I am a Red Sox fan. I have been one for nearly three decades. My fandom started with admiring Roger Clemens (as a player), continued with the dominance of Pedro Martinez and youthful impact of Nomar Garciaparra, and was taken to another level when Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz combined to become an offensive powerhouse that would eventually lead to the franchise’s first championship in 86 years.
I watched Ramirez and Ortiz dominate in person for years when the Red Sox would travel to the west coast and play against the Oakland A’s. Some of my fondest baseball memories are watching those two characters do their thing against the Athletics. I was there when Manny hit a towering shot to left field and stood at the plate with his hands in the air as the ball approached the seats, only it never got there and Manny was met with a rousing round of heckling boos. I also recall sitting behind the third base dugout and watching Ortiz from a profile drill a pair of homers over the wall in right-center, two of several I’d seen Ortiz hit in Oakland, and then slowly trot around the bases in only the way Big Papi does.
And when it comes to specifically Ortiz, who says he is retiring at the end of the season, I have been able to see him play in five different stadiums. Not only in Oakland, but I saw him in San Francisco at AT&T Park a few years ago; in Seattle on back to back nights at Safeco Field in 2003, in New York at the new Yankee Stadium in May 2010 and two days later in Boston at Fenway Park. Ortiz’s presence on the field has brought a smile to my face on numerous occasions so I felt obligated to see him one last time during the Red Sox most recent trip through Oakland.
Because of my work schedule I was only able to make it to one game, Sept. 3, and I decided to go to the game alone. I usually get decent tickets for the games I attend but on this occasion since I was going alone and I decided to look for the best seat possible. And as luck would have it, the best seat available for me was behind the plate. Hey, it was a special occasion for me and my premium ticket was still less than I had paid for tickets to a few Giants games. (side note: By comparison, tickets to games in Oakland are sometimes almost half the price as one in San Francisco – the trade-off of having a losing team and a dilapidated venue.)
And so I worked all day and then took the train to the stadium. My intention was to enjoy the game, take some pictures and ultimately buy a game-used ball at the stadium, one of the newer traditions I’ve started to do.
I arrived just before the game started, so I was able to soak in the National Anthem, watch the ceremonial first pitch thrown by Oakland A’s legend Jose Canseco, who was one of the guys I really enjoyed watching as a kid. Remember, I grew up in the Bay Area – true, I was a Red Sox fan, but the A’s were still the best game in town for my taste. I still remember rushing home on Wednesdays after school and turning on 560 AM KSFO and listening to announcer Bill King read off the lineups and call homeruns from Canseco and Mark McGwire during those getaway days early afternoon games. I digress.
Everything about this night felt special to a baseball fan. And the way the game started just continued that notion. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia led off with a single, and two batters later Ortiz came to the plate with much fanfare and then ripped a double into left-center. And then a batter later MVP candidate outfielder Mookie Betts stepped to the plate and doubled to left-center which drove home Pedroia and Ortiz, giving the Red Sox a 2-0 lead before their starting pitcher Rick Porcello even took the mound.
The score remained 2-0 into the third inning where A’s pitcher Daniel Mengden — he of the atrocious ERA but legendary handlebar mustache and knee-high striped socks — faced Ortiz and Betts again and got them both to ground out, making way for what seemingly was going to be a smooth inning for he and the A’s. But as you know by now, things didn’t go so well for Oakland. First baseman Hanley Ramirez drilled a solo homerun to left-center, and then catcher Sandy Leon doubled and outfielder Chris Yound walked. Super-rookie Yoan Moncada, the Cuban third baseman who had made his MLB debut the night before, then came up and notched his first major league hit, a double down the left field line. As is tradition, the ball hit during the play was taken out of play and put away as a souvenir for Moncada. I would not be surprised if MLB immediately stuck one of their authentication stickers on the ball, something the league has been doing for more than half a decade now, to ensure the authenticity of game-used items.
The Red Sox wound up batting around in the third inning, which included another Pedroia single and a second Ortiz double, this time just inches away from being a homerun to center field. In all, the Red Sox added another seven runs in the inning to make it 9-0 before the final three hitters of Oakland’s lineup even had a chance to step the plate for the first time. In fact, Boston’s Porcello held a perfect game through the first 16 hitters (5 1/3 innings) until Oakland outfielder Jake Smolinski doubled to left field to end the run at history.
By the time the fifth inning had rolled around, I had gotten my fill of taking pictures of Ortiz so I decided to video record his fourth at-bat of the night, which resulted in a broken-bat single up the middle. It wound up being his final at-bat of the game as he was relieved for a pinch hitter when his turn came up in the eighth inning.
I have a basic philosophy when I go to games by myself: Once I sit down for the beginning of the game, I will not leave my seat or row until the game is over unless certain circumstances merit my leaving. So by the time the bottom of the ninth inning rolled around the Red Sox had a 11-2 lead and I decided that if I was going to purchase a game-used baseball from this game then I should go and get it before others decide to do the same.
Behind section 120 at the Oakland Coliseum (or whatever corporate name they have on the place at the time you actually read this) there is a stand where they sell game-used items – jerseys, bats, balls, etc. On this night I inquired about balls and they didn’t have any. The lady told me they didn’t receive the usual stash because Porcello had a perfect game going and when significant events like that are unfolding all items from that game are held back. If Porcello had completed the perfect game odds are all game-used items from the game which typically would have been offered for sale by the A’s likely would have wound up in the hands of Major League Baseball, which then would have sold the items at a premium via their auctions. I digress.
With no balls from this game available – by the way I was quoted $40 for a random ball, which isn’t bad but I prefer the ones in San Francisco that are priced based on what play the ball was involved in – I asked if there was anything from the current game that was for sale. The clerk then directs me t the show case where there are two bases sitting there, one from the present game (9/3/16) and one from the previous night’s game (9/2/16.)
I looked at the two bases and they were priced significantly different. Both were much more than I intended to spend but base was priced more than three times as much as the other.
For those unaware, bases are used for three innings at a time and then switched out. So a base is used for innings 1 through 3 and then removed from play and then replaced with one used for innings 4 through 6, and then finally with another for innings 7 through 9. And there are three bases that are switched out. So in all there are nine used bases per game, three for each location on the diamond. And in case you’re wondering, home plate does not get removed.
The base from the 9/2/16 game was listed as being the base used at first base for innings 4 through 6. And along with the base was a card that read six plays in which the base was used, including two Ortiz at-bats. Regardless of the plays shown, I didn’t want that base – it wasn’t from the game I had just watch. So I focused on the other, cheaper one.
This base, which was from the game I watched, didn’t have a list of plays. It only had a price tag and small details that read (1B, 1-3, 9/3/16). This means it is first base used for innings 1 through 3 on 9/3/16.
I looked at the base and thought about the game I’d just seen. I knew that I had seen David Ortiz double twice, Dustin Pedroia single twice, Hanley Ramirez smash a home run AND that rookie Yoan Moncada notched his first major league hit – all before the end of the end of the third inning. And if this were the base actually used as described then this is the one that all of these players – and others – stepped on during the moist active part of the game.
I looked at the price tag and asked the clerk to physically hand the base to me to I could inspect it. When she handed it to me I inspected the price tag for a hidden zero as surely this base was not just more important to me, but more historically significant than the other that was priced much higher. I looked and looked and looked. There was no hidden zero. I knew at that moment that the item I was holding was going home with me.
So I reached for my wallet and refused to hand the base back to the clerk before the transaction was completed. I feared that at any moment some manager would come over and realize that they hadn’t appropriately priced this item. Heck, it was probably an item that shouldn’t have even been made available to the public in my mind. Moncada is the top prospect in baseball — which is a big deal — and to have an item that was used when he collected his first hit is something that shouldn’t have happened. As noted earlier, this item probably should have ended up with Major League Baseball, or at the very least be priced much higher than any other items used in recent games.
All my anguish was for not. The transaction went smoothly until I asked for something to wrap the base in and they had nothing for me. At that point I knew my trek home would be an interesting one.
I’M HEADED HOME
As mentioned earlier I took public transportation to the game and carrying the dirty cumbersome base – which is still mounted to its metal post and weighs close to 10 pounds – was going to present a challenge. I weaved my way through the concourse traffic and headed for the ramp to the BART train and avoided any and all contact with anyone. During the 10-minute speed walk from stand to the train platform I had heard several people mumbling stuff about my new treasure but I managed to duck all inquiries. That is until I got to the platform. I found a decent place to stand so as to keep the base mostly covered but two guys saw me before I found my spot. One of the men asked me how I got the base, and then asked how much it cost me. I responded with a lie out of fear that I was going to get robbed – remember, I was in Oakland and I was carrying not only this base, but also my DSLR camera. People have been robbed of lesser valued things.
Moments later a gentleman in his 80s and his adult daughter inquired about the base. This time they wanted to touch it – they had never seen or touched a real base before. I allowed them to do so, but tried to keep the actions fairly concealed because I didn’t want to start this trend.
Luckily for me my train arrived just minutes later and I found a seat by myself and was able keep the base out of view from more onlookers. And aside from a 10-minute delay in the middle of the tracks for some relatively minor repair, the trip back to the station where I parked my car was pretty uneventful.
A short while later I had arrived at home and the reaction when I walked through the door was priceless “What the (expletive)? Is that a base from tonight’s game?”
Yes. Yes it is.
Bases have come a long way since the game started. In the early 19o0s the bases resembled square sacks filled with what looked like flour or other soft material. Now they are rubber molded over a meal frame. And for almost a decade now they have been putting special badges on the side of the bases to signify what series or game the base was being used – likely just a marketing plot to help in the sale of such equipment.
Sometimes when bases are offered for sale they have already been cleaned off completely, or sometimes only partially cleaned off, and for the most part the bases are removed from the post which helps affix the base to a peg that is buried on the field of play to keep the base in place.
But the base I purchased was literally fresh off to field – mud still smeared in places on the bottom and on the peg, and lots of dirt and cleat marks still on top.
As noted earlier, this base isn’t just like all the others used on the field during this game on Sept. 3, 2016. There is probably only one 0ther base from this game that has more significance – second base used during the first three innings. That base would be more significant because both of Ortiz’s hits were doubles and Yoan Moncada’s first MLB hit was in fact a double. However, that base was not available for sale when I visited the stand and I do not know if it was even made available to the public.
What I do know is that the base used at first base for those first three innings was available and now it is in my collection. And by my account, this base was involved in the following plays:
*Yoan Moncada’s first Major League hit.
*David Ortiz career hits 2,445 and 2,446 (which were also his 627th and 628th career doubles)
*Dustin Pedroia’s career hits 1,651 and 1,652; also his 566th career walk
*Hanley Ramirez’s 230th career homerun
*Mookie Betts 410th career hit
Xander Gogaerts’ 503rd career hit
*Jackie Bradley Jr’s 278th and 279th career hit
*Sandy Leon’s 104th career hit
*Also of note, no Athletics safely reached first base at the time this base was on the field; a perfect game was in effect into the sixth inning.
The value of such items are volatile as they are rare and are really only worth what a person is willing to pay for them. And demand for bases is not what it would be for used balls, bats or other pieces of equipment. That said, the value to me is priceless because of the fact that it is from a game I attended and involved a Red Sox legend. However, the long-term value could be significantly higher if Moncada turns out to be a legitimate star. At this point he is still considered a highly touted rookie/prospect who has yet to prove his worth at the major league level. And in most cases top prospects rarely turn into the stars to which they are compared. But for collectors the market for items used in events deemed significant to a star player’s career can fetch lots of money.
So what does one do with a full base. Well, display it of course. But therein lays an issue that collectors always face: how does one display their items, specifically a base? I’ve seen people mount them on walls, but that’s with bases that are no longer attached to a metal post. At this point I’ll have to put it on a book shelf, but long term I am thinking of getting a vertical display case to not only show off this item, but also other stuff such including a pair of authenticated game-used baseballs thrown by Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner during his one-hitter on July 10, 2016, against the Arizona Diamondbacks.