5/15/2009 – Brewers at Astros

If there’s one thing I love about batting practice more than anything
else, it’s taking someone who’s never been before.  I’m often amazed at
number of people who don’t even know what batting practice is, let
alone that you can go watch it and catch a ton of balls.  Such was the
case with my friend Kevin.  All of his boys play baseball and he’s a
pretty big sports fan, but he’d never gone to batting practice in his
entire life.  It doesn’t help matters much that he lives in Oklahoma
City and is hours away from any MLB team.  Today he happened to be in
Houston for the Brewers game so I told him I’d introduce him to the
fabulous world of BP. 

I went to get the cheapo tickets and
was bummed to find that the normal $7 cheapies were being sold only
with a PowerAde label for $1.  That made the cheapest seats available,
without going to get a PowerAde, five dollars more at $12.  To top it
off, once the game was underway, the cheap seats were empty.  I’m
pretty sure that the club made more money off the extra money paid for
the “new cheap seats” than they lost on the promotion by giving them
away for a buck to the folks with labels.  Lesson learned, because I
now carry PowerAde labels in my wallet.

We saw the last two or
three batters of the Astros batting practice.  It sucks because the
gates only open an hour and a half before game time during the week so
you only get about five or ten minutes of Astros BP before the visitors
take the field.  Nothing from the Astros today.  I set Kevin up along
the front rail and gave him my roster so he could call out to the
players.  I am pretty familiar with the Brewers so I felt confident
giving up my cheat sheet.  We waited around a bit and Craig Counsell
hit one that sailed over my head and bounced into the seats two rows
behind me.  I had time to climb one row before a group swarmed where
the ball landed.  I looked down in time to see that it had rolled down
to my row and was about to roll to the one I had previously occupied. 
I quickly and quietly gloved Ball #1 on the day and no one
noticed.  I just walked over to the aisle and stood waiting while about
6 people searched in vain for the ball.  It took them a good minute or
two to give up and I never let on that I had snatched it.  No one
around ever noticed, it was sweet. 

The Brewers write witty
sayings on their practice balls.  Some are comedic, some are poetic,
and some are philosophical.  Ball #1 read “Reach For The Stars”. 
Interesting, but lazy.  I wanted to find one that really moved me.  I
later noticed Mitch Stetter was checking each one that he caught before
tossing them to the bucket.  I asked him what the best one he found
that day read and he said, “Lumberjack”.  I tossed him the one I had
snagged earlier.  He read it and tossed it back with a chuckle.  A
minute or two later he caught one, read it and tossed it to me. 
“Effort Knows No Score”.  Deep stuff.  Sounds like a halftime speech by
a small town six-man football coach.  I wasn’t sure if he was tossing
it to me just to read or to keep, so I wound up to throw it back and he
motioned for me to keep it.  Cool.  Ball #2

Meanwhile,
Kevin was having no luck.  I walked down to him to make sure everything
was going well.  He said he was calling to all the players, but no
luck.  It doesn’t help his cause that he’s about 6’4″ and is a full
grown man in a crowd of kids.  I told him that he just needed to get
creative.  That’s when I spotted Corey Hart.
hart.jpgI’m not sure what it is
about Corey Hart, but he always throws me a ball.  Every game.  He sees
me, recognizes me, and tosses me a pearl.  Just like that.  I can’t
explain it, I’ve never met him or talked to him.  I guess he just
appreciates the ballhawk, who knows.  I knew today would be another
sure thing because I had my “Happy Youngster” shirt on, so the Brewers
in the know, like Corey, would recognize that.  Anyway, I figured I’d
aggravate Kevin a bit so as soon as I saw Corey was going to catch a
fly I said, “You’re doing it wrong, watch.”  Then I yelled to Corey and
flashed my glove.  He turned and fired it right into my glove for Ball #3 of the day.  I thought Kevin was just going to leave right there, but I ended up letting him in on it. 

We
waited a while longer with no action nearby.  Then a ball rolled up
below Kevin on the warning track.  The security guard who has it out
for me and the glove trick was no where in sight so I lowered my glove
down and reeled in Ball #4.   Another “Reach for the Stars”
ball.  I guess the assistants were getting lazy.  As I finished winding
up my string, Prince Fielder hit a book rule double right at us.  It
was coming to my right so I reached across and grabbed it… right in
front of Kevin.  Ball #5 on the day, but I actually felt really
bad about it as soon as I caught it because my glove was literally
inside of his and had I not been there he surely would have caught it. 
I tried to give it to him but he wouldn’t take it so I gave it to a kid
nearby.  It didn’t say anything witty and was pretty banged up anyway.  As I made my way back to my spot in the aisle one section over, Prince hit another one to the wall that someone flipped up to Kevin.  At least my interception didn’t cause him to get shut out.

The rest of BP went on uneventful with only one close one hit to either of us.  We moved over to the third base line where Dave Bush was warming up with Mike Rivera.

DSC02650.jpg  After they were finished Dave tossed me Ball #6 on the day.  It was rubbed up nicely and didn’t have a single scuff.  ( I would later get this ball autographed by Andy Pettitte at a Yankees v. Rangers game in Arlington ).  Not a bad take today.

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We ended up just sitting down where we were along the third base line, even with Ryan Braun and Carlos Lee in left field.  We spent most of the game here.   

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Kevin left around the seventh inning and I moved down to the dugout again and was shut out by the umpire. 

SNAGGING STATS:

  • 6 balls at this game (3 thrown, 2 hit, 1 glove trick) 
  • 29 balls in 5 games this season = 5.8 per game

5/7/2009 – cubs at Astros

I know… I know.  It’s been a while.  Luckily I take good notes so I’ll try to get these past games caught up to speed.  Bear with me.

May 7th.  When the cubs come to town, it’s always a circus of nausea.  You all know what I’m talking about.  I’m sure Houston isn’t the only city that has to tolerate this bandwagon frenzy, but it’s the site of my pain so you’ll have to share in my misery.  What is it with cub fans in other cities?  The world may never know?

When I arrived at the game I reallized that I had forgotten my MLB.com shirt that I wanted to bring.  I was going to have to watch this one in my work shirt.  Uggh!  Lesson learned.  I was greeted by FOUR rows of Camaros outside the Home Plate entrance.  Most were the new, shiny 2010 models, but there were a few classics.  Transformers may have single handedly sparked this because most of the new ones were Bumblebee yellow.

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Batting practice was uneventful.  Kevin Gregg tossed me Ball #1 in right field.  A bunch of kids were calling him Dempster so I called out his real name and he turned and lobbed one just over their heads to me in the second row.  I did get to see two guys in their early twenties get into a screeching argument about who had possession of a ball that was rolling around under the seats.  It was even funnier because one was a row below the other and they grabbed the ball beneath the seats and were each pulling the ball causing the other much pain and aggravation.  I didn’t see who came up with it because while they were bickering I ranged over to snatch a Kosuke Fukudome homer from the gloveless hand of a now upset college frat boy who actually thought he could have caught the ball bare handed while managing not to spill his $7.50 beer.  The look on his face when I turned and gave it to a little girl with a pink glove made Ball #2 all the sweeter.  A backhanded flip from Milton Bradley rounded out BP with Ball #3 and I was shut down by the only pair of cubs taking warmup tosses.

The game was pretty meh.  I made my way up to the club level to try for foul balls.  The club level has a pretty good cross aisle for foul chasing. 

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I bounced around there for most of the game, alternating sides for righties and lefties.  I quickly began chatting with the folks around me so I could better blend in and help pass the time.  Somewhere around the fifth or sixth, Kosuke Fukudome popped a foul almost straight back towards me.  I aisle to my right, but didn’t step out because I could tell it was going to land in about the second seat, but I still couldn’t tell if it would be my row or the one in front of me.  It was falling fast and I could see that it would be at least one row in front so I put my foot on the chair in front of me and leaned as far forward as I could.  The guy in front of me put his hand up, right above my glove, and deflected it just enough so that it missed my glove and landed in the floor at his feet.  I was that close to the first game ball of the year, but I couldn’t be mad at the guy.  First off, he was super nice.  Second, he was freaking huge!  He had to be at least 6’8″, which is why he could reach above my glove even though I was a row above him standing on the back of his seat.  It was his first ball ever and he let me take a picture with him and the one that got away.  Keep in mind that he’s standing on the row below me and is still taller. 

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All was not lost though, an inning or two later I was on the other side of the cross aisle when Soriano popped one up that bounced off the short stairs leading down to the aisle and into my glove.  Ball #4 of the day and Game Ball #1 of the year!

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So it wasn’t a total loss.

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SNAGGING STATS:

  • 4 balls at this game (2 thrown, 2 caught)  (1 game ball)
  • 23 balls in 4 games this season = 5.75 per game

(more…)

Pony League Diamondbacks vs. Angels

We just got back from Lance’s game tonight vs. the Angels.  Why they have 7:30 games on school nights I’ll never understand, but that’s the way it goes.  Lance has been putting in extra batting practice and it showed tonight.  We’ve been practicing with whiffle golf balls and it’s really helped his seeing the ball.  A regular ball looks like a cantaloupe compared to those little things.  Tonight he went 2 for 2 with 2 RBIs (or is it RsBI?) and 2 runs scored.  Two-rriffic! 

His second hit was a scare though.  There was already a runner on first and he hit a shot that the third baseman covered pretty quickly and threw to first.  Lance beat the throw, but the base coach was telling him to run through the base, like one would do at first.  He took this to mean, “Go to second” so he rounded first and headed on his way.  The quick thinking third base coach called the runner at second to come on to third and when it was all over, we had a runner cross the plate and Lance ended up on third.  Times like that are what makes coach pitch fun.

The boys played a great game and held the top scoring team in the division to one run.  We beat them 12-1 and the kids were glowing.   Way to go D’Backs!

4/19/2009 – Reds at Astros

I’ve been looking forward to this game for a while now.  Not because of the snagging, because I knew this one would not be a great opportunity, but it was the Houston area little league game.  All the area teams showed up in their uniforms and had a parade around the warning track.  I was going with my sons Luke (10) and Lance (7).  Lance plays coach pitch this year and Luke was along for the ride.  Neither of my boys showed much interest in baseball until this year with Lance wanting to play and Luke joining in with our games of catch in the back yard. 

We showed up at 10:30 for the parade, then went down into the bowels of the stadium and came out the wagon gate in right field.  I took a bunch of pics since this was my first time on the field.  Clockwise from left:  1)  our first view from field level.  2)  Lance and Luke at the Astros’ dugout.  3)  Tal’s Hill.  4)  President and Mrs. Bush’s seats in the Diamond Club.

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I also got a great shot of the boys with the manual scoreboard below the Crawford Boxes in left field and me bring back a Pujols opposite field shot.

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Here’s the whole D’Backs crew lined up along the right field wall.  The “customer service” staff kept telling us to keep moving, but there was no way we were going to miss a photo op like this!

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When we finally left the field after a long, slow parade around the warning track it was back into the wagon gate.  I noticed something on the way back that I somehow missed on the way down to the field.  There were three stalls filled with the different types of dirt that they use on the field.  There was one type for the warning track and infield, another for the pitcher’s mound and apron in front of the batter’s box, and the sand for the grass. I don’t know why, but the baseball geek in me found this fascinating. I must admit that we took a little of the warning track home with us in a baggie. I’ll probably scatter it in the back yard so I can say there’s a little bit of Minute Maid Park in our yard.

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After the parade, there was obviously no batting practice.  The area around the Astros side of the field was crowded about 4-5 people deep so we made our way over to the left field line where a few Reds players were warming up.  We watched for a while as they tossed and I was making sure Lance watched their throwing form and how they were catching the ball.  It was pretty hot in the sun so Luke sat down in the first seat on the aisle by the fence while Lance and I waited, hoping for a ball.  In between long tosses, I politely asked fellow music lover Bronson Arroyo if I could have the ball they were using when they were finished with it.  I made sure to tell the boys the basics of asking for a ball.  Ask politely and always ask for it when they’re done.  These guys are actually using the ball right now and shouting, “Over here! Over here!” each time they catch it is only going to annoy them. 

Meanwhile, Johnny Cueto and Daniel Herrera were tossing to our right and Cueto sent one over Herrera’s head and into the stands.  It missed Luke’s nose by about two inches and bounced off the seat next to him.  While he was trying to figure out what was going on I beat out two other guys standing nearby and picked it up for Ball #1 of the day.  I have to admit I was a little shook up at the thought of what might have happened if it had hit him in the head or face, but afterward he was on the fence with Lance and me, glove in hand. 

We watched a little while longer and an unknown Reds’ player flipped a ball into the stands which I snatched for Ball #2.  I also got David Weathers and Johnny Cueto to sign my big glove.  When Bronson Arroyo finished tossing he turned around and made a throwing motion into the stands as all the kids nearby shouted their usual, “Hey Mister!  Over Here!  Mr. Arroyo!”  Bronson just looked around and said, “Who was it that asked for this one earlier?”  I told him it was me and he pointed above my head as if to say, “reach way up” and tossed above all the kids right into my glove.  Ball #3.  Then I reminded Luke and Lance about how I had asked him earlier, that most players remember things like that and that manners are not just for the dinner table. 

We reported to our assigned seats in the view deck behind home plate.  It was a good spot for fouls off left handed batters, but none came our way.  Towards the end of the game we moved to the field level for the 8th and 9th innings and some nice folks were leaving their front row seats and told us we could go sit there. 

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We watched a few at bats and a FSN Ohio announcer in the camera well (I think it was Jeff Piecoro?) asked Lance if he had his glove ready.  Lance said he did so he tossed him a ball, which Lance grabbed with his glove for career ball #1!  Lance thanked him and was smiling from ear to ear.  It was a scuffed up ball from the game that was all rubbed up and must have been a foul shot into the
well.  Nice ball for the first of what we both hope is a long snagging career.

The Astros ended up losing…. again.  This time 2-4, squandering chance after chance and wasting a gem by Felipe Paulino.  After the game, I got Ball #4 from home plate umpire Paul Schrieber.  I also told Joe West that even though he totally blew the double play call in the fifth that may very well have cost the Astros the game, he was still my favorite country singing MLB umpire.

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Overall, it was a great time.  The boys and I enjoyed everything, Lance got his first ball, and I still managed to walk out with four despite there being no batting practice and very little time to work the players.  On the down side, the Astros keep finding new and exciting ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  It’s going to be a long season…. which isn’t always a bad thing.

On a final note:  I took the following picture on the way out of MMP of the boys sitting on the giant terrorist stopping baseballs in front of the stadium.  I put it up against a similar picture I took in April of 2005.  They grow up so fast!

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SNAGGING STATS:

  • 4 balls at this game (all thrown)
  • 19 balls in 3 games this season = 6.33 per game

4/17/2009 – Reds at Astros

Rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  When I got to the ballpark, it was really coming down so I circled the block a few times trying to find a better spot.  There were a few along the big train out front that not a lot of people know about, but I wanted to try and find one near the center field entrance.  Today was Lance Berkman Bobblehead Day so I figured the lines would be longer than usual, even with the rain and I was right.  There was no decent parking near center field so I went back to my usual spot and it started to hail.  Not just piddly hail, but dime to nickel sized hood denters.  Not only that, but the streets were flooding pretty badly.  The water was up to my door in many places and the rain kept coming.  Luckily I was near my usual parking spots so I pulled under the GRB convention center access ramp and ran out to a parking meter to pay the meter and get my receipt.  I got pretty wet in the process, but at least the hail let up long enough for me to not get knocked silly.  I also took the time out of the weather to change into shorts and get my stuff ready to bolt for the stadium.

I found a nice spot under a tree to park about a block away from the stadium.  I still marvel at all the folks who pay $5, $10, or even $20 to park five blocks away when I paid $1.50 to park a block from the home plate entrance.  I settled down for about five minutes and let the hail stop before making a break for the home plate awning.  I gathered everything up and made a break for it as soon as the rain let up a bit.    I eventually worked my way round to the left field entrance and waited for the gates to open.  At Minute Maid Park, the gates open 90 minutes before game time Sunday through Friday and two hours before game time on Saturdays.  This really sucks for snagging baseballs because most of the balls I gather are during BP.  Only having 90 minutes before game time means that I usually only get to see maybe 10 minutes of the Astros practice before the visitors get started.  Today was a real treat though.

DSC02512.jpgAs you can see, it was really coming down and the line was extending out from under the awning so they let us into the park at 5:00, a full two hours early on a Friday!  I picked up my Berkman bobblehead and headed for my spot in right field.  Easter eggs are hard to come by at MMP since the ushers do a wipedown of every seat in their section right before the gates open.  Since I had found one on opening day when the gates opened two hours prior to the game I thought there was a good chance I’d get one today too.  Wrong.  No balls in the stands but the usher I saw in my section sure had a fat pocket.  Oh well.  The bullpen was also empty.  I set up on the rail to ask a few Astros players for alms, but there were just pitchers stretching.  Luckily, no one was fielding for the Astros so I figured I’d just wait until something rolled up to the warning track and take the easy pickings.  I was there about a minute when an Astros lefty hit one that rolled right up under where I was.  A little factoid:  MMP is not “glove trick” friendly.  Not one bit.  The security guard who works right field knows me as the guy that he has to get on to every game.  Last year, it seemed as though he busted me every other game and told me to stop.  On opening day, I was able to stealthily pluck three from the bullpen.  I was hoping today would be no different.  I looked back and the security guard was at the top of the section.  I dropped my glove right on top of it and reeled in Ball #1 of the day. 

I stayed on the rail for a few minutes before stepping back up the steps to about the fifth row between the pesky handrails.  I was literally there about 30 seconds when someone hit a book rule double that a guy in the first row misplayed and it landed a few seats to my right.  I jumped on it for Ball #2 of the day.  I sat there for a while longer waiting for something else, but no one seemed to have any power today.  MMP is not conducive to running between right and left field.  To do that, you have to go up on the concourse and go all the way round, basically from one side of the stadium to the other.  It’s a pain, so I usually camp out in right field and avoid the calamity in the Crawford Boxes.  This day was pretty dry for homers but I noticed that while I was waiting a few had rolled up to the warning track again.  I made my way down and gobbled up Balls #3 and #4 with the glove trick.  I went back up to my spot in the aisle at row 5 and was putting them away when I got that feeling, you know the one that you get when you know something’s going on and you are the only one not in on it?  I looked up and saw a homer coming my way but before I could drop everything and shuffle to my right it hit the row behind me about 15 feet over.  There was no one there so I bolted for it and got there .5 seconds after the guy who would take what should have been Ball #5 for me.  Oh well, I guess it serves me right for not paying attention.  If I had, I would have been there when that ball hit me in the glove chest high and I would have made it look easy.  Instead I’m still fuming about it. 

I went back to the front row when the Reds started BP.  They had less power than the Astros did, but Laynce Nix and Joey Votto seemed to keep it lively.  I had a couple exchanges with Daniel Herrera and David Weathers and thought they might throw me a bone but they were too busy trying to hit the bucket to give me alms.  I was standing next to a dad with his two boys who both had their gloves and were really wanting a ball, so I gave the yountest one of the balls I had grabbed.  He was glowing, but his brother was really upset and threw a fit.  I was going to give him one too, but his dad told me not to because of the way he was acting.  Weathers chased one to the wall and flipped it in my general direction but I couldn’t get to it without knocking over the two kids to my right so a teen with no glove ended up with it.  Jay Bruce later flipped me Ball #5 which the same teen tried to knock me over to get to.  A nice elbow kept him away. 

The front row was getting crowded and people were starting to fill the seats in right field, cutting my range down substantially.  I moved over to see what was in the bullpen and saw two sitting there waiting for me to save them.  I grabbed Ball #6 on the first try and then reeled in Ball #7.  BP was ending as I was winding up my string.  I turned around to find my old buddy, the right field security guard.  He told me that he remembered getting on to me many times last year and that there wouldn’t be any more warnings this year because this was my last.  As I was walking away he reminded me again, “You have been warned.”  I guess I’m marked now, whatever that means.  Anyway, it was good while it lasted.  I moved on over to the left field foul line where I knew the Reds would be throwing.  A few of the guys were playing toss but totally ignored me.  I stayed along the fence and got Jay Bruce and Daniel Herrera to sign my big glove. 

I had a ticket for the outfield deck, but I figured it was so far up there and I was already in the field boxes, so I just stayed there.  I found a nice spot in the 8th row behind the Reds dugout and waited for th
ird out balls.  At the end of the first inning, Carlos Lee struck out and I ran down to get the ball from Ramon Hernandez.  I was the only person at the end of the row so it was easy pickings.  He tossed me Ball #8, which wasn’t the actual game ball, but a ragged warmup ball.  Rats.  As I was heading back to my seat I tossed it to the kid with a glove sitting behind me.  That was it for the game, but I almost had Ball #9 when Chris Dickerson came trotting in and tossed the ball from the other end of the dugout in my direction.  I think it was because he heard me shout “Wolf Pack!” when he was warming up earlier (he’s a University of Nevada alum).  Anyway, it was sailing in my direction… I had my glove open and ready… and the guy across the aisle from me bare handed it, snaking it 6 inches from my glove.  To say I was pissed is an understatement.  He kind of felt bad about it and said that if it wasn’t for his daughter, he’d give it to me.  I can relate to that so it eased the pain a bit.  Plus he was a nice guy so we chatted it up a bit.  I explained to him about Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud and showed him and his daughter the difference in a ball with and without it, showing him the ball I got from Hernandez and the brand new pearl I got out of the bullpen for #6 of the day.  They made the rest of the game interesting, so I didn’t stay pissed for long.  But that changed in the ninth when Valverde blew his first save opportunity and the win for Roy Oswalt by walking Encarnacion and giving up the game winning homer to Hernandez.  The only Astros offense was a bases loaded walk.  Once again, no run support for the Wizard.  Uggh!

After the game, I got Ball #9 from home plate umpire Cowboy Joe West.  Then, someone from within the dugout rolled a few across the top, one of which I snagged for Ball #10.    Yes, double digits!  Even with a painful Astros loss, I couldn’t be completely mad a a double digit game.  The last ball I snagged would have been grabbed by a kid to my left if I hadn’t been there, so I asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet.  He said he hadn’t so I gave it to him.  I’m a sucker for kids that I feel like I’ve robbed and this kid definitely would have gotten that ball.  It’s a win win situation though, he gets a ball and it still counts toward my total.

Astros 1 – Reds 2.  Blech!  Here are my spoils, minus the three that I gave away.

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SNAGGING STATS:

  • 10 balls at this game (5 glove tricks, 1 hit ball, 4 tossed balls)
  • 15 balls in 2 games this season = 7.5 balls per game

 

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