A few weeks ago, my friend Chris texted me with some interesting news: the Eastern League All-Star Game was going to be held in Manchester, NH, on July 16. Since we both live about fifteen minutes away from the city affectionately known as Manch Vegas but don’t get up there to see the New Hampshire Fisher Cats play nearly often enough (I’ve actually been to one Fisher Cats game in their five years of existence), it was a given that we were going to get tickets and check it out.
Fortunately, Chris decided to wait until a week before the game to order tickets, so we managed to get what the ticket office informed him were “the last three available tickets in the entire ballpark.” (We were joined on this excursion by Chris’ friend Billy, who lives a five minute drive from the ballpark.) Apparently, this game was kind of a big deal – who would’ve thunk it? Those three seats were great, though: down the right field line, on hard metal bleachers. We didn’t really have to worry about the sun, at least – our faces had burned completely off and we were in the beginning stages of heat stroke by the end of the pregame Homerun Derby.
Like most homerun derbies, this one was pretty terrible for the most part. The first round consisted of everyone just kind of trying to get his bearings, so there weren’t a lot of balls flying out of the ballpark; I think the leader had three dingers at one point. The hometown favorite, Fisher Cats outfielder Travis Snider (the number one prospect in the Blue Jays system), started slow, going deep twice and surviving a double-tiebreaker to avoid an early exit. He caught fire in the second, though, crushing a series of long, majestic drives to right and right-center. For us, sitting in foul territory, Snider was the highlight, because we had a great view of the flight path of everything he hit.
The Derby didn’t end in the pregame; no, for some reason, they decided to conclude it in the middle of the second inning. Don’t all baseball games have lengthy breaks at that point? This was the first of many times I leaned over to Chris and solemnly said, “I guess this one DOESN’T count.” That was really just as unfunny in real life as it is in writing, I promise you.
The final was weirdly constructed, with what appeared to be two different rounds within the final round. Snider ended up winning the whole thing; those soaring, majestic drives were too much to overcome.
In the other pregame festivity worth noting, there were three skydivers, one of whom was carrying an American flag that predictably hit the ground when he landed. The first to touch down had some sort of jet pack on his back and accelerated into the ballpark from center field; from our perspective, he almost hit the scoreboard on the way in. Chris decried his performance because he did not land on the X that had been placed in centerfield.
Number Two appeared to get blown off course and almost ran into the Hood blimp that was circling the stadium. This prompted a great line from the guy in front of us: “Maybe he’s planning on stopping off for milk on the way down.” (By the end of the night, we were sure this guy hated us. In the middle innings, he and his kid left for awhile, so Billy jumped down onto his bench to stretch out a little. The evil eye Billy got when they returned was both priceless and effective – they left again around the sixth, and Billy absolutely refused to sit in his seat again.) Ultimately, he won Chris’ respect by hitting his mark, although I was less than impressed – he just barely caught the edge of the X. I demand perfection, gosh darn it.
Number Three was the one holding the flag. I have no idea if he hit the X because I was too concerned with watching the flag to see if it hit the ground. As noted above, it did. Too bad baseball isn’t like the Catholic Church, or we could’ve sung four Star Spangled Banners and six God Bless Americas to make up for it.
A few other random thoughts:
–My wardrobe for the evening? A white T-shirt with “Pride” emblazoned proudly on the front and “El Guapo” on the back. I am willing to suggest with complete confidence that I was the only person of the 8,700+ in attendance who was wearing Nashua Pride apparel.
–Before ordering his chicken fingers and fries at the concession stand, Chris decided he absolutely HAD to know how many pieces of fowl he would be receiving. The Pride only give three; this upsets him. So in order to obtain the necessary information, he decided to boldly ask the cashier, Courtney, for the information he required. Predictably, she had no clue. Her guess, however, was five. Shortly thereafter, Chris held in his hand a basket of fries with five – FIVE – pieces of chicken on top. Nirvana, folks. Nirvana. And the best part? Courtney said that they usually only do three pieces, but since she had told him five, she would honor that. This little bit of integrity earned Courtney the right to be our own personal cashier for the rest of the game. I’m sure she was elated.
–There was an on-field promotion featuring blow-up, live-size bobblehead dolls that absolutely floored Chris. Try to picture a 6’3″ 23-year-old laughing hysterically at a couple of balloons and you know what we were dealing with. He was literally inconsolable the first time they came out; when they emerged for an encore performance, I thought we were gonna have to carry him out of the ballpark. And when the head popped off of one – hoo boy, get the paramedics to Section 117. Watching Chris was better than watching the promotion.
–Billy and Chris both bought large sodas in special cups made out of heavy duty plastic. The straws were too short to reach the bottom, so they had to pop the tops off to finish the drink. After awhile, I noticed Billy, sitting to my right, struggling mightily with his cup. For ten minutes, he tried and tried and tried, and could not get the cap back on. Finally, I took pity, asked for the cup, and got the lid on in less than ten seconds. When I handed it back, he immediately removed the lid and said, “I need to figure out how to do it myself now.” It only took five more minutes and another demonstration, but he did it. Chris and I were so proud.
–We were pretty loud throughout most of the game – nothing bad was said, we were just having a good time at the ballpark – which eventually drove away some of the people in front of us. The people behind us, however, were pretty cool. By the last third of the game, Billy was comparing Bingo strategy with one group while Chris and I had found a Nashua Pride season ticket holder in the row behind us (he said, “YEAH, bring Garces in!” which I took as a crack at my T-shirt; how surprised were we when he pulled his official 2008 pass out of his wallet?).
–I have a potential dilemma. As a nearly 30-year-old man, if I ever catch a foul ball it should be required of me to immediately hand it off to the nearest kid and bask in the glow of my neighbors’ cheers. But I have a kid at home. How do I easily explain to fifty people that I’m not giving my foul ball to that kid because of my boy, not because I’m a jerk? Do I immediately pull out baby pictures? Bring a bullhorn that will allow me to reach the entire section clearly and quickly? Just flip off the kid and complete the heel turn? These are the things that keep me up at night.
–Sometime in the middle innings, I noticed that Travis Snider was wearing number 99 and wondered aloud if we could start calling him either Wayne or Gretzky. Chris nixed both; I’m not so sure he was right to do so. What say you, faithful readers?
–Rumor has it the North Division All-Stars won on the strength of a three-run homerun by New Britain’s Luke Hughes. May or may not be true – I kinda lost track of things on the field after awhile.
–There were fireworks after the game, but we didn’t see them because Chris was leading a charge down the concourse in an attempt to get us the hell out of there in a timely fashion. It was really an epic performance; NFL linemen don’t clear space like this. Aside from a couple of questionable decisions to head toward the middle when the sideline was clearly the better play, and the fact that he lost us on the stairs and didn’t look back until we were a quarter mile outside the stadium, it was well executed.
In two weeks, I’ll be getting together with Chris and Billy again, this time to head down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to see the Paw Sox take on the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees on Dustin Pedroia Bobblehead Night. We’ll be joined by my older brother, Tim, on this particular adventure, which will hopefully end with me holding a life-size Pedroia bobblehead in my hands.