Pedro was nowhere in sight, but it’s a good thing I started off in right field. I found my first ball of the day in the seats as soon as I ran in and reached my usual BP spot. It was tucked halfway under this little metal flap…which explains why the ushers and cops couldn’t find it. That made it 390 consecutive games with at least one ball.
A minute later, some kid, probably a Mets intern, was pushing an equipment cart along the warning track toward the bullpen. A Mets hitter jerked a one-hopper down the line. The kid jumped out of the way. The ball snacked the cart and deflected into the seats. There was just one other fan there. He overran it. I got it.
Seconds later, I happened to spot another ball that was just sitting on the concrete in the first row of the orange seats, ten feet to my right. The other fan was on my left, so I leisurely climbed a railing and walked over to it. It must’ve landed there RIGHT before the gates opened or else the stadium employees would’ve gone looking for it.
The ballpark was still empty when another Mets lefty yanked a deep fly ball into the second deck (a.k.a. Loge level), several sections foul of the pole. As soon as the ball landed, I took a quick look at the entire level to make sure there wasn’t anyone in the seats. Then I ran up the stairs of the field level, sprinted through the aisle into the food court, hung a right and raced up a couple of ramps, rushed through the Loge concourse and out one of the runways, and started looking for the ball. I couldn’t find it. I was sure it had trickled down to the first row, but I hadn’t paid attention to the exact spot that it landed. Damn! Another kid appeared and started looking, too, but he was staying back a few rows. If the ball was in the first row, he wouldn’t be able to see it. We were both running back and forth and scanning the seats. I stayed in the first row and headed toward the foul pole. There it was! It was hiding under a seat. Ha! It was my fourth ball of the day, and I’d only been inside Shea for 11 minutes.
Seven minutes after that, I got my fifth ball from Mets reliever Manny Aybar. There were several other fans in the seats at this point, and one of them actually made the request for the ball, but I got Manny’s attention by jumping up and down and waving my arms and glove. He made an easy toss right to me.
I had a bit of a dry spell before getting #6 on the day. Someone on the Mets tossed it. I have no idea who. I didn’t even see the player toss it. I was looking at the batter when I saw some fan jump for a ball which tipped his bare hand, plunked on a concrete step, and bounced right to me. An usher came over and told me I had to give the ball to the guy. The guy refused, saying that I got it fair and square.
Once I got this ball, I thought I had a chance for double digits. The Diamondbacks would soon be taking the field. All I had to do was get three from them during BP and then find some way to get one more ball before or during or after the game.
Mike Cameron then tossed a ball my way. It fell short and landed in the fancy, chained-off blue seats. I was already leaning into the section from behind a railing in the orange seats, and I knew I didn’t have time to pull myself up and undo the chain and walk down the two rows of steps to the ball. There were other fans all around me, so I half-dove and half-crawled over two rows of seats and snatched the ball off the ground before anyone else could get there. I banged my left wrist on something. Whatever. The pain is now gone, and I’ll have the ball forever. The usher came back and…how should I say this? Well, I’ll put it this way: he felt it was his job to regulate the number of balls I could catch. So I left. I was going to leave anyway. The Mets were almost done with BP, and the D’backs were already throwing in left field. That’s where all the action was about to be.
I ran up the steps, ran through the concourse from right field to left, and switched from my Mets hat to my Diamondbacks hat in the process. I didn’t go all the way out to left. The pitchers were actually still stretching. But the position players were tossing just beyond the infield dirt. When I got down to about the sixth row, the mean old usher–the one with the special set of rules just for me–spotted me and glared. While he was glaring, he saw me catch a ball from Chad Tracy. That was my eighth ball of the day. Just two more…
The pitchers began throwing in deep LF, so I ran out there (I don’t ever walk when I’m inside a stadium) and called out to Shawn Estes, “Hey, Shawn, is there any chance you could a toss a ball up here when you’re done?” I made sure to raise my voice a full octave so I’d seem younger.
“Yeah!” he said without looking up. He and Russ Ortiz were busy practicing knuckleballs, and when he was finished, he kept his promise. There were half a dozen other fans lined up in the first row, asking for the ball, but Shawn flipped it to me because I’d made the early request for it.
Just one more…
When Brian Bruney finished throwing, I yelled at him for the ball, and he yelled back, “You just got one from Estes!” Damn. I was hoping he hadn’t noticed.
The seats were filling up. I knew there wasn’t much of a chance to catch a batted ball, so I hung out in the corner and focused on Jeff Motuzas, who was tossing with Javier Vasquez. Motuzas is the D’backs’ bullpen catcher. He wears number 82. I think I was the only person who knew his first name. I was definitely the only person with a Diamondbacks hat. I asked him politely if he could toss me the ball when he was done–I might have actually said “please” this time–and he did.
What is it about double digits? I mean, ten is only one more than nine, and eighty-two is also a double digit, so what’s the big deal? I don’t know, it just is. This made it two straight games in double digits. No way I keep the streak alive tomorrow at Fenway.
I got ball #11 just a few minutes later in the same spot from Quinton McCracken. What a great name. Imagine if his first name were Zack: Zack McCracken. No, you know what? I think I actually prefer Quinton. But as cool a name as it is, I didn’t even say it. I just yelled “KUE!!!” (that’s actually how you spell the letter Q) and waved my arms. I figured that was his nickname, or at least what some people must call him.
BP was about to end, so I ran to the 3rd base dugout and squeezed my way into the first row as the D’backs were gathering their equipment and coming off the field. Alex Cintron flipped me the ball. It fell short. I had to short-hop it off the dugout roof while reaching forward and lunging to my left. Thank you.
Then I got Mark Grace’s autograph. Is he working for Arizona now? Is he a TV guy? He was doing an interview and looked funny in a suit and tie.
Even though I was supposed to return to my “ticketed seat,” I stayed behind the dugout because I knew that at least a few players would come out and throw right before the game. Meanwhile, the grounds crew did their thing, and I wrote in my journal. I stayed several rows back so I wouldn’t stand out.
Several players did come out to throw at about 7:00pm. Troy Glaus and Luis Gonzalez started a bit later than that and had to put their throwing on hold for the national anthem. When they resumed, I was ready to spring into action and darted down several rows when Glaus started coming in. I yelled his name. I held up my glove. He looked at me. He looked around to see if there was anyone younger and/or cuter to give the ball to. There wasn’t. He reluctantly tossed it to me. (What, I’m not cute?) That was #13 on the day, and the game was about to begin.
There were eight lefties and ten righties in the starting lineups, so I decided to sit on the 1st base side of home plate. Of course, in the 2nd inning, Gonzalez hit one RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been sitting on the 3rd base side. But two innings later, David Wright tipped one in my direction. The guy to my right didn’t have a glove. The guy on my left had gone to get a beer. I’d been sitting on the edge of my seat all night. I jumped up, took two steps to my right in the narrow aisle, reached out, and made an easy one-handed catch. That was my 14th ball of the day and my first game ball of the season…the seventh consecutive season in which I’ve caught at least one game ball. (Did I mention that I like numbers? Actually, I like a lot of things.) It was my 80th lifetime game ball. When the guy came back with his beer and asked his friends what he’d missed, they said, “A foul ball,” and pointed at me.
“Are you serious?!” he said.
I held up the ball.
“You’re lucky I was gone,” he told me.
“Yeah,” he replied, “if I was here, I would’ve stolen it from you.” He meant it. Or at least he thought he did.
Another lefty hit one where I would’ve been sitting. Even though I’d caught a foul ball, I was mad that I might’ve had two if I were sitting elsewhere. I used to run back and forth for righties and lefties, you know, to the 1st and 3rd base sides of home plate, but security cracked down on me last year. They McCrackened down on me. So I now only have half the opportunities.
In the 9th inning, facing the hard-throwing Jose Valverde, Cliff Floyd barely got a piece of one. The ball rolled up the protective screen…and didn’t roll down. I’d seen this happen many times before. In a certain spot, there’s a gap between the netting and the concrete facade of the Loge. One in every 30 balls gets stuck there. I had to move fast, so I left my backpack on my chair, hoping that no one would steal it, and raced through the aisle to the approximate spot where the ball had disappeared. I ran down the steps and leaned over the railing. Nothing. The concrete juts out several inches, so when a ball gets stuck there, you can’t actually see it from above. Luckily, those balls are in view to the fans below who are always eager to help out. I looked at them. I looked at their eyes. I saw where they were looking. And I moved three feet to my left. The netting is about four feet below the railing, so I carefully balanced myself and leaned waaay out and over and barely spotted the edge of the ball. No one else in the Loge level even knew what was going on. This is the kind of thing you only learn by going to dozens of games…and by looking for this type of thing. I leaned over further and reached down, down, down. My feet were off the ground. I was practically upside down…and I was barely able to grab the ball with my fingertips. Ball #15.
Second game ball of the DAY. I’ve only done that seven times in the last decade…and yes, I count this as a game ball because I got it unassisted. In other words, when someone tosses me a ball that was used during a game, I don’t count it as a game ball. If I did, well, then I’d have hundreds of game balls.
The Mets lost 7-0, so I went to the Diamondbacks dugout at the end of the game. No luck there, so my day ended with 15 balls. This is only the 5th time I’ve ever gotten that many at one game. I now have 58 balls in eight games this season. That’s 7.3 balls per game. The lifetime total is 2,489. I am ridiculously tired.