June 17, 2011
Days before the Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to come to Seattle to play the Mariners at the beautiful Safeco Field I was returning from Denver after visiting Coors Field for the first time. I have mixed feelings about Coors Field but it mainly revolves around the security issues and how and when they allow fans in certain areas at certain times. It seems kind of ridiculous to me to hold fans in just the left field bleachers for the first thirty minutes of batting practice. But in essence, the same thing sort of goes on at Safeco Field. Fans are held in the center field 'Pen area until two hours before first pitch. Then they are free to roam the entire stadium at will.
It was Memorial Day weekend and as I was sitting in the Sacramento airport reading the latest tweets from my favorite baseball teams and players on Twitter. Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles tweeted his thanks to all the fine men and women that have served this wonderful country that we live in. I tweeted my response to him thanking him for what he does for the baseball community. Soon after that I requested a game of catch over Twitter and he responded with, "look for me on the field before BP."
When I arrived at Safeco Field the following day I didn't know if Britton would remember my request. And I knew he wasn't going to come looking for me. Let's face it. These guys are pro baseball players and probably have a million things going on at once. I knew I would have to make the effort to flag him down to get this game of catch going. Its just the nature of the beast. I also didn't want to be obnoxious towards him and demand a game of catch when he was at his busiest moment. I had to catch him at just the right time. Britton finished his routine warm-up on the field and then assumed the role as kind of a "look-out" for any errant baseballs that may hit his teammates as they continued to warm-up. I waited for the perfect time to flap my glove at him and he gave me the nod that we are all familiar with when we get the attention of a Major League baseball player. He scooped up the next grounder and held on to it and then once his teammates were done warming up, he headed over to my direction.
Zach Britton is probably the nicest baseball player I've met so far in my short time career of ball hawking. He was very accepting of the idea of playing catch with a fan, and not just any fan. A U.S Army Veteran. Since Memorial Day weekend had just passed, it was only fitting. He explained to me that he asked a few people around the clubhouse about the idea of playing catch with fans but unfortunately, he was quickly shot down. Apparently another fan played catch with a big leaguer and ended up getting hit by the ball during the game of catch.
Britton explained to me that the fan that got hit was trying to sue Major League baseball for injuries so all interaction with fans like that was put on hold. For how long? I'm not sure. When I heard the news I wasn't disappointed because frankly I got to meet Zach Britton and he handed me a baseball. (Which donated .65 cents to the Seattle Humane Society) Britton may be this years rookie of the year too. And it didn't stop there. After batting practice ended he came back over and I scored a picture with him AND Brian Matusz. Both guys were sincerely genuine and it was a very pleasant experience.
Later that week I put together kind of a small care package for both Zach Britton and Brian Matusz. It consisted of a personal letter, my business card for my charity, Snagging Baseballs for Puppies, the picture we took together, and a military coin that I received from my combat tour in Iraq. Those coins are one of a kind and I felt those players deserved them because they truly made that day awesome for me.
If anyone has any follow up information on the incident with the fan that got hurt while playing catch with a big leaguer please post whatever you know about it.
Wayne Peck is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.