Date: September 28, 2013
Teams: Boston Red Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles
Location: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
Seats: Section 380, Row 20, Seats 15 and 16 (never used them)
Result: Baltimore 6-Boston 5
After months of planning and thousands of miles of travel, it had come down to the last weekend of the regular season. We were 2 games – #49 and #50 – away from our goal but we had a decision to make. There were only 2 real options within driving distance, Baltimore and Cincinnati; Baltimore was a no-brainer, of course, given my life-long affinity for the Birds. The question was: do we try to do Baltimore and Cincinnati in the same weekend? Although our original intention was to only count 1 game in each location, it would mean an extra 10 hours and about 700 miles of driving to go to Baltimore and then Cincinnati – so we decided we would bend our rules a bit to allow for the last 2 games to be in Baltimore. After all, this is my favorite team playing against one of their biggest rivals (the Red Sox) in what is arguably one of the nicest baseball stadiums in the country. The weather forecast was perfect. And on Sunday they were giving away Chris Davis bobbleheads – who could pass that up?
The real highlight of the weekend, though, was going to be on Saturday.
Over the past couple of years I’ve come to know a local guy who is involved in professional baseball and has a variety of connections in the game. As it happens, one of those connections is with the 3rd base coach of a certain team from Maryland …
I thought about asking Dave if it might be possible to meet his friend, even if for a minute to get a picture with him. At first I was hesitant as I didn’t want to impose, but since Dave is a fellow Orioles fan and knew about what we were doing this summer I decided to ask. He said he would see what he could do and a few days later I heard back from him – not only did he arrange for us to meet his friend Bobby Dickerson, 3rd base coach for the Baltimore Orioles, but we would have passes to be on the field for batting practice before Saturday’s game. I was like a kid on Christmas morning – could there be a better way to close out “50 at 50” than this?
We left Rochester early Saturday and picked up our passes around 4:15. A few minutes later a team intern led us onto the field. I love the feeling of going into a stadium before a game, seeing the green field as you emerge from the concourse – but this was something altogether different. We weren’t seeing the field from a distance – we were on it. We were standing on the dirt area behind home plate, maybe 40 feet or so behind the batting cage where the Orioles would be taking batting practice soon. I looked around, taking it all in. This is where Cal Ripken played and where he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record. The stands were empty – the gates wouldn’t be open for at least another hour – and there were only 3 other people standing there with us. A few players were on the field and a man in an Orioles uniform came out of the dugout just to our right, asked if we were Dave’s friends and introduced himself.
We spoke to Bobby for 10-15 minutes, asking him some of the questions we had come up with on our drive down. I had noticed that he played with the Yankees farm team in Albany-Colonie while I was teaching out that way at Siena College and he mentioned that was where he first met Buck Showalter, the Orioles current manager. He later played in Rochester and that was where he met my friend Dave. When I told him that we were from Rochester and that I’m a life-long Orioles fan he called over to another coach…and introduced us to Scott McGregor, a former Orioles pitcher who went 18-7 for the 1983 team that won the World Series. The LAST time the Orioles won the World Series. 30 years ago. Not that I am counting or anything.
Bobby works with the O’s infielders and we asked about Manny Machado, the young 3rd baseman who had just suffered a season-ending knee injury. Machado was a shortstop but was moved to 3rd when he came up as a 20-year old last year. His play at 3rd has reminded many of former O’s star Brooks Robinson, widely regarded as one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game. As Bobby told us, Machado is a tremendous talent who works hard and the team hopes to have him back for the beginning of next season, although they will be very cautious – he’s the sort of player you build your team around, as we’ve seen in watching the O’s in Toronto and Boston over the past month.
More players were coming onto the field and we got a quick picture with Bobby and then watched as he went to work. For the next 2 hours or so we stood there and watched the O’s and then the Red Sox take BP. Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (below top) came by and signed some autographs as did All Star CF Adam Jones (below bottom left). Jones and American League home run leader Chris Davis launched a number of balls into the seats; at 6’3’’ and 230 lbs., Davis (below bottom right) is pretty imposing…especially when he’s standing about 10 feet in front of you.
As the Orioles were winding up, the Red Sox came out to take their turn at the cage. By this time there were a lot of people standing near us, many of them guests of the Sox judging by the hats and jerseys they wore. Most of the Boston players were sporting the beards that had become the trademark of the team, with Mike Napoli (below left) and Jonny Gomes (below right) standing out the most.
We saw CF Jacoby Ellsbury (below top left), 2B Dustin Pedroia (below top right) and others take their cuts but it was “Big Papi”, David Ortiz, who stole the show. Ortiz put on an awesome display, lining shots all over the park and pounding at least 6-8 balls out toward the old B&O warehouse on Eutaw Street. Neither of us had ever heard baseballs hit that hard before.
As the Red Sox finished up a number of players came over to talk to fans. As it happens, we were standing next to Ryan Lavarnway’s fiancée and her family and just down from us Clay Bucholtz and Jackie Bradley (below) were signing autographs. Gomes came over near where we were standing and, unfortunately, we got a close-up view of his beard. Greg even got Bradley to hold up a sign with “Hi Bev” on it and get a picture for his mother-in-law.
We said goodbye to Kenny, a security guard we’d been chatting with, and headed off the field and to our seats. What an amazing day it had been already – and the game hadn’t even started.
Actually, we never made it to our “official” seats. We bought tickets for somewhere in the upper deck but found some seats along 3rd base for the first few innings. Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen (below top) started strong, giving up just singles to Pedroia and Daniel Nava in the first 3 innings. Boston ace Jon Lester (below middle) gave up a run in the 2nd inning when Nick Markakis reached in an infield single and scored on a double by Steve Pearce (below bottom, with Bobby).
A solo HR by Brian Roberts in the 3rd put the O’s up 2-0 (below top) but the Sox scored 1 in the 4th. Gomes hit a sharp grounder to 3B Danny Valencia whose throw bounced, allowing Gomes to reach base (this was ruled a hit, incorrectly in my opinion). After Nava singled, C David Ross blooped a single to short RF and Gomes scored. Pedroia tied the game at 2 in the 5th when he singled (below bottom left) to drive in Stephen Drew (below bottom right), who had doubled off the RF wall.
The O’s strung together 4 singles (by JJ Hardy, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Danny Valencia – below top left) in the bottom of the 5th to take a 4-2 lead. In the top of the 6th Nava singled for his 3rd hit of the game and scored on a Ross double, cutting the lead to 4-3 and knocking Chen out of the game. He was replaced by Josh Stinson, who got the final 2 outs of the inning but gave up 3 hits (to Drew, Pedroia and Gomes) and the tying run in the 7th. Brian Matusz came on the face Nava, who singled again (below top right) and an error by OF Jason Pridie allowed Pedroia to score (below bottom left) on the play to give the Red Sox the lead 5-4. Kevin Gausman (below bottom right) replaced Matusz and got Mike Carp on a called 3rd strike to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 8th Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa gave up singles to Wieters and Valencia to start the inning and was replaced by left-hander Franklin Morales. After Markakis struck out, Pearce laced a 2-run double to deep LF (below top left), scoring Nate McLouth (who ran for Wieters) and Valencia (below top right) to put Baltimore ahead 6-5. Orioles closer Jim Johnson (below bottom left) came on in the 9th, allowing a 2-out single to Mike Napoli. Pinch runner Quintin Berry stole 2nd but was stranded there when Gomes took a called 3rd strike and was punched-out to end the game (below bottom right). Johnson earned his league-leading 49th save and Gausman got the win with 1 1/3 innings of hitless relief. And the Orioles were guaranteed to win the season series against the Sox – the only AL East team to do so.
Game #49 was in the books and in about 12 hours we would be back for #50. Thanks to Dave and Bobby for quite the memorable experience.