Results tagged ‘ Durham ’

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

While Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run derby was extremely exciting, with Minor League Baseball’s top sluggers putting on a home run hitting show, Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game was the event that everyone had been waiting for. With the stars of tomorrow from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League set to take on each other in what was sure to be a thrilling game, many people (myself included) showed up to the ballpark fairly early.

Normally I’d be getting to the ballpark early because I was going to try for autographs. But thanks to an autograph session that was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to get an auto from every player that I wanted, and thus, it wasn’t a top priority at this game. Even so, I still arrived to the ballpark right before the gates opened, getting inside in time to watch the last portion of the Pacific Coast League’s batting practice:

DSCN7230Down on the field (as seen in the picture) was Stephen Piscotty (in the batting cage), Andrew Susac and Max Stassi, among others, with numerous players in the outfield shagging balls. With me not trying that hard for autographs, I wasn’t down near the dugout at this point, but after seeing arguably the best player of both teams, Joc Pederson, gesturing that he’d sign autographs after he came back out of the clubhouse, I decided to head down to the field anyway.

Despite having gotten Pederson’s autograph the day before, with him being listed as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, it was worth another shot. Unfortunately, although he kept his promise of signing autographs once he came back out, Pederson signed for everyone but me. Skipping over me twice, apparently he remembered me from the day before; at least, that’s all I can think of. But that was okay.

Although I would’ve liked to have gotten his auto again, seeing the future Dodgers’ star outfielder (assuming they can figure their outfield situation) up close was cool in itself:

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After failing to get an autograph from Pederson, I made my way to my ticketed seat (the same one I had for the home run derby) to watch the pre game introductions. While every player seemed thrilled to be there and honored to have been selected to participate, no other player seemed quite as happy to be taking part in the All-Star game as the Clippers’ first baseman, Jesus Aguilar:

DSCN7256If that’s not pure excitement by Aguilar, I don’t know what is.

Shortly after all of the players had been introduced from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League, and after a flyover during the National Anthem, . . . . :

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. . . . the 2014 Triple-A All-Star game got underway.

The starting pitcher for the International League, Liam Hendriks, had been fantastic heading into Wednesday’s game. Having gone 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA so far this season for the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays), Hendriks picked up right where he left off, keeping the Pacific Coast League off the board in the top of the first inning.

On the mound for the opposing Pacific Coast League was Elih Villanueva, who didn’t fare nearly as well. In the bottom half of the first inning, Wilson Betemit drove in a pair of runs, taking the score up to a quick 2-0 International League lead. Then, in the very next inning of swings for the International League, Jhonatan Solano (with a man on base) blasted an impressive shot over the left field blue monster, bringing the score up to 4-0:

DSCN7277Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:

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Patton would finish out the inning, with the Pacific Coast League once again bringing in another pitcher for the third, in Kyle Hendricks, who was finally able to keep the International League off the board, after they had scored a couple of runs in each of the previous two innings.

Neither team would score for the next few innings, with the first run of the game for the Pacific Coast League, and the first run of the game since the bottom of the second inning, coming in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a Joc Pederson home run. Pederson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, took out some of his frustration, absolutely demolishing a ball deep into the right field stands:

Having attended dozens of Bulls games, I’ve never seen a ball hit that well to right field. For that matter, I’m not sure any of the participants in the home run derby a couple of nights prior hit a ball quite that deep. Though I’d heard a lot about the extreme power that Pederson possesses, I was still amazed at how far the ball traveled.

Getting back to the All-Star game, which, on a side note, was being broadcasted live on MLB Network with Darryl Hamilton and Paul Severino doing the play-by-play, . . . . :

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. . . . despite Pederson finally getting the Pacific Coast League on the board and bringing the score to within three runs, the International League would ultimately put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. A two-run triple by Felix Perez, followed by a double from Steven Souza Jr. that scored Perez from third, took the score up to 7-1 in favor of the International League.

Though the Pacific Coast League would attempt a comeback, scoring a run in the top of the eighth as well as the top of the ninth, Merrill Kelly was able to record the final out of the game to secure the 7-3 win for the International League, which has now won seven of the last ten Triple-A All-Star games:

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For their contributions to the game, Liam Hendriks of the International League and Chris Taylor of the Pacific Coast League were named the “top stars” of the game. Hendriks’ two shutout, one hit innings, in which he struck out four, got the International League off to a great start, which they were able to continue. Taylor, going 3-4 with a couple of doubles, was one of the few bright spots for the Pacific Coast League (other than Joc Pederson), being one of only three players from either side (Jose Pirela and Ivan De Jesus were the others) to record more than one hit.

Though I’ve never attended a Triple-A All-Star game at any other ballpark, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been done any better than the one on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. The entire week — from the home run derby, to the autograph session, to the All-Star game itself — seemed as though it was planned out specifically with the fans in mind. While it will likely be a long time before Durham ever hosts these events again, after the experience from this week, whenever it returns to the Bull City, I’ll certainly be sure to make the trip.

2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby

After over a year of anticipation, the day finally arrived. Taking place last night in Durham, North Carolina, and showcasing some of the minor league’s premier power hitters, the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby is something that I’d been looking forward to witnessing for a long time. As always, I made the decision to show up to the ballpark early to try for a few autographs. Thus, despite a gate opening time of 5:30 for the 6:35 derby, I made my way to the All-Star themed Durham Bulls Athletic Park at around 4:50:

DSCN7169Even though I still had a good amount of time until I could go inside, I went ahead and jumped in line. The extremely hot sun was beating down on myself and the fans around me, but I was glad I made the choice to get my place in the line, as it wasn’t long afterwards that it became fairly long. Thankfully, the time in the heat passed fairly quickly, and upon the opening of the gates, I took off for the Pacific Coast League’s dugout.

With the Pacific Coast League being such a loaded team of top prospects and former big leaguers, there were already a lot of people down by the dugout when I got there, making it difficult for me to get down to autographing level. But when Nick Franklin (the first player to emerge from the dugout) popped out . . . . :

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. . . . I was able to (with a little help from fellow auto seekers) get him to sign a couple of cards for me.

Soon afterwards, tons of players began to flood out of the dugout, and items to get autographed were passing by me right and left. The next player I got to sign a few cards for me was Wednesday night’s All-Star game starting pitcher, Elih Villanueva. But autos from Franklin and Villanueva was all I was able to acquire before the game, as the ushers made us all go back to our assigned seats to clear out the aisle.

Before the derby got underway, the well known softball slugging long haul bombers, who have been known to hit softballs up to 500 feet, took to the field to show off their amazing hitting skills:

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There were three total sluggers, each of which were impressive. Though I had seen the long haul bombers last season up in Seattle, they were just as good this time, slamming two total home runs onto the roof of a four story building, some 450+ feet away. But while they were great, the event that everyone came to see was the Triple-A home run derby, which began shortly after.

Despite losing Mike Hessman (the all-time International League home run leader) and Dan Johnson from the derby roster due to an injury to Hessman and a big league callup for Johnson, the lineup was still decent. Consisting of Francisco Pena, Matt Hague, Allan Dykstra, Jesus Aguilar, Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook, there were sure to be a good amount of homers hit, and after the participants posed for a group photo down around home plate . . . . :

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. . . . the derby got underway.

The famous bull sign (“hit bull, win steak”) down the left field line at the DBAP was originally predicted to play a big role in the derby, with the incentive to hit it being that if it was hit 15 times one lucky fan would take home $15,000. But unfortunately, the Bull was hit only once (everyone in attendance received a free steak taco as a result), with the low number of bull-hitting home runs coming thanks in part to a pair of zeros posted in the first round of the derby by Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook — each of which were eliminated.

The second round of the derby saw a cut to four players, as well as a change in my location. For this round, I made my way out to the outfield, with the slight hope of catching a home run ball, but mainly with the reasoning to see a few batters take their turns from a different perspective:

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A few balls were lofted in my general direction, but nothing came too terribly close. While I was in the outfield, Matt Hague and Jesus Aguilar posted rounds that didn’t hold up in the end (though Aguilar did nearly drill me with a foul ball, had it not have been for fans who knocked it down). Meaning, the final round of the derby was going to be between Francisco Pena and Allan Dykstra.

Clay Counsil — the BP pitcher who threw to Josh Hamilton in his historic 28 home run first round of the 2008 derby up at Yankee Stadium — was on hand to throw the final round of the derby to both of the remaining players, and the crowd seemed excited to see him:

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In Francisco Pena’s set of swings to kick off the championship round, he failed to hit a single home run, leaving Allan Dykstra with just one homer needed to take home the title of 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby champion. And he did just that. Slugging a home run to right field, Allan Dykstra wound up winning the derby in front of the sold out crowd:

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After the derby had concluded, there was still a multitude of players hanging around on the field, so I once again took off for the dugout with the hopes of getting some more autographs. I was able to get one more player to sign for me before I left the ballpark, being Andrew Susac, bringing my total number of player autographs to three for the game.

Although not everything went my way on Monday night, it was still a very enjoyable time. It’s likely going to be decades before the Bull City hosts these events again, and it’s one of those things you may only witness once or twice in your lifetime.

For the second half of the events, I’m planning to head out to the All-Star game on Wednesday, where I hope to do better in terms of autographs, but no matter what, I’m going to have a great time, no doubt about it.

Wil Myers to Make Major League Debut On Tuesday

The decision by the Royals to not call up Wil Myers towards the end of last season, in which he batted .314, with 37 home runs and 109 RBI’s, left many people scratching their head. Then, after an offseason trade that sent Myers to the Rays, many expected Myers to get moved to the big league club fairly quickly, especially with the great spring training he had. But once again, it didn’t happen. Myers was sent to Triple-A Durham, where he spent 65 games, before finally receiving the call that everyone has been waiting for.

After five seasons in the minor leagues, Wil Myers is going to the majors.

Pulled from Sunday’s Durham Bulls game, after doubling in the first inning, Myers is set to make his major league debut on Tuesday, up at 71326121Fenway Park, against the Red Sox. Myers truly left the Rays no choice but to bring him up, as he began to heat up over the past couple of weeks. After a short slump, Myers has been a hitting machine as of late, quickly increasing what started out as subpar numbers, by his standards, up to 14 homers and 58 RBI’s, this season at Triple-A. After the recent success, it will be interesting to see if Myers’ hot streak will continue into the majors.

But Rays manager, Joe Maddon, isn’t too concerned with Myers making a flawless transition, saying, “You’re not going to hear a lot of the high expectations coming from this particular desk or this chair. I want him to play. I want him to be a Ray. I want him to run hard to first base. I want him to try to do the right things on the field, continue to work on his defense, try to improve his baserunning.”

Many feel Myers will do all of that, and much more.

Myers is set to take over the right field position, wearing the number nine for the Rays, and is going to bat towards the bottom of the order, at least for now. As is to be expected when a player of Myers’ caliber is promoted to the big leagues–arguably the most hyped hitting prospect to reach the majors since Bryce Harper–nearly everyone is making their predictions as to how they feel Myers will perform. Having seen him play in five games this season, I have a fairly bold opinion as to how he will fare.

I may be placing the bar a bit too high for Myers, but I could easily see him hitting a home run in his first major league game. After all, the green monster at Fenway is nothing new to him, as the Bulls have a blue monster, and therefore, Myers is used to the challenge that comes along with the towering left field wall. But wall or no wall, there’s really no ballpark that can contain Myers’ power. The rare combination of the ability to hit for power AND average, as well as the skill to take the ball to all parts of the field, make Myers a very special player.

Wil Myers should become a major impact player for the Rays for many years to come.

4/9/13 Bulls Vs. Braves–My First Ever Home Run Snag

When it was made official a few weeks ago that Rays’ top prospect, and number four overall prospect in all of baseball, Wil Myers, was going to start the season in Triple-A Durham, I knew I’d be attending one of the first home games of the season. Though I would rather have gone to Opening Day, it wasn’t possible, so the next game would have to do.

My main goal for this game was (obviously) to get an autograph from phenom, Wil Myers. I had seen on the Durham Bulls’ twitter page that Myers had signed autographs the night before, so I was keeping a positive mindset, hoping he would sign, once again. But it wasn’t meant to be, as although I was the first person to arrive down by the dugout, before the game, when Myers came up from the clubhouse, he didn’t even look over in my direction. He ended up signing for a few people down the line, but I wasn’t able to get him to come over.

This day would turn out to be a horrible one, if you’re a person like myself who loves collecting autographs. The only player on the entire Bulls team, of the players I wanted autos from, that signed for nearly everyone, was Rays’ number five prospect, Hak-Ju Lee. Lee was extremely nice about it, and I was happy to get his autograph, even if it was the only one I got before the game.

After failing to get any more autographs, I made the trek up to my ticketed seat:

DSCN5528Wil Myers, who was serving as the Bulls’ designated hitter for the night, was chilling at the top of the dugout for most of the game:

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As for the game itself, it was one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever seen in person. After Bulls’ starting pitcher, Alex Torres, struck out the side, in the top of the first, the Bulls proceeded to go on a tear, causing Gwinnett’s starting pitcher, Daniel Rodriguez, to be pulled from the game after only a third of an inning pitched, in which he allowed eight runs:

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The Bulls would end up plating two more, for a grand total of TEN runs in the bottom of the first. Five of those runs came from the bat of Brandon Guyer, who blasted two home runs–a two run, and a three run–in the first inning. (The first International League player to do so since 2005.)

Seeing that the ball was flying out of the ballpark, on this particular night, and with the outfield seats being so empty….:

DSCN5546….I decided, as I’ve done in the past, to move to the outfield seats, after the conclusion of the first inning.

It was during my walk to the outfield that one of the most unusual things to ever happen to me at a baseball game occurred.

As I was making my way through the concourse, a guy, who I had seen earlier taking photos with an old-fashion-looking camera, stopped me and asked if I had been getting autographs down by the dugout before the game. I told him yes, and he went on to tell me that he was a photographer from Minnesota that had been hired (or picked?) by the Bulls (I think?) to take photographs of people at the ballpark for an art gallery (or museum?), and wanted to know if I’d be willing to be photographed. As you can tell, I didn’t fully understand it all, but I agreed to it, nonetheless.

We both made our way out to where his camera was, which happened to be where I was headed anyway. It probably took 10 minutes for him to get the photo he was looking for, but I had nothing else to do, and was happy to do it. Here’s a picture of the camera….:

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….with him and his friend standing just below it, looking at the field. So if you happen to see me on a wall somewhere, now you know why; let me know if you do.

Moving back to the game, and to the reason I moved to the outfield, with there still being five innings left in the game after I finished having my picture taken, I was optimistic that someone (I didn’t care who) would hit a home run in my direction. The seats continued to empty more and more as the game went on, and I was getting more and more anxious.

When it got to be the sixth inning, and no balls had even come close to me, I began to feel it was unlikely that a home run would be hit my way, but just as the thought crossed my mind, Gwinnetts’ Ernesto Mejia blasted a moon shot (the 114th HR of his MiLB career), which barely cleared the center field wall. I wanted to just run out there and get it, but I recalled the Triple-A National Championship game, when a guy ran out onto the grass after a home run ball, and the umpires stopped the game. I didn’t want to be “THAT guy”.

So I waited patiently, hoping no one would make a run for it. A few people came over and had a glance, but they didn’t try to retrieve it, which made it extremely easy for me to jump the short fence and run over to grab it as soon as three outs had been recorded.

Here’s the ball:

DSCN5554This was the first home run ball I had ever gotten, and with the rush I got from running over and picking it up, I highly doubt it will be my last.

I stayed in the outfield for one more of Wil Myers’ at-bats, but after he failed to hit a home run, I made my way back to where I had begun the game.

The Braves would make things interesting, scoring two runs in the seventh and three in the eighth, to make it a 12-8 ball game, but that would end up being the final score. As soon as the final out had been recorded, I quickly headed down to the dugout, with a dozen others, to try for an autograph from Myers, but once again, he didn’t even look up.

I did succeed in getting an autograph from the star of the game, Brandon Guyer, afterwards, and he was extremely nice about it. He seems like a really great guy in general, as before the game he went out of his way to ask how everyone was doing, when he came up from the clubhouse. It’s guys like that, that you want to see do well, and I wish him the best moving forward.

I’m not sure when my next MiLB game will be, or whether it will be a Mudcats or Bulls game, but if it’s half as great as this one was, it’s sure to be a fun time.

MLB Hall of Famers I’ve Seen In Person

With the 2013 Hall of Fame class set to be announced tomorrow at Noon, on MLB Network, I thought it would be fun to post a blog entry on all of the Hall of Fame players I’ve ever seen in person. If my memory serves me correctly, I’ve only encountered a total of nine members of the baseball Hall of Fame. Furthermore–an interesting point to make–every HOF encounter I can recall ever having has taken place within the past seven months.

I might be forgetting a player I saw in one of the earlier years of my life, but I’m fairly sure that the following are the only HOF players I’ve been lucky enough to see in person:

JOHNNY BENCH-JOE MORGAN

Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan were the first two members of the Hall of Fame that I can recall seeing. Admittedly, I was around 100 feet away from them, but it still counts, as we were all in the same live scenario at the same time. This particular interaction came on June 23, 2012, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (If you’d like to read all about the entire day–where I actually got to shake hands, and take pictures, with several Reds’ HOF’ers–feel free to check it out HERE.)

Basically, as far as Bench’s and Morgan’s purpose goes for being in ‘Cincy’, Sean Casey and Dan Driessen were at Great American Ballpark with the sole purpose being that they were getting officially inducted into the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame. The Reds decided to bring back a couple dozen members of their HOF, and Morgan and Bench happened to be two of the players they brought out to the ballpark:

DSCN4717I realize it’s not the most flattering picture, but it’s the only one I took of the two of them together. In case you can’t tell, Johnny Bench is the one in the white shirt, putting on his jacket, and Joe Morgan is the one just to the left of him; also putting on his jacket.

The next six Hall of Fame encounters I’ve had came while on a trip out to Kansas City, Missouri, to the 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby:

CAL RIPKEN JR.-TONY GWYNN

I ran into Cal Ripken Jr. at around 6:30 in the morning, on July 9, 2012, shortly after chatting with Ryan Howard. Ripken was surrounded by several media members at the time and was having a conversation with Manny Machado:

DSCN4809Cal Ripken Jr. is on the right. (Manny Machado is on the left.)

I could’ve (and should’ve) waited until Ripken was finished doing was he was doing and approached him to ask for an autograph, but, in addition to it being early in the morning–with me still being half asleep–I regretfully neglected to take a ball card of Ripken out to Kansas City. I still kick myself about it, but you can’t go back in time. Perhaps I’ll run into Ripken again sometime down the road, but if not, at least I’ll always have the memory of our encounter.

My Tony Gwynn sighting came just a few hours later, only a couple hundred feet away from where my Cal Ripken Jr. encounter had occurred. Gwynn was set to sign autographs for an endless line of fans–many of which had been in line for a couple of hours–and I, in anticipation of his arrival, positioned myself off to the side of the crowd, as I waited for Gwynn. I ended up standing there for what seemed like forever, as Gwynn didn’t show up until 45 minutes after his scheduled appearance time. I was tempted to leave about 30 minutes into the wait, but I’m glad I didn’t. The extra 15 minutes of patience allowed me to be able to add another HOF’er to the list, as well as get a picture:

DSCN4870A bit obvious which one is Tony Gwynn.

BARRY LARKIN-REGGIE JACKSON-HANK AARON-GEORGE BRETT

Barry Larkin would be the next Hall of Famer I would come across while out in Kansas City. Just to the right of where I took in most of the All-Star workout day’s batting practice, Larkin was hard at work, as an episode of ‘Baseball Tonight’ was being filmed. There’s not much more I can say about my Larkin sighting, so I’ll go ahead and leave you with a photo:

DSCN4899Barry Larkin is the one just to the left of Terry Francona.

Reggie Jackson has the most interesting story (in my mind) of any other HOF player I’ve ever seen in person. My first (notice I said *first*) sighting of Jackson came shortly before the start of the home run derby, when he made his way out onto the field to throw out the first pitch:

DSCN5026Reggie Jackson, folks.

It was great to see such a great player–one of only four to ever hit three home runs in a World Series game–in person, but little did I know, at the time, that this story would only get better from there. The next morning, I was sitting in the Kansas City airport terminal, when who walks by? Reggie Jackson. That’s right, Mr. October himself just so happened to be on the same flight (he was in first class) as I was. How cool is that?! It’ll be hard to ever top the encounter I had with Jackson out in KC, but you never know….

Jumping back to the day before I saw Jackson in the airport terminal–with it still being July 9th–the next Hall of Famer I spotted was Hank Aaron. It wasn’t the best sighting ever, as it took me at least 30 seconds to locate him, after he was shown on the center field jumbotron, and I ended up with only a 5 second, or so, sighting; leading to a blurry photo:

DSCN5038Hank Aaron is the one in the white shirt, above the MLB.com sign, with his hand in the air.

Aaron is arguably the best player I saw out in Kansas City; perhaps the best of all the HOF’ers I’ve ever seen in person.

The last HOF encounter I had, on my trip to Kansas City, was George Brett. I first spotted Brett down by the field when he made his was to the broadcasting table to do an interview/play-by-play type thing, during a portion of the derby. Brett wasn’t out for long, thus I don’t have anything all that interesting to talk about, but he was, however, out in the open long enough for me to take a photo:

DSCN5061George Brett is the guy in the white shirt.

RYNE SANDBERG

The most recent story I have of a face-to-face encounter with me and a Hall of Fame member occurred on July 18, 2012, in Durham, North Carolina. The Lehigh Valley Ironpigs were in town taking on the Durham Bulls and Sandberg just so happened to be managing the visiting Ironpigs. Unlike the eight HOF’ers I had seen before, I was actually successful in getting an autograph from Sandberg–two if you want to be technical:

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The autographs I was able to get from Ryne Sandberg. (The Sharpie was running out.)

It was easier than I thought it would be, as I found it unusually simple to work my way down by the dugout, and to my surprise, Sandberg signed for nearly ten minutes; so that certainly helped out as well. I forgot to bring along my camera to this particular game, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I met Sandberg. (I suppose the above autographs are proof enough.)

So there you have it. Those are the nine Hall of Famers that I can remember seeing in person. If Mark McGwire, Bernie Williams and/or Sandy Alomar end up having their names called tomorrow, when the 2013 Hall of Fame voting results are announced, I can add anywhere from one to three more names to the list, as I’ve seen all three players before.

I have a feeling, however, that I’ll be stuck at nine players until at least the 2014 vote.

How many MLB Hall of Famers have you seen in person? I’d love to hear your answer, with the story behind it (if there is one), in the comments section below.

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