My dad and I have gone to three games together in the last three years.
In June of 2003, we visited Fenway Park.
In June of 2005, we made the trip to Philadelphia.
Yesterday, we went to Shea–and started off in right field.
The stadium was almost empty during batting practice, but that didn’t make a difference because there wasn’t a single ball hit into the seats…so it was another day of begging.
The first person I asked was Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello.
“How many balls do you need?!” he shouted from 100 feet away.
“All of them!” I yelled.
“What for?!” he asked.
He didn’t throw me the ball. That’s what happens when guys recognize me. He’d never recognized me before. Not good.
Luckily, Victor Zambrano didn’t recognize me, so I was able to talk him out of a ball 10 minutes later.
I got another from Jae Seo by asking him in Korean, and less than a minute after that, I got my third ball of the day from Gerald Williams by calling him by his nickname: “Ice.”
Juan Padilla came over and signed autographs. So did Seo who was so careless that he signed my ticket stub upside down and smudged it slightly as he handed it back. Thanks.
It was great to have my dad there. Not only did he get to watch me in action–and keep me well fed throughout the night–but he helped make peace with numerous ushers and security guards who’ve…let’s say…been rather difficult over the years. I love having him on my side.
Just before we headed off to the 1st base dugout for the end of the Mets’ BP, a teenaged kid approached and asked, “Are you Zack?”
“Yes,” I said. “You must be George.”
I was right. Who else could it have been? We’d been corresponding through the comments section on this blog all week. He asked if I’d be at Shea. I told him I would, and he found me. Pretty simple.
I like being recognized (as long as it’s not a by player or coach). I like people in general, and for that reason, I think I’d be a nice celebrity. I don’t consider myself famous, but I did get recognized quite a bit after my book came out in 1999. For a few years, I had fans coming up to me at every game I attended, even on the west coast and in Canada. Some of them even asked for autographs, including one lady who had me sign her glove right under Mark McGwire’s signature. It was pretty wild. Occasionally, people would see me running all over the place and ask if I’d seen “that kid on TV who collects balls.”
“I am that kid,” I’d say.
Some people wouldn’t believe me. That’s why I started carrying the bathtub pic in my wallet, not that I really have to prove myself, but it was just fun to get all kinds of reactions.
At around 5:30pm, I headed to the dugout and my dad followed. When the Mets came off the field, I got three balls from Mets coaches within a one-minute span. The first was Jerry Manuel. Then Howard Johnson. Then Manny Acta (who’s now thrown me nine balls since 2003). These guys all came back to the dugout 30 seconds apart. I’d squeezed into the front row, right above the gap in the protective fence where I knew they’d all have to enter. George was impressed. So was my dad, but there really wasn’t anything fancy about it.
The Rockies had started BP, so I went to left field. Fifteen wasted minutes later, I ran up to the Loge and my dad came with me.
I asked J.D. Closser for balls several times, and he kept ignoring me. Finally, I was like, “C’mon, just one ball and I’ll shut up, whaddaya say?”
He looked up and said, “I say no.”
“Is there any way I can get a ball from you guys?”
“Yeah,” he said, “you can catch one.”
“But this stadium [is bad]!” I shouted. “There aren’t any balls hit up here!”
“That’s not my problem,” he said, and that was the end of it. I couldn’t tell if he was being playful or flat-out snotty, but at least he acknowledged my existence.
A home run barely cleared the left field wall and dropped into the gap 25 feet below. After five minutes, I was able to snag it with my glove trick. (If you don’t know what I mean by the “glove trick,” read my entry from April 26th.) Even better than the ball itself was that my dad had seen me get it. He was impressed. So was Jose Acevedo.
That was the only ball I got during the entire Rockies’ BP. I made it to the 3rd base dugout just before all the players and coaches came off the field, and I got a ball–my eighth of the day–from Omar Quintanilla. Actually, I didn’t know who it was until my friend Adam (A.K.A. “The Grocery Man“) identified him for me. When I looked at the ball, I was shocked to discover that Quintanilla had already signed it. That’s the first time I’ve ever gotten a ball that was already signed. The only other balls I have that’re signed are #’s 1,000 and 2,000 by the players who gave them to me…and a random ball that Charlie Sheen briefly got a hold of. Long story.
Two side notes:
1) Adam caught two balls yesterday.
2) Quintanilla is now the fourth “Q” player to have tossed me a ball. The others are Paul Quantrill, Ruben Quevedo, and Robb Quinlan. (On an even less exciting note, he’s the third Omar on my list, joining Daal and Infante.)
Okay, make that three side notes…
3) George got one ball. Actually, he caught two but handed one over to a little kid that it had specifically been thrown to.
I didn’t catch any more balls before the game, but I did get two autographs: Clint Barmes and Luis Gonzalez.
“That’s an interesting signature,” I said to Barmes.
“Yeah, I know it’s not pretty, but that’s just how I’ve always done it.”
“Yeah, well you’ve always been an idiot.” (Just kidding. I didn’t really say that.)
My dad and I had great seats in shallow left field. I’d strategically picked them. We were in the first row behind the main aisle and on the end of the row so I could jump up and start running in any direction. It’s essential to have range. You never want to be trapped in the middle of a row because the odds of a ball coming right to you are very slim.
You may recall from yesterday’s entry that I really wanted a ball from Todd Helton. Why? Just to have a tangible connection to a player that I already liked. Well, with the right-handed Kris Benson on the hill, the left-handed Helton was back in the lineup. I knew that my only chance to get a ball from him was to sneak down to the dugout every inning and hope that the Mets would make the 3rd out on the ground–and that Helton (playing 1st base) would end up with the ball and take it back to the dugout and toss it into the crowd.
With two outs in the bottom of the 1st, I left my poor old dad in his seat and headed over to the dugout. Mike Piazza flied out to center fielder Matt Holiday. No ball for me.
With two outs in the bottom of the 2nd, I left my dad again. Jose Reyes grounded out to Gonzalez, who fired to Helton. This was it! No, it wasn’t! Helton tossed the ball 10 feet to my right. I’d guessed wrong and picked the wrong staircase. No ball once again.
No problem. With two outs in the bottom of the 3rd, I went back to the same staircase where I’d been, thinking that Helton would remember where he’d tossed the ball the previous inning–and toss it toward me instead. But David Wright ruined everything by striking out. No ball.
By the bottom of the 4th, Adam and a few other guys I know had joined me and my dad along the 3rd base line. After the Mets made the first two outs, I told them that I needed a groundout to end the inning–and I headed off. When Benson came up with two outs, I feared I’d be getting another inning-ending strikeout, but Byung-Hyun Kim walked him on five pitches. That brought up Reyes, who ended up hitting a come-backer. I was already down the steps before Helton made the catch and therefore was able to get right up to the front. Helton took the ball with him as he jogged off the field and he flung it in my direction from about 40 feet out. The long throw gave everyone plenty of time to try to jostle me out of position, but I held my ground and reached WAY out over the dugout roof and made the catch. I was psyched! Todd Helton. Future Hall of Famer. It felt great to make the triumphant return to the seats. I felt great in general. I had a goal, made a plan, and executed it. My dad deserves some credit. He never made me feel guilty for leaving him every inning. In fact, he’d encouraged me to run off and do my thing.
Three outs later, Marlon Anderson led off the bottom of the 5th by slicing a soft foul ball in my direction. Before it reached the peak of its arc, I was already racing through the crowded aisle to get as close as possible to its landing spot. The ball was falling short and curving to the right. I was about 15 feet away when I saw it land in the runway that connects the seats to the concourse. I figured there HAD to be someone there. Someone had to be heading to the bathroom or returning from the souvenir stand with a Mr. Met bobblehead, but when I rounded the corner, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The runway was empty, and the ball was just sitting at the bottom! I was all over it, even more psyched than before. Last year, I’d gotten 10 game balls (not counting game-used balls that are thrown to me, like the one from Helton). This Marlon Anderson ball was my 10th gamer of this year…it was the first time that I’d reached double digits in game balls in back-to-back seasons.
I hurried back up the runway, made eye contact with my dad 30 feet down the aisle, and held up the ball. I can’t even describe how amazing it felt. He couldn’t believe it, and neither could I. When that ball left Marlon’s bat, there had to have been at least 100 fans sitting closer to the runway than me. Maybe 200. Of course, they weren’t all sitting near aisles and staircases, but still, there were dozens of people who could’ve gotten there first if they’d been a little more with it.
The rest of the game flew by. I was having so much fun that I didn’t even realize that there was only one out to go until Adam questioned why I hadn’t yet gone to the dugout.
“Meet me behind home plate!” I shouted at my dad as I took off.
Instead of battling the mob at the Mets’ dugout, I tried a new strategy. I went to the runway directly behind home plate to try to get a ball from the home plate umpire as he walked off the field. Whoever it was, he tossed THREE balls into the crowd, but I didn’t get any of them. The only noteworthy thing that happened there was that I tore my pants on a jagged piece of metal on a railing. (That’s Shea for you.) But whatever. I had a fun night and ended up with ten balls.
• 316 balls in 42 games this season = 7.5238095238 balls per game
• 426 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 52 consecutive games with at least three balls
• 89 total game balls
(If you have no idea why I’ve been comparing baseballs to base hits, click here.)
Later today, I’ll be attending my last game of the season (unless someone out there has a ticket to the playoffs that they’d like to give me or sell for a reasonable price)…