My day at Chase Field started at 3pm in the administrative offices, and no, I wasn’t in trouble. I was there to meet the man pictured below in the white shirt:
His name is Jeff Munn, and he works for the Diamondbacks as a public address announcer and part-time radio guy. In the photo above, the man standing next to him is Josh Rawitch, the team’s Senior Vice-President of Communications. Josh had arranged for Jeff to interview me on the pre-game radio show, and voila! Here I was at Chase Field roughly three and a half hours before the first pitch.
Josh handed me a media credential and took off to get back to work. Jeff led me to a quieter spot and taped a quick interview with his digital voice recorder. And then? It was still so early in the day that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself — go back to my hotel and take a nap? Wander up to Friday’s and try to get a toss-up during early BP? As it turned out, there was a third option, which proved to be much better: getting a behind-the-scenes tour from Jeff. We started by taking an elevator one floor up, and when the doors opened, this is what I saw:
Then we headed through this hallway . . .
. . . where I was as intrigued by the boardroom . . .
. . . as the breakroom:
We passed by a bunch of offices, which looked ordinary except for the fact that Luis Gonzalez was in one and Roland Hemond was in another. I felt like I was in a baseball sanctuary and made sure not to show how excited I was.
Jeff took me into a video editing room . . .
. . . and then we headed to the press area. The main broadcast booth is named after Joe Garagiola . . .
. . . and the hallway outside the booth has a huge/photographic timeline of his career:
Jeff showed me the press box . . .
. . . and the area behind the press box:
I took a quick photo of this . . .
. . . as we headed into the press lounge:
I would’ve taken some pics there, but (a) I didn’t want to bother the few people who were eating and (b) Jeff was in a hurry to get downstairs for Kirk Gibson’s media session.
I followed him downstairs . . .
. . . and into the service-level concourse:
That’s when I expected him to shake my hand and say that it was nice meeting me, but instead, he invited me to join him here:
Jeff said that Gibby was scheduled to arrive in five minutes, so we chatted for a bit. My mind was racing. I photographed my media credential:
Then, suddenly, the door opened and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson entered the room. I had been expecting some type of announcement — was I supposed to stand and take off my hat? — but the whole thing was unceremonious. There were about ten other people in the room by that point, and no one exchanged any type of greeting. I thought it was actually kind of awkward, but maybe that’s just how these things go. Gibby simply took a seat at the podium and stared out at us.
After a few seconds, one of the reporters asked him a question about his plans for getting Adam Eaton more playing time. Then someone else asked about Trevor Cahill’s progress coming back from hip/shoulder injuries, and after that, there was a question about whether Eric Chavez would need a rehab start in the minors. I could’ve asked a question, but decided not to because it would’ve been something along the lines of, “Can I take batting practice with you guys?” If I had, I’m sure his facial expression would’ve looked like this:
Gibby has an odd demeanor. I’d seen him interviewed several times on TV, and he acted the same way in person. He seemed to be confused and irritated, almost like he didn’t want to be there and couldn’t understand why any of these people wanted to ask him questions.
One of the reporters began a question by saying, “If the Dodgers win tonight, they will have taken 40 of their last 50.” Gibby was asked if he’d ever seen a team go on a run like that. He said he’d been on a team that had and added that it’s not fun to be on the other side of it. “At this point,” he said, referring to the Dodgers, “it’s pretty much historic.” Of course, he followed that by saying all the right things: there are still lots of games, and we have time to put together a run of our own, and blah blah.
None of the questions and answers were riveting, but the whole experience of being there was tremendous. Many thanks to Jeff Munn and Josh Rawitch and the whole Diamondbacks organization for allowing me to take a peek behind the scenes. Even though my credential technically gave me clubhouse access, I didn’t go there. I made sure not to push the boundaries.
After the media session (which lasted less than 10 minutes), I wandered up to the podium and took a close-up photo of the microphone:
Do you remember the Diamondbacks’ TV reporter who interviewed me after I snagged Didi Gregorius’s first major league home run on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium? Her name is Jody Jackson, and we’ve been running into each other at various stadiums ever since. I’m mentioning this because she was sitting near me at Gibby’s media session, and when it ended, we walked out together into the concourse. I asked if I could take a photo of her for my blog, and she said sure, so here you go:
I wasn’t sure what to do with myself at that point, so when she invited me to tag along and check out the Diamondbacks’ batting practice, I was like, “Hells yeah.” Of course, I didn’t know exactly what she meant or where we were going — back up to the press box, perhaps?
I didn’t ask questions. I just walked with her and took photos along the way, such as this . . .
. . . and this:
One minute later, Jody took my picture in front of the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse . . .
. . . and soon after that, we headed down this ramp:
I had *no* idea where we were, which of course made the whole adventure extra-fun. What was I going to see next?!
I’ll show you what. Check it out:
Those steps led to the Diamondbacks’ dugout! Look where I ended up:
Actually, that’s not where I ended up. I was allowed to step out onto the field . . .
. . . and best of all, stadium security wasn’t threatening to arrest me. I talked to one of the guards, and he was very friendly. I talked to Pat O’Connell, the Manager of Player & Media Relations, and he was super-cool. Everyone was great. I truly can’t say enough nice things about the Diamondbacks. Even when Heath Bell no longer pitches for them, I’ll still be a fan.
Although it may be hard to believe, I wasn’t tempted at all when I saw this:
Snagging baseballs in the stands is fun. Stealing them from a ball bag on the warning track? Who gives a damn. That’s not my style, and yes, okay, I’ll admit that I’ve done a few sneaky things over the years AS A FAN in order to acquire a few extra baseballs, but now wasn’t the time. I wouldn’t have counted them in my collection anyway. Seriously, what would’ve been the point? It just would’ve made me feel bad/guilty.
Look who I saw in the dugout:
That’s Didi Gregorius, who graciously posed for that photo.
It was nice to see him, and yes, he remembers me from our post-game meeting back in April at Yankee Stadium. Here at Chase Field, we shook hands and chatted for a minute.
“I’m sitting out in left field tonight,” I told him, “so unless you go oppo . . . ”
He laughed and said, “I don’t have that kind of power.”
In the photo above, the player entering the dugout is Miguel Montero. At one point, perhaps ten or twenty minutes later, I accidentally knocked over his bat, which had been leaning against the bench. It made that awful clanking-on-concrete noise, so I quickly grabbed it and looked around as I put it back in place. I hoped no one had noticed, but guess who was standing right there? Yep . . . Miguel Montero. D’oh!!! He was wearing his batting gloves and standing on the dugout steps, and he reached his hand out toward me. I assumed he wanted the bat, so I handed it to him. Indeed, that WAS what he wanted, and within a minute, he was taking cuts with it in the batting cage.
Back out on the field, I found myself standing next to Gibby:
Then I took a pic of the batting cage . . .
. . . and tried to figure out what to do next.
Part of me wanted to stay near the dugout and soak in this incredible experience for as long as it lasted. The other part of me was like, “Dude, enough already — get your ass out to the left field bleachers and snag some baseballs!”
I ended up doing a little of both. Basically, I decided that I *needed* to snag a few baseballs, but that it’d be cool to be back on the warning track when all the players — especially Heath Bell — came off the field. Knowing that the season ticket holders were going to enter the stadium at 4:30pm, I headed out to the bleachers at 4:29. I know that’s sneaky, but hey, I had a media credential that entitled me to go pretty much anywhere in stadium, and in fact, I had seen some random employee picking up baseballs in the seats five minutes earlier. No one had said anything to him, so I figured I could do the same. I mean, on the grand scheme of things, that’s a fairly harmless crime, don’t you think? Also, I was the Diamondbacks’ guest, and they seem like the type of organization that wants their guests to have a good time. (Aren’t I good at justifying my actions?)
Out in left field, I found this . . .
. . . and this:
There were actually two other Easter eggs that I missed because (a) I’m dumb and (b) I’d given myself such a small head start on the season ticket holders that there wasn’t even time for me to scour the entire area.
Several minutes later, with a handful of fans scattered throughout the bleachers, I jumped and caught a ground-rule double in the front row in left-center. I didn’t know who hit it, but one of the regulars was pretty sure that it was Jason Kubel.
As much as I wanted to stay there and try to snag more baseballs, my paranoia about missing the players coming off the field was even stronger, so I headed back to the dugout . . .
. . . and out through this gate onto the field:
For the next ten minutes, I cringed every time a home run clanged off the bleacher benches — and let me tell you, I did a LOT of cringing. I think I would’ve gotten an additional half-dozen balls if I’d stayed out there while the D’backs were hitting. The missed opportunities hurt, but I still felt like I was doing the right thing. This was a once-in-a-lifetime situation, right?
Eventually, the players cleared the field and entered the dugout. I said hello to a few of them, but they were mostly in a rush to get back to the clubhouse. There was, however, one player who stopped to chat:
HEATH BELL, BABY!!!
He stayed and talked for like 15 minutes. Jody was there too . . .
. . . so we all hung out.
During this time, the Orioles had started taking BP, and of course they were peppering the bleachers with balls. I probably would’ve finished the day with 15 to 20 if I’d been out there the whole time. (If the season ticket holders read this entry and get mad at me for grabbing those two Easter eggs, they should keep in mind that I “gave” them many more by not even being out there for most of BP, so let’s just call it even, huh?)
At one point, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers walked past me and headed onto the field. I asked Heath and Jody if they thought he’d mind if I asked to have a photo taken with him on his way back in. They said he’d be fine with that, so I told Heath that I wanted *him* to take the photo.
“I’ll do it if he comes back here within the next two minutes,” he said.
Towers didn’t come back for five minutes, but Heath and Jody were still there, so I handed him my camera. This was the result:
After Towers headed off, Heath asked me about my baseball collection. More specifically, he wanted to know if I held the Guinness World Record for most baseballs, so I told him the story. (The short version is that I don’t hold any “official” Guinness World Records because they make everything insanely difficult/expensive.) Then we talked about records in general, and I mentioned that I have the highest score ever on Arkanoid.
Somehow, he must not have understood me because he said, “I could probably beat your score.”
“Heath,” I replied, “that’s like ME saying I could probably throw a baseball faster than you.”
“I don’t know,” he said, “I used to be really good at that game when I was a kid.”
I told him that I have a full-sized/coin-operated Arkanoid machine at my apartment in New York City and that he should come over and play sometime.
“Maybe next season,” he said.
Before he took off, he grabbed a ball from a nearby equipment bag and flipped it to me. At first, I wondered if I should count it in my collection. After all, I was *on* the field, so it seemed to contradict my ballhawk rules. But then I thought about fans who get to watch BP from the warning track, whether in the outfield or behind the plate, and how *they* can snag baseballs. Wait a minute . . . I’d gotten a few that way too. Remember when I hung out here on 9/1/08 at Dodger Stadium? I decided that being on the field doesn’t automatically negate a snag. It all has to do with the way in which the ball is acquired. If I’d grabbed one myself from the ball bag, that wouldn’t have counted, but because a player had given it to me . . . why not? Therefore, that was my fourth ball of the day.
Here’s where I was, more or less, when I got my fifth ball:
As you can see, I was standing in the concourse in deeeeeeep right-center when Chris Davis launched a home run in my direction. The ball ended up landing on the balcony below me . . .
. . . so I jumped down there and grabbed it.
(I took the balcony photo after I grabbed the ball, FYI.)
If I tried something like that at Yankee Stadium, I’d end up in solitary confinement at Riker’s Island for a month, but here at Chase Field, no one said a word. I really really LOVE Chase Field. From an architectural standpoint, it’s not the best stadium for catching baseballs, but from an overall-happiness standpoint, it’s at the top of the list. If you haven’t been there, you should make a point of visiting, and if you’re not a fan of any other team in the NL West, you should consider rooting for the D’backs.
My sixth ball was thrown by Orioles bullpen catcher Rudy Arias:
He was closer when he threw it, but that photo was taken in the spot where I was standing. Of course, he ended up airmailing me, so I had to scamper after the ball in the concourse. As soon as I grabbed it, I noticed a little kid ten feet away, who was just starting to run after it himself, so I walked over and handed it to him.
I didn’t get any toss-ups at the Orioles’ dugout after BP, but I did sign two autographs. The first was on a ball that this guy Jake had snagged . . .
. . . and the second was on a photo that this young man named Edison had printed off my blog:
Remember him? We met on 5/9/13 at Camden Yards. That’s when that printed photo was originally taken. This game at Chase Field marked Edison’s 14th birthday. (Happy birthday, dude! Glad I could be there to help you celebrate.)
I did some more wandering before the game started. I headed down this staircase . . .
. . . and when I got to the bottom, I turned left and headed down here:
In the photo above, do you see the guy at the very bottom? That’s where I went, and here’s what it looked like:
The Audi quattro Club . . . hmm. What’s with all these stadium clubs being named after cars? Citi Field has the Hyundai Club. Yankee Stadium also has an Audi Club. I’d rather hang out in a Ferrari Club or better yet a Model T Club. Who gives a fig about Audi or Hyundai? (There goes my chance of being sponsored by either of those companies next season.) Anyway, here’s what the Audi quattro Club at Chase Field looks like:
Not bad. Cozy. I dig it.
The far end of the club has a hallway . . .
. . . that led here:
I kept walking and ended up here . . .
. . . and then here:
I seriously thought I was lost. All I knew was that I was heading toward the 3rd-base side — and then I saw this:
Now see? That’s a nice name for a stadium club. Here’s what it looked like inside:
After wandering around the club for a couple of minutes, I continued walking down the weird/unmarked hallway. Look what I saw at the end:
Then I turned right and headed through a corridor that led to the seats beside the 3rd-base dugout.
The game was about to begin, so headed up the main/100-Level steps to the concourse and made my way out to left field. Look how heavily guarded it was out there:
For the record, there *was* an usher at that staircase who happened to be talking to someone nearby when I took that photo. I could’ve gone down there, and he never would’ve noticed, but I waited. Remember, I still had a media credential, so I could go anywhere, but he didn’t ask to see it, nor did he ask for my ticket. When I approached the staircase, he simply said, “Hey, how’s it going?”
CHASE FIELD IS THE BEST.
Let’s not talk about the J.J. Hardy homer that I would’ve caught had I not moved two staircases over toward left-center after the first inning. Instead, let’s just take a look at my view during the game:
In the photo above, did you notice the lack of infielders on the left side? The shift was on for Chris Davis. Just when I was thinking that he should bunt down the 3rd-base line, he blasted a two-run homer to right. That was his 44th longball of the season. Incredible.
Around that time, I got a visit from a buddy named Kenny (who recently snagged his 1,000th lifetime ball). We hung out for a bit, and during an inning break, he had me sign this:
Ha!! How awesome is that? The photo that he’s holding had been taken the previous night after I snagged a 3rd-out ball. Kenny printed it off my blog. He’s hilarious guy, and it was great catching up with him.
I also got a visit from an old friend named Jake — not the Jake that I’d signed the ball for after BP. As you can see below, this was a different guy, and he’d brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are after I signed it for him:
Remember the guy named Stuart Jon that I’d seen the night before? Well, he also came and found me in left-center. Here I am with him and Jake and Kenny:
Eventually, they all went their separate ways, so when Didi Gregorius came to bat in the bottom of the 9th in a potential walk-off situation, I headed here:
How sweet would it have been to catch his game-ending home run? The answer is: I don’t know because he grounded out.
Paul Goldschmidt had homered in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game, and in the bottom of the 11th, he went yard again. (Final score: Diamondbacks 4, Orioles 3.) Unfortunately, he hit the ball to right field, but at least I *saw* it. You may recall that I missed Adam Eaton’s walk-off homer the previous night because I was in the bathroom. Anyway, here’s photographic evidence that I was in the stands for Goldy’s heroics:
The best part about this homer was that it gave Heath Bell the win. Bell had entered the game in the top of the 11th and retired the Orioles on six pitches. Of course, I probably could’ve retired them on five pitches.
On my way out, I gave two baseballs to a pair of little kids. What a great night in Phoenix. Now, if only the Dodgers would lose 40 of their next 50 . . .
• 484 balls in 64 games this season = 7.56 balls per game.
• 84 balls at 9 lifetime games at Chase Field = 9.33 balls per game.
• 936 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 461 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 28 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, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, Nationals Park, Marlins Park, Tropicana Field, Turner Field, Citizens Bank Park, Dodger Stadium, and Chase Field
• 6,943 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, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 38 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $20.58 raised at this game
• $1,660.12 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $14,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $37,066.12 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009