A view from the stands
May 18, 2012
One of the best ways to cover a game is to be in the seats at the game. Don’t hide in the press box, sit among the spectators. Thursday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the atmosphere carried a life-like pulse with more story lines to count and a scarce few vacant chairs.
As I propped up behind the plate Thursday, I was offered peanuts, I offered peanuts elsewhere, I listened to conversations of baseball and otherwise. I heard cheers and boos, felt the rain and smelled the spilled beer in the isle (while avoiding a nice splattering of nacho cheese that had escaped one unlucky fan’s grasp).
Simply put, I was at a baseball game.
Despite a 57-minute rain delay at the start of the game, the capacity crowd of 10,064 was focused on the action of the evening. If the delay did anything, it provided the crowd an extra hour to work themselves up – and judging by the concessions lines, they fueled up nicely.
It was not just the Hideki Matsui vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka show, although the main attraction of the international head-to-head was overwhelmingly satisfying for the dozens that flocked to the Bulls team store to get their No. 55 Matsui jerseys. Consider that while the hype – and autograph lines – belonged to the two Japanese stars, the biggest fan-displayed national flags were that of Taiwan and the play of the game went to the Taiwan-native Che-Hsuan Lin who robbed Matsui of extra bases for the second time in three nights.
The scariest moment of the night was when Cuba native Leslie Anderson was plunked on the knee. Sitting only a few rows behind the dish, you heard the ball meet bone then the subsequent yell. He rolled around a few times and stayed in the game. The first notch on the scoreboard was courtesy of Puerto Rico-born Jesus Feliciano who created that clean-sounding contact as he sent the ball to right. It was an International League game with an international flavor.
Judging by the camera flashes, and record number of credentialed media, I was not the only pressman in the stands. Maybe I just tried to hide it more.
But local talent was on stage, too. Clayton’s Chris Archer was in the house and preparing for Friday’s start while two other position players with Triangle ties made an impact for their teams. NC State grad Matt Mangini recorded a pair of hits and played flawless defense for the Bulls at third base while getting a host of home cheers. Duke grad Alex Hassan had his own cheering section near the PawSox dugout as he held down right field and reached on a walk batting out of the six-hole.
Major league talent was present and, although the roads traveled differently, the fans responded better because they were seemingly familiar with the names. All-Star third baseman Kevin Youkilis took a scheduled day off on his rehab assignment which prompted more than one conversation from the seats in front of me. Matsuzaka was putting the polish on his pitches as he nears a return from Tommy John surgery and the oohs and aahs at his whiffle ball-like curve ball never got old. Former World Series MVP Matsui continued to get his at-bats in hopes of a last MLB hurrah with the Tampa Bay Rays and was showered with signs written in Japanese. And Scott Podsednik is clinging to what’s left of his career while hitting in the low-.200s (youth was served as well as Jose Inglesias, born in 1990, got the start at shortstop for Pawtucket).
Even the big-wigs and important people were mixed in with the masses and sitting all around me.
Some of the Red Sox and Rays brass were in the house. The folks from Gildan, sponsors of this year’s National Championship game, were in attendance. I counted no less than four MLB scouts behind home plate and had a long talk with Chris Jones, who is one of the MLB umpire supervisors. Jones was scoring Gerard Ascani, Jon Saphire and Chad Whitson, creating a report that will be seen by Joe Torre himself.
Ascani, who worked home plate Thursday, is sure to get high marks. He worked a clean game behind the plate, ruled on a home run that hit the base of the fair pole – withstanding an argument thereafter and made a brave – but correct – call on a catcher’s interference that wiped out a double play and was followed by a three-run blast by Durham’s Henry Wrigley.
Sure, I took advantage of the press credential to get in on the Dice-K post-game press conference, but was in the name of reporting.
His best line: “It (DBAP) reminded me a lot of Fenway Park.”
I have covered a good bit of baseball, but find that the best place to do so is in the stands.