QUICK NON-SHEA UPDATE:I’ll be talking about my blog tonight on MLB Radio at about 10:15 p.m. ET.
AND NOW, THE BALL REPORT:
Yesterday, I went to Shea with my friend Sean. We decided it was best to split up during batting practice–no point in standing near each other and competing for 105 minutes–so when the gates opened at 4:40pm, he ran to left field and I ran to right.
As I headed down the steps toward the front row, I spotted a ball sitting on the ground several sections over. Just as I was about to start climbing over the orange railings to get there, I saw another ball lying at my feet! But as soon as I picked it up, my excitement vanished. It was a bogus ball. Instead of “OFFICIAL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL,” the logo said “Donated by the New York Mets Foundation.”
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
Years ago, I’d gotten one of these balls from a security guard and decided not to count it in my collection.
I climbed the railings and picked up the other ball. Same thing.
Then I spotted another ball sitting in a cup holder in the first row. I unlatched the chain, walked down into the blue seats, got a suspicious look from the on-field security guard, and grabbed the ball. Another fake.
I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to start numbering them as part of my collection? I’d been placing them in different pockets so I’d remember the order in which I’d gotten them, but I couldn’t decide. Then, just before a few other fans made their way down to my section, I found a FOURTH ball in another cup holder. Jesus!
Should they count? Should they NOT count? I was going crazy. I had to decide fast. I inspected one of the balls and noticed that it was made in China. It did say “Rawlings” on it, but official major league balls are made in Costa Rica…and official balls weigh 5.5 ounces and measure 9.5 inches in circumference. This ball said “5 OZ.” and “9 IN.”
I was leaning toward NOT counting them…but wait…I was AT a major league game. Shouldn’t they count? No! They were fake and lame, and there was no proof that the Mets were even using them. In fact, these balls couldn’t have been used by the Mets because there were a dozen employees already sitting in some nearby seats when I ran in. If these balls had landed in the seats–and been placed in cup holders–during the 20 minutes of BP that I’d missed, the employees would’ve snatched them. Yes! That was it! There must’ve been some early-afternoon youth clinic. That’s where these balls must’ve come from.
Five minutes passed, and I was still torn, so I came up with one final solution:
I’d wait until I got a ball directly from the Mets. Then, if the logo said the same thing as the other four, I’d know that they were legit–and I’d count them. Otherwise, forget it.
Nothing happened for 10 more minutes. Right field was filling up a bit, but there weren’t any balls hit or thrown into the seats. Typical.
Finally, someone on the Mets sliced a pop-up down the line. There were a couple guys standing just in front of me. They froze. I knew the ball was going to fall short, so I started climbing over the railings before it landed. WHACK!!! It hit a seat and bounced closer to me. I ducked under a railing and grabbed it off the concrete step…
“OFFICIAL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.”
Mystery solved. I dumped the four phony balls into my backpack and wrote “2715” on the one I’d just snagged.
I was still torn. There was no right answer. It could’ve been argued either way, but I think I did the right thing. I obeyed my gut. Was there a better option?
Soon after, my gut told me to ditch the Field Level and head up to the Loge.
Sean was also in the Loge, all the way across the stadium in the corner spot. I hadn’t seen him get any balls, but I hadn’t really been watching. I was just hoping that he wouldn’t get shut out. On 9/6/05 at Camden Yards, he managed to get one ball without putting in much of an effort. This time, he was going all out, and I was glad. It hurts to see my friends leave empty-handed, even when they claim not to care.
Anyway, Victor Diaz tossed me a ball from the warning track 30 feet below, and five minutes later, I got another one from Kris Benson after his bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Peterson. Then, toward the end of the Mets’ batting practice, Gerald Williams threw me a ball–my fourth of the day–near the foul pole.
I raced downstairs and headed to the dugout. As all the Mets players and coaches were coming off the field, I got a ball from HoJo! He was actually approaching the dugout empty-handed when a random ball rolled out of nowhere and stopped just in front of him on the warning track. It was beautiful.
If I hadn’t been at Shea the previous two days, I would’ve gone to left field for the Marlins’ batting practice–and I would’ve done well. But because of Ron Villone’s antics on Tuesday, and because I was still the only fan wearing a bright aqua Marlins hat on Wednesday, I knew that all the players in left field would recognize me. That’s why I gave Sean that side of the stadium and stayed out in right field.
Because Shea is a poorly designed hellhole, there wasn’t a single ball hit into the right field seats for the final 45 minutes of batting practice.
Because I don’t have breasts, my very loud–and very polite–requests for baseballs were ignored by the following Marlins players and coaches: Mike Lowell, A.J. Burnett, Josh Johnson, Matt Treanor, Paul Lo Duca, Jeremy Hermida, Luis Castillo, Chris Aguila, Lenny Harris, Jeff Cox, Mark Wiley, and Luis Dorante. None of them recognized me. They were just being rude…or giving balls to other fans who were born lucky.
I was still stuck at five when BP ended. Thankfully, Juan Encarnacion made my day a little less bad by tossing me ball #6 at the Marlins’ dugout.
I turned around to look for Sean and saw him heading down the steps.
“How many?!” I mouthed.
He held up four fingers (awesome!) and pointed at me inquisitively.
I held up three fingers–and then three more.
He was happy.
I was happy.
We headed up to the Loge for the first pitch and had great seats for foul balls, right behind home plate and slightly shaded to the 3rd base side. The only problem was that we’d only be able to get balls from left-handed hitters…and with the left-handed Dontrelle Willis pitching for the Fish, there was only ONE lefty in the Mets lineup: Cliff Floyd. The Marlins, meanwhile, started three lefties against Pedro Martinez. (Nice pitching matchup, eh?) There was Juan Pierre, Carlos Delgado (who hardly got to swing the bat thanks to THREE intentional walks), and Dontrelle (who batted 7th ahead of Joe Dillon and Robert Andino). Sean and I really wanted to be on the 1st base side, but we decided to wait a couple innings for the crowd to settle in. In the bottom of the 2nd, David Wright hit a foul tip RIGHT to the very two seats where we wanted to sit. The following inning, we moved over there and didn’t come close to another foul ball for the rest of the night.
But at least we saw a good game–and a bit of history. Dontrelle, who picked up his major league-leading 22nd win with a fine eight-inning effort, became the first pitcher to bat 7th since Expos right-hander Steve Renko did it against the Padres on August 26, 1973.
(We also saw Rod Stewart sitting one section over and getting mobbed.)
• CPB = 5.00 (Another $30 ticket. Bleh.)
• 289 balls in 39 games this season = 7.4 balls per game
• 423 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 49 consecutive games with at least three balls