I’d been looking forward to the 2017 New York Penn League (NYPL) All Star Game (ASG) since it was announced a year earlier. It was being played at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY, just outside of Albany and home of the Tri-City Valley Cats, about 2:10 from where we live. I even made sure to schedule our vacation so as not to interfere with it.
We’ve been to three-of-the-last four NYPL ASGs, and scored at least one ASG ball at each. I was hoping to make it four-out-of-five.
I was all but certain that an ASG ball would be used because they were used the last four years. Still, I decided to tweet the Tri-City Valley Cats over the weekend to make sure. They never responded. I didn’t bother to tweet the NYPL because their Twitter account is horribly out of date.
I didn’t think much of not getting a response, partly because we had just gotten back from vacation and I had many other things going on, and partly because I just assumed they would use an ASG ball, and Troy isn’t that far away, relatively speaking.
At this point, you know where this is going. They didn’t use an ASG ball this year. I got the first foul ball to fly out of the stadium in the bottom of the 5th inning, and sadly, it was a regular NYPL ball.
If there was any doubt, I got another later on and it was the same. I gave both balls away to kids.
So, why didn’t they have an ASG ball? I ran into this a few years ago in New Britain, when the then Rock Cats (now, Yard Goats) hosted the Eastern League ASG, and didn’t have an ASG ball. I was told that the decision of whether or not to have an ASG ball is made by the host team. I assume it was the same story here, that it was Tri-City’s decision. I imagine it costs a few bucks to get however many ASG balls are needed. But 1) if college summer baseball leagues like the Cape Cod League and FCBL can afford such balls, why can’t a MiLB team do the same, and 2) you should be able to find a sponsor to defray or even cover the cost of the balls, especially when you can sell some of them in your souvenir shop (the Brooklyn Cyclones sold all theirs out two years ago).
But I am not letting the NYPL off the hook because having an ASG ball, when most if not all MiLB leagues that host ASGs that I am aware of have one, shouldn’t be a decision left up to the team. If a team can’t — or won’t — afford a few dozen ASG balls, they shouldn’t host the ASG. Heck, Triple A even had a Home Run Derby ball and a National Championship ball. It makes the NYPL look incredibly cheap.
I did get a “towel-toss,” for what that’s worth.
Given the ball situation, I watched most of the rest of the game from inside the stadium.
Despite the sketchy weather to start, it turned out to be a decent night for baseball, and the game drew just over 5,000, filling most of the stadium, although a fair number left before the end of the game.
Managers don’t always bother with lineup cards at ASGs like this, so I didn’t have much expectation-wise in that regard. I did not spot anything that looked like a lineup card in the North team’s dugout, but I was all but positive South manager Joe Kruzel had one posted in his dugout, directly behind where #17 is standing in the picture above.
I positioned myself close to the South dugout at the end of the game, and asked Kruzel for his lineup card, which he kindly game it to me.
The card is both bland and yet unique all-in-one. There’s no mention of “NYPL ASG”, a date, stadium, etc. However, the watermark on the left side of the card is from the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League. The connection is that Kruzel managed there the last three years.
Getting the lineup card took away some of the sting of there not being a NYPL ASG ball.
And I learned a valuable lesson that before I head out for a 2-plus-hour drive thinking that I have a chance to snag a special ball, I need to make sure that there is a special ball being used!
2017: 23 lineup cards (14 dugout/bullpen; 9 “official batting order”; 1 “today’s lineup” card)
Lifetime: 145 lineup cards (101 dugout/bullpen; 41 “official batting order”; 2 “relief pitcher usage”; and 1 “today’s lineup”)
I’m not sure how July could have gone any better:
- We went to seven games and got at least one lineup card at five (we didn’t stay until the end of the other two games), and seven lineup cards total.
- We went to four new stadiums: Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds); UC Health Stadium (Florence Freedom); Dwyer Stadium (Batavia Muckdogs); and Security Service Field (Colorado Springs Sky Sox).
- We got Frontier League 25th Anniversary, Future Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) 2017 ASG and Cape Cod League 2017 ASG balls. As an added bonus, we also snagged a Cape Cod League 2016 ASG ball during BP.
- We got lineup cards from two new leagues, PCL and Frontier, and from six new teams altogether: Nationals, Cornbelters, Freedom, Muckdogs Rainiers and Sky Sox.
From Kate/my midwest road trip
The rest of the season will be a let down relative to July, but we’ll keep at it.
Work brought me to Denver this week. The Rockies were on the road, but the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers were home. I made the 1 hour,15 minute drive to Security Service Field after work on Tuesday.
The drive was pretty nice, despite the traffic getting out of Denver. I snapped a pic of the Rampart mountain range while stopped at a light in Monument, CO.
As you can see in the pic above, the sky didn’t look so hot. The forecast just said “overcast” for Colorado Springs, so I was keeping my fingers crossed.
But as I got to the outskirts of Colorado Springs, it was clear that weather would be an issue.
I got to the stadium about 20 minutes after the game should have started. The start of the game was being delayed. It was barely spritzing rain but the clouds looked ominous and there was still an occasional rumble of thunder and bolt of lightning not too far away.
I killed time walking around the stadium. I took this pic from just outside the stadium, down the left field line, as they were taking the tarp off the infield.
There was some decent brush around parts of the outfield wall, so I looked for balls a bit, but found nothing.
The game finally started 1:40 after it was supposed to. I had gotten up early on the east coast that morning, and was debating how long to stay. I really wanted a Pacific Coast League lineup card — who knows when my next opportunity to go to a PCL game would come — so I talked myself into staying the duration, unless there was another rain delay.
There was a good crowd when the game started as it was $2 ticket night.
It did rain on a couple occasions during the game, but never enough to stop it.
Meanwhile, the game proceeded at a fast clip to start, but ground to a halt as the host Sky Sox exploded for 11 combined runs over the 4th-6th innings. Colorado Springs won going away, 13-4.
The game didn’t end until about 11:20pm, and the stadium had largely cleared out by then.
I was determined to get a lineup card, and decided to try the home plate umpire first, then the Sky Sox who were in the nearby dugout and would be in a good mood.
I struck out with the umpire as he ignored me.
I then hustled to the Sky Sox dugout and got there just as manager Rick Sweet was walking back into the dugout following the on-field victory celebration. There were a few other people around, but I was the only one to ask for the lineup card, and he handed it to me. Sweet (pun intended)!
I then ran over to the Rainiers dugout just in case I could grab their card as well. The dugout was empty except for a Sky Sox bat boy cleaning up. I couldn’t see into the dugout to see if the lineup card was still there, so I asked the bat boy. He said it was, hesitated for a split second, then took it off the wall and handed it to me. Double Sweet!
Nothing against the Sky Sox lineup card, because I would have been happy to just get that, but the Tacoma card was an “official” PCL lineup card with some neat watermarks.
I eventually got to my hotel in Denver about 12:30am, which felt like 2:30am ET. As long as a night as it was, I was glad I stayed.
2017: 23 lineup cards (13 dugout/bullpen; 9 “official batting order”; 1 “today’s lineup” card)
Lifetime: 144 lineup cards (100 dugout/bullpen; 41 “official batting order”; 2 “relief pitcher usage”; and 1 “today’s lineup”)
Sean and I traveled to the Cape Cod League All Star Game at Wareham High School in Wareham, MA Saturday in what will almost certainly be our only overnight baseball trip together this season. He is still not back to 100% after suffering a concussion in late December, but has gotten a lot better.
This was our second Cape Cod League ASG; we went two years ago as well. The Cape Cod League ASG has become one of, if not my favorite baseball event to attend. Why? It’s cheap: $5/ticket; it includes BP, autograph sessions, Home Run Derby and the game itself; sponsor Friendly’s provides free ice cream early in the day; unlike many other college or collegiate summer league games/ASGs, you are free to keep balls hit outside the field of play; and, they use ASG balls.
The gates were to open at 2pm when Batting Practice started. We were there early and found a decent Cape Cod League regular season ball while killing time.
After we got in and BP started, we headed to the left field bleachers. Sean quickly asked a player for a toss-up. The players weren’t supposed to, but some did and because Sean was the only kid in the area at that point, the player kindly obliged. We were on the board with a Cape Cod ASG ball!
These two balls are the same, but you can’t see the red ASG print on the side panel of the ball otherwise
People started to fill into the left field bleachers, so Sean and I decided to head over to right field, where there was just one other person at the time.
The pic below was taking from beyond the right field fence. There are actually two fences: the home run fence, and then about 40 feet beyond that is the stadium fence.
In the picture above, there’s yellow “caution” tape stretching from the flag pole to the home run fence. We were not allowed to go to the left field line side of the tape as it is one of the bullpens.
Still, there was plenty of room to get home run balls, and as it turned out, there were plenty of those.
The ‘competition’ varied during BP, but there were never more than about 15
See the guy in the navy blue shirt in the pic above standing in front of the overturned soccer goal? Well, the first ball I got, I caught right in front of him. The ball was hit closer to him, and he had settled into position to catch it.
But I was also tracking it, and at the last second came in next to him and reached out my glove high, just in front of his.
I felt the ball hit my glove and knew I had it. He seemed surprised that the ball was not in his glove.
Here’s where it got interesting. He starts acting like he got hurt. I asked him if he was OK and what happened, because I was certain I had not done anything more than brush up against him, if that. He said it was his calf but otherwise moaned and groaned for another minute.
I think he was just angry that I had caught the ball and he hadn’t — he didn’t have any balls at that point — because I know there was no way I made nearly enough contact to hurt him, if I made contact at all.
Still, not wanting to cause trouble, I apologized to him if I had in any way bumped him, even though I was certain I had not. I ended up giving him another ball I got a couple minutes later for the sake of trying to do the right thing.
Maybe I should have just let him catch the ball. Had it been later in BP when we already had a few balls, maybe I would have. But I am not going to lie, I was super-psyched to make the catch. I am only 5’6″, so it’s not often that I outreach our out jump someone for a ball.
The rest of BP for the first team was great. We got seven balls total during that span, only two of which were regular season balls instead of ASG balls. I caught one other on the fly. Sean also ran one down beyond the outer fence, which a few players cleared. Everyone around us did well, too.
The second team then started hitting. I decided to head beyond the outer fence with Sean. There was just one other guy over on that side at the time.
For the next 35 minutes, there was no action where we were because there were no lefties hitting. I think one ball cleared the right-center field fence, hit by a righty. We killed time by playing catch, which was fun.
Finally, the last group of hitters were all lefties. Several people headed back over to the right field side of the fences. Sean tracked down one ball and one of the guys who was keeping people out of the RF bullpen area tossed us a ball right after BP ended.
We got eight ASG balls and three regular season balls, one of which I gave away.
Sean had a couple rough moments with the heat during BP, so we decided to go back to the hotel and rest for a while. That meant skipping the HR Derby, but we had done so well in BP, and I figured the HR Derby would be a zoo.
While we were resting, I took a closer look at the ASG balls, and found this:
The ball on the left is a 2016 ASG ball! We didn’t go to last year’s game, so this was yet another new ball for us to add to the collection. Talking to a kid later, he said that his brother had gotten a 2009 ASG ball during BP!
We got back to the stadium in the third inning of the game. The stadium was packed: they ended up with nearly 7,200 people!
We walked around, half-heartedly doing some ballhawking (with no success), and watching the game from different spots.
Wareham High is a great place to ballhawk. The stadium is small, so quite a few balls are hit out of it.
View behind the 1st base side of home plate
However, there were tons of kids ballhawking, which is why we laid fairly low.
The East won the game, 5-3. Our plan was to try and get the lineup card like we had done two years ago. In that case, we were able to walk on the field after the game, which I was surprised by. I assumed we’d be able to do the same this year.
Our plan this year was for Sean to try the 3rd base side and me the more crowded 1st base side. As it turned out, they didn’t let anyone on the field.
But the umpires exited on the third base side right by Sean. He wasn’t specifically trying for an umpire ball, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time as the umpire tossed him and one other boy a ball on his way out.
Meanwhile, when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get on the field, I asked one of the East coaches for their lineup card as the fence at the field keeps you away from the dugout. He went to get it.
At the same time, a kid I had recognized earlier in the day from games around us in CT, and who also chases lineup cards, appeared. He stuck his hand through an opening in the fence trying to get the lineup card as the coach came to give it to me, but I was able to reach my arm through another opening to get the card.
I can’t blame the kid for trying. He almost pulled off his timing perfectly to swoop in and get the card. I hope he was able to get the West’s lineup card.
Sean, with umpire ball and lineup card
Getting the umpire ball and lineup card put an exclamation point on a great day!
2017: 21 lineup cards (11 dugout/bullpen; 9 “official batting order”; 1 “today’s lineup” card)
Lifetime: 142 lineup cards (98 dugout/bullpen; 41 “official batting order”; 2 “relief pitcher usage”; and 1 “today’s lineup”)
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) held their All Star Game at Muzzy Field in Bristol, CT, conveniently just one town away from where we live.
I took the day off and headed over for gates opening at 3pm. There were maybe a dozen or so people there at 3pm, mostly family members. On the field, the players were taking part in a pro scouting day.
It was essentially held like a tryout of sorts, an opportunity for pro scouts to closely look at the players. For example, outfielders fielded a few balls each and throw to third or home. Infielders took a variety of ground balls. It was interesting to watch.
Outfielders fielding and throwing from right field to third base
Meanwhile, I was on the lookout for ASG balls. Sean and I had already gotten three during a regular season game the previous week, which took away some of the suspense of getting the first ball, which I found outside the stadium, beyond the right field fence near a pickup truck.
There were no kids around to start, and I was able to easily find three easter eggs.
Can you spot the ball underneath the bleachers in this pic?
Batting Practice started around 4pm. There were still few people around, so I was able to get a couple balls hit over the fence.
A few kids started to appear and shortly thereafter FCBL employees finally started to track down balls, so I headed beyond the RF fence / stadium fence where a few more BP homers were hit.
In all, I ended up with 10 balls, two of which I gave away. Here is what they look like:
The FCBL just started to use special ASG balls last year. It’s a unique, cool ball to get, especially with the blue-red laces.
I decided to leave after BP, satisfied with what I had seen and having gotten a few balls, and knowing it would become a zoo by the time the HR derby started.
On Sunday the 16th, we headed into Cincinnati late morning, and wandered around the area near the stadium for a bit looking at things and taking a few pictures.
Main entrance to Great American Ballpark
Pete Rose statue
View across the Ohio River to Kentucky
When we got into the stadium, it was clear there was no batting practice, as is usually the case for a Sunday afternoon game. There were a couple Nats pitchers throwing and we waited for the chance to get a toss-up, along with another 100 or so people. We did not get one.
So, we wandered around the stadium.
Roebling Bridge in background
We had very good seats, on the home plate side of the Nationals dugout. I thought Kate would have a chance at a toss-up on a foul ball around home plate or third out ball, but nothing came our way.
For most of the game, we sat 6 rows from the field
Early in the game, I headed to the outfield sections to try and see if either/both teams had bullpen lineup cards posted. The bullpens at GABP are a bit wanky. There was no lineup card in the main portion of the Reds’ bullpen and no where in the stands to see into the front part of the bullpen where the pitchers and coaches sit.
Here’s what I could see in the Nats bullpen:
Nats bullpen coach Dan Firova with the bullpen lineup card on the wall to his left
The Nats blew the game open early and coasted to a 14-4 victory. Our end-of-the-game plan was for Kate to try for and umpire ball and/or lineup card from umpire Tim Timmons. Feeling bold for whatever reason, I would ask Washington manager Dusty Baker for his lineup card and could also ask Firova for his when he came in from the bullpen, if he took it with him.
I knew Kate wouldn’t have it easy going for an umpire ball because there was a lot of competition and not much space around the umpire exit at GABP. As it turned out, she said she narrowly missed a toss-up that went just over her glove.
I was in a great spot to ask Baker for his lineup card, which I did, but he ignored me. I knew he almost certainly wouldn’t give me the dugout lineup card because they sell those. I was hoping he might give me one or both of the official batting order cards, but no dice.
Firova also ignored me when I asked for the bullpen lineup card. I figured he probably left it in the bullpen, so we made a mad dash out there.
I had to sweet talk my way into the section near the visiting bullpen because the ushers had already closed it off by the time we got there. Luckily, the usher was cool about it.
Sure enough, the lineup card was still on the wall. There were three grounds crew guys working in the bullpen. I asked the one nearest me, he looked at the card on the wall, said no, then went back to work. I asked again for any of the three to help us out, but they all ignored me.
The usher now wanted me to leave but a more senior level employee had entered the bullpen so I quickly asked him. He was hesitant, but when I explained the Firova clearly didn’t want the card or he would have brought it in with him, and that it would mean a lot to us, he finally obliged. Bingo!
Someone in the Nats bullpen marked the card with an emphatic “W”
It’s always special to get a lineup card from a MLB game, but it was especially nice to get one on our first visit to GABP, me being a Nats fan and not having gotten a Nats lineup card before made it even better.
We had thoughts of hitting the first game of a Binghamton Rumble Ponies double-header on the drive home Monday, but there were was a thunder/lightnight/rain storm as we approached Binghamton, so we bagged it not wanting to sit through a delay. As it turned out, it was the right move because both games were postponed due to the storm.
We made it home Monday night with 1,997 miles, a robotics tournament win, three new stadiums visited, four lineup cards, a few Frontier League 25th Anniversary commemoratives, and lots of memories.
2017: 20 lineup cards (10 dugout/bullpen; 9 “official batting order”; 1 “today’s lineup” card)
Lifetime: 141 lineup cards (97 dugout/bullpen; 41 “official batting order”; 2 “relief pitcher usage”; and 1 “today’s lineup”)
We bid farewell to Batavia, NY on Thursday, July 15th and headed west toward Indianapolis.
On the way, we met up with a friend for lunch at a restaurant that happened to be down the street from Canal Park, home of the Eastern League’s Akron Rubber Ducks. The park was closed but I still took the obligatory pic of Kate outside the stadium.
We made it to Indianapolis Thursday around 6pm. I had thoughts of maybe making it to the Indianapolis Indians game that night, but Kate needed to help with set up for her team’s robotics competition. Things got delayed by a thunderstorm that dropped a crazy amount of rain, so we didn’t leave until 8:30pm and therefore no game.
Thoughts of going to Friday night’s game also went by the wayside as the competition went on until 7:40pm that day. We might have been able to make the last half of the game, but we were pretty exhausted and called it a day.
Saturday was the final day of the robotics competition. Our hope was to leave straight after Kate’s team finished and head to Florence, Kentucky, some two hours away, for our first-ever Frontier League game. If the competition went late, we might catch some of the Indians’ game instead, and drive down to Florence afterward as that is where our hotel was for the night.
Kate’s team ended up winning the competition, which was both great as well as a big deal. They celebrated for a while afterward, posing for plenty of pictures. We left about 5:30pm.
I had decided ahead of time that if we left by 6pm, we’d probably get to at least some of the Florence Freedom game. So we headed to Florence, getting to the stadium just before 7:30pm.
The game had started at 6:05 pm, and was in the top of the 6th inning when we got there.
The goal had been, and still was, to get one or more Frontier League 25th Anniversary baseballs that are being used this season. Along with our plan to ballhawk, I brought a few Atlantic League 20th Anniversary balls to try and trade.
As it turned out, bringing the balls to trade was a great idea. In between innings, we traded with both bullpens. We were very appreciative that both team bullpens helped us out because they easily could have said no or ignored us. So we were on the board with a couple Frontier League 25th balls!
We walked around the outside of the park and found another ball, then traded for two more for a total of five. As it turned out, there were no foul balls hit anywhere near us, so I am really glad we brought balls to trade.
A secondary goal was to get a lineup card from the game. We got two:
As an added bonus, here’s the back of the Freedom lineup card:
We have never gotten anything like this. It’s cool to see the preparation, particularly the level of detail, that goes into a single game.
The visiting Normal Cornbelters won the game, 2-0.
Days don’t get much better than this one. Kate’s robotics team won its competition, we saw a game (at least part of a game) in a new stadium for us, got a few anniversary balls, and got our first Frontier League lineup cards!
2017: 19 lineup cards (9 dugout/bullpen; 9 “official batting order”; 1 “today’s lineup” card)
Lifetime: 140 lineup cards (96 dugout/bullpen; 41 “official batting order”; 2 “relief pitcher usage”; and 1 “today’s lineup”)