Monday, April 08, 2013

Ballpark Weekend

Left work Friday at 3:30. My two co-workers left early as well, and I wound up spending over 30 minutes on the phone talking a guy through a two minute task. By the time I got off the phone a had warmed up supper, gotten gas, and driven over to pick up my friend at 5 pm. We made decent time driving through downtown to the Braves game, and we actually made in inside Turner Field long before batting practice had ended. We walked around and settled into our seats, behind the plate in the upper deck. We chatted and observed and older woman preparing to keep score. Just before the game was about to start to checked the time…only then did I realize the game was starting at 7:35 and not 7:10.

Great game: Minor pitched well, Justin Upton rocketed a line drive home run and later added a sacrifice fly, and Kimbrel capped it with a seven pitch save. When Andrelton slid headfirst into second with a stolen base, just ahead of the tag, I recalled how that was how he hurt himself last year. Sure enough, he hurt himself again, bad enough to miss the Saturday and Sunday games. The young shortstop would've probably been out had he slid feet-first. Freddie Freeman made a couple of fine plays at first, completely stretching out to take throws on close plays. Not sure if that contributed to his oblique injury as much as the Tiger Woods-like fierce swings he take at the plate. We enjoyed watching rookie Evan Gattis rap out three hits. Got home after 11:30 pm. 

Saturday I was out the door at nine for a meeting for the upcoming RUSH weekend, down at The Rock Ranch south of Griffin. I had allowed myself just enough time to get there. I figured it would be too early for Final Four traffic to effect my drive, not realizing that spring break traffic was the real problem. Traffic ground to a halt on 75 south at the airport. I hopped on 285 east, then 675 south, but when I merged back onto 75 the traffic was still crawling. It finally sped up north of McDonough. I hustled, and arrived with just minutes to spare.

RUSH is a weekend retreat teenagers that has grown into a huge event, Matthew heard it advertised in Atlanta and wanted to go. It's May 3 and 4. I checked out the website and decided to volunteer. This year two people from Passion City Church are involved: assistant pastor Brad Jones is speaking in one of the sessions, and Kristain Stanfill is loading music. Stanfill grew up at Johnson Ferry Baptist. Friday night's big concert is the David Crowder band, who often play at Passion. I learned that Saturday night's session is open to the public, and as many as 8,000 may attend. Switchfoot, Matthew's favorite band, is performing, and Si and Willie Robertson (from the A&E Network's top-rated reality TV show Duck Dynasty) will be speaking.

The guy who started RUSH enlists many in his church brethren to volunteer, as well as many others in the community and surrounding area. The meeting was in an outdoor pavilion, chilly from the shade and wind. Most people tried to stay outside, in the warmer sun. With no sunscreen, my face was red by the end of the day. Pizza was served to the 150 volunteers. Since I was still on my diet I stayed away, instead involving myself in pouring Cokes. One young volunteer in a camo cap was chagrined to discover that his assignment would not allow him to meet Si and Willie. I hadn't gotten my hopes up, but had similar feelings.

Shortly after 1 pm I was one of the first to leave the meeting. Knowing northbound interstate traffic would be heavy, I drove north on highway 19/41 until it gridlocked north of Hampton. Then I made a right and headed to the interstate, but that two-lane was backed up as well. As I sat I looked up the Gwinnet Braves on my phone…since Thursday night's opener had been rained out, Saturday's booblehead night was now a 5 pm doubleheader. By the time I hit 675, then 285 west and north to I-85, there was no time to pick up Matthew, who didn't want to go anyway. Then 85 north traffic was gridlocked north of Suwanee. Made it to the ballpark right at 4 pm.

There were many people already lined up at the gates, but it was obvious many more were not aware of the time change. I bought a ticket for the outfield grass and entered the park near the right field foul pole. With plenty of time before the game, I walked around the small park to explore. I would've been happy sitting in the grass, but instead stopped three-quarters of the way around and sat in the sun-drenched seats near the left field foul pole. I was able to relax and catch up on my personal emails, and see what was happening with the Final Four and the Braves on Twitter and Facebook.

With no batting practice, eventually the players came out to stretch and warm up. I was familiar with the first four Gwinnett batters: Jose Constanza, Tyler Pastornicky, Joe Terdosiavich, and first-baseman Ernesto Mejia, who had led the International League in RBI last season. In the bottom of the first Mejia cranked a long fly ball over the hospitality tent set up above the 30 foot left field wall. Later in the game Mejia hit a second home run to left, almost as far as his first one. The G-Braves won easily. Switch-hitter Blake DeWitt, who played for the Chicago Cubs last year, would later be called up to fill in for the injured Freddie Freeman…instead of the right-hand hitting Mejia.

I had a good time at the Gwinnett game, and would go back. The Brandon Beachy bobblehead was nice, about what I expected: not quite up to major league bobblehead standards. Perhaps I'll return for the Heyward, Medlin, and Kimbrel bobbleheads. As game one wound down I made another stadium tour, and ran into a co-worker. Drove home, tired from the long day. Watched some of the Braves, and went to bed early…missing the late comeback. Ceil stuck with it.

Sunday I kept low-key: washing and folding laundry, paying bills, eating brown rice, watching another good Braves game. Gattis struggled against the tough pitcher, but threw out a runner and played well behind the plate. Later someone asked the Braves beat writer if he could play third. Some people just never give up.

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