How was I supposed to respond to that?
The game ended. The Red Sox had defeated the Rays 5-0. The teams had begun to file off the field. The Rays moved quickly from the dugout and the bullpen, not embarrassed by their meaningless loss, but wanting to get back to Port Charlotte and into bed. The Red Sox stayed a couple minutes longer, slapping each other five, but they soon grabbed what they needed from the dugout and bullpen and departed from the field as well. Five and a half minutes after the game ended, there were three players left on the field: ironically, two Rays and one Red Sox.
Rays catcher Stephen Vogt was standing on the other side of the screen so I walked over and started chatting. I congratulated him on his hit in the 9th inning and passed another minute of typical disconnected fan-player conversation before he began walking towards the field exit. I followed him, baseball and pen in hand, before approaching him when he stopped just past the Red Sox dugout. I shouted out his name but quickly a security guard came over and told me I wasn’t allowed to be where I was. Suddenly, Vogt seemingly motioned me to come forward. But it wasn’t directed towards me- it was for a couple of family members who were walking behind us. I left, understanding the situation but nevertheless annoyed. I smiled as I walked out of the stadium with my dad. I was lucky enough to have flown down to Florida to catch a couple of games and I was disappointed because I didn’t get an autograph?
It was 12:30, 35 minutes before game time on Sunday. Thus far, I had gotten one autograph in two games. But I didn’t mind. I had been in the press box before the game on Friday and got to chat with scouts and journalists. And I had great seats to all three games. That was good enough for me. But there was no point of sitting idly by when I could get a few more autographs and make this trip of lifetime just little more special. So my dad and I started walking down the right line, where else saw players passing by and signing baseballs for fans.
One nice thing about being a blogger is that there are no defined rules. You’re a writer, but not quite officially, and while you don’t get the access to the clubhouses that the real members of the media receive, you also don’t have to be as professional. I was in Charlotte Sports Park as a fan who happened to be a blogger. And standing by the field down the third base line as the players slaked by, I was a kid in a candy shop.
Things happened very quickly. I got an autograph from one Ray then another. There were a couple Rays running and after I called out one’s first name, he came over and signed my baseball. After my dad quickly bought another baseball. I got two more signatures before they game began. At that point, I went over to my seat in the first row right next to the Pirates dugout at the very edge of the screen and eagerly awaited the start of the game. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
After the Pirates finished fielding practice midway through the first inning, one of their coaches tossed me the ball. Despite having attended over a hundred games previously, it was the first ball I had ever gotten at a game.
The game itself was very exciting. It featured just about the perfect combination of big leaguers and prospects, and it was 3-2 Pirates heading to the bottom of the 9th before John Shelby beat out an infield single, Matt Mangini doubled to the gap, and Chris Gimenez won it with a 2-run single as the Rays won 4-3. The game, which would be the final one my dad and I attended was over. But we decided to stick around for a little while, take in the scenery one final time, and… see if we could get a couple more autographs. We walked over to the side of the Ray dugout and got Mangini, one of the game’s heroes, to sign my game-used ball. Then we started walking towards the exit. I was beaming on my face but part of me started crying. As we’re about to exit the field, we see a player signing autographs. It’s Vogt. I walk over, ball and pen in hand.
He finishes signing another fan’s ball and takes my ball and pen. Then he looks up.
“Hey! You’re the kid from yesterday! How are you doing? How’s school?”
I was stunned. He actually remembered me? And not only that, he asked me how school was going! How was I supposed to respond to that! “Everything’s great.” is all I could muster.
“I’m really sorry I couldn’t sign your ball yesterday.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.”
“Really nice to see you again.”
“Thanks. Good luck making the team this year. You have a good chance. You have a nice bat and like seemingly everyone else on the team, you play everywhere, but it’s especially nice that you can catch.”
“Thanks man. I try.”
“See you soon. Good luck in school.”
My dad shook his hand.
I have a new favorite Rays minor leaguer.