Owing to the fact that the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is being played in Phoenix at my home park, Chase Field, this year, of course I couldn't pass up the chance to attend at least part of the festivities. And thanks to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Fry's Food Stores, I got my tickets to the XM All-Star Futures Game and the Celebrity Legends Softball Game for free when I won them last month as the Fry's VIP Rewards winner during a Diamondbacks home game.
I was really expecting a lot of people to attend the event, so I started my day early, and I arrived at the ballpark at 9:30am (paying the $20 parking fee) to be among the first in line. Well, apparently everyone else did NOT have the same idea. I was first in line without any problems, and the second fan overall to be in line (the first being another season ticket holder who'd been there about 30 minutes before me). And thus began the waiting. The gates were supposed to open at 1:00pm according to the time on the ticket, but we got a lot of conflicting information. Some people said 11am, some said noon, and one guy insisted it was 2pm. I was just glad I brought a book to read (James Rollins' "Deep Fathom").
Eventually, around noon, the lines started to fill in, and by 1:00pm, there were hundreds of people waiting to get in. In each line, a security guard waited to check everyone's bags. I chatted with my line's guard, Jeffery, for the final 20 minutes of waiting, and he responded by checking my bag early so I could run right in and try to catch a Futures Game commemorative baseball. Thanks to him, I was indeed the very first fan allowed into Chase Field. I slowed long enough to grab a Taco Bell lanyard/ticket holder giveaway, and then ran (literally) to left field in the hopes of finding an Easter Egg or two (baseballs that are waiting to be picked up).
There were a few people milling around down there already who had early entry - family of the kids who got to snag balls on the field, I assume - and there were no baseballs to be found. I knew my best chance would be to try to out-reach people for long fly balls or toss-ups, so I stood in the left-field power alley right up in the first row. A couple home runs went out of the park as the left-field stands quickly filled up, but nothing came toward me. Eventually, though, a ground rule double bounced just over the cut of the grass on the warning track and right at me. I stretched out... and some guy on my left whacked my arm and made me botch the catch. There was no way HE was going to snag the ball, but in his haste to try, he screwed me up. I turned to him and mock-angry said "Really?!" He just smiled and said sorry, and it was all good.
A few short moments later, wunderkind prospect Bryce Harper stepped up to bat and let loose a long, high fly ball right at me and I just knew I was the only one capable of catching it. The ball was going to hit a couple feet below the top of the wall, and both guys on my left and right were too short to stretch for it. I got in position, stetched WAYYY down the wall, and the ball landed in the webbing of my glove and sno-coned in there. I had it! I pulled my arm up.... and the dude to my left decided to fight me for it, and he knocked it out of my glove with his!
For some reason, I wasn't angry. I just smirked at the guy, and I knew he was excited, trying to go for a souvenier, same as me. Jarred Cosart, the Phillies prospect starting pitcher, saw me get robbed of both balls, and I held up my hands to him in a gesture of "how about a little help?" He gave me the slightest shake of the head, pointed at me, and threw me that ball that had jostled free of my glove. The guy on my left tried for it again, but this time I boxed him out, out-stretched him, and made the catch! It was a really nice baseball with a great commemorative logo. So thanks for the help, Jarred!
A few more balls came my way, none over the wall, and several of them were thrown into the crowd. I didn't ask for any of them because I didn't want to take any away from the other fans who wanted to catch a souvenier. I resolved to only try for one if it was hit to me. About five minutes after my Bryce Harper ball, a line-drive home run came my way off the bat of Diamondbacks phenom Paul Goldschmidt. Again, I knew I could outstretch the people near me for the catch, and I did just that! The two biggest names at the Futures game, and I caught baseballs from each of them (with some assistance... heh)!
After that, I got the feeling that my luck had run out. I abandoned my spot to head out and see if I could get an autograph from Harper, Cubs' prospect Matt Szczur, or Goldschmidt. I don't think any other baseballs went to my spot, but I can't be sure. Eventually, BP ended, and I tried to get an autograph, but I got totally snubbed by Goldschmidt, and there was no possibility of my getting near Harper. Szczur was equally hard to get to. I gave it a good shot, but I just couldn't get close enough, so I abandoned trying. I was kind of dehydrated and hungry (five hours of sitting in the heat and trying to catch baseballs will do that to you), so I roamed around to left field again and got a gigantic DBacks' Double Fatburger and Fries. If you haven't tried one of these amazing creations of beef and cheese and toppings and wedge-cut fries, you must simply fly out to Chase Field and do so!
I took my dinner to my seat in the lower level down the left-field line under the awnings (and right in the path of a big A/C unit!) and ate, cooled down, and rehydrated. It was fun watching the autograph hounds crush one another in their quests to get resellable autographs of the biggest prospects, and I was glad I didn't push my luck by becoming one of them. (Really, I only wanted the Goldschmidt autograph for my collection; the others were for friends that I said I'd get if the possibility presented itself.)
At about 2:45pm, all the announcements started welcoming fans to Chase Field, announcing the lineups and coaches, the first pitch, the National Anthem, etc. I was rehydrating and trying to stave off a headache at that moment (which I get when I need water), so I was kind of lightheaded. When the game started, though, I was fully in the moment. Bryce Harper started off in left field, and went 0-for-4...
(((As I type this, I'm watching the Home Run Derby, where it's Robinson Cano versus Adrian Gonzalez for the title, and I just watched Zack Hample, the man who's caught over 5,000 baseballs at major league stadiums across the country, and whose blog I follow daily - http://snaggingbaseballs.mlblogs.com/ - catch a Robinson Cano home run in pursuit of winning the Derby!)))
... Paul Goldschmidt also went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, but a pair of doubles by A's prospect Grant Green and a homer by Jason Kipnis sealed the 4-to-6 USA victory over the World team. Tyler Skaggs, the DBacks' pitcher started the game with a one-hit, no run inning, and my new favorite non-Diamondback prospect Jarred Cosart picked up the victory for Team USA!
After the game, Grant Green was named MVP, going 2-for-2 with two doubles, a run scored, and an RBI. He did a great job... both of his doubles were line shots into the gaps. He definitely didn't get cheated. When the presentation of the MVP award was completed, there was about a thirty-minute intermission while the grounds crew set up the field for the Celebrity Legends Softball Game, headlined by Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grace, Rollie Fingers (God, I love that moustache!), Mike Piazza, Jennie Finch, Jordin Sparks, Nick Jonas, Fred Lynn, Steve Garvey, Chord Overstreet, Erin Andrews, and other celebrity names from all over the place. Gonzo made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Rollie Fingers of a homer, and Rickey Henderson did homer over the shortened outfield wall to start the game. A late addition to the game saw Matt Williams get to hit, and when soccer star Carlos Bocanegra stepped up to bat, everyone on the National League side crowded in front of the plate soccer wall style, covering their crotches. If you're a soccer fan, you get the reference. I thought it was hilarious! At one point, despite it being a slow-pitch game, Finch threw a wide fast pitch which went to the backstop. There was a little mock shouting (this was scripted, I'm sure), and the umpire "warned" both benches. The game was all for the fans' enjoyment, and they totally succeeded. I was laughing the whole time!
The National League ended up winning 5-3. Frankly, the Celebrity game was more fun for me than the Futures Game. It was awesome. When all was over, I hung around a few minutes, then left. I snagged an official All-Star Game program for $15 on the way out as my one souvenier (well, aside from the baseballs, I guess), and made my way back to my car, then home. It was awesome. I haven't had as much fun at a baseball game since the Yankees-DBacks game last season!