I’ll just say it now, I had the game of a lifetime on June 25th. There is no other way to explain what happened, it was one of my top 4 moments in a ballpark that I have ever experienced, and tops for sure in ballhawking.
In case you are curious, here are the other top moments:
Overall Fan Experience – August 23(?), 2011 – I was worried that Jim Thome was going to be gone in the very near future so I acquired a pair of tickets for the Champions Club in one last-ditch effort to get him to sign my 2011 Team Signature Canvas. Turns out the gamble was well worth it. Not only did we have the best seats (free food and drink), I got Big Jim to sign for me and even shared a quick conversation, and then on top of it I got a pair of Michael Cuddyer batting gloves.
Best Game – October 6, 2009 – Twins beat the Tigers 6-5 in the 12th inning of game 163! The atmosphere was incredible. The game was intense. And this was the last ‘regular season’ game in the Metrodome, so very fitting. I won’t even be sad, mad, upset, depressed, or anything negative if I never get to witness a baseball game the good again in my life.
Best Collection – September 28, 2011 – The Twins not only avoided losing 100 games that night, but I got 2 baseballs… and a bat!! The bat is a Drew Butera model that was given to me after the game by Luke Hughes. I had talked to him that night and the night before and so when I called his name (after I noticed he had a bat in his hand and looked to give it away) it was extra rewarding to get such a cool piece of memorabilia. I did some research and found out that Luke likes to use many other people’s bats and even found proof of him using the same Butera model. During Spring Training 2012 he confirmed that it was indeed his bat that he gave me.
Ballhawking – June 25, 2012 – And so here the story begins…
I had made it a goal of mine this year to snag 3 balls in a game. Fine, easy enough, right? Well, I had only ever gotten 2 balls in one game three times, and one of those times was in Kansas City. Those of you familiar with Target Field know that getting balls is tough, but that’s why I wanted to set a lofty goal of 3. I felt like some people who are super lucky end up with 2 balls, 3 shows that you are really trying.
Fair enough. So I start trying right away in Spring Training. My first game seeing the Twins lands me 3 balls (technically 4 if you count the one I gave away because of people whining that I had already caught 2 balls to the coach that threw it). There it was, albeit in a much easier setting, my goal of 3 was already matched. It was definitely one of those borderline deals, do I call my goal as “met” or is it kind of cheaply met because of the conditions? Well, that doesn’t matter because on May 11, 2012 I do it for real, this time at Target Field! There is no debating if I had met my goal, 3 balls is 3 balls at a Major League stadium.
But I still had a slight doubt in my mind, all of those balls at Target Field were BP balls, but one of the three in Spring Training was a game ball. Somehow the Spring Training haul felt a tad greater than my regular season high, and at best I had only tied my “is-it-or-isn’t-it” record. I needed to put this number 3 out of my mind.
All I can say about the “Field Access Passes” that I got is that they were totally awesome and were given to me by the Twins because of an unfortunate mistake. I cannot thank them enough for going above and beyond and righting their small wrong with such a huge opportunity. Field Passes are the baseball-lover’s dream come true and for a ballhawk? Well, quite honestly it can be a mixed bag. You definitely get to watch BP earlier than anyone else, but you are also trapped on the field, with only so many balls being tossed by players or sailing past coaches, and even less finding their way hit to you (unless you get a VERY nice carom off the pitching screen).
So without further delay, here is the story behind each ball. I am sorry in advance if the story of “Ball 3” is long… no I’m not.
Ball #1: The Twins were already taking BP as my buddy Jared and I stroll up to the park at about 3:15. I gave my ticket rep a call, since he said we should call to let him know when we have arrived. The bad news, 3:15 is WAY earlier than the 5 pm time he had told us we would be on the field. So we head over to gate 34 from gate 29 and watch some of the Twins’ big guns take a few rips. Jared is taller than I, so he can tell that it is Justin Morneau up to bat, then we see him hit a bomb into section 240. We talk back and forth how we wish we could just be in there already and go up to that spot quick to shag the ball. About 5-10 minutes go by and a worker comes down from the 200 level and walks by the concourse. She pulls out a ball and says that she got the one that landed up there and asked if I want it. “HECK YES!” I quickly replied back. She rolls it through the ticket turnstiles, under the gate, and into my catcher’s mitt. 3:35 pm – 1 early ball
Ball #2: We met with our ticket rep and were let in through the gates at about 4:35, earlier than the original 5 pm scheduled time. We do some story telling with him and another member of the Twins ticket/party rep team, talking about the Twins, the stadium, my childhood admiration of Robin Ventura, and during that time a nugget of info was dropped. We were told that the Twins used to let Field Pass holders into the stadium earlier, but the players found it too distracting, so the players pushed back and asked that only the last part of BP be accessible to the public. As long as we didn’t act like fools (which we didn’t) there should be no problem. The view was awesome, the sounds amazing, the access so personal it felt fake; I actually started to forget about going after balls. Then Scott Ullger, finishing a round of hitting grounders to the infielders, looks at me and rolls me ball number 2!! no more than 10 minutes on the field and not even 5 pm and I have #31 and #32 in hand. I start wondering if 4 is attainable. I know that I have a decent trick at getting into the section behind the Twins dugout, so a gamer is also possible later on in the night… the ballhawk in me starts to race.
Ball #3: I get done talking to Gardy a little bit, then talk to my current favorite, Trevor Plouffe. I mention to Trevor that he is facing my all-time favorite baseball player, Robin Ventura. I do let him know, though, that however much childhood admiration I have built up over the years, the Twins still have to beat him. He laughs and comments about how Robin is a nice guy and then says, “He’s right over there, why don’t you go talk to him?”
Alright I will! Robin is finishing his press conference and I switched my blue Polo work shirt for my 1997 Game Used Robin Ventura Home Jersey. With the press conference now over and Robin’s batting practice pitching duties minutes away, he comes out on to the field, grabs a ball from the basket of balls and walks through the players and over to me. He noticed my jersey! He then asked how I am and I responded like I had been punched in the gut while high on painkillers. I had no air, but was in a state of complete happiness. My favorite baseball player of all-time is talking to me!! SAY SOMETHING!! I never freeze when talking to famous people, that is until now. I ‘fire back’ with something like, “Amazing! You are my all-time favorite baseball player. You were my favorite all while I was growing up!” He responded back flattered and I then asked if it was OK to get his autograph. He happily agreed, but I was missing one thing, my pen! I asked if I could go over to my camera bag to get it (20 feet away), I was nervous that he was short on time and would say no, but instead reaffirmed why he was my favorite player, he waited.
I quickly grabbed a pen and then forgot where my baseballs had even went. Robin told me not to worry and then took out of his pocket the same baseball I watched him take out of the basket of balls and signed happily below the MLB logo. It was going to be a sweet-spot signature, but when he checked that location there was a “Practice” stamp on it. I was thrilled by that as well for two reasons, the first being that I like to display all of the balls with the logos facing outward, and two, it was my first ball marked as “Practice”!!
This day could not get any better.
But it DOES…
Ball #4: A new personal record for most balls in one game!! This is too much! I now have to go to my camera bag to start holding the balls, my pants pockets are now full. The way that I got the ball was kind of odd. I was still on the field with my pass, and trying to decide if I wanted to take some photos or what I wanted to do. The rules were clear, no pestering guys for balls, but after my encounter with Robin, why would I even want/need to? I looked like a crazy person, too; i had my Twins hat and Ventura Sox jersey on, so the White Sox guys looked at me a bit strange, but never interacted with me (AJ gave me the stink eye… classy, especially since I’ve never been one to hate him after he left, unlike everyone else). I knew that it’d take an error on someone’s part in order for a ball to roll my way, and that’s exactly what happened. Joe McEwing was hitting grounders to the middle-infielders when one of the guys threw back to him but in a way that he could not field correctly. Since it was nearing the end of his grounder session he decided to not go after the ball and just end it at that point. The ball was about 2 feet away from me, on the grass behind the low hanging rope. I knew that we couldn’t walk on there, but since no one was grabbing for the ball I decided to bend over (without stepping on the grass) and add a new personal record into my ball-log.
Ball #5: We were led back into the general concourse at around 5:45 or so and so a decision was made immediately by me. I still had my Sox jersey on and there wasn’t a ton of people behind the Sox dugout, why not add to the personal record? Within a few minutes I was able to count all the balls on one hand and have no remainders. Don Cooper tossed me a ball in section 11 as I showed off my Sox jersey and my catcher’s mitt. Success!! I had beat me previous record and it wasn’t even 6 pm yet.
Ball #6: After getting a couple dollar-dogs and a drink, I worked my magic and took a seat in the first row behind the Twins dugout. I had seen these seats open during nearly every game and I had previous luck with getting a few gamers there, so I was definitely in position.
I took my seat just as the national anthem was over, and then Jamey Carroll and a few of the other Twins took a few quick throws in front of the dugout. At 7:02 he looked up, I made eye contact and showed him my mitt, and the rest is history. I had landed half-a-dozen balls in one game.
Ball #7: I really wanted to add that cherry on top; I needed a gamer to put a bow on this massive gift to myself. Each top-half of the inning, after the Twins recorded the 3rd out, I stood. I stood with my mitt ready and with a quick, loud shout at who ever had the ball. I was skunked through 6 innings and had a feeling that it just wasn’t meant to be. Then a fire was lit within me. In the bottom of the 6th the group of obnoxiously drunk old men behind me made a comment about how I should be embarrassed that I was a dude who brought a glove to a game an hoped for a ball. They proceeded to tell me that I need a “hot girl” or “small child” if I wanted one of those things. They then asked how many I gotten that day, I replied with “none”, just in hopes that they’d shut up. They didn’t, finally after a couple of minutes, one guy ended with, “…but I really hope you do get one. It’d be pretty amazing.” That comment drove me, his condescension would not fly.
Francisco Liriano came out for his 7th and final inning of the night and pitched great. Dayan Viciedo was at first with 2 out and Gordon Beckham was at bat. Gordon ended up grounding out to Brian Dozier who flipped the ball to Jamey Carroll at 2nd to end the inning (6-4 put-out). I had already received a ball from Jamey directly before the game, so in my mind I had doubts about whether or not I’d be successful, but I still was determined to try (and make that guy behind me choke on his words). And so when I got up as the twins ran in and I shouted “Jamey!” he rewarded my ‘hard work’ (or dedication) with the final ball of my night. I immediately turned to the guy behind me that told me it couldn’t be done and said, “This one’s for you, buddy!” He knew it right away; he was wrong. I loved it! The night was perfect. It was as if i were on ‘Candid Camera” and I was being set up… but instead of a practical joke, I was snagging balls. To cap it off with a gamer was perfect. Now the camera bag was really heavy!
It’s funny, I shattered my personal record and put up a very respectable total for a tough place to ballhawk, but the manner in which I obtained them was very strange. None of the balls were catches in the outfield (no BP HRs), there were some toss-ups, but not many hawks get the opportunity to try to get balls ON the field. I mentioned it above, but as much fun and as great as you think it’ll be, the number of balls that normally are obtained while on the field is actually quite low. So for me to put up a 7 spot at Target Field and do it while having Field Passes feels like a confusing yet entertaining story. I’d love to do this everyday, but I know that I wouldn’t be guaranteed high totals every time (let alone a ball every time).
One little bit of bragging: I was so excited about my big night that I checked in to mygameballs.com (user: tony433433) and after updating my ball log I noticed that I was only 1 back of Zack Hample for the most balls snagged at Target Field (as documented on that site, of course). So I gave him a bit of a heads up (in order to brag about my night) and he said that catching 7 balls at Target Field was like catching 14 anywhere else. Those words made me feel like I was nearing professional hawk territory. WOW!
If you didn’t see this one coming, then I think you need help. THANK YOU ROBIN VENTURA!! You were my favorite as a kid who was growing up loving baseball, and to meet you and feel like a kid again and to be treated so nicely by you made it magical beyond words. Thank you to the anonymous Twins worker at gate 34. It makes me happy that you would be so nice and giving. I also saw you give another ball away shortly after that to a kid who was waiting at gate 29, kudos to you! Thanks also to the often looked over bench coaches. Scott Ullger, Don Cooper, and Joe McEwing all tossed/’errored’ balls my way. I know that a lot of bench coaches toss-up balls, and often take more time to do the small stuff that make fans happy. It’s wonderful to see guys still having fun in baseball and spreading that on to the players (along with teaching them the fundamentals on how to be stars). Lastly, thank you to Jamey Carroll for the TWO toss-ups. I’ve never had a player toss two balls to me in one game, so yet another personal milestone. And a MAJOR thank you also goes out to my ticket rep for hooking me up with such a cool experience. There was an error that was a little frustrating (not any specific person’s problem), but to correct it with such an awesome and one-of-a-kind experience was totally awesome.