Box Score: http://www.milb.com/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2015_08_30_prtaax_nbraax_1&mode=gameday
This was it. The final Rock Cats home game ever. We arrived before noon and gates opened up around 12:05pm but I feel like they were a little bit early because there were so many people waiting outside already. The first thing we saw going in was that the Legends of Baseball were at tables waiting to sign autographs. You can do a Google search for something like "Rock Cats softball game" for this date and find the full list but Rollie Fingers and Fergie Jenkins were at a table together and to get them to sign was $50. Everyone else- maybe six or seven other guys- sat at a table together and went for $30 for all of them. What a difference in price. There was no way I was paying any of those guys anything but what was perhaps more disappointing was that Fergie Jenkins and Rollie Fingers were priced together. What if I just wanted to meet one and not the other? In hindsight though, I didn't see a lot of people at any of these tables, paying these ridiculous prices. So let's say that they had ten people come up to the $50 table, then that's $500 they made, right? But imagine if they charged even only $10 for an autograph and picture. If they set the price tag lower like that, then they could have easily had a hundred or more people (myself included) pay it. I would have had Rollie Fingers sign a ball and take a picture with Quentin for $10. But this is just one of those overall problems with baseball, which I mean in the MLB not minors. You sell seats for $30 and up each and barely draw a crowd. Yet, if you priced them lower then more people would show up which would generate more revenue all around (Think of all those people also buying food, merch, paying for parking, etc.) It is why- I believe- MLB just doesn't draw the same crowds they once used to bring into the ball parks.
So my only real goal for this game was to finish getting the team ball signed. I had about a dozen players I wanted to try and get to sign it and when I went down towards the Rock Cats dug out there was another guy down there with his girlfriend and he was trying to complete his ball as well, though he needed mostly pitchers and I had mostly pitchers. Everyone eventually came around to sign for us, which put my Rock Cats team ball at a whopping 25 signatures. Shane Broyles seemed to be running out of room when he was among the last to sign it and so he signed over Rocky's head. The funny thing was that in between signing, the Rock Cats players came out to throw some merchandise into the crowd, which seemed to mostly be left over give away items. I got a camo hat from Matt Flemer and a blue hat from Mike Tauchman. Carlos Estevez gave me a Rocky lunch box as he said, "Because I know you have a kid" (We were talking earlier that game and the night before about how he saved us on Latino Heritage Night) and then I also helped some kids near get lunch boxes from him as well. I don't know where it was intended to land, but Harrison Musgrave was throwing out some white boxes which we thought were bobbleheads but weren't sure of exactly and one landed right on top of my lunch box, nestled into my arm. I was like, "Whoa, where did that come from?" and we later realized it was a Kennys Vargas bobblehead, which was a give away this season that we missed (car troubles) and I wasn't going to pay $24.95 for it in the Third Base Shop. But for free, sure, I'll take it.
The only thing the players were throwing out that I didn't get was a red t-shirt but that's okay. I probably have too many t-shirts as it is. They were also throwing out cups but we already have enough of those so I didn't mind missing them either. Abel Baker seemed to be having way too much fun chucking them into the crowd and as far as I know no one got hurt. It was funny though because as the players were throwing these items to the fans the whole time I was just thinking about- in my head- who I still needed to sign the ball and at one point I asked Tyler Massey and he said yes but waited until after all of the stuff was gone, which was nice of him. I never saw David Dahl come into the dug out- he didn't throw anything out for free- until the National Anthem played so he was really the only person on the team that didn't end up signing the ball, which was okay because he had signed enough for us already this season. Oddly enough, Ryan Arrowood signed for us on Saturday night- during the mayhem- and by Sunday he was called up to Triple A. Strange, strange times, but I'm happy for him and his headbands.
Things down near the dug out became surreal at one point. Rollie Fingers was going down to throw out the first pitch and as I was so caught up in looking at the dug out and watching players return from the batting cages I turned around at one point to see Rollie Fingers standing behind me. It was like, whoa, because it felt like something out of a movie. How often do you unknowingly get that close to one of the greatest pitchers to ever live? After he threw out the first pitch and took pictures (and signed balls) with the Rock Cats players he came back up past me and I told him "You still got it, Rollie" to which he replied "Thanks". What's funny was that when Justin Morneau came back from stretching he signed autographs for the people standing along the first base line- some probably not in their seats and rather just in the way- but yet, us fans who had been waiting near the dug out the longest got the shaft by him. He just walked by and ignored us. What a major league jerk. Once I had my team ball complete and yelled at Justin Morneau enough to hopefully really annoy him I went up to the stands for the game. But it wouldn't be fair if I didn't tell you this little story before the game started.
When he was going out to stretch I called Noel Cuevas over to sign the team ball. He said he already had. I told him I didn't see him come out last night and so he hadn't signed it and I just got it yesterday. He came over, pointed to a spot on it and said, "See, I signed right there" and sure enough, there was his name and number. As if some sort of magic trick while discussing with him whether or not he had signed the ball he had possession of both the ball itself and my pen so he had been secretly signing it, making me doubt when exactly he had signed it and all around just proving to be a trickster. Still, he is one of the most underrated Rock Cats players and the true MVP of the team in my opinion.
A number of games before this one we had gotten Quentin one of the foam fingers but since he had left it at home for this game Gina took him and got him one of the foam claws. He also got a Rock Cats Boy Scouts night patch as well because even though he is not a Boy Scout we were at that game and it is a nice memento as a patch. In addition to that and what the players had thrown at me, Quentin and I would visit the Third Base Shop one last time and get a Rock Cats glove as well as the basketball set they had for sale all season long that I wanted but never got until now because it was our last chance. The idea of a minor league baseball team being represented on something related to basketball amused me too much to pass this up.
The game itself was something to be seen. Shane Carle pitched his final Rock Cats game at home and it looked like he might be taking the loss until the Rock Cats were able to come back and tie it. This took us into the bottom of the 9th tied 4-4 and everyone was waiting for that walk off. It is worth noting though that three of the Rock Cats earlier runs were made possible with the help of the bat of Justin Morneau- who was at first base today and not in the DH spot. But after those runs were on the board Morneau went out of his way to miss two routine plays at first base, simply because the ball was thrown to him and he couldn't catch it for some reason. His bat may not need to be called into question, but eventually he did come out and when Jordan Patterson took his spot at first he didn't miss a single play the way that Morneau had missed not only one but two plays of what Keith Hernandez likes to call "fundies". It was a strange way to see him play since he had hit the winning home run the night before and now seemed like he wasn't able to play first for some reason. A few plays prior to that, I noticed there was a somewhat wide throw to first that Morneau had stretched for to make the out and I thought about how nice it was to have a major league player make that play- because of keeping his foot on the bag while making the stretch- but in those two plays later he didn't look like a major league player.
When the Rock Cats and Sea Dogs went into extra innings I thought the game might never end. In all fairness, these are the two teams in last and second to last place in the East-East and so waiting for them to score could be quite a while. When the Sea Dogs managed to get a run in the top of the 11th I thought it was over but then the Rock Cats countered with a run in the bottom of the 11th which tied the game and so it didn't end it just extended it even longer. It took until the bottom of the 15th for Jordan Patterson to hit a walk off home run and let me just say that if Patterson had not come in to replace Morneau we might still be at New Britain Stadium in extra innings right now. And as interesting as all of that is, the Sea Dogs ran out of pitchers in their bull pen and the last two innings were actually pitched by their third baseman- Oscar Tejeda. Just when you think you've seen it all, this game went and outdid itself somehow.
Following the game, which went almost four and a half hours, kids ran the bases one last time and then there was the celebrity softball game in which Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins and others would play, but after Quentin ran the bases we left simply because I didn't want to leave New Britain Stadium thinking about other players from the past or Justin Morneau even but I wanted to leave it on the future with thoughts of the walk off home run by Jordan Patterson. They should have had that softball game prior to the actual game as I thought it was going to be so that the Rock Cats could go out on the note that they so rightfully deserved.
Please Note: The photo album for this game can be found at http://raisedbygypsies.com/baseball.html as there were too many photos to fit into this single review.