I spend a lot of my time on social media these days, and by doing such, find myself drawn into those personality quizzes. “What background character from The Simpsons Are You?” Or “What Color is Your Aura?”
I’ve become pretty good at just letting my eyes gloss over as I skim past them. Recently, however, was one that caught my eye and wouldn’t let go. The question posited was the following:
“Who is your favorite MLB players by position during YOUR lifetime…this is pretty tough if you’re a fan.”
I initially looked at it and assumed it would be a lot easier than it wound up being. Most of the “starters” were who I expected, but some of the competition was a LOT closer than I would have imagined. With the All-Star teams being announced today, in that same spirit, I present the Trippin’ Baseballs All-Time (so far) Team of My Lifetime.
C – Catcher was initially one of the more difficult positions for me to fill. Remember, we are looking to favorites, not necessarily “best.” I had almost settled for Mike Piazza, who once signed a baseball for me until I remembered another catcher who signed my baseball. The most beloved backup catcher in MLB history “Grandpa” David Ross. Ross always seemed to come through in the clutch, be it a meaningless Arizona spring game or Game 7 of the World Series. His presence and contributions during the Series certainly didn’t hurt his candidacy.
Runners up: Geovany Soto and Willson Contreras. Sense a theme yet? I promise the rest of the list isn’t ALL Cubs, but having a Rookie of the Year credit for the former and a World Series ring for the latter are pretty hard to argue against.
1B – First base was almost a slam dunk. Anthony Rizzo gets the nod here. Again, World Series credit, but here’s the thing. I’ve loved Rizzo since he was in the Red Sox system. I don’t know where I would have read his story, but I have an ex-roommate who was a diehard Red Sox fan, so I’m assuming he had something to do with it. When Rizzo was traded to the Padres, I told my brother to keep an eye on Rizz. That he would be a good one. (The rest of my family are Padre fans. I don’t know how to get them on the right (Cub) side.) In fact, I saw Rizzo’s last at bat as a Padre when he struck out against Andrew Cashner–who he would be traded for within a few brief weeks.Enough background. Anthony is an amazing team leader who is one of the type first basemen in the league. He stuck it out during the Cubs’ 100 loss seasons and led the team to the promised land in 2016 and for that, I salute you, Mr Rizzo. All that and I didn’t even touch on his amazing charity and community service work for sick children, a cause very close to my heart.
Runners up: Mark Grace and JT Snow. At my very first Cubs Convention ever I was an ill prepared, awkward 14 year-old. Unlike these days, there was a special pre-convention luncheon with many of the current and former players in a much less crowded setting than at the convention itself. At the time I had a PE and Study Skills teacher who had spent some brief time in the majors, which to me made him the coolest guy ever. He had also played baseball with Mark Grace at SDSU. When he learned I was going to the convention he told me to use his name if i got to meet Grace. I got my chance at this luncheon, and though its entirely possible Grace didn’t remember this guy at all, he was very kind to me and treated me like my teacher was his best friend who asked him to take care of me. It was a great experience. J.T. Snow was the Angels first baseman when I was working on a project for my church and contacted the Angels to see if they could set me up with something from him since his uniform number was significant to our pastor and the fact that he was an Angel tied into that. In addition to the item for the pastor (which I cannot, for the life of me think of) enclosed in the envelope was a signed card addressed to me. While I’m now sure that was courtesy of the PR/Community Relations Department, at the time I’d swear it was from Snow, himself. In other news, it broke my heart when he signed with the Giants. Still stings a bit.
2B – Second base was really no contest at all. For a long time my all-time favorite player was Ryne Sandberg…things may have slightly altered that ranking in the intervening years, but he is very strongly in my top-3 players of all time, which does have a certain amount of fluidity to it. I’ve already explained how i became a Cubs fan, in large thanks to the unknowing contributions of Mr Sandberg. I still collect his cards when I can find them and one year at the Cubs Convention I had the good fortune to get a jersey signed and had about 30 seconds to let him know what he meant to me. I think I managed to convey that without looking too stupid. Hopefully that won’t be the last chance I get to talk to him.
Runners up: Roberto Alomar and Javy Baez. I grew up in San Diego and was starting to get into baseball in a big way almost around the same time that Roberto Alomar was getting his first at bats with the Padres and I was a fan from the beginning. I even rooted for him in Toronto, which made me, more or less an ancillary Blue Jays fan. I remember hearing that he lived i the hotel that overlooked the field in the SkyDome (yes, SKYDOME! I don’t need no Rogers Centre) and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Not that he would get to ever watch a ballgame from his apartment, but the idea of it all. I got to meet Robby a few weeks ago and while not overly chatty, he was perfectly pleasant and signed my ball and posed for a photo, so he’s aces in my book.
I liked Javy Baez when the Cubs drafted him and lot of those human interest stories came out and I learned about his MLB logo tattoo and his overwhelming confidence in himself. That hasn’t changed at all, but this year he has become a more complete ball player, and I only slightly hesitate when I claim that he has become one of the elite players in the league. If he is not a 2018 All Star I will riot,
SS- We finally reach one of the players that I didn’t ever get to see on regular basis, Cal Ripken. I do distinctly remember his chase to Gehrig’s consecutive games record. For the record-breaking game I know I made sure to get my tiny baby brother and hold him in front of the TV and told him what it was that he was watching and that it was doubtful that any of his friends could honestly tell him that they had seen the game as well. I have since learned a lot more about Ripken and read his autobiography and it’s nice to know that I was a good judge of character, even way back in my youth.
Runner up: Nomar Garciaparra. In the crop of young talented shortstops that all sort of burst onto the scene at the same time, including Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada, I was always partial to Garciaparra. I’m sure part of it was his wacky name, but even more, he was a great 2 way player. He could hit up a storm and then go out and make some amazing plays in the field. In fact, I was so taken by “Nomah” that somewhere in the back of my closet is a #5 Red Sox jersey. I’m not overly proud of owning the jersey, since I now hate the Sox, if you could keep this just between us I’d appreciate it.
3B -Here’s the slam dunk. Easiest entry on the list, right? Welllll, not quite. I mean, once I got my head on straight yes it was simple, but initially one of my runners-up gave me a reason to step back and reexamine things. So yes, my third baseman is quite obviously my man-crush, Kristopher Bryant. I had a chance to meet Bryant after a USD alumni game and he couldn’t not have been nicer to the few of us waiting for him. He signed anything and everything with any inscription you wanted and posed for photos for everyone who wanted one. He was continued this benevolence to the fans even now as a bonafide superstar. The only difference is the size of the crowd and accessibility. Deep down he’s still just the kid from Vegas, playing in Chicago by way of San Diego. By the way, it also doesn’t hurt Bryant’s case that 4 of my siblings are USD alumni,.
Runner up: Ken Caminiti. Cammy was the Padres third baseman during their improbable World Series run in 1998. He was a creature of almost mythical tales. The Padres had a series in Mexico agains the Mets and something that Cammy had done (nothing in small measures) left him lying on the trainer’s table with IVs in both of his arms.yelled for a Snickers bar, downed the candy, proceeded to pull out the IVs and go out and hit 2 home runs. He was a “gamer” and the kind of player that ran out every ball like their hair was on fire. When we lost him to a suspected cocaine overdose (remember, nothing in moderation) I was heartbroken. He was playing for Houston and wasn’t the same ball player, but he played with the same intensity. I miss that.
OF -My main outfield consists of Tony Gwynn, Mike Trout and Steve Finley. I know, one of these things is not like the other. Gwynn is a genuine Hall of Famer. Trout is certainly building a career with an eye toward Cooperstown and title as an all time great, and then there’s Steve Finley. I loved Steve Finley as a Padre and hated him whenever he played for another team, which happened a lot. Finley was one of those scrappy ball players who always found a way to win, be it a walk, a home run or a highlight reel catch. He quietly went about his business but there was a fire that burned deep. Like Gwynn and Caminiti Finley was a keystone to the Padres teams I used to go and watch almost every Friday night in early high school.
Tony Gwynn should be obvious. If you were a kid in San Diego with even the most minimal interest in baseball and were born between 1975 and 1990 and Gwynn isn’t on your list of favorite players you have seen, there is something wrong with you. I’m not even going to sugarcoat that. You’re just wrong.
Mike Trout is quite possibly the most exciting player in the game today. Javy may give him a slight run for his money, but Trout has been doing it all longer and more constantly. I was at the game where Trout hit for the cycle and the palpable nerves and excitement when he came up only needing the home run to compete it was absolutely electric. I cant even begin to describe the feeling in the park when that ball left the field of play.
Runner up: Tim Salmon. Speaking of fishy-named Angels outfielders, one of my very favorites is Salmon. I wanted him in my starting lineup, but there was no one to remove to find a place for him. In fact, the runners up/bench players can probably thank the KingFish for their inclusion. I wasn’t going to make this list and completely leave Mr Salmon off. He came to the majors about the same time as JT Snow, which was when I decided to add the Anaheim Angels to my fandom. Timing worked out well.
DH -Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most fun players that I have ever seen play. Putting him at DH kind of cancels one of the most fun things about his skill set, which is his absolute cannon of an arm in right field. Again, around the time that Vlad was destroying the American League my ex-roommate and I were attending a lot of Angels games and Mr Guerrero was the most exciting guy on the field. He is a well deserved, if surprising (at least to me) second ballot Hall of Famer.
SP -Seeing Greg Maddux in anything other than a Braves or Cubs jersey was alway unsettling to me, yet thats how I saw him the most. As a Padre or Dodger. He may have bee older and lost a bit of spring in his step but he was still obviously the smartest guy on that field and an amazing pitcher. Of course with WGN and TBS being the cable behemoths that they were in my youth I had plenty of chances to watch him pitch for both Atlanta and Chicago. I loved that he looked nothing like a professional athlete and yet, he would go out to the mound and dominate all of the hulked up hitters of the mid-90s. I imagine he would throw a “Maddux” (compete game of under 100 pitches) and then go sit in his personal club chair in the clubhouse wearing a smoking jacket and read Tolstoy or something while sipping on tea in a china cup with his initials in the cup design. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me. I like my Greg Maddux fanfic as is.
Runner up: Andy Benes. One day soon I will get around to writing about the Padres coming to visit me in the hospital when I was 11. Benes was the big name of the group that came to visit. No Tony, sadly. The experience was surreal and actually served to cheer me up, in the exact way that most cloying hospital attempts to do so do the exact opposite. I always liked Benes, but now that we had a bond I had to root for him. Even at the end of his career when he became a godless Cardinal. That was hard.
RP -Here’s where I cheat a little bit. My choice for reliever is Kerry Wood, but I’m mostly including him for his work as a starter or closer. He did work as a middle reliever briefly so I can count him. My list, my rules. Kid K was supposed to be the miracle worker who brought a World Series to Wrigley Field. He wasn’t able to, and many of the villains in his story shared a dugout with Wood. His inability to bring a Series to the Friendly Confines was not due to lack of effort or heart. I’m happy to note that when the Cubs won it all in 2016, Kerry was a part of the organization and got his ring.
Runner up: Turk Wendell. When Cubs fans didn’t have much to look forward to, getting the ultra-superstitious Wendell into the game was one of those few bright spots. He wore “lucky” #13, refused to step on the chalk foul lines and chewed black licorice. Don’t worry though, he brushed his teeth in the dugout between innings. He was a solid reliever, but sometimes its fun just to have an oddball on the team to root for. Wendell isn’t going to be the last one that makes my list.
CP – Much Like Tony Gwynn, if you were of a certain age and a Padre fan, there was no way that you didn’t love Trevor Hoffman with every fiber of your being. If “Hell’s Bells” doesn’t give you chills and make you think of Hoffman you might be dead inside. When he was in line for save 479, to give him the all time most saves in history, my roommates and I watched the story of him getting 478 in the Padres second to last home game, turned off the tv, looked at each other and decided we were going to get in the car ad drive to San Diego for the game the next day. There was no guarantee that the Padres would win, or even that if they won there would be a save opportunity for Trevor, but dang it, if there was a chance, we’d be there. We all blew off work and Trevor rewarded our boldness with save 479. Luckily my manager at the time was a huge Padres fan and when I told what i had done, he just sort of rolled his eyes at me and I still had a job.
Runner up: Rod Beck. Beck, to me, was initially just the Giants closer. I had no feelings toward him, one way or the other (I hadn’t cultivated my hatred of the Giants and their fans yet.) Later, as his career was winding down the Cubs signed him as a cheap gamble. He lived in a trailer behind the outfield walls in Iowa and he would greet the fine folks of Des Moines in that trailer after games, cold brews in hand one for “Shooter” and one for whoever his new friend was. I love that story oh so much. Like Cammy, we lost Beck far too soon.
Manager- It’s really hard to not put Joe Maddon in this spot. How do you decline a man who brought the World Series to the North Side? I made it easy on myself. I didn’t. I know a lot of Cubs fans have issue with Joe constantly fiddling with lineups and some of his antics, but bottom line. Strip all of that away and he is a great manager. He takes chances and challenges things that are expected to be boiler plate to his advantage. I think Joe is a lot of fun and a very smart baseball man and a very smart man in general. Easily my favorite manager that I’ve ever watched.
Runners up: Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia. These guys were the keys to my second and third favorite teams as I was growing up. Now Bochy has moved to the Giants, which makes it really hard for me to root for him, but Scioscia is still here in Anaheim. Both are brilliant baseball men who have had many members of their staffs move on to managerial roles of their own (including Maddon under Mike Scioscia) which is the mark of a truly great leader and teacher.
There it is. My totally subjective, biased Hall of Fame–this round solely for players I saw play (or manage) in person. If this turns out ok, maybe there will be a meeting of the Veteran’s Committee and another installment. If that happens, please let me know the criteria you’d like to see the Committee to have to operate under. After all, its no fun just adding Willie Mays Bob Feller, Babe Ruth etc. Thin about it and if you’re out there please let me know!
Until next time,
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
It’s been a long time. A really long time since I’ve made my presence known here. For that I apologize. I haven’t been to a baseball game in almost a year, and while i have looked for alternative avenues to write about, they proved to be much fewer and far between than I had hoped.
While my medical conditions that have held me back have not exactly abated I am making it a priority to find things to write about. This is assuming that some of you took pity on me and stayed subscribed or otherwise didn’t forget about this silly blog. If that applies to you, please accept my heartfelt thanks.
Now that we have finished up with the housekeeping let’s get to the good stuff. Long time readers may remember a few years ago when Lauren and I visited The Diamond in Lake Elsinore for the Class-A California-Carolina All Star Game. Since then the format has changed and both the Cal League and the Carolina League host their own insular All Star games. In the Cal League, that means the host alternates between the North and South divisions. Last year, the first of this new format, the game was hosted in Visalia, which was a bit too far for us to attend, but this year the game was to be held in Lancaster, which is only 1.5-2 hours away from home, plus more importantly is the home of our favorite radio broadcaster, our friend Jason Schwartz.
I was planning to purchase our tickets online, but kept putting it off for some unknown reason when I got an email from Jason. He asked if we were planning to attend and then offered that if we were to go we could do so as his guests, with him covering the cost of our tickets and parking. Obviously I leapt at this offer. I also made the decision that we would not want to try to drive home after the game, so I booked a hotel for the night and provide us with a much-needed mini-vacation.
On the Tuesday of the game we spent the morning running errands before grabbing a gourmet fast food lunch at McDonald’s and hopping on the freeway to drive up into the desert. The drive was uneventful, albeit hot since the air-conditioner in the car was on the fritz. We avoided most traffic and only had one unexpected stop, which deposited us at “The Hangar” about 15 minutes after the gates opened.
We had assumed that the pre-game “FanFest” would operate like the last game we attended, At that game the two teams took turns taking batting practice and sitting in a gauntlet signing autographs. It seems that for this game, both teams were signing at the same time, so some tough choices needed to be made, Since most of my focus was to be on players from the South team we began to hustle over to where they were–at least in as much as I can hustle these days without my wheelchair–when we were waylaid by a third line hugging the wall of the concourse.
Coming into the game we knew that Roberto Alomar was being inducted into the Cal League Hall f\of Fame and would be having a short autograph session following the ceremony. According to the literature I had gotten his autograph session was to begin at 6:30. The time was currently 4:30. There was already a relatively hefty line and if I know anything about these sorts of events, it was only going to get worse while we met the current All Stars.
While there were some Padres and Angels All Stars–rather Storm and 66’ers All Stars–I wanted to get autographs from, none were earth-shattering to me and as Alomar was my main quarry in the world of autographs for the night, I made the executive decision to join the line. Lauren was starting to fade in the heat so I let her go off and explore the various concession stands for some sort of cold treat. Sadly, all she was able to wrangle up was a cold bottle of water, but it was certainly better than nothing at the point of consumption.
While she was gone, an older man joined the line behind me and began talking briefly as to what the current time was and when the autograph session was due to begin. I passed along what I knew and he said, somewhat sadly that he didn’t think he’d be able to wait because he had heat-related health issues and had been hospitalized twice in the past year for heat stroke,
I decided to hedge my bets with karma and do my good deed for the day. I informed him that I too had heat issues that resulted in brief hospitalizations, so I could relate. I then offered to let him go find some shade or air-conditioning and come and join Lauren and I closer to the actual autograph time. He seemed rather appreciative and toddled of to cooler pastures.
At some point while all of this was going on, somehow a man and his adult son managed to cut in front of us in the line. Honestly? Not the world’s biggest deal, especially because there was something developmentally stunted with the son, but when the son was having a fit about the large family in front of us having kids coming and going and “cutting”–a crime that he had done several times himself–Lauren and I had to laugh.
The father started talking to me on one of these sojourns by the son. Whether just due to boredom or if he was trying to appear extra friendly to avoid a conflict about line positions I couldn’t say, but we had a pleasant chat. He found out where I used to work (and Lauren still does) and told me that he was a regular visitor and there all the time. I was able to tell some fun work stories and he seemed to enjoy them, while Lauren just tried to melt into the background.
The pre-game festivities, including a home run derby, the Hall of Fame induction and the throwing of the first pitch were beginning to occur and I was coming to the realization that we wouldn’t be in attendance for any of them, or–in all reality–the start of the game.It didn’t matter. I was getting to meet one of my all-time favorite players. Hopefully. If the line moved like it was supposed to do.
My older friend joined us at this point of the wait, since the sun had dipped behind the stadium and we were mostly in a temperate shade. He then regaled me with stories of his life as a baseball fan and autograph collector. Many, many stories. Some of which may have even been true. I think my error is the acknowledgment that I know who these obscure baseball players from decades ago are. I should just pretend to be like the man who, after asking me what the line was for, told me he had never heard of Roberto Alomar, but if the line was for Pedro Guerrero he would have been in it right away. Sometimes I’m sorry that I speak the language.
After approximately 45 minutes of hearing these tales, somehow the line cutters in front of us connected with the man so we had a nice double-play, getting rid of both of them in one fell swoop. By this time we were rapidly approaching and passing the supposed 6:30 start time with no sign of Mr. Alomar .The young man In front of us began to slowly–and then rapidly–freak out. Having not spoken to me at all the entire time I was in line, he turned to me and said if we didn’t get an autograph he would demand to see the supervisor’s supervisor and have his dad hold them while he beat them with my cane. I was not sure what to say at that point so I just slowly backed away as far as I could.
Luckily at this point Alomar had appeared “After signing for all the fat cats upstairs” said the line cutter father. Despite Alomar posing for photos as well as signing, the line moved very quickly. At this point, he was not the most talkative guy I’ve encountered as I told him I was a long time fan, since he started his career as a Padre and I was just the right age to start remembering players at that point. The important thing is he signed a ball for me and Lauren–albeit in Sharpie–and posed for a few photos with me.
Jason had interviewed him at a luncheon earlier in the day and assured us that he was a really nice guy. Coming from a background where I used to get comments at work if I didn’t constantly have a smile on my face, I can understand that maybe something happened in his personal life, or maybe it was just a long day. Either way, he provided more than I had hoped for.
We had been keeping up with the game by listening to Jason’s broadcast that got piped out to the concourse and made our way to the seats just to the right of home plate, essentially right below his radio booth. It was the 4th inning and the North was already leading the South 4-0. That put a slight damper on the crowd, many of whom were clad in the replica SoCal jerseys that were given away that night.
One thing that was not affected by the score was my appetite. While waiting for the autograph we were stationed across from one of the concession booths and that didn’t help matters. The last time we visited The Hangar the food was rather sub-par and I was hoping that 4 years later things would have changed for the better. I realize that generally when one wishes for such things they tend to get worse by tenfold. Thank you to the big JetHawk in the sky that they didn’t only stay static, they got a lot better! n addition to a basic hot dog I had been tempted by a “Build Your Own Tots” option where they provided a base layer of tator tots and then it was customizable with 3 toppings. My hesitation was a fear that the order would be TOO big and I’d get halfway through before having to tap out. I was pleasantly surprised when Lauren returned to me with a small cardboard boat–the kind hot dogs are often served in–with the tots inside. The size was perfect, and I must say my choice of toppings–cheddar cheese, sour cream and bacon–were amazing.
I wish there were more unique options at The Hangar, but the tots were certainly a great start. By the way, I mentioned my hunger earlier? That’s why there are no photos. I was that desperate for the food. I can imagine most readers are familiar with hot dogs and tator tots. Now just imagine sour cream, cheese and bacon on your vision of tots. Theater of the mind!
By this point it was about the 6th inning and we had a text from Jason saying to come up to the booth to visit at any time. We figured to head up in about the 8th inning and catch the end of the game with him. I was paranoid, asking how we’d get up there without proper credentials. He reminded me that this was the California League and no one would hassle us. He was 100% right.
When we reached the booth it was still the top of the 8th and Jason was broadcasting so we sat down quietly to wait for the inning break to visit. We spent the rest of the game in the booth, trying to be as invisible as possible while the game was going on. As the game came to an end and Stockton’s Dairon Blanco won the MVP various members of other Cal League media teams and the Lancaster front office popped in to congratulate Jason and he was so gracious to introduce us to each of them as if we were more than just his friends who happen to run a blog.
We celebrated the end of the craziness that was preparing for the game and then Jason walked us out where we proceeded to continue talking for another 30 minutes or so before heading over to the Oxford Inn and Suites, the hotel I had reserved.
It was significantly better than the vile motel we stayed at in Arizona, with its assorted health and decency violations. The room was exactly what we needed, we felt safe staying there and leaving our car outside PLUS there was a free breakfast in the morning with a waffle bar.
We are looking to do this trip once a season from now until Jason moves on to a different team (or retires!) and this will likely be the place that we stay for those mini vacations.
One last note. On the drive up Lauren saw a sign for the Vasquez Rocks. This is an iconic area most noted for its use in “Star Trek”, but was used in Hollywood productions from “The Muppet Movie” to “Blazing Saddles.” We, of course had to stop. The drive to the parking lot closest to the rocks took about 10 minutes (Vasquez Rocks is a County Park) followed by a brief hike. I was unable to make the hike and since Lauren was alone without water there was not much exploration of the area, but maybe next time.
I know I havent written too much about the ballpark up in Lancaster but I reviewed it relatively recently and the only real change I noticed was the improvement of the food. I did truly have a wonderful time at a point where I needed something like this All Star game to look forward to.
I also want to give a special thanks to Jason Schwartz and his generosity and hospitality. His friendship means a lot. While I don’t anticipate a return to Lancaster this season, Jason may just make a return to these pages in the not too distant future! Look for that and remember…
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
Please allow a slight detour as I explain why.
Longtime readers of the blog have probably figured out that my health has not been the greatest over the past few years. In late 2016 I was diagnosed with kidney disease right as my Cubs were charging into the World Series. I had to go to a center and receive a dialysis treatment 3 days a week. That adds up.
Then, this spring, my doctors decided that I was able to continue my dialysis at home. The good part was not having to travel to the center several times a week. The bad part was that this type of dialysis took about 8 hours and sapped my energy. I could barely find it in me to eat, let alone go out to a game, surrounded by people in an environment that I have always considered to be high energy for myself.Recently I was approved for a dialysis machine, that allows me to do the entire treatment overnight as I sleep. It is much less intense and I mostly feel good afterwards when I wake up. This allows me a return to a relatively normal schedule, which means that one of the first things I wanted to do was get out to the ballpark!
My lovely wife, Lauren, and I picked a day off of work for her and began planning a game. Initially we were going to return to Lancaster to see the Jethawks, but shortly before gamely I started hearing some interesting rumors. It seemed that the injured, Mike Trout was getting ready to start his rehab and would begin working out with the 66ers.There were no guarantees that he would play right away but I’m a gambling man and bought 2 tickets for the first date that the Angels said would be his earliest return. I figured he would at least be working out with the team so we could watch him hit in batting practice and who knows? Maybe he’d be up for signing autographs.
Mike is a great signer at home in Anaheim, literally minutes away from my home, but luck has never been with me when he is signing and I’ve always missed out. A smaller ballpark, like San Manuel Stadium, home of the 66ers seemed to provide a much better opportunity.
So Lauren and I packed up baseballs, camera gear and a pretty sweet mix CD by me and headed up to San Bernardino. Along the way we stopped in to the Inland Empire’s favorite fast food, Baker’s Drive-Thru, and grabbed a couple of burgers for lunch.
I was afraid that the detour to Baker’s might throw off our timing to reach the ballpark, but we got there approximately 45 minutes before they were set to open the gates, which was an hour prior to first pitch.
It seems others had heard about the return of Mr. Trout (who the Angels had confirmed WOULD be playing that night.) There was a sea of #27 Angels jersey in the line, which appeared to be at least 100 people deep. By the time the gates opened, that number had at least tripled.After getting my bag checked I hobbled down to the third base side of the park and joined a mass of humanity with the same dreams of getting an autograph from Mr. Trout as I did. Having been in guest control in a former life I truly felt bad for the usher who was trying to keep the aisles clear for people who actually had tickets in the general vicinity. He was very kind and never lost his cool, so props to Darrell of the 66ers!
We stood. And we waited. Not only had Mike not come out by approximately 20 minutes to game time, but suddenly there was the announcement that strikes fear into the heart of all stadium autograph seekers.
“At this time we ask that you please return to your assigned seats.”
Honestly, I would have, but I was literally stuck in a mob of people with no way out. Darrell was not pleased that no one was leaving. I’m sorry Darrell!By this time Mike had come out and after signing autographs for the Little League team that was being honored on the field, headed down the left field line to warm up.
With the announcement having been made and the fact that it was mere minutes from the first pitch I figured I would have to chalk this up to a ‘close but no cigar’ encounter, but I was still trapped next to the dugout in a hot, sweaty mass of humanity.And then it happened. Mike came down to our little section and began signing. He mostly hit up the kids, but I’m not ashamed to say that I was able to hand over my baseball and get it back signed. I didn’t push, I didn’t cheat and I didn’t screw over any kids. I was pretty pleased with my quarry. Anything else that happened this night would be mere icing on the cake.
I found Lauren who had cooled down with a shave ice while I was Trout fishing and we got a lemonade to cool me down and found a nice shaded picnic area in which to relax. We rested and I rushed down to try to get some photographs of Mike’s first at-bat.In addition to being Mike Trout Day (unofficial) it was a celebration of SPAM’s 80th birthday (official). I love SPAM. Lauren likes SPAM. It seemed natural that we would enjoy some of the SPAM-centric snacks available. I was getting hungry again, so Lauren went exploring and reported back with the specialty SPAM menu. I felt that the “Grilled Cheesy Bacon Melt,” described as “Thick slabs of griddled Texas Toast loaded with bacon, cheese, more bacon and even more cheese!” with an addition of diced SPAM would hit the spot and the SPAM musubi would also be a nice treat. This is the point where the wheels fall off of our lovely adventure.
It seemed to me that Lauren had been gone a while, like 3 innings at least, and I was beginning to worry when my fast dying cell phone buzzed at me and I got a text saying “Still waiting.” She made it back to me shortly thereafter, and was obviously not happy.
We don’t know why, but it took over 40 minutes to make my sandwich. There was no warning that this was going to be an issue, and most appallingly, there was no apology for the wait afterwards. Not even an obviously false one. In addition, the musubi and bottle of water we ordered was given to her upon paying. The water had 40 minutes to warm up and the musbui had the same amount of time to cool down and slightly congeal. Lauren was not the only one with this problem. There were several others at the stand livid about the treatment and many cancelled their orders and demanded refunds.
I understand that this is a Class-A ballpark. I understand that the SPAM items are a specialty and that the high school kids in the concession stands are probably not overly familiar with them. I do NOT understand where an “I’m sorry for your wait” or even some indication that what was happening was unacceptable was never offered. I’m not saying offer a discount or comp the food or anything like that. However, a bit of human decency is not difficult to muster up and, to me, seems like an automatic response.
This experience cast a very negative light over our whole time at the ballpark and will likely color any future visits; but it doesn’t matter to the concessionaires. They’re just high school kids working for minimum wage and couldn’t care less if their attitudes cost the team, or at least their concession stand, customers. It was just a shame.That being said, the sandwich was delicious. Tons of orange American cheese melted on standard white bread with little jewels of bacon and SPAM sprinkled throughout and decorating the top. I destroyed the thing. Might have considered another if I thought I could get it before the game ended. The musubi was a bit of a disappointment. As stated earlier, it had gotten cold and the rice began to solidify as the SPAM was disintegrating into a cold grease bomb. We were only able to eat a few bites. The warm water was wet and that was all we asked of it, though a cool drink would have been nice.
We decided to leave the picnic area at this point and look around the stadium itself. It was a nice little ballpark that to me was very reminiscent of an MLB Spring Training facility.
As we walked past one particular point of the concourse there was a line of people, probably 40-50 deep. Lauren asked me what was going on, and I was stumped for a minute and then my brain clicked.“They are out here waiting for Mike Trout to leave after the game!” I said. Considering that he was only at that point coming up for his final at-bat and then would have to shower, get ready to go and likely handle some media requests, those folks were in for a long wait. I hope they did well.
The team store was nice. It had a pretty decent selection of things, including a Mike Trout 66ers shirsey, but my wife says I have too many t-shirts already (I do) and nothing else in the store particularly struck my fancy. There were some nice hats, but at the price point, I’m not sure I would have gotten the value out of wearing them, so we left the shop empty-handed. I was also surprised to not see any game-used items for sale. Usually team shops will have a bucket of cracked game-used bats and maybe a few other items, but there were none to be found.It was at about this time that we decided to head out, so we took a few last photos and headed to the car.
Overall, I achieved what I came to do and the ballpark itself was nice and had a very strong community vibe. A lot of the fans seemed to know each other and spent a lot of time visiting with each other and catching up on life. There was a very positive energy that I enjoyed.
Sadly the food incident really did color the entire evening, but we are willing to revisit San Manuel Stadium, perhaps on a normal weeknight when one of the greatest players in the MLB isn’t in town and see what kind of experience we have then.I’m hoping to be able to add some more entries on here soon, so until next time, keep trippin’ baseballs! As always, my full complement of photos can be found here
Addendum as of Friday morning. After I contacted the 66ers with my concern they reached out to me and not only apologized for the behavior of the employees, but gave a reasonable explanation as to why the food took so long (They knew it would be time-consuming so it was scheduled on a Wednesday night,which is traditionally slow…and then Mike Trout happened.) They invited us back to a game to get a full experience and I will look forward to taking them up on that. Thank you, 66ers for your prompt and satisfying customer service.
In honor of the advanced Class A California League celebrating it’s 75th anniversary, the Lake Elsinore Storm hosted the annual California versus Carolina League All Star Game this past Tuesday, the 21, at the Diamond in Lake Elsinore and Lauren and I were fortunate enough to attend.
We had tried to get to the game last summer when it was hosted in Rancho Cucamonga, but my prolonged hospital stay following our horrific car accident endured that we missed it, despite having tickets. When I saw that the 2016 game was being held in Southern California for an unprecedented second straight year I marked the date on my calendar and bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.
Lauren and I took just over an hour to drive to Lake Elsinore and arrived shortly after the gates had opened for the pre-game FanFest. We had no idea what FanFest entailed, but thought it would be fun to try and get some autographs, especially since the Cubs were sending several members of their Advanced A team, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to the event.
Most of the ballpark was open to fans and there was a “Fun Zone” available, but the main draw for the FanFest was the chance to meet and get autographs from some of baseball’s future stars. The players from the Carolina League had the first set of autograph sessions, meeting fans for an hour while the California League players took batting practice, and then the leagues switched roles.
Upon first arriving, we were not entirely sure what was going on, so Lauren went ahead of me on a scouting mission, while I held my ground in what seemed to be the longest of the lines formed around the concourse of the ballpark. Our instincts were right, as it turned out, we were in line to meet 3 of the 4 Pelicans players, including top prospect, Ian Happ, and pitchers, Zach Hedges and Jake Stinnett. Despite the line looking fairly intimidating, we did not wait more than 30 minutes or so and the wait was amusing, with mascots from many of the teams represented at the game wandering the concourse and interacting with fans. I even got a kiss and a beard scratch from Thunder, the Storm’s fuzzy green dog mascot.
When we reached the table with the players they could not have been more gracious. They signed autographs with a smile and gave in for any specialized requests. I got a chance to talk very briefly to Hedges about the fact that we had gone to the same college and Stinnett complimented me on my Pelicans t-shirt (journalistic objectivity be damned.) My one regret for the whole interaction was the fact that for some reason I didn’t ask for a photo with them, which I’m sure they would have willing obliged.
By the time we had finished collecting our things, the Carolina players were about to head down to batting practice, so Lauren and I headed to the team store to see if there was any specialty All Star game merchandise. We lasted only a few minutes in the jam-packed store and didn’t see anything that particularly struck our fancy so we headed down to our seats, a row behind the visitor’s dugout.
Lauren headed back up to the concourse for some snacks, since we still had about 2 hours until the pre-game festivities would begin and returned with some standard ballpark fare; some nachos, hot dogs and a cold lemonade, all of which were tasty, if unremarkable.
I always enjoy watching batting practice, though in retrospect, I should have sought out some of the California League All Stars for their meet and greet sessions, but the benefits of resting my legs and relaxing for a little bit cannot be overstated.
The pre-game festivities began with a local band doing some *interesting* covers of ’80s rock songs and that was followed up with a helicopter from the local hospital landing on the field and delivering Thunder to the game. The pre-game also featured the induction of the initial class of the California League Hall of Fame, with all of the inductees present to receive the honor in person, which meant fans got to see Jose Cruz, Jr., Storm hitting coach, Xavier Nady, 500 home run club member, Gary Sheffield and MLB Hall of Famer, Rickey Henderson.
Following the Hall of Fame presentation was the introduction of the All Stars. All of the non-starters were driven to their respective baselines by a parade of classic cars. A Navy parachutist carrying the American flag landed on the field and the game was underway.
A player for the Lynchburg Hillcats, an Indians farm team, and San Diego native, Greg Allen, got on base as the leadoff hitter and proceeded to steal 2 straight bases and come in to score. The Carolina League never looked back and the game felt like significantly more of a blowout than the score of 6-4 would indicate.
The Carolina All Stars always seemed to have something cooking on offense, and when the pitching allowed men on base, they seemed to get out of it with little to no pressure, until the 9th inning when Potomac Nationals pitcher, Evan Phillips gave up 3 runs and left with men on base. Even then, Pelican starting pitcher, Trevor Clifton came in to slam the door on the attempted comeback and nail down a save.
Clifton wasn’t the only Pelican to have a great showing at the game, however. While Happ was hitless, he had 2 good at-bats and looked good at second base, which is a relatively new position for him, as a converted outfielder. Both Hedges and Stinnett pitched hitless innings, and Hedges turned a particularly gorgeous double play. Speaking of Hedges, I mentioned earlier that he and I both attended the same college, located about an hour away from the Diamond, and the Zach Hedges fan club was in full force at the game. During his inning pitched, I think we heard the loudest and most enthusiastic cheers during the whole game, including any for local Storm players. It made for a fun environment…particularly for this Pelican fan.
I’d be remiss not to mention some of the other stars of the game, including the previously mentioned Greg Allen, who in addition to his 2 stolen bases managed to score 3 times, his teammate in Lynchburg, Bobby Bradley, who hit a monster home run and game MVP, Andrew Stevenson from Potomac, who hit 2 triples in a ballpark that seems far too cozy to give up too many extra base hits. If you are looking for some Cal League players to keep your eyes out for, I’d suggest looking at High Desert 2nd baseman Travis Demeritte, who is second in all of the minor leagues in home runs and hit a loud double in the game, San Jose shortstop CJ Hinojosa who had 2 RBI and his teammate, reliever Rodolfo Martinez who was lighting up the radar gun in the mid-90s.
I love going to minor league games and seeing some of these talented players so early in their careers. It gives me a sense of pride, a “I saw them first” baseball hipster vibe, and attending the All Star game just heightened that feeling. The Cubs, Giants and Indians (Hillcats) seem to have quite a bit of talent coming up through their systems and it will be nice one day to be able to say “I saw them when…”
Until next time (…and I promise it won’t be long!)
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
Let me make this clear. The Angels are my second favorite team in baseball. Most years I will root for them to go 162-0. This year, however, I was pulling for a 158-4 record and the first two games of the season were two of my anticipated and hoped for losses. And they try to tell me that dreams don’t come true.
We arrived to Angel Stadium shortly before the gates opened and parked literally right next to the home plate entrance. The stadium lot is only $10 this season, either due to more parking now that the Amtrak station moved down the road or the fact that the Angels were tired of getting undercut by nearby businesses renting out spaces in their parking facilities. I was prepared to pay up to $20 due to my lack of mobility and discomfort walking the half mile from the outlying parking options, so to see the price at half of the cost to park at Disneyland, I was elated.
The aforementioned lack of mobility discouraged me from heading to the first base side of the ballpark, where the Cubs dugout was, to seek autographs or baseballs and Lauren and I headed straight to our seats above the bullpens. I spent much of the pre-game as close to the field as I could get, watching the Cubs take batting and fielding practice, watching Jon Lester warm up and chatting with fellow Cub fans.
The interesting thing about the pre-game activity was the fact that Manny Ramirez was hanging out in left field with Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and even shagging a few baseballs himself. No one called to him for autographs or baseballs, and I wonder if no one recognized him, or if people just didn’t care. I tend to think it was the former.
While I didn’t notice any of the Cubs signing autographs at all during the pre-game, I later heard that Jake Arrieta was shagging baseballs in the outfield, pulling a pen from his back pocket, signing the ball and tossing it into the stands, which I happen to love. Post-game I saw the bullpen guys throw at least a half-dozen baseballs into the crowd, so the early reports of the Cubs being not so fan friendly on the road seem to me to be a few jilted autograph dealers upset that maybe the players weren’t signing a dozen baseballs for every fan who asked.
While I was watching the Cubs get ready, Lauren did a reconnaissance mission of our seating area so that we could plan our food for the evening. I like nothing better than a basic hot dog at the ballpark, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out. We opted for the burger bites, which are essentially White Castle sliders, minus the onions. They were topped with a sweet “thousand island-esque” sauce that was fine, but really, I could take it or leave it. They were served in a bucket with fries that were average ballpark fries. Overall, I’d get them again.
In the same vein, later in the game we shared a sticky sweet strawberry “rum-a-rita” in a lurid shade of red and the basic Angel dog. Both items will easily be repeated as the season goes on.
The game was great, as Jon Lester was dealing against an anemic Angel offense and the Cubs bats must have brought some of the heat of Las Vegas with them when the came to Anaheim. Home runs by Matt Szczur, Dexter Fowler and one-half of the Bryzzo Souvenir Company as well as a pure hustle double by David “Grandpa” Ross highlighted the offensive onslaught.
There was a very curious moment in the top of the second inning when Angel pitcher, Andrew Heaney threw one pitch to Anthony Rizzo, stepped off the mound and disappeared into the dugout. I wasn’t sure whether he had been caught doing something illegal to the baseball, but I never saw the umpire gesture that he had been tossed from the game, and immediately jumping on Twitter, learned that he was dealing with a nosebleed. I don’t know if there is any correlation at all, but the Angels placed him on the disabled list today with a muscle strain. Not a good thing for a franchise that is already very thin in the pitching department.
Lester pitched 7 strong innings and only allowed 4 hits, which marks a significantly better start than his first Cub start last season. Later, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop all made appearances out of the bullpen and all looked very sharp.
As I said, we were seated right above the bullpens, in an area with a few fairly vocal groups of Cub fans, including a drunk man in a Cubs onesie and two of my favorite people from work, Shaun and Arvin. I really want the Cubs hockey-style sweatshirt that Arvin was showing off.
We left the game with little to no hassle and as we sat in the parking lot of the Big A I plugged in my iPhone and played “Go Cubs, Go” since the Angels didn’t have the common courtesy to play it for us after the “W.”
Thank you Angels for the 2-0 start. You can start winning now. At least until you head out to Wrigley later this summer! As usual, a gallery of game photos can be found right here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping Baseballs!
While I don’t fully understand the reasons that the Cubs would play an exhibition game on the day before they open the season against the team with whom they are going to play to start the aforementioned season I cannot complain too much. The fairly ill-conceived game provided me with two opportunities to see my Cubs in my town, since tickets to the actual opening day were selling for slightly more than I was willing, or able, to pay. Adding to that, the fact that the exhibition was taking place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was sold on the idea.
The crowd for the game was significantly less than I had anticipated, possibly due to the fact that the two teams were playing “for real” the following day, and there was a healthy number of Cub fans in attendance, many located on the first base side close to the Cubs dugout.
The thing that irritated me a bit was the fact that while Joe Maddon started the same lineup that will be starting on Opening Day, the Angels didn’t even bother with trotting out the regulars, even for a few innings. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were both conspicuously MIA.
The ballpark appears much the same as it has over the past few years with no real notable additions or subtractions, either aesthetically or in relation to food offerings, which is a bit of a shame.
All of that being said, however, it was great to get back out to a baseball game, and while the end result of a Cubs loss is never a good thing, Kyle Hendricks pitched well and struck out more than a batter an inning and the Bryzzo boys crushed a pair of home runs adding to one from Addison Russell. Albert Almora showed his amazing defensive skills, as well.
I will also be attending game two, featuring Jon Lester and hopefully seeing the Cubs head to Arizona with a 2-0 record!
As always, the full gallery of photos can be found here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping’ Baseballs!
Before this season began, I had decided that I wanted to add some things to this blog. I no longer only wanted it to chronicle my various MLB games. I wanted to show some of the other baseball offerings available outside of the classic MLB games and with that in mind, I literally sent an email to every minor league team in the state of California, as well as a few in Nevada. I heard back from several offering to host me at some point during the 2014 season.
Unfortunately, one that did not respond was one of the teams that I was most looking forward to seeing, the Class High A affiliate of the Houston Astros, the Lancaster JetHawks. The team is loaded with top talent, including 2 former #1 draft picks in Carlos Correa and Mark Appel, first-rounder Lance McCullers, Jr. and star third baseman in the making, Rio Ruiz, as well as many other talented young players. I knew I wanted to see Correa in person, so even without an invite, I was planning on an early season trek north to see the JetHawks.
Thankfully, Twitter intervened, and when I posted that I was planning to catch a game at the Hangar, broadcaster Jason Schwartz sent me a message and invited me up as his guest.
I leapt at the opportunity and on April 8 Lauren and I made the 2 hour drive up the freeway to Lancaster. I wanted to see a game sooner rather than later, since players in the minor leagues are constantly in flux and didn’t want to miss my chance at seeing Correa and, hopefully Appel before they moved up to the Astros AA team in Corpus Christi.
Unfortunately, Appel would not be pitching at the game we attended, though he does later feature into our story later, but McCullers was scheduled to pitch a few innings and Ruiz and Correa were playing. I was more than happy with that outcome.
We arrived at The Hangar, home of the JetHawks about 2 hours before game time and found a great parking place right outside of the main entrance. I got my press passes at the box office and sauntered into the stadium.
The Hangar has been around since 1996 and has been the home of the Class A Advanced affiliates of not only the Astros, but also the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. The stadium is named in honor of the local aerospace industry and normally features a statue of a jet taking off at the main entrance.
Our ease in entry illustrates something that was a theme throughout the evening. Even though I had a lanyard with my pass around my neck, it seemed like the ballpark was fully accessible to fans without much fuss or muss. It was a very homey environment, like one big community.
We wandered around the stadium for a little while, taking pictures and trying to get the lay of the land, while keeping an eye out for Jason. It turns out he found us as we wandered the concourse and he welcomed us, as well as showed us how to get up to the press box.
I had hoped to conduct some interviews before the game, but traffic delayed us and by the time we reached The Hangar, the team was already getting ready for the game. While I did have clubhouse access, I thought that the hectic pre and post-game locker room environment might not be the best place to do the profile interviews that I was hoping for. Jason asked who I was hoping to interview and I told him that while there were a few players, I would absolutely love the chance to talk to Correa and Appel.
As luck would have it, Mark Appel was just about to do an interview with a publication from Stanford, his alma mater, but if he hung around for a little bit, I would be able to talk to him afterward.
I tried to retain a calm demeanor as I agreed, so we watched the opposing San Jose Giants take infield practice and run the bases. Not long after, Jason emerged from the locker room area with Mark Appel in tow. Mark was more than gracious in answering my questions and allowing me to take up some of his time before the game. I hope I was able to look at least somewhat professional and I at least had the presence of mind not to ask him to sign a ball for me.
After a good 15 minutes, I had finished the interview and he thanked me and went back to his pre-game preparations. I checked that the recording was successful, while internally squealing like a little girl, and went up to check out the press box.
We dropped off our bags and met the local beat writer for the JetHawks, relaxed for a bit and let the afterglow of the interview wear off before going out to finish scoping out the ballpark and deciding on a plan of attack for the game.
As it turns out, Tuesday night games during the school week somehow don’t draw overwhelming crowds for some reason, and though the announced attendance was over 1,000 people, I think it was likely half of that number at best, but that didn’t stop the crew that ran the ballpark from being incredibly helpful, friendly and exceptional in every way. In fact, they were so attentive to the fans that I somehow wound up with 6 JetHawks pocket schedules, as everyone, from ushers to concessionaires to KaBoom the mascot tried to ensure that your visit to The Hangar would not be your last.
We spent most of the game moving around the stadium, enjoying it from as many different vantage points as possible, and taking tons of photos. There really isn’t a bad seat in the two-leveled stadium and aside from a small number of seats right behind home plate that sell for a whopping $12-13, tickets are only $8 in advance. It’s a steal.
The one area that could be improved are the concessions. While there were a few relatively unique items, such as the pulled pork sandwich and bratwurst, the food items available were generic ballpark food and the quality was more along the lines of a high school snack shack than a professional baseball team. This could have been due to the small crowd, which means less people buying food which equates to it sitting around for longer and not constantly refreshed. It certainly wasn’t the worst thing I have ever eaten, but it also was far from the best.
We enjoyed the game, especially once the JetHawks took the lead, and rushed down to get pictures of every at-bat by Correa and Ruiz as well as most pitches by McCullers, and these kids really are fun to watch.
At one point during the late innings, I decided that impartiality be damned, I was getting a JetHawks cap and wore it proudly though the rest of the game. There may normally be no cheering the press box, but there sure was in Lancaster that night.
Despite a 2 run deficit from the first inning, the ‘Hawks bullpen proved lights out and didn’t allow another run the entire game and some timely hitting and a home run from first baseman, Brandon Meredith, the home team got the 4-2 win in a game lasting just over 2 hours in length.
After the game, we stood around and talked a little bit of baseball with Jason and slowly made our way back to the car for the trek home.
Lancaster, being a bit further than I would probably travel on a regular basis was an absolutely fantastic experience. The community vibe was very strong throughout the entire game and most of the fans seemed like they were season-ticket holders or, at least, regulars. I can see how, once summer truly arrives, this would be a very attractive place to spend warm summer nights, and, if we lived closer, I would certainly look into season tickets. As it is, this may not be our only trip to Lancaster this season, since we had so much fun.
The Hangar is a wonderful place to watch a game with great vantage points, and with the team on the field, there is some good baseball going on in the Antelope Valley. If the opportunity presents itself, I highly recommend traveling a bit north of LA and catching a game in Lancaster.
You won’t be disappointed.
For all of my photos of the JetHawks game follow this link.