7/1/05 at Shea Stadium

It turns out that all my recent complaining–all my whining about my schedule–was unnecessary because I did end up making it to Shea yesterday. Of course, there was a gigantic crowd before Gate C even opened (because it was fireworks night), and it looked like it was about to start pouring at any second, and I still had to buy a $16 ticket even though I’d have to leave immediately after batting practice to make it to work by 7pm. I was torn. On one hand, I was glad to be there. On the other hand, I was wishing I’d stayed home. I knew I’d get at least one or two balls, but I knew it would be a struggle. My streak of 25 games with at least four balls was in jeopardy.

When the stadium opened at 4:40pm, most fans headed toward the Mets dugout on the 1st base side, and I sprinted to the left field foul line. Thirty seconds later, I got a ball when someone on the Mets (I think it was Gerald Williams) jerked a line drive into the empty blue seats.

The usher walked over, cursed the broken chain that had allowed me to enter his precious section, and said, “You better go to right field where they don’t know you because I’m going to tell [the players] not to give you any balls.”

I didn’t move. Right field was already getting crowded–and within a couple minutes, left field started filling up, too.

Roberto Hernandez jogged over to field a grounder.

“Roberto!” I shouted. “Could you please toss me the ball?”

He looked up and turned to throw it.

“No!” barked the usher, “Don’t do that! He’s already got fourteen balls!”

Roberto looked around and gave the ball to someone else. The usher smirked.

David Wright came out to left field and within two minutes, he tossed four balls into the crowd–none to me of course. Then he tossed another one, a very easy lob to a teenage boy in the front row. The boy missed it. The ball nearly hit him in the head. David Wright cringed.

“David!” I called from the left field corner. “I can catch. Throw me a ball. I’ll show you.”

He tossed the next ball my way, but it fell short, and I had to lean waaay over the railing to catch it. When I looked up, he gave me a “you-da-man” point, just like pitchers do to infielders after run-saving plays.

Then things got difficult. I ran to the 3rd base line. No ball. I moved to shallow left field. Nothing. I returned to the left field foul line, and Jose Reyes sliced a line drive that hit the warning track in front of me. The ball bounced, and I leaned forward to catch it–but the on-field security guard (another stadium employee who unfortunately recognizes me) jumped and grabbed it and handed it to some bimbo.

It was crowded. Really crowded. I gave up on left field and squeezed into the first row behind the Marlins’ dugout before they took the field for BP. Hitting coach Bill Robinson was standing next to the basket of balls, and all the fans were pestering him, so I asked for a dirty ball…anything to get his attention and set myself apart from everyone else. He told me there weren’t any dirty balls, and it was true. They were all brand new. What are the odds?

Luis Castillo and Damion Easley were playing catch. I asked them for the ball, and they ignored me.

“C’mon, Damion!” I yelled, “I won’t tell anybody!”

A few fans laughed at me. One guy said those lines never work.

Alex Gonzalez walked by with a ball. I called out and got him to toss it up, but it sailed far to my left. I didn’t think I’d be able to reach it, but I still dove for it, lunging as far as I possibly could and belly-flopping on the dugout roof. I caught it in the tip of my glove.

I went back to the left field corner and didn’t catch a thing. The only people getting balls were little kids and pretty ladies. The seats were unbelievably packed. (The attendance ended up being 44,853.) It was a lost cause. I needed one more ball to extend my four-per-game streak, but it wasn’t happening. Then BP ended 13 minutes early. It wasn’t even raining. The Marlins just stopped and headed off the field. I HAD to make it to the dugout. It was my last chance to get a ball, but the left field aisle was full of vendors and ushers and fans who couldn’t find their seats, so I took the less crowded detour, Billrobinsonsprinting through the concourse and eventually cutting to my left through the runway. I made it to the corner of the dugout just as Bill Robinson had finished packing up the balls. (I was wearing my Marlins hat, of course.)

“Hey, Bill,” I said as he headed into the dugout, “any chance for a dirty ball NOW?”

He looked up as he disappeared from view. I stayed. Maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance. Three seconds later, he poked his head out, made eye contact with me, and tossed a ball. It wasn’t even that dirty.

“That’s TWO!” shouted the fans who’d been laughing at me 40 minutes earlier.

practiceballs1.jpg

“Yeah,” I said, “those lines never work,” and I took off for the subway.

S T A T S:
2,542 total balls.
398 consecutive games with at least one ball.
26 consecutive games with at least four balls.
111 balls this season in 16 games = 6.9 balls per game.

Next game?
Thanks to a co-worker who switched days with me next week, it looks I’ll finally make it to RFK Stadium on Tuesday…Mets vs. Nationals…it’ll be my 38th major league ballpark…please don’t rain.

5 comments

  1. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    Too bad those security dudes foul up your ball snagging. So unless you have enough clout with the Wilpons or Omar to get them fired, maybe you oughta give each one a copy of your ball snagging book, so they’ll feel they’re part of the act and might want to help the champion snagger in his quest? But if this works and your Shea snagging results rise markedly, then I expect you to give me 10% of your treasures.

  2. Zack

    Yes, it really is too bad. They’re all on power trips, and it starts from the top. I’m not giving away anything to these people. They’re evil. I have no clout. The end.

  3. boodleheimer1@aol.com

    Well, they’re likely not EVIL. A pain in the snag, surely, but only flawed security-type duopeds assigned to keep order in a crowded, possibly volatile arena. The thing is, ballparks are usually NOT volatile (like European soccer stadiums) so when these underpaid, bored, essentially unpoetic fellas and ladies sniff the potential to exert a little power and create a scene they can dominate, they spring into action to proscribe the fervent ball collector. But on the other hand (the gloveless one) if you consider that most of the 30- 48 thousand fans at any game are more sedentary, invisible and unthreatening than a dude who leaps over railings, hangs halfway down walls, gallops through aisles maybe intimidating others and lowers his glove ball magnet to the turf all in pursuit of basballs – of which they all know he has many (even some players know it), one can understand (even if you can’t) their need to dominate. You can’t beat ’em, so your only chance to prevail in your snagging without being harrassed is to try to win them over by making them feel good enopugh to like you. Perhaps your book could do that. Otherwise you’re likely to remain in a contest of wills you’ll never win. It’s called Middle Ground, not to be confused with Middle Earth. A way to replace conflict with peace. Try it.

  4. Zack

    Your plan looks good on paper, but you would have to experience these “dudes” first-hand to realize that it wouldn’t work. In any case, I’d prefer to drop this argument and focus on the positives of ball-collecting, if that’s okay with you.

  5. Zack

    Can’t believe that THIS game turned out to be my 400th in a row with at least one ball caught. I’m STILL in shock.

    (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read my “NEWSFLASH!!!” entry from July 7th.)

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