Mets host blood drive at Shea

Donors get the job done at annual blood drive

NEW YORK -- The Diamond Club at Shea Stadium looked like a hospital emergency ward on Monday, with nurses scrambling around attending to the constant flow of patients filling two dozen gurneys.

But instead of bandages, there were cups of apple juice and piles of Oreos, Cheez-It crackers and granola bars, and as soon as Mr. Met came bouncing through the doors -- shaking hands and patting people on the back -- it was easy to tell this stage was not the result of a major accident or natural disaster.

Rather, it was the scene of a few hundred New York Mets fans coming in to donate blood in the first of two blood drives the team will hold this year.

"Not all the drives are as much fun as this," said New York Blood Center director of marketing Harvey Schaffler, surveying the crowd of donors, about a third of them adorned in Mets paraphernalia.

Drawing more than 100 people in the first two hours, the Mets were certainly on pace to top the 200 or so who donated at last year's blood drive -- an increase fueled by the team's successful 2006 campaign and the promise of two free tickets for a home game in April.

That inducement was enough for West Islip firefighter John Kesler to make his way out to Shea and donate for the first time.

"I was afraid of the needles," admitted Kesler, 45. "It was a good experience, so maybe I'll do it again in the future. I think people make more of it than it is; it really is a relaxing thing. If you remain calm it's going to be fine."

About 15 to 20 percent of Monday's donors were first-timers.

Not Mindy Warshaw of Long Beach, however. She's been donating blood about four to five times a year for the last 15 years, motivated when her father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.

"I just think it's something that's great," said Warshaw, whose blood type of B-positive is shared by less than 10 percent of the U.S. population. "It's something everyone should do if they can. As long as I am able-bodied I will give."

Warshaw has been to the last two Mets blood drives and when she donated last summer, she earned tickets to the National League East Division clincher against Florida last Sept. 19. She's earmarking a game against the Marlins again this April while her husband Carl, also on hand to donate blood, is looking at a Mets matchup with the Phillies.

As altruistic as Schaffler wishes most New Yorkers were in regard to giving blood, the statistics show that the ticket offer definitely helps bring people out.

Serving the greater New York and New Jersey area, the New York Blood Center caters to a population of about 18 million, only about 325,000 people donate annually -- less than two percent. On a national level, only about five percent of the eligible population donates each year.

Of those who do, half don't return to donate the following year.

"There are people who will donate without anybody watching, without any offer and just because they know it's important and they'll do it regularly," Schaffler said. "But for the people [who donated for tickets] it doesn't make them any less special. We've done drives in the past with soap opera stars and other themed type of blood drives, but sports is always a winner."

The timing of the event was also crucial. With the lifespan of blood just 42 days and supplies low after the holidays because there are fewer donations around that time of year, the New York Blood Center starts every year with a shortage while demand remains the same.

The Mets have been holding blood drives annually for over 15 seasons and will hold another this summer, another time of year when the area experiences shortages.

Anyone interested in donating blood can go to any one of a number of New York Blood center locations. To find one near you call 1-800-933-BLOOD or visit www.nybloodcenter.org.

Peter Zellen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.