With those words, Auburn Doubledays on-field presenter/entertainer Shane Truman takes a step away from me, leaving me standing in the grass a few feet in front of the edge of the pitcher’s mound at Falcon Park. I don’t dare look up to see the 1,200 or so people in attendance.
Instead, I look in at the glove of Doubledays catcher Austin Chubb, who’s crouched behind home plate waiting for me to throw out the first pitch at a professional baseball game — something that’s been on my baseball bucket list for as long as I can recall.
I take a slow windup, noting how weird it feels to throw without a glove on my left hand. As I swing my right arm, I’m so nervous it feels like Jell-o. It’s the same feeling I remember having several years ago when I started boxing and my arms would be dead after a few rounds of sparring.
Mercifully, I avoid the one thing that tarnishes a ceremonial first pitch — a bounce. The ball is high and outside to the right side of the plate, but Chubb does an expert job reaching up to snag it. I have no idea if people are clapping or booing or even watching.
Chubb jogs up to me and drops the ball in my hand. “Thanks for framing it,” I say. He just laughs and suddenly, the moment I’ve been anticipating for more than a month is over. (But I’ve got lots of photos of the first pitch later in this post.)
And so begins my second big baseball road trip of 2013.
Actually, it began several hours earlier in Auburn, New York, as I arrived at Falcon Park to watch some New York-Penn League action between Auburn and Jamestown. I’d visited Auburn back in 2010, but when team GM Jason Horbal reached out to me a couple months ago and asked if I wanted to see Falcon Park again, I took him up on the offer.
The deal was I’d throw out the first pitch for the 6 p.m. game, but a rainout the night before meant the Doubledays and Jammers would finish their postponed game starting at 4 p.m. This meant I had some time to explore the park before my big moment.
If you’ve never been to Falcon Park, it’s a great place to stop if you’re ever traveling through New York State or taking in a Triple-A game in nearby Rochester or Syracuse. Falcon Park has an awesome community feel and perhaps because the park is one of the smallest you’ll ever encounter in professional baseball, you’ll quickly feel at home. It was exciting to drive up to the great-looking front of the park and see it yet again:
I arrived just before 3 p.m. for the 4 p.m. game, grabbed my media pass and before long, ran across Jason and chatted with him for about 10 minutes. He’d been hard at work at the ballpark since 7:30 a.m. and before long, he had to run to get more pre-game duties accomplished. First, though, he introduced me to Graham Doty, the voice of the Doubledays. Graham interviewed me for the team’s blog and when that audio clip is up, I’ll share it on here.
Before long, the 4 p.m. game resumed and I was anxious to test out my new camera, which I bought shortly before this trip. It’s a big upgrade from my trusty, ol’ camera that has visited 45+ ballparks with me, and I think you’ll see an upgrade in a lot of my photos, especially the action shots. It was a blast testing out my new lenses and being able to capture better action shots, like this one of Auburn outfielder Greg Zebrack fouling off a pitch:
Auburn starter Silvio Medina:
And his Jamestown counterpart Cesar Lopez:
And Doubledays shortstop Wilmer Difo sliding safely into third base after legging out a triple:
But it wasn’t just players I was shooting. Here’s Jammers manager Dave Turgeon, sporting an interesting glasses arrangement — sunglasses to watch the game AND reading glasses to check his lineup card. Not something you see everyday:
Late in the game, I moved close to home plate so I could keep an eye on the ballpark gate. Why? Well, earlier in the day, my wife surprised me by announcing she was going to make the seven-hour round trip to Auburn to watch me throw out the first pitch! It’s amazing enough to have a wife who supports my dream of building The Ballpark Guide in a million ways, but for her to spend seven hours in the car by herself to watch me do something that takes about a second? Words fail me.
Soon enough, she arrived and I gave her my camera to practice taking a few shots, as she’d be joining me on the field to photograph my first pitch attempt. She took a handful of action shots, including this one of Jamestown reliever Jovany Lopez:
Jamestown walloped Auburn 15-5 in the first game, scoring 14 of their runs from the sixth inning onward. With a 30-minute break before the second game, we met with Shane who handed me a game-used NYPL ball that I’d be using. The break, of course, passed quickly and before long, I was standing on the dirt in front of the Auburn dugout with Shane, with my wife close by to document everything. Shane’s first mission was to find a catcher for me, and he recruited Chubb. We all stood and blabbed a little as the grounds crew finished watering the dirt on the baselines. As we talked, I apparently worked on my splitter grip:
(I’m glad I didn’t get silly and try to throw it, though.)
And then, it was out toward the mound:
We still had a moment to kill before getting the cue from Graham over the P.A. system, and I’ve got to say Shane did an awesome job of keeping the conversation light and the pressure as low as it could’ve been:
And that takes us back to the start of the blog. Once I was announced and Shane backed off, I looked in at Chubb:
Threw my Jell-o-armed first pitch:
And got the ball back from Chubb:
Then the three of us got together for a quick photo …
… before Shane ushered my wife and me off the field. He had to get ready to sing the pre-game anthem — a man of many talents! We hung out in the picnic area down the third base line for a moment, where my wife got this photo of me with the first pitch ball:
A handful of players’ parents were gathered in the picnic area and asked how the pitch went; they could see me but from their position, couldn’t see the plate.
“I didn’t bounce it, at least,” I offered.
“We thought your form looked good,” they surprisingly said.
I spent the start of the second game reliving the entire adventure with my wife, checking out our photos and comparing who was more nervous. Then, it was back over to the seats above the Jamestown dugout to get some more action shots. This next shot wasn’t good action, but I think it tells the story. Zebrack, who I’d photographed earlier fouling off a pitch, was plunked in the head. Sitting in the front row behind the dugout, the sound was startling and Zebrack went down quickly:
He left the game but I see that he’s played since, so I’m glad he’s all right. It was definitely a scary moment, though.
Late in the game, it was time to make a trip to the concession stand. Jason had generously given me a couple food vouchers …
… and I settled on a grilled chicken sandwich for my first ballpark meal of this road trip:
I was pleased to see the chicken wasn’t breaded — it was an actual chunk of chicken — and it was something I’d eat again.
We took our seats behind the dugout again and had not only a great view of the action, but also a clear sightline to the scoreboard, which was again turning in Jamestown’s favor. After a 15-5 win in the first game, the Jammers were well on their way to another lopsided win. Check it out:
The final score was 14-1 in the seven-inning game. Yikes. But the home side losing couldn’t dampen my spirits. Day one of this road trip was a day I’ll remember forever. I definitely need to thank Jason, Shane and Graham for everything they did to help me kick off my trip in fine form. Thanks a million, guys!
After the game, my wife and I drove to Syracuse for the night. Although I could’ve stayed in Auburn, I was excited to once again visit the Ramada Syracuse, where I’d stayed back in April after a Chiefs doubleheader at NBT Bank Stadium. That stay was awesome and with the Ramada about 30 minutes from Falcon Park, it made sense to visit again.
It turns out I ended up with the same room and like last time, was thrilled with its size, cleanliness and amenities. As I did during my last visit, I made the very short drive to a nearby Wegman’s supermarket to load up on some post-game snacks and breakfast items for the following morning. If you don’t want supermarket food, the Ramada is within walking distance to a number of restaurants, and also has an eatery on site. I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re on a baseball road trip in the Syracuse area. As I said earlier, Falcon Park is absolutely worth visiting, and if you’re heading to Syracuse the next day, for example, do yourself the favor of driving to the city and staying at this hotel, which is conveniently at the junction of I-81 and I-90.
Day one of my trip was a long day, so I went to sleep by 11 p.m. and when I woke up on Sunday morning, snapped some photos of the room.
Here’s the king-sized bed:
The desk area where I responded to a bunch of tweets after the game:
And the TV, entertainment unit, fridge microwave, etc.:
I checked out bright and early and got this last photo of the exterior:
Time to head to see Derek Jeter and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders!