8/12/15 at Progressive Field

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:

1_zack_outside_progressive_field

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:

2_peeking_in_progressive_field_so_much_open_space

I was stunned to see the batting cage set up:

3_batting_cage_set_up_despite_16_inning_game_the_night_before

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:

4_no_batting_practice_of_course

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:

5_new_center_field_gates_setup

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:

6_andrew_miller_playing_catch

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:

7_ball8341_for_this_guy

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:

8_new_bullpen_setup_at_progressive_field

Here they are from the side:

9_new_bullpen_setup_at_progressive_field

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:

10_cross_aisle_in_new_section_in_right_center_field

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:

11_seats_and_weird_platform

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:

12_zack_and_nikhil_with_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:

13_indians_early_bullpen_session

A few minutes later, pitching coach Mickey Callaway tossed me my second ball of the day:

14_ball8342_from_mickey_callaway

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:

15_fans_entering_foul_territory

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:

16_new_open_right_field_corner

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:

17_staircase_down_to_the_old_bullpen

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:

18_approaching_the_old_bullpen

Here’s the space itself:

19_people_in_the_old_bullpen

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:

20_view_from_the_old_bullpen

Here’s a panorama, taken by Brandon, that shows me sitting on the bench:

21_zack_in_the_old_bullpen

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:

22_new_standing_room_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 . . .

23_pregame_throwing_in_the_outfield

. . . including both starting pitchers:

24_danny_salazar_and_cc_sabathia_warming_up_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

That’s Danny Salazar on the left and CC Sabathia on the right. My, oh my.

As these guys walked off the field . . .

25_roberto_perez_and_sandy_alomar_jr_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

. . . I got a ball from Sandy Alomar Jr. — my third of the day:

26_ball8343_from_sandy_alomar_jr

Look how many people watched Salazar warm up in the bullpen:

27_fans_watching_danny_salazar_wraming_up

Here’s a photo of him that Brandon took:

28_danny_salazar_warming_up_photographed_by_brandon_sloter

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:

29_behind_home_plate_in_the_indians_bullpen

There had been a bunch of people standing right there during his warm-ups. Here’s another look at that spot from farther back:

30_entrance_to_the_right_center_field_seats

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 . . .

31_zack_interviewed_between_innings_live_for_the_jumbotron

. . . 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:

32_leaving_right_center_field

After passing through the barricade, I turned to the right, alongside Heritage Park:

33_route_to_the_bleachers

Here’s what it looked like at the top of the stairs:

34_route_to_the_bleachers

I kept going straight toward that tree in the middle of the previous photo, and when I reached the walkway, I turned left:

35_route_to_the_bleachers

Then I headed toward and underneath the bleachers, eventually turning left into a tunnel in straight-away left field:

36_tunnel_to_the_bleachers

This was my view as I approached the field:

37_view_from_the_bleachers_08_12_15

Here’s what it looked like on my left:

38_bleacher_cross_aisle_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:

39_view_from_right_center_field_08_12_15

This was the view to my right:

40_view_to_my_right_08_12_15

Gorgeous!

A little while later, I nearly did a double-take when I noticed this on the scoreboard:

41_no_hitter_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:

42_everyone_standing_in_the_9th_inning

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 . . .

43_players_walking_across_the_field_after_the_game

. . . 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.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

44_the_two_balls_i_kept_08_12_15• 3 baseballs at this game (two pictured here because I gave one away)

• 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

CHARITY STATS:

pitch_in_for_baseball(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)

• $150,650.16 raised this season (including a $150,000 donation from the Yankees in exchange for my giving Alex Rodriguez the ball from his 3,000th career hit)

• $190,503.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

18 comments

  1. jvfuentes

    Can we all just close our eyes and go to a happy place where Jonathan Papelbon has already retired from baseball?

  2. jere

    “Can we all just close our eyes and go to a happy place where Jonathan Papelbon has already retired from baseball?”

    I’m already IN my happy place, since I’ve always loved Papelbon and now I love him more. But what does he have to do with this blog post?

  3. csohio

    Hey Zack,

    Wasn’t sure if you were being sarcastic, but are you saying that Kauffman Stadium has the best Standing Room in the MLB? I’m headed there for Game 1 of the ALDS. Are you planning on going to any playoff games?

    Also, do they allow retrieval devices at Kauffman?

    Best,

    csohio

  4. Zack Hample

    JVFUENTES-
    I think he’s a jerk, but he *has* thrown me a few baseballs over the years, so I can’t me THAT mad at him.

    JERE-
    The answer is nothing. But he was in the news recently.

    CSOHIO-
    Not sarcastic. I won’t say it’s the best standing room, but it’s solid, and there are several options. I would go for the huuuuuge tunnels behind 1st or 3rd base, about 20 rows back, which connect the seats to the concourse. But if you want to catch a home run, head to right field.

  5. jvfuentes

    He’s always seemed like the perfect example of the self-entitled frat boy a$$ to me. I did enjoy the river dance era though…
    Not related to this post, other than being a current event.

  6. jvfuentes

    So, out of curiosity, Jere, what is it that you love about him? Is it the fact that he assaults opponents with baseballs for perceived slights, or the fact that he assaults team mates for perceived slights in the dugout?

  7. David

    Weird how this turned into a Papelbon conversation (btw, his message was a good one, you should run out all fly balls! I didn’t agree with the delivery, however).

    Anyway and more importantly, good entry. Only missing a pic of the grilled cheese and chorizo (I find it interesting they sell chorizo in Cleveland!).

    Is it me, or have you stopped trying to get third-out balls? Are you going for an HR-only strategy (which is cool). Hope you had a good road trip!

  8. jvfuentes

    Just talking current baseball topics. As far as the message thing goes, granted he didn’t bust out of the box, but he would have made 1st base on an error. Maybe if the Nationals were in the chase, or in any game that mattered, (like WS, Game 7, 9th inning), there might have been cause to grief him, but given the situation, there was no call for that kind of bs.

  9. jvfuentes

    So…How about those Cubbies? Could this be the year? Arrieta for NL Cy?? How crazy would it be if Robert Zemekis actually made the right prediction? Pretty crazy!

  10. Rebecca Garnett

    Glad you liked the new renovations to the stadium, sorry about the heckler and lack of BP. It’s awesome you got a toss up from Sandy Alomar Jr. though, he was one of my favorite players growing up. Wish I would have known you’d be out this way, I would have gone to the game to say hi.

  11. Zack Hample

    DAVID-
    I took a photo of the grilled cheese, but it wasn’t too exciting. Tasted much better than it looked, at least in terms of how *I* captured it. You’re right about 3rd-out ball.s I still go for them on occasion, but I’m much more interested in catching home runs now.

    JVFUENTES-
    The only reason not to root for the Cubs is that Joe Maddon hates BP, so if he keeps winning, I’m concerned that other managers will try his anti-BP approach.

    REBECCA GARNETT-
    Sorry I missed you. I mentioned the trip ahead of time on Twitter, but I guess you’re not on there or just missed it. :(

  12. jere

    “So, out of curiosity, Jere, what is it that you love about [Papelbon]?”

    Fun-lovin’ dude, never boring, took my team to a championship. Like you, I was a fan in the Riverdance era, only I never stopped liking him. Even when he was run out of Boston, the media did the old “YOU hate him” trick with casual Red Sox fans, but eff that, I’ll just always love the guy. So when I was watching highlights, I almost spit out my drink when I saw him CHOKE Harper–it wasn’t quite as good as Varitek/A-Rod or Pedro/Zimmer, but one of the all-time classics moments. And while Harper isn’t a guy I think about much being an A.L. fan, from what I’ve seen of him, he’s…exactly the type of dude I’d want to see choked. (And I say this all in an “I would never actually physically hurt a person but it’s fun to live vicariously through athletes” kind of way.) Now enjoy this video I shot of him in NYC in 2005 trying to hail a cab, not realizing he had to wait his turn. Just because. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OmrGNCQjjQ

  13. Zack Hample

    REBECCA-
    You’re welcome. Hopefully we’ll run into each other soon.

    CAT LOVES THE DODGERS-
    I love Dodger Stadium and have a free place to stay near L.A. so I’ll probably be back there within the next year or two.

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