Back at the beginning of November I read a little press release on the Angels’ website. Basically, the groundskeepers hold a canned food drive on the weekend before Thanksgiving each year and 2009 would be their 9th annual food drive partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank. At the time I wasn’t sure if I could make it due to my school schedule. But, fast-forward two weeks and my schedule was remarkably free on the Friday before Turkey Day so Michelle and I rooted through our cabinets, stopped at the store to purchase additional canned goods, then drove to Angel Stadium. We arrived a little after 10:00am and were pleasantly surprised to see there weren’t a million cars in the parking lot.
We dropped off our cans at a check-in table, seen above from right behind it, and I donated an additional five dollars, too. The deal was that you could take batting practice based on your donation. It worked out that every two cans equaled one pitch in the cage. Plus, you could shag fly balls and throw in the bullpen! How did I not know about this sooner in my life?!? I opted for three pitches in the bullpen and ten pitches in the cage against a pitching machine. I took my tickets and we headed toward the concourse. As we went through the tunnel and onto the Field Level of seats, this was our view:
Totally awesome! Like, literally, awesome… I was in awe. There they were, ordinary fans totally allowed to run around on a big league field! We hurried down the aisle to the front row and into the special box seats that are right on the field.
At this point I parted ways with Michelle (she was going to hang out and take pictures) and went toward the half-open gate that led onto the warning track.
Everyone who was going to hit had been assigned a number. Mine was 129. I got to the gate leading to the field and hesitated. Could I just head out there? Did I need to wait to be called? I had no idea what the protocol was. I asked a guy nearby if he knew what number they were on and he told me, “About eighty or so.” Well, considering everyone hitting could get up to 20 pitches I figured I had some time… so I just walked out onto the field.
I stepped on the dirt, made it a few steps further to the grass. I’d never touched the grass at Angel Stadium before. I kept walking, my backpack still on my shoulders, praying nobody would tell me I had to go back to the stands and wait. I kept going, made it out to left field, turned around and looked back at home plate, and stopped. Wow.
It was incredible! The last time I’d been down to the field was in the early nineties when I got to march around the warning track on Little League Day… even then there was a rope set up to keep us off the grass. I looked back at my wife, already snapping pictures from the front row of seats, and waved. Then I looked around. People young and old were all over the field just enjoying being there. Every now and then a ball would get hit to someone and they’d make a play on it (or, at least try) then throw the ball to one of the buckets. I had been there for ten minutes and I realized I still had my backpack on. I ran over to the wall near the tarp and set it down, then waved to Michelle again and headed back out, anxious to field a ball.
“Well, now I just have to catch one.” I knew well-enough to stay in left field since almost everyone hitting was a righty. Eventually somebody hit a lazy fly ball that was falling fast in front of me. I ran forward, got under it, fought the morning sun and caught it. It was a great feeling. I’d just caught a fly ball on the field at my favorite ballpark. My primary thought had been, “Don’t drop it,” and after it had settled into my glove I was simply thankful. Then another one came… this one a liner.
I caught that one, too… I’m happy to say I played error-free baseball that morning. For about an hour I stood out on the field, basically staying in left, running toward anything close to me. I was incredibly glad that we’d come on the Friday… at a time when most people were at work or school. I was sure that Saturday and Sunday would be three times as busy. If I had to guess I’d say there were about 200 people at the field at any given time. Every fifteen minutes or so I
would run back to Michelle and check to see where they were number-wise. It was so much fun! She took a lot of photos.
The sun got to be pretty tough but I ended up catching quite a few balls and even fielded a few grounders that managed to get through the infield. At one point a lefty hit a home run into the corner in right field. It was the first one that had been hit and the only one I saw the whole time I was there. He got a round of applause as he finished his hacks.
It was taking quite a while to get to my number but I didn’t care… I was having a great time! Even when I had nothing to do because the person in the cage wasn’t making contact I was simply glad to be there.
The first ball that got hit to me was a little league type of ball and was kind of spongey. But each one I caught after that was actually an official MLB ball. I showed Michelle:
I kept running around, trying to get anything nearby while making sure not to cut anyone off:
As the buckets got transferred and people in the infield shagged up the
baseballs I pulled one I’d hung onto out of my pocket and played catch
with the person closest to me at that moment:
At one point a few little kids started to hit and I moved into the infield, right around second base, to field grounders. When the kids weren’t making contact a guy who’d taken over first base threw us warmup grounders around the infield, too.
I saw people of all ages–grandfathers down to two year-olds–and they were all having a wonderful time! What a fantastic community event!
I made sure not to overexert myself since I’d be hitting eventually. I took a couple of breaks for just a moment or two. There’s nothing quite like the perfectly manicured grass of a big league field:
Finally, at one of my routine check-ins over on the third base line I got the OK that they were ready for numbers 120 through 130. YES!!!
Michelle walked with me up to the shade behind the batting cage.
I had about fifteen minutes to get ready so I picked out a bat and helmet. Then I practiced my swing, tried to get the timing of the pitching machine (it looked to be going at about 60-70mph), and took a bunch of pictures. I was pretty much just hoping to not embarrass myself. “Gosh, what if I get up there and swing and miss ten times?” I got pretty nervous.
Right before it was my turn Michelle headed
over to the first base side so she could get some pictures of me hitting. As I was on deck I watched the guy ahead of me rocket a couple deep to the outfield After he hit we had to “shag ’em up” so I helped with that. Then it was my chance to hit.
Before I go on let me just say that I have no idea how a baseball player catches up to a 95mph fastball. Also, it’s hard to hit off a pitching machine, but I won’t make any excuses. I certainly would love to tell you that I hit a home run.
But that would be a lie. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even hit a double. I think two of the balls I hit would have been singles. I certainly made good contact but I couldn’t elevate anything. I hit a couple line drives, a couple grounders, and a couple bloops that were gobbled up by infielders. I pulled everything, of course. And, as it turns out I did miss about half of the pitches entirely. Bah. But it was still one of the most fun things I’ve ever done at the ballpark. And after I hit (and Michelle had been allowed to take photos from right behind the pitching screen) I checked out my stance and my facial expression in the pictures. Ridiculous!
Michelle and I took a walk after that, starting at first base and heading all the way around the warning track through the outfield. The first thing I spotted was a fly ball machine that had been used earlier in the day for people that wanted to pay twenty-five bucks to have someone shoot fly balls at them for fifteen minutes. Can you spot the AFL ball?
Next we headed into right field. I’d never seen that eighteen-foot wall from this side before. That’s a big ol’ wall.
We made our way to the Division Title banner and the Nick Adenhart mural and a family out there taking pictures was kind enough to snap one of us, too.
As we headed to left field we walked into the tunnel where the bullpens are located. I went up the steps and saw the guy in front of me finish throwing.
I had a coupon to give the groundskeeper that allowed me three pitches. He said I could just throw a few to get warmed up, then he got a call on his cell phone and left the bucket of baseballs near my feet. Michelle snapped photos as I threw a few (the second one sailed over the net entirely (oops!). But then I settled down and threw a series of 60mph fastballs for strikes.
Then I tried to ramp it up a bit and as I increased my velocity my accuracy went out the window. Oh, well. I guess I’d be primarily known for my defensive prowess were I a professional ballplayer. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I threw the whole bucket of baseballs (there wasn’t anyone else waiting) and then thanked the grounds crew guys before leaving the bullpen.
Our adventure on the playing field was pretty much done at this point. I took a couple more pictures from where I’d been standing in left field earlier in the day and then Michelle and I walked past the dugout and up into the seats.
Honestly, I would’ve stayed there until they closed for the day at 4:00pm but we had a few errands to run and I had a show to stage manage that evening. Man, it was a ton of fun and as we left I told Michelle, “We’re definitely coming back next year.” I checked my watch and it was 12:30pm. We’d spent more than two hours there and it had only cost us ten bucks (and that was donated to a great charity). As we were leaving Michelle mentioned she’d taken a video that she knew I’d enjoy watching. I put it on YouTube. What a cool event–and an awesomely good time!