I was so stoked and then within a few hours nearly crushed. As a season ticket holder I was chosen to participate in an Early BP opportunity. Basically, instead of waiting for doors to open at 5:30, I was going to be let in at 4:30. This was going to be so huge and for sure I was going to be able to snag baseballS (yep, with a capital “s”), I mean, how could I not? One hour to catch a couple balls before I tried to get a few last autographs seemed like a perfectly plausible idea. And since my wife was going in with me, maybe she’d get lucky and have one land at her feet (one didn’t).
For the Twins, there was one goal in mind, avoid losing the last game of the year. They were already at 99 losses, one more would just look terrible.
But hold up, didn’t you say you were then crushed back in the first sentence?
Yes, I was crushed, and that is because of the fact that it was both the Royals and the Twins last game of the year. Since neither team had much to fight for (not even position-wise) they both said that they would not take batting practice. THIS SUCKED!! I was really banking on getting ballS. I had allowed my brain to get psyched up to go into full ballhawk mode (even reading a few tips from the Hample blog, and trying to get any Tasrget Field tips I could). I no longer had this self-imposed “one ball only” rule. I was seeing just how many I could get in this exclusive time, and to have it all taken away hurt… it hurt REALLY badly!!
So I wait around the gates and then just before 5 pm the Royals decided that they changed their mind, they were going to do an abbreviated BP for some of their guys. A few of those guys even turned out to be lefties, EXCELLENT! So the Twins workers scramble to get us all back together (around a dozen of us) and take us through the gates (and this is the best word) EARLY! Nothing pleases me more than being the first person through the gates… Oh wait, one thing is better, VIP access to bypass the gates and get in early!!
I immediately follow a very standard rule that the ballhawking guru, Zack Hample, made clear, “Get in an aisle and don’t be in the crowded first row.” He was totally right, everyone crushes together on the fence-line, leaving themselves a literal up-hill battle AND fighting with the large crowd. A few balls were tossed up, which being in the right field overhang, only the people in the first row get the balls, but it’s not like there were that many guys to provide toss-ups. I wasn’t fretting over those balls, I wanted to catch the bombs. I had the maneuverability to go up, down, left, right, and if I really wanted to jump up like a crazy person. There was only one other person copying this strategy, though they boxed themselves in because of the large flagpole area in that section.
The first bomb comes my way and I know I cannot reach it, but it lands in either the 3rd/4th row, while everyone is still in the 1st row and cannot work out how to get up and over the chairs. I scurry over and pick it up and just like that I have ensured that I will not walk away from this game empty-handed. As I walk over to give my wife the ball to hold on to, another is hit, I have to go up one row, over about 10 feet (back in the direction I was coming from) and voila, numero dos por la noche. I felt like I had just been baptised into the ballhawking community. I had actually hawked for both balls and made it a goal to get multiple. My success put me in a better mood, no longer was I upset about the shortened BP.
The gates soon opened and I left the section, I was headed back down to the dugout area in order to cross of the last few guys that I could before the season was done. Since Luke Hughes had talked to me the previous night, maybe he’d help me out and get rene Tosoni to finally sign my canvas. Well, yes, yes he did just that. I had flagged down Rene as he ran out for warm-ups and he said he’d come over after he was done. Then Luke comes out, says, “You need Rene, right?” I nod but try to tell him that he said he would come over later. Luke runs off before I could do anything other than nod, quickly talks to Rene who then immediately came over to sign for me. Rene said, “You know, I was going to come over here after I warmed up?” I tried to explain that I knew, but Luke was just being nice to me and he had tried the night before.
Before I get into the next bit of craziness, here is the list of Canvas Signers:
- Valencia, Tolbert, Casilla
- Cuddyer, Revere, Capps, Nathan
- Oliva, Hughes
- Span, Gardenhire
- Rivera, Kelly, Gladden, Mauer
- Morris, Erickson
- Butera, Plouffe
- Morneau, Burnett
- Dinkelman, Oliveros, Waldrop, Hoey, Parmelee
- Dumatrait, Mijares, Diamond, Tosoni (Game vs. Royals – 9/28/2011)
So the Twins end up winning on a walk-off style and people are cheering like we had just made the playoffs. The guys are pumped, the fans are pumped, and Gardy even looks closer to happy than tired (2011 was tough for everyone). We had not lost 100!! The guys finish their on-field celebrations and then wave and yell at their fans from in front of their dugout. First there is a tossing of baseballs, at which point I move to the aisle of sections 4 & 5 from our seats over in section 2. Immediately after the balls are launched, then guys start handing out bats to those in the dugout seats. I’m in that area!!! I notice Luke Hughes pop his head up over by 6/7 and that’s when i yelled to try to grab his attention. If there is one guy in the last couple of days that would recognize me and maybe reward me, it’d be him. His head then quickly vanishes like a turtle into it’s shell. After a few seconds he pops back out, this time directly in front of me. He looks at me and I kind of give the gesture of “for me?” and he nods in approval as he hands me a Rawlings Drew Butera black model bat. It has the mota-stick residue all up the handle and shows a few ball marks… AWESOME!! He then hands me another bat, this one is a Louisville Slugger Danny Valencia model blonde bat. I panicked and REALLY wanted to take both, but as there was a young kid (8 or so years old?) right next to me, I gave him the Danny Valencia bat. There were a couple reasons why I gave him that one. One, Luke handed my the Drew bat first, so that would technically be my first ever bat that was given to me by a player. Second, the Danny Valencia bat looked either brand new or barely used. Third, like I said, I panicked and just gave it to the kid quickly. I was not huge on getting a Drew Butera bat, but I was not in the position to be picky.
Later on, down in Spring Training (nice segue… next post is Spring Training) I asked Luke about the Drew Butera bat and he confirmed that it wasn’t used by Drew, but actually by himself. I knew there was a reason why he would hand that bat to me. It wasn’t just any old bat that he found, it was actually his. Pretty darn sweet if you ask me. I had done detective work over the off season to see what bats Luke used (he does have a few of his own) and I found out that he used the same model bat that I own (Drew Butera) and that he tweeted about using a few other guys’ bats. Even down in Spring Training I caught him using some other guy’s bat. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t . Simply put, it was one of the top 4 baseball games I have been to (list is in a different post, probably one not yet posted at this point in time).
Thanks to LUKE HUGHES!! I cannot say it enough, he was so generous to me and all the Twins fans. I really thought the way the Twins released him was quite terrible. I know some of the guys miss him, and many fans miss him too. I hope he climbs back into the bigs and if we’re lucky he will be wearing the TC and M logo again. Thanks also go out to my ticket rep for hooking me up with the Early BP opportunity.