My first game of the 2012 season had finally arrived. It would be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (boy, I hate that name) against the Oakland Athletics. Jered Weaver would be pitching against Brandon McCarthy and I would be there, first in line, ready to go, when the gates opened up. I was psyched. I packed my bag for the first time–team rosters, bottled water, my camera, and the assorted accouterments associated with attending an Angel game… or any MLB game, I suppose. I small-talked with a few of the Angel Stadium BP regulars while I waited. Rob, Eli, Terry, Lou… a bunch of guys I’d have never know had it not been for this fun hobby I developed way back in 2008.
The security guards arrived and got the gates prepped… and I talked to them about the new rule at Angel Stadium that any security personnel that are on the field need to wear helmets. Does anyone know if this is all across MLB? And they weren’t even cool MLB helmets… they were, like, bicycle helmets. I wish I’d taken a picture. UPDATE: Haha… I did! Here’s TJ (the Angels Strength and Conditioning Coach) and Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick joking about the stylish new trend:
Well, I got my bagged checked… and headed inside to the folks with the ticket scanners. All this anticipation, I’m the first one through the gates, and, wouldn’t you know it? The lady I went to was having scanner problems… ugh. I watched as people in other lines flooded in past me before snatching my ticket from her and thrusting it into the next ushers face and telling him, “Hers isn’t working. Please scan my ticket.” He did–I was direct but polite, after all. And I took off running. As I rounded a corner on the Terrace Level I could see a couple of guys were already scouring for Eater eggs in the right field seats so I decided to change my strategy. I took a hard left down some stairs and that’s when I looked at the field for the first time. It was beautiful–perfectly manicured, actually–but there was something very wrong.
The hometown Halos weren’t hitting. There wasn’t a single Angel on the field. As it turns out, they’d gotten in from New York at about 3am so they had decided not to do a full BP session. I quickly changed tactics and ran straight down to the front row along the third base line as the A’s started to play catch. Virtually the whole team was out there–and a few of the coaches were near the dugout playing catch, too. As I knew the coaches would finish first, I got the approval of an usher to head over there to ask for a ball. A few moments later I got my first baseball of the season tossed to me by an A’s coach–not sure who–but it wasn’t Chili Davis, Mike Gallego, Bob Melvin, Tye Waller, or Chip Hale. So that leaves Rick Rodriguez, Chris Pittaro, and Curt Young. I’m going to go with Rick Rodriguez. So, thanks, Rick! He tossed it to me a it skipped off the roof of the dugout. I bobbled it to my feet and then quickly snatched it up. I’d say that is about as close to an error as I want to get all season long.
As the players finished up their throwing and began to make their way to the cage I got baseball #2 on the day from Josh Reddick after he finished playing catch. He lobbed the standard Selig my way in the second row of Section 128. Eric Sogard (who has been on the A’s roster for three years but only made the Opening Day starting lineup this season) started signing autographs and I got him on my ticket. My next baseball came my way just a few minutes later as the pitchers finished throwing. Fautino de los Santos hooked me up with a ball in Section 127–I didn’t know who he was at the time but checked through some photos online to confirm it was him.
After that I ran up to the pavilion in right field with the hope that the A’s (and their several lefties) would show some pop. It’s clear that’s not what they were planning on this day, however, as only about four or five home runs came nearby–and I was out of range on all of them. I did manage to get a brand new pearl of a baseball from Tyson Ross while I was standing in the third row of Section 239… and then the A’s finished hitting at 6:12pm… much earlier than I’d expected. I wasn’t able to get to their dugout in time so I sat down, made some notes, got some water, and waited for the Angels to take the field.
Once they did come out to get loose, I saw Howie Kendrick’s son getting handed over to his dad from the seats–he wandered around on the field a bit and greeted the players. My coolest photo of the night? Howie’s kid giving Torii Hunter a high five:
But I couldn’t get a warmup ball from the Angels–nor could I get one from the A’s about ten minutes later after the national anthem. I checked out the concourse of the stadium and notices the Halo front office had upgraded a few things… like these digital menu boards in the concession stands:
Six bucks for peanuts? Yeesh–I buy ’em for two bucks a bag at the grocery store. It was about this time that Michelle, who had been at work, arrived at the stadium. I met her at the Left Field Gate and we found seats in the left field corner. My goal this year is to catch a home run. It’s something I’ve never done and I figure that 2012 is the best year to do it. Last season, around the Big A, I was simply focused on snagging as many of those commemorative 50th anniversary balls as I could. They’re still using some of those in BP, I’d learn, but this year–it’s all about the game home run ball. And Albert Pujols was still sitting on zero home runs for the year–maybe I could catch his first! Here was our view:
See that aisle with the vendor in the yellow? I was ready to jump up and run down it with each pitch. We stayed in the same spot throughout the game, chatted, ate food that we’d brought into the park (I’m so glad the Angels still let you do that), and watched the action. Kendrys Morales hit his first home run since May of 2010–a three run shot that just barely cleared the fence in left-center. Albert hit a drive to the warning track… but didn’t go yard. The A’s just couldn’t muster any kind of rally. We got to see a pretty cool moment: Jered Weaver’s 1,000th career strikeout.
It was Josh Reddick in the sixth inning, in case you were curious.
After having not scored since that Morales homer in the first inning, the Angels were able to put up three more runs in the eighth. The healthy 6-0 lead was plenty for Weaver, who was excellent yet again and went six and two-thirds innings, and three relievers.
Michelle had to leave around 9:15 to head home so I walked her to the gate and we parted ways (it was still only 3-0 when she left). I returned to the seating area, stayed in the outfield seats for a bit longer but then decided to move. After a half-inning behind the Halo dugout, I ended up behind the Oakland dugout for conclusion of that evening’s contest: And when Erick Aybar grounded out to first baseman Daric Barton to end the 8th, I was about five rows back and he lofted me ball #5 on the evening. I looked closely at it and realized he must have kept the gamer and tossed my the infield warm up ball because it was pretty beaten up.
I asked manager Bob Melvin for his lineup cards but he ignored me… and the A’s relievers came in from the bullpen and Brian Fuentes had a baseball in his pocket. I shouted to him, “Hey, Brian, could you toss me a baseball, please?” He got a few steps closer, lobbed one my way… and a female A’s fan to my right leaned out and nabbed it just an inch in front of my glove.
Wow–I guess I should have been more aggressive. I was a little bummed about that one but I was pretty pleased with my haul. I ended up giving away the de los Santos ball to an usher who said she’d be certain to find a deserving youngster to give it to… and I headed home.
I’d be heading back to see the O’s and Angels on Friday.
I was back at the Big A for a mid-week game against the Twins. I always love to watch the Angels play the Twins because they’re very similar teams year in and year out. I arrived at about 4:30 and waited for the gates to open at 5:00. Michelle would be meeting me when she got out of work so I spent the time talking with a few of the BP regulars (like Chris and Rob). It was a fairly good crowd once we all ran inside and I headed up to the pavilion, as both teams would be taking a lot of hacks from the left side of the plate since two righties, Joel Piniero and Scott Baker, would be facing off.
The seats filled up pretty quickly and almost every row had one or two people blocking paths to get from one section to another. I managed to snag a Mark Trumbo opposite field shot that bounced in the fourth row after about twenty minutes. I ran to my left and the ball ended up going over my head–so I climbed a row of seats and snagged it off the cement. And here it is:
That photo was taken in the concourse shortly after batting practice ended. Ball #337. And the first one of the day. Later, one of the last Angel home runs during batting practice was a shot by Russell Branyan and I sprinted a full section to my left and mid-stride was able to jump up, fully reach out and above me and snag the ball on the fly at the spot shown here:
That’s Rob in the white, sleeveless shirt on the right of the above photo. I felt good about that jumping catch (and later a couple of people commented on what a good catch it was). But one guy didn’t like it–he claimed that ball was hit right to him and that it was his—he was going to catch it and, not only that, he was going to give it to his son for his ninth birthday. Whoa. One–he didn’t have a glove. Two–he had been sitting down. Three–he had a beer in his hand at the time. Really… he was so prepared to catch a 400 ft. shot going 80 mph.
If he had presented his concern/plan in a calm and polite way I would have probably given him (or his son) a baseball. Instead, he was belligerent and said things like, “Yeah, you better walk away,” as I went to put the ball in my backpack. A minute later, now that I was another full section away from him, he approached me (in a pretty aggressive manner) and started cursing and berating me. Not a good example to set for your birthday boy, sir.
The other regulars (and the ushers in that area of the stadium) all know me and know I play by the rules. If I’d thought I had done anything wrong (or they had suggested that I had truly not made a wise decision in making such a great catch that happened to be in front of that guy) I would have given the ball right over. But, barring that–there was no way I was going to reward his crass behavior… what a lesson for his son, huh? If you cuss and yell at people, that’s how you get things you want!
Here’s the ball, BTW:
After the Angels hit, the Twins started their BP session and the seats filled up a bit more at that point. Here was the view to my left:
That’s Chris in the white hat and shirt. And here was the view to my right:
I went on with my day and snagged my third baseball off the bat of a Twins lefty (I don’t know who). I caught it on the fly in the third row of Section 237. Here’s the spot of the catch:
And that kid in the blue shirt looking at the camera is Chris’ girlfriend’s little brother, Brandon. He’s on his way to catching a ton of baseballs himself–I’m pretty sure he caught at least two at this game. I ended up with three baseballs–all hit–two of ’em caught on the fly. And one was a 50th Anniversary commemorative baseball. Not a bad batting practice session.
I ran to the Twins’ dugout after BP but didn’t get anything there… nor did I get a ball from either team during their warmups before the first pitch, try as I might.
I was tired–and sweaty. It had been really hot–but it cooled down to about seventy-seven degrees at game time. Tired and sweaty was a beautiful combination for when my wife arrived at the stadium. She was glad to see me anyway and we decided to get some food and sit down with this view:
Michelle and I watched the game from out there and, though I tried for a third out toss at the Angels dugout a couple of times, I was content to just hang out with her and enjoy the summer evening.
Then, as I was coming back from getting a soda in the third inning I watched Peter Bourjos smack a deep drive into the left field corner. I saw a guy move into the aisle–he was wearing a white shirt–and reach up and make a great catch about eight rows deep in the stands. Then he did a fist pump and turned a bit and I recognized this guy:
Rob! Nice snag on the fly, dude!
After that, I continued to watch the game with Michelle as the Twins pounded out five homers against the struggling Joel Piniero. It wasn’t pretty. The Angels were down 9-4 when Michelle decided to head home in the seventh inning. I walked her to the gate and we got this photo together before she left:
Then, I went and found a seat here:
And then here:
No third out baseballs came my way…
And then the Angels, down 11-4 in the ninth, tried to mount a comeback while I sat here:
It didn’t happen and the game went final. The Twins tossed a couple baseballs up after the game but nothing came my way. Still–a fun night at the stadium.
The commemorative baseballs were out in full force at the ‘Big A’ so I was back just three days after my first regular season game. Michelle and I each took off a bit early from work so we could make it to the stadium for BP. Here I am at the front of the Home Plate Gate line before they opened at 5:00:
I was the second one to the right field seats so I didn’t bother looking for Easter eggs very thoroughly and instead went up to the wall overlooking the players shagging baseballs in the outfield.
One of the players out there was Hank Conger and as he fielded a ground ball I asked him, “Hey, Hank, could you throw that ball up here, please?”
He did–a nice, easy toss to me in the front row–and just like that I was on the board for the day. The ball was a standard baseball and I decided I’d make sure to find a young fan to give it away to before I left that night.
About five minutes later I had a home run lined up and it ended up falling just a few feet short and bouncing toward a player in center field. As it turns out, that player was Francisco Rodriguez and when he retrieved it I asked him in Spanish if he could throw it back up.
He looked up, gestured, and I took a couple steps back just in case his throw was short… it wasn’t… and I had baseball number two on the day.
Here’s the spot where I snagged it:
I moved a few sections to my left, closer to straight away right field, and ended up getting Ball #3 from rookie pitcher Tyler Chatwood. He tossed it up to me in Section 238 after he fielded a ball and turned around and saw me waving. I yelled out, “Right here, Tyler!” and that was all it took.
I turned the ball over in my palm to reveal a 50th Anniversary logo! Nice! Shortly after that the Indians came out to stretch, throw, and hit and I thought, “Wow! Three balls from the Angels and the Indians can really hit… plus I’m one of, like, eight guys in an Indians hat in the whole stadium! This is gonna be great.”
And wouldn’t you know it? I didn’t snag another ball for the rest of BP. No toss ups from Indians pitchers, no mores caught in the seats from the many, many Indians lefties, no toss up at the end of BP at the dugout… and even though I was near Orlando Cabrera as he finished up his pregame throwing I didn’t get that ball, either.
I sat back down with Michelle as the game started up thinking of what could have been… but I looked at the commemorative ball I’d snagged from Chatwood and decided to change my mind. I had some excellent souvenirs and I was at a ball game with my wife–no need for frustration, right?
I gave the Conger ball to a kid before the game started and the Rodriguez ball to a little guy on our way out of the stadium. That made me feel even better… but on to the game!
Our friends, Beth and Randy, who we’d gone to Indians/Angels games with on 7/27/09 and 4/26/10 (and Randy came to a A’s/Angels game with me alone on 4/8/09), would be at this tilt, too… and when they arrived we met them at their seats with this view in front of us:
Not too shabby, just barely in home run range. I joked with the people around us when Michelle and I left to go to our seats that they’d have to fend for themselves without my glove around to protect them…
And after we grabbed some ice cream and made it to our seats here:
Not so great… but I was still having fun! Anyway, after we got to those seats Mark Trumbo hit his first home run about a section away from where Beth and Randy’s seats were… and after talking with Beth at the end of the game I determined I wouldn’t have been able to snag it over/through the row full of fans. Still, it was Trumbo’s first career jack–and some security folks came to get the ball… they traded something to the guy who caught it–Randy and Beth made it sound like they just traded a ball for a ball…
Talk about a missed opportunity. After that, my uncle (who was also at this game), texted me to say that we should come sit with him in Section 126. So, we did… here’s a photo from Section 126:
And did I mention that Dan Haren was throwing a shutout?
And it would end up being a one-hit shutout! And the game was over in two hours and fifteen minutes. The Angels won it, 2-0.
We met up with Randy and Beth after the game to chat for a bit and then headed out to the car–it turned out to be a great night. And… I had tickets to the next day’s game!
There was a lot of running around over the twenty-four hours between the start
of yesterday’s game and the end of this one. The Rays were still in town
and the Angels were looking to salvage the series by winning this day game
after losing the first two games. The Rays were trying to stay even with
the Yankees and maintain their share of the “best record in
baseball.” It was a gorgeous summer day in Orange County.
As soon as the stadium opened I headed inside and down to the field seats just
past first base. There, I scored some points in the myGameBalls.com Photo
Scavenger Hunt by getting a photo with All-Star pitcher David Price.
I also got his autograph on my ticket. There was no BP going on so I
didn’t have a lot to do for ninety minutes. Luckily, the weather was
great, there weren’t many fans, and I was able to get a few more autographs.
Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden came out of the Angel dugout to stretch and
throw. I was pretty sure Walden ended up with the ball when they were
finished… anyway, he started signing autographs along the outfield wall and I
got him on a ticket stub.
He kept signing and worked his way toward the infield… and when he was
through I asked if he could spare the baseball in his glove–and he told me he didn’t
have one. Sure enough, he held up his glove and it was empty. I
guess he’d handed over to someone at some point in the autograph process.
While I was near the dugout I saw DL-laden Maicer Izturis down there and he was
signing for the few fans that recognized him. I tossed him the team
baseball I was working on and he signed it for me… in black ink… from a pen
he was holding that another fan had thrown to him. All the other
signatures were in blue–but an autograph’s an autograph. I thanked him
and headed back toward the outfield. Hoping to get a warmup toss from
Scot Shields after he finished throwing, I had to settle for his autograph on
my team ball–in blue. I was still sitting on zero baseballs but had four
autographs at that point… that’s the best part about day game pregame
activity: it’s relaxed and the players and team staff members are approachable
and friendlier than usual. For example, I’ve never seen Shields sign
before. It was nice to get his autograph… he’s not stellar like he used
to be, but he’s been a good, solid pitcher for the Angels since 2002.
After getting shunned by Ervin Santana and Fernando Rodney (big surprise) I
headed back to the Rays’ side of the field where a trainer had come out in
preparation for the players to emerge from the dugout, I assumed.
up having a pretty nice chat with this guy, Chris is his name. I couldn’t
find him on the Rays’ website but his initials are CW… and he helps the
players get loose, plays catch with anyone that needs a partner, throws
football-style passes to Evan Longoria, and occasionally throws BP, so he told
me. Anyway, he was pretty cool and I liked his shades.
Shortly after talking with Chris I ran toward the visiting team’s dugout and
got their skipper’s autograph on a ticket stub. I already had Joe Maddon
(and Maicer Izturis AND David Price, for that matter) but it was good to get
I grabbed a drink (free) and headed back to the third base line where the
Angels had come out to throw. I got myself into the middle of a bunch of
fans and called out to Alberto Callaspo as he finished playing catch. He
tossed the ball to me in the first row (just behind the “Diamond Field Box Seats” (or whatever they’re called) and I had to fully extend my arm and
lean just slightly to the left in order to catch it. I took a photo (right) of the spot where I made the catch.
It helps to be able
to use Spanish to ask for baseballs… I mean, it’s great to be able to ask for
baseballs in different languages and I’ve gotten at least two by using Korean,
two using Japanese, and about ten using Spanish. Thanks to relatively new
Angel, Alberto Callaspo, I wouldn’t get shut out on this sunny, BP-less
afternoon. I had now gone to sixty-seven games and snagged at least one
ball at each one. That streak goes back to September of 2008.
I went back over to the Rays’ side as their players were warming up. There, I took a picture from a different angle of where I snagged the Callaspo ball (left)… you can see how that special section of box seats separates fans from the field and players. So, I was in the first row of the non-box seats… which is technically the second row.
I didn’t snag another ball or autograph from a player but I did get a baseball tossed to me from coach George Hendrick. I decided to keep the Callaspo ball and give away the Hendrick one. I found a little kid nearby and made his day (and his dad’s). They were thrilled to receive it.
The game started and I spent the top of the first behind the Angel dugout…
1. Check out Longoria’s socks.
2. Check out all the empty seats!
And I spent the bottom of the first behind the Rays’ dugout.
No third-out toss for me… and no foul balls anywhere near me which was a bummer because I had a ton of room to run:
After the first inning I relocated to the right field pavilion because the crowd out there was light and during day games more home runs tend to make it out there. As you may recall, I was within five feet of Bobby Abreu’s walk-off homer about two weeks earlier…
I saw BP regular Rob out there in the stands and he and I chatted throughout the game. No homers got hit out toward right field but Mike Napoli did hit a grand slam to left field. The Angels would crush the Rays on this afternoon, 12-3. Their offense decided to wake up, how ’bout that? Also, I watched as a fan who was sitting about four rows from the field down the right field line got nailed by a foul ball. It wasn’t a scorcher that took a hop into the seats or a line drive that he didn’t have time to see. It was a fly ball that Rob and I watched, I knew it was going foul. A half a dozen fans moved out of the way of it. This one guy did not.
He’s down on the ground in that photo… being tended to. The woman in white bending down is pretty much blocking the guy that got hit. Rob and I saw it and heard it hit him. That sound… I guess I should’ve felt bad for him… or sympathetic. But I just kept thinking, if you’re that close to the field: PAY ATTENTION! He got taken away by paramedics after a few minutes… he walked up the steps under his own power so I imagine it was just a bad bump on his head/face/leg/arm. Wherever he got hit.
So, I got some sun, a couple of baseballs, five autographs, and saw the Angels win. All in all, it was a good day. Toward the end of the game I tried to snag a ball from the bullpen guys… but failed… also I didn’t catch a home run in left field either. I saw a fan wearing a Reggie Jackson Angels jersey–more scavenger hunt points. Note: I actually have that jersey but mine’s the home white and not the road gray.
By the end of the game there weren’t a lot of fans left in the stands… the Angels were up by nine runs and it was pretty hot by that point. Rob and i kept thinking, “This is what it’s like to be at a Pirates game.”
As a colleague said to me recently about the Angels, “They’re just so mediocre this year.”
Hi, readers. You may know by now that I was fortunate enough to attend a game at Dodger Stadium with an all-access media pass on August 19th. Well, Alan Schuster of www.mygameballs.com got the whole thing set up for me and I attend the game with the goal of interviewing fans that snagged souvenir baseballs. The article went live on the site last week and I’ve decided to repost it here for the MLBlogs community. It was published in three parts on myGameBalls and I’ve broken it up into those three parts for this entry, too. Enjoy!
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So, What Are You
Going To Do With The Ball?
(An all-access look
into BP, foul balls, home runs, and the fans that end up with the souvenirs.)
It’s a sweltering day when I arrive to the Top Deck of
Dodger Stadium. Summer has finally decided to hit L.A.–the
mercury is at ninety-four degrees when I step out into the Field Level seats as
the hometown Boys in Blue take their batting practice swings in the cage.
The environment is relaxed. Peaceful. Rock and meringue
tracks play over the speakers and every crack of the bat and pop of the glove
is audible. I listen as skipper Joe Torre and DL-laden Russell Martin
chat about his recovery. In the outfield, Vincente Padilla sits in the stands
before the gates open talking to a translator as Hiroki
Billingsley, and other pitchers warm-up. Billingsley makes a leap at the
left field wall and a BP ball barely clears the tip of his glove. It
bounces around and lands in the front row of Mannywood. The gates will
open in twenty minutes and I think to myself, The first fan in the gates is going to wind up with a nice souvenir.
I watch as a few more BP balls wind up in the left and right field bleachers.
One more bounces into Mannywood, this one ends up in the second row.
Easter eggs adorn the seats for the masses accumulating at the
gates. The serene feeling of warm-ups will soon be altered. Padilla
will hop over the wall and back onto the field. Martin will head into the
dugout. And soon, everyone will be excited to possibly, just maybe, take
home a piece of the action: a Rawlings Official Major League Baseball.
It’s not just the fans… baseball is infectious. Dodger
Stadium employees watch the last few minutes of batting practice from the
concourse, including a few that sit in the seats, waiting for the consumers to
come in and for their shifts to start. A baseline box attendant chats
with me for a moment in the seats before heading to his post. On his way
in he grabs the two Mannywood baseballs. He throws one back onto the field
and pockets the other–I hope he’s
planning to give that to a kid, I say to myself. The floodgates open
at 5:05. The fans first into the left field bleachers run through and
pick up four or five balls. Dodger Stadium is open for business.
When the visiting Rockies take the field the echoes of
“Over here!” are growing in volume. Fans continue to arrive, some with a
glove or mitt, some without, but everyone in the seating bowl has one goal: to
snag a ball. There’s a burning desire in most (if not all) of baseball’s
fans to get a ball from a game, maybe even from their favorite team or player.
Walking near the right field line I encounter Carlos, a thirteen year-old
Dodger fan who receives a friendly toss from a Rockies
pitcher. It’s his first baseball… ever. And he’s thrilled when I
sit down with him for a minute to talk about the experience. He’s a
season ticket holder and goes to a lot of games… and though he admits to having
been a little scared he might miss the ball, he’s excited to take it home and put
it in a trophy case. In his own words, showing wisdom beyond his years,
Carlos tells me, “When I’m older I’m gonna tell my children that I got a ball
from a real baseball player.” When I left him, Carlos and his dad were
still talking about the ball, both grinning from ear to ear.
It’s turned into a brilliant night at Dodgertown. Ted
Lilly, recently acquired from the Cubs, is hurling a gem. More than
45,000 people have come out to see if the Dodgers can beat their NL West rivals
and stay in contention for a playoff spot. Jorge de la Rosa is pitching
well, but he’s losing, 2-0 because Lilly is dominating Colorado.
Utilizing his looping curveball and his Reagan-era fastball (in the
mid-eighties), Lilly is keeping the Rockies off balance.
They’re swinging, but they’re not getting any good wood on the ball… and
that makes for quite a few souvenirs being sent up into the stands. The
first lucky recipient I come across is Cory, age thirty-three, decked out in
Matt Kemp gear. Cory tells me he had no idea he’d be in foul ball range
when he headed to the game tonight. When I ask him about his lack of a
baseball glove he responds confidently, holding up his hands, “This is my
glove.” Cory’s in a great mood. And why not? He just made a
bare-handed catch of a Melvin Mora foul ball in the Loge Level of Dodger
Stadium. He’s all smiles as I speak to him, and to his son, Fernando, who
tells me he is “very proud” of his dad. I ask him to explain to me the
feeling he had as the ball flew back toward the seats and he responds, “I was
just judging it. Wait, wait… that ball’s comin’ towards me!” He
read it off the bat–he knew that ball was destined for him. With youthful
wonder in his voice he says to me, “Like, it’s really here? You know?
And I just reached out and grabbed it. I caught it!” His first foul
ball ever. What are you going to do
with it? “My son’s more of a Dodger fan than me so I’ll give it to
him.” A fine answer, Cory. Well done.
The father and son duo are happily talking about their
recent good fortune as I sit down next to Shane, from Northridge, and he tells
me about his experience. Shane is
noticeably more subdued than Cory, but still glad to have obtained the
souvenir. Aside from the possibility
that he’s trying to keep his cool in front of his female companion, I learn
that the Matt Kemp foul ball now in his possession is the first game-used
baseball for the twenty-one year old (at his sixth game this year). He’s
no stranger to catching baseballs though, as he used to play growing up. Shane
tells me he picked up his ball on a bounce after an unlucky fan a section over
couldn’t come up with it. “It was about ten seats to the left of me and
he missed it and it bounced to me.” After the bounce caused the baseball
to head toward him, Shane knew it was all his. “I’ll put it with all my
other baseballs,” he tells me. He estimates he’s got about 100 baseballs…
but from professional games he’s got, “A few of ’em. It’s pretty cool
that I caught it at the game.” As the
game plays on in front of us I recognize that fans like Shane and Cory and even
young Carlos are, every time they head out to the ballpark, in a friendly
competition with all the other patrons around them. Once a ball heads into the seats it becomes a
whole new game. Have you ever seen
anyone specifically avoid a foul ball that rolled to their feet? No.
Sure, Shane and Cory ended up with their prizes in slightly different
ways but they each wanted the ball enough that they put effort into snagging
it. And, as you’ll see in the next
segment of On The Scene, a little effort paired with some impressive “skills”
and strategy go a long way in procuring a baseball for a couple more fans.
Sometimes a foul ball bounces around the seating bowl of a
stadium and gets nabbed off the ground by an excited fan. Other times, however, someone makes a Gold
Glove-caliber play in the stands and receives a nice ovation for their
efforts. After parting ways with the
first couple of fans to seize their rubbed-up gamers I meet Ben, Fan Gold Glove
Award winner on this warm summer evening. On my way to see about another
foul ball chance I stop dead in my tracks as I see a ball come flying back into
the seats and I watch a man with a beer in one hand stand up as the ball
bounces off the Press Booth, hits an overhang and ricochets straight
down. He reaches straight up with his free hand (gloveless) and makes a
Web Gem-worthy grab. Within moments he’s talking to me about the
experience, smiling and laughing the whole time. The Melvin Mora ball,
smacked into the Loge in the seventh inning, is still in his grasp. Ben
lives in L.A. and is originally from Napa.
He’s sat in the seats we’re in before thanks to some friends that occasionally
hook him up with tickets. When I ask him if he’s ever thought that he’d
have a chance to catch a ball in these seats he instantly responds,
“Definitely!” It’s something Ben has wanted to do for years: take home a
foul ball from a Dodger game, but when I mention he didn’t bring his baseball
mitt, he laughs. I ask how he managed to make such a great catch and he
replies. “Skills.” Ben is a concise, confident guy, and genuinely
happy about his experience. In his eyes
I can see that this event just made his night. Can you describe the catch for me, Ben? He tells me that as
soon as he saw it coming up toward him his first thought was: “I’m gonna catch
this friggin’ ball.” We both laugh and I ask him what sort of feelings
he’s got flowing through him. Joy?
Jubilation? “All of the above. I can cross this off my bucket
list.” After fifteen to twenty years of going to baseball games, he’s
finally got the long-awaited prize. And what is he planning to do with
it? Well, Ben hasn’t decided yet but the ball’s still in his hand ten
minutes later. He’s letting it sink in.
The Dodgers are winning on the warm summer night and Ben’s got his very own
foul ball. How are you feeling
right now, in this moment, I
In each inning of a baseball game, so much happens that can
really get lost on the casual fan. Coaches give signs, players change
positioning based on the hitter, guys keep their arms loose by playing catch,
and a young fan named Cole, out in the right field bleachers, knows what that
means. A baseball could soon be headed his way. Yep, that’s
right. You don’t have to wait for a foul
ball or a home run in order for a ball to come your way. Cole’s got a keen eye for the game and shows
a bit of strategy to snag a ball from Kemp, his favorite player. I track Cole and his dad, Chuck, down in the
right field bleachers in the fifth inning.
The duo hails from Placentia
and they’re seated in the front row of the section, which I notice is a full
two sections away from where young Cole obtained the ball. When I inquire as to how Cole knew to be near
the center fielder he responds, “Because it was Kemp’s turn to throw it.” The observant fan goes on to tell me that he
knows that the right fielder and center fielder switch off throwing the ball to
the seats each inning. Throughout the
interview, both father and son are ready with baseball gloves, just in case a
homer comes their way. So, you seem to know what you’re doin’ out
here. How many baseballs have you ended
up with this season? Cole starts,
“Um… like maybe eight…” and his dad jumps in to finish his sentence, “But only
maybe one or two that he catches.” They
both assure me that there aren’t any favorites in their collection: they’re all
equally special. Chuck explains that at
batting practice sometimes they’ll find an Easter egg waiting for them or a
ball might bounce around so either of them can pick it up. I ask how Cole knows that Kemp’s baseball is
going to get to him… what does he do to insure he catches it? “Just scream at him,” and he’ll wave his
glove and yell out “Matt, over here!” Cole
elaborates that once he had been heard he saw it in Kemp’s eyes. “He just, like, walked right at me,” and then
the throw came up and now Cole’s smiling with a baseball from his favorite
Dodger. Has he ever dropped one in a
situation like that? Nope–he’s got a
perfect record. His dad, however? What
about your dad, has he ever dropped one, Cole? “Probably.”
Chuck just laughs and shakes his head… and I thank them both for their
time. I don’t want to distract them from
any possible homers any longer. Home
runs snags, after all, are the fantasy of many fans situated in the outfield
seats at any MLB game… but sometimes the fantasy of taking home a home run ball
hit by your favorite team becomes a reality and, as you’ll read next time, a
Dodger fan who hails from about 6,000 miles outside of L.A. became one of the
luckiest people in the stadium.
The evening at Dodger Stadium had gone from hot to cool
and the fans were all hoping the Dodgers’ bats wouldn’t share the same
fate. Needing a boost to help out their
starter, Ted Lilly, the Blue Crew got some power from an unexpected
contributor. Lilly would go the
distance, allowing just two hits and his counterpart, Jorge de la Rosa, did
pretty well, too. De la Rosa’s only big mistake? Well, let’s just say there were a couple of
firsts on this electric night of fine pitching.
De la Rosa threw a pitch to Reed Johnson in the second inning. It became the first (and only) home run of
the night, Johnson’s first as a Dodger, and the first baseball for an
international Dodger fan, Mr. Kuei-Fan Liu, visiting L.A.
from Taiwan. I approach Mr. Liu and his group as they are
engaged in excited chatter an inning after the home run. When I ask to interview him he agrees, at the
urging of his friends. Later on I’ll
watch a video of the home run and Mr. Liu and see the excitement that overtook
he and the whole section as the ball landed in the pavilion. In our interview, however, Mr. Liu stays
calm, considering himself, quite possibly, the luckiest fan in the stadium. Surrounded by his friends, he tells me they’re
very excited for him: “They all love me now!”
Which results in laughter from the whole group. And when I ask him what his feeling was as
the ball rocketed towards the seats he states, “I just worried that the ball
would hit me.” He tells me that he
didn’t come prepared with a glove because he didn’t know he’d even have a
chance at a home run. This is his first
professional baseball game in America. Your
first game… ever? “Yes.” Wow. “I think some other people will try to catch
the ball. But then it rolled down here,”
he gestures down to the concrete beneath his bleacher seat. He truly is lucky. The video highlight online shows that at
least four other people in the rows above him reached for the ball… but Mr. Liu
was able to grab it after it bounced off a few hands. His friends are snapping photos as I continue
the interview, they’re all excited. This
small, rubbed-up pearl has just made their experience one that will last
forever in their memories, even half a world away. So, Mr.
Liu, what are you going to do with the ball?
Put it on the mantle, in a trophy case?
Maybe just throw it in a drawer somewh–he cuts me off. “Of course not!” He smiles, knowing that he’s got big plans
for his one of a kind souvenir. “I will
keep this ball and I’ll go back to Taiwan
and tell all my friends I got the home run ball,” at his very first MLB
game. I take a few photos with the group
after concluding the interview and leave them, still excitedly conversing about
all that’s transpired.
It’s a 2-0 victory for the Dodgers as they shut out the
visiting Rockies and Ted Lilly’s performance is truly a
great one on this August night. For
certain fans though, August 19th, 2010, will be remembered for something other
than a sparkling pitching performance or a smooth double play turned by their
hometown Boys in Blue. For a select
lucky (and skilled) few, this night is about taking a piece of the game home
with them. Whether it’s to display it,
tuck it away, or save it for their children one day, a baseball finding its way
into the hands of a fan is something that will cause as much joy as any Dodger win. And, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to own
a small piece of baseball history for their very own, win or lose, day or
night. For any baseball fan, ending up
with a ball from a player, whether it’s thrown, hit, or found, is an exciting
experience. You’re a star for a brief
second, proudly thrusting the souvenir up in the air, thrilled that of 45,000+
fans–this one found it’s way to you. Just
think… what’ll you do the next time one comes your way?
The day began with an autograph session with Howie Kendrick at an AT&T store in Seal Beach. Michelle and I each got him twice, and I knew I’d be giving one baseball I had signed away to a friend of mine who works for a charity to fight Huntington’s Disease.
Howie was very nice in person and I really liked his shoes… we chatted about them for a minute as he signed my second autograph. Thanks, Howie!
When we arrived (and got to park in super-close Diamond Parking) there were booths being set up for an animal adoption event and for Chevy. As it turns out, if you test drove a Chevy you got swag… including vouchers for Angels tickets. I was all over it–so was Joe. And he drove the new Camaro–it was pretty sweet. I ended up with a cap, a keychain, and two Angels tickets. Score! It was almost time for the gates to open:
They all decided to check out the animal adoption booths (which you can see to the right in the above photo) while I headed in for BP. My first ball on the day was a scoop off the warning track. Kendrick sliced one that bounced on the grass near the foul pole and I was able to jump out over the wall and snag it as it rolled by. It had the word “PRACTICE” stamped on the sweet spot. Bleh.
I headed up to the pavilion after that and got my next baseball from Mike Napoli. Nap blasted one to right-center and I ran across half a section, down to the front row and reached out over the wall to catch it on the fly. Here’s the spot where I caught it:
The kids in that photo were pretty excited on my behalf… they hadn’t even seen the ball coming and I snagged it three feet to the left of the smaller boy. It was a pretty nice snowcone catch–again, the ball had a practice stamp.
That was it for Angels BP. For the Blue Jays, I played the area behind the bullpens in left field.
I knew there was a lot of right-handed pop in the Toronto lineup and I hoped that they’d knock a few out that far. Most of the home runs they hit went into the bullpens–but thanks to Casey Janssen, a SoCal native who was talking to the woman in the red shirt in the above photo, I got Ball #3 on the day. A Blue Jay righty (I don’t know who) smacked one toward the bullpen. I yelled to Janssen, who was in the ‘pen, “Heads up!” He turned, found the ball as it descended, and caught it. He’d already given one to the lady he was talking to so, as a way of saying thanks to me for warning him, he flipped me the ball. The toss-up was, if my records are correct, my 100th ball of 2010! Many thanks to Mr. Janssen. BP kind of died after Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, and Aaron Hill hit. I spent the last round in right field–but didn’t snag anything there.
I ran down toward the dugout, passing Michelle and her family in the process (they’d been hanging out in some shaded seats for the end of BP) and when I got to the Blue Jay dugout I got Ball #4 from John MacDonald as he headed into th dugout. It had a cool black smudge on it.
The rest of my party moved to our ticketed seats after that and I continued to hang out near the field for Blue Jays warm-up throwing–but I didn’t snag another ball there so I sat down with the rest of the family. Remember how I said they were awesome seats? This was our view:
BAM! So cool! And we were on the aisle. I told Joe, “These are the seats I have to sneak down to when Michelle and I usually come to games here.” He’d gotten them from someone at his work–so thanks to Joe and the folks he works with!
That’s Mike Napoli scoring on a two-run home run by Hideki Matsui. That was in the second inning so the Halos were off to a good start! I was thrilled to be in great seats that were actually OURS!
And Bobby Wilson, our backup catcher, ended up with two home runs and five RBIs on the night! Wow! It was a good atmosphere, pleasant company, and a great game to watch.
In the ninth inning I positioned myself right over the Blue Jay dugout and as the Jays retreated into the dugout someone (I think it was Shaun Marcum) flipped a ball up over the dugout unexpectedly. I didn’t catch it in my glove… I caught it with my glove, pinning it against my chest… luckily it didn’t hurt and that gave me five baseballs on the night. A pretty good haul–after we left the stadium we treated Joe and his son, Joey, to frozen yogurt at our favorite place and then they were on their way back home.
Back home in Orange County and I was off to a day game… after a night game… what?
hadn’t planned to go to this game but I ended up with free tickets, so I
was off to the Big A at about 10:40am. When I got to the stadium I
walked past the Home Plate Gate… no matter how many times I go to day
games at Angel Stadiums I never get used to all the people crammed in
line at the Home Plate Gate. I got in line at the Left Field Gate…
and the crowd there was much smaller:
I ran in there were no Angels on the field but some Royals pitchers
were throwing over on the first base side of the stadium.
And when I looked toward home plate…
cage was up! Were the Royals going to take BP? I walked over to the
Royals dugout (where Mike Aviles was playing catch) and stood over it,
waiting. When Aviles finished throwing, he and the unknown player he
was throwing to walked toward the cage a talked for a minute. When they
headed back toward the dugout I held up my glove and said, “Mike!
Right here!” He flipped me my first ball of the afternoon. Easy as
that… there was hardly anyone else around at the time. It was
I recognized Wilson Betemit and saw him with a bat in his hands.
He looked over. “Are you guys gonna hit?” He nodded, then went to put
on his helmet. I headed out toward the outfield and passed by Kanekoa
Texeira and Joaquin Soria again as they were finishing their warmup
tosses. I asked Soria for the ball when he ended up with it but he
threw the ball back toward the infield… but Texeira had an extra ball
with him and he tossed that one to me. The Royals had begun taking
their hacks so I jogged out to the foul pole, hoping a Royal in the
first round would slice one toward me.
spent about five or six minutes near the foul pole but then I saw
someone hit a ball up to the pavilion–it was home run time and I was
off to the upper level seats in right. I saw Rob and Devin up there,
already running around. It didn’t take long for me to snag Ball #3…
was close to center field and Betemit was in the cage. He drilled a
ball toward me… I moved to my right a little and ended up on the
staircase between Sections 240 and 239. I reached up over my head and
made the catch on the fly.
The Royals ended BP abruptly… that
was all right. I was thrilled to even get the fifty minutes of batting
practice that occurred. I headed back to their dugout… but missed out
on any toss-ups. I was pretty warm after running around so I grabbed a
drink and had a seat on the shaded (third base) side of the stadium.
The Angels came out, stretched a bit, a couple played catch. I was watching that day’s starter, Zack Greinke, warm up:
moved into the bullpen shortly after I took this photo and the Angels
kept their baseballs that they had being throwing around. I ran over to
the Royal dugout for pregame throwing over there and got my fourth ball
of the afternoon from Yuniesky Betancourt. He actually saw me, tossed
the ball he had been using to a kid to my left, then threw another one
to the kid’s brother… then he looked back at me again and held up one
finger (as if to say, “Hold on.”) and he went into the dugout. He
popped back out and tossed be a ball with a gnarly black smudge on it.
The game would be starting in five minutes and I was on four balls for
the day… and 249 for my lifetime. I thought it would be cool to get a
game-used ball for number 250 so I decided to try for a third out toss,
first from the Angels, then from the Royals. I would go back and forth
if I needed to each inning…
And even though I missed out on the Angels’ third out toss, I was in a
good mood when I parked myself behind the Royals dugout for the bottom
of the first. There were still a ton of free seats, it was a beautiful
day for baseball, and I was probably the only one in the stands that
knew the guy’s name who was playing first base for K.C.
Kila Ka’aihue. His first name is pronounced KEE-luh. And when Bobby
Abreu struck out, then Erick Aybar flew out, then Alberto Callaspo
grounded out weakly to first, I was ready. Before Kila even stepped on
the bag I was right at the opposite side of the dugout, seated in the
first row on the aisle. I stood up and called out to him. “Kila! Over
here, please! Kila!”
He flipped me the beautiful, rubbed-up ball for my fifth on the day and number 250 overall!
With my mini-milestone out of the way I decided to try for another one.
I was still without a game home run in my life… I thought a day game,
with a smaller than average crowd, would be a good time to try to nab
one. Here was my view for the remaining eight innings:
And with the exception of some day-campers being irritating in the
sections around me, it was an excellent game. Greinke dueled against
Jered Weaver and they each only gave up one run. Weaver went eight and struck out eleven! It was 1-1 in the
ninth, then 1-1 in the tenth. Lots of great pitching and defense, not a
lot of home runs… Betancourt hit one to center. That had been it.
I had time to take a picture with fellow ballhawk, Rob, who’s on the myGameBalls Lifetime Top 10 list.
And, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but when there are pitching changes at Angel Stadium (for the visiting team) and it’s not time to unleash the Rally Monkey, Angel Stadium plays video compilations of fans dancing around, being excited, and just having a good time. I’m happy to say that Michelle and I are a part of one of those compilations. So, when Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” plays when a visiting team makes a call to the bullpen… check out the video. We’re totally in it… at least for this season. I snapped a picture of our two seconds of screen time… it’s us dancing in our seats:
I told you I had time…
Then things got really interesting as the game headed into extra innings…
I was one of just a few hundred people left in the pavilion in the tenth. The Royals went down in order in the top of the inning, thanks to Brian Fuentes. Then, in the bottom of the tenth, Reggie Willits grounded out for the first out and that brought up Bobby Abreu. Abreu took a called strike one, then held up on a fastball to make the count one-and-one. Then, he smashed a changeup that Jesse Chavez had left up in the zone. As soon as he hit it I knew it was gone. I jumped up out of my seat and into the aisle. Abreu had crushed the ball so I retreated a step or two up the staircase… it had a good angel, but then…
Oh, no! The wind had been occasionally blowing in… and I watched as the ball lost momentum… I moved down to my original spot… the ball was falling fast.
And it hit the ground (or a seat) five feet to my left… I was blocked by a fan. Then it took a huge hop up in the air–and slightly further away from me. I made a desperate lunge, but to no avail. The stadium was on its feet, cheering for the walkoff win… which was all well and good. But I angrily started zipping up my backpack. I’d been so close… the ball had even bounced once. I’ve watched the video a dozen times (you can, too)… I’m in the white shirt and black shorts, sunglasses, and on the staircase (I was the first one up out of my seat), moving up, to the right, and then down… and if I had just stayed put I probably could have caught it. ::sigh::
I won’t dwell on it too much–gamers are tough to come by. I did snag five balls at a day game following a night game, so that’s good. I did get my 250th ball, so that’s good, too. I took a photo while getting on the 57 freeway heading south… on my way home.
And I’d get to come back to Angel Stadium in just a few more days with Michelle and some family, and we’d have some pretty awesome seats!