Editor’s note: Maxx Tissenbaum is a 21-year-old prospect with the San Diego Padres organization and an honest chronicler of life in the minor-leagues. Click here to see Maxx‘s past blog entries, and here to join our mail list.
By Maxx Tissenbaum/Special to Jewish Baseball News
There are very few days in a calendar year that I find to be as important as Opening Day. Sure, baseball is a marathon of a season and the first game rarely, if ever, has a real outcome on the season. I understand that, but there is something about Opening Day, and a team’s Home Opener, that just make an early April day so much more than just an early April day. As you can imagine, April 11 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, isn’t necessarily going to be the most wonderful weather day of the year, but it was the night of our Home Opener at Parkview Field.
Now let me backtrack just so you get the whole Minor League Baseball experience. My team started the season on a 7-game road trip, of which we played only 6 because rain washed out our middle game against West Michigan. We finished our series in the cold and the rain of Grand Rapids around 9:30 p.m on April 10. We all packed up our own lockers, showered and brought our stuff out to the bus. I was in charge of making sure the trainer’s equipment also made it to the bus, so I had to make three trips back and forth to get everything loaded. Yes, players do have to carry things in the Minor Leagues, and no, the bags on wheels don’t always have a handle (it shattered into a million pieces en route to Grand Rapids). We left Fifth Third Field shortly after 10 p.m and made the 3-and-a-half-hour DRIVE back to Fort Wayne, arriving at the ballpark around 1:30 a.m. We all threw our bags into our lockers (and the trainer’s bags into his office) before running to our cars to drive back to our apartments. All told, I think I finally made it into bed around 2:15 a.m. after our quick Taco Bell stop, and taking time to (Mom and Dad, get this) put my laundry in the bucket and fold up my clothes and put them back in my closet!
So, 7 hours of sleep later, I was awake and back at it. Walker Weickel, one of my roommates, and I woke up early to go and do the grocery shopping. Now, I do consider myself a pretty decent grocery shopper. I can always take a list based on a recipe Mom or Dad is going to work from and I can come home with everything we need. I have NEVER had to shop to stock a completely EMPTY apartment that has four male athletes between the ages of 19-22 living in it.
I had a bit of a panic attack and decided to call in the expert. I spent most of my time in the store talking it through with my Mom, making sure that I got what I needed and avoided the ingredients for Pizookies and other desserts that I really can’t afford to be messing around with just yet. Walker and I each had a shopping cart filled to the top, and we attempted to guess each of our bills. We were both off by around $40 but I was closer, so by Price is Right rules I won. We came home and unpacked everything into our fridge, cupboards and drawers making sure to keep everything incredibly organized. We then quickly made brunch, as it was almost time to leave for the stadium. I fried up some eggs, cut in some (ADVERTISING here) Bumpercrop Beer Sweet Peppers and made some toast. I had Brian Adams and Dane Phillips, two of my teammates from last summer, come over to the apartment because we were all going to the stadium for early hitting. I crushed my lunch, rinsed the dishes and the frying pan, and grabbed my keys to head to the field.
Arriving at the stadium I began to get butterflies, not the nervous UH OH ones, but the excited I CAN’T WAIT ones. We headed down to the clubhouse and I flipped on the TV by my locker and put The Masters on. We all quickly changed into a pregame outfit, some guys wearing shorts over their spandex pants, others wearing game pants. The great thing about being at home is that we get to set the schedule pregame and do whatever we want. Burkie, our hitting coach, has made a schedule that allows us up to an hour of open cage time to get loose, then a full hour of on-field soft toss all before batting practice. Dane, BA and I went upstairs to the cage and hit for about 15 minutes inside to get loose before heading to the field for front toss. At 2 o’clock when we started there were 10 guys, so we split into two groups, lefties hitting first and the righties in the outfield retrieving the balls. I got the majority of my pregame work in during this on field session. I love being able to see the ball travel, and take mental notes of how my swing feels, how the wind is playing, even how the field itself is playing. I know it sounds like I’m searching for things to make this seemingly mundane pregame prep work seem more interesting but it really is invaluable both offensively and defensively. I get to see how the ball reacts in the air and on the ground, which can give me some hints about how I’ll need to position myself defensively during the game. We finished our soft toss session after chasing down the balls hit by the right-handed hitters, and I remember saying to Corey Adamson, our Australian outfielder, how lucky I felt to be running around chasing down baseballs.
It occurred to me as I took in the sight of our stadium decked out in Opening Day bunting that I am extremely blessed to call this my job, and to not have to be in Tuesday night classes like I was almost every semester at Stony Brook. We headed back inside to get ready for BP [batting practice], but I was asked to go do an interview for WFFT, the local Fox station. I ran back to the dugout, sat up on the top of the bench like all the Big Leaguers do it, and fielded questions about our road trip, team bonding and, of course, our Home Opener.
I hurried back inside to get ready for our team pregame, which started at 3:30. We stretched, ran the bases for conditioning, and then threw to get our arms loose. We took an “infield” (because it’s sacrilegious in pro ball to call it In and Out like we do in college) and then went back upstairs to the cages for batting practice, as the grounds crew didn’t want us to mess up the field with the inclement weather on its way. We hit for our usual 12-minute groups and then headed to the clubhouse for our pregame snack/meal. We had pulled pork as our hot meal item, and then the usual spread of peanut butter, jelly, fruit, yogurt and of course Oreos. I sat in my locker watching the NCAA Frozen Four game between Yale and UMass Lowell and eating before heading to the gym for a quick workout. BA and I knocked out our lift in about 25 minutes, and then headed back to our lockers to kill the rest of the pregame time.
When it was finally time to hit the field we were all pretty excited, we got to see our faces on the scoreboard and those awkward videos of us waving the bat in front of the camera for the lineup introductions.
Just before 7 o’clock we had our team introductions, jogging out to the first-base line and giving high fives to each other, just like you see on TV every year during the Big League openers. When Joe Ross was finally ready to go we hit the field. I immediately was blown away by how many people were at the game. It was foggy, rainy and cold, but somehow we had over 5,000 fans packed into the ballpark. Apparently we not only have the best ballpark in MiLB but we also have the best fans, so shout out to Fort Wayne for the support on Opening Night! Joe was dominant, and we put together enough offense to score 4 runs in the first 5 innings. I had a double in my second at bat, and it felt great to get the first one out of the way. It’s nice to show well on Opening Day so the crowd’s first impression of you as a player is positive. An “0 for” in your Home Opener is a great way to start pressing and to forget about the process of hitting.
The game lasted only 6 innings before being called on account of rain. We won 4-0 and snapped our 3-game losing streak. The only thing we had left to do was give away our red game jerseys to the fans that had won them. We all lined up in front of the dugout and proceeded to find the person or family with our number on their card. We shook hands, posed for pictures and autographed the jerseys, and then a few of us stuck around to sign for some kids that had stayed through the game and post-game. We signed hats, shirts, a bat and several baseballs before heading inside to get changed. We passed on eating in the clubhouse as Max’s dad had invited the four of us (roommates) out for dinner at Champions, a sports bar in the hotel we stayed at during our first three days in Fort Wayne. Finally, around midnight we got home and watched parts of the game on our DVR which I had set in the morning. It was really cool to watch a telecast of a game I played in, in my own apartment, on my own DVR.
Looking back on the evening I can’t even describe how cool it was to finally be a part of a true Opening Day ceremony. Getting to jog out to the line and high five teammates and then just take in the atmosphere was truly a cool experience. My other memory was of a conversation me and our SS Stephen Carmon had during the 4th inning. He remarked that he was impressed by the crowd on such a gross night weather-wise. That got me thinking, how awesome is it going to be when Parkview Field is absolutely packed out on a sunny July afternoon? I’ll have to wait for that dream to become reality, however, because once again I woke up and found that it is 39 degrees and cloudy. Oh well, a man can dream, right?
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