This was the first day i’d ever been to spring training so naturally I was not sure what to expect. Thankfully Tony Voda, my personal tour guide for the day, was conveniently there for my well being. Though that’s not entirely true because Tony and his wife, Jael, had already been in Florida for most of the week, but it DID work out perfectly for Tony and I to spend the day together at the ballpark.
We met up at JetBlue Park, the Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox, just before 8:00 am.
Soon I found my first ever “Easter Egg” wedged behind a fence:
It was no pearl, but it was my first baseball of the year!
Though Tony had been to Spring Training for back to back years he still hadn’t been to JetBlue Park, so this was a new experience for both of us!
After we followed the path in the previous picture, we wound up on the complete opposite side of where we started. If you were to ask where we were at that point I would’ve said, “DEEP, DEEP left field.” Can you see JetBlue’s Green Monster in the background of the next picture?
As you can see from above, there was a bit of action as John Lester (on the left), Felix Doubront (on the right), and a few other players warmed up. Did you see that ball in the last picture? Felix Doubront and his throwing partner got a bit sloppy and let the ball sail over Doubront’s head. It became my second ball of the day when a trainer threw it to me.
After an hour or so, we made our way over to Hammond Stadium, but before we got out of the complex one of the Red Sox scrubs got my attention and threw a unique looking ball my way.
Waddaya know? My third ball of the day was my first Minor League Baseball!
After a leisurely stroll in a fancy grocery store we arrived at Hammond Stadium 9 hours before game time. To our surprise all the gates were wide open and we were able to waltz in and go where ever our hearts desired… of course we gravitated towards the field:
We wandered around the stadium and the practice fields for about an hour before I found the first of many baseballs to come at Hammond Stadium:
That was my fourth ball of the day, and I ended up giving it to a child the next day. Tony and I were each lucky enough to stumble across a few baseballs near the batting cages back at Hammond.
By the time we sat down to eat our lunch my total was up to 8, and Tony wasn’t far behind. After lunch the groundskeeper invited us to walk on the field to take some pictures. He was so laid back and cool about it that he told us to take off our shoes and walk on the grass!
…Then the groundskeeper photo bombed me:
I took a picture of Tony with my phone:
Looking in at the grounds work:
Towards the grassy berm:
Out towards left field:
The Twins finally took the field around 3:30. It wasn’t long after that when Scott Diamond threw ball #9 to me:
Ball #10 was thrown to me by Jason Kubel, but I failed to take a picture of it. I didn’t catch any home runs during the Twins portion of bp, but Tony was able to snag a few… making a diving catch in the process. Head on over to Plouffe’s New Hairdo if you want to read more about his day at Hammond.
It seemed like as soon as the Twins left the field the Orioles had already started spraying home runs into the outfield seats. At this point I kept getting baseballs so frequently that I didn’t have time to pull out my camera to take pictures. So what i’m saying is that I didn’t take pictures of the next 7 baseballs I snagged during the Orioles portion of batting practice. Yes, I said SEVEN.
I’ll try to make this quick. Ball #11 came when an Orioles player, who I didn’t recognize, hit a homer to section 128. Steve Johnson, one of the Orioles players who was shagging in right field, must not have seen me pick up the ball because as soon as I slipped it into my pocket he called to get my attention. It came as a complete surprise to me because I didn’t request a ball from him, but he threw #12 to me solely because I was wearing an Orioles jersey. I continued by catching two homeruns on the fly, one of which was hit by Julio Borbon. Balls 15 and 16 were also homers hit to right field, one of which was hit by Nelson Cruz. I’m not sure who hit it, but #17 was another homer that I caught on the fly in section 129. Even though #17 was an absolute pearl, I immediately turned and tossed it to a fellow Minnesotan who i’d been talking with for most of batting practice. He said he and his wife got a practice ball once, but he had never seen anyone catch as many balls as I had just done. He was pretty amazed by the whole ballhawking thing.
I watched most of the game from the new grass lawn in left field. This was my view:
Although the lawn was packed full of people for most of the game I still had room to maneuver my way around if a game homer was hit my way. Unfortunately that never happened. But, the next best thing did happen. During the bottom of the 6th inning Max Kepler stepped up to the plate for the Twins:
After Orioles pitcher Steve Johnson (the same guy from batting practice) worked a 2-2 count, Kepler fouled off the next pitch down the line in left:
The ball flew over the boardwalk and landed on the practice field below. I didn’t think anything of it then, but when I walked across the boardwalk during the 7th inning I noticed the ball was still there. It didn’t take long to decide to go and get it:
The practice field is located behind the stair case in the previous picture. Because the gates to the field were locked I wasn’t able to grab the ball myself, but a friendly employee happily retrieved it for me.
I made it back inside the stadium just in time for the last two outs of the game. I was even able to grab a seat in the first row behind the Orioles dugout to watch Kennys Vargas, the game’s last out, take a turn in the batters box. After Orioles Pitcher T.J. McFarland struck out Vargas and congratulated his teammates on their victory, he walked back to the dugout with the ball in hand:
As T.J. walked back to the dugout we made eye contact, and he underhand tossed the ball to me:
It was funny because a few of the coaches thought T.J. was tossing the ball to them, but they all turned and watched as it sailed over their heads and into my glove.
After meeting up at the car, Tony and I took a picture of our combined haul for the day.
This is actually Tony’s picture. I had to use it because the picture I took didn’t turn out. We ballhawked a combined total of 38 baseballs (36 MLB and 2 MiLB).
I’ve given a few more balls away since spring training, so I circled those balls in the next picture. Here’s my haul from the night:
Even though the Orioles beat the Twins 11-5, the game was still enjoyable. After a long cold winter in Minnesota it was great to finally get out to the ballpark to watch a game of baseball under the lights!
Although the Twins lost, I could still tell they have improved since last year. From what I saw, the Twins look better overall. I think they’ll actually have a mediocre 2014 season and could even finish near .500 by the end of the year.
It’s not something that I usually do, but I want to do “thank yous” for my spring training recaps. This is something that Tony Voda does regularly. Thank yous:
- Mr. and Mrs. Paulson – Thank you ever so much for opening your home to me!
- My Parents – Thank you for flying me to Florida!
- Tony Voda – Thanks for spending the day at the ballpark(s) with me!
- Twins Staff – Thanks for being so friendly and helpful.
- Grounds Keeper – Thank you for the generous gesture of field access!