Yesterday, the Mets and Brewers played 11 innings and combined for 17 runs and 35 hits off 13 different pitchers who threw 425 pitches. It was a nice crisp four-hour and 28-minute game.
My seven hours inside Shea Stadium started at 4:40pm when GATE C opened. I ran out to the left field seats and didn’t get anything for the first half-hour of batting practice because there wasn’t a single ball hit into the seats, and only two balls were thrown anywhere near me. One was given to a little boy, and the other went to a high school kid. Fair enough. If I were the player, I would’ve given them balls, too.
Shea was dead. I had to make something happen.
Luckily, the grouchy old usher–the guy who ferociously guards the fancy blue seats down by the field and actually tells the players not to throw me balls–was nowhere to be seen. (Day off? Heart attack?) In his place was a lady usher who was clearly new…so I unlatched the chain and held it in place and waited there, two rows back in the orange seats, for the right moment to pounce. Ten minutes later, Ramon Castro hooked a grounder just beyond the protective screen. I knew this was my chance so I dropped the chain, darted down the steps to the low wall, reached over, lunged WAY out, and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. The usher hurried over and scolded me. I was afraid she’d ask for the ball, but all she did was tell me I couldn’t go down there again.
“Really?” I asked innocently. “Not even for five seconds to try to get a ball?”
“Really!” she snapped. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why THIS is here,” she added, grabbing the dangling chain and hooking it back up.
I told her I was sorry and left for the Mets dugout on the 1st base side. It took me 15 minutes to wiggle past all the autograph seekers and get into the first row. Then, as the Mets were coming off the field, Carlos Beltran under-handed a ball to me from 30 feet out, and less than a minute later, I got another one from bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello.
Most of the Brewers had already finished playing catch by the time I made it back to left field. Conveniently, there happened to be a ball sitting near the foul line, and the seats weren’t too crowded so I moved as close to it as I could and got Jorge De La Rosa to toss it to me.
Then things went dead again. I thought about going to the left field corner and trying to get balls from Rick Helling and Chris Capuano and other pitchers–but my friend Adam (a.k.a. “the grocery man“) was already there, and I really, REALLY wanted a ball from Trent Durrington.
Durrington, a 29-year-old Australian with a career .202 batting average in 228 at bats, is officially listed as a 3rd baseman, but he’s mainly serving as an underused pinch runner; this year, he’s had seven at bats in 16 games. Why do I like him? Because in 1995, I was an intern for a minor league team called the Boise Hawks and Durrington was on the team. One night, long after the players had left the ballpark, the groundskeeper and I decided to flip on a few lights and take BP. We had our gloves and a bucket of old balls…but no bat…so we wandered around the ballpark and somehow ended up in the Hawks’ clubhouse and grabbed the first bat we saw. It was Durrington’s. We took it right out of his locker.
“Are you sure this is okay?!” I asked.
“Oh yeah, no problem, we’ll just be very careful with it, and we won’t ever tell anyone.”
Unfortunately, we ended up having to tell Durrington because we broke it. I tossed a pitch a bit too far inside, and the klutzy groundskeeper took an ill-advised swing. Simple as that. I thought we were both gonna get fired, but Mr. Groundskeeper, being a smooth talker, caught up with Durrington early the next day and fessed up. Durrington was nice about it and laughed it off (“No prawblem, mate!”) and just told us to replace it.
Anyway, back to Shea. I left Adam in left field and went near 3rd base where Durrington was taking fungos. I waited for a break in the music and shouted, “Trent!!! I was with you in Boise in ’95!!!”
He looked up.
I pumped my fist.
He smiled and gave me a nod.
After a few minutes, I called, “Trent!! How ’bout a ball for Boise!!”
He looked up again and indicated that he’d give me one later, but he ended up moving over to 2nd base to take some double-play feeds from Wes Helms, and then he went out to right field for the remainder of BP.
But hope wasn’t lost.
I went to the Brewers’ dugout at the end of BP and repeated my request as he came off the field: “How ’bout a ball for Boise!” (Only one exclamation point this time. He was closer, so I didn’t have to shout as loud.)
He looked up again but disappeared into the dugout. I had a feeling he was gonna hook me up, and sure enough, he poked his head out 10 seconds later and flipped me a ball.
I suppose if I really wanted to be sneaky about it, I could memorize every player’s birthday and hometown and minor league teams and 7th grade algebra teacher and all other kinds of stalker-ish info and use it to forge a personal connection–but that’s not my style. Yeah, I own all 30 major league hats so I can always look like a fan of the team on the field, but that’s as far as my deception goes.
Moments after Trent became the 700th name on my list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls, I got another one tossed to me by bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel.
It’s tough to find the names and numbers of bullpen catchers. Teams usually don’t list them on their official sites, so I go to MLB Roster Central, which unfortunately shut down a few months ago, but all the 2005 info is still there. I don’t know what I’ll do next year.
Before the game, I was passing through the main aisle on the 3rd base side when an usher stopped me out of the blue and asked to see my ticket. Why? Because he recognized me and suspected that I didn’t belong there. “Batting practice is over,” he growled through his gray handle-bar mustache and told me I had to leave the Field Level. I was so mad that I almost left the ballpark. I can’t WAIT to be an anonymous face in Cincinnati and Houston.
I didn’t leave the ballpark. Instead, I went up to the Loge Level and, with no empty seats worth a damn stayed on my feet and moved back and forth for righties and lefties. Out of curiosity, I counted the number of steps it took to walk down the runway on the 1st base side, through the concourse behind home plate, and up the runway on the 3rd base side (74) and counted the number of the times I made the trek in the 1st inning (10). Granted, it was a long inning (with five runs scored), but still, over the course of a game, that’s a lot of walking.
In the bottom of the 4th, I found myself in the runway between sections 3 and 5 when Castro sent a foul tip flying toward the middle of section 3 on my left. I darted up the last few feet of runway and took a sharp left through the narrow aisle and saw the ball smack off a gloveless hand and drop to the ground just a few feet from me. There was a wild scramble with people diving and clawing blindly. I held back for a split-second to try to get a glimpse of the ball, and when I saw it trickle out from under a few arms and legs, I grabbed it–but some other guy instantly put his hand on it and tried to wrestle it out of mine. I admit I’m not the strongest guy in the world, but when there’s a baseball involved, I become superhuman. The tug-of-war ended as quickly as it started, and I was holding my 84th lifetime game ball.
The crowd thinned in extra innings. No ball.
I went to the dugout in time for Mike Piazza’s walk-off walk. No ball.
Thus, Castro started and ended my day. Symmetry, anyone?
-406 consecutive games with at least one ball caught
-32 consecutive games with at least four balls caught
-150 balls this season in 22 games = 6.8 balls per game
-2,581 total balls…moves me out of a tie with Richie Ashburn for 74th place on the all-time hits list. Next up: Ernie Banks (2,583) and Reggie Jackson (2,584)
-12 days until I leave for Cincinnati.