After the very entertaining 2017 season capped off by a great playoffs and World Series, it was hard for me to say goodbye to baseball. So when a chance came for me to arrange my work schedule to allow for an Arizona Fall League game while in Phoenix, I made sure I didn’t miss it.
As the calendar flipped to November in my home of Oregon, I had already put the summer clothes in a bin until next March(optimistically) and brought out the long sleeves, long pants, sweaters, and vests. Digging out my flip flops, shorts, and T-shirts again though I packed for the one night trip. For the Fall League, they typically have one or two games during the day and a night game.
The AFL consists of 6 teams that combine 5 MLB teams per team of top prospects that teams want to get extra work in. The league has seen some notable players, including Michael Jordan, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Hunter Renfroe, and more recently Aaron Judge.
I have been to Spring Training several times but never had the chance to see a game at Scottsdale Stadium (home of the Giants), however for today’s game it would be no issue. Tickets are only $8 and you can sit wherever you want. No assigned seating! I walked up to the line and asked where to buy tickets, when the person I asked mentioned he had a season pass which allowed him to bring a guest, so I got to go in for free. Off to a good start!
It was a beautiful fall evening, around 70 degrees at game time, and away it went between the Salt River Rafters and Scottsdale Scorpions. The Rafters are the Dbacks/Orioles/Brewers/Rockies/Marlins while the Scorpions are the Giants/Yankees/Mets/Angels/Reds which actually meant many in the crowd cheered for the Rafters with the Diamondbacks players.
It was a pretty informal atmosphere before the game, with lots of autograph seekers and the players interacting freely with fans. I even got a selfie with Brewers infielder Lucas Erceg.
Salt River went quickly in the top half before Reds prospect Taylor Sparks hit one out to center field to give Scottsdale an early lead. One aspect interesting to this was some of the new time measures MLB is trying out. There is a pitch set clock, where each pitcher has 15 seconds to come set between pitches. I didn’t see anyone break it and I like the idea – especially thinking if they come up with it good habits form and it might not ever actually be needed on the major league level.
The second inning went quietly but Scottsdale starter and Reds prospect Wendolyn Bautista struggled mightily in the third, allowing hit after hit capped by Orioles prospect Anthony Santander hitting a home run. Five runs scored and Scottsdale was ahead.
Scottsdale chipped away though with one back in the bottom of the third and two more in the 4th to tie the game.
I was enjoying my view in the first row behind home plate but decided to move around for different views. I noticed that in some of the bleachers foul balls would be hit with no one to collect, so I sat up in a perch after still having to pay $5 for a hot dog. Apparently the food prices don’t go down with the ticket prices.
I was sitting enjoying the game making small talk with those around me when a foul ball did come up. It bounced far to my left and up some rows of seats. The guy I was talking to started hopping over benches to get up, just as it hit the back wall and caromed down right to my outstretched hand. Since he had been talking about his young son I offered for him to keep the ball since he had gone after it but I wanted a picture to capture the moment.
After that I noticed an elderly man across the aisle from me. We started talking and this guy is living my dream retirement! He had been to a game earlier in the day as well and makes most of the Fall League games. The following night though he would miss as he also had season tickets to Arizona State mens basketball. David was a lifelong baseball fan so we talked baseball for the next 7 innings, commenting on how it did seem a lot of these players were working on their buntings, which ones did and which ones didn’t choke up with two strikes, etc..
I asked who was one of the most impressive players he had seen and he right away went to Aaron Judge. He said in one game he had seen Judge hit a two run home run early. Later in the game the opposing team had tied the game and had a runner on third base with nobody out. They hit a fly ball to shallow right and didn’t challenge Judge. The next hitter hit a ball to middle depth right and did challenge Judge’s arm. He unleashed a cannon and ended the inning with a double play. The next half inning hit another home run and his team won the game 3-2.
Meanwhile in this game it was still tied, and so it went to extra innings. The Arizona Fall League uses the adapted rules where extra innings start with the team getting a runner on second base to start. So in the top of the 10th, Salt River quickly got him in after a bunt and single, which Scottsdale matched in the bottom half. They went to the 11th which would be the final inning regardless of the outcome. With one out and the runner still on second, Brewers prospect Corey Ray doubled him in in what would be the deciding run.
As the game had gone into extra innings, David and I had both validated our fanhood by noting not so much to each other but to ourselves that “I never leave early” and indeed we weren’t the only ones. “This is a retirement community. What would they be going home to?” David remarked as we silently judged those that were leaving.
Baseball in the fall. Watching the future of the sport we love, which is bright. A nice bridge until these same fields are filled with optimism and hope in now under 100 days.