MINOR LEAGUE MEMORIES
Snowy winter days— the perfect time to take your kid to the ballpark.
One snowy winter day, the Storm Chasers e-mailed to tell me Santa was coming to the Park. Since I've obligated myself to infuse Michael with ballgameyness, I felt our attendance was mandatory. Plus— even though we had become accustomed to Werner Park's cold-dogs, this time they were threatening us with cookies and doughnuts. So on a cold December morn, we got bundled up and headed out.
On the way, I had to make a quick stop at my bank. We went in expecting a routine transaction, and were startled to find the people there had cookies, and were wearing strange elf hats and acting festive and having a Santa Claus. And one elf-girl was taking pictures.
Later, I discovered Michael got a mention on Centris' facebook page. I thought probably all the kids got a little comment... but on further inspection I couldn't find any others. I told Jennifer that sure, I talked to the people there, but I don't really introduce myself or try to be memorable or anything... She said, meaningfully, "Oh, people remember you guys."
Michael and I were friendly and socialized with the banker people for a while, but soon took our leave and continued on to the ballpark.
Once there, we ran across Martie Cordero. He had just become President and Head Honcho of the whole Omaha Storm Chasers franchise, so I accosted him, which I had begun doing during the past year.
After assaulting the Storm Chasers' President, we were sent to the administrative offices where Michael was detained and interrogated...
Finally, after we had suffered many delicious cookies and doughnuts, our friend Casey showed up and signed a Casey Baseball Card so Michael could be released into my custody.
A month later, the Storm Chasers sent me another e-mail. The Royals Caravan was coming to town. We had not gone to a Royals Caravan before, so we went to check it out. In the past, I'd taken Michael off to Rosenblatt to give him the ballpark experience, and to try to get him to enjoy Rosenblatt Stadium as much as I did. When the Omaha Royals became the Storm Chasers and moved to Werner Park, I was prepared to hold a grudge for a long time. But Werner Park is much more convenient, so we were able to go there a lot more. It's more kid-friendly, so Michael enjoyed it more. But it's most often described as being more intimate.
Being physically closer to the players, more often, along with a number of autograph sessions led to us becoming somewhat familiar with the team. And our team led their Division most of the year. Then they won their Division. And their Conference. And the League Championship. All of that had made us kind of invested.
And as the Chasers started getting a bunch of their guys called up to play for the big league Royals, we started paying attention to the Kansas City club. Easy enough, since their games were broadcast on our TV almost every day.
So the Royals Caravan was coming to town. Three of their top players would be here. All three had played for Omaha at some point in the past couple of years, so Michael had seen them play "live," and now could meet them even though they'd become big stars. Therefore— we went.
After hitting .339 with nine home runs for Omaha, on August 4th Johnny Giavotella made his big league debut. He was Kansas City's starting second baseman the rest of the season.
Alex Gordon is a hometown hero; he grew up in Lincoln and played for Nebraska when NU went to the College World Series in 2005. He was the Royals' first-round Draft choice that year, but had to fight through disappointing seasons, hip surgery and injuries that had him rehabbing in Omaha for quite a few games. By 2014, though, he had been selected for the MLB All-Star Game three times, won four consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, as well as the Platinum Glove Award for being the best defensive player in the American League.
But Michael doesn't pay as much attention to the baseball men as I do. He was more thrilled by meeting Kansas City's mascot, Sluggerrr.
Prior to Opening Day 2012, Michael and I went to Werner Park's annual Family Fest. He had a brand new empty Ball of Scrawls, and promptly started loading it up with the autographs of six Storm Chasers. Below— on the left is Kevin Kouzmanoff, who played in the Majors with Cleveland, San Diego and Oakland, and had just got here two days ago. Tony Abreu, in the middle, was drafted by the Dodgers and played for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was new, too. But the guy without a hat is Fan Favorite Irving Falu, who threw Michael a ball that I talked about one page back.
During the Storm Chasers' first season at Werner Park, Michael met a bunch of the players. I thought it was pretty neat that he'd even been in their dugout. (That never happened at Rosenblatt.) But it was even cooler that he was finally allowed in the Chasers clubhouse!
Look at the photo below, to the left. See the nameplate? In 2010, Gaby Hernandez was a right-handed pitcher who went 10 and 6 with the Omaha Royals. But he was traded to the Charlotte Knights (the White Sox' triple-A affiliate) before the 2011 season started, so he never actually played as a Storm Chasers. Ever. Nice placard, though. I'm thinking that for the rest of the season, it was a constant reminder to the players that, in the minors, your days are numbered.
On the right: In 2011, Danny Duffy was a 22-year-old pitcher for the Storm Chasers, rated by Baseball America magazine as the 68th best prospect in baseball. Duffy had just seven starts at the Triple-A level when, a month and a half into the season, he was sent to the KC Royals for a crash course in Major League pitching. He was good enough to get signed to a one-year, $488,000 contract. Meanwhile, his barely-used batting helmet was left in the Chasers' clubhouse.
I remember when Michael first got a ball tossed to him by a player, what a special occasion that was. Now he was in the team's locker room, posing with their (clear lucite) PCL Championship trophy. Only time would tell what coolnesses the future may hold.