Some say small-town residents live for gossip.
Mechanicville, however, apparently lives for Ray Price’s annual birthday celebration at Saratoga Race Course.
Seventeen years ago, Price and a handful of friends from the city packed a cooler and headed to the track to celebrate his Aug. 11 birthday.
“The second year turned into 28 people, and by the third year we started making shirts,” said Price, who will turn 48 this weekend.
This year, more than 650 people filled the backyard picnic area at the track for the birthday bash.
More than 200 family members alone were in attendance from all across the United States. The rest of the guests seemed to join the party as word spread around Mechanicville, where Price lives.
The original party started with a group of guys from the Momentive silicone plant in Waterford where Price works. They’re big bettors, enjoying anything from the race track to Vegas slots, according to Dan Patregnani, who has worked with Price for more than 20 years.
Patregnani said the best part of Price’s party is getting to see old friends and workers. “It’s a nice day to talk to and see everyone again, even if most of us are still products of the ’70s,” he joked, stroking his “classic” mustache.
Patregnani’s son, Jordan, was at the party for the first time but grew up next door to Price. His father joked that his son would wake Price up after a late-night shift, dribbling a basketball outside Price’s window.
“There are a lot of personal relations. Everyone knows everyone,” Patregnani said.
Other than catching up with old friends, the price is what keeps Patregnani coming back.
For $60, guests get access to the picnic grounds, unlimited food and drinks and a T-shirt and are entered into the betting pool. Betting aside, the food and drinks are a big draw for Price’s “friends-of-friends-of-friends.”
There’s lasagna, ziti, meatballs and chicken wings catered by The Brickyard restaurant in Ballston Spa, as well as 110 cases of beer, 500 Jell-O shots and 500 “test-tube shots” prepared just for the crowd.
Price maintains that his crowds grow because everyone’s invited. “People come over and ask what’s going on and leave with some food or a beer,” he said. And his generosity usually brings them back as ticket-holders the next year. But word of mouth keeps the crowd swelling.
Brian Merchant from Gainesville was attending the party for the first time after hearing from friends and other workers at the Momentive plant that he should check it out.
“I like to bet on the horses and thought it’d be nice to come and hang with the guys I work with. As long as the beer’s cold, it’s gonna be a good party,” Merchant said.
And there was plenty of beer. Buckets of ice filled with all varieties of alcoholic beverages sat in the shade of trees where 14 years of party T-shirts hung from a clothesline.
“We joke that it’s ‘almost annual.’ I’ve only skipped one year,” Price said. His father was ill and he said his heart just wasn’t into throwing the party that year.
This year’s theme was “Sweet 16,” but even after 16 years and such a long guest list, connections between guests don’t seem to have weakened. Nearly everyone in attendance was related to, worked with or grew up with Price or his family.
Miranda Cooper, whose father works with Price, joked that getting into the party is all about who you know. Her father brought her along five years ago as a designated driver and now she’s part of the “club.”
Ben Patrignani shouted from a neighboring table, saying the camaraderie among the workers, their families and the neighbors who have joined the party can’t be matched anywhere else.
“Marylou [Whitney] ain’t got nothing on this,” he said.