Archive for October, 2022
There’s More to the Boys of Summer – It’s the Supporting Cast
Posted by 'lottasports in Baseball, Minor League Baseball on October 5, 2022
For the past few nights, I’ve been watching Aaron Judge’s pursuit of the American League record for most homeruns in one season held by Roger Maris (61) and Babe Ruth (60). Cameras were not only following every at bat of Judge’s but also the expressions on his mom’s face as the moment might happen. Spectators and viewers got to know “Patty” wearing her Yankees jersey and seated with Roger Maris’s son, Roger Jr. I immediately loved her as she wore bangs like I do. I knew how many times I invested my emotions in my sports heroes during ebbs and flows. I could feel Patty’s pain when he struck out, her disappointment on the pop-ups and groundouts as well as the pride when her son finally tied Roger Maris’s record at 61 and then broke Maris’ record.
Last year when I started with the Carolina Mudcats, getting to know the families of the players was one of my favorite parts of my job in Guest Relations. The first parent I met was Christi Holt. She was nicely dressed and totally Southern Belle when she spoke. She bought several announcements for the big screen in centerfield. When she came back the following day, I said, “Oh, I see you’re back!” She smiled and replied, “My son Gabe plays for the team. We’re here from Georgia.” It was a fun time watching her grandson Lucas keep her very busy while in the Muddy the Mascot’s line at my podium. Mid-August, we went to an away game at Kinston playing Down East, the affiliate for the Texas Rangers. “Hey Gabe!” I yelled as he was coming to the dugout after warmups. He looked up and spotted my Mudcats baseball cap and grinned. It would be one of Gabe’s last games for the Mudcats. He was promoted to AA Biloxi later that week.
Toward the end of the first homestand, a man came my area behind home plate at the top of every inning and stood with his arms folded. Every once in a while, he would grunt and reposition his stance. It turned out that his son, Brandon Knarr, a lefty out of the University of Tampa, was pitching. Durl and his wife Dianne spent May and June at most of our Mudcats games. My most memorable (and fun) moment was an evening when both benches cleared. The fans were yelling and Dianne, who was in the restroom, could hear the play-by-play of the action by broadcaster Greg Young. She came running out. “Brandon had better not be out there in that mess!!” she exclaimed. I surveyed the empty dugout and bullpen; then looked at her and laughed. My husband and I drove to several away games when Brandon pitched and sat with the Knarrs. Durl would grumble anytime a batter would bunt on the first pitch against Brandon. As time went on, the lefty learned how to avoid those. I also got to know Brandon’s girlfriend, Vanderbilt swimmer Taylor Ward. She was tall and looked like a model; when she walked down the concourse, heads turned. Our last time to see Brandon pitch in person would be August 11 at Kinston. He threw 5 innings only giving up a run and striking out 7 before heading towards the clubhouse. After a few minutes, one of the Knarr’s phones dinged. Dianne started crying and then excitedly said, “Brandon is going to Wisconsin!!” By the next morning, they were enroute to Wisconsin in two cars with Brandon’s stuff and then on to Cedar Rapids to catch up with the team who was playing on the road.
One of the most exciting guys to watch bat was Joe Gray, Jr. out of Hattiesburg Mississippi. If you wanted to see homeruns, drop everything to see him at the plate. His dad was Joe Gray, Sr., a soft-spoken man who was easily spotted in the stadium because of his tall frame. Whenever Joe, Jr. hit a homerun, I would jaunt to the section over the dugout to share a high-five with his dad and Justin Finn, Joe Jr’s investment advisor from Portsmouth NH. Joe Jr. was promoted to High A, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers two days after the 4th of July.
Ashton McGee was one of our “local” players coming out of the University of North Carolina and from Goldsboro which was less than an hour’s drive to the ballpark. I first met his dad Darren when he came to my area to watch Ashton bat. “OK, which player belongs to you?” I asked. One evening in June the crowd watched with concern as Ashton crumpled to the ground after getting hit by a pitch. His mom Theresa was already almost to the clubhouse by the time he was taken off the field. He missed a little over a week. We enjoyed his bat until late August when he joined other former Mudcats in Appleton.
Noah Campbell was another “local” player who played college ball at South Carolina and his parents, Darin and Amy, lived north of Raleigh. They were regulars at both home and away games. Amy spent a lot of time getting her steps in on fast walks on the concourse. I begged her to take my Fitbit since it is hard to get steps in the small area I work. She laughed. Noah was the go-to position player when the bullpen had been depleted. He pitched in 4 games and was even credited with one save, but his ERA came to 8.10. He thrilled the fans at one of last games playing all nine positions – something I had never witnessed in baseball!
In August, University of Louisville sensation Alex Binelas who had been drafted the month before, was promoted from the rookie league to the Mudcats. My husband Rick, who was ushering on the 3rd base side, met his mom Amy first when she asked if she could move down to get pictures of her son playing 3rd base. Amy loved to shop so I saw a lot of her as The Bait Box souvenir shop was across from my stand. One very hot Sunday afternoon, Amy walked by my podium drinking out of a can. “Oh! You must have one of these!! It’s like eating strawberries!!” So off I went to a cart right around the corner. The gal working the cart I had never seen before. “I’d like that drink that tastes like strawberries please.” She pulled a can out of the ice and said, “That will be $6.00.” “Wow, that’s high, but then again, it’s ballpark concessions with French fries almost as much,” I thought to myself. When I got back to my area, I popped the lid. I could smell the strawberries. As I raised the can to my lips, a co-worker yelled, “Oh my God! That’s alco…..” Before she could finish the word, the one swig was spraying back out of my mouth!” Everyone was laughing except me … the retired manager and supervisor of flight attendants!! I was mortified and ran to my boss to tell him what I had done. After the game, I met Amy in the parking lot. She choked in laughter. “Oh! I’m sorry! I thought you knew!” We still laugh about it!
After the past week watching Patty Judge, I wonder if any of my parent friends from the Mudcats 2021 season will get to experience such a momentous ride as Patty Judge did. I sure hope so and how proud I will feel to have been a small part in their son’s quest for baseball greatness!!