There was a softball game on Citi Field on Thursday afternoon. It wasn't televised, it didn't count toward any season record and the stadium was completely empty. Regardless, for many of the select baseball fans attending, it was one of the greatest games of their lives.
"I've always wanted to play at Citi Field," Laurie Martini, one of the 50 invited fans said. "I get to meet Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry who were my heroes growing up. I am so ready to play."
She got the full experience. Breaking up the blaring Michael Jackson music were PA announcements calling out the scores and scorers after each play. An umpire in casual clothing stood behind the plate, making calls. The security presence was formidable.
This charity softball game was serious stuff, and it had some serious talent on hand.
The two 1986 World Series champs stayed busy as they headlined the event hosted by Citigroup and the Mets. Besides taking pictures, signing autographs, and giving out the occasional baseball tip, the two coached the charity teams for the benefit of Fisher House Foundation.
Through charity events like the softball game, Fisher House's goal is to bring recovering military members closer to their loved ones. The nonprofit uses proceeds to build "comfort homes" for injured military members. The homes are located next to medical centers, so recovering soldiers can be close to family. Strawberry said he was happy to help out with the cause.
"It's always important to bring family and friends together," Strawberry said. "Life is such a journey. We all have a journey to go through and you never know who is down and who is up. When you see people reaching out and doing wonderful things, you just want to be a part of it."
Interested fans were notified via e-mail, and they had the opportunity to purchase tickets, with the proceeds going to the program. This was the first charity game for Fisher House, and President Dave Toker was happy with the result.
"Each fan paid $500 for the opportunity to play. We've been able to raise $25,000 and have fun at the same time," Toker said.
Fisher House vice president Brian Gawne agreed, saying the setup between the Mets, Citi, and Fisher House, was the ideal situation for needing families.
"The nice part was that we didn't have to spend a lot of money on advertising," Gawne said. He added Citigroup and the Mets promoted the event through fan email listservs.
"We rely on word of mouth in events like this. Ninety-six cents on every dollar goes to the troops."
Toker said the response was instant. "They put it out, emailed it to the legion of Mets fans, and the event was sold out in two days."
The Mets have been on a roll lately, including a no-hitter, two consecutive one-hitters, and a blowout win over the Cubs -- but the game couldn't have come soon enough for fans, who have had a lot to be impressed about.
Gooden is no exception.
"Jonathon Niese is a great pitcher. I think he's going to be very successful," Gooden said while commenting on the Mets 17-1 rout over the Cubs on Wednesday. "Having a guy like Johan Santana on staff that he can learn from is only going to help him and with the pitching they've got, they'll have a good chance to be there right at the end."
Strawberry agreed, saying that with some more time, the Mets could make great memories for fans at Citi Field.
"It's a good team they're young and they're learning," Strawberry said. "They just don't quit, they just continue to play and that's the most important thing. That's how you learn how to win."
In the meantime, the memories Strawberry and Gooden helped make yesterday and back in 1986, will have to do. For fans like Jonathan Moller, it was literally a dream come true.
"It's great. It's every kids dream to set foot and play on a major league field," Moller said. "From when I was five years old I was hoping to play for one of the teams. This is the next best thing."