Tales from the Ticket Window
A year ago February, I posted this note to my Facebook wall:
“Susan Shandler just got a job with the Mets. She’s working the VIP Will Call ticket window during spring training and gets in to watch the last few innings of each game for free. For those of you who bet on the favorite for “The Shandler Most Likely to be on the Mets Payroll” – you just lost.”
So, my wife has now spent two spring trainings greeting VIPs and giving them their comp tickets. She has met Mets’ family members, scouts, minor leaguers, people who thought they were VIPs but really weren’t, and a variety of other odd and interesting people. Sue has also gotten the chance to hob-nob with Mets front office personnel and some players as well.
Am I jealous? Well, I’ve gotten to hear her stories and share in her excitement. I’ve gotten to relive some of her experiences through her photos and Facebook posts. And all of it has given me the fodder to write this piece.
Damn right I’m jealous.
But it’s been a fun gig and has helped pull her back into Mets fandom after many years of being distracted by mundane tasks like child-rearing. So it’s worth sharing some of her stories.
* * *
The ticket office in First Data Field was the center of constant activity, from 10 in the morning until about the fifth inning. Sue’s job was pretty simple. A VIP would come to her window. The VIP would say, “So-and-so left me tickets.” Sue would ask for ID, then locate the tickets. Once found, the VIP had to sign for the tickets. When everything was handled correctly, it was a quick and painless transaction.
But all too often, the tickets were not there and Sue had to research where they might be. Sometimes they were misfiled. Sometimes they were at the wrong window. Sometimes she had to ask the ticket manager and would often find some random Mets player taking a nap on the couch in his office. Sometimes the tickets were not requested at all, or lost, or sent to the executive suite. Sometimes the person at the window was a liar.
But most of the VIPs were pleasant and earthbound. Noah Syndergaard’s aunt and uncle gushed about their nephew. When his aunt signed for the tickets, she said, “I’m so glad I married out of that name. It’s so much easier to sign now.”
Curtis Granderson’s father was unassuming and refused to consider himself a VIP. Although Curtis would always leave a ticket at Will Call, his dad always went to the wrong window.
Sue would often send me texts from work:
Dwight Gooden was here at my window to pick up tickets. Unfortunately I wasn’t open yet so other people took care of him. Darn!
A somewhat familiar face once came to Will Call. When Sue asked for his ID, he said he didn’t have it. “Would you believe that I’m Ron Darling’s brother?” Sue peered out of the window; the resemblance was close enough. Admittedly, she sometimes made executive decisions.
I just met Ron Darling’s brother. – looks just like him. Be still my heart. And he couldn’t be nicer.
Sue made friends easily, no matter what side of the window glass. She often talked with Fred Wilpon’s private security guard. He would tell her who was visiting the Mets owner’s private suite each day. It might be a visiting team owner. It might be Sandy Koufax. He’d tell her how Wilpon often spent game time watching the NCAA tournament.
One visitor claimed to be Gary Carter’s best man at his wedding and flashed what appeared to be Carter’s World Series ring. Sue had her photo taken with Carter back in 1987 and had always been a huge fan, so she went out of her way to find two extra free tickets for the guy. To thank her, he gave her an autographed baseball card of the Mets’ Hall-of-Famer.
Another visitor gave her a baseball signed by 1991 National League MVP, Terry Pendleton.
A customer came to the window and said I was so nice to him on the phone, he gave me an official ball with Terry Pendleton’s autograph – coach for the Braves! He would like one of your books. He said he would pay for it but I told him not necessary – even trade with the ball he gave me?
She was even bartering out the Baseball Forecaster.
* * *
Melissa and Edwin were the interpreters for the Spanish-speaking players and the overall media liaisons. They also handled the media passes, which put them in the ticket office every day, often sharing their own stories.
For Yoenis Cespedes, they were his handlers.
Cespedes speaks English well enough, but it doesn’t always come out in a media-friendly manner. So they preferred him to speak Spanish so that they could mold his words into something more palatable. He’s very impatient and he doesn’t have a lot of finesse so they had to keep him under control.
But Melissa claimed that Cespedes is misunderstood. He’s really a shy guy (Sue said his family is very quiet and reserved.). The fans misinterpret his tremendous work ethic as being standoffish.
Still, there remains a culture clash. Cespedes owns a huge ranch in Vero Beach, with horses, cows and other assorted livestock. During the month, he had a big party where he invited all the players, their families, and even Koufax. A rumor circulated around the office that the night before the party, Cespedes killed a cow to supply the party’s eats. So, there’s that.
* * *
At the beginning of the month, a sweet, young blonde showed up at the window, decked out in cowboy apparel. In a thick Alabaman drawl, she introduced herself as Taylor Cain, Steven Matz’s fiancée. She and Sue forged an immediate connection. Taylor is a singer-songwriter who had come in from Nashville for spring training. Sue told her that our daughter, Justina, was also following that career path, and had twice played at the Bluebird Café. Taylor wanted to know more about her.
That was the day I received this frantic text:
Arrgh! I should have had Justina’s CD available. Could you bring me her CD? I think I have one on my shelf of the nightstand. Please???!! Don’t tell Justina I am doing this.
Yeah, nah. That wasn’t going to happen.
On the last day of the season, Sue and I were in the concourse looking for food. Taylor came up to her and gave a big hug. “It’s great to see you, girl. What are you doing here out of uniform?” The two proceeded to yap about the upcoming wedding, music and short-term plans. She invited Sue to connect with her on Facebook and come see her the next time we’re in New York or Nashville.
I was curious, so I looked her up. She is in a group with her brother and sister, called The Cains. But the photos on Facebook don’t do her justice. She’s much prettier in person. Seriously.
* * *
Steven Matz and Wilmer Flores stopped by the ticket office late in the month. Sue wanted to meet Matz since she already had an established relationship with his fiancée. But the window was busy and Matz left before she could wangle an introduction.
Steve Matz came in. Standing right behind me. But I didn’t get to say hi – darn. I met Flores though. Melissa introduced me to him. I shook his hand.
Melissa and Flores are family friends, and she thought it would be fun to play up Sue as his fangirl. So she took a Snapchat video of Sue saying, “Thank you Wilmer for coming by, and saying hi, and shaking my hand. You are welcome any time to come to the window and help us sell tickets.”
Flores immediately texted her back: “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
I need your help! I looked up the stats for Wilmer Flores. Please interpret for me. I think he is doing well. I am trying to prepare for tomorrow. He is the same age as Darielle!
This was all going on during Tout Wars weekend, so I wasn’t much help to her. She went home that night and hit the internet to find out more about him as a ballplayer. She tried to practice some Spanish phrases. And she wrote it all down on a legal pad – his slugging percentage against left-handers, his three career grand slams, and a bunch of odd trivia in Spanish:
“Escuché que te gusta nadar. Yo también.”
“I heard you like to swim. So do I.”
Clearly, my wife was trying to pick him up.
As promised, Flores came by the next morning, though during her busiest time. The rest of the ticket office looked on as he grabbed a chair by the window. He knew exactly what to do and say – he was a natural!
His first customer was Michael Conforto’s dad, who he had never met before. The next customer was a woman. Flores handed her the ticket; she had no clue who had just waited on her. Everyone in the back office was doubled over in laughter.
During a break, Sue pulled out her legal pad and showed Flores all the sentences she tried to learn in Spanish. She was too nervous to say them, so he just read the sheet, laughing at some of the misspelled words. Yes, of course, cuatro is spelled with a “c” not a “q.”
Flores’ eyes widened as Sue took the next cautious step.
“My daughters are the same age as you. I could be your mother!”
He responded, “You have daughters? Are they single?”
“You want to see a photo of them?”
Melissa interrupted: “Susan, it’s almost game time. Wilmer has to go. I have to get him back.”
But his interest was piqued: “Melissa, just one minute.”
He got a quick glance at the girls before being pulled away.
“One lives in New York!” Sue yelled as he walked out.
* * *
Early one morning – perhaps 10:30am, before the VIP list was distributed – a “tall dude with sunglasses” came up to Sue’s window. He was surrounded by several other men; they looked like his posse. The tall guy banged his hand on the counter and sternly said. “O’Reilly.”
Being so early, she didn’t immediately recognize him. So she looked through the few tickets that had arrived early and told him, “Sorry sir, I don’t have your ticket yet.” As she was about to say “I’ll go check on it,” he interrupted her with a gruff “Don’t bother. I’ll deal with it myself.”
He grabbed his phone and walked away. One of the guys with him turned to her and said, “I’m Bruno, you know.” Sue shrugged her shoulders and thought to herself, “I don’t care if you’re the Pope; no ID, no ticket.”
I just met Bill O’Reilly. He came to my window. Very impatient with me.
Later that day, she found out that O’Reilly’s next stop was the executive offices. The secretary there reported back that he was acting “all entitled and pompous, so I made him wait a while longer before I gave him his tickets. I know how to handle people like him.”
* * *
It was no secret that one of the bigger news stories of the spring was the presence in camp of Tim Tebow. Out of curiosity, I had been following him since September when he participated in instructional league workouts at the stadium. I now have a large collection of short videos of him repeatedly grounding out to shortstop.
The Mets started selling Tebow’s No. 15 jersey at those workouts and they moved quickly. By the end of spring training, it was the biggest selling jersey in the gift shop – at $120. During March, people would even come to the stadium and pay $10 for parking just so they could buy one of his jerseys.
During the first week of spring training, manager Terry Collins was interviewed and said that Tebow was going to be in the Mets lineup on Wednesday and Friday of the following week. The ticket office braced for the fallout; Collins was not supposed to give advanced notice of his Tebow plans.
From that point on, the windows were overrun with people looking for tickets to those games, often to the exclusion of other games. The Tebow games quickly sold out and they had to turn people away. Fans often begged Sue to phone them if she got an inside scoop that Tebow would be playing that day. “I’d smile and nod a lot,” she said.
But the ticket office never received information about any player; the media was no longer forewarned either. To further settle things down, Tebow started wearing a No. 97 jersey with no name on the back. That secret didn’t last long.
There were two very distinct groups of people who were feeding the craze. First were University of Florida fans still reliving his glory college football days. Port St. Lucie is a good three hours from Gainesville but Gator fans run up and down the coast. The second group were New York rubberneckers, slowing down to view the wreckage.
Finally, there was Tebow’s stalker. The best part of that news report:
“When the responding officer asked her if she and Tebow were in a “friendly relationship, a platonic relationship, a romantic relationship or possibly a matrimonial relationship,” she responded: “All of the above.””
Of course, it became a running joke in the ticket office.
I am going to look for the stalker right now. Oh, and I talked to David Wright’s brother today.
Would you want to bring me my sandwich that I left in the refrigerator? It’s in a plastic container with a rubber band on it. It’s not busy today so you won’t have trouble coming to my window.
Some days, you need a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich to keep yourself grounded.