After all SCA has done for the environment, this is how she treats us? On Liz Putnam‘s birthday?!
Last Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s NYC Service campaign and the New York Mets hosted National Service Recognition Night at Citi Field. SCA, AmeriCorps, and other organizations were invited to parade along the outfield warning track, fly the flag of service, and bask in the adoration of 42,000 wildly enthusiastic fans.
Mother Nature, however, had other plans.
The previous night’s contest was snowed out – yes, snowed out – and as game time approached Tuesday, the weather had only marginally improved. Something between a boreal drizzle and lemon Italian ice filled the air. A canopy of cotton candy hung low and thick; you could hear but not see the aircraft roaring in and out of nearby LaGuardia. Subway workers preemptively spread rock salt over the metal steps at the Willets Point IRT Station.
Yet throughout the day, email after email reassured us that baseball – a diversion nostalgically referred to as The Summer Game – was on, despite the wintry conditions.
Hey, we argued, we’re SCA. We’ve dealt with Category 5 winds, humidity so dense you could drink it with a straw, and ravenous hordes of mosquitoes, chiggers, and ticks (wait, HR says I’m not supposed to mention ticks). We can do this!
So we assembled as directed at the Left Field Gate a full hour before first pitch. We were instructed to wear our logoed uniforms, though they were hidden under so many parkas, overcoats, and anoraks. The only other dress code: high heels were expressly verboten. And whatever we did once we hit the field – don’t even think about setting foot on the outfield grass. “Get off my lawn” had new meaning.
While we waited for our 15 minutes of frozen fame, members of the SCA delegation revealed why decided to take on the elements in the name of National Service. Safiya Sabir, a 2011 Hudson Valley Corps member who is now an educator at the American Museum of Natural History, simply wanted to thank SCA for helping to launch her career. “SCA had a big influence on me and my profession,” she declared. “It was my jump start into science education.”
Hannah Long is two-time SCA alumna; she served with the Hudson Valley Corps in 2016 and followed that up with a hitch last year in Alaska. Today the Missouri native is a program coordinator with SCA’s Poughkeepsie office. “New York has grown on me so I figured, let me get out and rep SCA,” Hannah stated. “When you hear ‘SCA,’ you automatically think of certain characteristics: someone who’s flexible, willing to take on new challenges and uncomfortable situations. That really speaks to me and that’s what I aspire to.”
If Hannah was looking for uncomfortable situations, Citi Field this night had a lot to offer.
At 6:45pm, the collective service contingent began marching through the bowels of the ballpark past a battalion of support staff, multiple rooms marked “Do Not Enter,” and endless racks of hot dog buns and other foodstuffs. Finally, and quite suddenly, we turned a corner and there before us was an open entryway to the field. An NYC Service official stood just to the side, inciting us to clap, whoop, and otherwise appear cheerful. His encouragement was hardly necessary. The steady mist made the lights appear brighter, the grass seem greener, and gave the entire field an ethereal glow. I thought: this must be the tunnel people see as they die. There’s baseball in the afterlife! Kevin Costner was right!!
Reality rapidly returned. Once outside, the icy cold bore through to one’s marrow. And as we advanced from the real estate regularly patrolled by the Mets’ Yoenis Céspedes to that of right fielder Jay Bruce, we were met not by a hail of hurrahs but by…silence. “Look at all the empty seats,” someone muttered. Apparently the majority of Mets fans chose discretion over valor. The ballpark was all but barren. Those on the field almost outnumbered those in the stands.
But the show, and the game, must go on. To a narrative that none of us could quite hear, a cameraman trotted by, flashing our images on the giant scoreboard above. We remained in place for the national anthem and were then hustled up to our seats.
We, the Sirens of Service, the Advocates of Volunteerism, the Heralders of Hands-On Help, were seated in the uppermost section of the left field promenade. That’s not to say they were bad seats. In fact, the view was stunning, especially given the aforementioned atmospheric conditions. The feel, however, was altogether different.
At that elevation, the Mets don’t employ ushers, they have sherpas. Winds stung with the fury of a thousand scorpions on hold with their cable company. And then we noticed what we could no longer notice: the other side of the stadium was disappearing in a John Carpenter-worthy fog. “We’re in a freaking cloud!” chattered one SCA alum.
The borough’s barometers were bottoming out. Flushing was, well, flushing. And that was enough to prompt many to head down to the concourse for any form of warm food or drink. Others, however, held firm. We’re SCA!, after all. We’ve – oh wait, I said that before.
Last year, Fharod Coleman served on SCA’s New York-based Excelsior Conservation Corps. He’s currently a member of our Hudson Valley Corps, teaching city kids about wilderness life and camping. Having visited numerous state parks, he considers Letchworth his favorite, although as a diehard fan of underdogs he puts the Mets’ park in second place, no matter the climate. “Citi Field definitely has a place in my heart,” Fharod says.
Stephan Ramirez also lists the Excelsior and Hudson Valley Corps on his service résumé. On this National Service Night, and a day before the solemn 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Stephan said “I think it’s great that New York City is on board with service and raising awareness. My biggest takeaway tonight is the sense of community and our mutual passion for conservation. It means so much to us.”
Long after most had packed it in, the Mets claimed a 2-0 victory. New York’s Matt Harvey – “The Dark Knight” – won this dank night with five innings of shutout ball. The announced crowd of 21,397 was summarily filed under “fake news” as only a fraction of those attended, but the Mets really had no choice. Postponing two straight games would have caused even more problems later in the season. And our good-natured grumbling aside, we were all genuinely honored to be cited by the team and the city, and we thank them for shining a spotlight on volunteerism. It was also great to renew old acquaintances, start new friendships, and enjoy America’s pastime.
As the last of the SCA stalwarts exited the stadium, 2017 Hudson Valley Corps alumna Helen Polanco recalled her efforts to protect horseshoe crabs and piping plovers. Presently a student at Hunter College pursuing her GIS certificate, Helen confessed she’s not much of a baseball fan but felt she needed to attend the game to support the national service movement.
When asked about how people who work outdoors for nothing should feel about watching professional athletes who play outdoors for millions, she shrugged. “We both enjoy being outside…but they’re in a ‘different field.’”
Helen gestured with her hands to make sure her pun was understood, but it’s entirely possible she was just shivering.