Lesson: don’t leave a baseball game early

I learned a long time ago, if you’re a true baseball fan, you just can’t leave a game early because you never know what might happen. That adage was reinforced again last Saturday at ONEOK Field as the Tulsa Drillers defeated the Arkansas Travelers in exciting fashion.

Tulsa led 2-1 in the top of the eighth inning but the Travelers tied the game on a solo home run. The score remained tied 2-2, going into the bottom of the 10th inning – long after half of the 5,000-plus crowd had gone home.

Arkansas reliever Danny Reynolds struck out the first two Drillers he faced in the bottom of the 10th inning. Then his control went south real fast. Reynolds walked Kyle Farmer and advanced him all the way to third base with two wild pitches with Alex Verdugo at the plate.

The Travelers then decided to intentionally walk Verdugo and bring Jacob Scavuzzo to the plate. Reynolds, still struggling to find the strike zone, hit Scavuzzo with a pitch to load the bases.

Now the table was set for Cody Bellinger, as the Drillers first baseman watched two straight balls go by before whacking the next pitch over the right field bullpen for a walk-off grand slam. The blast was Bellinger’s first career Double-A home run.

Obviously the folks that left early missed an extremely exciting finish to this game. It was amazing to watch Reynolds’ pitching fall apart after how he quickly struck out two Drillers batters in the bottom of the 10th inning. Then it was mind boggling to watch Reynolds throw two pitches wildly into the backstop and one into the arm of a batter, forcing the bases loaded. And of course, the excitement of a grand slam at any point of the game is always a neat thing to see, but when it comes at a time to end the ballgame and win it for the home team, that makes it even more special.

I was thrilled to still be in the stadium to witness the excitement. However, that wasn’t the case many years ago.

DON’T LEAVE EARLY

My family and I learned this lesson in 2002. We were at a Texas Rangers game against the Oakland Athletics in Arlington, Texas. That night, former Tulsa Drillers pitcher Mike Venafro was kind enough to put us on the pass list, and our seats were in the outfield bleachers, right next to the A’s bullpen. During the game my son got Venafro’s attention and we were able to thank him for the tickets.

Anyway, the two teams were tied going into the bottom of the 12th inning and my wife, kids and I were all exhausted from a long day, so we decided to leave. As we were making our way to the exit, the Rangers were getting runners on base. We stopped to watch from time to time, as we walked along the concourse, and finally the bases were loaded with two outs and Alex Rodriguez was at the plate.

I thought, “Well either the A’s are going to get the third out and the game is going to go to the 13th inning or maybe Rodriguez will get a base hit and one run will score to win the game.”

Either way, I wanted to get out of there and get to the car before the rush of the crowd.

My son says he’ll never forget the roar of the crowd we heard as we walked across the parking lot. When we turned on the car radio and listened to the announcers screaming about what happened, our hearts sank as we realized that not only did Rodriguez get a game-winning hit, but he had launched a grand slam. Ugh!

We robbed ourselves of what could have been a really awesome memory, but instead lives on as one of our all-time sports disappointments.

STAR SITTINGS

It was a great week to be out at ONEOK Field for Drillers baseball, as several celebrities were on hand.

The home stand began with a special appearance by former Major League pitcher Tommy John, who signed autographs before the game.

On Friday night, local residents and national recording artists Hanson performed the National Anthem.

Then on Saturday night, former major leaguers Steve Carlton and Darrell Evans were brought in to sign autographs prior to the game, and they both threw ceremonial first pitches. Interestingly, Carlton, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was known as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game and had the nickname “Lefty,” but he threw his ceremonial pitch right-handed. It could be years of wear and tear on his left shoulder have caught up with him.

If you’re heading to a Drillers game this season, make sure you take your autograph book and a Sharpie – you never know who you might see.