A view from Matt Spiegel's seats at Guaranteed Rate Field in his family's quest to catch a home run ball

Matt Spiegel/670 The Score

Spiegel: Empty-Handed Bleacher Boys

One man's quest to catch a home run leads only to shame.

Matt Spiegel
August 08, 2018 - 12:44 pm
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(670 The Score) My eight-year-old nephew stayed over Tuesday night. There were already plans to go catch the Yankees-White Sox game 20 blocks south of home, and now we were a four-person pack -- two shorties and two growns. I plotted a different kind of ballpark experience. 

My dude is six-and-a-half and has been to way more ballgames than he probably should've been. It’s been too easy to fall into the parenting trap of trying to force my will on the young man, hammering a love of baseball into his little heart. It doesn’t work like that. 

Certain moments will grab his interest. Energy in the stadium will perk up his ears. Hot dogs and ice cream rule the day. Wrigley Field is experienced best by him when we bring a ball and his glove and hit the park at Gallagher Way twice, once early on and once midgame for a couple innings.

White Sox games are an easier sell. The place is a logistical dream for the under-10 set. Screw romance, history and legendary aesthetics. Traffic is minuscule, parking is a delight, the concourses are wide and free-flowing. Food lines are manageable, snack options abound and no worries if you make a mess -- the seat next to you is probably open. My kid doesn’t care about the standings or how non-competitive a team is in the big picture. This moment in the White Sox rebuild fits his needs just fine. 

The XFinity Kids Zone high above left field would be the main attraction. This miniature baseball theme park offers hours of entertainment/activity/waiting in line, all with a good view of the field for dad. I figured we’d sit close by. So the plan formed: Let’s get seats in prime home run catching territory and bring gloves. 

I consulted detailed spray charts for likely big-fly candidates Jose Abreu of the White and Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees. I looked at a grid of every homer hit to left field at Comiskey/U.S. Cellular/Guaranteed Rate over the last 20 seasons. I did hours of intensive batted-ball analysis for Reynaldo Lopez and C.C. Sabathia, then fed all of this data into an app called BigLeagueBombCatcher and paid the premium for a precise prediction to maximize our chances.

Nah, but I thought about doing some of that. And that app I just invented ought to exist. StubHub had plenty in dead straightaway left field. I grabbed four in the very first row.

There are powerful benefits to section 159, row 1. Having no one in front of you is always nice. Your vision is continuously unobstructed, and your feet can go up on the concrete wall if desired. The left fielders are about 30 feet away, and you can watch them shift position from batter to batter, sometimes pitch to pitch. A surprising amount of vendors make their way down to the rail. And most impactfully, the White Sox bullpen is directly to your right, with the steps down toward the field two feet in front of us. In fact, seat No. 4 (mine) is directly behind the bullpen door from which all White Sox relievers emerge. As they did, I tried to duck my head low into the imaginary camera frame to put my goofy mug in your living room.

All of this begat unprecedented levels of engagement from my son and nephew. We kept our gloves out and mostly on, especially when power hitters came to the plate. The boys were told that if they encouraged the home left fielder, he might wave. "Ryan!" LaMarre might have thought they were annoying, but he gave entertaining subdued half-waves back a couple times. And the bullpen security guard was an endless source of curmudgeonly conversation.

The kids got into wishing the relievers well. If Juan Minaya and Jace Fry seemed extra pumped up and on point, credit my boys. If you’re mad about Tyler Danish giving up that two-run bomb to Stanton, don’t blame my kid. They screamed "You got this!" as he made his way out the door.

The coolest thing for me that I tried to impress upon them: turning 90 degrees to our right, while seated, we were able to watch and hear the relievers warm up. We were just over Fry’s left shoulder, about 10 feet back, exactly where a pitching coach might stand during a simulated game or throw-day workout. That big lefty has amazing stuff. I’d known about his five-pitch mix and how he’s not really the typical "failed starter" who ends up in the bullpen. But to watch him or really any impressive big leaguer throw from that angle was awesome. You could see the slider moving to the right and down, watch the changeup tail to the left and see the big loop on that curve. It wasn’t surprising to see him strike out three Yankees; his stuff looked daunting.

But what about the dreams of catching a home run, Spiegel?  Did your willingness to be the dorky dDad with a glove pay off?  Did you even get a shot?

Between hitting the Kids Zone for a couple innings, fetching Dippin’ Dots and hot dogs and nachos and cotton candy and waaaaay too many bathroom chaperone missions, we did indeed sit in our row, well-prepared, gloves on and ready.  

But when a moment presented itself, we were woefully distracted. 

In the seventh inning, Miguel Andujar’s homer in landed two rows behind us.  

Watch that link. Seriously, go watch how sad this moment is for us and come back. I’ll wait.

That was me, the thick dude in the red shirt with the hat backward. Notice no glove is on my hand. Enjoy my slow lateral "movement" to get in "position." Enjoy the complete lack of a jump, as I vainly reached for the ball like Carlos Boozer pretending to play help defense on a point guard’s drive down the lane.    

Here’s a still:

That’s my nephew G to the left, in the orange shirt, holding a giant fresh-squeezed lemonade. Not a glove. That’s my kid, the Rubester, next to him looking longingly at the eventual homer-catcher behind us. And that’s my wife, the fiery Latina, next to him, not yet recovered from fearing for all of their skulls as we were somehow surprised by the sudden appearance of exactly what we sat there for.

It was a baseball, one we schemed to be in position to make a play on. It was a baseball we embarrassingly missed. 

But I tell you what, we all had our gloves on, fully into every pitch, between then and when we left in the 11th. Both Abreu and Stanton did indeed hit bombs, but both went opposite field. Stupid disciplined, skillful sluggers.

It was a hell of a summer night at the ballpark. The bullpen security guard was kind enough to hook both boys up with a ball before we left. He handed the baseballs to them, just over the wall in between he and us.

They put them right into their gloves. Good thing we brought them.

Follow Matt Spiegel on Twitter @MattSpiegel670. For more from and about Matt, visit www.mattspiegel.com.​