My second day in Chicago began like the first: crashing the Sweets & Snacks Expo and grabbing as many free samples as possible. Once again, I took lots of photos, but this time I promise to go much quicker . . .
One of the first things I saw in the convention center was the PeepsMobile:
Here’s a photo of the staircase leading up to the expo . . .
. . . and here’s a guy who was giving out samples of beef jerky:
Those packs were Velcro’ed to a full-body suit.
My name was misspelled on my badge . . .
. . . but hey, it still got me inside, and that’s all that mattered.
. . . and grabbed a few Blow Pops from this bin:
Then I tasted some chocolate-covered fruit at the Liberty Orchards booth . . .
. . . and ate a few Memories biscuits nearby:
Cool set-up, no? Kinda looks like a jewelry store, and by the way, do you remember the company from Saudi Arabia that I mentioned in my previous entry? That’s Memories. Really good stuff.
You know what else was good? Check out these unusual flavors of Gummi Bears that I sampled in the next aisle:
The folks at that booth must’ve appreciated my positive reaction because they handed me this:
Here’s something I wanted no part of — Test Tube Candy:
Yuck! Have you ever heard of that? Or worse, tried it? I suppose I’m a hypocrite if I’m willing to eat a sour Gummi Frog, but not try Test Tube Candy. All I can say is that we all have our limits.
I needed something healthier, so I dropped by the Carolina Nut Company booth, which featured a race truck. Here I am standing beside it:
Then I caught up with Neal, who looked rather snazzy:
On our previous trip, his hair was much longer, and his face was scruffy, and he admitted to looking “borderline homeless.” It’s amazing how an expo can change a man.
I spent lots of time at the Thanasi Foods booth. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, that’s the company that owns BIGS Sunflower Seeds.) Here’s what my view looked like from there:
In the photo above, the guy sitting on the right (on the bucket) is Justin Havlick, the founder/CEO of Thanasi. The guy on his left (also wearing red) is his older brother Erik. They ended up joining me at the White Sox game, along with a bunch of other people from BIGS.
At various times throughout the afternoon, I found myself standing beside a bin filled with BIGS sample packs . . .
. . . so eventually I grabbed one of each flavor — original, ranch, buffalo wing, and pickle. Why not, right? I’d been helping myself to samples from every other booth, so why should BIGS be treated differently? Also, I should admit to taking a big pack of Old Bay-flavored seeds. (Soooo good!) There was an entire rack of big packs, which were not meant to be taken as samples. They were there for display purposes, but I noticed that Justin occasionally gave them to key sales people and other VIPs. Quite simply, I decided that *I* was a VIP, so I grabbed one to take back home to New York City.
Before leaving for U.S. Cellular Field, I took another walk and saw some interesting things, such as this:
That company is called Scripture Candy, and it uses slogans such as “Reaching The World One Piece At A Time!” and “Jesus: Sweetest Name I Know.”
Just across the aisle, there was a PEZ motorcycle:
Several minutes later, I stumbled upon the Chocolate Creations booth, where I saw this:
Those shoes are made of chocolate.
Keep in mind that the photos you’ve seen in this entry represent a tiny fraction of what I actually experienced at the expo. The event was HUGE, and I could’ve easily spent a solid week there.
Back at the Thanasi booth, I caught up with Jenny and Krista:
Ready to see all the free samples that I got? Make sure to enlarge the photo by clicking it:
Oh yeah, baby! Hopefully all this stuff will last me until next year’s expo. (Hey, Neal, you ARE going to invite me back, right?)
Remember the reporter named Mike Tanier who joined me on 5/9/13 at Camden Yards? Remember the Sports On Earth story that he wrote about me that was published five days later? Well, the story about me in USA Today was *that* same story — amazing how it’s still making the rounds.
Neal and I stopped at a couple of gas stations and picked up a bunch of copies, but for some reason, the ones we found had a different cover:
That really pissed me off — not only because I wasn’t on it, but because of the tiresome “there won’t be any more 300-game winners” argument. How are people THAT dumb? CC Sabathia has a good chance of winning 300, and there’ll be others down the road. It’s such a stupid argument that I won’t even bother explaining why it’s stupid.
Anyway, when I opened up the paper, I hoped there’d be a photo of me wearing BIGS gear. After all, none of this stuff would’ve been happening without BIGS, so I wanted them to get the attention they deserved. Needless to say, Neal and I were both *very* excited when we saw this:
This was the scene outside Gate 2 . . .
. . . and here’s what I saw when I ran inside the stadium:
It was a sunny day without batting practice — my nightmare scenario. In all fairness, it had been raining like crazy all night and into the early afternoon, but still . . . damn!
I seriously wondered if I was going to get completely shut out. Not only wasn’t there BP, but the Red Sox were nowhere in sight. That meant I might not have a chance to even go for a ball until pre-game throwing, and what if I didn’t get one then? Then I’d have to rely on getting a 3rd-out ball — something I’d failed to accomplish the night before. Would I have to catch a foul ball or try to get one from the ump after the game?
Thankfully I didn’t have to worry for long because I spotted three baseballs in the Red Sox’s bullpen. One was sitting too far out, but the others were hugging the back wall. It was the perfect situation for the glove trick. Here I am reeling in the first ball — look closely and you’ll see it in my glove:
For the second ball, I had to lean out and swing my glove back a bit . . .
. . . and when I snagged it, I felt a huge sense of relief.
As for the other ball in the bullpen, I showed my string to an on-field security guard (who hadn’t seen me snag the first two) and asked if I could swing my glove out and try to get it. He chuckled and said no, but then did something that surprised me. He walked over to the bullpen bench and picked up a ball that happened to be sitting there and tossed it to me.
Around that time, I met a couple of guys who recognized me from this blog:
In the photo above, that’s Walter (age 17) on the left and Ryan (age 21) on the right. (They had never met each other, FYI.) Because there was no action on the field, we hung out and chatted for a while, and I ended up running into them several more times by the end of the night.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, Justin and Erik planned to attend this game with a whole bunch of people from (and connected to) BIGS Sunflower Seeds — sales people, clients, etc. Neal had gotten a few dozen tickets, and when everyone started showing up, we met them in the Bullpen Bar, which is located beneath the right field seats. Here’s what it looked like just inside the entrance:
One of the first people we saw was The Man himself: Justin Havlick. In case you’ve forgotten, he owns the company, so you can imagine how excited he was when Neal showed him the USA Today article. Here I am with Justin:
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: he’s a great dude. His company is based in Boulder, Colorado, and he told me that when I visit Coors Field, I need to stay with him — and that he considers me “part of the family.” I’m not sure if I’ll take him up on it, simply because Denver and Boulder are 30 miles apart and the logistics might be tough, but I know I’ll at least drop by for a visit. Somehow, someway, I need to check out the BIGS Sunflower Seeds headquarters before the season is through.
The Bullpen Bar has an outdoor seating area that looks great for a number of reasons:
Want to know how to get a table? It’s easy: just get there before other people.
During the half-hour before the game started, I schmoozed it up and posed for photos with a bunch of folks from our group:
While that was happening, I scarfed an order of chicken tenders and then raced up to the 100 Level. I had to show my ticket just to get into the concourse . . .
. . . and then it was show-time.
I *needed* to snag a game-used ball — this was my second and final game at The Cell — so I maximized my chances by moving back and forth each half-inning from dugout to dugout. This was my view from the White Sox’s side in the top of the 1st . . .
. . . and here I am behind the Red Sox’s dugout in the bottom of the frame:
I was sitting on the edge of my seat because (a) I was in the perfect spot to get a 3rd-out/strikeout ball from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and (b) there were two outs and two strikes on Paul Konerko.
Just one more strike! Come on!
Konerko took the following pitch, which was SO close to being called a strike. Man!
Look at my reaction:
Konerko lined out on the next pitch to left fielder Jonny Gomes, who ended up tossing the ball to the fans at the far end of the dugout.
I seriously couldn’t catch a break.
Back on the 3rd base side for the top of the 2nd inning . . . nothing.
Back to the 1st base side for the bottom of the 2nd inning. . . nothing.
Just when I figured I had no chance, luck finally swung in my favor. I was back on the 3rd base side in the top of the 3rd when Dustin Pedroia led off and hit a foul grounder in my direction. The ball wasn’t hit hard, but because of the angle, 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield decided to play the carom off the dugout fence, so he started moving away from me. According to basic physics and geometry, the ball *should* have bounced off the fence and continued rolling toward the outfield, and if that had happened, Butterfield would’ve retrieved it 30 feet to my left. Fortunately, though, it hit something that caused it to bounce back toward home plate, so when Butterfield walked over to retrieve it, he ended up heading in my direction. Even though I was behind the White Sox’s dugout, I was wearing my Red Sox cap. Why? Because I was prepared for this exact scenario. I called out to him before he picked up the ball, and he seemed to give me a subtle nod. Then he grabbed it and looked at me and tossed it my way. BAM!!! I got my gamer, and in the process, I raised $500 more for Pitch In For Baseball.
Walter was sitting several sections over, so when he saw me snag it and head up the stairs to the concourse, he met me there and took my picture:
This was an important moment because it marked the halfway point in my BIGS Baseball Adventure — 15 stadiums down, 15 to go.
I spent the next few innings here:
It was a lousy spot, but every other outfield section was packed. I was hoping that Konerko or Adam Dunn or Alex Rios or Mike Napoli or David Ortiz would hit a bomb in my direction, but I had no such luck. The only good thing that happened in deep left-center was that Krista and Jenny found me:
Neal showed up soon after, and we all headed into foul territory in the right field corner. That’s where everyone else’s seats were.
At one point, several college-aged guys showed up and asked if they could get a photo with me. Here we are:
It turned out that they were friends with Ryan, so that’s how they recognized me.
Here’s a funny (and by funny, I mean sad, but no, it’s actually funny) photo for you:
That’s Neal in the red cap (surrounded by other folks from BIGS). I don’t know if he was pretending to be glum, or if he was actually feeling that way — or maybe he was just focusing on the game? Regardless, it made me laugh.
I came really close to a foul ball in the 7th inning. Some lefty yanked a grounder just outside the bag that kinda hugged the wall and somehow rolled all the way out to the right field corner. I darted down to the front row and lunged over onto the warning track and missed it by four inches. GAH!!! It would’ve been nice to snag that ball in front of everyone from BIGS, but hey, it’s not *my* fault that I’m only 5-foot-11.
Late in the game, I moved here:
As you can see, that entire terrace was empty, and man, let me tell you, if anyone had hit a home run there, I would’ve hopped that railing in a flash. But no, of COURSE there were no home runs. (I wish everyone would stop saying that I’m lucky because I’m really not. As a matter of fact, I feel decidedly unlucky.)
After the game, which the Red Sox won, 6-2, I got my 5th ball of the day from home plate umpire Mike DiMuro. Then I hurried to the 1st base dugout as the last few Red Sox were walking off the field and got another ball from coach Arnie Beyeler.
A few minutes later, I caught up with Ryan, who had brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign:
Then I got a photo with Walter and my six baseballs:
I ended up giving two of my baseballs away, not to kids as I usually do, but to these guys instead:
That’s a photo of me with Erik and Justin in the Bullpen Bar. The whole BIGS crew hung out there until the place closed.
One last thing . . .
Riley Blevins, the reporter who’d been with me the day before, did a follow-up interview with me about my second game at The Cell. I thought he might end up writing a blurb about it, but he wrote another full-length article! Here’s a screen shot of the first part of it . . .
. . . and if you want to read the whole thing, click here.
• 232 balls in 30 games this season = 7.73 balls per game.
• 69 balls in 10 lifetime games at U.S. Cellular Field = 6.9 balls per game.
• 902 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 15 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, and U.S. Cellular Field
• 6,691 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.)
• 27 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.68 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $10.08 raised at this game
• $389.76 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $7,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $29,295.76 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009