In June of 1995, I graduated from high school in New York City, and within a few weeks, I somehow ended up in Idaho, working for a minor league baseball team called the Boise Hawks. At the time, the Hawks were affiliated with the California Angels, so when I traveled to Anaheim to see a couple of games, I went as something of a VIP. That might explain my goofy grin in the following photo:
This trip would not have happened without the Hawks’ head groundskeeper — a man named Joe Kelly, who not only set the whole thing up, but (against his better judgment) traveled to Anaheim with me. While I thought he was the coolest guy ever, he probably would’ve been glad not to have me tagging along. Still, he was nice enough to snap a few photos of me, including this one just outside the stadium:
At around 2pm, we made our way to an office, checked in with a security guard, and headed inside to meet a women who’d been expecting us. She and Joe did all the talking, and before I knew it, she led us deeper inside the stadium and eventually down to the field. Imagine how excited I was when she left us to join the few groundskeepers who were working nearby. I got to walk out onto a pristine major league field and help set up BP. I remember standing at home plate and thinking of Rod Carew and all the other great players who had also stood in that exact spot.
After the batting cage and screens were ready to go, the groundskeepers led us to a wide-open area behind the center field wall. Here’s what it looked like:
As you can see, the stadium was pretty much empty, so I took advantage by strolling out onto the warning track . . .
. . . and taking more photos.
Here’s what the field looked like:
This was my view to the right . . .
. . . and to the left:
See the guy without a shirt? That’s Joe Kelly. It’s not that he was trying to show off his tan or muscles. He simply hated wearing shirts. Over the previous two months at the Hawks’ ballpark, I don’t think I’d ever seen him wearing a shirt. Big meeting with the General Manager in the office? No shirt. Tending to the field at game time with three thousand people in the stands? No shirt. It amused me, and I respected him for not changing his ways just because we happened to be in a major league stadium.
Here’s a photo of him looking out at the field:
Here’s another photo of the field:
I understand that teams now want to maximize every inch of space inside their stadiums, but to me, the area behind the center field wall in the photo above looks much better than the new glitzy outfield configuration. You really could get lost in old stadiums — disappear in a concourse, hide behind a support beam in the last row of the 3rd or 4th deck, and maybe even find a baseball along the way. But nowadays? Forget it.
Here’s Joe with his own camera . . .
. . . and here’s a photo he took of me:
I was in baseball heaven.
A little while later, the groundskeepers showed us some of their tools:
In Boise, there was one of everything — if you were lucky — and sometimes it didn’t work. In Anaheim, there was a dozen.
Joe, meanwhile, was talking nonstop with the groundskeepers and seemed to know everything they were telling him about the type and length of the grass, the lawnmowers, and various field maintenance techniques. They didn’t seem to be smarter or better at their jobs than him; there were just more of them, and they had a much bigger budget.
At around 4pm, I peeked over the center field wall:
The Angels were starting to warm up along the left field foul line, so I decided to head over to the outfield seats. Of course, I felt a bit guilty about snagging baseballs in an empty stadium long before the general public was allowed to enter, but hell, why not? I’d suffered enough in New York, and now that I was living large nearly 3,000 miles away, I figured I’d take advantage.
So much for that. I was stopped by an usher, and since I didn’t have any credentials, he forced me to stay near the dugouts until the stadium opened at 5:30pm. Ugh!! Look at all these empty seats that were suddenly off-limits:
Since there wasn’t much to do, I took three more pics from where I was sitting. Here’s the first:
Here’s the second . . .
. . . and here’s the third:
While I was sitting there, a ball rolled onto the warning track behind 3rd base, and when Angels infielder Jose Lind wandered over to retrieve it, I got him to toss it to me. (Yay!) That was my 748th lifetime ball, and this was the seventh different major league stadium at which I’d snagged one.
When the gates opened at 5:30pm, I raced out to the seats along the left field foul line and managed to snag one more — a slicing line drive by Rafael Palmeiro that deflected off a player’s glove and rolled close enough to me that I was able to lean over the low wall and grab it.
That was my final ball of the day. Why? Because the Orioles were in town, and soon after they started hitting, I decided to camp out along the right field foul line in an attempt to get Cal Ripken Jr.’s autograph. He wasn’t just my favorite player; I pretty much worshipped him and was willing to stray far from my normal routine to be near him.
Long story short: Ripken was two weeks away from breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, there was a mob of fans six rows deep, and I didn’t get close.
As for me and Joe, the Angels had hooked us up with decent seats for watching the game, but not for snagging baseballs. Check out the view:
I really wanted to move closer to the action, but Joe was worried about getting caught, so we stayed there for a while, and I hated it. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve wandered off on my own, but (a) I was exhausted and (b) I enjoyed his company.
Eventually, in the spirit of exploring a new stadium, we headed to the upper deck. Here’s a bad photo I took of the view . . .
. . . and here’s a better photo of the two of us:
That photo amuses me greatly. Look at Joe wearing a shirt! Ha-HAAAA!! He looks so lost and confused — or maybe he was just pissed off to be babysitting me. I can joke about this now because Joe and I have become great friends, and we’re still very much a part of each other’s lives, nearly two decades later. (You might remember this photo of us from 4/26/13 at Safeco Field.)
Here I am with my two baseballs:
The Angels ended up winning the game, 6-4, despite two home runs by Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles. Ripken went 1-for-2 with a double, a walk, and a sacrifice fly, but the real hitting star was Angels 1st baseman J.T. Snow, who went 4-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs. Chuck Finley got the win, Troy Percival pitched a scoreless 8th inning, and Lee Smith closed it out for his 465th career save.
After the final out, I collected a bunch of ticket stubs. Here are eight of one kind . . .
. . . and here are a dozen more that were slightly fancier:
Twenty minutes later, with the seating bowl empty and the stadium lights dimmed, I made my way down to the front row and got Joe’s attention. He was on the field with several groundskeepers, and they waved me out, right past a security guard. (Ha!!) I grabbed a rake and briefly helped to smooth out a small patch of infield dirt — but here’s the coolest part of all: they drove me and Joe around on their little golf-cart thingie while they put away some equipment, and after a while, they took us inside the Angels’ clubhouse! There were still a few players milling about and . . . just wow. I didn’t recognize any of them, but I did see some famous names on the lockers, including Lee Smith. I’d never been inside a major league clubhouse before. It was unbelievably spacious, with big tables and couches and TVs all over the place — just like in the movies.
Finally, about an hour after the game had ended, the groundskeepers drove us out one of the exit ramps, where there were hundreds of young fans waiting for autographs, mashed up against a chain-link fence and screaming at me to come over and sign. Yes . . . me. I jumped off the golf-cart and walked over and said I wasn’t a player, but they didn’t care — or maybe they just didn’t believe me, and they begged me to sign anyway. So I did. And it was really fun. I got to pretend to be famous while dozens of teeny-boppers pushed and shoved to get closer.
I don’t remember how I escaped. There must’ve been another exit, and eventually I made it back to the hotel with Joe.
We still had one more game at Anaheim Stadium the following day, and I had one goal — well, two goals. Obviously I wanted to snag at least one ball to keep my streak alive, but I also *really* wanted to get Ripken’s autograph. I’d even gone so far as to buy a brand-new ball from a souvenir store just for this purpose.
Joe and I arrived at the stadium even earlier on Day 2 — right around lunchtime. In fact, we were there so early that there wasn’t any security, so we waltzed down the ramp and out onto the field and found the groundskeepers. Joe told me that he didn’t mind if I wandered off on my own, so I did, and of course I got nabbed by security. (Walk onto the field? No problem! Wander around the concourses? Busted! That makes sense.) Once again, I had no credentials, so I was glad when the guard believed my story enough to haul me back to the groundskeepers and ask if they knew me. Joe was gone at that point, but thankfully one of the guys said it was cool, so I rejoined them and helped set up the field for early BP.
Despite that little episode, there seemed to be less security in the stadium, so when BP started at 3pm, I snuck out to the seats behind the left field wall. Stupid me . . . I didn’t take any photos, and now, of course, all these years later, that area of the stadium has been reconfigured, so I’ll try to describe the setup. Basically, the entire section in straight-away left field was a dead zone. There was a gap behind the outfield wall, and the secondary wall behind it was much lower. (Does that make any sense?) In other words, if you were sitting in the front row in left field, you would’ve been well below the top of the outfield wall and therefore unable to see the field. For that reason, there was a small platform, built for the Angels’ relief pitchers, that jutted up above the unused seats and provided a view of the field. Scroll back up to the photo of the empty seats along the left field foul line, and you’ll see this blue platform in the background, approximately 50 feet to the right of the foul pole. Okay, now that you know all of that, you can imagine what it was like for me during the first portion of BP. I hid below that platform and stared up at the sky, hoping for a long home run to come flying my way and land somewhere near me in the seats. I ended up getting three balls out there before I was asked to leave. Joe was not too pleased with me at that point — we were guests of the Angels and were supposed to be acting like professionals — but I couldn’t help it. I was obsessed with getting baseballs and could not be contained!
Unfortunately, a short while later, Joe and I both got in trouble when we wandered off beneath the left field seats to find a drink of water. We were spotted by a guard who demanded to know who we were, and when we didn’t provide credentials to back up our story, they threatened us with arrest for trespassing, but merely kicked us out of the stadium instead. We weren’t worried — just embarrassed and pissed off and inconvenienced. Eventually we headed back inside the stadium via the Angels’ offices and picked up a pair of field passes on the way. I don’t know why we hadn’t received those in the first place. It certainly would’ve made things easier for everyone, but whatever. As far as I was concerned, the whole ordeal with security only added to the adventure, and I was excited to find out what would happen next.
Here’s what happened: Joe made me stay with him, which sucked because the regular portion of BP was just getting started. I wanted to hang out near the dugouts, but instead I had to follow him all the way out to the groundskeepers’ area in the deepest part of center field. On the way there, while walking behind the left field wall, I spotted a ball in the front row of the seats, and when I climbed up there and grabbed it, Joe nearly killed me. (Sorry, Joe. I love you.)
The game was scheduled to begin at 8:05pm, which meant the gates would open at 6:30pm. Therefore, I wanted to head over toward the Orioles’ dugout at around 6:15pm, and somehow I convinced Joe to let me. Again, all I wanted was an autograph from Cal Ripken Jr., and this seemed like the best way to make it happen — get there early, claim a spot in the front row, and hope for the best.
Well . . . look who happened to be standing around when I got there:
No, not the guy in the white t-shirt. See the man just beyond him, looking my way? That was Ripken! And I got him to sign my ball! And I got him to sign a ticket stub too! I was too happy for words, practically jumping out of my shoes as I ran out to right field. The stadium was just opening to the public, and my day was already complete. Of course that didn’t stop me from snagging more baseballs — a toss-up from Mike Mussina and two grounders that I scooped up by leaning out over the wall. Including the four that I’d gotten before the gates opened, I now had seven overall . . . plus two from the day before. I was happy with that, even if I did acquire several of them under sneaky circumstances.
Half an hour before the game, there was only one player who came out to sign autographs. Wanna take a guess who it was? Here’s a hint:
It was Ripken again (what a guy!) surrounded by cops and security, and can you blame him? If *I* had been on the verge of breaking Lou Gehrig’s record, I would’ve avoided the public, yet there he was, being super-accommodating. I didn’t get his autograph this time, but it was interesting to witness his technique. Before signing each item, he deliberately moved away from the stands so that no one could reach him.
Joe and I had better seats for this game. This was our view:
Did you notice Ripken in the on-deck circle? Ooh yeah. He ended up going 0-for-4, but he did draw a walk and score a run, and the Orioles won, 11-2. Rafael Palmeiro and Mark Smith hit home runs for Baltimore, while Jim Edmonds went yard for Anaheim. Mark Langston, the starting pitcher for the Angels, began the night with a record of 13-2 and lost to Scott Erickson, who threw a complete game. It’s fun to look back at all these old names.
Once again, I collected a bunch of ticket stubs:
Here are some more from the August 25th game . . .
. . . and just for the hell of it, check out the back of the stubs:
Heh. Gatorade . . . “For That Deep Down Body Thirst” When Capitalizing Every Word Still Leaves You Feeling Unsatisfied. Remember that slogan? I’m feeling very nostalgic right now for the 1990s.
Eventually, during the next season or two, I got a bunch of these ticket stubs signed. Here’s one from Troy Percival . . .
. . . and here’s another from Garret Anderson . . .
. . . but the best one of all was signed by My Man:
Cal Ripken Jr.
Now, as I’ve done with all my “Turn Back The Clock” blog entries, here’s my original handwritten journal entry (or in this case entries) about it. It started on August 23, 1995 — the day before the first game in Anaheim — when I was getting excited for the trip:
As you can see, August 24th was so busy that I didn’t get a chance to write, so I caught up on everything the next day. Here’s the part where Joe and I first entered the stadium:
Some things need to be bleeped. Deal with it:
Here are more details about being inside the Angels’ clubhouse:
Day 2 at Anaheim Stadium starts here:
My pen sucked:
Here’s where I wrote about getting busted by stadium security. What a bunch of schmucks:
To quote myself from the following spread, “CAL RIPKEN JR. SIGNED MY BASEBALL!!!” Feel the excitement of my 17-year-old self!! Yes!
I could’ve ended it here . . .
. . . but I figured I’d give you a little Joe Kelly bonus:
That’s all I got. Thanks for reading. If you still want more, here’s a complete list of all my other “Turn Back The Clock” entries:
1) June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
2) June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
3) July 1, 1998 at Three Rivers Stadium
4) July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
5) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
6) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
7) July 14, 1998 at Busch Stadium
8) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
9) July 18, 1999 at the Astrodome
10) September 24-25, 1999 at the Metrodome
11) May 9-10, 2000 at Olympic Stadium
12) July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium