One of the worst things that can happen to a fan is to have a great seat for a bloodletting—that is when your team is the one doing the bleeding. As you can see from the above photo, I had a pretty good one for Saturday's tilt between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Seattle Mariners.
This view came from a chair in the front row of the Dodgers' press box. As the Dodgers' community leader, I was allowed the opportunity to cover the game as a member of the working media, including being on the field during batting practice and going into the clubhouse to speak with players between BP and the start of the game.
It was a fan's dream come true, but it came with a couple of strings attached. As you most likely have heard, there is no cheering in the press box. It was a surreal experience for me, someone who has been known to cheer and boo and raise a hullabaloo, having to sit though a game without letting my inner fan out to tear it up.
I was struck by the thought that this might be similar to a coroner performing an examination—a detached feeling, for me quite singular in my sporting experience. I wondered if I would be able to enjoy the event.
I can state for the record, that while atypical, it was filled with a different flavor of enjoyment—one that I look forward to repeating when the opportunity arises.
The Dodgers also enforce a media rule prohibiting the wearing of team logos, so that meant no Dodger hat, jersey or t-shirt, breaking a long streak going back to the mid-eighties, when I was gifted a ticket while at work one fine day, and had no time to get home for a wardrobe change.
Then, there was the pesky matter of Felix Hernandez dominating the Dodgers' hitters, allowing only an unearned run when Ichiro Suzuki was struck in the leg by a fly ball while being blinded by the light of the setting sun.
Hernandez worked eight strong innings, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out nine. Of his 117 pitches, an amazing 73 were strikes. He was credited with a wild pitch, which a few of us in the press box thought should have been a passed ball.
Dodgers' starter Eric Milton did not fair so well, conceding four runs in five innings of work. He allowed seven hits, including the ninth homer of the season off the bat of Ken Griffey Jr., while striking out seven of the free-swinging Mariners.
James McDonald tossed two scoreless innings, giving up three hits with one punchout. He threw a handful of excellent changeups and seems to have regained his command during his time in the minors.
Guillermo Mota tossed a scoreless inning in the eighth, then Brent Leach came on for the ninth, where he surrendered a blast to Russell Branyan, his 19th on the year.
The Dodgers' offense got multiple baserunners on in only three of the nine innings, breaking through in the second with two out, when Rafael Furcal singled deep into the hole at short, just beating out an excellent throw from Ronny Cedeno. Furcal would be the only player on the Dodgers with more than one hit, having served a sinker into left field for a single in the first.
Orlando Hudson followed Furcal's second knock with a perfect hit-and-run single past Cedeno as he moved in to cover second, allowing Furcal to scamper over to third and score when Casey Blake's fly ball to right found Ichiro's leg instead of glove.
Other than a two-out double by James Loney followed by a four pitch walk to Russell Martin in the ninth, the Dodgers' offense was finished for the night.
During the time before the game started, I'll admit to having a surreal sensation; I found myself wondering, "Is this really happening?"
I was able to take plenty of photos, which will be the subject of a slideshow in the very near future. While this was not the first time I had been on the Dodger Stadium field, as this photo essay documents, it was a first time when a Major League contest was about to take place, though.
I had the chance to ask Dodger manager Joe Torre about his batting order upon Manny's return, which will move current leadoff hitter Juan Pierre to the bench. His reply, "It's going to be Furcal, same as before." When I asked if there was any thought to moving Matt Kemp into the role, Torre shook his head in the negative, as in not even close.
Then there was the clubhouse visit for about 45 minutes after batting practice, then back out an hour before game time to allow the players and coaches time to prepare for the mission at hand. I spoke to a few players, received commitments for upcoming extended interviews, and saw close up some seasoned reporters plying their trade.
At any one time, only about a quarter of the players were in the clubhouse. Down the hall are the training and exercise rooms. Both are restricted to team personnel only.
One conversation I'm sure the readers would be interested about concerned former Dodger Jeff Kent and his participation in ABC's revival of "The Superstars." A member of the young guard and a well known local columnist both expressed amazement at Kent's deviation from his norm. While not going into detail, you may rest assured Mr. Kent's reputation with these gents suffered numerous punctures.
As a newcomer, some players didn't want to make eye contact. It's understandable, as the press badge I was wearing identified me as a potential enemy. Others were very cordial, answering my questions in full and in a friendly manner. Brad Ausmus, Ramon Troncoso, and Clayton Kershaw all were in the latter category.
Ausmus spoke to his appreciation of playing in Los Angeles, but not wanting to look down the road past the game of the day. He did admit to hoping to be able to remain in the game after his playing days were over, if some team would want him.
I noted that many have expressed admiration for his knowledge, and how he would be an asset for any team. His humorous response was that he hoped they were the ones doing the hiring.
Troncoso, taking a break from a handheld video game, agreed to being very comfortable in his role with the team. His 2.11 ERA, four saves, and not giving up any runs in 13 of his last 15 games all support that assertion. He was quick to credit bullpen coach Ken Howell for his aid in mental preparation while down in the pen during the game.
In response to a few questions as to his video game preferences, Troncoso indicated he liked hunting games in particular, but enjoyed a variety of types. He has a PlayStation and creates a player to use in season play in MLB 09: The Show. He gave a big smile when I asked if he enjoys hitting. Ramon also gets a kick out of FIFA Soccer, where his preferred team is AC Milan.
Kershaw was talking about hitting as I came over. His theory is to swing as hard as he can every time, because something good may happen when he connects. He also acknowledged it is his duty to get his bunts down. He was disappointed he did not do so the previous night.
The conversation moved to umpire calls, and the need for proper etiquette, particularly for younger players. He was very earnest in noting how difficult it can be to control one's body language when you disagree with a call, and how umpires have very little tolerance for those who do not. He did note the umps will allow you to question a pitch while batting, as long as you maintain proper body language and keep your head down.
When asked, Kershaw said he has never been ejected, and his tone indicated he had been brought up not to put himself in such a position. Before leaving, Clayton asked if I had any further questions, an indication of respect and quality upbringing that reflects well on his parents.
Back upstairs in the press box, situated to the left of me was the TV camera which provides the in-house feed for the Dodger Diamond Vision board. To the right were Seattle beat writers. I enjoyed a game-long conversation with a writer from Japan who has been on the Mariner beat for a while.
I asked him questions about the Mariners, he inquired about Dodger players—current and in the minors—and we discussed some general baseball topics as well. While honoring his request to remain anonymous in regards to this article, I greatly appreciate his kindness and candid observations.
I want to thank the Dodgers PR department for their willingness to work with new media. With the cutbacks in print staff, there are opportunities for those of us in the blogosphere to step forward.