At approximately 12:30pm on August 6th, Michelle and I loaded up the car and headed west. We crossed the Colorado River and made it through the blistering desert heat after a pretty easy drive in our air conditioned Corolla. At about 7:00pm we were checking into our hotel, the Doubletree Guest Suites in Phoenix, AZ.
The high that day was 113 degrees. The low that night was 83 degrees. Why, oh why, did we trek through the desert in August? Why did we spend 300+ miles on the 10 freeway? Was it just for the delicious, free cookies we received from the concierge upon check-in?
But first, Saturday morning we toured the Arizona State University campus and college-y area of Phoenix during the day and stopped at Tempe Diablo Stadium, too.
After we got back to the hotel at 1:40pm we took the light rail downtown and saw the lines forming for Luis Gonzalez bobbleheads.
If I got to do the whole weekend all over again the one thing I’d have changed would be the bobblehead giveaway. I didn’t know when we planned it, but the D-backs would be retiring Gonzo’s number at this game and giving away 15,000 bobbleheads… and apparently everyone in Arizona wanted one. Well, I hoped to keep my active streak of snagging one baseball at every game I’ve attended since September of 2008… so I went here:
Ah, yes, Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill… when Michelle and I emerged on the patio this was our view:
It was a much different feeling being there before an actual game than it was when I’d checked out the view back in March… check the end of that entry. Have I mentioned that I love retractable roofs? And look at how empty the stadium was:
I saw a few Diamondbacks already taking some hacks in the cage as well as some pitchers throwing in the outfield. One of those pitchers was Daniel Hudson. After a couple of requests (which echoed through the cavernous space) he decided he’d throw me a baseball. Hudson reached back and fired a ball up to the patio–but it fell about five feet short, smacked off a facade, and rattled around in the bleachers below. There were a few groups eating at the tables behind me and a few other fans with gloves… who all had now caught on to what was happening.
I asked Daniel to give it, “One more shot,” and as soon as he fielded another ball in the outfield he turned and fired that one up. I’d moved a few feet back from the rail so that even if this one fell short I could move forward and snag it. No need. Hudson hit me with a perfect throw and I was on the board for the day. It should be noted, too, that some of the folks at tables were very impressed and gave me a woo or two. And as I walked over to where Michelle had sat down she was ready with the camera.
About ten minutes before the gates were slated to open I went downstairs to check out the line situation. Four gates were set to open… and all four had at least 1,000 people standing in front of them, waiting for Gonzo bobbleheads. Michelle and I really didn’t care about getting bobbleheads but I certainly cared about getting inside the stadium. Batting practice was already going strong. Luckily, we found out that we could enter the stadium through Friday’s on the Club Level and then take an elevator to the main concourse. The caveat?
“Well, this is not a bobblehead entrance,” explained the usher at the glass doors. So, that’s why there were only eight people near the doors… fine by me.
When we got in there weren’t any Easter eggs. Season ticket holders were allowed in a half-hour earlier. I had tried to get us “season ticket holder” tickets but couldn’t. I ended up buying $8.00 upper level seats the night before.
I spent the first few minutes inside the stadium trying to catch a Diamondbacks homer:
And I found out later that Michelle was snapping pictures the whole time. In the panorama below I’ve circled myself in white:
A few moments later the D-backs headed in and I made it to their dugout just a bit too late… there were sooo many people there.
I walked across the glorious cross aisle behind home plate to the Padres dugout on the first base side. They weren’t ready to hit just yet and I watched as their strength coach led them in some stretches.
Note the basket of baseballs in the above photo.
The lines of people were still filing in… and when the Padres finished stretching my lack of desire for a bobblehead paid off. A bunch of Padres walked to the basket to grab a warmup ball. I asked Mat Latos for one and he pretended to pick up an extra and mimed tossing it to me–then he grinned and walked away. Jerk.
But Glenn Hoffman saw what had happened (and noticed my Padres jersey and cap) and he tossed my a brand new baseball across the dugout–like, these were perfect. They must have just been taken out of the box. Nice!
I headed to right field (or UPTOwN, the D-backs answer to the Mannywood seats at Dodger Stadium) as the Padres began to hit. The seats were ridiculously crowded. All the people who had waited for hours for their Gonzos were now inside and lounging about in the bleachers. I watched as Adrian Gonzelez hit a ball straight into the pool. SPLASH… which was kind of cool. In his next round I had a chance at a homer… I ran up a staircase and half a section to my left, reached out, and the ball tipped off a guy’s glove in front of me and therefore smacked off the heel of my glove. Ouch… I didn’t even see where it ended up. It was lost in a throng of fans. Booo…
Also, bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds ignored my polite requests for a tossup. So, I headed to left field for the end of Padres BP. Again, huge crowds.
And I ran to their dugout as they headed off the field but didn’t snag anything there. So, I ended BP with two baseballs… and that was fine. I would find out later that the attendance at this game was over 48,000 and I’d estimate that about half of those fans were in the stadium by the end of batting practice. Wow–AZ fans love their Gonzo–and their bobbleheads.
After BP Michelle and I wandered the concourse. She had my camera throughout BP and had been snapping photos all the while.
We saw the Legends walk by…
I tried to get a picture with them but failed. The crowds made it hard to move ANYWHERE at a very quick pace. We took refuge from the maddening crowd in the Team Store:
And decided to head up a nearby escalator to the upper concourse and take a look at the field from up there:
We arrived at our seats to take a break. This was the view:
Not great… but I was glad to be sitting… and it was announced that the indoor temperature was a comfortable seventy-six degrees. I was pretty excited to be watching my very first indoor baseball game. I love retractable roofs!
We had a great view of the scoreboard:
And the pool:
And we watched as the pregame ceremony honoring Gonzo commenced, people said nice things about him, they played some highlights, Gonzo spoke:
And finally, they unveiled his number 20 on the wall near Jackie Robinson’s number 42:
OK–time for the game!
Chris Young (of the D-backs… not the one on the Padres) led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run. And, check out the pool:
Ha ha… I thought that was pretty cool. Think the people lounging in the pool were expecting that?
Michelle and I watched the first couple of innings and then grabbed some popcorn and a caramel apple before starting our adventure, touring the stadium…
We continued our trek and I snapped shots from the right field corner:
And the first base side just above the visiting team’s dugout.
We ended up in the left field bleachers for the last few innings of the game, chatting and enjoying the air-conditioned baseball game. Between innings I ran down to the front row to see if I could get Rusty Ryal to throw me his warm-up ball.
I couldn’t… I thought about staying in left field for the ninth inning but opted to head to the Padres dugout…
Arizona had been up 5-0 after the fourth inning but their lead lessened and then went away entirely as the bullpen coughed up five runs… two of them in the ninth. I crept closer:
The was tied, 5-5 as Arizona batted in the ninth.
I figured my best shot to get a postgame baseball would be from the Padres so I was hoping they’d pull out the win. Unfortunately, Chris Young hit his second home run of the game into the left field bleachers near where Michelle and I had been sitting… who knows if I’d have caught it… but the D-backs won this one, 6-5. And, luckily, I was in perfect position to get a ball from home plate umpire, Bill Hohn.
Hohn waited until Young touched the plate and then met all his crew near the plate before walking into the visitors’ dugout toward the umpire tunnel. As he approached he handed baseballs to a pair of kids who (somehow) were allowed to be on the field. And then I shouted, “Mr. Hohn, can you spare a baseball, please?”
He lobbed Ball #3 on the night to me across the dugout. A perfect, rubbed up ball and the first ball I’d ever gotten from an umpire. Woo!
I scavenged for tickets left behind and then Michelle and I headed for the light rail station. Everyone was in a great mood and it was a warm, pleasant summer night. The game had started at about 5:30 and when we got on the train it was about 8:40.
Then, we got off the train at our stop and it was absolutely POURING rain! Weird AZ thunderstorm weather… rather than walk the two blocks to the hotel, we called them and they sent their airport shuttle to pick us up… thanks, Doubletree!
We grabbed a late dinner (and dessert) and knocked out for the night–we had another game the following day!