If I hadn’t planned to be at this game several weeks in advance, I definitely would’ve skipped it. Not only were the Yankees in town (which meant the attendance would be much higher than usual), but the previous night’s game had lasted 16 innings! Just my luck. Even though the weather was perfect, I was certain that there wouldn’t be batting practice — yet here I was:
This was my second game of a five-day road trip, so there really wasn’t any chance to avoid it. The only thing I could’ve done was listen to my friend Brandon, who had originally tried to convince me to attend the previous game instead of this one, but there was a Bob Feller replica jersey giveaway the day before, and I wanted no part of that.
As Brandon and I walked around the stadium, I noticed a huge change in center field. I knew that the Indians had redone some stuff in the outfield, but wow! Look at all this open space just inside the gates:
I was stunned to see the batting cage set up:
Could it be?! Were the Yankees and/or Indians going to take BP despite having playing past midnight?!
Ha. No. This is what I saw an hour later when we got back from lunch:
No batting cage. No BP. Just bad luck and a lost opportunity.
Brandon is a professional videographer, and I had agreed to pay him to film me at each stadium on this trip, so we were both disappointed to cancel our video plans for the day. Without BP, it just wasn’t worth it.
Shortly before the stadium opened, this was the scene outside the center field gates:
That whole area had also been redone.
Just before entering, I had a nice conversation with a pair of Yankee fans named Bekah and Joe — more on them in a moment, but first, here’s what I saw in right field:
That’s Andrew Miller. He was throwing with one of the Yankees’ bullpen catchers, and I *really* wanted to get the ball from him because I thought it might be my only chance for the day. Joe and Bekah were standing beside me when I called out for it. Because there were so many Yankee fans everywhere, I was surprised when Miller looked over and tossed it in my direction. The ball tailed a bit, so I reached out in front of Joe to catch it, but he didn’t mind. He and Bekah wanted me to keep my streak alive, so if anything, they were glad to see the whole thing play out. I then gave the ball to Joe and told Bekah that if she didn’t snag one, and if I got another, I’d give it to her. Everyone was happy with that arrangement. Here they are:
A few minutes later, Bekah posted this tweet, and I’m glad to report that she did end up getting a ball on her own.
By the way, Joe and Bekah weren’t attending the game together. In fact, they didn’t even know each other until we all started chatting outside the gates.
There was lots of time to spare after that, so I wandered and took photos of the new configuration in right-center field. Not only had the bullpens been redone, but there was a new section of seats out there. First, here are the bullpens:
Here they are from the side:
In the photo above, the gap between bullpens (several steps higher than where that photo was taken) is a great spot to get a toss-up from the Indians, especially pre-game or whenever a pitcher is done throwing. They’ll have to exit the bullpen there in order to head down the steps to the field, so you’ll be right in their line of vision as they finish up and look for a worthy recipient.
Check out the glorious new cross-aisle in the right-center field seats:
The only bad thing about it is that it’s more than 400 feet from home plate, but balls DO land there. Also, just so you know, you can’t get into that section without a ticket for it, even during BP.
Look at all this weird platform-y space at the front of the section:
That’s concrete, so I assume that when balls land there, they bounce pretty far — perhaps all the way over the netting and into the bullpen. I don’t know because the STUPID GAME THE NIGHT BEFORE HAD LASTED 16 INNINGS AND NOW THERE WAS NO BATTING PRACTICE.
Back in the regular seats in right field, I ran into a guy named Nikhil who’d brought his copy of my latest book, The Baseball:
I signed it for him, and we chatted a bit, and then I headed back to my section in right-center. I had figured it would be great for batting practice with all the lefties on the Yankees’ roster, and it seemed like a good spot to hang out during the game, so I’d bought a pair of tickets there, including one for Brandon.
As you can see below, there was some action in the Indians’ bullpen:
A few minutes later, pitching coach Mickey Callaway tossed me my second ball of the day:
At 6pm (one full hour after the stadium opened), fans were finally allowed to leave the holding cell — I mean, the right field seats. As you might expect, everyone hurried toward the Yankees’ dugout for autographs:
I got some food (a grilled cheese, if you must know, with sharp cheddar and chorizo) and then headed over to the newly-renovated right field corner. Look at all this open space for fans to move around:
THAT is how a stadium should be designed. No one wants to be confined to their seat and/or to a covered concourse where they can’t even see the full arc of a fly ball. Open air and standing room is a winning combination.
Here’s something else that’s new and brilliant:
Remember the old bullpen down the right field line? Rather than completely tear it out or fill it in with something overpriced and gimmicky, the Indians built a staircase down to it. They only allow 25 people down there at once, I think, and there might even be a limit for how long you can stay, but that’s reasonable. Here’s what it looked like as I headed closer to the field:
Here’s the space itself:
Small. Cozy. Adorable. And what a nice opportunity for fans to see a unique part of the stadium. Bravo to the Indians for making their great stadium even better.
Here’s the view of the field from the old bullpen:
Here’s a panorama, taken by Brandon, that shows me sitting on the bench:
Back up in the concourse, I was blown away by all of the *quality* standing room that the Indians had installed near the right field corner:
In my expert opinion, a good standing room area must satisfy these two requirements:
1) Not be covered by anything, or at least not have an obstructed view, such as being tucked back underneath the overhang of the second deck. The standing-room areas down the left field line at Target Field, for example, are covered, but they still work because of the smart design. Have a look.
2) Not be more than 400 feet from home plate, or at least not much more. The party deck in deep left-center at Safeco Field, for example, is almost too far away but still within the limit of being acceptable. Have a look. You’re kind of far removed from the action out there, but you’re close to the bullpens, and you’re within shouting distance of the center fielder.
Does your local stadium have a good place to stand? Think about it. The answer is probably no, and that’s a real shame. Busch Stadium (see here) and Comerica Park (see here) both have standing room in the aisles in foul territory. Camden Yards, of course, has a magnificent standing-room area called the “Flag Court” down the right field line. Minute Maid Park has standing room below the arches in left-center. At PETCO Park, fans can stand in the cross-aisle in right field. And don’t even get me started with Kauffman Stadium. There’s standing room all over the place — in foul territory and also in right field. Anyway, you get the point.
Brandon and I headed back to our section before game time. Several players were warming up . . .
. . . including both starting pitchers:
That’s Danny Salazar on the left and CC Sabathia on the right. My, oh my.
As these guys walked off the field . . .
. . . I got a ball from Sandy Alomar Jr. — my third of the day:
Look how many people watched Salazar warm up in the bullpen:
Here’s a photo of him that Brandon took:
Indians security has a weird rule when pitchers are warming up. Basically, if you’re in the new section in right-center field, you’re not allowed to stand in the cross-aisle near the pitcher. There are poles that hold up the netting, and you have to stay on one side of a certain pole. It’s arbitrary and bizarre. Standing beside the pitcher is too distracting, but standing directly behind home plate is okay? Look at this photo I took after Salazar had finished:
There had been a bunch of people standing right there during his warm-ups. Here’s another look at that spot from farther back:
Anyone in the stadium can stand there. You don’t need a special ticket, but you can’t go past that barricade into the seating area.
One day earlier, I had been in touch with the Indians about doing something media-related at the game. As it turned out, they interviewed me live between innings . . .
. . . and it was broadcast on the jumbotron! I was not expecting that. When they said they’d film me in the 2nd inning, I figured the TV sideline reporter would come talk to me for a couple of minutes while the game was taking place. As it turned out, this interview was awkward as hell because (a) the entire Indians and Yankees bullpens were sitting right behind me, and (b) I heard my own voice booming back over the speakers with a slight delay. If I could do it all over again, I would probably undo this interview. That said, I think it turned out alright, and it was certainly nice of the Indians to give me the opportunity.
Every batter in the Indians lineup was right-handed (or at least hitting from the right side against Sabathia), so as the bottom of each inning was about to get underway, I ran over to the left field side. The first part of my route required me to head through the cross-aisle:
After passing through the barricade, I turned to the right, alongside Heritage Park:
Here’s what it looked like at the top of the stairs:
I kept going straight toward that tree in the middle of the previous photo, and when I reached the walkway, I turned left:
Then I headed toward and underneath the bleachers, eventually turning left into a tunnel in straight-away left field:
This was my view as I approached the field:
Here’s what it looked like on my left:
Look at all that space! And I was allowed to hang out there. And there was no competition! And of course there weren’t any home runs hit to left field the entire night. But hey, it was still fun to wander and, for a change, not have anyone yell at me or ask to see my ticket.
I don’t think I ever sat in my ticketed seat, but no one noticed or cared. I sat close enough, and there were a few empty seats, so whatever. Here’s what it looked like in right-center field:
This was the view to my right:
A little while later, I nearly did a double-take when I noticed this on the scoreboard:
See what I’m talking about? Hisashi Iwakuma had thrown a no-hitter against the Orioles.
As the Indians put the finishing touches on their 2-1 win, nearly everyone in the stadium was standing:
Even though the Indians didn’t appear to be heading to the playoffs, it was still a big moment because it knocked the Yankees out of first place.
Finally, as players from both bullpens walked across the field . . .
. . . a 50-something-year-old man in my section, who’d been heckling/disparaging me all night (and threatening not to let me catch any home runs even though he was trapped in the middle of the row in front of me), gave me the finger on his way out. He held the pose just long enough for me to pull out my camera and take a photo, but I’ll refrain from posting it here. Mainly I just wanted to capture the moment to remind myself of home.
• 537 balls in 75 games this season = 7.16 balls per game.
• 71 lifetime balls in 8 games at Progressive Field = 8.88 balls per game.
• 1,128 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 8,343 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.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $162.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009