Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from 2008 when the Rays and Blue Jays played a regular-season series at a Spring Training stadium in Florida. (Remember that? No? Well, it was fun as hell.) Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!
Day Two of the Tampa Bay Rays’ three-game series at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex was not quite as good. I should’ve had another double-digit performance but ran into some bad luck early on.
Once again, the berm was nice and empty for the first five or ten minutes of batting practice . . .
. . . and then things got insane:
Just like the day before, I didn’t catch any home run balls, and part of the reason was that many other fans were being aggressive, and I wanted no part of it. The pushing and shoving that ensued nearly every time a ball sailed over the wall was downright scary. I’d never seen anything like it. During one scramble in which half a dozen fans were tumbling and rolling down the hill on top of each other, a little kid got kicked in the face by an old man and immediately started shrieking as blood began gushing out of his nose. Paramedics rushed over and took care of him, but it was an ugly scene that left me feeling bad for a while.
On top of that . . . ready for this? Not one, not two, but THREE different players threw balls to me and missed. All three went over my glove. James Shields missed by two inches. Shannon Stewart missed by two feet (and shrugged when he saw someone else get it). A.J. Burnett missed by ten feet. I don’t know what he was doing other than teasing me. I had gotten his attention by running up the hill to the back of the berm. There wasn’t anyone behind me — just some bushes, a fence, and a few trees. Well, he fired the ball into the trees, and that was that.
Thankfully, with the help of my friend Leigh and the string tied to my glove, I was able to swing the glove out and knock a ball back toward me that had landed in the fenced-off gap (which you can kind of the see in the pic above) beside the berm. That was the only ball I got during the Rays’ portion of BP, and I only managed one more, courtesy of Jeremy Accardo, when the Blue Jays were on the field. I wasn’t even able to get any of the players to toss me a warm-up ball when they first came out to throw.
I had exactly two baseballs when BP ended, by which time I was standing in the front row behind the Jays’ dugout on the 3rd base side, and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to get down there. The staircase leading to the dugout was backed up six rows deep with fans, and the entire front row was full, except for a little one-foot space where I squeezed in. I got a few funny looks from the fans around me, but they didn’t really care; they were all yelling for autographs and taking pictures, and as a result I got two balls tossed to me within a minute. The first ball (which I later gave away to a young mother for her child) came from some random coach-type dude that I couldn’t recognize, and the second came from Alex Andreopoulos, the bullpen catcher. This made me feel a little better.
I grabbed a seat a few rows back and caught up with a 14-year-old baseball collector named Michael who had emailed me last week to say he’d be attending all three of these games at Disney.
He had snagged a few balls earlier in the day during BP, and we were talking about it when another guy who looked to be in his 40’s walked over and asked me if I was Zack. I said I was, and he introduced himself as “Jim from St. Louis” and said he loved my blog and had been reading it for quite some time. He then pulled out a Ziploc bag with a brand new baseball and asked me to sign it on the sweet spot:
Jim said he didn’t know about these games at Disney until he read about it on my blog. He knew almost everything about my collection, and he apologetically asked a bunch of questions and kept saying he didn’t want to bother me. I didn’t feel bothered at all. It was great to meet someone who shared my passion. That’s all there was to it, and we kept running into each other throughout the night.
I still had a little time to spare before the game, so I went to the upper deck and took some pics of the stadium. Here are two of them which I photoshopped together to make a cheap panorama:
I tried to get a ball tossed to me before the game, but had to settle for a little comedy instead. I don’t know, this might be an old joke, but I’d never seen it. Basically, the Rays’ mascot snuck up on Blue Jays catcher/first baseman Rod Barajas and imitated all of his stretches. Just about every fan along the foul line was cracking up during the first minute or so because Barajas (who had been lying on his side) had no idea that the mascot was behind him. Eventually Barajas rolled over and flinched. He wasn’t acting. He literally jerked back in fright, then jumped up and chased the mascot who taunted him from a distance with semi-crude gestures. It was hilarious. And it kept going. When Barajas continued stretching, the mascot lay back down and kept imitating him.
With Roy Halladay pitching for the Blue Jays and the wind blowing from left to right, I figured there’d be a lot of foul balls heading my way on the open concourse along the right field foul line. I know I already shared two pics of this concourse in my last entry, but I need to show another because it was THAT awesome:
With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, B.J. Upton sliced a foul pop-up in my general direction. I ran 20 or 30 feet to my left, never taking my eye off the ball. A few gloveless guys standing behind the last row of benches took a step back and reached up. The ball missed their hands by two feet and landed in the pocket of my glove.
“You made that look easy,” said a voice from behind.
Umm, that’s ’cause it was.
A few innings later, there was another foul ball that I easily would’ve caught on the fly, but some bozo reached up with his hat at the last second and deflected it. Other than that, the only action on the concourse consisted of a father of one of the kids on a little league team recognizing me from YouTube. During one of the inning breaks, I walked over to the kids and had them gather around me while I demonstrated the glove trick. You could say that they loved it.
Matt Stairs hit two home runs — a bomb to right-center in the 2nd inning (which Leigh predicted) and an equally long blast to straight-away right in the sixth — and when he came to bat in the eighth, there was NO mention on the jumbotron of what he’d done earlier in the game:
As you can see, all we got was a mug shot, and that’s how it was for every player all night. Sorry but that’s lame. Disney World or not, the people who run a stadium should keep the fans informed of who’s done what. Some of us, after all, are too busy running around for foul balls to follow all the action.
Despite Stairs’ two dingers and a solid eight-inning performance by Halladay, the Jays were losing, 5-3, when Troy Percival took the mound in the ninth for the Rays. Gregg Zaun led off and ripped a foul line drive into the right field corner. I ran to the back of the concourse, pretty much to the spot where I took the pic of the jumbotron, and when Rays right fielder Nathan Haynes jogged over to retrieve the ball, I got him to toss it up to me. That was my sixth ball of the day and I got one more after the game from home plate umpire Mike Everitt. It was funny — there were a few cheerleader-type girls dancing on the dugout roof and Everitt had to wait for them to dance out of the way so he could toss me the ball. Oh, and I also got a lineup card:
• 7 balls at this game
• 77 balls in 7 games this season = 11 balls per game.
• 503 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 111 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 791 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 23 lifetime game balls outside of New York (not counting game-used balls that are thrown into the seats)
• 114 lifetime game balls
• 3,354 total balls