Another Hot Day at the Park: Rockies at Nationals 7.6.12

Continuing my recent trend of ticket-buying misfortune, the seats I purchased for Friday’s game at Nationals Park were not exactly where I thought they would be. On a discount site, I found enough tickets for my entire family in section 126, which on an unspecified seating map looks like part of the prestigious PNC Diamond Club. So I thought I was getting a great deal on $175 seats by buying them for $45 a-pop. But upon reception of the tickets, I noticed the section listed was “HP126,” which is “Home Plate Reserved,” which used to be part of the PNC Diamond Club, but is not anymore. They are still great seats, however, because the view is as good as the Club, and they are priced at a reasonable $85. The only downside is that there is no air-conditioned Club access, particularly unfortunate on such a hot day in the district.

Making our way up I-95 was frustrating. The estimated time of arrival listed on the GPS crept up from 4:30 to 4:45 before we were even to the worst of D.C.’s traffic. I thought we’d make it by 5:00 at the latest, but there was incredible congestion crossing the Anacostia on South Capitol Street. It took 15 minutes just to get across. The aggravation mounted as I could watch the Nationals’ jumbotron from the bridge, but could not do anything to speed up the traffic in order to get to the Park just yards away.

Finally, I entered the stadium a little after 5:15 and made my way to the Red Porch. The left field seats were already crowded, relatively speaking, and as I have said before, it is much easier to catch home runs on the Red Porch than it is to navigate the regular left field sections. Unfortunately, the Nats’ hitters were flat during the time I was there. Nothing reached the seats in left-center, and only a few to left. The pitchers weren’t tossing anything into the seats, and I felt helpless. I would have migrated to right field, but it was crowded there as well. The biggest advantage to getting to the park when it opens is that there is no crowd to fight. In the first 20-30 minutes of the stadium opening, I am likely to snag more balls than I would during the entire remaining batting practice.

Looking back, it’s a miracle I was able to snag as many balls as I did, and here is how it went down:

1) The pitchers were not tossing anything into the seats, but there were a few

The worker emerged from this gate and tossed up the ball

workers in the batter’s eye in centerfield who I thought might be generous. A ball rolled up to the green wall in center, and a guy wearing an “MLB Ballpark Cam” shirt walked out and picked it up. I called to him to see if I could get the ball, but I don’t think he heard me. The same thing happened a few minutes later, so I called out again, and he looked up. He gestured as if to say “one second…” And he walked back into the batters eye to the gap in the wall that extends from the turf area in center, all the way to the left-most end of the Red Porch (glorious for the glove trick). He tried to make his way through the gap (I guess he wasn’t allowed on the field), but there were random pipe-looking bars that were, I assume, holding the outfield wall to the seating area. So the worker gave up on his endeavor, and carefully aimed a perfect throw to my outstretched glove. The ball itself was really beat up. Its logo was almost gone, and it was deemed a “practice” ball by that infamous sweet-spot stamp.

The all-important gap

2) The Rockies took the field and their pitchers were not any more friendly, their hitters not any more helpful, and my luck not any better…for the time being. I was still at the Red Porch, which had become slightly less crowded. It was probably 6:00 or so when Jeremy Guthrie retreated towards the fence about 20 feet to my left (in centerfield) to pick up a ball, so I called out to him. Since he was already oriented my way, he had no choice but to look up. There was a small kid a few feet to my right, probably 8 or 9 years old, who shouted as he picked up the ball. Guthrie pointed at the kid, so I stepped back to let him make a catch, but he bobbled Guthrie’s throw and the ball dropped into the above-mentioned gap between the seats and the outfield wall. No problem. I told the kid to hang on, that I would get it for him. I whipped out my new-and-improved glove trick, equipped with hot pink nylon string (apparently that’s the only color nylon that Wal-Mart feels the need to carry), and handed the kid the spool and told him to hold on to it as I reel the glove down. There were several young adults there, maybe in their 20s or 30s who were greatly amused. They were laughing and telling me that the thing was brilliant. I had to move the ball because it was under one of the above-mentioned random bars, which was blocking me from descending straight down upon it. After a few seconds, I had the ball secured, reeled it up, and handed it over. The guys there were impressed and told me I should get the glove trick patented (hear that Zack Hample?), so I had to tell them I did not invent it. That ball was never meant to be mine, because it was thrown to the kid, and I knew I was going to give it to the kid after I reeled it in. But since I technically snagged it, through the Zack Hample stats system that ball would count for my total.

There was a rather sizable crowd at the Red Porch

3) A home run I caught on the fly, no biggie. I’ve come to the realization that major-leaguers hit balls very hard, and this one almost took my balance from me. I’ve also come to realize that even though I’ve spent my entire youth ranging for fly balls in outfields, I still have trouble judging the precise distances of batting practice homers. So I always get two or three rows behind where the rest of the crowd is, and reach forward if necessary. But it seems like half of the time, I have judged correctly, and everyone else is too close, so I reach up to make a clean catch. That’s what happened in this instance.

4) A home run that I picked up in a scramble. The same thing happened where everyone started jockeying for position. I was on the other side of the Porch, and I had no chance to get there in time to make the grab, but it deflected off another ballhawk’s glove and bounced toward me, landing on a retracted seat bottom right in front of me. I scooped it up right before the guy who missed catching it on the fly did. I gave that one away to a kid in the front row of the seats.

It wasn’t a bad day, snagging four balls after showing up 45 minutes late to the stadium. While I was at the Red Porch, Mateo Fischer, who I met at my June game, approached me. He is a friend of the program and acquaintance of Zack Hample. Neither of us knew the other was coming, so it was nice to meet up again. He told me he had seats in right field, a busy spot at Nationals Park this week. I believe four home runs ended up there on Wednesday, and three more landed there Friday night.

Before the game started, the three Nationals All-Stars were honored and presented with their jerseys. Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez were selected to the National League All-Star team, representing the Nationals.

As for the Presidents’ Race, Teddy’s losing streak is very much alive. Abe won the dash. It’s speculated that Teddy will win for the first time at the first playoff game, or World Series game at Nationals Park. Also, the Nationals and Marlins are the two teams bidding for the 2015 All-Star game. If D.C. is awarded the event, look for Teddy to win during the Midsummer Classic.

I was overjoyed by the location of our seats Friday night. Besides, who needs club access anyway? It would have been prime foul ball territory had we been slightly higher up. Throughout the night, balls flew over our heads into the club level above or into the boxes behind 126. It was exciting to be close to the action, but I would have preferred to be in the action.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the view. This was the first time I saw Stephen Strasburg pitch in person. I thought he would do well, especially since he was facing the Rockies, of all teams. But Stras was rocked by Tyler Colvin, who homered twice, and the rest of Colorado’s offense. The Nats could not jumpstart their offense until the ninth inning. Ryan Zimmerman led off with a Red Porch homer, and Washington was able to get runners on second and third with no one out, but three consecutive unproductive outs stifled the rally.

In review, I was 45 minutes late to BP, but that wasn’t much of a problem as I still garnered four baseballs, giving two away in the process. The Nationals are still in first place in the division.

Worth noting:

Due to the injury of Giancarlo Stanton, who will not be participating in All-Star week, Bryce Harper was chosen to fill a void in the NL All-Star roster, joining Desmond, Strasburg, and Gonzalez as the Nationals’ representatives.

Upcoming outings for me include a Dodger Stadium game in a few weeks, as well as one or two games at Petco Park.

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