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
Ahhhhh! Baseball is back! The 2018 season is officially underway, and guess what?! I’m attending Opening Day at Safeco Field! At the last minute I purchased a standing room only (SRO) ticket for $30 bucks! I’m pretty excited. I don’t attend Opening Day very often because the crowd is so huge it’s hard to move around the stadium in a timely fashion. But hey. It’s a new season, so what the heck.
Over the offseason there was quite the controversy about the new netting that would be going up in all the stadiums. Being a Ballhawk, I thought it would greatly reduce my chances of getting baseballs at games. Although, my overall strategy regarding where I snag will probably never change, I could imagine it might but a damper on some aspects of ballhawking. I really don’t have a problem with the reduction of baseballs caught due to the netting. What I have a problem with is: the inability of fans to protect themselves due to large amounts of distractions cause by, well, themselves.
I’ve sat in many different seats over the course of 29 years of being a fan of the game. I’ve sat in the outfield, I’ve sat behind home plate, I’ve sat behind the dugouts, in the 300th level, you name it, I’ve sat there. Many foul balls have come to my general vicinity, and many have come close where as if I made more of an effort, I probably would have caught the ball. It’s not in my nature to be overly aggressive when it comes to catching baseballs in the stadiums. I look for pristine opportunity where it takes minimal effort. Weird, I know.
The netting, (in my opinion) creates a false sense of security for fans. Fans are already severely distracted by their phones, conversation and other things besides watching the game. I understand. The game can become slow and some people just don’t have the attention span to stay focused. Some games average a little over three hours where some games are over in two. So with the inability to stay focused in high foul ball areas within the stadium, the amount of distractions we have caused for ourselves and the velocity of these baseballs entering the seats, it equals disaster. Is that really Major League Baseballs fault, though? Have we reached a point in our culture here in America where instead of taking a look at ourselves in the mirror we are quick to point fingers? Interesting enough, there is a website dedicated to foul ball statistics. Its http://www.Foulballz.com.
Opening Day was sort of special for me this year because Ichiro Suzuki had been signed by the Mariners during spring training. Ichiro, (which by the way is the only player I know that everyone calls by his first name) didn’t have a stellar spring training. He injured himself towards the end and people really had their doubts about him. I felt it was sort of feel-good and nostalgic to have him back on the team. Kind of like when Ken Griffey Jr. came back to the Mariners. I know in my heart that this won’t last long so I don’t get too excited when he’s playing. I just soak it in like anyone else. I had to hold back tears when his name was called to run down the red carpet. Seriously. Baseball is an emotional sport for me.
Felix Hernandez received the opening day nod, and it was great to see him pitch. Since my ticket was in a SRO section (which I never found, and I’m assuming it’s just wherever you can find a spot to stand) I found myself in The ‘Pen. I hate The ‘Pen. I hate everything about The ‘Pen. It’s full of drunk college kids who couldn’t careless about the baseball game. They come to drink overpriced beer and socialize. It’s an area to socialize and hangout. Who comes to Safeco Field to just “hang out”? And this is why MLB is forced to put up netting. Because there isn’t a focus on what’s happening on the field. But I digress.
Nelson Cruz led off the top of the first with a bomb to centerfield. I made a decision not to wear my baseball glove because I didn’t want to be the only person in The ‘Pen wearing one. I actually cared what people around me thought of me. Which is truly sad. My goal is to catch home run baseballs. I had a great opportunity right in front of me. Ten feet away. The ball sailed my way, my right leg twitched in anticipation that I’d set my body in motion to run towards it and catch it. It was 100% catch-able. I stalled. I didn’t move. I just stood there while the baseball sailed just left of The ‘Pen wall, ricocheted off some drunk idiots hand and bounced behind the centerfield wall. It finally landed near some batting practice equipment and was soon scooped up by stadium security to be gone forever. Sad. The M’s were quickly up 2-0.
The Indians attempted a comeback but with Edwin Diaz on the mound, it was not likely to happen. Diaz struck out Yonder Alonso, Edwin Encarnacion was hit by a pitch and Diaz then balked which moved Raja Davis (who replaced Encarnacion on the base path) to second base. Chisenhall was hit by a pitch, (challenged by the Indians; which was overturned in their favor) and then Davis stole third. Whooooo nelly! Things are getting intense! Yan Gomes went down swinging and then Diaz K’-ed Tyler Naquin to end the game and notch his first save of the season! As long as I’ve been watching Mariners baseball, the closer for the M’s has always, always made it edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting 9th innings. Ball game!
Total Lifetime Games Attended: 129
Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 4
Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 362
Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1
Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0