Close to the action 

Friday, May 20, 2016–Tigers 5, Rays 7

Is it possible to be too close to the field? I would say that you definitely can. I’m not used to tickets 10 rows from shallow left field being within my price range, but it happened this time, so I figured, why not? Well, I had a good view of the singing hawker’s rear end on the second-inning balk that have the Tigers their first run, I was letting some of my neighbors back to their seats when Kevin Kiermaier hit a bases-clearing triple to put the Rays back up by 3 in the sixth. And then on top of that, the angle I’ve got doesn’t really let me see things like how the infielders are positioned and other details like that.

TB-DetThat’s not to say that there hasn’t been plenty to see, though. To begin with, it’s Polish-American day at the ballpark, which is really a big deal here. They had about 300 dancers in traditional costumes performing. The kids right in front of me were about four or five so they weren’t dancing as much as you might call it choreographed falling. And the stream of passersby abated so I was able to see some baseball, including Miguel Cabrera’s two monumental home runs.

In all, this turned out to be a very entertaining game, in which the outcome was in doubt until the final pitch, but you wouldn’t have thought so from the way Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez was struggling in the first. Steven Souza hit the second pitch of the game about 375 feet and two more runs came in before the Tigers came to bat for the first time.

As I mentioned, Detroit clawed back to tie it, but the three runs Tampa Bay picked up in the sixth did wind up being the decisive factor. Still, when two batters reached in the bottom of the ninth, the fans began standing in hopes their team would come roaring back. That hope ended with Victor Martinez’s grounder to short.

Wicked Smhat

Wednesday, June 30, 2010–Red Sox 4, Rays 9

In the summer of 2010, I embarked on my first international adventure, a trip that was part Shakespeare class and part “holiday” in London. That trip is a long and not alltogether happy story in itself, so I will not be writing about it here. However, it was what got me out to the east coast, because there are no Albuquerque-to-London flights. I knew I’d have to go somewhere else to “hop the pond.” Like, say, somewhere with a Major League ballpark… The way things worked out, I wound up crossing four ballparks off the list. I decided to leave from New York, but figured I didn’t have to go straight there. So, with my dad tagging along for the first leg of the trip, I went to Boston.

We walked from our guest house near the T station to the park two hours before the game. 8 blocks away, we saw the first t-shirt vendors. Four blocks away and we could hear the buzz. We walked around the stadium before going in, and were amazed by the atmosphere. It’s like a four-block-long carnival, with street vendors and live music and packed with people–and all this for a Wednesday night! Dad’s old college friends who put us up (and put up with us) our first night in Boston mailed us a newspaper clipping about people who buy tickets to games to take part in the festival, and don’t stick around for the game.

There is a seat in the right field bleachers that is painted red. This is where the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park (502′) landed. We were six rows behind the red seat. So the action on the field was, in my dad’s words, “Far out, man.” Daisuke Matsuzaka was the starter for the Sox, opposing Matt Garza for the Rays. The game was off to an inauspicious start for the home team, Dice-k walked the bases loaded and got bailed out on a nice catch of a line drive by Mike Cameron. He was not able to work around a lead-off walk in the 4th, giving up a 2-run double to Kelly Shoppach and three runs in the inning. Meanwhile, Garza cruised through the first 7, and by the time the Sox figured him out in the 8th, the Rays had built their lead to 9-1.

The game was close until the top of the eighth, and the fans were in it to the point the ballpark seemed to be a single entity, experiencing the game. Then Jason Bartlett hit a three-run bomb and all the Bostonites (or is it “Bostonians”?) remembered they had to get to work tomorrow, leaving the ballpark nearly empty. Everyone we talked to who stayed behind were tourists, like us, come to see Fenway.

Possibly the biggest non-ballpark thrill was getting to pilot a DWCK on the Charles River. These are amphibious vehicles that drive tourists around some of “Bah-stan’s” land attractions such as the bar across the street from the cemetery where Samuel Adams was buried, “The only place in the world where you can drink a cold Sam Adams while looking at a cold Sam Adams,” before crossing over to Cambridge (where our tourguide instructed us in the proper pronunciation of the population, “wicked smaht”) and driving into the Charles River.

From there, he turned the wheel over to anybody on board who wanted to “Drive a Duck,” and after a 5-year-old and a 70-year-old each had a turn, I decided to go for it. (I’ll be honest, they were giving out stickers, and I wanted one to go on top of my laptop.) After telling our guide where I was from and wherefore I was in Boston, Dad outed me and said it was off to Yankee Stadium next, information that was soon relayed through the PA to the rest of my shipmates. I was hearing about it until we were back on dry land. Thanks a lot, dad.

Here’s the scorecard.

More cowbell!

Sunday, August 16, 2009–Rays 5, Blue Jays 2

After leaving Miami, we took a little detour to the Seminole Reservation, where dad had heard about a multi-million dollar museum and cultural center in the middle of the Everglades. The Seminoles have a pretty good deal, an offshoot of their tribal lands is in Hollywood, right in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, so they have the only casino in Florida that isn’t on a boat or in the middle of a swamp. This Florida twist on tribal politics was probably the most fascinating thing about our trip.

We also spent a day at the Ringling complex in Sarasota. This consists of several museums in one large property right on the bay. The one that was a real eye-opener for me was the circus miniature collection. An artist had made a life’s work of creating figurines of circus performers and animals and then putting them together into a diorama showing a day in the life of one of the big traveling circuses from the turn-of the 20th-century. And far more than just showing life under the big top, this diorama also depicts other less glamorous aspects of circus life, the mess tent, makeshift changing areas, and the small (or maybe not so small) army of workers whose job it was to get everything off the train and into the air.

So, how big is this diorama of 3″ tall people? The walkway around it could easily accommodate a hundred people. Also on the complex grounds was a display of historical circus artifacts, as well as the Ringlings’ personal collection of art. I don’t know much about art, I just know what I like, so after cruising the collection, I wanted to check out the miniatures again before it was time to carry on up the coast. We got to St. Pete Beach midday and found a 50s style efficiencies hotel with the back porch looking out onto the gulf. We were cheerfully informed the next morning that we had slept through a tropical storm.

As ratty as the dome looks from the outside (and it looks ratty even when you first see it from the southern side of the bay), we were impressed with how nicely everything was kept up inside the Trop. With the large numbers of concessions stands that were actually open, the friendly greeters and ushers and the well-lit concourses, everything the Rays were presenting before the game to their guests gave it a much more Major League feel than three days earlier in the half empty shell of the football stadium in Miami. It also helped that the stadium was, not full, but not embarrassingly empty. The one thing I’ll probably never forget–for “only” $4, I had the chance to try a completely different kind of ballpark food: boiled peanuts. They are slimy and salty and quite possibly the most vile thing I’ve ever tasted.

Part of the pregame routine included a video on proper cowbell etiquette (ring the bell when Rays pitchers have 2 strikes on a batter, when the Rays score, or if they flash “More Cowbell!” on the video board), presented tounge-in-cheek in the style of a 1950s PSA filmstrip. It was great fun for us tourists, but I’m not sure Rays fans needed instructions. The effect of the cowbells in the dome brought a whole different level of energy to the game, and–because the Rays fans were so well versed on when to use them–not nearly as distracting as I feared it may be.

The game: It’s amazing how quick I lose track of the details. Of course, I bought myself a cowbell and rang it at all the appropriate times, and while there was a lot that seemed cowbell-worthy at the time, looking over the scorecard doesn’t show that much. The Rays beat the Blue Jays 5-2, and while I remember Greg Zaun’s 8th inning grand slam, but not  that it was a 1-1 tie from the middle innings on, with not much by way of baserunners or scoring threats until the Rays loaded the bases for the former Blue Jay. The Rays have a lot of sponsor-givaway promotions, such as free pizza if the Rays strike out ten opponent batters (and in the ninth, with nine Ks in the book, when Aaron Hill had two strikes on him, the crowd started chanting “Pi-zza, pi-zza!”). For this game, we could have used our ticket stubs for free pizza, ice cream, donuts, and maybe even a car wash.

Check out the scorecard.

Hardly a gem in the Emerald City

Wednesday, August 25, 2004–Mariners 0, Devil Rays 9

The real story here was the trip to get to Seattle. Even a precies will be quite wordy. As with the trip to San Francisco the year before, my parents flew out to Seattle ahead of me and I took the train. First leg of the trip was to LA, and we hit our first snag when flash flooding in–of all places–Needles CA washed out some rails. That made me too late to catch the connecting train and so rather than going up the coast, I was put on a bus to Bakersfield, a train to Stockton and another bus to Oakland. Then, after a three-day visit with my family in the Bay Area (a story in itself which includes damn near breaking my foot), I was back on the train up to Seattle. Or rather Klamath Falls, OR. A fire in a tunnel had shut down another part of the line. So, I bussed to Eugene, then pulled into Seattle 4 hours late.

After that, the game was bound to be a bit of a letdown, even if it had been a good game. It wasn’t. Hardly notable at all, really, except that it happened to be the Major League debut of future All-Star Scott Kazmir for the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. With the ’04 Mariners being what they were, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that it would also be his first Major League win, which it was, a 9-0 Devil Rays victory. It should have been 9-1: in the third, Edgar Martinez hit a fly ball to dead center that hit something right above the yellow line and bounced back into the field of play, a home run–but the umps didn’t see it that way.

The game was scoreless through the first five innings, with the M’s getting early opportunities and squandering good scoring chances in the 1st and 3rd, and a great chance in the 2nd. Ichiro lead off the 4th with a single, but was promptly caught stealing, and that seemed to deflate the home team, and when the Rays scored 4 in the sixth, it was all over.

The blow that deflated the crowd was a monster homer by Jose Cruz Jr. If that name sounds familiar, here’s why: he’d had the big hit for the Giants in the game at Pac Bell the year before, and had somehow gone from being program-cover boy for the Giants to exiled to Tampa. (If memory serves, he made a big error in the playoff series against Florida, but don’t quote me on that.)

The most enduring image of this game? As much as I enjoyed the guy in the skin-tight superhero outfit with a recycling emblem on his chest who collected the plastic bottles, I’d have to give the title to the roof. It started drizzling in the 9th. As soon as the game was over, they closed the roof and turned on the sprinklers.

Here’s the scorecard.