Monday, December 16, 2013

August 14- Baltimore Orioles

I don’t know how to start this post, so I’m just going to get into it. I’m very lucky and very happy to be alive and I'm sorry for the families who were affected by the shooting at the Clackamas Town Center Mall. I know the heading date doesn't correspond, but the real time does. Please forgive that error.

Each of my 350 New Era Caps tells a specific story, but only a small handful of them have become synonymous with specific life-changing moments. Prior to today I had only worn this cap once on December 12, 2012, even though I bought it from the Lids in Eugene, Oregon about eight or nine months prior. I really don’t have a specific reason as the why I never wore it. To be honest, when you have as many caps as I do, you tend to forget about wearing a lot of them. This cap in particular carries the story of one of the most intense, depressing days of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to still be able to tell the tale. As I look back on the way my day started, I have to attribute this accessory decision to Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.

I was living at my parents’ house in Portland, Oregon at the time since my final term at the University of Oregon didn’t start until the first week of January. Rather than be bored and jobless after the baseball season had ended, I went back to work at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in southeastern Portland to help out my friend/boss Jason Cobb (@JasonMCobb) and to put some extra cash into my pocket. This day in particular I was set to work the closing shift of the higher-volume store downstairs as Jason used it as one of his days off and I always preferred to close rather than open since I’m usually livelier in the evening. This day in particular was especially gloomy and cold, but thankfully not raining. My dog Tuaca, a Rottweiler, woke me up around 9:30 AM by jumping on the bed to lick my face, just like she did every morning before the last. My parents had already left for work, but what I remember most is that my mother didn’t come into my room to wake me up as she likes to do around 7 AM, well before I have any desire to see the light of day. With dog slobber running down my face I made my way to the bathroom to wash up before I headed into the kitchen to destroy a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It was tasty.

I still had plenty of time to get ready as the drive to the mall was only about 40 minutes away (holiday traffic) so I did my usual Twittering. At this time I was still posting photos from my time in the MLB Fan Cave and my tour across the country to my Instagram account and for some reason I had decided to chat about when Jones and then-Oriole Robert Andino had dropped in to shoot the “Put Some Birds on it” sketch. Andino didn’t say much, but Jones was certainly the life of the party, all smiles and willing to do whatever. Due to the fact that nobody in the Fan Cave was an Orioles fan I opted to rock the home style cap along with a Nike shirt that my friend Samuel had designed for the occasion. Besides my apparel, Jones had taken a shine to me because of my MLB tattoos, most notably the Billy Ripken homage and my “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” piece. When the time came for Jones, Andino and the production crew to hit the streets to continue filming, Jones told me to come along too.

I didn’t say or do much while we were out and about except snap pictures and occasionally swap jokes, but just being there and being wanted to be there was really all the prize unto itself. Jones and Andino made me feel appreciated, even if I wasn’t an Orioles fan. I think deep down they both knew that I didn’t take all of the glitz and glamour serious, and that I just wanted to have fun. So, when I posted the photos of before…

and after…

 And tagged him in them, we had a bit to talk about seven months removed from that day. To give clarification, the top photo was from the two of them walking the streets with the big Orioles logo and the bottom one was a photo I personally wanted to send to my friend Scott Landis (@ScottCLandis), an actual Orioles fan, for his birthday that was a month away at the time. Not too long after I posted them Jones hit me up, started following on Twitter and we gabbed for a bit about Andino going to Seattle to play for the Mariners. After we wrapped things up I hit the shower, got dressed and picked out my cap.

Despite the number of Orioles caps I own I had yet to dedicate any of my markings from the current caps to anyone except Andino, which I’ll get into in a later post. With the 2012 to present road cap still available I marked it up with the two guys who I knew would be superstars in Baltimore when their careers came to an end..

 #10- Adam Jones

#13- Manny Machado

In retrospect I realize how amusing it is for me of all people to give Machado this accolade, especially after all the guff I got from Orioles fans all season after I said Josh Donaldson was better, but none of that means that I don’t think Machado is going to be a star. He most definitely is.

This majority of this  portion I wrote around 2:00 AM on December 13, 2012. I have added a few pieces since.

I arrived about 15 minutes early and checked my online activity on my phone at the Starbucks at the southwestern side of the mall, as that was the best spot for me to get internet access. Before I left my house I had posted (above) my 4-step New Era photo of me taking off the stickers, creasing the bill and marking the hat with jersey numbers for one of my newer Orioles hats. I had gotten a few likes, which I was satisfied with and headed in a little early to see if any new freight had come in. There had, but only about 4 new boxes, nothing terrible. I clocked in and dove in to try and get caught up on the previous freight. We had gotten in a load of NFL, Oregon Ducks and NBA jersey restock as well as a lot of popular sweatshirts. My co-assistant manager Clayton and I stuck to the freight whilst the other employees: Adam, Connor, Justin and Kevin helped the customers. Every now-and-then I popped out onto the floor to help someone, but for the most part I stuck to getting the product out. I had quickly knocked out one of the boxes. Since a lot of the product required sensor tags, I first put out all of the stuff that didn’t need them: Portland Timbers gear. We had about 5 adult and youth jersey to throw on our 50% off rounder so I finessed them in, along with about 7 hooded sweatshirts. I walked back to grab the last two shirts when I heard a loud bang.

I have heard in moments like this that time stands still. A few of the customers around me and I exchanged glances and all had puzzled looks. Somewhere in a matter of a fraction of a second we all came to the conclusion, mentally at least, that the sound was probably a large box that had fallen to the ground and made the commotion. As I turn to hang up the last two shirts it started… BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!!! Having fired off an array of hand guns, assault rifles and sniper ripples with my stepfather, I knew what I was hearing. Everyone in the store, roughly 12 people including myself, had stopped in their tracks. I on the other hand sprinted to the door to close and lock them. I remember yelling, “Get out!” to everyone as I ran, but still no one moved. I saw dozens of people running eastward as I got to the door and told and grabbed as many people as I could into the store before no one else was within my grasp. I closed the doors, hit the deck and locked the massive glass doors as quickly as I could. One kid in particular was standing next to me doing nothing. I yelled, “Get the fuck to the back of the store!” He froze. I then pushed and yelled at everyone else to go out the back door. Clayton and the rest of my co-workers to notice and began rushing everyone out. I had never been in a situation like this before, by a sense of leadership overcame me. As soon as I saw everyone clear out the back I quickly closed the door completely and ducked behind the sales counter, waiting to see if anyone would walk by. After a few moments I walked toward the front to see if there was anyone else out there. Sure enough there were patrons casually walking through the mall on their cell phones. I unlocked one of the doors and called for them to come in. Once they cleared the threshold I locked it again, explained what had happened and got them out. I then moved back to the counter area and got on twitter to post that there had been a shooting. I’m still not sure why, but I momentarily went back about my business as the phone rang from other stores in our company looking for product. I told them all that there had been a shooting and their attitude quickly changed, making sure I was OK. I said yes, asked what they were looking for and gave them an answer. In between calls I continued to tweet what I was seeing.

Clayton and Adam had started texting me, asking if I was still inside. I told them yes and that I was waiting. At this time they informed that the police had arrived and surrounded the building. When I read that I knew I couldn’t just walk out into safety. Looking the way I do, with my beard and all, I would be greeted by local law enforcement with all guns on me, ready to be taken into custody to be questioned. Obviously I had no involvement, but they don’t know that. I continued to stay behind the counter and kept tweeting. For some reason I took to trying to be a bit more humorous for a few. I remembered reading about Brett Lawrie being in a mall when a shooting had broken out and so I sent out a tweet to the tune of, “I feel a lot like Brett Lawrie right now.” After that I sent, “I'm glad I have shoes on. Last thing I need is broken glass and bare feet like John MacLaine,” an obvious Die Hard reference. Almost immediately after that tweet SWAT had taken siege. I saw three teams of three stroll by the front of the store, all armed with AR-15 rifles and full body gear. After they passed I hit the floor and crept my way across to the front to snap some photos. 

 I finally saw a sheriff’s deputy across the way and signaled to him that I was trapped inside. He motioned for me to get back, so I did. Ben Lacy, a producer at KGW in Portland, and fellow Oregon alum, hit me up on Twitter and asked if they could do a live interview. I sent him a DM with my number and said yes. Five minutes later I was live on the air, taking the reporter step by step as to what had happened. A few minutes in, the police had arrived at the door and motioned for me. The glass isn’t soundproof, so they told me to unlock the door and be ready to stay low and move out. I had forgotten my Galaxy Note and jacket, but didn’t care. I wanted to get out. As soon as I got the green light, I cleared out. I looked back and noticed that there were six totally officers, all armed to the teeth with .45s, shotguns and rifles. I booked a sharp right and headed out.

Now, at the time when I made my exit I thought I had an officer tailing behind me as an escort. I didn’t. As soon as I cleared the threshold of the door I was “greeted” by five officers with shotguns and assault rifles all pointed at me.

“Get your hands up!” I heard someone yell.

I complied.

“Get on your knees and drop the phone!” I heard.

I did

“Slowly lay down and cross your legs!”

As soon as I did I felt my Orioles hat slip down over my face, but I remained motionless. The last thing I wanted was a bullet entering any part of my body. All I could think about was the first two seasons of the TV show “The Wire” that I had been going through whenever I had free time. More than likely you can chalk that up to the fact that the show takes place in Baltimore and I happened to be wearing an Orioles cap. One of the deputies came around and slapped handcuffs on me, pulled me up and walked me to the left for questioning. I stood up straight and answered everything he asked: Name, business at the mall, etc. He then got on his intercom and asked for a description of the suspect, which luckily I didn’t fit. As I stood there shivering in khaki and pants and a polo shirt in the cold more people began exiting… all of which glared at me as they passed as if I was the shooter. I didn’t let it bother me. I turned my head to the left to get a look at the deputy and listen in on the responses he was getting. He was almost a foot shorter than me with short grey hair and an amazing salt and pepper mustache and glasses. He then slipped his business card into my pocket and told me to call if I had any information to give as he unlocked the steel bracelets. He pointed me toward the left of the parking lot and told me to get out that way. I did what he asked and walked away… for a bit. Around this time I was getting texts and calls from a lot of people making sure I was safe. Since my Note was still inside the store I couldn’t get on Twitter to let everyone know I had made it out. I texted everyone I knew who had Twitter to let them know and to let others know I was fine. Unfortunately, most of the people that I knew who had large followings on Twitter are all on the East Coast. Not until the end of the night did it dawn on me that they had no idea what was going on. Therefore, I got a lot of confused texts back. My friend Kat in Boston, who works for NECN, called me up; made sure I was doing fine and asked if I would do an interview.

Kat and I went to the University of Oregon together and I crashed at her place in Boston during my second trip there over the summer during my MLB stadium tour. She is also one of the few reporters to be on the scene as the bomb went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I said I’d be more than happy to. As we chatted on the phone I noticed more people leaving the mall… I then hatched a plan. I really wanted my Note back so I could get back on Twitter to give updates so I asked the deputy at the door if he could escort me back to the store so I could lock it up, which is actually true. He said yes and took me back. About halfway there he asked another deputy, the one who handcuffed and questioned me, to take me the rest of the way. He jokingly said yes and followed me in. I quickly ran in and grabbed my jacket, cigarettes, Note and locked the door on my way out. It was during this time that I noticed tables, chairs and product from stores strewn about the walkway of the mall.

It was a rather eerie feeling, but for some reason I was still calm. I half sprinted back to the original doorway I had exited the mall and passed by a girl crying hysterically and talking to two officers as she had witnessed the shooting. I didn’t gather much as I wanted to get back outside. Once again, as I cleared the door way the same officer was about to yell at me to get down, but realized I was the same guy as before. A slight moment passed and he told me to be on my way. I called Kat back and did the interview with one of their reports and walked across the road where I knew there was a Starbucks with Wi-Fi. I sat down and typed away. Giving updates on Facebook and Twitter what I knew, and what I had overheard. It also gave me time to call my parents and assure everyone that I was safe.

Over the next hour or so I did interviews with KATU in Portland, NECN live in air, the Jeff Sammut Show (@JeffSammut590) in Toronto and even Good Morning America. I posted photos and got hit up by FOX and CNN for permission to run the photos and do more interviews. It was a weird feeling. Despite going to the U of O for journalism, I had always wanted to do sports. This was way more important and I gave my clearance on everything as it is my responsibility to relay the information.

Around 5:45 PM PST, over two hours since the shooting had started; I finally got in my car and headed home. Mentally I was burnt out and just wanted to get back into the familiar. Traffic was pretty ridiculous and I called ahead to my mom to let her know. With nothing but the steering in my hands and my thoughts, my brain drifted back to when I was 14-years-old, living in Bakersfield, California. (This part of the story I have never told anyone)

I can’t really remember the date, but I do remember it was spring. I was with a few of my friends at his parents’ house, a few blocks from Centennial High School where we all attended. We had been sitting around, watching TV and gabbing about usual high schooler things. Around 4:30 his older brother walked into the house and sat down with us. As he sat down he pulled out a bad of marijuana and his .45 from the waistband of the back of his pants. What I didn’t know and everyone else did was that he was a drug dealer. At that time I really didn’t like guns too much so I sat away from everyone else as they talked about it and wanted to see it. After about five minutes of that nonsense I had to pee so I got up and went down the hall and around a left turn corner to go. I finished, washed my hands and walked out. As I was about to bank right back into their living room the gun fired. I didn’t realize it at first until I turned my head to the right and noticed the gun pointing at my face. I then turned me head quickly left and noticed a bullet hole in the wall. The bullet had whizzed about 7 inches from my face and by the grace of God had missed. Everyone in the living room froze, except for my friend’s brother who quickly snatched the gun out of the hand of the kid who had fired it. Despite the clip being out of the gun, my friend’s brother forgot to take the one in the chamber out before he handed it off to let the younglings play with it. The last thing I remember was yelling at everyone, crying and running home. I didn’t tell my parents and I stopped talking to the kid who had pulled the trigger for years. That, realistically, is the closest I had ever come to dying as a result of gun-related means.

Throughout my day I had been calm and collective. The shooting at the mall took place about 200 yards away from me, yet I still went into protective mode over everyone else. Perhaps the trauma from my youth made me less scared? I’ll never really know. After seeing my parents, having dinner with them and watching “North by Northwest” with them, the gravity of today’s events didn’t hit me until they went to bed.

What happened when I was a kid was in isolated incident, but what happened today took place on a much larger scale. Three people are dead, including the shooter. Thousands of people will be affected by this for the rest of their lives. As terrible as things got, I am forever grateful that I was there to have a clear head and to help people get to safety. Hero is a word I’ve heard a few times since. Thrown around casually as we do with our sports icons, but I certainly don’t feel like one. I just did what needed to be done. I can only hope that others do the same in a similar situation.

Back to today

Over the last year I have spoken to a few people about it, but for the most part I don’t really bring it up unless somebody else does. In the time shortly after that night our country was dealt with another vicious blow as 26 kids and a teacher were gunned down in a similar fashion at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Dealing with the death of adults via shooting has been something I’ve been able to deal with; however, the death of kids, in any fashion, is an unfortunate blight that is truly hard to shake. The one thing from that day that I haven’t been able to shake is the information that came to light when my co-worker/friend Adam Weaver and I went back to work to clean up the store right before the mall re-opened their doors, we had in fact met the shooter a few days prior.

Adam was the one who had helped and rung him up for a Pittsburgh Pirates Cooperstown Collection New Era Cap, but the three us, along with his friend he had with him, all chatted it out for a bit afterward. Nothing from that moment would have indicated that he would come back and do the horrible thing that he did. But then again, what really are the warning signs for these kinds of things? I’m not going to spin this into a philosophical piece, but I do want to conclude by saying that every person I’ve met in my life, even for just five seconds, has some bearing on my shaping of who I am today. The same can really be said for all of us. Over the last year I had my ups and downs, but the most significant of downs came as my time in the Fan Cave came to an end and the way my relationships with those I worked with crumbled in the months to follow. Lindsay Guentzel, Ricky Mast and Shaun Kippins were the only three from my time to contact me after the shooting and Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner from the first season were on top of things with me as the information unfolded. As for the rest, nothing.

A lot of my turmoil between the rest of the group I had covered back on my July 16th post about the National League All-Star cap and how things went sour during the 2012 All-Star Game. One thing I may have left out in that was how, even in my later apologies, I had tried to get a hold of Ricardo Marquez as soon as I got home that night, but didn’t receive a reply. I’m not trying to make him look like a jerk, nor anybody else, but in the weeks that followed the shooting I really felt wrongfully neglected by the group even though I was doing my damndest to patch things up. To each their own, I suppose.

What I want to leave you all with is some insight. It’s very unhealthy to bottle things up. This is something I’ve learned and continue to learn when I write these blog posts. Not everyone will be your friend, but it’s almost important to put forth a good effort and let others know that you’ll be there for them. Who knows what kind of tragedies can be prevented down the road, but even if they can’t be prevented, at least you’ll have a clear conscience on knowing that you did everything you could. This could go for anyone really. It doesn’t matter how big or small or close the person is to you, resolving your issues, helping out others and showing someone that you care goes a lot farther than anyone can think. Not a day goes by that I wish I didn’t do more or could take back all the harsh things that happened between the people I care about and myself. For the rest of my life I’ll be living with these things, and for the rest of my life this hat will be a symbol to remind me of how to make it better.


  1. Love your posts dude. Last night's game was rough. Pitchers and catchers in 19 or so weeks though right?

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