My Major League Debut!
Sunday, October 7, 2012 – Fenway Park
Season Ticket Holders’ Batting Practice
To say I’m not the athletic type is a bit of an understatement. I never played sports in school (unless you count the Math Team) and I was terrible at everything they made us try in gym class. My idea of exercise is climbing up to the back row of the upper bleachers to watch a game. I like to joke that I’m a five-tool player modeled after some of the Red Sox greats – except that I run like Adrian Gonzalez, throw like Johnny Damon, field like Wily Mo Peña, hit like Jose Iglesias, and hit for power like Pedro Martinez. So it’s not like I ever envision myself as one of the players on the field and imagine what it would feel like to step to the plate. Until, that is, I got the invitation to do just that.
I had heard the week before that the Red Sox were going to offer season ticket holders the chance to take batting practice from home plate, as a way of making up for the horrific season that was just coming to a close. I do have a 10-game plan that renews every year (though I always add other games and have been to about 25 games a year since 2001), but when I didn’t hear from them I figured that this event was only for full season ticket holders. (I know there are other season ticket holder perks that don’t apply to my plan, like discounted ticket prices, the ability to choose the seats, and an annual Christmas ornament.) But then Monday night I got an email from the ticket office inviting me to the event. One person per account would have the chance to step to home plate and take 5 pitches off a pitching machine. We could bring guests to cheer us on, and we’d get to see the visitors’ clubhouse, the Green Monster, and the World Series trophies.
I was instantly thrilled. I called first thing Tuesday morning to reserve my timeslot, but while the event was taking place over 3 days, the only time remaining was Sunday night at 9 pm. This confirmed for me that they had only invited Tenth Man Plan holders after the other season ticket holders had had their chance, but no matter. I’d be making my Major League debut under the lights, in the Sunday Night Baseball timeslot no less, as I excitedly told all my friends.
There was just one problem. How was I actually going to hit the ball? It wasn’t even 5 swings, where maybe I could let the first couple go by to get a feel for it, but 5 total pitches. I’d hate to get all geared up for my big chance and then whiff on all five. I hadn’t faced live pitching (other than backyard wiffleball with my friends’ 10-year-old) since high school gym class, and even then I never hit anything. My co-workers came to my rescue on that. They were all excited for me, even the ones who aren’t total sports nuts, knowing what a really special opportunity this was. On Wednesday my boss’s boss showed up with a couple of bats and a bucket of softballs, offering to throw “Batting Practice practice” to me in the parking lot at lunch. Alas, it rained all day – as it always seems to do when I have something baseball-related on tap – and the bad weather continued all day Thursday too. I was starting to get worried, but Friday was a warm, sunny day, and after lunch, six of my co-workers headed outside to a grassy area in the back of our building and pitched to me. I hit mostly popups and fouls, but at least I was making contact, which was my goal.
The impromptu softball session at work gave me a little confidence that I’d at least connect, and then Saturday my friends took me to a batting cage so I could practice some more. Sunday was the big day, but by then my concerns were back to the weather again. It was supposed to rain all evening, starting around 7 and getting steadier by 9, when I was scheduled to bat. I had gotten a confirmation email from the Red Sox that said that in case of inclement weather batting practice would take place indoors in the batting cages instead of on the field. That was disappointing – it would still be pretty cool, just not the Coolest Thing Ever, like stepping out onto the field and thinking how I’m in the same batter’s box where Dustin Pedroia stands.
Sunday afternoon was cool and overcast, but the rain held off. My parents drove down from Maine, and we met up with my friend at Fenway. My scheduled time was the last half-hour slot of the night and I wanted to be able to do the other behind-the-scenes things listed on the invitation, so we arrived early, at 8:00. I was happy that they let me take my at-bat early while the weather was still decent.
We started in the visitors’ clubhouse with a couple of pictures, and then walked down the tunnel the players take to get to the dugout. We walked out onto the warning track, and I got in line with the other batters. Behind the batting cage, a guy with a microphone announced each batter’s name, plus the position and uniform number of their choosing. The light towers in the infield were lit up, but the ones on the Green Monster were not, presumably so we wouldn’t be blinded by the glare. The batters in front of me ranged in age and ability. One was a toddler, whose mother placed a ball on a tee before each of his swings while his father filmed. One guy clubbed one down the right field line which hit off the padding just on the foul side of Pesky’s Pole. I hoped to be somewhere in between, just wanting to make contact.
I put on a batting helmet and chose a bat. The announcement came: “Now batting, the designated hitter, number 34, Kristen Cornette.” I walked, trying to look casual, into the cage where I’ve watched the Red Sox take batting practice so many times. I looked out at the field, thinking this is what the players see when they come to the plate. (I had borrowed some batting gloves from one of my co-workers, and I debated doing the glove-tugging, toe-tapping move that Nomar Garciaparra used to do before every at-bat, but thought it might come out looking more like Elaine’s dancing on Seinfeld. And anyway, I needed to concentrate.) I swung and missed at the first pitch. The second one I fouled back, but I grinned with relief at having made contact. The third pitch was another swing-and-miss. On the fourth I connected again, and this time it left the batting cage – a liner down the first base line, airborne for about 80 feet, that landed just barely foul and rolled quickly past the bag. I whiffed again on the fifth pitch, but as I exited the cage I turned and gave a triumphant double-point toward my cheering section in front of the home dugout. (Sure, the at-bat was technically a K, but that one grounder was thisclose to being a 3-unassisted… and hey, if there had been a runner on base he could have moved up to second, which would have made it a heads-up play and a productive at-bat.)
After the at-bat, I joined the rest of my party by the Red Sox dugout. We took a few pictures there, and then realized that we were allowed to go down the tunnel from the dugout up to the home clubhouse, a walk I had never made before. From the dugout, steps led down to a narrow hallway. An alcove at the bottom housed shovels, tarps, and a lot of cables and wires. On the left was a large room with the batting cages that were built a couple of years ago, along with a soda machine, a stationary bike, and a host of other assorted equipment. (I had to chuckle as we walked down the tunnel. If we were going the other direction I’d be thinking about how this is the way the players walk out to the field, but going in reverse the thought that popped into my mind was, “This is the long walk back after being ejected.” My father played along, joking, “Maybe I’ll punch a wall.”) At the end of the hallway we turned left and walked up a flight of stairs. That brought us back to ground level, and into the Red Sox clubhouse.
With the season over, the clubhouse was a bit of a mess. There were a lot of cardboard boxes yet to be packed, and two guys sat in the back watching Sunday night football on the TVs. Some of the lockers were completely emptied, but jerseys still hung in others. Two boxes were stacked in front of Pedroia’s locker – one that said “PADS: -KNEE, -TOE, -ELBOW” and one labeled “PEDIE SNEAKS”. We got to linger in the clubhouse for several minutes and take a bunch of pictures.
From there, we were directed back out to the stands and around to the third base concourse. There we found the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies, and posed for more pictures. They also had a couple of tables with memorabilia on display. We wrapped up the fun evening and walked back to the car around 9:15, and just as we pulled onto the highway the rain started.