Well, I knew I was watching the game with the Phillies’ GM and his special-friend-former-mentor-turned-mole-turned-job-for-life-thanks-for-Oswalt-and-Lidge-and-Pence-assistant, Ed Wade. But they had no idea that they were seated just feet away from your friendly neighborhood blogger, who prefers stealthiness over open communication.
As I’ve bitterly mentioned more than once on this site, my dad and I were supposed to travel to Clearwater two Fridays ago for our now annual Spring Training trip. But I got sick – very sick – just hours before we were to depart, forcing us to postpone the trip. Luckily, we were able to sell our tickets for last weekend’s games, move the flight back a week, and change hotels with only a bit of added cost. In a strange twist, the tickets available on Crossing Broad Tickets (plugs!) at the last minute were much better than what we, as season ticket holders, were able to get from the Phillies in December. So, we were able to snag great seats behind home, at or around face value, for last Friday’s game against the Yankees and Sunday’s game against the Orioles. Win.
As we walked to our seats on Friday (10th row), we immediately realized that we were in some uncommon company. A section marked private, just to our left, spanned rows 9-11. In front of us were roughly 20 scouts, most of whom were quite interested in keeping a close eye (and radar gun) on Vance Worley, the Phillies’ starter (about half of them used their gun for Worley, and no one else– he topped out around 91, in case you are wondering).
Throughout the top of the first inning, my dad and I exchanged the typical comments you would hear from a father and son duo who happened upon incredible seats, even if they were only for a Spring Training game.
There’s probably not a better view in the park, right behind home, 10 rows up!
We have a better view than the Yankees’ scout!
I can smell Cliff Lee in the dugout!
You know, that sort of stuff.
Then our pleasure was ratcheted up a bit.
Like a porn star on Howard Stern’s Sybian, somebody was about to turn the dial up for us… and we were going to like it. Not only did we have great seats on a beautiful Florida day… not only were we seated amongst baseball’s traveling spies… not only could I smell Cliff Lee… but we were now being joined by the sport's punchline, The Big Poker’s foil, the The Sultan of Selling: Ed Wade.
Wade and a young blonde, who I believe was his daughter, entered the private section, one row behind us. My first thought wasn’t one of excitement– it was one of inevitability: Of course we have better seats than Ed Wade, I mumbled to nobody in particular.
My dad was a bit less indifferent.
Ky! Ky! – nudges me with a force that I didn’t know his 58-year-old arms possessed – It’s Ed Wade! Didn’t your t-shirt friends make fun of him on a t-shirt?
Yes, yes– my “t-shirt friends” at Philly Phaithful did, in fact, make fun of him on a t-shirt. I think I also posted a Photoshop of him as a string puppet being controlled by his current boss. He would probably hate me.
It was at this point that I realized how much fun it was going to be to observe Wade while Hunter Pence batted. Trading Pence was essentially the nail in Wade’s coffin. It wasn’t that it was a horrible move for the Astros, per se, but it signified the team hitting rock bottom during his final year as GM. Selling fan-favorite Pence, the most likable guy on the team, was the baseball equivalent of George Clooney selling his family’s land to the realtor who was fucking his brain dead wife in The Descendants. Clooney, of course, didn’t go through with the sale. He had more pride than to stoop that low. Wade didn’t, and now he was sitting behind us watching his ex-star play for his former-now-current club.
Yeah, now I’m excited.
But my newfound glee was nothing compared to what was about to happen.
Just a few minutes after Wade, his midsection and chin slunked into their seat, a figure appeared in my peripheral vision, which was already maxed out so I could observe the anti-Clooney. It was Ruben Amaro, THE BIG POKER…. walking down the steps toward us. Holy shit.
My father and I were already in bro-freak out mode before Rube could finish exchanging pleasantries and one-sided guffaws with Wade and his disproportionately easy-on-the-eyes daughter. We were like made-of-flesh Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em robots, fighting over the honor of alerting the other to Rube’s presence. From afar, it must have looked like we were playing patty-cake. We slapped each other like excited puppies greeting their owners after they returned from a long trip. I think we were harming each other, and there were certainly some scratch marks, but we didn’t care.
KY! KY! LOOK!!! LOOOOOOK! LOOK. LOOK. LOOK.
I KNOW, I KNOW. SHHH. OHHHMAAAGGOOOD, as I pawed my dad’s face. NO FUCKING WAY. SHHHH. IT’S RUBE. I SEE HIM. I SEE HIM.
SAY SOMETHING TO HIM.
NO WAY! SHHH. JUST WATCH HIM. SEE WHAT HE DOES. LET’S WATCH. YEAH, I WANT TO WATCH HIM.
Yes, we were about to watch a Phillies game with Ruben Amaro and Ed Wade.
At first we weren’t sure if Rube was just there to greet Wade for a few minutes, or to enjoy the game. It took us about an inning to realize that the GM was settling in for the entire exhibition clash. He slumped back in his chair, thumbed around on his iPhone (yeah, I know– I too saw him as a BlackBerry guy. But nope– iPhone, with the extended-life battery case… you know, for wheeling and dealing), and watched intently as he radiated smuginess across section 111. He was in it for the long haul.
It was at this point that I found myself in a unique dilemma: Should I A) introduce myself as a blogger who writes dick jokes and points out his lies, or B) lay low and eavesdrop with the intention of turning it into a post on a well-read website? Either way, one thing was clear: I had to say something to The Big Poker.
*Not to toot my own horn, because I highly doubt the Phillies GM reads this site on a regular basis, but I do know for a fact that several of the Phillies and the team’s PR staff read the site. I would imagine that, at some point, Rube has seen it too. Last year he was even shown some of our reader submitted R2C2 Photoshops during an appearance on FOX Philly the day after he signed Cliff Lee. However, if he had seen the site, then I would have been “the guy who writes dick jokes about me and calls me a liar” to Rube. If he hadn’t… well, then I’d just look like a loser who slings mud from his basement. Perhaps I’m both.
I opted for choice B.
Despite my decision, though, I promised myself that I would say something to Rube during the game, because, you know, who can pass up the opportunity to wisecrack with the Phillies’ GM? Not me.
Rube didn’t say much to Wade after their initial pleasantries. That was disappointing. They were buffered by Wade’s daughter, who, at one point, appeared to be showing Rube pictures on her iPhone. Rube humored her. But Wade watched mostly in silence, analyzing and absorbing, sans emotion, the way you would expect a GM or, in this case, a former GM to watch a baseball game while surrounded by fans.
Rube was somewhat animated.
Not unlike the typical fan, he had an occasional opinion that he would voice to no one in particular or the person sitting directly in front of him (next to my father), who appeared to be a Phillies scout.
When Shane Victorino slaughtered a few worms to complete a less-than-adequate at-bat in Rube’s eyes, the GM was irritated. He growled, “You’re killing me Shane.”
I laughed. It’s nice to see that the Phillies’ Little League at-bats don’t go unnoticed by Rube.
It was those sorts of spontaneous outbursts and comments that I found surprising, and, honestly, refreshing. You don’t expect the GM to have the same emotions as fans. But they do… or at least Rube does.
At some point in the middle innings, Vance Worley threw what appeared to be a perfect strike on the outside corner. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza didn’t give him the call, and Worely was (ever-so-briefly) heated.
“Where was that?!” Rube exclaimed.
Jimmy Rollins, who had an even better view of the pitch from his position at shortstop, had a different reaction. He folded his arms and smirked in the general direction of home plate.
“Look at Jimmy, look at Jimmy!” Rube bellowed.
He was thoroughly enjoying the antics of the recently re-signed J-Roll™. And I was thoroughly enjoying the reactions of the recently re-signed J-Roll’s™ boss.
If you know anything about me, or if you’ve read this site enough, you know that I’m disproportionately entertained by the stuff surrounding the game, and sitting within ear-shot (and camera shot… but we’ll get to that in a minute) of the Phillies dick-swinging GM is right up there on the list of things that could delight me for hours on end. I was like a little kid with a toy machine gun in the fake reality that I had created for myself.
Would you like a beer, Rube? Sure I’ll get you one.
You remember that time you traded Cliff Lee for the guy who did coke in the back of a cop car and I yelled at you about it?
Let’s just not talk about that time we crossed swords while banging those two chicks in Dallas.
Sorry I called you a liar.
These were all things running through my mind and more. It was at this point I realized that, for my own sanity, I would take the next opportunity that presented itself to crack a joke to my new friend.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long.
A foul ball rolled toward one of the Hooters girls positioned on the left field foul line– ballgirl replacements, who, unlike at Citizens Bank Park, are there strictly for looks, not their ability to do anything with balls… other than (gently) squeeze them. The crowd groaned in anticipation of what would surely be a disaster that would probably result in a waitress face-planting, ass up.
Not this Hooters girl.
She tracked the ball like it was laced with the perfect combination of sweat and pheromones. She was not to be denied.
“Look at this! Look at this!” Rube shouted (again to no one in particular) as he sat up in his seat and watched the leggy blonde field the ball cleanly.
Myself, Rube, and everyone in attendance buzzed about the fielding prowess of the strategically-placed eye candy. This was my chance. I had a joke in my bag and I was going to whip it out.
“Hey Rube,” I yelled over my left shoulder. “She can play second base!”
It was like that scene in The Sandlot where Porter told the kid from the rich team that he played ball like a girl. I could almost feel the air being sucked out of my row as Rube absorbed by jackasstic comment.
Without averting his stare from the Phillies’ new prospect, Rube, now emotionless, deadpanned: “Good point.”
He was not amused. Wade, however, loved it. So did my dad… but for a different reason. He put his head down, trying unsuccessfully to sequester a laugh. His son had simultaneously missed the mark and ripped into the Phillies’ lack of infield depth to the man responsible for, well, their lack of infield depth. Oh-4-two.
I shrugged it off and plowed ahead with my stalking.
Realizing that I was holding my phone anyway, I figured that I could probably fire up the 1080p on my iPhone 4S and stealthily shoot Rube and Wade. You know, so I could prove it to you, the reader, that I am exactly that creepy. This is what I came back with:
Yeah, that’s not winning any editing awards. But just in case you doubted me…
Rube’s reactions picked up as the game went on. Laynce Nix killed what I believe was shaping up to be a rally (that is, one run) by popping up lazily.
“Goddammit,” Rube mumbled.
At one point, Spring Training pseudo standout Luis Montanez stepped to the plate with a chance to drive in runs.
“Come on Luis, be the hero,” Rube said almost mockingly. “Spring Training hero Luis Montanez.”
It was as if the GM was reprising the role of Bob Uecker’s Harry Doyle from Major League. I truly couldn’t tell if he was cheering for Montanez or mocking the meaninglessness the game. I think it was a little bit of both.
But while Rube may not have cared much about the outcome, he was certainly interested in seeing his guys perform well.
Tim Kennelly is a utility minor leaguer who was called up last Thursday to provide depth during Spring Training. It was a surprise to the 25-year-old Australian born player, who batted .215 in 62 games with Reading last year. In the late-innings of Friday’s game, he got a chance to show what he had when Charlie Manuel put him in left field.
Apparently, Rube had been bullish on the career minor leaguer.
A ball was immediately scorched down the left field line, in Kennelly’s general direction.
“The ball will find you every time!” Rube exclaimed as he leaned forward in his seat.
Kennelly tracked it down and made a nice grab, which elicited minor applause from the crowd of roughly 10,000.
“That’s why I have him here, tell Charley (Phillies assistant to the GM Charley Kerfeld),” Rube said loudly and excitedly into the ear of the scout seated in front of him.
The GM then turned around and looked up at the press box, where a grinning Dallas Green and some others leaned forward, laughing and pointing. Rube and his shit-eating grin acknowledged the approval of their peers. It was clear that the GM had a hunch about Kennelly’s ability to fill-in.
Moments later it would be a different story.
Rube engaged in conversation with an older gentlemen, who had stopped by and appeared to know both Amaro and Wade. Meanwhile, another ball was smoked in Kennelly’s direction. This time the utility player didn’t fare so well. He spun on wrong shoulder, read the ball incorrectly off the bat, took a Dom Brown-like route to its anticipated landing spot, and leaped aimlessly as the ball screamed over his head and off the wall.
I immediately turned to look up at Green, who, predictably, was leaning over the press box, waiting for Rube to turn around again.
Green whistled at Rube. The GM didn’t look up. Instead, without breaking conversation, he lifted his hat off his head and, like Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own, gave it a little wave, acknowledging his gloating colleague. Green laughed and sat back down. Plus one for Green.
Rube would redeem himself, though. He had a proclamation when backup catcher Erik Kratz strolled to the plate: “He’s going to go yard here.”
A few pitches later, Kratz deposited a ball into Frenchy’s Tiki Bar.
My dad and I looked at Rube in amazement. That was probably only the second or third time he attempted a “prediction" during the game, and this time he was spot on. My dad, trying to get us back on Rube’s good side, turned over his shoulder and said, “Good call.” Rube didn’t acknowledge him (it’s also entirely possible he didn’t hear him).
Other than eavesdropping on Rube, there were other, more subtle opportunities to observe the GM and his interactions with those around him.
Rube didn’t once deny autograph seekers stopping by his seat throughout the course of the game. There was one older man – about 65 years too old to be asking for an autograph – who got his ball signed, but didn’t even earn a glance from Amaro. Kids, however, were treated kindly and complimented.
And, by far my favorite autograph-related observation was when a father and son walked down the aisle, only to find Rube on his iPhone. They chose to do that awkward sit on the stairs thing, staring directly at the GM, who acknowledged their presence, but finished up his call before engaging them. This left the father and son kneeling directly in front of Wade, who was seated on the aisle. But, instead of asking the former GM for his autograph, the father just smiled at Wade, who smiled back at the man partially blocking his view of the field. I think a little bit of Ed Wade died at that moment.
The whole Wade-Amaro thing was really odd, anyway. They didn’t talk much. Wade just sat there, emotionless, and Rube oscillated between boisterous and smug. I rooted harder than usual when Pence came up. I really wanted to see the dynamic between the two if their poker chip went yard. After all, the Pence trade not only symbolized the end of Wade’s tenure in Houston, but the deal was also seemingly contentious, as there was some pushback from the Astros regarding the player-to-be-named-later. Unfortunately, Pence didn’t do much on this day, and both execs chuckled when he hit one of his trademarked 20-foot-high choppers.
There was one instance where (Miguel) Abreu batted before Jim Thome. With Wade seated behind me, and Abreu and Thome batting 3-4 in the Phillies’ lineup, it felt like there was a small tear in the space-time continuum and we were somehow transported back to 2004. Fortunately, Rube’s 2012 midsection was there to knock me back into the present.
And then there was the guy seated behind me, two seats down from Amaro. He was there with his young son. The kid, who appeared to be between five and eight-years-old, asked the typical questions that you would expect a son to ask his father at a baseball game. Most started with Why?, and the father answered quite thoroughly. Too thoroughly, in fact. After a few innings, it became clear that the father was using his son’s curiosity to voice his opinion about the GM’s job performance.
Dad, why isn’t Chase Utley playing?
Because, he has bad knees.
Fine… but he continued.
He came into camp supposedly healthy, but now he’s hurt again. No one knows how bad it is. So they have Freddy Galvis playing second base, even though he’s not a second baseman.
Almost like he was coached, the kid pressed on.
Then why is he playing second base?
That’s a good question. It’s a similar position, but he’s a shortstop by trade. There is a steep learning curve when you move positions, and I’m not so sure he’s going to be able to do this in the regular season. Second base is a much different position: the ball comes off the bat differently, the throw is different, and you have to turn a different direction when turning the double play. You can’t just put a guy there.
The son was silent. So was the GM.
Dad, is Pap-eel-bone good?
Yeah, he’s not bad. But they’re paying him a lot of money. Ryan Madson didn’t make nearly as much last year and he was every bit as good. The Phillies decided to pay this guy a lot of money, more than any closer ever. It better work out.
Why are they paying him so much money?
I don’t know. I’m not the person to ask on that.
I swear to you– that actually happened. Even as someone who makes a living slinging mud, I was cringing at the size of the father’s balls. I’m guessing he never made it back to his hotel, and his rental car accidentally skidded off the Clearwater Beach bridge.
That was it, really. Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 inning and the Phils went down quietly. By this point, Rube, like most in attendance, appeared exhausted. We followed him up the aisle after the game, but kept walking as he stopped to sign a few autographs and was greeted by a fairly attractive blonde in a long, flowing skirt. I was later told that was his girlfriend, waiting to greet him on this hot day.
Sitting in front of Rube was an interesting social experiment. As fans (and bloggers), we generally think of players, coaches and front office members as all-knowing. Sure, we question their every move, but most of us are generally resigned to the fact that they know more than we do. And they do. But, in case you weren’t already aware, sports aren’t an exact science. As evidenced by Amaro’s victory (and defeat) over the performance of little known Tim Kennelly, even general managers are slaves to the randomness and unpredictability of sports. In one moment, Rube looked like a genius. The next, just like any fan who tells their buddies about some sleeper fantasy pick.
His audible comments were not unlike any of ours, either. He doesn’t hate Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence. But, for brief – very brief – moments, he too was perturbed by a squandered opportunity. You can tell a lot about a person by observing them, however creepily, for two hours. Wade was indifferent– that comes through in his work. Amaro was reactive, almost ADD– that comes through in his work, for better or worse.
In the end, my unexpected pleasure led to an unexpected appreciation for what Amaro does. So much of his job is based on chance and, for lack of a better phrase, predicting the future. He plays the hand that he’s dealt – the one that he mostly deals himself – as best as he can. But once the cards are on the table, it’s up to random chance. All the GM can do is sit there and root for a favorable outcome… and look smug.
The GM can look smug, too.