Do you remember what I said in my last entry about the weather in Cincinnati? Basically, it’s unpredictable and infuriating, so don’t be fooled by the blue sky in the following photo:
That was the scene outside Great American Ball Park nearly seven hours before game time. I hadn’t planned to attend the Red Carpet Parade. It just happened to be taking place when I got there, so I hung out for 10 minutes and watched several players arrive, starting with Max Scherzer:
Jonathan Papelbon rolled up soon after, followed by Justin Upton and Matt Holliday. It was a true extravaganza, and while I was tempted to stay longer, I really just wanted to head to the left field gate and claim a spot at the front of the line. Here’s what it looked like as I made my way over there:
Great American Ball Park is confusing because there are multiple levels on the outside. In the photo above, do you see the ramp on the right (in the shade)? That’s the way to get up to the gates outside the second deck in left field. I wanted to enter on the 100 Level, so I stayed on the left (in the sun) and ended up here:
That’s me with a friend from California named Devin Trone — a fairly well-known ballhawk with more than 1,400 lifetime baseballs. He attends the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game every year and always hangs out in the outfield. And by the way, this photo of us was taken an hour and a half after I arrived at the gate; none of those people standing behind us were there at first.
Here’s one way that we passed the time:
In the photo above, Devin is being interviewed by a friend of mine from New York City named Muneesh Jain. During the season, Muneesh always seems to be traveling to various major league stadiums. He co-hosts a baseball podcast with his famous friend Anthony Rapp. It’s called The Clubhouse Podcast, so check it out. You might even find his interview with me outside Great American Ball Park if you dig through the archives.
Forty-five minutes before the gates opened, it started raining. OF COURSE. Look at this garbage:
Hang on a second. That photo doesn’t really show what was going on. Here’s a better look:
Thanks, Cincinnati. Way to treat an out-of-town guest and make him feel welcome.
Half an hour later, it stopped raining. Thankfully there was no more precipitation in the forecast, but now what? There was so much water everywhere! Look at this huge puddle outside Gate B:
Could the outfield dry out in time for batting practice, and if so, would the players and groundskeepers even bother? I figured I was screwed, but Muneesh had a more positive outlook.
“It’s the All-Star Game,” he said. “Of course they’re gonna take BP.”
Just before the gates opened at 4:30pm, I had to make a tough choice. Basically, the front row around the entire stadium was going to fill up with fans, so I had to pick my spot carefully. If there *was* going to be BP, I wanted to be in the outfield, but if the tarp was going to stay on the field all afternoon, then I wanted to be near one of the dugouts so I could try for a toss-up.
I picked the outfield, which was clearly the riskier but potentially more rewarding option. Here’s what the field looked like from my spot:
At 4:45pm, the National League All Stars strolled out to center field for a team photo:
Here they are posing for the throng of photographers:
As the players dispersed a couple of minutes later, I noticed half a dozen Dodgers posing for a smaller group photo:
At 4:53pm (23 minutes after the gates opened) several National Leaguers began playing catch along the right field foul line. And yeah, the tarp was still on the field:
But wait. Then I noticed all the BP screens sitting on the warning track:
What did that mean? That there was still a chance of BP taking place?
The forecast was supposedly clear, so what were the groundskeepers waiting for? With each passing minute, BP seemed less likely. I was THIS close to giving up on the outfield when I got a text from a friend who works for MLB (who wishes to remain anonymous). Here’s what it said:
“Hey it’s _______, just saw this come across my email.. BP TIMES: NL BP 5:35-6:15, AL BP 6:20-7.”
That made me sooooo happy. And sure enough, within a few minutes, the grounds crew began the process of removing the tarp:
As the small screens were rolled into place from the right field corner, the most important piece of equipment made an appearance. Behold the batting cage!
If I were more emotional (and unconcerned about my contact lenses falling out), I would’ve shed a few tears of joy, but instead I held it together.
In the previous photo, did you notice the American Leaguers starting to walk out from the 3rd base side? Here they are posing for their own team photo:
Look how many Royals there were:
A bunch of those guys were coaches, but still. Wow. That’s what happens when a team reaches the World Series the previous year and the manager gets to bring everyone. Hell, even bullpen catcher Cody Clark got to make the trip.
While all those guys were standing around, I noticed that Alcides Escobar had a ball in his hand, so after Nelson Cruz took a selfie with Hector Santiago, Albert Pujols, and Mike Trout . . .
. . . I called out in Spanish and got him to throw it to me. Unfortunately it was a Home Run Derby ball:
Yeah, I was glad to have gotten *a* ball, but I’d gotten two Derby balls the day before, so now I wanted a commemorative All-Star Game ball.
This was my view as the National League’s portion of BP got underway:
That might look nice to you, but as far as I was concerned, something very important was missing: the players’ kids. Where were they?! Was there a new rule that they couldn’t be out on the field at all before the All-Star Game? Remember my interaction the day before with Prince Fielder’s son Haven? He said he’d look for me during BP and hook me up with an All-Star Game ball — but if none of the National Leaguer’s kids were anywhere to be seen, that didn’t bode well for my chances of seeing Haven.
Eventually I got another ball tossed up from a random employee standing down below:
Bah!! Another Derby ball! And that was it for the National League. Here are the players jogging off the field:
Look how crowded it was on my right:
Here’s a photo, taken during the American League’s portion of BP, that shows the fans behind me trying to get a toss-up:
There was a middle-aged woman behind me (not pictured above) who was extremely rude and aggressive and actually shoved me a bit. She’d gotten angry when I snagged my second ball of the day, as if she were entitled to it and I had somehow wronged her. I hadn’t reached in front of her for it. I simply *was* in front of her, so in addition to being rude and aggressive, she also wasn’t too bright. What kind of strategy is it to stand directly behind someone who’s taller than you?
Much to her dismay, during the middle of American League BP, I got another toss-up from an employee down below. Much to *my* dismay, it was another Home Run Derby ball. I only saw one All-Star Game ball during BP, and it was being carried by an employee walking along the warning track, so basically, those balls were not in use, and that really sucked. When I become the commissioner of Major League Baseball, that’ll be my first order of business; if a commemorative ball is going to be used during a game, it must also be used during batting practice. Then I’ll worry about steroids and competitive balance and pace of game and instant replay and Pete Rose and all those other petty issues. And of course I’ll make sure that these annoying “fan entertainment crews” (or whatever they’re called) are not allowed on the field during BP. Look at these bozos:
The guy standing farthest away had a mini-basketball hoop and backboard attached to him. Its height was easily adjustable, so when his cohorts tossed little foam balls into the crowd and the crowd then chucked them back at the hoop, the guy would manipulate it (and bend, lunge, stretch, duck, etc.) so that it was in the right place every time and the ball would go in. As if that’s not annoying enough on its own, let me remind you that this took place DURING batting practice . . . when players were trying to hit home runs and launching ball after ball into the stands. It was so unsafe for the Reds to have this crew out on the warning track distracting fans that I wanted to jump down there and tackle them, but then I would’ve gotten kicked out of the All-Star Game, so I decided it wasn’t worth it.
Anyway, for those of you who aren’t aware, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances wears his height as his uniform number:
The dude is 6-foot-8. How cool is that? (Mark Teixeira practically looks 2-foot-5 when standing beside him.)
Late in BP, a home run was hit *right* to me, and as I reached out for it, a different aggressive fan lunged forward and swatted my glove with his, causing me to drop it. But I ended up getting the ball tossed to me anyway. It was a Derby ball, of course, as was the one I got right after BP. The final ball was also tossed up by an employee, and I handed it to the nearest kid. In case you lost count, I snagged five balls and kept four (and, for the record, helped/allowed several fans around me get balls).
Then I got some food:
The image on the left shows a pair of chili cheese dogs, and on the right? Nothing special. Just some vanilla ice cream with sprinkles. (You don’t wanna know what I ate for brunch. I went to Golden Corral and stuffed myself with so much unhealthy crap that you’d gain weight just from reading about it. And let’s not even talk about the drive-though meal I got after the game. I’m completely ashamed to the point of self-loathing.)
Eventually I wandered up to the second deck and photographed my baseballs:
Rather than sitting in my seat for all the pre-game ceremonies (which I’m never really interested in when watching on TV from home), I kept wandering. While the Reds were honoring Pete Rose and other major league legends, I was observing this:
I’m a terrible person, okay? I admit it. I enjoyed seeing that food cart topple over (I totally saw it coming), and then I loitered and gawked and tweeted about it, and now I’m continuing to talk about it here on my blog. I love watching Fail Army videos on YouTube (though not the ones where people get hurt, like all those ill-conceived bike jumps and skateboarding accidents). I can’t help it. When an old lady falls into a lake while clumsily getting off a boat or when a little kid lets an entire birthday cake slide off a tray and plop frosting-side-down on the carpet, it thoroughly delights me. And you know what? If I ever forget the basic laws of physics and something stupid and embarrassing happens to me and other people laugh, I’ll be fine with it. In fact, I hope someone gets it on video so I can laugh at myself later on.
Here’s where I sat during the game:
That photo was taken during Mike Trout’s at-bat in the top of the 1st inning, three pitches before he blasted a leadoff homer to right field off Zack Greinke, who hadn’t given up a run for about 14 years prior to that. When I’m the commissioner, I’m also going to make sure that the All-Star Game is renamed the “Mike Trout Game.” It has the same number of syllables, so why not? And c’mon, let’s face it, that’s who everyone was there to see. Don’t be fooled by the standing ovation that Reds fans gave The Toddfather. They’re all secretly in love with Mike Trout. And look, here’s the man himself at bat later in the evening:
I can’t remember what he did in that at-bat, but I’m sure it was something amazing. He finished the game 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored and won the MVP Award, so you know, whatever.
Even this guy was probably rooting for Mike Trout:
Look who was sitting in my row during the game:
That’s Haven Fielder — Prince Fielder’s son (and yes, he was wearing my glove). He told me that he and all the other players’ kids weren’t allowed to be on the field during BP. That was a huge bummer because he definitely would’ve hooked me up with an All-Star Game ball, and MAN, I really wanted one. The red stamping looked sharp. I had only snagged one red-stamped ball in my entire life: the 2000 All-Star Game ball. And you know what? I didn’t even attend the All-Star Game that year. I just happened to get lucky and snag a ball from it during BP later in the season. Now that I was *at* the 2015 All-Star Game and dying for one of the balls, I didn’t even come close. Funny how that works (and by “funny,” I mean “utterly depressing”). I was in a good spot for 3rd-out balls, but the players pretty much kept them all.
Shortly after I took the photo of Haven, his mother (Prince’s wife), Chanel Fielder, asked if she could get a photo with me. She said she was going to post it on Instagram, so I asked if I could tweet it and share it on my blog. The answer was yes, so here we are:
Chanel knew all about my baseball collection and said that her kids get more excited seeing me than they do with most players. Why? Because they meet players all the time, so what I do seems extra special. She was extremely friendly. I didn’t want to distract her from the game or intrude on her time with her boys, but she wasn’t concerned. She gladly chatted with everyone around her, including the four members of Brian Dozier’s family, who were sitting directly behind us. I also talked to them at length, and again, I was somewhat hesitant about the whole thing because I didn’t want to be a nuisance, but they kept asking me questions about my collection and all the stadiums I’d visited. I got a photo with them later on, but for now, I’ll just say that when Dozier hit an 8th-inning homer off Mark Melancon, it was pretty cool to high-five his wife.
In the 9th inning, I moved closer to the dugout:
Aroldis Chapman was pitching, and quite simply, he made the American Leaguers look like Little Leaguers. Look how hard he was throwing:
They had no chance. Brock Holt, predictably, struck out, as did the next two “hitters” — Mike Moustakas and Mark Teixeira. Even though the National League was losing, 6-2, at the time, it gave the crowd one final reason to get excited.
In the bottom of the 9th, Ryan Braun hit a leadoff triple and came home on a sacrifice fly by Brandon Crawford. That was it for the scoring. Final score: American League 6, National League 3.
I tried to get a ball from home plate umpire Tim Welke, but it was a lost cause. He only gave one away to someone on the field, and then he ignored everyone else and rushed out of sight.
Several minutes later, this was the scene:
Here’s what it looked like behind the 3rd base dugout:
My friend Ryan and his son, Will, came and found me:
They were nice enough to let me stay with them in Kentucky (10 minutes from the stadium) for three days.
Here’s Mike Trout doing his MVP thing on the Jumbotron:
While that was taking place, I got a photo with several members of Brian Dozier’s family:
The woman leaning in on the right is his wife, Renee. I’m not sure about the other two people, but they were all sitting together, so they’re probably related (or connected through marriage).
Here I am with Brian Dozier’s father-in-law:
They were all SO nice. During the game, I had asked if we could all get a photo together. They said yes, but then I never pushed for it, and in the 9th inning, I ended up moving closer to the field. I figured I’d lost my chance, so I was surprised when they all came and found me and suggested the photo. Brian was interviewed on the warning track at one point, so they probably headed down to see him and then noticed me standing nearby, but regardless of the motivation, it was a lovely gesture on their part.
Here’s Mike Trout heading off the field:
Here’s the stadium after most people had cleared out:
Here’s one last look at it from the Kentucky side of the river:
The whole All-Star experience was fun but stressful — just what I expected. And hey, on a final note, while I’m glad that Trout won the MVP, I’ll never be happy about the American League winning. Any league that doesn’t let the pitchers hit is lame and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
• 5 baseball at this game
• 423 balls in 57 games this season = 7.42 balls per game.
• 98 lifetime balls in 8 games at Great American Ball Park = 12.25 balls per game.
• 24 lifetime balls at 4 All-Star Games = 6 balls per game.
• 1,110 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 378 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 8,229 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 about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 22 donors for my fundraiser
• $156.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $190,268.58 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009