7/15/05 at Shea Stadium

I wanted to start the day in right field so I could try once again to get a ball from Pedro, but there was such a large crowd outside GATE C that I went straight to left instead. (Fans generally flock to the home team’s side, which is 1st base/right field at Shea.)
Left field stayed empty for a few minutes, and I roamed the seats in case there happened to be a loose ball sitting on the ground. There was. It was tucked under a chair, and I’d actually walked past it a few times before spotting it. Moments later, before I had a chance to label it and stick it in my backpack, the mean usher appeared out of nowhere. Apparently, he knew there was a ball in the seats because he said, “If you find one, I want it.”

He was serious–this is the usher who stands right in front of me during batting practice and tells the players NOT to give me anything–so I hid the ball in the palm of my glove, took a few perfunctory glances around the seats, and left him there to look for it.

I headed to the left field corner in case there was a ball sitting in slopped grassy area.
Lucky me: there were two.
Unlucky me: one was 15 feet out from the wall.
Unlucky me: there was a security guard standing right behind me in the concourse.
Lucky me: she was curious to see what the glove and string could do.
It took a minute or two to get the first one because it was about eight feet away. I had to lower my glove a few feet, swing it out, let it drop the rest of the way, and jerk it back exactly when it landed on the ball. The grass was thick, and I had to move the ball uphill. Not easy. I was sweating. The guard was intrigued. A small audience of fans had gathered along the front row. It took me several attempts to knock the ball closer…closer…closer…until it was right below me. Then I pulled the glove back into the seats, rigged it with the rubber band and magic marker, lowered it over the ball, and reeled it in. (For an explanation of the “glove trick,” read my entry about April 25th.)

Two minutes later, Gerald Williams threw me a ball.

ballgrassyarea.jpg

You can imagine how hard I worked for the other ball in the grassy area (pictured on the right). First, I let out all the string and made sure it wasn’t knotted or tangled. (It actually was knotted and tangled.) Then I stood on the end of it so I wouldn’t lose the glove when I flung it waaay out there; I wouldn’t be holding the string for a second or two, so by stepping on it, I knew that that it wouldn’t completely run out. And finally, I started the flinging…and kept going…and going…and going…and going and going and going and going…and going…for like ten minutes. I touched the ball a few times, but I couldn’t move it. Now I was really sweating–but I hadn’t gotten anywhere. In fact, I might have missed a ball or two because I was ignoring the action on the field, but I didn’t care. I was enjoying the challenge. There came a time, however, when I realized it just wasn’t worth it, and I gave up. I would’ve gotten it eventually, I swear, but I couldn’t give up all of BP and keep making a scene and risk getting yelled at by security.

Or could I?

I didn’t know if my string was long enough, but it occurred to me that I might be able to get the ball from above–as in, from the first row of the Loge level–so I ran up there and gave it a shot. Once again, I let out all the string before I lowered the glove to make sure it was good to go, and then I went for it. Turns out I DID have enough string and security did NOT yell at me, but I faced the same problem: long grass. The ball was about six feet out from the wall, and I wasn’t able to knock it closer. Even without long grass, it’s hard to use the trick and maneuver the glove from that high up. (That said, I’m proud to report that I once plucked a ball off the warning track from the upper deck at Tiger Stadium…a feat which belongs in the “What was I thinking” category.) Anyway, I couldn’t get the ball from the Loge, but I had fun trying and put on quite a show.

I returned to the field level, and Gerald Williams threw me another ball. I can’t explain it. It’s happened a few times before: two balls from the same player in one day. This one, however, fell short and tipped off my glove into the grassy area. It stayed right below me at the base of the wall, and I got it easily with the trick. That was ball #4, giving me 29 consecutive games with at least that many. It felt good. (The one-ball-per-game streak, by the way, is now at 403.)

The Braves took the field for batting practice. The pitchers played catch in the left field corner. When John Thomson finished and started walking off, I shouted, “Hey, John! Can you please toss up a ball?”

He tossed the ball straight up and caught it.

“No! Over HERE!!!” I yelled, and he threw it to me. That was #5, and that was it for BP.

I made it to the Braves’ dugout as everyone was coming off the field. The seats were packed, and I couldn’t get into the first two rows, so I stood on a seat in the third row and got Andruw Jones to throw me a ball. Unfortunately, it fell short and the guy in front of me reached up and bare-handed it. Thirty seconds later, I got Terry Pendleton’s attention as he was dumping dozens of balls from the basket to the equipment bag, and he tossed one to me. Unfortunately, it sailed four feet to my left, and someone else (without a glove, of course) snatched it.

What I learned: It’s impossible to move for the ball when standing on a chair.
My advice to you: Don’t stand on a chair if the player has lousy aim.

juliofranco1.jpg

Ten minutes before gametime, Julio Franco started signing autographs along the left field foul line. I ran over and reached around several people with my ticket and blue Sharpie. He took the ticket and was about to sign it with some kid’s black ball-point pen. “No wait!” I said, handing him the marker. “Could you please sign it with this instead?”

“Picky, picky, picky,” he replied, getting a laugh from the fans as he took the Sharpie and signed. Nice guy. Very talkative and friendly. That was my first contact with him ever.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE RISE AND REMOVE YOUR HATS AS WE HONOR AMERICA WITH THE SINGING OF OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM.”

I took off my Braves cap and saw Rafael Furcal finish playing catch, so I put the cap back on and called out for the ball. (Sorry if this makes me unpatriotic.) He looked up at me and then quickly scanned the seats, presumably to see if there was someone younger and/or prettier. There wasn’t so he settled on tossing it my way. (Makes me wonder if I should ditch the visiting teams’ caps and just start wearing a dress.)

I went to the Loge in the top of the first inning and moved back and forth, to the 1st and Juliofrancoautograph3rd base side of home plate, for righties and lefties. In the bottom of the frame, Cliff Floyd hit a foul tip that got caught in the netting just below the first row. I sprinted 60 feet through the aisle, scurried down the steps, leaned over, saw the ball, reached for it, and was too late. The guy who’d been sitting right there grabbed it half a second before I would’ve had it–and if that’s not bad enough, the guy happens to be one of my few co-workers…a recap writer named Eric…the one guy in the office who constantly harasses me about my baseball collection. (He says it’s “all ego.”) Worse than not getting the damn ball will be having to hear him blab about it for the next three months.

That was the only gamer that came anywhere near me. The Mets lost 2-1. It was a nice crisp National League game. Four sacrifice bunts. Good pitching. Smoltz and Glavine each threw seven innings and allowed one run. Smoltz won it. Reitsma saved it. Roberto Hernandez lost it. David Wright hit his third solo homer in 24 hours.

sixballs7.15.05.JPG

I went to the Braves’ dugout after the game and Eddie Perez tossed me a ball–a nice end to a somewhat frustrating evening. Then he said, “That’s for her,” pointing to the pretty woman on my left. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t yell, “Screw you!!!” So I handed it over.

Yeah, nice end.
I got six balls but should’ve had ten.
Am I allowed to complain?
Yes. And I’m quite good at it.

8 comments

  1. doppychico89@yahoo.com

    Hey Zack. I have two questions for you.

    I’m going to the Rockies @ Nationals games on Monday and Tuesday and I was wondering if you might have some tips for me. How many minutes before game time do the gates open?

    Second thing. Back in 1996 when I was living in Memphis, I went to some Memphis Chicks (Class AA) games. Derrek Lee, a prospect back then was playing first and I got his autograph after a game on a Chicks memorablia ball. At least I’m very sure I did. While watching Chris Berman interview him at the HR Derby, I remembered that I might have the ball in my room somewhere. I dug it up and went to Ebay to see his signature now. It looks a little more flashy now than it does on the ball.

    Im just wondering if you might be able to take a look and help me decided if it really is Derrek Lee if I send you a picture of it.

    Thanks, Nick

  2. thegroceryman1@yahoo.com

    Paging George, loveg30@aol.com please report to “7/15/05 at Shea Stadium” post, autograph identification needed…

    droppychico, also just look at more scans on the net and perhaps post your question over at http://www.sasesportssigs.com, alot of knowledgeable autograph people there.

  3. Zack

    Nick-
    RFK Stadium opens 90 minutes before gametime. You may recall from my entry about it that there’s a “no backpack” rule. It wasn’t being enforced a few weeks ago, but because of the recent bombings in London, security might be more strict. Make a back-up plan.

    RFK is like Shea in that there are no field level seats in fair territory; even though BP was rained out when I was there, I could tell that there aren’t many practice balls that get hit into the seats. This means you’re going to have to focus on getting players to toss balls to you. Bring rosters and invest in a Rockies hat if you don’t already own one. And say “please.” Seriously, that word goes a long way.

    The ushers are somewhat strict about not letting people down to the dugouts, but it varies. It seems like everyone has his/her own rules. You can definitely get away with buying the cheapest seats in the ballpark (if you don’t have tickets already). If anyone stops you from going where you need to go, just try the next staircase.

    There’s a lot of dead space behind the wall in the LF corner. Seems like a good spot to use the glove trick or to get Nationals players to toss you balls as they’re on the way to the bullpen.

    It’s a lousy ballpark for game balls. Try to work the dugouts for 3rd-out balls or just sit near the main aisle behind the plate and pray for foul tips. The whole place is tough. I’m glad I survived it. Definitely let me (and everyone else) know how you do.

    I don’t know anything about Lee’s autograph, but groceryman’s suggestion is a good one. I also e-mailed my friend George, the TRUE autograph expert (no offense, groceryman), and told him to read your comment. I guess you should try these other people/places before you send me the pic.

    groceryman-

    Thanks for helping.

    mstadlen-

    You’re right. Worse things, however, do happen. Probably best that I don’t get into them here…

  4. loveg30@aol.com

    Nick, Just send a scan over so I can take a look at it. Chances are Lee’s autograph has changed through the years. I am guessing his autograph is a lot neater and nicer back in those days. Its very sloppy and short now, but not all is lost. Despite the changes that occur through time, some similarities stick and hopefully I can spot them and be able to give you an answer. Hope I can help.
    George

  5. Zack

    Actually, no. I was being completely serious. (I realize that THIS could appear sarcastic as well, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.)

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