They say that baseball has a way of evening things out. You know, if the batter hits the ball hard three times and goes 0-for-4, he’ll make up for it with a few cheap hits later in the week.
That’s not how it works in my world. Balls that land near me tend to bounce 50 feet away, and balls that land 50 feet away tend to stay there. But yesterday, for whatever reason, I got one of the luckiest bounces of all time.
One minute after I entered the left field seats for batting practice, Derek Jeter ripped one down the line. I knew the ball was going to hit the warning track and bounce into the seats, but I was so far away from the foul line that I didn’t bother moving. Anyway, there were a few other fans near the foul pole, and they’d be all over it, so I looked back at the field for the next pitch. Seconds later, I heard shouting and noticed several people running toward me. I figured the ball was still rattling around the seats, so I stepped back a few rows for a better look, and the ball trickled to my feet. I don’t know what it hit, but it had deflected at such an angle that it rolled for 75 feet along one slightly curved row without clipping anything in its way.
If there was ever a ball that I didn’t deserve, that was it–and it extended my record to 389 consecutive games with at least one ball.
It had been years since I’d gone to right field for BP at Yankee Stadium, and I’d always wanted to go back. There are more balls hit there, but the layout of the section–the crowded aisle right behind the wall and the runway that splits the seats–makes it nearly impossible to move around. But since it was still early and I already had my ball for the day, I decided to give it a shot.
If there were 300 people out there, then 250 of them were packed into the main aisle, and I understand why. It’s tempting to stand at the edge of the field and get to lean over the wall and shout at the players–but it’s the dumbest place to wait for a ball. You can’t move forward, it’s too crowded to move backward, and even if a ball happens to be hit RIGHT to you, ten other people will reach in front of your face for it. At Yankee Stadium in particular, the first row is especially bad because it’s so close to home plate (314 down the line). Most home runs land several rows back, if not in the upper deck, so I stayed back and promptly got my second ball of the day when Hideki Matsui yanked one over my head into the mostly empty seats.
The wall in RF is about ten feet high–perfect for my glove trick. I used the trick for my 3rd ball, got my 4th on another Yankee home run into the semi-empty seats, and used the trick again for the next three balls. (If you’re not sure what I mean by ‘glove trick,’ check out my entry about April 25th.) The Mariners had taken the field just in time for J.J. Putz to see me lower my glove and snag the last one. He applauded me. I tipped my cap.
Even before I got ball #7, I was thinking about breaking my one-day record at Yankee Stadium. On September 23, 1995, I managed to walk away from a doubleheader with eight balls, and I thought I’d never come close to doing it again. Back then, the ballpark opened just 90 minutes before games, and that wasn’t nearly enough time for me to do my thing. Now that Yankee Stadium is finally opening two hours early, I’m averaging twice as many balls per game. Yesterday, when I got #7, there was still half an hour of BP remaining.
Ichiro Suzuki was in right field, tossing every other ball he fielded into the crowd. It was easy to predict where he was going to toss them. If he picked up the ball in the RF corner, he’d flip it to the people at the foul pole. If he scooped a grounder near the tarp, he’d lob it to the fans in foul territory. As soon as I saw each ball heading his way, I tried to move toward it, but the stands were packed. It was impossible to run. It was almost as hard to walk. I probably said “excuse me” 100 times. Sometimes, I had to say it three times in a row to the same person. There was a little room in straight-away right field, all the way over near the bleachers, so I stayed there and found myself in a great position when a deep fly one-hopped the wall below. Ichiro was there in a flash. Twenty people started screaming. He turned and tossed the ball to no one in particular. People pushed. People shoved. There were hands and gloves and shoulders and elbows. I lost sight of the ball, reached through everyone to the spot where I thought it was heading, squeezed my hand, moved back from the mob, opened my glove, and saw the ball looking up at me.
As happy as I was to add Putz to my list the day before, it wasn’t anything compared to ICHIRO!!!
The record was tied, and time was running out. The Mariners were down to their last group of hitters. I had about ten more minutes of BP. Raul Ibanez was swinging hard and pulling the ball, so I moved half a dozen rows back. I knew that he was going to get a hold of one, and I’d need room to move for it, so I picked a spot on the steps next to the only empty row. Moments later, Ibanez launched one five feet to my right. It was one of those rising line drives, and I knew from the moment it left his bat that it was mine. I just had to get over–but there was a fat guy in the row below me who’d be reaching for it. Did the ball have enough distance to clear him? I knew he wouldn’t be able to jump for it. I was moving to my right. The ball was coming in. It cleared his hands by a few feet. I reached up and to the right. BAM! Right into my glove. I had a new record.
There were still a couple minutes to go, and I was thinking double digits. Was it possible?! With the glove trick, anything’s possible. Someone hit a line drive that rolled to the wall. I hurried down the steps and squeezed my way into the front row. I rigged my glove, made sure the string wasn’t tangled, and lowered it. When I lifted it back up, the ball was gone. I had it. Number ten.
Right before the game, I went to the 3rd base side to try to get a ball from Willie Bloomquist, but he tossed it to a little kid instead. I hate being big.
I headed back to right field for the first two innings of the game and left for work with the score tied at two. It hurt to leave, not because of the game but because I was walking away from a chance to extend a once-in-a-lifetime record. Who knows how many opportunities I lost? A foul ball in the corner? A ninth inning warmup ball from Sheffield? A game ball at the dugout? It was upsetting.
But I was also pretty thrilled. I’m a glass-half-full guy. Sure, maybe I would’ve added one or two more, but still, I had TEN balls from Yankee Stadium which is perhaps the toughest place to collect anything in the major leagues.
43 balls this season in 7 games
6.1 balls per game
17 consecutive games with at least 4 balls
Grand total: 2,474