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.
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?
At approximately 12:30pm on August 6th, Michelle and I loaded up the car and headed west. We crossed the Colorado River and made it through the blistering desert heat after a pretty easy drive in our air conditioned Corolla. At about 7:00pm we were checking into our hotel, the Doubletree Guest Suites in Phoenix, AZ.
The high that day was 113 degrees. The low that night was 83 degrees. Why, oh why, did we trek through the desert in August? Why did we spend 300+ miles on the 10 freeway? Was it just for the delicious, free cookies we received from the concierge upon check-in?
But first, Saturday morning we toured the Arizona State University campus and college-y area of Phoenix during the day and stopped at Tempe Diablo Stadium, too.
After we got back to the hotel at 1:40pm we took the light rail downtown and saw the lines forming for Luis Gonzalez bobbleheads.
If I got to do the whole weekend all over again the one thing I’d have changed would be the bobblehead giveaway. I didn’t know when we planned it, but the D-backs would be retiring Gonzo’s number at this game and giving away 15,000 bobbleheads… and apparently everyone in Arizona wanted one. Well, I hoped to keep my active streak of snagging one baseball at every game I’ve attended since September of 2008… so I went here:
Ah, yes, Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill… when Michelle and I emerged on the patio this was our view:
It was a much different feeling being there before an actual game than it was when I’d checked out the view back in March… check the end of that entry. Have I mentioned that I love retractable roofs? And look at how empty the stadium was:
I saw a few Diamondbacks already taking some hacks in the cage as well as some pitchers throwing in the outfield. One of those pitchers was Daniel Hudson. After a couple of requests (which echoed through the cavernous space) he decided he’d throw me a baseball. Hudson reached back and fired a ball up to the patio–but it fell about five feet short, smacked off a facade, and rattled around in the bleachers below. There were a few groups eating at the tables behind me and a few other fans with gloves… who all had now caught on to what was happening.
I asked Daniel to give it, “One more shot,” and as soon as he fielded another ball in the outfield he turned and fired that one up. I’d moved a few feet back from the rail so that even if this one fell short I could move forward and snag it. No need. Hudson hit me with a perfect throw and I was on the board for the day. It should be noted, too, that some of the folks at tables were very impressed and gave me a woo or two. And as I walked over to where Michelle had sat down she was ready with the camera.
About ten minutes before the gates were slated to open I went downstairs to check out the line situation. Four gates were set to open… and all four had at least 1,000 people standing in front of them, waiting for Gonzo bobbleheads. Michelle and I really didn’t care about getting bobbleheads but I certainly cared about getting inside the stadium. Batting practice was already going strong. Luckily, we found out that we could enter the stadium through Friday’s on the Club Level and then take an elevator to the main concourse. The caveat?
“Well, this is not a bobblehead entrance,” explained the usher at the glass doors. So, that’s why there were only eight people near the doors… fine by me.
When we got in there weren’t any Easter eggs. Season ticket holders were allowed in a half-hour earlier. I had tried to get us “season ticket holder” tickets but couldn’t. I ended up buying $8.00 upper level seats the night before.
I spent the first few minutes inside the stadium trying to catch a Diamondbacks homer:
And I found out later that Michelle was snapping pictures the whole time. In the panorama below I’ve circled myself in white:
A few moments later the D-backs headed in and I made it to their dugout just a bit too late… there were sooo many people there.
I walked across the glorious cross aisle behind home plate to the Padres dugout on the first base side. They weren’t ready to hit just yet and I watched as their strength coach led them in some stretches.
Note the basket of baseballs in the above photo.
The lines of people were still filing in… and when the Padres finished stretching my lack of desire for a bobblehead paid off. A bunch of Padres walked to the basket to grab a warmup ball. I asked Mat Latos for one and he pretended to pick up an extra and mimed tossing it to me–then he grinned and walked away. Jerk.
But Glenn Hoffman saw what had happened (and noticed my Padres jersey and cap) and he tossed my a brand new baseball across the dugout–like, these were perfect. They must have just been taken out of the box. Nice!
I headed to right field (or UPTOwN, the D-backs answer to the Mannywood seats at Dodger Stadium) as the Padres began to hit. The seats were ridiculously crowded. All the people who had waited for hours for their Gonzos were now inside and lounging about in the bleachers. I watched as Adrian Gonzelez hit a ball straight into the pool. SPLASH… which was kind of cool. In his next round I had a chance at a homer… I ran up a staircase and half a section to my left, reached out, and the ball tipped off a guy’s glove in front of me and therefore smacked off the heel of my glove. Ouch… I didn’t even see where it ended up. It was lost in a throng of fans. Booo…
Also, bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds ignored my polite requests for a tossup. So, I headed to left field for the end of Padres BP. Again, huge crowds.
And I ran to their dugout as they headed off the field but didn’t snag anything there. So, I ended BP with two baseballs… and that was fine. I would find out later that the attendance at this game was over 48,000 and I’d estimate that about half of those fans were in the stadium by the end of batting practice. Wow–AZ fans love their Gonzo–and their bobbleheads.
After BP Michelle and I wandered the concourse. She had my camera throughout BP and had been snapping photos all the while.
We saw the Legends walk by…
I tried to get a picture with them but failed. The crowds made it hard to move ANYWHERE at a very quick pace. We took refuge from the maddening crowd in the Team Store:
And decided to head up a nearby escalator to the upper concourse and take a look at the field from up there:
We arrived at our seats to take a break. This was the view:
Not great… but I was glad to be sitting… and it was announced that the indoor temperature was a comfortable seventy-six degrees. I was pretty excited to be watching my very first indoor baseball game. I love retractable roofs!
We had a great view of the scoreboard:
And the pool:
And we watched as the pregame ceremony honoring Gonzo commenced, people said nice things about him, they played some highlights, Gonzo spoke:
And finally, they unveiled his number 20 on the wall near Jackie Robinson’s number 42:
OK–time for the game!
Chris Young (of the D-backs… not the one on the Padres) led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run. And, check out the pool:
Ha ha… I thought that was pretty cool. Think the people lounging in the pool were expecting that?
Michelle and I watched the first couple of innings and then grabbed some popcorn and a caramel apple before starting our adventure, touring the stadium…
We continued our trek and I snapped shots from the right field corner:
And the first base side just above the visiting team’s dugout.
We ended up in the left field bleachers for the last few innings of the game, chatting and enjoying the air-conditioned baseball game. Between innings I ran down to the front row to see if I could get Rusty Ryal to throw me his warm-up ball.
I couldn’t… I thought about staying in left field for the ninth inning but opted to head to the Padres dugout…
Arizona had been up 5-0 after the fourth inning but their lead lessened and then went away entirely as the bullpen coughed up five runs… two of them in the ninth. I crept closer:
The was tied, 5-5 as Arizona batted in the ninth.
I figured my best shot to get a postgame baseball would be from the Padres so I was hoping they’d pull out the win. Unfortunately, Chris Young hit his second home run of the game into the left field bleachers near where Michelle and I had been sitting… who knows if I’d have caught it… but the D-backs won this one, 6-5. And, luckily, I was in perfect position to get a ball from home plate umpire, Bill Hohn.
Hohn waited until Young touched the plate and then met all his crew near the plate before walking into the visitors’ dugout toward the umpire tunnel. As he approached he handed baseballs to a pair of kids who (somehow) were allowed to be on the field. And then I shouted, “Mr. Hohn, can you spare a baseball, please?”
He lobbed Ball #3 on the night to me across the dugout. A perfect, rubbed up ball and the first ball I’d ever gotten from an umpire. Woo!
I scavenged for tickets left behind and then Michelle and I headed for the light rail station. Everyone was in a great mood and it was a warm, pleasant summer night. The game had started at about 5:30 and when we got on the train it was about 8:40.
Then, we got off the train at our stop and it was absolutely POURING rain! Weird AZ thunderstorm weather… rather than walk the two blocks to the hotel, we called them and they sent their airport shuttle to pick us up… thanks, Doubletree!
We grabbed a late dinner (and dessert) and knocked out for the night–we had another game the following day!
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Matt! They don’t play baseball at–whatever that place is.”
You’re right. They don’t. At that place–the Galen Center–it’s where USC plays their basketball and volleyball games. So, why was I there, right?
Well, it started about a week and a half ago when I was contact by Jason Yeh of MLBlogs (he’s the director of New Media Strategy with MLB Advanced Media). His e-mail to me included:
We’ve recently been given the opportunity to reward some of our
best bloggers on MLBlogs with an invitation to an exclusive world
premier of Project Natal for Xbox 360.
And I read it and was like… absolutely. So I e-mailed back and got an RSVP code… I went to the website to RSVP and it was full… I was put on a waitlist. I told Jason that and he flexed some cyber muscle (I suppose) and got me and a guest (my wife, Michelle) in. All we had to do was show up. Awesome!
So, that’s the connection to MLBlogs and why I’m writing about my experience on here. And I mean experience. It was a sensory overload and it was a ton of fun. Here’s how it all played out. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it was a technology free event (for the public) so I didn’t bring my camera or cell phone… but I still have some pictures… I’ll get into that:
We arrived at Parking Structure 2 near the Galen Center at about 6:00pm. They event was supposed to start at 7:00 but our invitation that we’d printed (with codes to get us in) said to arrive by 6:30 to ensure admission. They were expecting full capacity. Sure enough, as we exited the parking structure we saw people with “WAITLIST” stickers on their clothing. I grinned and was thankful I didn’t need to wait around to find out if we were going to make it in. There was a line queue set up in the street (Figueroa) and a lot of people in Xbox 360 polo shirts. We were directed to the queue and asked if we had bar codes. We did. We were passed through to another group of event workers. A guy scanned out tickets and said to the girl behind him, “Two purple.”
We traded our printout for bracelets to get us into the event. We snapped on our purple Xbox bracelets and walked down the street to meet the rest of the line. When we got there I asked an usher what the different colors meant and she said there were three colors: purple, green, and orange. Orange meant VIP… purple were for seats and green was standing room on the floor of the center. OK.
Purple and green stood in line while orange bypassed us. At 6:10 the line moved/contracted and from our new position near the corner of W Jefferson St. and S Figueroa Wy. we could see a guy in orange body paint standing at a Taiko drum. Did I mention that this event included a performance by Cirque du Soleil? That should make that whole previous sentence a little more clear. So, over the fence that was blocking our view I saw this guy in crazy Cirque garb drumming and I could also see the tops of set pieces–they might have been costume pieces, I didn’t know at this point… but they looked flowery, like big jungle blossoms. Weird, I know.
I was taking notes the whole time since I couldn’t really take photos. So, there are a ton of people, including guests, ushers/workers for the event, and police and security folks. At 6:25 a guy on a headset instructed an usher to fill in the queue to as full as it could be. At that time the queue was twelve to fifteen feet wide but we had been lined up in the middle of it. When we heard that Michelle and I crept along the outside to fill in the gaps… so we were now closer to the front of the line. I noticed a second drummer from our new vantage point. They were both on towers and at 6:45 their drumming changed dramatically. A camera crew started filming… we’d been notified that there would be a broadcast of this event (they’d be airing on MTV and Nick at Nite and online). Some worker for the event started instructing us, “Green on the left, purple on your right.” So we split to the two sides of the queue.
We were fortunate that the weather was great on this evening. The sky was blue and cloudless and there was a light breeze. It was a great evening and we were both pretty glad because we didn’t bring jackets. We’d been standing in the street near the Galen Center for almost an hour at this point and there were literally thousands of people behind us. Michelle pointed out that it looked like the flowery pieces on the other side of the fence were moving and that lights started turning on. Sure enough, at 6:57 the line moved… not forward, but everyone started stirring. On the other side of the fence we saw guys and girls climbing into the flower set pieces. They started dancing inside them! People started holding up their camera phones to get pictures… we were still outside the venue so on one stopped them.
See the drummer up on that tower? Oh… and the crazy flower dancer… yeah.
At 7:00 they let us in. Thankfully, it wasn’t a rock concert/baseball game environment where everybody ran and tried to trample everybody else. We walked in, past the dancing flower people, and were handed neon green bracelets. They were like the LIVESTRONG bracelets everyone’s seen.
And it turned out that they were USB drives… yay! Thanks, Microsoft. 2 GB flash drives–and they had some media content on them, too.
So, that’s how I have the photos that I do. Anyway, we continued on our path to the right… greens had gone left. And I was pretty excited at this point. I yelled jokingly over the fence to the people still filing in, “Oh my gosh, it’s so great in here!” And someone outside yelled back, I believe jokingly, as well, “I hate you so much!”
We went around a corner and up a staircase. What did we see? Ponchos. Yep, “Interactive Ponchos” that we were instructed to take. So, we put on our white, interactive ponc
hos that had weird shoulder pads… sort of like old samurai outfits.
Then we walked into the venue… and it was surreal. The floor had a strange covering on it with projections of pools of water. There was a huge rock pile set piece to our left with one performer seemingly meditating on it. There were projection screens all around us and Cirque performers creeping along the floor. A couch, suspended fifty feet over the playing space, with a family sitting on it was to our right and above us. The projection screens were broadcast the characters/avatars you can create on Project: Natal’s interface (sort of like the Mii you can create on Nintendo’s Wii). Michelle and I sat in the second row, dead center. Above us there was another projection screen dead center over the floor–like where the scoreboard would be for a basketball game.
We then saw the folks who had received green bracelets begin to file in to the floor/playing space. The Cirque acrobats were contorting themselves and doing various bits with the audience. At first we were kind of bummed that we couldn’t be down there… but then we realized we were very glad to be sitting… the greenies had to stand. At 7:12 the music, which was a calming jungle soundscape mixed with recorded chanting and techno rhythm, picked up and the performer that had been sitting on the rocks started moving. There were a bunch of performers that flooded the floor and the stands at that time. Near us, the sort of “clown” type performers were doing little things like playing with lights and tin cans… making animal noises and interacting with the crowd. On the floor there was a trio of male acrobats, a guy doing Capoeira style martial arts, and some female contortionists… and then they all started a sort of parade at 7:23. They marched through the crowd on the floor and there was a strange didgeridoo (holy crap I spelled that right!)-looking prop they were using to make noise. I tried to piece a story together out of all of this. It reminded me a bit of the part with the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Along with the Natal characters on the projection screens, we started seeing photos of normal people that had attended the event up there as well. A performer near us started a “fire” that was red lights with a prop she carried around. At 7:45 the Cirque folks divided the crowd down the middle and enlisted the help of some audience members to play telephone… with strings and tin cans. You remember that game? Anyway, I started to get what was happening. This preshow stuff was showing us the evolution of communication. From primitive sounds to language to ways of communicating that language via technology. OK… there’s a story going on here. Cool. I get it… I think.
8:00 came and the real show started. A new screen flew in to the space and we saw the word, “PROLOGUE.” An announcer’s voice boomed through the arena talking about communication and humans versus machines. It concluded by saying that in the past, mankind had to change to adjust to what computers needed. But now it would be the computers that would adjust to us. Oooh…
Then four drummers, one in each corner of the arena, started drumming away and the lights changed, the scrims (see-through fabric) on each edge of the venue flew up and away and an elephant entered the room. Not a real elephant… some sort of puppet thing. At this point I know you’re dying for a photo. Here you go:
Are you with me now? Like, this thing was crazy! There was so much going on that I didn’t know where to look! People with ponchos, acrobats, elephant puppet, HD projection screens, and BTW–the elephant had digital TV screens on it… and it was carrying a small boy up toward the rock pile where most of the performers were waiting.
When the kid got there he got down, climbed the rocks and pulled a controller out of his bag. There were four screens hanging in front of him, each showing a different game. He beat the levels on each screen and as he did there would be a digital explosion and the screen would quickly fly out of sight. He climbed the last rock… which was covered by some sort of sheet thing… and then the last screen went blank…
Then the rock started to move. It ascended and as it did the sheet covering it fell away and revealed the Xbox logo which lit up. Bright green light poured from it and then I noticed the green light extended across the auditorium… but it was because our shoulders were lit up… literally every poncho in the room lit up bright green. I look around and everyone was freaking out… but this opening sequence wasn’t done yet! The kid tried to use his controller on the last screen but nothing happened… so he put it down. Then an avatar of him showed up on the screen… and he put his hands out to the sides… and so did his avatar!
He moved, leaned, jumped, and so did the character on the screen. We were then introduced to Project: Natal’s new, official name.
It was dramatic. For reals…
And the boy stepped into a set high above the floor that looked like a living room. With a couch and a TV, all the projection screens around us showed similar environments (ie this could be YOUR living room). The whole set piece started rotating… like, these people were upside down in their house… then another family walked into the room. OK, so one upside-down family and one rightside-up family. I think this was supposed to be like–anyone all over the world can do this. Meanwhile, all the Cirque performers are standing on the rock pile watching this play out and still acting, like, “Ooh, this is crazy!”
So now we get glimpses of the software and how you actually play the games on Kinect. Basically, there’s a family and they all take part. Like, “Look, this is fun for the whole family!” First there’s a Wii style generic game like Wii Sports was… you stand on platforms, rafts, etc. and you try to reach, jump, and move around to get tokens/coins/whatever they are.
It looked cool… we see the kids play with Tinkerbell from Disney… then dad uses a lightsaber for a Star Wars style battle. This got a great reaction from the crowd. If you can really do cool lightsaber moves like that–lots of Star Wars nerds will be all over this game.
MOAR LIGHTSABERS PLZ!
It’s about 8:30 at this time at I peer to my left. In the aisle there’s a girl just standing there with a box of popcorn. I lean to Michelle and say, “Why is there a creepy child standing over there?” I then instantly get jealous because I’m like–“I didn’t know they had concessions here!” Michelle and I were starving! Then I show Michelle… and notice there’s a whole family in the aisle, lined one by one, each about fifteen feet apart. They are clearly an “Indian family” on the other side of us we see a “Hispanic family” and across the way are other “families.” I put them in quotes because they’re obviously actors… just like the boy on the elephant and the family hanging out on the couch fifty feet above us. I’m in the industry–people don’t just get to do those kinds of things. They’re performers and they know choreography and stuff like that.
Anyway, they all are watching as mom does some yoga game (snooze)… but the message is, “There’s something for everyone–all over the world.” Next, the family up on the big set piece takes part in some track and field stuff and there’s an in-game announcer… a really excitable one. And it’s boys versus girls! Ooh… and they participate in running, bowling, javelin, volleyball, etc. At one point, the girl from the upside-down family comes back and plays volleyball against the rightside-up girl. Like, we can play against each other even if we are on different continents!
At 8:41 the little girl plays a game where she plays with a virtual tiger. This part was most interesting to me because it involves a player interacting with stuff that is on the screen. Like, outlines of hands pet the little tiger cub as the girl reaches/moves forward. She “picks up” a ball and throws it and the tiger cub catches it and brings it back. She plays with a rope and the cub responds to it, jumps over it, it trips the cub at one point. Pretty cool stuff. Oh… but don’t click on that picture because you can’t really connect/share anything with anyone–it’s just a picture in this case… I just wanted to show you the tiger… he’s so darn cute! You should see him jump rope. Yeah, that’s right.
Then I notice that the elephant puppet thing has come back. It’s wandering around the venue floor… and tiger-time is done and the young boy starts playing a Dance Dance Revolution game… but instead of just stomping down on arrows you actual match up dance moves with the guy on the screen (all to the funky beats of No Doubt’s “Hella Good”). These dance moves are named things like “swing” and “seduce” among others… which struck me as odd. Go ahead, Tommy, do the seduce to beat this level.
The whole family joins in for some dancing fun before they all go back to the couch to look through the apps and programs that Kinect can utilize. These include Facebook, Netflix, and a bunch of others. They browse through DVDs and reminisce about photos that they can view and share. The girl activates video chat… upside-down girl comes back and they share photos and videos. At one point they literally say, “Let’s connect to Julio in Mexico.” OK, I get it–you can do this all over the world, right.
So, on cue, Julio from Mexico and a dozen other performers in different satellite performance spaces around the venue–above where all those projection screens are–appear and they all dance to the dance game together. They are all connected, that’s the message. As they all dance the upside-down girl gives a ball to the rightside-up girl. Then, the whole house starts to rotate again… here I noticed the one hiccup in all this multimedia, high-tech event–a lamp that was upside down came loose and fell into rightside-up land and almost hit the girl… ouch. Just a tiny thing, but I’m a stage manager by trade and I notice that kind of thing. So, everyone dances, then we, in the audience are connected to the performers because our ponchos (interactive, remember?) light up… different colors this time. Red, green, blue, white… and they want us to dance, too. Some little kids do… but Michelle and I just stand p in preparation to leave as the little boy from the “house” is harnessed up and flies away as the final music comes to a flourish! People are already out of their seats and exiting before the lights come up–which is inconvenient for the fake families in the aisle–who are performers–still performing–dancing along. It ends… people clap… and we head up the steps to the concourse. When we get there, we turn over our ponchos… AWW–I DON’T GET TO KEEP IT?!?
And we are each handed a little plush toy. It’s an animal like the tiger the little girl played with. I saw a black panther, a tiger, and a leopard. I ended up with a tiger, Michelle got a leopard. Here they are:
Cute… Yay for swag! We headed out, in a good mood except for our hunger, and once we grabbed some sandwiches we were all set for the ride home. It was a pretty cool night. Sensory overload! Cirque du Soleil + Xbox = fun.
Thanks to MLBlogs and Jason Yeh for the chance to go! And thanks for reading. Here’s a site, article, and video for those that want to know more:
It’s out in November–it’s an add-on for the Xbox 360… if you want to know more… well just Google it. It’s not a secret anymore.
I promise I’ll have another baseball entry up soon!