Ninety Degree Angle

It was nice to be the Storm Chasers' Family Of The Night, but (Again!) less than 24 hours later, we had to return to the ballpark, as Regular Folks Of The Day. Not without reason... I'll explain why, by showing a set of e-mails to and from my local NBC-TV affiliate. This is where I played dumb. In a passive-agressive way, that sometimes serves to make something happen... if nothing else, at least they would know that someone wanted the Storm Chasers games broadcast.

Subject: Omaha Storm Chasers Programming
From: Thomas Berry
To: sixonline@wowt.com

Last Friday night (June 8), during the airing of The Tonight Show, I saw a promo that stated WOWT would be providing me with an Omaha Storm Chasers broadcast the following night – and not just June 9, but "every Saturday home game".  I excitedly replayed the spot twice just to make sure.

As if to confirm, your website displayed this graphic:

But various online TV Guides all said WOWT was showing the Stanley Cup game. Which it did. I telephoned, but found I could only speak to voicemails. I posted a facebook query which went unanswered, and soon got buried. Alone with my family, I decried the lack of a knowledgeable human contact point.

So I'm wondering: Where on my COX cable system might I find these Storm Chasers games? And are any of them REALLY going to be aired?

Disbelieving but yet hopeful, I eagerly await a response.
Tom Berry

Subject: Re: Omaha Storm Chasers Programming
From: WOWT Channel 6 Writer Producer Brad Riley

Hi Tom,

We just watched the promo you referred to and agree, it does sound like Channel 6 will be airing the Storm Chasers game live. Truth is, Channel 6 is a sponsor of the game and there is no plan to air the games on Channel 6. An honest mistake. When creating promos, sometimes we hear and understand scripts how we want to hear them, not necessarily how they will be understood by viewers. Our apologies. We are working to change the script for future spots to specify we are only sponsoring the game.

As a token of appreciation for understanding, we would like to offer you 2 tickets to an upcoming Storm Chasers home game (to watch them LIVE!)

Our apologies again, and thanks for watching!

There was more; he offered a choice of dates, I picked one, we made arrangements and thanked each other. The date I chose happened to be Paint Your Own Vortex Bobblehead Giveaway night at Werner Park. I wanted to go to that game anyway, since I have a nine-year-old and a Paint Your Own Bobblehead sounded artsy-craftsy. Getting free tickets was a happy bonus.

So here we were, less than 24 hours after leaving the ballpark, back at the ballpark for another hot sweaty game in a ninety-degree afternoon.

Walking up to the entrance, we came upon a tent set up by representatives of Mobil, hyping a new line of Mobil Supreme motor oil. Under the canopy was a spinny-wheel for free prizes. By the time we approached, Michael had to wait at the end of a long line... of exactly two people. Which was also how many guys were staffing the booth-tent-awning-kiosk thing.

Michael stepped up, and spun the wheel... which stopped on an Empty Space. I was standing back at observer distance, so I didn't hear what the Mobil guy said at first, but he finished with, "How about a water bottle?" as he started to pull one out of a case.

"No!" said Michael quickly. "I've got too many of those at home." And he does. We went to one game where some group was giving away water bottles and I said I didn't want one, so they forced me to take two. Just in the past month, I could think of two others that we were able to avoid.

"Then how about a Foam Finger?" suggested the guy.

"Mmm, naww... I've already got one of those, too."

The other guy spoke up: "How about a (small, dense foam-rubber) Squeezy Ball?" Michael assented to that, and as we entered the stadium he happily performed the difficult act of carrying it. On the other hand, in the crush of people going through the gate, I was unzipping my bag for the security guy and trying to zip it back up with one hand, while holding our tickets to be scanned by the Gatekeeper with the other, and needing two more hands to grab the bulky Bobblehead boxes that were being thrust at us while putting away my wallet with a fifth hand and having one of my assorted hands stamped with a Storm Chasers logo.

Here's a little girl carrying one of those Bobbleheads.

No way was I going to try carrying two of those boxes around all night; usually I have all of my hands full just carrying my bag and a Giant But Cheap Because We're Awesome drink. I couldn't fit the boxes in my bag, so the first thing we did was spin right 'round and take them out to the car. Not a problem since we go early enough to park in the Super Special Secret parking.

Upon re-entering, Michael said he was hungry. And he didn't want hot dogs 'cause we always get hot dogs. It seemed to me that we actually hadn't had hot dogs there in quite some time. Whatever— he wanted to go to the Chicken Fry Fry concession, so we got a chicken-strips-and-fries basket (and a Giant Et Cetera drink) and ate it picnic-style on the berm outside of right field.

As we ate, far far away across the field, near third base, where I like to be, broadcaster Brett Pollock began the Storm Chasers Live pre-game show. He spent a few minutes recapping last night's game and the Storm Chasers' season, and then began a sit-down interview with Lorenzo Cain. "Locaine" was in Omaha on a rehab assignment, on his way back to being the Kansas City Royals center fielder. Across the ballpark, watching helplessly from 400 feet away, I knew we weren't going to get his autograph again.

But remembering my priorities, I was okay with that. Michael was making "nom nom" noises, enjoying his chicken, which was far more important.

We finished eating in liesurely style, and still had well over half an hour to wait 'til the game started. So we meandered the walkway around the outfield, over to the third base side of the park where I like to hang out. We were ambling around the Free Because We're Awesome Fun Zone when I saw earlybirds Barry and Linda Bernet occupying their best seats in the house, so I went down to say Hi while Michael tagged along.

After we talked for a few minutes, I noticed a little cluster of people hovering around the left field gate watching the players starting to warm up. I told the Bernets we'd see them later, and took Michael off to sit in the season-reserved front row seats over there. Before long, Clint Robinson came over to sign autographs. That was nice of him— and I was wearing my Clint Robinson T-shirt, too! I'd bought a new souvenir baseball in the Gift Shop two weeks before, thinking of it as 2012 Ball of Scrawls Part Two, so Michael had Clint scribble its inaugural signature. Then Ryan Eigsti, basically the Storm Chasers' third-string catcher, came over to sign stuff, too. Cool...

I was talking to a woman who'd also come down to sit in the Reserved Seats we weren't supposed to sit in, to wait for autographs. She wanted David Lough's, because he was "her guy." As we chatted, Max Ramirez (sometimes catcher, sometimes Designated Hitter) came walking by, carrying his gear to the dugout. "Max!—" she yelled, getting his attention. Great, I thought happily, we don't have his autograph yet. "—Could you get David Lough to sign my visor?" I was aghast as Max just gave her a little nod and continued on into the dugout. You don't ask a player for a different player's autograph; that's just rude. It's like saying to a party guest, "I'm glad you could make it 'cause I really like your friend."

But maybe it worked; I don't know. Maybe Lough overheard, or maybe it was just coincidence, but a minute later he appeared (seriously— I don't know where he came from, he was just suddenly there) and as he signed her hat, Michael was waiting right behind her with his Ball.

Then they were done; pre-game stuff had started and it was time for the players to get busy. I took Michael to the Free Because We're Awesome Fun Zone with my usual spiel for the girls at the sign-in table: "Here's my card that says we don't have to sign a waiver—" (Michael Berry, says one to the other, who checks his name off a list) "—and here's my card that says we don't have to pay."

Michael got his wristband and trotted on in to the bouncehouses, but before he could get his shoes off, I stopped him. Just for that weekend, ATT had brought in a caricaturist, so I made Michael sit for him.

Cartoonist Paul Fell, under contract, was limited to using a stylus on a smartphone for his drawings. To demonstrate the magic provided by ATT's 4G Network, the finished pictures were e-mailed home.

Finally, I allowed Michael to go to the Fun Zone, while I went back to the outfield because I'd seen the Berm Bums Ryan and Phil stationed out there, sleeping bags unfurled in their usual spot. I joined them to watch the Storm Chasers begin a four-game series versus the Albuquerque Isotopes, the triple-A farm team of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was almost two-thirds of the way through the season. The Chasers were dominating their Division by eighteen games. Heck, they were leading the League! Eleven games over .500, if you know what that means. I could throw out a bunch of figures, but suffice to say our team was doing extremely well.

Starting pitcher Nate Adcock allowed three runs in the first inning, but Omaha started to come back right away with two runs of their own. The Storm Chasers struck for two more runs in the second to pull ahead, 4-3.

In the third inning, the Chasers extended their lead with three more runs. Michael arrived on the berm, worn out and again dripping wet from running through the cool misting area. I had told him earlier we didn't have to stay for the whole game, a long as we got our Vortex Bobbleheads. Although leaving early is a cardinal sin to baseball fans... Michael's not a baseball fan. But before I finished my conversation, the Isotopes tied things up at 7-7 with a four-run fourth inning.

Thank goodness for Mobil Oil. The squeezy ball we'd got on the way in turned out to be a godsend. I was able to spend most of the rest of the game sitting on the berm and playing catch with Michael, who seemed strangely content with doing that. He was downslope from where I sat with the guys, between us and the outfield wall, so I could toss the ball to him and watch the game at the same time. Sometimes it was more a game of fetch. And some of his throws went a little off target. But if he threw the ball to my left, I could usually just roll over to get it, and if it went to my right— Phil would obligingly take his turn tossing it back.

Anthony Seratelli started the fifth with a strike out, but the ball got away from the catcher and "Ant" was able to reach first safely. From there, he stole second, advanced to third on a fly out, and ran home on a sacrifice fly by Cody Clark to score the game's go-ahead run.

At the end of the sixth, Michael said he wanted to go back to the Fun Zone "just for an inning, since they shut it down in the eighth." I shrugged okay, that's fine with me, and went back to watching the game over his head.

But he didn't run off. Instead, he just stood with his head down, back to the field, looking at the ground between us. It was strangely quiet in the stadium; one of the rare, brief silences when there's a lull in the action, but before the PA system blasts sound bites to get the crowd riled up. The stillness seemed to stretch on for a long moment, seemed to expand as I watched Michael stand there motionless in the twilight, in the silence, silhouetted against a Star Wars sunset. Finally, in a small, sad voice, he said, "How come you never go to the Fun Zone with me anymore, Dad?"

I suddenly felt all Cat's-In-The-Cradle-ey. My smile turned to dismayed realization as, with a wave of guilt, I remembered that I had started taking him to ball games in order to build his memories of good times. We were supposed to be bonding, not me hangin' with my friends and forcing him to tag along. I got up quickly, but carefully, so he wouldn't think I was annoyed with him, and we went for a walk to the Fun Zone. Michael played on the Fun equipment while the sun set and night fell, content that I was simply there watching him. We stayed there until they closed it down.

And I was happy to do so, because while I monitored my son, I was thinking about baseball...

Interstate 29 was getting worn out from all the players being sent back and forth between Omaha and Kansas City. At the moment something about the level of play had put 112 MLB pitchers on the Disabled Lists. A hundred twelve pitchers down, out of the thirty teams. The Major Leagues were using a lot of Triple-A pitchers; and Louis Coleman was one of them. Ten days ago he was sent back to Omaha... for the third time this season.

And two days later, both he and tonight's starter Nate Adcock were called back up to be Kansas City Royals pitchers (again).

Michael and I were still in the Fun Zone when Coleman came into the game as a Storm Chasers reliever and proceeded to strike out five guys in a row, and earn the Save.

Michael with Louis Coleman

In order to make room on the big-league roster for our pitchers, KC's Mitch Maier was Designated for Assignment. This was sad news. (We had met Mitch at the Royals Caravan in January, and had him sign Michael's first Ball of Scrawls.) In six years with the Royals, Maier was a .248 switch hitter and played all three outfield positions. He was also used as an emergency pitcher twice, pitching an inning at Boston in 2011 and an inning against Cleveland in 2012. Both were scoreless.

But for almost two seasons now, Mitch had been a bench-warming Fourth Outfielder. Which wouldn't have been so bad, but Kansas City had committed themselves to four other outfielders, were really excited about bringing up a fifth, and had two more in reserve. And this was after they'd traded away last year's starting center fielder. The Royals had too many outfielders, and not enough pitchers. Someone had to go.

Mitch Maier being "Designated for Assignment" means the team had ten days to deal him to another team; failing that, they could offer him a minor league assignment. If he declined that, he'd be released as a free agent. It's kind of like waiting to see if you're transferred, demoted, or laid off... and I know how that feels.

Mitch quietly accepted reassignment to Omaha. While technically a demotion, it was better than being unemployed. If he'd said no, and begun looking for a job elsewhere, the Royals wouldn't have had to finish paying off his big-league contract— $865,000 for this year. So things could be worse.

Mitch Maier talks to Michael while Johnny Giavotella looks on

A couple of pages ago, I showed this picture of Michael with Ryan Eigsti and Kurt Mertins...

Ryan Eigsti's story exemplifies what minor-league ball is.* In 2010, he was starting the season with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals when he was hit by a pitch that fractured his arm. He ended up playing in just 21 games that season. In 2011, a couple of lower-level teams' catchers were injured, so the higher-level players were sort of filtered down to fill in the gaps. Eigsti was sent to the Single-A team.

Somehow, for 2012, Eigsti made it all the way to Triple-A Omaha, as kind of a third-string back-up. But he spent most of his time on the bench, and over a three-month period, only got to bat 12 times— and only got on base twice.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners were trying to figure out what to do with their catcher, Adam Moore. Moore did okay in the big leagues in 2010, but he tore a meniscus ligament in his right knee and spent 2011 rehabilitating with Seattle's Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers. Ready to show his stuff in spring training for 2012, he broke his left wrist. Tacoma learned to live without him, and four months later he was Designated for Assignment. The Royals organization took him and assigned him to the Storm Chasers... and Ryan Eigsti was released. Just plain released. Outright.

Michael with the New Guy, replacement catcher Adam Moore.

But unconcerned with all of that, Michael and I were spending quality time in the Fun Zone until Baseball Operations intern Andrew Madden came through to usher people out and close the place down. Michael and I went back to the outfield berm where we'd left our stuff, getting there just in time for the final two outs of the game. I saw there were a few relievers for each team still sitting in the bullpens, but there were no kids clamoring about near them... so I gave Michael his glove and instructed him to go see if he "can get a ball from one of those guys." Again, how he does that is up to him; he knows you're not allowed to actually bother the players during a game, but you are allowed to be visible and adorable.

The Berm Bums began packing up their camp, and superjock Wil Myers caught the last fly ball in center field. Just as he did so, Michael came jogging back, proudly brandishing a nice, almost-clean baseball. "Look, Dad," he said. "I didn't even have to ask for it; this guy just gave it to me." I wish I'd've been paying attention so I might have known who. But still, excellent score.

On the way out of the park, we were given a bunch of ubiquitous coupons. Here, Phil and Ryan show photographer Andrea Stava how excited they are to receive sales brochures for the Big Green Egg barbeque grill.

So we came home with Objectives achieved. Michael's new Ball of Scrawls Part Two was broken in with three autographs. He got the eleventh player-used Official Pacific Coast League ball for his collection. We had ball park food, even though now, instead of getting hot dogs, he wants to not get hot dogs. I even got another picture of Michael with Casey to add to the million— I'm just not gonna waste space by showing it here. But most of all, Michael stayed for the whole game... and had a good time anyway.

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