3/23/14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground
This was the second and final game of MLB’s Opening Series, and as you can see below, I was joined by a few friends before the stadium opened:
That’s me in the white “opening series” t-shirt. The guy on my right (with his arms folded) is a fellow ballhawk from Seattle named Wayne Peck. The man on his right (in the D’backs shirt) is a native Australian named Ray Burton, and the other four folks are part of his family — his kids Alex, Emily, and Nick along with his wife, Donna.
Because we had a lot of time to kill and because there was a random Australian woman standing nearby who admittedly knew little about baseball, Wayne and I teamed up to teach her some of the basics. Here we are creating a batter/catcher situation:
By the time the gates were about to open, there was a massive crowd filling the street:
I was worried about getting shut out because (a) I was going to be trapped in the outfield all day, and (b) there was a chance that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The D’backs and Dodgers had finished the previous night’s game at 10:49pm, and this one was scheduled to begin shortly after one o’clock.
The good news is that there *was* batting practice. The bad news is that it only lasted 10 minutes. But that was enough for me to snag a few baseballs, all of which were home runs by right-handed batters on the Diamondbacks. For the first one, there was an all-out scramble between me and one other man, who, it turned out, was a volunteer and shouldn’t have been trying to snag baseballs in the first place. (I know he wasn’t allowed because he got scolded by a security guard.)
More bad news: I bashed my knee and was in pain for the rest of the day.
Worse news: the ball was not commemorative:
Two minutes later, another home run came flying in my direction. There was only one other fan near me in the Miller Party Deck area — a lanky teenager with a glove — and he beat me to the spot where it was going to land. I could’ve easily cut in front of him or jumped from behind and cherry-picked it, but I backed off and let him have it. Well, wouldn’t you know it? He misjudged it and back-peddled helplessly at the last second, and the ball deflected off the tip of his glove and rolled right to me. (Decisions . . . decisions.) I took a quick peek at the ball, saw the regular MLB logo, noticed him looking back longingly at me, and flipped it to him. Obviously I didn’t need to do that. He was roughly six feet tall and should’ve made the play, but hell, I was far from home and on vacation and feeling charitable.
My next ball was a loooong home run that I caught on the fly after drifting back about 20 feet. I was near the regular stands when I pulled it out of my glove, and when I noticed that it was another regular ball (as opposed to one of these), I tossed it to the nearest little kid.
Toward the end of BP, another homer came flying my way, and once again, the lanky teenager scrambled back to get in position. I hung back in case it ended up sailing over his head — and that’s exactly what happened. At the last moment, he lunged back and reached awkwardly and missed it by a foot. I had stayed completely out of his way; he had simply misjudged it. Of course he looked at me again, hoping that I’d give it to him.
“Sorry, I’m gonna keep this one,” I said. It wasn’t commemorative, but still, gimme a break.
After BP, I met up with Wayne and unfortunately bought THE worst pizza of my life:
I was starving, and I figured, “How bad can it be?” Granted, it was Domino’s (which, for anyone who know anything about anything, is about as lame as it gets), but it was at least supposed to be edible. Right? The cheese was bad (rubbery and too salty), and the crust was horrendous (stale and burnt). Those two pizzas plus a bottle of water cost more than $20. Can you believe that?
Anyway, Wayne and I had lots more time to spare so we wandered toward right field — an area we hadn’t explored the night before. On the way, I spotted the lanky teenager and his mother in the concourse, and when they saw me, I overheard her say, “Oh, that’s the guy who prevented you from getting that ball.”
“Hi there!” I said, walking right up to them. “Which ball are you talking about, exactly?”
“That one at the end where you reached right in front of him.”
“Ohhh!!” I said, “You mean the one where I was standing behind him that he misjudged and that sailed completely over his glove?”
She didn’t have a response for that.
On my way to the upper deck with Wayne, I took a photo of the area behind the batter’s eye:
I love seeing behind-the-scenes stuff like that — you know, the places that the TV cameras will never show.
Here’s what the field looked like from the upper deck:
That’s when I realized how lucky I was to have a ticket in the Miller Party Deck in left field instead of the ESPN Party Deck in right. Did you notice the tables and chairs in the red and blue areas? For some reason, there were far more of them in right.
Here’s a photo of the most annoying railing in the stadium:
It was blocking the cross-aisle in dead center field. Of course, at cricket matches, there IS no center field, so I can’t really blame the architects of the Sydney Cricket Ground for placing an obstacle there. I’m sure they had a good reason, but for me and Wayne, it was a pain in the ass. Rather than going all the way back downstairs and dealing with a zillion people clogging the escalators and concourses, we climbed over it. We got a few funny looks from fans, but thankfully there weren’t any guards nearby.
Here’s what the right field stands looked like:
From there I headed to the corner spot in foul territory. This was the view to my left . . .
. . . and to my right:
Wayne and I parted ways (for a little while) after that.
Not wanting to spend any extra time in the unforgiving Australian sun, I hung out here until the game was about to begin:
Then I put on a heavy dose of sun block and headed down to my favorite spot — perhaps THE best spot for catching a home run that I was ever going to have:
This was my view for the entire game . . .
. . . and as you can see, I had endless room to run on my left:
Did you notice the guy with the mohawk two photos ago? He was from Los Angeles, and I talked to him for a little while. He was nice enough to let me take a few photos of him. Here’s a closeup:
Here are two more of his baseball tattoos:
Halfway through the game, I noticed that some fans were playing catch nearby between innings:
I was shocked that the security guards didn’t stop them, but I was also excited because it meant I could get away with playing catch too. By that point, I had helped Wayne get down into the party deck area, so when these other guys wrapped it up, he and I took their spot. Check it out — here’s a short video of us throwing:
Meanwhile, Mohawk-Guy and some other fans built a pyramid of empty beer cups . . .
. . . which was promptly blown over by the wind.
As for the game, let’s just say it sucked. The Dodgers won, 7-5, but that’s not the story — not for me, at least. What I will always remember, unfortunately, are the two baseballs that I nearly caught. Here’s a screen shot of the first one, hit by Aaron Hill in the bottom of the 3rd inning:
Left fielder Mike Baxter ended up catching it on the edge of the warning track — a real shame because if it had carried 15 or 20 feet farther, it would’ve been the easiest catch of my life. That’s me in the whit shirt, tracking the flight of the ball and circling in behind it. As you can see, there was NO ONE else back there. It was all mine.
In the screen shot above, did you notice the two guards wearing red with their arms folded? They were totally lax about my playing catch with Wayne, but they weren’t too happy about the fact that I’d ducked under that barricade and run out into that blocked-off area for a ball that didn’t even clear the wall. They gave me a mini-speech about how it was off-limits and how I could really only get away with being out there if a ball landed there and blah blah. I’m not blaming them for anything — just sharing these details to set the stage for what happened with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.
Having just changed into my Dodgers gear (for the purpose of trying to get a ball from the bullpen after the game), I was stunned to see Mark Trumbo hit a towering fly deep down the left field line. He hit it on the fat part of the bat, but barely got under it, sending it way high up in the air. I thought it might end up traveling far enough to clear the outfield wall, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to run past the barricades for another false alarm. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered because if it hadn’t cleared the wall, it probably would’ve been caught by the left fielder, and then the game would’ve been over anyway — or maybe it was going to drift foul and end up in the seats? Regardless, I had a whole bunch of thoughts and didn’t quite process them quickly enough, and even when I did, I didn’t sprint toward the foul pole. I ran, and then I jogged, and then I ran again, by which time it was too late. Look at this nonsense:
In the screen shot above, that’s me on the lower left, mumbling a string of obscenities and heading back to my spot. Trumbo’s ball DID clear the wall, but some guy had tumbled out of the front row of seats and snatched it just before I got there. It was awful.
In retrospect, I don’t feel THAT bad. Those barricades (which I had to duck under before I could even start running for the ball) were set up in straight-away left field, and Trumbo’s homer had landed near the foul pole. Take a look at this diagram from ESPN Home Run Tracker:
(Many thanks to my friend Greg Rybarczyk, the creator of Home Run Tracker, for allowing me to use that image.)
If you’re still convinced that I should’ve snagged the Trumbo homer, take a look at this photo from my Game 1 entry about the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’d been standing near the red-shirted guards, so you can see how far I had to run.
Or maybe I’m full of it. Maybe I’m only trying to trick myself into not being upset. Maybe I should’ve snagged the ball. But whatever. It’s done. I’m moving on with my life.
On my way out of the stadium, I was recognized by an Australian father and son who had brought their copy of my latest book, The Baseball. Here we are:
How awesome is that?!
In the photo above, Andy is holding the book (which I signed), and Isaac is holding a ball (which I signed). They were super-nice, so it was a bummer that I hadn’t met them earlier, but then again, it was lucky that we even crossed paths at all.
Here’s something else that happened on my way out:
In a last-minute attempt to collect a few ticket stubs, I had made a cheap sign — and it worked!
Now, before everyone starts asking me for free stuff (because that’s always what happens, and I don’t blame people for doing it, but it drives me crazy), here’s the deal . . .
I’m going to give away this pair of ticket stubs — one from each game of the Opening Series — as a charity prize at the end of the 2014 season. More specifically, I’m raising money again for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball. Here’s more info about it, and here are the prizes I’ll be giving away to people who donate money this year.
But wait, there’s more! Did you notice the cups I was holding in the photo with the cheap sign? Here’s a three-part photo of one of the cups. I’m also going to give away both cups as one prize, and in case you’re wondering . . . yes, I found them on the way out, and yes, I’ve washed them out with soap. Deal with it.
As for Ray and his family, they endured a ticketing fiasco on their way into the stadium. They had expensive seats near the 3rd base dugout, which WOULD NOT SCAN at the center field gate! As a result, they had to battle the crowd and walk halfway around the stadium to the home plate gate — the only place where their tickets were valid. By the time they made it inside, they had missed batting practice, and they were then trapped near the dugout for the rest of the day. They did manage to get a couple of commemorative balls tossed up by the Dodgers, but still, what an ordeal.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more entries about the rest of my trip.
• 18 baseballs in two games this season = 9 balls per game.
• 968 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 7,194 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 10 donors for my fundraiser
• $0.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $2.88 raised at this game
• $38,676.96 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009