8/5/11 at Sun Life Stadium

You know that the Marlins are moving into a new ballpark next year, right? Well, I went and checked it out the other day. I can’t tell if it’ll be easy to snag baseballs there — my guess is no — but it sure looks spiffy from the outside. Let’s get the tour underway.

First, here’s a photo of me with the ballpark in the background…

…and here’s a photo of Jona, who was with me:

In the photo above, the orange sign said, “ROAD CLOSED AHEAD.” Of course, there wasn’t anyone to stop us from wandering closer, but I figured it’d be a good idea for us to keep our distance. There were cranes and construction workers all over the place, along with a steady whirring of machinery and clanking of metal.

The ballpark is going to have a retractable roof that slides off on gigantic tracks. Here’s a photo of that setup:

It appeared that there were parking garages being constructed on opposite sides of the ballpark:

Here’s a spiral ramp that (I’m guessing) will be used to get to the upper seating levels…

…and hey, is that a jumbotron attached to it?

Based on the following photo, it doesn’t look like the roof is high enough for towering pop-ups:

But maybe the actual playing surface is below street level. Or maybe the inside of the ballpark is deceptively spacious.

In any case, Jona (who has fair skin) went back to the car to hide from the sun. I continued walking counter-clockwise around the ballpark toward the spot that will ultimately be the right field corner. That’s where I first encountered a security guard. I waved a friendly hello. He just sat there motionless and glared back:

Now that I think about it, he might’ve been sleeping. I don’t think he moved an inch during the two minutes that I was there.

Here’s the parking garage on the other side of the ballpark:

I walked around the back of the garage and took the following photo to show where I came from:

In the middle of the photo above, you can see one of the tracks for the retractable roof, and on the left, you can see what the surrounding neighborhood looks like. Here’s a better look at the adjacent property:

It’s strange to have a half-billion-dollar stadium on one side of a street and low-income housing on the other. I’d imagine that some of the residents are thrilled (because the new ballpark will increase their property value) and others are furious (because of the noise and crowds).

Each side of the ballpark, evidently, will have two rectangular parking garages. Here’s what it looks like between the two garages in deeeeeeeeep right field:

Here’s a close-up-ish photo of a construction worker on the roof:

(Better him than me.)

After walking the length of both garages, this is what I saw:

I was in dead center field, if you can call it that — about 1,000 feet from home plate.

I walked closer and zoomed in with my crappy little camera and saw three essential features:

1) the left field foul pole
2) actual seats in the upper deck
3) the lights

The quality/lighting isn’t great in the following photo, but have a look for yourself:

I walked away from the ballpark to get a photo of it looming up above the neighborhood:

(Flying saucer, anyone?)

Then I cut across a residential street toward the left field corner, and when I began walking back toward the ballpark, I saw (and then heard) something amusing. Check it out:

In the photo above, the arrow is pointing to a rooster. Or was it a hen? Do hens make that “cock-a-doodle-doo” noise? No, right? Leave me alone, I’m a city boy. I’m not supposed to know these things. But anyway, I had a good laugh and tried to get closer and take a better photo, but the “henster” ran away and slipped back through a chain-link fence into someone’s yard.

It looked like it was about to rain…

…so I took one final photo…

…and found Jona. (Actually, she found me.)

As it turned out, it didn’t rain, which was a good thing because I still had a Marlins game to attend. But first, I headed over to a famous bar/restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard called Rickey’s. I’d never been there before, and I really wanted to check it out because it’s owned by the family of a friend of mine named Billy Mitchell. Here I am with Billy outside the place:

Billy (who’s about 6-foot-6) is famous for his accomplishments in the world of classic arcade video games. He was the first person ever to play a perfect game of Pac-Man, and he starred in the so-called documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” (This film was largely a work of fiction. It was edited deviously to portray certain people/events in ways that weren’t accurate, all for the sake of creating drama and making a better story line. It’s an incredibly entertaining film, but you shouldn’t believe much in it. I know this because I was there when a major portion of it was being filmed, and I know most of the people involved.) I first met Billy at a video game competition in 2000 — that’s when I broke the Arkanoid world record — and we’ve been friends ever since.

Here’s the inside of Rickey’s:

Not fancy. But cozy. And festive.

Billy has a reputation for having a huge ego, and yeah, he does stuff that seems to infuriate the haters, but if you actually get to know him, you’ll see that the “ego” is just part of his schtick. He’s a true character and a natural-born performer — one of those people who was meant to be famous. One of his “things” is that he always dresses in black and wears ties with American/patriotic images. He also gives thumbs-ups in photos. Always. Don’t question it. It’s just a fact of life. Here he is with Jona in the back of the restaurant…

…and if you look closely at his tie (which Jona was holding to be mock-sexy), you can see the World Trade Center.

I wanted to eat at Rickey’s, but Billy was craving pizza from a particular restaurant in a nearby mall — so we went to the mall. Here we are:

Billy owns a hot sauce company called Rickey’s. For the record, I’m no hot sauce connoisseur, but I’ve tried his brand (on many occasions), and I think it’s damn good, and I recommend it. I’d actually be interested to hear how Billy’s sauce compares to others, so if you’re up for a taste test, give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Jona and I said goodbye to Billy at around 4:15pm — and then goodbye to each other half an hour later. She had decided not to attend the Marlins game (imagine THAT), so she dropped me off at Sun Life Stadium. Here I am, shortly after she left, making use of my camera’s 10-second timer:

Yeah, my ankle is feeling better, but it’s still not 100 percent. I’d say it’s about 80 to 90 percent because my left foot is still weak and hurts every time I take a step.

I hurried to the ticket window, overpaid for a seat in the left field club level, changed into my Cardinals gear, and hurried over to the gate. As soon as I got there, a fan named Josh (who’s been leaving comments on my blog for years) waved me over and asked me to sign his copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:

Josh told me that one of his friends had gotten a hold of this copy and underlined some key points in Part Three. That’s the part of the book titled “How to Snag Major League Baseballs.” Here’s a look at two pages from Chapter 11, which is called “How to Get a Player to Throw You a Ball”:

When the stadium opened, I headed straight up to the club level and quickly got Kyle McClellan to throw me a ball. This was my view right after I caught it:

This was as crowded as it got during BP…

…and yet I still only managed to snag three baseballs there, all of which were home runs that landed in the seats. The last one was hit by Albert Pujols. I’m not sure who hit the other two.

In the photo above, do you see the two players? If you click the photo for a closer look, you’ll notice that the player on the left is looking up at the seats. That was Kyle Lohse. He was looking at the upper deck because (for some reason) he’d just thrown a ball up there. It landed right near the bottom of the American flagpole in dead center field. Hmm…

Toward the end of BP, I hurried down to the 3rd base dugout, and when the Cardinals cleared the field, I got hitting coach Mark McGwire to toss me a ball. I didn’t feel THAT special because he tossed three other balls into the crowd, but still, it was pretty cool.

Then I started thinking about the upper deck. I’d heard from a couple of fans that it was closed for Marlins games, but was it *CLOSED* or merely “closed”? There’s a difference. If there were chains or barricades or locked gates that physically blocked people from going up there, or even signs that said, “DO NOT ENTER,” then that would’ve been the end of it. I didn’t want to get arrested for trespassing. But what if it was wide open and unguarded? What if there were no signs? I decided to go have a look.

Starting in the 100 Level concourse, I walked up one of the circular ramps to the Club/200 Level. Upon entering a set of glass doors, I was stopped briefly by a security guard who checked my ticket. I was in the left field corner when this happened, so I headed through the fancy concourse toward the elevators in left-center. As I mentioned in my previous entry, these elevators are only guarded on the 100 Level, so when I got inside one of them, I pressed “4” to go up to the 400 Level. Meanwhile, I had noticed that there were security cameras all over the place (including inside the elevator), but whatever. I had to go for it. This was a very important mission, and there was no turning back.

As the elevator doors were about to open on the 400 Level, my heart was racing. I wasn’t really scared or nervous — just excited and antsy. I had no idea what to expect. Maybe there’d be a security guard there? Deep breath. I stepped out into the concourse, and wow, there was NO ONE in sight. This was the view to my right…

…and to my left:

In a word, it was surreal.

I walked through the concourse toward center field. There were more security cameras. More deep breaths. My heart was racing quicker, but again, what was the big deal? I hadn’t broken any rules to get up there, and all I wanted to do was look for an otherwise forgotten baseball. If anything, I was helping the Marlins by cleaning up the seats. (I’m so good at justifying things.)

After walking for a minute and stopping to take a few more photos, I reached the tunnel in dead center:

Wandering through an empty concourse is one thing; entering the seats in a restricted area is another, so I knew I had to move fast. I was simply going to walk through the tunnel and take a quick peek for the ball, and in case I found it, I had my camera ready to take an even quicker photo.

This was the result of my quest:

GREAT SUCCESS!

But of course I still had to make it out of the upper deck. Even if security didn’t shoot me on sight, there was still the issue of the ball: I wanted to keep it as a memento of my little adventure and was concerned that it might be confiscated.

I headed back through the tunnel, and as I made my way back toward the elevators, I stopped to take a photo at the edge of the concourse:

Then it occurred to me that there might be more baseballs in the upper deck. I mean, as long as I was already up there, why not take a look at the seats in straight-away left field? Mike Stanton and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday had all been launching BP homers in that direction for the last two days, and yeah, most of these balls had bounced back down. But maybe not all?

I picked this tunnel in left field…

…and when I made it down to the front row, I crouched down low to peek underneath the seats. There was nothing on my left, but when I looked to the right, I saw this:

OH YEAH, BABY!!!!

I hurried back through the tunnel and decided to walk all the way around the concourse toward home plate. Maybe there were some foul balls there from the previous game?

That’s when my Easter egg party came to an end. While rounding the concourse in the left field corner, a security guard appeared out of nowhere and began walking toward me. I didn’t run. I didn’t put up a fight. I kept walking toward him and turned myself in. Actually, it was no big deal. He was friendly, and I played dumb. He told me that fans are not allowed in the upper deck and asked how I’d gotten there. I showed him my Club-Level ticket and explained the whole deal with the elevators and said that I was from out of town (true) and that this was going to be my last game ever at this stadium (also true) and that I thought it’d be nice to wander and take a few photos (partially true). It probably helped that I was still wearing my Cardinals gear. The guard then walked me to a service elevator (which was being operated by another employee) and took me down to the Club Level. When the door opened, I asked if I could go all the way down to the 100 Level.

“But this is where your seat is,” he said.

“I know,” I said, “but I actually need to meet up with a friend who’s sitting down there on the 3rd base side.” (Totally untrue.)

The guard bought it and took me down to the 100 Level. Even if he had insisted that I get off at the Club Level, I still could have made it all the way down; at Sun Life Stadium, you don’t need a ticket for the 100 Level in order to enter the 100 Level. In fact, everyone is pretty much forced to be there because (a) the upper deck is closed and (b) the club level is somewhat exclusive, so it’s not like I was getting away with anything when I told the guard that I needed to go downstairs. It was just a matter of saving time and getting down to the seats along the left field foul line as quickly as possible. Why the rush? Because the Cardinals were already doing their pre-game throwing…

…and when they finished, I got Daniel Descalso to throw me my 8th ball of the day.

(BTW, at the expense of dissing my own story here, I’d have to say that my upper deck escapade ranks third behind my two best ballpark capers. Number One has to be the post-game stunt I pulled on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium, followed closely by my early-afternoon antics on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium.)

This was the scene during the national anthem:

In the photo above, do you see the cheerleaders (aka “The Mermaids”) on the field in front of the 3rd base dugout? More on them in a bit, ho ho ho…

As much as I wanted to work the dugouts for 3rd-out balls and play the tunnels behind the plate for foul balls and go for double digits, I decided to sit in straight-away left field. The seats there were unbelievably empty, and Albert Pujols was in the lineup, and hey, I’d overpaid to be there anyway.

As it turned out, there was only one home run hit all night — an opposite-field blast by the right-handed-hitting Matt Holiday. Hmph! But I still had fun hanging out with the guys there. This was the main crew during the game:

In the photo above, the guy sitting closest to the camera is named Joe Scherer. As I mentioned in my previous entry, he has caught a LOT of baseballs, including Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. The guy standing in the 2nd row in the white “Marlins” T-shirt is named Drew Gregg. Like Joe, he’s a regular at Sun Life Stadium and has also caught a crapload of baseballs. These guys are SO friendly. Unlike certain ballhawks in San Francisco who literally threatened me with physical violence when I showed up in their precious section, Joe kept telling me that he wanted to see me catch a homer, and Drew kept shuffling out of my way so that I’d have more room to run. I kept telling them that since this was their turf, I wanted to stay out of *their* way, but they insisted. Go say hi to these gentlemen if you make it to any remaining games at this stadium, or look for them next year (and beyond) at the new ballpark. They have so many crazy stories about finding home run balls in the various nooks and crannies of Sun Life Stadium that you almost won’t believe it — but these guys are legit. As for the three men standing behind them, the one on the right is named Bob, and the other two are his sons Michael (wearing the Cardinals cap) and Brandon. The three of them have snagged a total of 1,100 baseballs (many of which are now autographed) and have been to 29 of the 30 major league stadiums; all that remains for them is Coors Field, which they plan to hit up next year.

The Cardinals ended up winning the game, 3-2. I was near the 3rd base dugout when it ended, and after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Paul Schrieber. That was my 9th ball of the day, and then five solid minutes later, when nearly every fan had vacated the seating bowl, I got No. 10 from a ballboy. Here he is pointing at me after tossing it…

…and here’s the ball itself:

Is that a beauty or what?!

The way I got this ball was kinda fun. I’d been asking two ballboys for a ball, and when one of them told me (with a smile) that I was “too old,” we ended up jawing back and forth for a while. It was good old fashioned trash-talking, and just as I was getting ready to leave, the other ballboy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ball and threw it to me. The ball sailed right over the head of an old security guard who’d been telling me that I had to leave and insisting that I wasn’t going to get a ball, so it felt pretty great when I actually caught it.

Now, about those cheerleaders…

For some reason, there were a bunch of them near the exit when I walked down the ramp, so I grabbed a quick photo with these two ladies, then gave those two baseballs to a couple of kids on my way out, and met Jona soon after in the parking lot.

Adios, Miami…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 baseballs at this game (eight pictured here because I gave two away)

• 689 balls in 83 games this season = 8.3 balls per game.

• 744 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 269 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 251 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

•30 games this season with at least ten balls

• 5,351 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 more.)

• 56 donors

• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $71.20 raised at this game

• $4,905.68 raised this season

15 comments

  1. Michael

    You’re doing a great job of getting me pumped for that stadium. It sounds like ballhawking hell, but from your entries it seems to have some kind of charm to it that GABP doesn’t.

    Quick question about whatever it is they’re calling that stadium now. 3rd base side is where the umpires leave, right? Is that the home or visiting team’s dugout?

  2. Nick Badders (@nickbatters on twitter)

    Now I kinda want to got to Florida for a few games. Or do I…?

  3. Mike

    Wow, what a great story. I often wonder what it is like to ballhawk at that stadium as i see the Home Runs go into empty seats. (OK, I often wonder what it’s like to ballhawk in any place OTHER than Fenway). Sneaking into the upper deck is great!

  4. Cook & Son

    In that first picture with Billy, I was thinking, “What, no USA tie?” Still, I think a good American flag tie really would have boosted this entry into another level of awesomeness.

  5. Garrett Meyer

    GREAT Blog Entry! I can’t imagine going to a stadium where half of the seats are closed off. Question: When you were visiting the construction site of the new stadium, did you see any logos around? You know, logos that could be put on a potential Marlins 2012 commemorative baseball.

    And also, I know this is a “family” blog. But I thought I would ask anyway. The girl on the left in the last photo. Real or fake? haha.

    -Garrett Meyer (KC)

  6. Jesse

    Nice exterior pics of the new stadium…they deserve a new stadium for sure, but will it sell out? Hard to say.

    Also, I don’t understand with some ballhawks being so territorial. I’m a Giants fan and luckily I’ve never encountered anyone threaten me with violence. Maybe they’re afraid you’ll catch all of their precious baseballs when you show up later in the year. Most of us Giants fans are pretty mellow so hopefully your next experience is much better for you.

  7. MiamiMike

    The stadium is on the site of the old Orange Bowl, so I doubt it’s much of a change for the neighborhood. (Besides 81 games a year instead of just a football season, obviously.)

  8. MiamiMike

    I meant that in a casual-informative way, not the condescendingish (Making up words is fun) way it seems to come off when I re-read it.

  9. lilJ

    To whoever asked the questions..
    Logos and Uni colors for the Fish are rumored to be released on 11/11/11. Though, the name of the stadium was supposed to be released last may so i don’t know if i’d count on this. The optimists among us FL fans like to believe that the name for the stadium will be released simultaneously with the logos and unis.
    3rd base line will house the home dugout.

  10. Kevin Clements

    Yes not much change for the neighborhood, because they are used to the Orange Bowl being on that same very spot. Its a very depressed area, known as Little Havana. I guess that maybe in the future some restaurants & stores will develop around there but I am worried about it. As for selling seats at the new stadium, more than 2/3 of the seats are already sold out for the 1st season, so that will not be a problem. I am guessing you have never been to Sun Life Stadium ? Its more than 30 miles from downtown Miami, so its difficult to get to for a 1st pitch at 7pm on a weeknight. San Francisco & Cleveland were not exactly known for big crowds before they got their new stadiums. And its always been that it looks worse in Sun Life, because it also is a football stadium, 1st and formost and seats 75,000. Most baseball stadiums these days seat between 38-45,000. The new stadium will only seat 36,000 plus 1,000 standing room only.

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