That’s right. I went to Shea yesterday.
Normally, I avoid weekend games because they’re crowded–this one ended up being the Mets’ eighth sellout of the season–but the Nationals were in town, and I wanted to try to get a few more of their commemorative balls. (I got two on 7/5/05 at RFK Stadium.)
As soon as I ran in for batting practice and headed toward the right field seats, I saw an usher walking up the steps with a ball in his hand. Incredibly, it wasn’t anyone that I recognized, so I asked him for it, and he handed it to me. I don’t count balls that fans give me, but since so many employees have gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls over the years, I’ve decided that if I ever happen to receive a little charity from one of them, it should count.
I heard someone shout my name, someone I didn’t recognize. Turns out it was a 17-year-old from Seattle named Lars who recognized me from this blog and from my web site. He and I started corresponding three years ago but never met. Recently, he’d e-mailed me to ask for some ball-snagging advice for a few east coast ballparks (including Shea) he planned to visit. And there he was. Very cool.
I got Kris Benson to toss me a ball in the right field corner, and I headed to the LF Loge Level soon after. Within 10 minutes, Danny Graves and Chris Woodward threw me balls. I like Woodward. He’s nice. I like to think that I’d be Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter if I were a major leaguer, but realistically, I’d be Chris Woodward.
Moments later, someone on the Mets hit a home run that barely cleared the fence and landed in the gap 30 feet below. I quickly rigged my glove with the rubber band and magic marker and started to lower it–but I’d forgotten to untangle the string after my previous game in Houston, so I had to lift it back up and pick out all the knots.
A security guard walked down the steps and asked me what I was doing. There was no denying it. I fessed up and pleaded for a chance to try to get the ball.
“There’s a ball down there?”
He peered over the edge incredulously. “I don’t think it’s possible,” he said, “but good luck.”
I started lowering my glove again through the narrow space between the concrete and the advertisement board’s metal support beams (which you can see in this photograph). It was barely wide enough for my glove, but it fit, and I lowered it all the way down. I got the glove to drop over the ball and hoped that the rubber band was tight enough to hold the ball in place all the way back up. I lifted the glove slowly and steadily. Five feet…ten feet…fifteen feet…twenty feet…twenty-five feet…and that’s when it got tricky. The space right behind the board was extremely narrow, and my glove was spinning around. (That’s what things dangling by long pieces of string tend to do.) I was afraid the glove would hit something and knock the ball loose…so I let the glove dangle in place for a full minute until it stopped spinning, and then I carefully lifted it through all the protruding metal parts.
I had the ball. Number five on the day. The security guard congratulated me and shook my hand. So did the other fans. It felt great.
I ran to the 1st base dugout and worked my way down to the front row just as the Mets were coming off the field after batting practice. Coach Manny Acta threw me a ball.
The Nationals had started BP, so I ran out to shallow left field and got a ball from Hector Carrasco. NOT a commemorative ball. I was disappointed…a rare emotion after getting a ball. Fifteen minutes later, I saw a ball lying on the edge of the outfield grass, just beyond 3rd base, so I hurried over and asked Christian Guzman for it in Spanish and he tossed it to me. More disappointment.
I returned to the LF corner. No balls.
I ran to the Nationals’ dugout after BP. No balls.
Then I got three autographs, including two on tickets from RFK: Tony Armas Jr., Brad Wilkerson, and Preston Wilson.
I went back to the Nationals’ dugout right before the game. No balls.
It was 7:05pm. I had to be at work in 55 minutes. This was another one of those days where I’d bought a $14 ticket just for batting practice. It would’ve been nice to stick around and watch Pedro pitch the top of the 1st, but I had to go. I ran into Lars on the way out. He and his parents combined for eight balls, and he’d caught four or five of them. (Congrats, Lars!)
It was weird, as always, to see so many people arriving for the game while I was leaving. As I made my way toward the #7 train, a scalper asked me if I needed tickets.
• CPB = 1.75. (Now THAT’S more like it.)
• 198 balls in 29 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.
• 413 consecutive games with at least one ball.
• 39 consecutive games with at least three balls.
• 2,629 total balls.