Less than a minute after I ran inside Shea and headed to left field for batting practice, someone on the Mets hit a ball that landed in that narrow gap between the seats and the wall along the foul line. A security guard warned me not to go in there. I asked if I could lean over and grab it from the seats. He nodded. I got it. Big reach. At least four or five feet down. I had to kick up my feet and do a balancing act on my stomach on the railing. That made it 397 consecutive games with at least one ball.
Moments later, Chris Woodward hooked a foul ball into the first row of empty blue seats, 20 feet to my right. There were four big guys (who looked like they belonged at a keg party) standing several rows behind the spot where it landed. I was already moving. They reacted slowly. I raced over. One of them barged down the steps at the last second and nearly smashed into me, but I squeezed past him and grabbed the ball half a second before he got there.
Before long, Jose Offerman stepped into the cage and lofted a lazy fly ball down the line. I took a couple steps forward into the blue seats, reached out, and caught it on a fly. Too easy. It was my 100th ball of the season–and my 8th consecutive season with 100 or more balls. So much for my Rheal Cormier prediction. The guard didn’t say anything, but the other guys did. They were mad. The score was Zack 3, Keg Party 0. (Baseball gloves work better than cell phones.)
Another Mets batter smoked a line drive toward the blue seats. It was heading ten feet to my right, so I quickly moved down one row in order to get a good look at it when it hit the ground. I figured it would hit the bottom of a chair and rattle around, but instead it skipped off of something and, without losing much velocity, deflected right toward me and whacked my right shoulder and bounced back into left field. The guys laughed at me and cheered. I didn’t give a damn about them or the ball. I was in pain–but glad, VERY glad, that I hadn’t gotten hit in the face. By the time it hit me, the ball was probably traveling somewhere between 70 and 80mph. The guard came over and asked if I was okay. (That’s a first.) My shoulder was throbbing. I could barely lift my arm over my head. “I’m fine,” I said, “thanks for asking.” He told me I should go to the First Aid room, but I didn’t leave, and that’s a good thing because less than a minute later, someone fouled another ball into the seats. This time, it landed ten rows behind me, so I raced up the steps, cut to my right, hurdled an orange railing, and grabbed it, extending my streak with four or more balls to 25 games. It was 5:00pm. I’d been inside Shea for 20 minutes. My new goal for the day was to reach double digits.
“You have fooooouuuuur!!! Give us one!!!” whined the frat boys before one of them moved over to my section and stood two rows behind me. I noticed that Adam (a.k.a. “thegroceryman”) was out in the right field corner, struggling to get a ball out of that sloped grassy area with his glove trick. He’d done a good job of knocking the ball back toward the wall, but the grass was too thick, making it hard for the rubber band to stretch around the ball. I watched him for several minutes, rooting for him the whole time–and then I decided enough was enough, that he’d had his chance, that security was going to spot him and take the ball, that if he couldn’t get it by now, it just wasn’t going to happen. I made the two-minute sprint from left to right and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Want to give me a shot?”
“No because you’re gonna get it,” he said.
I let him try a few more times, watching as he raised the glove, adjusted the rubber band, lowered the glove, and repeated the process…nothing. Finally, I stepped into the first row and gave it a shot. Couldn’t get it. It WAS tough.
“Let’s take turns,” I said and kept watching as he lowered his glove over the ball. He jiggled it around to try to get the ball to stick, then started to lift it. Did he have it? I could see from my angle directly above…no.
I fixed my rubber band and lowered my glove again. No luck.
He tried again.
I tried again.
The other fans couldn’t take their eyes off us.
Security was nowhere to be seen. (This was truly a great day.)
And I got the ball.
Some guy, not knowing that I’d just snatched my fifth ball of the day, came over and shook my hand. (Don’t feel bad for Adam. He already had two baseballs. Hey, Adam, what’s your lifetime total up to?)
Then I asked Kaz Ishii for a ball in Japanese. He ignored me at first, then tossed one as he headed into the bullpen. That was #6.
The Phillies took the field (I was color-coordinated, wearing a bright red tee-shirt to match my Phillies cap), so I ran back to the 3rd base side. Kenny Lofton dissed me at the dugout. No ball, even though I’d asked politely and then kept my mouth shut for five minutes while he practiced throwing his very important knuckleball with Jimmy Rollins.
I ditched the dugout and headed to the left field corner. Jackpot! There was a ball sitting ten feet out on the sloped grassy area, and several Phillies pitchers were still throwing. I took off my glove and let out some string. This one was going to take some work–but before I started, Billy Wagner finished tossing and I asked him for the ball. He was about 100 feet away when he turned to throw it to me. I quickly stuck my hand back in the glove and reached down for his low throw. The ball skipped off the grass and bounced up, but I hadn’t reached far enough and cursed as it deflected off the tip of my glove and dropped into the grassy area. “Don’t even think about going down there,” said a voice.
I looked up.
Another security guard.
They’re all over.
“Believe me, I have no intention,” I said and started to lower my glove. There was no point in asking for his permission. He’d either stop me–or he wouldn’t.
He didn’t, and I got two more balls: #7 and #8. He seemed to enjoy the show.
The seats were packed, even out in the left field corner, and batting practice was almost done. I assumed I’d get a ball after BP at the Phillies dugout, but I needed one more before that. Opportunities were scarce, so I was thrilled when I got Ramon Martinez’s attention and got him to throw me a ball…but he threw it too high. I took a step back, jumped, reached up…and the ball sailed half a foot over my outstretched glove. I figured I’d lost my only chance, then cursed myself again when Cormier floated a ball to Adam (who was three rows away) right when I happened to look down for a couple seconds. Cormier went to pick up another ball, and I asked him for it, figuring there was no chance that he’d give away a second ball to a second guy in the same section. But he did, and I was now one ball short of double digits.
It was so crowded at the dugout that I couldn’t get into the front row, but I got Gary Varsho’s attention as he was coming off the field, and he lobbed me a ball that sailed beautifully over everyone in front of me. Number ten.
I got some water.
I used the bathroom.
I found Adam and said goodbye.
I left the ballpark at 6:46pm, 24 minutes before the first pitch.
I was at work by 8:00pm, and I even had time to stop and get some dinner on the way.
Total balls: 2,538
2005 stats: 107 balls in 15 games = 7.1 per game
My shoulder: bruised and very sore
I care: not really
If the weather holds up, I’ll be back at Shea later today for another round of BP.