Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Tag Archives: Jim Rapoport

Catching Baby Birds

If you are just here for the Memphis pictures today, I totally understand. Scroll down and check out our AAA baseball boys on their way to a championship!  However, in order to create a post through which to weave these pictures, I had to fill up the rest of today’s space with some words.
So… let me tell you a story.  It is about the Friday night I spent with the boys from Memphis. 
For those of you who might not already know: I absolutely REVEL in the opportunity to watch the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals’ AAA affiliate, affectionately termed the Baby Birds) when they come to my hometown of Oklahoma City. Last weekend’s Memphis game was the icing on my personal cake for two reasons.
First, Memphis was playing OKC in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Playoffs and had already grabbed a 2-game lead in the best of five series. Friday would be game 3 and their chance to sweep. 
Second, I would be returning to the ballpark with another press pass (thanks to my favorite i70baseball editor, Bill) and was crazy-thrilled because once again I would have great views, unlimited access and a spot so close to the dugout, I would be sharing the same air as the ballplayers.    *Breathe in. Breathe out.* 
Friday night’s ballgame was a definite doozy! The Baby Birds did indeed get the win and Memphis hurler Lance Lynn pitched his way to a new franchise record with 16 strikeouts. I am also happy to report: I did not hyperventilate, no restraining orders were issued and Joe Mather’s personal space was not violated. The fact that I was slightly “under the weather” may have limited my enthusiasm, but no little germ could keep me away from the ballpark that night.
Yes, some of my favorite Memphis players were absent – Jon Jay, Tyler Greene, Matt Pagnozzi, Bryan Anderson and Nick Stavinoha are all now up in St. Louis with the Cardinals while Shane Robinson remained on the DL (since May) with a shoulder injury.  Thankfully Daniel Descalso was manning shortstop for the Baby Birds (great glove, fun to watch), and Jim Rapoport continues to be another prime reason to be a Redbird fan (chick comment).  But selfishly I was most glad to see Joe Mather and Allen Craig still slumming it in the minors. (Sorry guys!)
Unlike my first media pass adventure when the photo targets were ballplayers unknown to me, this time we had history.  Names and faces from ballgames past were right next to me.  It was glorious!
The Best Laid Plans
As this was my second ballpark adventure with a Golden Ticket (media pass), my rookie fears about the how’s and where’s had vanished.  I knew the layout. My plan of attack was simple: be there when the press gates opened (2 ½ hours before the game) and get on the field to snag several glorious batting practice photos.  I had envisioned the possible scenarios so many times in my mind that when my mental script hit a snag (i.e. batting practice was OVER by the time I got there), I was momentarily stunned.  
But ballplayers were on the field, and I recovered my senses quickly.
Moving on.  No batting practice…
Adjusting the plan, I set up shop in the shady right field bleachers and watched the pitchers warming up. I even talked briefly with one of the Memphis coaches and immediately spilled the beans.  It is virtually impossible for me to keep my love of baseball under wraps.  
Me: “Are you going to win today?”
Memphis Coach: “Of course!  Are you a Memphis fan?”
Me: “YES!…… but don’t tell anyone…  
       (laughing) I am supposed to be impartial.”
The coach assured me he would keep my secret, and if you can’t trust a MiLB coach, who can you trust?  😉
No cheering when you are at the ballpark with a press pass?  Well, that rule was broken in less than 10 minutes.  But I rationalized that away as a minor violation because my lapse into baseball fandom occurred during pregame warm-ups and there was only one witness – and he isn’t talking!    
Blabber mouth
Without batting practice to keep me busy, I wandered the stadium, visited the press box to collect lineup and roster information and then met my family for dinner.  About 30 minutes before game time, I headed back down to the field and staked my claim in the photo well by the visitor dugout (of course) just in time to watch the Redbirds ascend from the clubhouse, up through the dugout and onto the field to sign autographs.  Another gal with a camera-to-die-for was in the dugout talking to Joe Mather.  When Joe pranced out onto the field, I had to know.  Who was she?  (More importantly…. How do I get a job like that?!)
Filling me in, she told me of her role as a team photographer, mentioning that she had to pay her own way to Oklahoma City – as well as to the series in Iowa where the Redbirds clinched their spot in the playoffs.  I asked where fans could see photos from the champagne celebration in Iowa, but learned that when a photographer pays their own way to a game, the pictures taken are the property of the photographer instead of the team.  

Translation: no Memphis champagne celebration photos for us. 
Talking with her was such fun that once again, I felt compelled to fess up and lay my fan cards on the table.  The Memphis boys may never know I was their biggest fan in the stadium that evening, but my intentions had now been officially registered with two appropriate Memphis personnel. 


Conflicted and Oblivious
Those are the two words that pop into my mind when asked how it was to experience the game as a photographer instead of a fan. 

Conflicted – I watched from afar as my family enjoyed the game from seats behind the Memphis dugout.  My kids got autographs before the game, but this time I would be an observer instead of a participant.  A player tossed a game ball over the dugout to my daughter when he noticed she was wearing a Memphis Redbirds jersey (not many of those in Oklahoma.)  And my clan celebrated and cheered our Baby Birds each time they stepped to the plate. There were many moments that night when my empty seat there in the stands beckoned me.  I was sorely missing those special fan experiences.


Oblivious – At the end of the evening, my amazing Hubby kindly filled me in on an incredible game fact: Memphis’ starting pitcher Lance Lynn had thrown SIXTEEN strikeouts.
During my stint behind a camera lens I was entirely isolated from game discussion.  That works great for focusing on the moments on the field, but is horrible for the ‘big picture.’  It was suddenly clear to me why I had not captured any diving defensive gems  – no baserunners tends to limit flashy gloves and defensive plays, and 16 K’s severely restricts the number of potential baserunners.  I was entirely unaware of the magnitude of the pitching feat while jockeying for good photos.  


So, if I ever get the chance again, I will find a way & listen to the game broadcast. Being oblivious to drama like that?  Unacceptable for a true baseball fan, er… uh… a photographer.  😉
Mission Accomplished:
Amazing ballgame.  Unmatchable experience. I had more fun than I deserved. I did my best professional photographer impersonation and (thanks to my tough little camera and a magical new lens) came home with some pictures I love.  I will try not to get all mushy about it, but I have to say that for a gal who lives and breathes baseball (especially Cardinal and Memphis baseball), I felt as though I had gone to heaven.  The opportunity to be on the grass for the action and close enough to the dugout to hear players and coaches discuss strategy during the game will be a memory I will cherish.  I hope for many more!

Since I have now typed enough words to fill this space with a spattering of beautiful baseball boys, I will close this out. 

But I will be crossing my fingers for another Golden Ticket and a Memphis return next Tuesday night.  



Looking Ahead:
The Cardinals may be faltering in the final moments of 2010, but our Memphis Redbirds are pushing full-steam ahead.  This week they will be taking on Tacoma in the PCL Championship Series September 14th-19th at Memphis’ Autozone Park.
When these Redbirds win their second consecutive PCL Championship title (yes, I am that confident in my Baby Birds), they will return to Oklahoma City for the AAA Championship game on September 21st.
So, if you are in need of a boost to renew your Cardinal baseball postseason fervor, keep your eyes and ears on the Memphis Redbirds. 
Their website is here:
You can see more photos of the Memphis Redbirds’ Friday night game at my Baseball Digest twitter account : @Erika4Baseball or here on twitpic.



Viva El Baby Birds!!!  =)
If you would like to read more, the story of my unbelievably fun first media pass adventure can be found here on i70baseball.com. I am thrilled to share with you photos from the Memphis playoff game in today’s Diamond Diaries post, but kindly ask that the photos not be used or redistributed without permission.  Thank you! 



Joe and Me

There are a few Cardinals ballplayers that I absolutely LOVE to watch: David Freese, Brendan Ryan and “Hunky” Matt Holliday top my favorites list. When a player makes that list, he is usually there to stay, such as dear Yadier Molina – who sparked my love for the St. Louis Cardinals back in 2006.
Other players wearing the Birds on the Bat get my support and my fan love too of course; but sometimes there are players that I just have not found a connection with. Joe Mather has been one of those guys… until this past Wednesday night.


My impression of Joe Mather has been clouded by previous, albeit limited, in-person observations. Last year Joe was recovering from injury, working his way back in AAA. He was frustrated at the plate and in the field, and his mood reflected that frustration. When the Memphis Redbirds came to Oklahoma – yes, I am an Okie – Joe would run right past the waiting fans, dashing straight into the dugout without so much as a glance.
During Spring Training in Florida this year I asked Joe for an autograph. He just shook his head and said “later,” but never returned. Of course, I understood. Players cannot always stop to sign autographs or talk with fans. They have jobs to do. But because of these less-than-encouraging impressions of Joe Mather, my interest in cheering for him has been somewhat lackluster.
My kids, on the other hand, have taken a real liking to Joe Mather, probably because I have shared with them the hilarious Brendan Ryan home videos (with sidekick Joe) from the FSMW website. So, when Joe Mather was optioned to AAA Memphis this past week my kids were thrilled. You see, the Memphis Redbirds were visiting our local Oklahoma City Redhawks for a four game series and we already had tickets.

The kiddos have learned that with just a little extra effort, they can improve their chances for an autograph.So with handmade signs reading “JOE MATHER,” they waited patiently by the 1st base side of the stands during the pre-game warm-ups.


Tyler Greene – always smiling and willing to sign a baseball – trotted right over to visit with us, but Joe Mather was nowhere to be seen.
Just when I thought Joe might disappoint us yet again, he came onto the field, ran some drills, saw the signs and headed our way. While signing baseballs, Joe perked up when I joked how nice it was for him to grow a mustache too, in support of his Cardinals teammate Brendan Ryan (who credits growing a mustache with helping him break out of a slump.) Joe laughed and talked with us a bit about Brendan. That fun interaction made up for all the past “Grumpy Joe” moments I had witnessed.


During Wednesday’s game, Joe had quite a few Cardinals fans cheering him on. By the middle of the game, Joe was smiling as he jogged to and from the dugout, past our seats. And by the end of the game, the Redbirds had won and Joe was celebrating in the outfield with teammates Allen Craig and Jim Rapoport. It was great to see a “Happy Joe” having fun playing baseball in my hometown!
But the story doesn’t end there. I was living the dream when, after the on-field celebrations had ended, Joe Mather went into the dugout, fished out a game ball and looked in my direction. (Our front row seats gave us a clear view of the covered dugout.) Joe caught my eye, pointed to me, and lobbed me that baseball, up and over the dozen or so fans between us. Thankfully I caught the baseball with some modicum of grace, and looked back at Joe. He smiled a great big grin, waved goodbye, and then headed down the dugout steps and out of sight.
Thanks, Joe! 
 Welcome to the list!    =)

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