I was captivated by the setting the first time I saw the inside of a Major League ballpark.
I was 10 years old and my father took me to see my Yankees play the Detroit Tigers in 1961 in the first year the former Briggs Stadium was renamed Tiger Stadium, .
Everything about it appealed to me — from the smell of the concession food and even the aroma of my father’s Dutch Masters Panatela, to the feel of a June breeze on my T-shirted arms and the sweetest sound ever heard, that of wooden bat striking rawhide.
Over time, I would visit many ballparks and see many of the sport’s best do what they do best. Of all those ballpark experiences over time, there are two in particular that are my favorites because I was allowed to look at the park’s inner sanctums, areas generally not accessible to the typical fan.
In the late 1990s, back in my days as a high-school English teacher, I used to chaperone a school field trip to New York in the spring. On one of those trips, during an early-season off day for the Yankees, I took a tour of the original Yankee Stadium. For my $10 entry fee, I got to see Monument Park, where the team’s legends are remembered; the press box, where the scribes who wrote of my heroes gave me my Yankee news; and even the hallways beneath the stadium seating and the clubhouse, where the players dressed and prepared themselves.
While I did get to see a game the next day, a slugfest where my Bronx Boys vanquished the Oakland A’s, 17-13, the previous day’s experience was my favorite because I felt like such an insider.
My second glimpse at baseball’s inner sanctum came in 2006 at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, thanks to my friend and former MLB scout, Jim Martz. During his long and illustrious scouting career, Jim fostered many friendships with the sport’s top players and executives, one of whom is former Cincy GM Wayne Krivsky, who served in that capacity from 2006 through 2008.
Thanks to Jim, the two of us were able to see game day as few fans ever do, from the morning of a key night game with the rival St. Louis Cardinals to the game’s final pitch, spending essentially the whole day with Krivsky.
We spent time in his office while he worked the phones gathering data and discussing potential trades and saw the large white board on his wall with the Major League roster of every MLB team.
We also accompanied him as he gave us a personal tour of the stadium, one which included being on the field behind the batting cage for batting practice, watching the likes of Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols of the Cards, and Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds, hit rope after rope.
We also ate in the press dining room with Marty Brenneman and Joe Nuxhall, who would be gone from us a little over a year later, and other members of the media. Then it was time for the absolute mind-blowing experience of watching the game in the GM’s box with Krivsky and his staff and watching him and his assistants work. During that time in the plush suite, I met and conversed with many members of the Reds front office as well as team owner Bob Castellini, who seemed to me to be as down to earth and genuinely nice as any multimillionaire could ever be.
While the Reds won that day, 10-3, behind as fine a catch as I have ever seen, by Ryan Freel, and Freel’s three hits on a far better day for him than his final days before he would take his own life in 2012, one attributed to Stage II chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the result of multiple concussions sustained during a career which included a full-bore playing style and too many close encounters with walls chasing fly balls.
However, for me, it wasn’t the result of the game that mattered. It was instead, spending the entire day with a dear friend, Jim Martz, who possesses a veritable encyclopedia of baseball knowledge in his head and, thanks to him, meeting the fine gentleman and accommodating host, Wayne Krivsky, who treated this small-town writer as if he were Red Smith, and seeing my favorite sport in a way few ever do.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.