… I was a stormtrooper for the New York Mets. For a night.
Some of you may know that the Mets aren’t my only dorky obsession. I’m also a lifelong Star Wars fan, and author of more than a dozen Star Wars books. So when the Mets announced they were hosting Star Wars Night — a celebration of the imminent release of the movies on Blu-Ray, with a portion of the proceeds donated to Stand Up to Cancer — both Star Wars fans and Mets fans wanted to know if I were going.
Was I, as one friend put, going to cross the streams?
In fact I was — and thanks to some kind folks, I had a pretty cool opportunity for doing so. The 501st Legion is a world-wide group of Star Wars fans whose hobby is costuming — generally, wearing stormtrooper armor. If you think that’s a bit goofy (and obviously not at all similar to attending a game wearing half a New York Mets uniform, maybe one that has someone else’s name on the back), consider that the 501st often wears their armor for visits to children’s hospitals and appearances on behalf of charities. They also often accompany authors like me for book appearances, which is awesome — kids love being able to see a stormtrooper or Darth Vader up close, and getting to meet a Star Wars character breaks the ice and makes them less shy about asking questions.
Anyway, Steve Iervolino and the other members of the 501st’s Empire City Garrison were gracious enough to let me join their ranks for an evening, with Dave Braun (whose many good qualities include being a serious Mets fan) even lending me a spare set of stormtrooper armor. Once we were outfitted in the auxiliary locker room in the bowels of Citi Field, it was time to meet our public.
Next time you watch Star Wars and snicker that the stormtroopers can’t hit anything, have some sympathy: When Luke Skywalker complains that he can’t see a thing in this helmet, he ain’t kidding. Your field of vision becomes two offset triangles, and anything below your chest is invisible. The moment this starts to bother you, you’ll notice your lenses fogging up. You can’t breathe all that well, even in a helmet modified by an expert for some airflow. You can’t hear. You can’t bend — I’d left my iPhone on the floor, and when it buzzed I stared at it helplessly, realizing it may as well have been on the moon. And you immediately start to sweat — not a surprise, since you’re wearing a black bodysuit covered with a Christmas tree of white plastic held on by Velcro, straps and snaps.
Encased in armor, I clattered off after the far more experienced troopers, hoping to God I wouldn’t fall over anything, manage to lose some piece of Dave’s armor, or make some other rookie mistake. Our first assignment was to accompany the Mets’ Pepsi Party Patrol for Star Wars trivia. The familiar concourse was like some crazed video game, glimpsed through two wedges, with people rising up out of nowhere, and I felt at once very conspicuous and anonymous — lots of people wanted pictures with us, but no one had any idea who I was. I kept squashing my helmet down on my rather pointy nose so I could see slightly better, kept my eyes on the back of the trooper in front of me, and hoped I wasn’t about to plow into an overeager kid who’d raced into the massive blind spot below my chest. To my relief, everything went OK — we all posed for lots of pictures, did some medium-fiving (it’s also hard to really lift your arms), and got through the scrum to our destination. (Points to the Mets’ staff for very kindly looking after all of us, by the way.)
Then I realized that the trivia contest was being held halfway down the field level. There were steps. Lots of steps. And I couldn’t see any of them.
I’ve walked up and down the various Citi Field steps lots of times, often taking them two by two, never really giving any thought to them. This time, every step got my virtually undivided attention, and I kept one hand firmly affixed to the railing. This was a fine strategy, but next time you’re at Citi Field, look at those railings. There are breaks in them every few feet so fans don’t bunch up behind a slow person, which is great for everybody except virtually blind rookie Imperial soldiers. Those railings are also varying lengths — there’s a few feet of railing, then a gap, then a railing that ends almost as soon as it begins, then a gap. I couldn’t see the railings either.
I’m sure I wasn’t a particularly impressive stormtrooper — I basically tiptoe’d down the stairs with one hand constantly fumbling for purchase — but hey, I didn’t fall down. (Which is good, as I might still be there.) We got back to the locker room with one mission accomplished and the Mets and Nats tied 0-0.
I took my helmet off, managed to Nureyev my phone into my hand, caught my breath and mostly stopped sweating and decided I could handle one more mission, particularly since the next one wouldn’t involve steps. Besides, it was pretty irresistible: We were headed onto the field to toss t-shirts into the crowd above the third-base dugout. We assembled in the tunnel (really more like a slot) that the umpires use and waited for the bottom of the fifth to end.
Except it didn’t.
From that vantage point, I could really only see second base, which was home to a rotating cast. First Josh Thole was there. Then Jose Reyes was. Then Ruben Tejada took his place. Then it was Lucas Duda’s turn. After each play, I’d duck around Darth Vader to peek at the scoreboard and see what had happened. Except I was weirdly ambivalent about the Mets’ rally. On the one hand, all this offense was obviously terrific; on the other, I was sweating freely behind my fogged lenses and various straps had come undone. (Add those to the roster of things I couldn’t see.)
The inning ended and then we were on the field. (I almost got plowed into by Michael Morse, who’s the size of a Wookiee.) People handed me t-shirts I couldn’t see (only one of which I dropped) and I clattered my arm back and flung them as far as I could, which wasn’t very far. Did I think to myself, Wow, I’m on the field dressed as a stormtrooper throwing t-shirts to fans? Why yes I did.
We got off the field with reasonable speed, and we were done; I extracted myself from Dave’s armor, got back into civilian clothes, and found the game only half-over. I social-butterflied my way around field level, checking in on my friends Amanda and Carl and recounting my adventures while guzzling Mountain Dew and water. (Here’s hoping the Mets keep using the video skit with R.A. Dickey and Vader, by the way — it’s hilarious.) Meanwhile, the game had slowed to a crawl, with both Terry Collins and Davey Johnson deciding that every batter deserved his own pitcher. And the Mets were out of offense; they put up a fight against Drew Storen in the ninth, but Lucas Duda — OH MY GOD YOU GUYS IT’S AN OMEN LUCAS CAN DELIVER A WALK-OFF WIN ON STAR WARS NIGHT — struck out and that was that.
In the annals it’s another dreary loss in a season stumbling to its conclusion. But I had a grand time — thanks to some kind folks, crossing the streams turned out to be enormous fun, and I got to help out for a good cause. It was a blast, even if the Force wasn’t with the Mets.