With my first game of the season in Stockton having gotten off to a rather slow start, I was excited to be back at Banner Island Ballpark with hopes of bouncing back.
This game featured me, my dad and my sister Pascale. We arrived at the Stockton Ballpark around 4:45, so batting practice had already gotten underway. Per usual, I headed out back beyond left field in hopes of snagging a few hard-hit BP balls. Moments after our arrival, Ports infielder Chad Pinder pulled a ball down the line that just managed to make it over the bullpens, bouncing on the BBQ area and landing smack in my glove. Moments later, Ports infield Daniel Robertson crushed a ball towards straight-away left field. The ball cleared the BBQ area, smacking against the dirt beyond the ballpark fences. I chased after this ball, picking it up for my second ball of the day.
After this ball, the rest of Ports BP was dead. Nothing was hit that came close to clearing the ballpark, so it was rather boring from a ballhawking perspective.
The Ports wrapped up BP around 5:10. After a 5-10 minute lull in the cages, the High Desert Mavericks began taking their swings on the field. They failed to make any noise offensively, which became rather frustrating as I looked onwards from 400 feet away.
Then, out of nowhere, I saw a fan run past me inside. I looked down at my watch and saw that it was 5:30. The gates were not due to open for another half hour. However, fans were tricking inside from the third base gate. This prompted me to grab my backpack and sprint to the gate, where I was quickly able to jump inside. At this point, Pascale and I headed to the right-center field berm, as there was a group of lefties in the cage.
Despite the fact that High Desert was at the time (and always is) one of the most powerful and top offensive teams in the California league, BP was absolutely dead. Nobody was hitting anything out and the pitchers were being stingy with tossups (of course, this is rather understandable at the lower levels of the minor leagues).
To add to my frustration, it was a fairly warm day and the ballpark was rather empty. On a day where the stadium was pretty empty and the ball would have been flying very well during BP, the Mavericks were bringing me much disappointment.
During the half hour or so of BP that I saw inside, I believe 3 or so balls cleared fence. All of these balls landed in private seating areas, so there was not much I could do. On the bright side, it was a very beautiful day.
One of my favourite things about the California league is the frequency of infield practice that I get to witness. In the past, I’ve chilled by the dugout of whichever team is taking infield in order to give me the best chance of snagging a ball. After only snagged two balls during Stockton’s BP and being shut out for the entirety of High Desert’s batting practice, I decided to do the same, as I claimed a spot in the front row of section 107, between the visitor’s dugout and the net behind home plate.
However, I was shut out there as well and my ball total for the day stood at two. After the players had headed to the clubhouse and the field had been cleaned up, some martial artists made their way onto the field for a demonstration of some sort.
After they left the field, a Little League parade took place, as little leaguers from 4 or 5 different leagues took the field and paraded around the warning track. Pascale and I decided to grab some ice cream (or shaved ice or Dippin Dots or something like that) and we headed out and sat down on the berm in right field.
As the parade came to a finish, the players for both teams began making their way onto the field.
As a logo and uniform geek, I was immediately caught off-guard by the hats that the Ports were wearing. Typically, they wear the blue and red hats on the road with their grey jersey. However, for this game (for reasons unknown), they paired the bi-colour road hat with their home whites. And I actually really like the look.
I like it when teams switch things up with their uniforms during the season, even if it’s a small thing like pairing the road hat with the home jersey.
I was unable to snag a ball in pre-game warm-ups, so I decided to head to my seat in section 107 (where I had been earlier during infield practice). Given that I would be spending most of the game outside in the parking lot, I wanted to spend as much time as possible inside before first pitch.
On the mound for the Ports was Manny Correa.
However, I did not see much of him because I spent the early parts of the game running around in the parking lot. The first three High Desert hitters grounded out 1-2-3 for a painless start to the ballgame for the Ports.
On the mound for the Mavericks was Tyler Pike.
I didn’t see much of him either, as he pitched less than four innings in the ballgame. After leadoff hitter Daniel Robertson flied out to start the Ports half of the inning, 2013 first round draft pick Billy McKinney stepped to the plate. On one of the first pitches of the at-bat, Billy sliced a ball towards the third base side of the field, clearing the stadium and shooting into the parking lot.
The ball was hit pretty hard, so I had a little extra running to do, but sure enough, I came up with the ball! Ball #3, foul ball #1 on the day!
McKinney later singled to right field for the first hit of the game.
It was a truly beautiful night for baseball and even though my ball total wasn’t necessarily where I wanted it, it was still fun to be at the ballpark.
The Ports 3 and 4 hitters ended up recording outs, sending the game to the second inning.
With 1 out and runners on second and third in the second inning, High Desert catcher Tyler Marlette popped a ball just over the net, bouncing off the roof and directly into my glove! This was my 4th ball on the day and my second foul ball.
It was shortly before I snagged this ball that I ran into a father-son ballhawking duo. I had seen Chris and his son Nicholas around Banner Island Ballpark (during BP and in the parking lots), but this was the first time I had struck up a conversation with the two of them. They are both incredibly nice guys, it was fun to talk with them for a bit.
After snagging the Marlette foul ball, things pretty much went dead. And that’s how it is in the middle innings of baseball games. The second time through the order, hitters are quicker to pick up on the tendencies and such of the pitcher, which results in many fewer foul balls.
So, I decided to come inside for a little why and play the dugouts, in hopes of snagging a third out ball or two. That didn’t happen, but I did get to watch some very exciting baseball.
While the Mavericks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, the Ports answered back in the 4th inning in a major way. Stockton sent 12 hitters to the plate, scoring 8 times!
It was quite the offensive showing! Despite the high volume of hitters coming through the batter’s box, the Ports did not foul a single pitch out of the stadium.
The Ports tacked on an additional run in the 5th inning, bringing the score to 9-2. The Mavericks then bounced back scoring three runs in the 6th and 7th innings to come within one run of the Ports, giving Stockton a 9-8 advantage. I should note that due to the high score, the game was taking a considerable amount of time. The first three innings of the game took 3 hours, so it was 10pm when the 7th inning got underway. Given my lack of luck inside the stadium with 3rd out balls, I decided to shift my attention back outside to the parking lot for the 7th inning.
When a lefty is up, I stand on the 3rd base side of the parking lot. When I’m over there, this is my view looking in. Obviously, I don’t stand that close to the stadium, I usually am usually 20 feet deep in the parking lot. However, I will occasionally jump up to the fence in order to fully stay engaged with the game.
When a right-handed hitter is up, I’ll move to the 1st-base side parking lot, where this is usually my view.
It was here where I snagged my next two foul balls. 8 and 9 hitters Jabari Henry and Tim Lopes fouled balls back in nearly identical locations over the roof. For some reason, I only managed to photograph one of the two balls. Here it is:
After High Desert brought it to a one-run game in the top of the 7th, the Ports quickly regained the lead, thanks to a pair of singles and an error. I spent the rest of the game inside, from my seat in the first row of 107.
Stockton then added one more run in the 8th inning on a Chad Pinder home run. Down 12-8, High Desert aimed to make a comeback in the top of the 9th. They sent 7 hitters to the plate in the inning, scoring 2 more runs and bringing the score to 12-10. However, that was all that the Maverick offense could muster as Tucker Healy came in with 2 outs for the Ports, striking out High Desert left fielder Dario Pizzano for the final out of the game.
As soon as the final out was recorded, I jumped right next to the dugout, where I asked for the lineup card. I can’t recall who responded to my request, but when they pealed off the lineup card, there was a SECOND lineup card behind it, still taped to the wall from the NIGHT BEFORE. So, the person (it was probably a coach or someone like that) pealed the second one off the wall and handed them BOTH to me. WOW!
6 balls. 2 lineup cards. One great day. Thanks for reading!
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Nick Badders is a blogger for MLB.com. He writes the blogs Beyond the Outfield Fence and 7000 Coliseum Way. You can follow him on Twitter @RFNick149 and like him on Facebook. This blog entry was not subject to the approval of Minor League Baseball or its clubs.