Toronto Blue Jays 5 – Minnesota Twins 9
Target Field – Minneapolis, MN
April 17, 2014
First off, “big ups” to Paul – A Piece of the Game – Kom. He was gracious enough to give his unused ticket to me for the Wednesday match between the Jays and Twins… which morphed into a 23 hour delay for the Thursday second-half of the double header between the Jays and Twins.
I was really hoping for the game to be on Wednesday, since it’d be more likely to have the possibility of BP – and probably no one in the seats with this impending storm on the horizon (some places just 40 miles north did receive 20 inches of snow.
But beggars can’t be choosers, a free game is nothing to scoff at, so the delay to Thursday made for an interesting situation.
- Game 1: Scheduled for 12:10 start
- Game 2: Scheduled for 6:10 start
I did the math and at a typical 3 hour rate, this meant that the game was over at about 3, fans filter out and clean-up processes begin and last for at least an hour; so gates couldn’t “open” back up until 4 at the earliest. Neither team would want BP, especially outdoors, since it was only in the low 30s and they just spent 3 hours playing out there.
Gate times were later confirmed by the Twins President, Dave St. Peter:
— Dave St. Peter (@TwinsPrez) April 17, 2014
Dang, only 1 hour of pre-game chances to snag balls?! Oh well, at least I wouldn’t freeze too long while watching a field with no one taking batting practice.
The other odd thing about this double-header was the closure of the upper deck for the first game. That’s right, the entire upper deck area was closed so the workers could continue SNOW REMOVAL! Now I was kind of wishing I had either the complete double-header package or tickets to at least the first game.
As it turned out, the second game was attended by even less people! It’s not often a day game beats out a night game, but that’s what an April snowstorm/doubleheader will do.
Throughout the lack of BP, I contained myself by talking to some of the great ushers and the best bat boy in the MLB, Dominic Frost.
I do not make it a point of mine to tell of the times I give away a ball or help others around me get one, but this game was unreal. As you can tell by the title, I got 4 balls (not bad for no BP or warm-ups), but if I had kept all the ones that entered my glove? I would have set a Target Field record and they would have all been gamers. Instead, I worked with my ushers friends and was like an elf working for Santa. I’d get Dominic or the player’s attention, snag a ball, then give it to the usher who had a little guy picked out as the recipient.
This was a base hit by Aaron Hicks that was tossed in towards the Twins dugout. Some random guy with the last name of Mauer tossed it into my catcher’s mitt.
Mike Pelfrey was pitching (which meant that it was an incredibly slow game) and as he took the mound for warm-ups before the 3rd inning, he tossed one in the dirt. Dominic hooked me up.
Dioner Navarro hit a single in the top of the 6th. Another “Dominic’s the best”-ball.
Brian Dozier (who hit a lead off homer in the 1st) fouled off a pitch in the bottom of the 7th – and it looks like it took some of the bay’s paint with it. Broken record, but Dominic is THE MAN!
I already told him this, but it will come true, be on the look out at the All-Star Game for a shout out to Dominic – I’ll make it happen.
After a miraculous and WILD comeback (pun intended, as long as you know how the Twins took the lead) I got Gardy to hand over the lineup cards. These are a great memento for showcasing the awesome comeback and Eduardo Núñez’s debut as a Twin.
Again, why didn’t people show up to the game?
Well, when that was the temp on the walk back home AND the Minnesota Wild had their first game in the playoffs going on at the same time, the answer is clear.
And lastly, the “group shot”:
- Paul Kom – You are 100% responsible for me being able to go to this game. That means you are 33% responsible for the ball total… add bonus 1.333 balls to your stats. ;)
- Dominic – MVP! MVP! MVP!
- Joseph Patrick Mauer – Thanks for the reverse birthday present (since yours is in two days), or was it a delayed gift for my 30th?
- Ushers – Thanks for talking to me and having fun on the job. It’s cool to see people that live what they do and help make other’s experiences awesome.
- Ronald Clyde Gardenhire – Well coached and great team win! Thanks for the cool souvenir!
Kansas City Royals 1 – Minnesota Twins 7
Target Field – Minneapolis, MN
April 12, 2014
Bruce Chen gave me quite the scare, and has even thrown a small wrench into the numbering of my ball collection. Before we get into the specifics, let’s cover the game and when the “Bruce Chen ball(s)” come up, I’ll explain what I mean.
Back in January (?) I won 4 tickets to an unknown future game at Target Field for participating in the Twins Hot Stove conversation. I did not know which game I had won until late February, once tickets started to be printed and single game tickets were going on sale. I was not expecting a Yankees series, but getting tickets for a game this early in the season was not on my radar.
I waffled back and forth, “should I sell, should I go?” and then asked myself, “who would even be available?” The short answer, these tickets were unsellable, no one wanted to go, and I should probably just go. The weather was kind of crappy (raining a few hours before batting practice) with overcast skies and temps in the upper 40s. The added bonus of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers being in the Men’s Hockey National Championship meant that the stadium was going to be a potential ghost town.
The only downfall once I showed up at the gates was the non-existence of the batting cage on the field. Was my free reign spoiled before it even began?!
With no batting practice going on, I targeted the relief pitchers that came out to warm up. In fact, I believe that I got the first three (and only three) balls through the first wave of warm-ups. The one above was from the newest father on the Twins, Brian Duensing.
See Caleb Thielbar and Casey Fien goofing around in the background? This ball was the first ball I saw when I finally got through the gates. Casey was on the field and this beauty was resting in his glove on the grass next to him. After saying hello to Casey and then watching his warm-up, this was a nice gift to receive.
Similar to the previous balls already in my possession at this game, this one was from Anthony Swarzak and Samuel Deduno’s warm-up. Thanks, Anthony!
Ball #4: The Bruce Chen Incident/Experience
As the Twins pitchers started to end warming up, the Royals came out and decided to taking batting practice. Many of their guys were putting on some great displays of power, but I was delayed getting over to the correct area. Once I got to the overhang in right field, I saw Jeremy Guthrie (whom I follow on Twitter) and asked for a Twitter toss-up. He said no, but asked if I wanted to play catch instead. HECK YES!! I threw a few knuckleballs about a hundred feet out and 30 feet down. It was a weird and awesome experience. If only I had someone with me to tape part of it. Oh well, no one will ever take that from my memories. Thanks, Jeremy!
After playing catch, I ran over to left field and tried my shot at getting a ball on the fly. After a couple rounds I finally caught this ball off the bat of Justin Maxwell:
…And that’s when things got weird. I asked Bruce Chen for a ball a little while later and he said something back, which I couldn’t quite make out. He then asked to play catch with the ball I caught. Being a trusting fan and wanting to interact with players a bit more, I obliged. I threw the ball to Bruce and he took it out of his glove and immediately tossed it in to the rover in centerfield. WHAT THE HELL?!
People were kind of shocked and “oooh-ing and ahhh-ing”. Bruce gave me a smile, said some words (again, not fully understandable) and when another ball came his way he tossed it back up to me and asked to play catch. I wanted to keep it, but I also didn’t want to back down. I had a feeling that he would just do it all over again to me, but I still threw it to him and he did exactly that – a second ball now “taken” from me by Bruce Chen.
Bruce was getting many laughs and a few derogatory names thrown at him (think phallic-based names). I was kind of upset at this point. My first real snag of 2014 and it was never going to be mine again. A joke being worn thin by a team that I actually don’t mind. This whole scenario was some weird dream playing out in real life. The real matter at hand? How was I going to count this ball (or was it “these balls”)?! I don’t count the ones I give to kids, only the ones I take home for the eventual mancave. But this one wasn’t for a kid; this one was “taken”.
Ahhh!! This was getting out of hand. To make things worse, Bruce was now shagging more and more balls, turning to me and telling me that I wouldn’t want them. He asked if I would be back tomorrow (4/13/14) – nope – and then if I would be here next month – maybe? – and then finally tying to position me to catch a HR. Mr. Chen even threw a ball in the stands to me, but a young girl jumped in front and snagged it; a little maddening, but I wasn’t going to show it and look like an idiot who wants to steal a ball from a young girl – saving a little bit of face in hopes of winning back a chance at a Chen ball.
Then it happened. With only a few more swings in the Royals’ BP, Bruce shagged a ball and I shouted quickly, “I’m really not picky at all.” After some back and forth body language, he saved the ball in his back pocket. Then as BP wrapped up, he tossed me the “real ball 259″ that I now have in my red bucket.
Confused? I am, and this happened to me. I don’t think Bruce was doing this maliciously, just more a bit of fun and games with the fans. It was a totally unique experience, one that I’ll always look back on with a sense of extreme bewilderment. Anyone else ever have an experience like this with Bruce Chen or any other major leaguer for that matter?
Though this isn’t Joe Mauer’s first HR of 2014, it is a ball from that at-bat. In fact, someone in the section next to me got the HR ball (it bounced back onto the field and was tossed to a fan by Scott Ullger). This was was a foul ball that rolled to the Twins dugout towards the first base end. Eduardo Escobar picked it up and tossed it to me. I like to think that my catcher’s mitt helped me land this gamer.
After the game I got a slightly flawed pearl from Dominic. Since I was running around and trying to soak up the last balls before closing time, I forgot to take a picture until I was walking back to my car.
- Brian Duensing
- Casey Fien
- Anthony Swarzak
- Jeremy Guthrie – The Real J Guts! Thanks for my first session of catch with a major league player.
- Bruce Chen – Thanks for the ridiculously odd experience. You got me. You got me good.
- Eduardo Escobar
I’m Tony Voda, and I approve this blog post!
Since I am off to a hot start this season in my quest to attain as many commemorative baseballs as possible (I am 2 for 2, with a total of 7 commemorative baseballs already in the 2014 regular season), I figured that it would be kind of fun to show of my humble little collection.
Even though I am relatively new to ballhawking (255 and counting) compared to the veterans in in the thousands, it still gives me great pleasure looking at the roughly 10% of my collection that are not your standard “Official MLB baseball.”
I’ll show off the autographed balls (not exactly commemoratives) and then get into the good stuff – each in the order that I snagged them. If you want to learn more about my adventures, just click in the “Ball #” link and it’ll go to the entry of that particular conquest. At the end I will even give a quick “Top 5 Moments in Commemorative History” – a short little anecdote for each of these “most special” memories.
I don’t like to get many of my baseballs signed, since I like to leave them as I found (or actually snagged) them, but there are a few instances where this just wasn’t possible or I just had to get an autograph. (All ball numbers refer to my career ball number.)
Trevor Plouffe signed tee-ball. Not very often that you catch a non-OMLB at a game, let alone a tee-ball, but that’s exactly what happen at the last game of the year in 2012. Fan appreciation means the team gives back and gives things away; balls thrown into the stands have to be safe, so these bouncy tee-balls are the chosen ball to sign and toss. As you can see, the signature is bleeding badly. Oh well, I have a cooler Plouffe autograph coming up later.
Andre Ethier was my first signed baseball that I snagged. Back in 2011 I was very much into getting autographs – I have the Twins team canvas to prove it – so when I snagged a ball and saw that Ethier was signing for tons of people? Yep, I had him sign my souvenir from BP.
The crown jewel of my autographed baseball collection and possibly the coolest experience in a baseball stadium. ROBIN VENTURA!! My childhood baseball idol not only stopped and said hello (as I spoke to him wearing one of his jerseys he wore back in 1997), but he gave me and then signed for me one of my favorite baseballs. Added bonus? It’s my 33rd of my career. My favorite number is 433, with 4 coming from Robin Ventura’s Mets tenure and 33 from my favorite hockey player, Patrick Roy (2333 would have just looked odd, even though I prefer and think of Robin Ventura as number 23).
While not a huge game in terms of number of baseballs, the haul from this game included the Tony Oliva autographed ball above and two pink Mother’s Day balls. I showed up ultra-early and got down by the Twins dugout (no BP, since it was a Sunday) and Tony-O was hanging out in the dugout. He saw me, and without me even asking or showing that I wanted a ball, he picked up a nice new baseball, asked for a pen and signed away. I cannot tell exactly what it says above his signature (‘Good Luck”?), but he was so nice that day – the most pleasant surprise I never asked for.
Ever heard of some guy named Byron Buxton? This minor leaguer, with no MLB experience, was kind enough to scribble on a perfectly clean baseball… Oh wait, he is supposed to be really good? Rated #1 prospect in all of baseball?! Glad I got this guy, totally by chance, too! (Your sarcasm-o-meter should be going off now.)
This is the main attraction, people. In my short time of ballhawking (just about 2 years full-time), I have amassed a collection that I adore. Part of the reason why I keep going is just to get my hands on these rare breeds – the balls that most regular people don’t even know exist.
After getting my first ball in 2009 (after nearly 20 years of wishing and hoping), I found out about the Target Field ball and knew that I would chase after one. Pretty awesome that my second ever ball is a “non-typical” (good term for you deer hunters, right?).
My first ever ball snagged at a playoff game (in BP) and it is once again a commemorative. Excellent! The logo itself is in PERFECT condition, too.
The last ball of 2010 came at the last game played at Target Field in 2010. A fitting way to end the first year’s fun ride at the new home of the Twins.
Though not officially snagged until 2013, I hoped beyond hope that the Marlins still had a few of these commemoriatves on hand during spring training. Judging by the next few photos, I’d say they had just a few left over.
My first ball hawked on video. This scuffed up, fully-flawed beauty came from a game that never existed – and that’s not just because it was a spring training game, it was never played due to rain.
Notice anything different about this ball compared to the previous two with the same logo? I didn’t notice it until I got home from my road trip and put them all in the same photo, but this logo is ginormous compared to the other ones. Anyone else ever seen variations this big in an otherwise “same” print?
After receiving my 100th career ball in the same game, ball #101 was a very pretty “Opening Day” logo. Dominic (the Twins’ bat boy) is a true legend, he will definitely be in my “top ten people to throw me a ball” list, should I ever make one.
Not to be outdone, Mario (the opposing team’s bat boy at Target Field) also hooked me up with the first batch of 2013 commemoratives in 2013.
I am not a fan of pink things – never have been – but wow! This ball design is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe it’s the unusual combination of non-red laces, and non-blue print, or maybe it’s just how the pink really grabs your attention, whatever the case it, this ball is fantastic. To be one of not on the few, but one of the first to snag these in the country was a huge bit of fun.
It is widely known that Trevor Plouffe is my favorite current player. His namesake is part of my blog-address, but that is not the full reason why this ball means so much. Trevor’s mother and my grandmother are both breast cancer survivors, so to have him sign this ball signifying a group-effort to end breast cancer (at least raise awareness and money for research) is the truly heavy reason behind this special hunk of string and leather.
Please go check out this blog entry. I will not bore you with a long-winded story. My first time out to Colorado was special for me in so many ways – this is just a memento to signify it in a tangible way.
Not getting a chance to snag this ball in 2012, I made it a goal (once I heard they may use it in 2013 BP) to snag one. It took nearly until first pitch, but Javier Bracamonte is the man. I’d love to have one “perfect specimen” of each commemorative ball, but literal beggars cannot be loud choosers.
Not really expecting to snag a commemorative, I picked up this well-worn/well-used baseball at the spring home of the Miami Marlins. A kind of fun way to get on the “commemorative board” in 2014, even if it was a duplicate in my collection.
This was a real surprise. Paul and I met up in Fort Myers and decided to take in “Fenway South” before spending a full day at Hammond Stadium. This was just one of the many balls that were wedged between the batting cages and outfield wall of a practice (MiLB) field. It was the closest one to me, so I went after it, turned it over to look at it and the logo SHOCKED me. Scuffed and slightly faded (due to some water exposure and outside elements), it still feels good to have the first of the two 100th anniversary balls of my collection.
Though I purposefully went to Wrigley in search of this ball, it was by dumb luck that I stumbled across my first example of this awesome ball. Read the story if you haven’t already.
Scuffed but a wonderful experience of my first ball snagged at Wrigley once the gates were opened.
Thank you, Ryan Howard. I was perfectly happy with my previous two Wrigley balls, but having a gamer as an example (rubbed in beautiful mud) is the ultimate. Anyone else score a Wrigley 100th yet?
Two things about this ball:
- I thought that the design would be the exact same from 2013 (with the updated 2014 date). I was wrong.
- I thought that the Twins would not use these balls, since I thought it was true Opening Days (March 31, 2014). I was wrong.
Chris Colabello must really love being in a major league uniform. The guy seems so happy and is always giving back to the fans when he can. Unlike some athletes that become reclusive from the fame, he wants to use that fame to make others happy. I’ve received a coupe of toss-ups from him as well as a bat, so this will look great in a collection.
Gamer!! Thanks again, Dominic! That terrible, nasty, totally unusable-thanks-to-the-blemish mark was the reason why it now sits in a plexi-glass cube.
The most recent (last) of my hopefully ever-expanding collection is the fifth ball in a row that is a commemorative, and part of a group of 7 of 9 that puts me at this great start in 2014. I cannot believe how awesome these all look together. With a few more additions (All-Star Game 2014?) I am hoping to have a killer display.
Top Five Commemorative Moments:
- Denver – The first road trip with the main purpose being a commemorative baseball. This would also be the first game in which I snagged a ball at a game where the Twins were not playing. it is also the furthest west I have ever snagged a baseball.
- Chicago – My first regular season game in 2014 was probably the first game where the Wrigley commemorative was used in a game (Opening Day the previous game?). The trip was fun and the experience fantastic.
- Mother’s Day – Like I said, one of my favorite balls when it comes to looks.
- Opening Day 2013 – This was the first game where I was forced to get a “gamer” if I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative baseball. The anticipation and anxiety was a bit intense, but I was so glad to come away with
- Astros 50th – Talk about nerve-wracking?! After I spotted the commemorative stamp on one of the balls earlier in BP (only in the bullpen pitchers’ ball bag), I knew that I had to get one. Waiting for the last possible moment was a bit cruel, but thank you to Javier.
Oakland Athletics 8 – Minnesota Twins 3
Target Field – Minneapolis, MN
April 7, 2014
For the 5th consecutive year, my friend Jared and I attended the home opener at Target Field (which is now in its fifth season). It is a sort of holiday for us, even if we have to work (like I did today). Even though I completed my blog entry at 11:30 last night and set my alarm for 5 am so that I could put in the hours needed at work, my tiredness did not dampen my mood… though the result of the game did slightly.
Baseball is back!!
For the first time in over 6 months I was back at my home field. Even though I had a blast in Florida and fell in love in Chicago, it was still special and wonderful to be back at my familiar stomping grounds. We got to the stadium around 10:30, for the 3:10 game, and after a half an hour of walking around the stadium, we were still the first at the most popular gate – Gate 34. Kirby Puckett, Jr. would open the gate for us and since I chose the correct gate, I got to shake his hand as I walked through the turnstiles. In fact, I even got my photo taken by some sort of news photographer, which is cool and all, but I also had to stop and wait as he asked for my name and how to spell it. Even though it was a 20-30 second delay, it prevented me from being the first to the overhang area in right field – a spot where Waldo of all people would end up getting a ball right away.
I was shut out during Twins BP, so I worked my way over to the A’s dugout as they warmed up. Eventually I got the attention of former Twin and now A’s coach, Chip Hale. He tossed me a random ball that he used for infield practice and was I shocked to find…
An OPENING DAY ball?! Weird. I was not expecting this for a BP ball, but it must have been from a previous series and ended up in their bucket of balls. I was unsure and doubtful that the Twins would use an Opening Day ball for the game, so I was stoked to add a commemorative I thought I had no shot at.
Well, I only said I thought I had no shot at it. During the A’s BP the umpires came out for some informational talks with who I can only assume were the connections for the replay folks back in New York. Another man, Clyde Doepner, introduced himself to the umpires and when I overheard his name I freaked out a little. My college friend from last weekend? Well, his wife knows Clyde and told me about how he is the Twins curator and might have the coolest job in the world (and best collection of Twins stuff, period). Since Clyde is kind of all knowing and always seeking memorabilia for his collection, I figured I’d ask about the possibility of “Opening Day” commemoratives being used. He was told that they would be using them and interested in getting some for historical reference.
Clyde is no liar. His sources were correct, and my sources were awesome. Chris Colabello hooked me up with the first ball taken from the game ready bag that were to be used in the game. So before the team intros and national anthem was sung I had a beautiful memento of my 5th home opener.
I was pretty happy with my haul, especially for cutting it in half. (Hey, getting regular MLB balls when I was snagging Opening Day ones was not exactly thrilling, so those went to the next generation of potential ballhawks.) I wanted (as always) to snag a few more, but wasn’t overly set on going out of my way to do so. It was a special day, the first of what becomes a routine, so why not soak it all in before it becomes “ordinary” again?
National Anthem being sung with an eagle looking on (a second rehabilitated eagle would appear later and a third wild one would fly over the game towards the end).
First Pitch at Target Field in 2014.
Though it was about 60 degrees (nice and warm for MN standards in early April), making an ice sculpture was salt on our fragile wounds – we had just received 6-18″ of snow the previous Friday. This terrible reminder of a long winter was pretty at least.
After the twins were retired in the 2nd, we all stood up to cancer. As you can see, I stood for my grandma who is just about 5 years clear of breast cancer. It is sad to see how many names and the ripple of how many people are affect by various cancers, but it is also wonderful hearing the success stories, and knowing that so many people are trying to prevent at least one person from ending up as a name on a card.
At the top of the 7th, with Samuel Deduno warming up on the mound, a pitch in the dirt created a scuff deemed unacceptable by the umpire. This scuffed beauty was given to my favorite Bat Boy, Dominic, and then thrown to me for my first Target Field gamer of 2014. Dominic is incredibly cool and always seems to hook me up with a great souvenir.
What an unbearable scuff?! How dare they use that again?! No worries, it now belongs to me. (Not Dominic in the background to the right of the ball.)
The last ball of the day was a post-game toss by the second coolest bat boy in the game, Mario. Mario is the visiting team’s bat boy and has hooked me up in the past (even with a Chicago White Sox line up card).
Four balls, four Opening Day commemoratives. This puts my regular season count at only 9 in 2 games, but SEVEN are commemoratives. EXCELLENT!!
And here is the photo of the hall:
(I forgot to mention it, but Chris Colabello signed the ball that he tossed to me. Pretty neat, considering he was coming into the game with a .391 average and 11 RBIs early in the season.)
And how about a photo of all of the commemoratives of the past 60 hours?
It makes me so happy to see those in my collection. Hopefully 2014 is a good year for getting special baseballs.
- Chip Hale – A surprising commemorative from a former Twin is a good start for Target Field in 2014.
- Chris Colabello – A ball AND a signature?! What a cool and humble dude.
- Dominic – Like I have said many times, you are AWESOME! Thanks for another ball in a new year.
- Mario – Similar to Dominic, thanks for being generous and helping me out, especially with the cool stuff like commemoratives and line up cards. You even hooked me up with a 2013 Opening Day ball. Maybe a new tradition is forming?
- Jared – Traditions are cool. Traditions are good. Now let’s continue this tradition, but snap the 3 year streak of losing on the opener.
- Mother Nature – From a snowstorm on Friday to mid-30s as the high last year, you certainly changed your tune and made 2014′s opener enjoyable.
Wrigley On A Whim (aka: The Hunt for the Wrigley 100th Commemorative) – Balls 247-251 (April 5, 2014)
Philadelphia Phillies 2 – Chicago Cubs 0
Wrigley Field – Chicago, IL
April 5, 2014
I received an tweet from one of my friends with a link to a very sad (yet perfect news for a ballhawk) article on the attendance at the Twins/White Sox games (non-Opening Day): http://deadspin.com/white-sox-games-are-eerily-empty-1557725119 Wow – attendance in the HUNDREDS (even though the paid total was 11K). Which got me thinking…
Why not go with my original plan and go on opening weekend?! The plummeting prices and friends in Chicago made perfect sense; keeping the hit to the wallet as light as possible AND gunning for a commemorative. So with just over 24 hours until we needed to depart for Chicago, we contacted our friends, got confirmation that they would be around, and we planned a killer quasi-30th birthday extravaganza.
Friday, April 4, 2014:
Around lunch time I decided to check out the Chicago Cubs website, get more info on Wrigley, things to do/see, and feel out “what to expect”. I had been to Wrigley only one time prior (5 or so years ago), but never ballhawked there. I was nervous. I found the Season Ticket Holder Page and a list of the ticket representatives, then decided to reach out and see if I could have a couple of questions answered.
- More info about the Wrigley Tours
- Are they using the commemorative baseballs already?
I suggest that if you are looking at purchasing season tickets at Wrigley (which I would if I lived int he area) or have any ticket-related questions, contact the VERY friendly Tom Fitzgerald. Tom not only answered my questions with lightning speed, but we also talked on the phone and I ended up getting a couple of tickets for the Wrigley Tour – it was the first day that tours were given, since some construction limited them to start once the season began. I will probably say it a few more times, but Tom was AMAZING! Not only is he funny, but when we finally met up, I got the sense that he was doing something that he is really passionate about and makes him happy. (Though, not to steal from his thunder, the other employees of the Cubs that we encountered also had the same enthusiasm… more on that later.) So once we were both done with work, packed and ready to go, we made the 7-ish hour trip from the Minneapolis suburbs to 2 miles from Wrigley Field – prime location (well chosen, friends).
Saturday, April 5, 2014:
How can anyone be crabby when you wake up to a smiling puppy waking you up? Even if you got less than the ideal amount of sleep, due to a late arrival and a ballhawks internal clock that prevents them from being late to events (OK, “incredibly early” for those non-baseball fanatics), waking up like this was wonderful. We jumped on the train and took a short ride to the Addison:
I have no problem admitting to the fact that I love the two oldies – Wrigley and Fenway. The history is incredible, and in a few moments we’d be ushered into the stadium by a man who truly made you believe that he was bleeding Cubby blue and he was proud of it!
This is “Tom the Tour Guide”, not to be confused with ‘Tom the Ticket Rep”. Tom told us of the rich history of the most important thing at the ballpark – WRIGLEY FIELD. Sure, there were some stories of the events and teams that took the field (mostly wearing the Cubs logo), but much like my purpose of this trip, the tour and the baseball I was chasing was all about Wrigley. Having 100 years of history makes it a great tour, though the one downfall is making it all fit into a 90 minute digestible walk. At this point in the entry, I urge you to visit THIS LINK and buy tickets for the tour. Tom’s stories were worth the price of admission alone, let alone getting into the actual stadium and viewing all that we did… and also getting to see some early BP… and maybe getting a ball?
As you can tell by the string of photos above, we got to view the field from many different angles. We started over on the 1st base side, moved over to the bleachers, walked up to the upper-deck area, and saw many other behind the scenes things as we were told stories about the previous owners and history/infamy that makes this special place the ballpark it is today. Then, even on a game day, we got to GO ON THE FIELD!!
Admittedly, this is a fake out, since I am not on the field yet. But a smaller group went in just before us, which allowed our group to take in the area behind home and over by the Phillies’ (visitors’) dugout. While BP was going on and I had a good vantage point, I used this time to scope out how I was going to go “ball hunting” in this new park when “IT HAPPENED”…
After taking a weird hop, a ball rolled over from the cage to the awkward corner towards the on-deck circle at the end of the Phillies’ dugout. The ball was within reach, but a security guard was walking over and I did not want to get kicked out before even officially attending the game. He came over and I asked politely for the ball, which he understandably said, “Sorry, I can’t.” This is a standard security guard line, since they are told not to interfere with the team equipment. I asked if I could just reach over the low brick barrier and he smiled, bent over, picked up the ball, and says, ‘You know what, here you go.”
I could tell that it was pearly as I looked at it from a couple feet away, but only saw the “Rawlings” from above. I was hoping it’d be a Wrigley ball, but couldn’t confirm until I saw it in the worker’s hand. I was THRILLED!! My mission was complete, the tour was amazing, the city of Chicago was a gracious host, and we were only a few hours into our mini-vacation. My wife looked over at this point, saw my face, and could tell that I had achieved what I was hoping/wishing for. I probably looked like an 8 year-old given a bag of gummy worms, a large soda, and a new bike, but I didn’t – this was bliss! After my early Christmas present was in hand, we walked out onto the dirt and got to watch some more Cubs BP. The smell of grass, the cracks of the bats, and players joking around with one another made me realize something… Baseball is real in 2014 again! It’s kind of strange that my personal “Opening Day” was not held on a team’s opening day, even though I am going to a “Home Opener” (tomorrow). Though it’s not a “hard statistic”, this just seems like yet another “typical baseball stat” where someone says an interesting thing that has not happened before, because of the infinite possibilities that this game has to offer. Here’s ball #1 shown again with the marquee in the background, once we wrapped up our tour:
What’s that? You want to buy a ticket to the tour but don’t want to scroll up? OK, here’s THE LINK again. I called “Tom the Ticket Rep” once our tour was done, since we both wanted to say a quick hello – I owe this man so much!
If you stumble across this guy at Wrigley, say hello, give him a high five, and buy him some Cracker Jack. I normally save my thank yous until the end, but it’s safe to say that I owe the most thanks to the man in this photo. If not for the All-Star Game coming to Target Field, this would have easily been the best experience at any baseball stadium this year.
Once inside the stadium for the game itself, I decided to run over to the Cubs dugout area to see if I could add another ball to the collection. Not knowing that you needed tickets for the otherwise unrestricted area, I was forced to move away from the dugout and down towards the bullpen on the 3rd baseline. Two workers were picking up three balls that were on the front side of the screen in the photograph below and tossing them into that Cubs-branded bag. I asked for one and was given my second commemorative of the day!
After the Cubs were done I got in position to snag a couple from the Phillies. I was doubting that they’d be commemorative, but baseballs are baseballs. I made a sign for Ben Revere (fromer Twin) that said “Rev Run”, so I thought that this would help my chances. Jonathan Papelbon jogged back into the dugout and on the way in I asked for a ball that was in the grass just outside of the dugout.
Bingo! Three for a “new stadium where neither team is the Twins” made it a personal best for me (previously Coors Field from 7/4/13 – Dodgers/Rockies).
I wish I knew who it was, but as the Phillies were wearing pullovers and not just their BP jerseys, it made identification quick tough. It was actually chilly, being int he low 40s, but come on! We need some numbers here!
‘Twas a beautiful pearl that was rolled to me once he entered the dugout. I motioned for a ball, he showed that he didn’t have one, but I could tell he was looking as he made his way down the steps. Thanks, mystery man! GAME TIME:
I was hoping to score a game ball, especially since it’d look pretty with the new Wrigley logo, so that is why I bought seats in row two of section 31 (seats 3 + 4 to be exact, “Clarence!”). But with two Wrigley balls in my drawstring backpack, I was not about to tackle anyone for one… or so I thought. The 3rd inning ended with Ryan Howard making the putout and so I shouted and made myself stick out with motions. I was confident he saw me and was aiming for me when he tossed it, but my balance and complete disregard for my surroundings saw me reach further than anticipated for a ball tossed not so perfectly my way…
Though this picture looks pretty, the means to “catch” it was not. I may have fallen over into a group of young guys that were there more for the liquid refreshments than the game itself. Oh well, only my knees, ego, and their seats took the real brunt of the awkward collision. After that catch early on, I was done with any type of active ballhawking until the game was completed. I took in scenes like these:
Although it was sad when the game was over, at least my wife was happy that she could now warm up. (My adrenaline kept me more than warm enough.) We did both have a great time and for more reasons than just the Cubs, would consider moving to Chicago. Maybe it’s the incredibly long Minnesota winter we just had (6-18″ of snow the morning before we left), but things seemed beautiful in the largest city in the Midwest. Here is a sad photo as we made our way back to the train:
Thank you, Wrigley!!!
Good news (for us at least): the trip wasn’t over. This was just the tip of the iceberg. After the game was done and as Jael regained feeling in her toes and hands, we tried some delicious vegan pizza from Dimo’s and even got vegan Brownies. You know the brownies are good when our non-vegan hosts even liked them. Before and after the pizza we also played games – something that is a shared passion between the couples. The friends we visited have a cool background story – well, one has a cool background story, and this is it:
This is my college friend, a man I once shared a room with for a summer. Not only was I friends with him, but I was actually introduced to him by my wife. She was friends with him from high school (French class) and since they by chance went to the same college, we all kind of met and hit it off. I ended up meeting them both within the same month. Never did I actually dream that I would like one so much to room with them, but I also liked the other enough to marry her! As for the female companion to the man above, she is pretty awesome, too. Though we haven’t known her as long, we knew she was cool when she could handle the awkward “intimidation” that Jael and I give off. OK, it’s not at all intimidation, but more awkward chaos (sometimes even comedy). They are a great couple to play games with, share a meal, and just be yourself. Plus, they let us sleep in their place and play with their animals. HOW COOL IS THAT?!
Our friend’s wife ran a half-marathon today (as we were leaving) and here she is in action. I may be crazy for snagging baseballs, but she takes the cake. Running 13.1 miles (and even completing a full marathon)?! That’s true craziness.
Oh, it was also nice seeing a lake without ice on it. Thanks, Lake Michigan! A road trip entry wouldn’t be complete without a “but what fun drink/snack did you find?” photo. Well, here’s one from my favorite non-Minnesota convenience store:
Squirt Slurpee, Fiery Hot chips, and Chocolate Shortbread cookies. (All vegan-friendly.) I love you, 7 Eleven!
- Tom Fitzgerald – Words cannot express my gratitude. You made the Chicago Cubs organization an instant favorite in this baseball fan’s heart.
- Tom the Tour Guide – *Slow Claps* for a tour well done. I am sure that all of the tour guides are more than capable, but if you get lucky enough to get Tom, you will be in for a treat.
- My wife – Again, this non-baseball fan accompanied me on a baseball mini-road trip. I’m glad she at least appreciates the history in Wrigley and Fenway. I know she shares a spot for those two in the tiny baseball section of her mind.
- Dustin and Molly – Wonderful hosts that did a super job of trying to sell us on moving to Chicago. We will have to seriously consider it; it’s a tough and large undertaking, but we felt the attraction to the city/area.
PS: Did you buy your ticket to tour Wrigley yet? You just might score a baseball without even going to a game! Even if you don’t get one, you still win, since you got to TOUR WRIGLEY FIELD!!
Similar to the entry I made this time last year, I wanted to give a recap of everything non-baseball (OK, a few things baseball) that I encountered in my 3rd annual road trip to Florida. The trip was very similar to my first trip to Florida; spend half the time hitting up baseball games and the other half with family – it was actually very nice to not be alone like I was last year.
So let’s kick things off and start the day-to-day recap with…
Friday, February 28, 2014:
An all-too-familiar sight in Minnesota this year as I went to pick up the rental car. This same system would end up following us through Iowa and make travel conditions less than optimal. Our actual trip started just after 7 pm and kept going through…
Saturday, March 1, 2014:
Tennessee greeted us in the late morning.
While Atlanta caused me to vomit half a burrito in the early afternoon.
Sometime well into the evening, the view once again went black, as we didn’t reach our hotel until 11 pm local time. That means it was about 27 hours of travel… GROSS. I don’t mind long road trips, in fact, I like them. But one straight shot AND 3 other people in the car? No, thanks.
Sunday, March 2, 2014:
With one full day lost to travel, waking up to a view like this made it not so terrible. We had changed our fortunes by about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so the complaints seemed to evaporate.
The much shorter ride from Fort Myers to Port Charlotte in the morning was for the first of 4 straight games for me (and 3 for the rest of our party – my wife and her parents, photographed above). As you can tell, we met a crazy Rays fan, too.
My goal this trip was to not only catch baseballs (30 was realistic, and 40 was a pipe-dream); but I wanted to also see an alligator. I got excited when I saw a sign like this, but then got sad when it turned out to be a LIAR!
After the game we drove back to Fort Myers and hit up the beach for sunset. I will not speak, just let the photos do the talking.
Monday, March 3, 2014:
Another day, another game! I took, a nearly-identical photo last year, but this time there was not a cloud in the sky. While once inside…
I SAW MY FIRST ALLIGATOR!! My first ever “wild” gator came at a Twins game, how fitting?!
It’s quite easy to tell that I was about 1,700 miles from home; alligators, sunshine, people in shorts, baseball… all things that Minnesota didn’t have.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014:
The last game with the four-some was in Jupiter, Florida. During the game, our section won $10 gift cards to a restaurant and when we went to redeem them, we could not have been more surprised by their menu…
Being a new Vegan, it is always a shock to see stores/restaurants that cater to Vegans, especially when they have an entire section full of meat-alternatives, by a new favorite brand of ours, Gardein! I normally don’t pitch products, but try the “Crispy Chick’n Sliders“. They sell them at Target and they are AMAZING!!
My wife had the Gardein Chicken Rice Bowl…
…while I had the buffalo wings. The meal, with 2 drinks and an appetizer was under $15 after our gift cards. EXCELLENT!!
And then on the way back I scored a free Lemonade Slurpee and bought a Coke Slurpee. We do not have 7-Elevens in Minnesota, so I have to take advantage whenever I travel to a place that does.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014:
“Paul Day!!” Though I was not with my family for this game, I was not alone. Paul Kom was making his first ever trip to Spring Training, so of course I made sure to be there. We started at JetBlue Park and finished it off with a night game at Hammond Stadium.
In between the stadium switch, we stopped at a grocery store for snacks and drinks. It was at the grocery store that I found a car that I wanted to steal. It was a light blue Bentley convertible. Anyone have one they want to donate to me?
Being 9 hours early to the game at Hammond Stadium apparently gives you access to ANY part imaginable. This was a stark contrast to JetBlue, where (even though there was no game that day) they would not let me ten feet into the stadium to take a photo (or access my phone and take a photo themselves).
Behind the outfield wall both Paul and I found a dollar… true story.
And those were the snacks I picked up. Do not worry, even though one says “Crab”, they were both Vegan.
The game itself was rather bland. Paul and I did “alright”, but nothing memorable… Wait. I lied. We went nuts. Read our entries for more.
Thursday, March 6, 2014:
The last couple of years when in Florida, I have seen signs for “boiled peanuts” and have wanted to try them. The photo above is NOT a turd, but a Cajun boiled peanut. This little guy was spicy and oddly tasty. I don’t know that I’d buy many of these, but I’d try them again.
In addition to seeing my first alligator, I also saw my first (dead) jellyfish.
On this cloudy and cooler day we traveled to the beach (Daytona/New Smyrna area). In one trip we managed to hit up the Gulf and Atlantic sides. I think I prefer the warmth of the Gulf beaches more.
Friday, March 7, 2014:
Two years ago, when visiting my wife’s grandparents, we went to a spring area that is home to many manatees, given that the ocean temps are cool. That day we saw exactly ZERO manatees. This time, dozens. Another “first” when it comes to non-Minnesotan wildlife!
After the manatees and another stop at the beach, we visited a real Floridian flea market. I bought a single lemon for a dollar… it’s probably a good 2 pounds and the size of a baby’s head. I have a giant head and it’s still impressive next to me.
And in the evening we went out for a family dinner and saw Cracker. Jael’s uncle and his significant other came in that night, so there was a total of eight of us all in Florida, laughing at those we left behind in Minnesota/the Midwest…
Saturday, March 8, 2014:
But the joke was on us. We had to take off on a 24 hour trek back to the slightly less cold, but definitely frozen (in comparison) north.
We stopped in Metorpolis, IL and transformed into superheroes…
Sunday, March 9, 2014:
…our super powers being the ability to drive long distances and not fall asleep.
Isn’t Iowa soooo much prettier than Florida?
We arrived back home almost exactly 24 hours after we started, over 1,500 miles traveled from those we said goodbye to.
Florida: I miss you.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce that not only is my time at Spring Training, but my days of ballhawking as a 20-something is over. The next one I am at a game I will be 30… THIRTY!! That sounds so wrong, but oh well, it’s better than being dead.
For the last game in Florida I was accompanied by Paul Kom. With over 1,600 miles separating us from out states, it’s crazy cool to have a familiar face with you at the park.
We started off the day meeting up at JetBlue Park – Fenway South…
After scoping out the cages, we headed over towards the practice field, except we noticed some balls that rolled out behind the cage, but still behind a fence. I dug a quick hole and slid this beauty out! A commemorative that I hadn’t yet snagged – two years old now!
After about an hour or so, we made our way over to Hammond Stadium (after hitting up a grocery store)…
We arrived 9 hours before the gates opened and no ball-players were present (and very few workers). Paul and I were free to roam the grounds for quite some time and each stumbled across a few balls. These three were “Easter Eggs” found around the batting cage area.
After eating a “lunch” (glorified snack) and also seeing a few minor leaguers on their fields we stayed inside the stadium from a little after noon until the game was over. The Twins staff was incredibly cool and relaxed, we even got to walk on the field (more pix in the mega-entry).
Once the Twins started to actually hit, I moved over to the LF grass area – home of my great luck on the 3rd. This ball was a bomb off the bat of my very favorite, Trevor Plouffe. As you can see in the photo, it hit off the nice new sign and made quite a mark before entering my glove.
I do not know who hit this one, but it was well to my right. I was still in the grass, but over in the corner by center. The ball was traveling about 2/3 of the way towards the pole and me and after a split second or two of deliberating, I broke for it. My running isn’t anything special, but I tracked it down and it was just out of my reach so I dove at the last second. I watched it into my catcher’s mitt in slow-motion and knew that this was probably the best ballhawking catch of my life (past, present, and future). Rounds of applause from the fans and a few players made me feel great (especially since I landed on my stomach and had a few balls in my pocket that bruised my leg).
Three in a row!! This “Unknown Oriole” guy can sure hit! (wink wink) I tried asking a trainer who was hitting, but they couldn’t tell. I’ll take a nice trifecta of snags on the fly… in the warm, soft, green grass.
Since there was an unrestricted re-entry policy, and a ball was fouled over the stadium in the 1st inning, I decided to try my luck outside the stadium, rather than hope for a 3rd out toss-up. In the 4th inning James Beresford sent one up and over the 3rd base side. It was between me and one other guy. Can you tell who won?
After the dust settled, Paul and I met up again and took some parting photos:
Speaking of stashes:
…and that’s it. That was my Spring Training 2014 adventure. I’ll be posting a massive recap, along with an overall “group shot” of everything gathered from the games.
-Twins/Hammond Stadium staff
-My wife and family
My crazy streak of double digit games and record tying/setting (only 2, but a FULL two) came to an end. I am not too sad, because 9 balls is a great total, especially when there are NO outfield seats AND I got my second career game home run ball (more info below).
The third game in as many days was at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. This stadium is split between the Cardinals and the following team:
The only view of the field before gates opened (only 90 minutes before the game, compared to 3 hours at Hammond Stadium) was back in the player parking/LF access gate. I was able to get Arquimedes Caminero’s attention (while wearing my Marlins jersey) and got him to toss me a ball.
After getting shut out by Edgar Olmos, because I switched jerseys as the Twins entered the unloading area then the field, I was finally rewarded with the second if the day. Christian Yelich tossed me this ball after I got myself out of Olmos and Camineros’ views.
Once the workers started to let people near the right field (foul territory) grass area, I tried for a sliced ball or two. I still couldn’t go on the grass, but a worker hooked me up with one that was in foul territory I the warning track.
My wife caught* a ball! OK, so it was more like I told her to be ready with my spare glove and that I would “bobble” a ball into her glove. But I did this so that we could say that all four people in our party got a ball this trip – my father-in-law yesterday, mother-in-law at this game (off the bat of Dan Rohlfing), and finishing off the Quadrafecta, my wife with this ball. Oh, this was a gamer from the bottom of the 1st inning from Oswaldo Arcia after Byron Buxton caught it and tossed it to him as they hugged back to the dugout.
Another gamer, but can you tell where I am taking this photo from? My seats were behind the Twins dugout, but this is from the closest spot to the outfield. Why? Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a blast in the bottom of the 4th to give the Marlins a 2-1 lead. I noticed that no one else was really after it and that a worker or two appeared to be going after it. After deliberating, I chose to run over and try for it. The only other fan waiting for it had no glove and was on his cellphone. The second person I saw behind the fence had the ball in hand and I asked for it. I now own it.
This was not only the eventual game winner, but Jarrod’s first home run as a Marlin!
At this point in the trip I am averaging 13 balls a game! One more tomorrow (my last for over a month) and I will guarantee at least an average in the double digits. CRAZY!
Speaking of “tens”, our section received the prize pictures below because of Salty’s bomb.
We were looking for a place to eat after the game anyway, so this was perfect! I’ll share more about it in my vacation recap, but he shock that they let us use each if our gift cards was a pleasant surprise.
Here is the obligatory “haul shot”:
-Jupiter, Florida/Miami Marlins
-Minnesota Twins, as always
-My wife, for playing along with the “everyone gets a ball” idea
(More detailed thanks later.)
My goal this trip was 30 balls. I didn’t publish it, but that was my hope/goal. I thought I had a chance after my numbers from yesterday (11), but never did I guess that I’d do it in only two games.
I tried to get the bat-boy’s attention all game long; once he even have me the “I’m sorry, I can’t” mime. I tried once more in the 7th from the mote area, and at the same time he saw me and motioned for me to come down and get it. I went to the first row and got yet another gamer.
Are we there yet?! Yes, yes we are. The last ball of the game came after securing a lineup card from the Jays and a BP schedule for the Twins. This one was from a worker and was a leftover gamer from the batting helmet rack.
I also saw my first alligator today! Here it is in the swamp behind RF:
And here is the total haul from the game:
For those wondering, here’s how far away from home I am:
-Toronto Blue Jays
-and many more, but I am tired, so it’ll have to be written in the massive “road trip blog” post.
As a warning, the Florida posts will be short and sweet. Since it is a vacation with family AND 4 straight games, the time commitment would become too much. Do not fret, the debriefing for the entire roadtrip will hold many juicy details.
I named this one “Ball 0″ due to its sci-fi-like test-tube/embryonic state. I took a walk behind the LF side and only found Frankenstein. I chose not to count it because it is hideous AND (biggest factor) it could not be verified as a MLB or MiLB ball.
The TRUE first ball of 2014 came about an hour before gates opened, while in RF/foul area by the batting cages outside the park. A terrible throw(?) found the ball in the possession of a worker. I asked for it and was happily named new guardian of this precious gift. Its name? One-hundred Ninety Voda or 190 for short.
The Rays were taking BP upon entering and I decided to try my luck in the outfield. After a terrible play on a ball in the grass (hey, we’re ALL going through Spring Training) I made up for it with a ball that hit off a weird metal post cap on the wall in LF.
Not having a decent ball (or anything else) for Byron Buxton to sign, I hit up Oswaldo Arcia (in Spanish) and hoped for the pearl a few feet from him. I was rewarded with it, and as there is a Practice stamp on the back, the dilemma of “Sweet Spot” or not was answered for me.
How many of you have ever gotten a ball from a German? I’m guessing none? Well, I have now that Max Kepler has tossed me one! A German baseball player tossed me my 200th career ball… would not have ever guessed that would happen. (Both the German thing and the 200 balls thing.)
Shortly after snagging #200, I asked the Rays bat-boy for the lineup card that had just been tossed by Terry Steinbach (who is rather frugal at giving away said lineup cards). Did I get it? You tell me…
So in short, the haul was 11 balls, 1 mutant ball, 1 autograph, 1 lineup card, and a sunburn (mainly face).
Many thanks to my family (wife and parents-in-law) for going on this trip. My father-in-law snagged his very own first ball; I’m so proud. Thanks also to the many people listed above for tossing me a ball. Lastly, thank you, dear reader, for letting me do an abbreviated post. Sleep is important, along with family time; the massive post will be worth the wait, though.