6/15/05 at Yankee Stadium

Lia and I got to the ballpark way too early, but that was good because we were first in line outside GATE 6, and there was plenty of time for me to draw a diagram of the right field seats and discuss all the options. Did she want a ball? Did she want to watch ME get balls? Did she want to sit or stand? Sun or shade? Be in a place where a home run might land? Hide in spot where she wouldn’t get hit?

She wanted a ball, so I told her where to go: main aisle behind the outfield wall, all the way out in straight-away right field where the grandstand ends.

BasketcatchThe gates opened at 5:05pm. I ran inside and got a ball in the RF corner with my glove trick. (395 consecutive games with at least one ball.) Then, before I had time to coil the string or remove the Sharpie or put my hand back in the glove, a right-handed hitter on the Yankees sliced a deep foul ball to my left. I took off through the empty aisle, kept my eye on the ball, spread my glove open with both hands, and made the running catch. It was 5:06pm.

I jogged over to Lia. She’d seen me get both balls–and was still waiting for her first. By this point, there were already a few dozen fans around us, so if she was going to get one, it had to come soon. Just then, Yankees reliever Buddy Groom fielded a deep fly ball nearby. “Hey, Buddy!” I yelled. “How ’bout a ball for this girl!” He looked up, saw me pointing at Lia, and tossed it to her. His aim, however, was off, and the ball sailed to Lia’s right, toward the other side of the slanted concrete wall that marks the end of the grandstand. On the other side, there’s a 10-foot drop, a wide gap, and the bleachers. Lia reached to her right and made a two-handed, bare-handed catch over the wall. It was beautiful. And it was her first ball ever.

She stayed there a bit longer, decided one ball was enough, and took a seat 15 rows back.

Meanwhile, I was hard at work. (The word “enough” doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.) I got my third ball via the glove trick after another fan, a 40-something-year-old guy in a Yankees jersey, failed to get it with HIS trick. He had a roll of duck tape tied to a string. I’m not exactly sure how it worked–he did get a ball later–but I can tell you that he dropped the roll hard on the ball. The inside edge of the roll was barely smaller than the ball. I don’t know if there was something sticky on it or if he just wedged the ball in there. Interesting. I’ve seen various ball-retrieving contraptions over the years, but never anything like that.

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My fourth ball was a Hideki Matsui home run that I caught on a fly, ten rows back–perfect positioning, thank you very much–and it extended my streak to 23 consecutive games with at least four balls. The ball has a special mark on it that I’ve only seen a couple times before: the imprint of the lettering on the barrel of the bat. Matsui’s bat? Who knows. Just because he cranked the ball doesn’t mean that he’s the one who left the mark. It might have come from a foul tip two weeks earlier. There’s also a trace of a player’s signature, but I can’t identify it. (George, are you reading this? Get to work, baby. Tell me who it is. Come over and see the ball in person. This photograph is so-so, but it’s the best I could get.) Anyway, click the picture to take a closer look. You can see a backwards portion of the words “NEW YORK YANKEES.”

Of course, as soon as I caught this ball, every guy with a glove decided to stand next to me. So I left. The seats were unbelievably packed, but that’s what happens when a game is attended by 48,828 people.

Tanyon Sturtze tossed a ball to some people who were standing where Lia had been. They all reached for it at once and dropped it on the warning track. I saw this from 40 feet away and ran over as Sturtze headed toward the ball. I figured he’d toss it a little deeper into the crowd, and he did, this time with a high arc. I was in the middle of the very crowded aisle. The ball started its descent, and I crouched slightly and waited…and waited…and jumped as high as I could with my glove hand extended. Bam! Right in the pocket, inches above a dozen other hands. That one felt good. It was my third athletic play of the afternoon, although the Matsui homer was easy in comparison.

There were a couple of guys–out-of-towners, thank god–who saw me use my glove trick the day before and copied it. They said they’d practiced in their hotel room and got it to work, but I could tell it was a cheap rip-off. Sure enough, they failed in their attempt to get a ball off the warning track. I let them try twice more, and then they gave up. Luckily, Mr. Duck Tape was nowhere in sight, so I squeezed my way into the first row and started lowering my glove. The ball was hard to get because it was hugging the wall. Brian Meadows walked over and moved it two feet out for me. Whatta guy. I got it easily: ball #6 on the day.

The glove trick paid off once more. Near the end of BP, I was lowering my glove over a ball when a Pirates player (no idea who) came over and took it. He pretended to throw it back toward the infield, then turned back toward me and tossed it. That was #7, and the grounds crew cleared the field.

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Lia and I headed to the 3rd base line, where I got Freddy Sanchez and Daryle Ward to sign my ticket stubs. When I asked Sanchez to sign, he said, “Let me get the kids first.”

I was shocked. I mean SHOCKED. It was like the first time I had to shave, or the first time someone called me “Sir.” I’d never gotten that reaction at a baseball game, and I said, “If only you knew how much of a kid I really am.”

He didn’t laugh.
He didn’t smile.
He didn’t look up.
He signed for all the kids.
Then he signed for me.

Lia told me she didn’t want to move around from seat to seat during the game. (That’s an unreasonable request. Sorry.) I told her I’d try to keep the moving to a minimum, and I’d say I did a pretty good job, as we sat in just four different spots. For most of the evening, we were sitting down the right field line. No balls. Just a group of annoying fans who:

a) started cheering instantly after every routine fly ball because they thought everything was going to be a home run
b) kept getting up, which forced us to get up
c) talked on their cell phones
d) booed the visiting pitcher after every pick-off move
e) said, “Are you serious?!” every time a Pirate got a hit
f) accidentally cheered for the Pirates because they didn’t realize which team was batting
g) shrieked as loud as screeching subway wheels

lia.jpg

Lia was glad to leave those seats in the top of the 8th inning. I was glad when Jason Bay hit a solo bomb to center to make it a 5-2 Pittsburgh lead; there was a much better chance of getting a ball after the game at the Pirates’ dugout than on the Yankees’ side.

The Yanks, of course, scored twice in the bottom of the 8th to make it a one-run game. Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 9th, and Jose Mesa (a.k.a. “Joe Table” if you translate his name into English) came in to try to preserve the lead. I managed to get myself into a perfect position behind the Pirates dugout. Just three outs. That’s all I needed. I was sure I’d get a ball after the game.

But no.

Even after a Jeter groundout, a walk to Bernie, and a fielder’s choice by Sheffield, Mesa couldn’t do his job. A-Rod hit a broken bat single to center, and Posada doubled to right. Sheffield scored. Tie game. A-Rod was thrown out on the plate. Extra innings.

Mariano pitched a scoreless 10th.
In the bottom of the frame, Juicin’ Giambi hit a two-run homer. Game over. No ball for me.

At least Mariano got the win. I like him. His ERA is 1.09. Mesa is now 0-5 with a 4.56 ERA. And me? I am now the owner of 2,519 baseballs and, with 88 in 13 games this year, I’m averaging 6.8 balls per game.

Can’t decide if I’m going back today. It’s $5 night. The place is going to be even more crowded. And I’m busy. I need to do laundry and pay bills and go to the bank and edit the third chapter of my friend’s manuscript and send a “Top 10” list of ball-snagging strategies to Elliott Kalb. More on that later…

19 comments

  1. drosenda@msn.com

    I really enjoy the commentary on the idiot fans who are like cattle in batting practice. Oh jeez, this guy got a ball here, let’s all crowd around. Happened to me when I got a lucky bounce ball in Washington. By the way, Washington ***** for snagging, RFK has no seats below the lower outfield walls. I waited in foul territory in LF. This ball that had a ton of English bounce in the grass, and careemed 10 rows up near where I was waiting. All of a sudden, people herd to the spot of the latest ball, and wait in a pack.

  2. thegroceryman1@yahoo.com

    Called Giambi winning it AND called the high 40’s attendence. Wooh.

  3. towncrier18@hotmail.com

    Ahem…for the record, I was a very good sport about the seat-changing. Other than that, a very accurate portrayal of the night. Huzzah.

  4. loveg30@aol.com

    Zack, great stuff. I would be more than happy to take a look at the ball, but it appears that it will be very difficult to read. Wow, Lia is such a great sport, you go girl!!!! Elliot Kalb? I haven’t heard that name in ages. I was an intern at NBC back in ’88 with Steve Horn who shared an office with Elliot. So much to catch up with you Zack, just say when. Hope the folks are doing well and look forward to seeing you soon.

  5. dantv64dan@aol.com

    Wow, that ball with the imprint on it puts a new meaning to “Tatooing the ball”.

  6. jeetsmeister@yahoo.com

    Nice work, Lia!!!

    I’m hoping to get my first at some point. I guess it’ll have to be on a night Zack isn’t around.

    And of course I’m very particular, I only want Yankee-struck balls!

  7. Zack

    drosenda-
    I haven’t yet been to RFK, but I know what you’re talking about. Just seeing that place on TV gives me jitters. For the record, I have no problem with fans who follow me and/or the balls, but there was one guy in particular who really had an attitude. On the other hand, there was a really nice guy in my section who told me he’d seen this blog. He ended up getting a ball for a kid that he was with. I was glad. Anyway, watch your language. :-)

    groceryman-

    You didn’t call the home run, but you DID call the game-winning hit. I guess you still get credit.

    towncrier-

    I didn’t say you were a bad sport. (In fact, you were a good one.) I just said that it was your preference not to move all over the place…which is true, right? Anyway, the evening was great. So glad that we finally got to a game together. Next stop: Shea.

    loveg-

    Thanks. Can’t wait to show you the ball. Invite yourself over next time you’re in the neighborhood. Kalb is great. I’ll be blogging about him soon.

    dantv-

    Well said. I wish I’d thought of that.

    jeets-

    Does your future ball have to be hit? How would you feel about getting one thrown to you? You know, you’re more likely to get one if I’m there. I’ll show you exactly where to stand.

  8. drosenda@msn.com

    I love it when you get attitude from people. They’re like “give the ball to a kid”. My attitude is: I never got one as a kid, so NO SOUP FOR YOU.

  9. Zack

    And half the time, it’s a kid who’s more interested in his cotton candy than anything taking place on the field.

  10. jeetsmeister@yahoo.com

    Does it have to be hit to me? Hmmm, no, I don’t think so.

    But there won’t be any begging coming from me. I just couldn’t do that after listening to what people who do beg sound like — and I mean the adults.

  11. Zack

    Who cares about other people? Who cares if you beg and sound silly? When you have a ball in your hand as a result, YOU will have the last laugh. I’m often the oldest one begging for balls, and I suppose that if I stopped to think about it, it would be kind of embarrassing, but I truly don’t care. As the Village People once said, “Put your pride on the shelf.” So c’mon, let’s do it. Let’s get you a ball. Tuesday? I could even show you where to stand so that you MIGHT get a ball that Jeter hits…but that, of course, would require some hand-eye coordination and perhaps some additional athleticism on your part. Yankee Stadium and its fans are merciless.

  12. Gabriel

    Hi Zack,

    Your buddy over here at DA BRONX BOMBERS (http://dabronxbombers.mlblogs.com)

    When I heard you needed help identifying a Yankees signature, I put on my DA BRONX BOMBERS cape and grabbed my magnifying glass – actually I used some of the tools I use for my photographs to help you solve the Scooby-Doo Ball Mystery.

    I first brought your image into Photoshop and inverted it horizontally.

    Next, I scoured the Internet searching out the official bats the Yankees are using and compared a few that I found.

    I resized several of the signatures until I came across a possible match.

    I then made adjustments to the transparency of the signature and lined it up to your ball.

    Viola!

    You have a Derek Jeter “tattoed” baseball there my friend – that and also a Godzilla home run ball you lucky guy!

    Keep up the good work!

    I have posted the images at my blog along with a quicktime movie.

    http://dabronxbombers.mlblogs.com/2005/06/scoobydoo_baseb.html

    The movie lost a lot of detail but the photographs show da’ results.

    Keeping it Real.

  13. jeetsmeister@yahoo.com

    That’s the pot calling the kettle ‘merciless’ Zack.

    Personally I think Yankees fans have a right to Yankees balls. Esp. if they have gotten zero that day.

    Well I care if I beg and act silly. It’s not something I want to do in exchange for a ball. Now I’m not above a little dealing for a Nick Johnson home run, but whining and begging ain’t my speed.

    Plus, I think I’d rather work on getting my ball during BP as opposed to during the game. I don’t really want to jump up to chase Jeter foul balls. I understand why it gets you so pumped, it just ain’t me. I kind of like staying and watching and cheering when he gets on base, ya know?

  14. Zack

    Gabriel! Amazing work, my friend. Can’t thank you enough.

    Jeets, I understand. Not everyone is a headcase like me. But if you sit in a place where Jeter’s likely to hit one, then you can watch the game AND have a chance to catch a ball at the same time. How did you celebrate his grand slam? (Or do I not want to know?)

  15. jeetsmeister@yahoo.com

    Actually I was so busy, I didn’t get to do much except shriek!

    Although Marissa will attest to the fact that I was shaking a bit…

    Now, that kind of plan sitting where it’s likely to happen I’ll happily buy. :)

  16. Gabriel

    DA Bronx Bombers will always have your back Zack. You have helped me out with tips on Yankee Stadium and your book was awesome. Definitely My pleasure. Keep Keeping It Real!

  17. Zack

    Ohhh, so you were at WORK when the big bang took place. Ha. That must’ve been funny. Wish I could have been there (aside from having to work).

    Thanks, Gabriel. Glad to hear it. If you ever need any advice or info on Yankee Stadium that’s not in the book, just gimme a shout.

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