True story

Andy Lavin of Marlins Today who splits his allegiances evenly between the Red Sox and Marlins, e-mailed me an interesting story the other day, which he tweaked a little to be put on Fire Brand as a guest column. This is his story about the September 29th game the Red Sox played against the Devil Rays…
True story…
I drove 240 miles each way to see the game last night in St. Pete. Picked up my buddy in Ft. Lauderdale at about quarter to nine, then hit the road. After hitting a McKeyDees for breakfast, we headed up there. We left the McKeyDees at about 9:45. After stopping a few times to fuel up and to use the rest room, we got to St. Pete around 1:10. I was hauling some ass. We had some time to kill before the game, so we headed into downtown St. Pete. Hit this sports bar called Dan Marino’s Tavern. I was surprised to find one in St. Pete. What, no Jon Gruden’s Grille?
After the bite to eat, we played catch in a nearby park for about a half hour. I was throwing straight missles! I got a pretty good cannon for someone who’s an everyday fan. I was throwing frozen ropes easily from 120 feet away, and popping my friend’s glove routinely. A lot of those he didn’t even have to move his glove to catch…
We made a few more stops after that, then headed to the Trop. We got there at 4:00. We got there so early, at one of the parking lots, there was no attendant, so we parked for free. The other lots with attendants were charging 10 bucks. So we parked, got out, walked toward the ticket window area, and had another catch. My buddy thought it was a good idea to test out his pitching arm. He was doing pretty good for a while, until he uncorked a breaking ball which landed about 5 feet in front of me and zung right by me into the street behind me. Luckilly, the cars were stopped at a red light. Otherwise, it might have gotten ugly.
Soon it was time to head into the stadium. We had seats in left field because we both like to get there early for batting practice and try to catch home run balls. Actually, my buddy got me into this craze. He has about a few hundred to his name from being a Marlins’ season ticket holder since the team’s inception. I have about maybe…um, nine. None of those were actually *caught* home run balls. One was thrown up to me this year by Jeff Conine after he hit a grand slam against Al Leiter and the Mets in a July game. Another was from last year’s NLCS against the Cubs where a ball mysteriously landed at my feet while sitting in my upper deck seat. I still don’t know what happened there, but anyway…
Another ball I got was hit by Marlins’ back-up catcher Mike Redmond in BP which landed in a seat in the first row. This other guy and I made a break for it simultaneously. He was closest to it, but I wanted it more. As soon as we were both in position, I boxed him out like Ben Wallace and reached down and grabbed that ball. In the midst of my determination, I drilled the top of the seat with my forearm- so I paid a f***ing price for that ball. My wrist was killing me the entire day. Luckilly, I take my Flintstones vitamins so my wrist was feeling better in no time. 🙂
As for the other balls…I think my buddy gave me them. That accounted for the nine I had. Two of which are now autographed by Mike Lowell and Jack McKeon. Those two have distinct stories…
I have a good friend who is a Marlins season ticket holder (same guy I brought along with me on this trip), and he’s been hooking me up ever since we met. His ticket rep gave him four guest passes good for the last home game of the season which allowed us access on the field and in the tunnel area in the bowels of the stadium. The tunnel leads to the field itself, the home and visiting clubhouse, the dugouts, batting cages, Founder’s Club (field box) seats, etc. Everything is accessed through that tunnel. Ended up seeing and taking a picture of the Marlins’ World Series trophy from last season. That was pretty awesome.
Anyway, when the group I was with all went on the field, the Phillies were taking BP, and we were told the Fish were taking BP in the cages that day. So after going out onto the field (which was a thrill), we went back into the tunnel and towards the cages. While in the tunnel, we walked by several Marlins players including Juan Pierre and Miguel Cabrera. A lot of the players made their way to the cages for BP, including Lowell.
We waited outside the cage so that we could get some autographs. Lowell eventually made his way out. I called him over, and he was very receptive. He signed a ball for me- right on the sweetspot. Another couple that was there wanted me to take their picture with Lowell- so I did. Lowell was cool about it but at the same time I could tell he was pissed with the way the season turned out for them. I got that sense with a lot of the players. They just seemed on edge, which is very unusual because it’s usually a frat house in there.
As for McKeon, he signed a ball for me in Spring Training in Jupiter this year. I was just standing outside the Marlins’ dugout, waiting for somebody to come over. Sure enough, “Trader Jack” makes his way. There were a few other people standing with me too, and he signed for everybody.
Back to St. Pete. BP was underway in the Trop. The Rays hit first. We didn’t get much action in our section…and the balls that did come our way were out of my reach, so I came up dry there…
Then the Sox came up. That’s when things started getting interesting. I came close on a few early on. Later, when I was browsing the seats, I see a ball just lying wedged in the seats. So I reach down and pick it up. Wow, that was easy. Ball was filthy and marked up and looked it had its fair share of game use.
Then, it happened…
A ball was hit my way. It was to my right, so I had to move over in order to give myself a chance. I saw people in the rows in front of me going for it. The ball got closer and closer. It zipped by the first two “lines of defenses”, passed the guy directly in front of me, and into my glove. I made a backhand stab using two hands- drawing an applause from the people around me. I had just caught my first home run ball! I had heard stories from my friend on what it actually feels like…but until you actually go through it yourself, you can’t appreciate it. Now I can tell you, it felt great! Seeing that ball come right at me…your eyes just light up and your heart rate quickens. What a feeling! Wish I could tell you who hit it…they all had their warm-ups on…but I can tell you he was batting righty and was white. I’m guessing it was Millar or Hyzdu. Pretty sure it wasn’t Bellhorn or Kapler…
I now had two balls…the one I found, and the one I just caught! Not bad for one BP…
Then the unthinkable happened. I got another one!
This time, the degree of difficulty meter was raised a notch. I had to reach over a wall and step in front of a fellow Sox fan for this one. It was drilled to the left of me. I decided to go for it. The ball was headed for the tunnel where people come in. I reached out over the wall of the tunnel, put my glove right in front of this other guy, and grabbed it. Honestly, I didn’t even know he was there until I made the catch. See, when a ball is hit, the only thing I’m looking at is that ball. I tend to zone everything else out. I ended up putting my glove right in front of his…literally stealing it from him. And reaching over that tunnel wall…that made it even tougher.
It’s funny…one guy called me a pihrana the way I was gobbling up all those balls. I look at it as wanting it more than the next guy. It’s like my buddy always tells me, “you gotta be aggressive.” You want it? You gotta go after it. It’s a metaphor for life.
And it turns out that all those principles he instilled in me…he went against himself.
When Manny stepped in there, we knew exactly where to play him. And that was DEEP. There was a guy in front of my buddy, and I was behind my buddy, so there were three of us…with me in the back and my buddy in the middle. So Manny crushes one. It’s headed right for us. I thought for sure my buddy was going to catch it. I mean, this is a guy that will knock beer and nacho trays off people’s laps in order to get a ball. But the guy in front of him caught it instead! I was like, “Joe, that was YOUR ball!” I thought for sure he’d reach in front of him and do what it took to get that ball. S**t if it were me, and I were in Joe’s spot, I’m reaching in front of that guy…especially for a Manny ball!
So that was it. I came close a few other times on balls that caremed off the steps and off seats, but at the end of the day I came away with two home run balls and a found ball.
As for the actual game that was played, no comment, we both know what happened. But going to a LIVE batting practice, participating in that, and coming away with not one, but TWO caught home run balls, AND a found ball…that my friend is a game in and of itself!
After driving thru the night and dropping my buddy off, I didn’t get in the door till 2:45. Tampa/St. Pete and back in a day…brutal…but, what memories…