Remember those two free tickets I got? Well, I gave the second one to my mom who hadn’t been to a game in years. It was my birthday. I caught 13 balls, and she saw me get 12 of them. I even used her to get one. It was a great, great day.
It started with a mid-afternoon subway ride out to Shea. We had our umbrellas. It looked like it was about to rain, but we could see that the field was set up for batting practice. Then it started raining just before Gate C opened at 4:40pm. Then it stopped.
I didn’t know what to expect when I ran inside. Turned out that the cage and protective screens had been taken down, but the grounds crew was in the process of setting them back up. This caused a 20-minute delay, during which I got two Mets coaches–Jerry Manuel and Sandy Alomar, Sr.–to throw me balls behind the dugout.
I ran out to the left field foul line when BP started. There were two other guys there, and one of them said, “You have to leave at least one ball for us.”
“We were there in Baltimore,” he said. “We saw you steal like fourteen balls.”
Actually, it was seventeen. “Oh. Yeah,” I said and asked them what their deal was. They’d flown in from California for a two-week trip to hit up all the east coast stadiums.
Heath Bell, the one Met who recognizes me and has made it clear that I’d never get another ball from him, was shagging out in left-center field. When he came a little bit closer to field a ball, I shouted, “Heath! I know you hate me, but it’s my birthday! Whaddaya say?!”
He started walking toward me and said something, but he was still 100 feet away, and I couldn’t hear him.
He kept walking, cupped his hand next to his mouth, and repeated himself.
I shrugged and cupped my ear.
He came even closer and cranked up the volume. “I don’t hate you,” he shouted.
“No, I know that!” I yelled back. “I’m just messing around, but seriously, it IS my birthday!”
“Happy birthday!” he said.
“How about a birthday ball?! I promise I won’t bother you again for a whole year!”
He threw me the ball. HA!!! That was number three on the day, and it was the first time I’d ever milked the birthday angle ON my birthday. I once got Chad Bradford, who has the same birthday, to throw me a ball at Yankee Stadium by saying, “How about a ball for a fellow September 14th guy?” but this was different.
The Nationals took the field and started playing catch. Someone on the Mets hit a ball that trickled to the tallest player in major league history in the left field corner. He tossed it to me. That was number four.
Rick Short was playing catch with the other non-pitchers in shallow left field. I pointed him out to my mom and told her I was going to head over to get a ball from him and that I’d be right back. Once I got there, it took about seven seconds. That was the one ball that she didn’t see me catch. She’d looked down for a moment, not expecting me to get it so quickly.
Two minutes later, someone asked Gary Majewski for a ball, and he tossed it to me instead. COMMEMORATIVE!!!
Two minutes after that, I got Hector Carrasco to throw me one. ALSO COMMEMORATIVE!!!
Someone on the Nationals hit a home run that landed in the narrow, cluttered gap behind the left field wall. My very patient mother waited on the Field Level while I ran up to the Loge and got permission from the security guard to use my glove trick. The ball was at least 25 or 30 feet below, and it was trapped by a tangled mess of hoses. It took about five minutes before I finally got it to stick inside the glove. I wasn’t sure how secure it was and worried that it might slip out on the way back up, but the
rubber band held it, and I had my eighth ball of the day. Unfortunately, the ball had no logo, and the stitches were red and grey. I’d gotten a bunch of these no-logo balls before. The Mets used a red and blue-stitched version in 2003, and when I caught one for the first time, I didn’t know what to make of it. I wasn’t even sure if I should count it in my collection, but I did. It seemed like the most accurate thing to do. I mean, the METS had used it AT Shea Stadium–and the process of getting it had taken as much of an effort as any other ball I’d ever caught, so why not count it? Later in the season, when David Cone came over to sign autographs and lingered near the front row, I asked him about these balls. He said they were All-Star balls that hadn’t gotten stamped. I wasn’t sure if he was right, but wow. It was a nifty explanation for the no-logo mystery…and indeed, All-Star balls DO have multi-colored stitches.
I ran back down to the Field Level and showed my mom the ball. Moments later, I had to hide it because Jose Guillen fielded one right in front of us. He’d given me a ball the day before, and since I was the only fan in the stadium with an Expos hat, I was pretty sure he remembered me. I had to come up with something special when he looked toward the seats to pick out a recipient.
“Jose,” I said. “How ’bout a ball for my mom?”
He looked up and I pointed to her, and he under-handed the ball in our direction. I knew my mom didn’t care about the ball, and since I had to be the one to catch it in order for it to count, I stuck out my glove at the last second. Guillen was watching, so I made a mini-production of handing it over to her. As soon as he left, I numbered it and put it in my bag with all the others and gave her a kiss. If not for her, I would not have gotten that ball. Actually, I would’ve missed several balls if not for her because, upon my request, she’d stayed in the corner spot down the left field line while I ran all over the place. Every time I returned, the corner spot was waiting for me.
It was in that spot that I reached double digits. Someone on the Nationals–again, I don’t know who–ripped a two-hopper down the left field line. The ball was well out of reach when it passed me, but I still leaned over to get a good look at where it would end up. The ball happened to hit the front tire of a three-wheeler that was parked 15 feet past me on the warning track, and it bounced back up in my direction. I lunged down and barely caught it in the tip of my glove. Once again, the ball didn’t have a logo. Neither did the one that Keith Osik tossed me five minutes later. What the heII?!
At 6:25pm, I started making my way toward the 3rd base dugout when a Nationals lefty–I think it was Nick Johnson–lofted a high pop-up in my direction. I worked my way around a pudgy kid, scurried down the steps, cut through a row of orange seats, reached way out, and made the catch. My mom couldn’t believe it. OFFICIAL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. Thank god.
I got my 13th and final ball at the dugout as the Nationals came off the field after BP. Livan Hernandez threw it. No logo.
I ate lots of junk food. The Mets lost again. My mom was a great sport, totally willing to wander all over the place with me. I mean, she’s always a great sport, and it WAS my birthday, but still…
• 4th time reaching double digits in my last five games
• 3rd time I’ve ever snagged (exactly) 13 balls in one game
• 2nd highest number of balls on my birthday (I got 16 last year.)
• CPB = 0.00 (I got a free ticket.)
• 258 balls in 35 games this season = 7.4 balls per game
• 419 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 45 consecutive games with at least three balls