To start off my 2015 recap series in January, we begin with the Spring Training trip that I took with my family to Arizona in March. We had never seen the A’s play anywhere other than in Oakland before this, so as you could imagine, we were all very excited.
Before you get too far into this entry, I would like to give a warning that I wrote a lot. While we were only there for 4 days, my family did so much, we had so many cool experiences. I wrote over 5,700 words. And there are plenty of pictures to go along, over 150 of them. If you need to, please read this in multiple sittings. I have conveniently separated the entry into each of the 4 days that we went to games, so hopefully that makes the reading a little easier!
Our plan was to fly into Arizona on Wednesday the 11th and fly out on Sunday the 15th, giving us time to watch the A’s play 4 games. One of my main goals for this trip was to visit as many new places and eat at as many new restaurants as possible and the first night of our vacation did just that.
We arrived at the Mesa Airport in the evening on Wednesday, then once we had our rental car, our family began to search for food. Upon recommendation from Bess Frankoff and a few others on Twitter, we decided to eat dinner at Cracker Barrel, which I LOVED. After checking into our hotel, the rest of the night was pretty calm, just preparing for the big day ahead of us on Thursday.
3/12/15 at HoHoKam Stadium (2 balls)
This was a pretty special day for my family. Not only was it our first ever Spring Training game, but we were going to get to see WILL FERRELL play for the A’s. To say that I was excited would be an understatement.
After a quick breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, we piled in the car and headed off to HoHoKam, which was about a 20 minute drive from our hotel. We arrived at the stadium shortly after 8:30, which was 90 minutes before gates were scheduled to open at 10am.
These signs were posted all of the exterior of the stadium, which signified that this was an important day.
HBO’s Funny or Die was shooting an hour-long documentary about Will Ferrell’s adventures this day, as he was playing 10 positions with 10 teams in 5 different games. The beginning of his day would be with the A’s and he was going to be starting at shortstop.
My first order of business once we parked was for Pascale and I to take a picture in front of this sign. We were very excited to be there!
We wondered around for a little bit, just exploring the outside of the stadium.
Pascale and I took a peek inside the team store, which I have to admit was pretty nice.
We then headed to the left field gate, where we set our stuff down and began to explore. I elected to head out to the fence behind the left field berm, where this was my view.
My dad looked inside with his camera, which is when we saw Will Ferrell in an A’s uniform for the first time! He was in the seats, talking with Bert “Campy” Campaneris, who Ferrell was honoring during the day.
Later, the two of them played some catch down the line, which was very cool to watch.
Once the gates opened at 10am sharp, I bolted for the berm in left field, which was incredible! It was very open, but crowded up quickly, given that Ferrell was in the building. It was awesome to see the A’s take batting practice again, specifically my new favorite player Brett Lawrie.
My first ball of the day was a tossup from pitcher AJ Griffin. I quickly got a second ball, a home run hit by an A’s player I couldn’t identify. I’m guessing it was Billy Butler or Mark Canha. After the first couple of groups of A’s BP, the one and only Will Ferrell stepped in the cage to hit.
What a special moment. He laid down a couple of bunts, knocked some solid ground balls and hit a few line drives into the outfield. It was fun to watch him! After he finished hitting, Ferrell jogged out the outfield, camera crew and all.
He decided to settle in left field, where we interacted with several A’s players, including Coco Crisp.
Several balls were hit his way, which he fielded and threw back in with ease.
He chatted up AJ Griffin for a bit.
And enjoyed a refreshing bottle of water.
Here is some behind-the-scenes footage of the films crews in left field, along with Will. If you click on the video, it will take you to my Flickr account so you can watch it.
Once I had noticed that Ferrell was in the outfield, I bolted over and thew on my 23-inch baseball glove and took a place in the front row.
This glove caught the attention of one of the producers, who came over and asked me to do some different poses and shots for the camera. I waved my glove around and called out for a ball several times for the cameras, all of which were pointed at me. Like I mentioned earlier, they were getting footage for the Ferrell Takes the Field documentary and guess what? I MADE THE FINAL CUT! I already showed it in my last entry, but here is a frame from it. Crazy awesome!
After BP concluded, Will started jogging off the field, but I decided to call out his name since he hadn’t yet seen the big glove. He turned around when he heard his name and spotted my glove and stopped.
Will: “Son, where did you get a glove that big?”
Me: “My parents gave it to me as a gift a year or so ago.”
Will: “Well that is a mighty big glove.”
Me: “Yup, it’s 23 inches.”
Nice is right. After this, Will gave me a thumbs up and jogged off the field towards the dugout. WOW.
A few months later, I was looking through the videos on my phone and found this one. I don’t know who in my family took it, but I appreciate whoever it was! While It doesn’t show much of the conversation, you can still see the last bit of it. Like the last video, if you click on it, it will take you to my Flickr account to watch it.
After batting practice was over, I decided to walk around the stadium and say hello to friends before the game started. I then headed over to the dugout and grabbed a spot in the first row, just to be as close to the pre-game action as possible. While we were down there, they announced the lineups. One of the renovations the A’s made to HoHoKam Stadium before moving in this season was the new scoreboard in left field. In fact, it’s the biggest in the Cactus League! Here is the image they showed when announcing A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie.
And here is the imagine they showed when announcing shortstop Will Ferrell!
The crowd behind the dugout was packed, but the crowd on the field in front of the dugout was insane. So many people!
All of the players were gathered around, talking with and listening to Will.
When the A’s took the field, I was forced to go back to my ticketed seat, but we were still behind the dugout. Will took his position at shortstop and began fielding ground balls and throwing them to first base. He had a pretty good arm!
His mechanics were very solid as well, he had a fluid transfer from his glove.
Unfortunately, he did not get any action during the inning, as he jogged off the field after 3 quick outs.
Notice the picture on the left? I tweeted that picture to Brett Lawrie and the next day, he POSTED IT ON INSTAGRAM. Seriously! Check it out:
Billy Burns led off the bottom of the first with a triple, which was exciting. Equally exciting was the graphic shown on the scoreboard. Being an A’s fan, I only knew 727-square foot scoreboards, so for a ballpark this size, this 1,800-square foot scoreboard was quite spectacular! That being said, it was nothing compared to the TWO 5,220-square foot scoreboards the A’s would be installing in the Oakland Coliseum for the 2015 season. Unfortunately, Will Ferrell had to leave the A’s, as after being traded by Billy Beane, he jogged over to the Mariners dugout. He later emerged in a Mariners uniform to play second base for them. After playing a half inning at second base, he jogged back towards the A’s dugout so that he and the film crew could head off to his next game. It truly was an honor to not only talk to him for a brief moment before the game, but to see him play during the game itself, even though he did not get any playing time. Lefty Scott Kazmir was on the mound for the A’s in this game. While Pascale and I were wondering around the stadium in attempts to find shade, we came across the Mustache Pretzels food truck. Their menu was pretty amazing.
We both got pretzels. I can’t speak for Pascale, but that was and still is the best soft pretzel I have ever had.
One of the fun things for my dad was being so close to the field, which meant he got to take a lot of great pictures. For starters, here was the view from our seats. He was able to get great pictures like this one of a Mariners coach pulling a broken bat out of the infield grass. And this one of the first base umpire.
One of my favorite pictures was this one of an A’s infielder Alden Carrithers. I tried every inning to get an A’s 3rd out ball, but even though I had the big glove, I had no luck. The A’s were down 3-1 heading into the bottom of the 9th, but doubles from Alden Carrithers and Bryan Anderson tied the game up for Oakland. Kent Matthes ended up driving in the winning run with 2 outs, a single to right field that scored Chad Pinder. After the game, I got a picture with my 2 BP balls.
Notice my shirt? It is a design from Ian Sagabaen, also known as Greatest Sign Maker! I wore it for this game since it features Brick Tamland of the movie Anchorman, which Will Ferrell starred in. After taking that picture, we decided to stroll to the exit the long way, circling around the stadium, along the outfield. There, my dad was able to get this cool picture of the sprinklers watering the outfield grass. Pascale and I then decided to get a picture in front of the new scoreboard, next to the final score. For some perspective on how big this scoreboard is, here you go. What a fun day! I had such a great time and I could not wait to head to Surprise on Friday to see the A’s play the Royals.
3/13/15 at Surprise Stadium (3 balls)
Day 2. Game 2. Let’s go! This game, we would be seeing the A’s take on the Kansas Royals at Surprise Stadium, a complex that the Royals share with the Texas Rangers.
For breakfast, we dined at Waffle House. This was my first time at a Waffle House (they don’t have any in California, don’t judge) and my waffles were pretty dang good.
After breakfast, we headed out on the 45-minute drive to Surprise, Arizona. We arrived at the ballpark around 9:30, which was 2 hours before the stadium itself opened. However, there were still lots of practice fields that we could explore! Before the practice fields opened at 10, my dad, Pascale and I walked around the exterior a little.As we were walking to the Rangers facilities, I spotted a ball just on the other side of a chain link fence. My dad was able to use his camera monopod to knock the ball right up against the fence so I could grab it. (Excuse my extremely derpy look) Ball #1 on the day! And the best part? It had the new commissioner, Robert Manfred’s signature on it!
Once we made it to the Rangers fields, we watched them play catch for a little while. After a bit, we made our way back towards the Royals side. We got in line to get into the Royals complex and let’s just say I stuck out a little. Before I get too much into my adventures in the practice complex, I’ll show an overview of the Royals complex so you have an idea as to what I am talking about.
I spent some of my time wandering around the four practice fields on the top, but I did peek around the two other fields a little. During batting practice, I stayed in between the two fields on the right side near the parking lot, where there is the empty space in between outfield walls.
Since batting practice had not yet started, I began my day by watching the players warm up by playing catch and doing various drills and conditioning. It was really cool to see the various Minor Leaguers working hard and practicing in ways that you don’t see at a Major League stadium.After they did some drills, BP began, so I decided to stay in the dirt area that I mentioned earlier. I positioned myself beyond the left field fence of the field where the Major Leaguers were hitting and it paid off.A lot of balls were flying over the fence, but there were so many people and it was so crowded, it was incredibly hard to snag anything. During the second group, I was, however, able to snag a couple of Alex Rios home runs, both were balls that bounced around a little and I was able to scoop up.
After BP, I headed into the stadium itself. And wow it was beautiful!One thing I noticed immediately was the number of baseballs on the roof of the stadium.There was a roof from first to third base, over the press box and whatnot and there had to have been at least 100 baseballs up there, I’m guessing most, if not all, were foul balls.
After saying hello to my cousin and uncle, who are Royals fans from Kansas and happened to be at the game as well, I went over down to the field to try and get some autographs.There, I ran into a couple of bleacher friends, Alex and Jaclyn, who were also trying to get autographs. While we were over there, I was able to get 4 autographs. Wade Kirkland, Bruce Maxwell and Beau Taylor all signed my flag, which was very cool!After he was done playing catch, Brett Lawrie came over and signed a few autographs. I had a baseball card of his with me and had him sign that.The game itself was fun. Chris Bassitt was the starting pitcher for Oakland.Edinson Volquez was the starter for the Royals.One thing I took note of was the score board in left field. It was much smaller than the one at HoHoKam, so I definitely had a new appreciation for Oakland’s. This game and the game the following day were split-squad games for Oakland. While half of the team and coaches stayed in Arizona, the other half traveled to Las Vegas for a two-game series against the Cubs. As a result, there were some things I saw in this game that were kind of cool. For example, I got to see Billy Butler play first base.And I got to watch Bryan Anderson catch.One of the best parts of the day for me was getting to see the minor leaguers that were up with the team for the day, all of whom I either have seen play with the Stockton Ports or got to see play for the Ports in 2015. I got to see Bruce Maxwell (2013/2014 Ports) come in behind the plate.John Nogowski (2015 Ports) got an opportunity to pinch hit.Brandon Cogswell (2015 Ports) also had a plate appearance.And Tyler Marincov (2014/2015 Ports) had an AB as well. The A’s ended up losing 8-4 and after the game, I saw a few reporters come onto the field to talk to Mike Aldrete, who was managing the half of the team who stayed in Arizona.
We sat in Friday rush hour traffic for about 90 minutes, but eventually made it to a restaurant called Oregano’s, where we ate dinner with the cousin and uncle I mentioned earlier, as well as a friend of theirs. If you have not been to Oregano’s and you’ll be in Arizona sometime, you MUST enjoy a meal there. Get a pizookie for dessert, you’ll thank me later. If you’ve been to Oregano’s, you know what I’m talking about 😉
3/14/15 at HoHoKam Stadium and Salt River Fields (1 ball)
Yes, you are reading that correctly. I went to two games on this day. And oddly enough, they were both games against the San Francisco Giants. The first game was at 1:05, as the A’s were hosting the Giants. In the evening, my mom, sister and I were heading over to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick Park to watch the Diamondbacks play the Giants.
The day started off early, as my family enjoyed a fabulous breakfast at U.S. Egg. After that, we picked up one of our bleacher friends, Ethan, who was staying with our friend Karl who goes to ASU. My dad dropped Ethan and I off at Fitch Park, which is where the A’s have their Minor League practice fields. Ethan and I looked around a little bit and watched some of the minor leaguers doing drills.After 10 or 15 minutes, we began the 15-minute walk to HoHoKam Stadium, where my family was waiting in line. Ethan and I got there a few minutes before gates opened at 11 and once they did, I sprinted inside to the Left Field berm, which filled up quickly, given that it was an A’s/Giants game.We had berm seats for this game, so we claimed our spot on the grass early.A’s batting practice was already underway when we got inside, so I had no time to lose.I chased after several home run balls, but I unfortunately did not come up with any. All of a sudden, Ethan noticed Barry Zito come out onto the field. In February, Oakland signed Zito, who pitched for the club from 2000-2006, to a Minor League contract and as a result, he was with the team for Spring Training.
We rushed over to where he was and I was able to get a jersey signedIt was a Barry Zito jersey that Ryan Dalton had given me to take down to Arizona and get signed for him.
Ethan then took a selfie with Zito.
I would have, but I was stupid and in my rush to get down to Barry, I forgot my phone on our blanket out on the berm.
When we got back to left field, there were two players who caught my eye: Brett Lawrie and Coco Crisp. I wanted to thank Lawrie for posting my dad’s picture on Instagram and I wanted to get Coco to sign the banner that I acquired during the offseason and brought down to Arizona.I pulled out the big glove and was able to quickly get Lawrie’s attention. As soon as he saw it, he tossed me a ball.
After I caught the ball, I thanked him for posting the picture and he smiled, waved and said “No problem!”
I then turned my attention to Coco Crisp. With the help of Ethan, I unrolled the banner and we held it up, yelling Coco’s name until he came over.
Holding one side, we dropped it over the edge as he walked over. Lawre, Zito and AJ Griffin all walked over, intrigued by the large banner. The three of them ended up holding it against the outfield wall so that Coco had a flat surface to sign on. He ended up signing it very large and I was pretty excited about it! After the game, Ethan, Pascale and I took a picture with the signed banner, a picture you’ll see later on in this entry.
I then headed over to the area next to the A’s dugout by the first row and met up with Alex and Jaclyn again in hopes of getting a few more autographs. While I didn’t get any autographs, I did take a selfie with speedy outfielder Billy Burns!
And it was a HOT day. Sitting in an area with no shade in the afternoon in Arizona was probably not one of our smartest ideas… We did what we could to keep cool though.My dad, Pascale and I went on a walk around the stadium for a bit. Mostly because there was shade, but also because we wanted to explore a bit more.We ran into bleacher friends like Carlos, Will, Ross and Tony, which was fun. The most important stop for us was the Mustache Pretzels truck. The pretzels last time were so good, Pascale and I had to have another.
Yup. They are soft pretzels shaped like mustaches. And they are DELICIOUS! Pascale got a cinnamon sugar one, I got a classic pretzel with salt. So good! If you ever see one of their trucks while in Arizona, you MUST get one!
After that, we began to walk around the area behind the outfield. We began at the bullpens, which are located right down the right field line.After that, we walked around the berm in right-center field, which was packed.However, there was a second berm in right field, above the other one, with lots of space available.From there, we decided to head back to the berm, where we joined my mom and Ethan.Pascale and I spent the final inning with Will, Ross and Carlos, who were sitting down the first base line. However my parents elected to stay in left field for the remainder of the game.Once the final out was recorded, I met back up with Ethan in left field, where we took a picture with the baseballs we snagged during batting practice.Then, Ethan, Pascale and I took a picture with the banner that Coco Crisp signed for me during BP.I know it’s hard to see in that picture, but there is indeed a signature on the banner. Here is a better picture of the signature itself.In case you’re wondering, it now hangs on a wall in my room.
After this game, my dad drove my mom, Pascale and I to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick Park, where we would watch the Diamondbacks play host to the Giants. The gates were not yet open when he dropped us off, so I wandered around a little bit and checked out the practice fields.Once gates opened, we headed to the berm in right field, where we claimed a spot, since we had berm seats again. With all due respect to the other teams in the Cactus League, I think Talking Stick is the nicest ballpark.Before the game started, I decided to take a lap around the stadium and explore. There were a few things that caught my eye. First, there were these sunscreen dispensers all around the ballpark. I had never seen something like this at a baseball stadium before, so I loved it!Next, there was a Coldstone Creamery Express. While I’ve been to Coldstone many times, I had never seen one inside a baseball stadium. Pascale and I ended up getting ice cream later in the game. Again, very cool (no pun intended).Lastly, I felt the need to share this picture. I guess Clayton Kershaw and Jeff Samardzija decided to take in some evening baseball. Either that or an A’s fan and a Dodgers fan wanted to scout out the rival Giants. Yay for incredibly arched lettering!
When I was walking behind home plate, I stopped and took this panoramic picture of the stadium.I eventually took a seat on our blanket in right field, just in time for first pitch.4 hitters into the game, there was some excitement for me. Brandon Belt hit a home run 20 feet to my left. As soon as I saw the ball in the air, I started running. Had I gotten a better jump or had their been fewer people in my way, I would have caught the ball on the fly easily. But I didn’t, I got there a split second too late and the only other A’s fan in the stadium caught it. Woo!
I ended up doing one more lap around the stadium with Pascale. In the left field corner, I took this picture.The Diamondbacks ended up winning the game 5-2, Belt’s first inning home run was the only offense for the Giants. Before we left, I took a selfie with my mom and Pascale.
And then I took this panoramic picture of the field.On our way out, we walked past the hitting cages, which were still illuminated. Very cool.While I didn’t snag a ball at the second game, I still enjoyed the day very much. It was fun to explore HoHoKam more and experience a new stadium with Salt River Fields.
One takeaway I had from Talking Stick was the separation that they managed to have between the Diamondbacks and Rockies within the stadium. One side was D-Backs and one side was Rockies, each team had a separate store and then they shared one behind center field. This was the most impressive stadium for me on the trip and I really look forward to visiting again soon and being able to document it in greater detail!
3/15/15 at Maryvale Baseball Park (1 ball)
This was the final day of our trip and we were spending it at the Maryvale Baseball Complex to watch the A’s take on the Brewers.
After checking out of the hotel, we hit up the legendary Bill Johnson’s for breakfast. Unfortunately, this was the only time we will ever have been able to come, as they closed two months after our visit.
I forget what time we rolled into the baseball complex, but once we arrived, we piled out of the car and began exploring. And wow. The area is HUGE! And there was almost nobody there!We were pretty much the only ones there. Crazy!
It was cool to get one last up-close look at the different drills.And it was also neat to see the massive bullpens.There was no place to get balls during Batting Practice once it started for the minor leaguers, so I decided to wander around the main stadium itself and look around. When I looked inside, I saw that the field was set up for BP!After going back and forth between the practice fields and the main field, I decided to jump in line, a line which had already formed.While I was in line, I noticed Domingo Ayala walking through the parking lot. I would have walked over and met him, but I was in line by myself and I didn’t have someone to save my spot. On the bright side, I did see Brett Lawrie.
He literally walked in, right past the line. By then, Pascale was with me, so I was able to walk over to him, where he had stopped for a moment to sign autographs. After signing maybe 10 autographs, he ended up having to leave, so I wasn’t able to take a picture with him or have him sign anything. It was still cool though!Eventually, when the gates opened at noon, this was the scene on the field. There was still Batting Practice going on!Given that there were 3 lefties out of the 4 hitters in the group, I decided to position myself in right field.Here was the view to either side of me.I don’t think those pictures do the outfield berm justice because it was INSANELY STEEP. And that was right after I got in. Soon, the berm began to fill up with people. In general, this area was really bad though. How bad? I was running for a home run ball and I couldn’t keep my traction because of how steep it was and I completely ate it. I slipped and fell, landing hard on my back. Of course I landed right under the ball, so I had a people literally stepping and falling on me, trying to chase the ball. I didn’t wind up getting it.
After BP, I spent a little bit of time wandering the stadium.I also met up with Ross and talked with him for a bit.You may notice the shirts under my arm in the picture. Those were shirseys I was hoping to get signed. After Yoenis Cespedes won the 2013 Home Run Derby, I decided to get a shirsey of his pitcher, A’s third base coach Mike Gallego. Cespedes participated and won again in 2014 and again, he had Gallego pitch. Josh Donaldson also participated in 2014 and his pitcher was A’s bullpen coach Darren Bush, who is now the team’s hitting coach. So I got shirseys of Gallego and Bush in 2014!
I brought the shirts with me on this trip because I wanted to show them to Gallego and Bush and get their autographs on them. You may remember back in 2013, I met Mike’s son Niko, who at the time played for the Modesto Nuts. I took a picture with him and he even signed the shirt!
Suddenly, I noticed that both Gallego and Bush were in the dugout, so I ran off towards the side of the dugout. From there, I held up Mike Gallego’s 2013 shirt to get their attention. He noticed it quickly, then came over and signed them and we talked for a bit. I mentioned that I also had one for Darren Bush, who Gallego called for and switched places with. Both of them thought that the shirts was awesome!As you can imagine, I was VERY excited to have gotten all 3 shirts signed!I then headed back over to the spot where Will and Ross were. Soon, the one and only Seth Frankoff walked over!
While I was in this area, I was able to get autographs from manager Bob Melvin, first base coach Tye Waller and shortstop Marcus Semien on my flag. I also took this selfie with Melvin, which Will did a fantastic job of photobombing!My dad took a picture of my selfie, which is cool.While I was over here, I got the chance to see Sonny Gray warm up, as he was the starting pitcher in the game.
I also got to see Seth throw, which is always cool.
After I finished with autographs, I moved to my right, closer towards the dugout, near where the infielders and outfielders were playing catch. While I was there, I was able to get Eric Sogard to toss me his warmup ball.
As usual, my first order of business for the game itself is to judge the scoreboard. There wasn’t even a video board!At least I got to see the racing sausages, right?So here was my view for the game.We were sitting behind the dugout, it was a good time.
One of the most exciting parts was the group of people sitting in front of us. They were childhood friends of Mark Canha, from little league to high school. Every time he came to the plate, they would heckle him, especially when he recorded an out.After Sonny Gray pitched the first 4 innings and Chad Smith took the 5th, Barry Zito came on to pitch the final 4 innings, which was fun to watch, considering that he only allowed one baserunner!Once the game was over, I took a picture with my one ball from the day.When we were outside the stadium, I took a picture with each of the shirts that I got signed before the game!
After the game ended, we returned our rental car and headed to get dinner at Whataburger, another restaurant (if I can call it that) that I had never been to. After finishing our meal, we then headed to the airport.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the entry, we flew into and out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, not Sky Harbor. The airline that we flew on, Allegiant, is the ONLY airline that operates out of Mesa. We had to return our car by a certain time and our flight did not leave for a while after, so we had lots of time to relax in the smallest airport I’ve ever been to. The airport only had 10 gates. But it had 3 terminals. Because logic. The cool thing was that the space in between terminals was outdoors. Like there was grass and plants and stuff. Super cool. Pascale and I had our gloves. I had a few balls from the trip. What do you think we did? Well we played catch of course. Inside an airport. Outdoors. At night. I don’t have any pictures though 😦
And it’s a very good thing we were able to do this, because our plane was delayed close to 3 hours.
All in all, it was a super fun trip. I got to visit 4 stadiums, watch 5 games and I snagged 7 balls. Plus I got to see a bunch of friends, eat some great food and take some awesome pictures. Hard to complain!
My next recap entry should be up within the next few days, as I’ll be looking back at the games I attended in April. And if you haven’t read it, check out my last post, where I re-introduced myself. As always, thanks for reading and stay awesome!
Nick Badders is a blogger for MLB.com. He writes the blog, 7000 Coliseum Way, and you can follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @RFNick149. This blog entry was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.