As some of you may or may not know, my family takes an annual trip to Phoenix every spring to take in some Cactus League action. Most of our cool stories and tough autographs come during Spring Training, so to say we look forward to the trip would be an enormous understatement. I’ll spare you all the cliché “oh it is SO hot” and “I’m just glad to be back at a baseball game” nonsense and jump right into the action. Let’s hit the ground running.
Several days prior to our departure, I scanned a Cactus League master schedule, just for fun. I noticed something perplexing on the schedule for the Seattle Mariners: a WBC opponent AND night game. It was clear that the Mariners would play an exhibition against a WBC qualifier, but which team exactly was a mystery. I knew I HAD to be at that game.
First off, if the game wasn’t a night game, we wouldn’t have been able to make it, as our plane landed at noon and we got to our hotel at 3:30. Secondly, we stay within walking distance of the Mariners/Padres complex. Things fell into place quite nicely.
The schedule simply stated “ASIA WBC at Mariners”, so I was expecting to see Team Japan, but when I checked the Peoria Sports Complex website while our plane was taxiing around the runway, I was met with a pleasant surprise: “Team Asia” had now become the Netherlands!
The family put our bags and luggage into the hotel room and rushed to the complex. The Mariners and Netherlands were taking BP on some back fields, which, if you don’t know are basically baseball heaven. It’s the closest you’re going to get to the players. You feel like you’re basically part of the squad. Several of Netherlands’ players came trickling out of the clubhouse, heading to field 2 to begin a full squad workout. This provided a great opportunity for autographs and pictures.
First came Rob Cordermans, my favorite WBC pitcher. Robbie was an awesome dude, signed plenty of autographs and shook my hand and thanked ME for being cool to him. Class act. Robbie and I:
Next came Loek Van Mil. If you don’t know who Loek Van Mil is, well, here you go:
Yeah. He’s over 7 feet tall and the tallest professional baseball player.
A slow trickle of players eventually turned into a steady flow. Players like Andruw Jones, Wladimir Balentien, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts and Jurickson Profar came through and before I knew it, practice had begun. Since this was all taking place on backfields, it was impossible to get behind the outfield wall to ballhawk, so I had to stay behind the foul lines:
While the pitchers were finishing up playing catch in the right field corner, I made my move for ball #1 of 2013. I identified David Bergman as my “target”. He finished throwing with Van Mil and stood around. He was manipulating a knuckleball grip when, from about 40 feet away, I asked “let’s see that kuckler, David!”
Bergman (#47) looked at me, looked at the pearly white, brand new baseball in his right hand, and tossed it to the ground in front of him. He began do dig through the pitcher’s ball bag and pulled out the dirtiest, grimiest, beat up baseball I had seen in quite some time. He flipped it over the fence, about 20 feet short, and I gobbled it up in my glove. Baseball #1 of 2013 was officially in the books!
When I opened my glove up, the back of the baseball was showing. Without even inspecting the ball, I turned to my girlfriend and said “this is a Little League baseball”. It was obvious that the ball wasn’t major league quality. The seams were rather big, the surface kind of plastic-y. Brooke (my girlfriend) took the ball out of my glove to look at. She turned it over a few times and said “no, it isn’t, it’s something else,” Oh, okay. It’s an NCAA baseball, I thought. Turning the ball around, we discovered that the ball was acutally a Korean professional baseball league baseball.
Yup, check it out:
One of the coolest parts of being stuck in foul territory was that we were right up against the field’s bullpen. Bert Blyleven (#28) was coaching Shairon Martis on pushing off his back foot and keeping his front shoulder closed. It isn’t every day that you get to be a fly on the wall of an MLB Hall of Famer’s pitching instruction:
Other than that, there really was no action. The Netherlands’ hitters sliced a few line drives back my way, which I retrieved with fervor. BP was soon over, and it was time for the players to head back in. During BP, I managed to get a few autographs from Team Netherlands, from players like Curt Smith, Andrelton Simmons, Loek Van Mil, Rob Cordemans, Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, and Shairon Martis. Holy hell!
The game started soon thereafter, and it was preceded by a video tribute to Greg Halman. It was very touching.
I’ll keep the game description short, because I’m ridiculously tired, the game really doesn’t count and it wasn’t very exciting. In the first inning, I narrowly missed out on a Wladimir Balentien home run off Jon Garland. I set up down the power alley and Balentien went almost to dead center. I rushed and ran as fast as I could, but I was about ¾ of a second too late.
I had a chance to redeem myself when Balentien came to the plate later in the game, I believe the 7th inning. By this time I was done chasing gamers, and moved on to trying to catch a foul ball. Balentien sprayed a ball over my head onto the concourse over the seating bowl, and I rushed back to grab it. It bounced around a few fenced/restricted areas, and without getting too specific, I got to the ball before anyone else did. I’ll leave it at that.
(I seem to not have any pictures of it at the moment. I SWEAR to you I’m not making it up.)
After the Balentien ball was under control, I headed to the outfield where I found ballhawk TC. We chewed the fat, made plans for the next day and said our goodbyes. The game was over. The day was over. This blog entry is (almost) over.
Can you guys tell I’m still rusty when it comes to blogging? I’m not too articulated or linguistic yet. Like everything else (including my tracking fly balls), it is Spring Training for me as well. It’ll all come back with time!
Day 2 will be much more detailed. I’m SUPER tired as I write, going on about 20 straight hours of travel and baseball. Come back next time to see who hit me THIS game home run:
I’ll leave you with a few photos from day one and two of my Cactus League adventures:
Bert Blyleven signing an autograph for my mom, Sue
Shairon Martis signing my Netherlands team baseball
Here is a picture my girlfriend Brooke took of me way, way out in LF, doing my signature (can I call something *I* do “signature”? Do I have to let someone else call it “signature” kind of like a nickname?) glove flip.
.That’s all. Thanks for reading!