For Chris Gardner, who lost his father on 9/11, the visit to the Mets dugout, featuring private meetings with star players, was more than just a fun outing.
"It takes your mind off things," said Gardner, 17, a junior at Oceanside High School.
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After more than a decade, Gardner said he still thinks about his dad, FDNY firefighter Thomas Gardner, every day.
Vanaria's father, a retired FDNY lieutenant, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic respiratory problems, both linked to his role in helping search for remains at Ground Zero.
The event, part of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, was organized by the nonprofit Tuesday's Children, created after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to help child victims cope with the tragedy.
"This is why we do this," said Amy Wright, Tuesday's Children development director, who accompanied the boys to the ballpark. "To see these smiles on their faces."
In the dugout, the teens clutched autographed batting gloves. Gardner described himself as a casual fan -- although he said his grandfather was an usher at Shea Stadium for 40 years.
Vanaria was more star-struck. He pointed at a dried wad of gum on the bench and said, "That could have been [third baseman] David Wright's."
His father, Anthony Vanaria Jr., said the years after the terror attacks have been difficult for him and his family. "They went through a lot of worrying and anxiety," he said.
But thoughts Thursday were on Mets baseball.
"Come with me," Parnell said, taking the teens on to the field.
Vanaria, eyes wide, fired off a quick text to his dad.
"OMG," it read.