They wore official FDNY protective gear, not elf apparel. But four pitchers from the New York Mets got into the act of dropping down the side of a building Thursday, too, pulling a page from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman's playbook.
Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Bobby Parnell and Dillon Gee, as well as chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, went through firefighting training at the FDNY center on Randall's Island to lend their support to the city's bravest.
Exercises included making a forcible entry into a simulated burning room, climbing an aerial ladder, extinguishing a car fire and being lowered from a five-story building in a harness. That final exercise resembled Cashman's Christmastime rappelling of a building in an elf costume in Connecticut.
"At first, when you look off [the building ledge], it's a little bit scary, you know?" Pelfrey said. "I thought we were going to rappel off of it. Once we started getting off there, they pretty much were in control and we just laid there and they took care of the rest."
The visit was particularly meaningful for Parnell and Gee.
Gee's father Kevin has been a firefighter for 28 years in Fort Worth, Texas, and Parnell's father Bob is chief of the fire department in Salisbury, N.C. That department lost two members three years ago. Shortly after Parnell was sent from major league camp to the minors in spring training in 2008, a woodshop became enflamed and firefighters lost water pressure. Vic Isler, a former firefighter on Long Island who had relocated to North Carolina the previous year, and 19-year-old Justin Monroe -- Parnell's best friend -- were killed.
While the Mets departed the Randall's Island training center shortly after 11 a.m., the FDNY trainers asked Parnell's father to stay with them the rest of the day. They took him to a local firehouse to have lunch.
"Every time we're in New York, he talks about the training facilities here," Parnell said. "I figured it would be a good opportunity for him to go see it. I was a volunteer firefighter going through high school and stuff. If I wasn't playing baseball, that's probably where I'd be. It means a lot. It does. I grew up in the fire department with him. I have a lot of friends there. Even now, my brother just signed up. I spend a lot of time there now. I don't run calls or anything like that. I go just for the camaraderie at the firehouse."
Said Gee: "Before I got drafted, I was almost through the whole process of being a fireman. I had tested, and I had done all that stuff. When I was at the end of my college baseball career -- end of my junior year -- I wasn't sure if I was going to play professional baseball. I was just looking for that backup plan."
While making their way across the facility, the pitchers had sober briefings about firefighting in New York in 2011.
A burned-out New York City bus was at the facility for training purposes. Instructors noted how firefighters, whose first instinct is to rush into a fire, now have to be cautious when responding to such incidents to make sure it is not a terrorist event with other explosives set to detonate when responders arrive. The pitchers also saw pull-up bars made from steel from the World Trade Center site, where 343 firefighters lost their lives responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The bars are there to remind trainees about the dangers and the department's sacrifice.
"The trainers do an excellent job," Wilpon said. "They took us through and told us what was going to happen and how to deal with it. It was something that was really eye-opening and very good to see."