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Youngsters spend time at Major League game waiting for souvenirs

March 25, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

YUMA — The final score in the San Diego Padres/Arizona Diamondbacks split squad spring training game may have had the Padres winning 4-2 over their NL West rivals at Desert Sun Stadium here Sunday.

And for the thousands who packed the bleachers, the game may have been the highlight of their day.

But for a group of Yuma kids — similar to a bunch in the 1993 movie "The Sandlot" — it wasn't the game inside the ballpark that mattered. Where their interest centered was the stadium's parking lot, just a few hundred feet from the field, where foul balls generally go to die, or in this case, where foul balls became souvenirs.

For these kids all that mattered was catching, or fetching, any foul ball that left the field and headed their way.

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"I'm not really interested in who wins. I like both teams, so it really doesn't matter," said 12-year-old Seth Hodges of Yuma. "For us we're just trying to get foul balls. I've been to a few games before, but I've never gotten a foul ball."

What made things easier for Seth and his friends to get foul balls was Desert Sun Stadium itself.

"Me, I just can't sit down and be in there just watching a game. I like to move around. Here, you get to do that," said Seth, who competes in the Yuma Boys Baseball League. "At major league stadiums you can't run around like you can out here."

Through the first four and a half innings, Seth, his younger brother Eli, 7, their cousins Blake Hodges, 10, Luke and Josh Hodges, both 8 and friends Corey Semler and Tanner Mixon, both 9 and Codey Cabrera, 11, had little to no luck with foul balls.

Finally in the bottom of the fourth Seth got what he hoped for as a foul ball hit into the parking lot rolled his way.

"When a player hits a foul ball, all we do is look at the people in the stands and go to where they're pointing and just follow the ball," said Codey, who also competes in the YBBL.

While most of the fun is had in chasing down a foul ball, just knowing that a Major League Baseball game is being played in his back yard makes the games that much more worthy for Codey.

"It's fun when (big league teams) come out here because it's just right here," said Cabrera. "Usually if we go to a major league game, we go watch the D-Backs in Phoenix, so we have to stay in hotels and drive a long distance. So when they play here, it just makes it even funner."

For Codey and his pals, the opportunity to experience Major League Baseball in Yuma is a once-a-year type thing, but when the Padres or Diamondbacks aren't playing in Desert Sun Stadium, he said watching independent professional baseball team the Yuma Bullfrogs, is as exciting if not more exciting.

"When those other teams aren't here, at least we can still watch the Bullfrogs. They're fun to watch and sometimes you see the players around town," said Codey. "The players on the team are more like your friends than strangers. You can go up to them and talk to them and a lot of these other pro baseball players aren't like that."

Another favorable aspect of Bullfrogs games Codey pointed to is the number of people in attendance on a given night compared to Sunday's attendance for the Pads and D-Backs.

"Look at that in there. Everyone's all sitting shoulder to shoulder and there's really no room to move around," he said. "That's the way it is at most Major League games. Sometimes you don't get very good seats. You have to sit way up in the stands and you have to use binoculars to watch the game.

"Here, when the Bullfrogs play, you can pretty much sit wherever you want. You can move around, sit behind home plate and just go anywhere," said Codey.

While the Padres and Diamondbacks were in town, there was still some fun to be had.

"What's fun is that we were able to get autographs of players before the game," said Eli Hodges. "And today we even got a foul ball."

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