Saturday Notebook: Incognito All-Star, "The Rookie" Redux, Puig's Defection, and More

USA TODAY Sports

Today's Sat. Notebook looks at how I prepare for a game at Target Field, Matt Harvey interviewing Mets fans around New York City about Matt Harvey, Steve Delabar living the movie "The Rookie" himself, the fact that the All-Star break is not actually the halfway point of the season, and a story of a failed defection attempt by Cuban Yasiel Puig prior to being signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hey everybody, sorry I was gone last week and somewhat absent (i.e. being late with the game thread) two weeks ago. I was in Hawaii for a family vacation, but now I'm back and with a vengeance! Okay, not actually true, but it sounded impressive, no?

Earlier this week the Pioneer Press published a story about some of the pregame work that goes into preparing Target Field for a Twins home game, which I found very interesting. However, there was one part I felt was missing, and that was that no one from the usher staff was interviewed or quoted for the story. Thus, I am going to correct this injustice* by giving you an idea as to what a game typically entails for me when I am working a Twins game, like I will be later tonight.

* Sarcasm, folks.

The time I arrive at Target Field is dependent on the day. If it's a Monday through Thursday, gates open 1 1/2 hours before the game starts and thus I am required to be present 2 hours early. As for Friday through Sunday, it's a 2-hour gate and I am to report 2 1/2 hours early. Since today is Saturday, I will use a typical Saturday game as my example. Therefore, with it being a 6:10 pm start tonight, I would arrive at around 3:15 pm.

If I'm early, I typically seek out a friend to chat with until the 3:30 pm report time. This is often Bryce K. in Section 329 (just to the right of the Budweiser Roof Deck) as he's one of the few ushers on our staff that is as sabermetrically-savvy as I am. If he's not present, then I just wander over to the Minnie & Paul sign in center field and wait for 3:30 to come.

Ever since I was moved to Section 238 on a regular basis in July 2010, I have been consistently flanked by the same two ushers: Rick in 235-236 (below Minnie & Paul) and Craig in 240 (just above and to the left of the overhang). Both men are retired and pretty much have mentored me since I first met them, so we all have a good rapport together. Craig is more softspoken, while Rick is more chatty. We also have another person that joins me in the middle of the Grandstand, and that person is given 237 for the day.

Around 3:30, we are joined by our team leader. He/she tells us where we're assigned (not a big deal for the three of us because we have permanent spots) and also gives us the pertinent information for the day, such as a point of emphasis (e.g. make sure to greet and give a smile to guests when they arrive in your section) and a fun fact about the stadium (e.g. the speed of the wagging of the Target Dog's tail on the Target Center is determined by the number of guests at Target Field that day, although that fact has been challenged by many). Then we are dismissed to our sections.

Although I never follow it in the same order, I always have a running checklist going through my head of what I must do. Before the gates open at 4 pm, I make sure to...

1. Double-check that the bathroom doors are unlocked

2. The condiment cart for the nearby concession stand is pushed against the wall.

3. My handicapped folding chairs are folded up and leaning against the railing (I feel it shows fans that the seats are reserved rather than leaving them unfolded).

4. No seats are broken (created by people standing on seats, which sometimes breaks the spring mechanism that snaps the seat back up... an occurrence that hasn't happened for about 2 years but I check anyway)

5. (Only when it rained earlier in the day) Wipe down seats, which is easily my least favorite job since I have to clean 500-1000 seats, but it's something that must be done.

Once all of this is finished (assuming I didn't have to dry seats), I watch some batting practice and wait for the gates to open. While watching BP is certainly an exercise in entertainment, it's also for self-preservation as I was hit by a baseball in the chin back in 2010. Then gates open, and I figure out how to position myself so guests can see me, I can see them, but I can also watch out for those white round missiles that could pepper my exact location from ~400 feet away. Since today is Saturday, we also have T.C.'s softball home run derby. On a tarp set up just past 2nd base in the outfield, three VIP fans are given the chance to hit as many home runs in 7 swings as possible. However, there have been times that local celebrities and sports stars are invited, such as Zach Parise and Josh Harding from the Minnesota Wild. Then it's T.C.'s turn, and he almost always puts on a show. While most people struggle to even hit the outfield fence on a bounce, T.C. typically hits about 4 home runs into the stands while the guests watch in awe.

Most games are pretty easy to work. While I know where many things are located, there is still always multiple questions during the season that trip me up. Food usually isn't an issue because even if I can't remember where it's located, I have a list in my pocket that tells me exactly where it is. Beer is a different issue because the list isn't as accurate, so I had to smile sheepishly multiple times when I was asked where to find Surly (I now know Furious, Bender, and Coffee Bender are at the Twins Pub concession stand by Gate 34). However, some of my direction issues are created by the fan not knowing the proper name, and then we both just stand there dumbfounded as we try to decipher each other's words, such as the woman that was convinced she had a particular sandwich at Target Field even though I knew we sold no such thing.

I always know it's going to be a good day when my handicapped row is full. I have 14 spots, and if any are unfilled, I inevitably have some fans hoping for a free seat upgrade and they start asking me for the chair. I almost always decline their request or tell them to wait until the 5th inning, because some fans show up late and other times, I'm simply looking for someone that is more deserving of that chair. It feels like I always have at least a couple people with crutches or in a wheelchair without a wheelchair ticket every game, so I keep a mental note as to where they are located so I can offer the seat to them later.

Other than that, my responsibilities at the game are pretty much just to hold people back during at-bats, give directions, answer general questions about the ballpark, and check on the fans in their seats every inning (does someone need sunscreen, is someone looking dehydrated, etc.). At the end of the game, I just wait for the fans to excuse themselves. For some reason, upon telling someone that I am a Target Field usher, they ask me if I have to clean up the stadium. Fortunately for me, there is a separate crew that takes care of that, and honestly if I had to pick up trash in the ballpark on a regular basis (doubleheaders are the exception as that's an "all hands on deck" situation) I don't think I could do this job.

Finally, the sweep comes around about 30-45 minutes after the game is over, where the ushers from one part of the stadium start walking to the other side and encourage any straggling guests that it's time to leave. Usually by this time we have under 100 people remaining in the park, so this part isn't too difficult either. Finally, I clock out at around 45-60 minutes after the game is over, meaning that I'm probably not heading home until 10 pm. On weekdays with the 7:10 pm starts, this is typically 11 pm instead. A solid 5 1/2 hours of work has been completed, and there's a quick turnaround as I need to be back at Target Field tomorrow morning at 10:30 am to repeat the process.

To the stories from around the league.

  • You're a rookie in the major leagues. However, you're not just any rookie, but rather Matt Harvey of the New York Mets. You're starting the All-Star Game for the National League. But once again, you are a rookie and thus not many fans recognize you. So what do you do? Well, you go out and interview Mets fans about yourself, of course. Comedian and late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon invited Harvey to do exactly that, and the results were predictably hilarious. Of particular note is the man with the Harvey jersey that has to do a couple double-takes at the end of the interview to realize that he was standing with Harvey for several minutes. You can watch the video here on YouTube.
  • You may remember "The Rookie," the movie about reliever Jim Morris who went from a pitcher with dreams of the big leagues, to tearing his shoulder, to becoming a teacher, and then finally rediscovering his dream and succeeding in the majors at age 35. Now Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar is living that same story. Delabar was originally part of the San Diego Padres organization, where he was stuck at Single-A, consistently posting an ERA in the 5s. He eventually would break his elbow throwing a pitch, and with a plate and screws inserted into his arm, it was highly unlikely he would ever pitch again. Delabar then returned home and became a substitute teacher and high school baseball coach, where he discovered a training regimen by former major leaguer Tom House. Delabar started using the program in order to become familiar with it, but there was an interesting side effect - it increased his velocity to the mid-90s. He would then be signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2011, and jumped from Single-A to the majors in less than a full season. I highly recommend watching this video on Delabar's story.
  • And if you were wondering, here's where you can find the training program developed by Tom House. He points out that tennis players suffer far fewer shoulder injuries than baseball players and he has a theory as to why that is - tennis players do not release the object they are holding. Thus, House's program emphasizes the throwing motion without releasing the ball, which supposedly strengthens the back of the shoulder, which does not get the same effect when actually letting go on a throw. I'm deeply intrigued by House's work, but unfortunately it costs a cool $435.
  • Something that has driven me crazy, along with many other baseball fans, is that we keep hearing about how Player X has the nth most (insert stat here) before the All-Star break. The problem is that this year's All-Star Game was unusually late in the year, which means that we were nowhere near the halfway point of the season as it used to be in years past. The website Cespedes Family Barbecue takes a humorous look at some of the records that will be shattered this year as long as particular players remain on their current pace. Yes, Miguel Cabrera really will have a .730 batting average by the end of the year, and I wholeheartedly agree that one of the couple David Carpenters in the major leagues will end the season with an ERA over 200.
  • My final link involves the player with one of the best debuts we've seen in a long time and that is Yasiel Puig. He is from Cuba and had to defect in order to become eligible to play in the major leagues, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tells the story of one of Puig's failed attempts to escape the island. Little is known about Puig's past, but this article tells the story of how the US Coast Guard intercepted Puig during an attempted defection from the island. It mentions how the Coast Guard took particular interest in Puig due to his large size and stories of playing baseball, and eventually they came to learn that this man was a big deal in Cuba (pun not intended). Puig's attempt told in the story was not his first, and he shared a story with the Coast Guard of how he was kicked off his team in Cuba for getting caught in a past escape. Much like the movie Pelotero with Twins minor leaguer Miguel Sano, Passan's piece gives us some insight into the difficulties that Latin Americans face while trying to hit the payday.
I apologize, but with the lack of games this week I don't have many GIFs or other videos to post, so all I can share is this: as one person described it, Mariano Rivera just realized that he left the stove on at home.

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