My first Opening Day was back in 2013 when the Tigers and Twins kicked off the season at Target Field. I missed the home opener in 2014, but I decided that I wouldn’t miss it this year! I was very anxious for a chance to get my hands on the first commemorative baseball in the Manfred Era.
Once inside the stadium, Brian Duensing tossed me my first regular season baseball of the year; a 2015 Opening Day ball! Just kidding, but how cool would that have been?! Seriously, though, this is the pearly white that Brian tossed up:
It felt good to get a ball so early in batting practice, but it felt even better when I got my second ball just a few minutes later. This one was courtesy of Aaron Thompson:
Because the Twins weren’t displaying a lot of power during batting practice, I didn’t mind getting a few toss ups instead. It wasn’t long before 1:30 rolled around and the Royals replaced the Twins on the field during batting practice. I was hoping to get my next ball when the Royals finished playing catch in left field. I tried to their attention, but my chances diminished as each pair finished their game of catch. Finally, as the last pair of players finished throwing, an unknown Royals player tossed me this rustic looking baseball:
When the Royals began taking their cuts in the cage I headed out to the left field bleachers. There was such a beautiful array of colors on the field:
I spent about half the Royals bp in the bleachers before heading over to the Twins dugout for the rest of bp. Since I’d already snagged a few baseballs today, I was ready to focus on snagging an Opening Day commemorative baseball. Having said that, this is where I moved to:
This was the one game where I had a chance to get one of these special baseballs. I was going to spend as much time next to the dugout as possible. Sometime between getting to the Twins dugout and the singing of the National Anthem, Tony and I were joined by Cam Bailey! Soon it was time for the singing of the National Anthem:
Following the National Anthem Kevin Garnett (and family), who was joined by Tyus Jones, took the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch!:
When the game kicked off, I took a pretty nice panoramic photo. It’s one of my favorites:
Although the Twins were the first to score a run, the Royals were the first to put some distance on the scoreboard between their opponents. By the end of the sixth inning the Royals were ahead 5-2. Trevor Plouffe homered in the seventh inning, but the Royals managed to pile on seven additional runs by the end of the game. The Royals beat the Twins by a score of 12-3. Click to watch the highlight video from the game. Here’s the summary and other info from the game:
After the game I got my fifth ball from Umpire Paul Nauert:
Not only was this the first time I’d gotten a ball from someone who’s first name was also my first name, but this was another 2015 Opening Day commemorative ball. This was my second mud rubbed commemorative ball of the night! I made it to the opposite side of the dugout just in time to get one final ball. This one was thrown by Lorenzo Cain as he entered the clubhouse:
I made sure to take an artsy photo of the commemoratives after I left the ballpark:
The final group shot includes the awesome sweatshirt giveaway from the game:
TOTALS: 6 balls at this game. 6 balls this year.
UP NEXT: A’s vs. Twins 05/04/15
With this being my last full day in Florida, I wanted to make the most out of it. I showed up at Hammond around 9:30 for the 1:05 game. The gates would soon open at 10 o’clock but for some reason I thought they opened at 11:00 o’clock. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the gates were open until 10:30. The day was off to a slow start already (or so I thought)…
As soon as I entered the stadium I hurried to the left field grass. This was my view:
The first five minutes were crazy! I immediately caught back to back homers that were hit by Mitch Garver as I ran into the section. I didn’t have time to photograph them on the spot, but i’ll have a group shot at the end of the entry. Then another ball was sent my way, but the wind carried it onto the practice field that was just beyond the boardwalk. An unknown Twins coach tossed it up upon my request:
Shortly after that I snagged an absolute gem, thanks to Danny Ortiz:
All of that happened in less than 5 minutes! Things slowed down a bit after the first few minutes, but the pace of batting practice remained on high! Miguel Sano was the highlight of the next group in bp. When Sano stepped into the cage I backed up to the top of the berm:
As you can see from the previous picture, the other people were hanging out at the wall. Because I was the only person behind them, I was basically guaranteed any home run that cleared there heads. That is exactly what happened. I easily snagged Sano’s first homer because it cleared everyone else’s head. For the remainder of the round I stepped onto the boardwalk whenever Sano stepped into the cage:
It was a good decision because I came away with another Sano homer. After it bounced on the boardwalk and off the scoreboard, the ball landed safely in my glove. The final group of Twins hitters consisted of mostly lefties so I moved to the right field side of the stadium. This was the view to my left:
…The view straight ahead:
…And the view to my right:
I didn’t catch any homers, but Casey Fien tossed me this pretty thing:
Number eight was also a toss up, but his time from Mitch Garver:
Quick Recap: Two homers and a toss up from the same guy in the same batting practice. Dang, I hope Mitch makes the squad this year. It’d be nice to have him at Target Field 😉
Soon the Orioles began to play catch down the first base line so I moved to the grass berm on that side of the field. As you an see, there were a lot of players on the field:
As I stepped onto the grassy berm I heard a lot of players shout, “Heads up!” because a player had overthrown a ball. It just so happened that it rolled right up to my feet:
Moments later, Yamaico Navarro hooked me up after he and his throwing partner finished:
I hit double digits when I made a sliding catch after chasing down a liner that was hit to the berm. Everyone was pretty impressed with my catch. Even a few of the players were surprised. Anyways, here’s a picture of that one:
When the Orioles started to hit in the cage I made my way back to the left field berm. When I arrived I saw that I had some competition. Not only was the berm filling up with people, but there were also a few other ballhawks with experience. I did my thing and I proudly came out on top!
Number 12 was a homer that I caught on the fly after an unknown Orioles player hit it to deep left center field. My lengthy arms helped me to reach higher than anyone else who was trying to catch this one:
This was the first Selig ball today. My next was another homer on the fly. Yet again, it was hit by an unknown Orioles player:
This was another Selig ball, but it was the first that i’d snagged that was stamped “Practice” underneath the logo. After catching this one I hit a dry spell for a bit and missed out on four balls. Two were blatantly my fault because I simply dropped two homers after they tipped off my glove. I’m not sure why I couldn’t bring them in, but it was just one of those things to shrug off. The other two homers that I missed weren’t my fault. I tracked the ball well and camped underneath to catch it, but someone picked me off at the last second. That was frustrating because it happened twice.
I was still able to come away with one final homer from bp. I caught this one because I beat everyone else to it:
When batting practice ended I noticed that one of the experienced guys was numbering the baseballs that he had caught. When I saw that I knew he was familiar with ballhawking. I introduced myself and we ended up talking for a while. Here’s a picture of Mike holding the baseballs he caught during bp:
Mike is from Orlando, Florida, but lived in Chicago a number of years ago. When he lived in Chicago he used to ballhawk on the streets of Wrigley. He works a lot now, but travels to different ballparks whenever he has time. Seems like a cool dude!
A few minutes before game time I made my way to the Twins Bullpen:
I had already decided that once the game started I would stop ballhawking because I was at the game with a group of other people. I wanted to sit with them during the game instead of wandering like usual. Since I was one ball shy of 15, I was hoping to quickly snag one last ball before the game started. Immediately following the national anthem I was able to get Blaine Boyer’s attention. Let me just say… Blaine Boyer rocks!:
…And just like that I was done ballhawking for the day. Even though I was 30 minutes late I was still able to snag more baseballs than I did at the three other games i’d gone to! I made it to my seat by the time the first out was recorded. I liked the view:
Ervin Santana got his first Start for the Twins against Orioles pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez. Santana pitched two strong innings before being replaced by Jose Berrios in the third inning. The Twins were the first to score thanks to Joe Mauer’s RBI double in the first inning. The Twins took a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Eduardo Escobar doubled in Eduardo Nunez. The Orioles earned a run off of Jose Berrios in the 5th inning, but they couldn’t push for anything more. Later in the game Casey Fien and Brian Duensing each pitched an inning before Mark Hamburger pitched the last two innings, earning the Save for the Twins.
Here’s the line up and box score from the game:
Here’s the group picture that I promised at the beginning of the entry:
Today’s Total: 15 MLB balls (11 Manfred, 4 Selig).
Spring Training Totals: 42 MLB balls (31 Manfred, 11 Selig), 5 Minor League balls, 1 Perfect game ball, 1 Whiffle ball, 1 foam ball, and 12 autographs.
UP NEXT: I’ll attend a Cactus League Game if I can while i’m in AZ, but otherwise my next game will be during the regular season.
I had originally planned to attend the Marlins vs. Red Sox game at JetBlue Park today, but at the last minute I decided to visit a “new to me” Spring Training ballpark. After driving for about an hour I arrived in Port Charlotte, Florida. Charlotte Sports Park is home to the Charlotte Stone Crabs and is also the Spring Training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Here she is:
Until the night before this, I was completely unaware that the Rays played in Port Charlotte. I also knew nothing about the complex or what it looked like. I tried to look for pictures online, but they didn’t help much. I decided that the best way to become familiar with the complex would be to arrive early. That’s what I did. I pulled into the parking lot at 7:00 am. and was at the gate to the practice fields by 7:10:
There was just one problem. The Rays’ training complex was not open to the public on game days. That meant that I would not be able to explore the practice fields. It also meant that I had gotten to the ballpark three extra hours early for nothing. Not entirely. I’ll explain, but first look at this map of the complex:
Since I had a lot of time on my hands I decided to explore other parts of the complex. I made my way back towards the home plate gate and then past the third base gate. I continued until I was near the pond that is behind the left field wall:
It was pretty gross looking back there. I found a few old baseballs and tennis balls that had already seen their better days:
Like I said, it was pretty gross back there. Later on I even found out there was an alligator back there! Good thing I left when I did. Yikes!
Take another look at this map:
I was extremely surprised, but I was able to snag a few baseballs out here! My first was thrown a pretty good distance by a Rays player who I didn’t recognize. Here’s a look at the Selig ball that he threw to me:
My next ball was another Selig ball, but this was a batting practice home run that I retrieved after it cleared the right field wall:
I was able to snag one more ball before heading to meet Grant Edrington, an established and respected Baltimore ballhawk, at the third base gate. This one was thrown by another Rays player who I didn’t recognize:
Grant and I both forgot to take a picture together, but here’s a picture of him that I got off his blog:
Once inside the gate, this was my view of home plate:
This was the view looking out towards the left field wall:
After walking towards the left field foul pole you will run into the boardwalk. The boardwalk extends from foul pole to fole pole and is great for getting around the stadium. This is the point of view from the left field corner looking towards center field:
When the Twins began their portion of batting practice Grant and I positioned ourselves along the boardwalk in left field. After a few batters had taken their cuts I was able to catch this Miguel Sano homer on the fly:
A few moments later Sano stepped back into the cage and I caught another that he sent my way. This time I had to reach over the railing of the boardwalk into the bullpen in order to make the grab. It was another pearly gem:
Grant was able to snag a few toss ups during batting practice, but otherwise we were both limited to a few balls when the Twins were on the field. One of the reasons was because Sano and Vargas simply hit the ball to far. Many times they sent the baseballs into the swampy pond outside the ballpark.
After batting practice we stayed on the left field side of the boardwalk because there were so many baseballs that were left in the bullpen from batting practice. You can’t see all of them from the picture, but there were nine baseballs scattered in the Twins’ bullpen:
Also, in case you’re wondering, Grant is the person in the forefront of the previous picture. At the time, he was talking to a kid who from New Jersey who we had met at the ballpark. I apologize for blanking on your name, but if you’re reading this please remind me of your name.
Sometime as the grounds crew was prepping the field for the game, Twins’ coach Neil Allen made his way out to the bullpen. He tossed me this somewhat used baseball:
Okay, I take it back. It was a Selig ball, so it was more than somewhat used. There were so many baseballs that he threw another to me:
There were still a few balls left in the corner of the bullpen when the game started. Mitch Garver was super nice and tossed one of them up to me:
When the game started the three of us went our separate ways and did our own thing for a while. I took a few laps around the ballpark and watched the game from different spots. When I came back to the Twins bullpen, I noticed there was still one ball left in the corner from batting practice. After politely getting Eric Fryers attention, it became my ninth ball of the day:
About 20 minutes after that, Coach Eddie Guardado threw me my tenth ball of the day. This one was used as a warm up ball for J.R. Graham before he entered the game to pitch the 7th inning for the Twins. Fryer ended up with the ball and then tossed it to Guardado. Guardado then threw it up to me:
Grant and I met up on the boardwalk in the 8th inning and we made our way to home plate. The view was great! Check this out:
Before I entered the stadium I expected it to be a pretty dumpy ballpark. The exterior is kind of ugly and most of the pictures online don’t make the ballpark look very good. Regardless of my expectations, I was thoroughly impressed with the interior of the ballpark. I really do think that this is a great ballpark to watch a game of baseball at. There is a nice cross aisle that allows fans to easily get from one baseline to the other. The boardwalk also serves the same purpose in the outfield. I love that there are grass berms for fans, and I especially like how the bullpens are set up so that fans can easily watch the activity in the ‘pen.
We made our way down to the dugout when the game finished, and Grant was able to snag one final ball of the day. I focused on getting a nice picture of the Rays celebrating their victory:
The game wasn’t terribly exciting. Both pitching staffs did a great job today, but unfortunately that usually makes for a long ballgame. The Twins allowed two runs off just five hits while the Rays only allowed one run off of seven hits. Here is the box score from the game (courtesy of espn.go):
I haven’t had time to take a group picture yet, but as soon as I do i’ll upload it here.
Today’s Total: 10 MLB balls (5 Manfred, 5 Selig).
Spring Training Totals: 27 MLB balls (20 Manfred, 7 Selig), 5 Minor League balls, 1 Perfect game ball, 1 Whiffle ball, 1 foam ball, and 12 autographs.
UP NEXT: Orioles vs. Twins @ Hammond Stadium (03-08-15)
Some of you might be surprised that i’m in Florida for Spring Training. For others, especially if you follow me on Twitter, it is no surprise because I’ve been talking about this for a few weeks now. Anyways, I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and this was the first game I’ve been to so far this year. The earliest I arrived to a spring training ballpark last year was 8:00 a.m., but this year I arrived at Hammond Stadium at 7:00 a.m.. I got there the extra hour early because I wanted to catch the sun rise as I drove to the ballpark. The recently renovated stadium looked stunning as I drove into the parking lot:
I wasn’t sure when the players would begin to practice but I figured I might as well maximize my time in the warm weather. I soaked in the sun until the first group of players finally entered the practice fields at 9 o’clock. I could see them from a distance so I made my way to the fields.
At 9 o’clock all of the minor league players reported to the field closest to the twins baseball academy:
As far as I know, the only notable players in that extremely large group were Nick Gordon, Kohl Stewart, James Beresford and Max Kepler. After wandering around for a few minutes I found my first ball of 2015! With Selig out and Manfred in as commissioner that meant that the signature on the baseball changed this year. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but most ballhawks have been pretty excited to see the new baseballs. This wasn’t a Manfred ball, this was a Selig that was left over from last year:
Regardless of the name on the front, it was still a beautiful baseball!
Part of the 2-year renovation plan included a baseball academy and dormitory for the minor league players of the Twins. The buildings weren’t finished when I visited last year, but since then they have been completed and opened:
A bit closer to noon I spotted Mr. Terry Ryan, the Twins GM walking into the practice fields.
I only said a quick hello because I didn’t want to disturb him while he was working. Later on, though, he approached me and said that a lady had told him that I knew everything there was to know about the Twins. She was obviously stretching the truth a bit, but Mr. Ryan was still amused. We ended up only chatting about baseball for a few minutes, but then we continued for a longer time as our conversation shifted towards other topics that weren’t even related to baseball. He’s a fun guy to talk with!
Right before leaving the complex to run to Publix, I found my second ball of the day. This time, though, the ball was from Tom Kelly Field:
The ball had been wedged between the concrete, dirt and flowers. Aside from the odor and filth, there was still something different about this ball. I’m not sure when or by whom it was used, but the ball was a “Rawlings Perfect Game” ball. For the record (and for those ballhawks who are wondering), I did not count this in my MLB total.
After gaining early entrance into an empty stadium, I explored where most people do not. As I was hoping to find my second MLB ball of the day, I stumbled upon this whiffle ball:
I was considering taking it with me, but it was filled with a gross looking mixture of dirt, bugs and condensation. It was better to leave it where it was! I was finally able to snag another MLB ball from the boardwalk down the left field foul line. I had quite the view from there:
The ball was courtesy of Aaron Thompson. He threw it to me when he and Alex Meyer had finished playing catch.
Although the change in signatures is a very subtle change, I do like how it looks. Although small in detail, it still brings about something new to the most important element in the game.
It wasn’t too long until I was in possession of another ball. This time from Ricky Nolasco:
Ball number 5 came from the air. It was a homerun that i’m pretty sure Eddie Rosario hit:
Up to this point I had been in the grass berm in left field. For almost all of batting practice there were only two other guys and myself in the whole grass section. There was absolutely no competition! My success continued.
My next two baseballs (numbers 6 and 7) were both home runs that I caught on the fly. Coincidentally, they were also hit by the same player – #21 Shane Robinson. Here’s number 6:
And here’s number 7:
The Twins left the field around 5:15 and soon the Minnesota Golden Gophers hustled out to take their turn on the field. I was surprised to see that the Gophers had a few players who could crush the ball. Their portion of batting practice wasn’t great, but I was still able to snag a home run. The ball was brand new, an obvious keeper, but as soon as a little girl asked for it I felt obligated to give it away!
Sophomore Troy Traxler, a catcher and outfielder for the Gophers, hooked me up with my 9th ball of the day:
Batting Practice ended shortly after that, but I was able to get another toss up before the game started. When the Twins finished their pregame infield warm ups, catcher Eric Fryer tossed me my 10th ball of the day:
When the game started I sat in my ticketed seat. This was the first game in a long while where I sat in my ticketed seat for the whole time! Who could blame me, though, with a view like this?:
Although the Gophers were the first to score, he Twins ended up beating them 3-1. The big names in the Twins Lineup were Buxton (he went 2-3), Vargas (1-3) and Sano (1-1). Jose Berrios got the start for the Twins and was able to pick up the win after pitching 2 innings of scoreless baseball. One other thing worth mentioning is that this was Paul Molitor’s Managerial Debut! His first “W” (although it won’t officially be recorded) came against his old college team!
There’s no highlight/recap video for this game, but I did find this special video that the UofM made after the completion of the game:
I’m in the video multiple times. Whenever the left field grass is shown, i’m in the frame. In one of the shots it showed me chasing down a home run ball. Just look for the guy in the blue shirt!
Here’s the final haul (Nine MLB balls are pictured because I gave one away):
Spring Training Totals: 1 MLB Selig Ball, 9 MLB Manfred Balls, 1 Perfect game ball, and 1 whiffle ball.
UP NEXT: Red Sox vs. Twins, Thursday, March 5th.