Worst Case Scenario? – The Wrigley Bleacher Project

Even with all the exciting news surrounding the Cubs in the past three or four months, I haven’t felt a need to comment or give my thoughts on what the organization is doing on this particular BaseBlog. There are plenty of other bloggers, writers, analysts, and fans to help you get the full picture of what’s happening with the team. I’m not particularly good at expressing intelligent opinions on these matters, anyway. My strength is not looking at stats and making comparisons that affect call-ups, trades, free agent signings, and the like. My area of expertise is knowing the best place to go for a game home run at Coors Field, or any other park for that matter. There’s actually a really great wheelchair aisle and walkway in left field in Colorado where you….never mind.

With the 30th annual Cubs Convention taking place this past weekend, there was a slather of news about the things I listed above that I’m not good at. The one piece of unconventional news, however, was the state of the Bleacher renovation project. Numerous writers and bloggers noted back in November that not much was going on after the existing seats were brought down. Later in December, it got very cold and started to snow a little, which meant that some days there wasn’t a single worker present. This obviously generated rumors and speculation that the seats and new outfield concourse wouldn’t be finished in time. Personally, I thought there was no way that could happen. It would be an embarrassment for the front office, cause a huge revenue downturn, and be a huge eye sore until people were allowed to sit there. I had faith that Tom Ricketts would somehow get it done in time for Opening Night, no matter the cost or level of desperation.

Lo and behold, the speculations became reality, when it was revealed on Saturday “at the 2 PM session” (as Tom stated plenty of times when people asked about it up to that point) that the project was TWO MONTHS behind. This wasn’t a little problem. It was a complete meltdown. I immediately had clear visions of watching Opening Night from the upper deck and seeing cement trucks, rubble, and bundles of steel bars beyond the ivy covered walls.

The long and short of the situation for the Cubs is that there will be not be a single outfield seat for at least 15 home games. The team has already given multiple options to Bleacher season ticket holders as to how they want to handle their seats (refund, account credit, or relocation to another part of the park). The 2015 home schedule tells us that the absolute soonest any small part of the Bleachers will be finished is May 11th. I knew the project was in trouble, but had no idea it was this large. An entire month of the season will have passed before things get back to any type of normalcy.

To most people, this is just news. It may be more interesting to some of the die-hard fans, but it probably doesn’t reach far beyond that. Most of the 5,000 people  in the Bleachers (if the game is sold out, that is) don’t care where they sit. They just happen to gravitate to the Bleachers because that’s where the most drinking takes place. I’m willing to say that less than 25% of the people who sit out there have a strong devotion to a specific section of bench, as is the case for many Season Ticket regulars. This 25% is disappointed, but maybe only half of this smaller group are genuinely displeased or angered by this situation. I am included in an even smaller subset group that may only consist of 15 or 20 people. This news shatters my normal life at the ballpark. Not just ANY ballpark. MY ballpark. This is literally the single worst thing that can happen to a Ballhawk.

Since I’m someone who is greatly affected by this news, I wanted to get my thoughts and reactions out in the open. I feel like many people are curious about what I have to say on the issue and what my Plan B is for the first month of the season.

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While the 2006 Bleacher renovation encountered no problems and opened on time, these things occasionally happen in large scale construction projects. In fact, many of my friends and fellow baseball fans fail to remember this happening when Busch Stadium was being built in 2005, and opened in 2006. There were a handful of games at the beginning of the season with some sections not yet opened.

DSCF2266In this context, the baseball off-season is very short. Six months is not such a large amount of time to rebuild a huge part of a historic ballpark that needs to be treated with care. Falling behind was nothing the construction crews or the front office could have prevented. Work began the day after the Cubs season was over, and was going well until they tore up the street to start building the larger foundation for the seats and video board. They found pipes and water mains that were in terrible, terrible shape, even when you consider they’re 100 years old. You can’t build on that and hope for the impossible that they’ll last another 80 years without encountering any problems. For this, I don’t blame them. It’s not the worst thing that could have happened in regards to the construction. Just off the top of my head, I’d say taking out the wrong support beam and sending the scoreboard crashing to the corner of Sheffield and Waveland would probably be the worst thing. Tom’s motto has been to complete the project safely and the right way. And they solved this problem by following that motto. Credit to him for sticking to his guns without lying to try and make the situation better.

First, this mess hardly effects me personally, in the larger scheme of things. I may have gone to Opening Night and one more game while I was still in school. May 11th will be the first home game after I come home for the summer. It almost works out perfectly. Yes, it’s a little bit of a bummer that my chances for an Opening Day ball are diminished, but it’s mostly relief. I don’t have to make the tough decision of whether a trip home is worth the $80 it would cost me for gas and tickets. If anything, it gives me the chance to enjoy the first game of the year with some of my friends who are huge baseball fans and not have a care in the world. Nobody is out there, so there’s nothing I’m missing out on. Beyond that, I just have to wait until they’re done. There’s literally no way to fix it.

Secondly, it adds a temporary nuance and an obstacle to my most visited park. Whatever happens beyond the wall has zero impact on what takes place on the field. Now, in three and a half months, I’m sure there will be some sort of structure to take the place of the giant hole in what was once Waveland Avenue. Even when the seats are longer and it will take A LOT more power to hit a ball out of the park, it will still happen a handful of times. Where will I be able to stand out on Waveland? Will any balls reach my spot? How many will fall into the black hole between the construction fence and the outfield wall? But most importantly: where will those ‘black hole’ balls eventually end up? I sure hope it’s between a sharpie and a rubber band on the end of a string.

Next, before the big finish, I just want to state the obvious. This isn’t the only park I can go to. I’ll substitute the games I’m missing at Wrigley with ones in Milwaukee and at the Cell. Nothing spectacular about that. Going back to point numero uno, this also takes a load off my mind when I decide I have time for a game. For Wrigley, I need to check the price level, estimate how many people will show up at which times, and hope to God that my Season Ticket guys have something available. I’ve been screwed over numerous times (mostly weather related) because I have to buy all my Wrigley tickets in February to ensure I get to use the VIP gate. You know what I have to do for the other places? Buy the cheapest seat available ten minutes before I leave for the park. That’s it.

I haven’t realized how much I hate the one-of-a-kind dynamic of everything that is the Wrigley Field Bleachers. Now, I don’t have to spend so much time and energy putting my season schedule in place. I can see how it goes and where I stand on May 11th, and make adjustments if needed. By a stroke of luck, this is the perfect situation for what I’m dealing with this summer. From the second I graduate, I’ll be spending 25 to 30 hours a week studying for the CPA exam. I have no idea when my schedule will allow games or require more studying. I can take those problems as they come, and not have to balance baseball with a test that costs more to take than the value of my car. I’m all about fitting baseball into normal life, but not at a cost of $6,500 and slow career growth for the rest of my life.

And now, finally, the saving grace of this whole mess. The thing that truly made me say “This isn’t all that bad. In fact, I’m happy it worked out like this!”

Being home at the earliest projected date on May 11th ensures I’ll be able to see the very first game in person when they finally open; which is exactly what I plan to do. As soon as I notice they’re selling tickets for the Bleachers, I’ll go on a manhunt for a VIP ticket, which will possibly make me the very first fan to ever step in the new Wrigley Field Bleachers, or the very first fan to ever catch a ball out there. Cool, right? I think so too. The best part is that it’s so easy. The fact that they’re willing to sell tickets means they’re absolutely positive the job will be finished. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it went past May 11th though, so I’ll keep myself up to date and see how this plays out.

So, essentially, my point is that this isn’t a disaster. It actually works out better than I could have planned it myself, save for missing a maximum of two games I would have gone to if they finished construction on time. It also provides me with a unique and unexpected opportunity to do something for the first time at Wrigley. Now that the calendar has flipped over, this is exactly the type of thing I needed to get my blood pumping for the regular season.

2014 Season in Review

A little after the fact here in December, I can now say that I’m closing the book on my fourth season as a Ballhawk. You’re probably getting tired of hearing it by now since I say it every year at this time, but this was once again my best and most favorite season yet. I’ve started each year with a different focus and mindset, which has allowed me to grow in numerous ways and focus on different and unique aspects of my favorite hobby. One would think a person can only go to so many baseball games before they’ve done it all, which leaves them feeling rather bored. But even now, in the dead of winter, plans are being made to experience even more things that I’ve never attempted to try before.

Now that 2014 is finished, a year in which I felt I would reach the pinnacle of everything I was capable of, I can still find something to look forward to. There will always be something else to look forward to that I haven’t done. I finally understand the thought process of my role models who’s success I aspire to replicate. There is ALWAYS something bigger to strive for. There are ALWAYS new things to dream about and experience. But most of all, there will ALWAYS be another ball.

In the aftermath of the most difficult summer I’d ever encountered in terms of conflicts with games, I still come out with an optimistic attitude. I learned that it’s not about numbers, whether that’s balls, games, miles driven, or parks visited (even though I usually put lots of importance in those things). It’s about challenging yourself in the pursuit of your goals, doing what makes you happy, and dealing with each given situation as best as you can, whether big (a 40 hour a week job) or small (no batting practice).

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 I’d like to tell you a story that relates to dealing with most of my summer being spent at work. It was my favorite moment of 2014, and it happened many miles away from a ballpark.

I was on the bus back home from my on-site internship training, sitting next to a fellow student who would be working in the same office as me. I remember thinking as we pulled away from the hotel that exactly seven days earlier, I was still in the waning hours of my ultimate month of living the dream. I was a little glum, to say the least. I was incredibly happy for the opportunity at PM, but I couldn’t help but think about how the job would change me and how I viewed my favorite ballpark activity. I worried that baseball, a large part of my personality, would vanish and leave a huge space that would need to be filled with something else. I didn’t want that to happen, but I may have been in a situation where I had no choice.

I expressed these concerns to my new friend, to a lesser degree. He was curious about how the simple task of catching a baseball could be so important to someone. I explained my rituals and achievements, and also what other joys that Ballhawking has brought me. Eventually, I pulled out a BaseBlog card from my backpack. I brought a fresh stack of them to training for the purpose of starting conversations with new friends and attracting readers; a rather shameful act that I’ll be brutally honest about. The response from him was not so typical, and caught me by surprise.

“That’s real cool. I can relate. I do drag racing at different tracks with my family in the summer”.

“You mean ‘zero to a hundred in two seconds’ drag racing, or…”

That’s exactly what he meant. We then switched roles as he showed me pictures of his car, talked about his type of races, and HIS greatest achievements. I was shocked and incredibly curious. This was one of the most random things I could think of. Why racing? How did you start? I wanted to hear more about every aspect.

I soon realized that I was reacting in the same way I want people to react to “I’ve caught over 100 baseballs at Major League parks”. It felt good to reciprocate an interest in the hobby of someone who I would get to know rather well in the coming months. I was also genuinely interested to hear how one goes about getting involved in that sort of thing. Other interns overheard us talking, and asked him similar questions about his races. During the course of the ride, I found out that everyone had a unique interest in one thing or another. One girl decorated cakes rather extravagantly. Another guy was training for his next triathlon. A handful of people had traveled around the world through study abroad programs for one reason or another, which were all a result of something they were passionate about. The first thing this showed me is that people are awesome, and everyone is passionate about something. No matter how much they deny it, everyone has something like this that makes them an individual. You can find out a lot about a person when discovering what they like to spend their limited free time doing.  When I meet someone new in the future, I want to know what that is. This was the first of many lessons I would learn while being involved in this internship program.

The more important realization, and the one I was personally most concerned about when stepping onto the bus, is this: All of us had to make adjustments and push our passions off to the side this summer. Mine was rather unconventional, so I never had anything to compare it to. At the root of things, though, all hobbies are the same. They require time and commitment. The amount of people my age that train for marathons is much larger than those who Ballhawk, but everyone still manages to spend time doing what they care about most. Somehow, this let me know that everything was going to be okay. I wasn’t going to lose my passion just because I had less time to devote to it.

All of that being said, there are two main points. First, there’s an infinite amount of balls to chase, and an infinite amount of success and joy one can have by catching one. Secondly, I won’t let my passion disappear unless I want it to. My largest fear had been dissolved. I’m going (and will be able to) do this for a long time. That’s my largest takeaway from seeing the opposing worlds of plentiful/minimal baseball I saw this year.

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I’m not exactly sure what I want to talk about for the rest of the entry, so I’m just going to let it flow for the most part. I have a “Season Goals” list that I put together in March, which I could easily recap and reflect on how I succeeded in meeting some and failing at others. Looking back, though, I feel like each one is pointless and irrelevant to how I feel now.

They were all centered around trying to force and create certain experiences that I’ve come to find aren’t all that great. They were meant to get me to talk to people, take “risks” (whatever that means), and not stress myself out. I know I just mentioned how creating goals to challenge myself is important in what I do, but I feel like I’ve changed my attitude so much that this specific list isn’t applicable to who I had become by the end of the season. I was trying too hard to force interactions that I thought would make me feel more like my role models and a ballpark regular. What I’ve learned, after spending so much time around these types of people at different ballparks, is that these things are impossible to create. I figured the only way to have the types of experiences that come from going to a lot of games was to actually go to a lot of games. I did that. I can even point out a few situations where I achieved the interactions I was really looking for. They weren’t all that thrilling, actually. It just seemed like normal problems, normal conversations, and normal life. That sounds like it turned out to be a let down, but being able to see that these situations aren’t “amazing” or “once in a lifetime” shows me they’ve become a part of my life, and the exact type of life I wanted to have at a ballpark.

I did a lot this year, there’s no doubt about that. The fact I didn’t try to play up these goals or make my situation sound better than it really was showed me something I can’t quite describe. The end result, however, is me being pretty sure I’ve become an experienced Ballhawk, something I had hoped would happen for the last four years. I’m not one of the new people who think there’s only one way to do things. I’m following the guidelines that I set for myself, regardless of what the other inhabitants of our little world recommend I do.

For now, that’s it. With it being so late in 2014, my mind has already switched to next season. These are my initial feelings that I thought about once the season was over, only now a little more refined since I’ve had some time to reflect. The next time you hear from me about actual baseball games will be my season preview entry that I’ll publish once I sort out all the ideas that are currently floating around in my head.

So, thank you to everyone. Everyone who reads my entries, goes to games with me, gives me support or ideas, and pass on actual Ballhawk advice. Everything, no matter how small, is appreciated. I hope it makes you a little happier knowing that you’re helping me do what I still think is one of the coolest things in the entire world.

Game 21 – 9/19 at Wrigley Field

Life had once again become cumbersome and suffocating. Between schoolwork, my job, having fun, and yes, even blogging (if you can believe that with this ridiculous delay I have), I was starting to get overwhelmed. I had been zooming all over the place and trying to keep up, but it was time to cut something out and devote more time to different things. My plan was to do Busch, Wrigley, and Miller on three consecutive weekends to finish out the year. Busch went okay, but the following week was rough. I didn’t necessarily want to put all my effort into going to more games, but I couldn’t end my season without knowing for sure when the last one would be. So I made the trek to home sweet home, knowing this would be my last baseball game in person for 2014.

You read right – Clayton Kershaw was on the mound for the Dodgers. That was what helped me make up my mind and convinced me to come all the way home. To be honest, I don’t pay attention to the game itself much anymore. Most of the time, it doesn’t make an ounce of difference who I see. This time, though, I felt that if I was lucky enough to get time this right, have the opportunity to take a day off, and see the best pitcher in the league, I should probably take advantage and keep an eye on him.

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Game 20 – 9/12 at Busch Stadium

FINALLY!

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After four full years of being half way there while being down at school, I was finally able to take a weekend trip to St.Louis and see another game at Busch Stadium. I had been looking forward to this for a LONG time, and not just because I squeezed in one more game at any old park.

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Game 19 – 8/13 at Wrigley Field

Only two weeks had passed, but a whole lot had changed since the end of July. The biggest difference, and the most bittersweet, was finishing up and closing projects at Plante Moran. I gave my presentation, had my performance review, and said goodbye to everyone I’d met in the last few months. Without even having time to think about it, I had to start packing for school. Today was my last day at work; Wednesday the 13th. I left for school on Saturday morning, which gave me two whole days to put stuff together. I also wanted to enjoy the last remaining hours of my summer, so packing was the last thing on my mind. It was surreal to think I’d be going to class just being a week removed from my job in public accounting.

Anyway, enough about life. You came here for baseball.

I was able to leave the office at about 1 o’clock after signing some paperwork and turning in my computer. I find it funny and ironic that the second I was done, I went right to the ballpark. It says a lot about what was on my mind since the start of July when I started going into the office every day.

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Game 18 – 7/29 at Wrigley Field

My team partner (AKA “Boss”, but we don’t use that word at PM) at work is a very big Cub fan. Every time I see him, we discuss what happened since the last time we had the chance to talk. Towards the end of July, things got pretty exciting with Javier Baez coming up and talks of Jorge Soler possibly joining him in the near future.

The Monday after my last game, I slipped in that I was at the Sox game and broke my single game record. I’ve explained to him what I do, and while he wasn’t extremely interested, he always asks about it and when my next game will be. I didn’t have anything planned officially, but was eyeballing the 29th. The great thing about my firm is the flexibility. I could come in when I want, leave when I want, and as long as I log about 40 hours a week. As long as I get my work done during those hours, no one will notice, much less care. Because of this, I mustered up the courage to ask the biggest Cub fan in the office if I could take a half day on this Tuesday, with the exception I come in early the rest of the week. I didn’t finish asking before he said “Don’t worry about it”, and we continued our normal Cubs conversation.

That was easy.

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Game 17 – 7/19 at US Cellular Field

I liked the work I was doing at PM. I really did. But it was still work. Being cooped up in an office all day was starting to mess with my head. Day after day of taxing my brain (pun definitely intended) only to go home and get ready for another round was exhausting. The fun and games were long gone, and I was now in the thick of actual responsibility. I wrote it off as a learning experience that came with working in an office for the first time. Personal adjustments like that are exactly what internships are for.

I was desperately searching for a way to get to a game. Taking a day off was not an option. Even for a night game, I would have to leave the office by 2 PM to make it to Wrigley in time, only to get back at midnight and be back at the office the following morning. Seeing it as an impossible task caused me to want it even more.

Desperate times  call for desperate measures. There were no work related issues on a Saturday night. However, weekends are my single biggest turn off when it comes to Ballhawking. I try to avoid them at all costs except in very special situations. I can tolerate a couple Fridays every year. Sundays are mostly okay as long as it’s early in the season. Saturdays, however, are a total nightmare for me.

This is why I insisted July 19th wouldn’t work. I sat at my desk, going back and forth for weeks while staring at that one little box on my calendar. There was nothing wrong besides the day it happened to fall on. I realized there was no other reason I was intimidated besides that. It would simply just be a challenge.

Alas, I am here.

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Ballhawk’s Days Off at Wrigleyville Rooftops

Last May, I watched my very first game from the rooftops. Put simply, I thought it was one of the best sports experiences of my life. Unlimited food and beverage all afternoon for a 21 year old? How does that NOT sound like the best time ever?

I was at Sheffield Baseball Club for that game, and definitely enjoyed myself. It was a beautiful day and the view was almost perfect considering I was watching from across the street. I couldn’t wait to get back to another one (with another company) this season.

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You can read the entire entry if you click this nice blue link.

Thanks to a Living Social deal, last year’s tickets cost $69. I feel like I came out on top, but 70 bucks is still 70 bucks. I was on watch early and often this spring, and found the deal of all deals on Groupon. Wrigleyville Rooftops basically gave you a 2-for-1 deal if you went on a Sunday, which were their $100 (or even less) value days all throughout the season. It came out to just $54 a ticket! Obviously, I picked up two. One to go with friends, and another for the girlfriend.

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The Dark Months – June and July

My timing and publishing schedule is all screwed up, but even as I type this just a couple weeks after my last entry, I feel like it’s been ages since I’ve spoken in the present tense. For perspective, this conversation SHOULD be taking place at just about the middle of July. I’m here to tell you what I’ve been up to the last few weeks of the season, both with baseball and without.

The first thing I did after my previous game was report to the office bright and early on Monday morning for my first day as an intern. The entire experience was so unbelievable, I almost forgot all about Ballhawking. I was CONSTANTLY on the move for almost a month straight.

My first week of training brought me to Southfield, Michigan, where the largest Plante Moran offices are located. All 135 interns from around the Midwest were present, as well as lots of full time staffers to lead the training sessions. I met a ton of CPAs and also got to know the students I would be working with back home in Elgin. All the worries and nervousness I carried were instantly gone. Every single person in the firm was more than willing to help us and answer any questions we had about anything. They understood that some of us were doing our first internship, and really made it a point that we weren’t expected to know what we were doing. The whole reason we were there was to learn!

Since I was technically in the tax department, my second week was set aside for additional training that focused on tax software and procedures. This one was a little more localized, but I still had to travel just a little bit to the Downtown Chicago office. I took the Metra with all the old guys in suits and actually had an office to go to when I got down there. This is the view from the 9th floor where some of the PM offices are located:

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I could literally feel my train rumbling underneath my feet in the conference room where our sessions took place on the first floor; Plante’s building was directly over the tracks that led to Union Station. I know it’s becoming more common for people my age to have jobs down here and do the same commute, but it was a big eye opener for me. I had always hoped I would be lucky enough to work downtown one day, and it was seamlessly happening right in front of me.

The following weekend, the Pirates were in town at Wrigley. I vowed to myself and my friends that the glove would be left at home once I started work. I wanted to see what it was like to enjoy a game the way I used to. There have been very few occasions over the last four years where I didn’t show up early. The whole plan was to relax and see the game from a different angle in a place that I had become all too familiar with.

First, I took in Saturday night’s game with Sean; the same friend that came with me on June 6th. One thing I didn’t have the chance to do all those years ago was drink. As we were grabbing dinner about an hour before the game, it started to downpour outside. Normally this would get me wet and ruin my night. Instead, we just ordered another pitcher. So far, this was going great!

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Because of the rain and the fact it was a night game on Saturday, there were LOTS of empty seats right when the game started. In my semi-cocky and confident state, I simply walked right past the ushers and acted like I belonged. We made it all the way down to the SIXTH ROW.

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I hoped it would last all game, but I definitely appreciated the first few innings since I was sure we would get booted. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened. I gave the usher the finger when he turned his back, and we moved to the 5th row of the Field Box sections, which were about 15 feet farther back. The Cubs never had the lead, but left a ton of guys on base late in the game. It was a game they could have won, but still came up short. I guess that’s the kind of offensive frustration you get when Eli Whiteside and Darwin Barney are in your lineup.

The very next day, I went back down to Wrigley with Kyra. This was her reward for putting up with me in season’s past. She loves going to games, but I sometimes take the fun out of it when showing up early. This was a chance for HER to relax, too.

After some lunch, we grabbed seats down the foul line. More crowded than last night, but still empty enough so we could spend a few innings here.

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We moved all around the park to the places I haven’t seen in ages. Kyra even wanted to take a shot at keeping score!

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Alas, another win slipped through their fingers. They were held scoreless until the 9th, but only got one and left another guy on base to lose 2-1. I came for relaxation. I left with great amounts of frustration. Can’t say I’m too surprised by that.

After two games in as many days, it was time for yet another big week at work. On Tuesday morning, I hopped in a van with a few other interns and staff members to make our way to the annual firm conference that’s held in downtown Detroit. Every single member of the firm was invited to hear this year’s financial reports and speeches from newly promoted partners. PM isn’t all that big in Illinois quite yet. In Michigan, however, they are borderline royalty. For U of M and MSU students, it’s one of the top firms to work for after graduation. This was all being told to me as we were walking up to the venue where our conference was held:

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They were able to rent out this HUGE theater, all on their own! It was now when I started to realize how lucky I really was to be a member of this firm that has such a great reputation, is growing so quickly, and treats their interns with so much respect.

The inside of the theater? Absolutely amazing. The first picture is the lobby, and the second is a stage view where everything took place.

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Elvis himself even had a show here once upon a time:

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Aside from the Wow factor that came with seeing and learning what PM life in Michigan was like, I was thrilled to be here and learn more about the company that I now decided I would love to come back to after graduating.

You would think this is the end of my good fortune. I’ve barley worked a single day and already been treated to more opportunities and events than I ever could have expected. The real work has to start soon, right?

Nope! There’s more.

The week after the conference was the cherry on the top of all the other events – the Intern Summit back in Chicago. All the interns came together one more time for team building activities and simply to hang out. It had nothing to do with work whatsoever, and it was meant to be that way. I heard many times from the HR team that the firm was trying to impress us as much as we were trying to impress them. They used all these events to show us the importance they put on the “work-life balance” that is such a struggle to maintain for new graduates who are just entering the accounting profession.

Perhaps the best part of the social side of the internship came on our last night at the Summit. Thanks to the generosity of a fellow intern from Elgin, a bunch of Chicago area interns hung out on the 51st floor of the Trump Tower.

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After the Summit, I had the rest of the week off for the 4th of July. I used that time to my advantage and did some pretty cool stuff.

A Trip to New Glarus Brewery for some Spotted Cow:

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IMG_3386A trip to Arlington for some AWESOME fireworks on the 4th:

IMG_2483I highly recommend it to anyone for next year. One of the most crowded days each year, but they put on a fantastic show.

And finally, a visit to my uncle’s beach house in Michigan City, which consisted of him teaching me how to be a better Blackjack player:

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I unfortunatley can’t find a picture of me on the Waverunner.

Taking into account the whirlwind of the last month, this may have been the best mini vacation I ever had. Everything in life was great…besides the absence of baseball. I wasn’t even really missing it that much. I was having fun in a bunch of other places that just so happened not to be a ballpark.

FINALLY, on July 7th, I started working on actual tax returns in the Elgin office. For the most part, I worked on the same network of partnerships, but also had some individual returns mixed in there as well. It was slightly terrifying to be thrown into the fire, but every single person surrounding me was willing to help. Before I knew it, I was starting to get the hang of a few things while still learning a ton each and every day. I became comfortable enough to trust my work and ask for help while still experiencing the new areas of tax work in public accounting. I really couldn’t have been happier with the experience I was getting.

After my first full (and rather stressful) week of work, I had time to sneak a little more baseball in.

rooftops

Game 16 – 6/6 at Wrigley Field

It was finally here. The end of my baseball season (for the most part), the end of my summer, and possibly an end to this part of my life, depending on how things go with Plante Moran.

Nothing felt the way I expected it to. I didn’t want to savor every moment, remember the game, or do anything particularly special. All I wanted was to get in, snag my baseballs, and get out. I wanted to move on and focus on my internship for the next two months. No more planning, no more traffic, and no more being disappointed about little details. At this point, I was glad to have this planned hiatus. It would let me take a break and think before deciding what to do next. For the first time in about three months, baseball games would not be the biggest focus in my life.

Since I had an extra ticket (buying both was the only way to get the VIP privilege today), I invited my friend Sean. I’m really glad he was here, mostly because he could help me capture the 100th ball experience. It’s been a really, really long time since I’ve seen a BP with one of my friends, too. I tell them about the games, my successes, and my ideas for the future, but they rarely see me in action. I was glad he got to see first hand what I do and how I do it. After all was said and done, he mentioned I looked a lot better than the last time he saw me a couple years ago. That means a lot coming from someone like him who isn’t invested in the hobby and tells it like it is.

We arrived at 12:30 for a 1:00 PM gate time and a 3:05 game. I didn’t think the odd timing would disrupt things on the field too much.

We first went over to Waveland, where I told Sean the story of each street Ballhawk.

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We talked renovations while we waited. I am completely in favor of anything that Tom decides to do. I trust he’ll keep as much of the history as he can while still improving this hundred year old structure. I wouldn’t mind the video boards since I don’t waste my time outside of the stadium. I’ve seen old Wrigley plenty of times. I’m positive I have enough memories to last me for the rest of my life.

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Everything went according to plan as we made our way inside.

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All I asked of Sean was for him to stay relatively close until I needed him for a photo op. Normally I wouldn’t care where he went or what he did one bit, but this was a special occasion and I’m grateful he too understood the significance to me.

My 100th lifetime ball was out on that field. Somewhere, in some basket or bucket. It’s fate was already determined. I had no idea which one it was, when it would be coming, or what it would feel like, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was out there. This gave me a weird perspective that I’ve never had before. I felt like every ball that left the pitcher’s hand had my name on it. Every single swing, I expected it to come to me. When it was hit to the opposite field or on the ground, the next one was then going to be mine. Remember, I was still right in the middle of my hot streak. Knowing I could continue it through this special day gave me a ton of motivation to earn it. Being alert, attentive, and athletic enough to truly earn it.

Asking for toss-ups was out of the question for the Cubs. The left field group doesn’t like to toss them out, and I had a Marlins jersey in my bag to use later. Like I said, I wanted to deserve it…unless push came to shove and BP was winding down. That’s a discussion I’ll save for later though.

I waited in this spot, getting nothing in the first 20 minutes despite the two whole sections I had to run through.

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In my mind, I imagined it would come early in the day. And also be caught on the fly, obviously. I think that’s why I had that weird ‘entitled’ feeling following me around. When the Cubs finished, I was quite disappointed. I guess reality never plays out like your fantasies. Now my mindset was completely changed. Instead of expecting, I was wondering. When would the time come?

As I passed Sean and told him I was going to right field, I shared some of my current thought process. I wasn’t worried at all. I just wanted to get it over with, enjoy it for a little while, and get back to work so I can start on my way towards number 200.

I put on my Marlins jersey while we were walking, and put it to good use soon after I made my way down an aisle.

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In a slight state of desperation, I asked pitching coach Chuck Hernandez to do me a favor. I’m not sure if he saw my jersey, so he was probably just being a nice guy.

I was almost ashamed at how lame number 99 was. Nothing interesting, spectacular, or even noteworthy about it. I rolled my eyes, but I got over it rather quickly. I knew the next one would be awesome; maybe the best I’d ever gotten, taking everything into consideration. I started to get that feeling again; every one was THE one until I knew for a fact it wouldn’t be. This allowed my mind to wander and build a different vision of exactly how it would look.

I walked through the gates today as hot as I’d ever been. After the 99th ball, I stopped so suddenly and went so cold that it put me in complete shock. When we were leaving right field to go back to left, I threw my backpack on and started walking towards center in the 8th or 9th row of the Bleachers, in case I needed to make a quick last move if something was hit my way. Sure enough (the only times it’s happened when I’ve done this), here one comes. I froze dead, not wanting to continue on the wrong path. I shuffled a few more steps in the direction I was originally walking, and soon realized it was too late. I tried to stretch out my arm across my body, but it wasn’t enough. I saw the ball bounce off the concrete between me and a couple other guys, right back onto the field.

The backpack slowed me down. Why did I let it do that? Couldn’t tell you. It was especially full and heavy today, but nothing was going to be broken or ruined if I ran. You have to understand, I moved at the speed of frozen molasses. Not because the bag actually slowed me down, I just didn’t choose to run because I had it on. All I did was give an awful effort at the last possible moment.

I was disappointed beyond belief. I blew it. I knew I blew it. But I still had the drive and motivation to believe I would make it up to myself.

It was pretty full in left field, but only on my left side, for some odd reason.

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After a couple minutes on my own over here, I walked over to Sean, who was about two sections farther towards center. What I had to say was short and irrelevant, because I came right back to my spot. Once I got to the point where I was too far away to make it back in time, here comes another ball, right at him. All I could do was stand and watch. In reality, he wasn’t all that close, but given my position and the amount of time I would have had to get there if I was still by him, I would have been damn close to getting this one on the fly too. This one was also completely uncontested like the first miss. It bounced around on the ground before being scooped up by someone.

I blew it again. If I said one more thing or did one thing differently, who knows where I would have been. Now I was starting to get discouraged. I wasn’t out of time, BP was actually looking great for once, but I knew I was not in good shape because of the luck I was having. These are just the ones I remember, too. I may forget individual balls, but I will never forget the feeling of dread surrounding me that was holding me back and causing these things to happen. When would it turn around? Would karma make it up to me? I was lost, and asked a lot of questions similar to that.

Guess what? There’s one more. The worst one.

Right field again. Talking to Sean again. I’m telling him pretty much what I just said above and how much it was killing me. I even think it was him who noticed a batted ball and pointed to the sky to help me out. I turned around and had to take a brief moment to find where it was, and I was almost too late. I barley had enough time to move a few feet down and over. I was still on the move as I made the motion to catch it, only to have a guy in the row in front of me grab it with his bare hands. It was one of those ones where I had to squeeze again to see if I had it, because I truly had no idea. I was that close.

You know what he did? He wound up and threw it back on the field without saying a word. He didn’t make a scene or cuss out the visiting players like a lot of people do when they want to return the ball. Then the gesture actually served some purpose. Seeing him do that didn’t make me mad, but that guy is a straight up moron. Do what you want with your ball, but what he did was utterly and completely pointless. It was a batting practice home run from the Miami Marlins. There’s no reason to hate that. Just….some people.

The feelings I had towards myself, on the other hand, almost made me explode. The guy was an afterthought, but I missed it nonetheless. It took all my willpower not to become the Hulk right there in the middle of the Bleachers. Absolutely furious. I should have been paying attention, especially because of what already happened…TWICE. I wrenched my glove and used it as a stress ball as I tried to make sense of what just happened for the third time today.

Why is this happening to me? That’s all I want to know. This wasn’t just any old circumstance. This was THE day, with THE ball hanging in the balance. HOW?! Three times, all terrible mistakes. Maybe my three worst mistakes ever in the outfield seats. This last one definitely takes the top spot, no questions asked.

I didn’t know how to recover. My big moment was now a chore and starting to piss me off. This isn’t the way it was meant to happen.

BP ended, and I still didn’t have it. I went down to my corner spot where the groundskeeper tosses me balls, just because I knew they were there. I saw two of them, and they were already working on a third by the foul pole. There was absolutely no way it was going down like this.

There was one directly below me.

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I was defeated. I thought about what it would mean to give up. I didn’t know the next time I’d be able to Ballhawk, so who knows how long I would be stuck at 99. Whenever that was, it wouldn’t be as special as if it came right now. I would have to explain to people all summer long about how I sucked it up at my last game and fell short. I knew that not asking for it meant I would walk out of the park without it. Which fate was worse?

In the end, I just wanted it. I wanted to hold it, appreciate it, and look back on the past month and three seasons prior in a positive way. So, I asked.

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Thank goodness Sean was right there and ready to get that shot. He’s awesome for keeping his head in the game and being ready.

Here it is – the picture I had been waiting for since 2010:

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I have a terrible mustache left over from my playoff beard and am drenched with sweat, but I like it. It makes it more real and in the moment.

Now for the thing that matters to most people – the actual game.

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It was quiet early, until former (Florida) Marlin Chris Coghlan doubled in Nate Schierholtz in the 5th. Rizzo tacked on two more in the 8th, and as long as the bullpen could hold it together, things were looking like they would end on a high note.

By the 9th, you could see the effect that the later start time had on the field:

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This scene happens sometimes when day games go REALLY long, but this one was right on schedule. It was weird to realize that and see it this way.

Hector Rondon blew the game by just the right amount to send it to the 10th.

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Which turned into the 11th, the 12th, and the 13th, still tied at 3. At this point I was so tired and worn out from sitting in the sun all day that I just wanted it to end. I also got shit on by a seagull, so I was more than ready to get out of here.

We had enough of the sun, so we moved to the bowl seats just before 7 PM.

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For a night game, I would have arrived at the park about two and a half hours before I took this picture. The timing of the game was really starting to mess with my head now.

Mercifully, the almighty Rizz-Dog tucked a two run shot inside the right field foul pole in the bottom of the 13th.  We got out of there right afterwards. I didn’t have a formal goodbye with Wrigley, and didn’t feel the need at all to make it a big deal. I wasn’t dying, and this place wasn’t going anywhere. I WOULD be back a couple times in the summer, and even Ballhawk once before I went back to school, so it was just a “See you later” for the time being.

That’s it. That’s my season. Over and done, just like that, coming to a screeching halt. I felt like this last game should have meant more to me and I should have felt something when we were walking back to the car, but I simply didn’t. I already had my fill of emotions today.

STATS

  • 2 balls at this game
  • 36 balls total this season
  • 37 consecutive games with a ball
  • ONE HUNDRED lifetime balls
  • Time spent at game: 6 hours, 30 minutes
  • Total time spent at games in 2014: 103 hours, 10 minutes
  • 2 balls X  28,495  fans =   56,990 Competition Factor

Below this is some ramblings I wrote when I got home that night. Like I say in the following reflection, I truly wanted to capture what I was feeling after it all. I knew my views and perceptions on everything would change drastically by the day before I got around to writing this. There’s errors and terrible sentence structure throughout, isn’t necessarily finished and will remain 100% unedited. You don’t really have to read it; not much of it is important. I’m just fulfilling a promise I made to myself in June. I highlighted some of the most basic points if you want to glance at it, though.

****

 In a rather unconventional way, I’m writing this last paragraph right after getting home from the game, which is now probably about three weeks ago. After a quick edit tonight, it will remain untouched until I post the entry for the rest of the game. I may repeat myself from the entry you just read above, but this is also sort of my ‘mid-season wrap up’ section, if you will. Today’s game carried a lot of meaning in more ways than one. Because I need to mentally store what happened the past six games in my head, I wanted to do it this way to really tell you how I felt when it was all over.

The Game

The one overwhelming good thing that came out of today was my 100th ball. In fact, if you more loyal readers remember, I predicted this would happen back in March when I wrote my season goals entry. I was working towards it and keeping it in my sights all season. As the weeks went by and this last game got closer and closer, I still knew this would be the day. Waking up and heading to the park was very different compared to my regular routine. It’s not every day I get to catch number 100, you know.

Before I get into more about the important things, I need to explain just how incredibly weird today was. A 3:05 start time. Sean came with me, which is one of just a few times in the past two seasons that someone else was there. I’ve met people at the park and gone with a group that let me roam free, but it feels like ages since I’ve brought someone with me when the gates opened. (Not saying that’s a bad thing at all). 13 innings. Watching the game take place from the seating bowl for the first time since the beginning of last year. A batting practice that was so odd, it dazed and confused the hell out of me. Things like that. All of this adds to point number four, which is what I feel like moving forward in the future.

But first, let’s talk about number 100.

The Catch

One. Hundred. Baseballs. The ultimate long(er) short term goal I set for myself almost from day one. Three years ago, I always wondered what would be happening when I got it. Where would I be in life outside of the park? How much better of a Ballhawk would I be? Would those worlds collide, changing my life because of what I did in the park? It feels really weird to finally be here, at the point that has carried so much mystery for the past four seasons. Basically, I don’t feel any different. The only small caveat that makes me feel different is that I need to transform from ballpark rat Ryan into accounting intern Ryan by Monday morning. Life in general is just changing a lot.

What did it feel like to have it in my hands? Not nearly as great as I thought it would, to be honest. Not due to the fact that it wasn’t exciting, but because I went down like a sack of bricks in my last BP of the year. I’m sure I gave the details of everything that happened in the entry above. It was downright unexplainable. I was really, really hoping to end on a high note. I set myself up perfectly for it. Conquering two new ballparks and doubling my career on-the-fly catches in the two games before this one. God just did not want to make it easy for me. I decided, ultimately, that swallowing my pride and getting number 100, even in a lame way, was better than walking out of the park just one short. When I go back to Ballhawking, I’m going to be so rusty that it would have had to be a toss up anyway. It was a disappointing realization to have, but I know there’s a lesson to take away. The last few games have told me a story, and have explained perfectly what I need to do.

Reflection

I’m a good Ballhawk. I finally have enough faith in myself to admit that. I know tricks and methods, and also developed a keen awareness while spending countless hours in the seats. My only downfall, and what I always told myself I was lacking, was actual skill. I couldn’t catch. It just didn’t come easy to me. Even when I was going to three or four games a week at the beginning of May, I wasn’t getting any better.

But as the month went on, I ever so slowly became more confident. I was thinking in ways I never had before. I was seeing things that were never apparent to me. I actually followed through and learned how to catch. Sure, it’s only three balls, but it took me almost three full seasons worth of games to even get the first one. Not to mention, I missed plenty of balls today that could have made that number even higher. I’m better. I know I am. I AM a good Ballhawk.

So what happened today? It all fell apart. It was a disaster, as far as I’m concerned. My head wasn’t in the game and I was psyching myself out. I actually believe it was meant to happen today. What would have happened if I got three or four on the fly today? I wouldn’t have been able to relive my past and see where I came from. I got to see how good I really had it by losing it all in the span of two days.

My final point in this topic is – I know I’m a good Ballhawk. I’ve seen it progress, and now have been reminded of where I started from. But, as Zack Hample himself told me, “Practice makes better. There’s never a perfect. Even I screw up sometimes”. I can ALWAYS improve, no matter how much success I’m having.

The Future

It’s only the beginning of June, but it feels like September. Everything I do will come to a screeching halt over the next two days as I put away my glove for a very, very long time. It’s a weird mix that hasn’t exactly hit me yet. There are four months and more than half the season left, yet baseball feels dead to me. I’ll be going to a few games here and there on weekends, but vowed to leave my glove at home. To put it into perspective, I haven’t watched a baseball game and not cared about catching a ball since I’ve started college – FOUR years ago. It’s going to feel like a brand new thing to me. Which in and of itself sounds ridiculous; how many more things can I experience at a baseball game for the first time?

I know I’ll come back to Ballhawking. I love it too much, and it’s become a part of who I am. It will be interesting to see how this summer changes Ryan the Ballhawk and what will be spat out after I’m done with my internship. I imagine I’ll be wiser, but how is that possible if I haven’t stood in the Bleachers for three months?

I don’t know. It’s a very conflicting and confusing time. One thing that’s for sure, though, is that I will keep BaseBlog going with some of my favorite ideas for off season topics. I love blogging almost as much as Ballhawking, so switching it up to write about something other than games will be a fun experience. I’ll be able to put my energy into actually following players and knowing their stats, and not who the new Pirates reliever is.

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For being unedited, that’s not half bad. What comes next for BaseBlog? Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s see where it ends up.

7000 Coliseum Way

My name is Nick Badders and I'm a 16 year old living in the Bay Area. I am an Oakland A's Season Ticket holder than loves going to Major and Minor League baseball games and snagging balls. I have a great, supportive, and amazing family that accompanies me to all of these games, putting up with my insanity. I started snagging balls in 2011, and since then, I've snagged 142 Minor League Baseballs and 112 Major League Baseballs. Follow me on my adventures from April to October and beyond!

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Observing Baseball

I grew up a Yankee fan, I favor Pitchers whenever possible, I am a stathead, and my dream job is to be a GM for an MLB franchise. In the summer, I go to MLB games and catch baseballs. In the winter, I write about what teams are doing to get better or worse. I try to be positive and unbiased in my writing, but that isn't always possible when evaluating teams truthfully.

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Erik is a baseball fan who has been attending baseball games and snagging baseballs regularly since 2008.

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The Baseball Collector

Zack Hample has snagged 7,806 baseballs at 51 different major league stadiums since 1990. Find out how and see what else he's been up to.

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