Old Ivy

Old Ivy

  1. It hits you as you walk through the tunnel,
  2. You have left the year you were in.
  3. You’re stuck in an ageless realm,
  4. Where change happens,
  5. But history never leaves.

 

  1. The Cubs are playing a
  2. 1:20 p.m. game
  3. vs. the Cardinals
  4. And stand around the
  5. Cage at home plate
  6. As their teammates take
  7. Batting practice.

 

  1. Grass greener than emeralds
  2. Cushions the feet of those who make history.
  3. The seats are green,
  4. The New Scoreboard in Left Is green,
  5. The Manual Scoreboard in Center is green.
  6. A giant box
  7. They call the Batter’s Eye Suite is green.
  8. Little Green Leaves dot the brick
  9. Outfield wall.
  10. The dugouts,
  11. Roofs,
  12. Doors,
  13. Bathroom signs,
  14. Railings,
  15. Are all Green!

 

  1. Along the first base line.
  2. Girls wear dresses down to their feet
  3. In the upper deck.
  4. Men are dressed in suits,
  5. Dress shirts,
  6. Ties,
  7. And proper hats.

 

  1. One of the girls gets a ball that says
  2. “Official Major League Baseball.”

 

  1. She has no idea what this means though.
  2. She is here to see the Chicago Whales,
  3. And she knows they play in the
  4. Federal League.

 

  1. In the bleachers,
  2. Gorgeous women
  3. Of a different time,
  4. Sit and hold beers in both hands
  5. As they tan in skimpy bikini tops.

 

  1. Generations of fathers and sons
  2. Are at their first baseball game together,
  3. Sons see themselves with their sons,
  4. And fathers see themselves with their fathers.

 

  1. Other men and women mill about,
  2. Sitting together wearing the
  3. Jerseys of their favorite Cubs,
  4. Past and present.

 

  1. You look out at the field
  2. And you see both the
  3. Past and
  4. Present.

 

  1. In right,
  2. The Babe stands
  3. With his fat gut nearly busting out of
  4. His Uniform,
  5. He’s drinking a beer
  6. A fan gave him in exchange for
  7. Autographed baseball that will
  8. One day, Be priceless.
  9. He admits it,
  10. In 1932 he stood at home,
  11. And pointed to center.

 

  1. In left, Moises Alou stands near
  2. Billy Williams and
  3. Stan The Man,
  4. Chatting with a fan
  5. Named Steve.
  6. Alou has to jump
  7. To see the man at eye level.
  8. He gives the fan a ball,
  9. And they laugh,
  10. As if they were reminiscing.

 

  1. About 40 yards to their left,
  2. Gale Sayers takes a handoff
  3. And runs over Ray Nitchke
  4. And the Vaunted Packers defense.
  5. “Touchdown Bears!”
  6. The Public Address Announcer screams.

 

  1. In the infield,
  2. Patrick Kane is skating up the ice
  3. On a break away for the Blackhawks.
  4. The Red Wings’
  5. Nicholas Lidstrom attempts to check
  6. Him into the left boards,
  7. But Kane dekes him,
  8. And fires a shot past
  9. Goalie Ty Conklin

 

  1. As the stadium erupts,
  2. A ski jumper descends from the top of the press box
  3. And jumps over the rink.
  4. A baseball hits him
  5. In midair,
  6. But he still sticks the landing.

 

  1. Because of all the action in the infield,
  2. Sam Snead has to put his tee
  3. Into the dirt just behind second base
  4. To hit the Manual scoreboard with a
  5. Golf ball.
  6. From there,
  7. It’s a mere 480 feet,
  8. Just 160 yards.
  9. He hits the top of the clock
  10. Easily, using an 8 iron.
  11. He also takes a hack at the
  12. New scoreboard in left,
  13. Which is just 392 feet away.
  14. The ball rains plastic shards,
  15. From the LED Lights,
  16. Down on the bleacher bums as it
  17. Crashes into the center
  18. Of the scoreboard.

 

  1. Willy McCovey tries to field a sharply hit
  2. Grounder that takes a
  3. Baltimore chop.
  4. But he collides with an
  5. Italian soccer player who
  6. Is taking the ball up
  7. The pitch.
  8. Lou Gehrig
  9. Watches it happen from the Visiting dugout,
  10. Grabs his bat,
  11. And nearly shows
  12. The soccer player
  13. The real reason he is called the
  14. Iron Man.

 

  1. Honous Wagner shows Mr. Cub how to
  2. Turn a double play at short.
  3. Their mitts flop, looking aged
  4. And as old as relics
  5. As Derek Jeter watches.

 

 

  1. Ron Santo has both his legs back
  2. As he makes a diving stop at third.
  3. The 9-time All Star is
  4. Hobbled no more.
  5. He winks at a black cat
  6. That walks in his path
  7. Then he fires a ball
  8. To Banks at second.

 

  1. Pete Rose takes batting practice
  2. A little too seriously.
  3. He slides into second
  4. Head first without his helmet.
  5. His blonde mop top blows in the wind
  6. And he takes out Banks’ legs,
  7. Rose argues when an umpire ejects him for
  8. Starting a bench-clearing brawl.

 

  1. The game is about to begin and
  2. Billy Sianis is taking his seat with
  3. His goat.

 

 

  1. The Cubs are giving Mr. Sianis
  2. The VIP treatment
  3. And He sits behind the
  4. Cubs On-Deck Circle.
  5. The Cubs also brought Mr. Sianis some hay for his
  6. Goat to lie on and eat.
  7. He has a whole half section of seats for him,
  8. His goat,
  9. And the foul odor it creates.
  10. The Cubs know Mr. Sianis’s happiness
  11. Is crucial to their
  12. Organization’s success.

 

  1. Wayne Mesmer and his wife Kathleen
  2. Are about to sing an operatic duet of the
  3. The Star Spangled Banner,
  4. Before the game,
  5. A tradition that began on
  6. These Hallowed grounds
  7. During the 1918 World Series,
  8. When the U.S. entered
  9. World War I.

 

  1. Fittingly, U.S. Doughboys are
  2. Carrying the stars and stripes
  3. To the pitcher’s mound.

 

  1. President Franklin Roosevelt
  2. Throws out the first ball
  3. From the President’s box
  4. Behind the Visitor’s
  5. On-Deck Circle.

 

  1. The Cubs and Tigers flank
  2. The Third and First Base lines respectively,
  3. Standing in their patched and worn wool uniforms.
  4. Several players salute the
  5. Commander in Chief
  6. And then the flag,
  7. Which has only 48 stars.
  8. They show the wounds of war,
  9. And have the fragile faces,
  10. Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

 

  1. Rookie Greg Maddox takes the hill
  2. For the Cubs.
  3. He’s fresh out of AAA Iowa,
  4. Where he posted an
  5. ERA of 3.02,
  6. And a record of
  7. 10-1 in 18 starts.

 

 

  1. Bob Gibson is on the bump
  2. For the Cardinals.
  3. He won the Cy Young Award
  4. And the MYP last year
  5. While posting an
  6. ERA of 1.12
  7. And a record of 22-9.

 

  1. In the 4th,
  2. Santo hits a homer onto
  3. Sheffield Avenue.
  4. Jack Brickhouse watches it sail
  5. Out of the park and screams
  6. His trademark
  7. “Hey, hey!”

 

  1. Harry Caray is broadcasting the game for KMOX on the
  2. Cardinals Radio Network.
  3. He nearly jumps out of the booth when
  4. Grover Cleveland Alexander gives up a triple
  5. To Centerfielder Jason Rienke
  6. In the 6th.
  7. The ball sailed high, and far,
  8. Landing in the Center Field Ivy.
  9. Andre Dawson Crashed into the wall
  10. And got his foot stuck in the weeds
  11. As he hurried for the ball.

 

  1. Ozzie Smith scores on the play.
  2. And does a backflip in Celebration.
  3. Alexander sees this,
  4. Spits tobacco on the ball,
  5. And throws the ball at Smith’s head.
  6. The ball misses Smith’s red helmet by an inch,
  7. Proving that the Wizard
  8. Really is magical.

 

  1. In the bottom of the inning,
  2. The Public Address Announcer says:
  3. “In memory and respect
  4. of those who lost their lives
  5. 16 days ago in the attacks
  6. on the World Trade Center,
  7. Pentagon,
  8. And United Airlines Flight 93,
  9. Please rise for the singing of ‘God Bless
  10. America’.”
  11. Fans and players join the singer
  12. As they sing
  13. “God Bless America
  14. Land that I love,
  15. Stand behind her and
  16. Guide her
  17. Through the night with the light from Above-“
  18. A choir of 41,159 sings
  19. A song that can be heard throughout Wrigleyville.
  20. Players are seen crying on the field.
  21. Fans and players hold
  22. Hands and sing the song
  23. With their eyes closed
  24. As if they were also
  25. Singing a prayer.
  26. Their souls are
  27. Hurting,
  28. But baseball is healing.

 

  1. The game resumes
  2. Minutes later,
  3. And it’s as if the
  4. Attacks never happened.

 

  1. Before the Bottom of the seventh,
  2. With the Cubs up 2-1
  3. Bernie Mac sings
  4. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
  5. But when he says
  6. “Root, Root, Root for the Champions,”
  7. The Microphone is taken away from him.
  8. Caray is singing along in the
  9. Cardinals radio booth.
  10. So, in an unusual move,
  11. A Cubs press assistant
  12. Gives him the Microphone.
  13. He sings a stirring rendition
  14. Of the song
  15. While the crowd sings with him.

 

  1. Bruce Sutter is given a standing ovation
  2. By the sell-out crowd
  3. When he comes into pitch
  4. And notch a six out save in
  5. 8th.
  6. Sutter is flawless.
  7. His fastball
  8. Is good.
  9. His curve breaks nicely.
  10. And He strikes out the side.

 

  1. Sutter is also called from
  2. The Cardinals Bullpen in
  3. The 8th.
  4. This time the crowd rains “boos”
  5. Down on him.
  6. He hopes he can record a
  7. Six out save.
  8. But his offense
  9. Needs to score a run
  10. Against a tough pitcher
  11. In the 9th to make that possible.
  12. Sutter’s fastball is
  13. Hotter than ever.
  14. The bottom drops out of his
  15. Curve ball.

 

  1. Sutter once again
  2. Strikes out the side
  3. Before he takes the
  4. Ball in Top of the 9th.

 

  1. However, He gives up
  2. A leadoff walk,
  3. And Manager Leo Durocher
  4. Decides to bring in
  5. Dennis Eckersley to
  6. Finish the job.

 

  1. Eckersley
  2. Cleans up the mess,
  3. And the Cardinals don’t
  4. Hit a ball out of the infield
  5. In the 9th.
  6. The game ends when
  7. Rey Shoman
  8. Hits a double play ball to
  9. Shortstop Kevin Chance,
  10. Who threw the ball to
  11. Second baseman
  12. Phillip Minker,
  13. Who finished the play with a hurl
  14. To Ryan Sojo.

 

  1. Steve Goodman’s
  2. “Go Cubs Go!”
  3. Blasts from the loudspeakers
  4. As the raucous crowd
  5. And the Cubs celebrate their division title.
  6. Goodman’s ashes blow in a beautiful snow
  7. From the prevailing 30 mile an hour
  8. Southwest wind.
  9. As his ashes sail over the left field wall,
  10. The bleacher bums
  11. Bid him ado
  12. As Goodman takes his final resting place
  13. Out on Waveland Avenue.

 

  1. The National League Division Series is as far as the Cubs will get
  2. This season.
  3. Though change happens at Wrigley,
  4. The one thing that never changes
  5. Is the wait for next year.

 

 

 

 

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3 Sports, 1 Day in Omaha

I’ve written about a lot of epic days on this blog. None may have been more epic though than the day I experienced on March 7 in Omaha.

My friend Steve and I raced from Sioux City to Omaha at 9:30 a.m. We planned to go to the Xavier at Creighton Basketball, Minnesota at Creighton Baseball and Collorado College at Nebraska-Omaha hockey game.

We picked my cousin Tyler up at his parents’ house in Papillion, an Omaha suburb, and then raced downtown. We weren’t sure we would be able to get into the basketball game because we hadn’t bought tickets yet. We planned to scalp tickets, but when we arrived we got a steal on tickets from the box office.

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As the game started, we stood in a standing room area in section 128.

Two minutes into the game, Steve spotted an entire empty row of seats a few sections over. We figured that an entire row would not show up and claim those seats. So we moved to here during the first TV timeout.

Our original plans were to go to just the baseball and hockey game, but when we realized Creighton also had a basketball game, we decided to go too. This was by far the game I was the least excited about. Still, I love college basketball, and Xavier led by just 1 at halftime.

Creighton’s baseball team plays at TD Ameritrade Park, which is across the parking lot from the Centurylink Center. At half it was a little after 2 p.m., and the gates to TD Ameritrade Park opened at 2:30. The baseball game was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tyler and I had originally planned to leave the basketball game at 2:20 p.m. This was going to be our first baseball game of the season, and neither of us could wait to see live baseball. Still, I convinced Tyler to stay until the end of the basketball game because I couldn’t imagine another day where we’d attend 3 different games in 3 different sports in the same day.

So, at halftime Tyler and I sprinted 2 blocks to his car, grabbed our baseball gloves and sprinted back. When we got back, we couldn’t stop laughing because we had baseball gloves at a basketball game.

The game remained close throughout the second half, with Xaiver and Creighton trading the lead several times.

I’m not sure why the last 2 minutes of a basketball game always seem to take a half hour.

As the ending drug on, Tyler and I twitched as we looked up at both the real and game clocks. The gates to TD Ameritrade Park had been open for nearly an hour, and we thought the baseball game would start soon. For as much fun as we were having at the basketball game, this was our baseball Opening Day, and Opening Day is the mating call of the ballhawk.

No matter what happened, I wanted the basketball game to end in regulation.

Xavier eventually won the game after Creighton missed a shot on the final posession of te game.

Tyler and I raced out of the Centurylink Center and sprinted the block and a half over to TD Ameritrade Park.

When I entered the right field gate, this is what I saw:

 I went to Minnesota’s dugout and got a Big 10 baseball from Minnesota. Creighton started taking infield so I went over to their dugout.  

 When Creighton finished talking infield, I asked a coach if I could, “Have that Big East Ball for my collection.”

He looked at the ball, then went to a nearby bucket, saw one with a good logo and tossed it up to me.

And, Volla!

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There were acres of empty seats, and I was foaming at the mouth thinking about all of the foul balls that could come my way.

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The baseball game started at 4:30 p.m. because the warning track in right field was covered in standing water. During the winter ice accumulated there, and did not melt because of the stadium’s shadows.

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I sat behind the first base dugout for righties, and

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just behind home plate for lefties.

The areas near home plate and Creightion’s dugout were a little more crowded because Creighton’s fans sat near Creighton’s players.

I got frustrated after a few innings with the lack of foul balls to either side. In the top of the fourth a lefty for Minnesota fouled a ball off two rows and one section to my left. I picked that ball up easily for my third of the day. That ball was also my 1,600th ball of my career.

In the bottom of the inning, a player from Creighton fouled a ball off a section to my left and five rows back. Nobody was near the ball, but I raced to beat a 14 year old to it. Normally I let kids have balls if they have me beat. In this case I drove to Omaha just to get Big East balls. Steve laughed and later told me “There was no way that kid was getting that ball.”

In the sixth inning, all three of us met in seats at on the top of one of the first base side sections. It was about 5:45 p.m., and we debated what to do. I really wanted to get back to the Centurylink Center to see the UNO Hockey warmups. Tyler wanted to stay, and Steve wanted to go. I didn’t want to leave the baseball game early either.

Steve and I initially planned to get up at 6 a.m. and drive back to Columbia, for the MAC Wrestling Championships. We decided though, that we wanted to enjoy the trip more. So, Steve and I were going to leave at 6:15 p.m. for hockey, but we’d come back the next day for the baseball game.

(For the record, Minnesota won 12-8 in 12 innings.)

Before we left, we took our first ballhawk pictures of the year.

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When Steve and I got over to the Centurylink Center, it was amazing to see the transformation. IMG_20150307_182740_229 IMG_20150307_182852_957 IMG_20150307_182241_213

Steve and I had a picture taken from the same spot as we had earlier. IMG_20150307_182207_504

Then we went to the seats we sat in for the basketball game.

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It seemed like we were so much higher up for basketball than we were for hockey.

I quickly got Steve to snap a unique pic of me with my four baseballs.

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This was UNO’s final regular season game in the Centurylink Center.

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Between periods I got a few more baseball and hockey pictures.

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UNO eventually beat Colorado College 4-2 in a great game!

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Tyler lost his baseball glove during the hockey game. As he looked for it, Steve and I hung around inside the seating bowl while we waited for traffic to clear out. After about 15 minutes of looking, Tyler found his baseball glove under his seat. Perhaps its fitting though, that after a long day at the Centurylink Center that we were there when they finally turned off the scoreboard.

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I’m Not Going Away

Just when you thought I was going away, I’m back. It turns out, I graduated from college with more of an interest in business journalism than sports journalism. I didn’t see that happening when I started this blog as a freshman in college. Even though I’m not applying for sports journalism jobs, at least not many, we can still have fun! So, I’ll continue to try to update this site when I get time. Who knows, I might write baseball game stories from last summer that I never had time to write. Currently I’m reporting for Missouri Business Alert while I look for a full-time job. So, stay close, I’ll be updating this thing once Missouri’s baseball home opener happens on February 27.

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I’m outta MIZZOU!

When I started college on August 17, 2011, I had exactly 1,036 baseballs in my collection. More than three years later, I’m up to 1,597. Yes, if you know me, it shouldn’t surprise you that I’ve measured these three and a half years not by the amount of stories I’ve written or degrees I earned, but rather baseballs I collected and ballparks I visited.

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(Opening Night against Ball-State on March 28, 2012. I’m holding a Ball-State 4th inning home run here.)

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When I came to MU, I had an interest in sports journalism. For my first two years, I preached the gospels of Brian Burwell, Pat Jordan, Rick Reilly and Tom Verducci. Though I still love good sports writing, sports news wasn’t the hard news I wanted to cover. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and my professors showed me how journalism could do that. During my freshman year I met Marty Steffens, who became a motherly figure to me, and she introduced me to the world of business journalism.

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Though college was a 40 month-long grind, I did have some fun along the way. I stayed in Columbia during the summer of 2012, and biked past McBaine’s iconic Big Oak Tree

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… And across Iowa in that same summer.

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I saw the future stars play at the 2012 MLB Futures Game during Kansas City’s All-Star Weekend.

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In 2013 I finally fulfilled a lifelong dream and worked at KTIV in Sioux City.

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I even worked with my Dad-

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For exactly one day.

In all, I worked 9 jobs in college working as a teacher’s assistant, book depository stocker, JCPenny associate, intern at KTIV, intern at the Los Angeles Business Journal,

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dining hall associate,

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landscaper,

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umpire,

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and briefly as a basketball official.

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I went through the normal MU J-School junior year identity crisis. I freaked out, almost switched majors and even once entertained a fleeting thought of suicide. But then, in the midst of my darkest days of college depression, my friends reminded me of the people I love the best. So as winter in Missouri turned to spring in Arizona, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

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Yes, perhaps it’s fitting that at Spring Training in 2014 I realized there’s a place in this world for a writer like me; even if I don’t know where I fit yet.

I saw games at 20 different ballparks,

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did Fireworks Friday (on the field) at Dodger Stadium,

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,collected commemoratives in San Diego,

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946607_10152812811670962_6597180037628609109_n and met ballhawks young, (My Friend Garret is on the right),

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My cousin Tyler even started ballhawking,

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and beat me at all three games we went to together.

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I interviewed Jeremy Maclin at his charity softball game in Columbia,

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and later got this football signed by him at a Sioux City Bandits game.

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I interviewed baseball coaches, softball coaches and track athletes. I interviewed Gov. Jay Nixon,

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Energizer employees in Maryville, Mo.,

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Along the way, I met some incredible people.

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So as football season approached each fall, Faurot Field became my home. Missouri’s football team nearly gave me multiple heart attacks against teams like Indiana, Vanderbilt

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and Arkansas.

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But all the nervous jittering and prayer was worth it to storm the field twice.

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I went to countless basketball games, but I still know we can all forget about the Frank Haith era.

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…Except that one day in 2012 against some team from Kansas.

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Of course, I met and made some of my best friends at football and basketball games,

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and became a battle-hardened front row warrior.

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I even made a couple appearances on ESPN and CBS.

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Through it all, I couldn’t have imagined a better place to grow from a scared little freshman:

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to a scared college graduate.

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After all, I can put a price on my education ($23,500 in student loans I need to pay back), but I cannot put a price on the EXPERIENCE I got while received my education.

I don’t know what the future holds, or where I’ll end up. It’s time to enter the workforce though, and for boring old adulthood to start. I’m about to become the third member of my family to become a member of the media, behind my Dad Al Joens and my Grandpa and namesake Phil Maher.

But as I do, I’ll carry fond memories of these carefree days at Mizzou.

So for the first time as a proud alumn of the best Journalism school in the world, MIZ— ZOU!

Summer Preview 2014

Hey everyone I wanted to do a quick post about a few summer plans I have:

I’ll be attending the Orioles @ Royals game on Friday May 16. The Orioles are using a commemorative ball at home games to celebrate their 60th season after their move from St. Louis.

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I’ll also be going to  Sioux City Bandits Indoor Football game on May 17.

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I’ll be living in LA this summer so I plan on going to a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game. They are the class A affiliate of the LA Dodgers. I also plan on going to several Dodgers and Angels games. I know I’ll be going to Omaha for a Storm Chasers game on August 4. I’ll also be going to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game on Aug. 5. They are the class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. I’ll also get to a few Sioux City Explorers games while I’m at home in May or August.

 

3/25/14 Rockies @ White Sox @ Camelback Ranch & Cubs & Padres @ Peoria Sports Complex

This would be my longest day of Spring Training. Two games, two stadiums, four teams, 13 hours of baseball. Despite every good thing that happened this day too, I’ll always remember it as the day I was robbed.

Camelback Ranch is in Glendale; about 40 minutes from Craig’s house:

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This is what we saw as we pulled into Camelback Ranch:

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Here’s a half field at the entrance to the practice fields:

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And a White Sox open air batting cage:

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And a tunnel that leads from the White Sox clubhouse to the MLB practice fields

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The White Sox share Camelback Ranch with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Remember that LA opened the 2014 season against Arizona in Sydney, Australia. That series ended two days ago and the Dodgers decided not to go back to Arizona after those games. So when Craig and I went back to the Dodgers major league fields there were hardly any fans back there.

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See that camera near the bullpen mound? That is a bullpen for six pitchers. Craig said that they have those in Surprise where he works too. It’s not a security camera. Teams record pitching sessions or they can use the cameras to watch a player throw from its home base. In this case the Dodgers could watch its prospect throw in Glendale from Dodger Stadium.

Some minor leaguers were working on drills. Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford was hurt at the time and didn’t make the trip to Australia. He signed a few autographs, but Craig and I quickly moved on.

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Before we went back toward the White Sox fields we went to the bathroom. I saw the field was set up for batting practice, but I later forgot that. More on that in a bit.

Camelback Ranch was built in 2009 when the Dodgers moved from the Grapefruit league to the Cactus League. It features a 5 acre, 1,300 foot lake system. The lake system both irrigates the fields and is stocked with fish using “reclaimed” water.

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The water smelled funky though. Camelback Ranch’s design tries to create an oasis in the desert (and Glendale). Green from grass and trees contrast the brown color of the water and trails surrounding the fields. The water contrasts the dry Arizona area surrounding the fields and acres around the development.

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While I was there I was amazed to see all that water in the desert. I figured out that a great deal of landscaping in Arizona relies on contrasting green from plants with rocks from the natural land. It’s cool. I couldn’t help but wonder though, is this really sustainable?

The white Sox MLB field was boring. The White Sox seemed to stretch for an hour. I hated Camelback Ranch though because it restricts fan access to players and balls. Fans are not allowed in the outfield on either MLB field. They have to stay down the right field line. In this case the White Sox stretched down the left field line on their field. So I took these pictures while Craig and I wandered over to the Dodgers Minor League fields. This field didn’t even have a fence. Again, great for players, but terrible for fan access.

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We decided to go back to the White Sox MLB field, but I could see that they were STILL stretching. It never occurred to me that maybe they’d hit late so they could take the final round of BP in the main stadium. (That’s what happened.) So, when I saw that the White Sox minor leaguers were taking batting practice I ended up watching it from here:

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This was actually a pretty great place to watch BP. I was at the very top of a small hill. The green mesh fencing was incredibly annoying and hard to see through. But, I could see each batter in the cage hit the ball. Now, this spot SUCKED for 3 reasons:

1. The White Sox wouldn’t give away toss-ups.

2. The White Sox could not hit balls out to center field, or right field, or left center. No, they had to hit the few balls they hit out to left field where this F***ing fence stopped me from getting about 8 balls!

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The difference between me having a career day and an ok day was this stupid fence. The fence stopped fans from entering a bullpen area a whole 100 feet to my right! A real fan friendly complex would’ve put the fence up right next to the bullpen mounds so fans could watch pitchers warm up. But no, White Sox and Dodgers players need their privacy!

God only knows how many fences I’ve hopped in my minor league ball-hawking days. God only knows it would’ve taken me 10 seconds seconds to jump that fence and grab every ball. God only knows how many times I’ve snuck into areas I couldn’t be to get a baseball; completely oblivious to the fact that getting caught would come with real consequences.  I thought long and hard about it during BP. But I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of getting arrested or thrown out for the day.

About 15 minutes and zero balls after I started ballhawking this spot the Rockpile Ranter showed up. I’d talked to the Rockpile Ranter online a few times. I also read his blog regularly. He’s part of the large online community of ballhawks. So, I was amazed to finally meet him in person. If he hadn’t shown up I probably would’ve gotten four or five more balls that him and his kids got. But, the competition between us made it a lot of fun.

My first ball came on a 410 foot bomb to left center field. I saw it off the bat, but lost it when it went over my head. The Rockpile Ranter saw it as well, but I had a better beat on it. The race was close, but I just got there in time.

My second ball was a ground rule double that hit off the warning track. I saw the ball as it landed and had a better beat on it than anyone else. The Rockpile Ranter said he didn’t think it was going to clear the wall, but I knew it was going to bounce over the wall the entire time. I caught the ball on the bounce while running down hill.

The first rule of ballhawking is to be the first person inside the stadium. Spring Training was the exception to this rule though because most teams do not take BP in the main stadium. The gates to the main stadium opened at 11:30 a.m. Craig and I took our time going back to his car, getting food and getting tickets. When we entered the stadium at 11:35 I realized the WHITE SOX WERE HITTING!

I sprinted out to the left field berm as fast as I could. Three seconds after I got out there, the White Sox stopped hitting.

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UHHHHH!!! I was frustrated.

The good thing about BP was that it caused three balls to be hit into the Rockies bullpen:

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After that, Craig and I wandered around the stadium. Here I was with both balls I had:

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This was the hottest day of my trip. Highs were in the low to mid-90s. My body was not used to the high heat or the dry air of Arizona.

After that we went back to the berm. I hung out by the Rockies bullpen for what seemed like 30 minutes until a groundskeeper came out to tamp the bullpen mounds. Ten minutes before that a gloveless kid saw that I had been waiting by the bullpen. There were two balls at the back of the bullpen when he came out. So of course when he asked for the first ball, the grounds keeper tossed it to the kid instead of me. But, he later tossed me the second ball.

Bullpen catcher Pat Burgress came out about 15 minutes later and tossed me the ball in the picture before my last one.

In the bottom of the fourth a White Sox player lined out Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon to end the inning. I ran down the berm and screamed at Blackmon while asking for the blog. That attracted a flock of little kids. There was another kid, not in a Rockies or White Sox shirt, that was right behind me. Blackmon tossed the ball my direction and I couldn’t tell if it was intended for me or the kid behind me. As the ball approached I used my hand to push me off the wall and jump higher. I high pointed the ball and reached up and caught the ball at it’s highest point like a football wide receiver catching a fade.

The kid’s Dad told me “Hey, you stole a ball from my kid.” I didn’t. If I knew the ball was intended for the kid, it wouldn’t’ve counted. I just didn’t know; and I ended up with the ball. A different Dad I talked to asked to see what a game used MLB ball looked like. Here he is holding that beautiful baseball:

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So, now I was up to five. In the top of the 5th Jordan Pacheco crushed a home run to left center. I didn’t see the ball off the bat so I ran to where the left fielder was running. The left fielder ran right to where I was running but I still had no idea where the ball was at. I had my glove in a basket position when I saw the ball at the last second. I could feel the air from the ball going into my glove hit me when a gloveless Rockies fan running with a beer ran in front of me and caught the ball with his right hand.

“WHAT THE **** **** **** ******* ***** ******* ****** SUPER **** dip**** Mother****** God**** how could I **** blow that ******* ball! I said. I’ve dreamt of snagging an MLB home run for as long as I can remember. THIS WAS MY CHANCE! Jordan Pachecho wasn’t a minor league player. HE WAS A MAJOR LEAGUER AT SPRING TRAINING and I missed the ball because I didn’t see it off the bat!

I kept thinking about this for the rest of the game. Craig and I sat in the outfield at three of the five games we went to and I just hoped beyond hope that I would have the chance to snag a home run –

I blew it, but I was robbed. The world felt tiny. I was still having fun, but that hurt. I took this picture of me mocking the beach photo of the feet in the seventh:

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After the ninth inning I went to the left field corner to get a ball from the home plate umpire. This was weird though. His name was not listed on the box score, but the names of the base umpires were listed. I figured he was a minor league umpire, so I put on my umpire shirt and I figured I’d try my best. The umpires all laughed as usual when they saw my shirt. I asked him for a ball. He asked second baseman Scott Barry if it was ok to give balls away and Barry told him “Yeah, if you have an extra one.”

The umpire lobbed it to me, but overthrew me by a long shot. I was standing in a small part of the berm in foul territory.

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At that point I did one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done while ballhawking. The ball landed in the bottom of a wheelchair ramp down to the lowest rows of the grandstand seats. I hurdled this railing and about landed flat on my back. I grabbed the railing and held on for dear life; which allowed me to step down onto the ramp with my left foot. I grabbed the ball and ran out of there.

Craig and I grabbed In-and-Out Burger on our way to Peoria:

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We also drove by the Arizona Cardinals Stadium:

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Then we got to Peoria Stadium:

We sat in left field because we could see the scoreboard this time and the Cubs bullpen was in the left field corner.

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IMG_20140325_175525_452 This game was lame though. I tried to get a ball from the Cubs before the game, but none of them threw any balls to any fans:

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When I asked a bullpen coach for a ball later he looked at me like I was a criminal and said “I’m giving it to a kid,” but he never did. I’m an actual huge Cubs fan, but I didn’t get a ball from the one team I’m an actual fan of. The Cubs stinginess made me rethink plans to try to see the Cubs play in St. Louis during Finals Week.

I got shut out at this game. I could’ve gotten a foul ball or two if I had stood above third base. But Craig wanted to stay in the outfield and I wanted to try to get a home run. I tried for third out balls from the Cubs, but nothing happened.

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Game Stats:

6 Balls at 2 games

MLB Balls 45-50

18 Spring Training Balls

2 MILB baseballs at this game

4 MLB baseballs at this game.

3 Spring Training Stadiums with at least 1 ball.

3 Spring Training Stadiums with at least 5 balls.

14 Stadiums with at least 1 ball

 

3/24/14 White Sox @ Mariners @ Peoria Sports Complex

Did I mention I’ve been busy lately? I’m trying to crank out several stories for kbiasports.org and missouribusinessalert.com. I’ve also been grading essay tests for a freshman economics class and working part-time at a dining hall. If you’re wondering why I haven’t been on here though, I’m running out of money fast and I’d rather work or write for class instead of blog for free.

But, I’ve got some free time in my blogging class. So, let’s get to this blog post!

Craig had a dentist appointment at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning. The gates to the Peoria Sports Complex opened at 9:15 a.m., but because of his dentist appointment we didn’t get there until around 10:15 a.m. I was slightly annoyed, but his life didn’t stop just because I was on vacation.

We pulled into the complex and drove right past several Padres minor league practice fields. My initial plan was to find the Mariners MLB team who would be taking BP soon. We parked our car and decided to stay at the Padres practice field. I don’t have a Padres shirt so I wore my Mariners shirt early in the day.

I found on this trip that if a complex has two teams players generally give a lot of baseballs out to fans in clothes of either team. That worked in this case.

I walked across the parking lot and into a small lot beyond left field. I love these fences a lot more than at Goodyear Ballpark the day before. The fences of the practice fields here were just basic chain link fences. But, unlike Goodyear’s practice fields, it didn’t have a green mesh on it.

A Padres player saw me when I got to left field. I didn’t even ask for the ball, but he acted like he was going to toss one to me. When he saw the logo was messed up he said. “Logo’s no go.”

A few more balls were hit to him and he looked at each one before throwing them back to the bucket. At one point he even put his finger down as if to tell me to wait patiently. On the fifth ball hit to him he threw me the ball!

I moved to left field where there was far more competition, but far more action: IMG_20140324_103505_813

Eventually I convinced a Latin player wearing No. 79 to toss me a ball by asking in Spanish. By the time I wrote this entry I couldn’t find his number. My most memorable experience with Padres minor leaguers would come at the airport on Sunday, but more on that later.

After that Craig and I hitched a free golf cart ride from the practice fields to the main entrance to the stadium what seemed like a quarter mile away. (Really we parked on the outfield side of the parking lot, but it was a long ways away.)

Before we entered I took a picture of both baseballs and texted my Dad as he got off of work at 1 p.m. CST.

Take a look at these balls. There’s a lot going on here:

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I’ve gotten a lot of minor league baseballs since I started my collection six years ago, but I had never gotten any like this. I’ve gotten Pacific Coast League Baseballs:

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American Association Baseballs:

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California League Balls and the good old generic “Practice Ball Minor League”

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But I had no idea that Minor League Baseball made generic Minor League Baseball game balls. The laces felt larger than on a major league baseball, but shorter than on an independent league ball. This was the find of the trip for me!

It was fan appreciation day at Peoria Sports Park so Craig and I got two berm tickets for $7. I lost my ticket later, but more on that later. IMG_20140324_111515_478

This was the view outside of the home plate gate. I knew that there would not be batting practice. So, we didn’t want to rush to get in.

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This is what we saw when we got to left field.

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This was the view from right field.

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I loved the Peoria Sports Complex for one reason: FREE SUNSCREEN! My sunscreen bottle was almost out when I got there. With pale skin in Arizona I had to put sunscreen on every two hours. This ballpark saved me a lot of money because I filled my pocket sized bottle up three times over two days.

The Peoria Sports Complex was the first complex was built in 1994 and was the first spring training complex in the Cactus or Grapefruit League built for two teams. After the 2013 spring season the complex underwent $30.9 million in renovations that added new clubhouses for both teams.  Its age showed now. Bird poop covered the yellow railings on top of the outfield wall. Its scoreboard looked nice, but not as nice as any of the other Cactus League parks we went to. The seats in the grandstand looked worn from years of sitting in the Arizona sun. Metal bleachers  sit down both the third and first base line; reminiscent of old spring training facilities but not newer flashier spring training stadiums.

Craig and I hung out there and played catch on the hill and hung out for the next 45 minutes. The game was scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. At 12:15 p.m. one Mariners pitcher began to play catch near the left field foul pole. A small crowd in Mariners shirts had congregated so I thought there would be no chance I’d get the ball.

About 10 minutes later I looked at the player again and noticed that there were several kids along the railing, but nobody had a glove. “I’m going to go get that baseball,” I told Craig.

I ran behind the batters eye, changed from my White Sox shirt into my Mariners shirt and ran over here:

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Was the view from where the player was. Craig and I had our spot out by the light pole in right field. It was a great spot, but we couldn’t see the scoreboard.

When I got to left field I stood in this spot. The pitcher was right in front of me. I noticed when I got over there that there was only one kid with a glove and he had it off and held it in his left hand. The second I got over there the pitcher got done throwing. I quickly but politely asked him for the ball.

He tossed it to me, but it bounced off the heal of my glove and I dropped it onto the warning track.  For a split second I wondered if he would still give it to me. By now other people started screaming for the ball. A mom asked if she could have it for her young; but disinterested son. He came over the warning track and laughed about me dropping the ball before he stuck it in the webbing of my glove.

He told people “Sorry, he was the first one that asked.” Smiled at me, shrugged his shoulders and signed some autographs.

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I ran back over to Craig and returned with this about three minutes after I had left him:

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Craig watched the entire thing unfold and laughed at me, when I got back, for dropping the ball.

On my way back to right field I changed into my White Sox shirt. When I got back to Craig the entire White Sox team had come out to stretch along the right field line:

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The first few rows of the section was packed but eventually I wedged my way into the front row.

IMG_20140324_124318_374I don’t get many things autographed. When I get baseballs autographed it’s for special reasons or by legends like Frank White or Barry Larkin. When I told people throughout the week about my collecting hobby they instantly thought I wanted autographs, not baseballs for some reason. Autographs are cool, but baseballs are cooler.

Still, Paul Konerko decided to sign for about 10 minutes. I saw Konerko play on 4/6/11 @ Kaufman Stadium. I’m a Cubs fan and don’t like the White Sox, but I respect the heck out of Paul Konerko. I borrowed a Sharpie from a kid who had just gotten an autograph from him. Konerko used it to sign my ticket. But when he was done I reached for the Sharpie in his hand while he dropped the ticket. The ticket slid into the gap between the wall and the tarp below me. I tried to reach it, but I ended up just grabbing a fist full of dirt and a bunch of old peanut shells. That hurt.

After the Star-Spangled Banner Alexi Ramirez threw me his warm-up ball on his way back to the dugout:

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Still, This was the first time where I would’ve rather had the autograph.

By now I sat on four balls and prayed a home run would come near us. There were great spots for foul balls there, but the berm was comfy and a nice place to sit. I was on vacation and there to relax. The ballhawk in me hates this, but I decided that the count be damned. I’d try for homers and relax during the game.

Of the west valley ballparks the Peoria Sports Complex had the best beer prices. Domestic and local craft beers each cost $7.50 each. This Four Peaks Peach Ale hit the spot on a hot spring day at Peoria Stadium:

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Throughout the game I tried to get warmup balls from the White Sox outfielders and the White Sox bullpen with no luck.

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It was hard to keep track of the game without being able to see the scoreboard. Still, it was a great game for Spring Training. The White Sox ended up winning 7 to 6.

Spring Training is weird. Let me say that. There’s a mass exodus of many of the MLB players during the middle of the games. The umpires don’t enter in tunnels (for the most part) they enter in the outfield. In this case the entrance for the teams and umpires was through a gate in left field. So, after the game I stood right in the right field corner with my MLB umpire shirt on again.

The umps saw me and heard me when I yelled, “How’s it going guys?! I’m a high school ump.” They laughed and started talking to me. Then I said I’m a collector and asked for a ball.  BAM! That’s all it took:

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Look at that beauty. It’s a perfect pearl. That’s the problem though. It’s a pearl! Gamers should be brown and rubbed down! This ball was slick and hardly brown. This ball was in the ump’s bag and would’ve been used in the game if it had gone longer.

After the game Craig’s Dad took me to Whataburger for the first time:

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The spicy ketchup was the best part of the resteraunt. The burger was very good too. It was a southern patty melt with thousand island dressing.

Game stats:

5 Balls at this game.

12 Spring Training Balls

12 Balls on this trip

2 MILB Balls

3 MLB Balls

Career MLB Balls 41-44

Career total (6 years): 1459-1464.

2 Spring Training Stadiums with at least 1 ball

2 Spring Training Stadiums with at least 5 balls

13 Stadiums with at least 1 ball