Pictured: Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, top left, joins fifth and sixth graders from PS 150’s after-school sports program run by Sunnyside Community Services to meet Mets players Jose Reyes, rear left, Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Bobby Parnell, Dillon Gee and Josh Thole. New manager, Terry Collins is in the center.
Munching on some fried chicken at a round table in one corner of the Mets clubhouse were 11-year-old Kean, a sixth grader from PS 150 in Sunnyside, and a couple of his schoolmates. Joining them happened to be Mets catcher Josh Thole, but no big deal, they were just hanging out like old buddies.
A few feet away, sitting on a couch, watching footage of games on a huge TV screen, were a couple of Mets pitchers, Bobby Parnell and Dillon Gee, talking shop with their friends, a few more students.
This intermingling of baseball heroes and their pint-sized admirers was part of the third season of Citi Field Kids, an event started in 2009 to provide city students the chance to combine education with baseball.
Thole, Parnell, Gee and fellow players Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey, as well as newly appointed manager Terry Collins all participated in the event, but the stars of the day were undoubtedly the 28 fifth and sixth graders from the after-school sports program run by Sunnyside Community Services.
“I’d like to introduce one special group to another special group,” Collins said, as he invited the players to join the youngsters in a question-and-answer session. The kids grilled their favorite players.
“What inspired you to want to play baseball?” one child asked.
“My friends were doing it,” Pelfrey replied, “so I started and had fun. You find out you have a little bit of talent. You start believing in yourself.”
“What’s your favorite team to play against?” another wanted to know.
“The Phillies,” Thole said. “There is always going to be a good battle every night.”
In response to further questions, the players offered many other insightful comments.
“I always wanted to play. I’m from Dominican Republic, and most of the kids play baseball there,” Reyes said.
Dickey enjoys the sport’s strong sense of camaraderie. “When you fight for a common goal, you share a special bond with the guy next to you on your team,” Dickey said.
To stay positive when things aren’t going well, Parnell talks to his teammates. “You have to remind yourself there’s always tomorrow,” Parnell said.
When he’s not playing baseball, Gee said, “I get ready to play baseball. I try to see my family. Relax. Enjoy life. And get ready for next season.”
The athletes were asked if they are familiar with the history of the game; Collins responded, “I think you have to know the history to respect the game and to love the game. The game is bigger than us.”
“When you’re on the field,” one youngster asked, “How do you feel? Nervous, excited?”
“It’s all those things,” Dickey replied. “If you’re not nervous, you probably don’t want to be there enough.”
Following the press conference with the students, the players signed baseballs and T-shirts for their young fans.
“It’s just awesome,” said 11-year-old Andres, whose favorite player is Reyes. “He’s very good, very talented. I like his style of playing.”
Brothers Daniel and Jose Cruz, both physical education teachers at PS 150, said the students were selected on the basis of how well they achieved their goals in the classroom, as well as their involvement in extracurricular activities such as student council and drama club.
“We were in the same program as kids,” Daniel said. “We came back as teachers. It showed us the right path.”
“We should feel proud of ourselves,” said fifth grader Yvonne. “The principal and our teachers chose us. It takes a lot to get here. Some kids didn’t get picked. I tried to tell them they should try to do better in class.”
The day seemed to provide equal amounts of fun and education.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids from Sunnyside to see their heroes up front and personal and to experience their locker room and learn about Jackie Robinson and the struggle for equality,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who joined the children at the event. “I hope it’s inspirational so the children know they can experience their dreams.”
The Mets players also found the experience worthwhile. “We were all kids looking up to role models,” Gee said. “We are blessed to be in that position now.”
Reyes agreed. “It’s a great feeling to be able to teach them about how it is in the big league. I was a kid, too,” said Reyes, who, at 27, is the longest-tenured member of the team.
Looking back on the day, one of the students, Kean, said, “It’s something I’ll remember for a long time.”