Summer Sun Day

June arrived, bringing with it summer sun and Sunday Fun Days.

To honor the 23rd anniverary of 6489, the date of the Tianenmen Square crackdown in China, Michael and I went to another baseball game. He wasn't terribly enthused, since our big Baseball Night with Grampa was just five days earlier. But it was a Sunday Fun Day, which meant there were player autographs when the gates opened, and I could get us in for the cost of a can of corn. Or, in this case, Spaghetti-Os.

Now, a can of Spaghetti-Os cost a dollar or so, and I figured a baseball with a couple of triple-A player autographs should be worth a dollar something on eBay, so it was worth it even if Michael didn't let me have any other fun. And Sunday dawned such a beautiful day... I thought we could go and use Free Because We're Awesome tickets, lay a blanket on the outfield berm and just relax all afternoon— but kids don't enjoy relaxing. So after some argument and some pouting, we compromised. He'd get all dressed up appropriate and go with me to get autographs and photographs and try to grab players' balls— and then I'd bring him home when the horrible baseball thing started happening. I thought, if nothing else, I could at least get some signatures on his Ball of Scrawls.

Here's my thing about autographs— Pragmatically speaking, I don't think they mean very much. An autograph only shows that, at one brief moment, you were somewhere in close proximity to this person. (Even worse is buying "signed" merchandise because that only proves that this person you've likely never met, once actually held that thing.) I think the real reason people desire an autograph is not for practical reasons, but instead because it helps foster a mental bond; a feeling of connectedness with a celebrity. But I prefer photographs for that.

Michael with pitchers Jake Odorizzi (L) and Will Smith

Most baseball players are not superstar celebrities; their autographs would only be significant to a fan or an aficionado. And a minor leaguer's name would be unrecognized even by most of them. However, I don't get the autographs in hopes that one of them belongs to a future superstar, or will be worth a fortune at auction. It's really so that one day I'll be able to tell Michael made-up stories and tall tales about the guys who signed his Balls. And besides, a baseball just looks really important with names scribbled all over it. The more the merrier— and so I drag my son off to the baseball games.

When we got to the ballpark, the Storm Chasers were still having batting practice. Usually they're already off the field by the time the Gates Open, but since there were still balls flying, I ran Michael out to short left field in case any got hit there. Or, I hoped, maybe his Cuteness Quotient could get us a toss-up from one of the players shagging flies.

It didn't.

What we learned was that if this ever happens again, we need to go to that outfield berm. Those kids were all scrapping for long balls, and when those players in center field headed for the tunnel, two or three of them had a ball left to throw up there, too. Live and learn.

Michael with photographer Minda Haas

The Chasers went into their clubhouse, and Michael & I went to the Storm Front gift shop to kill some time. Jennifer had said she wanted one of those visor-things (for all those baseball games she goes to)... and I had to get a pack of the brand new team baseball cards that had just come out, since Minda Haas took the photos for them. (As well as this photo of Wil Myers.)

Then it was time for autographs. Or what I think of as Autographs and Photographs. Because— although not very many people ask for photos with the players, what else can you do when you've already got their autographs? We got there, and Michael first handed his Ball to Cody Clark, who found his name and informed Michael he'd already signed it. I told him he could sign it again; there were already three duplicates on there. But Cody just passed the Ball on to Ryan Eigsti. Ryan signed it and handed it on to Kurt Mertins, at which point I leaned in past Michael and said, "If you sign his ball a third time, that makes you the most awesome."

"You really want me to sign it again?" he asked.

Grinning, I just shrugged it off, and said, "Sure... but I'd really like to get a photo of him with you guys."

"Sure," he replied back, and as he scribbled on the Ball, I sent Michael around behind them, sternly commanding "Michael!" when he started to make rabbit-ear fingers behind their heads. Haven't got time to be messin' around.

So here are catcher Ryan Eigsti, Michael, and infielder Kurt Mertins, who I've talked about before.

I said we didn't have time to be messin' around— that's because Barry Bernet and his granddaughter were waiting to get autographs. It was a kick seeing Barry; he and his wife Linda used to frequent the Papio Legion Post where I caused trouble years ago. Barry was always a top contender in Post 32's NASCAR Fantasy League, constantly beating my New SouthPark Order racing team. We started to get caught up; I hadn't been to the Legion in over ten years, and he said they'd become homebodies and didn't go out much anymore, either. Except to Storm Chasers games, I guess— he was wearing a special Autism Awareness jersey, game-worn and signed by shortstop Tony Abreu, that he high-bid in a silent auction the night before. Yeah, and he wore it as he went to his season ticket seats in the first row directly behind the Home dugout. I am a bit jealous.

Barry with friends. A few nights later, I was at home watching one of the rare televised Chasers games, and Barry showed up on the TV... just to remind me that they have the best seats.

As we were leaving the field, instead of heading straight through the gate, I stopped and told Michael to run to the rope that had been put up to keep people off the grass. I tried to make it obvious, before anyone could stop us, that I was harmlessly getting some stock shots of Michael with the big ol' ballpark in the background. Then we quickly turned to go where we were supposed to— and were arrested by a pair of Storm Girls. Luckily, they weren't after me. Instead, they propositioned my son... and arranged a secret rendezvous. For later...

As they went about their business, I told Michael that now we couldn't leave. He happily agreed, "I know."

I made him sit and wait while I chatted with the Bernets some more. After a while, Wil Myers came out of the tunnel, carrying his gear toward the dugout. Wil Myers was a hotshot kid racing his way up the Minor League ladder just because he does everything so well. Here at the triple-A level for less than a month, he was batting .341 with 8 home runs— including the grand slam home run he'd hit just three days before. (By the end of June, he would hit more home runs than any other player in affiliated minor-league baseball.)

Barry told his granddaughter to run grab Myers' autograph. She was shy and unprepared, but as soon as I gave Michael his Ball and Sharpie, he showed her the way. Myers was loaded down with bats and stuff, but managed to hold up a "just a minute" finger as he walked past. While they waited, Chris Getz appeared. Getz was the starting second baseman for the KC Royals, here rehabbing from a rib injury. He stepped over and signed the kids' balls... and after Wil emerged from the dugout, he signed them... and just then, they happened to catch Irving Falu! (Again.) Irving was back after getting his Cup of Coffee in Kansas City, and batting .326 in twelve games there.

So now Michael's Ball of Scrawls had four duplicate signatures, and one triplicate. Since Michael had scored a bunch of autographs, we celebrated by getting a Giant But Cheap Because We're Awesome drink, and taking it to the Free Because We're Awesome Fun Zone.

But after a while, I pulled Michael away. We were supposed to meet our Storm Girls by the gate to the dugout. While we waited, Clint Robinson started to walk past. By now, there was a little crowd of kids gathered all fan-like at the rail, so Clint stopped to sign their stuff. Again, I grabbed Michael's Ball and Sharpie out of my bag, and he joined the other kids. We'd gotten Clint's autograph a few times last year, but it was good to finally have him sign this year's Ball of Scrawls.

(Good timing, too— a couple of days later he got The Call and left for Kansas City. Or actually, he flew to Pittsburgh, since the Royals were on the road.)

Halfway through the season and we're gonna have to get another Ball

Eventually, the Storm Girls came to get Michael, and told me I could come, too. Last year I realized that I had plenty of fond memories of going to see the Omaha Royals at Rosenblatt Stadium, but there, neither Michael nor I had ever been allowed in the dugout. Now, at Werner Park, we've both been in the dugout a number of times. But I'd never been in one when the players were going about doing player stuff (even though Michael has). Sure, some may think it's no big deal, but just you try it without knowing someone or having Press credentials. It's a special thing. So I just tried to get some pictures while staying out of the way.

Then they were ready to start. Manager Mike Jirschele needed help getting the player list out to the umpires. Here's a video of Michael being the Kid of the Game. Click it... Click it, I said!

Then we fled as the game started, in keeping with the credo: Stuff/ Free/ Grab some/ Run.

Jonathan Sanchez was the starting pitcher for Omaha, a big time Kansas City Royal who was here rehabbing from biceps tendinitis. The third batter he faced was Jamie Romak— who signed Michael's Ball of Scrawls earlier this year, and then threw him a bunch of high fly balls during the Baseball Clinic. Now Romak was back in town, playing for the visiting Memphis Redbirds. He grounded out.

Michael and I headed for the outfield berm. On the horrible Education Day a couple of pages back, I took a picture of this guy who I kept running into on my visits to the ballpark. I was finally curious enough to get more information. His name's Ryan, and he and his friends Phil and Tony go to a lot of games together, hanging out on the Berm and wearing a variety of appropriate jerseys. As Phil introduced them to me, he said they were just a bunch of Berm Bums— and that's what they called themselves. I was reminded of the good ol' days at Rosenblatt, hanging out with The Guys In Section P.

Tony was there with his wife and toddler son, and Michael entertained himself by entertaining the little boy. It was well into the second inning, and nobody was paying much attention as the Redbirds' Cedric Hunter came up to bat. Ryan was telling Phil how I'd met him a couple of weeks before, after he'd caught David Lough's grand slam home run ball. I asked if he'd seen himself on the news that night. He had. Suddenly there was a crack!— and in one instant Ryan said "Uh-oh," grabbed his glove and ran down the berm. We all looked up to see Hunter's 3-run home run ball arcing toward us... and Ryan snagged it neatly.

I thought that was a cool enough thing; Ryan reiterating to Phil how I was here when he caught that last home run... but then Phil talked him into giving the ball to Michael!

Ryan Lybarger and Phil Koch — and Tony Barker's shins

Hotshot KC Royals pitcher Jonathan Sanchez gave up four runs, and then proceeded to walk four consecutive Redbirds. Before he was pulled to safety during the third inning, Memphis had scored twice more. By the fifth inning, the Storm Chasers were behind, 7 to 2.

Despite Sanchez's weak performance in Triple-A, Kansas City called him back up to the bigs, where he did even worse. After a game where he allowed seven runs to the Seattle Mariners in just one and a third innings, he got traded off to the Colorado Rockies.

Michael had been wanting to go home, so we took our leave. I threatened to see the Berm Bums later— perhaps even next weekend, and we headed back down the first base concourse. Werner Park calls that Rosenblatt Way. Since I was once again wearing my obstinate "I Still Call It ROSENBLATT" shirt, I took a picture of Michael at the Rosenblatt Stadium memorial, sitting in an actual Rosenblatt seat, under an actual Rosenblatt sign.

I was feeling so good I let Michael talk me into buying him a Hurricane.

On the way home, I recounted my Objectives: Get an Official PCL ball, check! And a home run ball, at that. Zack Hample would think nothing of it, and even less since I didn't catch it myself, but to me it's a story, and a way cool gift. Number two: Get an autograph— check! Some new ones, and a couple of pictures of Michael with real live ballplayers. Number three and four— oh, who can keep track of this stuff? Even though Omaha lost the game, we more than achieved our goals. Michael was Kid of the Game, we made some new friends, and we had an awesome day!

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