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Pete Lepak
RedSoxLife Contributing Writer


Attending baseball games around the Nation is my National Pastime. Every summer, my brother Paul and my good friend Brandon pack up and leave New England for a three game series away from Fenway Park. Our trips always involve more than just seeing a baseball game; we also get a chance to roam the city, hitting some good bars and eating like pigs throughout the weekend. This year, I have a baby on the way and Brandon is saving for a wedding, so we decided to scale it down and go to a stadium that we can get to without paying for a flight. The All Star Game in New York City's Citi Field was the perfect answer. After worrying for months about how we were going to get to the game, we lucked out online and got three standing room packages to the Futures Game, the Homerun Derby and the All-Star Game itself. Not a cheap investment, but it certainly was going to cost less than good seats! And hey, we are college kids, young, poor, so getting into the game but not having a seat was the cheapest way to get this stadium checked off of our list. 

Our trip began as a drive down to the Stamford Train Station on Sunday, July 14 in the wee hours of the morning. I gave Paul the tickets to look at and hold onto for the drive, and we quickly exited the car to step into our next mode of transportation which would take us into the city. We found the express train into Grand Central Station and boarded it with seconds to spare. Paul and I read though the Baseball America I brought with me and we were giddy with excitement. That was until I realized something horrible. My body tensed up and then felt numb on that 7:45am train. I realized that we didn't have the tickets. When I gave them to Paul, I distinctly remembered that he put them in between the car seats and we never thought to take them out. In a panic, we tried to figure out what to do, but the train wasn't stopping and we really wanted to be the first in line for the Futures Game. We got off the train 20 minutes later and then got on the next train back to Stamford with our tails between our legs, but when we did the math, it looked as if we still would make it to Citi Field before game time  Order was restored once I grabbed the tickets and we headed back to Grand Central. 


CT's own George Springer during BP

With tickets in hand, Paul and I waited in line with thousands of other fans to get a glimpse of the future of Major League Baseball. Brandon recently moved to Boston, so he was taking another train and wouldn't be meeting us until game time, so Paul and I walked around the stadium and stood in the right field bleachers to catch batting practice. Some players, like Arizona' Matt Davidson, showed mammoth power with bombs to left field, and Paul and I stared in amazement. We were hoping that some players would stop by and sign an autograph or two, but to our surprise, most of the "USA Team" shied away from fans. The sun was out in full force, and when we finally found seats (to wherever we saw open areas), we were about 5 rows up from the third base side. While all three of us sweat completely through our shirts and boxers, we got to watch an entertaining 2:00pm game and still had time to get home, shower, and hit a couple of bars. 



I knew this year's trip would be different than the last couple (to California, Pittsburgh, and Chicago) because Brandon announced that he had to go to work on Monday and Tuesday. So while he woke up at 7am to hop on a train to Newark, Paul and I woke up to go to Fanfest, a virtual amusement park for baseball fans of all ages. The 10 minute train ride to the Javits Center wasn't bad, but the 25 minute walk though the city streets in the 95 degree heat was awful. When Paul and I arrived and it sounded as if music from Heaven came through the speakers when we walked in. This place was awesome. Nearly six acres of indoor interview areas, autograph stations, interactive games to throw, hit and slide, a mini baseball field, and baseball card, photo and autograph sellers all waited for us to walk through. We grabbed a map and schedule and learned that in the next two days, Darryl Strawberry, John Franco, Dwight Gooden, Fred Lynn, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Andre Dawson and many others would be signing autographs, and Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Frank Thomas, Jack Morris, Cal Ripken, Mike Cameron, Jeff Conine, Curtis Granderson and many others would be making appearances. Paul and I walked around and saw the sights, but also waited in the lines to meet some of these talented players.


In our two mornings at the Fanfest, we walked away with some great autographs and even better stories. What stories, you ask? Well, here's one: Andre Dawson was doing a singing and taking pictures with every person he gave an autograph to, and he didn't crack much of a smile throughout the experience. When it was my turn, I thanked Dawson for his time and he seemed to break his trance and said quietly, "You're welcome!" When my brother approached him. Andre looked up,squinted and said " is that your brother? Is he older?" My brother, always the joke-ster, responded, "yes, but he can't grow any facial hair, so I look older!" Dawson replied loudly, "yeah but then he gets the younger girls!" As he said that, the photographer took a picture. It's an awesome picture with Dawson and my brother smiling from ear to ear, a rare sight and even better memory.
The Babe is at the Fanfest!
When we got to the park on Monday for the All Star
Bryce Harper hit the seat in front of me.
Glad I didn't try to barehand it!
game, many more people were in line. I heard from some patrons that they all wanted to get in early so they could reserve their spot for a chance to catch a baseball. While that sounded like a great idea, the heat was so stifling that if I wanted any chance to catch a baseball, it would have to be during batting practice. As a grown man, I was NOT going to bring my baseball glove, so I figured I would have to try and catch one on the fly or after someone else dropped a screaming liner. Paul went to the other side to try and grab an autograph, but I was not in the mood to squish against 100 other sweaty fans. I tried the nonchalant approach of waiting near the right field line and watching batting practice, and hey, if an outfielder just so happened to throw a ball into the crowd, I would be there waiting. Fortunately, my approach worked. With Bryce Harper up to bat, he cracked a liner right to me. As I lined up to catch the ball, I noticed it was coming in far too fast, so I lifted my hand last minute and let the ball smash into the seat below me. After looking at the damage it did to the seat, I am glad I didn't break my fingers going after it, but I did curse the fact that I didn't bring my glove, because " I would have had that one!" 



Bran, Pete and Paul enjoying Citi Field 
I heard my phone buzz, and when I looked, Paul had written " Just got Cano!" In my quest to get an All Star Ball, I had forgotten that Paul was trying to get an autograph, and he succeeded by getting the best Dominican player in baseball, Robinson Cano! We ended up meeting minutes later as Brandon came in from work and all three of us got to watch the HR Derby unfold. Because we didn't have seats, and we didn't stake out a spot early, we were stuck with just walking around to take in the sights and sounds from different angles. The good news was that it gave us a lot of great views of the ball park. The bad new for Paul and I meant that we were on our feet from 7am-11pm. I predicted that Yoenis Cespedes would not hit any homeruns and be an embarrassment, and I couldn't have been more incorrect, as he wowed the crowd with bombs all over the park. MLB also brought on two high school kids during the commercial breaks to  hit towering shots with metal bats. Loved hearing the "ding" of the bat, and it was better than just sitting around watching the mascots run around. When the night ended, we went to center field to take some more pictures, and that's where I noticed two baseballs by the bullpen. I contemplated jumping the fence to get them, but the last thing I would want is to spend the night in jail for trespassing. I quickly opted out.  We left the ballpark and tried to get on the train home, but then realized that a fire stopped all trains out of the ballpark, so we sat around for an hour until the trains started again.
By the time we got home, we were sweaty, tired and dehydrated. Paul, as he always does every trip for some odd reason, removed his shirt on the long elevator ride to the second floor of the hotel. Notice the subway map behind him. That way, we "know where he is when this picture was taken." Idiot.

After learning from my mistake at batting practice and not bringing a glove, I dorked it up and brought my glove for the All Star Game and was determined to get an All Star ball. For those who don't know, MLB uses a unique ball for the ASG and they put the colors of the hosting team in the stitches. It's pretty unique and worth a look. Despite going to the same spot as the HR Derby, and having my glove on me, I left batting practice empty handed. They must have thrown over 100 balls into the crowd, and I wasn't one of the lucky ones. I didn't care though, I was at the All Star Game! This was one of the items on my Bucket List, and I was about to check it off. Right before the game started, Paul and I noticed that there were more spots for the Standing Room guests to roam, so we found a spot in right field and had a great view of the game. Overall, although my feet were killing more from another day of standing from 7am-11pm, I was having the time of my life. By the eighth inning, we noticed Mariano Rivera was warming up in the bullpen, and Citi Field has a unique area where you can stand about 30 yards away from the back part of the 'pen. So down we went, to watch the last time Rivera would enter an All-Star game. It was one for the ages, and it was such a cool event, that before we knew it, Big Pussy from the Sopranos walked by us to film it as well. He was there as a fan, just as the other 45 thousand people were. The bullpen coach for the American League, Mike Rojas, was helping Rivera get ready, and when Mariano left for the field, most of the crowd next to me left to go watch Mo run on the field. I stayed back and looked at Rojas, who reached into his pocket and threw a ball at me! It skied over my head and went to into someone else's hand. So close! He must have noticed that his first try was too high, so I jumped on top the picnic table and he threw another one. This one was lower, and I jumped up and grabbed it on the fly.  Hey now! 
It took until Inning 8 of the last day we were there, but I got one!
What a great time the three of us had. It's too bad Brandon had to work during the days, but we still got the chance to take in three full days of just baseball. I can't wait for next summer. Who knows what park we will check off the list? 
Beautiful View of Citi Field

Like my articles? Follow me and see more! @Red33Sox
Read my article on my experience at the 2013 Eastern League All Star Game! 

Peter Lepak 7/23/2013 05:40:00 PM Edit
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