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.
For the second consecutive game I was dateless. Lauren’s mom and brother were coming in to town and she was planning to join them on their visit to the Reagan Library. I already had tickets for the Angel game, so I opted out and called my brother, Matt, to see if he wanted to join me for the game and the free Mike Trout pint glass. He agreed to leave work early and drive the hour and a half from San Diego to Anaheim.
Due to traffic, we didn’t get to the Big A until after 6 pm, with the game scheduled to start at 7. I had completely written off the idea of getting in for batting practice, which was fine, but I was paranoid that we wouldn’t get one of the pint glasses. We finally reached our seats in center field a few minutes before the pre-game festivities began.
We were actually sitting in a pretty neat spot as we were right next to the batters eye/national park in center field and kind of cornered in our own little box. It was cozy. We got our food before sitting down and basically didn’t need to move for the entire game. This fact would prove to be a very, very good thing.
I had been watching the Cubs game on TV, waiting for Matt to get into town, and they mentioned off-handedly that Aaron Harang was one of the biggest Cub killers of all time. Harang was the Mariners starter and I figured that it was just my luck that he would destroy the Angels as well. That isn’t exactly what happened.
After hitting a home run and a triple his first 2 at-bats, it seemed like Josh Hamilton was going to be the hero of the night on his birthday, and a candidate to hit for the cycle, having gotten the hardest part out of the way to start the night. While the Angels were smacking the ball all over the yard against the weak Mariner pitching, Mike Trout was quietly putting together a pretty remarkable night of his own. After he hit a 3 RBI double in the 6th, I turned to Matt and said, “If he got credit for a base hit in his second AB, he is a home run away from the cycle…” We whipped out our phones and checked, and it was indeed an infield hit in the third.
I’m not sure how many in the crowd realized what was happening because as the Angels’ lead grew bigger and bigger, the crowd in the ballpark got smaller and smaller, but I have been to enough games in my life to realize that a baseball game is not over until that 27th out is recorded, let alone to not leave when there is an assault on history.
Innings came and innings went, and the Angels continued scoring while the Mariners did not, but that was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. We were waiting for one more time at the plate for Mr. Trout. He came to bat in the eighth, with no one on base.
The count against Lucas Luetge was 2-0 when Trout connected on the pitch. It was a long drive right off the bat and it was undeniable that he had hit a home run to complete the cycle. The stadium erupted and after Trout had made his way around the bases, was forced out of the dugout for a curtain call. It was an incredible moment.
As I mentioned, I have been to a lot of baseball games over my lifetime, but I have never been to a game with the historical significance as this. Previously, the closest I had come to was at the second game of a double-header in old Jack Murphy Stadium one afternoon when Kevin Brown took a no-hitter into the late innings, but, as the Padres still lack a no-hitter, we know how that turned out in the end. It was absolutely exhilarating to witness a moment of this caliber in person.
As Trout returned to the field for the top of the 9th, he was very reluctant to make his way out to center field, opting to stand near second base and chat with Josh Hamilton. It was like he knew that we were going to lavish him with love and he didn’t want it, being a bit of a quiet guy, but he eventually had to make his way out, and got loved on whether he wanted it or not.
The only issue I had with the game was the removal of Jerome Williams in the 9th after he had spent the previous 8 innings completely dealing. Albeit he had thrown 107 pitches, but given the weakness of the Angels bullpen and the strength of Williams through the 8th inning, I feel like he could have finished the game and earned his first complete game shutout of the year, but overall, this is the most minor of quibbles.
The funny thing about this whole deal was the fact that earlier in the day, Matt had been trying to see if he could pass his ticket off to one of my other brothers, since he had been relatively missing a lot of work and didn’t look forward to telling his boss that he was leaving early again to attend the game. I think, when all was said and done, he was reasonably happy with his decision to come up to see Mike Trout become the youngest American League player to hit for the cycle since Mel Ott and the first Angel since Chone Figgins.
In the years to come, as Trout continues his rise to elite superstardom, I’m sure that the number of people who will claim to have been at this game will double or even triple the actual number, but to have actually been there was truly an amazing experience, and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Until next time, Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!