Hello from Phoenix.
The All-Star Game is taking place here tomorrow, and there are signs for it everywhere:
There are also celebrities everywhere. In the photo above, do you see the “INFORMATION” sign off in the distance on the left? See the guy standing below the first “O” with his right arm in a sling? That was Joe Torre. He was on my flight from Newark. Of course, he was in the very first row of first class, and I was in the very last row with my back against the toilets. Such is life.
At my hotel, there were huge All-Star Game signs outside…
…and smaller signs in the lobby:
In the photo above, do you see the woman wearing white pants, standing to the left of the sign?
That was Jennie Finch. Here I am with her:
She really IS six feet tall. Yowza! (And I really *do* have a right arm.)
This was the check-in area at the hotel…
…and if you think that’s cool, check out the key card for my room:
I’ve only been to one other All-Star Game. That was back in 2007. I don’t remember the hype being anything like this.
When I checked in, I was given the following envelope:
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, State Farm is sponsoring my trip. They basically invited a handful of bloggers (I’m the only one who writes about baseball) to attend the Home Run Derby, all expenses paid, in exchange for…nothing. That’s right. Nothing. I don’t owe them anything. I don’t have to plug them on my blog. I don’t even have to blog at all. Quite simply, they brought me out here to experience everything and have a good time, and whatever I want to say (or not say) about it is up to me.
Do you see where it says “Go To Bat” on the envelope? More on that in a bit. For now, I want to show you one of the items inside the envelope:
It was a ticket to FanFest at the nearby convention center. The best thing I saw there wasn’t the world’s largest baseball…
…or the cardboard cutouts of the entire Diamondbacks team:
The best thing, or rather the best experience, was getting to hang out with Tony Womack. Here we are:
Does anyone know where I went to college? Here’s a hint: the name of the school is on my shirt.
Womack also went to Guilford, and although he’s eight years older than me, we got to know each other in 1996. I was playing Fall Ball with the college team, and Womack often worked out with us. I turned double plays with him during infield practice and once lined out to him in an intrasquad game. Over the next few years, whenever I saw him at major league stadiums, he always remembered me and sometimes went out of his way to toss me a ball. He was super-cool, but as things go, we lost touch. This was the first time we’d seen each other in about a decade, and he remembered me. The first thing he asked was, “How many balls are you up to now?”
There was a VERY long line of fans, waiting to get his autograph:
I waited until the very end of the autograph session, and then with State Farm’s blessing, I got to talk to Womack for several minutes. I didn’t ask him to sign anything. I really just wanted to say hello and reconnect — and that’s exactly what happened. No one else got more than a few seconds of his time, but because of my affiliation with State Farm, I really got to schmooze it up with him. In fact, the State Farm representatives knew about my Guilford connection so they made sure that I got to talk to him. Pretty damn cool.
Now, about that envelope…
“Go To Bat” is essentially a virtual Home Run Derby where fans can hit longballs to raise money for 40 different charities. Check it out. Here’s the link. Pitch In For Baseball, the charity that I’ve been raising money for since 2009, is one of the choices, so I’m really excited about this. And hey, look, there was a huge “Go To Bat” display near the spot where Womack had been signing:
Once I’d had my time with Womack, I hopped into a pedicab and headed to Chase Field:
By the time I arrived, the Futures Game was in the 3rd inning. I didn’t have my glove. I wasn’t there to snag baseballs. (I don’t count balls that’re used by minor leaguers, even if they ARE being used at a major league stadium, so as far as I was concerned, this game had absolutely no effect on my ballhawking stats.) Instead, I was there on a reconnaissance mission for the following day’s Home Run Derby. I wanted to get a sense of stadium security, refamiliarize myself with the bleachers, and make a strategic plan for snagging baseballs.
I headed up into the Friday’s restaurant, free of charge, and got a really nice view of the field:
After a few minutes, I called my friend Ben Weil. (He’s the guy from New York who owns a gazillion jerseys.) I knew he was at this game, and when I told him that I was going to buy a ticket and enter the stadium for real, he told me not to. He said he had an extra print-at-home ticket and would meet me near the left field gate and give it to me. So that’s what we did. Here he is, showing off his “PIAZZA” jersey:
As soon as I parted ways with Ben, I was flagged down by a guy with two kids.
“Are you Zack?” he asked.
I’d never met him before; he recognized me from the cover of How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and he offered me a ticket to the game — not the ugly print-at-home type, but rather a REAL one. I told him that I’d just gotten a ticket from my friend, but he insisted. He said he had an extra that was going to waste, so he gave it to me. Here’s a photo of him with his two boys:
In the photo above, Matthew (on the left) is holding out the ticket for me, Shane (on the right) is proudly showing the commemorative Futures Game ball that he’d snagged during batting practice, and that’s Charlie in the middle. Really nice folks. I’m glad to have met them. (I just noticed that Charlie left a comment on my previous entry.)
Finally, I entered the main part of the stadium and grabbed a seat here:
In the photo above, that’s Bryce Harper in left field. It was the first time I’d ever seen him in person.
I wandered for a bit after that and found some potentially great spots for the Home Run Derby. I’m not going to say where — gotta save a couple secrets for myself — but you’ll hear about it in my next entry. Gotta get to sleep now. I have a big day ahead of me, the least of which is the Derby; I’ll be meeting Cal Ripken Jr. at the convention center at 9am and taking part in a youth Home Run Derby to raise more money for charity.
I was invited to the State Farm® Home Run Derby and Go to Bat kick-off programs by State Farm. All my travel, food, and lodging expenses were taken care of by State Farm. I was not paid to write this post.