It was an expensive day.
Let’s start at the beginning…
I woke up at 9:40am, having gotten five hours of sleep for the third straight day. I borrowed my parents’ car and drove to the northeast corner of 29th and 8th to meet my friend Sean–and his friend Joe. They were supposed to be there at 11am. I was there at 10:55 and pulled off the right side of 29th Street to wait for them. At 11:01, a traffic cop walked over, told me I was in a no-standing zone, and asked to see my license and registration. No warning. Just a $95 ticket…but hey, at least it came with a handy, pre-addressed envelope. Sean and Joe showed up two minutes later. (You might remember Sean from my last trip to Camden.
The drive was quick and easy…just under 200 miles in three hours. Top speed: 91mph. We talked baseball. We listened to music. Sean proved his superiority by holding his breath through the Fort McHenry Tunnel. We parked half a mile from Camden, then got decent crab cakes at Phillips.
Sean and Joe lingered for another round of beers. I made the 10-minute walk to the ballpark by myself and spent $55 for THE perfect seat for foul balls. I felt stupid spending that much money when I could’ve gotten a cheap seat for $8, but I had a streak to maintain. Sean and Joe showed up 20 minutes later and bought two seats in left field. Fine by me. They’d sit together and heckle Carl Crawford; I’d sit alone and do my thing.
There was still an hour to kill before the stadium opened. It was disgustingly hot (95 degrees at game time.) We could’ve wandered off in search of shade, but that would’ve meant NOT being first in line, so we just stood there and pretended to be cool. (Left to Right: Zack, Joe, Sean)
The one annoying thing about Camden is that I always start at a disadvantage. For the first half-hour after the gates open, season ticket holders are allowed to go to the left field seats. All other fans, meanwhile, are confined to right field. Not only was it crowded out there, but the Orioles were all batting right-handed. It was like a sick joke. Hitter after hitter after hitter continued to pepper the left field seats with balls while I was trapped in a mostly worthless section. (It almost made me miss Rafael Palmeiro.) And to make matters worse, the Orioles pitchers who were shagging balls in right-center were hardly throwing anything into the crowd. Thankfully, ONE ball happened to land in the skinny gap behind the outfield wall, and I was able to snag it with my glove trick.
Left field was much better. Within a few minutes of my sweat-soaked arrival, I got a ball thrown to me by Orioles 3rd base coach Tom Trebelhorn. Then, after I’d backed up a few rows, a right-handed hitter smashed a deep drive in my direction. The instant it left the bat, I knew it was going over my head, so I took my eye off the ball and focused on dodging the other fans as I sprinted up the steps. I looked back up toward the ball, just in time to see it land two rows ahead of me. Luckily, it stayed right there and I snatched it, inches ahead of other hungry hands, as it trickled down the steps. That one felt good. But later on, I completely misjudged one, so whatever.
Devil Rays pitchers Chad Harville and Brian Meadows started throwing just in front of left field warning track. I asked Harville if there was any chance that he might be able to toss me the ball when he was done.
“Y’already got one!” he yelled.
I had no comeback. I couldn’t argue. I was busted. And puzzled. Which ball could he have possibly seen me get? Didn’t matter. When they were done throwing, Meadows ended up with the ball, and he tossed it to me, right in front of Harville. Ha! Take THAT, shorty!
I had another chance to use the glove trick, but messed up. There’s a little space at the bottom of the left field wall, and the ball was partially tucked into it. I lowered the glove slowly and lined it up perfectly with the outer edge of the ball…and then I plopped the glove down to try to get the ball to kick out from the wall, but instead, I wedged it under ever farther. Duh.
More frustration: on two separate occasions, I raced through a long row of seats as home runs were approaching. I reached out to catch them, only to have other fans (who were already standing there) reach six inches farther and catch them RIGHT in front of my glove.
Even more frustration: A deep fly ball was clearly falling short of the wall, so I didn’t bother moving to my left to get in line with it. The player on the warning track made a lame attempt to catch the ball behind his back, and he missed it, allowing it to bounce into my row.
Some embarrassment: I had both rosters plus a custom-made cheat sheet with 20 mug shots of the harder-to-recognize players and coaches. Someone on the Devil Rays jogged over to pick up a ball that’d rolled to the wall. Who was it?! I looked at my sheet and figured it was Chad Orvella.
“Chad!! Chad!! Can you toss the ball over here, please?! Chad!! Right here!!”
The player handed the ball to a kid, then looked at me and said, “My name’s not Chad.”
Whoopsie, heh heh.
I got lucky on another homer. A bunch of fans reached for it. The ball hit off their hands and squirted 10 feet straight up. They managed to miss it again as it dropped back down, and by the time I ran over, the ball had just gotten wedged into a folded up seat. That was my fifth ball of the day, and BP was almost over.
Sean and Joe were nearby with their gloves, but they weren’t trying very hard. At one point, Joe was standing in the middle of a long row in the most crowded section, and later, he was eating nachos and drinking a beer. Sean was more into it, but he made the mistake of staying in one spot. I’d been positioning myself differently for almost every hitter, and then making further adjustments based on which rows and staircases were least crowded.
I told Sean that I was gonna head to the Devil Rays dugout, then started making my way toward the foul pole. Moments later, as I was walking briskly through the rows of seats, someone on the Devil Rays hit a homer right to me. I mean RIGHT to me…so yeah, in addition to the frustration, I had some luck. (Eight hours later, when I was home in NYC, I discovered that this ball was the 2,500th since my main streak–at least one ball per game, including BP–began on September 10, 1993.)
No balls at the dugout, but I did get four autographs back on the Orioles’ side: Nick Markakis, Kurt Birkins, Ramon Hernandez…and Melvin Mora on a Fenway stub from June 1, 2005.
Right before the game, I was standing behind the Orioles’ dugout. I don’t know why. I suppose I was just killing time and getting a close-up look…when Rodrigo Lopez walked in from the bullpen and flipped me his warmup ball. Boom. Just like that. Totally unexpected. I didn’t even have to open my mouth.
After the tone-deaf middle schoolers sang the national anthem, I found my seat. Want to know what it looks like when you get to heaven?
Unfortunately, the Devil Rays pitcher–Doug Freakin’ Waechter–was topping out at 88mph, and Lopez wasn’t doing much better. Low velocity means fewer foul balls. Why couldn’t Scott Kazmir and Daniel Cabrera have been pitching? Man oh man.
So yeah, it was pretty slow. A few balls went 50 feet over my head. One foul tip landed 20 feet to my left. Oh, and get this…another one was coming right at me. Keep in mind that the word “right” does not convey the rightness of which I speak, but take my word for it…there was never an easier catch in the history of foul ball chasing…except the catch never happened. Why? Because the **** ball hit that **** cable that holds the **** protective screen in place, and the **** ball deflected off the **** cable and landed four **** feet to my **** left, where some other clueless **** ended up getting it.
The game was flying by. Not good. Inning after inning: gone. I was excited when Waechter left the game after just five innings, hoping the Rays would bring in someone who could bring IT. Eh, no. Travis Harper came in and wasted two more precious innings with his high-80s cream puffs.
I’d spend the first inning running to the 3rd base side for lefties, and I would’ve kept doing it all night if not for the usher over there telling me to get lost. Two innings later, a foul ball landed EXACTLY where I’d been standing.
After the seventh inning stretch, I went back to the 3rd base side to plead with the man. I told him about my foul ball streak. I showed him my $55 ticket. I even showed him my book to prove that I wasn’t some random bozo who was trying to sneak around.
“Please,” I begged, “is there ANY chance that I could hang out here for the occasional left-handed hitter?”
His response: “I’m the kinda person that don’t like repeating himself.”
Back on the first-base side, there was some decency. My usher let me stand in the middle of the aisle for all the righties.
“Are you sure?” I asked incredulously. “I don’t want to get you or me in trouble.”
“Oh yeah, it’s fine,” he said. “My supervisor knows who you are and he’s got no problem with it.”
“What?! How would he know me? I only come here like once a year.”
“I don’t know, he said he saw you on ESPN or something.”
So I stood in the aisle and crouched down in a ready position for every pitch, just like all the infielders. I was SO ready to pounce…but…nothing…came…my…way. My last chance was the possibility of the game going into extra innings, but Corey “No Balls For You!” Patterson killed me. Not only did he hit his second solo homer of the night to give the Orioles a valuable insurance run and a 7-5 lead with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but then, in the top of the ninth, with two outs and a runner on first, he robbed Greg Norton of a homer that would’ve tied the game. POOF! The game was over. My foul ball streak was dead.
• 67 balls in 8 games this season = 8.4 balls per game.
• 435 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 61 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 514 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 81 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball