Author’s Note: The following post includes significant Starlin Castro-inspired enthusiasm. Nothing that has happened since his stellar debut has really dampened my excitement over him, and it is my opinion that the individuals who booed Starlin during last night’s game should all be hit square in the face with a sock full of pennies.
I hope nobody will hate me for relating every minute detail of the little trip I went on last week. Friday’s game was by far the best Cubs one I have ever been to in person, and the entire day was just flat out awesome. If it ever sounds like I’m bragging, forgive me. I am not trying to… I honestly had an incredible few days and count them as a tremendous blessing. If I could give everyone a little of my leftover joy, I would. And Cubs Nation would have a few more happy campers.
My brother (AKA Musketeer #3) couldn’t come on this trip, so it was just myself and my sister. We set off for Pittsburgh shortly before 8 AM on Thursday morning and arrived in the city around noon. If you are wondering why we would want to arrive 7 hours prior to game time, it’s because a few years back we accidentally discovered the visiting players entrance outside PNC Park, and ever since then have taken great enjoyment in stalking outside of it, trying to collect autographs and such (I am probably too old for this, yes.) It’s a good location to “stalk,” though, because there isn’t usually much of a crowd.
So stalk we did! After an hour or so of standing out and baking in the afternoon sun, it didn’t look as if it would be a very productive afternoon. Most of our players were in snubby moods. I hardly blame them… losing to the Pirates has never been a recommended prescription for cheerfulness.
Examples: Tyler Colvin, when implored upon to stop a moment, replied with a curt “No thanks.” In retrospect, I find this rather funny. For some reason. Marlon Byrd got pretty ticked off when one of the “hawks” (the dudes that collect signed stuff for the express purpose of selling it for profit) said something (I didn’t hear what) to him. Marlon was not shy in voicing his displeased reply. Then there was Tom Gorzelanny. After he passed us by, some guy observed that Gorz smelled very nice. A minute later, a security guard (I love the security guards) steps out and asked us if Tom had signed. “No,” we said. “What!” exclaimed the guard, “Tom didn’t sign! He signed yesterday!” Pause. “Wait a minute… maybe he didn’t.” Another pause. “Now that I think about it, nope. He certainly did not.” I reiterate: Security guards = awesome.
The going did get better after a while. Carlos Silva graciously paused to sign for us. He looked very somber, but now that I think about it, he always sort of does. Doesn’t he? Alan Trammell (a seriously nice guy) stopped as well. Bullpen catcher Corey Miller went by and I was the only one present who did not think he was Mike Fontenot (One of these days I’m going to see him and just be like, “Hey Corey! How’s it hangin’?”) What came next was the shining moment of the day. Honest to goodness, if it had been the only pleasant thing that happened to us on this entire trip I could have gone home happy. Derrek Lee arrived, looking natty as ever in a suit and shades, with ear-buds plugged in. There were perhaps a dozen other people there at the time- some hawks, some collectors. D-Lee coolly ignored all of them and (to our surprise and delight) stopped in front of my sister and me, accepted the proffered Sharpies, and inked his name for each of us before continuing inside. I wish we had a photograph of our faces in that moment. We felt about as special as two girls ever could.
Not much else of note happened that day. We took in batting practice, which wasn’t too exciting, and the game itself (as I’m sure my readers are aware) was atrocious. The only positives on that front were our nice baseline box seats (only $26!) and the fact that we got to see former New Market Rebel Javier Lopez pitch for the Pirates.
As we checked into our hotel that evening, I was tired, sunburned, and a little glum about the game, though still thrilled to have 2 new autographed baseball cards to add to my modest collection. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Cincinnati the next day, particularly as I’d never been there, but wasn’t anticipating too much.
The drive from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati is between 4 and 5 hours long, and we reached our destination a bit after one o’clock on Friday afternoon. It was very windy and horribly hot. We found parking, walked over to Great American Ballpark and circled it in hopes of discovering the players entrance. We did find it, after some walking, panting and sweating. This entrance area was far less inviting than the one at PNC Park, which is in an open area on a bright little tree-lined street. At GAB, it proved to be dark and dirty, located in a sort of tunnelly area. There were a couple of regulars stationed there already when we arrived. We stood around for a bit before one of them asked if we were aware that Starlin Castro had been recalled from double-A. Of course we had not, and though a few of the guys were discussing amongst themselves how this was a rash move that would only mess with his development, I was suddenly feeling pretty excited.
We weren’t there long before our first Cubbie, John Grabow, came along on foot. He was a gentleman and stopped for us, making me feel bad about how he has been abused all year (by both hitters and fans.) Take note, dear reader… Mr. Grabow surely does not eat kittens.
Following this, we were snubbed by a few more, but you can hardly blame them. The set-up there at GAB makes it easy, and I’d likely do the same if I was a big-leaguer. Anyone traveling via cab essentially has to make an effort and walk over if he is going to humor the autograph seekers. See illustration:
When someone does make that effort though, like everybody’s favorite diminutive heavy-hitting middle infielder did, it makes it all the cooler. (+585 cool points for Mike Fontenot!)
After a bit, we caught sight of another pair strolling towards us down the sidewalk. And who do you suppose it was? Accompanied by Justin Berg, and all tall and wide-eyed and baby-faced with a bit of an afro and equipment bags in tow? “There he is!” the regulars murmured, and Anna looked at me and asked, “It that him?” I nodded violently. “He won’t stop,” I added, because I really didn’t think he would. But as Starlin (for it was Starlin Castro) was following Justin, and Justin stopped, Starlin did as well. So I am tickled pink to tell you that we now have a “W” flag marked with one of the first signatures Mr. Castro gave out as a major league baseball player. And Justin Berg is on there, too, of course. Thanks, Justin! (Thustin.)
We left not too long after seeing those two. One of the regular guys informed us that if we took the short walk over to the team hotel, we had an excellent chance of seeing Ron Santo (and Ron, as he said, always stops for fans.) This proved to be an excellent tip. We had to wait a spell outside the hotel, but Ronnie did come out at last, and kindly obliged our requests for an autograph and picture. As we walked away (I was really floating more than walking) I told Anna that I could now die happy.
We had a bite to eat before heading back over to the park to wait for the gates to open. I wasn’t thinking much about the game because I was convinced it would be impossible for the day to get any better.
Batting practice was infinitely more intriguing in Cincy than it had been in Pittsburgh. If I could go back in time, I would station myself in the left-field seats, glove at the ready. Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro put on some pretty impressive hitting displays. It seemed like everything either of those guys hit either hit the outfield wall or cleared it. We were among the fans watching from the wall along the third base line and drooling.
At that point the only thing that could have possibly rained on my parade was, well… rain. The sky looked foreboding, and the forecast wasn’t bright. The rain held off, though, and it turned out to be a gorgeous, shirt-sleeve temperature evening.
Everyone knows what happened in the game… Starlin went yard in his first at-bat (oh, how we screamed), tripled in his third (oh, how we smiled), Little Babe Ruth hit a grand-slam, Marlon Byrd hit a double that looked like a home run, Carlos Silva gutted through five, Sean Marshall struck out the side in the seventh… to say it was a fun game to watch would be an understatement. I would have been squealing and giggling like a little girl had I merely been watching on television.
There was also the added entertainment of the commentary from a couple of young kids who were sitting in the row behind us. Their mother and grandparents were discussing Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker, and telling the boys how each of them used to manage for the opposite team. The dialogue that followed had us doing our best to stifle laughter…
Boy: “Are they friends?”
Adult: “Dusty and Lou? Yes, they’re friends.”
Boy: “Do they spend the night together?”
I’ve hit four typed pages now, and I know that is far too much, so I’m going to stop. I leave you with apologies for my exuberant effusions and some pictures from my adventures (most of which are courtesy of Anna Kipps.)