Let me start by saying this:
Who’s Alex Katz? He’s a guy I met several years ago at Citi Field. We were both trying to catch baseballs in the left field seats, and after crossing paths at several other games, we became friendly. It turns out that he’s an amazing baseball player — a left-handed pitcher, to be specific, who was drafted last year out of St. John’s by the Chicago White Sox. Three months and two rookie ball teams later, he wrapped up his first pro season with a 2.20 ERA and solid numbers across the board. He began this season with a Class A team called the Kannapolis Intimidators, which, in case you don’t know or are too lazy to look it up, is based in North Carolina. That’s quite a distance from my home in New York City, so when Alex told me that he’d be playing in Lakewood, New Jersey for a few days, I made a point of going to see him.
The drive took about an hour and a half:
Parking was cheap . . .
. . . and the stadium was teeny:
It had been several years since I’d attended a minor league game, and I’d forgotten just how laid-back and fun the atmosphere is. Before the stadium officially opened, I asked one of the ticket people if there was a bathroom I could use. Two minutes later, I was standing inside the team’s front office/reception area:
It was, indeed, THAT easy. No attitude. Just friendly people who genuinely wanted me to have a good time.
I should mention that I’d driven down from New York with a videographer — not Brandon (who normally films me) or Jeff (who had joined me in San Diego for the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game), but a new guy named Josh. Here he is setting up his camera:
We moved closer to the stadium for the opening shot. Then I picked up our comp (and rather large) tickets, courtesy of Alex:
In the photo above, those are Alex’s parents, Adrian and Gary. I can’t even begin to imagine how proud they must be of their son.
FirstEnergy Park doesn’t open to the general public until one hour before game time, but because I was hanging with a player’s family, I received VIP treatment and got inside an extra half-hour early. This was the result:
That ball was thrown to me by The Man himself — Alex Katz. Here he is waving to me:
I had lots of room to run on a grassy berm. This was my view to the left . . .
. . . and to the right:
Unfortunately, though, no one could hit worth a damn, and BP ended five minutes later, so the ball from Alex was the only one I got. (I don’t count minor league games/balls in my stats, so whatever.)
After BP, I wandered over to the 3rd base dugout and caught up with these guys:
The man on the left is named Scott, and he was super-friendly. He had recognized me outside the stadium and actually given me a brand-new South Atlantic League ball, just to be nice and make me feel welcome. He and I ran into each other throughout the day, and I truly appreciated his kindness.
While the BlueClaws took infield/outfield practice, I got some waves and hellos from a bunch of kids on the warning track:
Some of them recognized me from YouTube and were excited to see me here with a cameraman, so that felt good.
A little while later, I caught up with Alex outside the clubhouse:
He had actually poked his head out to have a quick word with his family, so I seized the moment and grabbed a photo with him.
I’m only going to post three screen shots from the video in this blog entry. Here’s the first:
That’s what I had for dinner — chicken teriyaki. It was VERY good, so if you ever find yourself at this stadium, look for it. There’s a little stand on the 1st base side.
Here’s what I had for dessert — Oreo churros:
Ohhhh yes. I stayed nice and full after that for the rest of the game.
Here’s what the right field berm looks like:
Everything was calm and relaxing out there, as you can see:
Here’s the batter’s eye:
If there had been more than a few minutes of batting practice (and if anyone had any power), that walkway would’ve been useful because I could’ve used it to run back and forth from left field to right field.
This was my view for the first half of the game:
I was sitting right in front of Alex’s parents. (There’s a shot of them in the video.) At that point I was wearing my glove more for protection than because I actually expected to snag any baseballs, but look, it happened!
Did you notice the ballboy giving me a thumbs-up in the background? He tossed me that ball because he recognized me. I think his name is Paul. (I hope I’m remembering that correctly. I sometimes suck with names.)
Here’s a selfie with Alex’s parents and two of Alex’s friends:
In the photo above, the guy with the sunglasses on his head is named Randy. The guy wearing the light blue cap is named Steve, and if he looks familiar, that’s because he’s been working for the Mets forever.
Here’s the second screen shot:
I think that’s self-explanatory.
In the middle innings, I moved near the Intimidators’ bullpen down the left field line:
Did you notice Alex (No. 10) warming up the left fielder? He’s a reliever, so I kept waiting and hoping that he’d get in the game.
This was my view with an inning or two remaining:
Alex didn’t get to pitch, and to make matters worse, his team lost. On the positive side, there was an on-field Pokémon GO promotion after the game, so I got to hang out with him on the warning track:
We decided to do a little interview for the video. Here’s the final screen shot as proof:
After saying goodbye to him, I wandered into center field:
That’s where I did the closing shot for the video, and on the way out, I took a panorama in the concourse behind home plate:
Do you remember Scott from the photo after BP near the 3rd base dugout? Here’s a photo of the trunk of his car:
He’s a photographer and yeah . . . also an autograph collector.
As for the video, CLICK HERE to watch it. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten a ton of comments from people asking/telling me to attend minor league games in various places. I appreciate that, and while I *did* have fun at this game, I just want you to keep this in mind. Perhaps I’ll go watch Alex play somewhere else next year. In the meantime, I’m happy to report that he was recently promoted to the Winston-Salem Dash and made history in his first appearance, ending Francisco Mejia’s 50-game hitting streak. I’m rooting like crazy for Alex, and I hope you do too. If you see him, tell him that Zack in New York says hi.