The rain stayed away. I was in shock. And I ended up having a great day.
When Gate C opened at 4:40pm, I ran inside and paused for a moment in the concourse behind home plate. I couldn’t decide whether to go to right or left field. Then I realized that it was stupid to stop and think about it, so I headed to right. Bad choice. It was dead–no balls hit into the seats, nothing thrown by the players, little kids all around–so I ran back toward home plate and out to the left field foul line. The seats there were still mostly empty when Gerald Williams hooked a line drive in my direction. The ball landed about 50 feet short and took a beautiful bounce right into my section. I ran up a few rows and grabbed it as it started to trickle down the steps.
The seats started filling up. The ushers and security guards came out of hiding. The only two people shagging balls in left field were Heath Bell (who recognizes me and will never ever throw me another ball) and some random BP assistant (who never throws balls to anyone)…so I headed up to the Loge Level. Remember the corner spot from my entry about the weirdest way I ever got a ball? That’s where I went, and I had the whole section to myself.
One minute later, two kids showed up and went straight to the front row. There was a boy, about 14 years old, and a younger girl, presumably his sister, who looked to be about 10. Heath Bell immediately tossed him a ball. Moments later, I got one from Tom Glavine, and five minutes later, I got another from Pedro Martinez.
“Can I have it?!” asked the girl. “You got two!”
Of course. My pleasure. You want it? Here it is. No problem. I just got the first ball of my life from PEDRO FREAKIN’ MARTINEZ, and I’m going to give it away.
I told her that instead of asking me for a ball, she should try to get one for herself. I told her she was in a good spot and that she should pay attention and keep asking the players. Then Jose Offerman threw me a ball, and she started to whine and beg. I gave her the speech again. Then Chris Woodward threw me a ball, right over her head. More whining, more begging, another speech.
I started thinking about my chances of reaching double digits when all of a sudden, Pedro threw her a ball. I was surprised. She’d been mispronouncing his name for half an hour.
I congratulated her and offered a handshake and said, “Isn’t THAT better than having ME give you a stupid ball?”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“Well, good luck getting some more,” I said. “I gotta head downstairs.”
She looked confused. Why would I leave a section where I’d just gotten four balls? Because it was 5:25pm and the Mets were about to finish BP and bring all their lovely baseballs off the field.
It took me two minutes to reach the seats behind the dugout and another two minutes to work my way into the front row. Soon after, the Mets wrapped it up and headed off the field. Carlos Beltran tossed me a ball. (That was number six on the day, in case you lost count.) Ten seconds later, someone–possibly Beltran again–flipped up a ball from underneath the dugout roof. I grabbed that one too and headed out to the LF corner, feeling good about my shot at double digits.
There was a ball sitting on the sloped grassy area between the seats and the field. I lowered my glove and swung it out and knocked the ball closer. Then I did it again so that it was directly below me and raised my glove to start setting it up for the trick. That’s when the on-field security guard rushed over and started yelling at me. He didn’t allow me to get it. Why? Because at Shea Stadium, every guard has his own set of rules just for me. He climbed onto the grassy area, picked up the ball, and handed it to someone else. I shook my head. He smirked.
The Phillies were already taking BP, and someone hit a ball into the corner. Rheal Cormier walked over and picked it up. I asked for it. He flipped it to me. Easy. But I still needed two more balls to reach double digits. If not for that guard, I would’ve only needed one. GAH!!!
The Cormier ball was my 1,000th lifetime “official major league baseball.” Before the year 2000 (as opposed to the ball 2000), each league had its own balls. I miss those days. Now every ball has Bud Selig’s name on it. I’m getting sick of seeing it. It’s time for a change.
Toward the end of BP, two Phillies coaches–Marc Bombard and Bill Dancy–started playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout, so I headed over there. The first few rows were packed. I could’ve gotten down to the front if I really wanted to, but I decided it didn’t matter and stayed half a dozen rows back. Dancy ended up with the ball. I shouted his name. He didn’t hear me. I shouted again. All the fans turned and stared. I shouted AGAIN and he finally looked over. I jumped up and down and waved my arms and glove to get his attention, and he lobbed the ball to me, right over everyone’s head. Perfect! One more to go! As soon as I caught it, an old guy told me I should write down the date and time and details of how I got it so that I’d always remember.
“Thanks,” I said. “I actually have my own system for keeping track of that stuff.”
“Do it,” he insisted. “I’m telling you. You’ll be glad someday.” He looked at his watch. “Six-fifteen,” he said, jabbing his finger at the ball. “Six-fifteen. Write it down.”
“No really,” I said, “I’ve got it all under control, but I appreciate it.”
He didn’t let it go, so I told him how many balls I’d collected in my life. Then he let it go–and started telling me about a ball he caught in 1939.
“It wasn’t Rawlings back then,” I said. “It was Spalding, right?”
“That’s right!” he said.
He would’ve kept talking, but Bobby Abreu started signing autographs out in front of the dugout, so I moved down the steps. Abreu was pretty much only signing balls because people could toss them to him from a distance. I could’ve easily gotten him to sign one, but I didn’t. The only balls I’ve ever intentionally gotten signed were #1,000 (by Pedro Borbon, Jr. who threw it to me) and #2,000 (by Joe Roa). There’s also a random ball that Charlie Sheen signed a couple years ago. I was working for CBS and lent it for a segment and it came back autographed without my asking. I was NOT happy. Long story. Very very very long story. But anyway…
Fifteen minutes before gametime, Ramon Castro was playing catch with coach (and former major league catcher) Tom Nieto in right field. I waltzed down to the front row and asked Nieto if I could have the ball when he was done. Amazingly, there wasn’t ANYONE else with a glove, so he had no choice but to toss it to me when he was done. Double digits had been achieved.
I headed up to the Loge for the first pitch. The switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins was going to lead off and bat lefty against the right-handed Jae Seo, so I headed to the 3rd base side of home plate and stood in the runway between sections 4 and 6. Rollins fouled off half a dozen pitches and worked the count to 2-2. Then he fouled off another one, a nice high pop-up in my direction. I drifted up the slanted runway and camped under it in the aisle. It was coming down right toward me when a fan reached out of the Mezzanine Level 15 feet above. The fan didn’t have a glove. The fan dropped the ball. The ball fell straight down. My waiting glove swallowed it. First batter of the game. That felt good. (Check out that big smudge of wood/pine tar residue.)
For the next inning, I positioned myself differently for righties and lefties, moving back and forth from the 3rd to the 1st base side of the plate. Then, in the middle of the second inning, I had to leave for work. Here’s what Shea looked like from the subway platform:
Believe it or not, it wasn’t frustrating to leave. Shea Stadium is pure stress. I was delighted to take my 11 balls and disappear into the night.
• CPB = 1.27
• 212 balls in 31 games this season = 6.8 balls per game
• 115 balls in 16 Mets games this season = 7.2 balls per game
• 69 balls this month.
• 415 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 41 consecutive games with at least three balls
• 87 lifetime game balls
• 2,643 total balls (ties me with Jim O’Rourke for 67th place on the all-time hits list)