So yes, on Wednesday, June 1st, I ended up leaving NYC (with about three and a half hours of sleep) at 10:30am. The drive was fast. I didn’t get lost. I reached Fenway at 2pm. I got gas. I found a bathroom. I parked the car for $30. I entered Fenway’s ticket office and learned that the game was sold out but that there’d be a few tickets released at 5pm.
Guess what time the gates were going to open for batting practice. That’s right. 5pm.
I couldn’t wait, so I made a cheap sign that said “NEED 1 TICKET” and walked around the stadium with it. Lots of people smiled at me. Others shrugged. One guy told me that if I walked to the corner and turned right, I’d probably find a scalper.
Actually, the scalper found me–thanks to my sign–and I ended up paying $50 for a ticket with a $27 face value. Fifty bucks was a lot for a seat I didn’t plan to sit in, but given the circumstances it was well worth it.
It was only 2:45pm, so I had time for a real lunch (clam chowda and a chicken caesa) in a real restaurant with cloth napkins and waitresses, and I wrote two days’ worth of entries in my journal.
At 4pm, I headed across the street to Gate A and formed my own one-person line so that I’d be in the right spot when it opened. An hour later, there was a sea of people waiting behind me.
As soon as I ran in and reached the left field seats, I discovered two bad things:
1. Manny was not there.
2. Some people had already somehow gotten in ahead of me (at a different gate?) and taken the corner spot down the line.
For the first few minutes, I felt like I had no purpose and no place to go. Then I told myself to stop being an idiot; I had the entire left field foul line to work with, and my purpose was to not get shut out…and as soon as Mike Myers tossed me my first ball of the day, my purpose shifted to milking a very crowded/cramped Fenway for all it was worth.
Bronson Arroyo threw me my second ball of the day–nothing fancy–and that was all I got before the Orioles took the field and started playing catch.
Jorge Julio couldn’t handle a low throw. The ball tipped off his glove and rolled to the wall behind him in foul territory. He didn’t get it right away because he had another ball in his back pocket. I hurried to the front row and started lowering my glove from about 12 feet up. Just as my glove was dropping over the ball, Julio walked over, and I jerked it up before he’d have a chance to mess with with it. The ball was still on the warning track.
“Nice try,” he said sarcastically, bending over to pick up the ball.
“Wait!” I shouted. “Leave it there. I can get it. I’ll show you how.”
He looked up at me, hands on his hips, then placed the ball back on the warning track and stepped aside to watch the show. I started lowering my glove again and, without having to rush, got it easily. He was amazed.
Melvin Mora was taking fungos at 3rd base when the batter also hit a grounder to him. He had an extra ball, and I quickly shouted, “Melvin, da me la bola, por favor!” (That’s “give me the ball please” in Spanish.) He turned right around, spotted me, shouted that I wasn’t going to catch it, and turned back to face the batter. I shouted back at him (in English) and convinced him to throw it anyway. What did he do? He tossed it three feet short–one of those awful, AWFUL in-between hops–and I missed it. The ball tipped off my glove as I swiped at it and rolled to my left where some other fan reach over the low wall and grabbed it.
“Una mas!” I yelled. (One more!)
He said he’d get me another ball, and five minutes later he did. He nearly threw that one away, too. I had to reach down over the wall and to my right. It really felt good to get that one after booting the first ball he threw me. How very nice he was to give me another shot. Most players wouldn’t have done that.
That was it for the Orioles’ BP.
Respectable, but not great.
I barely made it to the 3rd base dugout as the guys were coming off the field. A couple of coaches were dumping the BP balls from the basket into a ball bag. One of them tossed half a dozen of these balls into the crowd. I caught two of them in a five-second span.
Suddenly, my respectable day was pretty good, but I didn’t know the coach’s name, and that bothered me. He was wearing #54 and, for whatever reason, wasn’t listed on the roster that I’d printed off the Orioles’ web site. He was already back inside the dugout, so I asked bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks who it was. “Sam Snider,” he said.
I was standing in the first row in shallow left field when several Orioles were running and stretching before the game. When Melvin Mora finished, he looked up for a moment, and I held up my Sharpie and ticket stub. I didn’t even say anything, and he walked over and signed.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” I asked him.
“Always,” he said. “This is just how I am.”
I went back to the dugout before the game. (The ushers at Fenway let people go anywhere; that’s the only reason I need to root for the Sox.) Chris Gomez and Miguel Tejada and a few other guys were playing catch, and when they were finished, they tossed the balls to other people. Younger people.
Some woman sang the national anthem. The managers and umpires exchanged lineup cards. The game was about to begin. I was about to leave when pitching coach Ray Miller poked his head out of the dugout. “Hey Coach, any chance for a ball?” I asked. I expected him to shrug and disappear–or maybe not even shrug–but he flipped one to me. No hesitation. It was like he was ready to give away a ball and just waiting for somebody to ask for it.
That was #7 on the day.
For the first inning, I sat in the first row in foul territory between the very cute ballgirl and the Orioles’ dugout. Wakefield was pitching his 69mph knuckleballs. I figured there might be a few foul grounders my way, but no, nothing, and I took off in the top of the 2nd when the seats REALLY started
filling up. I walked around to the first base side and took pictures everywhere I went. I checked out the bleachers. I visited the right field roof seating. I wandered through the concourses. I had a killer headache and got some aspirin from the First Aid room. I ate a Polish sausage. I missed at least half the game, but I didn’t care because I was exploring a ballpark that was still very new to me.
I suppose I was rooting for the Sox, but I was glad when they fell way behind because a few thousand “fans” left in the 8th inning, leaving me a place to sit where I actually had a chance of catching a ball. I didn’t get one, but at least it was physically possible. It helped keep my head in the game.
From the 2nd to the 7th inning, Fenway was truly PACKED. There were a
few empty seats 40 rows up in the center field bleachers, 600 feet from home plate, but other than that, there simply was NO place to
sit. It was unbelievable.
Fenway is the oldest ballpark in the majors. It opened on April 20, 1912–the same week that the Titanic sank. People must’ve been smaller back then. The seats are tiny.
The aisles are tiny. The concourses are tiny. The attendance at this game was 35,527, but it felt like 100,000. There were long lines at the concession stands. There were longer lines for the bathroom. It took an hour and a half to get out of the parking lot…and I had parked close to the exit. The team is great and the ballpark is priceless, but if I had to deal with that place on a regular basis, I would not be happy.
71 consecutive games outside of NYC with at least one ball.
433 balls outside of NYC.
391 total consecutive games with at least one ball.
2,496 total balls.
65 balls in nine games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
Oh, by the way, the Sox lost 9-3. Unfortunately, the very rude Sidney Ponson got the win. Tejada had four extra base hits (three doubles and a homer), and I didn’t know that until I read the box score earlier today. Manny went 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Oh baby.