I got eight balls yesterday at Shea–all before the game started–and seven of them were thrown to me. You might think that’s easy, and in a way it is, but there’s a different story behind each one. Check it out…
BALL #1 —- Tom Glavine was standing on the right field warning track in front of the bullpen, chatting with a coach. I was waiting along the right field foul line. As soon as the batter sent a high fly ball in Glavine’s direction, I raced up the stairs, through the aisle, through the concourse, and down another set of stairs to get as close to him as possible in the RF corner. I called out to him and asked for the ball. Being the nice guy that he is, he immediately turned and lobbed it in my direction. It fell short, hit the base of the wall and bounced back on the field. I waved my arms as if to say, “C’mon, throw it again and put something on it!” Glavine, it turned out, had another ball in his glove, so he chucked that one, and it sailed so far above me that I didn’t even bother jumping for it. Luckily, the ballpark had been open for just a few minutes, so the section was empty. I jumped a railing, then another, ran down a couple of steps, and grabbed the ball as it trickled through the seats.
BALL #2 —- Mike DeJean was one of several Mets pitchers shagging out in RF. When the batter hit a ground ball toward him, I looked up to make sure that Glavine wasn’t within earshot and then yelled for it. DeJean was at least 100 feet away, and he heard me easily. It was still early, and I’m loud. He looked at the ball, then looked at me and shook it. That’s universal baseball sign language for “I’m not giving you this ball.” Fielders often make that gesture to umpires as they run off the field with the ball after making the third out to end the inning. It lets the ump know that he needs to reach into his ball pouch and roll a new one out to the mound. Anyway, I knew why DeJean didn’t want to throw me the ball: it was brand new. I yelled, “When you get a dirty one!!!” and he gave me a subtle nod. A minute later, he fielded another ball, inspected it, and looked over at me. He was going to throw it, so I moved back about ten rows. There were a few other fans in the first row; if his aim was off, I wanted to make sure that no one else would get it. He made the long throw in my direction. I was in the staircase so that I’d be able to back up or move forward. I didn’t need to. His throw was right on the money.
A crabby usher was glaring at me everywhere I went and yelling every time I climbed over a railing, and the seats were filling up, so I headed to left field.
BALL #3 —- Marlon Anderson was the only player out there. When he headed toward the foul line to pick up a couple of balls, this other guy and I both asked for them. Marlon said, “I’ll give you the next ball I get.” Gee, that’s swell, but which one of us was he talking to? A minute later, he headed back our way to field a loft liner heading for the corner. I needed an advantage, some way to make him decide to throw ME the ball, so I sat down in the first row, hoping that I’d appear younger by hiding my height. (I’m 5’11” if you round up.) It worked.
BALL #4 —- The switch-hitting Jose Reyes, batting left-handed and working on hitting balls to the opposite field, swung a bit too late and sliced one into the seats. The ball fell 20 feet short of me, just behind three guys who hadn’t even seen it coming (and therefore didn’t deserve it). Luckily, it hit the top of a seat and bounced over two railings, right to my section. I ran up the stairs. The ball was rattling around. I had about five seconds before the other fans would be closing in from all sides. I took my time so I wouldn’t overrun it and found it with a couple of seconds to spare.
BALL #5 —- Remember my entry from April 28th? I was getting ready for an Angels-Yankees game in the Bronx and mentioned that I really wanted to get a ball from Jarrod Washburn. Yesterday, when the Angels took the field and Washburn started throwing with John Lackey in the LF corner, I waited right behind him. While he was throwing, I said, “Hey, Jarrod, is there any chance that when you’re done, you could please throw a ball up here?” He didn’t respond, but I knew he heard me, and I kept my mouth shut for the next five minutes. When he finished, I gave him a little reminder by yelling his name. He looked up and flipped the ball too high and several feet to my left. I jumped as high as I could–in high school, my vertical leap was 28.5 inches, and I haven’t lost much since–and reached out and caught the ball in the tip of my glove, inches in front of the hands of another guy who’d been standing two seats away. That felt gooooood.
BALL #6 —- Esteban Yan threw it to me five minutes later in the same spot. I didn’t do anything fancy or clever other than being the only person wearing an Angels hat and the only person who knew his name. I even pronounced it properly, with the emphasis on the middle syllable: “Es-TAY-bon.”
Then the wind picked up and the sky turned grey and the Shea Stadium grounds crew chased the Angels off the field. It was about to rain, batting practice was ending 40 minutes early, and I sprinted to the 3rd base dugout.
BALL #7 —- Remember my entry from May 13th? I talked about asking for balls in different languages and mentioned using sign language with Curtis Pride who’s hearing-impaired. Well, Mr. Pride is now on the Angels, and when he came off the field after BP with a ball in his glove, I jumped up and down and waved my arms to get his attention, then signed, “Please give me the ball.” Apparently, I also shouted the words as I signed them because a man standing in front of me turned around and said, “He can’t hear you.” If he hadn’t turned around, he would have been able to catch the ball that Pride tossed right over his left shoulder. (In my year off between high school and college, I spent a winter interning at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, CT.)
Then it rained like hell for about 20 minutes. When it cleared up, I got Steve Finley’s autograph. (Did you know that he’s just seven home runs away from joining Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Andre Dawson, and Barry Bonds as the only players in history with 300 or more home runs and 300 or more stolen bases? I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.)
BALL # 8 —- Right before the national anthem, several Angels were playing catch down the 3rd base line. The first few rows were packed with fans. Even if I could’ve squeezed my way in, I wouldn’t have stood out, so I stayed back and did my little jump-up-and-down-and-wave-my-arms-like-an-idiot routine when Robb Quinlan ended up with one of the balls. He spotted me right away and lobbed it to me. There were lots of fans all around, so I had to jump and reach up through a sea of hands to make the catch. I was glad to add another “Q” to my list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls. Ruben Quevedo was lonely.
And that was it. I ran around the Loge for the first inning and a half, didn’t come close to any foul balls, and left for work.
2,508 total balls
77 balls in 11 games this season = seven balls per game
393 consecutive games with at least one ball caught