Starring: Ned Colletti, Matty Bumpo, and Steve Finley
I was a senior in college and had just been cut from the Miami University (OH) baseball team (another story for another day). In the blink of an eye three and a half years of blood, sweat, and baseball with my boys was over. I needed to vent so I called up my best friend since middle school to grab dinner.
Matty Bumpo is what I call him. He knew me better than anyone and I was glad we went to the same college. We started coming up with the pros and cons for my different options: stay on the team as a coach, transfer to play at another school, or just completely give up on baseball for now and become a normal student. About halfway through our convo, he suggested something that solidified him as my best man for life. “Dude, let’s just fly to LA this upcoming weekend for the Dodgers-Giants series. We can figure this stuff out during the trip.”
What you need to know about Matty’s suggestion:
- I grew up in LA till I was 13 am still a diehard Dodgers fan.
- It was going to be the last series of the 2004 season.
- The NL West division was going to be decided by this series.
- Sometime in middle school Matty had started loving the Giants and Barry Bonds’ size 8 ¾ head … It wasn’t till years later that he semi admitted the only reason he liked the Giants was because it bothered the crap out of me!
So, after about 10 seconds of deliberation I decided, “Let’s do it.”
I went straight home, bought reasonably priced cross country flights, called some family friends in LA and arranged to stay with them, and found a rental car for $14 a day even though I was 21 years old and that’s nearly impossible to find. The main issue was that the “reasonable flight” meant flying out of LA Saturday at Midnight (more on this later). The Saturday day game wouldn’t be a problem, but if it came down to Sunday’s game we’d have to pay a large chunk of change to switch our flights. Oh well, it made the most sense to take our chances that the Dodgers would clinch on Friday or Saturday.
The only thing left to get were the actual game tickets. I checked online and saw that they were all sold out. All the tickets on StubHub and other websites were crazy expensive and Matty and I were on the college kid budget. Game tickets should have been priority #1, so why did I just buy plane tickets, rent a car, and set up a place to stay? I don’t know, but it was time to try to use my connections and get hooked up.
My college coach got me in touch with the Giants backup catcher, but he had already given away his tickets and said that the demand was too high for him to ask any of the other Giants players for theirs.
Next option – call my buddy Toy, who also happens to be the most connected dude in the world. He’s worked for ABC, Miami (OH) University, the Tennessee Titans, and just knows tons of people in the sports world. Anyways, I tell Toy what I’m trying to do and he says “The Giants’ Assistant GM Ned Colletti is really close friends with my family. I’ll give him a call and see if he can get you guys tickets.” Awesome.
Toy: “Ok Franco. Colletti said he’ll have 2 tickets waiting for you at player will call for all three weekend games. He said he’d love to meet you guys during BP, so if you get there soon enough give him a call. One thing though- I wouldn’t wear Dodgers gear. He might give you sweet seats and it’d be disrespectful for you to be decked out in Dodgers gear going crazy like I know you’ll want to do.”
Me: “WHAT?!?! How am I supposed to NOT wear Dodgers gear and NOT go crazy with the playoffs on the line against the Giants?!?! That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”
I decided to compromise. I’d wear a Miami baseball sweatshirt over my Dodgers jersey and keep my Dodgers hat in my pocket until the game started. Once the game started, I was just going to be me. Matty would probably be wearing Giants gear, so I figured that would even it out.
I sent Matty as many articles as possible about Dodgers’ fans abusing Giants fans at Dodger Stadium. Even though I’m just messing with him, he decides to leave his Giants gear at home and only packs neutral t-shirts… so lame! I was looking forward to turning our entire section of Dodger fans against him. Oh well.
Matty and I wake up real early and fly out to LA. After arriving before noon, we take a shuttle to, and I’m not exaggerating, the shadiest rental car place known to man and we pick up our $14 a day car that surprisingly runs perfectly fine. Naturally, we go straight to the beach to pick up a bomb burrito from my favorite childhood burrito stand (El Tarasco Restaurant in Manhattan Beach). After crushing burritos as big as our heads, we get a good workout throwing the football at the beach.
Early afternoon we head to Dodger Stadium. They don’t allow any cars in the parking lot until 2 hours before the game, so we wait in standstill traffic and throw the football some more for about an hour before they start letting cars in.
We hustle to the players will call, and pick up our tickets, which happen to be on the 22nd row about even with first base. Awesome! Now not only do we have great (and free) seats, but certainly I can root for the Dodgers like the diehard fan that I am and not upset Giant’s players family and wives. We get in right as Giants’ BP is starting. I call Mr. Colletti.
Me: “Hi Mr. Colletti. This is Franco, Toy’s friend.”
Colletti: “Oh hi Franco. I’m behind the batting cage next to Barry Bonds. Can you see me? Where are your seats?”
Me: “We’re about 20 rows up from first base. I’m waving at you right now.”
Colletti: “Great, I’ll come meet you guys over there in a few minutes.”
I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t want us to go meet him on the field, but either way I wanted to thank him for the tickets and introduce myself. He ended up coming over and talking to Matty and I for a good 20 minutes. Once I got off my chest that I was a diehard Dodgers fan, we just stood and talked baseball. It was fascinating to hear him say why he had turned down the Reds’ GM job earlier that year and why he would only leave the Giants for “the right GM job.” It was super cool of him to come up into the stands to shoot the breeze with two dudes he’d never met and give us inside info into his baseball world.
Colletti left. Off came my sweatshirt. Out came my Dodgers hat…Game time. The Dodgers needed to win only 1 of their final 3 games to clinch the division. Knowing that eventual 18-7 Jason Schmidt was waiting to start on Sunday for the Giants made getting a win Friday or Saturday all that more important.
The atmosphere was electric before the game, but during the game there was very little for Dodgers fans to cheer about. The Giants put up a 2 spot in the second and never trailed the rest of the way. Outside of two solo jacks by the Dodgers, there was little excitement in the 4-2 loss. Matty loved every minute of it. His neutral outfit and mouth kept his celebrating to whispering trash talk in my direction. I was very close to “outing” him to our section as a Giants fan the entire game. There was always tomorrow.
It’s a 1pm first pitch, so we wake up at a decent time and head straight to the beach. Quick swim, football throwing, huge brunch and then we head to the stadium. Our seats are a little bit higher than the day before. I secretly wonder if Colletti saw me booing the Giants the day before. Either way, they were free and first row of the second deck in line with first base isn’t too shabby.
The second game seemed to start right where the first one left off. Absolutely brutal! The Giants got on the board with 2 in the 4th and then added another in the 7th. The Dodgers, meanwhile, where doing next to nothing. It was one of those games where the entire ballpark was amped up ready to explode and then forced to sit on their hands for eight straight innings. The worst part was Matty kept reminding me that Schmidt was throwing on Sunday and this was going to turn into one of the worse choke jobs in recent memory. I tried telling him that he wasn’t even a true fan and if he actually liked the Giants he would be wearing their gear. Either way, I was worried. And not just because we’d have to pay to get our flights pushed back so we could see the Sunday game.
Going into the bottom of the 9th the Giants led 3-0 while the Dodgers had only managed four singles… Let the drama begin. Single, walk, strikeout, walk, and the bases were loaded just like that. Then another walk to bring in a run: 3-1. The stadium is starting to rumble. Then a slow roller to SS turns into a boot. Everyone safe: 3-2. Now we are all starting to go crazy… except Matty of course. Jayson Werth (the 100 million dollar man) gets in an 0-2 hole and then manages to hit a little duck fart into right center to tie it at 3. Now Dodgers Stadium is going nuts! This is what I flew across the country to see. It went from easily the least entertaining game of my life to the most entertaining in half an inning.
Enter Steve Finley… 0-1 pitch to Findley- WALK-OFF, DIVISION-CLINCHING GRAND SLAM, BEEZO! Everyone went nuts except Matty, but I had forgotten that he was even there. I was too busy high fiving EVERY SINGLE FAN in my section. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Matty leave the guy in front of him hanging, but the dude was unfazed and proceeded to reach over Matty’s shoulder to high five someone else.
Two minutes later Matty turns to me and says nonchalantly “Ok, let’s go.” I just pretended like I couldn’t hear him. About 10 minutes later, no one had left their seats and with the music still blaring, Matty said “DUDE, let’s go.” Just then Jose Lima got on the stadium microphone and started talking to the crowd. “We can’t leave now dude. Lima Time is talking!” 45 minutes later I was ready to take off. Man what a game, what a game!!
We grab a bite to eat for dinner with minimal conversation and then head to the airport. After returning the rental car, we make our way to the ticket counter.
Me: Excuse me ma’am, any idea why the kiosk is saying we missed our flight when we’re here two hours early?
Desk Lady: What time is your flight?
Desk Lady: Sir your flight was for 12 am on Saturday. You booked a flight that left almost 24 hours ago. It’s going to be $150 each for you guys to fly out on the next flight at 6am.
I made the mistake of thinking that 12 am on Saturday meant late Saturday night. What I had actually done, was buy plane tickets that arrived Friday at noon and departed back to Ohio 12 hours later. Oops.
Well, luckily I found out that Desk Lady is a Dodgers fan and had compassion on our college budget. When all was said and done, she got us on the next flight for $50 each. Matty and I had no choice but to use our duffel bags as pillows to catch some sleep on the floor in deserted LAX.
As I was starting to doze off I said, “I’m going to stay on with the team as a coach.”
Matty: “I’m happy for you bud. Good decision…by the way, you know you owe me $50 bucks right?”