All-Star Sunday, July 11, 2004, Houston
I went to the ballpark before 1 p.m. to get my press pass and check out the stadium a bit before the Futures Game. For some reason, I wasn’t surprised when they couldn’t find my credentials at will call, but they were prepared and I was sent over to the trailer to have my picture taken and get my pass printed right there. Unfortunately, instead of my smiling, happy photo that I’d e-mailed the week before, I had a sour, hungover face. It was just too much effort for me to smile for a picture at that moment. At least it’s not a driver’s license photo I’m stuck with for years. I kind of laugh at it now.
I used the trip to Houston to get back to my sportswriting roots, interviewing Orioles farmhand Val Majewski and Phillies prospect Gavin Floyd before the Futures Game to send back home to the newspaper for a little freelance fee. Just some extra walking around money. As I stood waiting to talk to Gavin, he was chatting on the dugout bench with another reporter. At one point, the reporter had stood up, so I thought their interview was over and I took a few steps closer to make sure I caught Gavin before he went into the clubhouse. But then they sat down again, and shortly after that, a certain ESPN.com writer came up and said hello to the two of them. After chatting with the other reporter, the ESPN guy — whose stuff I read regularly and certainly enjoy — then said, “You’ve got a hoverer over here,” meaning me. Ass.
Unfortunately, the laptop I’d brought from work didn’t have a wireless card for internet access (Minute Maid Park is wi-fi enabled), so it was essentially useless. I thought it might be dead weight, a complete waste of energy bringing it with me, but after I returned to the hotel and banged out a Futures Game story and e-mailed it back to NJ, I noticed that the business center at the hotel had two desktop areas with internet connections that allowed guests to plug in their own laptops. So the computer came in handy the next day.
Back at the ballpark — the hotel-to-ballpark shuttle service was the perfect way to get around — I trekked up to the “auxiliary press box” out in the mezzanine sections in deep right-center field. And I was finally hungry, so I had a sandwich and some popcorn from the spread and settled in to watch the Futures Game from afar. The US team held on for a 4-3 win after Gavin came in to face a bases-loaded, no-out situation with a 4-0 lead in the top of the seventh (the final inning). A 12-hop single through the hole between first and second made it 4-1 an RBI groundout cut it to 4-2 and a wild pitch on the first offering to Justin Morneau made it 4-3 before Gavin struck out the Twins’ super-prospect. US manager Goose Gossage then went to the bullpen for Tigers pitcher Kyle Sleeth, who got a grounder to short to end it.
I then had to hustle down to the field for the celebrity game because that was the main reason I was in town. I’d lost track of time and didn’t get down to the batting cages beneath the stands where the players were warming up, but I followed them out onto the field and caught up with the likes of Nick Lachey, Bill Rancic and Charlie Maher before the game. They wore the hats of their hometown teams — Lachey, from Cincinnati, had a Reds cap; Chicagoan Rancic was a Cubbie and Maher wore the Yankees’ “NY.” Adam Rodriguez from CSI: Miami got it right with a Mets cap. I found myself in the middle of reporters and former ballplayers clamoring for photo ops or interviews with the likes of Lachey (Cecil Fielder wanted a picture with Mr. Simpson and his daughter) and Shandi. It was a bit of a madhouse down there, very hectic, but I got what I needed.
On the field for the celebrity game was where I first saw ESPN.com’s Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. For the next two days, his whereabouts mimicked mine. I saw him frequently from that point until he returned to the media hotel from the gala in a taxi that pulled up just before mine did. If I’d had the chance, I would’ve told him that I didn’t expect to see him back in Houston so soon, but he addressed that in his all-star column.
I used the softball game time as a chance to explore the stadium, and I watched parts from the lower seats and the second-level, air-conditioned, carpeted club section. When the softball game ended, I returned to the hotel, dropped my stuff off in my room, and went downstairs to the Stuff XPO, which promised celebrities and all-stars alike. There I saw more ESPN guys — Dan Patrick, Rob Dibble, Mayne and Reynolds again — and former ballplayers like Daryl Hamilton and Dave Stewart. There was a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a BMW near the entrance, video games set up in the back, and MP3 player and portable movie players on display elsewhere. It was like an adult arcade with an open bar. I could’ve had my golf swing recorded and analyzed, then put on a CD to take with me. I could’ve taken some pictures to become a photographer on a Stuff photo shoot. To do that, I would’ve been shooting the women at the party who were posing to become a Stuff model. There was even a speed pitch there. Crazy.
But, like a true celebrity party, there was nowhere — literally, nowhere — to sit, unless you had the white wristband for the small VIP area in the back where the ESPN guys hung out. My feet became painfully sore and around midnight I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up, resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be making friends with any celebrities, and headed for the door. “We’re not letting anyone back in, just so you know,” someone told me on my way out. “Too crowded in there?” I asked him. “Yeah.” I hesitated. What if Mike Piazza showed up? What if Jimmy Kimmel made an appearance. If they did, I’d probably miss them anyway, I figured. I walked down the stairs to the lobby to get to the elevator. To my surprise, a crowd of people surrounded the red-carpet area at the bottom of the escalator, hoping to get a glimpse of someone they knew from the TV. “You’re not giving up your pass, are you?” someone asked me with a voice filled with hope. “Sorry,” I mumbled and headed for the elevator and my comfortable, king-size bed.