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The Last Ball Game: A daughter heading to college & a father recounting their baseball memories

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I wanted to make sure we got in one last ball game before she left for college next week, and it’s brought back a flood of baseball memories.

Time to kiss this one good bye

Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins, it was time to think about the last baseball game. The plans were to go to the D-Backs-Rockies game in Phoenix last night. My traveling companion is eighteen years old. She is the child of my first marriage. We headed to Graceland. Graceland A-Z where, like any ball park, all would be received. Chase Field would be the scene of our last baseball game together before she goes off to college next week. Yep, she’s leaving home.

Bambina Fregosi, my oldest daughter, was born February 6th at the end of the 20th century. She shares the exact same birth date of the original Bambino, who was born at the end of the 19th century. It is a good name date and is shared by Babe Ruth, Ronald Reagan, Axl Rose and JEB Stuart among other righteous Americans.

2002 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Axl and JEB were rebels

One last baseball game is something I wanted to make sure we got in before she left for college next week, and it’s brought back a flood of baseball memories with her I’m going to recount.

I invited her to see Mike Trout change tires in the NASCAR/BodyArmor promo with Ryan Blaney in March, but she declined. I should have insisted she come see the Great Mike Trout but I didn’t and she missed out on that (maybe the worst sin of my many failings as a father). She also really wasn’t up for this game tonight, but I learned from the Trout-NASCAR event. I insisted.

Ryan Blaney has made the 2017 NASCAR playoffs. Mike Trout also will make the 2017 MLB playoffs.

At hand this September night were two rivals headed for a one-game showdown in the NL Wild Card Game. Both Arizona and Colorado have had outstanding years, and have been pointing towards each other most of the season since the Dodgers have run away with the NL West. The D-Backs and Pat Corbin thumped them last night 8-2, and we saw three of the best players in the NL this year.

Paul Goldschmidt got his 1,000th hit; only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson have higher fWAR than Goldy the last five years. If America’s First Baseman doesn’t win the NL MVP, Charlie Blackmon (6.2 fWAR) will. And then there is Nolan Arenado, an OC kid who is simply the best 3B in the game right now.

The stakes will be much, much higher though in three weeks on another Wednesday night in what is assuredly the same two teams. Winner gets to punk the Doyers.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldy gets his 1,000th hit last night. Trout has 1,028 as of today
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame show began late one night in May 1998. The first wife, me and her kids were very, very late checking into the Disneyland Hotel and it was completely booked to the brim- the only room they had left was the Presidential Suite so it was ours. “Oh YEAH, we’ll TAKE it!” – pretty sure The Bambina was procreated there (editor’s note: /gives awkward side eye look at Rex) in those palatial digs that night in the magical skies of Anaheim, California where the only other thing that high is down the street, the Big “A” itself.

Also that year, I had season tickets for the D-Backs inaugural season, but this was before she made debut in the world the following February. That meant she spent the late summer of 1998 incubating in the right field stands at the BOB next to the pool, while I was watching Karim Garcia play RF.

The most interesting thing in the D-Backs outfield in 1998 was the pool. J-Up would put up his 6.1 bWAR season in 2011 in that same outfield.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The first games I remember her taking her to were as an infant in 1999 at the Big A against the Devil Rays on a Big Bang Friday night in May; we were in the 3rd deck at the Big A, and why I remember this game was that the Tampa Bay cameraman got a shot of the swaddled Bambina and beamed it into the television in homes LIVE!, all the way from Sarasota to St. Pete. Mo Vaughn hit a Grand Slam and 6 RBIs. We also saw the D-Backs at The Big A on June 12, 1999 - Byung-Hyun Kim balked in Matt Walbeck the winning run.

The World Series years of 2001 and 2002 were good to Bambina Fregosi and me. She went to the historic Game 7 in 2001 when the Yankee dynasty ended on a Luis Gonzales flair off Mariano Rivera. The toddlerette went marching through the streets of Phoenix in the wee hours of that November night joyfully shouting “Let’s go Diamond Backs!”

World Series GM7 X
The Best Game of the 21st Century

Then Red October happened in 2002 and the Bambina and me went to go see our 2nd World Series game in a row, Game 1 in Anaheim, and Barry Bonds crushing a Jarrod Washburn pitch so hard and deep into right field that made Jarrod chuckle. The drive over to OC was just as eventful – the rookie got car sick into one of the captain’s chairs in the back of the Chevy van on US 60 on the winding Badland Hills between Beaumont and Moreno Valley.

So I moved her over to the other seat, and she promptly spilled her guts on that one too, going 2 for 2. Stopping at the next exit, I learned the magic powers of Lysol wipes on the way to the Big A.

Jarrod Washburn walks across the field
Note to self: walk #24 next time
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Unfortunately, in life, your teams don’t keep winning the World Series every year. The unfettered optimism of your youth meets reality: the bumps and bruises and evils this world can bring can interrupt the best of plans: there are Eddings and Red Sox, obstacles out there to overcome. She learns that along the way and the Angels finally got back to the ALCS in 2009.

I tried to get her into playing the game herself in her formative years. She had a classic T-Ball moment learning the game at 4: she was supposed to run from 2B to 3B, then home during a practice. After taking off from 2B, instead of rounding 3B, she kept going in a straight line, running directly through the 3B coach’s box to a playground/monkey bars, something more familiar.

Fregosiette played Little League when there were just three other girls in the entire league. She wanted to be Catcher once, but that lasted just one inning, as ball after ball was more often than not stopped by her gear instead of her mitt. Thump. Thump. Thump. She toughed it out though for the entire inning and fought back the tears as she walked off after the third out – never again she muttered. She also had some softball teams, and played in Middle School but that was about it.

What’s your CERA, kid? We can always use more catchers

The last games she went to at the Big A were memorable but a while ago– Vlad’s 9 RBI game against the Red Sox on June 2, 2004 and then a Saturday night loss against the White Sox in the 2005 ALCS. We also made all the NL West parks a decade ago. She played in the right field sand box at Petco and ate garlic fries in Frisco. One early trip was to Chavez Ravine one Father’s Day to see the Angels, and there was also a game at Coors.

Reality starts hitting in Middle School. In life, there comes a time when they no longer put the ball on a T for you. Life starts throwing the ball at you, harder and faster each year as you grow up. It also throws curves and changes up. Sometimes you’re going to strike out and have to sit down. But there’s always another at bat, just step to the plate and take your best swings.

There haven’t been as many games lately, since we took her 2nd Grade teacher to a NLCS game against the Cubs in 2007. A couple of meaningless D-Backs games since, and some Spring Training Games and practices in Tempe, Scottsdale and also one to Goodyear I remember to see the Indians in Albert’s first year.

But as she’s gotten older, she’s gotten busier with her own life and we just have not had as much time for a ball game, even on television. I’ll usually have the Angel game on each night, but she’s been busy with her life – school, work, music, socializing. ‘What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys, see you later, can I have them please?’ She’s been to Chase Field and Tempe Diablo on her own with her friends a few times. The 2016 Highlight? I did get her down to the TV for an inning to see the Cubs clinch the World Series.

Maybe if the Angels would have won more since 2009 it would have helped. Similarly, the D-Backs haven’t been very good either the last few years so we haven’t headed to Chase Field much. However, we haven’t missed many Kings games when they’ve come to Glendale to play the Coyotes the last four years, and she’s always been up for that, rocking her Drew Doughty #8 sweater and we’ve always been able to great seats for low prices and chant “Go KINGS Go!”

Edmonton Oilers v Los Angeles Kings
Ring! Ring! The best team from LA team this decade
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

This year has been about the 143rd Run for the Roses and McCraken. This colt was one of the best three-year olds in the land so we had a front row seat for the Sport of Kings (being best friends with the owner): we’ve traveled to the Tampa Bay Derby, went fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, watched the Kentucky Derby from an owner’s box in Churchill Downs, and more recently went to Saratoga, NY to see the Travers Stakes (thus my absence from the HH Vlad night). A grand time (but it would have been 100x grander if McCraken had come through as the 3rd choice in Louisville on that first Saturday in May ).

Louisville, KY - home of Jo Adell (oh, and some other things)

Now, it’s the end of an era of father-daughter baseball. Next week, I drive her to northern California to UC Davis to start her freshman year. Bambina Fregosi is now Miss UCD. Ready or not, she’s in The Show. Maybe we’ll get another game at AT&T or Oakland together in the next four years but on the bucket list for us both is a trip to see the Kings play in the Shark Tank in San Jose.

But the minor league games are over now, she got called up to the Big West and will be on her own, off to a new team in life. New teammates, new roomies and new road trips to bigger playing fields. Life will still have its owners, managers, opposing team, coaches, trainers, and umpires though: they’re just not your parents from now on.

Hopefully by now, she’s learned a few lessons from the game. It takes talent, but more importantly it takes a lot of hard work and practice. Just hang in there even when facing a dynasty and the best closer in the business: just put the bat on the ball because good things will happen and the old guard doesn’t last forever.

They’ll always make room for the new kid if she can play ball. And from playing catcher, the pain is temporary but the glory lasts forever. It’s time to step up to the plate, take her hacks in a bigger batter’s box, and play hard ball. Most importantly, as she runs the bases in life, I hope now she knows the direction home.