The Final Game at Sun Life Stadium – 9/28/11
I decided to take a trip to Sun Life Stadium (aka Pro Player Stadium, Pro Player Park, Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium) for the final series in this park. After I incorrectly booked my flights and got them changed, I needed to reschedule them AGAIN! Due to conflicts in my schedule, multiple flight rearrangements, and a special thanks to a friend, I finally had my trip to Florida in place. Except now, I was going to be stopping in Atlanta for one game on Tuesday to meet up with my friend Zack Hample, and would finally go to Miami on Wednesday, to see the Marlins final game in their “delightful” ballpark (football stadium). I had also been informed Mike Piazza would be at the Marlins closing ceremonies, so I was even more excited to go than before!
As a brief recap of Atlanta, in my first game there in which I attempted to get a ball (since 2009), I managed to snag 4 baseballs. My first was a homer by a Braves player that landed in the LF seats. My second was a Dan Uggla homer I chased down in the LF seats. My third ball was a toss-up from Phillies bullpen catcher(???) Ali Modami. And my fourth and final ball was a homer I caught on the fly in RF. I also managed to stupidly run into a seat, because I was paying attention, causing me to break my camera, and make the lighter in my pocket explode, and get lighter fluid all over me. Not an enjoyable feeling. I was truly scared thinking I’d burst into flames. The day had started out so good, that I was thinking I’d get 6-8 balls, but I lost about 45 minutes of BP freaking out, and I really never got back on my game.
At this game, I wore a Braves home Tim Hudson jersey, and a Phillies home cool base Roy Halladay jersey. I lent Zack a Phillies home Jim Thome jersey:
In the Top photo, you can see Zack in my Jim Thome jersey, and me just behind him in the #34 Phillies jersey. In the photo below, you can again see Zack in the Thome jersey, and me in the Tim Hudson, with my bookbag on.
Here’s two more photos from this game I really like:
Now, on to Florida:
I arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 11:30am on Wednesday. I immediately picked up my rental car, and headed straight to the stadium. I got to the stadium around 1:10pm. Naturally, I was the first person on line. I was about the only person around until 1:40pm. There wound up being maybe 15-20 people there when the gates opened. I went running into the stadium as the gates opened at 2pm, which was earlier than they normally do for a 4:10pm game (normally gates open only 90 minutes before first pitch).
As I ran in, I quickly glance at the stand selling programs, and notice a commemorative ball, and assume it’s a “just for fans” ball, one that they are just selling. I get upstairs and see that the cages aren’t out on the field, and the teams aren’t taking BP. Disappointed, I wander over to the Marlins dugout and someone tells me that they are using the commemorative balls in the game. I ask how they know and they say because they asked an employee. I practically dismiss this person’s claim, and wander over to the Nationals bullpen, where there are a few pitchers warming up.
At this game, for the Marlins I would be wearing a home Mike Piazza jersey, since he is my favorite player ever, and would of course be there. Also, NO ONE owns this jersey. There may be like 5 in the world. For the Nationals, I opted not to bring a jersey, and instead wore a red Zach Day t-shirt. I chose this shirt, because I had worn it to a Mets vs. Nats game 2 weeks earlier, and had the 14 Nationals pitchers who were warming up, and a coach, notice me, and stare at me, to which I responded questioningly “What’s up guys?” One of the pitchers responded “Who the f**k is on you shirt?!?” I told them, and they began to question me about who he was. NONE OF THEM knew him, or had ever heard of him, the coach included. It was a funny scene, and got me 3 baseballs on that day.
On this day, I got my first ball from Nationals pitcher Collin Balester. As I begin to walk away, another fan sees me get the ball, and asks if it’s a commemorative ball. I say no, and he begins to tell me that they will be using commemorative balls in the game. He informs me he asked an equipment manager. At this point, I start to believe the rumors, and head back to the Marlins dugout. After about 20 minutes of not seeing anyone with any insight to this matter, I head back over to the Nationals bullpen, and get another ball tossed to me, this time from Tyler Clippard, after he completes his warm-ups.
I now figured if there really are commemorative balls being used, well, the Nationals certainly wouldn’t be warming up with them, so I headed over to foul territory in right field, where a few Marlins pitchers were warming up. I thought maybe they would be using them. After about 15 minutes of being ignored by the Marlins pitchers, I went downstairs to the booth where I originally saw the commemorative balls being sold. Turned out, this was the ONLY booth in the entire stadium selling them. How ridiculous is that?!? Just goes to show what it’s like in Florida.
When I arrived at the booth, I noticed a sign:
The sign actually says “Ball Used by the Florida Marlins in Their Last Game at Sun Life Stadium!”
So it was true, the Marlins WERE in fact using these balls in the game. Unbelievable. NO ONE knew about it. I made a few phone calls, and ultimately heard back from my contacts, who contacted their contacts at MLB and at Rawlings, that these commemorative balls would be used in the game, and they were a late addition to MLB’s lineup of commemorative balls for the season.
These balls seemed to be flying off the shelves (well, shelf, as there was only the ONE booth), so I bought one, just in case I didn’t get one. I figured my chances of getting one were VERY slim, so I wanted to ensure I had one.
There were no other ballhawks at this game. No one tends to go to Florida, especially not on a Wednesday, in September. So I knew I had to get one. And believe me, I desperately wanted one.
When I went back upstairs, it was about 20 minutes before the start of the game, and I saw a few Nationals warming up in LF, so I threw on my bright red Nats t-shirt, and quickly got Brian Bixler’s attention as he was heading to the dugout. He noticed me, and even pointed right at me. He was about 60 feet away, and threw me a perfect strike. That would be my third ball of the day.
I now had to get on my game. I normally don’t run around during games. I tend to sit behind the visiting team’s dugout, and stay there for the whole game. But on this day, I knew I needed to maximize my opportunities to get a 3rd out ball. I figured this would be my best shot at a commemorative ball.
Since there are ushers that prevent you from getting any closer than the 8th row, and you needed a special ticket to get down in the first 7 rows, I knew I needed some special assistance. Normally, I wouldn’t worry, but on this day, the seats behind the dugouts were actually filled up. I basically fooled the guy behind the Marlins dugout into letting me be there, and sitting on the aisle by confusing him, and making him think I was there the whole time. I attempted to get a third out ball from the Marlins after the top of the first, but there were tons of kids, and people, so I knew being at the Marlins dugout was going to be a struggle all day, and may prove to be useless.
I now headed over to the Nationals dugout. I tend to always play the 3rd base end of the visiting dugout, as opposed to the home plate end, but with Stephen Strasburg pitching, I expected there to be a fair share of strikeouts. Sure enough, in the bottom of the first, he struck out Greg Dobbs to end the inning, and I looked around and noticed I was the ONLY one asking for the ball, and better yet, the ONLY one in a Nationals jersey. I could feel it. Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez was heading back to the dugout with the ball and he was going to notice me. But then, he stopped. He yelled to some kid, who wasn’t even paying attention, and threw the ball at him, around the screen behind home plate. He missed, completely, and the ball wound up sitting on the field, at the backstop. A ballboy went to retrieve it, and shatter my hopes.
The second and third innings were more of the same at the Marlins dugout, basically no chance in hell. Too many people. Over at the Nationals dugout, Roger Bernadina recorded the 3rd out to end the second inning, and tossed it into the crowd in LF.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning at the Nationals dugout, Omar Infante grounded out 5-3, to end the 3rd, and 1st baseman Chris Marrero wound up with the ball. I knew I had a decent shot with him, because 2 weeks earlier at a Mets game, he unsuccessfully attempted to toss me a third out ball. I was again sitting on the home plate end of the dugout, and knew I’d have to work a little harder than normal to get Marrero’s attention. He headed towards the dugout, and fortunately for me, he strayed towards my end. He received the infield warm-up ball from Trent Jewett, and had the third out ball in his bare hand. He noticed me, and lofted the ball in my direction. I was standing in the front row, and realized at the last second this ball was high. Really high. But all I knew was I needed THIS ball. THIS was my chance, and I could NOT screw it up. So I lept, leaning backwards, and bless my glove, and every inch of my height plus my vertical, that I was able to snow-cone the ball with my glove.
And there it was. I had a Marlins final game commemorative ball. And here it is:
And a view of the logo:
No, it’s not pretty, but I own one. And then, as my friend Greg Barasch pointed out, I was the ONLY person in the world of ballhawks to get one of these balls. The ONLY one!!! What a rare commodity! No other ballhawk can say they own a Marlins final game commemorative ball. Sure, there are other people with this ball (though not many), but none that it means as much to as it means to me. I could now relax.
I went up to the club level in an attempt to snag the final HR at this stadium. I put my money on Mike Stanton, but he left me high and dry. No one actually homered in this game. I tried for an umpire ball after the game, but they went to a different entrance than they usually go to. So that would be it for me. I got four balls at this game, including a Marlins Final Game Commemorative ball.
After the game, there were post-game ceremonies, honoring former Marlins. I managed to get a t-shirt tossed to me by Alex Fernandez, and then by Preston Wilson. Also, Antonio Alfonseca and his 6 fingers on each hand were there. I have pictures to share, but I currently have no way to upload them, so they shall follow later.
What a game!