Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My 2009 College World Series trip

For the third year in a row, my father and I headed up to Omaha for the opening weekend of the CWS. Every year, we do it a little different and this year was no exception. We started this trip off on Friday in Kansas City (click on pictures for a larger view).

We got to the park early enough to get see the end of the Royals batting practice and all of the Reds. I was able to get to my autograph spot by the visiting teams dugout. But, surprisingly, the Reds weren't much for signing. All I got was three cards each from Brook Jacoby and another coach and one card from Paul Janish. Jay Bruce signed a few balls, but I was saving my ball for Omaha. I guess that I thought a smaller market team like that would be a little more fan friendly.

As for the game itself, we got to see a gem. The Royals won 4-1 and Luke Hochevar pitched his first professional complete game. And he did it with only 80 pitches. He only had three strikeouts, but he was pounding the strike zone all night. He got 17 batters to hit the first or second pitch of the at-bat and only one of those guys got a hit. Johnny Gomes was the only Red that had it going that night and he had a double and a home run. The only other hit was a seeing-eye single by Brandon Phillips.

After the game, the Royals had their second annual Sky Show. I didn't know what to expect from that going in, but I was pretty impressed. They had fireworks, lasers, music, flamethrowers, Willie Wilson, Frank White, and George Brett. It was pretty neat. Here are a couple of pictures of the fountains during all of it.

Here are the flamethrowers I was talking about.

The next day, we were in Omaha. The first Saturday in Omaha is always hectic and it wasn't any different this year. After we got off the interstate, we were stuck in traffic for about 40 minutes before we got to our usual parking spot about three blocks from the ballpark. We got parked at about 10:45 in the morning and we headed up to fanfest. I knew Orel Hershiser was going to be signing for an hour starting at 11:00, so that was the first stop. On the way to that spot, my dad saw a sign at a bar saying that Gaylord Perry was going to be signing there at 11:30. I'm glad that he saw that because I had missed it. Anyway, we headed up to fanfest and to the All State booth where Orel was going to be signing. He apparently got stuck in traffic and was about five minutes late. I had planned on getting my ball signed by him, but I had a few cards of him and decided to save my ball for Gaylord. So, when he arrived my dad and I each got a card signed.

While he was signing my card, I asked if I could see his World Series ring he was wearing and he said yes. I was expecting him to hold his hand up, but he took it off and handed it too me. I was a little shocked and didn't want to waste everyone's time that was in line behind me, so I took a quick glance at the face and then handed it back. That was the first ever World Series ring that I have ever held. After I gave it back to him, he said "if you want one, you can find them on ebay". I'm not sure how true that is, but I still thought it was kind of funny. (Unfortunately, I forgot my camera Saturday; so, no Orel pictures.)

After that, my dad and I split up. I went to find Gaylord Perry and my dad went to find a Cal State Fullerton t-shirt. Two blocks later, I was at the bar Gaylord was going to be signing at. The sign my dad saw earlier said he was signing from 11:30-1:30. I got there at 11:15 and there was Gaylord sitting at the autograph table without a soul around him. I walked up to him and asked how he was doing and shook his hand. I then asked if he was signing yet and he said that he was waiting for some balls to be brought up to be signed. I told him that I had my own ball and he said that he would sign it. So, he signed it, I thanked him, and then I left to go find my dad.

Here is the ball. This is the first signed ball that I have that has a Hall of Fame inscription.

I got back to the spot where I was going to meet my dad and he wasn't there yet. I waited around for about a minute and then headed back over to the Orel Hershiser line to get another autograph. A few minutes after I got there, I saw my dad standing at the meeting spot, so I left the line and went and grabbed him. We got back in line and we each got one 8x10 signed.

After that, we made our way to the general admission seating area to find a seat. It was around noon, an hour before the game starts, and there wasn't a single seat in the GA sections. So, we went to the reserved seating and found the worst seats possible and sat there. We did okay there until the first inning was up and the seat's rightful owners came to claim their territory. We walked around a little after that and decided to head to the concession stands to grab some lunch. We each got an Omaha Steak burger and went and sat at a picnic table underneath the right field bleachers. While there, we heard everyone's reaction after Arkansas' Zack Cox hit a home run to increase their lead over Fullerton.

Here is a picture of where we were sitting prior to getting the boot. The photo is from an Omaha Royals game in 2007.

After we finished eating, we decided to leave the game. GA can be a pain in the butt when it comes to standing room only seating. We found that out the hard way in 2007, and we didn't want to deal with it a second time. We decided to roam around fanfest for awhile and wait until 4:00. That is when Joe Morgan was going to start signing. After about 15 minutes, I decided to leave. We were planning on going to Des Moines to see the Omaha Royals take on the Iowa Cubs that night. It was going to be a two hour drive and it takes about 30 minutes just to drive a half mile to get on the interstate. I figured that I would have a better chance of getting autographs and ballpark pictures before the game if we got there before the ballpark opened. So, we skipped out on Joe Morgan and headed to Iowa.

We got to the ballpark in Des Moines around 4:45. The first thing I noticed was that there was too many cars in the lot for a 7:05 game. I then saw a sign that said "Doubleheader 5:05". By the time we were parked, they were announcing the starting lineups over the PA. I sent my dad to get some tickets and I made a quick tour around the exterior of the park for some photos. Here is one of the first I took.

I love statues at ballparks, but these looked too familiar. I thought about it a little and decided that they were the same ones that they have at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque. After I got home, I checked my photos and was right. Here is a picture from Isotopes Park. Notice the slight rearrangement of the batter.

Here is a picture of Principle Park, home of the Iowa Cubs. I didn't pay any attention to the sculpture when I was taking the photo. But as soon as I looked at it on my computer, I quickly realized that it was the seams of a ball. That is a nice touch.

We found our seats about five minutes before first pitch of the first game and I was a little pissed that I was at a minor league game and hadn't got any autographs before the game. So, I grabbed my book and headed to the Royals bullpen. I was able to get Tim Hamulak to sign three cards for me even though the rest of the pen was telling him not to. That made me feel a little better. We watched four innings of the seven inning game and decided to walk around a bit and explore the ballpark and get some dinner. Here is a picture from behind home plate. That huge building behind center field is the Iowa state capital.

After game one was over, I headed to the left field foul pole to try to get some autographs between games. I didn't get any after the game, but I got a handful as the players were making their way out for game two.

In game one, the Cubs won 6-2. The Royals rebounded in game two, thanks to a two-hit shutout by Bruce Chen, and won 2-0. By the time the second game started, the stands were packed. We ended up standing in right field by the manual scoreboard for the second game. It was a cool view for a minor league game. He is a picture of So Taguchi manning right for the Cubs (the second picture is of the packed stands).

After the game, I hung out for autographs as the players left the park. Luckily, there were many I-Cubs autograph fans there to assist me and let me know who was who as the players left. Otherwise, I would not have had a clue. I didn't even recognise most of the O-Royals players. But after the night was over, I had 39 more cards signed. I was pretty happy with that total after getting to the park just before first pitch.

While I was hanging out with the I-Cubs fans, I learned of the curious case of Tommy Gregg (I might have stolen that from a movie). Tommy is the hitting coach for the O-Royals and according to multiple I-Cubs fans, he will not sign a Braves card of himself. Since I heard this from multiple sources, I didn't even bother with him. I tried to find an '88 Score card of him before I left, but I didn't have one. That is one of two cards of him as a Pirate. The other is an '88 Donruss and I didn't even bother looking for it since most of the card is taken up by his black batting practice jersey. So, here are my three unsigned Tommy Gregg cards.

The next day was back to Omaha. There wasn't anyone scheduled to sign in the morning, so I wasn't too worried about finding seats; Sunday is usually a little better than Saturday at the CWS. We got there a little before 10:30 and kind of roamed around for 30 minutes. My dad decided that he was going to go stand in line for the GA seats. I decided that I was going to head back to the car and get my sunglasses since the clouds were starting to part. After I got back from the car, I was walking through the fanfest area and taking a couple of pictures (I remembered my camera this day). I saw a sign that said Rollie Fingers was going to be signing at 3:00. That was news to me. I knew Joe Carter was going to be signing at 4:00 and I was prepared for that. I took a few photos and started to head to the GA line that my dad was in.

A few booths later, I saw some people getting pictures taken with someone. It was just a tall, skinny kid and I thought it might be a player that was playing in the 6:00 game. As I circled around, I noticed that he had on a San Diego State polo and asked the kid beside me if that was Stephen Strasburg. He said that it was. I started to freak out. Here is the number one draft pick roaming around fanfest and I have nothing to get signed. So, I took off for the souvenir tent and quickly found a Rawlings CWS ball. I paid for that and headed back up to where he was. When I got there, Stephen was no where to be found. I started scanning possible places he could have went to and eventually found that he was heading to the media entrance on the third base side. So, I take off running after him.

Now, if you knew what I looked like and saw me running after you, you would probably run away. Just ask Luke Hochevar. But, luckily, I wasn't the only person doing this. There was another guy doing the same thing after coming out of the same souvenir tent. We both caught up to him when he was about twenty feet from entering the ballpark. I asked if he would sign a couple more and luckily my running partner had a Sharpie. I would have preferred a blue ballpoint pen, but in these circumstances, beggars can't be choosers. Here is the end result.

After that, I went to find my dad. I was going to get my ticket from him and tell him to save me a seat. I had planned on heading to the card shop across the street to try to find some Rollie Fingers cards. When I finally found him, he was a good hundred yards from the entrance. When he finally got to a spot where he could hand me my ticket, I realized that I had given him the tickets from the day before. So, I took off back to the car, got the good tickets, and headed back to the line. After looking for my dad a few minutes, I finally found him and gave him a ticket to get into the game. I then headed over to the card shop.

When I got there, it was fairly dead. I told the shop owner that Rollie was signing at 3:00 and I needed some cards. He went in the back for a couple of minutes and came out and said he couldn't find his A-F box. That was that for the customer service. After that, he proceeded to drink beer and guess (or bet) the winners of that days Major League games. I continued to look through boxes of stuff that was lying out for 25 minutes before I found a couple of Brewers teams sets that were set aside. I ended up spending seven bucks for two teams sets just so I could get a couple of Rollie Finger cards.

I then headed to the ballpark and eventually found my dad. That day, we were getting to watch a pitching duel between Arizona State and North Carolina. ASU was up 1-0 when we left after the fifth. It was 3:00 and I wanted to get Rollie's autograph, especially after spending seven bucks on basically two cards.

But, here are a couple of pictures of Rosenblatt Stadium. The first one shows ASU during infield practice. The second one is from the third inning.

After we left, we headed straight for the Rollie Fingers autograph line. It moved fairly quick and we went through the line twice. We ended up with two cards signed and two 8x10s signed. He is a picture of Rollie followed by one of the 8x10s.

After that, we got back in line for Joe Carter. We got a couple of cards signed and then headed for home. Over the three days, we only saw six innings of college baseball. But, we did see a great Major League game and two well played, seven inning, minor league games. And, I came home with 49 signed cards. So, I was pretty pleased with it all.


night owl said...

Wow. I need to lie down after reading all that. What a hectic weekend of baseball.

I love that you talked to Orel Hershiser and skipped out on Joe Morgan. That is a perfect day!

Tom said...

You got to meet Rollie Fingers? OK...now I'm jealous. Sounds like you had a great trip!

Anonymous said...

that must have been so much fun... plus you had your dad there which made it even cooler!! And you held the ring in your hands great story!
i'm going to add you to my blog roll

James said...

That sounds awesome. Going to the CWS is on my list to do one of these years. Are they building a new stadium downtown for the CWS?

unclemoe said...

Wow. Nice stuff. I like those 8x10s of Fingers and Hersh.


Orioles Magic said...

That sounds like an awesome trip, I've always wanted to check out the CWS but live pretty far away...

'30-Year Old Cardboard said...

What a great trip - and punctuated by some legends from the 1980's. Congrats Zach!!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great trip!

zman40 said...

Thanks everyone. It was a great time. I would have liked to have watch a little bit more of the games, but you know how I am with autographs.

JRJ- Yes, they are building a new park downtown for the CWS. It should open in 2011.

Wickedortega- thanks, I added you to mine, too.

Jdub19999 said...

Sounds like a perfect weekend in Omaha. Just curious where you got Gaylord Perrys autograph on Saturday. I can't believe I missed him. Thanks and love the blog!

zman40 said...

I got Gaylord at the bar behind Zesto. Like I said, it was just a random thing that my dad noticed when we were walking to the ballpark.

Goose Joak said...

Great post Zach. Sounds like you had an awesome time. I really enjoyed the read!