Whenever I take baseball trips to other cities, people always tell me about the non-baseball activities that I “need” to do. Going to Cleveland? You NEED to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Going to San Diego? You NEED to go to the beach. And so on. It’s really annoying, and I rarely follow up on these suggestions. For starters, I’m not exactly the museum type, and it’s really hard to see my laptop screen outdoors (even under the shade of the very best of beach umbrellas), but there are other issues too. I never rent a car when I travel — I just take shuttle vans or cabs from the airports and to the stadiums and back — and secondly, I simply don’t have time because of this blog. Do you have any idea how much of an effort it takes me to crank out these entries? Being at a game and then blogging about it fills an entire day; if I have to go somewhere or meet someone for lunch, that’s two hours less sleep that I’ll get that night.
That said, this was a different kind of baseball trip. I was with my girlfriend, Robin, who grew up in Kansas City. Her parents still live there, so the main purpose of the trip was for her to see them and for me to meet them. (She’d made me promise that I wouldn’t blog until we returned to New York City.) That’s why we were here on a weekend. I normally try to avoid weekend games, but this was when her folks were free.
When I met Robin’s father at the airport and he suggested that we go get some BBQ at a famous place called Arthur Bryant’s, I wasn’t about to argue. In fact, I was thrilled. Robin and I were starving, and we’d gotten an early flight so that we’d have more time to hang out and DO stuff before heading to Kauffman Stadium. Here are a few photos of that stuff, starting with the exterior of the restaurant:
Nothing special, right? Same deal with the interior . . .
. . . right? Well, just wait for it.
I knew that the food was gonna be great when I saw Sarah Palin’s picture on the wall.
Of course, the menu was even more promising . . .
. . . and sure enough, the food itself was incredible. Here’s what I ate:
That’s the greatest pulled pork sandwich known to mankind (and also possibly known to alienkind) along with a side of equally fabulous baked beans.
After lunch, Robin’s father — his name is Chris — took us out into the countryside. We drove on gravel roads and passed little towns and occasionally had to wait as trains carrying coal chugged along. At several points, we got out and walked around and took some photos. Here’s Chris and Robin checking out some farmland . . .
. . . and here’s Robin eating a few dried-out soybeans (which she said tasted like edamame):
Last year, a flood wiped out the crops, and this year there was a devastating drought. Nature really sucks ass sometimes.
Chris told me and Robin to climb up onto the roof of his car . . .
. . . and then (after we jumped down and got back IN the car) we took off.
We passed through the “community” of Waldron, Missouri . . .
. . . and made it here with half an hour to spare:
Robin’s mother, Anne, was still at work, so for the time being, it was just me and Robin and Chris. Here we are outside the stadium:
Not wanting my guests to have to pay to watch me run around and chase baseballs (and also to show Chris what a high-roller I am), I treated them to this:
As I mentioned last year, Kauffman Stadium opens just 90 minutes early . . . unless you cough up an extra $10 for a ticket for the “Early Bird Tour.”
Here’s Gate A:
Here’s my tour ticket:
And here’s the guy who checked the tickets:
As I walked toward the Royals Hall of Fame (which is where the tour starts) . . .
. . . I heard a familiar voice shout my name from behind. Look who it was:
For those who don’t know, that’s a fella who goes by the name of Big Glove Bob. (Don’t ask him where he got that glove unless you want a sarcastic answer.)
I only bothered to take one photo inside the Hall of Fame, and Robin couldn’t be bothered to hold still . . .
. . . but whatever. I’d been there twice before and wasn’t interested in looking at stuff. I wanted to get back outside and do something a bit more interactive.
At around 4:40pm, everyone on the tour was given the option of going to the seats behind the Indians’ or Royals’ dugouts. I picked the visiting team’s side, of course, and headed down into the seats with the few other fans who’d made the same choice:
For me, the frustrating thing about the Early Bird experience is that I pretty much had to stay here:
The only exception for leaving the dugout area was as follows: whenever a ball landed in the seats down the foul line, I could run and get it, but first I had to “check in” with the tour guide. Sometimes it was as simple as making eye contact and getting a quick thumbs-up, but other times it meant actively getting the guide’s attention. Thankfully, though, I was the only person on the entire left side of the stadium who was interested in getting baseballs. Robin and Chris were just there to watch, and there were three other guys (including a buddy of mine named Kent) who were hanging out near the home-plate end of the dugout for autographs. There were also a few seat cleaners and ushers milling about, but to them, it was like the baseballs didn’t even exist.
But hang on . . . I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to mention that batting practice started and ended early because of a pre-game ceremony that was going to take place on the field. That’s why the Indians were already warming up two and a half hours before game time. Secondly, before I talk about the balls that were sliced into the seats, I need to tell you what happened before BP even got underway. As you can see in the photo above, most of the players were standing around and doing nothing. That’s when Ubaldo Jimenez popped out of the dugout with his glove on one hand and a brand-new ball in the other.
“Hey, Ubaldo,” I said, “wanna play catch?” I also made a little throwing gesture, and that’s all it took to get him to toss it to me.
My first thought was, “This is awesome.” My second thought was, “Crap, ALL of the Indians are watching me. I’m never gonna get another ball from ANY of them.” My third thought (after throwing the ball back and forth with Jimenez for about 20 seconds) was, “I gotta get this on video!” I quickly grabbed my camera from my backpack and handed it to Robin. Here’s what she captured:
Okay, fine, so I don’t get to play catch “every” time, but this stadium does have a history of being good to me. Do you remember when I got to play catch with Kyle Farnsworth on June 17, 2009? In case you’ve never seen it, here’s the video.
Allow me to point out three things about the Jimenez video:
1) At the 11-second mark, I attempt to throw a knuckleball. Jimenez smiles and nods in approval, but I’m not impressed, so two seconds later, I give a “so-so” gesture with my right hand.
2) At the 56-second mark, Chris gets out of his seat and creeps down to the front row. Robin laughs three seconds later because of his stealthy maneuver.
3) At the one-minute-and-26-second mark, there’s three seconds of silence. I had to bleep something out. Don’t ask.
Here’s the ball with which I played catch:
I shall treasure it forever.
Soon after, when BP got underway, I took advantage of all these empty seats . . .
. . . by running and retrieving this foul ball:
I had no idea who hit it, nor did I know who hit any of the others that you’re soon going to hear about. All I can tell you is that they were all left-handed batters, so let’s leave it at that.
My 3rd ball of the day was tossed by a coach, and once again, I had no idea who it was. All I did was flap my glove at him (and try to look really sweet and innocent), and he hooked me up.
Robin and her father were sitting in the front row . . .
. . . and that’s when I went on a ball-snagging spree.
My 4th ball was sliced into the seats. Then, a minute later, when I went to chase another, I happened to find these two:
While I was bending down to pick them up, I heard another ball land near me in the seats, and while I was grabbing that one, ANOTHER ball landed near me. I didn’t photograph them all because . . . overkill. Right? But I did get a shot of the final ball:
In case you’ve lost count (as I briefly did at the time), I now had eight balls, including five slicers that I’d just picked up in the seats within a two-minute span.
When the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I moved to the outfield . . .
. . . and had lots of room to run. Check out the walkway on my right:
Unfortunately, the only other ball I snagged before the Indians cleared the field was thrown by Chris Perez in right-center. Quite simply, BP was dead.
Robin’s mother arrived at around 6pm, so I had plenty of time to schmooze her up and make a good impression before running off to snag my 10th ball of the day. (I’m such a winner! But no, seriously, Robin had warned her parents of my obsessive baseball ways. Thankfully I’ve written books about baseball, so that makes it okay, or at least that’s what I tell myself.) I had noticed that two Royals catchers were throwing in deep left field, so I headed to this spot . . .
. . . and promptly got kicked out of the section by an usher who insisted that I needed a ticket to be there. (Gimme a break, Kansas City.) I moved to the seats directly behind the bullpen and got this guy . . .
. . . to hook me up. He had actually thrown me the ball from the warning track, and when he walked below me, I made a frenzied attempt to take his picture. That’s because I had no idea who he was, and I was hoping that my friend Garrett Meyer (who’s usually at Kauffman Stadium but happened to be out of town) would be able to identify him. And he did. Turns out it was a bullpen catcher (and former minor leaguer) named Bill Duplissea. (Thank you, Garrett! You just earned yourself a slice of Big Nick’s pizza next time you visit me in New York.)
Here’s a photo of the pre-game ceremony:
The Royals were inducting George Toma, their longtime groundskeeper, into their Hall of Fame. George Brett was there and gave a nice speech. There was a video montage of Toma pulling tarps and sprinkling drying agents. And so on. I have lots of respect for groundskeepers. I just wish that the ceremony for this one hadn’t cost me half an hour of batting practice because really, it’s all about ME. While the ceremony was wrapping up, several Indians came out to stretch and run and throw in shallow left field. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:
See those red circles? Those indicate the kids that I gave baseballs to. The ball from Duplissea went to the girl in the medium-sized circle. The ball that I ended up getting five minutes later from Lonnie Chisenhall went to the little kid in the tiny circle, who was being held in his mother’s arms in the front row. Finally, the kid in the big circle got a ball from me in the 3rd inning. You’ll see why in a minute. First, though, I have to make fun of the Royals for misspelling Shin-Soo Choo’s name:
They fixed it by the time he had his 2nd at-bat, thank goodness. I would hate to see the US Embassy in South Korea get attacked by an angry mob.
This was my view during the game:
I really wanted to be in the outfield, but (a) I didn’t want to make Robin and her parents sit all the way out there and (b) it didn’t seem like a good idea to abandon them. These WERE, our actual seats, after all, so I stayed there and tried to act like a normal person and hoped like hell that there weren’t going to be any home runs.
Here’s a photo of Robin and her parents . . .
. . . and here’s a close-up of the guy on the right, who was obviously interested in being photographed as well:
If you photo-bomb me, intentionally or not, I might blog-bomb you right back, so watch out.
Now, about that kid in the biggest red circle . . . here he is with the ball that I gave him:
I had overheard his father call him “Zack,” so after I caught this Jason Kipnis foul ball in the top of the 3rd inning . . .
. . . I reached into my bag and tossed a practice ball to my namesake. People weren’t hollering at me to “give it to the kid.” I just thought it was a nice thing to do.
As for the Kipnis foul ball, it was rather uneventful, as far as these things go. Luis Mendoza was pitching. There was one out in the top of the 3rd. Kipnis swung at the first pitch and sliced it 10 feet to my right. We were sitting in the last row before the cross-aisle, so I jumped up and drifted toward the ball and barely reached over a few fans and caught it on the fly. If any of them had stood up or even reached up, I wouldn’t have had it, but they made no effort to catch it and might’ve actually gotten drilled by the ball had I not been there. I got a few high-fives from nearby fans, and a female usher hurried over and asked, “Is your hand okay?” (I knew she was only doing her job, but I had to try hard not to laugh.) Chris wasn’t in his seat at the time — he was wandering somewhere in the concourse, unfortunately — but Robin and her mother had a great view of the whole thing. (In the six games that Robin has attended with me, she’s seen me catch two foul balls and a home run.)
I went here in the 9th inning . . .
. . . to try to get a ball from the umpire, but found myself slightly out of position (not to mention several decades too old).
The Royals won the game, 6-3, and I’m happy to report that there were NO home runs.
Have some fireworks!
• 576 balls in 71 games this season = 8.11 balls per game.
• 152 lifetime foul balls during games (not including foul balls that get tossed into the crowd; those’re so easy that I never bothered counting them separately)
• 863 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 388 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 208 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 6,395 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 more about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)
• 45 donors
• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.64 raised at this game
• $1,566.72 raised this season
• $20,723.72 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009