Surprise call to the show: How Diamondbacks-Dodgers was saved from swarming bees

Apr 30, 2024, 10:36 PM | Updated: May 1, 2024, 10:44 am

Beekeeper clearing the bees at Chase Field D-backs-Dodgers game....

Beekeeper clearing the bees at Chase Field. (Arizona Sports Photo/Felisa Cardenas)

(Arizona Sports Photo/Felisa Cardenas)

PHOENIX — Matt Hilton was watching his 6-year-old son in a tee ball game Tuesday evening at Surprise Stadium when he received a phone call unlike any other during his 15 years at Blue Sky Pest Control.

Hilton got the call to the big leagues, as the Arizona Diamondbacks were in need of pest control to get their game against the Los Angeles Dodgers going at Chase Field.

A queen bee landed on the protective netting behind home plate pregame. D-backs vice president of ballpark operations Mike Rock received a call five minutes before 6:40 p.m. first pitch from senior manager of event services Kat McDonald.

“She doesn’t usually call me about that time, I knew something was wrong,” Rock said. “She said, ‘We have bees landing on the net right behind home plate.’ I said, ‘How many?’ She said, ‘Hundreds, no wait, thousands.'”

The game was delayed due to the hazard of fans or players getting stung if a foul ball were to hit the netting or the colony. Rock explained for big events Chase Field will have extra electricians and HVAC, but not pest control on site.

“I had to tell Matt McKendry, who oversees all the umpires for the league so that’s my first call every time, and he said, ‘What’s the ETA?’ And I said ’45 minutes,'” Rock said. “‘You’re kidding.’ No. So I said I’m gonna call their competitor and see if they’re close by … He was in Buckeye.”

So Hilton jumped in the car and talked through his process with the D-backs on the way to Chase Field. Fortunately, he said the traffic was minimal. He said it took about a half hour to get downtown.

A scissor lift was placed in front of the bees for his arrival.

Rock said Hilton met them in the back, on Jackson Street behind the ballpark, where a golf cart was waiting.

Then Hilton met the crowd, which gave him an ovation as the cart emerged onto the field from the away bullpen like a closer coming in to earn a save (on a bullpen cart, at that).

Hilton suited up and jumped on the lift with his equipment that included a non-pesticidal solution and a vacuum. “Holding Out For A Hero” played in the stadium and fans cheered as Hilton went to work in front of many more people than he’s used to.

He said it was a bit nerve-racking.

“We have a process to humanely take care of the the bees,” Hilton said. “I put them in a vacuum to take elsewhere (offsite).

“We do a lot of work for commercial complexes where we do stuff in parking lots, so there’s a lot of people around. Definitely this is quite a leap up from that.”

Once the bees were gobbled up by the vacuum to be taken off site, “MVP” chants came down from the fans. Hilton pumped his fist, feeding off the crowd’s energy. The Ginkel point, the Sewald yell, the Hilton fist pump.

Hilton threw out a ceremonial first pitch for the effort.

“I’m not the best thrower in the world,” he said.

His son, Levi, was in the first inning of his game when Hilton was called to duty. But his dad has gone viral in a way not many in the profession do, the star of the night on a baseball diamond with TV appearances and a media scrum at that.

“I think he’s probably a little bummed that I left a little early, but I think he’s okay with it now,” Hilton said.

Rock said there were discussions with the league office about not playing Tuesday night based on how long it was going to take to restart.

The game got going at 8:35 p.m., nearly two hours late, and Arizona scratched starter Jordan Montgomery after he had warmed up earlier.

But the Diamondbacks and Dodgers got a ballgame in on a night no one in the building will soon forget.

Bee disclaimer: Bees are essential to healthy ecosystems as pollinators, and there are 1,300 native species in Arizona. May is the season for swarming bees to protect a new queen. It is best to leave swarms alone or call professionals respond if that is impossible, according to the University of Arizona.

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