Dodger Stadium Article – from myGameBalls.com

Hi, readers.  You may know by now that I was fortunate enough to attend a game at Dodger Stadium with an all-access media pass on August 19th.  Well, Alan Schuster of www.mygameballs.com got the whole thing set up for me and I attend the game with the goal of interviewing fans that snagged souvenir baseballs.  The article went live on the site last week and I’ve decided to repost it here for the MLBlogs community.  It was published in three parts on myGameBalls and I’ve broken it up into those three parts for this entry, too.  Enjoy!

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So, What Are You
Going To Do With The Ball?

(An all-access look
into BP, foul balls, home runs, and the fans that end up with the souvenirs.)

 

It’s a sweltering day when I arrive to the Top Deck of
Dodger Stadium.  Summer has finally decided to hit L.A.–the
mercury is at ninety-four degrees when I step out into the Field Level seats as
the hometown Boys in Blue take their batting practice swings in the cage.
 The environment is relaxed.  Peaceful.  Rock and meringue
tracks play over the speakers and every crack of the bat and pop of the glove
is audible.  I listen as skipper Joe Torre and DL-laden Russell Martin
chat about his recovery.  In the outfield, Vincente Padilla sits in the stands
before the gates open talking to a translator as Hiroki
Kuroda, Chad
Billingsley, and other pitchers warm-up.  Billingsley makes a leap at the
left field wall and a BP ball barely clears the tip of his glove.  It
bounces around and lands in the front row of Mannywood.  The gates will
open in twenty minutes and I think to myself, The first fan in the gates is going to wind up with a nice souvenir. 
I watch as a few more BP balls wind up in the left and right field bleachers.
 One more bounces into Mannywood, this one ends up in the second row.
 Easter eggs adorn the seats for the masses accumulating at the
gates.  The serene feeling of warm-ups will soon be altered.  Padilla
will hop over the wall and back onto the field.  Martin will head into the
dugout.  And soon, everyone will be excited to possibly, just maybe, take
home a piece of the action: a Rawlings Official Major League Baseball.

 

It’s not just the fans… baseball is infectious.  Dodger
Stadium employees watch the last few minutes of batting practice from the
concourse, including a few that sit in the seats, waiting for the consumers to
come in and for their shifts to start.  A baseline box attendant chats
with me for a moment in the seats before heading to his post.  On his way
in he grabs the two Mannywood baseballs.  He throws one back onto the field
and pockets the other–I hope he’s
planning to give that to a kid
, I say to myself.  The floodgates open
at 5:05.  The fans first into the left field bleachers run through and
pick up four or five balls.  Dodger Stadium is open for business. 
When the visiting Rockies take the field the echoes of
“Over here!” are growing in volume.  Fans continue to arrive, some with a
glove or mitt, some without, but everyone in the seating bowl has one goal: to
snag a ball.  There’s a burning desire in most (if not all) of baseball’s
fans to get a ball from a game, maybe even from their favorite team or player.
 Walking near the right field line I encounter Carlos, a thirteen year-old
Dodger fan who receives a friendly toss from a Rockies
pitcher.  It’s his first baseball… ever.  And he’s thrilled when I
sit down with him for a minute to talk about the experience.  He’s a
season ticket holder and goes to a lot of games… and though he admits to having
been a little scared he might miss the ball, he’s excited to take it home and put
it in a trophy case.  In his own words, showing wisdom beyond his years,
Carlos tells me, “When I’m older I’m gonna tell my children that I got a ball
from a real baseball player.”  When I left him, Carlos and his dad were
still talking about the ball, both grinning from ear to ear.

 

It’s turned into a brilliant night at Dodgertown.  Ted
Lilly, recently acquired from the Cubs, is hurling a gem.  More than
45,000 people have come out to see if the Dodgers can beat their NL West rivals
and stay in contention for a playoff spot.  Jorge de la Rosa is pitching
well, but he’s losing, 2-0 because Lilly is dominating Colorado.
 Utilizing his looping curveball and his Reagan-era fastball (in the
mid-eighties), Lilly is keeping the Rockies off balance.
 They’re swinging, but they’re not getting any good wood on the ball… and
that makes for quite a few souvenirs being sent up into the stands.  The
first lucky recipient I come across is Cory, age thirty-three, decked out in
Matt Kemp gear.  Cory tells me he had no idea he’d be in foul ball range
when he headed to the game tonight.  When I ask him about his lack of a
baseball glove he responds confidently, holding up his hands, “This is my
glove.”  Cory’s in a great mood.  And why not?  He just made a
bare-handed catch of a Melvin Mora foul ball in the Loge Level of Dodger
Stadium.  He’s all smiles as I speak to him, and to his son, Fernando, who
tells me he is “very proud” of his dad.  I ask him to explain to me the
feeling he had as the ball flew back toward the seats and he responds, “I was
just judging it.  Wait, wait… that ball’s comin’ towards me!”  He
read it off the bat–he knew that ball was destined for him.  With youthful
wonder in his voice he says to me, “Like, it’s really here?  You know? 
And I just reached out and grabbed it.  I caught it!”  His first foul
ball ever.  What are you going to do
with it?
  “My son’s more of a Dodger fan than me so I’ll give it to
him.”  A fine answer, Cory.  Well done.

 

The father and son duo are happily talking about their
recent good fortune as I sit down next to Shane, from Northridge, and he tells
me about his experience.  Shane is
noticeably more subdued than Cory, but still glad to have obtained the
souvenir.  Aside from the possibility
that he’s trying to keep his cool in front of his female companion, I learn
that the Matt Kemp foul ball now in his possession is the first game-used
baseball for the twenty-one year old (at his sixth game this year).  He’s
no stranger to catching baseballs though, as he used to play growing up.  Shane
tells me he picked up his ball on a bounce after an unlucky fan a section over
couldn’t come up with it.  “It was about ten seats to the left of me and
he missed it and it bounced to me.”  After the bounce caused the baseball
to head toward him, Shane knew it was all his.  “I’ll put it with all my
other baseballs,” he tells me.  He estimates he’s got about 100 baseballs…
but from professional games he’s got, “A few of ’em.  It’s pretty cool
that I caught it at the game.”  As the
game plays on in front of us I recognize that fans like Shane and Cory and even
young Carlos are, every time they head out to the ballpark, in a friendly
competition with all the other patrons around them.  Once a ball heads into the seats it becomes a
whole new game.  Have you ever seen
anyone specifically avoid a foul ball that rolled to their feet?  No. 
Sure, Shane and Cory ended up with their prizes in slightly different
ways but they each wanted the ball enough that they put effort into snagging
it.  And, as you’ll see in the next
segment of On The Scene, a little effort paired with some impressive “skills”
and strategy go a long way in procuring a baseball for a couple more fans.

 —

Sometimes a foul ball bounces around the seating bowl of a
stadium and gets nabbed off the ground by an excited fan.  Other times, however, someone makes a Gold
Glove-caliber play in the stands and receives a nice ovation for their
efforts.  After parting ways with the
first couple of fans to seize their rubbed-up gamers I meet Ben, Fan Gold Glove
Award winner on this warm summer evening.  On my way to see about another
foul ball chance I stop dead in my tracks as I see a ball come flying back into
the seats and I watch a man with a beer in one hand stand up as the ball
bounces off the Press Booth, hits an overhang and ricochets straight
down.  He reaches straight up with his free hand (gloveless) and makes a
Web Gem-worthy grab.  Within moments he’s talking to me about the
experience, smiling and laughing the whole time.  The Melvin Mora ball,
smacked into the Loge in the seventh inning, is still in his grasp.  Ben
lives in L.A. and is originally from Napa. 
He’s sat in the seats we’re in before thanks to some friends that occasionally
hook him up with tickets.  When I ask him if he’s ever thought that he’d
have a chance to catch a ball in these seats he instantly responds,
“Definitely!”  It’s something Ben has wanted to do for years: take home a
foul ball from a Dodger game, but when I mention he didn’t bring his baseball
mitt, he laughs.  I ask how he managed to make such a great catch and he
replies.  “Skills.”  Ben is a concise, confident guy, and genuinely
happy about his experience.  In his eyes
I can see that this event just made his night.  Can you describe the catch for me, Ben?  He tells me that as
soon as he saw it coming up toward him his first thought was: “I’m gonna catch
this friggin’ ball.”  We both laugh and I ask him what sort of feelings
he’s got flowing through him.  Joy? 
Jubilation?
  “All of the above.  I can cross this off my bucket
list.”  After fifteen to twenty years of going to baseball games, he’s
finally got the long-awaited prize.  And what is he planning to do with
it?  Well, Ben hasn’t decided yet but the ball’s still in his hand ten
minutes later.  He’s letting it sink in. 
The Dodgers are winning on the warm summer night and Ben’s got his very own
foul ball.  How are you feeling
right now
, in this moment, I
ask.  “Ecstatic!”

 

In each inning of a baseball game, so much happens that can
really get lost on the casual fan.  Coaches give signs, players change
positioning based on the hitter, guys keep their arms loose by playing catch,
and a young fan named Cole, out in the right field bleachers, knows what that
means.  A baseball could soon be headed his way.  Yep, that’s
right.  You don’t have to wait for a foul
ball or a home run in order for a ball to come your way.  Cole’s got a keen eye for the game and shows
a bit of strategy to snag a ball from Kemp, his favorite player.  I track Cole and his dad, Chuck, down in the
right field bleachers in the fifth inning. 
The duo hails from Placentia
and they’re seated in the front row of the section, which I notice is a full
two sections away from where young Cole obtained the ball.  When I inquire as to how Cole knew to be near
the center fielder he responds, “Because it was Kemp’s turn to throw it.”  The observant fan goes on to tell me that he
knows that the right fielder and center fielder switch off throwing the ball to
the seats each inning.  Throughout the
interview, both father and son are ready with baseball gloves, just in case a
homer comes their way.  So, you seem to know what you’re doin’ out
here.  How many baseballs have you ended
up with this season?
  Cole starts,
“Um… like maybe eight…” and his dad jumps in to finish his sentence, “But only
maybe one or two that he catches.”  They
both assure me that there aren’t any favorites in their collection: they’re all
equally special.  Chuck explains that at
batting practice sometimes they’ll find an Easter egg waiting for them or a
ball might bounce around so either of them can pick it up.  I ask how Cole knows that Kemp’s baseball is
going to get to him… what does he do to insure he catches it?  “Just scream at him,” and he’ll wave his
glove and yell out “Matt, over here!”  Cole
elaborates that once he had been heard he saw it in Kemp’s eyes.  “He just, like, walked right at me,” and then
the throw came up and now Cole’s smiling with a baseball from his favorite
Dodger.  Has he ever dropped one in a
situation like that?  Nope–he’s got a
perfect record.  His dad, however?  What
about your dad, has he ever dropped one, Cole?
  “Probably.” 
Chuck just laughs and shakes his head… and I thank them both for their
time.  I don’t want to distract them from
any possible homers any longer.  Home
runs snags, after all, are the fantasy of many fans situated in the outfield
seats at any MLB game… but sometimes the fantasy of taking home a home run ball
hit by your favorite team becomes a reality and, as you’ll read next time, a
Dodger fan who hails from about 6,000 miles outside of L.A. became one of the
luckiest people in the stadium.

 —

The evening at Dodger Stadium had gone from hot to cool
and the fans were all hoping the Dodgers’ bats wouldn’t share the same
fate.  Needing a boost to help out their
starter, Ted Lilly, the Blue Crew got some power from an unexpected
contributor.  Lilly would go the
distance, allowing just two hits and his counterpart, Jorge de la Rosa, did
pretty well, too.  De la Rosa’s only big mistake?  Well, let’s just say there were a couple of
firsts on this electric night of fine pitching. 
De la Rosa threw a pitch to Reed Johnson in the second inning.  It became the first (and only) home run of
the night, Johnson’s first as a Dodger, and the first baseball for an
international Dodger fan, Mr. Kuei-Fan Liu, visiting L.A.
from Taiwan.  I approach Mr. Liu and his group as they are
engaged in excited chatter an inning after the home run.  When I ask to interview him he agrees, at the
urging of his friends.  Later on I’ll
watch a video of the home run and Mr. Liu and see the excitement that overtook
he and the whole section as the ball landed in the pavilion.  In our interview, however, Mr. Liu stays
calm, considering himself, quite possibly, the luckiest fan in the stadium.  Surrounded by his friends, he tells me they’re
very excited for him: “They all love me now!” 
Which results in laughter from the whole group.  And when I ask him what his feeling was as
the ball rocketed towards the seats he states, “I just worried that the ball
would hit me.”  He tells me that he
didn’t come prepared with a glove because he didn’t know he’d even have a
chance at a home run.  This is his first
professional baseball game in America.  Your
first game… ever?
  “Yes.”  Wow.  “I think some other people will try to catch
the ball.  But then it rolled down here,”
he gestures down to the concrete beneath his bleacher seat.  He truly is lucky.  The video highlight online shows that at
least four other people in the rows above him reached for the ball… but Mr. Liu
was able to grab it after it bounced off a few hands.  His friends are snapping photos as I continue
the interview, they’re all excited.  This
small, rubbed-up pearl has just made their experience one that will last
forever in their memories, even half a world away.  So, Mr.
Liu, what are you going to do with the ball? 
Put it on the mantle, in a trophy case? 
Maybe just throw it in a drawer somewh
–he cuts me off.  “Of course not!”  He smiles, knowing that he’s got big plans
for his one of a kind souvenir.  “I will
keep this ball and I’ll go back to Taiwan
and tell all my friends I got the home run ball,” at his very first MLB
game.  I take a few photos with the group
after concluding the interview and leave them, still excitedly conversing about
all that’s transpired.

 

It’s a 2-0 victory for the Dodgers as they shut out the
visiting Rockies and Ted Lilly’s performance is truly a
great one on this August night.  For
certain fans though, August 19th, 2010, will be remembered for something other
than a sparkling pitching performance or a smooth double play turned by their
hometown Boys in Blue.  For a select
lucky (and skilled) few, this night is about taking a piece of the game home
with them.  Whether it’s to display it,
tuck it away, or save it for their children one day, a baseball finding its way
into the hands of a fan is something that will cause as much joy as any Dodger win.  And, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to own
a small piece of baseball history for their very own, win or lose, day or
night.  For any baseball fan, ending up
with a ball from a player, whether it’s thrown, hit, or found, is an exciting
experience.  You’re a star for a brief
second, proudly thrusting the souvenir up in the air, thrilled that of 45,000+
fans–this one found it’s way to you.  Just
think… what’ll you do the next time one comes your way?

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