For the second straight game, I was recognized by a fan in the bathroom–but this day at Shea was better because my dad was with me. I go to 30 or 40 games a year. He goes to one or two. That’s fine. It makes our trips to the ballpark that much more special.
My favorite foul ball seats weren’t available. Pedro was pitching. It was gonna be a big crowd, so we settled on Field Level seats way out in the left field corner.
It’d been sunny all day. Then a little cloudy. And THEN, while we waited outside Gate C (where I was recognized again), it started to drizzle. Just barely. I was actually glad. I thought the iffy weather might keep some fans away. Of course, the drizzle then picked up, and when I ran inside the stadium, this is what I saw…
That’s right. No batting practice. The grounds crew was JUST starting to tarp the field.
So much for “8 balls and a freddy sanchez autograph,” I thought. That’s what a reader named Adam (a.k.a. “ramones”) had predicted the day before. I didn’t even think I’d get the five I needed to reach 2,800.
If I’d known there wasn’t going to be BP, I would’ve stayed home. I hate going to games without it. It’s my favorite part of the day. Sometimes, I show up just for BP and then leave. But what could I do? I was there, and that meant I had to maintain a streak that dated back to September 10, 1993: 432 consecutive games with at least one ball.
Mets 3rd base coach Manny Acta, back pockets bulging with balls, was talking to someone near home plate. Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui were playing catch in shallow right field. The pitching staff was getting loose in the right field corner. At least there were opportunities.
I walked down the steps toward the dugout.
“Manny!” I interrupted. “Could you please toss up a ball?”
“Sure! Why not!” he said with mock glee before pulling out a ball and throwing it to me.
ANOTHER All-Star ball…the 12th I’d gotten from the Mets this year. My god. Brand new. Like, from-the-box-to-Manny’s-pocket-to-my-glove new.
I ran to shallow right field, and less than a minute later, I got another All-Star ball from Matsui. Then I raced to the Loge in right field, just in time to get my third ball of the day from Duaner Sanchez (whose autograph I got two minutes later).
Who needs BP?
Several Pirates took the field at 5:05pm, and I was ready. Not only had I printed their roster, along with some photos of the hard-to-recognize players, but I was color-coordinated. Ugly yellow shirt? Perfect. There was one other fan with a Pirates cap, and he didn’t even have a glove. I was set.
Jack Wilson walked by with a ball, but before I had a chance to ask for it, the usher told him not to give it to me. (Ahh, Shea Stadium.) Wilson ended up playing catch with the team’s strength/conditioning coach, who tossed it to me when they were done. It was my fourth ball of the day and No. 2,799 overall.
My dad already had my camera…
But I got the next ball so quickly–a 50 mph throw from Mike Gonzalez–that he wasn’t able to get a picture until two seconds after the fact.
Soon after, a player wearing “CAPPS 55” was about to finish throwing when the only other fan with a glove (a 24-year-old guy who’d recognized me 20 minutes earlier in the Loge…and who’d already gotten a ball from the strength coach) asked me what his first name was.
“I don’t know,” I joked.
“Oh c’mon, tell me! What is it?!”
“Wait, lemme get this straight,” I said. “I’m supposed to tell you his name so YOU can ask him for the ball?”
He understood the situation.
I yelled “Matt!!!”
Matt tossed it to me.
Ten minutes later, Roberto Hernandez finished up his long-toss session in the left field corner. When I asked him for the ball, he looked at me, but tossed it to a little kid with a Mets jersey and no glove. Rrr.
I gave Roberto a look of absolute defeat. He responded by holding out his hand waist high to indicate the kid’s height, then said, “I’ll get one for you. Hold on.”
Roberto had always been nice, but was he REALLY going to remember later on? He started signing autographs and talking to some people he knew. I got him on a ticket from 2005, then had my picture taken with him.
“Meet me at the dugout,” he said.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I replied.
He started walking along the warning track. I bolted up the steps and through the main aisle. Several people recognized me and wanted to talk. I had to blow them off. (Sorry, folks.) I turned left and headed down the steps. Roberto poked his head out of the dugout. Other fans started yelling and waving. He ignored them, spotted me, and flipped me the ball.
That made me feel pretty special.
Before too long, “Kids Clubhouse” was playing on the JumboTron, and when my segment came on, I took another round of photographs. My dad grabbed the camera and got this one…
When it was over, the fans behind me applauded, then asked for a ball.
My dad and I got pizza and water and ice cream, then found our seats. (Yeah, sometimes I take off my glasses for photos.)
Of course, right before game time, I then had to leave my dear old dad for a few minutes when three Pirates started signing along the 3rd base line: Freddy Sanchez, Jose Castillo, and Paul Maholm–so I ended up with five autographs on the day.
If I’d been at Shea by myself, I would’ve been working the Loge for foul tips. I’d gotten a foul ball at each of my last two games, and I wanted to extend the streak, or at least try. But all the seats were full, and I didn’t want to make my dad move around, and anyway, Pedro was pitching. It was going to be a good game, and I was content to stay in our so-so section and just enjoy our togetherness.
After a few innings, with the score tied at 1-1, it started to drizzle, and half the fans scattered for cover. My dad and I made fun of them, then did the same thing ourselves when the drizzle turned to rain.
We moved up to the Loge where we were covered by the overhang of the Mezzanine level. The rain was coming down in sheets, but the game rolled on. Every inning, the grounds crew worked frantically, patching the muddy mound and raking bags of Turface into the glistening infield dirt.
The Mets opened up a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Endy Chavez delivered an RBI double, and Jose Reyes knocked him in with a two-out triple. That made me happy. I love Jose Reyes, and I love triples, and the scoring put Pedro in line for the win.
The rain stopped in the seventh, so my dad and I moved to Foul Ball Territory behind the plate. Aaron Heilman mowed down the Pirates, tossing two perfect innings to get the ball to Billy Wagner in the ninth. Meanwhile, I had a few close calls, but nothing within reach–and that was fine. I was cold. It was damp. I didn’t need another ball. I just wanted Wagner to end it.
But no. He walked two of the first three batters, then gave up back-to-back, two-out, run-scoring singles to Jose Hernandez and Ronny freakin’ Paulino. Tie game. No-decision for Pedro. I was stunned.
At least I had more chances to try to get a foul ball. I asked my dad if we could stay if the game went into extra innings. HE was stunned. It wasn’t even an issue. Cool.
In the bottom of the ninth, the heart of the Mets lineup–Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and David Wright–went down 1-2-3.
No runs (or foul balls) in the 10th.
No runs (or foul balls) in the 11th.
No runs (or foul balls) in the top of the 12th. No surprise. Chad Bradford, with his submarine delivery and downward movement, couldn’t have gotten anyone to swing underneath a ball if he tried…but Mike Gonzalez came back out for the Pirates in the bottom of the frame. That was promising. He was topping out in the low 90s. I had a feeling that there might be a foul ball and, with the Mets sluggers due to bat again, that the game was about to end. My dad and I had been sitting on the first base side of home plate. I hadn’t been running to the third base side for lefties, but when Delgado’s name was announced, I thought, why not head to the other side and give it one final shot…
“Is that okay?” I asked, feeling guilty about leaving my dad there.
“Do your thing!” he encouraged.
I raced though the concourse and got to the other side just in time to watch BALL ONE from the crowded runway. I stepped into the aisle, hastily wiped the rain off an empty seat and sat on the edge of it just before the next pitch: foul ball right at me. In the span of one second, I stood up, crossed the aisle, reached in front of a guy who was playing with his cell phone, and made the catch. On the next pitch, Delgado hit a walk-off homer. Good night. Please drive carefully and arrive home safely.
Eight balls and a Freddy Sanchez autograph, indeed.
• 51 balls in 6 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.
• 433 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 59 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 92 lifetime game balls
• 3rd time getting a game ball in three consecutive games…my all-time record is four.
• 2,803 total balls