Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I was lucky enough to sit down for lunch with retired Yankee pitcher Tommy John this weekend.  What I really enjoy about spending time with him is being able to hear the stories that he tells.  One of my favorite from his arsenal is the following about late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Tommy decided to bet Steinbrenner $50 that he couldn’t name all of the states in the United States.  Steinbrenner took the bet, and Tommy kindly handed him a piece of paper – with numbers 1-51.  When it was completed, Tommy took Steinbrenner’s $50, explaining there were only 50 states, and that Puerto Rico is not one of them!

Another very cute story he shared was when he introduced his family, including his young daughter at the time, to Joe DiMaggio.  “Do you know who this is?” Tommy John asked his toddler daughter.  “This is Joe DiMaggio, one of the best players to play the game.”

“That’s not Joe DiMaggio!” she exclaimed.  “That’s Mr. Coffee!”

And a personal story that I witnessed:

I was watching Tommy John coach the Bridgeport Bluefish a few years ago (part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and not part of MLB) while they played their arch-rivals the Long Island Ducks.  Truthfully, the umpires were making some really, really bad calls that night.  After a handful of these, Tommy came running out of the dugout to argue a play that the umpire called a home-run, which had clearly drifted into foul territory.  I couldn’t hear what was said, but I observed a heated, yet controlled exchange between the two men.  Tommy turned to walk back toward the dugout, and then stopped and returned to the umpire.  He leaned in and very calmly and quietly said a quick sentence.

You could see the red crawl up from the umpire’s chest protector to his neck and he very loudly and enthusiastically threw Tommy out of the game.  Since I know Tommy does not curse, I was very curious what he could have said to get thrown out.  It is amazing how powerful simple words can be.  Tommy simply told him, “That is why you will never be an umpire in affiliated baseball.” 

(Tommy John is a retired southpaw in MLB with 288 career victories.  Throughout his 26 years in the majors, he played for the Indians, Dodgers, White Sox, Angels, Athletics and Yankees.  You can follow him on twitter @TJsBullpen and read his weekly blog at

Friday, July 22, 2011

Paying to Play: How I Met Alec Baldwin and Chevy Chase on the Same Night

View from the 18th row before the show
This is something going on in sports for as long as I can remember – the idea that you pay a premium for better seats.  This is true at any stadium or sporting event and recently has become the norm at concert events.  But it wasn’t always that way.
Back in the day, concerts were sold at a first come, first serve basis.  If you were among the first to get through to Ticketmaster on the phone or were first on line at a retail outlet, you got the best seats.  You could get seats on the floor and even in the first row this way.  Because of this phenomenon, scalpers made a living getting on line at a Ticketmaster outlet and purchasing tens of sets of tickets at once.  Then, they would list them in the classified section of a newspaper at a 100-200% markup.
I am not sure if the artists or Ticketmaster caught on to this, but they started to section off the best seats and sell them at a premium.  Now in order to get front row seats, you must pay a premium, which can range from 100% - 1500% more than the other seats. 
While this really stinks for most of us mortals that can’t afford a $2,000 per seat price tag for front row seats, it does encourage celebrities to attend shows as members of the audience.  And, if you are lucky enough to get anywhere near the $2K seats, you can rub elbows with them.
Alec Baldwin and I before the concert
At the Paul McCartney concert at Yankee Stadium, tickets ranged from as low as $50 to as high as $2000.  With a generous grant from a close friend of mine, I was able to secure seats for $650, which put me on the floor in the 18th row, center stage.  While the “package” didn’t provide much more than a fantastic location (the front row seat package gave you admission to the sound check and a VIP reception before the show), what it did do was put me in the same section as the people that paid top prices for tickets.  These people included NYC Mayor Bloomberg, actors Alec Baldwin and Chevy Chase and Paul McCartney’s son.

Meeting Chevy Chase before the concert
My guess is that folks like this feel more comfortable seeing the concert from the seats (as opposed to from backstage) because they are with a very select group of fans.  I got to speak to both Alec and Chevy and got photos with them.  Both were receptive to meeting a fan and taking photos.  My wife spoke briefly to McCartney’s son, who was also very polite.  While I never got to speak to Mayor Bloomberg, I observed him conversing with a lot of the fans that were at the show.  He had a huge security team with him, all in suits with ear pieces that roamed the entire section for most of the show. 
My wife and I meeting Alec Baldwin
The moral of the story is this: even if you can’t afford the really expensive seats, if you can secure seats near the prime sections, you will increase your chances of meeting a celebrity.  Plus, you will have a fantastic view of the show.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Knight at the Cathedral

Paul McCartney carries an American flag at his Yankee Stadium concert on July 15, 2011.
Friday night (July 15th) I went with my wife and two friends to Yankee Stadium to see Paul McCartney.  I find it very interesting that big musicians – particularly non-American ones – choose to play in baseball stadiums.
Historically, Paul McCartney is significant in regard to playing at baseball stadiums in New York.   The Beatles opened their second world tour at Shea Stadium in the summer of 1965.  It was the first time a concert was played at a major league stadium and it broke both attendance and revenue records on that single stop.   It was so successful that the Beatles did an encore performance at Shea the following summer.
When Billy Joel did his “Last Play at Shea” in 2008, Paul McCartney came out to help close the concert to thunderous applause.  There was an amazing feeling knowing that I was watching one of the legendary Beatles close down the stadium.
While I loved the concert at Yankee Stadium last week, I felt it contrasted from Billy Joel’s at Shea Stadium.  Joel is a native New Yorker, and has grown up in and around the tri-state area.  He knows the game and knows the culture of the fans.  He chose his music well – as well as his special guests, including Tony Bennett , a fellow  New Yorker who sang New York State of Mind, and Garth Brooks, who had a brief stint playing for the San Diego Padres, and came out in a Mets uniform.  These guys know the culture of the game and of the fans.  I don’t know if McCartney did.

McCartney on stage at Yankee Stadium.

While McCartney’s concert, energy, voice and staging were second to none, there was one big thing he missed – he was at Yankee Stadium.  And he just didn’t do his homework on that.  Yes, he hit on the obvious when he stated, “Who is this Derek Jeter guy?  Someone told me he has more hits than me!”  I will admit that was witty and well timed. 
However, twice during the concert 55,000 or so fans started a roll call, chanting “Paul McCartney!” just like they do for Yankee players during the first inning of any given game at the stadium.  The problem is, Sir Paul had that dumbfounded English look on his face – he had no idea what the crowd was doing and made no acknowledgement to the fans for the distinct honor.  I don’t fault him – he is a Brit, and how would he know?  But then again, shouldn’t you know your audience?
My wife immediately tweeted to Nick Swisher, and requested that he school McCartney on proper protocol.  As a distinguished member of rock royalty in a baseball cathedral, you are expected to know protocol and act accordingly.  This is where Sir Paul fell short.  My advice to him is this: find out about the culture of your venue before you play there.  Here’s hoping he does before he hits the very classic, very historic Wrigley Field on August 1st.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What Makes the Game of Baseball Great

Two players from the 2011 Hudson Valley Renegades and their manager.

What makes the game of baseball great?  The players right?  A formula of correct players, with just the right amount of talent on the right team in the right city at the right time makes the game exciting.  That’s why MLB has an All Star Game – a combination of the best players in each league playing a game against each other is something that fans clamor to see.

But how do the best players make their way onto your favorite teams?  Yes, hard work and practice – but many players that work hard and practice don’t make it to the big leagues.  Why do we see the players we see on the major league level? 

A hardly recognized component in the process is the scout.  Sure, there are major league scouts – the kind that big summer movies are made of.  But there are scouts that go to the game at the beginning of the filtering process, that is, high school and college games.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting one of them last week at the Professional Scout Hall of Fame induction at Dutchess Stadium in the Hudson Valley, NY.

Jim Howard (far left) watches the unveiling of his Professional Scout Hall of Fame plaque with representatives from the Goldklang group.

Jim Howard has been a scout for 22 years.  22 years!!  He spent his first 19 years in and out of various high school and college games, and his last 3 on the pro circuit.  Talk about hanging in there and paying your dues!  In speaking with him, what struck me most were the sacrifices he made and how generous his family is with their support.

Scouts spend the majority of their time on the road.  With expansive territories and multiple high schools, community colleges and colleges, scouts rack up tens of thousands of travel miles per year, often at the expense of spending time with their families. 

His high school sweetheart and current wife, Colleen, has supported Jim’s endeavors throughout.  She watched him in his four years as a minor leaguer and then transition from player to assessor.  The time on the road was not easy on Jim, Colleen or their two children, but he figured out how to strike a balance between the two. 

Jim described any location he had to scout as “local” if it fell within about 300 miles of his Albany, NY area home.  This meant that for any player he was scouting from Boston to New Jersey, Jim would make the drive home late that evening so that he could make sure to spend a few minutes with his family in the mornings, often seeing the kids off to school. 

It was really sweet to see Jim’s whole extended family at his induction to the Professional Scout Hall of Fame, including his wife, his two children, his brother, his mom and several other extended family members.  After the ceremony, we all attended the Hudson Valley Renegades game.

Jim's family checking out his plaque.

I sat with Jim in the stands and watched him as he watched the Renegades pummel the Aberdeen Ironbirds 8-0 with a beer in hand.  He looked at me, grinned and said, “This is the first game I have ever watched while drinking a beer.”  Cheers to you Jim Howard!

(The Professional Scouts Hall of Fame is brought to you by the Goldklang Group, a sports entertainment management and consulting firm. They own four professional baseball teams throughout the US.  You can see Jim Howard's entire induction ceremony here:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Booze, television and Posada

With all this talk and controversy about Jorge Posada, I thought I might share my autograph experience with the Yankee DH.  It was in 2008, and I had gotten tickets to YES Network’s Centerstage program, to watch the taping of the Posada interview.
I have been to many Centerstage tapings in the past.  The format is rather simple - Michael Kay generally asks most of the questions to the guest, and some are taken from the audience later in the show.  What is very interesting about Centerstage (and probably about any show) is what is left in the final edit of the show for the tv audience to see and what is not.  Being at the taping live versus watching the show on television gives a fan two different perspectives. So if you are in New York, I suggest you get tickets to one of the tapings and see firsthand what I mean.
What I was most impressed about during the taping was how much Posada talked about family.  Much of that was put on the final tv show.  One of the things he talked a lot about was his son, and how difficult it was dealing with his craniosynostosis.  You can watch that portion of the interview here:  Posada’s wife Laura is often panned to during that segment.
After the interview, most fans wanted to get an autograph.  Most of them brought baseballs, bats or jerseys.  My wife Paige, who was in the wine business at the time, discovered a bottle of wine called Jorge Cabernet by Longball Cellars.  Most of the wines are produced in California and support charities of the players they feature.  A portion of the proceeds from Jorge Cabernet goes to the Jorge Posada Foundation which helps children and families affected by craniosynostosis.   She had purchased two bottles for me (well, one for me and one for my brother).  I had brought both of bottles and a sharpie to the taping in the hope to get them signed.
I was on a long line of people to get an autograph.  Posada signed for a few minutes, but his agent decided it was time for him to leave.  He was not going to sign any more items.  I caught the agent’s eye and held up the bottles for him to see.  He amended his statement, with, “except those two bottles.”
Needless to say, I got both of them autographed.  I keep one in my collection and sent the other to my brother for his collection.  Since then, my wife has discovered a sangria from Spain called Cinco Anillos that also supports the Jorge Posada Foundation.
I learned from this experience that just like everybody else, family means a lot to Posada.  That makes him sort of a regular guy, with many regular issues like everyone else.  He has family issues, health issues and sometimes work and boss issues.
Another thing I learned from this experience is the value in getting to know your favorite players’ passions.  In this case, I stood out among the throngs of fans because Posada understood I went the extra mile to help support a cause that means a lot to him.  When looking for an autograph, you can increase your chances by doing the same.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Baseball’s Fashion Police

So I’m not one to really talk much about fashion, especially when it comes to going to a ballgame.  Jeans and a tee shirt are my usual attire, sometimes shorts, or if it is directly after work, I am wearing a shirt and tie.  I really don’t pay much attention to what other people wear – I’m there for the game – at least most of the time.

However, sometimes a person’s outfit just stands out making me wonder if they own a mirror or have any self respect.  Here are my favorites so far this year:

The Ugly Christmas Sweater Guy – Citifield, April 20, 2011

Who knew the Mets had an Ugly Christmas Sweater Day in April?  Too bad this is the only guy that got the memo.  We spotted this outfit in the will-call ticket office at Citifield.  My wife requested his photo and he happily obliged.  Here is my salute to you Ugly Sweater Guy at a Baseball Game in April!

The Yankee Amazon Camden Yards, April 23, 2011

In my quest to find an interestingly dressed fan on a visit to Camden Yards, my friend Kathryn happened to come across this female Yankee fan at the Oriole game.  Since I am not an expert at women’s fashion, I will quote Kathryn on this photo.  “This girl has paired the cutoff jean skirt, silver glitter tights and jersey look with a matching silver belt AND gladiator sandals...I need the number to her stylist...ASAP please...”  I also would like to add that she tucked the Yankee jersey into her skirt.  That’s hot.

Pants on the Ground Yankee Stadium, April 15, 2011

It was a nasty, wet 40 degree evening, and my wife and I were walking from the train station to the Yankee game when we came across this guy.  “Pants on the Ground,” who obviously doesn’t own a belt, was changing his shirt as he walked to the game.  As we walked behind him, we sang the “Pants on the Ground” song, but he was too cool to pull them up.  So here he is in all his glory: grey underwear with his entire right cheek exposed.

So folks, when you go to a ballgame, wear a belt, check yourself in the mirror and leave your ugly Christmas sweater at home.  Unless, of course, you too wish to be featured in a future blog!  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Day with the Babe

Today, April 27th, is Babe Ruth Day.  No, it isn’t his birthday, and it’s not the anniversary of his death.  It is the second to last time that the Bambino visited the House that Ruth Built.  On this day in 1947, Babe Ruth was honored by the Yankees, less than a year after he was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He addressed the crowd, many of whom were members of youth baseball leagues.

This past weekend, I was able to go to the Babe Ruth Museum, just a few blocks from Camden Yards.  Seeing the small accommodations of where this giant personality began was humbling.  His famous words highlighted one wall of the Sports Legends Museum, also in Baltimore outside of Camden Yards.  He said, “I swing big, with everything I got.  I hit big or I miss big.  I like to live as big as I can.”

I visited the Babe’s gravesite on my lunch hour today.  It is a beautiful spring day in Westchester, New York – sunny, warm and breezy.  I expected to see other fans there, but I found myself alone.
As I stood there looking at the monument that marked his grave, I wondered if anyone else realized that today was Babe Ruth Day.  Why didn’t I see any other fans while I was there?

I would have liked to have met the Babe.  I would have liked to have known who he was as a player and as a person.  I guess I came as close as I ever could by spending some time with him today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Calling the Shots

Baltimore – Camden Yards, Saturday, April 23, 2011

I had the pleasure of attending an Orioles game last Saturday night.  Camden Yards is a great place to catch a ballgame – the stadium is laid out well, the staff is friendly and there is a neat Sports Legends Museum right across the street.  For east coast baseball fans, such as Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, Camden Yards offers ample opportunity to see your team from great seats for a fair price.  We were able to buy tickets right behind home plate in the 27th row for $95.  The equivalent seats in Yankee Stadium would be $325.

Getting to Camden Yards early allows you to see the opposing team’s batting practice, which in this case, was the Yankees.  We settled into our seats, and noticed we were joined by quite a number of Yankee fans.  In fact, about 60% of the stadium was filled with Yankee paraphernalia.  Except for one guy two rows behind us.  He was in a Red Sox shirt.

Why this guy was at the game was clear.  He was not there to root for the Orioles; he came to heckle the Yankees.  Normally, most fans would find this quite agitating.  But every time this guy opened his mouth, the Yankees scored, as if on command.  It became comical.

“Teixeira is ugly!”  That may be, but he went 2 for 3 that day.

Some of my favorite comments included, “Jorge Posada has big ears.  Look at this guy.  Big ears.”  Posada must have heard him.  He hit one out.

“Brett Gardner is arguably the worst player in baseball.”  Not after that comment.  Another one left the stadium.

“Russell Martin is so injury prone.  He was a horrific choice for the Yankees.”  Martin must have really taken that to heart because he hit two out that night.

I really loved his comment about A-Rod.  “Hamburger helper hands,” the Red Sox fan taunted.  Not the best idea.  Grand slam.

The Yankees went on to win the game 15-3, and I give a lot of the credit to our favorite Red Sox fan that day.  Before the game ended, I asked him, “Could you talk some smack about the Mets?  I think they could really use your help.”  Here’s hoping he does!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Big Mouths of Baseball

You know who I am talking about, I am sure you have seen it yourself.  Every stadium, every team has one of these (sometimes it’s even a manager!) and they often rear their ugly head at the worst time.  I’m talking about the obnoxious, the big-mouth, the braggart and often times, the drunken team zealot.

Every fan has a story about the one they remember.  Here is mine:

It was the first (and so far only) time I had ever been to an MLB All Star Game.  It was 2008, and it was at Yankee Stadium.  It was going to be interesting.  My wife (a Met fan who will root for the Yankees) was my guest, and she was acutely aware that I am a Yankee fan (who will root for the Mets).  But on this day, we were going to be in opposing corners.  After all, the home team advantage for the World Series was on the line.

Since we were not among the handful of “lucky” fans to be able to purchase tickets directly, we had to resort to to get ours.  Five hundred dollars later, we climbed to the upper deck way out in right field past the foul pole.  We were in the nosebleed seats, but we were there!

It is interesting to see who comes to an All Star Game.  There were fans from all over sporting their team’s jerseys – Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Tigers, etc.  Of course, the majority of fans were Yankee fans with a strong showing of Mets fans there as well.  But being at an All Star Game, nobody seemed to mind that people were wearing opposing team’s jerseys.  Except one fan.

I spotted her immediately when she stumbled through the tunnel.  Her hair was all over the place, she was a bit heavy, lots of make-up on, and she was really loud.  She was guided in by a short, skinny guy wearing a Yankee jersey.  She was in a Red Sox jersey and was headed our way.  Their seats were right behind ours.

Our section was predominantly fans sporting Yankee jerseys, in fact, we later found out that many of them were the IT employees at in NYC.  Apparently, the Yankee contingency did not sit well with the Red Sox witch.  She immediately started in with the five rows of fans behind her.

“Derek Jeter sucks c$@k,” she kept screaming at them between gulps of Bud Light.  “Yankees suck!”

This went on throughout most of the pregame festivities.  As the players were being announced and brought onto the field for their ovations, she would come up with colorful metaphors for each of the Yankee players.  She even heckled the vendors that were selling her beer.  I began to wonder if she realized she was in the middle of the Bronx.

The Red Sox witch continued to heckle everyone, and didn’t even pause while she literally sat through the playing of the National Anthems.  While the West Point Cadets held the flag in center field, she continued to sit and scream about Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera and the Yankees.  My wife finally got fed up and asked her to shut up for the duration of the National Anthem.  The witch was not pleased and decided to turn her attention to us.

Did I mention I paid $500 for these seats?  Really, I just wanted this witch to settle down and watch the game so that the rest of the section could enjoy it.  Besides, this is the one game a year where Red Sox players and Yankee players are on the same team

I finally gave up on hope.  So I walked down to the NYPD officer stationed at the tunnel in our section and explained the situation.  He promised to keep an eye on it.

The witch got more and more drunk.  She was slurring, spilling beer and really making a complete fool out of herself.  By the fourth inning, the cop had enough and marched up to our section giving her a firm warning to stop harassing everyone around her.

All that did was make her more cautious about when she said stuff.  She would wait until the cop wasn’t looking and would start on all the fans around her.  Yankee fans are fat.  Dumb. Yankees suck.  NYPD sucks.  She went on and on until she realized she had spilled the contents of her purse and could no longer locate her cell phone.

We knew she had it earlier in the game, as she used it to call her boyfriend to brag that she had duped “this dumb guy at work” into taking her to the All Star Game.  She decided that she must have forgotten it in the bathroom, and, leaving her purse with “that dumb guy from work” she left the section to find it.

The next three innings were awesome!  All you could hear were the sounds of fans interested in the game.  But the witch’s escort began to worry.  He grabbed her purse and left the section to look for her.
I looked down at the cop in the tunnel.  He just smiled.  Something was up.  So I went down to find out what it was.

It seems that the witch had some choice words for the officer when she drunkenly stumbled in to him on her quest for her phone.  So, he tossed her out of the stadium.  So she is outside of the stadium (in a Red Sox jersey), drunk, with no phone and no purse.  Her escort is inside the stadium, with no idea she got tossed out, carrying a large, white woman’s purse.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

That was the last we saw of the escort.  But around the 11th inning, we saw the witch, escorted by Yankee security at the mouth of the tunnel, talking to the cop.  He refused to let her into the section.  So, they went to the next tunnel over, and convinced that cop to let her in to find her purse and her phone.  Too bad the escort left with it an hour before.

She stood, facing the entire section, black mascara and eyeliner smudged down her cheeks.  I guess she finally sobered up.  She described her escort to security.  They called into the section, “Has anyone seen a guy in a Yankees jersey?”  We sat there in stunned silence.  Finally they escorted her out for the final time.

I don’t know what happened to the Red Sox witch.  We stayed to the end of the very exciting 15th inning of the game, when the AL victoriously scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly.  At 4 hours and 50 minutes of game time, I guess we got our $500 worth!

My wife poses near our seats at the end of the 2008 All Star Game(1:39 AM).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stadium Memories

While I absolutely love meeting athletes and getting autographs, I also enjoy going to different stadiums and sports arenas around the country.  I find the fans, food and atmosphere at different stadiums fascinating.  Since we are still in the spring training season, I am thinking about which baseball stadiums and parks I will be visiting this year.

Since I am based on the east coast, I have been fairly limited to where I have been.  I will be blogging about some of my experiences at the stadiums I have visited soon.  The following are some of the experiences from fellow blogger Aaron Garcia from

Growing up in Southern California, I was pretty privileged to have three major league baseball stadiums within about 150 miles of my house.  I grew up going mostly to Dodger and Angel games, but when I got older I went to a few Padres games on occasion. I have had the privilege of visiting 10 major league parks, although only 7 of those would still count now since the Padres, Giants and Mets have all gotten new ballparks since I came to visit. Below are the stadiums I’ve visited in no particular order.

1.       Dodger Stadium
2.       Angel Stadium
3.       Qualcomm Stadium (before the Padres moved)
4.       Candlestick (before the Giants moved)
5.       Coors Field
6.       Chase Field
7.       U.S Cellular
8.       Wrigley Field
9.       Miller Park
10.   Shea (before the Mets moved)

Candlestick Park

I have had good experiences at just about all of these parks with the exception of Candlestick.  You see, I grew up in a Dodger family (which meant we hated the Giants and vice versa).  When I was 6 years old, my parents and I were on a trip to San Francisco and it just so happened that the Dodgers were in town.  I was smiling uncontrollably as I put on my dodger gear in preparation for the game, but my mood changed the moment I walked through the gates.  My parents and I were cussed at, belittled and abused, all because I was wearing Dodger’s gear.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life.  I can’t say that the same thing wouldn’t have happened at Dodger Stadium, but it is doubtful. 

Shea Stadium

My experience at Shea was during a senior class trip to NYC.  It was April and being from Southern California, I stupidly assumed that the weather everywhere in the US was as awesome as it was in LA.  I froze my toes off sitting in the nosebleeds at Shea, but it will go down as one of the most memorable games I’ve ever been to, even if for all the wrong reasons. 

Miller Park

Miller Park was an awesome experience as well.  I went there a couple years ago right after I graduated college.  I got to see Prince Fielder homer and Bernie Brewer go down the slide (although not into a mug of beer like he did at the old stadium). 

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field was another memorable trip for me.  I have family in Chicago and used to go back there every summer for a week or so. My family is full of White Sox fans (not sure why) and our trip usually took place when the sox were in town.  One time, however, the Cubbies were in town and nobody else from my family wanted to go, so me and my mom packed up the rental car and headed on over to Wrigley.  Seeing the ivy on the walls in person was an amazing experience.  I’m not too sure how much longer Wrigley will be around, but I am very glad that I got to see it and would love to go back. 

Comiskey Park (U.S. Cellular Field)

Sticking to Chicago, I also got to see what is now US Cellular, although it was called Comiskey Park when I used to go.  I don’t remember anything specific from the White Sox games I went to, except that one time the game got rained out and I cried like a baby.  I’m not even sure how old I was or that it even matters – but I cried my eyes out because I wanted to see some baseball. 

Coors Field

Coors field was an interesting experience for me.  I was a junior in high school and had just gotten done with a baseball camp at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  My family came to pick me up and we decided to head over to Denver for a Rockies game. We got to visit the ring of purple seats that mark 1 mile above sea level, but thankfully our seats were a little closer to the action.  This is a beautiful park and a must-see if you ever find yourself in town at the same time as the Rockies. 

Qualcomm Stadium (Old Padres Digs)

I went to a few games down in San Diego, but it was a lot further of a drive for me than Angel or Dodger stadiums were, so it was a rare treat to see the Padres play.  Also, I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of them, seeing as they were NL West division rivals of my Dodgers.  Quite frankly, the old stadium down in San Diego wasn’t that nice.  I would love to get back there to see Petco Park.  I like baseball stadiums with an old timey feel. 

Chase Field

This is my new stomping grounds, so to speak, now that I reside in Phoenix.  I usually only go to D’Backs games when the Dodgers are in town, but every now and then I make an exception (especially if free tickets are involved).  Thank God for retractable roofs and air conditioning.  There is nothing quite like the feel of stepping into the ballpark which is usually kept at a cool 76 degrees when you just parked your car in 110 degree, skin melting heat.  It’s a huge ballpark, in terms of seating, so don’t get the cheapest tickets or you really won’t be able to see much. 

Angel Stadium

Even though I don’t like to admit it, I tried to rebel and become an Angel’s fan when I was younger.  I loved Chili Davis, Wally Joyner and Chuck Abbott.  Playing Wiffle Ball in the backyard with my dad, I was the Angels and he was the Dodgers.  We really only went to Angel games when the Red Sox were in town, mainly because my dad was a closet Roger Clemens fan.  A couple times we went when the Royals were in town because my dad liked Brett Saberhagen too.  Most of the Angel Games I went to were before they renovated the stadium, but once they did, they turned it into one of the most beautiful parks in all of Major League Baseball. 

Dodger Stadium

And here is where I start to show some of my bias.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many Dodger games I have been to (usually arriving in the third inning and leaving sometime after the 7th inning stretch – like good Dodger fans do.  My dad and I would sit out in left field pavilion with a bag of peanuts and a handheld radio so we could still hear the sweet sound of Vin Scully’s voice.  I would peek over the railing and watch the Dodgers warm up in the bullpen and on the way to the bathrooms, there were little gaps in the fence where you could get an even closer view of the pitchers throwing in the pen.  One time, my dad caught a home run ball from Steve Sax and got him to autograph it after the game.  I still have the ball and ticket to this day.  The views of the field and even of the surrounding area are amazing at Dodger Stadium.  The park is in pristine condition, despite being the home of the Dodgers since 1962.  So many amazing memories there, Dodger Stadium is and always will be my favorite baseball stadium. 

Aaron Garcia is the owner of All Sports Talk, a sports blog covering MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA Sports.  He covers topics ranging from general sports news to satire and even practice tips for young athletes looking to improve their game.  You can follow Aaron and All Sports Talk on Twitter @allsportsnet.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Goose Gossage Part II

Spring Training, 2008  In my quest to meet baseball players, I would rise at a (relatively) early hour and head out to the practice fields that flanked Legends Field.  Before I got there, I would always stop into a local diner called Mom’s for breakfast. The food is fast and good, and it is on the walk from the Days Inn that I stayed at to the stadium.

I meandered in early one morning with my wife Paige, her brother Guy and my friend Jeff.  We were sitting at a booth, perusing the menu when a very tall man with a handlebar mustache walked in alone and got seated two booths away.  His distinctive mustache is what gave him away- it was unmistakably Goose Gossage.

Since I was on my way over to Legends Field, I had a bag full of Rawlings baseballs and several pens for autographs.  I could have easily interrupted Mr. Gossage’s breakfast for his signature.  But Jeff had a better idea.  He suggested that I buy him breakfast.  After all, he had just been elected into the Hall of Fame.  Brilliant!

I grabbed the waitress and asked her if she could bring me the check for the guy sitting two booths over.  “Goose Gossage?” she asked.  I guess she realized I was a fan.  What was interesting was that nobody else in the diner seemed to notice he was sitting there all alone.  The waitress brought us his check when he finished his meal. 

A few minutes later, Jeff left our table for the men’s room.  Mr. Gossage came over to our table to thank us for buying him breakfast.  Since Jeff’s spot was vacated, we offered him a seat at our table.  Gossage joined us, and we chatted with him about his new found HOF status, and about our experience meeting him at a signing at Shoprite in NY. (For that story, see

He was really awesome to talk to, sharing stories and signing a few baseballs.  It was an unforgettable experience, just hanging out and drinking coffee with a HOF pitcher and all around nice guy.  We thanked him and congratulated him one last time.

Two weeks later, I was back in NY, at a fundraiser that the Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay’s Single A affiliate) put on annually called Pitch for Kids.  I walk in with Paige and Jeff.  Who is sitting on the dais?  Goose Gossage.

He looks at me, points and says, “Where do I know you from?”  Holy crap.  He recognized me! 

“I bought you breakfast at Mom’s in Tampa.”   I explained I was from the Hudson Valley and that I go to Renegades games and events all of the time (they are a fun team to watch!).  We chatted and I introduced him to Jeff, who didn’t make it out of the men’s room in time to meet him at Mom’s. 

What I learned from this experience is invaluable: do something classy and unforgettable, and a player will remember you.  Another thing I realized was that most players are just regular guys that have extraordinary talents.  They just want to be treated like you would treat a friend (that just got elected into the Hall of Fame)!

If you liked this posting, check out my guest blog on with tips on how to get autographs.  The posting can be found here:  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Getting Autographs from Prospects at Spring Training

Melky Cabrera signed baseball from Spring Training 2006

One of my favorite things about going to spring training is to check out the up-and-coming players, watch them develop and then see them as starting players a few years later.  I love to meet these guys before they really hit the big time, when they are fighting for their spot on the roster, when they put in some of the best effort to show off their raw talent.

Back in 2006, I was watching a young Yankee prospect, Melky Cabrera.  I had seen him make a brief appearance in the MLB the previous season, with little success.  In spring training, he seemed to have his stuff together, and was fun and interesting to watch.  I wanted to meet him.

What was interesting was that I was staying at the Tampa Bay Days Inn, a few blocks away from Legends Field (where the Yankees practice, now known as Steinbrenner Field).  So was Cabrera, along with several other Yankee prospects.  In fact, I would see him practically every day, leaving for the park and returning back to the hotel.  At night, fellow Yankee Robinson Cano would swing by, pick him up and head out to dinner.

I began to see Cabrera and company frequently, so it got to the point where I would wave hello to them.  They would wave back.  After a few days, I flat out approached them and requested autographs.

While I didn’t get a chance to really speak with any of them, it was really interesting to see how hard Cabrera and the other Yankee prospects worked.  They were up and out at around 7 am, and returned over an hour after the game.   Pretty grueling day, especially when you factor in the physical drills, performance during a game against other professional athletes, all while trying to win a coveted spot on the Yankee roster.  Yet still they took the time to sign for a fan.  Pretty cool.

The moral of the story is that prospects often are put up at the small, local hotels.  So, if you choose to stay there as well, you just might get an opportunity to know them a bit better.  Just be respectful.  Keep in mind they are on a six week job interview!

These days, I don’t get to see Cabrera play as often as I used to, since he has bounced to the Atlanta Braves and then to the KC Royals (I live in a NY market, so I don’t catch those games as often).  But when he is in town, I still feel the connection from that day at spring training – and that makes me a fan.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Autograph Seekers Tips

Since it is the season (spring training, that is), I thought I would share some inside tips on successfully obtaining autographs at training camps.  While there are always tons of people at spring training games looking to get their own piece of memorabilia, there are certain things you can do to help stand out from the crowd.  Here are the best tips to get autographs with some of the roster’s best players:

  • Get to the park early.  Getting to the park several hours before the game allows you to view batting practice and gets you in front of the players at the beginning of their day when they are more likely to sign. They are often taking bp at the main ballpark (not the practice fields). They will usually come up to the fence to sign for fans.
  • Come prepared!  Bring baseballs and several pens (they get lost or stop working so bring a few) along with a bag to hold them.
  • If a player is signing, have the ball and pen out of the bag/box and ready to be signed.
  • Be respectful of the player whether they sign for you or not.  Don’t heckle them if you don’t get a signature.  You might get another chance later.
  • Always thank the player for a signature and their time.  Most players really do appreciate their fans, and probably get just as much of a thrill at meeting you as you do meeting them.
  • I have also had a bit of luck getting autographs or simply chatting with pitchers in the bullpen area of some stadiums during the games.  Again, be polite and respectful.  There may be times where pitchers can/will chat with you, and there may be times when they can’t.  Never heckle them if they can’t talk or sign.
  • When you have gotten an autograph, make sure you note it down.  I usually mark the box for the baseball I got signed and return the ball to that box.  This does two things: it protects the signature, which can smudge if not handled carefully, and it helps me figure out who signed the ball when I get home.  Some signatures will be almost illegible!

Most of all have fun getting autographs!  I love meeting the players and talking to them, as they all have different personalities.  The stories are worth so much more than the autograph!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Goose Gossage among the Pineapples

After meeting Joe Torre at the Bronx Zoo and his book signing in '98, I found I was definitely bitten by the autograph experience bug.  My girlfriend and I were on the hunt to find more opportunities to meet sports figures and get an idea of who they were outside of their sport.
The interesting thing is my girlfriend (now wife) grew up in Queens, and was a die-hard Mets fan.  I grew up just north of the Bronx and have always been a true blue Yankee fan.  The Joe Torre meeting was a great experience for both of us, as I knew him as the Yankee Skipper, and she remembered him fondly blowing big pink bubbles in the Mets dugout in the mid-late 70's.
I just knew she didn't follow the Yankees back then.  I was quite surprised when she informed me that Goose Gossage was going to be at a local Shoprite supermarket to do a free signing.
"How do you even know who he is?" I asked her.
"I was a Mets fan, I wasn't dead," she replied.  "I saw the sports highlight reels.  I am familiar with classic, great players."  Duhhhhhhh.....
A supermarket?  Really?!  I was reluctant, but we trudged out to Warwick, NY, a good 45 minute drive from our house.  What was the great Yankee reliever doing out there in the sticks anyway?
When we got there, we were directed to the produce department.  There, among the pineapples and grapefruits was a rectangular table and two chairs, and a line of mostly men my age with their sons.
Mr. Gossage was late to the signing, and practically ran through the store with his assistant, who was lugging a box of 8x10 photos.  He immediately apologized to the small crowd of 45 people for being tardy.
We were at the middle of the line, and probably had to wait about an hour before we got to meet him.  So I really got a good idea of who Gossage was as a sports figure. 
Gossage was actually spending a good 5 minutes with each person on the line.  He would shake hands with the adults, but he would really focus on the kids.  The amazing thing was, most of them weren't old enough to have seen him play.  But he knew most of them played the game themselves, or were fans of the Yankees.
So he would ask the kids who their favorite player was, what position did they like to play and who they admired.  He took pictures, sometimes a few at a time with them, shook their hands and told them to practice.
I don't really remember much else from that signing.  But I learned that Gossage loved his fans, and fans of the sport of baseball.  And all of that 9 years before he was voted into the Hall of Fame.

For a continuation of this story, check out Goose Gossage Part II:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Joe Torre, 1998: The Beginning

Joe Torre and I at the Bronx Zoo, 1998

They say it is best to start at the beginning, and that would be November 1998, when my girlfriend (now wife) brought me to the first annual Bronx Zoo Christmas Lights, also known as the Holiday Lights Festival.  At the time, New York Yankee skipper, Joe Torre, was there with his wife and children to throw the switch and begin the festivities.  Dressed in a dark wool coat and a green and red elf hat, Mr. Torre made quick work of flipping the large switch that lit the festive figures.
I watched from afar as he shook many people’s hands, stopping to speak to some of the younger children that were clamoring to meet him.  His wife and two children meandered off to take in some of the scenery, immune to the excitement that meant being part of the Torre family.
My girlfriend, armed with several new Rawlings baseballs and a pen, took me over to him, introduced herself and then introduced me.  I shook his hand and handed him the ball and pen.  As he signed the baseballs, I asked him if I could take a picture with him.  An associate took the picture and that was the end of it.  Or so I thought.
A few months later, I found a local book signing for his new book, Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners.  Armed with a quite unflattering photo from the zoo lights event, I grabbed a copy of the book and waited patiently on line for an autograph.  A huge sign hung next to Mr. Torre that stated, “Absolutely no autographs except for Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners.” 
I walked up to Mr. Torre, leaned in and said, “I know you are not supposed to sign anything but your book, but I have a photo of the two of us from the zoo event, and I would love you to autograph it for me.”
“Pull it out quick,” Torre responded.  He looked down at the picture, glanced up at me with a huge grin and joked, “What, were you drunk or something?”
“And that hat looks so great on you,” I responded almost immediately.  He signed the photo and my book. 
Telling that story over the years made me realize something.   It isn’t simply the signed ball that sits in the case, or the autographed photo on the wall - it is the story, the memory of the meeting, the laughs and camaraderie that make the experience memorable.  There I was, an average Joe, joking around with the manager of the 1998 World Champion Yankees.  It felt good, and it propelled me from being a fan of the game, to being an autograph experience fanatic.