I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before at a major league game: make a behind-the-back catch.
The Mets had just started taking batting practice, and the right field seats were still empty. Juan Padilla turned to throw me a ball from about 80 feet away, and that’s when I decided to attempt the circus catch. I knew I’d still end up with the ball even if I dropped it, but this was a catch I’d made hundreds of times with friends in the park. There was no reason why I wouldn’t be able to do it at Shea–and I nailed it.
Moments later, just as four big guys were making their way down the steps to my section, the batter (I think it was Marlon Anderson) ripped a one-hopper into the seats ten feet to my right. The ball rattled around in the first row, trickled through a little hole in the fence, and plopped into that little gap between the field and seats, several feet out of reach. I hurried over and started setting up my glove trick.
“You wanna try to get that ball?” asked one of the guys. “Here, lemme hold your ankles.”
“Thanks, but I can get it on my own.”
He didn’t believe me and repeated his offer.
“No, really, I got it,” I said and lowered my glove over the ball.
“I guess you’ve been here a few times,” he chuckled as I lifted the glove with the ball tucked snugly inside. “Just a few,” I said, noticing the “NY” and worrying that a new era of ugly balls was beginning. Before I had time to write “2567” on it, Cliff Floyd yanked a home run into the empty Loge level, so I raced up there and spent two minutes looking for it. No luck. I think the ball landed in a runway and bounced off into the sunset.
The bad luck continuted. As I was heading back to my spot on the field level, some righty sliced a lazy fly ball that landed RIGHT where I’d been standing. I was only 10 feet away, but with all the railings, I was trapped and had to watch as one of the guys walked over to the ball and picked it up off the concrete.
I was too mad to stick around, so I headed to the left side. I hoped to get a ball from Chris Woodward who was taking fungos at 3rd. Nothing. I moved to the left field foul line. Nothing. Gerald Williams threw three balls to other people, and Jose Offerman ignored me. At 5:25pm, I gave up on left field and headed to the Mets dugout on the 1st base side. I’d gotten two balls there the day before as the Mets came off the field after BP…no harm in trying again. Luckily, I was able to squeeze into the first row, and I ended up getting THREE balls tossed to me within 90 seconds, first from coach Jerry Manuel, then from Offerman (who hadn’t seen me get the first one), and finally from coach Manny Acta (who’d been distracted by talking to some random people on the field). I’d gotten the balls faster than I could label them, so I stuffed them into specially designated jeans pockets…the one on the front-right is always for the first ball, the front-left for the second, and the back-right for the third. Since I started labeling my balls in 2003, I’ve never used all four pockets.
The Padres took the field, and I headed to the left field corner. Trevor Hoffman was jogging along the warning track from foul pole to foul pole–and holding a ball. I asked him for it when he got close. He put up an index finger as if to say “hold on” and turned back around to jog toward the right field corner. One minute later, I got my 6th ball by asking Akinori Otsuka in Japanese as soon as he finished playing catch, and two minutes after that, I saw Hoffman jogging back along the base of the bleachers. He no longer had the ball, but he got another one from a teammate on his way to the left field corner, and when he got close, he tossed it to me. Whatta guy. (On May 8th, I wrote an entire entry about him. Click here if you’d like to take a look.)
Ten minutes later, I got ball #8 from Jake Peavy in the same spot. Nothing fancy about it. I simply asked for it when he finished playing catch.
By this point, it seemed like every Padre had either thrown me a ball or seen someone throw me a ball, so I left for the 3rd base dugout. On the way, I witnessed the most brazen attempt for a ball that I have ever seen. A shirtless fan climbed over the railing of the bleachers and onto the edge of the outfield wall, jumped all the way down onto the warning track, scurried six feet feet out onto the field, grabbed a ball, clawed his way back up the outfield wall, and got hoisted back into the bleachers by one of his friends. The whole thing lasted less than ten seconds. Maybe five. It happened so fast that security was helpless. Dozens of guards and supervisors swarmed the area after the fact–it turned into an all-out manhunt–but I’d be surprised if they caught the guy because he disappeared into a very thick crowd. Anyway, I got coach Davey Lopes to toss me a ball at the dugout before BP was over. When practice did end, I was really hoping to get one more ball and reach double digits…but that ball never came. Nothing after BP. Nothing before the game. Nothing during the game. Nothing after the game. But I did get two autographs: Eric Young and Mister Peavy.
During the game, I came as close as one can come to a ball without getting it. Doug Mientkiewicz foul tipped a bullet right to me. I mean RIGHT to me. I was standing in a runway on the 3rd base side of home plate, so I took a couple steps forward and reached out to make the easy catch, when all of a sudden, the man sitting right in front of the aisle reached up and bare-handed the damn thing, inches in front of my glove. I shall not repeat the words that came out of my mouth.
The Mets won 7-3, and there were some good moments/accomplishments. Tom Glavine picked up his 269th career win. Padilla stranded all three of his inherited runners en route to earning his 1st career save. Clay Hensley made his major league debut, tossing two scoreless innings in relief of Woody Williams. Jose Reyes stole two bases to make it 30 this season. Mike Piazza and Carlos Beltran hit home runs.
I definitely got my twelve dollars’ worth, but I was frustrated to leave with just nine balls. With a little more luck and little more generosity from the players, it could’ve easily been a 15-ball day. But you know, I shouldn’t complain. Nine is a good number. I’ll take it.
You want stats? You got stats:
405 consecutive games with at least one ball.
31 consecutive games with at least four balls.
143 balls in 21 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.
2,574 total balls (ties me with Richie Ashburn for 74th place on the all-time hits list).
25 days until I catch a ball at Great American Ballpark (and 27 days until I get one at Minute Maid).