Tagged: Dodger Stadium

4/27/12 at Dodger Stadium

After conferring with fellow Orange County ballhawk, Devin (aka DevoT,) I was set to make my first appearance as just a fan at Dodger Stadium since September of 2009.  Each of the other times I’d taken a trip up to Elysian Park it had been with a media credential… and I wrote columns for myGameBalls.com each time, both in August of 2010 and Sept. of 2011.  And you can read those entries on that awesome site or at my blog: here (Aug. 2010) and here (Sept. 2011).  Obviously, since I was at work as a member of the media, those games weren’t about me snagging baseballs, they were about others who got to snag… and I didn’t record those games in my stats.

But on this particular day I was just me, the guy who tries to catch as many baseballs as he can at each game, and the Dodgers (who’d be facing the Washington Nationals–both teams were in first place at the time) were using commemorative baseballs for their fiftieth year at Dodger Stadium.  And I wanted one.

I parked outside the stadium and hiked up the hill with Devin.  We crossed the parking lot and headed down some stairs…

We went inside the Field Level gate as the Dodgers were hitting (and some pitchers were warming up and it was great–we were severely limited in where we could go–but there was such a small crowd that I had plenty of room to run around (even though they kept us along the left field foul pole).

Check out the ball in this pitcher’s glove.

Might that be a commemorative logo?!?

I had a shot at my first ball of the day when Kenley Jansen (owner of the photographed glove, above, who was long-tossing with an unknown pitcher, maybe Scott Elbert) overthrew his target.  I watched the ball as it was sailing through the air and yelled, “HEADS UP!”  I ran toward where I thought it would land, a section to my right, lost the ball for a second, watched as it hit some seats… then bounced away from me.  But I tracked it down in the fourth row and took a look at the logo… it WAS commemorative!

I was thrilled… but my joy was short-lived.  I looked toward the field and Elbert (or whoever) flapped his glove at me.  I knew what this meant.  They weren’t done long-tossing and needed the ball back.  Cool, I flipped it to him, willingly, and figured he’d get it back to me when they were finished.  That’s what had happened plenty of other times.  Then I looked over my shoulder.  Apparently, the errant throw had grazed a lady who was, get this, sitting in the second row and not paying attention.  She was lucky it hadn’t broken her face… but she wasn’t complaining… just rubbing her shoulder a bit.  I felt badly… I knew she should get a ball.  But would it be my ball?  The commemorative one I’d just given to the pair of Major Leaguers to use on the field?  I could have kept the ball and been done with it–and at that point I’d probably have noticed the lady and debated whether or not I should have given it to her–and scolded her for not paying attention to the on-field activity.  But I never got the chance.  Jansen finished his throwing, walked toward the lady, and apologized to her.  And then signed the baseball I’d given to him and Elbert to use… and then neither of them acknowledged me.  Think about it, loyal readers, am I overreacting?  Should I not have counted the ball?  Because I counted it… and I’m a bit irritated that such careless behavior gets rewarded.

Anyway, Devin beat me out for a liner that went foul as we almost tumbled over a row of seats together.  But then, when a couple Dodgers played catch further toward the infield I had another shot at a ball I’d actually get to keep.  Mark Ellis warmed up with Adam Kennedy and when they finished I yelled out, Hey, Mark!  Over here!”  Ellis threw me the ball over all the box seats along the third baseline and I caught it chest high–it was a great throw–then grabbed it out of my glove and checked it out:

BAM!  And this one was all mine!  I wasn’t giving it up.  I quickly ran back to my backpack, stored it safely, and went back to snagging with a feeling of relief.  Mission accomplished.  If I didn’t snag another ball all evening, I’d be fine.  But the Jansen ball was #395 and the Ellis ball was #396.  So I started actively thinking about the big 4-0-0.

Some unknown Dodger drove a ball into the left field corner that came to rest on the warning track about 10 to 12 inches away from the wall in fair territory right near the bullpen gate.  The drop to the field is probably about a foot or so more than in Anaheim so it takes a bit more athleticism to scoop balls off the warning track in Dodgertown than it does at the Big A.  But I figured that I should give it a shot–no one else figured they could get it.  After a couple of fans let me squeeze by them, I set my bag down, jumped up and balanced myself on the wall, leaned out and over stretching my left (gloved) hand as far as I could while steadying myself on the wall with my right hand and arm.  The ball was just out of reach, so I adjusted my position on the wall, shook my glove so it was on the end of my hand instead of comfortably wedged on there… and just got the tip of it on the ball.  I rolled it toward me a few inches and then snagged it and pulled myself back to my feet.  I got a nice little round of applause from the nearby fans on that one–and the ball was a standard Selig ball.

About that time Devin decided to head up to the LF bleachers (where his ticketed seat was located) and we parted ways.  We kept in touch throughout the evening though.  As the crowd grew and BP became a bit less lively, I set my bag down and was looking through it when I heard a THWACK nearby.  I looked up as I was kneeling near a staircase just in time to see a baseball bounce right toward my face!  I grabbed it, barehanded, and then looked around.  Had a kid dropped it?  Was it meant for another fan?  I asked a few people near me where it had come from–and no one knew.  It didn’t sound like it had hit the seat with enough force for me to determine it was a home run.  Maybe a ground rule double into the LF corner?  Maybe it had been thrown from the bullpen?

Oh… and it was another commemorative ball!  Sweet!  It had been rubbed with mud… and it had a dirt scuff on it.  So, it’s possible that a pitcher had been using it and then tossed it into the seats.  But I have no idea–this is the first ball I have ever entered into myGameBalls.com with the listed method of snagging as “Unknown.”  Totally weird–but I’ll take it!

That was #398… and I was totally focused on #400… so I didn’t mind that I was unsure of who hit my next ball.  It was some lefty Dodger that flared a ball into the box seats just past third base.  The ushers nearby (who were all super friendly–much more so than in past seasons) let me dart after it and check this baby out:

50th!  Woo!

The Dodgers were about to leave the field.  And I saw the Nationals starting to warm up on the far side of the stadium.Unfortunately, because Dodger Stadium has weird rules, that side of the stadium wouldn’t open until 5:40pm… ten minutes is a long time to wait around.  I tried to get a ball from Ted Lilly as he finished some throwing… but that was all there was to do. And then I spent another eight grueling minutes waiting for the ushers to let the maddening crowd head toward first base.  I ran that way and was the first one out to the seats in the right field corner–but I found no Easter eggs and the Nationals were being pretty stingy with tossups.  And the sun was brutal:And I didn’t snag another batted ball all evening.  At least there was a Stephen Strasburg sighting…

It was really important to me that I identify who my next baseball came from.  It was a mini-milestone for me.  I had snagged baseball number 100 on August 28th, 2009 at Angel Stadium.  And I have no idea who hit it to me.  Ball #200 was thrown to me by Kanekoa Texeira of the Seattle Mariners on May 28th, 2010… again in Anaheim.  And my 300th baseball was hit to me by Peter Bourjos on May 20th, 2011 at the Big A.  I thought to myself, “I need to know who gets this next ball to me”  And it would also be the first time I’d snagged a milestone baseball (for me) outside of my “home ballpark” down in Orange County.

Wouldn’t you know it?  Throughout all of Nationals’ BP I didn’t snag another baseball…

Until the last few players ran off the field… and I was standing near the dugout… and Jordan Zimmermann tossed me this one as I leaned over the concrete partition that separates the haves from the have-nots.

My sixth ball of the night–and #400 in my lifetime.  Woo!

With that, it was off to the restroom–and then I took a seat to rest for a while before the game began.  And what a great pitching matchup: Clayton Kershaw vs. Ross Detwiler.  And If you’ve never sat up close and watched Kershaw pitch–man, it’s epic!  A 95 mph fastball and a 73 mph curveball.  It’s just not fair.  This was my view for the first pitch:

And then I sat here and tried to get a ball from A.J. Ellis after Kershaw struck out the side in the first.No luck.

The only blemish on Kershaw’s record was a two-run homer he gave up to Adam LaRoche… which tied the game after Andre Ethier hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the first.  The difference in the score would turn out to be an RBI single by Juan Uribe.  That was it for scoring… 3-2 Dodgers.

And tried to get LaRoche to toss me a third out ball.  No dice–damn that partition!

But I had a great view of the action…

See the concrete partition that keeps folks away from the dugout?  Lame.

And there were plenty of open seats around me.  At one point I had a whole row open to my right.  I shifted seats twice once the game started but there certainly weren’t over 44,000 people there… even though that was the announced attendance.

Um… Matt Kemp is very good at baseball:

Fast-forward to the top of the ninth inning… Jansen came in to close the game out (since Javy Guerra apparently isn’t the closer any longer because, well, he took a line drive off his face).  And he made it interesting.  He got the first out by inducing a fly ball to center off the bat of Mark DeRosa.  Then, Danny Espinosa turned on a fastball at hit it to the seats… about ten feet foul into the right field corner.  He nearly tied the game with that almost-homer… but eventually flied out to center, as well.Jansen then drilled pinch hitter Chad Tracy on the wrist with a mid-nineties fastball.  Tracy was pulled from the game.  Because the Nationals called up Bryce Harper but he hadn’t arrived in L.A., the team played with only twenty-four men on the squad, meaning there was one less bench bat available, and Edwin Jackson was forced to pinch-run for the Tracy so that final bench option, Rick Ankiel, could pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot if the inning got that far. But Jansen ended up striking out the catcher, Jesus Flores, in the next at-bat, and the game ended.

I shouted for a toss-up at the dugout as the Nats left the dugout but nobody even looked my way–and the bullpen guys coming in ignored me, too.  A kid on my left said, “I think they’re upset because they just lost.”

So I ended the game with six baseballs snagged–and I’d gotten some commemorative balls and snagged #400.  I wasn’t disappointed by any means.  I didn’t plan to stay for the Friday Night Fireworks–I needed to get home–but I did want to take advantage of one cool thing that Dodger Stadium does…

I got into a line and ended up on the field.  The Dodgers let a certain quantity of fans watch the fireworks from the outfield grass.  I took a few photos, like this one from the field looking up at the stadium:

And I touched the grass–a major league field feels so nice!  And then, the the confusion of the ushers… I asked to leave.

And they had to open a special gate so I could leave.  I snapped a picture of the explosions in the sky as I headed through the parking lot to my car… and was on the road before most people even got out of the stadium.  I had a long drive back to Orange County… it’s roughly an hour with no traffic.  But I’ll be back to Dodger Stadium this season–probably when the Marlins, Astros, and Mets come to town.

A successful night.

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9/16/11 at Dodger Stadium

This will be a bit different from most of my blog entries.  I was invited back to Dodger Stadium with a media credential for the second consecutive year.  Hopefully, the relationship between myGameBalls.com and the Los Angeles Dodgers will continue to be a mutually beneficial one.  Here’s the column I wrote for myGameBalls–which appeared as a three-part series of columns entitled On The Scene at Dodger Stadium: 9/16/11.  And you can read those posts here, here, and here.  Those posts each have a photo… ooh!  Or just keep reading this post.  Or do both!

Friday, September 16th, 2011.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are on a bit of a tear after enduring a rough season.  They’re trying to claw back to the .500 mark and maintain their mathematical eligibility for postseason play.  This evening they’ll face the Pittsburgh Pirates, who just a month earlier had been the talk of the nation with their surprising success.  But in mid-September both teams sit well out of first place and well out of the NL Wild Card lead.  For the Dodgers, this overcast and dreary day is another chance for Matt Kemp, the potential MVP of the league to pad his numbers and for potential Cy Young-winner Clayton Kershaw to rest before taking the mound on the road to 20+ wins.  The Dodgers have had it rough in 2011: the legal battle for team ownership has been the top headline, the Opening Day assault on a fan has made the news, attendance is down, and fan favorite, Andre Ethier has been hurt and will likely need surgery.  The normally bright sky behind the L.A. cityscape is dark and rain is in the forecast.  You wouldn’t know it though once you enter the stadium–it’s the magic and mystery of baseball.  When there’s a game to be played, especially when you’ve got Vin Scully behind the mic, none of those negative news feeds seem to matter.  Inside the gates of Dodger Stadium it’s still that “blue heaven” that Tommy Lasorda told us about.

The Dodgers (all forty of them) are out on the field working when I arrive.  It’s almost 4:00pm and BP is about to start.  The September call-ups, thrilled to get to be a part of it all, are jovial and being coached by the veterans.  Kenley Jansen loses the handle on a breaking ball and the leather-bound sphere ricochets off his partner’s glove and into the box seats just past third base.  An Easter egg for a lucky fan–the first of the day.

It’s what the teeming masses at the gates will sprint for.  The chance to find a souvenir within the first moments of entering the stadium.  Moments later Kemp blasts a ball into the left field bleachers and it settles on the cross-aisle.  Another Easter egg to be had.  As I move to left field, John Ely and Ramon Troncoso take a break from their pre-game activities and lounge in row D, showing each other how they grip the ball for each pitch.  Another blast from the cage nearly hits them and the ball bounces into the crook of a seat… waiting for a wandering eye to find it once the floodgates open at 5:10pm.  Salsa music plays on the PA system as the Boys in Blue continue BP.  Soon, the stadium will fill with eager fans hoping for a ball and/or autograph.  The early birds know the best time to snag a souvenir is early in the day.  But the most important baseballs to almost all fans come later in the night–when there’s a chance that one of your heroes will send a game-changing home run in your direction.

The players vacate the seating bowl and head back to the field before the fans are allowed in and the sun starts to peek out from behind the clouds.  It’s shaping up to be a beautiful night for baseball after all.

At 4:56 the first sign of Pirates activity starts up along the right field line as some Bucs jog along the track.  The Dodgers leave the field at 5:20, the fans catching only a glimpse of their hometown club before the game.  But in those precious ten minutes roughly a dozen baseballs are scooped up from the formerly empty seats by charging fans.  For a lucky few, the game has already been a success and they simply hope for a bonus prize: a Dodgers win.

Throughout BP the Dodgers, then the Pirates, send souvenirs into the stands.  Some are hit–most are thrown and all around the stadium fans’ eyes light up.  It’s the game balls, however, that are the true diamonds in the rough.  As the game’s first pitch nears I find a suitable locale on the Loge level and wait for the magic to start.  Somewhere, as soon as a player misses by a fraction of an inch, a baseball will come flying back toward the seats.  At 6:55 the colors are presented by members of the Armed Services as the fans continue to file in.  This L.A. crowd, like most, arrives late.  At the game’s first pitch there are roughly 10,000 fans in attendance.  The extra room to run around is beneficial, however, for one lucky fan.  I was about to meet a man who snagged a foul ball off a ricochet–from the Field level.

In the top of the second inning Ryan Ludwick fouls a ball back.  It arcs high in the air and descends about ten feet shy of the Loge seats.  But, with plenty of open territory on the Field level no one is in line to catch it.  The ball smacks of the concrete and, with such a great amount of spin on it, bounces up and toward the Loge.  Literally, a thirty foot ricochet into the waiting hands of Rudy.    Rudy’s a fan of the Dodgers an he and his family (there are five of them in attendance) are thrilled at their good fortune.  I ask him if he’s ever caught a foul ball before.  Never–he’s been coming to Dodger Stadium since his childhood and this is his first game ball.  He speaks English as his second language but the excitement behind his words can be understood by anyone from anywhere.  This is a momentous evening for the L.A. resident and he’s thrilled to get to share the experience with his family.  They have great seats between home and first base in the first row of the Loge.  Rudy has a baseball in his hand that he plans to keep to share with generations of his family to come, and it’s a beautiful night in L.A.  As we conclude our interview I thank him and then, showing he’s a true Dodger fan, boos the opposing team as they score a run and tells his family he knows the Dodgers can overcome this early deficit.  For Rudy, this game will be one to remember for the rest of his life.

The Dodgers tie it up in the third inning on a single on an RBI single from Matt Kemp.  But the story you won’t see in the box score is about what he did one pitch earlier–fouling a ball up to a pair of anxious hands in Section 118, two sections away from where Rudy snagged his prize.  I find the lucky fan and ask him for a moment of his time–I suggest we chat after the inning’s over and he thinks that’s a great idea.  When Dan finally can focus on my inquiries instead of his beloved Boys in Blue we talk about his highlight reel catch.  Dan is sitting with his friend John and John’s son Jordan.  My first question is about his ability to catch the ball without a glove.  He tells me he leaned just to the right and was able to snag the ball on the fly using two hands (it’s good fundamentals, kids).  The trio I’m talking to are all big Dodger fans but they don’t get to go to many games since they live in north Santa Barbara county.  They’ve driven a long way to see the game tonight and I ask how many games Dan has been to this season.  “One,” he tells me.  I congratulate him and tell him it’s his lucky night and he heartily agrees.  Dan’s forty-six years old and, when I ask if he’s ever caught a foul ball–or any kind of ball at a big league game he says, “No.  Went to a lot of games, but no.”  A grin creeps across his face and he stares down at the ball as he talks–he plans to put the ball in a display case and put it up somewhere in his home.  I ask him about his thought process as the ball’s heading toward him.  He tells me emphatically, ”  I kinda saw it… it just seemed like it was floating there–like slow motion.”  As I wrap up my questions to let these guys get back to taking in their one Dodger game they’ll get to see this year I thank them for their time and Dan tells me one parting statement: “[This ball] definitely has some meaning–it’s from Matt Kemp.  He’s got a shot to be MVP!”

In the sixth inning rookie Alex Presely lofted his third career home run into the right field All-You-Can Eat Seats.  I watched from the infield as someone in the sea of people made a clean catch of the ball.  Looking at the replay a day later it was clear that the fan who caught it was thrilled–he raised his arms up and his mouth was agape as he yelled and cheered.  A once in a lifetime moment.  Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait until the next day–I found fourteen year-old high school shortstop Alex, from La Canada, CA a few moments later and sat down with him in the bleachers.  “Well, there was a home run by the Pittsburgh Pirate player.  I just stuck my glove out–I didn’t think I could do it–but,” and then young Alex shows me the baseball in his hand.  It’s clear he’s excited, nervous, and extremely happy.  He’d just gotten off the phone with his grandfather and had told him about the catch he’d made as I chatted with Alex’s mom to see if it would be OK if I interviewed him.  The whole family (“There are eight of us,” his mother would later tell me.)  is jittery with excitement for Alex.  Meanwhile, the booing from the surrounding fans has started to subside.  He did, after all, catch a visiting team’s homer and he didn’t throw it back.  I tell him, “I saw Matt Kemp pick up a ball that got thrown back to the field.”  He tells me that someone a section to his right threw that ball–the crowd was yelling at Alex quite a bit and that friendly stranger’s throw “took some of the heat off.”  Alex is no stranger to catching baseballs.  He’s played the game for years and he’s snagged a few foul balls from minor league games but never a Major League home run.  “I knew I was going to be here,” he says, gesturing to the outfield seats.  That’s why he brought his glove.  I said to him, “You’re in the middle of a row here.  The ball would have to come right to you!”  It did.  Alex confesses he did have to lean a bit to his left, “It would have hit [his friend’s mom].  She didn’t have a glove or anything.”  Alex laughs, and the family and friends around him agree.  He goes on, “It all like slowed down–I felt really excited.”  And after the catch… it was from a Pirate and Alex tells me he’s a Dodger fan:   “Well, you kinda feel guilty.”  He references that he knows that at a lot of places (“like Cubs games”) there’s an expectation that you throw the ball back.  Alex, still reeling from this momentous occasion says, “It’s my first time ever home run catch.  It’s really important, special…” and then, in one of the more memorable quotes of this pleasant L.A. evening, Alex concludes he just couldn’t bring himself to throw it back.  “I love baseball so much.  I needed to keep it forever.”  He tells me, “I have a collection of foul balls.  I’m gonna put it on my desk.”  His shining new trophy–his mom is thrilled–and when I ask Alex to say, in one word, how the catch made him feel he enthusiastically responds, “Exhilarated!” and then adds, “It’s just amazing.”   I snap a photo of Alex with his friends and family before parting ways.  It’s moments like that, hat keep the fans coming to the stadium–all thirty of them–night after night over the course of a 162-game season.  It’s the magic, the randomness, the “exhilarated” feeling we all get.

After inching closer in the top of the sixth the Pirates are on the verge of a lead before getting shut down by the Dodger bullpen.  As starter Kuroda is hit for, I look around.  Not as many fans are at this game as I’ve seen at previous tilts in previous seasons but I take note that when the billboards flash “MAKE SOME NOISE” the place really stars jumping.  The fans out tonight are the passionate, do or die, all-in fans.  With the score 3-2, the Dodgers get some pop from an unlikely candidate.  As a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth James Loney lofted a ball to right-center.  It was going to be close–A fly out?  A wall-ball double?  Nope.  The pearl descended and bounced squarely off the tip-top of the wall and five rows back into the right field seats.  A carefully timed jump and a solid glove were all it took from there for die-hard Dodger Fan, Mike, to make a sparkling catch.  Over the thunderous cheering I interview Mike just a section and a half closer to center field than where Alex had been sitting.  “Well, James Loney came up and hit a pinch hit home run off the top of the fence… and into my glove.”  I get the feeling that Mike is stunned by his good fortune and convenient positioning in the stands.  He is wide-eyed and speaks with uncertainty… he is, as he later mentions, overwhelmed by the experience.  When I get to the “What did you feel when you caught it? question Mike replies, “I was in shock, actually… yeah!”  I inquire: “Did you think there would be a chance you could end up with a home run tonight?”  “Sure, yeah” he states… but it must be this Whittier resident’s lucky night because,”  I’ve only sat here… twice in the last five years.”  Wow!  When asked if he considers himself a big Dodgers fan Mike tells me enthusiastically, “Yeah, totally!  Yes!”  Mostly though, he watches the games on TV and roots on his Boys in Blue.  Mike only goes to about “four or five” games each year.  Tonight he’s with four buddies.  He reminds me, true fan that he is, “They’re not mathematically out yet,” referring to the slim shot the Dodgers have of securing a playoff spot after their great September run.  Mike’s a very positive person, he assures me… then he looks for the first time to see it’s now 7-2 Dodgers.  He’s thrilled–it was a three-run homer!  I watch Mike’s face light up when he realizes the lead is that much.  And has he ever gotten a ball before?  “I did catch one once in batting practice… when I was about twelve years old.  In this same section.”  “And since then?” I ask.  “Not another one until tonight.”  Amazing!  The stadium and this team, it’s clear, mean so much to fans like Alex and Mike, Rudy and Dan.  Mike tells me, “I’m gonna show it off to everybody!” as he’s holding out the ball.  “I caught it with the same mitt.”  The same Mag Plus he’s had since he first became a fan of the Boys in Blue–I told him, “I don’t think they even make Mag any more!”  He brings that glove to every game… just in case.  And tonight it paid off in a huge way.  “Heck yeah, this is the best game I ever went to!”

That 7-2 score holds up as the Pirates are unable to mount a charge against the hometown heroes.  It’s a glorious night in Dodgertown, a cool evening–but not yet jacket weather in L.A.  Plenty of fans are thrilled that their boys will fend off playoff elimination for another day.  For a select few, though, this night meant something so much more special than a win from their team–this night is one they’ll remember forever, tell their kids about, and they’ll have a souvenir unlike any other to treasure in their own special way.  When that sphere finds its way into the stands, whether its in fair or foul territory, the game itself comes into the hands of a fortunate fanatic at the stadium that night.  A piece of the game is theirs to keep and theirs to show off to friends and loved ones.  It’s a lasting memory of the laughs they shared and the sights and sounds of the ballpark and that ball signifies that sometimes the game, quite literally, gives back to those who come out to support it.

And, in case you’re wondering, loyal readers, I snagged three baseballs at this game.  One was an overthrow by a Dodger pitcher, one was a homer that bounced around in the seats in the left field corner, and one I caught on the fly off the bat of a right-handed pirate halfway up the bleachers in left.  All three were immediately given away to young fans and won’t count in my stats.  Thanks very much to the Dodgers and Alan Schuster for helping to get this set up for a second straight year.

3/21/09 at Dodger Stadium

So, I didn’t catch a baseball.  Stupid Dodger Stadium rules…

I’d been excited for this game for months!  Michelle was coming with me, I’d had the tickets displayed on my desk for a month, I hadn’t seen a baseball game since September 27th, 2008.  The game between Korea and Venezuela was scheduled to start at 6:00pm so, naturally, we were parked and out of the car by 4:00pm.  The Dodger Stadium website had said gates open two hours early and we headed in for a great evening at the ballpark.

Here’s the view as we approached the stadium:
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 005.jpgI’m psyched at this point because there’s hardly anyone around…
 
The Field Level gate:
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 006.jpgThat’s when things went south.  I told Michelle, “Hey, let’s go to the bleachers for batting practice.”  So, we get there and the lady wants to scan my ticket.  I said I was just there to watch BP and she gets really confused.  She asks the security dude next to her if they’re doing batting practice.  He says they are and where’s my ticket and what section should I be in?  I’m like, “Just here to watch BP.”  He says that this is an international event and only seatholders for the bleachers can get in to the bleachers!  WHAT!?!?  By the way, I’ve got a lower reserve ticket… my seats are better than sitting on a plank in the sun.  Why would I try to sneak in to a section in the outfield?  Totally different rules… OK, so update your website, Dodgers.  Gah!  I hate the stupid security rules at Dodger Stadium.  With a shred of hope, after being denied access to the left field bleachers, I go to the Field Level gate and ask a security guy if there is any way to get close to the action for BP… he tells me there is not.  I cry a little inside.

Regardless, Michelle and I head up the steps to the Reserve Level.  We are there two hours before game time and the closest I can get to the field is:
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 011.jpgSo I ask loudly (in English AND Korean) for a ball… maybe somebody on the Korean team will show off his arm strength and launch a ball up to me… 100 feet away.  Nope, no dice.  Alas, Michelle is a trooper.  We talk about baseball and batting practice wraps up (apparently Venezuela hit before we even got there… they must have started at, like, 3:00pm.  Another thing I HATE about Dodger Stadium:  once you’re inside you’re locked in on your level.  At this point we can’t do anything that’s not on the Reserve Level… there’s not a lot to do.  Other stadiums have exhibits, games, a plethora of food and merchandise options, and other fun stuff.  Stupid Stadium has three merchandise booths, a half a dozen food stands, and that’s it.  I debated buying a ticket for the Final specifically for the bleacher seats just for BP (I already have my same Lower Reserve seats) and I checked–$55–for outfield bleacher seats.  Now, here’s the main problem with the WBC.  Cost.  Nobody wants to pay 55 bucks to sit in the outfield and watch players they don’t know.  Bum Ho Lee is good, but nobody who doesn’t follow the Korean National Baseball Team cares.

Anywho, Michelle and I checked out some TV/media reporting areas, walked around the whole level, I ran up to the highest and farthest seat from home plate (in Section 58).

Some photos of our mini-adventure: on the left, some decoration for the tournament, on the right, the THINK BLUE sign as seen from waaayy up in the stands.
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 020.jpgWBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 021.jpg

Pregame ceremonies:
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 037.jpg
I also found a shirt that had been given away supporting Team Korea. 
Michelle and I had determined that she’d root for VEN and I’d root for
KOR so I kept my free souvenir.
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 023.jpgThen we listened to all three national
anthems, grabbed a Dodger Dog (which was good!) and some pretzels and
water and sat down to enjoy the game.

The Koreans scored in the first… five runs.  It didn’t help that Bobby Abreu (new Angel) dropped a fly ball.  Carlos Silva lasted less than two innings and Korea was up 7-0 in the third.  It didn’t get any closer than that.  You know what was awesome?  The energy level around us in our seats.  I’d say that about 3/4 of the crowd was rooting for Korea and they had thundersticks, flags, face paint, drums, trash bags… I don’t know what the trash bags were for… but they were blue and they made noise apparently.  Here are some of my favorite pics of the crowd:
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 046.jpg
WBC Semifinal KOR vs. VEN 053.jpgMLB.com said there were over 43,000 people at the game… it didn’t seem like it.  Anyway, it got a bit cold and Michelle and I bundled up as best we could.  We stayed until the last out (like always) and it was cool to see the Korean team acknowledge all their fans before they headed off into the dugout.  Man, they’re a good team.  They pitch well, they play good defense, and they hit the long ball.  It will be interesting to see who makes it to the Final… I’ll post again in a few days!

Spring is Nearly Sprung

In two days it will officially be Spring.  In two days Winter will be gone and with it, the lack of baseball that’s left my evenings far too free for six months.  Sure, Spring Training’s underway… and the Angels have a 15-4 record!  I don’t put a lot of stock in Spring Training records but I am way more excited that they’re 15-4 rather than 4-15.  Right?

Two days until Spring!  And then just a couple of weeks until Opening Day!  I’ve already been approached by a few people that want to go to games… I’m all for it!  I hope to go to two or three in the first week or so of the season.  And, of course, the WBC is still going.  Team USA’s win last night was incredible!  Just a great baseball game regardless of who you are–WOW!  I’m really looking forward to an energetic crowd when I’m at Dodger Stadium this weekend.  My goal is to come away with at least one World Baseball Classic ball.  I’ve already read a couple of blogs/comments that say that folks have gotten them…
wbc ball.jpg

Two days ’til Spring… then… baseball takes over.  March Madness is OK… basketball is fine, pro or collegiate.  I just never really got into it.  Hockey–whatever–I’m not from anywhere north.  Soon, six months of baseball!

The End of Baseball in 2008

What a gloomy title…

Rain and snow will soon fall in parts of SoCal and the Angels will not add a second championship flag to their stadium.  There’s always next year.

Had you asked me what teams would make the playoffs at the start of the year my predictions would have gone like this:

NL West – Dodgers
NL Central – Cubs
NL East – Phillies
NL Wild Card – Mets
AL West – Angels
AL Central – White Sox
AL East – Red Sox
AL Wild Card – Yankees

Not bad predictions, right?  I mean, who thought the Rays would be that good?  Who knew the Yankees would get that hurt?  And who knew the Mets would collapse like that… again?

Once the eight teams were decided, I really hoped for a Freeway Series… that would’ve been great!  Alas, it wasn’t in the cards.  Not even ManRam and/or Big Tex could help the SoCal teams into the World Series.  The NLCS… I didn’t care.  The Cubs would’ve been fun to watch… and I don’t like the Dodgers.  Brewers?  Meh…  Phillies?  “Okay,” I thought.  Sure.

The AL playoff race… man.  I had to leave my apartment after Aybar couldn’t get that bunt down and the Red Sox won that series in four.  Ugh.  Then I had to choose between rooting for the team that had eliminated my Halos or the team that had manhandled them throughout the regular season.  Well, the Red Sox had opened a fresh wound so I was all about the Rays–funny how if you drop “Devil” from your name and change your logo to a flash of light, you win baseball games–and their youthful team.  As my friend, Josh, would say, “You get that many draft picks and you’re bound to be good eventually.”  They were the underdogs; this year’s baseball Cinderella story.

It wouldn’t be a happy ending for the boys from St. Pete.  In the end the Phillies had better pitching, more homers, and the experience necessary to hold down Joe Maddon and his kids.

I was satisfied.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Now that the playoffs and World Series are over I can let out all the “whoas” that have been lounging around inside me with regard to the end of the baseball season.

I went to quite a few games this year!  Roughly twenty… though I really am too tired to look that statistic up right now.  I bet I could figure it out.  Living in Orange County makes it easy to hit up Angels games.  Currently, I live closer to their stadium than I ever have and it feels good to be just a fifteen minute drive from your favorite ballpark.  I also visited some new parks this year.  Michelle and I watched a game at U.S. Cellular Field and went on a walking tour of Wrigley Field while we were in Chicago… the Cubs were out of town at the time.  This is in addition to the one Padres game, two Dodgers games, and many Angels games I saw this year.  I watched a lot of baseball and I had some fun times at the stadiums.

October and November 2008 018.jpgI took up a collection of baseballs.  The end of the ’08 season finds me with twenty-eight baseballs.  At the start of the season my collection was still in single digits!  My goal for next year: thirty baseballs!  I plan to attend more Angels games (and see the other SoCal teams, should my schedule allow) and I’ll be taking my first ever trip to a certain park in Missouri where a certain team, affectionately called the Redbirds, plays.  August…  I’m hoping for a leftover All-Star ball.  We’ll see…

It’s weird to not be able to see the diving catches and home runs on ESPN when I come home.  Now there’s all this talk of this other game where you bounce a ball… and one where people get tackled.  Whatever.

Some baseball highlights in the life of Matt from 2008:

  • Getting a behind the scenes tour of Angel Stadium
  • Seeing baseball in Chicago with Michelle
  • Snagging seven baseballs in one game in Anaheim
  • Meeting (and getting the autograph of) Zack Hample at Dodger Stadium
  • Watching Karl snag his first-ever baseball at PETCO Park

I’m stage managing a play right now and there’s a line in it: “What’ll we do ’til spring?”

Hmm… good question.  I’ve got school to keep me busy… so, so busy.  Plus, I’ve got Michelle!  We’ve got a wedding to plan.  Things are good… things are very good.

9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium

Here is why I was excited about this game:

1. I had the chance to hang out with my buddy, Josh, at a ball game.
2. I was trying to extend my baseball streak in a new venue.
3. I was hopefully going to meet Zack Hample and get him to sign a copy of his book for me.

Here is why I was not excited about this game: It was a Dodger game at Dodger Stadium.
Allow me to explain.  I’m not a Dodgers fan… I have nothing against the team.  They’re a good team.  I do, however, have an issue with Dodger fans (and I’m generalizing).  Mostly, they are OK… but I can’t ever go to a Dodger game without the sneaking suspicion that I might, just might, get shanked in the kidney by some drunk, illiterate tool that can’t handle the fact that his (or her) team might not win every single game.
I’ll give you an example of a Dodger fan at his worst in just a bit.

Josh and I got to the stadium at 4:45pm for a 7:10 game.  The parking lot hadn’t even opened yet, so we lined up Josh’s car to get in.  Here’s Josh:
Dodgers Game 09.02.08 007.jpgWe played catch, ignored some dudes trying to sell imitation Dodgers gear, chatted, offered to let a kid throw the ball once (and he did… right down a hillside.. he was only six years old)… and then the gates opened at 5:10.  We had a Preferred Parking Pass that we got along with our tickets via uclaterry on eBay… a new favorite seller of mine.  I would have preferred Field level seats but Josh was buyin’, so I couldn’t complain.
Dodgers Game 09.02.08 004.jpgWe parked in the lot and hurried down to the left field bleachers.  The Dodgers have an interesting approach to BP: they open up the field.  Like, you can stand on the warning track in center field and try to snag.  We determined that would be way too crowded, though, and that more balls would head for the seats in left anyway.  Well, we must’ve been right on because as soon as I headed up the stairs to the stands I saw a guy in a Padres cap and shirt wearing his glove just waiting for a ball to snag.  I had to do a doubletake, but sure enough, it was Mr. 3700 baseballs, Zack Hample.  I watched him for a second and then introduced myself.
Dodgers Game 09.02.08 014.jpg
“Hi.  Are you Zack?”
“Yeah.”
“Hi.  I’m Matt, I’ve left some comments on your blog and I brought the book like you said.”

He was cordial, but hard at work, too.  He seemed like a cool guy and had a very firm handshake.  I told him that as soon as he had some time I would love to have him sign my book and he said he, of course, would be happy to.  As I scurried along for my own snagging I kept an eye on Zack, watching his technique.
mike adams.jpg
After a while I convinced Mike Adams, a reliever for the Pads, to toss me a ball. For comparison, I saw Zack snag three in that time (plus he got one before Josh and I even got there)!  Later, Dodger fans started giving Zack some crap because he wouldn’t give any balls to kids.  They didn’t know that he usually DOES after BP is over.  Whatever.

I asked him, “People hassling you?”
“Yeah,” he said, “but they don’t get that I give away baseballs all the time.”  The guy bending down on the right side of the photo was a real jerk to Zack.
Dodgers Game 09.02.08 016.jpg
Dodger fans.  Yuck!  And now for MY story of confrontation.
Zack had signed my book and wished me luck (and Heath Bell of the Padres could’ve signed my book, too, apparently)… but he had to run to the Field level before the end of BP.  It involves that walrus-sized dude in the red shirt right there.  So, I attempt to catch a ball that clears the fence and my glove is outstretched next to another glove.  Our gloves bump, the ball hits ’em, and neither of us gets the ball.  Bummer, no big deal, right?  Wrong!  I see this HUGE Mexican guy next to me and he starts swearing up a storm.  F this and F that and F you!!!  In front of his little kid that he was trying to catch the ball for!!!  I’ll give you an exact quote from this walrus:
“What’re ya f***in’ pushin’ me for?  I’m f***in’ tryin’ to catch the f***in’ ball for my kid, eh?!  You, back the f*** off!  I’ma f***in’ throw you over this f***in’ railing.  You want that?”

I didn’t want that, obviously, but I also knew that he was probably all talk and if I stayed a few yards from him he couldn’t hit me if he wanted to.  A Dodger personnel person saw it and told me he knew I didn’t push anyone.  I just said to the fat dude, “Nice mouth in front of your kid.”  And I was done.  Who the f*** wears a red plaid shirt to a Dodger game anyway?
Dodgers Game 09.02.08 048.jpg
Well, that was it for me for BP.  One ball (shown to the right), but my streak was alive and well!  Josh and I headed for our seats in foul ball range on the Loge.  And in the first inning Juan Pierre smacked one that curved juuuuussst a little too far from us.  The game went on… at one point the Dodgers were up 8-0.  Manny hit ANOTHER home run.  Andre Eithier had a chance at the cycle but was a double short.  Most fans left after he grounded out in the 8th.  And another foul came really close but was just out of my reach again.

I saw Zack snag a few more balls at the Padres dugout during the game.  He ended up with ELEVEN.  That man is insane!  The score ended up being 8-4 Dodgers.  I had a great time!  One of the best parts about going to a non-Angels game is that I usually don’t care who wins or loses and I can just enjoy baseball.  Ah.
Dodgers Game 09.02.08 044.jpgNext up… PETCO Park on Sept. 9th!  I hear it’s good for snagging.  I’ll be there with my sister, her boyfriend, and Michelle.  Woo!