Am I Dying?

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to come to grips with their own mortality. When we are young we think we are invincible and that we will live forever. As we get older we realize that we aren’t nearly as indestructible as we thought we were and by middle age we are paying the price for the follies of our youth.

We still try to hold on to the notion that we are not old and we have years and years to live. Then there comes an event or experience that causes you to stop and ponder, “Is the end near? Am I really going to die?”

For some this self-realization occurs when they begin to see the people who are featured in the obituaries were all born after they were. For others it is seeing their children grow and leave the house for college or marriage. For me this realization came in the form of an email.

At the end of July I wrote an entry titled My Bucket List – Diamondbacks Style where I chronicled my personal bucket list of things I would like to do before I die. The reason I wrote that was to chronicle the fulfillment of number 3 on that list. It was an incredible experience and one that validated why it deserved to be on my list. Although I had accomplished one of my ten bucket list items I chalked that up to luck more than anything.

base3August 10 was a day like any other day. I awoke and checked the newspaper for a write-up of the game against the Washington Nationals the day before and a preview of what to expect in the series against the New York Mets that started that night at Chase Field. After reading all I could about the Diamondbacks I changed my focus to my email dreading the thoughts of having to deal with the countless messages offering me free Viagra, details on new hair growth solutions, and the assorted business opportunities available in Nigeria.

Nestled within all of these emails was a message from Dustin Payne, Manager of Fan Loyalty for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It simply said, “I read your bucket list online and I would like to help you cross number two off the list. Please let me know if you are available on September 11th to change the bases with the grounds crew.” I stopped dead in my tracks and had to re-read the message several times for the words to sink in.

When I finally realized what he was suggested I began squealing like a school girl and danced around the room. Based on my family’s accounts of that moment my dancing abilities could best be compared to Walter Brennan in the movie The Gnome Mobile.

I could not believe what I had read. Was I really going to get to go out onto the playing surface of Chase Field during an actual game and change the bases out? The room around me suddenly began to spin and I thought for a moment I was going to faint. I quickly sent an email back to Mr. Payne accepting his generous offer before he had a chance to rescind it.

I began making preparations for my “Baseball Experience”. I had a lot to do. First of all I needed to go to all the remaining Arizona Diamondbacks games and take notes of how these bases were retrieved and changed. Hey, don’t mock me. This was the perfect excuse for me to HAVE to go to all the ball games and I planned on using it.

base1For those of you who have not been to a game or maybe had not paid that much attention, the bases are exchanged for new bases at the end of the third inning and again at the end of the sixth inning. That means that there are three sets of bases that are used for every game. And regardless of what you may think, there are not base fairies that fly out and magically change these bases. No, it takes the hard work and dedication of the grounds crew to accomplish this feat.

Manned with a pair of binoculars and a notebook I went to the game that night against the New York Mets and diligently watched each time the bases were replaced making careful notes and diagrams so I knew what I needed to do.

With this information in hand I went home to begin Phase 2 of my preparation. I developed a training program. The last thing I wanted to do is run out onto the field and pull a hamstring or reach down to get the base and pull an oblique muscle. I began a strict training regime where I placed a weighted blanket on the floor and practiced lifting it and replacing it on the carpet.

I continued this training program for the next month. I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything but I think I am starting to really see some toning and definition of my base lifting muscles. My pants are fitting differently and I may need to go out and get a new Diamondbacks jersey (hey work with me here, it is the only excuse I can come up with to justify getting one of the Los DBacks jerseys in the Team Shop).

In the days leading up to September 11 I found it harder and harder to sleep. I laid there in bed playing in my head the events that would unfold that night. You would think that all my thoughts and dreams would be happy ones but that wasn’t the case.

The night before my big event I woke up screaming in a cold sweat after having a nightmare. Trina tried to console me and asked what my dream was about. As painful as it was I recounted the dream.

I had the new base in hand and ran out onto the field to change out the base. As I knelt down to remove the old base it was stuck and would not come loose. I struggled to try and get it out of the ground but it would not budge. The crowd started booing and I felt a lot of pressure. I finally yanked on the base and it came loose flying over my head and smacked pitcher Doug Davis right in the back of the head knocking him unconscious.

After attending to Davis I was called into General Manager Josh Byrnes office where I had to apologize to him for clubbing his starting pitcher. My grounds keeping credentials were revoked and I was banished from Chase Field and required to wear a Chicago Cubs jersey for the remainder of the season. I shuddered at the thoughts of this. Trina assured me it was just a dream and that I would be fine the next evening.

We arrived at the ballpark early (yet another perfect excuse to get to the game early) and made our way to our seats. Besides myself there was also my wife Trina and my son Dakota. They each had a camera to document the event and Trina had the checkbook just in case she had to pay my bail after I was arrested for hitting Doug Davis in the head with an errant flying base.

I was to meet Ryan Ginsberg at the WOW Lobby at Chase Field no later than the middle of the second inning. The WOW Lobby is next to the Team Shop in the rotunda as you enter the ballpark. It got its name from owner Jerry Colangelo who wanted a lobby where when you entered and looked around you would go “Wow!” It clearly does its job from the copper wall hangings to the various Major League Baseball awards it is a sight to behold.

I met Ryan who escorted us to the elevators and began to explain what I could expect. I was trying to pay attention to what he was saying but I was totally in awe that the elevator had a button that said “Field”. I kept motioning to Dakota to take a picture of the elevator button but he thought I was having a muscle spasm or something so I missed that shot.

We reached the field level and walked through the underground tunnel of Chase Field and emerged next to the Diamondbacks dugout. The field looked so different from that vantage point. I looked out onto the playing surface and second base looked like it was a mile away.

base2We stood and watched an inning before the grounds crew began to assemble. I was led into the room where the grounds crew was gathering their rakes and grates. On the far wall was a set of bases shimmering in the light. I met Head Groundskeeper Grant Trenbeath and Assistant Head Groundskeeper Karl Gant.

My instructions were that I would be third in line behind Grand and Karl. I would run out to second base and remove the old base putting a plug in the hole and allow the grounds crew to rake the area. I would then remove the plug and replace it with the new base.

I was then to run on the dirt not the grass to third base. The reason for running on the dirt was so that I did not run in front of Stephen Drew or Mark Reynolds and catch a ball the side of the head. I had wanted to meet first baseman Brandon Allen but having him hit me upside the head with a baseball was not the introduction I wanted so I made sure I would run on the dirt.

When I got to third base I was to remove the old base and replace it with a new one. Once that was complete I was to gather up the two old bases and wait for the grounds crew and return the bases to the storage area. It sounded simple enough.

The bases have a square base that fits into a square hole so it didn’t seem like it was something I could screw up. It sounded so simple that a Dodgers fan could do it.

When the final out of the third inning was recorded the gate flew open and I ran out onto the field with the grounds crew. I made a beeline to second base and knelt down to take the base out of the ground. I glanced behind me to see where Doug Davis was at (just in case).

The base came loose without issue and I worked quickly to put the plug in the ground. I stepped back while Grant, Karl, and the rest of the crew did their magic. They motioned to me and I retrieved the plug and put the new base in place. It only took me two tries to get it into the ground (I had it twisted a little).

Once I finished I ran (on the dirt) to third base and exchanged old base for new. I then stood there and waited until the grounds crew had finished. I ran off the field and back into the grounds crew room where I handed them the bases.

It was amazing and I could not stop smiling. I waited to be led back up to my family. Grant and Ryan turned and saw my face and began smiling themselves. They asked if I would like to come back in the sixth inning and do it again. It took every ounce of strength I could muster not to break out into another round of Walter Brennan Gnome Mobile dancing. I eagerly accepted their offer.

I don’t remember much of the game from the fourth to the sixth inning. I was too busy recounting the events and making sure I remembered everything I needed to do. I again met Ryan in the sixth inning and he led us back down to the playing surface.

I gathered up my base and stood behind Karl to wait to go out onto the field. The Diamondbacks mounted a comeback that inning so we stood there a long time. I began thinking perhaps I was holding the lucky base that would be used to witness one of the biggest comebacks in Diamondbacks history.

base4While I was day dreaming the Diamondbacks made the final out and I was again running out onto the field. When I got to second base I successfully removed the base without having it fly through the air and conking a pitcher in the head. I put the plug in place and stood back waiting.

When it was my turn I removed the plug and began to put the base in place. This time the base would not go down into place and Karl rushed over to my aid. The base post had tape on it and was hanging up. He handed me his rake and sent me to third base.

How cool was this? Not only did I have a base but I had the Assistant Head Groundskeeper’s rake. If the Head Groundskeeper’s rake was somehow destroyed this rake would become the lead rake. It was like having the missile launch codes for the US Government. Ok it was bigger than that but you get the idea.

I got to third base and was going to replace the base but Mark Reynolds was standing on the old base. For a brief moment I thought about doing a karate kata with my rake to show Reynolds that he didn’t want to mess with me but I didn’t want to scare him after all he still had three innings to play.

Instead he just moved off the base and I quickly replaced third and ran off the field carrying two game used bases and the assistant head rake. I walked off the field to a standing ovation. Ok, my wife and son were standing and there were at least three beer vendors who were standing up so that’s something.

When we got back into the grounds crew area I handed the rake, plug, and bases to the grounds crew. Ryan then said I would be able to take a base home with me. This night just keeps getting better. I selected second base and held it in my arms like a new born baby.

I thanked everyone about a million times and left the room. My day as an honorary member of the Arizona Diamondbacks Grounds Crew was now complete. I had in my possession a game used base and a memory for a life time.

I proudly walked through the concourse carrying my base. The crowds parted as people stared and pointed at the guy with the base. We got back to our seats and watched the last two innings of the game.

That night I laid in bed and recounted the experience over and over in my head. It was amazing. This was definitely worthy of being on my bucket list. It was at that moment that I realized that in the same season I had accomplished 20 percent of my bucket list. Did this mean that my life was nearly over? Nah, if Chicago Cubs fans have taught me anything, there is always next year.


2 Comments

  1. Steve Hamilton

    Hey this is Steve I was on the grounds-crew last night Aug 31-11 just surfing the internet and found this blog!!! Keep the Grounds-crew dream alive.

    • The grounds crew are the unsung heroes of baseball. Everyone takes their work for granted but I’ve seen first hand how hard they work and I appreciate their tireless dedication each and every day. Great work!

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