Believe it or not, there are actually things I miss about seeing baseball games at Candlestick Park. (As Vin Scully famously intoned once, “Yes, folks, I know it’s not called that anymore, but I’m not being paid to say that other name.”)

One of them is pregame tailgate parties, a privilege that has largely gone the way of the dodo in baseball as the old ballparks with their massive parking lots disappear and are replaced by urban facilities with itsy bitsy elevated parking garages. Who needs rubber pizza in the stadium when you can grill salmon before a game and serve it up with some lipsmacking roasted potatoes and a nice baby-green and grape-tomato salad? Yum yum. And no more spendy than cooking it at home. Alas, even at some of the older ballparks, like Shea, you are not officially allowed that pleasure before hitting the stands (although some stealthy folks do find pockets around the ballpark in which to fire up the Sterno). Rubber pizzas have powerful interests backing them, y’know. My last pregame tailgating party was the last year Monster 3Com Horace Stoneham What Were You Thinking Park in San Fran hosted the Giants, in 1999, and that last Giants-Mets series was also the first time I met Kariann the Cookie Lady, who is the other thing I miss about that otherwise unmissable facility.

Kariann (not her real name) was one of those people you bump into online sometimes whose story sounds farfetched enough to engender an automatic “yeah, right.” After Instant Messaging with her for a bit, I managed to find out the following: She was in her late 40s; she lived in the wine country north of San Francisco; she was unmarried and had an ordinary job; she was a Mets fan; and (most improbably of all) she claimed friendships with quite a few former (and then-current) Mets. She managed the latter through a connection made with a nonplaying member of the Mets’ staff while her then-boyfriend attended one of those fantasy camps the Mets have every winter in Florida, the kind where if you have about forty or so spare benjies lying around, you can wear a Real Mets Uniform, get Real Professional Coaching, and sit in the very same hot tubs in which Mets players soak their weary buns every spring training. Kariann’s secret weapon in making buddy-buddies with all those players, once she had her “in”? Cookies.

Yes, cookies. Chocolate chip. Oatmeal chip. Oatmeal raisin. Snickerdoodles. First she sent her “connection” some cookies. They were sampled by the players. The players liked them. Eventually they found out who the magic baker was, and it went from there. Soon Kariann was the unofficial Mets “cookie lady,” a privilege that got her free tickets to Mets-Giants games and the genuine email addresses of genuine Mets players. Her first major gesture of friendship towards me was to send me a baseball autographed by John Olerud, and the aforementioned program autograph by one Doug Henry. They looked real enough. Also, I noticed that she didn’t claim friendships with most of the biggest stars on the team, like Mike Piazza. Him she hadn’t ever talked to, she said.

I started to think maybe Kariann wasn’t hosing me after all. But how was this possible? Were those cookies really that good? Or was there something else about Kariann that made the velvet rope surrounding the ballclub just melt away? I mean, weren’t Mets groupies and schmoozers everywhere, even at fantasy camps, and didn’t most of them get told to sit and spin unless they looked like 22-year-old supermodels? Didn’t lots of fans send things to ballplayers and get nothing back but a form letter?

Me, I suck, suck, suck like a Zamboni at anything vaguely resembling schmoozing, always have, probably always will; the I’m-with-the-band gene just completely passed me by in every department. Remind me sometime, preferably when I’m close to death, to tell you about the one time I finagled a press pass at Dodger Stadium to write an article for the about-to-breathe-its-last Lefthander magazine, as a means to be able to meet one of my favorite lefthanded pitchers. Not only did I not get to meet him, I so didn’t belong there that I’m surprised I don’t have an arrest record for trespassing. (I won’t name the pitcher, although those who knew me in the 1990s probably know who it was. If that’s you, please spare me the embarrassment and don’t type your identity-guess here.)

But Kariann, in addition to killer cookie recipes, obviously possessed sangfroid, and she seemed to be just so…nice. So placid. So unaffected. These famous people obviously didn’t make her nervous in any way. She mentioned casually chatting with them about her love life, about how one of them recommended she “find herself a young stud” to go out with, after disqualifying himself because he was a Nice Christian Married Dude. One thing she didn’t talk about much was their on-field performance, I noticed. If one of them blew a save, or whatever, it didn’t seem to faze her much. She also didn’t get all excited the other way when they racked up a big win or a big hit. Not the way I or most fans would have. When the Mets and Giants were about to hit town, while I was still living in Bakersfield and going to the game meant getting a hotel room, she offered me and my then-DH free tickets. We took the leap of faith and accepted.

Continued in part 2