A-Rod is useless. For two straight days, he didn’t pull a single ball in batting practice. Right field, up the middle, right field, up the middle…my lord. Sheffield let me down, too. He was hitting when I first reached the left field seats, and since I was the first fan to enter the stadium, I had the whole place to myself. What does he do? He drives the first pitch I see to the wall in left-center.
“PULL IT!!!” I yelled. I knew I wouldn’t be alone much longer.
He yanked a grounder down the 3rd base line.
“ELEVATE!!!” I shouted. The security guards started looking at me funny.
I was still alone out there. All he had to do was hit one ball into the seats, anywhere in the seats, even 100 feet away, and I would’ve had it. But no. He couldn’t do that for me, and left field filled up, and I still didn’t have a ball, and I got nervous. Not freak-out nervous, but enough to make me sweat a little.
Good thing I have a piece of string tied to my glove. Tino Martinez sliced a one-hopper into that obnoxious protective netting down the 3rd base line, and the ball trickled five feet away from the base of the very low wall. I raced over there from left field, worked my way into the front row, let out a couple feet of string, swung the glove out, pulled it back just as it touched the top of the ball, and leaned over to grab it as it rolled toward me. Twenty minutes later, I did the same thing. I don’t remember how the second ball got there—and I don’t know the source of my third ball either. I got it out in straight-away LF courtesy of the glove trick. Of course, just as I started lowering my glove, someone on the Blue Jays hit a home run right where I’d been standing 20 seconds earlier. I’m telling you. I seriously think I’m unlucky. But I don’t need luck when my insurance policy (string) brings me seven extra balls in two days.
I was annoyed after missing that homer because Toronto wasn’t hitting anything. A few Yankees had put balls out, and I came close. At one point, I found myself on the ground, scrambling for one that fell a row short and got bobbled, but no luck. As for the Jays, they were like a whole team of A-Rods. BP was frustrating. I couldn’t even ask the pitchers for balls because they were wearing warmup jackets over their uniform numbers and, outside of the few veterans, I couldn’t identify any of them. Dave Bush? Vinnie Chulk? Justin Speier? Jason Frasor? Josh Towers? Please. They’re a bunch of cookie-cutter white guys who belong in Triple-A.
Ted Lilly signed my ticket stub, and I headed out to right field for the start of the game, not in fair territory but just foul of the pole, right behind the main aisle. I wanted to sit much closer to home plate, but it was another big crowd (40,839), so I waited for the late-comers to file in before I made my move. Once I made the move, there weren’t any seats, so I went back to my original spot. In the 5th inning, Derek Jeter sliced a long foul in my direction…right in my direction. I jumped out of my seat, rushed to middle of the aisle, had it all lined up, waited, waited, and watched helplessly as it sailed three rows over my head. Nothing else came close, but at least I saw a great game. Roy Halladay and Randy Johnson both went the distance and wrapped it up in just two hours and eight minutes. Final score: Blue Jays 2, Yankees 0.
By the bottom of the 9th, I’d made my way to the 3rd base side. As soon as A-Rod ended the game by grounding out to short (he should’ve been working on pulling the ball to me during BP), most of the fans behind the Jays’ dugout started walking up the steps, and I forced my way down. I said “excuse me” at least ten times and got several annoyed looks along the way, but that’s to be expected. These people had no idea that the row behind the winning team’s dugout is THE place to be as soon as the game ends. Back in the early 90s, I had no idea either, but then one day it occurred to me: all these players are coming off the field after having recorded the final out…someone’s gotta have the ball.
And someone usually does. In this case, all the players and coaches left the field without tossing anything into the crowd (I was afraid that Halladay would keep his precious shutout ball), but I stuck around, knowing that anything could happen, and moments later, out of nowhere, someone inside the dugout tossed four balls—two bunches of two—onto the concrete roof. Two of the balls were too far to the side for me to reach. The other two collided, sending one off the far edge of the roof and back into the dugout. The other rolled my way. There were still a few other fans next to me, so I dove forward and reached out and belly-flopped and grabbed it with my glove before anyone could snatch it. That was my fourth ball of the day, and I stuck around. You never know. Then, just as security was telling me it was time to leave, a ballboy poked his head out of the dugout. I asked for a ball, and he tossed me a Gatorade energy bar instead. (That’s a first.) Peanut Butter Crunch flavor…15 grams of protein…fuel for peak performance. It sent me home happy.
2,451 total balls
386 consecutive games with at least one ball
5.0 balls (and 0.25 energy bars) per game this season
I’m working both days this weekend, and I have lots of other stuff going on, and I’m glad. Yankee Stadium is draining. I can use a break. Next game? Probably Monday at Shea.