Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some Mets memorabilia! I don't care if I never get back.
The event reminded me just how much I love learning about the real people behind the uniforms.
That's the song I sang to myself on the way home from a ProTalk with New York sports greats Jacob deGrom and Ron Darling.
I grew up watching baseball and playing softball, so it's probably the sport I know best. My parents always brought me to my older brother's high school games, and I loved watching the fielders' speedy double plays and the hitters crushing balls out of the park.
But when my brother went to college and I got to high school, my time spent at baseball fields plummeted. In fact, I only went to my first major league game about six years ago in my early 20s – but the first team I saw play was the Mets.
So, when I learned I'd be spending the evening with two well-known Mets pitchers – one current, one former – as part of an exclusive event for Citi cardmembers, I was pretty stoked to check out what serious fandom means these days.
As I walked into the back room of the rock 'n' roll themed restaurant in Times Square where Citi hosted the event, I felt like a true VIP. I could already see some legends – that is, instruments and memorabilia from world-famous musicians. Not long after, the two real stars walked into the room and received a fantastic reception from the gathered crowd. Amid applause, cheers and a few shouts of "Yeah, deGrom!" I spotted the guests of honor.
Mets player Jacob deGrom has a reputation that precedes him, winning National League Rookie of the Year in 2014 and Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star in 2015. My first impression of him: great suit.
Shortly after, we got some good news – we would be kicking off the night with a photo and autograph session with both deGrom and former decorated Mets player Ron Darling, who also has All-Star and World Series Champion titles under his belt.
Pre-event I had given myself a pep talk so I'd have the courage to ask for a photo, but thankfully I didn't need it. As I approached deGrom and Darling, I started to get butterflies in my stomach. I scrambled to think of what I would say to them. (I squeaked out a measly three thank-yous.) They gave firm handshakes, posed for the picture and took turns signing a ball for me. Second impression of deGrom: even better smile.
Lucky for me, the best was yet to come. The chat started with a live online segment, with sports reporter Laura Behnke checking in on deGrom's most recent season with the Mets (and his hair) and getting insight into what the major leagues are like behind the scenes.
Naturally, she started by asking deGrom, who had surgery this year, about his injury. Humble as he is, deGrom said he just wanted to be there for his teammates. "You almost just have to become a cheerleader," he says. The room missed the opportunity for a collective "aww," but I mentally gave one.
DeGrom also described how becoming a father has changed his life – and his perspective on the game. "You put in 100% every time, and sometimes that's not good enough," he explained. "But then you come home and they're still happy to see you." That's how he learned to be a little less hard on himself.
And – of course – no conversation with deGrom would be complete without a mention of his long hair, which has become something of a trademark. The Mets even offered a promotional "Jacob deGrom Hair Hat" during the 2016 season.
DeGrom might have mentioned he would cut his locks off after the 2015 World Series, but that was a ploy. "You're trying to get ready to pitch the World Series and you're getting questions about your hair," he said, to a roar of laughter. "I think that's why I said it – just because I was kind of over the questions."
A passion for the game
Darling and deGrom spoke candidly about their baseball experiences throughout the night, often sharing similar anecdotes. They both mentioned how they were always hours early for games, often pacing around the stadium trying to get someone to give them some words of encouragement.
They also chatted about the competitiveness among Mets pitchers, particularly when it comes to batting. DeGrom joked a few times that his batting skills convinced him to switch from shortstop to pitcher, and Darling came to deGrom's defense as one person in the crowd continued, "You don't have a home run, do you?"
Darling: "You know why they say it's tough to play in New York? I think we just found out why."
DeGrom: "I hit a foul [that went into the outfield stands]. Does that count?"
Time for the fans
People at the event clearly felt passionately about the game, and this became even more evident when it came time for audience questions – this time off camera. A few folks rattled off references to past performances. One woman broke out a years-old program and asked why deGrom wasn't on the list of best players.
I, like others in the room, loved hearing about the players' mindset on game day. Darling chatted about how he'd go to sleep the night before a game, visualizing nine batters up and nine down. He'd even run through his lineup of pitches.
Both pitchers also revealed how vital their parents were to their success — deGrom still plays catch with his dad. And Darling's best memory came from a September 6, 1983, game when he saw just how proud his parents were.
They also discussed the amazing (and somewhat surprising) camaraderie between pitchers in the majors. Apparently many of them share tips on different baseball grips or their approach to a curveball versus a fastball.
Overall, the event reminded me just how much I love learning about the real people behind the uniforms. Of course, Darling and deGrom are only two MLB pitchers among hundreds. But if they're any indication of the kind of people that stand on the mound, I'll certainly get to more games in support. Plus, Darling was pretty confident the Mets will dominate this year. Maybe my Mets memorabilia will include a pennant.
For more information on upcoming sports events in your area, and to get behind-the-scenes access like Mallory did, visit https://www.citiprivatepass.com/sports.html.