Dr. Richard Westfal


METSellaneous: Joey Wahler On The Mets — Family Affair: Westfals Have Mets Season Tickets Since 1962

July 04, 2019 - 10:17 am

By Joey Wahler

Ten rows directly behind home plate at Citi Field, Dr. Richard Westfal shares Mets season tickets with his family, just as his father, Ed, and Uncle, Siggy, did with him, starting during the team’s first season in 1962.

Owners of Westfal’s, a one-time restaurant and bar in Richmond Hill, Queens, Ed was a Brooklyn Dodger fan while Siggy rooted for the New York Giants. After both teams headed to California in 1958, the brothers became original Mets season ticket holders, buying four seats located two boxes from the field behind first base. Despite a record 120 Mets losses in ’62, Westfal, then age 14, says he attended around 60 games that first year.

Until Shea Stadium opened in 1964, the Mets’ temporary home was the Giants’ former stadium, the Polo Grounds, which was old and broken down.

“There were hardly any security because there was nothing to ruin,” joked Westfal, now 71, who practices internal medicine in New Canaan, Conn.

Back then, fans were admitted some three hours before game time, and Westfal says he’d watch Mets batting practice with little competition for balls hit into the stands.

“They’d hit homeruns, nobody’s there,” Westfal said. “I’d go home with four baseballs in my pockets.”

Average Mets attendance was 11,532 in 1962 and 13,335 in ’63. Those modest crowds provided Westfal, his cousin and friends with player access that would be unheard of today. On June 7 of ’63, Duke Snider’s ninth inning, walkoff three-run homer gave the Mets a 3-2 win over the Cardinals. At age 36, the ex-Dodger and future Hall of Famer had an unexpected companion while rounding the bases.

“The only time I did this in my life, I ran on the field, and ran around the bases with Duke Snider,” Westfal said. “And I come to home plate, and who’s there because he had scored, was this great Met player, Ron Hunt. So I’m at home plate with Hunt. And I shake hands with Snider. And here comes this 60-year-old cop, who’s finally coming to try and get me.”

Another eventual Hall of Famer, Ralph Kiner, was then a Mets broadcaster who hosted his Kiner’s Korner postgame show from a studio under the stands behind home plate. He’d interview guests on the winning team, often the National League’s biggest stars. His family’s seats gave Westfal access to a men’s room near Kiner’s studio. After Met losses, Westfal and his companions had a secret routine.

“We’d go into the stalls and stand on the toilet with the door closed,” Westfal said. “So this one security cop would come though, and he’d look under the stall, see nobody there, leave us alone.”

With the stands typically empty by then, Westfal says his group would leave the bathroom once players exited Kiner’s Korner.

“So we walk back on the field, all the way through to centerfield where the clubhouses were, with Roberto Clemente, with Hank Aaron, with Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax,” Westfal said. “It was a dream, right? And you’re talking with them all the way out and there was no security.

“When you knew that a great player made a great hit or pitched a great game, that’s the game we’d want to hide in the bathroom. Because you’d get to see these guys in uniform. It was unbelievable.”

When the Mets moved to Shea in 1964, Westfal’s family got four seats there, two boxes off the field between the plate and the home dugout. He was away at college when the Mets won the ’69 World Series, but Westfal says he attended many games that year.

“It was electric every night,” Westfal said of Shea.

In 1979, Westfal assumed the tickets from his father, who died 20 years ago. When Citifield opened in 2009, Westfal downsized to two seats. He and his wife, Debbie, have five children, so he keeps tickets for 20 games, dividing the rest with his kids, giving some away to others including his patients.

Jacob deGrom has a chance to surpass Doc Gooden and Jerry Koosman as the Mets second best pitcher ever behind Tom Seaver, says Westfal, adding that Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall of Fame. Quipping that he’s “an old fart,” Westfal laments this season’s unprecedented homerun totals.

“I can’t say that and then not be 100-percent excited about Pete Alonso,” Westfal said of the Mets Rookie of the Year favorite.

Indeed, after being a regular for Mets games in three stadiums and witnessing two championship seasons, Westfal remains a diehard.

“This is my connection to my parents,” Westfal said. “And that connection is there. We share the game, the nuances of the game. But that’s what keeps it going. It’s more of a family tradition and a baseball tradition.”