Friday, May 23, 2008

On a quest

Tonight my dad approached me with a simple question: have you seen all 30 MLB teams play? I've been incredibly privileged to even be asked this question. I'm lucky to have a father who is a huge baseball fan. I'm also lucky that back when I was 9 and 10 we went on back-to-back baseball road trips to see the relics such as Tiger Stadium (the year before it closed), Yankee Stadium, Fenway Pahhhk and my personal favorite, Wrigley Field, plus other ballparks such as the Skydome (now the Rogers Centre), Comiskey Park (now US Cellular Field), Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) and Shea Stadium (not to mention the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and the Little League Baseball Hall of Fame in Williamsport, PA).

A lot of the teams were easy to knock off the list. I've been to the homes of the Cubs, Reds (only Riverfront Stadium, not the Great American Ball Park), Pirates (only 3 Rivers Stadium, not PNC Park), Phillies (only the Vet, not Citizens Bank Park), Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians, Tigers (only Tiger Stadium, not Comerica Park) and Dodgers, not to mention the Nationals, who I saw probably 50-70 times at RFK and once so far at Nationals Park. It was simple to knock off the teams I've seen at home (taking away 14 of the 30 ML teams). So I had to go about knocking out the other 16 teams.

Some teams were still easy to eliminate. The Braves and Marlins are in the NL East, so I've seen each play at least 5 times throughout the last few years at RFK. I saw the Diamondbacks both in the game where Sammy Sosa hit his 20th HR in June in 1998 against the Cubs and in the Nats' first home game in 2005. I saw many other teams, such as the Mariners, Athletics, Devil Rays (who I have yet to see as the Rays), Padres, Giants and Rockies at RFK at some point as well.

This left me with 7 teams: the Astros, Cardinals, Brewers, Royals, Twins, Angels and Rangers. These became harder and harder to narrow down. I remembered wearing my Little League Brewers shirt to their game at the White Sox on one of the road trips, so the list became 6. It dwindled to 5 when I remembered the Dodgers game I saw in LA was an interleaguer against the cross-town rival, the Angels. I had to go through my shoebox of tickets from games I've gone to to cross the Cardinals off the short list.

So here I am, thinking as hard as I can about whether or not I've seen the Royals, Twins, Rangers or Astros in action. The Astros randomly come to mind because I was thinking about Ricky Gutierrez, who fouled off some twelve pitches in a row when I saw him play the Indians. So the list became 3. I found it incredibly ironic that two of the three teams I hadn't seen were the ex-Senators versions 1 and 2. I came across ticket stubs from a 1996 Phillies vs Cubs game, a 1996 Salem Avalanche vs Frederick Keys game and a 1999 Potomac Cannons vs Lynchburg Hillcats game. But I still had no answers for the Twins, Rangers or Royals. I dug and dug through the box and saw one faded ticket that was strangely intact. And then I remembered.

Thursday, August 17, 1999 was a normal summer night in Baltimore. My dad and I drove out from our home in Virginia to see the matchup between Mike Mussina of the O's ("not the home team" lectured my dad, a lifelong Senators fan) and the budding youngster Joe Mays of the visiting Minnesota Twins, which gave the attendees high hopes for a pitcher's duel. Neither starter held their side of the bargain, with Mussina giving up 3 runs in 6 innings and Mays allowing 4 over 5 and 1/3. The Orioles led 4-3 in the top of the 7th. The forgettable Jim Corsi got the equally forgettable Chad Allen to ground out to third and then got Brent Gates (who at least was a first round pick) to ground the ball right back at him. So here we are, 2 outs in the 7th inning in a mid-August game between two pretty bad teams (the Orioles came into the game at 51-66, pacing the 50-66 Twins by half of the game). In trots Jesse Orosco, the first LOOGY of his time, to face Todd Walker. He gets Walker to fly out deep to Brady Anderson in center. Orosco gets a standing ovation for this simple act, and I'm sitting there like "all he did was get Todd Walker to fly out." Then I look at the scoreboard and see "Congratulations, Jesse Orosco, for setting the Major League record in games pitched!" I saw Orosco break The Eck's all time record with his 1,072th career game.

It doesn't matter how inconsequential some baseball games might seem at times. You can find history in any game (even an Orioles game, believe it or not!). Finding this ticket stub reminded me exactly why I love this game. Who really cares how many times a lifetime reliever pitched? I do. Dad, let's see the Nats play the Senators (now the Rangers) a week after Father's Day. And finish off all 30 teams with the Royals in Baltimore a week later.

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