Having to go to Orlando for a work-related conference, I realized that after the conference was over I could squeeze in a few spring training games. So, I hit the Braves stadium at Disney for a game against the Nationals. The Nats brought exactly two regular players and a whole host of minor leaguers. Disappointing, to say the least. But, I did get to see Heyward and J. Upton and Freeman play...so, at least the Braves put a starting lineup in that didn't disappoint. It was freakin' cold that night, too. Well, at least the wind made it seem cold in the outfield where I sat in the grass. It was a good night.
A couple of days later, the conference was over and I could catch a day game. So, off to my hometown of Lakeland to catch the Tigers play the Mets on a beautifully sunny day at Joker Marchant Stadium. Now, I grew up going to this stadium. To say that it's changed in the past twenty years would be a severe understatement. Before, it was a little, shitty stadium that had charm and character. Now, it's just as corporate as the rest of the stadiums. So sad. But, it's my hometown stadium so I still gots love for you!
Buying my ticket, I had the option of getting in early to catch Tigers batting practice. For the few extra bucks, it was completely worth it. I get to the stadiums wicked early and waiting inside was way more preferable to standing in the parking lot for an hour. So, ticket in hand, I waited to get in to watch Detroit's BP.
Then, this old man tells us BP is cancelled. But...but...Jim Leyland would meet and greet everyone that got themselves a batting practice option on their ticket.
Cool. I get to meet Jim Leyland. The line starting moving and I prepared the ball that I always bring to the stadiums (cuz you never know!) and the blue bic pen I wanted Jim to sign my ball with. Well, that was a fruitless endeavor because Mr. Leyland was only signing with a black Sharpie. I was bummed about that but, hey, a cheap Leyland autograph is nothing to complain about, I suppose. Here's the ball he signed for me. I hope it holds up over time.
That's when the fun started. Here's my exchange with Jim:
Me: Hey, Mr. Leyland, can I get a picture?
Jim: Sure. Come around.
Me: No, not with you. I want a picture of the World Series ring.
Jim: Oh. Ok.
Me: Thanks, man.
Jim: That's an easy one. You can take a picture with whatever you want. Except my wallet. That's off limits. (chuckles at his own wit).
Me: Thanks, dude. Take care.
Jim: You too.
I moved along and let others get their opportunity with the skipper. I put the ball in my pocket and looked at my camera. Here's the ring...it's cool.
Anyway, I grabbed an adult beverage from the concession stand and headed to the berm to watch the Mets take BP. It was uneventful. However, watching Matt DenDekker was quite an eye-opener. That dude can field the ball like a motherfucker. Too bad, at this point, he can't really hit. Eric Young Jr. came over to a bunch of fans and I passed on his autograph but had a chance to say hello.
Game time. Watched the game in the sun. Truth be told, this has been a brutally winter and that glowing orange orb in the sky has been missing from my life for many months. It took exactly three innings for me to be burnt to a crisp. I made the executive decision to watch the rest of the game in the shade of the concourse. Yes, I would have to stand but, man, I was friggin' roasted.
Bottom of the fourth, I was watching intently as Mets phenom Noah Syndegaard was just dealing! The kid is amazing. He's gonna be a star, for sure. It'll just take some time. Anyway, I looked over as an older gentleman sidled up beside me to watch, too. Hey! It was Jim Leyland and nobody freakin' noticed. But, I did. At this time, I had a couple of early morning beers mixed with a heavy dose of sunshine, so I was feeling frisky.
Leaning over, I whispered..."Hey Jim. I don't want to call any attention to you, but will you sign my program?". Jim Leyland, the class act, took my Sharpie and program on the sly, signed his name next to Max Scherzer's picture, and handed both back to me. "Thanks, man", I whispered and continued watching the game. "No sweat", he replied and then turned on his heel and beelined it back to the comfort of the clubhouse where no idiots like me would bother him.
All in all, it was a good day. Two Leyland signatures (sorry, no pic of the program), a heady buzz in the morning, and a wicked nice sunburn to take home.
Good times, friends. Good times.