By Jimmie Earls
Sun Sports Writer
Ok, I have to admit that I really like the perks of my job as a sports writer. It’s great what my little top secret, handy-dandy, official news media ID card can do for me.
For example, this past Saturday I decided to check out a Louisville Bats game in Louisville. I contacted them and set it up so I could get a pass. After going through the proper channels, everything was set. The Bats would be taking on the Columbus Clippers at 6:15 p.m. and I would have the run of the place. The special guest at the game, sponsored by KFC, was The Famous Chicken, or when I was a kid, he was called The San Diego Chicken. The scheduled starting pitcher for the Bats would be Homer Bailey, who has had a tumultuous up and down career with the Cincinnati Reds. As the character Flounder in the film “Animal House” would say, “Oh boy, is this great?”
I arrived at Louisville Slugger Field at 3:30 p.m., in time for the final hour of Bats batting practice. I asked the girl at the ticket gate where the suite entrance was so I could get my media pass. She radioed Megan, the media relations person for the Bats, and she brought down my pass and showed me around the park.
Before heading up to the press box, we went down to the lower level to gain access to the field. The photographer pits are located at the end of each dugout and, for the most part, are extensions of the dugout, so I found myself sitting among some of the players. Megan also showed me how to use the tunnels to roam from one side to the other. I felt like a kid in a candy store being told by the owner that I could do whatever I wanted. And then she said the words that made me want to cry. In a half hour, I could go up to the press box and get dinner. Free food, too! This was just getting better all the time.
I watched batting practice for a while, until I headed up to the press box to look for my free food. When I got up there, I roamed a little bit, trying to act like I was working, when in fact I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. And then I got another nice surprise. Joining me for dinner was Ted Giannoulas, the man behind, or should I say inside, The Famous Chicken. This guy is a baseball legend and had been doing his shtick since 1974.
We opened up the styrofoam containers for the food and this night’s dinner was courtesy of none other than Chick-Fil-A. I found it ironic that I was having dinner with The Chicken, sponsored by KFC, and we’re both eating Chick-Fil-A. Doesn’t that count as corporate cannibalism in some states? Anyway, Ted is a genuinely nice guy and he can talk baseball with the best of them.
In one of our conversations, we brought up George Foster, the left fielder for the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds. I explained to Ted how, as kids, my friends and I attributed Foster’s 52-home run season to the black bat he switched to. And then out of nowhere, someone radioed the press box saying that George Foster was at the ballpark and wanted to know if he could come up. Ted immediately said yes, and within five minutes, George Foster was in the press box with us.
It’s funny how I will meet people today and when I see them I say “Hi Tom”, “Hello Steve” or “How’s it going, Jeff?” But when you meet one of your boyhood idols, you become a kid again, because I immediately found myself saying things like “Mr. Foster, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” or “Mr. Foster, may I have a picture with you?” It takes you off your pedestal and puts everything back in perspective. Suddenly you’re not Mr. Hot Shot Sports Reporter anymore, you’re Jimmie from West Fifth Street thumbing through your baseball cards again. What a thrill!
After my time with George (I think I can call him that now), I headed down to the photo pit by the Bats dugout. I got some shots of Bailey warming up to pitch and kept a close eye on players who signed autographs and those who ignored the fans.
I found the atmosphere to be very enjoyable. It’s a beautiful ballpark and I thought it was more of a fan-friendly environment than a major league park. And I highly recommend going to a Bats game when The Chicken is there, he puts on quite a show.
Another little surprise was when the park played the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” over the sound system. When it came time for people to clap their hands, the giant video screen showed footage of Godzilla clapping his hands. I’m a huge Godzilla fan, so I found that part quite amusing and satisfying. Gee, I saw Godzilla, George Foster and the San Diego Chicken, all in one night. Isn’t that one of the signs of the Apocalypse?
I sat in the pit shooting a little over 400 photos during the first five innings. That’s when I started losing ample daylight for pictures and the Bats had what I thought was a comfortable 5-2 lead going into the top of the sixth. Bailey has struggled this year with the Reds, with an 0-6 record with an ERA of 7.93. His record at Louisville is 4-7 with an ERA of 4.77. Maybe tonight he could get his fifth win.
I headed through the dugout and up the tunnel to leave. I saw Ted in the dressing room cooling off after one of his routines and I thanked him for a great time. He gave me a glossy photo and I told him I really enjoyed watching his work.
I headed out of the inner sanctum and upstairs to ground level to my van parked just across the street, feeling like I have just had one of the best evenings in my life. Once I got around to putting the game on the radio, I discovered that the Bats blew the lead by giving up a gland slam to Columbus in the top of the sixth, but had battled back to build up an 8-6 lead, which ended up as the final score. But Bailey’s quest for another Triple-A victory had been thwarted.
I, however, felt like I had been the winner of the evening, having met some great people and meeting a Reds Hall of Famer in George Foster. If you haven’t heard me say it before, I’ll say it again – I love my job!
I'd like to say thank you to Megan Dimond and the entire Louisville Bats crew for their hospitality, I certainly had a great time and look forward to visiting again soon.