Hoping to get the most out of my spring training experience, I arrived at Hammond Stadium just after 8 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game. Since it had rained the night before and the skies were still dreary and overcast, there weren’t any players taking early morning practice. The gates weren’t set to open until 10 a.m. so for the next two hours I took pictures throughout the complex.
Here’s the front of Hammond Stadium:
After walking back to the car I noticed that each row of the parking lot was named after a current or former member of the Twins. I particularly liked Killebrew Drive:
I continued by taking a leisurely stroll down this path to the practice fields:
If you look closely in the previous photo you’ll see a Twins coach in the distance. That’s Gene Glynn. We walked passed each other and said hello, but that was the end of our encounter… until he turned around and struck up a conversation. After talking for nearly 10 minutes we discovered we had mutual friends. As it turned out, I know a few of his great nieces and nephews who go to my high school.
After talking with Gene I continued walking until I reached the far end of the complex. Here’s the view looking back towards Hammond Stadium:
Eventually I made my way back to Hammond:
After taking a few pictures of the fountains I got in line to enter the stadium:
Once inside the stadium I headed down to the dugout area to watch the Twins get set up for batting practice:
Most of the team warmed up their arms in shallow left field:
I moved to the seats in right field for the Twins first group of hitters, a group of lefties. After watching Jason Kubel take a few cuts I realized that the ball wasn’t carrying as well as it had been the day before. Because the temp was cooler and the air was more moist today, most of the balls got hung up at the warning track. Regardless, I eventually snagged one of the only homers that Jason Kubel hit during batting practice. When Kubel’s group was done hitting I moved to the grassy area in left field.
Ball 2 of the day was hit by Trevor Plouffe. I caught the line drive home run on the fly while I was running in full stride to my left. Surprisingly a few players complemented me on my catch. Ball #3 was another Plouffe homer that I caught on the fly, but this time I had to descend on the stair case that is between the concourse and the grassy area before catching the moonshot that Trevor hit. I’m not sure why, but once again I was complemented by a few of the fielders. It was kind of cool, but unexpected. My fourth ball of the day was a “home run” hit by Brian Dozier. When Dozier hit a deep line drive to left field I could tell that the ball wasn’t going to clear the wall, but I knew it’d be close. Casey Fien and I both got a beat on the ball, but just from different sides of the fence. As Casey tracked the ball to the warning track I reached over the fence. As Casey leapt at the wall, I reached lower. As soon as I felt the ball inside my glove I watched as Casey landed back on the warning track. I had just made a pretty sweet catch, robbing Casey at the wall! All of a sudden a bunch of fans applauded, and Casey even let out a laugh. He looked genuinely impressed.
This was my view when the Cardinals took the field:
This is when most of the excitement ended. Since the Cardinals had split squad games today, only the scrubs had traveled to Hammond Stadium. There were only a few homers during the rest of batting practice, and I was lucky enough to get one of them. Immediately after picking up the ball I gave it to an elderly lady who was sitting at the railing behind the section. She was absolutely thrilled, and once again I was applauded. It was a little weird.
When the Cardinals left the field I took a somewhat artsy photo:
Shortly after batting practice it began to rain and everything began to get wet:
Because a strong storm was moving in, fans were advised to take cover in the party area near the batting cages and the Twins’ bullpen. After finding my 6th ball near the Twins bullpen I decided to leave. I knew the game would be cancelled, so I didn’t give it a second thought.
Here’s the shot of the baseballs that I kept:
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!