I’ve been to Kauffman Stadium four of the last five seasons, and it keeps on getting worse. This time, as always, I spent an extra $10 to get inside at 4:30pm for the “early bird” BP tour. On a positive note, I found a baseball as I wandered down to the seats behind the 3rd-base dugout . . .
. . . but on a sucky note (and for the first time ever), I had to deal with this:
The early bird tour has always been lame. Basically, you start in the Royals Hall of Fame and end up behind one of the dugouts. You’re not allowed to chase home run balls in the outfield. You’re not even allowed to hang out along the foul lines, but it used to be that if a batter sliced a ball into the empty seats, you could get permission to go get it. (Permission?! What the hell is this, kindergarten?!) Now you can’t even do that because there are “pennants” blocking the seats. (Pennants?! More like “cheapo flags that belong at a used car dealership.”)
I’m guessing you didn’t notice the baseball in the previous photo, so here, let me give you a closer look:
One of the Royals had hit it there, and let me tell you, it drove me crazy not to be able to walk through the seats and pick it up.
Part of the reason why I got so annoyed was that a two-man crew from CBS was there to film me. Here I am getting miked by the cameraman, who’s name is Andy:
The host, pictured below on the left, is named Stephen Mayer:
They were both great to work with, but unfortunately, because of all the silly rules — and ultimately the lack of BP home runs — there wasn’t a whole lot of action.
I’m glad to say, though, that I did snag two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown to my friend “Big Glove Bob” by Salvador Perez, but it fell several rows short and ricocheted closer to me. The second ball (which was my 3rd overall on the day) was the one that had been sitting in the seats along the foul line; a friendly usher walked over there and retrieved it for me.
Andy got a shot of those two baseballs in my glove:
Several minutes later, this was the scene behind me:
Meanwhile, I felt like a caged animal . . .
. . . and by the way, it should be noted why those flags are now in place.
Two words: Yankee fans.
I’m not making this up. I asked the usher about it, and she said that the last time the Yankees were in town, so many fans tried to sneak off into other parts of the stadium that security decided to permanently block the seats during the early bird tour.
When the stadium “opened” for real at 5:30pm, things seemed to get even worse. Last year, you could wander off into other sections at 5:30pm, but this year, for some unfathomably moronic reason, you have to stay behind the dugout until 6pm! That’s right. While other fans who paid less money got to run around the outfield, my sorry ass was stuck in foul territory. You see, the whole stadium no longer opens at 5:30pm; only the outfield gates open at that time, so the fans who enter there get to be there, and the fans who do the tour have stay behind the dugouts. It’s so stupid and un-fan-friendly that the person (or people) who instituted this plan should be banned from baseball. Then, to add insult to emotional anguish, a different usher had the nerve to tell me that this has always been the rule. Big Glove Bob overheard this nonsense and set the record straight. He’s a season ticket holder. He does the BP tour every day. He knows what’s up, and even *he* was surprised. Shame on you, Royals. Seriously.
I was so pissed off about being stuck behind the dugout that I asked to leave the stadium. I was actually going to pay for a whole new ticket just to be able to (re)enter the normal gates like a normal person and have a chance like everyone else to enjoy batting practice. But get this: security wouldn’t let me. That’s when Neal took charge and asked to speak to a supervisor and calmly explained our situation: we’re here from out of town, we didn’t know the rule, we’re doing a thing with the local media, we’re snagging baseballs for charity, they really want to get some footage of Zack in the outfield, etc. And it worked. The supervisor, clearly a reasonable man, agreed to walk me out to the outfield, though he was hesitant at first because, you know, what if everyone else sees me taking you to the outfield? Then they’re gonna want to go to the outfield too. Yeah? And your point is . . . ?
If slow-walking were an Olympic event, this supervisor would’ve won the gold medal. I swear it took us three solid minutes to get out there (after he stopped to have a one-minute conversation with a friend). But finally, I was there. And I felt so free. And ohmygod, look how much room there was to run for home run balls:
Sadly, there were no home runs — and I do mean NO home runs. Not one. The entire time. It’s like a junior varsity team was hitting, and I was going out of my mind.
Neal was still stuck behind the dugout, so this was the best photo of me that he could get:
In the photo above, do you see the fan on the left, wearing a blue jacket with a white stripe on the sleeve?
That was my friend Garrett Meyer, who was kind enough to put his own ballhawking on hold just so that we could hang out — and while he was at it, he grabbed my camera and took a few photos of me. Here’s the best one. It shows Ryan Roberts (deep in left field) about to throw a ball to me (on the walkway behind the seats):
That was actually my 6th ball of the day. Alex Cobb had tossed me No. 4 in left-center, and Jake McGee had hooked me up with No. 5 in right-center.
When Big Glove Bob eventually wandered out to the outfield, I took a photo of him with Garrett:
There were a zillion kids in left field — some school outing or something — and Fernando Rodney tossed more baseballs to them than I cared to count. Here he is about to let one fly:
Normally, I give away a ball or two (or five) to kids over the course of the day, but in this case, I’d pretty much decided to keep whatever I got. That’s because I was scheduled to appear on the FOX morning news the next day, and the producer had asked me to bring a bunch of baseballs.
Anyway, that was it for BP. Six balls. No home runs. Not terrible, but not all that exciting. I’d really been hoping to put on a better show for the TV guys, but it certainly could’ve been worse. And by the way, speaking of TV, I’ve gotten a few less-than-friendly comments lately from people accusing me of “acting like a celebrity,” so lemme just say that *I* didn’t set any of this stuff up. BIGS Sunflower Seeds approached me during the off-season. They’re the ones who conceived of this whole sponsorship. They’re the ones who are pitching me to the media and planning to donate up to $15,000 to my favorite charity. What was I supposed to do? Turn them down? What am I supposed to do when there’s a TV crew following me around? Pretend like I’m not having fun? I never started collecting baseballs to get famous. I just did it because it was (and still is) fun. When I snagged those two home runs on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium, I never contacted the media. I was minding my own business during the game when my phone rang. It was some random guy from the Associated Press, who somehow got my number. What was I supposed to say? “Screw you, I don’t want to talk”? C’mon.
Enough about that. I’d rather tell you about the pepperoni pizza that I ate before the game:
It was good.
Neal had gotten us seats behind the 3rd-base dugout, and in the top of the 1st inning, this was his view:
I was in the outfield, running back and forth behind the batter’s eye, constantly repositioning myself for right- and left-handed batters. My plan was to spend the top of each inning in the outfield . . . plus an out or two in the bottom half . . . and then hurry back to the Rays’ dugout for a 3rd-out ball.
Well, it just so happened that the Rays hit two homers in the top of the 1st inning — back-to-back solo shots by Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist. Unfortunately, they both landed in the right field bullpen, and the groundskeepers out there kept the balls.
When I made it back to the dugout, Garrett (who was sitting with Neal) showed me a comment card that one of his usher-friends had begun to fill out on my behalf. Here’s what it looked like several minutes later:
Before you start calling me a complainer (which I’ll admit that I sometimes am, occasionally for valid reasons), remember that I had very little to do with this. The usher asked me how I felt, so I told her that the groundskeepers should’ve tossed the balls into the crowd. Then she asked me if I wanted to go to guest services and get some sort of apology/consolation prize, and I said no thanks. I wanted one of those home run balls. Other than that, whatever.
It wasn’t long before Eric Hosmer flied out to Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings to end the 1st inning. I wandered down the steps to the 3rd row — there were some people down in front, and I didn’t want to crowd them — and watched as the ball got tossed around. Evan Longoria ended up with it, and when he got close, I waved my arms and shouted “Longo!!” He looked up and tossed it right to me over everyone down in front. I made the catch and hurried up the stairs and, well, click here for a YouTube video that shows how it all went down.
I felt *great* after that, not only because Pitch In For Baseball was going to receive an additional $500 from BIGS, but because it freed me to return to the outfield and try to catch a home run.
Garrett, having snagged a ball earlier (and therefore extending his consecutive games streak to 169), was content to put his glove away and hang out with me for the rest of the game. Here he is on the left-field walkway:
Here I am with the ball that Longoria had tossed to me:
I ran back and forth all game, positioning myself in right field for every left-handed batter and in left field for every righty. I was dying to catch a home run, and if one had been hit anywhere near me, I would’ve been all over it. There was NO competition. It was insane. And of course it was frustrating as hell that nothing came close.
Here’s a photo of the most unusual thing that happened all night:
Quite simply, the fountains began overflowing, and the water spilled into the stands. Look how bad it got:
There was about an inch and a half of water in the front row, and there were mini-waterfalls in other areas. Crazy, huh?
Just so you know, the water level of the fountains can be controlled, and in fact, the Royals regularly overflow them after games in order to clean the stands. But during a game? Garrett had never seen this happen before.
Stadium personnel handled it reasonably well, I guess. They put up a “CAUTION” sign . . .
. . . and invited everyone in the left field seats to move into foul territory, but it took them a long time to lower the water level — more that half an hour, I think.
Garrett and Neal hung out in right field:
The stadium was so empty during the final few innings . . .
. . . that I considered moving to the upper deck. There were TWO fans on the first base side, and they were sitting 10 rows back. But no. I couldn’t do it. The outfield at Kauffman Stadium is too glorious, so stayed there and hoped for a longball. Here’s a photo that shows me camped out on the walkway behind the left field seats:
Meanwhile, look how empty it was in right field:
In the photo above, the two people in blue jackets are ushers. The one person wearing the black jacket is me. Why why why why WHY could there not have been a home run? I would’ve been able to run 100 feet and still make it look easy.
After the final out of the Royals’ 9-8 victory, I got a ball from Fernando Rodney near the right-field bullpen. (Garrett gets the assist on that one for helping me call out for it.) That was my 8th and final ball of the day.
Here’s a photo that I took less than a minute later as Rodney and a few teammates walked across the field toward the dugout:
Before we left the stadium, Neal took a few photos of me with all the baseballs for the media:
I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be back at Kauffman the next day because the weather forecast was brutal, and I had four interviews scheduled in the early morning/afternoon . . . and the first pitch was scheduled for 1:10pm . . . and I knew I was going to be exhausted.
It’s such a shame to be at such a great stadium for only one game, but that’s the nature of the BIGS Baseball Adventure. I still have 22 more ballparks to check off my list this season.
Oh! Two more things:
• 112 balls in 16 games this season = 7 balls per game.
• 116 balls in 11 lifetime games at Kauffman Stadium = 10.5 balls per game.
• 888 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 8 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, and Kauffman Stadium
• 6,571 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)
• 25 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.61 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $12.88 raised at this game
• $180.32 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $4,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $25,586.32 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009