Jacob deGrom, Jacob Rhame
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The first annual New York Mets Fan Fest was such an immersive experience that eventually, the line between player and fan all but vanished.

At New York Mets Fan Fest Saturday afternoon, at Citi Field around 2:20 p.m. ET, I played ping pong against Jacob Rhame. He beat me handily. I spend weeks playing ping pong every summer and improve mightily, then steadily decline until June, when I pick up a paddle again. So I was off my form.

I didn’t mention this to Rhame, of course, because it would have sounded weak. The final score was 11-4, and the game wasn’t even that close, since Rhame buried two slams in the net up 10-2 before finally sealing the win.

I’m sorry. This is supposed to be a column about the entire Mets Fan Fest, which really was an impressive event. Dozens of Mets past, present, and future attended. Lines to shake hands and take pictures with players stretched the length of entire clubs. Minor leaguers wandered the halls like awkward kids at a school dance (I would know). It was the kind of event where after a few hours, when I found myself climbing the stairs to the third level next to Corey Oswalt, we just looked at each other, not sure how either of us was supposed to react.

Yes, it was that kind of event. It was such a comprehensive immersion in the Mets that after a while, the line between team and fan disappeared. And memorable as it was, fixating on a ping-pong match against Jacob Rhame does the rest of the event a disservice.

Rhame wasn’t even at the ping pong table when I got to the stadium. Luis Guillorme was, and he was playing against a girl about ten years old. Immediately, I lined up to play, because “I played ping pong against Luis Guillorme” is the kind of story you can tell for 60 years. “I played ping pong against Luis Guillorme and won,” of course, is even better, but that takes a lot of practice, not to mention the hand/eye coordination of a major league baseball player.

In any case, Guillorme left before I could play. I looked across the room, and wouldn’t you know it? There was Turk Wendell. It was just that kind of event.

“I’m a little too young to remember you,” I told Wendell when we shook hands. “But you were my mom’s favorite player.”

“You didn’t bring your mom here?” he asked.

“She went to ‘meet the breeds’ at the dog show,” I said.

“A (expletive) dog show?” he asked, laughing.

A staffer took our picture, then all of a sudden, an explosion of cheers from the other side of the club… that’s Jacob deGrom! Either lost or taking the long way to his next stop, deGrom walked in a circle around the Delta Club with Mets staffers carving a path on either side. Then he left the club, and the circling throngs promptly moved on to the next thing.

I took the stairs to the third level, where Steven Matz was giving an interview. Walking through the Foxwoods club, I bumped into Robinson Cano. Well, not literally. But I did look around, and think to myself, not even surprised, “that’s Robinson Cano.” The line to meet Cano was long, and let’s face it, in 2019 he was a .256 hitter. So I skipped that line, and moved on.

For a time, I waited in line to shake hands with Dellin Betances. “I’m only in line to see how short I look next to him,” a woman behind me said. Then I thought to myself: while I’m waiting to meet Dellin Betances, maybe there’s finally a Met at the ping-pong table. So I took the stairs back down to the Delta Club. Played Jacob Rhame. Lost badly. Looked pretty foolish in the process, too.

Pete Alonso, LFGM T-Shirt

It’s amazing, really, how quickly the shock of being surrounded by Mets wore off. “That’s Brad Brach!” I thought to myself, but seconds later, “meh, he’s no Fernando Salas.” Tyler Bashlor walked past me a few times; I can confirm that he is as brutishly handsome in person as he seems on TV. Daniel Zamora got along well with the young children in attendance. I saw Franklyn Kilomé shooting at the toy basketball hoop, and Walker Lockett standing off to the side, smiling kindly despite several fans who called him “Walter.”

I walked past Rhame later on, and said, “I’m still walking that one off.”

He laughed. “Whenever you want it again, bro, let me know,” he said.

Yes: I played ping-pong against Jacob Rhame, and then he offered me a rematch. In fact, I’d like to take him up on that. Any time after August 15th, when I’ve had my two summer months to practice, we’ll get together and play.

If I’m going to play Luis Guillorme, though, I’ll need more practice than that. I’m good, but not that good.

I have followed New York sports passionately for almost my entire life, since I went to Shea Stadium in 2004 and saw Jae Seo lose 8-1 to the Pirates. At journalism school, I once missed covering a Land Use Committee meeting to write about Jacob deGrom's last start of the year.