Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Front-row blog.

“Watch out for the left-handed hitters,” the old man sitting next to the left of me said. “Their foul balls can shoot over this way like bullets.”

It was something I kept in mind while occupying Row 4, Seat 9, Section 131 at the HHH Metrodome last week, to see the Twins trounce the Yankees. Row 4, as I mentioned yesterday, was the front row of that section, much closer to the third-base line than the exit. The man who gave me this advice had probably seen many foul balls into those seats in his day, since he also said that he’d had season tickets for the two seats he and his wife now occupied since 1961 (presumably he meant a similar position at wherever the Twins played before the Metrodome, but I didn’t press the point).

He had survived all those errant balls all those years to be a hale-looking fellow in his 70s, so I took that as a measure of the low probability that a speeding baseball would connect with my head. The closest a ball came to us during the game wasn’t very close at all, but it did fly into a stand of TV cameras just off third base and, I think, cause one of the cameramen to duck.

The following is extracted from an AP reporter’s – Andres Ybarra – write-up of the game. It might be a dream job for some, and probably isn’t that hard, but I’m glad I’m not a sports reporter. It would mean that I’d have to pay attention to games all the time, rather than when I felt like it.

“The last time he faced the Yankees, Johan Santana and the Minnesota Twins were knocked out of the American League playoffs. This time, Santana knocked down Derek Jeter and silenced New York's powerful lineup…

“The left-hander took a shutout into the eighth inning Wednesday night and won his fifth straight start, spoiling Mike Mussina's return from the disabled list by pitching Minnesota to a 7-2 victory.

“Santana gave up two runs and five hits in seven-plus innings with six strikeouts and one walk. He retired 11 in a row during one stretch and helped put an end to Jeter's 17-game hitting streak, which tied a career high for the Yankees' shortstop.

“He brought a loud roar from the crowd when he barely missed hitting Jeter in the head with a high-and-tight pitch in the third, sending the Yankees' star sprawling to the ground… The crowd of 41,125 gave Santana a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout.”

Santana had some fans, all right. Some of them were sitting near me. On the right side of the seats that my companions and I sat in, there were a couple of svelte young women – a set, one blonde, one brunette – who cheered Santana loudly every time he walked into the dugout, bending so far over to get a look at him that I was occasionally afraid one of them would fall onto the field. “We love you! Yeah! Go Santana! Yeah! WOOOOO! We love you!” They also had a homemade sign proclaiming their love for the pitcher.

Directly behind me were some young men, Venezuelans. I know that because a woman sitting next to them asked them where they were from, and one of them had a Venezuelan flag that he held up from time to time. Every now and then, the flag brushed the top of my head. But at least these gentlemen from South America didn’t yell in my ear. Unlike the front-row women, the Venezuelans were quieter, but obviously excited to be there to see their countryman, Johan Santana, pitch against the Yankees. (Striking a blow against Yankee imperialism?)

The crowd didn’t like Derek Jeter. Every time he came up to bat, they booed, and, as Ybarra wrote, the crowd cheered Santana for nearly beaning Jeter. None of the other Yankees was singled out like that. I guess it was because everyone had heard of Jeter. Fame has its drawbacks.


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