March 2013

9/24/99 and 9/25/99 at The Metrodome

In September of 1999, I was a senior at Guilford College, and I was dating a lovely young woman named Alli. Alli had family in Minnesota, and I’d never been to the Metrodome — and that’s the exciting story of how I ended up there for a weekend.

The first game I attended was on a Friday, and as you can see, the weather was horrible:


Look at all that snow and ice! Good thing the Twins had a dome because it would’ve been miserable to stay outdoors.

Here’s a photo of me outside the “Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome” as it was officially called . . .


. . . and here’s one more shot of the exterior:


Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, as was often the case in the 1990s, I didn’t take any photos during batting practice, but I can tell you this: I snagged a bunch of baseballs. The first was a homer by the Twins that landed near me in the left field seats as soon as I ran in. I snagged the next ball off the hector_carrascowarning track with my glove trick. (Alli was planning to arrive at game time; her younger brother Matt was with me, and he was impressed.) My third ball was thrown by Hector Carrasco after I asked for it in Spanish. (This was my 1,500th lifetime ball, and I was quite happy about it.) I used my glove trick again for ball No. 4 in the gap behind the outfield wall in left-center, and let me tell you, it was quite a challenge; the ball was so far below me that I had to tie an extension to the piece of string already on my glove.

Matt had never snagged a ball, so when the White Sox came out, I lent him an extra Sox cap and suggested that he try to get a player to toss one to him along the right field foul line. While he was gone, I caught a line-drive homer on the fly. (I have no idea who hit it.) Ten minutes later, Matt returned with a ball — the first one of his life — and he was VERY excited. Then, toward the end of BP, I used more Spanish to get Jesus Pena to throw me my sixth ball of the day.

After BP, I got my picture taken at the 1st base dugout . . .


. . . and then took a few shots of the stadium. Here’s a look at the seats along the 1st base side:


This was the view from behind home plate . . .


. . . and here’s what right field looked like from that spot:


Here’s what the last two photos look like when combined (poorly) in Photoshop:


The paid attendance at this game was only 11,308. There were so many empty seats that I was able to sit like this during the third inning:


I don’t remember why I wasn’t going for baseballs, but I’d like to smack the 22-year-old version of myself as a punishment. I do know (thanks to my original handwritten journal, which I’ll share at the end of this entry) that I’d spent the first part of the game with Alli and Matt and another member of their family near our actual seats behind the 1st base dugout. I guess I must’ve wandered off on my own for a bit to explore. Maybe I left my backpack with them and only took my camera? Anyway, I took two more photos from that spot. Here’s one . . .


. . . and here’s the other:


As I’ve said about lots of old stadiums, and this was certainly true of the Metrodome, it was fugly and I was happy to be there. The only time I wasn’t happy was when I struggled during BP to track fly balls against the white roof. It was so tough that I practically felt unsafe.

I wandered around the concourse for a bit . . .


. . . and briefly ended up in right-center field:


I should mention that the first two rows of seats in left field were roped off to prevent fan interference.

At the time, the game was unremarkable — the Twins won, 6-2 — but looking back now at the box score, I see that there were some big names . . . before they were big. For the White Sox, Paul Konerko was wrapping up his first full season, and Magglio Ordonez was enjoying his first All-Star campaign. For the Twins, Christian Guzman was a rookie and David Ortiz was struggling to prove himself; the big fella went 0-for-2 in this game and finished the season 0-for-20 with 12 strikeouts.

After the final out, I took one last photo . . .


. . . and collected 14 ticket stubs. Four of them looked like this . . .


. . . and the other ten looked like this:


As for my second game at the Metrodome, would you believe that I didn’t even bring my camera? For some reason, I also neglected to check out the upper deck — something I normally do at every stadium I visit — so I never got a photo up there or even a glimpse of the view. What the hell was I thinking?

Thankfully I was thinking straight when I skipped out on some boring touristy activity with Alli and her family in order to make it to the dome on time for BP. Unfortunately, though, it was Fan Appreciation Day, and the attendance (26,324) more than doubled. The stadium was packed early on, and my ballhawking suffered as a result. I got shut out during the 40 minutes that the Twins were on the field, and I only snagged two baseballs during the White Sox’s portion of BP — a toss-up from Carlos Castillo along the RF foul line and a toss-up from Keith Foulke in left field. Before the game, I got Marty Cordova to throw me a ball at the Twins’ dugout on the 3rd base side, and that was it. Three baseballs. Meh. Nine in two days. Double-meh. (All these years later, there are 42 stadiums at which I’ve attended at least two games; the Metrodome is the only one where I failed to reach double digits.)

I don’t remember where I sat during the game. I don’t remember anything really, but evidently I collected an absurd number of ticket stubs after the final out:


According to my journal (which I’m about to share), there was “all night softball” at the dome, which basically meant that a bunch of crappy beer-league teams got to play there until 3am, and fans were allowed to hang out in the stands. That’s why I got so many tickets. I had endless time to comb through the empty rows and look for them — well, until Alli and her family came to pick me up. Oh, and the White Sox won, 13-4.

Now, here’s the beginning of my long journal entry:


Before heading to the first game at the dome, I visited the Mall of America:


Here’s the part where I snagged my first few baseballs, including No. 1,500 from Hector Carrasco:


Of course I journaled about the food, which was surprisingly good:


So much bleeping:


This next double-page wraps up my ballhawking at the Metrodome . . .


. . . but I still had lots more to say. Here’s a story (which I had totally forgotten until I reread it) about some kids I talked to during the game:


Looking back on it, I cringed at the fact that I didn’t give them a ball — and that I seemed to tease them a bit. (I didn’t use to give baseballs away. Now I do. It’s that simple.) Ultimately, though, they ended up thinking I was the greatest dude ever, and I had a nice chat with their father.

I hung out with Alli and her family after the game:


Here’s where the journal entry ends. Just for the hell of it, I’ve included a bonus page (on the right) from my following entry so you can see what happened when I got back to campus:


Here’s one more photo, taken at the Mall of America, which shows the location of home plate from the Twins’ old ballpark, Metropolitan Stadium:


On a final note, if you’d like to check out my previous “Turn Back The Clock” blog entries, here’s a list:


1) June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
2) June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
3) July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
4) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
5) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
6) July 14, 1998 at Busch Stadium
7) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
8) July 18, 1999 at the Astrodome
9) July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium


Tales From First Base

So, there’s a new baseball book, published by Potomac, called Tales From First Base . . .


. . . and I’d like to show you the back cover:


That’s all.

Stay tuned for a “Turn Back The Clock” entry about the Metrodome. I’m already working on it and will post it within the next day or two . . .

250-pound rubber band ball

Here’s a video that shows me adding to my humongous rubber band ball. Just because.

7/14/98 at Busch Stadium

This was my final game of a five-city road trip, and it was the only time that I ever made it to Old Busch Stadium.

Game time was 7:10pm.
The gates were going to open at 5:10pm.
I arrived at 3:45pm . . .


. . . and there were already several fans waiting to get inside. Why? Because it was mid-July and Mark McGwire had already hit 40 home runs. The whole country was OBSESSED with his pursuit of Roger Maris’s single-season record; here in St. Louis, people were going absolutely insane. They wanted his autograph. They wanted to take pictures of him. They wanted to see him take batting practice. Anything.

Given the fact that the weather had been iffy all day, I was ecstatic when I peeked through one of the gates and saw this:


The tarp was NOT covering the infield!
There WAS going be batting practice!

By 5pm the line to get in was several hundred feet long. Ten minutes later, when the gates finally opened, I bolted out to the left field seats. No good. I could tell right away that I needed to move, so I rushed to the right field side and worked the balconies that were positioned roughly 15 feet above the warning track.

My first ball of the day was tossed by a groundskeeper. My second ball was thrown by Cardinals pitcher Donovan Osborne. I snagged my third and fourth balls with the glove trick, at one point maneuvering around a cop who was in my way and stubbornly refused to step aside. Toward the end of BP, when I attempted to use the trick yet again, Reds outfielder Melvin Nieves helped me by grabbing the ball and stuffing it into my glove. After BP I got my sixth ball tossed by an unknown player at the Cardinals’ dugout on the 1st base side.

Then I wandered all over the place and took a bunch of photos. Here’s one that shows the not-yet-chalked 3rd base line:


I moved one section to the right and got someone to take my picture:


Here’s a look at the crowd on the 1st base side:


Just before the game started, I got my seventh ball at the Cardinals’ dugout from John Mabry. Then I headed to the upper deck and took two photos. Here’s one . . .


. . . and here’s the other . . .


. . . and look! They can kinda almost be combined to make a nifty little panorama:


Here’s another photo of me . . .


. . . standing next to the “PLEASE NO STANDING” sign. At the tender age of 20, this was my idea of being rebellious.

By the 2nd inning, I made it back down to the field level seats. Remember those balconies where I snagged all my baseballs during BP? Here’s what they looked like:


This was the view from one of the balconies:


(Two and a half months later, Mark McGwire’s 70th and final home run ball of the season landed in one of the left field balconies, which was being rented out as a private party room. That ball was snagged by a fan named Phil Ozersky and was later purchased at auction by Todd McFarlane for $3,005,000. There’s an entire book about that ball and the crazy aftermath, which I *highly* recommend.)

Late in the game, I headed through this tunnel . . .


. . . to the seats behind the Cardinals’ dugout. Old Busch Stadium was a tough place to snag baseballs, but it sure was pretty, or at least dramatic-looking, don’t you think? Take another look at the previous photo. I loved all those mini-arches at the top of the upper deck, and when I saw THE arch looming up in the background . . . wow. Just as I felt with all the other stadiums that I visited on this trip, I was thrilled to be here.

I took one final action shot late in the game . . .


. . . and that was it. The Reds beat the Cardinals, 7-4, and guess who went deep. That’s right: Dmitri Young, Eddie Taubensee, Ron Gant, and Gary Gaetti. McGwire only had one at-bat;  he pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th and grounded out. (Interesting side note about McGwire’s pursuit of the record: it totally screwed up business for local taxi drivers. Under normal circumstances, fans start trickling out in the 6th or 7th innings, so drivers start picking up passengers early and return to the stadium to get more and more. Each inning can be good for an additional fare, but because NO ONE wanted to miss any of McGwire’s at-bats, everyone stayed ’til the final out, and drivers often had just one passenger per game.)

Way back in 1998, I didn’t give any of my baseballs away; I kept every single one, so when I returned from my trip, I photographed my haul:


Ahh yes, the good ol’ days when each league had its own ball. (Click here to see a closeup of a National League ball, and click here for the American League version.)

Now, here are the different types of ticket stubs that I collected at Busch. We’ll start with six of these . . .


. . . and continue with seven of these . . .


. . . plus an Andy Benes autograph:


I also got three of these:


Ready for my original journal entry about my experience in St. Louis? It’s a good one:


Words alone can not describe how much I hate cigarettes.


Hey, look, a double-page without ANY words bleeped out:


Here’s the part with the cop and my glove trick:


Here’s a story about an interesting fan I met, along with some details about McGwire’s at-bat:


For the record, this was the only time that I ever had a problem while asking people for ticket stubs after games. I suspect there never was a complaint and that this random employee simply used that as an excuse to get me to leave.


The last page of this particular journal — Volume 38 of 120 — has nothing to do with baseball, but I decided to include it in this blog entry . . . just because. Enjoy:


7/18/99 at the Astrodome

The summer of 1999 was insane. My first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, had been published several months earlier, and I was being interviewed nonstop. I also had a full-time/Monday-through-Friday internship at Workman Publishing in New York City. Meanwhile, my college girlfriend (Alli) was spending the summer in New York and living with me and my parents . . . AND . . . Fujifilm had sponsored me and was sending me out every other weekend to major league baseball games in different cities. I didn’t exactly have a whole lot of free time before I’d be heading back to Guilford College in mid-August, so when I realized that the Astrodome was going to close for good at the end of the season, my only chance to visit was on a weekend. I decided to combine both Texas stadiums into one trip, which meant I was only gonna be at the Astrodome for one game, and unfortunately, because of how things worked out with my schedule, it turned out to be a Sunday with a Beanie Baby give-away. (Ugh!) I knew it was going to be packed, and I simply *had* to find a way to snag at least one baseball.

On the way to my hotel, I got a glimpse of Enron Field from the taxi:


It was still under construction, and I remember thinking how ugly and hangar-like it looked. I knew that I’d be back someday to attend some games there, but for the moment, I was focused on one thing: The Astrodome.

It wasn’t long before I saw it:


Nowadays, whenever I attend a game, I make a point of taking at least a few photos during batting practice, but back in 1999, when I didn’t have a blog or even a digital camera, I didn’t bother documenting every moment of every day. What I’m saying is . . . I have no photos of BP at the Astrodome, so all I can do is briefly describe the baseballs that I snagged. That’s right. Baseballs. Plural. My streak stayed alive, and I was ecstatic when I caught the first one of the day — a slicer down the right field foul line by a right-handed batter on the Astros. I got my second ball nearby with the glove trick. I got my third ball thrown by Indians pitcher Dave Burba along the left field foul line, and while I was over there, I used the glove trick again to snag ball No. 4. That was it for BP — not bad for a sellout at a new/tough stadium.

As thrilled as I was to have snagged a few baseballs, I was just as excited to actually BE inside the Astrodome. It was my 20th major league stadium, but it wasn’t just about the numbers. I loved the fact that I’d finally made it to this famous place that I’d heard about forever and seen on TV countless times. That’s always how I feel when I visit a new stadium, but there was something extra special about this particular structure that seemed . . . majestic. Take a look at the roof:


Did you know that when the Astrodome opened in 1965, it had real grass? And that the roof was made of glass panels? And that the glass created a glare that prevented the outfielders from seeing the ball? And that the panels were then painted white? And that the sunlight was blocked and the grass died? And that the playing surface was replaced the next year with some artificial crap named ChemGrass? And that ChemGrass later became known as AstroTurf? True story. I read about it in some book called Watching Baseball Smarter.

I had lots of time to spare before the game, so I marveled at the roof some more . . .


. . . and wandered around the Field Level seats. Here’s a photo of the bleachers that I took in left-center field:


Here’s a photo from foul territory in right field . . .


. . . and here’s a shot of the stands on the first-base side:


Here’s a photo of me:


Are you aware that I’m *not* wearing a backpack in the photo above? Those dark streaks on my shoulders are sweat stains from my backpack. And also, did you notice the Enron logo on the white advertisement in the upper deck? Unreal.

I wandered a bit during the game, but didn’t take many photos and stayed near the dugouts. Here’s a shot from a tunnel on the first-base side:


Here’s an action shot in the bottom of the 8th inning . . .


. . . and here’s a look at Manny Ramirez entering the Indians’ dugout on the third-base side:


I *loved* Manny at the time. As I’ve mentioned before, I was (and still am) friends with the guy who coached him in high school, so I pretty much knew about Manny’s greatness before anyone. Yeah, well, we all know how THAT turned out, but at the time, I was happy to be standing just a few feet away from him.

The Astros beat the Indians that day by the score of 2-0. Mike Hampton pitched a four-hit shutout. (He finished the season with a 22-4 record and a 2.90 ERA.) Craig Biggio went 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. (He had a career-high 56 doubles that season.) Manny Ramirez went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. (Serves him right.)

After the final out, I got Billy Wagner to toss me a ball at the Astros’ dugout. Then I leaned way out over the railing and took the following photo of Hampton sitting alone on the bench, doing an interview:


On my way out of the section, I took two photos of the field. Here’s one . . .


. . . and here’s the other (which I realize isn’t much different):


On my way out of the stadium, I collected a whole bunch of ticket stubs. I ended up with seven that looked like this:


Where are the other two, you ask? I got them signed by Omar Vizquel later on:


I also got one stub that looked like this . . .


. . . and two like this (which I’ve scanned full-size, which means you should click the photo to expand it and see what I mean):


I also got EIGHTEEN stubs that looked like this:


Overall it was a great day — and I’m glad to share my original handwritten journal entry about it:


Lots of bleeps on the following page — sorry, had to do it:


The entry continues, ends, and continues here:


Here are the final two full pages . . .


. . . and here’s the last little bit:


Finally, if you’d like to check out my previous “Turn Back The Clock” blog entries, here’s a list:

1) June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
2) June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
3) July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
4) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
5) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
6) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
7) July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium

7/2/98 at Cinergy Field

I wish I could say that I visited Riverfront Stadium, but by the time I made it there in 1998, its name had unfortunately changed to Cinergy Field. I’m glad to report, all these years later, that I started the day in style. Check out the car that I rode to the airport:


First of all, yes, that’s me in the previous photo, age 20, and secondly, no, I didn’t pay for a stretch limo. I’d reserved a taxi through a company that also had limos; they happened to run out of taxis at the last minute, so they picked me up in that PimpMobile instead. And yes, when I arrived at the airport, I asked the driver to take a photo of me, and I posed like a complete tool.

I headed to the stadium so early that there was truly no one else around:


It was the perfect time of day to attempt to sneak inside — something I often tried to do in other cities before 9/11. Nowadays stadium security is insane, but 15 years ago (for those of you who are too young to remember, or hell, hadn’t even been born), everything was much more laid-back. If you arrived three or four hours before game time and walked around the perimeter of any major league stadium and checked every gate and doorknob . . . more often than not, you’d find one that was unlocked. And unguarded. When I visited Tropicana Field in 2000, I snuck in early by walking toward the employee entrance with a bunch of vendors — and confidently giving a wave to the absent-minded security guard. Anything was possible, and I never felt guilty. Wanna know why? Because I *always* bought a ticket for the game. The purpose of sneaking in wasn’t free admission; it was to get a sneak-peek inside the stadium — to get a behind-the-scenes look at the players warming up, to scope out the best places to catch baseballs, and occasionally to snag one if the opportunity arose.

Anyway, by the time I bought my ticket and started wandering around Cinergy, I ran into a bunch of high school kids who were thinking along the same lines. Game time was 7:05pm, and the gates weren’t going to open until 5:35pm — totally unacceptable. I got into talking with these kids, and they showed me that one of the gates — you know, those big metal doors — was unlocked. They were able to reach underneath it and lift the prong from the concrete, but we didn’t sneak in. There were some employees nearby, and eventually a security guard noticed what was up and locked it. I kept wandering and discovered another unlocked gate in a more remote area . . . and I waltzed inside. Easy.

By this point, there wasn’t much time until the gates were going to open for real, but that didn’t matter. I was just glad to be inside the stadium for a few extra minutes. The whole sneaking-in thing was like a game, and I’d won this round.

I headed to the right field seats and took the following photo:


Never had such an ugly stadium looked so beautiful.

This was the view to my right:


Did you notice the clock in the upper right corner of the previous photo? It was 5:18pm. I only stayed there for about 10 to 15 more minutes. That’s when the ushers started milling about, so I headed to the nearest bathroom and hid in a stall until 5:35pm. Then I bolted out with a whole lot of energy and a sense of relief. I figured it wouldn’t’ve been a big deal if I’d gotten caught. I would’ve pretended to be lost and showed my ticket for the game — and then what? Security would’ve walked me to the exit and told me to wait in line until the gates opened. Right?

My first ball of the day was thrown to me in right field by Twins pitcher Bob Tewksbury. My second ball was thrown by Eddie Guardado in the left field corner, and I snagged Ball No. 3 with the glove trick along the right field foul line. It was sitting on the field near the tarp, roughly eight feet out from the wall, so I had to knock it closer before I could work the real magic.

Throughout the day, I had mini-run-ins with several security guards and ushers — some telling me to slow down and others raising hell about the glove trick. What else is new? At one point, I came really close to using the trick from the 2nd deck in left field. There were several balls in the gap behind the outfield wall, and even though I was 30 to 40 feet high, I decided to go for it . . . that is, until security shut me down. While I was up there, two noteworthy things happened:

1) Twins outfielder Marty Cordova threw me my fourth ball of the day.
2) I banged the absolute crap out of my leg on a metal armrest. (It still hurts. Mentally.)

Toward the end of BP, I ran/limped back to right field and used the glove trick to snag two baseballs from the gap behind the wall. Here’s a photo that I took several minutes later, which shows the section where I did it:


Here’s another photo of the right field seats:


During the dead time between BP and the game, I wandered to the first base side . . .


. . . and got someone to take a photo of me in the concourse:


Seriously, is this one of the ugliest/generic-est stadiums you’ve ever seen? It was the classic “cookie-cutter” ballpark, and you know what? I miss it. Cinergy was pretty much a clone of Three Rivers, which was pretty much a clone of Veterans, and so on. But now we have a whole nother crop of cookie-cutter stadiums; smallish outfield variations notwithstanding, Nationals Park is similar to Coors Field, which is similar to Citizens Bank Park. And so on.

Here are four Reds players stretching and getting loose:


From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders, Eduardo Perez, and Pokey Reese.

Just before game time, I got Melvin Nieves to throw me a ball at the Reds’ dugout (by stalling an annoying usher who was trying to get me to leave and then asking for the ball in Spanish). That was my seventh and final ball of the day — No. 1,167 lifetime.

This was my view early in the game:


Here I am several innings later in the front row of the 2nd deck:


I suppose I should’ve been sitting in the outfield, trying to catch a home run instead of camping out behind the plate for a foul ball, but ucchh . . . most homers in that stadium landed in that stupid gap behind the outfield wall.

The Reds ended up winning the game, 8-7, on a walk-off single by Eddie Taubensee in the bottom of the 9th. On my way out, I collected twenty-nine ticket stubs! Here they all are (along with my own stub, which is mixed in there somewhere):


Now, in case you’ve missed it, I’ve recently been blogging about old games in defunct stadiums:

1) June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
2) June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
3) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
4) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
5) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
6) July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium

Finally, here’s my original handwritten journal entry about my experience at Cinergy Field:


In case you’re wondering, “Tiger and Shadow” were my cats — may their little pussy souls rest in peace.

As you’ll see later in the entry, I’ve bleeped out certain words and phrases. I nearly bleeped one on the right-hand page here . . .


. . . but didn’t because then you would’ve assumed that I’d written something far worse.

This is the part when I arrived at the stadium and started looking for ways to sneak in:


Here’s where I actually did the deed:


I talked some more about sneaking in . . .


. . . and look, here’s some bad-but-effective-so-therefore-not-actually-that-bad artwork:


Uh oh, we’ve got some serious bleepage going on here:


Are you still with me? Good. We’re almost done. The entry continues here . . .


. . . and ends here:


As you may have noticed, I gave you a bonus paragraph from my following entry, but that’s all you get for now.


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