In 2013 I attended my first ever “true” Opening Day at Target Field. Having experienced that, I can see why MLB would not want to truly start the season in Minnesota for a while. It was below 30 degrees when the gates opened and didn’t get much better throughout the game.
In 2014, I continued my tradition of going to the Twins’ home opener, though when they took on the Oakland Athletics to start the Target Field year. I thought that Gate 34 would be a mess of people, so I headed to the center field gate, Gate 3 (for Harmon Killebrew) instead:
And much to my surprise, I got to see a different Twins legend there:
If you can’t tell who that is, let me zoom in a little for you:
That would be Baseball Hall-of-Famer, Bert Blyleven, who came out to gate 3 to greet fans as they entered the gate. I got to shake his hand and then took these pictures as he moved down the line of fans. Speaking of fans, it was the home opener. That means that there was an atypically-large crowd present. Not as big as I thought it would be, but big enough:
This worried me a little, but I had already come to the conclusion that while it would be a tough game to snag at due to the Opening Day crowd, I would get a couple baseballs from it being the Athletics, since I had gotten I believe seven baseballs the last game they had been at Target Field. I was kind of wrong about it, but we’ll get to that later. For now, here’s the view when I got to the left field bleachers:
And because it was the home opener, the other fans came quickly behind. Here was the bleachers within the first five minutes:
Not much, but I’m used to having only a couple of people to beat out in the left field bleachers in the first five minutes, so I just had a little less room than I normally did to work with. But I made the most of it. Or at least something of it as I caught a ball hit by Josh Willingham a couple of steps from my usual spot in left:
It was around then that my then-roommate, Sean, showed up:
As you can see, he really had by that point been desensitized to me snagging baseballs. I think it might have occurred when he and another friend tried briefly to shut me out for the game–before I was then able to snag nine baseballs that game. While he also doesn’t usually partake in the process of documenting my games, he aided by doing a little video work.
I moved to right field and…well there wasn’t much. Sean did take a video of me sharing my lack of excitement for Nick Punto as a batting practice hitter as well as an update video, but WordPress doesn’t allow me to add videos, so I’ll cut to the chase: The Willigham was the only ball I got.
So Sean and I went to the right field standing room for the national anthem:
Where I also managed to get a t-shirt from the t-shirt gun that TC Bear (the Twins’ awesome mascot, for those who are unaware) shot it from to me:
(Forgive the fuzziness of the foreground objects.)
Then I was able to experience something really nice/sad at the same time. Major League Baseball has a partnership with a charity by the name of Stand Up To Cancer. As a result of this, there will be certain games in which they have plugs for the organization/the cause they look to fight for. Since it was the home opener, they handed out signs at the gates. These signs were for people to write in the name of a person in their life affected by cancer whom they “stand up” for:
As you can’t read on the scoreboard (unless you clicked on the image and zoomed in), this was to take place at the end of the second inning where everyone would stand up and hold their signs up to recognize that almost everyone’s life is affected in one way or another by cancer–with the charity’s objective being to end the disease. Here is a picture of the stadium once this took place, which can give you a little bit of idea as to how it was when it actually happened with all of the signs lifted up:
With Terry Ryan having been diagnosed with squamous-cell carcinoma (a type of cancer) just two months prior in the offseason, many of the signs–particularly of the players–were dedicated to him. Others paid tribute to cancer’s effect on the Twins by writing Harmon Killebrew who had died almost three years earlier. Instead, I wrote the name of someone whose death preceded Harmon’s by just two or three hours:
And after that, there was one other thing I had to do. I had gotten some temporary tattoos, and for those who didn’t click the link I had on his name, Sean is a pretty big White Sox fan. He’s originally from a southern suburb of Chicago, so I forgave him enough to be roommates with him for a year. The opportunity to get him completely “Twins-ed” out was just too tempting. The result was the following:
He wasn’t thrilled to have to deal with the fallout from me inevitably posting the picture on social media his friends would see, but he was semi-cooperative once I started taking a burst of pictures by not ducking out of the frame.
We then got a picture together on the second level of the right field seats:
And that’s where I’ll end the entry. Normally I do a “STATS” section at the end of entries, but I will skip that for all of the games I write about having gone to in 2014 because it is now 2015 as I write this. If you really want some ballhawking statistics about myself (or the majority of all ballawks in the country), go to mygameballs.com. Here is the link to my individual profile from which you can stalk me.
Guess who baseball was commemorating during Monday’s game:
Come on, guess. It’s not like it was a league-wide thing.
Yes, it was Jackie Robinson Day in major league baseball a.k.a. a facial recognitionly-challenged ballhawk’s nightmare. Fortunately I can recognize faces and it is names that I have trouble with, so I would still be able to identify players as different even though they would all be wearing number 42.
Let me rewind a little, though. In case you weren’t following this blog last year, I walk to as many Twins games as I can. Really the only time I don’t is if I’m absolutely pressed for time when I leave wherever it is I am going from. Okay, so knowing this, I was about half-way to Target Field when a person I had talked to about going to the game with called me. You see I bought two tickets for most of the games I bought in advance. This was because a bunch of people had told me that they were going to try to make a couple of games with me. Unfortunately, those same people had yet to actually make any of the games, so I had been having to search for other people to go to the games with me. Remember when I wrote about the usher I talked to who had been a part of my sports management group that interviewed Terry Ryan? Yeah? No? Well the person who offered to go to this game with me was in that same interview group. He was still on campus when he called me, so I waited a little while for him here:
before continuing on to Target Field once he met up with me. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of the two of us together for this blog, so you’ll just have to picture Matt (that was/is his name). He is actually from Milville, NJ, so once we got in the gates, he had one goal: get down to the dugout and talk to Mike Trout when he was either getting on to the field or exiting it. I on the other hand, headed straight to the seats in left field. There I got on the board very quickly by asking Jerome Williams for a ball:
You can’t really see it from the picture, since I was so far out, but he wears a pink glove, so he was the easiest player to distinguish from behind with all the players having their hoods up. This was pretty quick, but the ball was sadly again not taking off. Struggling with the hit ball is always frustrating. Some times it is just myself misjudging baseballs, but all too many times this season it has been that there just aren’t baseballs getting into the stands.
I did manage to survive this batting practice. Two words are the reason for that: Tom Gregorio. I managed to snag my next three baseballs courtesy of him. You may be wondering: But, Mateo, how could you get three straight baseballs from a person who isn’t a player? Well this particular bullpen catcher managed to throw me three consecutive baseballs. Want to hear something even crazier/explanatory? I gave all three away. Let me explain. On the first ball, Gregorio picked me out of the crowd with my Angels gear on and tossed me a ball. I gave that ball to this kid up here:
Notice his dad taking a picture of the ball. I love it when you can tell how excited when they get a ball. I still prefer to help kids get baseballs about ten times more, though. That’s because I have counted two baseballs ever that were given to me by other fans in my career total, including the first baseball I ever got at a game–since it was before I started “ballhawking” I decided to count them both. That said, they were the two most unfulfilling baseballs I have gotten. While I was happy in the moment that I got both, I have regretted both ever since and I want to try to help kids more by instruction than handing them the baseball myself.
After I gave him the ball, I hoped Gregorio had seen me give the ball away and would toss me another. He didn’t, but he tossed a ball to this kid:
But the ball fell short into the flower bed just to my left (and I was to the left of the kid, so I picked it up and handed it to him). Here’s where the ball was:
I know it’s cheap, but since I got primary possession of the ball first, I counted it. These occurred about two minutes, if even that, apart from each other, but the gap between my third and fourth baseballs was quite large–like twenty or thirty-ish minutes. This one Gregorio also tossed to me unintentionally. Gregorio got a ball close to the wall and then flung the ball randomly into the stands with his glove. It was initially going way over my head, but I moved back a couple of steps on the staircase I was on and jumped up to catch the ball. That ball went to the kid who was standing back down at the bottom of the staircase after I confirmed that he had not yet gotten a ball. More so than me trying to reciprocate and spread Gregorio’s generosity, I wanted to make up for my stinginess in the games prior to that. I mean one of my goals for the beginning of the year was to give away 33% of my baseballs, and as of this game, I was definitely not on that pace.
My fifth ball of the day came when I left the left field section–since I could tell my luck with toss-ups had dried up by that point–and headed over to the section of seats in right-center field. Over there I waited and asked Sean Burnett for a ball when he approached the wall:
I could recognize Burnett right away because I saw him a ton when he was a member of the Nationals. And if you can’t tell from the picture and the players running off the field (Burnett is the one at the head of the “triangle” of players) this was my last ball of BP. Not bad for Target Field and not having had a chance at a hit baseball.
During the game I stayed out in the standing room, not expecting to get anything but hoping today would be the exception to the rule. Sadly that was not the case, but in case anyone in the stadium managed to forget there was more than enough sinage in the stadium to remind people that it was Jackie Robinson Day:
I particularly love the second picture for the simple reason that the text on the screen is so crisp in the picture that it looks like I Photoshopped it in. Anyway, despite Peter Borjous hitting a lead-off home run, the Twins managed to pull off the game. It was freezing once more, though, so enough people left towards the end of the game that I found myself down here towards the end of it:
And as a result of this, I got this from Chris Conroy at the end of the game (Conroy not pictured):
That would be my sixth and final ball of the day.With this baseball, I tied Tony Voda for the lifetime leader for baseballs at Target Field, setting up a head-to-head match-up for the next day between us to for who would hold the title at the end of the day, since we were both going and tied at 79 career baseballs at Target Field.
And then, if you’ll recall, I went almost directly from the game to go watch “42” on Jackie Robinson Day.
- 6 Balls in this game (3 here because I gave 3 away)
Numbers 465-470 for my life:
- 24 Balls in 5 Games= 4.80 Balls Per Game
- 6 Balls x 23,535 Fans= 141,210 Competition Factor
- 67 straight Games with at least 1 Ball
- 17 straight Games with at least 2 Balls
- 4 straight Games with at least 3 Balls
- 3 straight Games with at least 4-6 Balls
- 79 Balls in 19 Games at Target Field= 4.11 Balls Per Game
- 18 straight Games with at least 1-2 Balls at Target Field
- 4 straight Games with at least 3 Balls at Target Field
- 3 straight Games with at least 4-6 Balls at Target Field
- Time Spent On Game 3:30-1:36= 10 Hours 6 Minutes
Oh how great this day was:
I still sort of can’t believe that it really happened. Oh, and by the way, I refer to great in its true sense and not the sense it has come to mean. As in although it was great in the “awesome” sense, there was also great cold, and great hoopla, and a great amount of “stuff” happening.
What do I mean by “stuff”? Well, here’s some shots of the Target Plaza that show the greater level of activity than 30 minutes before the gates open on a regular game day.
First off, here is my view of Target Field’s Gate 34 just as I arrived from my last class of the day:
Then, there was apparently something being filmed at my usual napping spot in front of Gate 34:
And then the gate itself. With its own personal radio booth, courtesy of 96.3 K-Twin:
And then a second picture. This time more of the people at the gate, partially to show you how people were dressed up to deal with the sub-30 degree temperatures:
Once I got to the gate itself, there were…well, normally I would say “familiar faces”, but that wasn’t necessarily the case here. The first person who I recognized was Paul Kom, along with his friend, Asher:
And then there was Tony Voda, who I didn’t really recognize because this is how he looked from my initial perspective:
He was also here at the game with a friend, whose name was Jared. Here are the two of them, with the photo credit going to Paul:
I was actually supposed to have a companion of my own in the way of Sean, but something came up for him the day of. I tried to get a few other people to come with me, but all of them had things going on. I truly do not get some people. I get not going to just some game, but it’s Opening Day of Major League Baseball! Anyway, long story short: no one ended up being able to make the game and I ended up taking the $33 hit and going with my imaginary friend, Tommy McActuallywantstogotoabaseballgame. Then, at 1:00, the gates were finally opening:
Remember when I said there was a great amount of “stuff” going on? Notice Tom Kelly helping in the opening of the gates on the left hand side. I think I would have absolutely ate that up if it weren’t around 20 degrees and the gates weren’t opening for the first time this season.
Unfortunately this was the view as I ran in and got my magnetic schedule:
The Twins had started batting practice early, so they got done right before we entered and the Tigers were still several minutes from getting started. So I went over behind the cage and tried to get a ball from Rafael Belliard:
I yelled out to him, but unfortunately all I got was a wave and a smile. To be fair, I only yelled out “Rafael!”, but I was going to follow it with “Can you toss me a ball please?” I think he thought I was just saying hi.
My next opportunity came when the pitchers warmed up down the left field line:
Unfortunately one ball went to a much smaller and cuter game-goer than I, and then the second, I found out had already been promised to Paul because he had thrown back a previous overthrow.
Then it was off to the outfield. Therein lied the problem with Opening Day. You see Target Field is a pretty bad ballhawking stadium ceteris paribus, but it especially wretched with any substantial crowd because it is so reliant on the first few rows of the outfield sections. In left field, it was crowded enough that the first rows that were clear enough to run through were under the overhang, where no balls could be hit. In right field, the actual seating was completely full, so I would have had to stand out in the standing room section and hope that a ball get hit out there. Translation: I went into the section of seating in right-center field and asked for toss-ups. Unfortunately for me, the man patrolling the patch of ground in front of this section was Doug Fister, who although he may not be like this all the time, was being an unresponsive jerk. By the end of the day, I didn’t even mind that he completely rejected me several times. There was an early teenage girl dressed head-to-toe in bright orange who was yelling his ear off (politely) for almost half-an-hour with no avail. Once Fister moved out of the section, though, I got my first ball of the day pretty quickly from Drew Smyly:
I then spent the rest of my batting practice in the standing room. Apparently I wasn’t smart enough to realize that if it’s tough to get the ball out there normally, it is nearly impossible to get a ball into the standing room when it’s below 30. So (shocker!) nothing came out there with Prince Fielder having already hit.
I did see something very interesting while I was in right field, though:
If you can’t make out what it is that arrow points to, I’ll just tell you. It’s ice. This marked the first time I had seen ice in a stadium that wasn’t being used for the purpose of refrigerating beverages. I guess the whole “it’s usually 90+ degrees whenever I’m in a baseball stadium” thing comes into play here.
As I started to head toward their dugout, the Tigers dugout, they finished batting practice, and I don’t know if it was the cold or what, but usually if I start heading to the dugout before batting practice itself, I’ll beat the ball bag to the dugout. This time, however, the pack-up process was accelerated by about 200%.
At this point, I found myself in a very interesting situation: my ticket was in left field but I was now in the moat behind the Tigers dugout. At this point I told myself I would see if I could stay until the players started warming up down the line. Ushers started checking tickets in the section, but through a series of maneuvers, I got past them and stayed in the section. Then when I didn’t get a ball from any of the Tigers players warming up, I decided “You know, they’re using the Opening Day commemorative baseballs. I might as well stay down here for the rest of the game.” And so, this became my view of the action for 9 innings:
A pretty nice view for my first Opening Day game ever, eh? What would have that cost at Yankee Stadium? Two, or three…thousands of dollars? Probably more since it was Opening Day. Want to know what’s even more sad about that fact? This is how Yankee Stadium looked in the ninth inning:
I’ve only seen a stadium anywhere near that empty in a handful of cases, and all of them involved inclement weather. Oh, and if you’re even thinking of arguing that people wanted to leave because of the cold, please refer to the paragraph of text under the fourth picture in the entry.
What that seat also gave me a great view of was the storied Opening Day ceremonies. First, both rosters were announced. At which point every player lined up on the field as his name was called:
Then, probably the best part even though I’m not overly-nationalistic was the national anthem. What they did first to prepare for that was bring the famed “giant flag” on the field:
They then had a veteran raise the flag on the mast as they always do. Except here’s where that “great” Opening Day twist comes in. The veteran who raised it this day was Rod Carew.
Onto the game, I was obviously going for third out balls, but the first two didn’t even make it to the dugout. I believe one was tossed into the stands by an outfielder. The other didn’t make it to the dugout because of this guy:
First a little background information on said “guy”:
1. Yes, he is wearing a leopard skin suit jacket.
2. He was wearing a ski mask for batting practice.
3. You might see someone who holds up *a* sign during games; he had a stack of them for the different Tigers players.
4. He had a gold-plated glove.
5. Even though he was supposedly a Tigers super fan, he asked me on several occasions during batting practice to identify Tigers players. (That reminds me. I probably should have included this story earlier, but I don’t know where to fit it into the entry above so I’m just going to tell the story here in these parentheses. Anyway, a hilarious thing happened when the Tigers players came out to warm up before the game. A group of 3-4 Twins fans saw Austin Jackson run out to warm up and immediately starting yelling things like “We love you, Torii” or “We miss you, Torii,” and kept it going for a while until Torii Hunter actually came out onto the field. Then they just started to realize–and confirmed after asking myself–that they were indeed not cheering for Torii Hunter. Murmuring and a retreat away from the field ensued.)
6. He was one of those fans who demands respect for his team from the opposing fans while trashing their team.
Anyway, Miguel Cabrera had the ball and was headed to the dugout when he saw this fan in the corner of his eye, stopped, and threw him the ball. I wasn’t bitter at the time, and I was even more fine with it two innings later when Prince Fielder tossed me a third-out ball of my own:
But wait do you notice anything special about this ball? How about now?
Opening Day commemorative baseball, baby! And yes, this was the first one I had ever gotten as a result of this being my first Opening Day game ever. The rest of the game played, and the Tigers unfortunately pulled it out despite the Twins limiting Justin Verlander to his shortest start in approximately 3.5 years.
At the end of the game, my plan was to get a ball from home plate umpire, Jim Joyce. I was going to go down the main staircase to the umpire’s tunnel, but I surprisingly met up with Paul in the ninth inning and he took that staircase, so my plan was to go down the secondary staircase and yell out to Joyce before he got to the tunnel since this staircase was closer to where the umpires exited the field, but for whatever reason, people stayed in their seats, so there was no space in the front row for me to get down. Fortunately, though, Paul managed to snag his own Opening Day commemorative, so that made up for it. Basically, this was my reaction to not getting an umpire ball:
In that: “I didn’t get another ball and I only snagged two baseballs this game, but so what? It was an absolutely great game/experience. (Minus the cold. I’m still trying to forget how miserable it was in the shade.)
Tony and Paul had three and four baseballs, respectively, when I left, and they each managed another from the Tigers equipment person afterwards to push their totals up to four and five. A ton compared to my measly two, but if there was one game I didn’t care, it was this one.
- 2 Balls at this game:
Numbers 447-448 for my career (I realize that the last entry from this past season said I ended the season at 445, but in the offseason I realized that I never inputted my sixth baseball from my one game at Citizens Bank Park, so everything from that point on is technically one baseball above whatever I have it at. I just don’t feel like going back and changing all of the entries. This is just a day for long parenthetical insertions, I guess.)
- 2 Balls in 1 Game= 2.00 Balls Per Game
- 2 Balls x 38,282 Fans= 76,564 Competition Factor
- 63 straight Games with at least 1 Ball
- 13 straight Games with at least 2 Balls
- 57 Balls in 15 Games at Target Field= 3.80 Balls Per Game
- 14 straight Games with at least 1-2 Balls at Target Field
- Time Spent On Game 12:05- 7:46= 7 Hours 41 Minutes
So I filmed a Before The Gates Open Video… Wanna see it? Too bad, I’m showing you anyway:
Since it was Friday, the stadium opened 2 hours early– or when the Twins were still hitting. I didn’t get anything from the Twins. When the Tigers started to warm up, this was my view:
If you couldn’t tell, those were the position players. Both them and the pitchers didn’t give in to my requests for baseballs. Well not all of them, but while I was in the midst of waiting for players to finish throwing, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder’s hitting group started hitting. I first saw Cabrera, so I rushed over here:
At the time, Miguel Cabrera was only a couple home runs from having an outright triple crown. Let me just say this: I can see why he was in this position. He was hitting line drives everywhere on the field. Do you want to know what’s scary? It’s that he’s just so much more talented than other people. Major League Baseball is a place for freaks of nature. Miguel Cabrera is a freak among freaks.
Sadly, him and the other righty hitters in his group were hitting the ball too far, and were making on of the ballhawking flaws of Target Field very evident: besides the fact that you risk serious injury going up and down the bleachers due to the slope of it, this is also the view from the front row when you stare straight up:
That would be the overhang of the second deck. Because of the second deck, there are very few rows in the left field bleachers where a home run can be hit to without having to be a line drive.
It was a try unlucky day for me in general. Before the gates opened, when both Paul and Tony said they would be going into the standing room for Prince Fielder’s at-bats, I stated I would be going up to the second deck because I thought he’d be hitting them up there. Instead, I decided to try my luck in the standing room for Fielder’s at-bats. And whadda ya know, Fielder wasn’t hitting much at all, but whatever he did hit was going into the second deck. In running to right field for Fielder’s at-bats, I only missed one round of one righty hitter. In that round, Delmon Young hit THREE baseballs within five feet of where I had been standing for the righties. It was a generally disappointing group given it contained Fielder, Young, AND Cabrera. At the end of that group, I expected to have five baseballs; instead I was still at zero.
I was unable to get anything else for a long period in BP. Towards the end of it, though, I got Phil Coke to toss me a ball in the left-center field corner; I quickly gave it away to a kid right next to me who had also been calling out to him. I got a nod from Coke in response, so that was fun.
At the very end of batting practice, I went down to the Tigers’ dugout. I got there just as the equipment guy for the Tigers was packing up the balls. As he was bringing them into the dugout, I asked him if I could possibly have “the dirtiest ball in the bag. A ball that’s just a disgrace to the Tigers organization.” As he entered the dugout, and Paul said, “I’ve never heard someone say that before,” I thought my chances at the dugout were over. Just as I was about to leave, the guy came back out and tossed me my second ball of the game
He also tossed Paul his third ball of the game. (If you want to read Paul’s full account of the game, here’s the link.) (Oh, and if you want to read Tony’s, here’s that too. They’re both running some really great blogs….unless you hate the Twins. In that case, don’t read Tony’s blog. He’s a “real” fan. As in he writes about the team itself on his blog instead of just ballhawking/ MLB stuff like myself and Paul. If it’s not the Twins but ballhawks you hate, then why are you reading this in the first place?)
Paul and I had no idea who he was, but as he was walking back into the dugout, he acknowledged a kid who called him Mario. We then both headed over to the bullpens to try to get a ball there:
I didn’t get anything from the coaches, but when Gerald Laird came out to warm up, I got him to throw me his warm-up ball after he was done playing catch:
I then continued to watch my new friend, Gerald, catch the pre-game bullpen session:
While this was going on, an usher who has always patrolled the staircase nearest to the bullpens, came up to us. Ironically right after Paul had told me this usher had kicked him out of the section once. What he did was pretty much the opposite. He told us we were welcome to sit in his section if we wanted to, but we just couldn’t stand on the aisle to watch the pitcher warm up; we would have to be in the bleacher-ed section of the seats. We even talked with him about how he had been an usher at Tigers Stadium for a while before going to Vietnam and then started ushering many decades ago in there Metrodome. Sadly, though, I *had* to sit in my seat in first-base foul ground, so I couldn’t take him up on his offer.
For the game, this was my view of the action:
The reason I “had” to sit in foul ground was this:
My mom was in town for parent’s weekend, so she decided to accompany me at game time. Actually, though, I should clarify: I wasn’t in my seat *all* the time; I still went to the standing room for power-hitting lefties, but I spent the rest of the game with her– the fact that she was paying for this game didn’t hurt either.
As for the game, Ryan Doumit was able to single-handedly drive in all four of the Twins’ runs as they sped to a 4-2 victory, which meant I got to see Glen Perkins close the game even though the crowd got excited to see Matt Capps warming up in the bullpen as if he was going to come into the game.
- 3 Balls at this game (2 pictured because I gave 1 away)
Numbers 343- 345 for my life:
- 213 Balls in 51 Games= 4.18 Balls Per Game
- 3 Balls x 30,315 Fans= 90,945 Competition Factor
- 60 straight Games with at least 1 Ball
- 10 straight Games with at least 2-3 Balls
- 45 Balls in 12 Games at Target Field= 3.75 Balls Per Game
- 11 straight Games with at least 1-2 Balls at Target Field
- 10 straight Games with at least 3 Balls at Target Field
- Time Spent On Game 3:27- 10:32= 7 Hours 5 Minutes