Broken Bells giveaway!
One of the most cherished moments for anyone who has grown up a baseball fan is one day taking your son or daughter to their first game and sharing in your love of the game together at the ballpark. I have many indelible memories that I hold near and dear to my heart of being at games with my family. As I look to have a family of my own someday down the road, I can only hope that my children will share my infatuation with the game. Until then, I’ll continue to look for little ways to make an impact and share the joy of baseball with others. Late last season, I went to enjoy a day game at Dodger Stadium on my own. Of course, you’re never alone when you’re there with others who bleed Dodger Blue. As pitchers played catch and fans waited patiently for autographs prior to the game, I met Scott who was there with his son Ryan. It was Ryan’s first ever trip to a game and I marveled at his knowledge of baseball at such a young age. As the players finished up with catch and were approaching the stands to sign, Scott wondered what they could get signed because they were empty handed. Having an extra ball on me, I gave it to Ryan to keep; thankful that I could have a tiny positive stamp on what I hope will be a cherished day between father and son.
Every little kid that grows up playing baseball dreams of playing in them one day. The All-Star Game. The World Series. These games are the jewels of Major League Baseball’s calendar. They are the pinnacle events where the entire world is watching. These fantasy scenarios that are all played out in backyards and schoolyards across the country always seem to follow the same script. “World Series, Bottom of the 9th, Down 1 with runners in scoring position,” and you’re up to bat. While not everyone is lucky enough to grow up and live out those dreams on the field, fans can wish to one day be in the stands to experience the spectacle of these games. In 2010, those wishes became true for me as I was able to attend the Home Run Derby, All-Star Game, and Game 1 of the World Series, for free thanks to Major League Baseball, along with their sponsors Chevrolet and MasterCard.
From the get-go of the 2010 season, Major League Baseball ramped up their social media efforts across various platforms, most notably on Twitter. During Twitter’s #FollowFriday throughout spring training, MLB regularly tweeted out the handles of baseball fans and followed them back. With sports an inherently social phenomenon, leagues, teams, and sponsors’ joining in on the community was the perfect marriage. Everybody experiences sports around friends and fellow fans, whether in stadia, at the bar, or at home. The conversation spills over as fans proudly display their favorite teams and players on their Facebook pages, add twibbons to their Twitter profile pictures, and interact with fellow fans online. One of the ways that MLB and its clubs generated excitement among fans online was through exclusive giveaways, be it team merchandise or tickets. As the midpoint of the season approached and all eyes on the baseball world started setting their sights on Anaheim for all the festivities surrounding the Midsummer Classic, it was then that I discovered MasterCard’s #pricelesstrivia as well as Chevrolet’s #ChevyASG trivia giveaways. Between the two sponsors, they would be giving away tickets to the All-Star Sunday, Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game by awarding tickets to the first correct respondent to the trivia questions. I was game and ready to put my baseball trivia knowledge to the test, winning both Chevy’s trivia for Home Run Derby tickets and after a clarification on the question, tickets to the All-Star Game thanks to MasterCard. As you could imagine, I was beyond thrilled.
The Home Run Derby and All-Star Game were incredible experiences. While initially viewed as an underwhelming field of participants, the Derby’s competitors dazzled the crowd with a fun competition. Corey Hart of the Milawaukee Brewers belted 13 dingers in the first round to lead the pack, also launching some of the deepest bombs of the entire competition. Ultimately, Boston’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Florida’s Hanley Ramirez would outslug the competition on their way to the finals. The battle between the two Dominican stars would prove to be a fun and good natured showdown. Ortiz batted leadoff in the finals, cracking 11 homers and giving his young counterpart a tough act to follow. After Ramirez had reached five, Ortiz put the kid on ice literally, bringing him Gatorade and a towel to cool him off in joking moment. Hanley would not go yard and Big Papi was crowned Derby champion, which would prove Torii Hunter prophetic, as the hometown Angel and unofficial ambassador of the festivities predicted beforehand that his former Minnesota teammate Ortiz would take the crown. It was great to see the players enjoy themselves so much and have a blast with the Derby, with all of the All-Stars watching and laughing along from foul territory, many with their kids in tow. My anticipation was building though as I left Angel Stadium, knowing that I would be back in less than 24 hours for the All-Star Game itself.
Reminiscing back to my childhood, I remembered watching the All-Star Game as a kid in 1989, the last time that it was hosted in Anaheim. Bo Jackson amazed everyone as he led off that game with a home run and I remember dreaming back then that one day I would be lucky enough to attend the All-Star Game. That kid’s dream stayed with me into my adult years and as the day of the game dawned, the excitement carried my brother and I to the park in the early afternoon, waiting anxiously for the gates to open three hours prior the game so that we could get the full experience. Meeting friends out in the left field bleachers, we all watched both the American League and National League take batting practice; both teams come out to the outfield for team pictures, and interviews with some of the game’s brightest stars in the nearby MLB Network tent. With all the pregame festivities concluded, we found our seats and were ready for the game to get down to business. As a fan of baseball and the history of the sport, it was a joy to experience the great exhibition of the Home Run Derby and all of the pregame hoopla, but now as a Dodgers fan, it was time to root for a National League triumph in the contest for the first time since 1996. With the 2010 regular season being dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher,” the All-Star Game furthered the point as pitchers from both squads matched zeros through the first half of the game. Throughout the game, we paid special attention to the four players representing the Dodgers in the game. Outfielder Andre Ethier earned a starting spot through fan balloting and began the game out of place in centerfield, before shifting over to his familiar right field later in the game. The first time All-Star also recorded a base hit. In a historic moment, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo was the first Taiwanese MLB All-Star, although he might choose to forget his performance in the game. Kuo surrendered the American League’s only run, which was unearned, when he allowed a runner to reach and advance as he sailed a throw after fielding a soft grounder well over the first basemen’s head. On television replay, Kuo could be seen with a huge smile after the throwing error, able to poke fun at himself on baseball’s biggest stage. Luckily for Kuo, he would be let off the hook by Atlanta’s Brian McCann, who provided all the offense the NL would need with a bases clearing 3-run double in the 7th inning. The other two Dodger All-Stars would factor heavily in the bottom of the 9th, slamming the door on an AL comeback. With closer Jonathan Broxton on the hill, Chicago’s Marlon Byrd played a shallow fly ball to right on a hop, turning and gunning a throw to shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose incredible stretch helped put out the less than fleet footed David Ortiz who was caught in limbo when the ball dropped in the outfield. The Dodger closer would go on to nail down the save, giving the NL side their first victory in nearly a decade and a half. History was made on the field with the NL win and in the stands, as I was able to put in the books my first (and hopefully not last) All-Star Game attended. Even as I’ve grown and my age now eclipses some of those on the diamond, it was still a magical experience to see baseball’s best in the league’s showcase gala.
As the season progressed, I was able to put my baseball knowledge to use as a fan through more of MasterCard’s #pricelesstrivia, attending local games of both the Angels and the Dodgers. As a sport management master’s graduate and observer of the business side of sport, it was an extremely valuable lesson to see the league, team, and sponsors engage their fans via social media avenues, all the while growing their follower counts, increasing their “likes,” and expanding their communities online and off. MasterCard was one of the key brands to engage their baseball fans, especially as the postseason opened with further trivia for playoff tickets in the respective cities. With my beloved Dodgers long since eliminated, it was entertaining to participate from a far to see if I could name the answers to the various questions about the playoff combatants. As the stage was set for the World Series with the archrival Giants holding home field advantage thanks to the NL win in the All-Star Game, my dad and a coworker suggested that I should try to win tickets to one of the games in San Francisco. Admittedly, I was not all that enthused about the Series after seeing the boys in blue stumble to a sub .500 record but I had to admit, I had always wanted to see a World Series game with my dad. My interest was slightly piqued with Game 1 lining up to be a pitcher’s duel between two of the game’s best, Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee. On a whim, I decided to study a little trivia of the clubs in anticipation of MasterCard posting their question. Of course, when the Game 1 question was finally posted, it was about my favorite squad and something every Dodgers fan has deeply engrained in their memory. “What year was Kirk Gibson’s walk-off homer in the World Series?” 1988! As luck would have it, I was again the first correct respondent. With the tickets on their way, my first phone call was to the person who encouraged this in the first place, my dad. His response upon being told the news that I had won tickets to Game 1 of the World Series was one of amused bewilderment, “Really? Really?! Wow.” He ultimately decided that he would pass on attending, instead giving my brother and I an early Christmas present of the flight to SF and hotel so we could add the World Series to our growing list of baseball adventures.
Arriving in SF, there was electricity in the air thanks to the World Series fever that had swept through the city. Wanting to survey the scene as well as pick up some souvenirs (non-denominational of course), I walked down to the park in the late morning and discovered firsthand how much excitement had built up with the Giants back in the World Series for the first time since 2002. Lines wrapped around the team’s stores with everyone trying to get their hands on World Series merchandise in preparation for that night’s first game. As a thank you to my dad, I picked up a hat I would later give him and a program, and decided to call him during the 30 minute plus wait in line to pay to see if he would like anything else. He said he was fine but suggested the possibility of picking up a ball with the World Series insignia. This would later prove clutch. Returning to the park later in the afternoon with my brother well before the game again so we could take in the full experience, it was evident that the city’s anticipation was skyrocketing as even those without tickets crowded the sidewalks and jammed McCovey Cove’s waterways beyond the outfield fence. The stage was set and we entered AT&T Park, heading directly to the arcade in right field for batting practice. With the Giants having already finished and most of Texas’s heavy hitters wrapping up batting practice, I spied Josh Hamilton signing autographs down by the Rangers bullpen. Having the World Series ball that I picked up at my dad’s suggestion on me, I tried to navigate my way through the throng of people on the arcade down to the field level, fearing that he would long be finished by the time I arrived. To my surprise, the eventual American League MVP was still signing and granting picture requests, taking his time to engage the fans before what had to be one of the biggest games of his career. Only getting a few brief moments to speak to him and thank him as he signed the ball, I was amazed at how humble and genuine he was as he interacted with everyone along the line (During the course of the offseason, I picked up his book, Beyond Belief, which was a great read chronicling his struggles off the field and his comeback to the game.) The electricity continued to build as pregame festivities kicked off with the Giants celebrating their past heroes, with their current heroes about to take the field. Texas did their best to quiet the crowd’s fervor by scoring a run in each of the first two innings. While I came to the game as an impartial observer initially, it was tough to remain that way based on not only the Giants being rivals but also my pregame experience with the eventual AL MVP. Truthfully though, as the Giants scratched out two runs to tie the game against the previously unscathed in the playoffs Lee before eventually knocking him out with three more runs in the 5th inning, it was a sight to behold as AT&T Park came alive. After Lee’s exit, Juan Uribe (who had previously broken my heart with a 9th inning homer off Broxton to beat the Dodgers in September), broke the game open with a 3-run homer, putting the Giants up 8-2 and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Texas would chip away at the lead before the Giants further padded it, and in the top of the 9th, score three more runs as closer Brian Wilson made it interesting as always before squashing the Rangers rally and locking down the save. This sent the Giants faithful roaring into the night and onto the streets of San Francisco celebrating, and hoping for three more victories which would eventually secure the city’s first World Series Championship, ushering in an even bigger party. An incredible park and atmosphere made for another unforgettable adventure for my brother and I, putting a cap for us on a truly “priceless” season of baseball experiences.
As the 2011 season looms near, it will be intriguing to see how the league, teams, and sponsors further improve upon and develop their social media efforts. One of my key takeaways from the September 2010 Sports 2.0 Conference in San Francisco was that the various online avenues and alleyways are only at the tip of the iceberg, with a myriad of possibilities yet to be discovered as more fans connect and engage with their favorite teams and players. Hopefully, more fans have their dreams come true just like I mine did in 2010 because it is something I will never forget, always cherish, and most importantly, be forever grateful.
As a young kid growing up who loved baseball, my summers were often consumed with the sport. Of course, I would play ball with my friends and my family would make trips to both Dodger Stadium and Anaheim to take in games. There would be some days that I would play ball with friends, and we would most likely catch games in person on the weekends as a family, while watching others on TV. During those long summer weeks with no school, camp, or other callings, there was always one constant. Chicago Cubs day games at Wrigley Field were almost always the first baseball game of the day on TV that you could watch, the WGN broadcasts starting mid-morning in California. As a second baseman on my Little League team, I grew up enamored with Ryne Sandberg. He was the best of the best at the position and someone I had the desire to become, going so far as to write in my 1991 5th grade memories book that I wanted to play second base for the Cubs when I grew up. As I grew up and became a fan of the game’s history, I desired to eventually make the pilgrimage to take in a game at the Friendly Confines.
A Chicago trip is something that my dad had always discussed taking with my brother and I, each season passing with it talked about but still on the distant horizon. In 2008, with Manny Mania sweeping through Los Angeles during the last few months of the season and into the playoffs upon coming to the Dodgers from Boston at the trade deadline, a promise was made. During the offseason saga of will the Dodgers re-sign Manny or not, my dad made us a promise that if the Dodgers did in fact bring Manny back into the fold, we would travel to see them play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The anticipation and daily drama extended into spring training until finally, Ramirez was back in blue. This set in motion the trip planning. This time, it was really going to happen. Tickets were purchased. Flights were booked. Time off was requested and approved. At last, I was going to see the iconic ballpark in person that I spent so many summer mornings and early afternoons watching on TV. Then, with the trip only three weeks away, Manny Ramirez was suspended for violating MLB’s drug policy for a banned substance. While this would by no means put a damper on things, it was ironic that the catalyst for the trip would not be present on the journey.
Deciding to take in all that Wrigley had to offer, we went for three games of the four game series, each day sitting in a different part of the park. After spending so many summers watching day games, it was funny that my first ever game at Wrigley as a spectator was played under the lights at night. My dad had actually been to the park a year prior, stopping in Chicago with a friend for a game while they were en route back to California after an annual trip for horse races in Ohio. Having a familiarity with Wrigley, one of the places to sit that was an absolute with my dad was the bleacher box seats close in right field, which were sectioned off from the rest of the regular bleachers in the outfield. Sitting in the grandstand on his previous trip, he watched ball after ball going into the bleacher box seats in batting practice with few people there to catch them. Getting there and waiting for the gates to open, his observation proved true as he snagged two balls hit into the section, and also had Andre Ethier toss him one while shagging balls in right field. The game itself was a pitching duel with the Dodgers receiving a stellar combined effort from starter Randy Wolf and reliever Ramon Troncoso, leading the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory. Being out of state following the Dodgers for the first time, the W was a little bit sweeter coming at another team’s field, where you are in the severe minority but walking out victoriously with your head held high. The next day was what I had come to Chicago to experience: a day game, sitting in the bleachers in left field, just like I had grown up watching on TV. Of course, this time, I was not emulating Sandberg. I would be rooting for the opposition. Surprisingly, the Cubs fans are great baseball fans and we were not hassled in the slightest. Of course, that could have changed drastically had Matt Kemp’s home run landed about 10 rows higher, because it would have come to us and in bucking tradition, that opponent’s home run ball would not be thrown back onto the field. That dinger that landed below our seats proved to be the only offense the Dodgers would muster between the next two games, as they would fall by 2-1 and 7-0 tallies. Despite the shutout, our seats for the last game were phenomenal, placing us approximately 20 rows directly behind home plate. It was hours prior to the last game that the most memorable moment of the trip happened, and it took place far away from the ballpark.
As we prepared for our final day in Chicago, with my brother and his friend sleeping in, my dad and I got up and were headed down to breakfast at our hotel. I headed down to the crowded breakfast area ahead to try and secure a table, finding the only one available just as another family was getting up to leave. While I was waiting on my dad, a gentleman came up and asked if he could join me at the table. I obliged and as he sat down and we exchanged pleasantries, up walks my dad a few seconds later, breezing right past me and going directly to the gentleman to introduce himself and shake his hand. I thought this was odd until my table companion returned the favor of the introduction, saying, “Hi, my name is Ferguson.” The name caused me to do a quick double take and realize that the man who had just joined me at breakfast was indeed Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. To this day, I am still teased about not recognizing him right off the bat. Mr. Jenkins was more than gracious with his time, sitting with us at breakfast for nearly two hours and sharing stories of baseball, life, and family. Being close in age and thus familiar with the same era of baseball, my dad and Mr. Jenkins conversed on several baseball tales of players and teams from those years. For the most part, I was just a fly on the wall for their conversation but baseball is ultimately baseball so it was great to learn about how another generation experienced the game. We particularly enjoyed his story about just how cozy the confines are at Wrigley. He stated that he always knew exactly when he was getting into trouble out on the mound because from where he was standing in the center of the diamond atop the pitching rubber, he could hear the phone in the bullpen ring (unlike most modern stadiums that have separated bullpens, Wrigley’s ‘pens are in foul territory in the field of play). I thought that was hilarious and after sharing stories of players from that era and he and my dad comparing them to current players, we could go on to share stories of each other’s families. Mr. Jenkins, who makes his home in Arizona, beamed about how his wife had become a “super fan” of Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals. As we wrapped up breakfast and were ready to head off to the ballpark (where he was also headed), Mr. Jenkins was kind enough to sign one of the baseballs that my dad had grabbed in batting practice a few days earlier. As we got up to leave, several people in full Cubs regalia approached my dad and I to inquire about the identity of our breakfast companion, as they saw us getting the ball signed. Mr. Jenkins took pictures with and signed for the Cubs fans, and as we headed off to the elevator with him, we thanked him for being so gracious with his time.
After so many days of my youth were spent watching games on WGN, it was something truly special to experience Wrigley Field in person. There is a vibrancy there that I have not experienced at any other park. Whether it’s the ivy adorning the outfield walls, the intimate confines of the iconic park, or just seeing everything so vividly while basking in the sunlight of a summer day, I’ll never know but I’ll always cherish my trip to Chicago and a few brief moments that I shared away from the park talking with my dad and Mr. Jenkins about the important things in life: baseball and family.
Postscript: During the 2010 All-Star Festivities in Anaheim, I learned that Mr. Jenkins would be making an appearance at FanFest. Wanting to thank him again for his time, I took another one of the balls we caught in batting practice at Wrigley for him to sign (My dad only brought one down when were in Chicago), but most importantly took a thank you card that I had written to him about the whole experience from a year prior in Chicago. Knowing that it ultimately was just a few brief passing moments in life, I wanted him to know how thankful I was to have shared those with him and my father because for the two of us, we’ll never forget it.
As a student of the game of baseball and someone who is appreciative of its history, there existed a triumvirate of stadiums that had achieved legendary status in the lore of the game: Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the original Yankee Stadium in New York. A personal goal was to visit each of these iconic parks at some point in my life (accomplished!). In May of 2008, with my brother studying at UMass Lowell, I planned a vacation to see Boston for the first time, help him move home for the summer, and we would visit New York for two days to take in a game at Yankee Stadium as the “House that Ruth Built” was in its twilight, with a new Yankee Stadium poised to open in 2009. Seeing that the majority of my week would be spent in Boston, I kept inquiring with my brother about attending a Red Sox game at Fenway to which he would respond with the difficulties of getting tickets and we would have to wait and see. Little did I know that he had a trick up his sleeve, and that would ultimately prove to be one of the absolute best baseball games we would ever attend.
With my brother’s birthday approaching at the end of May, I had bought tickets to game at Yankee Stadium as a present and was floored upon touching down in Boston when he responded in kind, presenting me with tickets to sit atop the infamous Green Monster at Fenway Park for Monday, May 19th’s game against the Kansas City Royals. I was beyond ecstatic. In the span of three days, I would be setting foot in two of baseball’s hallowed grounds. This was something that I had always dreamed of and these wishes were about to be granted in the imminent future. With the anticipation building for our trip now that the Fenway surprise was out, the amazing week we had continued to develop. Checking to see if the Red Sox had any tickets available for Sunday’s interleague game against Milwaukee, I came across a box seat and a couple standing room tickets that we scooped up, wanting to be able to experience from a different perspective, seeing that we would be up high above the left field wall the next day for the game. After we secured the tickets to the Red Sox Sunday afternoon contest, good fortune would shine upon us again as we bought tickets in regular on-sale for Sunday’s Game 7 which had just become necessary in the NBA playoff series between the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. As Sunday’s schedule fleshed out, it became evident that we would have to leave Fenway during the middle of the game in order to make it to the Garden in time for tipoff of the basketball game. While I know it sounds sacrilegious to leave your first ever Red Sox game midway through, little did I know that the next day’s game would more than complete the Fenway experience and make up for it.
Bill Veeck once said, "We can’t always guarantee the ball game is going to be good; but we can guarantee the fan will have fun." Having already experience a great “Boston Sports Day,” going to both the Red Sox game and heading to the Garden to see the Celtics close out the Cavs in a decisive Game 7, we thought all the fun to be had and the great games to be seen had already transpired. We were sorely mistaken. In what would become habit for us attending games on the road, we got to the park in advance of the gates opening, wanting to be present for all of batting practice as batters would be launching balls all around our seats. As the game started and the Red Sox put up five runs in the third inning, it seemed as if this would a rather uneventful game the rest of the way with Boston cruising to victory. But as each inning passed, something kept happening that was not immediately evident. Despite walking two batters and committing a throwing error on a pickoff attempt, set every other batter down and was continuing to cruise through the Royals lineup. Three up, three down. Three up, three down and it continued. As the game progressed, a buzz started to circulate around the park. Everybody was quiet at first, muttering amongst themselves about what was occurring. No matter what happened, I wanted to make the most of this trip and circulate through the ballpark at the conclusion of the game, getting pictures of the classic hand operated scoreboard that we could not see below us during the game. Recognizing what was transpiring around the 5th or 6th inning, I turned to my brother and intended to say, “If this happens, I want to down to the field level and take pictures of the scoreboard.” I only managed to get out, “If this happens,” before he cut me off, silencing me so as not to jinx it. By the 8th inning, the entire crowd was on its feet in anticipation, hanging on every pitch. Adding to the significance of the moment, Lester had overcome lymphoma two years prior so everybody was rooting for him to achieve history. There were three outs to go. No one in Fenway Park was sitting down. Despite a walk to the leadoff batter in the 9th inning, Lester got the next batter to ground out. One out. The roar in the park was loud. He retired the next batter with another groundout. Two outs. The noise grew louder. With his adrenaline building throughout the game, Lester blew a fastball by the last batter, securing his first complete game, shutout, and no-hitter of his career. The cheers in the stadium were deafening as the Red Sox charged the field and mobbed their pitcher. Fans cheered, embraced, and screamed for the history they had just witnessed. Jon Lester had beat cancer. Then he beat the Rockies in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series to clinch a title for the Red Sox. Now, he had blanked the Royals, keeping them hitless for all nine frames.
Being from California and someone who was not a die-hard Red Sox fan, I was an outsider who was privy to something historic in the park that night. It was fairly easy to get swept up in the moment and the passion that Boston fans have for their team and this pitcher. In post-game interviews on the news later that evening, you could see the emotions spilling out of everyone involved, especially those of manager Terry Francona. The Red Sox were a family, they went everything together, and no one had gone through more than the young man on the mound that night. It was his time to shine, and it was only fitting that catcher Jason Varitek lifted him up to the heavens after catching the final strike of his masterful pitching performance. Jon Lester’s star was definitely on the rise.