First of all, this is a long post for which I apologize, but I think you’ll see why when you read it.
Sunday’s game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium was truly surreal. I discovered the snafu when I took my ticket out of my fanny pack and looked at it. I was supposed to be sitting with my friends from Sacramento in Section F, Row 2, Seat 4, which is in the shade. I have very fair skin and freckles and I definitely do not do sun. But my ticket it said I was to sit in Lower Box 1, row 2, seat 4, which would not get shade until sometime this evening when the stadium would be empty.
I showed my ticket to an usher who gave me a very strange look and asked, “Are you an usherette, or do you work for a team?” I replied, ‘No, this is the ticket that was sent to me. I’m supposed to be in Section F.” He smiled and pointed down to the rows right behind home plate. “Well, when you get down there, take a look at the name badges of the guys sitting around you. Some of them are former baseball players.” Cool, I thought, this could be interesting.
When I got down to my seat, my main thought was that I wasn’t going to last long in the Arizona sun. Should I go to the box office and ask for a shade seat? I had a long-sleeved sun shirt on and a wide-brimmed hat in my bag so I decided to stick it out in row 2 for the time being and see what happened. I sat down and took in the situation.
The first five rows of this section were empty except for me. This didn’t surprise me as it was about an hour before game time. It was getting warm and I was thirsty so I left my bag under my seat and went off in search of a Pyramid Hefeweizen. Beer in hand I returned to my seat, my bag was still there, but still no people in the first five rows.
The first guy to join me was Craig Colbert who played and coached for the Giants. He is now the Advance Scout for the Phillies. He and I chatted about baseball and scouting and I told him about my book. Others straggled in over the next half hour, including Lee McPhail IV, Director of Professional Scouting for the Baltimore Orioles who was there with one of his scouts. Next came a couple of other guys whose nametags I couldn’t see, and a scout from the Colorado Rockies, the team the A’s were playing that day. I talked to quite a few of them and apologized for the ticket mix-up. I guess I was feeling really self-conscious around all this maleness. But they were all very polite and welcomed me.
To my right a couple of seats, another guy sat down and looked over at me. I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. He said his name was Richard Schlenker, a scout for the Angels, who lives in Walnut Creek, CA, near where I live. I was becoming more at ease around all this testosterone (the beer helped) so I told him about my book and gave him my card. He wanted to know more about the novel and said he’d look for it.
Shortly before game time, guys began trickling into the seats in the first row. Let me step back a second and paint a picture of this scene. Four feet in front of me was the net that would protect us from foul balls. Twenty feet beyond that was home plate. I could hear everything that was said on the field. Several of the players and media guys waved or nodded at the guys in the row in front of me.
My curiosity finally got the better of my shyness and I tapped the shoulder of a tall guy with a broad-brimmed hat seated in the front row one seat to left, and asked him who he scouted for. “The Oakland A’s,” he replied and introduced himself as Craig Weismann. Two seats to his right a young man with dark hair sat down. I tapped his shoulder and asked the same question, to which he replied, “I’m not a scout, I’m the Assistant GM of the A’s.” “David Forst,” I managed to blurt, and he nodded. I had to pinch myself to convince myself this was really happening.
To top that, while I was talking to one of the other scouts another guy sat down between Craig Weismann and David Forst. I didn’t see his face because he was facing forward wearing a brimmed hat. Only when he got up to speak to someone at the other end of the row, did I recognize him as Billy Beane, the A’s General Manager. And I thought Craig Colbert had made my day!
During the game, the ambience in the first five rows was so different from the rest of the stands. No beers were in the cup holders except for mine, just sodas and bottled water. While action was happening on the field, our section was deathly quiet; these guys were working and they were all business. And as the pitcher stepped on the rubber and came set, as if choreographed by Michael Smuin, each of the scouts in perfect unison raised a hand gripping a Stalker Sport speed gun and aimed it at the pitcher. As the latter started his delivery, the scouts pulled their triggers. Within a fraction of a second the velocity of the pitch showed up on the two inch screen at the back of the speed gun. Then each scout lowered his weapon to scribble something in the open notebook sitting on his lap. When each subsequent pitch was thrown, the dance was reprised.
Between innings everything changed. Conversation erupted and the guys talked about everything but baseball. I heard a discussion of the blues and where to hear it in Phoenix. Forst and Weismann talked about playing basketball. Apparently, David started a team at Spring Training with a couple of guys from the front office, a couple of sports writers, and others. They play at the Giants facility in Scottsdale. Who they play is anyone’s guess, probably front office guys from the Giants or other MLB teams. Others behind me talked about which Hollywood star could play a certain baseball player if they ever made a movie about the latter. Then their conversation wandered off to things about Hollywood in general. I sat there soaking it all in and taking notes.
On the field the A’s played baseball against the Colorado Rockies. A’s pitcher Sean Gallagher struggled a bit in the first inning and gave up a run, but he got a four-run lead to work with in the bottom of the first, courtesy of Rockies pitcher Greg Smith, one of the players the A’s had traded for Matt Holliday in the offseason. The Rockies scored runs in the third and fourth innings to take the lead at 6-5. Not again, I thought. We had already lost the other two games I had seen, but no further damage was done by either team until the ninth inning.
After an uneventful top of the ninth, I figured I’d better move up to the seat I had originally signed up for and reconnoiter with my friends. I stood up and bid the guys good bye and thanked them for a very colorful afternoon. They wished good luck with the book and I left, still reeling from the amazing experience.
In the bottom of the ninth, A’s outfielder Chris Denorfia stroked walk-off home run with a runner on board to win the game with a final score of 7-6, breaking the A’s 11-game losing streak. What could be better than that? Well, maybe sitting with the A’s front office and a bunch of major league scouts for eight and a half innings. Just maybe.