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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I'm Not The Future Of Baseball, I Just Cover It For TV

Just got back from Houston, where ESPN sent me for my first (and probably last) remote assignment: the 2004 Futures Game and Home Run Derby. So how did it go?

Glad you asked. I got to Houston on Saturday afternoon. Houston on a weekend, even the weekend of the All-Star Game, is dead. The downtown area is strictly a financial center, so on Saturday and Sunday, there was little to no activity. On Saturday night, McDonald's was closed by 10 p.m. That's how dead it was.

Saturday night was a good time though, thanks to Main Street, a four or five-block stretch of bars and restaurants that were packed with people who come out of hiding once the sun goes down and the temperature drops from "boiling water" to "sauna." One of the nice things about Houston (this might be a Texas thing in general) is the lack of an open container law. So while we debated which bar to check out, we walked the street with beer already in hand.

The light rail, made infamous by Bill Simmons's columns, travels right down the center of Main Street, and miraculously didn't kill anybody in the few hours that we spent near it. But people + beer + intersections + street-level mass transit rail cars = likely disaster, eventually.

On Sunday night, the locals didn't make it out to Main Street, though, and the All-Star crowd hadn't yet made it to Houston, so the crowd at the bars was perhaps a fourth of the size it had been the night before. Solution: get a beer for the walk back to the hotel, then booze it up at the hotel bar while watching people go into the Stuff magazine party. No, the low-level PAs and researchers don't get into that kind of event.

We did see Derek Jeter, Sam Cassell, and Nick Van Exel go into the party, though. Cassell and Van Exel were more than happy to give a trio of girls at the table next to us passes to the party, but somehow overlooked us. Go figure.

The Futures Game featured some pretty impressive pitching - only one pitcher of the 17 in the seven-inning game allowed an earned run - but perhaps even more impressive were the batting-practice bombs that the hitters unloaded. Delmon Young ripped one off the All-Star Game sign high on the light tower in left-center. It probably would have gone 520 feet if the sign hadn't knocked the ball back on the field. The shot even impressed Tony Gwynn, who was watching BP in the booth with me at the time.

Following the Futures Game was the celebrity-legend softball game, which was reminiscent of a bunch of high school kids trying to organize something. It started off okay (although there was a nine-run inning in which batters were coming to the plate and ripping off hits with such quickness that the scoreboard operator, and consequently, Gary Thorne and the ESPN score bug, only counted eight runs). Then came a bizarre incident where Goose Gossage lobbed an inside pitch to Nick Lachey and Lachey charged the mound and actually tackled Gossage, who is 53 years old. Of course, this prompted the benches to clear, and next thing you know, pairs of players are rolling around on the field in front of the mound, throwing fake punches at each other. I didn't see the post-produced version of the game that aired after the Home Run Derby, but I hope that whole fiasco was cut.

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend for me, though, came after I got back to the hotel from the All-Star Sunday events. The ESPN crew and the Futures Game players were both staying at the same hotel, and by the time I got back from Minute Maid Park, many of the Futures Game players were milling around the lobby. I got in the elevator, still wearing my press credential around my neck, and another guy who looked like a ballplayer gets in as well. He was speaking Spanish to his girlfriend (or groupie, who knows), and looked at me and said hello. So I said hi back, and asked him if he played today.

I think he took this to mean "I know you were in the game today, but did you actually play?" (There were three pitchers who didn't make an appearance in the game.) So he said yes, he played, and then asked if I played.

God bless you, Yusmeiro Petit.

I explained to him that I was with ESPN, but I don't think he understood me well, because he asked, "You pitch?"

I think what I said next is that when I last played over five years ago in high school, I was a catcher (I left out the part about only getting three at-bats my senior year), and that I just get to cover baseball now. I'm sure I left the elevator feeling as good about myself as he was confused, but who cares.

More about my All-Star weekend experience to come later this week...


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