Welcome home, Jim

Friday, August 26, 2011–Indians 2, Royals 1

As I have stated many times before, I pick the games for these trips weeks or even months in advance, so I have no way of knowing that a one-time icon of the Indians’ franchise would be returning the same day I picked for scheduling reasons.  The Tribe made a deal with the Twins to bring Jim Thome—the Indians’ all-time leader in home runs and a number of other offensive categories—back to Cleveland, probably while I was on the train from Pittsburgh.  That means that if I hadn’t come to Cleveland specifically to see a baseball game, I coulda sold my ticket (with this as my view) for about three times what I’d paid for it. I heard that before the trade was announced, there were 10,000 unsold tickets, but by the time first pitch rolled around, it was sold out. Here was a sign the Indians had printed up for fans to wave and greet him.

But I did come specifically to see a baseball game, so let’s get to it. Thome came up to bat for the first time to lead off the second inning. The fans were giving him a standing ovation from the moment the top of the first ended and he had stood in the on-deck circle waiting for the between-inning promotion to end. When he was announced, the cheer from the Cleveland faithful was the loudest I’ve ever heard, and when Thome hit a weak groundout to the pitcher on the very first pitch he saw, the noise scarcely subsided until he’d returned to the Indians’ dugout.

While Thome was the emotional story of the night, the baseball story was a tense pitcher’s duel between two guys who started the season in Colorado. Ubaldo Jimenez went 7, struck out ten, and only gave up one run, a homer by KC’s Eric Hosmer. And until the bottom of the 7th, it looked like Felipe Paulino would make that run hold up, the only threat the Indians mounted through the first six frames ended when Koske Fukudome was thrown out at the plate. In the seventh, with two batters on, Jack Hannahan hit an RBI single to tie it, and Paulino’s night was done when he walked the next batter to load the bases. Tim Collins, the new Royals hurler, then walked Ezequiel Carrera to force in another run. That would close out the scoring for the night.

Here’s the scorecard.

A scorcher in KC

Thursday, August 9, 2007–Royals 1, Twins 0

What can I say about this one? It was hot. This was another overnight travel game, take the Amtrak out to KC, wander around the city for a while, see a day game, and then get back on the overnight train back home. I got there about 8 in the morning, and it was already in the 80s. I misread the map, so what I thought would be a hop, skip and jump over to the Negro League Baseball Museum, actually turned out to be quite a hike. One thing I really like about the museum is that as soon as you walk in, you can see the “field,” a miniature baseball park with statues of some of the greatest Negro League players, but you have to go through a number of other galleries outlining (among other things,) the obstacles black players faced (until much more recently than I’d really like to believe) before you can actually step onto the diamond yourself.

I tend to chew up museums and spit them out: even when I am interested in what’s on display, I notice I’m usually at the gift shop, window-shopping and waiting around a good fifteen minutes before whomsoever I accompany. Not so with the NLBM. True, I did go to this museum by myself, but my point is I left due to time constraints, not because I was “finished.” I only had time to really study about two-thirds of the galleries, and decided I’d come back after the game if time allowed. And if I hadn’t lost my cell phone and had to make a vain search of my seat and the Kauffman Stadium lost-and-found, I would have had a chance to get back–and still not see everything I wanted to before they closed.

It was a Thursday afternoon game, for a last-place team, so there were only 14,569 fans in attendance. I got the seat in the front row of the overhang, directly above the radio announcer’s booth. I had to move because there was a handrail right between the plate and my eyes. I didn’t have a problem finding another seat. I know I’m not talking about the game very much, because there’s not much to say about the game, a 1-0 Royals victory over Minnesota. The story was the heat. Being from the desert, I don’t usually have to deal with the concept of “heat index.” On August 9th, 2007, I did. It was 97° and the heat index was in the 120s. At that time, I was employed as a ballpark hawker at Isotopes Park. That’s an outdoor job, lugging heavy stuff around and climbing lots of stairs, in a ballpark in the desert. Nonetheless, I was more miserable sitting in the stands for this game than I’d ever been humping the snacks around the yard in 107° temperatures in the high, dry Albuquerque air.

The game: John Buck was the cover boy for the program, and I got to read all about how he was going to turn the team around. Because it was a day game after a night game in scorching heat, Buck didn’t play. Jason LaRue started behind the plate, and was the big producer. He drove in the only run in the game with a sac fly in the 3rd, then gunned down Torii Hunter in the 9th on a swinging bunt for the penultimate out.

If Kyle Davies (coming off the game where he had given up A-Rod’s 500th home run, no less) was paying any attention to who was in the stands, he might have thought I was stalking him in the summer of 07. He was the starter for the Braves for that game in Denver, and then after being traded to the Royals his time in the rotation just happened to come up the same day I picked for convenience with train schedules. As if this wasn’t enough, Later (maybe in ’07 or maybe in ’08) he was pitching for Omaha against the ‘Topes in one of the few games I went to as a fan. Anyways, on this day, he outdueled Matt Garza, giving up 3 singles in 6 2/3 innings. Garza, for his part, only gave up 1 run on 4 hits, but was pegged with the loss nonetheless.

Here’s the card.