Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A fan's view of the Josh Hamilton Show

Friend of HHR Iceman Eddie was lucky enough to be in the 'House that Hamilton tore down' last night. Here is his take...

The scene is Yankee Stadium, the Cathedral, the House that Ruth Built, the only sports venue in America you can refer to as THE Stadium and have 95% of sports fans know what you’re talking about. I’m sitting in the main reserve section in right field to witness this years State Farm Home Run Derby. The idea seems a bit boring but actually turned out to be a pretty cool experience, here is what transpired.

I’m getting the full Stadium experience tonight, cruising on the number 4 train from Grand Central Station and walking down about half a block to gate six, where I enter the hallowed grounds. I’m traveling tonight with a friend of mine who was lucky enough to get a call from me this morning; just after I found out I was receiving these tickets. We will call my friend The Accountant. The tickets came from the offices of Major League Baseball, I have a friend who works there and apparently they could not sell this thing out. I was a bit confused by this as I know this is a huge event all across the league and from what I heard, it was basically a huge party with all sorts of people coming in from all the major league teams – then I got the tickets and looked at the face price - $450!!! Now bear in mind I was sitting in right field on field level, but seriously $450!!! Now it is clear why tickets were available.

So, I reach my seats and stare out at the lush green grass, the pure white lines, the classic blue padded wall, the enormous Yankee logo behind home plate, this place is fantastic. There are few places I have been to in my life that leave me in chills, few places that force memories to pop into my head over and over while I am there. This is definitely one of them. I began telling stories of past games to The Accountant, he hasn’t been to the Stadium since he was young, (he’s a Met fan). I remember the time Don Mattingly homered in the bottom of the 8th against the Orioles in a 1-0 Yankee win, Dave Winfield’s homer into the monuments against the Angels in a 7-1 loss, the 18-9 trouncing in what, at the time, was the longest game in MLB history, the stories go on and on.

Alright here we go, batting practice is ending, there’s a bunch of 9 year olds on the field and here is your host for the evening Michael Kay! Michael is excited to be here, you can hear it in his voice, either that, or he’s been knocking back martinis for the last 3 hours. I’m hoping for the latter, but I think he’s genuinely excited, good for him.

Just before the National Anthem, the stadium pays tribute to Bobby Murcer, a moment of silence, followed by thunderous applause and Bobby’s face up on the big screen, it was rather nice.

The anthem tonight will be performed by the stars of the hit Broadway play “Jersey Boys,” wait, what? That’s the best we could do? Now I’m nervous, the evening just took an odd turn. The grounds crew is now putting the finishing touches on some sort of stage near 2nd base. There is going to be a performance, a big name rock band is going to warm up the crowd with two songs or so we are told, before the sluggers come out and start socking dingers. But who? Who could it be? My mind is a flutter with possibilities. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for THREE DOORS DOWN! Wait, what? Now I am terrified, a lot of big name sluggers have bowed out of this thing as it is and we can’t even get a decent musical act to play two lousy songs?

Six excruciating minutes later they are removing the stage and we are about to get started. Dan Uggla leads things off and got the crowd into it a little bit. The first round seemed to go on for quite sometime and with first seven guys combining to hit 43 homeruns, some absolute moon shots, some barely clearing the walls all around the stadium, and a number landing in the upper decks in both left and right field. Chase Utley hit the ball the hardest, Justin Morneau and Lance Berkman shared the lead, and we were cruising along. Like I said, it started to drag a bit when Josh Hamilton came to the plate.

Roughly 30 minutes passed before he would leave the box in the first round. He slammed 28 home runs and absolutely electrified the crowd. Balls were flying to the upper deck and into the bleachers in right center field. Someone near by even said at one point he hit 13 in a row! People who never met before were high-fiving and Hamilton basically guaranteed that he was leaving the post Derby party tonight with the hottest girl in New York City, whoever she may be. As he got deeper and deeper into the round the crowd was hanging on every pitch and even got a little antsy when the pitcher missed the zone a few times. The couple in front of me took the chance to swap some more spit without missing a pitch. Fear not, Josh will get a few more to hack at before he’s done. And hack away he did, to the tune of 502 feet, he hit a ball that actually went over the bleachers, unreal! Two pitches later he hit one 504 feet, deeper into the bleachers, I started feeling sorry for the baseballs and the hands of the people catching these things. He continued to hit, 23, 24, 25, 26 – which disappeared into the Bronx night, I even heard someone say, that it hit the fa├žade near the roof of the stadium, although there is no evidence to support that claim.

After his 9th out, (each man gets 10 per round) Josh received a standing ovation, slugged another couple of homers, I do not remember how many and finally bowed out of the round. Yankee Stadium was in awe and Hamilton’s name began to echo around the park, Ha-mil-ton! Ha-mil-ton! Ha-mil-ton! Good show young man, good show!

With the stadium still abuzz the second round was about to begin. Four hitters advance with their homeruns carrying over to create a two-round total and allowing the top two men to move to the final. So basically we are going to have a playoff for the right to face Hamilton in the final. No one was any closer then 20 homeruns and Josh actually cut his round short to save some energy. Justin Morneau out hit Ryan Braun and Lance Berkman to move on.

The final was anti-climactic at best. Each man received ten outs and had to begin again with zero homeruns. Morneau clubbed five and it looked like Hamilton had the thing won, all he had to do was slug six, surely he was in the zone and would have no problem with that. Couple homers and a couple outs later, Josh didn’t look so good, 5 outs, 6 outs, 7 outs, Josh lost his stroke. He finished with 3 and although he belted 13 more then Morneau for the night, those hit in the final round are the only ones that counted, (Morneau, 5 – Hamilton, 3)

Morneau took the trophy home but it was clear who had stolen our hearts on this evening. As we filed people were still chanting Josh Hamilton’s name. He stole the show tonight and helped me add to my collection of Yankee Stadium stories.

No comments: