Spring Training Day Two: Naming Names

Day two of spring training took me to Goodyear, Arizona where my old hometown team the Cleveland Indians welcomed (and ultimately shut out) the evil Los Angeles Dodgers.  A good and just baseball outcome in a very dry heat.

There was less power hitting than in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over my current home team, the San Francisco Giants:  No home runs today vs. five yesterday.  But there were two botched pick off attempts by Dodgers pitcher Matt Palmer that allowed the Indians to score.

Even worse, two Indians players were hit by pitches.  In fact Matt Carson — up from the minors — got beaned, and was escorted to the locker room by Manager Terry Francona and a trainer.  He seemed OK, but wow the sound of a ball on a batting helmet is a terrible one.

Poor Carson. I realized today that some guys like him, non-roster or minor league Indians players, have neither a photo on the scoreboard nor a name on the back of their jerseys.  I suppose that’s to prevent fans like me from forming too much of an attachment to players who might not be around in April.

Too late.

Indians fans sitting around me really had a soft spot for these young guys, shouting encouragement — rather than insults — when they pretty much swung at every pitch that didn’t hit them in the head.

I have a new baseball crush, left fielder Tim Fedroff.  As I said in my last post, he is Hunter Pence in a different uniform.  Yesterday he was the guy to know, if you were under 14 years of age and wanted an Indians player to autograph your baseball.  Fedroff would take a kid’s ball, ask which player’s signature he or she wanted, descend into the dugout and badger that teammate until he signed.  The kids were busting.

That said, I asked one young boy which player had autographed his ball and he replied, “Honestly I have no idea.  I am a Dodgers fan.”  Boo!  Apparently they let anyone into Scottsdale stadium these days.

Today Fedroff was again effusive.   He didn’t start, and spent the early part of the game hanging over the dugout railing—apparently having a blast.  When he was called to play, he BOUNDED across the field.  He zigzagged like a kid pretending he was an airplane, and the other players laughed.  This is why I love spring training.

At one point I think he, Lonnie Chisenhall and Mark Reynolds may have been trying to get my attention.  (I was the woman with the biggest camera, three rows back.)  They were sort of miming that someone—possibly me—should take their photo.  I wanted to, but… the only thing worse than missing that opportunity would have been thinking it was directed at me, only to discover that they were talking to some hot, buxom chick in daisy dukes a few rows behind me.

(Have you ever seen the Southwest Airlines commercial in which a woman thinks a handsome colleague is professing his love for her before a big meeting?  She gushes her feelings in return, but he’s actually talking to his girlfriend via his bluetooth headset.  OUCH.  That’s what I was thinking about. ”Wanna get away?”)

Plus I didn’t have the heart to tell them that my camera was actually focused just behind them, on Jason Kipnis poised to steal second base.

That’s the kind of thing that happens at Spring training, though, when players and coaches are a little more loose and very accessible to fans.  Yesterday in Scottsdale, Will the Thrill Clark was channeling Shecky Green.  He knew all the regulars in my section and kept a running banter going with them.  He even threw fistfuls of gum into the stands.

Tomorrow the Giants and Indians will meet again, this time at Goodyear.  I’ll have no conflicting loyalties, because spring training is a time when you just want everyone to play well.

Especially the faceless new guys, wearing nameless jerseys.

Not Happy

The A’s Hit; The Tribe Misses

The Oakland Athletics made a clean sweep of the Cleveland Indians this weekend. Today’s 7-0 rout, in which the Tribe stranded seven runners on base, was woefully representative of how the team has been playing since the All-Star break. They lack consistent offense, and have shaky pitching; Today Justin Masterson threw 5.2 innings, and allowed nine hits for seven earned runs including two homers.

Even Jemile Weeks’ fumbling of pretty much every ball landing in his vicinity couldn’t save us.

So tonight I dwell on the positives:

I finally got to witness one of my favorite Indians players, Chris Perez, in action. Because my presence at Tribe games tends to accompany losses, the team rarely needs the closer’s services when I’m in the house. But thanks to their long winless streak, today Perez needed a workout. And he was great, throwing 9 of 14 pitches for strikes and allowing no hits.

The weather was superb – in the low 70’s, with a light breeze. These were perfect conditions for wearing my trusty Indians jersey, with its Chief Wahoo logo, and my Indians cap.

A’s fans in my section were very welcoming, despite my swag. In fact, on my way out several of them high-fived me and urged me to “hang in there”. They had suffered through many losing seasons, they reassured me. The Indians’ would turn things around…. someday.

Oh my God, had it come to this? I was being PITIED by A’s fans? I cried all the way across the Bay Bridge. (Ok, not really. But it still smarted.)

In truth, there was a very fun vibe at Oakland Coliseum today. A’s fans are PUMPED UP by the team’s success, after so many losing seasons. It’s a blast to see baseball making so many people happy even if my hometown team had to lose to keep the momentum going.

Alas, my seat wasn’t on the Diamond Level – a blessing, given the price of those seats and the outcome of today’s game. There is no waiter service on the first base line, and the food there is not free. But it’s still a good spot for photos.

My Diamond Level Best

Jack Hannahan

As a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan, I buy plenty of tickets to games each season from either the Giants, or StubHub.  I avoid keeping a tally because I don’t want to know the out-of-pocket – although it’s safe to say that Suze Orman would not approve.

This season, I decided to branch out and also buy a ticket to see my other favorite team – the Cleveland Indians – play the Oakland As.  Not surprisingly, As tickets are much easier to come by than Giants tickets, and the “best available” option online can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your budget.

My best available seat for Sunday’s game at Oakland Coliseum was on the Diamond Level.  The name suggested that I wasn’t going to be stuck in the bleachers, but you never know, right?  Maybe there’s also a Krugerrand Level or a Platinum Level?

Another clue?  The fact that you don’t really see signs for the Diamond Level anywhere in the ballpark, which I assume is intentional.   I had to ask five different ushers for directions, and each time was told cryptically to “turn left/right at the hat stand”.  It felt very prohibition-era, like I might be expected to know a secret handshake or password to get past the bouncer.

When I finally found the secret passageway next to “the hats”, an usher gave me directions to the bowels of the stadium.  (Perhaps the Diamond Level also got its name because getting there feels a bit like descending into the mines?)  I was then coached on protocol.  It was at this point that I began to understand why my ticket cost so much.

The walk to my seat was like slipping backstage at a Springsteen show – except it was very quiet.  The usher pointed to tape running along the floor, splitting the walkway in half.  I was to stay to the left, because players from the opposing team (a.k.a. the Tribe) would be walking back and forth to their locker room on the right.  I was advised not to speak to the players, and that photos are strictly verboten in the hallway.  In fact, I was not even allowed to carry my cell phone in my hand, because I might be tempted to snap an iPhone pic.

Are you kidding me?  The only thing separating me and lovable Jack “Super Mannahan” Hannahan would be a sliver of masking tape?  Sadly I passed Jack and Jason Kipnis on my way down… and dropped my head to stare at my sneakers.  I was nervous and shy, so I suppose I defaulted to Zoo Rules:  Don’t try to touch the player (he may bite!), make eye contact with him, or feed him your hot dog scraps.

Speaking of food scraps, food is free on the Diamond Level – well, given the ticket price I guess it’s more accurate to call it complimentary – through the seventh inning.  And they have LOBSTER ROLLS down there!  Food orders are taken, and food is delivered, by very handsome waiters.  Too bad no one told me all this in advance, before I bought a bratwurst up on the concourse.

As these photos attest, my seat was right behind home plate, a few yards from the on-deck circle.  Before and after the game, I could photograph players going to/from the dugout, which I’m sure they hate.  A few of them rushed past like they were running the gauntlet.

All in all, my foray into super-luxury seating was a blast, despite the game’s final score.  (The Tribe lost 5-1.)  I got the kind of photos I’d hoped for – not a ton of variety but amazing detail, like Justin Masterson’s facial expressions when he pitches.  I also scored one lobster roll, awesome ballpark nachos, two Sam Adamses, two bottles of water and a bag of peanuts (still in my purse).  Throw in some above-average Bay Area baseball weather and I’d say I broke even.

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