Citi Field used to be Shea Stadium’s parking lot. Shea Stadium now returns the favor, but it had a moment in the sun Sunday morning, thanks to Nesquik’s organization of a Wiffle Ball game for a good cause. Jason represented Faith and Fear in one of our rare athletic endeavors. And pinch-hitting for me, sort of (I hung up my Wiffle bat a quarter-century ago), was friend of FAFIF Michael Garry. He files this report from the scene of the THWACK!
I played Wiffle Ball as a kid growing up in Queens and the Bronx in the ’60s, and more recently as a dad with my son, but Sunday morning marked the first time — it will probably be the last — that I played mostly with adults. Those adults included several Mets bloggers, notably Faith and Fear’s own Jason Fry, and we played in the presence of two Mets icons: Bud Harrelson, wearing his 1986 (not 1969) World Series ring, and Edgardo Alfonzo. They each served as “coaches,” though I think their coaching was mostly inspirational.
The occasion was a Wiffle Ball tournament held in Parking Lot E next to Citi Field, more or less where Shea used to be. Nesquik, promoting the idea that kids can and should engage in easy, fun activities like Wiffle Ball as part of a healthy lifestyle, sponsored the whole affair, donating $10,000 to the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club and its seven sites in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The company, which has reduced the fat and sugar content of its chocolate beverages, gave out some free stuff, including drinks, baseball cards, hats, sunglasses, lunch and — most generously — free tickets to the Mets-Marlins contest that took place Sunday afternoon.
I was there primarily to meet Harrelson and Alfonzo and ask them if they’d be willing to talk to me in greater depth at some later time for a book I am writing. (They said they would.) Other participants included ASPIRA New York, Hispanics in Philanthropy, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Urban Health Plan, Children’s Aid Society, FDNY Foundation and the NYPD. The ad hoc teams played in front of an audience of Boys & Girls Club youth who, by being top players at the internal youth Wiffle Ball tournament at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, won a chance to attend the morning tourney and afternoon tilt that followed.
Oh, and the Nesquik Bunny joined forces with Mr. Met to give the whole thing an extra layer of promotional flair.
A few observations:
• The two concrete fields were of modest, somewhat narrow proportions (maybe 150 feet to dead center). Batters would hit but not run; distance determined whether a single, double, triple or homer was struck.
• Fonzie’s teenage son — whose build reminded me a bit of Benny Agbayani — joined us for one of the games and rifled a drive that looked to be gone but was snagged by an outfielder in leaping, Endy Chavez style.
• Faith and Fear fans will be happy to know that Jason, showing Piazza-like strength, belted a one-handed homer in the first game. My offensive output, by contrast, amounted to a few paltry groundouts and a strikeout in which I twisted myself in Ruthian knots. I did, however, make a few nice catches in the field.
• I think the tournament ended without a winner declared. Let’s just say that everybody won.
What I’ll likely always remember is the exquisite opportunity the event gave me to hang out and chat with Bud Harrelson, who was very approachable. In fact, at one point he was just standing there by himself watching the proceedings. This was my second encounter with the Mets Hall of Fame shortstop. I told him that I met him as an 11-year old one day in 1966 at the Sizzler Steakhouse in Forest Hills, where he was greeting fans and signing autographs. Back then he had been accompanied by a grizzled agent or handler who had very bad teeth.
The memory was not as vivid for Bud as it was for me.