Have you ever dreamed of trotting up a set of stairs out of a dugout onto a Major League Baseball field? I have. Ever since I was a youngster, and attended my very first Major League game in the Kingdome in 1989, I dreamed of being a Major League Baseball player. Maybe it was lack of effort, or lack of support, or maybe I didn’t dream big enough or pursue my dreams hard enough. It never happened. Now I’m a thirty-something, die-hard baseball fan. I’ve played some organized scrimmage games of baseball with friends, and occasionally throw the ball around with buddies from work. That’s as close to the action as I’ll ever get.
Nowadays, when I go to baseball games, I’m generally the first one in when the gates open. I always bring my glove, and I patrol the outfield bleachers waiting on my chance to catch a batting practice home run ball. I scavenge the foul areas looking for any baseballs missed by stadium employees, and I almost always get my ticket signed by any baseball player willing to sign it. I’m a baseball fanatic, I’ll admit. I love the game. I read the box scores nightly, and I’m a statistics nerd. It’s my passion to connect myself to such a wonderful sport. Over the years, I have amassed quite a collection. I have one of Dustin Ackley’s batting gloves, I have nearly 400 (375 to be exact) Major League Baseballs that I have caught at over 150 live MLB games (including a foul ball caught at the Oakland Colliseum) I have over 25 autographed tickets, I have countless bobbleheads, three signed baseball bats, (Eric Davis, Miguel Olivo and Jay Buhner) and many, many autographed baseballs. Plus, I have a wide collection of specially used commemorative Major League baseballs.
I’ve always considered myself decent at playing baseball. Once you step onto a Major League Field, and try to invest yourself in what some of these baseball players do day in and day out, you’ll find that your average, soft bodied baseball ego is nothing but sub-par. It takes an incredible skill to be able to hit the way some of these top hitters have crushed their way into the record books. It takes dedication, a premium work ethic to be able to pitch the way some of these athletes have pitched. The conditioning, the work outs, the drive and the sheer dedication to succeed just to make it to the Big Leagues is harder than you think.
The Kansas City Royals were gracious enough to allow a small group of eager fans like me to get out on to the field and partake in some batting practice. It was surreal. We met up with a small group of Kansas City Royals former players; Jamie Quirk, Dennis Leonard, Al Fitzmorris, Jerry Terrell, Greg Pryor, Les Norman, Shawn Sedlacek and John Mayberry in the Diamond Club suites. All this was set up by Mrs. Dina Blevins (Manager of Media Relations and Royals Alumni). We received a briefing and introduction of what to expect for the next four hours of our lives and then we were brought out onto the field through the Royals dugout.
From the bleachers, the field looks small. From the field, the field is enormous. I got to walk down the warning track out to right field with Al Fitzmorris as he told me a quick story of his playing days. He told me how his trainer (back in the day) use to run them from foul pole to foul pole. It doesn’t seem that far. When the Royals trainer came out and started to warm us up, he had us pick up a light jog from right field to left field. I decided to run it out. It’s actually pretty far. After our light warm-up, we paired up and took to the foul line in shallow right field and played catch for about ten minutes just like the Big League pitchers do before every game. After that, the first group lined up around the batting cage.
I jogged out to left field to shag some baseballs. Most of the hits barely made it out of the infield. We were a sorry bunch of amateurs in that batting cage. Some guys were able to smack some flares that would probably count for singles in a real game but most hits were swallowed up by the batting cage. I ran for just about everything, and I soon found out that the field is more than huge. It was massive. I sprinted after a line drive hit towards the corner, and as I was approaching the ball I thought I might have a chance to catch it. It seemed like I would run forever and still come up short. I soon learned that either A) I would somehow have to get faster or B) learn to read the ball off the bat sooner. That’s a skill I never acquired, and it is essential to running down well hit baseballs. Outfielders spend countless hours studying other players, watching videos, reading scouting reports, watching the pitch and watching the batters’ swing. Having all that knowledge on top of knowing where to stand and having great speed will bring you great success to running down line drives into the outfield. By the end of the day in the outfield, I had managed to remember who hits what and where, and I was able to make one running catch at Kauffman Stadium. It felt awesome to make that running catch. I looked up to the empty seats pretending I had just caught an inning ending catch and the crowd was cheering me on.
I finally slapped on a batting helmet, grabbed some lumber, and dug in inside the batting cage. I used a Jorge Soler bat to take my cuts. Al Fitzmorris was tossing BP to my group. The first pitch thrown to me, I made good contact and sent a short flare to left field. The next few were either fouled off or completely missed. I made excellent contact on the sixth pitch that boosted my confidence. I got a couple good compliments from Les Norman who was standing behind the cage giving pointers. The eighth pitch I fouled off. The ninth pitch was in on my hands but I drilled it out of the infield, and the tenth pitch I absolutely crushed it. And by “crushed it” I mean it landed about 15 feet shy of the warning track. I could feel how well I connected with the bat which prompted me to watch it fly which further prompted me to strut out of the batting cage like I had just taken Fitzmorris deep into the Royals bullpen. Such was not the case, though, and Les Norman rightfully put me in check:
“Hey, Fitzy! Did he just watch that one?” Norman yelled.
“Yeah, I think he did!” I started laughing as Fitzmorris and Norman ribbed me over my showboating. I was proud of myself. I hit that ball farther than expected, and it felt good to crush a baseball like that on a Major League level. Fitzmorris and Norman made it fun. They joked with us, told us stories and they really made it a special day. To have played as long as some of these guys have, to retire and still come back to the stadium to hangout with some fans was very commendable, and to me, it meant the world.
After taking some cuts in the cage, I trotted to the infield where Jerry Terrell and Shawn Sedlacek were hitting infield fungos. Fielding grounders looks like the easiest thing to do as a professional baseball player. I am here to tell you that it is not. It is probably the most difficult thing to master. Not to just master it but make it look easy. I tried to field the baseball my way. The way I have seen Major Leaguers do it for years. My fielding percentage was around 20%. I missed a lot and bobbled a lot of grounders. Jerry Terrell gave us pointers and brought us back to the basics and my fielding percentage climbed to about 60%. Still not good enough to be a pro player.
After failing miserably in the infield, I joined a small group who were busy taking fly ball fungos from Jamie Quirk. He would smack those baseballs with the fungo bat farther than most of us could hit out of the cage. He hit them over our heads, we’d chase them down, and try to throw the ball back to him. From center field to right field was quite a distance. After about three throws, my elbow started to hurt. The trick to fielding a fly ball is to turn away from the ball and run back a few paces until you get a good read on where the ball is projected to land. The wind started to pick up considerably so that impacted the trajectory quite a bit. Jamie Quirk was good, though. He could smack that ball with the fungo bat and drop the ball directly into your glove without you taking one step forward or one step back. It was incredible.
I have major respect for baseball players. These guys are tremendous athletes. When I’m at baseball games, I routinely hear from fans (mainly the drunk ones) that baseball players just “stand around a lot” and aren’t very physically active. These four hours on the field at Kauffman with the Royals alumni proved those statements to be very false. I already knew it took a lot to make it to the Big Show but after spending some time on the field shagging fly balls, taking grounders and getting a few cuts inside the cage, I understood that it takes a lifetime of determination, dedication, countless hours of work and there is constant failure looming over their heads. It is not an easy task to make it to the Big Leagues, and it’s an even harder task to stay in the Big Leagues. These guys have sacrificed a lot to make it to the pros, and that is truly defining what it means to gut it out. Thank you to the Alumni for being available to us dreamers of being on The Stage, a special thanks to Mrs. Dina Blevins for making this happen and a big thank you to the Royals organization, the grounds crew on hand and the trainers for taking care of us while we played Major Leaguer for a few hours. It was pretty cool.
One day ago Robinson Cano was suspended from playing baseball for 80 games. A few of my followers on Twitter claim to have not been surprised by the recent news. New reports have surfaced saying the Yankees declined to re-sign Cano because they may have known he was using steroids. Perhaps the most surprising news (for me anyway) is that Cano was not exactly suspended because of testing positive for steroids. He was suspended for testing positive for using Furosemide, a diuretic sometimes used to hide the presence of other banned substances. Cano stated that he had taken the drug inadvertently and noted it was not a performance-enhancing drug. Major League Baseball does not care.
“I would never do anything to cheat the game I love”, Cano said in a statement. Players are commonly labeled “cheaters” by fans after testing positive for anything on the banned substance list. It doesn’t even have to be a steroid. Cano has already started his 80 game suspension and he will do some of it while on the disabled list (fracture finger). His tentative return date is August 14th. He is also ineligible for the All-Star game and can not play during the postseason (these rules were implemented in 2014). Cano joins the long list of players who’ve tested positive for banned substances including current Mariners Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon. Some notable former Mariners who’ve tested positive are: Michael Morse, Jesus Montero, Ryan Franklin and Mike Cameron.
I think Cano is getting a raw deal. 80 games plus forfeiture of pay along with no All-Star game or postseason? I think that’s ridiculous. The average fan knows so little about steroids. Somehow taking steroids makes players increase their hand-eye coordination so they can swing the bat perfectly to record a hit. Steroids, of course, makes players stronger and faster but in no way do they increase skill. Steroids are not a magical pill where a player can inject steroids and all of a sudden become this super player. It takes hard work, dedication and discipline. Players who use steroids often spend more time in the gym, they eat healthier and work harder then players who are not using. Steroids basically assist with the recovery process so muscle groups can be worked out more frequently. This helps build bigger muscles in a shorter amount of time. Dee Gordon was taking testosterone and Clostebol, which helped reduce the amount of estrogen in his body as well as helped increase his testosterone levels. It gives athletes a slight “edge” as it’s a mild form of steroid and leaves minimal traces in the urine. Testosterone helped increase strength and for Dee Gordon that is essential on the base paths. But that doesn’t discount the amount work he has to do to gain that strength.
If you’re interested in learning more about steroids, and how they benefit athletes you can always watch this documentary called Bigger, Stronger, Faster. It’s the tell-all regarding steroids, the side affects, and how many sports athletes have been using them for decades. Steroids are obviously a taboo but being naive about them is ludicrous. Educating yourself on steroids will certainly open your eyes and get you to understand them a little better. You don’t have to change your opinion about them; if you hate them you hate them. If you think players are “cheaters” then so be it. I’m not here to try and change your mind. But if we dive deep into the heart of baseball and dissect the late 90’s (The Steroid Era) you have to admit that steroids saved baseball. The 1994 strike flat lined the sport, it decimated attendance and if it weren’t for Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and countless other players who used and slugged home runs, where would baseball be today? The war on steroids is pointless.
My last point and then I’ll wrap this blog entry up. Athletes are trying to go the distance in a sports career. The average Major League Baseball career is roughly 5.6 years. A player has about an 11% chance of continuing on from his first year in baseball. Those odds are heavily stacked against him. These guys are fathers, husbands, sons, etc. They have families and bills and mortgages just like the rest of us. They are trying to compete in one of the most fiercest profession there is in the history of the human race. If you put yourself in their shoes, they are only trying to get the edge up on the next guy. They are only trying to stay competitive to continue their career. There is nothing dishonorable about that. Look at your own life and really think about all the short cuts you’ve thought about taking or all the times you’ve tried to get a leg up on your classmates or coworkers to earn the next promotion or score higher on a test. You’ll see that you and me and all these ball players are all one in the same. We are trying to survive the inevitable. But i digress.
This was the second time I saw Bartolo Colon pitch. And he pitched a gem. 7.2 scoreless innings at the age of 44. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The last time I watched Colon pitch was in 2012 when I went and saw the Mariners and the Athletics play in Japan. The Rangers were able to beat the Mariners by a score of 5-1. Typical of the Mariners to have sleepy bats until the 9th inning. Kyle Seager bashed a home run in the bottom of the 9th but it was all too late to start a rally by then. The Rangers had their number from the start. Colon was locked in and if it weren’t for the miscue at home plate, it would’ve been a solid 2-1 win Texas. That is all from Safeco Field.
Final: Texas Rangers 5 Seattle Mariners 1
Total Lifetime Games Attended: 139
Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 16
Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 374
Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1
Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0
For two years in a row now, I’ve created, managed, and recruited people for my charity; Snagging Baseball for Puppies. It takes an insane amount of time and work to keep a legitimate charity up and running. If you’ve read my most recent blog entry here, you’ll know my 2012 baseball season was cut short due to life not really working with me but alas, working against me. I put an insane amount of time and energy into two jobs thus working 60+ hours a week. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t worth it. If I could, I’d give every red cent back to those places of employment to get my summer back. The only thing I can do now is to look forward and make better decisions concerning my livelihood and what’s important to me.
I’ve been using Crowdrise.com as my main donation page for the past two seasons. For the 2013 season, I will be using a better format and a page directly from the Seattle Humane Society. You can take a look at it here and leave me comments on how I can make it better or if you think this will be a better choice for my charity. Here, check it out! For those of you who have pledged a monetary amount towards Snagging Baseballs for Puppies, and as I have stated in my last blog entry, hang onto your change. Unless you are seriously wanting to donate, you can at Crowdrise.com. Be mindful that the minimum donation is $10. And since I only snagged 50 baseballs in roughly 25 games, your donation will actually be under that minimum $10 amount. Your second option is to just hang onto your money and I’ll tack it onto next years snagged baseballs.
So the plan is this; attend Mariners Fanfest this season and then I’m headed to Houston for their home opener! Last year I went to the Mariners fanfest and it was literally the most exciting fun I’ve done in a long time concerning baseball. Also, I posted a blog about a Mariners ticket giveaway. (This is in no way affiliated with Mariners baseball, it’s my own contest.) Well, since I never really followed through with that, I’m going to make up for it. (Yah, I’m a great guy, right?) Every new baseball stadium I visit, I’m going to purchase two “cheap-seat” tickets for you and a friend, leave them at will-call and we can catch up inside and shake hands, BS around, or whatever you’d like. You’ll have to win the contest (which is a simple baseball trivia game on Twitter) so make sure you follow me on there! And make sure you can attend that evenings game as well.
There’s more. I still have a ton of signed baseballs I’m looking to get rid of. It’s a simple $10 dollar donation to get one and all proceeds go to my charity. I can give them away in contest form or you can just email me at WaynePeck@yahoo.com and claim one when I get things up and running again. This is important to me, so don’t ask for one if you can’t donate. Okay? Thank you.
Anyway, I have a lot of work to do for next years season. I have to get into physical shape, I have to make sure my gear is good to go for snagging baseballs and I have to make sure my links, websites and everything else is up to par. Get the word out, folks! I may be coming to a stadium near you to snag some baseballs for puppies!
With all the buzz of the Zack Greinke trade finally dying down we have a new set of news buzz to address. The Hall of Fame. On the the ballot right now is Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Tino Martinez, and Juan “Going Going Going” Gonzales. People are already speculating that Palmeiro probably wont make it due to his activity in the steroids scandal. Which is fine with me. As far as the other guys, I think that Gonzales and Bagwell have the best chance for first time ballot.
With Doc Hallady’s playoff no-hitter topping the charts of the 2010 best gems of the season, the Phillies were still not done wheeling and dealing. With a missed opportunity to aquire Zack Greinke the Phillies moved on to signing free agent J.C Romero. J.C Romero is a left hander that is needed in the Phillies bullpen since Dennys Reyes failed to come onboard earlier in the season. Coming off an injury plagued 2009 season, Romero posted a 3.68 ERA but walked 29 batters in 36 2/3 innings.
Trevor Hoffman, the all time saves leader is protecting his return for 2011. Although he states that his health is holding up fine it is his emotional state that he is concerned about. There is also that problem if any team is willing to give Hoffman a job. If anything is for sure Hoffman claims that memorable game at Miller Park on Sept 7th that got him his 600th save will be never forgotten.
Another pitching legend looking to make a return in 2012. Jamie Moyer. Moyer pitched 19 games for the Phillies last season, and went 9-9 with a 4.48 ERA. With a career win/lose record at 267-204, and 24 big league seasons under his belt, Moyer is confident that he will get a spring training invite from someone. “Its hard to get a job at the age of 49. Or maybe its not.” Stated Moyer to the Seattle Times. “Throughout my career, Ive always had to earn the situation Ive been in. I dont expect anyone to give me anything. Its never been that way, so why now?” Moyer stated. Moyer fresh off elbow surgery will try to gauge a comeback possibility as he is expected to miss the entire 2011 season due to recovery time.
Brad Hawpe could be the latest addition to the San Diego Padres. Hawpe has spent the majority of his nine seasons in the Majors in the outfield. But posting some mediocre numbers last season has idealy been what the Padres have been looking for. A career .279 hitter, who knocked in 116 runs in 2007 with the Rockies, and hit .245 with nine dingers, and 44 RBIs between the Rockies, and the Rays in 103 games last season. Hawpe has some potential, and thats what the Padres are seeing. With the missing hole at First Base since the Padres delt away three time All-Star Adrian Gonzales to beantown, the Padres are looking to fill that hole with Hawpe. With some very impressive numbers at Petco park, not a friendly stadium for left-handed hitters but Hawpe has been able to post a .281 BA, five home runs, and 21 RBIs in 153 AB there. Not to mention a .371 OBP. Impressive? Ask Petco park.