The best part about arriving at PETCO at 2:15pm was that there wasn’t anyone else around to see me acting like this:
This was one of 54 pics I took outside the ballpark, and no, they weren’t all of myself. I photographed the ticket windows, the turnstiles, the street signs, the surrounding construction, the team store, the VIP entrance, the Park at the Park (a three-acre grassy picnic area with a mini baseball field behind the batters eye), the vendors, the autograph collectors, and a frighteningly large Armando Benitez.
The stadium opened at 4:30pm, but for the first hour of batting practice, the only open section was the giant sandbox (and worthless bleachers), in right-center field…so there I was, trapped with dozens of little kids, 402 feet from home plate. Not good.
I hadn’t even been there for a minute when I heard someone say my name…or at least I thought I did. The voice was so soft that I was almost tempted to ignore it. Yeah, it was a bit of an honor, I suppose, to be recognized 3,000 miles from home, but I kinda just wanted to go about my business and blend in. But I couldn’t ignore it. That’s not my nature. I had to turn around, and when I did, I saw two guys waving me over from the first row of the bleachers. They said they recognized me from this blog and knew I’d be there. One of the them–Kevin, pictured below in the orange shirt–told me that he was the fan who’d helped me identify Brad Hennessey last year in Cincinnati right before I got my 2,600th ball. That was one of 142 major league games he attended in 2005. The other guy–T.C., wearing the sun glasses and blue wristbands–told me he’s caught 172 home runs during games.
Five or ten minutes later, I got Scott Williamson to toss me a ball. I was surrounded by kids, but I was the only one who had called his name, and he lobbed it right to me, over the outfield wall and into the sandbox. No problem, right?
The whole section (Kevin and T.C. excluded) erupted in protest.
“What’re you DOING?!?!”
“Give it to the kids!!!”
“Why are you wearing a glove?!?!”
“He was throwing that ball to my son!!!”
In the next 45 minutes, several balls were tossed into the section, and I was too rattled to go for them. I mean, I went for them, but not aggressively. On one ball, for example, I decided that I wouldn’t jump…that if I happened to get it by simply reaching up for it, then it wouldn’t be my fault. Of course, some other big guy jumped at the last second and snatched it away from everyone. And that’s how it went. It was weird. I felt guilty and undeserving, I guess because it all seemed too easy. I could’ve dominated out there and easily gotten three or four balls, but instead my niceness/wimpiness left me with just that one ball by the time the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm.
I didn’t know where to go. I tried right field and didn’t get anything. The stadium was packed. I ran back around the batters eye and into the left field seats. Awful. The long rows were filled with fans and blocked by railings at each staircase, and anyway, the second deck was so low that most of the home runs didn’t even land in the lower level. I ran back to right field. Still nothing. It was a nightmare. I ran back to left and found a teeny patch of empty seats down the line. Barry Bonds sliced a ball into the corner, and I convinced the recently promoted Jack Taschner to toss it to me. I had to beg. It was humiliating…and it was also the last ball I got during BP. Two lousy balls in nearly two hours? Unbelievable. The Giants are the new Astros: stingy beyond belief. I’m amazed they haven’t started marking their balls in order to keep track of every last one.
I wandered and took a few more pics, then headed to shallow left field when Eliezer Alfonzo and some other guy started throwing. I couldn’t believe how little competition I had. In fact, there was NO competition. There wasn’t another Giants “fan” in sight. No kids. No gloves. Nothing. Just a few oblivious season ticket holders. When Alfonzo finished playing catch, I didn’t even have to call his name. I just held up my glove, and he threw me the ball which, as you can see, is pretty weird looking. Aside from the thin strip of the word ‘Rawlings,’ the rest of the logo is barely visible. It looks like it was somehow wiped off, or cleanly smudged away. Any theories?
After the national anthem, Randy Winn completely ignored my request to sign the ticket from his cycle. I was shouting at him (politely) from about 50 feet away, so I know he heard me, but he did his best Curtis Pride impression and then trotted back to the dugout.
It was time to head to straight-away right field for Barry Bonds’ first at-bat. (“Booo!!!” Okay, now hit me a homer.) The Giants, of course, went down in order in the top of the first, so I had to wait out there for an extra half-inning, only to see Bonds lead off the top of the second by grounding out to the pitcher. BALCO should give him a refund.
I needed to take more pics and thought I could make it to the upper deck and back in time for Bonds’ next at-bat, but no. Not at PETCO. It’s a pretty place–don’t get me wrong–but it was designed in the most inconvenient way imaginable. Aisles end unpredictably. Staircases lead to fences. Concourses are strangely disjointed. The whole stadium is basically a gigantic obstacle course. Getting from Point A to Point B is a real pain. So I wandered…as quickly as I could…and still ended up watching Bonds from the top of the upper deck. If he’d homered to my spot in right field, I might’ve jumped off said deck, but thankfully, the best he could do was ground out to first base to end the top of the fourth.
The Giants scored an unearned run in the top of the fifth and that was it. I mean IT for the game. Final score: Giants 1, Padres 0. The teams combined for nine hits and four errors. Proof that good things come to those who give me baseballs: Taschner worked two-thirds of a scoreless inning to earn his first hold of the season, and Alfonzo collected the lone RBI. (Bonds had finished his night by flying out in the sixth and eighth innings.) I went to the Giants’ dugout as Benitez nailed down his 14th save. First base coach Luis Pujols tossed me a grass-stained ball, and 30 seconds later, manager Felipe Alou gave me the lineup cards. (I actually danced a jig, though not at the time.)
• Competition Factor = 127,096.
• 136 balls in 18 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
• 445 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 71 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 41 different Major League stadiums with at least one ball
• 539 total balls outside of New York
• 84 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball