We’ve been working on getting the kids to the Marlins-Braves game for awhile now but nothing was really final until last night and so I was getting nervous. However, with the help of some very generous friends of USA Baseball, things fell into place and we were treated with an absolutely unbelievable experience today.
We let the kids sleep in, which was well earned and well appreciated. We caravanned up to Dolphins Stadium where it was arranged that we’d be brought down to meet some of the Braves at 11am. Tom Reilly, our Miami-based MLB security agent who accompanied our team to Venezuela in 2006, set it all up with the special access.
Meanwhile, Buck Buchanan, a Braves scout and the 2002 16U National Team Head Coach, arranged for us to talk with Clint Sammons and Jeff Francoeur, two of his former ballplayers when he was a high school coach. Clint and Jeff both played on the 2001 18U National Team, while Clint additionally played on the 2002 College National Team and Jeff on the 2006 World Baseball Classic team.
Last night I noticed that Jeff Ridgway had just been called up by the Braves. Ridge was a reliever on the 2006 Olympic Qualifying team that got us a ticket to Beijing in Cuba, and I was fortunate enough to have accompanied that team as the equipment manager/videographer/bat boy. I requested that he be asked to speak, too, and he kindly obliged.
They sat us in the field level seats just next to the dugout and Clint and Ridge came out to talk to us first about their experiences wearing the uniform, to expect the unexpected with international play, and about how fortunate everyone was to have this opportunity to represent their country. They both did a tremendous job.
As they were leaving, Francoeur came out and we got a nice group shot before he spoke to the group. When he was up there, all the kids stood and there were plenty of camera phone shots being taken. Just as his teammates before him, Jeff was great in talking to the guys and answering questions, and I couldn’t have been happier about the experience of giving the kids a little break from the competition of trials, but also getting some great advice from some guys who had played in Cuba and been in dog fights against Mexico, etc.
Their generosity and genuine enthusiasm about talking to our group was great to see, and I let our kids know that it would be a great way to pay USA Baseball back a little when they are in the same position one day. We’ll check back in 8 years.
It was at this point that I thought we’d be escorted to our seats for the game, and I would have been more
than fine with that. However, it was arranged for us to
watch Marlins’ batting practice from the warning track behind homeplate. That was amazing. And then it got even better when the Marlins’ hitting coach, Jim Presley, invited the staff to watch BP from right behind the cage.
Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Special Assistant to the President of the Marlins was behind the cage and sarcastically told one of our trials
coaches, the diminutive Dave Tykoski, that he should get on the elevated stand so that he could see into the cage. Tyke’s answer, was, of course, nothing other than “yes, sir.”
In the meantime, some Marlins players finally got curious enough as to who the 33 similarly dressed kids were behind the barrier and they began interacting with our guys. Hanley Ramirez, who didn’t take BP but still hit a bomb to center during the game, came out of the clubhouse to shake our guys’ hands.
Luis Gonzalez was walking around on his 41st birthday and was a particular hit with our Arizona contingent, which is fairly deep. So much of a hit, in fact, that our lone Arizona Trials player Zach Davies got his iphone signed by Gonzo.
About half way through BP, Jim Presley then extended the cage invitation to all of the guys, so they got a close up view of Dallas McPherson hitting the ball with ease about 450 feet to the opposite field. It was awesome. There was more interaction with guys like Dan Uggla and gold-medalist husband, Matt Treanor, and it was more than I had ever imagined of this day.
We finally had to leave the field so we took our seats in the right field bleachers and watched about an hour and a half of the game before we had to head back to study hall. The highlights were definitely the Peanut Lady and Trials player Brandon Johnson falling asleep and having the jumbotron catch him. It was a seriously funny moment.
Coach LaFevers even did a TV interview out there and showed off his media savvy.
It was then back to the car to head home for some study hall and then a night practice. The day was great, the rest was good, practice was effective, and we’re ready to push forward into the last two, very important trials games tomorrow and Friday as we pick the players who are going to go to Mexico to qualify for next year’s Worlds and then win the whole thing.
Many thanks need to go out on behalf of me and USA Baseball to a lot of people that put this experience together for our guys; so thanks very much to the Braves players, their media relations department, Tom Reilly, the Marlins community relations staff, their players and coaches, and the jumbotron operator. Thanks a lot, everyone.