red Sox - Party City 223 West 34th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues
2) Arizona Diamondbacks - Modell's 1293 Broadway at 34th Street
3) Chicago Cubs - Staybridge Suites 340 West 40th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues
4) NY Yankees - Modell's 234 West 42nd Street between 7th & 8th Avenues
5) Chicago White Sox - Toys R Us 1514 Broadway at 44th Street
6) Miami Marlins - Grace Building West 43rd Street at 6th Avenue
7) Brooklyn Dodgers - Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street
8) New York Giants - Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street
9) Houston Astros - Westin 212 East 42nd Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues
10) Milwaukee Brewers - Office of the Commissioner 245 Park Avenue at 46th Street
11) Toronto Blue Jays - Intercontinental 111 East 48th Street at Lexington Avenue
12) Seattle Mariners - Nintendo 10 Rockefeller Plaza at 48th Street
13) NY Mets - SNY 1271 Avenue of the Americas between 50th & 51st Streets
14) Detroit Tigers - Duane Reade 1657 Broadway between 51st and 52nd Streets

We also went by the NYC Public Library to see the Apples from the National League and the American League, but they had already been removed. As it turned out they had been taken to Citifield so that the players could sign them. All of the apples are now being auctioned off (including the league ones signed by all of the ASG players) here. As a bonus at the library though we did get to see their Honus Wagner baseball card so that was definitely worth the stop. The card, by the way, was much smaller than either of us imagined it would be (just in case you were wondering).

So, without further ado...a sampling of our Apple pics...

My attempt at a badass pose with the Brewers Apple.

No, Justin, the Miami Marlins Apple does not need security.

Corporate branding at its best/worst.
Geoffrey jumped right in this photo.

If I had a broom, I would have been sweeping this Apple away.

Ah, finally I get to pose with the Mets Apple!
I can't believe I actually took a picture of him doing this.
After our Manhattan Apple Adventure, we headed back to NY Penn Station to meet Karen & Derek who were arriving at 5:30 to join us on the LIRR train to Citifield. The four of us together made for a fun crew - Derek for the Red Sox, Karen for the Yankees, Justin for the Marlins and me for my Mets - a perfect balance between American League and National League with some good rivalries thrown in. Once we arrived at Citifield, there was the disappointment of not getting another lanyard (What? NO All Star Game LANYARD?!) and then, after having a beer with Derek and Karen it was up to good old section 510. I could definitely feel the emotions welling up as I looked around the stadium at all the fabulous orange and blue and took in the beautiful night. We were at the All Star Game. At Citifield.

The pre-game ceremony was tough for me, mostly because every piece of it made me think of Joe. I always get a little choked up during the National Anthem at baseball games, but there was definitely something special about this moment that really got me. Karen noticed and I'm glad she was there to give me a hug like only a sister can. When Tom Seaver aka "The Franchise" came out to throw the first pitch the tears were freely flowing because at that point I couldn't help but put myself back in my living room watching the final pitch at Shea Stadium with Joe in 2008. We were newlyweds and of course had no idea what was ahead for us, but my eyes were filled with tears then too as we watched Seaver throw that final pitch to Mike Piazza to close out play at the stadium where we had made so many amazing memories together.

Tom Seaver prepares to throw out the first pitch.
When Seaver threw that pitch to David Wright before the start of the All Star Game it did feel like Joe was there too. All those memories we had from Shea and then Citifield were somehow wrapped up in that moment. I have found many paths for healing in the midst of my grief since Joe died and baseball has definitely been one of them. For that, I am thankful beyond words. A ceremonial first pitch and a hug from my sister - two simple things that made a big difference on a night I will never forget.

And then, the game actually started! I can't begin to describe how exciting it was to watch Matt Harvey start the All Star Game at Citifield, even if he did start it by giving up a double and then hitting Robinson Cano. I'm glad he was classy about it and that he settled down for the rest of his appearance - giving us 3 strikeouts to cheer for and not giving up any runs. I do love me some Matt Harvey. And some David Wright. On a night that was short on hits for the National League, our hometown hero managed to notch the 2nd hit for the League, giving all of us in orange and blue a little something to cheer about. Even though I was a little disappointed that the American League pulled out the win, I'm glad that the 4 of us watching from section 510 got to see some good moments.

Justin saw his lone Marlin pitch a perfect 6th inning.

Karen got to watch Mo Rivera pitch in what will most likely be his last All Star Game ever. Derek got to say that he sat while everyone else stood while Mo Rivera came out to pitch in what will most likely be his last All Star Game ever. 

We all had a great time.

With Derek

With Justin

With Karen

And just like was over much too quickly. The American League won 3-0. It was time to catch the LIRR back to NY Penn Station and wait again for the 1:20am train back to Jersey. Another late night that was well worth the sleep we sacrificed.

Justin and I did manage to nab our final Apple shot after the game when Karen snapped a photo of us next to the All Star Game one outside the stadium. We may have missed the contest deadline, but at least we got our 15.

With Apple #15 at Citifield!

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