The topping-off ceremony in Queens' Richmond Hill neighborhood was just one of many charitable events that pocked the Mets' midsummer calendar leading up to the All-Star Game at Citi Field. Spanning New York City's boroughs and beyond, the Mets leaned upon a partnership with Major League Baseball to check more than a few items off their philanthropical bucket list.
"When you see the final result, it's worth it," Mets director of community outreach Jill Knee said. "Especially in a city like ours, it's great to have the opportunity."
Working closely with City Hall and the New York City Parks Department, the Mets and MLB began working last July on a series of initiatives to help in the year leading up to the All-Star Game. As they do every year for the All-Star Game's host team, MLB donated funds that the Mets appropriated toward various charities.
There was the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens, which received a new teen center and cafe. There was a renovated baseball field at O'Donohue Park in Far Rockaway, Queens, which experienced some of the city's worst destruction from Hurricane Sandy. There were the 25 customized wheelchairs that the Mets donated to the Wheelchair Sports Federation, which provides opportunities for disabled athletes to play sports recreationally and competitively. There was a renovated outdoor courtyard for PS 41 in Brooklyn, to be used by the new FirstStepNYC program that provides early childhood services for at-risk children aged 5 and under.
Altogether, the Mets and MLB committed $5 million to those initiatives and others, completing many of the community projects that they have wanted to for years.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to be given these funds, and then do things we've always wanted to do in tandem with Major League Baseball," Knee said. "It was very satisfying -- stressful getting it all done on time, and it's still getting done. But I think the Commissioner's vision was right on. It's a great thing for the teams to have that, and also have the partnerships afterward."
The Mets, Knee said, benefited from the fact that MLB headquarters are in New York City, meaning the league's community relations department was already intimately familiar with many of their preferred initiatives. Those included a heavy emphasis on education and Hurricane Sandy relief funds, as well as principal owner Fred Wilpon's favored charity, Welcome Back Veterans.
The Mets spent more than a year preparing their All-Star community projects, beginning their work in July 2012. And they will continue aiding many of them for years to come; their ultimate goal is for the Midsummer Classic to have a decades-long impact on New York City.
"I didn't expect this, so it was a nice surprise," Knee said of the ability to give back on such a grand scale. "I didn't realize what we'd be able to do. When you suddenly just have some money, it's nice. You're always thinking about these things, so it's nice to actually be able to go through with them. It's very rewarding."