7/13/13 at LeLacheur Park (JAM @ LOW)
Well, I did. Why would I spend so much time in such a random place you ask? Let’s find out.
I left my girlfriend’s house at around 2:30 a.m., and hit the road for Lowell. I arrived around 5:30, and headed to LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners: and as you could imagine, there wasn’t a soul to be seen anywhere in sight: After a few minutes, a man came out and introduced himself. His name is Mike Davison, and he is a test flight engineer for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Why was he there? Well, as you probably have heard by now, Zack Hample was attempting his helicopter ball drop stunt for a second time in Lowell, and he was gracious enough to invite me to come along. He attempted the stunt last year, and came close to pulling it off.. but it was called off due to strong winds (more on that in a bit). Zack was traveling up with Ben, his girlfriend, and a few other people, so I met them there. I was early though, and Mike led me onto the field: I thought it was very cool to be one of the only people inside a professional ballpark, let alone be on the field. The only other time was in 2008 for the All-Star Game. After a few minutes, I had to get off the field because something was flying in for a landing: Yes, that’s a helicopter. See the time? It was very early. But I was having a good time. After a few minutes, Zack and his crew arrived, and it was time for Mike to give his safety briefing: To help you out, the guy wearing jeans and the tan baseball cap is Bob Cloutier, the helicopter pilot. According to Zack, he and Mike and Bob were the only people who could call off the stunt at any time during for any reason. The man to the right of Bob in the BIGS shirt is Logan Soraci, who works for the company as a brand manager. The man to Logan’s right was one of the paramedics, and to the right of him, you can see two police officers. According to Zack, Mike had arranged for them to be there, on BIGS’ dollar to block the pedestrian walking path that is behind the outfield wall. This was a precaution, just in case a baseball happened to land outside the stadium. This way, it wouldn’t kill anyone. If this happened, Mike said that if a ball did land there, he would call off the stunt.
And the rest of the onlookers: On the left, that’s Jen (Ben’s girlfriend), who is eating Dunkin’ Donuts (please don’t kill me for the picture), Ben, Zack’s girlfriend Hayley, and Zack’s friend Andrew, who was going to be up in the helicopter photographing the altimeter every time a ball was dropped to verify the height in case Zack caught the ball. Did I forget to mention I was in the Spinners dugout? And after a few minutes, the helicopter was off: And as you can see, we were all very excited: Here’s how the view looked up in the helicopter: That photo was taken by Andrew. How cool does that look? I’m somewhere down there in the dugout: I’m in the No. 5 jersey, Mateo is in the grey t-shirt, the guy in black is Nathan, who was recording, and in red is Dennis Link, a member of SABR — the Society for American Baseball Research. He know a TON about the history of the stunt… dates, names, times, results… it was great talking with him for a few minutes. I wish I could type it all down. After the helicopter was ready, it was time to start the stunt. First, a ball was going to be dropped from 550 feet, mainly to warm up and see where/how the wind was blowing. Then, the helicopter was going to climb to 1,000 feet. I’d say it took about 25-30 attempts, but Zack wound up catching the ball. A YouTube video of it is up on his account of the days events, located here. Everyone thought that it was the 1,000 foot attempt, and proceeded to storm the field. It was only 550 feet, so back to the dugout it was. Before each ball drop attempt, we all as a group had to count down from 5 to 1 loud enough so Zack would know the ball was coming. After the 550 foot drop was completed, the helicopter rose to 1,000+ feet: (Photo credit: Andrew)
Back on the ground, Zack was going over some last minute strategies: And now, it was time to get the show on the road. The stunt was considerably harder, given that the helicopter was higher, the ball would have more of a mind of it’s own, getting caught up in the wind. Also, the ball took almost 12 seconds to completely drop, so keeping your head up for that long x 50 leads to fatigue. To get an idea of what it was like to catch the balls, here’s what Zack had to say about it:
According to Bob, the wind was blowing 23 miles per hour at 1,000-plus feet *and* it was blowing in different directions at various altitudes. Not only was it challenging for him to keep the helicopter stable, but it was tough for me because the balls didn’t fall in a straight line. They’d start drifting one way, then another . . . and sometimes another and another. And there was no pattern. For example, there were a few balls that initially appeared to be heading toward the warning track, so I started running in that direction — but then the wind took them back toward the infield and I had to scramble back toward the spot where I’d started. After that, I made sure to stay near the infield, assuming that the balls would blow toward me . . . but then the wind completely shifted, and the balls DID end up near the track. I didn’t mind the challenge, and in fact, I thought it was fun. The only thing that concerned me was losing my opportunity to make a successful catch. We were going through lots of balls, and of course if any of them landed outside the stadium, that was it. Game over. One ball landed on the pavement in the stands on the 3rd-base side and bounced about 50 feet in the air. You’ve never seen a ball bounce that high before. It was pretty cool, but served as a sobering reminder of how fast it was actually falling.
At one point, one of the balls cleared the outfield wall, and we could hear it hit the walkway/trees behind the fence. I tried to make a note of where it landed so I could grab it later. Mike went out and asked where it had landed, and to make a long story short, Zack coerced him into letting the stunt continue. Which was great for me, because I surely didn’t drive all the way there to see a cancellation.
After about another 15-20 attempts….
Success! After a large celebration, it was time for a Gatorade bath of sorts, but with seeds: After interviews and the like, we all kid of had time to just hang out. I went out into left field, and took a few pictures:
The picture above is what happens when a ball was missed. It made a mini-crater in the ground. I know I wasn’t *supposed* to show this, but I just couldn’t help it! (Sorry Zack.) The head groundskeeper did a great job fixing it. It was good as new. Zack tried one more time to catch a camera from the helicopter to get a cool point-of-view perspective, but it didn’t work out as planned. Then, we took a group picture in front of the helicopter: Good times.
There was a good hour or so where we just… hung out more or less. I had a catch with Casper (the guy above in the hoodie in front of Mateo), who was in charge of dropping the balls out of the helicopter, then I had a catch with Zack:
(It’s ok, I asked for it.) I also found a ball in the dugout…. so, I counted it for my 1st ball of the day. It’s a cheapie, but we all come across a cheapie every now and again.
Eventually, it was time to leave because there was a baseball camp using the field, and there was a game to be played that night (more about that later). Mateo tagged along with me in my car, and we all headed over to The Owl Diner for a meal:
And one more opportunity to say thanks to Zack for A: taking the tab for breakfast, and B: inviting me. It’s an experience that can’t accurately be put into words for this post, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
After breakfast, I learned that Mateo didn’t really have a ride home. So, I decided to invite him to stay for the game that night, and since I was going to Queens the next day for the Futures Game, I offered to drive him back to the city. We spent the next few hours blogging in a Starbucks, and sleeping in my car. Eventually, it was time to wander around the block back to the stadium: There’s Mateo on the bottom of the scoreboard, on the phone currently scoring us free tickets. We took a lap around the stadium. I peeked under an opening on the outfield wall to see if BP was going on: As you can see, the cages were out, but no players as of yet. The surrounding area of LeLacheur Park was odd, but interesting. Past the right field wall you have a bridge/park/street to contend with:
And if you continue around the back, there is a walkway for pedestrians: For perspective purposes, the base of the wall on the field is at the top where the concrete meets the green fence. So in a way, we were below the field. Below the fence to the right, is a bunch of this: That’s Mateo waiting for a home run. As you look forward while you’re down below, this is the view: So, as you can see, catching a home run can be quite difficult. You have to keep your head up for a while, and even then you almost need to have your eyes on a “widescreen” view to watch for balls flying over. There was one, and Mateo got to it before me, searching in the bushes. We rotated back and forth between the lefty and righty batters. When the lefties came up to hit, I set up across the street: …and nothing happened. After a while, it was game time: After getting a sneak peek at the seating layout earlier, the 1st base side seating jutted out to the foul line, so there was a decent chance at a easter egg or two there. I decided to take that end, and Mateo went to the other end. As luck would have it, Mateo got one and I didnt. Here was the view from where I was: As for BP, it ended and Jamestown was taking infield: Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting my 2nd ball of the day, which was also a bit of a cheapie:
During the game, we took turns rotating sides of the stadium. I kept missing foul balls barely, and it was getting frustrating. The concourses were too crowded, and there was bad bounces. Here was some of the game: And who could forget the help of these lovely folks: They sang the national anthem, but I don’t recall why they were dressed as colonial soldiers. On the other side of the stadium, we had these guys: I don’t know.
The architecture of the field was a bit interesting: For starters, right field is 301 down the line, the right field seats are diagonal to the playing field, and the press box is incredibly close to the playing field. It should be moved back more above the concourse. The day was dragging, and we needed some excitement. So, we went outside the stadium and played for foul balls: One went out right as we went out there, but another ballhawk was out there and got it. We went back and forth for each batter since we listened for names, and just as we thought the game was about to end, another inning began. Maybe we were delirious from being tired. Who knows. I checked my phone and somehow it was going to the 9th inning. So, we snuck inside through the smoking area, and found myself here: …and I failed to get another ball. Final score:
I headed over to the Jamestown dugout, and asked the manager for the lineup card. He was more than happy to give it to me: Afterwards, we headed to Albany for the first leg of a long trip back to NYC for the All-Star Futures Game. For my troubles, Mateo gave me one of the balls he got in BP. I counted it. (Judge me.)
- 3 balls at this game
- 130 career balls
- 5 straight MiLB games with a ball