It was 7pm CT in Milwaukee, when my Dad (Jack) and I loaded up my Ford Explorer and headed out on our trek north of the border. We traveled under the cover of darkness in true tactical-style. By the time it was 9pm CT, we had already by-passed Chicago (home of the White Sox-Cukthefubs). Traveling through Michigan was a breeze and we were soon about to cross the border.
A few energy drinks and conversations later with my best buddy, Dear ol’ Dad, and we were at the border. There was only one lane open, due to the fact that it was 3am ET, so, we rolled right up. I handed the border agent our two passports and my sheriff’s badge.
“What brings you to Canada?” the border agent inquired. “Baseball, sir,” I responded.
“Who’s playing?” he asked. “Blue Jays vs. the Tigers, sir” I said.
“Where’s your birth certificate?” he asked. “I thought the passports would suffice, sir” I stated.
When he realized there wasn’t a third passenger, he asked me, “why did you hand me your badge?” I responded, “professional courtesy, sir. Another form of photo indentification.”
“Okay,” he said. “Where are your tickets?”
“They are being held at will call, sir” I responded.
“No, I mean where in the stadium?” he asked.
“Oh, we will be seated in the left field bleachers, sir” I said.
He responded, “so, you brought your ball glove, then?”
To which I happily responded, “yes sir!”
“Alright, go ahead” he said, as he handed back my passports and badge.
“Thank you sir” I said, as we proceeded across the border and into Canada.
He asked me if I brought my glove! I think 2009 is going to be a great season. Funny stuff.
After breakfast at Denny’s, we arrived at our hotel in downtown Toronto around 9am ET. We were able to check into our hotel early because they were expecting me. No, just kidding…but we did get to check in early : )
My Dad and I took a nap until about 1 pm ET because we had driven through the night. Lord knows I can’t ballhawk on zero sleep.
Around 3pm, we headed to the stadium.
SECTION 137 ROW 4 SEATS 101 & 102
ENERGY DRINKS-sometimes, a ballhawk’s best friend.
Here’s an interesting sign that was posted at all entrances of the stadium…
Alcohol sales were suspended on 4/7/09 game due to a bunch of drunken idiots the night before. Didn’t bother me a bit…I don’t drink and ballhawk. They don’t mix.
We then headed to find the gate to which we would be entering the stadium.
Here I am freezing my **** off outside GATE 11. This gate would lead me directly to the left field lower section (100 level) of bleachers.
The gates to the stadium were opening at 530 pm. It was only 4pm. So, my Dad and I headed into the Renaissance Hotel Bar called “Arriba.” I had a Diet Coke. My Dad had a house beer.
We watched the Blue Jays take BP. I noticed that most of the baseballs hit into the stands were bouncing in either the left field bullpen or the lower section of bleachers in left field. None too many baseballs were finding their way into the 200 level of bleachers, hmmm.
One baseball that did make it’s way into the 200 level came to a rest in the bottom of the aisle. There was nobody around, hmmm again. 10 minutes passed…20 minutes passed…30 minutes passed…the baseball was still there. Would it still be there when I get into the stadium?? Hmmm. I counted the sections over where I might find that baseball upon gate opening. Fingers-crossed.
It’s now about 430 pm. Time to give Zack Hample a call. If you don’t know who Zack Hample is, you might want to climb out from underneath that rock. Zack is a great baseball fan with a great website. Zack’s love of the game rivals my own and Zack is pretty damn good at snagging baseballs, too.
The Zack-man and I compared some notes and we agreed to meet outside GATE 14.
Zack proved to be a stand-up guy. Through e-mail correspondence, it felt like we were brothers. This proved to be an accurate assessment after meeting him in person.
530 pm – gates to the stadium opened.
I was now entering the stadium through GATE 14. I raced down the walkway to the left and into the 200 level. I shot through the first tunnel I spotted that would lead me to my potential easter egg find. I counted the sections over and looked to the ground. It was not there!! Wait a minute…ahah! There it was. Lying there so innocently on the bottom row-yet to be claimed-until now.
After claiming the easter egg, I raced down another level to the 100 level bleacher seats where I would set up camp for the time being.
Tigers LF Carlos Guillen was taking warm-up fly balls directly in front of me. I had on my #35 Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers jersey. When a baseball came near him, I yelled out, “dame la bolla, por favor, senor Guillen!” He turned and without looking threw a baseball to a guy standing about 20 feet to my right. The guy muffed the toss-up and it dropped onto the bullpen net and rolled down. When I yelled out, “that’s okay, the next one,” Guillen realized he had thrown it to the wrong guy.
About 5 minutes later, Guillen retrieved another baseball. I yelled out once again, “por favor, senor Guillen!” This time, he fired a perfect seed right into my waiting mitt.
Upon further inspection of ball #2, I discovered this…
The Detroit Tigers were using International League baseballs!! No wonder they couldn’t hit anything out. These baseballs have a waxy, fake leather feel to them. If you hold an official Major League baseball in one hand and in the other hand, you hold one of these, it’s easy to feel the difference.
Another 10 minutes passed, with very little action in the bleachers. The Tigers appeared to have left their power strokes back in Detroit. Then Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera had their turn to hit. With that power coming up to hit, I headed back up to the 200 level.
The bottom level (100 level) of bleachers were definitely more crowded than the 200 level. But, there was a better chance of a ball being hit to the bottom level than the top level.
A few minutes passed and neither of the big sluggers was hitting anything. I was getting a bit frustrated, since my main focus of ballhawking has always been retrieving batted balls.
Time for PLAN B…just ask for the damn ball.
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was shagging BP out in left field. After about 5 minutes of yelling, my aforementioned #35 VERLANDER jersey finally paid off. Justin turned and lofted one to me in the second level. I had to reach way out over the railing but did manage to catch it. “Thanks!” I yelled out to him. Another International League ball.
I moved out to left-center where Tigers pitcher Juan Rincon was shagging BP. I yelled out to him in Spanish. He didn’t respond. A minute later, I tried it again. No response.
Okay, fine. Keep trying.
Finally, a ball was hit in the gap where he had to run over in my direction. I was standing in the front row holding up my glove. He tossed it to a fan about 30 feet to my right.
I wasn’t about to give up. Another ball was hit to him. I asked one more time in Spanish. He turned and looked at me. I held up my glove and he tossed it to me for #4.
International League ball? YUP…cheapskates.
The Detroit Tigers portion of Batting Practice was really frustrating me. There were maybe a handful of opportunities to snag a baseball on the fly for the whole bleacher area. None in my vicinity. I hadn’t seen BP this bad since the Pirates came to Milwaukee County Stadium. eesh!!
BP ended in quiet fashion.
Understand, I’ve made my ballhawk living snagging batted balls. When no batted balls are hit, times are not as good.
Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson was now in the bullpen warming up for the game. I seated myself in the front row above the Tigers pen.
One of Jackson’s pitches got away from him and bounced off a metal structure located near the Tigers bullpen. Tigers bullpen coach Jeff Jones retrieved it. He looked down at the ball.
I knew exactly what he was thinking. He was looking to see if that baseball had a scuff on it or not. Then he started looking up into the stands with the baseball concealed in his hand. Again, I knew exactly what he was thinking. He was trying to find a Detroit Tigers fan.
So, I stood up and held up my glove. We made eye contact and he lofted it up to me.
As you can see in the picture above, the baseball Jeff Jones tossed up to me not only had a deep indented tear (over the “BA” in BASEBALL and directly above the SELIG portion of Bud’s signature), but it also had a rough looking black scuff on it, as well.
Right before the start of the game, my Dad and I went to the food stands for a little pre-game meal…
After consuming those two gut grenades, I made a donation to a charity called JAYS CARE…
My lovely wife and her family have taught me some valuable lessons over the past few years. If you’re in a good situation in life, share some time, money and talents with those in need.
Around the 4th inning, another great MLBlogger and I met for the first time.
Jeremy at HomerFoodandHistory stopped by to say hello. Jeremy’s a great guy who lives about 40 minutes from Toronto. He told me he wore his Brewers #4 Molitor jersey just for me…thanks!!
Here’s a picture of Jeremy and I meeting for the first time…
Jeremy and his friend Charles retreated back to their box seats (!!) and we agreed to meet up after the game.
Speaking of the game: Here was the view of the game from our seats…
That area in the bottom of the above photo is the black hole they call a bullpen. Nothing chaps my **** more than a big fat ol’ bullpen right in home run territory. Way to design a park where 20% of home run balls never reach the seats…stupid.
Of course, I think this way because I’m a ballhawk.
The game was uneventful until Scott Rolen jacked one directly over our heads to the 200 level seats above us. It was the 1st home run of the game and it was the 8th inning, I believe.
The Blue Jays ended up winning the game 5-4 on a sac fly in the bottom of the 9th by Rod Barajas.
After the game concluded, I was directly above the Tigers dugout. I was waiting for home plate umpire Jerry Layne to exit the field. I yelled out to him, but with the crowd going nuts, he could not hear me and disappeared into the dugout.
After the game, we again met up with Zack Hample. Zack offered to show us his hotel room inside the stadium that looked out over right field. We took him up on the offer.
Another shot…this time using the flash…
Zack, I forgot to ask…what’s the story with the YSOP shirt?
For anyone interested in my totally awesome shirt…it’s now on sale for the very modest price of $13.99 ppd. Only available at www.milwaukeeshirtguys.com
To wrap up our day, my Dad and I again met up with Jeremy and his friend Charles. They took us to a nice little Italian-style bar where we enjoyed a few adult beverages.
So, that concludes my 2009 regular season ballhawking debut.
Final haul for the day…
It’s gotta be the shoes!!
2009 BALLHAWKING STATS
- 5 Total balls 4/7/09
(1 ball hit-easter egg)
(4 balls thrown)