I know it has been a while, and I also know that this post may bother some people, and in all likelihood those are the same people who are technically responsible for this post. Before I get to my fan notes I really do need to thank two of my absolute favorite people in the entire world. Last Thursday was a typical home game day, arrive at noon, eat lunch, stretch, hit in the cage, pregame workout, pregame spread then a game. I DH’d and had two hits, and we put together a nice 6-5 win over the Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins). As I walked off the field to go to the clubhouse I stopped to sign a few autographs and at one point I thought I heard a voice calling my name. I scanned around the stadium and didn’t see anyone I expected to be calling for me so I kept walking. A little while later another kid asked for an autograph so I stopped again, and heard that same voice calling me. This time as I scanned the emptying stadium I saw my sister running along the 1st base concourse toward me. I had absolutely no idea, so I waved and sort of told her to come down and say hi, which is when I saw my best friend from Stony Brook, Bern, also running in with her. I was completely shocked, and really lost for words. I hadn’t seen Bern since my last week at Stony Brook nearly 2 years ago, so to have her and my sister in town was so insanely awesome. We spent 4 days back and forth between the ballpark and some wonderful restaurants and ice cream shops from Punta Gorda all the way to Osprey. We shared the same ridiculous laughs, stories and confusion we always do when we’re together and the two of them make one hell of a tag team. I had such an incredible time with them, and Bern gave me the craziest Easter basket ever which included some SWEET glow stick glasses that I used during a post game dance sesh in my room the other night. It was definitely an interesting scene in my room as I danced around to some crazy techno music I had blaring from my computer, and it made for some rather hilarious snapchats to my friends. Molly and Bern, you definitely outdid yourselves on this one, what an incredible surprise, I can never thank you enough for that, I had such a great time!! Thank you, and I love you both!
Now time to shift gears to something that absolutely drives me nuts, but is normally very easy to just ignore and write off. Baseball stadiums are meant for sunny days, perfect sunsets, great nights with friends and of course, baseball. I grew up spending 30 to 40 nights a summer at the SkyDome with my Zidie, Gramma, Mom, Dad, sister and friends watching the Blue Jays. I was taught at a very early age that baseball players are (spoiler alert) REAL PEOPLE. They’re incredibly gifted athletes who have spent the entirety of their lives working toward their goal of reaching the Major Leagues, and they’re rewarded for their work with a JOB as a baseball player. That three letter word is huge, JOB. Each day we show up over six hours before the game time that the fans show up for. We spend hours in the weight room training our bodies, in the cages training our swings, and on the practice fields working on defense, throwing, and base running. This isn’t nearly as simple as a lot of fans think, we don’t show up at 6:00 for a 6:30 game and play. This isn’t just a game, this is our job, and while I wouldn’t trade it for any other job in the world fans can really make or break the experience of the players.
When I was a kid at Blue Jays games with my Zidie he always made sure I had two things, a lineup card and my glove. I never went anywhere without my glove, but he always made sure I had a lineup so that I knew who all the players were. He taught me that the players would appreciate being called respectfully by name, and would almost always throw a ball to a kid with a glove, or sign whatever piece of memorabilia. That one simple lesson resulted in a career of scoring baseballs from visiting players as they came off the field. During the prime of my baseball collecting career I had two milk crates full of Big League game balls that I used for batting practice. It was as simple as stand up, show my glove and when the player wasn’t busy WORKING call his first name. Over 95% of the time the guys would toss the ball to me, I’d catch it, and with a tip of the glove to them say thank you. Believe me, I understand the thrill of catching a ball throw by a player, I lived for those moments as a kid! I also now have been on the other side and experienced some of the UGLY behavior by both kids and their parents, and it culminated last night in an incident that made me decide this lesson was necessary.
In the Rays organization the DH is expected to play catch with the CF in between innings, and he is then throw the ball that the corner outfielders and infielders use. His JOB is to warm the CF up, then bring the balls into the ball bag. His JOB is not to give every kid in the stands a ball. While standing out on the right field line at McKechnie Field last night I heard a group of kids screaming “ball, ball, here, throw me a ball” or “19, 19 number 19 I want a ball.” Those are never the kids that will get one from me, or a lot of other guys. In one of the later innings one of their fathers saw me turn to head to the dugout and said to the kids, loud enough to make sure I heard him “he’s just an overpaid, spoiled, selfish jerk, he’ll never throw you a ball.” That absolutely drove me nuts, I wanted to go over and dress this guy down on the spot, but I knew that would be unprofessional. I headed to the dugout and tossed a ball to a young kid in a Rays jersey and cap with his glove who simply smiled and asked “could I please have a ball?” Absolutely kid, enjoy your night! To say that I’m spoiled, selfish or a jerk is to be completely ignorant about everything that goes on in my life. I understand I’m not jammed in an office working behind a computer from 9-5 every day, and that there are millions of people who never got to live out this dream I’m living, but that doesn’t give a single one of those people the right to call me names because of a disrespectful kid. To say I’m overpaid is to ignore any one of a number of articles detailing our small salaries. To say I’m spoiled is to ignore every hour of work I’ve put in through my life and all the things I’ve sacrificed to get to this point in my career. To say I’m selfish or a jerk is to ignore the 9:30 am hospital visits, the school visits, and all of the other community service that I gladly do simply because it can make someone smile.
I’ve discussed this issue with a number of guys, teammates and Major League guys alike and I’ve always used the same analogy. Imagine what would happen if our team walked into an office at 10:30 am on a Tuesday and proceeded to stand at each persons desk yelling “grey shirt guy can I have a pencil? I want a pencil, can I have a pencil? Gimme a pencil, here, here, I want a pencil.” Sounds a little stupid doesn’t it? Imagine I walked up to you as the printer jammed and proceeded to tell you that you were a “spoiled, selfish jerk that would never get his report printed in time.” As if the stress of your work day isn’t enough, as if the idea of making sure you can provide a certain life for yourself and your family isn’t enough pressure now you have this person following you around telling you how much you suck and how you’re selfish and a jerk. In all of those little scenarios that would be ONE person yelling at you during your workday, now amplify that by the number of people in a ballpark on any given night and try to imagine what that sounds like. It’s ludicrous!
Fans, come to the ballpark, bring your family, bring your friends but please bring a little bit of awareness or “feel” as we call it in the dugout. Understand that the “game” you’re watching is our job and that we are WORKING from 6:30 pm when the umpire says “play ball” until the 27th out is recorded in the 9th inning. We will gladly sign autographs before the game, or after the game as long as we aren’t doing something. We will gladly toss a ball to you, or your kid as long as you go about it the right way. I love to see a kid light up when I give him or her a ball. I love to chat with a kid who shows up early to get autographs. I do all those things because I was that kid!! I wasn’t ever the kid yelling at players, expecting that they give me something, as though they owe it to me for being there. Please remember we’re real people, and even though our job is playing baseball it is still a job. We still have an incredible amount of stress on us that you don’t necessarily understand, we have an incredibly short period in which we can use our bodies to earn a living in this game and we need to take every minute of that short window seriously. When we are allowed to “check out” after a game, or before we “check in” during pregame warm up we will gladly interact with fans, after all there’s nothing better than having a packed house for a game and fans that love and cherish the game the way I do.