I wasn’t supposed to go to the game. I had many words to write to meet my deadline and had planned on writing a couple thousand words while toggling back and forth watching the game on Gameday—a free but torturously slow way to watch any game. However, my friend, Mark, burned up the battery on my cell phone texting me throughout the day, hoping to convince me to join him at the stadium. Finally, at 4:00, I gave in; I could no longer say no.
I pulled into the stadium shortly after 5:00. There was a small crowd gathering around Gate A, preparing to partake of the Outfield Experience. I hoped to join them shortly. I’m not a big tailgater; I’d rather be inside the gates, walking the hallowed ground, listening to stories and meeting friends who share a love of the game and the boys in blue. While I waited in line to purchase my seven-dollar Hy-Vee ticket I texted Mark to see when he would arrive. No response. So, I started visiting with the man standing behind me. I learned that he is a construction worker for Kenco, the company who recently remodeled various bars throughout the K. He told me that he was buying tickets for another time, that his company had seats in a suite. I replied, “Wish I could join you. I’ve never been in a suite.” His wife took down my name and number and said that they would call me if they had an extra ticket. I laughed and said that I’d see them in a couple of innings as I ran off to Gate A.
The Tigers were taking batting practice when I entered the stadium. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were both hitting towering homeruns, distributing batting practice souvenirs all over the stadium. On the Party Porch, there were a dozen kids screaming for every ball hit remotely close to the warning track. I quickly tired of their persistent pleas and strolled towards the Royals bullpen.
I love hanging out by the Royals bullpen before a game. For the last six years, one man has diligently prepped and maintained the mound and bullpen area. He and I have talked on numerous occasions, though we’ve never exchanged names. The mound needed an extra bag of crushed clay due to the recent rains and excessive use over the weekend. Two batting practice homeruns came incredibly close to hitting him; he didn’t even flinch. Steve Foster, the bullpen coach, entered the pen as we were talking and asked the mound artist to play catch. When Foster walked near me I inquired, “You breaking in a new glove?”
“A new glove and a new prescription,” he replied. “Tough combination.” The mound artist threw knuckleballs and curveballs and the two grown men laughed and conversed while having a catch. Foster looked and me and motioned that he intended to throw me their ball. “Will you see it all the way?”
I looked up. The sun was unblocked, hitting me full face, full force. “No worries,” I retorted.
Foster threw the ball the length of the pen, only to have it fall a few feet short and clang off the metal bars. I got lucky. I completely lost it in the sun. Couldn’t see it at all. I saw sun-spots for the next thirty minutes. Foster jogged over and tossed the ball a second time, this time successfully, and we talked a few more minutes. I turned to see Humberto Quintero and Danny Duffy warming up in left-field. Duffy sprinted out to centerfield at the same time Justin Verlander ran out there. The two men were less than ten feet apart. They didn’t even exchange glances. Just like two boxers before a title match.
After a few minutes of throwing on the field, Duffy and Q entered the pen and immediately set to work. Duffy was intensely focused, until Eiland cracked a joke and made him laugh. I’m peeking into his glove looking at how he holds his change-up and curveball when the usher asked me to clear the aisle for the game. I watched one more pitch and started the long walk towards the upper deck. I called Mark and left a voicemail, beginning to wonder if he’s still coming to the game.
Walking by the left-field foul pole, I spotted a familiar face. Last season, my friend and I attempted to move into the left-field foul pole seats in the middle of a game. The game was the week before Easter and the temperature hovered around freezing. Even though no one else was seated in the entire section, my friend and I boldly and nonchalantly strolled to the front row, close enough to talk to Gordo. After one pitch, the usher walked down the aisle and asked to see our tickets. We were busted. As we left, we were cheered on by some fans seated near the bullpen, “He let you guys stay the longest! Way to go!”
So, I shared this story with the usher. He nodded as if he remembered, “Well, a man’s got a job to do. Hope there’s no hard feelings.” We both laughed and shook hands. No hard feelings here.
I continued strolling towards my seat when the call to stop and honor the national anthem came over the speakers. I took off my hat and started to sing along when I noticed a man standing a few rows in front of me with a custom-made jersey that said, “Hogan—73.”
Hogan is my mom’s maiden name. After the anthem, I walked down and introduced myself to see if we had any common kin. We couldn’t make a real connection. His family is Chicago-based; mine is in Cape Girardeau. We laughed and parted ways.
I climbed up to my seat in time for the first pitch and texted Mark again to check in. Nothing. While I texted, Duffy surrendered a lead-off homerun to Austin Jackson. Oh boy. A single and a walk followed and it was hard to hold on to hope. Prince Fielder stepped up to the plate. Prince Fielder who splashed homeruns in batting practice. Except this Prince Fielder promptly grounded out into a double play. Deep sigh of relief.
Alex Gordon was hitting lead-off, the place where his name should be written in Sharpie on line-up cards from now until 2016. He doubled and tied the game a few minutes later and everything was right with the world.
In the bottom of the second inning my cell phone rang. I figured it to be Mark and answered without looking. It was the construction guy from the ticket line. “You still wanna come to the suite? I’ll meet you at the upper-deck elevator in a minute.” I ran.
I’ve only seen the suites from the outside. Crossing over the threshold was like entering Narnia. The food was abundant and free. The seats were plush. There were two large screens with the game on in case I wanted to sit in a recliner and listen to Hudler.
I grabbed a Dr Pepper and a hot dog and sat down outside. For a few minutes, I visited with the owner of Kenco, who also owns the Sheridan’s Custard in the outfield. His daughter informed me that custard would be delivered in a few innings. As I settled into my seat convinced that I was closer to heaven than I have ever been, my phone alerted me to an incoming text. It was Mark. “Dude, I’m here, in 241. These seats are awesome.”
I texted back, “In a suite.”
The only reason I came to the game was because Mark convinced me to go. In the fourth inning, I said good-bye to my suite friends, grabbed a Dr Pepper to go, and joined Mark and his Tiger-loving nephew, Jake, in the first-base seats.
As soon as I called out his name Mark responded, “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you still in that suite?!?!”
“Because ball games are supposed to be shared with friends.”
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
The rest of the evening is a blur as we watched the brilliance of Verlander and Duffy on the mound. We shouted at the top of our lungs when Gordo displayed his gold-glove brilliance and high-fived strangers when Frenchy recorded an assist at third. I saw KC Royalman and introduced myself. He accepted full responsibility for Inge’s homerun as nature called. L’il Frenchy bounded by me eating a hotdog and gave me a smile and a high five.
Mark, Jake, and I stood for the entirety of the ninth inning, trying to will the Royals to victory through our applause and shouts. We watched in awe as Verlander threw half a million pitches in the ninth inning to record the complete game victory.
All in all, it was just another night at the K.
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