Opening Day 2018: Mariners vs. Twins – 4/5/18

This was my third consecutive Opening Day and I could not wait for the season to start. It was going to be a fun year for both the Twins, who are looking to go on another playoff run after some big offseason pickups, and for myself. Just like last year, I plan to visit some more new stadiums and catch some more game homeruns. Additionally, Target Field will be hosting some version of Ballhawk Fest on August 25th (more details to come), so my summer is set to end on a great note.

I arrived at the gates just after 10:45, over two hours before they were set to open for the 3:10 home opener. Tony and his friend/road trip partner Jared were already there and claimed their spot at the front of the line. To stay warm and pass the time, Tony and I played catch in the plaza. Before long, Dave and James arrived and we recorded an episode for Tony’s “At The Gates” podcast. Here’s what the line behind us looked like right before the gates opened:

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Unfortunately, my spot at the front of the line did me no good because there wasn’t any batting practice today with temperatures hovering around freezing. This was the only action happening when the gates opened:

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Instead of watching, I took a couple laps around the stadium to explore new features, including the mandatory protective netting down each baseline, and to get food. The Twins completely renovated the right field corner of the concourse, adding additional limestone and a new staircase near the foul pole, expanding a food stand and the Twins Authentics booth, and opening a new restaurant called Bat and Barrel.

Target Field was looking pretty bleak for Opening Day and it was obvious that it had just snowed almost a foot less than 48 hours before. There were no plants in the flower pots lining the outfield wall, no water in the drinking fountains, and the concourses were a soupy mess of snow, ice, salt, mud, and water. There was no ceremonial bunting, just a bunch of icicles. Other than the green grass, the stadium was as winterized as it is for Twins Fest. But other than the stadium gates being frozen shut, the ceremonial bald eagle landing on the opposing starting pitcher, the anticlimactic flyover happening simultaneous to the bird attack, and the Twins deciding to start all four bench guys today, Opening Day went smoothly as ever. While you can sense my sarcasm, it was still great to see everyone again and to kick off the 2018 season. This was my view for the national anthem and for the game:

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(Most people weren’t in their seats by this time, but it was a sellout crowd in the end.)

During the game, I was very observant to any changes made to the overall gameday experience, including scoreboard design/layout, presentation of information, ballpark music, sound and lighting effects, fireworks, hype video, walk up songs, and between inning entertainment. I always notice the little things like these, and when you go to enough games, they get pretty repetitive. Unfortunately, minimal changes were made this year, which is disappointing from a presentation aspect.

The Twins came back to win 4-2 in what was the coldest game I have ever attended out of nearly 100 games. The game time temperature was 38 degrees, four degrees cooler than my previous low, set twice back in April of 2014 and 2016. I didn’t snag any balls this game, but when I do, I will be logging them on MyGameBalls.com this year.

Thanks for reading. I should be attending two games next week and maybe even a minor league game this weekend, so be on the lookout for those posts. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Thanks again and Go Twins!

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Spring Training 2018: Day 4 – Practice

I arrived at the stadium at 8:45 am for my final day of Spring Training. The only action for the first hour was Buxton and Kepler going to play catch with a football on a back field:

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That got me thinking: Buxton DID play wide receiver in high school, so maybe the Vikings could take advantage of his speed and great hands to make him the next Bo Jackson?

Practice started later today at about 9:45. It was shaping up to be a good graphing day with smaller crowds and players in good moods sporting their green St. Patrick’s Day hats. Some players signed on their way out to the practice fields, something they never do. I was able to get Berrios on a ball before practice even started. (I’ll show all off my autographs at the end.) One kid was going around asking players for their bats, and believe it or not, Kepler and Dozier actually gave in. Today, I couldn’t help but ask players to sign when I had them one on one in the middle of practice, even though I knew what their answer would be. Rosario signed my photo after he was done hitting in the batting cage with Dozier:

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For the second practice in a row, I decided to grab a good graphing spot during BP on the practice field instead of ballhawking in foul territory. This resulted in two days of pure ballhawking (the three games) and two days of pure graphing (the two practices), which all evened out in the end. This decision paid off as I was able to get Dozier, Buxton, and Mauer as they left the field at the end of practice. Kepler put in an extra half hour of work, so I waited him out for my last autograph of the Spring. As promised, here is the entire haul from all four days:

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(Mauer, Kepler, Berrios, Buxton, and Dozier baseballs)

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(Mauer, Morrison, Lynn, Odorizzi, and Buxton cards)

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(Rosario 8×10 and Berrios debut ticket)

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(Oliva ball and Bremer card)

I definitely went for quality over quantity this year and I was happy with the autographs I got. Finally, here are the three balls I took home with me of the six total snagged:

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This was my final view of Hammond Stadium for the year:

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Thanks for reading. I always enjoy blogging about Spring Training and I hope that these posts provide helpful information for Spring Training newcomers. My next game will be the Twins home opener in two weeks, followed by most likely one game in each of the Astros and White Sox series. I also might head down to Cedar Rapids for the Kernels (the Twins Single A affiliate) opening weekend for some graphing at what would be my first minor league game ever. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Thanks again and Go Twins!

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Spring Training 2018: Game 3 – Twins vs. Red Sox (JetBlue Park) – 3/16/18

I arrived at the stadium at 3:50, just 10 minutes before the gates were set to open for the nightcap of the Twins’ split squad doubleheader. Although this was my first game at JetBlue Park, I had been there before on a tour back when it first opened. The Twins were just getting ready to hit, so I ran out to the berm in right field:

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Just like Fenway (you can read about my experiance at Fenway here, but you will have to scroll down a bit), JetBlue Park is terrible for ballhawking. The flat berm pictured above in its entirerty is the only seating area in the entire outfield accessable with a non-Green Monster ticket. You can see what I mean by checking out left and center:

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And also straightaway right:

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So myself and dozens of others were stuck at pretty much ground level over 400 feet from the plate with this view:

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As you can probably guess, there wasn’t much action out there. In fact, only three balls all BP reached the berm on the fly, and only a couple others were swallowed up by the bullpens. The first time it happened, I was right on top of the ball hit by Eddie Rosario until I lost it in the blinding sun and had to duck away. My first ball of the day, which I got a half hour later, come via a Max Kepler tossup:

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It was a 2018 Florida Spring Training commemorative, the first I had seen this year. The next time a ball headed my way, I knew what to do. Knowing the ball was going over my head, I turned my back to the field and got in good position to scamper after it on the bounce. The ball rolled all the way back here:

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I was able to scoop it up first because of my great jump. It was another FL commemorative:

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That was it for BP. For the third game in a row and the second time today, I finished with just two balls, bringing my total to six on the Spring. After BP, I caught up with Dennis Mora from this morning and we chatted about ballhawking for a good 15 minutes. Then, I wandered around mini-Fenway to take some pictures:

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Then, I headed over to claim my spot on the berm. The only good thing about my seating location was that I got to watch pitchers warm up in the bullpens:

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Since I was near the back of the flat berm, looking through a fence at field level 450 feet away with the setting sun in my eyes, I gave up trying watch the game. Instead, I laid back and fell asleep listening to the game on the radio with over a 60 second delay. My view improved when the sun finally set, but I still couldn’t see the ball as it was pitched or coming off the bat:

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Though the Twins lost 4-2, I had a great time watching a competitive cross-town rivalry under the lights on a beautiful night and signing “Sweet Caroline” in the 8th inning along with 10,000 others. It felt a lot more like Boston than it did South Florida, so props to the Red Sox for bringing the sights and sounds of Title Town with them down South. I also got to see something pretty remarkable. Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff, the Twins’ last two first round draft picks, both made their Spring Training debuts, coming in as defensive replacements and getting their first “big league” at-bat. The striking thing about this is that this was the first time I saw someone younger than me play in an official Major League Baseball game. That’s right, I’m 48 days older than Royce Lewis, the top player in last year’s draft. This dumbfounding moment that others distinctly remember as well made me feel old and got me thinking that my dream of being a professional baseball player might finally be over, since a kid younger than me already light years ahead.

Thanks for reading. Today was a long but fun day full of lots of Spring Training action. Be on the lookout for one more Spring Training related post coming out later, so be sure to check back for that. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Thanks again and Go Twins!

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Spring Training 2018: Game 2 – Rays vs. Twins – 3/16/18

I arrived at the stadium at around 10:15 for a long baseball day with hopes that the Twins would be taking batting practice on the practice field. However, they weren’t out there for the second game in a row, this time deciding to hit inside the stadium. The only player to be seen before the gates opened was Logan Morrison, who signed for me after hitting in the cages:

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When I ran in at 11:00, the Twins were just jogging off the field. I was surprised to recognize reigning Ballhawk of the Year Dennis Mora on the berm. In 2017, he snagged 846 balls, including 11 game homeruns, over 85 games at eight stadiums in addition to his home of Marlins Park. I introduced myself and learned that I would also be seeing him at JetBlue Park later in the day for the second game of split squad action. It was both fun and difficult to be in competition with such a good ballhawk. Luckily, there were plenty of balls to go around with very little other competition. Other than a handful of the same more serious ballhawks from the previous game, there weren’t many younger kids or adults to clog up the berm:

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With surprising power hitters in each group, little competition, and the wind blowing out, it was stacking up to be a pretty good BP. The Rays put on a show, but unfortunately only two groups hit. Also, those who did hit did so a little too well. More balls flew out of the stadium (clearing the berm and the concourse entirely) than stayed in the park. And those that did stay in the park were hit all over the place, so there wasn’t one great place to be. Most of the ballhawks, including Mora, spread out across the stadium, leaving the berm almost all to myself, as seen above. The concourse above the berm, along with the Grandstand and drink rail in right and left center, got most of the action, but I wasn’t about to abandon my favorite ballhawking spot in the world for the chance of getting more baseballs in a tougher location with actual competition. This decision only paid off twice. My first ball of the day came on an opposite field shot at the front of the berm that I caught on the fly. The lefty slice made for an awkward last second adjustment, but I managed to hang on:

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My second and final ball was a homer that I grabbed after a nasty ricochet off the back wall that I quickly gave away. I was a little disappointed to only end up with two once again, but the amount of action and and friendly competition made today’s BP a lot more fun.

This was my view during the game:

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The Twins lost 11-1. I had to leave early to drop off my lovely grandparents (who attended the game with me and hosted me all week at their condo located conveniently just 3.5 miles from the ballpark) and grab a quick bite to eat before heading over to JetBlue Park (just another 3.5 miles in the opposite direction) for the nightcap of the Twins’ split squad doubleheader.

Thanks for reading. There will be two more posts about Spring Training, the night game at JetBlue Park and another Twins practice, which will be posted in the coming days. Be sure to follow/subscribe or check back in a few days for those two, because I know for a fact that there is a lot to recap! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Thanks again and Go Twins!

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Spring Training 2018: Day 2 – Practice

I arrived at the stadium bright and early at 8:30 am. It was definitely cool, with morning temperatures in the mid 40s. Most players, including myself, wore sweatshirts today, but I was still freezing in the shade with the wind. I caught up with Jake from Target Field before the players slowly trickled onto the practice field just before 9:30. It was an away game day, which meant most of the star players didn’t make the trip and were present at practice. They all stretched, ran sprints, and played catch before splitting off into different positional drills on the back infield. Here is Buxton working on taking his lead and improving his jump:

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Here are Dozier and Polanco turning double plays:

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And here is Sano receiving throws at first:

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Later, the first basemen and pitchers came together for pitcher’s fielding practice. Here is Joe Mauer feeding Trevor May covering the bag:

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Mauer and Dozier chatted with fans along the fence as they worked, mainly about cabins, ice fishing, and country music, which was fun to see.

Meanwhile, newbies Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn threw a bullpen session together (humorously in sync I might add):

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I ended up getting them both on cards:

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(Unfortunatly, my sharpie streaked the corner of the Odorizzi card as he was handing it back to me.)

Next, the players got ready for a full batting practice on the practice field. Here are Mauer and Dozier getting loose before they hit:

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Here is Dick Bremer, the Voice of the Twins, chatting with Kepler after his cuts:

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Normally, I head down the left field line to go for tossups and slicing foul balls, but today I decided to focus on graphing. I wanted to be in good position for once as players left the field after practice around 11 am. I ended up getting Buxton and Mauer on balls:

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It is interesting to note that I have gotten an autograph from Mauer seven years in a row from 2012 to the present, split between Twins Fest and Spring Training. I’m sure I have changed a lot more than he has since then. I also got Berrios on his debut ticket (which I was at and blogged about here) and had him inscribe “MLB Debut”:

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This is my favorite autograph from today because he is my favorite pitcher, been following his career for year, attended his long awaited debut, and I kept my game ticket for two years in perfect condition for just this purpose. Outside of this five minute rush of autographs, I also got Tony Oliva on a ball (unfortunately in black ink in a terrible spot) and Dick Bremer on a team card:

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I actually have both of these items already (an Oliva side panel and a Bremer team card) because they are both easy to get, but I don’t mind because they are some of my favorites.

That was it for practice. Once again, I was impressed with the level of access at Spring Training and how close you can get to the players. Ultimately, it was just great to be watching baseball again. I will be attending both games of the split-squad doubleheader on Friday, where I will be hoping to add to my ball total in my final day ballhawking this trip. The evening matchup is against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, so I am looking forward to visiting a new Spring Training stadium for the first time. Be sure to check back in a few days for a couple more posts from Spring Training, or follow/subscribe to be notified whenever I post. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Thanks again and Go Twins!

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Spring Training 2018: Game 1 – Orioles vs. Twins – 3/13/18

Well here it is, my first game recap of 2018 and the beginning of my fourth straight year blogging about Spring Training. I arrived at the ballpark at 10 am, an hour before the gates opened for the 1:05 pm game. I was hoping for some pregame action, but the players were nowhere to be seen. The Twins usually take a full batting practice on the practice field around this time, creating ballhawking and graphing opportunities before the gates even open, but they skipped it today. This was my view upon entering the stadium:

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I was the only person on the berm for the first five minutes of batting practice before it  really started to fill up:

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At the peak of BP, the entire front row was lined with kids and their parents, in front of at least a dozen older kids with gloves who were experienced enough to read and catch balls on the fly. There were also some people who already staked claim and plopped down who were in danger of getting hit or trampled.

There was a flurry of action at the end of the first group, but each homer hit to left either barely snuck out, swallowed up by the crowded first row, or was hit over the berm entirely. The next two groups combined for only two homeruns, each right down the line. I was hoping for the action to reach left center field, the narrowest part of the berm where I was positioned. It took a full hour to get on the board, and I was worried I might get shutout. I ended up with a ground rule double and a home run on the fly, both caught in the same spot just minutes apart, near the very end of BP. Both were 2017 Spring Training commemoratives and I quickly gave them both away. Here was the first one:

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That was it for batting practice. It felt good to be ballhawking again and to find it didn’t take long to be able to get back in the grove, although I was hoping for more action. My two balls today were definitely below average for me at Spring Training. After combining for 29 balls in four games from 2015 to 2017, I have three balls to show for my last two games at Spring Training. Let’s hope this new pattern changes for the rest of this trip.

This was my view for the game, once again from the comforts of the shade of the left field drink rail:

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The Twins lost 7-5. I hope to bring you a few more posts from Spring Training over the next few days, although the exact number of them will depend on the amount of action each day provides. I plan to attend two days of practice as well as a doubleheader on Friday, so be sure to follow/subscribe or check back in a couple days for those posts. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Thanks again and Go Twins! 2018 is looking promising!

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2018 Update

Just like every year, things change. Last year, I announced that I would be attending the World Baseball Classic in Miami and visiting Petco Park in May. This year, the change is both good and bad. The bad news is that all my proposed baseball road trips in and out of North Carolina will not be happening, including my plan to see the Twins play in Baltimore and Pittsburgh the first weekend of the season, because I am no longer attending school out there. The good news is that I am home for the semester and will be attending my third consecutive Opening Day as well as a handful of games this spring. No matter where I end up in the fall, I will for sure be a much more reasonable distance from home, so I will be able to make it to the occasional September weekend game and hopefully to watch the Twins make a playoff push.

While I won’t be making any baseball road trips this spring, I hope to make a couple this summer. The Kansas City trip over the July 20-22 series still appears to be on. If only a day trip, it would have to be on Sunday the 22nd, to catch the only day game of the series. If it turns into an overnight trip, then Saturday to Sunday might work to catch the Saturday night and Sunday day games and to avoid driving at extreme hours. I also hope to visit Wrigley Field in Chicago for the Twins’ weekend series there from June 29-July 1. Both weekend games are day games, so a day trip to a 1:20 pm game either day is entirely possible. I’ve been to Wrigley several times, including for a tour, but I’ve never been there for a game. I hope to find another adventurer to make that day trip with me to see the Twinkies take on the World Champion Cubs from “the Friendly Confines” at historic Wrigley Field.

I am also excited to be going to Spring Training again this year. I will be down in Fort Myers for six days from Tuesday, March 13 to Sunday, March 18. There are a record four home games during that span, and I’ll see how many of those I end up going to. Either way, I am excited to blog about my experiences in the Grapefruit League for the fourth straight year and to get to ballhawk again in just a short month and a half!

I am hoping to make it to a similar number of games this season as I did last year. I went to 18 games in 2017, boosted up by a pair of doubleheaders and two stadium visits. I don’t know if I’ll hit 18 again, but it should be up from 13 in 2015 but down from 23 and 25 in 2014 and 2016. I know I’ve said this before, but the quality of games is more important than the number. I enjoy going to games with a big name opponent watching meaningful baseball on a nice evening with batting practice and people I know. Any other game, while still fun, sometimes feels like a waste of time and money.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Instagram @everythingtwins. Be sure to follow/subscribe to be notified whenever I post next, which should be in mid March with recaps from Spring Training. Thanks again and Go Twins!

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