Erin Downey had just returned from a couple of months in Italy, where she conducted research for her dissertation in art history as a graduate student at Temple University. Now, she lives in Amsterdam, fulfilling her research fellowship.
In between, Downey had enough time to go to a recent Phillies game with her boyfriend Steve Montesano of Media, Pa., and there was a pleasant surprise mixed in. They became the first Phillies fans to appear as contestants on the hit MLB.com game show, "Bucks on the Pond" powered by Ford, so right now she is viewing Episode 19 online in The Netherlands and spreading the word.
"I was completely surprised. I had not heard of the game before, and I wasn't sure what to expect when I was asked to participate," Downey said in an email to MLB.com. "It was a lot of fun, however. It made the whole day such a great experience. I never have the opportunity to do things like that, especially since I research abroad in Europe. I'm looking forward to watching it online with my friends in Amsterdam.
"Living in Europe is a wonderful experience, but I definitely get homesick from time to time. One of my favorite things to do when I come home is to go to a Phillies game. The Phillies are such a quintessential part of Philadelphia -- we love our city sports teams, but there is something really special about baseball. So, of course, going to a game was one of the first things I wanted to do with Steve after I came home for a visit, and we were especially excited to see the Phillies play the Red Sox."
"Bucks" is hosted by Jeremy Brisiel, and you might be a part of it this season when you least expect it. Fans at the ballpark interact with MLB.com's studio through the magic of technology, in conjunction with game action inside. In creating a new experience for fans, MLB.com is giving people a chance to earn bucks while they spend bucks at the ballpark.
Contestants are asked a trivia question -- general knowledge and baseball -- on each pitch during a half-inning of baseball. Get the question correct and win money. Get the question wrong and it's a strike. Three strikes and you're out.
The questions' difficulty and value increase with the number of outs in the on-field action: $5 easy questions to start, $10 medium-difficulty questions after one out, $20 hard questions after two outs. If the contestant lasts longer than the team's at-bat, they win the bucks in their bank.
Here's the new wrinkle: Cross the $100 mark during the show and it's time for "Say The Word" powered by Ford SYNC. You can wager any part of your bank on the next question, which is asked each episode by 2014 Hall of Fame candidate Frank Thomas. Answer correctly and you win, answer incorrectly and you lose that amount ... and it's another strike. In this episode, the Big Hurt offered what turned out to be a stumper, despite a hint from J.B.
Topics covered include U.S. states, Phillies World Series history, cuisine, banking, relatives, award winners, holiday songs, hit singles, lineups, mythology, Minor Leagues, fairy tales and actresses.
For Montesano, some of the questions offered a chance to go back in time as a lifelong Phillies fanatic, growing up with Mike Schmidt but being too young to appreciate the first title in 1980.
"I used to take the trolley to the Vet when I was a little kid," Montesano said. "My mom would say to me and my brothers, 'Jump on the trolley and take it to the game.'"
Now, Montesano owns his own business with his brothers -- a gourmet Italian market and catering business in Chester County outside of Philadelphia. They sell products imported from Italy, as well as locally produced pastas, sauces and other goods from the Philly area. Their menu includes a roast pork sandwich that won a "Best of Philly" award a few years ago.
On the day he and his girlfriend wound up on the "Bucks" set, they did the taping on a concourse behind the first-base side, and then sat near the bullpen for the game.
"I think our friends and family will think it's great that we were asked to play 'Bucks on the Pond," Downey said. "I'm sure they will have a good laugh over a couple of the answers we got wrong. But, otherwise, I think they'll enjoy watching us."
This is the 48th overall episode from the 23rd different MLB park. In addition to the Phillies, teams visited by the "Bucks" crew include the Angels, Astros, Athletics, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, D-backs, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Red Sox, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Padres, Pirates, Tigers, White Sox and Yankees. Bookmark MLB.com/bucks and be on the lookout for the "Bucks" crew at your ballpark.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.