A week and a half ago, the Mets were in the thick of the Wild Card chase and Shea Stadium was jumping. Yesterday, the Mets came home from a disastrous road trip and Shea was empty. I loved it. But the place was so empty that it was actually harder to get balls. That’s because players tend to feed off the fans. The more the fans yell for balls, the more the players toss ’em into the seats. Yesterday, I was the only one yelling. Literally.
After getting shut out for the first 15 minutes on the Field Level and learning how to ask for a ball in Greek, I went up to the Loge in right field and had the place to myself.
Of course there wasn’t a single ball hit into the Loge for the first 50 minutes. The only ball I got was thrown by Roberto Hernandez, who was making a desperate attempt to get me to shut up. It worked because the whole Mets’ pitching staff saw me catch it. After that, there weren’t too many guys left for me to harass.
I left the Loge and went to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP. Tom Nieto, the catching instructor, tossed me a ball on his way in. I was in the third row. Everyone in front of me jumped but couldn’t reach it. It was beautiful.
As I’ve mentioned a couple times before, the Nationals are using commemorative balls for their inaugural season. Officially, these balls are only being used during their home games–but old game balls often get dumped into the practice bin, and the practice bin travels with the team.
I reached the left field corner just before the Nationals’ pitchers finished throwing. I really wanted another commemorative ball (I got two on 7/5/05 at RFK Stadium), but there was no way to plan for it, nothing I could do to make it happen. The commemorative balls were mixed in with the regular balls. I just had to catch what I could catch and hope for the best.
Moments later, Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton finished. Eischen ended up with the ball. I held up my glove and muttered a quiet “Joey” and he threw it to me. I made the catch and immediately fumbled with it to find the logo…
Eischen lingered in left field. I didn’t want him to see me begging other players for balls so, after getting Esteban Loaiza to sign my ticket stub, I moved to 3rd base. Before long, Deivi Cruz wandered over and flipped me a ball and…?!
I think I cursed.
Ten minutes later, I got another ball from bullpen catcher Jose Martinez.
I definitely cursed.
These were easy balls. Gift balls. I hadn’t done anything clever or athletic to get them. I didn’t even have to say “please.” I was just standing there, shouting these guys’ first names. There weren’t any Nationals fans in sight, and I was the only person wearing a glove.
A few more minutes passed. Jose Guillen approached the seats a couple sections over and tossed two balls to some guys in the front row. As Guillen walked passed me, I pounded my glove like a fielder getting ready to make a play.
He looked up and said something quietly. I couldn’t understand him, but I thought I’d heard the words “you” and “baseball.”
“Do I play baseball?” I asked.
He kept walking and repeated himself, barely louder than before: “Do you want a baseball?”
I thought it might be a trick question, but what was I going to say? No?! “Yeah!” I shouted. “I’d love one.”
He continued walking toward the dugout, stopped in front of the photographers box, picked up a ball that I hadn’t seen, and threw it to me.
“Thanks!” I yelled.
He was already gone.
(I don’t care what Mike Scioscia says. Jose Guillen is a good guy.)
Rick Short is also a good guy. I asked him, from a distance, if he could sign later if he got a chance. He said he would, but I never found out if he kept his promise because I went to the right field foul line during the lull between BP and the game, hoping to finally get a Jose Reyes autograph. Reyes sometimes signs right before the game, and when he does, there’s an instant mob of fans. I got myself into position while he was still stretching and running so that I’d at least be at the front of the mob if he came over.
Mike Jacobs came over. The mob formed behind me. I got him to sign one of several old ticket stubs that I’d brought for the occasion.
Two minutes later, Reyes approached, and the mob swelled, but I was able to hold my ground and get him.
I stepped out of the front row to give other people a chance and then moved two sections over to take a picture of the madness. Reyes moved over, too. Before everyone caught up with him, I got his autograph again, but the son-of-a-bee touched his own signature in the process of handing it back. The wet ink smudged.
I didn’t get any more balls during or after the game, but there were still plenty of highlights (and two lowlights):
1. Hector Carrasco, provider of ball #1,500 at the Metrodome in 1999, made his second career start. (Four innings, two runs, three hits, three walks, six strikeouts.)
2. I got a tee-shirt during the Pepsi Party Patrol Tee-Shirt Launch. (I think this was my 6th lifetime tee-shirt.)
3. A fan on the 3rd base side got hit with a foul ball and needed medical attention. (This is the first lowlight.) I ran over and took a look. It was a middle-aged man. He’d gotten nailed above the right eye. It was pretty gruesome. The blood had soaked through a fistful of napkins and was dripping down his arm. Aside from feeling sorry for him, I was surprised because the ball wasn’t hit that hard. It was just a little lazy pop-up.
4. Rick Short, pinch hitting for Eischen in the top of the 7th, got a hit to raise his career batting average to .400. (His parents must be sick human beings. If your last name is Short, why on earth would you name your son “Richard”?)
5. Lowlight number two: In the bottom of the 7th, Jose Offerman ran back toward 1st base on a Kaz Matsui grounder up the middle and got hosed at 2nd by center fielder Preston Wilson. (After the play, my friend Eric used a big word in voicing his disgust: “That’s a microcosm of the Mets’ season.”)
6. Some random dude gave me two Field Level tickets for the next game. He just walked up and said he couldn’t use them and asked me if I wanted them. (Gosh, okay. I suppose I can force myself to sit though another baseball game.)
7. The Mets lost. (Shea will continue to be a ghost town, heh heh.)
• CPB = 0.83 (It was “Value Night.” I got in for five bucks.)
• 245 balls in 34 games this season = 7.2 balls per game
• 418 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 44 consecutive games with at least three balls