Yesterday I enjoyed waking up in New York City and knowing that I’d be seeing a game in Cincinnati later that night.
I left for LaGuardia at 7:45am. Quick ride. Electronic tickets. No check-in. Breezed through security. Got a delicious breakfast sandwich from Sbarro (who knew?!). Boarded the plane at 9:30am. Sat on the runway for 45 minutes. Wrote like crazy in my journal. Finally took off. Landed in Cincinnati around noon. Took a shuttle van to my hotel. Checked in. Went to my room. Freaked out when it looked like I couldn’t get online. (Eventually, I did.) Took half a dozen pictures of myself and put the goofiest one in my blog. Gathered my stuff for the game. Left the hotel at 3pm.
I like to get a sense of the area whenever I visit a new ballpark, so I walked, even though I knew it was far. I passed over a highway, zig-zagged through many downtown streets, stopped for an Italian sausage, and cut down to the river where I got my first glimpse of the stadium. I pulled out my camera, took some pics, walked along the boulevard, took more pics, and reached the main entrance of Great American Ball Park, 23 minutes (plus a sausage) after I left the hotel.
I’d been waiting for this moment for two and a half years. Finally, I was THERE.
I didn’t know how strict security would be, so I bought a ticket five rows behind the 3rd base dugout for $36. At most ballparks, those seats–if they’re even available–are much more expensive, but still, that felt like a lot to spend just to get inside.
“What time do the gates open?” I asked, “Five o’clock?”
“Five-forty,” said the lady. “We open two hours early on weekends.”
Only 90 minutes before the first pitch?! I wouldn’t even get to see the Reds take BP. Poof!!! Three balls down the drain.
I visited the team store and asked how much the official major league baseballs were selling for.
“Fifteen dollars,” said the guy before walking me toward the display.
“Oh, thanks,” I said, “but I’m not gonna buy one now. I’m gonna wait and see if I can catch one.”
For some reason, he thought that was amusing.
I left the store, peeked through the window of the Reds Hall of Fame, and began my traditional lap around the stadium. It’s a good looking place. Clean and spacious. Interesting design and angles. I took dozens of pictures. I could see the seats and even the field from several different spots. That always gives me a longing feeling in my gut…to be standing on the outside, looking at the inside, staring and dreaming.
I had lots of time to kill (which was the plan), so I went to an air-conditioned bar across the street and drank a bottle of water and read the previous day’s box scores and used the the bathroom. Then I returned to the gate and played catch with a bunch of 10-year-olds who were using a red plastic souvenir ball. I have a rule: only major league balls can enter my glove–so I played bare-handed.
There was a huge crowd by the time the gates opened, including fans wearing Giants gear. I was afraid of that. Even though Barry Bonds has been on the shelf all year, I figured that lots of people bought their tickets in February.
My plan, once the gates opened, was to dart across the wide concourse, enter the seats behind home plate, run through the empty rows toward the left field corner, and swing around into home run land.
Things didn’t go as planned. First, a swat team of ushers stopped me from entering the home plate area since I didn’t have a ticket for that section. Then, after sprinting through the concourse and cutting into the seats along the left field foul line, I was blocked from getting past the foul pole by a glass partition. I started to climb over it and immediately got yelled at, so I had to run up 15 or 20 rows’ worth of steps, speed through another section of the concourse, and run down the steps on the other side. I lost a couple of minutes and was furious at the time, but in a way, that’s part of the fun and challenge of figuring out a new ballpark.
There were several balls sitting on the warning track, and I used my glove trick to get one. Easy. The fans didn’t know what in the world I was doing (Cincinnati, meet New York), and security didn’t say a word…and just like that, I had snagged a ball in my 39th major league stadium. (If you’re new to this blog and don’t know what the “glove trick” is, read my entry about April 25th.)
I spotted another ball sitting on a sloped grassy area behind the center field wall, not too far from the edge of the seats, so I ran over there and swung my glove out to knock it back in.
“Can’t letcha do that, buddy,” said a voice.
It was an usher.
“Are you serious?! It’s not even on the field. You can’t give me ten seconds to try to get it?”
He shook his head and stayed right behind me, walkie-talkie in hand.
I stormed off and went back to the left field seats. A home run landed in my empty row and bounced 30 feet away, right to another fan who couldn’t even make a clean catch. More home runs landed in the seats. I didn’t get any. Four out of every five rows were blocked by worthless railings in the staircases, and the remaining rows were blocked by people sitting down! This day was quickly turning into a disaster.
A ball rolled into the left field corner, hit the base of the outfield wall, and trickled halfway out onto the warning track. It was too far away, but it was already 6pm, and I was desperate. I swung my glove out and tried to knock the ball closer, but I missed. Giants pitcher Scott Eyre saw me struggling so he walked over and moved the ball closer–but not quite close enough. I made another attempt and failed, at which point an usher charged down the steps and told me I couldn’t do that.
Eyre protested on my behalf: “Why not?!”
“If they see him,” said the usher, “they’re gonna kick him out.”
“Who’s they?” I asked. “Security?”
“That’s right,” he said, so Eyre picked up the ball and flipped it to me.
Unfortunately, that was IT for batting practice. Two balls. It was a miserable ballpark with miserable rules, and I was sorry that I had to go back the next day…that is, from a ball-collecting standpoint. It’s actually a very pretty place with reasonable prices and mellow fans.
I went to the 3rd base dugout right before the end of batting practice. The usher stopped me and demanded, “What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to get a ball thrown to me when the Giants come off the field in two minutes.”
“Do it from the third row,” he said.
Infielder Deivi Cruz had a ball in his hand, and I spotted it when he was still in fair territory. I called his name (pronounced “Davey”), and he tossed it to me from about 70 feet away. A couple fans reached up, but I was all over it. That was ball number three.
I called out for another ball, and the usher said, “That’s enough.”
“One ball is enough,” he said.
“Actually, I’m just getting started,” I told him and left because Omar Vizquel was signing autographs near 3rd base, but by the time I ran over, however, he was just leaving. That was a bummer, but I’d trade an autograph for a ball any day…and I’ve gotten him before, so whatever.
It was 6:25pm, and I had at least half an hour to kill, so I wandered around the entire ballpark and took more pictures. After the national anthem, a few Reds players came out to throw in front of the 1st base dugout, but I was still on the 3rd base side. I raced through the concourse (which was now quite crowded) and headed down the steps, but I wasn’t able to get all the way down by the time the players were heading off the field. I shouted loud enough to get Ryan Freel’s attention from half a dozen rows back, and he lobbed me the ball, right over everyone’s head who was sitting in front of me. It was beautiful. That was number four.
Then the game started.
I needed to get a foul ball to keep my three-game streak alive, but I decided to work the dugouts for the first inning to try to get a ball from the the fielding teams as they came in after the third out. I was behind the Reds’ dugout in the bottom of the first when Ray Durham struck out to end the inning. Jason LaRue rolled the ball back to the mound rather than taking it with him. Thanks a lot. I went to the Giants’ dugout for the bottom of the frame. Austin Kearns grounded out to Vizquel for the third out. Was J.T. Snow going to drop the ball on the mound on his way in? NO!!! He took it with him and started jogging toward me. I was standing in the front row, wearing my Giants cap, waving and shouting his name non-stop. When he reached the edge of the dugout, he tossed me the ball. No competition. That was number five.
I don’t count that as a game ball. Some collectors would, but I decided long ago that gamers have to come unassisted…that is, without being thrown.
I gave up on the dugouts and moved to a so-so foul ball spot behind home plate and to the left. A few came near me, but I didn’t have any range. The problem (well, one of the many) with Great American is that there’s not an aisle that runs through the seats. Fans have to enter each section from the concourse at the top of the stairs. Most new stadiums have been built like this, and while it makes my life harder, I must admit that the design makes sense; if there’s an aisle, the rude/clueless people passing through block the view of all the fans sitting right behind it…unless the seats behind it are elevated at least four feet, but let’s not get any deeper into stadium architecture. The point is that I couldn’t run back and forth in an aisle. I could only move up and down the stairs. My lack of mobility plus the high screen behind the plate cost me a couple chances. I never did get a foul ball, so my brief streak ended one game short of tying my record.
The attendance was surprisingly low (17,777), so I was able to move all over the place during the game. I wish I’d counted how many different seats I sat in. Easily 10, possibly 20.
Great American really is a bandbox, and I would’ve been almost as likely to catch a home run as a foul ball…
Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Dunn went back-to-back in the bottom of the 1st. That was pretty cool to see. Randy Winn went yard in the top of the 3rd, Todd Linden took a 4-wheel drive in the top of the 4th, and Kearns hit a bomb in the bottom of the 4th. Check that. He hit a bomb by Cincinnati’s standards. The ball struck the facade of the second deck in left-center, and everyone was oohing and aahing. The estimated distance? 418. Sorry, but at Yankee Stadium, that ball only clears the wall by 19 feet and lands uneventfully on the netting over Monument Park.
In the bottom of the 5th, Kearns lost the grip on his bat TWICE. The second time he did it, the bat helicoptered into the seats and landed within three feet of my actual assigned seat! I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or glad that I wasn’t there. It would’ve been amazing to get a bat, but at what price? I can catch a 120mph line drive because I have a glove, but what good does a glove do when there’s a bat flying at you? The fan who got it actually jumped up and caught it. I was impressed. Props to Cincinnati after all.
Winn, by the way, also hit a single in the 1st, a double in the 4th, and a triple in the 6th…which means he hit for the cycle! I’ve been to about 590 major league games, and that’s the first cycle I’ve ever seen. How awesome. I’ve been lucky enough to see a no-hitter (Doc Gooden at Yankee Stadium on May 14, 1996), so I’m wondering what’s next? A perfecto? A four-homer game? An unassisted triple play? Mike Piazza throwing out a base-stealer?
The Giants won, 7-3, so I went down to the first row behind their dugout to try to get a ball.
Nothing. There were little kids all around me.
Manager Felipe Alou lingered on the top step for a few seconds to pack up some stuff, so I shouted at him: “Felipe!! Can I get the lineup card?!”
He disappeared from view for a couple seconds, then poked his head up and flung two pieces of paper in the air, and I dove on them. Lineup cards! It’d been five years since I got one, and these were from Randy Winn’s cycle game! OHMYGOD.
I had to get extra ticket stubs, so I started asking everyone in sight. It was amazing how many people were willing to give them up. Did they simply not realize that they had just witnessed baseball history?
“Whaddaya want ’em for?” people asked.
“Well, it’s my first game here, and I wanted to get a bunch as souvenirs.” That was actually true. I would’ve wanted stubs even if this were the most boring game in history.
A wife whispered to her husband: “He wants them for the coupons on the back.”
Coupons? Oh hey, sure enough…
“HOOTERS Buy 10 wings, Get 10 free. Dine in only. Expires 12/31/05. Visit one of our 5 area locations! Don’t forget to catch the river shuttle from Newport for all the home games!”
“SUBWAY Any 6″ sub $1.99 with the purchase of a 21 oz. soft drink. One coupon per customer per visit. Offer good on your next visit. Not good with any other offer. Good at all participating restaurants in the Tri-State area only. No cash value. Not for sale. Offer expires 10/31/05.”
Then I took a $7 taxi back to the hotel.
• 168 balls in 25 games this season = 6.7 balls per game.
• 409 consecutive games with at least one ball.
• 35 consecutive games with at least four balls.
• 75 consecutive games outside New York City with at least one ball.
• 460 balls outside New York City.
I’m heading back to Great American Ball Park in an hour. I hope I can get Winn to sign one or more of those tickets.
I wish it weren’t raining…