Bobby Lee has served fans in New York stadiums since 1973
October 30, 2015 - If you look close enough, you can find a good story in everyone - somewhere between who they are and what they do. It's just that some stories are more interesting than others. And during this year's World Series between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals, you can probably stop looking at the others, because we doubt you'll find a profile more fascinating than our own Citi Field vendor Bobby Lee.
Lee, who has been vending at games for more than 40 years in New York, actually lives in Kansas City and commutes to homestands in the Big Apple to work Met games. He's been doing this since moving to the Midwest in 2003. According to Population Reference Bureau, US Census Data tells you that the average commute time has risen more than four minutes over the past 30 years. It is not unfair to blame the whole population's rise on Lee himself.
"I enjoy every moment of it," says Lee of his job and the 1,200 mile trek from Missouri that goes along with it.
Lee and his family moved to the Kansas City area 12 years ago when his wife accepted a new job. He had retired from the New York Fire Department not long before the move and as a lifelong New Yorker, he knew the transition would be a challenge. So he worked it out with his family to continue working games at Shea Stadium, then the home of the Mets. His wife thought it would be a good idea.
“I don’t think she thought it would go on for 12 years!” he says.
Since then, he also started vending for the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and, more recently, at Kauffman Stadium for the Royals. This season, Lee worked about 15 Royal games to go along with 75 games for the Mets.
This year’s playoffs have been even more of a rat race. Lee’s worked nearly every game for both the Mets and Royals – there’s only been one game of overlap. During October, he’s flown back and forth six times.
Now, here he is vending for both teams in the World Series. Not that he ever doubted that the Mets would make it. When Major League Baseball released the World Series schedule in August, he didn't hesitate to book his flight to New York.
"I rolled the dice," Lee says laughing. "Once I knew the exact dates, I booked the World Series on a whim."
When he began vending in 1973 for New York Jets football games and, soon after for Met games, slinging orange soda in the upper deck of old Shea Stadium, he certainly didn't know how long he would last as a vendor.
"I always said I would work until the Mets won the World Series," he said.
And then they did - in 1986.
"Then I said I'll wait until a Subway Series."
A Subway Series, pitting cross-town Mets and Yankees in the World Series, came to fruition in 2000.
"Then I was going to wait until a new stadium."
Shea Stadium made way for Citi Field in 2009.
"Or an All-Star Game."
For a man that has seen it all, he says it's the fans that keep him coming back for more.
"The fans have always been great," he says. "That's what makes the job so exciting - dealing with them."
A normal night on the job during the post-season gets Lee to the stadium a few hours before game time. About an hour before first pitch, you can find him greeting the arriving fans and selling commemorative programs. When the game begins, he and his fellow vendors estimate that they will cover anywhere between 7 to 10 miles walking across the stadium. When the game ends, he’s back selling programs and wishing fans a good night.
After working across five decades, Lee says he’ll decide what’s next once the World Series is over. For now, he’s enjoying the big event and serving fans on the game’s biggest stage. It’s a road less traveled made much more interesting.