Turner Field

An Olympic Gold Medalist in canoeing and kayaking, Joe Jacobi relates his tale about the time that he participated in the great Chicago to New York kayak race. Along the way he was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Rochester Red Wings game.

Every baseball fan has to wonder how they would do if they were to have the honor of throwing out the first pitch. However, it’s probably fair to say that no one would consider attempting the feat after paddling 45 miles along the Erie Canal earlier in the day!

Joe graces us with his memories and also participates in an historic moment for Baseballisms.com.

You will be able to follow Joe on Twitter, and watch his color commentary for NBC this summer during the Beijing Olympics.

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During the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, while my wife was still on her expedition to Europe with a group of students, my 2 – year old and I were able to share some serious Father / Daughter time. I was trying to decide what to do on Sunday, and came up with the idea that we would go see her first MLB game!

Here in Atlanta there are still plenty of inexpensive walk up tickets available at Turner Field, and I knew that a sunny Sunday afternoon at the ballpark would be a perfect time for her to have a new experience, while I could catch the Arizona Diamondbacks .. a leading contender for the NL pennant this year.

In preparation for attending the game, I wanted her to have some good gear including a t-shirt and a hat, so we went to a couple of area retailers, striking out on the hat but picking up a number 10 Braves jersey with “Jones” on the back. Of course I had to teach her to say “Yay Chipper!” so that she could cheer on her now favorite player.

She is also a BIG fan of stickers of any kind .. and I figured I’d pick up a pack somewhere so she could wear the tomahawks on her face (getting airbrushed would be a little too much for her to take right now) .. but unfortunately I couldn’t find them at anywhere!!

Sunday morning broke with bright sunshine and the slightest hint of summertime heat right around the corner. Since this was to be a very special occasion, I served her favorite breakfast of waffles and maple syrup, packed up a nice lunchtime meal, extra water, sunscreen and a change of clothes (just in case). I knew I wanted to get there early to avoid the rush of crowds, and I also wanted to visit the kid’s area of the ballpark called “Tooner Field”.

We were both pretty disappointed in the Tooner Field experience for her age group, mostly it was just graphics projected on the walls with some pretend interaction. There was a big covered slide in the middle of the room and a field in the back for a mini game of baseball, but that was for much older kids. Even though she was excited as we waited in line to get in, watching the other kids and asking about the cartoon drawings on the walls, once inside she looked around with her big wide blue eyes and had no intention of leaving my arms. That being said I decided to head up to our seats in advance of game time.

I purchased seats along the third base line in the upper deck because I knew that this was the shaded side of the field where we would be more comfortable. The actual tickets were for Section 410 Row 2 Seat 105. The key there being Row 2 — which was too close to the railing for my comfort of carrying her up and down the stairs as necessary (a fan fell from there a few nights earlier) — as well as the fact that the roof wasn’t shading us during the early portion of the afternoon. The good news was we could move up higher in the stands into some empty seats, the bad (and unpredictable) news was that there are some MAJOR sound effects that blast out of the speakers at stadiums now! Gone are the days of Sherm Feller at the P.A. and John Kiley on the organ as the only required additional sounds at Fenway Park ….. I am dating myself. There were times during the pre-game introductions that I covered up her little two year old ears to prevent potential loss of hearing in the future.

One other factor that I never considered was the problem of the folding seats and too little weight to keep them in place. I never intended to have her sit in my lap during the game, but as she sat back to get comfortable for lunch, the poor little thing got folded right in on! I had to either hold on to the seat, put my leg across it, or just sit her on my lap – it made for less than comfortable seating. We managed to get in our lunch that way, including a few enthusiastic bites of my hot dog since we were at a ballgame after all (sorry mom).

At the start of game time I identified to her that she was going to see future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine pitch for the Braves, but I also realized and kept a secret that Chipper Jones was not going to be starting that day. I’m sure she was deeply disappointed. :-)

As Arizona’s Chris Young took Glavine deep for a homerun in the first at bat of the game, I had a little sleepy one cradled in my arms. It turned out she never actually did fall asleep for a nap since there was so much excitement going on — everything from the cotton candy and frozen lemonade vendors with their brightly colored products to the action on the field. The field action that caught her attention and truly the only thing she could identify with was the players running … “run, run, run”, … so no matter if they were running out a hit, running out a groundout, or simply coming off the field at the end of an inning, this was what she liked!

The crowd filled in all around us as attendance was announced at 35,628 on the day. We had a three generation family directly in front of us including a newborn baby in a carseat, and a family behind us featuring a know-it-all dad trying to impress his 15 year old daughter (oh how I do not want to be like that guy!). You have to admit that a day at the ballpark can be a pleasurable experience for a family, and they do try to make it entertaining beyond the baseball with the t-shirt cannons, jumbotron features between innings, and in-park amenities.

However, there was only so much sitting & watching the game that a 2 year-old was going to take, and I had resigned myself going in that we would make it about halfway through the game and then we would explore the rest of the stadium. Since the game was already 6 – 3 Diamondbacks, it was time to venture forth.

In the upper left field corner of the stadium is Sky Field, which I believe is the most ingenious family friendly feature built into the ballpark. She loved two key components of this area — the misting tunnel & running the basepath. I can still hear the little giggles I was able to invoke by carrying her through the misting tunnel and especially holding her up close to the sprinkler head for a good blast of cooling mist in her face. She made us walk through there numerous times! We also made it to the basepath area at a perfect moment since there wasn’t a huge line of kids ready to run, but developed a little later on. I placed her down at the “home plate” end of the baseline and pointed her towards the female worker on the other end … she’s a runner alright, and loves to run around the house and out in the yard so this wasn’t too challenging for her. She laughed the whole way as she started and stopped down the line, and even looked over at some ladies sitting on the sidelines cheering her on. She got to the end, considered going back, but was more interested in another trip through the mister!

It was time to start making our way towards the exits but we made one more stop in the gift shop hoping to find her some stickers. No luck, but she did come across a set of soft “nerf” balls with the Braves logos on them that she had to have – not too bad really considering she could have been all over the much more expensive stuffed animals. We couldn’t get out of the stadium without tossing a ball around, so we spent a bunch of time in the concourse area playing catch and attracting some great compliments from onlookers commenting on her throwing arm, to her cuteness, to one slightly inebriated dude who I overheard tell his buddy “that’s why he ‘wanted one'”, and came over to give her a high-five!

Time to go, as we chugged some more water and she looked at me asking “whistle?” … which turned out to be one of the police officers directing traffic who must have caught her eye as we had come in earlier in the day. As I strapped her into her car seat and blasted the a/c to cool down the car .. she turned into a zombie staring off into space, and was slumped over asleep before even getting to the street.

In the end, the Braves lost to Arizona 9 – 3 powered by an Eric Byrnes grand slam. Glavine got the loss, Chipper sat out the game due to back spasms, but none of that really mattered. I had taken my two year old daughter to her first major league baseball game. Doris Kearns Goodwin credits her life long baseball passion to her dad, sharing time together and even teaching her the art of scoring a ballgame. My ideal is that as she gets older we will rely less and less on the entertainment aspects of the ballpark and more on the game itself. It will be a beautiful experience to see the game through her eyes as she adopts favorite players and recounts aspects of the game that I may have overlooked. We can ride home in the car excitedly chatting about the team, and the game, and the prospects for this year’s shot at the World Series crown while looking forward to the next time we get to attend a game.

Come to think about it, Let’s go right now!

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When Olympic white water kayaker Joe Jacobi walked his gold medal around the track of Turner Field at the closing ceremonies in 1996, little did he realize he would return to the scene in 2008 to discuss his dad’s passion for baseball coming back to Washington DC.

Joe describes himself as part of the lost generation of baseball fans in Washington DC, who came along too late for the Senators, so ended up following the Baltimore Orioles simply from a geographic standpoint. However, it was a proud day to be at the ballpark with his Dad to see the return of the “red hats with the white W” take the field.

You will be able to catch more from Joe this summer on NBC as he provides his insights into the world of white water kayaking and canoeing during coverage of the Olympics from Beijing.

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Ricky Bottalico Ball

by on March 19, 2008

This Baseballism relates the story of a day at the ballpark where a little friendly banter results in a souvenir. Our heroes spend a day at Turner Field and get a ball from Ricky Bottalico of the Phillies.

Watching the Phillies reliever warm up Pat Burrell in the outfield instigated Cameron’s exhortation to “throw him some junk!”

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