I’m staring at a photograph of Greg Elliott, the director of field operations for the San Francisco Giants, who appeared on the cover of SportsField Management’s April baseball issue. Actually, I’m talking to his photograph as I hold the issue in my left hand. And I’m not being nice.
“It’s your fault,” I say out loud. “Because of you, I’m in deep doo-doo with the baseball gods.”
OK, before you think I’ve derailed because I’m talking to a person’s photograph on the cover of a magazine, let me explain. While I was writing a story on mowing patterns for this month’s issue, I was taken back to the night that I committed baseball blasphemy.
While writing the story, which included an interview with Ben Young, the head groundskeeper for the Memphis Redbirds who recently won the second-annual mowing patterns contest by the Sports Turf Managers Association, it struck me how amazing grass can appear when it’s managed by true professionals, guys like Young … and Elliott, although I hate to give him any credit.
Listening to Young speak about the art of mowing patterns, I recalled my first visit to AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the Giants. It was June 13, 2012. I was in San Francisco to cover the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club for SportsField Management’s sister publication, Superintendent magazine.
I purchased the cheapest ticket for the 7 p.m. start because I didn’t plan to stay past the fifth or sixth inning. I had to be up the next morning at 4:30 to photograph the Olympic Club’s maintenance crew preparing the course for the first day of the U.S. Open.
When I walked into AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, it was like walking into a cathedral. Everything about it was jaw-dropping cool, from the 80-foot-long Coca-Cola bottle behind the left-field bleachers, to the waters of McCovey Cove beyond right field, to the impeccable condition of the infield and grass, which, quite frankly, appeared in better condition than the carpet in my living room.
I love baseball stadiums as much as the game itself, and there are some tremendous new ballparks not only in Major League Baseball, but in the minor leagues as well. I’ve also seen college, high school and even youth baseball parks that make you utter “wow.”
And herein lies the problem. I was so taken by the sheer beauty of AT&T Park – “the thrill of the grass,” as Shoeless Joe Jackson calls it in “Field of Dreams” – that I tuned out what was happening on the field. I spent two hours at the game, wandering from the lower deck to the upper deck and back again to take in a smorgasbord of spectacular views.
The Giants were winning 10-0 over the Houston Astros when I left the game in the sixth inning, not that I could tell you how they scored their runs. Still, I was more than content with my baseball experience, which was more about getting to the see field than anything else.
When I got to my hotel room, which was a short drive away, I turned on the game before going to bed. It was the eighth inning. The field looked just as good on TV as it did in person.
But, as I listened to the announcers, I made a shocking realization: Giants pitcher Matt Cain had a perfect game going. And I had left it.
I sat on the edge of the bed and watched Cain finish off the Astros in the ninth. After the game, he addressed the fans – and everyone watching at home. “Look at you fans,” he said, as the crowd went crazy. “There’s not an empty seat in the house.”
That was Cain’s only mistake of the night. There was one empty seat.
There have been 23 perfect games hurled in the 146-year history of the majors. Nobody keeps records of how many lamebrains left those games, but the baseball gods know.
Perhaps the gods will someday offer me respite. They will realize how much I love baseball and that my intentions were good that June evening – I had just lost myself in the allure of a drop-dead gorgeous field.
Maybe Greg Elliott can put in a good word for me with the gods. It’s his dang fault, after all.