Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cheering Frank Thomas, charming security and confronting Derek Jeter

We don’t set out to have adventures. Stuff just happens when Will and I get together for a ballgame.

You have to remember that Frank Thomas is one of our favorite players. He was a slugging rookie for the White Sox – whom both of us claim as a secondary team – and came up the year we were hired at the Flint Journal and became friends.

Of course, the off-told story of the magical misty night at Tiger Stadium only sealed the deal.

So Will grabbed tickets the day the Sox announced they were retiring The Big Hurt’s number on Aug. 29. And the opponent for this destined-to-be-glorious day? That would be the Evil Empire. Will certainly has no love for the Yankees, and my open loathing is legendary.

This day is best told with photos, and in multiple parts.

We arrived at the park bright and early because the team announced with was distributing Frank bobble heads, and we didn’t want to leave empty handed. An hour before game time, the line was already massive.

This brought back unpleasant memories of a Sox WinterFest, when sought Frank’s autograph and waited and waited in line, only have Frank replaced by two other signers as we were within two cattle-chute turns. No offense to then-manager Gene LaMont and the legendary Minnie Minoso, but our disappointment was immeasurable.

We did not want a repeat, and were only somewhat comforted by the stacks and stacks of bobble head cases on the other side of the rail. This fear would not go away until a bobbling giant Frank head with the mega-watt smile was in our hands. We passed through the gates and obtained without incident.

Here’s where things get a little ugly. The Sox have a lame policy that limits people with upper deck tickets to the upper deck. This stinks, because it’s not like we’re trying to steal seats. We like to get a look at batting practice and check out all the cool features in the stadium, very few of which are in the upper reaches of the park which is among the highest and steepest in baseball.

Having experienced this segregation last year, we knew that we could indeed mingle with the hoity toity people below by going to the guest services window and asking for a shopper’s pass.

Upon our banishment to the upper deck, we immediately went to the window and asked for the pass. I assumed this was a mere formality.

“It’s too busy now,” the power-tripping clerk said. “Come back after the fourth inning.”

Both of us realized that fighting with this guy was pointless. But we would not be denied, instead relying on our smarts and charm. Being denied was not going to be an option.

First we went to the guy working the elevator. He said we couldn’t go on, but if we walked down the endless ramps on Gate 3, we might be OK.

After descending, we came face to face with a kindly woman, and told our tale of woe. We just wanted to go to the team store, see the statues, then head back up to our seats. First she said, “Sorry, guys.” But I said we were told by the guy at the top of the ramps that we could do this if we walked all the way down. I looked as pitiful as possible, clutching my Frank bobble box to my chest, and looked wistfully beyond at the field level concourse. Sniff.

“OK, you can go.”

We scooted away before she changed her mind, and headed right for the centerfield area.

The Sox have a bunch of cool things out there. There’s the famous shower -- and it works, so be careful unless you want to get soaked.

Then there are a number of statues of Sox greats. Unlike the Tigers, the Sox have these at ground level where fans can touch them and pose and get an up-close view.
Minnie Minoso is a Sox hero, and we were thrilled to meet him -- even though we were waiting for Frank. The Minoso statue is pretty sweet.

We liked the detail on the Carlton Fisk statue, including the logo on the batting helmet. Naturally we had to recreate the infamous confrontation with Deion Sanders.

There are statues of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio attempting to turn a double play. I say attempting, becuase I am clearly safe.
We shunned the statue of former owner Charles Comiskey. How come Bill Veeck doesn't get a statue. Probably because Veeck would never stand for the way upper deck fans are treated at this ballpark.

There's a concession area high above the batters' eye in centerfield. Jim Thome reached it with not one, but two epic blasts.

Then we moved into the Fundamentals area. You are supposed to have a kid with you to get in this area, and it’s strictly enforced at the upper deck entrance. But adults in the field level can walk in un-kidded, yet another injustice.

Se we entered from below, and it’s pretty cool. Kids can try to race a giant cutout of Scott Posednick, and he apparently loses more races than a minor league mascot. There are batting cages and a pitching area where you try to knock down a moving cutout of a Sox catcher with your fastball.

Mickey is the sidewalk art from this year's All-Star Game in Anaheim.

There’s also a little field where you can field grounders. This looked like a lot of fun, but we didn’t want to push our luck any more than we already had.

Finally we made our way back to the upper deck for lunch. I will give the Sox credit here, they produce the best-smelling hot dogs ever, with large grills piled high with sizzling onions. And the entire concourse is decorated with photo murals with key players in Sox history, like Tom Seaver, represented twice.
Our attempted banishment to the upper deck was not without pleasures. The dogs and onions smelled wonderfully, and our grillers had a lot of nice things to say. The murals were worth exploring, and we found at least two references to Tom Terriffic.

Having secured both a victory over oppression and lunch, we settled into our seats, which were in the highest, deepest part of the ballpark, in fair territory in left field. No matter, as we were happy to be there.

Sadly, the sound system in our section was not working, and it was tough to clearly hear the on-field celebration. Lots of Frank’s former teammates were on hand, to wish him well, and his portrait on the outfield wall was revealed, as well as his framed jersey with No. 35, never to be worn by another member of the White Sox.

It was tough to hear what Frank was saying as he addressed the fans. He seemed to get kind of weepy, which was nice. I’m also pretty sure that he thanked Will and me by name. We could have asked people in sections with a functioning sound system if they heard Frank mention us, but we didn’t want to risk disappointment, as we were having too much fun.

Frank then threw the ceremonial first pitch to Carlton Fisk, and it was time for the game against the Yanks and the vile Derek Jeter.

Clearly, we needed to make a statement of sorts, and our treatment of Jeter will be detailed in the next post.

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