Aug 30, 2010
Webmaster's note: What follows is the first in a three-part series written by Matt Jackson, our on-site reporter at Dodger Stadium. Jackson describes it "An all-access look into BP, foul balls, home runs, and the fans that end up with the souvenirs."
It's a sweltering day when I arrive to the Top Deck of Dodger Stadium. Summer has finally decided to hit L.A.-the mercury is at ninety-four degrees when I step out into the Field Level seats as the hometown Boys in Blue take their batting practice swings in the cage. The environment is relaxed. Peaceful. Rock and meringue tracks play over the speakers and every crack of the bat and pop of the glove is audible. I listen as skipper Joe Torre and DL-laden Russell Martin chat about his recovery. In the outfield, Vincente Padilla sits in the stands before the gates open talking to a translator as Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, and other pitchers warm-up. Billingsley makes a leap at the left field wall and a BP ball barely clears the tip of his glove. It bounces around and lands in the front row of Mannywood.
The gates will open in twenty minutes and I think to myself, The first fan in the gates is going to wind up with a nice souvenir. I watch as a few more BP balls wind up in the left and right field bleachers. One more bounces into Mannywood, this one ends up in the second row. Easter eggs adorn the seats for the masses accumulating at the gates. The serene feeling of warm-ups will soon be altered. Padilla will hop over the wall and back onto the field. Martin will head into the dugout. And soon, everyone will be excited to possibly, just maybe, take home a piece of the action: a Rawlings Official Major League Baseball.
It's not just the fans... baseball is infectious. Dodger Stadium employees watch the last few minutes of batting practice from the concourse, including a few that sit in the seats, waiting for the consumers to come in and for their shifts to start. A baseline box attendant chats with me for a moment in the seats before heading to his post. On his way in he grabs the two Mannywood baseballs. He throws one back onto the field and pockets the other-I hope he's planning to give that to a kid, I say to myself.
The floodgates open at 5:05. The fans first into the left field bleachers run through and pick up four or five balls. Dodger Stadium is open for business. When the visiting Rockies take the field the echoes of "Over here!" are growing in volume. Fans continue to arrive, some with a glove or mitt, some without, but everyone in the seating bowl has one goal: to snag a ball. There's a burning desire in most (if not all) of baseball's fans to get a ball from a game, maybe even from their favorite team or player. Walking near the right field line I encounter Carlos, a thirteen year-old Dodger fan who receives a friendly toss from a Rockies pitcher. It's his first baseball... ever. And he's thrilled when I sit down with him for a minute to talk about the experience. He's a season ticket holder and goes to a lot of games... and though he admits to having been a little scared he might miss the ball, he's excited to take it home and put it in a trophy case. In his own words, showing wisdom beyond his years, Carlos tells me, "When I'm older I'm gonna tell my children that I got a ball from a real baseball player." When I left him, Carlos and his dad were still talking about the ball, both grinning from ear to ear.
It's turned into a brilliant night at Dodgertown. Ted Lilly, recently acquired from the Cubs, is hurling a gem. More than 45,000 people have come out to see if the Dodgers can beat their NL West rivals and stay in contention for a playoff spot. Jorge de la Rosa is pitching well, but he's losing, 2-0 because Lilly is dominating Colorado. Utilizing his looping curveball and his Reagan-era fastball (in the mid-eighties), Lilly is keeping the Rockies off balance. They're swinging, but they're not getting any good wood on the ball... and that makes for quite a few souvenirs being sent up into the stands. The first lucky recipient I come across is Cory, age thirty-three, decked out in Matt Kemp gear. Cory tells me he had no idea he'd be in foul ball range when he headed to the game tonight. When I ask him about his lack of a baseball glove he responds confidently, holding up his hands, "This is my glove."
Cory's in a great mood. And why not? He just made a bare-handed catch of a Melvin Mora foul ball in the Loge Level of Dodger Stadium. He's all smiles as I speak to him, and to his son, Fernando, who tells me he is "very proud" of his dad. I ask him to explain to me the feeling he had as the ball flew back toward the seats and he responds, "I was just judging it. Wait, wait... that ball's comin' towards me!" He read it off the bat-he knew that ball was destined for him. With youthful wonder in his voice he says to me, "Like, it's really here? You know? And I just reached out and grabbed it. I caught it!" His first foul ball ever. What are you going to do with it? "My son's more of a Dodger fan than me so I'll give it to him." A fine answer, Cory. Well done.
The father and son duo are happily talking about their recent good fortune as I sit down next to Shane, from Northridge, and he tells me about his experience. Shane is noticeably more subdued than Cory, but still glad to have obtained the souvenir. Aside from the possibility that he's trying to keep his cool in front of his female companion, I learn that the Matt Kemp foul ball now in his possession is the first game-used baseball for the twenty-one year old (at his sixth game this year). He's no stranger to catching baseballs though, as he used to play growing up. Shane tells me he picked up his ball on a bounce after an unlucky fan a section over couldn't come up with it. "It was about ten seats to the left of me and he missed it and it bounced to me." After the bounce caused the baseball to head toward him, Shane knew it was all his. "I'll put it with all my other baseballs," he tells me. He estimates he's got about 100 baseballs... but from professional games he's got, "A few of 'em. It's pretty cool that I caught it at the game."
As the game plays on in front of us I recognize that fans like Shane and Cory and even young Carlos are, every time they head out to the ballpark, in a friendly competition with all the other patrons around them. Once a ball heads into the seats it becomes a whole new game. Have you ever seen anyone specifically avoid a foul ball that rolled to their feet? No. Sure, Shane and Cory ended up with their prizes in slightly different ways but they each wanted the ball enough that they put effort into snagging it. And, as you?ll see in the next segment of On The Scene, a little effort paired with some impressive "skills" and strategy go a long way in procuring a baseball for a couple more fans.
Stay tuned to myGameBalls.com for Part 2 of this series, coming tomorrow.