I went to my first Major League Baseball game in 1988 — Oakland at Toronto — and was hooked. Since that day, baseball’s been a huge part of my life. I picked my first favorite player on that day, too. Then 24 years old, first baseman Fred McGriff was tall and could drive the ball. Those was all the attributes I needed to choose him as my favorite. I was enthralled with McGriff, a perennial 30 home run guy, and spent hours carefully consulting his profile page in my Blue Jays yearbook and drawing his likeness with crayons. I cried when the Jays traded him to San Diego but always kept an eye on his career and hoped that one day, I could meet him.
So when I saw that McGriff would be among the MLB legends playing in the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game being held in Rochester this year, I knew I had to attend. I was pumped to see the Crime Dog and a bunch of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers, but when I got the opportunity to get media credentials to the event, it quickly shot up the list of my all-time best baseball adventures.
When I pulled up to Frontier Field, I was shocked to see the crowds. Obviously, this event was a huge one for the city, but more than 30 minutes before the gates opened, the lineup was thousands of people long, snaking its way up and down the sidewalks around the ballpark. Here’s a picture of the pavilion in front of the main gates after I’d entered Frontier Field and taken the elevator up to the suite level:
As I tweeted out yesterday, it was exciting to get media access to this event. Being able to witness it as a ticketholder would’ve been great, but the chance to have extra access to the goings-on was incredible. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Christine Gonsior, who set things up for me. Thanks, Christine!
Once I grabbed my pass, I went up to the pressbox to check out the view. Boy, had Frontier Field changed overnight! As you can see below, organizers had erected a temporary outfield fence complete with corn stalks, Field of Dreams style:
The guys you see in the white uniforms are members of team Rochester. Let me explain: Pepsi Max held a contest to give one fan the chance to bring the Field of Dreams game to his hometown. The two finalists were Rochester and Washington, D.C., and the Roc contingent, led by baseball fan Johnny Perotti, won. That meant that Perotti and a bunch of his lucky family members and buddies would join with five MLB legends to represent the American League. The runner-up from D.C. and friends/family members suited up with five MLB legends representing the National League. Got it?
For the record, the MLB contingent was:
If you’re keeping score, that’s six Hall of Famers and four guys who should be in Cooperstown some day.
See the white gates in the previous photo? Those are the media “pens” for the event. Christine was taking the gathered media down to the field where everyone would spread out in the pens and the MLBers would filter past one by one for interviews and photos. I couldn’t wait to get down to the field, and spent a few minutes wandering around taking in the sights. When I got back to the pressbox, I noticed that a bunch of media members were already at field level, so I set out on my own to find the tunnel that leads to the field behind home plate.
I took an elevator ride down to the basement of the stadium, showed my pass to a security guard and ended up in a long hallway. After a handful of steps, here was the scene:
It was a surreal feeling to stand on the field instead of fight my way through the crowd for a better look at the players, who hadn’t arrived yet. As for that crowd? Check it out:
A ton of event organizers hustled around the field and were obviously preparing for the arrival of the players. While I waited, I popped into the home dugout and snapped this photo of the official lineup card:
It wasn’t long before an enormous roar went up and I turned to see the first legend — Boggs — walking onto the field:
As you can see, Smith is right behind him.
The guys continued to come out, one by one, and after a moment, McGriff headed out and went straight to the cage. In this photo, from left to right, are Boggs, Thomas, Henderson, McGriff and Schmidt:
The last player to emerge, and the one to receive the biggest ovation, was Mr. October, who was celebrating his 67th birthday that day and still looks pretty spry:
It was incredible to see all these guys in person, but I had my camera trained on McGriff who, at 49, didn’t look any different than his 6’3″, 200-pound playing days:
Being up close also gave me the chance to notice some neat little details. Even though Martinez was repping the Red Sox, he was wearing his Mets cleats … which had an MLB sticker on them:
The legends started hitting, and boy, it was captivating to watch these guys swing the bat. The Big Hurt obviously commands a huge presence in the cage, but I was impressed with Boggs. At 54, his swing still looked nasty. As the player availability approached, I found an open pen and couldn’t resist taking this photo of myself on the edge of the field:
Pretty soon, Boggs made his way down the line and I watched and snapped photos as he was interviewed. I definitely could’ve asked questions to any of these guys, but doing so felt disingenuous as I wasn’t “officially” covering the event. Instead, I just enjoyed being inches away from these legends.
Boggs, a five-time American League batting champion:
Hoffman who, despite being arguably the second-best closer in MLB history, shook everyone’s hand and said, “Hi, I’m Trevor:”
Smith, a 13-time Gold Glove winner who was equally impressive with his thoughtful, intelligent answers as he was with the leather:
McGriff, whose hand I shook as I said, “Nice to meet you,” and he did the same:
I also got a chuckle that in an age where many MLB and MiLB players have their names stitched on their gloves, here’s what a 493-career home run guy’s glove looks like:
Bench, arguably the greatest catcher in the history of the game — who was never far from his trusty iPad:
Thomas, a future HOFer who I always thought looked big until I stood next to him. I’m sure he could pick me up with one hand. He’s absolutely enormous, and must’ve scared the daylights out of opposing pitchers:
Schmidt, one of the best third basemen ever. He told a nearby reporter that he didn’t know how he’d contribute to the game, as he didn’t think he could run, catch, hit or throw:
Every player passed by just inches from me except for Henderson. As far as I saw, he didn’t go anywhere near the row of media. I’m surprised he didn’t take the opportunity to talk about himself.
After Jackson passed by …
… I followed the players to the outfield for a group photo. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of my shadow crossing into fair territory:
The AL and then the NL teams posed for photos, and then all the legends came together. There was lots of joking about age. The consensus was that the older players would sit in the front row. “You who are collecting a social security check,” said Henderson. Obviously, there were dozens of people taking photos, but I’m pleased at how mine turned out:
After the photo, the players disappeared behind the temporary outfield fence, and while it was tough to leave the field, I decided to move to the home bullpen area to watch the players, who were now out of sight of the stands as they waited for their introductions. Again, it was awesome to just hang out and witness everything.
Bench with his ever-present iPad:
Red Wings legend Joe Altobelli who, at 80, didn’t play but offered some hitting tips to one of the amateurs:
Thomas and Altobelli. Look at the pipes on the Big Hurt:
Mr. October and Martinez, who seemed to really hit it off despite the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry:
As you might expect, the players walked through the corn stalks after being announced. And from my vantage point, I watched it all unfold. Although the guys were hidden behind the new fence, Thomas was able to just look over it to watch the players running in:
Just before they were introduced, Jackson played catch with Martinez:
I watched the first couple innings from the same spot in the right field corner and then went behind home plate to the temporary press seating area:
The game itself was interesting. I was floored with Smith’s range at shortstop. His arm obviously isn’t what it used to be, but he got to some balls that no one thought he would. Instead of posting a bunch more photos, I’ll just include a couple more. I have a couple hundred shots and also took some videos, so I’ll probably post some additional content when I’m done this road trip. For now, though, here’s Martinez dealing to McGriff:
The six-inning game was all offense. After five innings, look at the scoreboard:
(The official scorer was being extremely generous in not scoring any errors.)
The NL ended up winning 11-7, but I don’t think anyone was too concerned about the score. I’ll share one last anecdote. Hoffman, who was never known for his velocity, threw in the high 50s. Martinez, though, touched 69 on the gun a bunch of times. Both pitchers were mostly just trying to throw hittable balls, but once, with a two-strike count to one of the amateurs, Martinez threw a high cutter with absolutely nasty movement. Of course, the guy whiffed and probably will brag to his grandkids about it.
I might not have been able to strike out against one of the best pitchers of all time, but the Field of Dreams game is something that I’ll fondly recall for decades. It was absolutely incredible to be so close to so many of the game’s all-time greats, and I’m sure that the sold-out crowd in Rochester feels the same way.