This is going to be a long one!
My older son had a baseball game on Thursday evening and, as usual, played centerfield. He is a very aggressive player, not afraid to put his body on the line, diving, sliding, you name it. On a ball hit into the gap, he was running full speed to his left (glove side) and laid out to make a catch, arm fully extended. He landed hard on his side/back. He bounced. And didn't get up. That's how I knew he was hurt because if he caught it, he would have gotten the ball back in quickly with a runner on. And if he didn't get catch it, he would have been scrambling to recover it. Just the type of intense player he is.
After taking him to the emergency room and getting x-rays, we were told he had fractured his scapula (shoulder blade). Apparently this is pretty rare and normally reserved for such forces as, you know, being thrown from a car in a car accident. When they called the orthopedic surgeon, he said, "Playing baseball? You mean he fractured his clavicle?" Nope, his scapula. The doctors were impressed with this oddball injury. Unfortunately, there isn't much to do except have a sling and some pain meds. His baseball season is effectively over as it takes about 6-8 weeks to heal. Needless to say, we ended up skipping the Cubs game on Friday night.
Come Saturday morning, he was thankfully feeling much better. I made 2013 team set cards for 24 of the players on the 25 man roster. The lone exception was Ryan Sweeney, a very recent callup. I couldn't find a Cubs photo for anything. We made the trip into DC, parking the car around noon for a 4:05 game. We got to the player's entrance only to find out from the other autograph seekers that we had missed most of the team already, including just barely Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Marmol. Dang!
We hung around a little bit longer and saw Scott Hairston pull up in a cab. The cab stayed out on the street rather than pulling into the player's parking lot like most I have seen before. Hairston signed as he walked to the door. As far as I saw, he signed everything for everyone, including one for each of my sons and me.
Shortly after that, Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano pulled up in a cab but this time, the cab went into the player's lot. Neither player stopped. Oh well. We waited a little longer before deciding to walk around a bit. We found a street vendor, got some hot dogs and drinks and went to the main entrance to wait to be let in. At Nats Park, they let you into the outfield stands about two and a half hours before the game starts to watch the Nats take batting practice. Once they are finished and while the visiting team takes BP, they open up the rest of the stadium to the crowd.
During Nats BP, a guy 3 rows behind me and about 3-4 seats to my left caught a home run ball with his bare hands. There wasn't anybody else near us so if he hadn't caught it, we might have been able to scramble for it. But the very next pitch, before he was even done celebrating, was hit to the seat right next to him, smacking his wife on the top of the head. Nobody saw it coming because they were looking at/applauding for the guy who had just caught it, but because they were looking in his direction, everybody saw it happen. There was a loud collective gasp and she was escorted away by an usher. I almost feel as bad for the guy as I do the girl because he won't be able to bring up catching a BP ball with his bare hands without his wife's story upstaging him!
After the Cubs started BP, we headed towards the Cubs dugout. At Nats Park, they put up 20+ foot high protective netting from the end of the dugout to about 3/4 of the way down the line towards the outfield. This is not very conducive for trying to get autographs as the holes it the netting are only about two inches. Nowhere near big enough to slide a baseball or even a card through to get signed. So if you're not the first person, right up against the dugout, you're probably getting shutout. We made it down to the front row but about 4-5 people away from the dugout.
Nevertheless, when I had an opportunity to call over relief pitcher Michael Bowden, I took it. He came over and said if it would fit through, he'd sign. Now, previously my custom cards were printed out on glossy cardstock and glued to regular cardstock for support and thickness. Last year, I ended up with some dinged corners and edges because of the process that is in person autograph seeking. This time however, I printed out the cards on photo paper and did not apply any backing. I didn't even do the final cut on the card, figuring I could trim away any dinged edges and corners. I was able to half-roll the photo (without creasing it) and slide it through the netting. Awesome!
Bowden signed two of these, but I gave one away to a little Cubs fan who had a ball but no way to get it through the net.
Next up was one of the newer Cubs, Cody Ransom. He said the same thing as Bowden, if it fit, he'd sign. The game was in question most of the day as it had poured the night before and was expected to rain again that evening. He signed two of them just as it started to drizzle but there doesn't appear to be any residual damage.
With batting practice now ending, the field staff came and removed the netting. Unfortunately, they had to clear the first few rows to get the netting down and by the time they finished, most of the Cubs had gone by and into the dugout. It was about 15-20 minutes before game time but we were told we could stay until the National Anthem so we hung out a little bit longer. My older son was able to get closer to the dugout and snagged Dave McKay on my card from last year's team set.
Meanwhile, Julio Borbon came over and signed a few. He asked the first guy why he didn't have any Cubs cards of him yet. For those don't know, Borbon was selected off waivers by the Cubs only about 2-3 weeks ago. I was standing right there next to him so I piped in with "I got one!" Borbon looked at me skeptically before I whipped out this card. He even signed in an optimal place considering he was wearing a blue road uniform.
Shortly after that, Nate Schierholtz signed for a few people including this one:
The guy with one of the best mustaches in baseball right now, Carlos Villanueva signed this one for my son a little bit further down the line.
And finally, Hector Rondon signed a couple of autographs near the dugout and would be the last one we would get before the game.
The game itself was awesome. Edwin Jackson got his first win of the season by helping himself at the platein addition to a strong pitching performance. He got the scoring started with a two out, two run double in the 5th inning. The Cubs tacked on two more and followed that up with 4 more runs in the 6th. Fortunately for the Cubs, it was a rare non-save situation so there was no added stress of bringing in Marmol. Even Shawn Camp lowered his ERA by pitching a scoreless 1.1 innings.
In the 9th inning, with a six run deficit, a lot of the Nats fans were starting to head out. We took advantage of that situation to make our way down towards the dugout in hopes of maybe catching a player or two coming off the field but no such luck. So we headed back out to the players' parking lot.
The players' lot is fenced in so the players have to want to sign if you're going to have any luck getting autographs there. They come out of a door, there's some commotion to figure out who it is (it is getting dark at this point too) and then some yelling to get the players attention as they walk towards their car. We saw most of the Nats players as a lot of them live locally and drive to the park. Some of them came over to the fence to sign autographs, some got into their cars and stopped at the lot entrance and signed from their car window and some just drove past. Most of the Cubs took the bus as the only ones we saw leaving this way were Castro, Soriano and Welington Castillo. They barely acknowledged us with a wave before getting into their awaiting car. The funny thing was a Nats player was blocking the exit by stopping to sign autographs in his truck. Castro, Soriano and Castillo must have have been waiting 5-10 minutes, plenty of time to sign everything for everybody who was still waiting around (maybe 15 of us). But they just sat there on their phones, not rolling down the windows.
Now, I'm not somebody who feels entitled to an autograph. I do it for fun and anything we come away with is a bonus. But I do think they could have made several people very happy by signing autographs when they were stuck there anyway.
With Sunday being Mother's Day, I decided not to push my luck and we spent the day with my family. The Cubs pulled out a come from behind victory, taking the game and the series, 2-1. So, like last year, no star power from the Cubs but we came away with autographs from 7 different Cubs (6 players, 1 coach) and my sons got a couple of Nats autographs after the game on ticket stubs and cards. I think everytime we go, we learn a couple more things to make it a better experience the next time. This time, we found a place to park for free, just a 5-10 minute walk from the stadium as opposed to the $30 lot that's right across the street.
If you made it through all that, thanks for reading!