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.
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).
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
My Spring Training excursion started the previous day.
Friday morning we left Orange County at 7:00 in the morning and made the drive along the 10 freeway to Arizona. We got there around 1:00pm, put our stuff down at the hotel, and made the 10 minute walk into downtown Scottsdale. I would have loved to catch the Angels and the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium but it was sold out so our group (which consisted of Michelle and I and four of our friends) spent the afternoon and evening at various restaurants at bars enjoying our brief Spring Break.
On Saturday morning, the morning of our trip to Camelback, Jesse (who attended a game with me on 9/2/09 at Dodger Stadium), Randy (who’d gone to a game with me on 4/8/09 and 7/27/09), and I got up and made it to the complex around 9:30am.
Camelback Ranch opens four hours prior to the day’s game, which gave us plenty of time to explore. The facility is fantastic and sprawling.
In the photo above you can see the stadium gates on the left, a crowd waiting for the Dodgers to emege from their clubhouse in the center, and a body of water on the right. A man-made river/lake separates the White Sox training facilities from the Dodgers facilities but the casual fan can roam pretty much anywhere they want. Highlights of the morning included watching Matt Kemp hit off a tee in the batting cage:
Watching White Sox minor league guys practice their pitches:
And welcoming the Dodgers as they made their way from the clubhouse inside the stadium (which wouldn’t open until 11:30–bummer) to their practice field:
Note Manny on the tricycle for grownups. James Loney was a bit late:
I’ll go back to the White Sox minor leaguers for a minute. Watching them warm up I snagged the only baseball I’d snag that day. What? I know, it kind of sucked but the stadium was sold out and I only had 30 minutes of BP to work with.
A guy named Zach Piccola had a throw from a teammate tip off his glove and land on the grassy hillside I was standing on. I ran over and picked it up. It was a ROMLB and I looked at the players on the field. Piccola was looking at me and seemed to be wondering if I was going to keep the ball. I made a gesture to communicate that I could simply give it back to him. He didn’t seem to care too much (as there was a bag of baseballs a few feet from him. He shrugged… I decided to toss it back to him. I really didn’t care too much about it anyway. I was just excited to be there.
I headed to one of the Dodger minor league fields for a minute:
Well, after that I watched the Dodgers run some infield drills with Joe Torre standing in the middle of the field calling plays:
And a little while later the three of us watched some PFP which was really cool. We could hear everything the players and coaches said to each other and anytime a pitchers missed a grounder or a throw they had to run to the outfield wall and back… with one other guy of their choosing.
Most of the players picked poor Clayton Kershaw to run with them. Pickin’ on the young guy.
At about 11:15 I went into the–well, it was kind of a foyer of the stadium. I watched while at least a half dozen homers landed on the RF berm and were picked up by a staff member and given to little kids.
Finally, at 11:30 everyone was let in and I ran around to some rocks near the back of the berm checking for Easter eggs… but none were there. It was a great place:
But it was kind of a depressing BP. Sure, it was great to get to run around freely without fear of smacking my thigh on an armrest, but it was so crowded and by the time we got inside the stadium there weren’t many baseballs being thrown or hit to fans. I got close to two homers. One came down to a sprint to the rocks between me and one other guy. I lost. And one bounced off the warning track and about two feet over my head as I ran to my left to try to get to it. BP ended at 12:00pm and the guys and I past the far right field lawn:
And to my seats. The six of us (including the girls that were on their way) had seats in different sections. While we were waiting for the ladies Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman started playing catch down the right field line and a few other Mariners started stretching.
I didn’t get a ball but I did get Milton Bradley to sign my ticket for that day.
I went back to my seat–they were pretty great seats that Michelle and I had:
And the girls showed up at about 12:15. We all kind of split up at that point but before the game started I got Jack Wilson to sign a card I’d brought with me.
After that I kind of just relaxed in the warm Arizona sun–actually we had shady seats–and though I tried for a third out toss or two, I really just sat with Michelle and enjoyed the game.
Guess what? It was a sold out crowd of 13,000 people–lots of Dodgers fans. I really enjoyed Camelback Ranch but the next time I go I’ll do so for a White Sox game during the week. A Dodgers game on the last weekend of ST is just really crowded. Camelback is a beautiful facility, for sure, and it’s totally worth checking out.
After the game (which the Dodgers won… thanks mostly to Charlie Haeger’s knuckleball) we headed back to our cars. Michelle, Jesse, Alison, and I made a quick stop in downtown Phoenix to take a look at Chase Field:
We went into Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill and took a look at the field:
It looks like an amazing facility–I’m rather fond of retractable roofs–and Jesse and I vowed to come back to watch a game at some point.
Then we headed back to Scottsdale for dinner and another relaxing evening. There was another game the next day… Giants and Padres.
Hi, everyone. It seems like I haven’t blogged in ages! I’ve got a good excuse though. I’ve been spending most of the past few weeks working on my thesis… yes, yes, I’m in grad school and academics needed to take priority before baseball season got here. But, as of today I have completed the first draft of a forty-two page, more than 12,000 word paper and I am submitting it to my thesis chairperson tonight. Whew. So, that’s why I’ve been notably absent from the blogosphere as of late.
But all that changes as this evening I will be packing my bags for a weekend trip to Arizona! Woo-hoo! We’re leaving tomorrow morning to make the six-hour trek to a couple of dales… Gen and Scott, to be exact. Two cars, six people, and the destination: SPRING TRAINING! I’ve never been and I’m getting more excited by the hour. Thanks to some blog friends and e-mails that have gone back and forth I feel pretty prepared to do some serious snagging and even some autograph collecting at the weekend games.
Both stadiums look awesome and I will blog about each game I attend… being that these are my first Spring Training games I really don’t know exactly what to expect but as I mentioned before, the blog community sure does make getting information easy.
Additionally, I have tickets to the exhibition game between the Angels and Padres on April 1st so I ‘ll get to have a little practice snag session in Anaheim before my first regular season game there (probably in mid-April) and I’m now locked in on my date with Citi Field: April 8th. Hopefully I’ll run across a few of the NY ballhawks while I’m there.
You’ll hear from me again within the week! Wish me luck–and feel free to comment with any advice or tips if you’ve got ’em.
Another game at Dodger Stadium? Well, not just any game. This was a Dodgers game against the rival Giants. Have you ever been to a Giants/Dodgers game, either in San Francisco or Los Angeles? It’s like a Yankees game against the Red Sox or a Cardinals game against the Cubs… but more angry. Who knows why they’re all so angry at each other? Anyway, I headed out to L.A. from Irvine to my buddy’s apartment in Glendale. Josh just got back from four months of working on a cruise ship and he happens to be a big Giants fan. So are Brendan and Jason and Marty. I went to college with all of these guys:
From left to right: Marty, Josh, Brendan, Jason
Brendan and Marty are from the Bay Area, Jason lives there now, and Josh didn’t like baseball until he started hanging out with these guys in college… so he’s a Giants fan now, too. I still like the Angels. The last time I’d been to a game with Josh was in May, before he went cruisin’. I saw a game with Brendan earlier this season in Anaheim, Jason went to a WBC game with me… and I’d never been to a ball game with Marty.
Anyhow, I was in Glendale at 4:00pm… I was hoping to get to the stadium for all of BP but since it wasn’t my call and this wasn’t all about me and trying to catch baseballs we left when Marty got there after work at 5:20. I tried to get into the field level of the stadium after we parked but just missed the window (they won’t let you in without a Field Level ticket after 5:40pm)… it was 5:45pm. Now, this wasn’t a big ballhawking outing but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try to at least snag SOMETHING.
I’d never been before, but I had no choice but to check out center field for BP. Basically, the Dodgers let you stand on the field in center, right where the wall normally is. They put up a cheap plastic fence that’s about four feet high and you can pray that a ball gets hit out there or that a player will toss one into the crowd. Here was they view from the back of the section:
And here was my view once I wiggled into a spot right along the fence:
I called out to a few Giants but only one balled got tossed… to a kid decked out in Giants gear. Good for him. I saw a ball get launched to dead center. It was going to clear the mini-wall so I started back, through the crowd, and it ended up flying over my head just a bit to my left (as I was facing away from the field). All those people around and it hit the concrete cleanly and took a big bounce. I was still too far from it…
I squeezed back into the front row again. Barry Zito was fielding just in front of the center field crowd and he rolled a ball back for the kids to fight over. It trickled up next to the fence and they went at it. Eventually, he shagged a fly ball within earshot of me and I said, “Hey, Barry, could you throw that one over here, please?” He turned, saw my outstretched glove and lobbed it.
It was going to be a tough play… I knew it was meant for me but I couldn’t move to either side. The ball was descending just a bit to my left so I leaned as far as I could while still keeping my arm fully extended and trying not to fall over the shabbily zip-tied together mini-fence. Meanwhile, a dude in Dodger duds saw the ball and elbowed me trying to get it. I kept my glove just a few inches further out than his and made the catch.
Now that my streak was still active I took my leave from the front row. I figured that if something got hit to center field over the fence then I’d go for it but I’d get out of the confines of the first row of fans. Once I had a few feet around me I looked at the ball I’d caught. It had a nasty gash on it:
What do you think that’s from?
Knowing that BP would be ending shortly I left center field and headed up to the Loge Level, where my ticketed seat was, and hoped I could get a Giant to toss one way up to me. Here was my view for the end of BP:
I called out to a few players but nobody wanted to try out their arm… not even as they made their way off the field and I was over the dugout. Oh, well… one ball snagged. I went and found my friends as the game started. Here was our view:
Not the best seats for snagging but it was a great section to be in and catch up with your friends. And check out that sunset! It was a great time, made even more exciting by the back and forth nature of the game. We were all psyched when Pablo Sandoval smacked a three-run home run:
HAI-YAH! And we watched to see if Randy Johnson would come into the game (he didn’t):
Sure, my Giants gear-clad friends got booed a bit as they got up from their seats, but that happened to EVERYONE in SF garb. But the Giants ended up winning 8-4… and Manny even hit a homer into Mannywood–ooh! In the eighth inning I decided to try for foul balls behind the plate. I alternated sides based on if a righty or lefty was up. Rafael Furcal fouled one to my left and, had I not been blocked by an elderly couple in the next section over I’d have had it. I ended up about six feet from my second-ever foul ball.
I was back with my buddies when there were two outs in the ninth. Brian Wilson closed it out for the San Francisco win!
After the game a slightly drunk SF fan snuck into this photo:
The reactions of my friends make me laugh. There were fireworks after the game, too. And at Dodger Stadium they let fans down onto the field to watch ’em. We stayed in our seats but here was the scene down below:
And here’s the show:
And Jason photographing the fireworks:
We headed out through the parking lot after that and–“WOW”–we all thought, we made it through a Giants win at Dodger Stadium without any immediate threats of stabbings, without being called f—–s, without any physical violence coming our way. It was a good drive home.
When a friend of mine said he wasn’t going to use his Dodgers tickets for a mid-week game against the Pirates he offered them to me. I said, “Sure, I’ll take ’em.” He told me he just wanted the blanket–it was Blanket Night. I told him it was his… so I ended up with his $4 Top Deck tickets… and I ended up at Dodger Stadium at 4:30pm on the 15th of September with 97 baseballs snagged on the year.
My first stop was the Top Deck…
But, due to the night’s giveaway, they weren’t allowing anyone to enter early and watch BP from up there. Slightly confused as to what I’d do for the next 40 minutes I headed down…
To the field level… WHA???
It’s blurry, I know… I literally was jogging with my camera when I took this. It felt like I was a cartoon character. I did a double take… there were a few people in street clothes inside this open gate… so, what did I do? I joined them. When I got to the fence where they were standing I saw this:
And I hung out there. I didn’t have much else to do and watching pitchers warm up and hitters take early BP was way more fun than standing around waiting for the gates to open. I put on my Dodgers cap and hung out… and then Ken Howell got my attention. I didn’t ask for anything, I didn’t call out to him, I didn’t hold up my glove. It was on my hand, I’m no fool… but I just wanted to clarify that he initiated the interaction. Once I made eye contact with him he held his arm up. There was a baseball in his hand! He shook it as if to say, “You ready for this?” And I held up my glove. He threw me a perfect strike. Wow! I’d snagged a ball and the stadium wasn’t even open.
I looked at my watch. It was 4:48pm… and no one had asked me to move yet. I asked the people next to me, who’d been speaking to a stadium employee, if they did this often (this meaning standing inside the stadium watching the players before everyone prepare for the game). They told me they did… and that they would be asked to leave at about five ’til five. I said I was thrilled to just hang out there with them. They were really nice. At that point there were employees, players, and the three of us inside the park. It was so quiet that I could hear players talking in the pen and on the field. Eerie but so cool.
At 4:55pm a security guard approached, joked with the couple next to me saying, “What? Nobody’s kicked you guys out yet?” I smiled, tipped my cap, and exited the way I came in. I know how to take cues and the guard was very friendly. I had fifteen minutes to kill so I went to the center field gate where baseballs sometimes get tossed or roll to the few that mingle there… it’s also where Autograph Alley is located. I killed ten minutes there with little activity… then my phone rang as I left center field and headed back toward the gate to enter the Field Level. It was Chris, who’d mentioned he was catching a ride up to the game. I had an extra ticket and told him so, so he agreed to buy it off me. I saw him sprinting toward the line to get in right as we were about to start entering.
We both got our fleece blankets and headed into the seats in Mannywood. No Easter eggs to be found (unlike in the Pavilion sections… ugh) but we were the only two in Pirates gear around. Our chances were good. At one point during the first half hour inside the stadium I put my glove down to get my camera out of my backpack:
See how there’s not a photo there? 🙂 That’s because while my glove was off and my bag was open a Dodger player smacked a ball down the line that hit the dirt in fair territory and bounced over the wall in foul territory–right where I was standing. Like, I didn’t move… it came right to me. It was amazingly lucky that I ended up with it. It hit my bare hands and I bobbled it to my feet… and quickly picked it up. Take a look:
Good thing I’ve got quick hands… DodgersWIN!
At 5:40pm the other side of the stadium… stupid Dodger Stadium rul
es,,, opened and I ran over there to where some Pirates were shagging in right field. I paid close attention to who was out there, knowing the DodgersWIN ball was my 99th of the season… and the next one would put me into triple digits.
It didn’t take long. Garrett Jones, the right fielder for the Pirates that night, fielded a ball about twenty feet from me. I called out to him, held up my glove and he tossed it to me along the front row right near the foul pole. It wasn’t fancy. It was, in fact, a pretty ordinary toss and it was a pretty ordinary ball:
But it was the 100th of 2009 for me and the 128th snagged baseball total for me in my lifetime. So it was special enough to deserve a picture on my blog! 100 baseballs and I got there at my thirty-second game of the year!
The second round of BP for the Pirates ended and I sprinted to the dugout… a few players came into the dugout and, when I held up my glove at the concrete barrier between the normal field seats and the super-primo seats, some guy in a polo shirt threw me the dirtiest, grass-stainiest, most used ball in my collection:
Cool. He was probably a trainer or conditioning coach for the Pirates. I thanked him and started to head back toward the foul pole and as I did that a Pirates player headed into the dugout with a ball in his hand which he threw right to me. It might have been Jason Jaramillo but I’m not sure. Two baseballs, numbers 4 and 5 on the day, in less than a minute. My most successful (and luckiest) day at Dodger Stadium ever!
Check out this view:
At this point I’d like to point out that my sunglasses broke earlier in the afternoon. Tough sun. I had my cap brim low and that was it, but pretty soon a Pirate batting from the left side fouled a ball toward me. I saw it go up, put my glove up to block the sun, moved up the aisle to my left about ten feet, tracked the ball as it fell and caught it cleanly… right in front of a young kid who hadn’t even seen it. His family thanked me. An older couple cheered and said I should be down on the field… that the Pirates needed me on their team. A few people applauded. That one felt good.
As BP ended Chris and I met up. He’d snagged four on his own. I found a kid wearting a glove sitting with his family and asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet. He said he hadn’t so I handed him the ball from the unknown Pirate player. He was thrilled, his family was incredibly happy, they all thanked me, and then I headed off. Chris and I watched Zach Duke warm up on the field:
And then in the bullpen:
Eventually the Pirates stretched:
But I couldn’t get down by the dugout when some players played catch. I grabbed some food and then a seat just past first base.
I had to move a few times but was always in good foul ball territory. The Pirates scored three runs off Randy Wolf in the second inning. That was all they’d do. About halfway through the game I sat in Section 6:
That’s Duke delivering a pitch to Manny.
I was within five feet of a foul ball in the eighth inning… just missed it because I was blocked by some clueless fans. Anyway, the Dodgers chipped away at the 3-0 deficit and tied it in the ninth inning. Extra innings again! I love free baseball. I had been behind the Pirates dugout b
ut when Matt Capps blew the save I moved to right behind the home dugout:
The game ended up going thirteen innings and ended when Andre Ethier hit the first pitch he saw out of the park after the Pirates had taken the lead in the top of the inning. It was a two-run shot that won it, 5-4. An exciting night and a fun evening, even at my least favorite park. The five baseballs (of six) I kept:
It’s hard to complain when you’re lucky, successful, and get to watch some great baseball!
If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I am not a big fan of Dodger Stadium. It has silly rules, aggressive and often irritable fans, and it’s just… old. It’s fine, just not my favorite place. I did, however, score some tickets to this game for free and so I made the drive up the 5 freeway through the smokier than usual weather and met a buddy from UC Irvine (who had driven down from Bakersfield ) named Jesse, let him use my spare glove (just in case), and at 4:30pm and we headed up to the stadium together.
Our first stop was the Top Deck where the gates are open and you can watch early BP. I’d actually never been up there before–it’s a great view but I’d never want to watch a whole game from this vantage point:
We watched the Dodgers smack quite a few baseballs into the stands. We tried to track where they ended up. Manny actually hit one to the middle part of the bleachers that took a big bounce out of the stadium! Here he is knocking one out to left field:
At five ’til five we headed down to the entrance to the left field bleacher entrance where we were informed by a fan waiting there that Dodger Stadium had a new policy–formerly you could enter the bleachers for BP regardless of where your ticket actually was–currently you can’t. I confirmed it with a security guard nearby. Bummer… so we figured we’d at least get Field Level access during BP and try our luck there. Dodger Stadium has ridiculous rules.
We got into the Field Level (with our Reserve Level tickets) right at 5:10. Jesse and I checked the seats for Easter eggs but couldn’t find any. Meanwhile, the bleachers had about four sittin’ up there. Bah! Anywho… the Dodgers ended BP at about 5:15 and we attempted to head around from the left field side where we’d entered to the right field side. Guess what? That side of the stadium doesn’t open until 5:40… dumb.
So, we played left field for a while. I had a shot at a slicer down the line but couldn’t quite get my glove low enough to snag it. The fence wall is a bit taller in Dodgertown than I’m used to at Angel Stadium. I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a ball from Dan Haren. He wouldn’t toss anything over despite the fact that I was the only guy wearing a D-backs hat in the whole stadium at that point.
At 5:40 I ran (and Jesse walked) to right field where some Arizona players and coaches were hanging out and within a few minutes got Ball #1 from coach Jeff Motuzas. As far as I was concerned it was a successful day at Dodger Stadium at that point. In my only two other ballhawking adventures there I’d snagged two baseballs (one each time). Exactly one year prior (the day I got to meet Zack Hample) I’d snagged one and back in May I’d snagged one. Woo. Again, I’m not a big fan of Dodger Stadium.
I should mention at this point that Jesse is a huge Dodger fan. Here’s a photo of him watching BP from right behind the foul pole. A few pitchers came over and started doing some running drills. One of them, Daniel Schlereth, fielded a ground ball barehanded and I asked him (by using his first name and saying please) to throw it over. He did. I’d set a record for myself in Dodgertown! It was at that point I heard someone near me say to Schlereth, “He already got one.” The pitcher shrugged and continued his running. This wouldn’t be the last time a fan was upset by my good fortune.
It was Army Night at the stadium and when a foul ball got knocked into the seats a few sections from me and I sprinted toward it I saw a guy in fatigues running to where it landed as well. I was a second or two ahead of him, looked at the ball as I was running, saw his camo, and stopped so he could grab it. Then he smiled at me and we shook hands. I told him, “Good job, soldier.” And we parted ways. Hey, I’m not gonna contest an Army man for a baseball on Army Night. God bless ’em! He was pretty excited to snag it on his own (probably more excited than if I’d grabbed it then handed it to him).
Anyway, as some of you might know the Dodgers are putting blue stamps on their BP baseballs this season. They either say DODGERTOWN or DodgersWIN (for the Women’s Initiative Network). I’d been kind of excited to potentially end up with one of those but since I hadn’t gotten anything from the Dodgers I was disheartened, thinking my chances at a stamped ball were squashed.
When BP ended I had grabbed my backpack and was just starting to head toward the D-backs dugout… I ran as I saw the players coming in. I was a little late getting to a spot (as close as I could get because of the concrete partition that separates the box seats from the stands) and most of the players had already left the field. I saw a couple of coaches and one wore number 5. I looked at my roster as he picked up a couple of baseballs and then found his name, Chip Hale.
Jesse and I found seats on the third base side o
f the field. He’d ended up baseball-less for BP but was having a blast because, as I mentioned, he’s a big Dodgers fan. It didn’t hurt that the seats we found for the first couple innings gave us this view:
After multiple ceremonial first pitches and an adequately sung anthem and me NOT getting a ball from Arizona players during their warmup tosses as well as just missing out getting Justin Upton’s autograph, the game started. Chad Billingsley and Max Scherzer were both doing well to start out. We got booted from our seats in the 2nd inning and ended up on the other side of the field, here:
And we got to stay for the rest of the game. No one ever showed up for ’em. The two starters put up zeroes through four innings. Billingsley had a no hitter through four. In the bottom of the fourth Max Scherzer got Matt Kemp to ground into a double play to end the inning.
Arizona first baseman, Brandon Allen had tried to toss me a ball in the third as he came off the field but his throw was a bit to my right… and I let the teenager next to me have it. I’m not overly aggressive about catching baseballs… I don’t knock people down, steal balls from kids, or elbow and push my way through stands.
I mention that because as Allen trotted off the field after Kemp hit into that double play he saw me (one section to the left this time) and tossed the ball my way. I caught it. I didn’t have to move; it was a chest high strike. The guy behind me spilled his beer on my foot trying to get it and then he and a few other fans told me to give it to a kid. They weren’t happy that I chose not to and had some unkind words for me as I headed back to my seat. A few innings later some older fellow left his seat a few rows in front of me and stopped by where Jesse and I were sitting. He leaned down and said, “Can I ask how old you are?”
“Because you just jumped in front of a lot of little kids to catch a ball.”
“No, I didn’t.” Then he stormed off, badmouthing me as he left. This was a good half hour after I’d caught that ball. He never came back.
The next inning, Billingsley’s no hitter was broken up by a ball hit in the left-center gap and Brandon Allen stepped in a hit a two-run homer right as I took this picture:
The D-backs would score four runs in the fifth and that was all they needed. Scherzer pitched very well, allowing just one run in seven and two-thirds. That one run was on a Ramirez RBI single in the eighth. The D-backs bullpen shut down the Dodgers the rest of the way. I tried to snag something after the game at the dugout but, again, came up empty-handed.
On the way out I got pictures of Jesse and of me:
And we headed out through the crowds, back to our cars, and on our separate ways. He was headed 100 miles north and I was drivin’ 50 miles south.
A fun time and a pretty successful snagging outing. And I spent a total of… the gas it cost me to get there and back. You can’t beat a deal like that!