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ADVENTURES OF A BASEBALL FANBaseball Diamonds are This Girl's Best Friend
By CANDY L. VANDYKE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Candy L. VanDyke
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHOW IT ALL BEGAN
Growing up, I was never a big baseball fan. Sure, there were softball games in school and with the neighbor kids, but I never attended a baseball game or even watched the sport on TV. My family watched football and car racing. When I got older, I chose the New York Mets as my team, mostly because I grew up in upstate New York and they weren't the Yankees. I have always been drawn to the underdog, and the Mets seemed to me to be the opposite of the big-name, big-budget Yankees. I could name few of the players, but I was pleased when the Mets did well. I remember hearing a great deal about the 1986 World Series, although I didn't watch it until almost two decades later. I had been married the year before, and there was plenty going on in my life. Watching baseball wasn't a priority. At the time I was happy the Mets won. My new mother-in-law was a huge Yankees fan. I was so impressed that she knew all the players and watched as many games as she could. I still wasn't that big a fan of the game, but I would sit and watch a game with her on occasion.
In 1992 the Mets' Double-A farm team, the B-Mets, moved to Binghamton, New York, not too far from where we lived. We always meant to get to a game but never did. My husband and I split up in 1998. A friend of mine from church would get B-Mets tickets on occasion, so we would go games together sometimes. I got to know a few of the players. Every once in a while as I was flipping through channels, I would see a game on and recognize some of the players I had seen in Binghamton. I saw Jose Reyes, David Wright, Ty Wigginton, Mike Jacobs, Lasting Milledge, Carlos Gomez, Mike Pelfrey, Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy, Joe Smith, and Bobby Parnell play in Binghamton, to mention a few. I found myself becoming more and more of a fan of the game and of the New York Mets.
Another friend of mine, Eric, was also a big fan of baseball. He and I would go to see the B-Mets whenever we had the opportunity. It was at one of those games in 2002 that he suggested I might like to go to a major-league game. I hadn't really thought about it before. Why not? Eric's idea was all the encouragement I needed. We made plans to go to see my first big-league game. Eric had gone to college in Boston and was a big Red Sox fan, and I had never been to Boston, so that was where we decided to go.
We decided to spend a couple of days in the Boston area to see some of the sights. We stayed at a hotel in Danvers, Massachusetts, on Route 1. I remember it so well, because it was one of those places where, when you ask someone how to get somewhere they say "you can't get there from here."
The first day there we bought a little propane grill and a large pot so we could cook out some clams and lobsters. We found a nice park near a quarry while we were wandering around Salem and had a little cookout. Or we tried to, anyway. It was a cool day for June, and the wind eventually won out. We ended up cooking the lobsters on the balcony of the hotel.
The next day we tried to find a beach so that I could stick my toe in the ocean. We ended up going all the way to New Hampshire because most of the beaches near our hotel were private. On the way back we happened upon a small fair. We decided to stop to ride the Ferris wheel and play some carnival games.
The last two nights of our trip we stayed in downtown Boston. We found a place to park the car and planned on taking the T, as the subway in Boston is known, for getting around town. We went to the waterfront, the aquarium, and Quincy Market on the first afternoon. Eric had asked me to bring something a little dressy along. The night before the game, I found out why. He had made surprise reservations at the Top of the Hub restaurant, on the fifty-second floor of the Prudential Building. Our reservations were for 8:00 pm. We got ready and took the T to our destination. As we arrived at our table, we were greeted by the beautiful sight of lights coming on around the city. Before long, a full moon peaked over the harbor. It was breathtaking! That night it became clear to me why people love Boston.
The game was the next day, but not until the evening. In the morning we decided to go out on a whale watch, which was a lot of fun. We weren't having too much luck seeing whales, so they kept us out a little longer than was scheduled. The delay made us a little nervous because we needed to go back to the hotel before the game to change into our fan garb. I had purchased a t-shirt at Quincy Market just for the occasion.
It was a close one, but we made it to the park in time for my first major-league baseball game on Tuesday, June 25, 2002, at Fenway Park in Boston. As we walked toward the stadium in a crowd of people, there was so much anticipation and excitement all around. Everywhere I looked, people showed their support for their team and favorite players with all kinds of shirts and hats. I was a bit envious of the true fandom on display. Little did I know I would become just like them! I didn't know what to expect so I just watched, listened, and followed Eric.
We had grandstand seats. When we ordered tickets, we couldn't get seats right next to each other, so we got seats in two different rows but very close together. One was in the second to the last row and the other one in the last row of the grandstand. The seating was the original wooden chairs. We started out sitting next to each other in the last row, and fortunately no one came to kick us out of the seats. Sitting in the last row made it easier to get out, as we could climb over the back of the seat and sneak out through the railings into the standing-room area behind us, rather than bother the entire row to let us pass by. As the game went on and more beer was consumed by the guys standing near the railing, sneaking out that way became more challenging. But we dealt with it.
The Red Sox were playing the Cleveland Indians. I knew very little about either team, but Eric had been following baseball for years and had been to both team's games before. He had a good knowledge of the game and the players, so I felt comfortable asking him questions, which I did—a lot!
There was something about the Red Sox players that intrigued me right away. The players were a diverse group, yet their teamwork was extremely apparent. They really seemed to enjoy themselves. The park itself was awesome. Our seats were on the first base side facing the Green Monster, which was totally cool! 2002 was Fenway's ninetieth anniversary, and there was a large sign in the center of the Green Monster to celebrate that fact. Boston, being a sports town, just had a feeling of celebration in the air. I was overwhelmed trying to take it all in. Fenway Park had a life of its own. It felt like we were so close to the field, even in row seventeen. I was awestruck, to say the least. From our seats, the famous CITGO sign on top of a nearby building was visible and was especially beautiful when lit up after nightfall.
The game was not off to a very good start for the Red Sox. The Indians scored three runs in the first inning when Jim Thome, a name I became all too familiar with over the next several years, hit a home run with two on-one of which had been a leadoff walk. I reminded myself I was at Fenway even so, and I was so excited to be there. The score didn't matter that much to me. After all, it was early in the game.
I got to see some of the players who would become my favorites: Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jason Varitek to mention a few. Garciaparra hit a high fly ball that I was sure would prove to be the first Red Sox home run, but it wasn't deep enough. Then the place got crazy loud. I wasn't sure what was going on. I looked at Eric quizzically. It turned out that Manny Ramirez, who had been on the disabled list with a thumb injury, was coming up to bat. The place went wild. I had never experienced anything like it. Manny lined out to end the bottom of the first, but it didn't matter. I was in awe!
Cleveland scored another run in the second inning to make it Indians 4, Red Sox 0. But it was early in the game. In the bottom of the second I saw a few more of my favorites for the first time, including Shea Hillenbrand, Trot Nixon, and Tony Clark (who drive in the first run) Here we go, I thought. A walk loaded the bases. I could hardly contain myself! Damon came to the plate and I was sure it was going to be a big play. He only hit a single, but a run scored. We had hope. The rally was short-lived, but the lead was cut in half.
There were only a couple of more hits the rest of the game, and no more runs scored. The home team lost 4–2, but I had fallen in love with Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox, and the game of baseball. One of the things that I thought was really neat was the singing of the song "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the eighth inning, and how the whole crowd got into singing along. I thought it was consistent with the team spirit so present in Boston.
After the game we took the T back to the hotel. We went down the stairs into the subway station, got our tokens, and made our way to the platform. Eric knew I wasn't fond of crowds, so he stayed close. The subway was running extra cars on game nights and departed every few minutes, so it didn't take long before we got on. It was beyond crowded. I was hugging a pole in the very front of a car and Eric was standing on the steps. He kept an eye on me and kept asking if I was alright. I was less than thrilled, but refused to let the crowded T ride ruin my magical baseball night—a three hours and thirteen minutes game at Fenway! We were packed in like sardines, with a significant percentage of more than 34,000 people trying to get home on the T at the same time. We were so close that I could tell you how much change the gentleman behind me had in his pocket! Eric told me later that night that my face was getting redder and redder as the subway car moved. It took me a long time before I could explain to him why. That train ride sure was a culture shock for a country girl like me.
At the end of that 2002 season, I heard about the Red Sox hiring a new general manager, the eleventh GM since the position was established in 1933. The new GM was Theo Epstein. He was the youngest general manager in major league history at twenty-eight years old. He grew up only a mile from Fenway Park and had been a fan of the Red Sox all his life. What a dream come true for him. As time went on, Theo would make dreams come true for the team and fans as well.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 2003
I couldn't wait to get to more major-league games. The logical next step was to visit the home of my favorite team, the New York Mets. As fate would have it, the Mets were Eric's second favorite team, so he was up for another road trip. As soon as tickets went on sale, we booked seats and made our plans.
My second live major-league baseball experience came almost exactly ten months after my first. On April 27, 2003, we traveled to New York City's Shea Stadium for a Saturday afternoon game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. We were planning to drive down see the game and drive back afterward, as it was only a three-and-a-half-hour trip each way. We left a little early that morning because Eric had planned to show me the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park, but it was raining so we didn't stick around the park for long.
We parked in the stadium lot and then walked around so I could take some pictures. The park looked so big from the outside! The images of players on the outside of the stadium made out of lights were particularly neat. We decided to go into the stadium despite the rain. We had brought our rain gear, which came in handy even though our seats were under the overhang. As fond as I was of Shea Stadium, it really didn't have many special features—except the apple that pops up after Mets home runs. I did like that. Shea seemed so big compared to Fenway, which at the time was my only point of reference.
After waiting for the rain to stop for about three hours they finally announced that the game was postponed. I wasn't sure what that meant until they announced we could exchange our tickets for admission the next day, when they would play the make-up game and a regularly scheduled game. Oh boy, two games for the price of one!
We debated whether to drive home and back in the morning but decided it was prudent to just stay in New York for the night. We found a hotel and got something to eat at a local diner. I had never spent time anywhere near New York City, so it was an added bonus to get to stay the night in Queens.
I didn't understand the significance of the pitching matchups at the time, but I was in for a real treat. In the first game it was Tom Glavine for the Mets against Brandon Webb for the Diamondbacks. In 2007, Tom Glavine got his 295th career win against the Yankees, and I was there!
Glavine wasn't exactly at his best against the Diamondbacks. He walked the leadoff hitter. I had already seen how bad leadoff walks were the previous year in Boston. The free pass did result in the first run for Arizona. After the top of the first, there were no other hits by either team until the bottom of the fourth when Ty Wigginton, a former B-Met, hit a single with one out. We were only down by one, so a rally could easily tie it or even give the Mets the lead! Well, the excitement was short-lived. A double play ended the inning. At least I was getting to see players who would join the ranks of my favorites: Mike Piazza, Cliff Floyd, Mo Vaughn, and Ty Wigginton, to mention a few.
Glavine came back to the mound for the top of the fifth. The first batter hit an infield single and took second base on a Glavine throwing error. Not good! The second batter made it safely to first on another Mets throwing error. Well then. Brandon Webb came up next with one out and hit a sacrifice to advance the runners. A double scored two more Arizona runs. Now we were down by three, and running out of chances to catch up.
In the seventh inning, the first Arizona batter hit a solo home run. Ugh! The Mets were down by four. Next came a double, and then a single advanced the runner to third. Still no outs and two men on! I did not like the way the game was going at all. I didn't yet fully understand the intricacies of the game, pitching changes, etc. I felt rather hopeless at that point. Again, Webb hit a sacrifice, moving the trailing runner into scoring position. That was one out. Maybe we could stop them. Nope. A single drove in two more runs! Finally, a Mets pitching change. We got out of the inning without any further damage.
In the bottom of the seventh we got a glimmer of hope when Mike Piazza singled, but his efforts were wasted. In the top of the eighth, Tony Clark, whom I had seen play in Boston the previous year, came in to play first base. That move paid off in the bottom of the inning. Clark hit a home run! The apple popped up in celebration! The score was now 6–1 Arizona, which ended up being the final score. The game took just about two and a half hours. I'd learned more about baseball and still had another game to see that very afternoon, so I wasn't too bummed.
In the second game of that doubleheader, I got to see the "Big Unit," Randy Johnson, pitch for Arizona. Even from our seats in the left field stands, he looked really tall. The Mets scored first in the bottom of the second inning. Alas, Arizona came back to score two in the top of the third. Humph! The Mets tied it up in the bottom of the third. Randy Johnson drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the fourth, with a little help from a throwing error that allowed the runner to score. Ugh! Both pitchers settled in and only gave up a few scattered hits over the next few innings.
The fan giveaway that day was a Mets cap. I was so pleased to have such a treasured memento of my beloved Mets. Our seats were the first row in the upper deck in left field. April baseball can be a bit chilly. Eric pulled me onto his lap to share our warmth. At one particularly disappointing moment, I leaned forward and covered my face with my hands. My hat toppled down behind the sign in front of our seats. I was embarrassed for letting such a silly thing happen, but I was also sad to have lost my treasured gift. After a couple of minutes, Eric took a plastic bag that had been blowing around the stands, ripped it into strips, tied the strips together, tied his pocket knife to the improvised rope, and lowered the rig to retrieve my hat. He had rescued my hat! He was definitely my hero that day, and yes, I have that hat to this day.
Excerpted from ADVENTURES OF A BASEBALL FAN by CANDY L. VANDYKE Copyright © 2010 by Candy L. VanDyke. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsHow it All Began....................1
New York, New York 2003....................6
Where to Next?....................11
Two Two Two....................18
Makeup Game in Philadelphia....................26
Even More in 2004....................33
Midweek Day Game....................49
The Real Pedro....................52
A Giant Leap....................56
Birds of a Different Color....................59
The Doubleheader that Wasn't....................61
The Curse: Not Alive in 2005....................70
Five Games, Five Days....................75
Time to Take Flight....................89
Dodgers in New York....................94
Baseball Back in Our Nation's Capital....................97
Back to New York and Add One More....................100
Nixed in 2006....................106
Eleven in 2007....................132
California, Here I Come....................139
Quick Trip to Arizona....................158
Final Game in Los Angeles....................162
More West Coast....................167
Two by Two....................172
North of the Border....................176
2008's Gonna be Great....................180
Midwest and Mountain Time....................184
Back to Beantown....................191
Quick Two-step in Texas....................196
Again Online in 2009....................222
Off Again in 2010....................246
Hitting the Target....................250