The two days after the All Star Game are, easily, the worst in the entire season. Unless there's a trade made, it's about 60 hours of baseball-free boredom.
So, let's talk about beer. Or, more specifically, how I've managed to find myself a pile of riches by not drinking it at Mets games.
(Okay, not a true "pile of riches," but more accurately: more than nine free fountain Diet Pepsis, two Mets polo shirts, and one Mets windbreaker.)
The Mets have a pretty good, not very well-known (but hardly hidden) promotion that they run during every single home game: The Designated Driver program. The deal is pretty simple. You pledge to not buy (or drink) beer or any other alcoholic beverage at the game, and the Mets give you a coupon for a free fountain soda. (I think it's a 20 oz drink, but I honestly don't pay attention to such things.) You are also entered into a drawing to be the "Mets Designated Driver of the Game," which comes with two added benefits if you're selected:
- You win a prize
- Your name and seat are announced on the now-larger-than-last-year JumboTron.
It's a random drawing, or so they claim, but I believe otherwise. As evidence that it's not quite as random as you'd think, I offer my own experience. Over the last four seasons, I've attempted to become the Mets Designated Driver of the Game nine times. I've been selected three times. There's less than a 0.2% chance of that happening randomly, if this dude's math is right.
I think you, too, can be the Mets Designated Driver of the Game. And I'm going to teach you how.
Step 1: Arrive early.
I figure there are three reasons why you probably haven't entered the Designated Driver program:
- You want to buy a beer.
- You didn't know about the program.
- You don't know how to enter.
As a non-drinker—somehow, three decades of being a Mets fan hasn't driven me into a life of rampant alcoholism—the first one isn't an issue for me. For years, though, the second one was the case. I only learned about it during the 1999 season, and then somehow forgot about it until 2011. The third one, though, is the real problem. Think about it: the crux of the program is that the Mets are about to give you a free soda in exchange for you pledging to not buy beer. The Wilpons are going to give you something—for FREE—for NOT spending money elsewhere? It's no surprise that entering to Designated Driver of the Game contest isn't the easiest thing to do.
According to Mets.com, there are three or four booths where you can sign up. I've only been to one of them, and given that I've won three times, I suggest using that one. Go up the escalators or stairs in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and take a left. Coming up quickly on the right will be a small stand with a lot of Budweiser branding all over it, which is weird because they don't sell beer there—in fact, they don't sell anything there. If you get there early enough, you'll usually see a short line—five people, max—and one attendant.
Getting there early is key because the process to sign up is surprisingly long. First, you have to fill out one line on a form. The form is the key to life, the universe, and everything, as you'll see in the next step. In one thin row on a piece of 8.5" x 11" paper, you need to write your name, sign your name, provide your phone number, your driver's' license number, your seat assignment (in three separate columns) and ... something else long, like your email or mailing address. I don't remember because that part isn't important. Most people fumble for their license, adding some time to an already arduous process, and then fumble to return their license back into their wallet. On occasion, the guy at the desk will ask to see your ID to make sure you're 21—sorry kids, no free Pepsi for you—making the process take even longer.
For some unknown reason, there's usually only one sign-up form on the table, meaning that one customer gets served at a time. (There's no reason for this—one time I was there, there were two forms, and the line flew by, not only because twice as many people could be served at once, but also because each person simply followed the other's lead instead of asking simple questions that the attendant found difficult to answer.)
And you're not done yet. Once you put your name on the sheet, the attendant will hand you a drink coupon that prompts for even more information. The short end of the ticket requires your name and two other bits of information—email address and mailing address, I think? They don't matter. The long end asks for a lot more information, but the good news is that you don't have to fill that out now, if ever. Most people do, though, which adds a lot more time to the wait.
You hand the short end of the ticket to the guy at the desk and he gives you one of those plastic-coated paper bracelets with adhesive on one end—the types of bracelets that you can put on once but have to cut to get off. Something like this, but not green. They say "Designated Driver" on them, with the idea being that the beer vendor isn't going to sell you a beer if you're wearing one. You keep the longer end of the ticket and can redeem that for your free soda.
To make matters worse, the Designated Driver booths close after the second inning. So, yeah, get there early. Great, you're on your way. And the really good news? At this point, there are maybe 100 people who you're up against—and perhaps only about half that. Those are good odds, but let's make them better.
Step 2: Have a short name
This is critical. Obviously you shouldn't reasonably change your name just to win some swag, but entering this contest requires that you write your name legibly on the form and on the small end of the ticket, which is basically impossible to do if you don't have a nice, short name like "Dan Lewis."
The small end of the ticket—that's not a problem. But on the form, ye gods.
As noted above, the form asks you for a lot of information. Each piece of information goes into its own box. The form is printed on regular paper in portrait orientation and has wider-than-usual margins, so each box is pretty small. How small? If you write the words "DAN LEWIS" in all caps in the equivalent of 12- or 14-point font, you're not going to have any extra space.
If your name is "Matt Harvey," it'll be a tight squeeze, but you can fit it in. "Noah Syndergaard," though? Not happening. Sure, you can try "Thor Mets" or "Noah Syn," but considering at least 30% of the fun is getting your name on the big screen, that'd suck. The alternative, of course, is to write really, really, really small. But if your goal is to maximize the chance of your being selected as the Mets Designated Driver of the Game, that's not going to fly—even though, in theory, this shouldn't matter.
You see, in theory—in theory—some random Mets events person should take all of the small ends of those tickets, throw them into a hat, pull one out, and whammo, you get your winner. Right? That's how lotteries and raffles like this work, usually. But in practice, the Mets Designated Driver of the Game raffle doesn't work like this. (Cue Sherlock Holmesian "dun dun dun!" music.) It can't, because the small end of the ticket doesn't have your seat assignment on it. That's only on the form. And remember, the Mets put that info on the big screen.
Okay, so what does that mean? It can be one of two things. First, it's possible that the Mets pull a chit out of the hat, read the name, cross-check it against the form, and voila, you have a winner. If that's the case, having the short, legibly-written name is key, because if the Mets employee in charge of this cosmically-important task can't reconcile the two, you can't win. Chances are, the person simply tosses your ticket aside and chooses another one.
Or, second, maybe the Mets never pull the ticket in the first place. Dunno. But man, wouldn't it be easier if they just looked at the list and picked a name?
Either way, the Mets need to be able to read the name on the form, and let me tell you from experience, only a handful of names are legible. And my guess is that the person choosing the winner is pretty lazy, so the easy names like mine are going to beat out the ones that are not so easy.
Out of those people to sign up, then, how many have the name "Dan Lewis" or the functional equivalent? And how many of them know—or care—to write neatly? Based on a non-scientific process of me looking at the list, saying "it's either me or that Jim Frank guy," and discounting the other 20-30 people whose names are on the list, I estimate that only about 5% to 10% of entrants have any chance at becoming the Mets Designated Driver of the Game. Assuming 50 to 100 people sign up, that means there are anywhere from two to ten people in the lottery, including me.
That gives me—and you, if you have the right name—about a 15% chance of becoming the Mets Designated Driver of the Game. And given my results—three wins out of nine, and one of those losses was to my brother with a similar (but slightly longer) name than mine—that may be way, way too low.
So, that's how you win. But you still have two more things you need to do to make it worthwhile.
Step 3: Pay attention to the scoreboard between innings.
I'm pretty sure that the Designated Driver of the Game is announced during the 4th, 5th, or 6th inning, but I am always too excited that I won (or too disappointed that I lost) to remember to write down when it happens—and for all I know, it may change. Anyway, your name is up in lights for only a minute, maybe two, and there's no audible mention of your name. (Seriously, how hard is it for the PA announcer to say "Dan Lewis"?.) There may also not be a mention of the award being given out; again, the thrill of victory (or agony of defeat) is all-consuming, so I honestly don't recall.
So if you're not paying attention, you may miss it.
Step 4: Go to the Fan Services Window
I'm not sure what it's called. If you're on the Shea Bridge, position yourself so that your left shoulder is facing the field and your right shoulder is facing the chop shops. Walk to the end of the bridge, take a right, and you'll see someone bored out of their mind in a little window on the right. He or she has your prize. This year, it's a Mets windbreaker, pictured below. It used to be a Mets polo, also pictured below.
Tell the person you're the Designated Driver of the Game. I'd keep the wristband on, because that's obvious, but they don't usually ask for ID. Of the four times I've been there, the winner—me three times, my brother once—has never once been asked to produce his license. And if anyone should have been asked, it should have been my brother, because he won his shirt just a few days after I won my second, and I was with him when he picked up the prize. It was the same dude both times and he noticed that I was a repeat visitor.
Bonus: If you have kids with you, the window often has free Mr. Met stickers. I don't know if you have to be the Designated Driver of the Game to get those; they may just do that for anyone who asks.
Step 5: Congratulations! You're a winner!
Be prepared to get questions from your seat neighbors about what you won, and be prepared for the inevitable "I'd rather have a beer!" comment from one of them with a laugh from another. Just remember, that beer is gone shortly after you drink it, but the Mets windbreaker will hang in your closet, never used, for seasons to come.
Q: Are you serious?
Q: But wait! I want to buy a beer!
A: That's not a question, but I'll allow it.
My guess is that it's not a problem, but I can't be sure because as a non-drinker, I've never tested this. I seriously doubt that the cashier at Catch of the Day or wherever is going to risk pissing off a customer because of a two-cent wristband. You can always take the wristband off (and risk being rejected by the Fan Services window person if you lose), too; there's no real risk of them asking for ID and cross-referencing with your driver's license number on the form because, again, almost nothing on the form is legible. You can also send a friend—I seriously doubt that anyone is going to confiscate your already-purchased beer—or you can buy off an in-stands vendor who probably wouldn't bother to check anyway.
On the other hand, you made a promise and should stick to it. It's kind of like that time the Wilpons promised to spend when the time is right. They should keep to their word and so should you.
Q: Aren't you afraid that, now that the secret is out, you'll never win again?
A: Somewhat, but I'm not too concerned. Most people would rather stand in line for a Shackburger than for a free Diet Pepsi plus, say, a 20% chance to win some Mets apparel with Budweiser "Good Sports" logo on it.
Also, I've only entered nine times in four years. Getting to the game early isn't easy and I've actually had to leave twice before the announcement (I didn't include those as among the nine times I've entered, because I may have won—I just don't know).
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