Hey Rays fans! I’m Michael Natelli. You may know me from District On Deck, but today I’m here to walk you through what was perhaps the greatest day of my life; the day I was a Ray for a day.
This was all possible because of my dad and a good friend of mine named Willy Forte. Willy has been good friends with Joe Maddon since they played PeeWee football together as little kids: Joe the quarterback and Willy a linebacker. Willy’s Bruce Springsteen cover band, the B Street Band, got to play a show at the stadium the day I was there, and let me tell you, as said on MLB Network, “If you can’t see Springsteen they’re the next best thing!” It was special to me that Willy and I both got to have great experiences that day.
I arrived at the stadium and it was absolutely beautiful. I got there four hours early, and it was silent and empty. The only sound to be heard was that of players taking batting practice in the cages next door. A magical feeling for a fan like myself, I finally knew this was real, though it hadn’t quite set in just yet. After lounging around (and picking up some merchandise of course) for about half an hour, I proceeded to meet a woman named Maureen, who, along with the help of a man named Mike (thanks to both of you guys!), connected me with the Rays’ equipment manager, Chris Westmoreland (goes by Westey). At that point, I had already gotten through security and into the team facility. Next, Westey said, “Come on, let’s go meet Joe” (Joe Maddon). We walked through the facility and into the “Major League Manager’s Office,” where sitting in a spinny chair was none other than Maddon himself. As he got up to shake my hand, despite my freezing up I managed to say “Hi Mr. Maddon I’m Michael Natelli,” and then proceed to shake the hand of Dave Martinez, Rays bench coach, who gave me a nice big smile.
Although I was under the impression that I would be sitting in the dugout as the Rays played the Marlins, I soon found out that I would be a ballboy! I was going to be part of the game! So, Westey took me to meet the batboy staff, and they gave me a jersey. I got all the cool gear the team wears on the field; I was suiting up for a major league baseball game. I dressed in the same locker room that people such as general manager Andrew Friedman and various team owners! What a surreal feeling.
After a few hours of just hanging out, we got to eat lunch in the team clubhouse. Let me just say, if you ever get the chance to have this experience, I highly recommend the chicken and roasted potatoes: absolutely delicious.
About a half an hour later, it was game time. So, being the cool kids that we are, we headed to the field, and I got to meet the home plate umpire, Quinn Wolcott. He was also quite nice, and walked me through what I would be doing.
So the game went by, I had brief chats with Evan Longoria and Luke Scott, said hello so players like David Price, James Shields and Sean Rodriguez, and even got a fist bump from Jose Molina. All very nice guys. But the coolest part was probably that Joe Maddon actually checked on me every two or so innings just to make sure I was having a good time. He’s trying to evaluate Wade Davis to see if he deserves the fifth rotation spot, and he’s checking on me to see if I’m having fun. What a world-class guy.
After the game, despite losing 5-1, Joe was still in high spirits (after all, it’s Spring Training). After signing autographs for a few fans, he even invited me back to his office to chat some more. I mentioned that I’d try to catch a game when they come up to Baltimore, and he said he’d be happy to have me again. He invited me to the game! I guess he liked me (yay!). The best part was when he actually invited me to go to dinner after. Dinner with Joe Maddon! The worst part was when I had to say no so I could catch my flight.
What a spectacular day. It still hasn’t even quite hit me that it happened, but such an amazing feeling knowing that it did. I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow morning realizing it did, and hit myself saying I shouldn’t have been so nervous, or I shouldn’t have run so fast to the umpire, or something. But that’s for tomorrow. Right now, I’m just soaking it in, because I got to do something that your average sports fan does not get to do. I’m buds with Joe Maddon now for cripes sake!
So, thank you for joining me on the journey of a lifetime. It’s been a blast sharing it with you.
Let me leave you with this. I’m certainly a Rays fan now. The Nationals will have to take a backseat unless Davey Johnson would like to set something up.
Us here at Rays Colored Glasses would like to thank Michael for his guest post. Please check out his writing at District On Deck, our Nationals website here at FanSided.