Bobby Bonilla talks baseball, his family and his old contract on his ‘Day’

The six-time MLB All-Star and Sarasota resident surprised fans at 99 Bottles on July 1.

For baseball fans, in particular New York Mets fans, Independence Day is not the first holiday of July.

That would be July 1, Bobby Bonilla Day.

It’s a day that has its origins in 2000, when the Mets bought Bonilla out of his contract. That move itself is not unusual; players have their contracts bought out all the time, even star players, which Bonilla, a six-time All-Star selection, was. What was unusual was the terms of the agreement: instead of paying Bonilla the $5.9 million he was owed at once, the Mets decided to pay approximately $1.2 million of that at the time, while deferring the rest with 8% interest. The result was that every year for 25 years, starting on July 1, 2011, Bobby Bonilla would receive approximately $1.2 million, turning that initial $5.9 million into $29.8 million over time.

It is not an unprecedented move for a team to make. Ken Griffey Jr. is currently receiving $3.59 million from the Cincinnati Reds each year through 2024 from money deferred from a nine-year, $116 million deal signed in 2000, and Todd Helton received $1.3 million from the Rockies every year through 2023 because of $13 million deferred from a two-year extension he signed in 2010. Even Bonilla himself is receiving an additional $500,000 from a second contract he signed, with those payments beginning in 2004 and coming from the Mets and Baltimore Orioles.

For unknown reasons, Bonilla’s Mets deal is the one that resonated. Now every July 1 is known as Bobby Bonilla Day. The day started as an inside joke for Mets fans, lamenting the team’s poor financial planning (and overall performance), but over time it has become a celebration of Bonilla’s feats as a player, as well as a silly look at how much more he earns each year than other active players. In 2023, for instance, Bonilla has earned more than two All-Stars from the Texas Rangers, catcher Jonah Heim ($745,600) and outfielder Adolis Garcia ($747,760).

This year on July 1, Sarasota’s 99 Bottles Taproom and Bottle Shop decided to hold a special celebration for whom the bar’s Facebook page called “the most baller contract buyout king of MLB history,” offering $1.19 pints of Captain Lawrence Orange Crusher.  To the surprise of the people in attendance — and the bar itself — the event was crashed by the event’s honoree, Bonilla, who entered with a smile on his face.

“Bobby!” a face in the crowd shouted. “We’ve been waiting for you for years.”

Bobby Bonilla served and chatted with fans at 99 Bottles Taproom on July 1.

Bonilla, a Sarasota resident, came to the event with his wife, Christina Solomon-Bonilla. It was Solomon-Bonilla, Bonilla said, who convinced him to make an appearance. Usually, the couple is out of town on July 1, he said, either on a trip or watching his son, Roman Solomon, play in a golf tournament. But since they were home, the couple thought it would be a fun surprise for the Mets fans in attendance.

During the event, Bonilla walked up and down the bar, talking to whomever wanted to chat, and even got behind the bar to hand out a few beers. Bonilla said he has embraced his “day,” even though it stems from a buyout.

“I get more texts and phone calls on this day than I do on my birthday,” Bonilla said with a laugh. “It’s become a famous thing, and everyone gets a kick out of it. In a way, it’s the one day where nobody’s pissed off (about the deal).”

Bonilla said the financial aspect of the day does not bring much excitement. He’s earmarked the money from his Mets contract to be put away, he said, so he’s not making any big purchases the day after his annual allotment arrives. He tries not to make a habit of big purchases or investments in general, he said; the biggest investment he’s made is one he made recently, buying into Soleta Golf Cub, a private residential club community in Myakka City that will feature a Nick Price-designed golf course, David Leadbetter practice and performance facilities, and family-focused sporting and social activities. The golf course is expected to open for play in late 2024.

“You don’t often get to be a part of something that big from the ground up,” Bonilla said. “It’s exciting stuff. We have aspirations to be a top-five club in the state of Florida.”

Bonilla’s interest in golf aligns with his son’s. Bonilla said watching Roman Solomon’s potential sports career blossom has been a rewarding experience, and he’s proud of Solomon, who won the 2022 Underrated Golf Curry Cup, for putting in the work necessary to potentially make it a reality.

“Since I played at such a high level, I know what it takes,” Bonilla said. “I tell him every day, ‘You want to play this game? It’s going to take a great deal of patience and a consistent mindset.’ You have to say, I’m going to work on my game and I’m going to get better every day. And he’s in a good place with that, mentally.”

Bonilla retired from baseball in 2001, but he still follows the game — though admittedly, his interest typically is piqued after the All-Star break.

There’s nothing like watching guys play in the dog days of summer, Bonilla said, while fighting for a spot in the postseason. Bonilla said he’s a baseball traditionalist at heart, but understands why MLB has made some of the changes it has in recent seasons, like adding a pitch clock or starting extra innings with each team receiving a runner on second base.

“You have to make sure you attract the younger crowd,” Bonilla said. “If they felt like the game was too slow, then OK, speed it up — within the context of not ruining the game. And it seems like they were able to do that. It didn’t ruin the ambiance, which is what baseball is all about.”

Bonilla said he and Solomon-Bonilla don’t go out much downtown, preferring quiet nights at home or with friends. But he liked the vibe of 99 Bottles, he said. And he appreciated the crowd coming out to celebrate his odd holiday.

Originally posted on Observer | Written & Photographed by Ryan Kohn | THURSDAY JUL 6, 2023

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