Friday, June 05, 2009

Baseball Place No. 58: Big League Dreams; and Alternative Place No. 58A: Coors Field

The Tigers used to hold a youth clinic day, where before the game you could walk out on the field, and at various points Tigers coaches and a handful of players would give tips about aspects of the game.

I brought my young son, and we spent a fair amount of time standing in centerfield, looking around and imagining what it would be like to play there.

The people who run Big League Dreams can sort of provide the same experience. The company creates scaled-down versions of awesome major league ballparks and Yankee Stadium, too. They’re available for softball and youth baseball leagues.

You get dimensions that are similar, and something that looks like the outfield walls of Fenway Park, Forbes Field, the Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field and the dump in the Bronx, where you can imagine being a Florida Marlin winning the World Series.

Sounds like fun. Josh Pahigian takes us there for spot No. 58 in the "101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out."

Can’t say I’ve been to a Big League Dreams complex. But I did get to be in a real stadium that housed pretend major-leaguers for one game before the real ones came back.

Alternative place No. 58: Coors Field

Here’s another tale from the archives.

Back in 1995, I attended an education writers conference in Denver, and I vividly remember sitting in a stadium microbrewery, eating a burger and watching the first televised reports of the Oklahoma City bombing.

I had no idea that I was about to embark on one of the wildest adventures of my life. It had just about everything — a little bit of danger, some misbehavior and, of course, baseball.

The first thing I did after checking in at the Westin was to walk to Coors, which that weekend was to host its first ever game with real players, an exhibition game between the Rockies and the vile Yankees.

This was the year following the baseball strike, and the start of the season was delayed nearly a month because a deal was reached near the end of spring training. Before the deal, the owners had threatened to start the season with replacement players, and Coors had already hosted an exhibition game between the replacement Rockies and replacement Yanks.

After lunch, I walked around taking photos of the outside of the stadium and raiding the gift shop of inaugural year merchandise.

Passing the box office, I thought, "What the heck," and asked if there were any tickets available for the game, which was scheduled for the following night, the same time as the keynote address of the education writers conference.

My experience is that when you’re asking for just one ticket, you can sometimes get in to a game that’s listed as being sold out, especially on the day before the game. Teams hold back tickets for players and VIPs, and if they're not going to be used they send them to the box office. But I surely didn’t expect there to be anything for a first game at a new stadium.

But the patient woman behind the glass said that she could indeed get me in, and with a pretty good seat, too.

This was a pretty heavy decision. And a lot of things weighed on my mind.

Keynote address of my first major education writers conference vs. a baseball game.

Guy talking about schools vs. a potentially historic baseball game.

Stuffed shirt spouting jargon between bites of rubber chicken vs. THE FIRST GAME AT COORS FIELD WITH REAL PLAYERS WITH A SEAT BEHIND HOME PLATE!

Indeed, these things weighed on my mind for a matter of three or four nanoseconds before I slipped the required cash under the window.

Not that I wasn’t a little sheepish about discussing this with other people at the conference. Let’s just say I slipped away at the appropriate time and didn’t return until much later.

Coors is an absolutely wonderful stadium, beautiful with its exposed brick and green ironwork. There’s a row of purple seats in the upper deck to note when you are a mile above sea level, and you can see the spectacular Rocky Mountains if you face away from field.

I wasn’t thrilled that the Rockies were playing the Yankees, but at least I knew who to root for without any kind of mixed feelings.

Before the game I bought an official souvenir ball with both team’s logos on it, and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs signed it for me.

The vile Yankees won 7-2. Scott Kamieniecki — my neighbor for a short time — started the game, and Dante Bichette hit the first of what was to be many Coors homers for him.

After the game I learned that the Yankees were staying at our hotel, I saw Don Mattingly at the front desk, and broadcaster Dave Campbell going the opposite way on the escalator.

The first two days of the conference were pretty informative. Then on the afternoon of the third day I was sitting in a conference room attending a session when the phone on the wall started ringing. This was before we all had cell phones.

It was awkward because it was ringing and there were no staff people there to answer it and no one wanted to pick it up. Finally someone lifted the receiver, listened — along with the whole room — and then said "Is there a Dave Murray here?"

I was both embarrassed and frightened. Everybody was watching as I got up and took the phone out into the hallway. I figured it had to be bad news. It was one of the Flint Journal editors.

"There’s a Flint connection to the Oklahoma City bombing. Rent a car and get yourself to Kansas." I explained that Colorado and Kansas share a border, but they’re huge and it’s not like driving between Michigan and Ohio. "OK, check out and catch a flight."

I went back into the conference room and planned to sneak quietly back to my seat to gather my things. But I looked up and found all eyes on me. "Well?" someone said.

"That was my editor," I said. "I have to go cover Oklahoma City stuff."

The second part of that adventure is in another post from the archives, and involves Josh’s spot No. 13. m You can read it here.

No comments: