Saturday, August 27, 2011

SoSG Road Trip: St. Louis (Part 6: View From The Dugout During BP)

Okay, so now we've finished the Don Mattingly pre-game press conference, and the Dodgers have come out to take batting practice. Ken Gurnick and Jim Peltz bolt, probably to go file a story or six. Jon Chapper of the Dodgers PR team stays down in the dugout as the team stretches and throws, and soon the equipment starts to come on the field for batting practice (the Cardinals having gotten in from Chicago the night before, opted not to take outside batting practice prior to this game).

SoSG AC and I could have gone up to the press box to start "filing" our stories, of course. But the Dodgers were on the field. Batting practice had begun. About a hundred fans were circling the areas of the stands around the Dodgers' dugout, hoping to get an autograph or at least a conversation.

And so, AC and I stayed in the dugout. We weren't going to move, not for anything. We were going to take all of this in.

The view from the dugout steps.

The lineup card, taped to the wall of the dugout closest to home plate.

Look at how weathered the wood is on the visitors' dugout bench. And this was for a stadium built in 2006, for pete's sake!

Fox Sports' Patrick O'Neal and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, shooting the bull.

Like all the pictures I had taken earlier while circumventing the stadium, looking at the people who couldn't get in, I couldn't help myself but take pictures of the fans who were looking down at us. I know, it's mean. But it was so cool, too!

Looking over the top of the dugout, Cardinals fans were trying to figure out what the hell we were doing down IN the dugout.

This Cardinals security staff member was trying to figure it out, too.

Jamey Carroll came down into the dugout as the teams were switching over (half the team fields while the other half bats). A fan asked him for an autograph, but Carroll firmly (but politely) said that he had to go take ground balls then. Seemed reasonable enough.

Carroll's trip into and out of the dugout to change equipment was the first in a parade of Dodgers that came down from the field into the dugout and then back again, with fans screaming at them all the way. Here's what I remember hearing (I took notes):

  • A fan screamed at Matt Kemp, "Matt! I'm from Oklahoma!" To which Matt replied, "Oh yeah? Where?" and the guy didn't have a good answer, so Kemp shook his head, smiled, and walked off. Later on, Chapper asked Kemp what he thought of Oklahoma's pre-season #1 ranking, and Kemp remarked that he thought it was easier to be ranked lower and work one's way up. (Kinda like Kemp's 2010 season transitioning to his breakout year this year, no?)
  • Andre Ethier was breaking out the Japanese charm with a couple of well-timed phrases to some Japanese in the dugout. Well done.
  • James Loney was calm after his 4-for-4 outing the prior game. In fact, in the handful of times I've met Loney, he has always been calm, polite, and super-cool. I don't know if he ever shows much emotion.
  • Everyone in the general vicinity, from cameramen to grounds crew to random security members, pilfered sunflower seeds and dubble bubble gum from the Dodgers' snack tray. I was sitting right next to the snack tray, so I saw a lot of it. I didn't take a thing, by the way.
  • Trent Oeltjen, who had just hit an inside-the-park HR in the prior game, was very polite as well and smiling from ear to ear when I asked about his recent highlight. He talked a lot with stadium staff. His Australian accent goes far.
  • Kemp was absolutely scorching the ball during BP, drilling balls over the fence in center and right almost effortlessly. Violent speed of the bat, with a crack sound that made you stop in your tracks. Incredible. And right after that session, Kemp returned to the dugout wearing his batting helmet backwards, joking with the rabid crowd of autograph hounds, smiling all the way. He really seemed comfortable with himself, which is amazing given the kind of breakout year he's had. And that's remarkable, when you consider what Kemp has to deal with on the road:

Kemp and Ethier, signing autographs for the fans.

Kemp and Ethier were the two Dodger players to actually enter the camera pit, right in the thick of things amidst the fans, and spend a good five minutes each signing autographs and interacting. Ethier was a bit more understated than Kemp. Both were signing as quickly as they could.

What must it be like to be under 30, and see this sort of scene very day of your professional career? What's it like having 50 people vying for 15 seconds of your time? I stood there and watched Kemp and Ethier sign for quite some time.

No one yelled "Sax!", so I didn't do much signing. Dee Gordon also got a lot of calls from the crowd, which might be because "Dee!" is such an easy cheer.

Finally, we're getting close to game time. The sounds system cranked up a notch as videos started being played.

Finally, BP was over, and Chapper told us that he'd meet us up in the press box. We got the hint, and we left the field the same way we came down, behind home plate.

Passing the Cardinals' clubhouse. There's a security guard right through the doors, by the way.

Before heading up to the press box on the fourth floor, however, we entered the media dining room. It was spartan, with about ten tables set out for media and Cardinals employees, and a buffet lining one wall with salad, chicken breasts and hot entrees, and some desserts. SoSG AC and I powered down a dinner, eating with only each other. We saw Charley Steiner, Rick Monday, and Jaime Jarrin all sitting together and chatting. It was interesting to me that all three were dressed pretty nicely, given they are radio broadcasters and could call the game in shorts and a t-shirt.

I've already talked about the experience in the Busch Stadium press box. Here's a video, though, of the view: Albert Pujols flying out to end the third inning:

Also in one corner of the dining room was this podium in front of a step-and-repeat. Tony La Russa does his post-game conferences here.

I bring up this last point not only because it was conspicuous in the dining room, but also because, following the game, AC and I were dawdling in the press box before we realized (as it was being transmitted over closed-circuit systems into the box) that La Russa was giving a press conference at that moment. Given the Cardinals' breakdown in the ninth inning, which was earmarked by the typical La Russa revolving door to the bullpen--the reporters were going for the jugular on La Russa in the post-game media session. Why did he bring in pitcher X, pitcher Y, pitcher Z.

And La Russa, whom we could hear via the press room speakers but could not see, was getting increasingly testy about it. "I've already answered that question," La Russa said a bunch of times. Eep.

So that's it; from then on, most of what transpired was already caught in Part 0 from the press box. Following the game, we ended up going over to the store (almost told by one security guard, as we were walking around the concourse, that we had to exit immediately--but I showed my media credentials and in no time at all we were past her), buying a couple of things, and then finally walking back to the hotel.

AC and I went down to the hotel bar for a nightcap. And there we found Colletti, Mattingly, broadcaster Steve Lyons, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Casey Blake and Clayton Kershaw in casual attire (you honestly almost couldn't pick them out, they blended in so well). AC and I started giggling again. What access! What a great, once-in-a-lifetime experience. What a great game, a ninth-inning comeback to steal victory!

What a great time. Thanks, St. Louis!

Earlier: Part 0, Quick Thoughts From The Cardinals Press Box; Part 1, Getting to St. Louis; Part 2, Press Pass Access Onto The Field; Part 3, Inside Busch Stadium, Before Anyone Else; Part 4, Pre-Game Banter With Mattingly, And An Overdue Apology To Jim Peltz; Part 5, Mattingly In The Dugout, Pre-Game


QuadSevens said...

Such an awesome trip and great post! Did you offer to buy Mattingly and the rest of the gang a drink? It would be hard for me to pass up the opportunity to show my thanks to those guys in that way.

Kyle Baker said...

Sax: respectful suggestion - ever think about using jump pages so these fabulous posts are a bit easier to read but also don't push out other front page content? Just a thought.