Thirteen-year-old Joseph Santana stood in line wearing an oversized striped Mets jersey, clutching a cobalt blue baseball cap. He bobbed excitedly as the line grew shorter, anticipating his turn. When he reached the front of the line, he thrust the cap at former Mets relief pitcher John Franco, who scribbled his signature in black Sharpie marker across the brim.
“Thank you!” said Santana, a broad smile stretched across his face.
“I’m a big Mets fan!” Santana exclaimed. “I’m happy I got to meet a Mets player!”
Santana was just one of over 200 kids who attended the Citi Holiday Event at Citi Field on Tuesday, December 6. The event partnered Citibank with United Neighborhood Houses (UNH), a non-profit organization that provides social, educational and recreational services for local residents. UNH has over 37 settlement houses that work with low-income youth, aiming to instill life skills, job training and college preparation in the area’s children.
Natalie Abatemarco, managing director of community development, was excited to continue the event Citi has put on annually since the ballpark’s opening in 2009.
“We’re here to celebrate with the United Neighborhood Houses and bring young people to Citi Field,” said Abatemarco. “These are our Citi Field kids and we’re excited to celebrate the holiday season with them.”
Kids buzzed around the room of the Acela Club at Citi Field as ballpark staff members served them heaping plates of macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers. Mr. Met, the Mets mascot, greeted guests and posed for photos. They then took tours of the facility, ending with a few swings in the Met’s batting cage.
Monica Guzman brought over 60 kids with her from Sunnyside Community Services, each of whom she hopes will cherish this special event.
“This will be a day they’ll remember forever,” said Guzman. “They’ll go on to tell their kids about it.”
Franco, a New York native himself, was happy to spend the holidays back on his home turf.
“I hope there are a lot of smiles,” said Franco. “I hope we bring a lot of happiness to the room.”
Franco spent most of the evening surrounded by swarms of kids, ecstatic to meet the baseball legend.