I was originally just going to just include a brief summary of the beginning of this story and mostly focus on the very last part about how Jake Dunning and Joe Panik were kind of adorable on Thursday night, and I was just going to stick it in a comment in one of the minor threads. But I actually really like how the whole thing kind of comes full-circle, and, I dunno, I just think the whole thing is a fun story :) so I'll tell it all here...
So 2009 was when I really became a baseball FANATIC. I started going to the ballpark 7 hours before gametime to greet players as they arrived, and waited after games to say goodbye to players as they left (and through that I got to know a bunch of people that worked at the ballpark). I started following the minor leagues, went to my first minor league game in San Jose in May (on Nick Noonan's 20th birthday!), and actually followed the First-Year Player Draft for the first time that June. That was also the year I got really into commenting on Giants blogs, and that was even when I joined McCovey Chronicles (until I discovered how great Twitter was in June and abandoned my account for awhile). Anyway, after the draft, two players stood out to me - one was Zack Wheeler, because he was the 1st-round pick and I decided from the interviews I saw of him that he was adorable. The other was 9th-round pick Evan Crawford, because he's one of those speedy OF types that I love, I found him on Twitter and he seemed nice, and he had a pretty good rookie season.
When the season ended, even though nothing was really going on at the ballpark, I would still drop by every now and then to chat with the friends I had made during the season that worked security or in the Giants Dugout store. Then, through the "Inside the SF Giants" blog, I found out that the Giants were having their rookie winter conditioning camp at the ballpark in November. Evan Crawford tweeted about being in San Francisco, so I decided to go down to the ballpark every day I could that week to try to see if I could meet and get pictures with him or Zack Wheeler or any of the other top-10 round picks. I went there on Tuesday & Wednesday and didn't see anyone. On Thursday, the day Tim Lincecum won his 2nd Cy Young award, I got there about half an hour after Lincecum's press conference had ended.
Right when I get to the ballpark, I see Ben Potenziano driving out a vanful of kids, so I stick around hoping that Wheeler & Crawford are still in there. About 10 minutes later, a tiny little hatchback pulls up to the players' entrance and 3 guys walk out and start getting in it - and I immediately recognize one of them from his Twitter picture. I call out, "Hey, Evan!" from across the alley and wave just as he's getting in the car. He looks up with a surprised look on his face, sees me, smiles, and waves back. After all the guys get in, the car loops around to get out of the alley, so it has to pass by right where I'm standing...and then it stops right in front of me. The front window rolls down, and Evan's sitting in the back but he leans forward out the window and asks, "How do you know who I am?" I'm kind of taken aback, but I answer, "Uhh...well I'm a huge Giants fan and I follow you on Twitter! Can I have a picture with you?" Everyone in the car is laughing, and he agrees. Then I ask the other guys with him, "Hey, are you guys all prospects too?" Two of them say they are, so I ask for their names, and they introduce themselves as Chris Heston and Jake Dunning. I've only taken the time to learn about the guys drafted in the first 10 rounds, so I don't recognize those names at all. But, hey, they're still Giants prospects, and who knows? Maybe one of them might become something someday! So I ask if I can get a picture with all of them, too, and they all get out of the car. I don't have a camera, so I just hand my phone to the driver who takes the picture from the driver's seat. They're all super friendly with me, and they all seem so excited that I want their picture. While we're getting ready to take it, one of them even makes sure Evan moves to the other side of me so I'm more in the middle of them.
As they get back in the car, I thank them and tell them welcome to the Giants. As they drive off, I hear one of the guys say, "Hey Evan, you're BIG now!" As soon as I get home, I post the picture to Twitter and I look up who these Chris Heston and Jake Dunning guys are, and I notice they were picked in the 12th and 33rd rounds, respectively. I think, eh, that was cool, but they're probably not going anywhere, especially the 33rd rounder.
Slight tangent: When Crawford was traded to the Cubs for Mike Fontenot the next year, I was heartbroken. I remember I was standing by the dugout during batting practice, as always, when I found out the news. I probably would have started crying if I weren't standing right there where all the players could see me. Then when Ron Wotus came over to sign autographs, he recognized me and started talking to me, and the conversation went a little like this -
Wotus: "Hey, how are you?"
Me: "I'm kinda sad cause Evan Crawford's one of my favorite minor leaguers..."
Me: "...Evan Crawford? The guy we traded for Mike Fontenot?"
Wotus: "Oh, is that who we traded? I have no idea who he is."
Me: "Oh, he's a Low-A outfielder and he runs really fast!"
Wotus: "Wow, you know more than me! You should take over my job for me, I didn't even know who he was!"
I love Ron, and that was sweet, but it also made me even more sad about Evan :(
Anyway, fast-forward to San Jose Giants FanFest, April 2011. Chris Heston and Jake Dunning were both on the roster, and at this point I definitely knew who they were because I had been paying a lot more attention to them since that day I met them. So I printed out my picture with them and brought it for them to sign. I hadn't seen either of them since that day a year and a half earlier, but when they signed it, they each made some comment indicating that they remembered taking the photo that day.
Of course, throughout the year, I had many fun interactions with both Chris and Jake and proudly watched Chris dominate the California League (and Jake did well, too, at least in relief). I saw them in Spring Training last year and again this year, and as you can imagine, they're pretty familiar with me now, and they have always been super sweet.
This past Tuesday, when I found out Jake was traveling with the rest of the team to the Bay Area for this exhibition series, I was so excited for him! As he was passing by my friend and me to leave the minor league complex, Joe Panik and Tom Vessella were passing by us as they were walking in. I stopped Jake and congratulated him on getting to go play in San Francisco, and Joe started mimicking me in a mocking voice, "Yeah, congratulations, Jake! You get to go to San Francisco!" So my friend said, "Hey, you too, Joe!" to which he immediately softened and gave the most adorable little half-shrug and sheepish grin that conveyed an, "aww, shucks!"
On Thursday night, as Jake and Joe were walking out of the ballpark, I ran up to them, greeted them and asked, "So, what's it like playing in AT&T Park?!" I was mostly trying to ask Joe, because he actually played in the 9th inning, but both their faces lit up and Jake got all excited and said, "AWESOME!" And Joe was like, "Yeah, it's amazing!" Some fans asked them to sign, so while they were stopped I started rambling about how excited I was for them and how cool it was to see them out there. Then I said, "Hey Jake, remember the first time I met you?? It was right here!" And he said, "Yeah, right out here!" and pointed to the exact spot in the alley where we took that picture. My friend who was there with me asked them, "You remember her?" And they both said, "Oh yeah." When they had finished signing and started walking away, I said goodbye, and Jake turned around and said, "Good night, Lauren." It was just crazy to think about how I had met him right there on that day three and a half years ago, and now here he was again. Still not quite a major leaguer, but definitely a lot closer!