Right before I left for Shea, I posted a comment on my previous entry, saying that I wanted two things:
1) A ball from Albert Pujols.
It was another huge crowd–49,661 to be exact–so I raced to my corner spot in the right field Loge at the start of batting practice.
Within the first few minutes, I got Chad Bradford to toss me a ball, but it fell short and bounced back down onto the warning track. Billy Wagner played the carom perfectly and tossed it back up almost immediately. The ball sailed five feet over my head and landed in the empty aisle. Easy.
Remember how I used the glove trick at my last Mets game? That’s how I got my second ball yesterday. Just like last time, the ball was 30 feet below, lying against a hose in the gap behind the outfield wall, and once again, it took a few minutes to knock it out into the open. The ball has a faint “practice” stamped next to the sweet spot, and as you can see, I labeled it with a “2905” because it’s the 2,905th ball in my collection.
Moments later, I made an unsuccessful attempt to use the trick for another ball in the gap. It wasn’t my fault, though. Really. The ball was partially trapped in a small trash-filled rut, and there wasn’t enough room for the glove to fully lower on top of it. VERY frustrating. And a waste of five minutes.
At the end of BP, Dave Williams finished his bullpen session and tossed me the ball, and THAT one fell short, too. (The Mets pitching staff is in trouble.) Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello tossed it back up, and I had my third ball of the day.
I’d been shouting at Pedro Martinez for a few minutes, but he hadn’t looked up. He was busy playing catch, and anyway, I hadn’t said anything special to really get his attention. As he headed off the field toward the bullpen, I tried once more: “What’s up Pedro from your favorite baseball collector!” He looked right up and smiled. I told him I’d caught Barry Bonds’ home run last week in San Diego.
“Oh yeah?!” he said excitedly.
“Yeah! Number seven-twenty-four!” I called. I told him a few quick details, and then he headed inside. Cool.
The stadium was PACKED by the time the Cardinals took the field. I hung out in the left field Loge and managed to get one more ball. (Shea is the only ballpark where batting practice is actually boring.) It was a foul homer hit by either Juan Encarnacion or Scott Rolen. They were quickly switching in and out of the cage, and by the time I caught it and looked back at the field, I wasn’t sure if the guy at the plate was the one who’d hit it. I made a pretty nice play on it, racing 30 or 40 feet to my right and catching the ball RIGHT in front of a young woman (pink shoes, legs crossed) who hadn’t seen it coming.
“Oooh! Baseball Collector! Thank you! You saved my life!”
“Think nothing of it, ma’am. Just give me your phone number, and we’ll call it even.”
Seriously though, the ball would’ve torn her face apart if I hadn’t been there. It was a line drive that was hit so hard that no one else in the section was able to move more than a few feet. Oh, and it was just a regular ball. No commemorative logo.
I should have gotten a fifth ball in the Loge, but Braden Looper recognized me–from LAST year when he was with the Mets. Someone had hit a shot to the left field corner. Looper walked over to pick it up. I shouted from above. He looked up and was about to throw it, then stopped and said, “How many balls do you HAVE?!” Unbelievable. I’ll tell you what I have, Braden: two reasons to boo you.
As BP was winding down, I found a spot in the first row behind the Cardinals’ dugout, and two minutes later, Tony La Russa came in and tossed me a (regular) ball. Sweet! I’d never gotten one from him before. I was psyched to get to add his name to my list. Now I just needed one from Pujols…
Getting balls from first basemen is easy. You just need access to the seats behind the dugouts, and at Shea, that’s usually not a problem.
Carlos Beltran ended the bottom of the first with a ground out to second basemen Ronnie Belliard. Perfect. I darted down the steps as Belliard made the throw to Pujols at first. Pujols took the ball with him to the dugout…but tossed it to someone in the section on my left. Blah.
Chris Woodward was called out on strikes to end the second. Catcher Yadier Molina tossed the ball to a little kid in the section on my right. Blah squared.
Beltran ended the third inning with a grounder to shortstop Aaron Miles who stepped on second for a force play and ended up tossing the ball to that stupid section on my left. I was about to give up and just head back upstairs to the Loge for foul tips, but the view was so nice from the fourth row. I decided to give it one more inning.
Pujols slugged a three-run homer in the top of the fourth, then ended up with the third-out ball in the bottom of the frame after Woodward hit a weak tapper to starting pitcher Jeff Weaver. Pujols took the ball to the dugout and tossed it my way as soon as he crossed the foul line. His throw had a fairly high arc, giving other people time to jockey for position. I crouched down and timed it perfectly, half-leaping and half-diving at the last second to get full extension and make the catch just beyond everyone else’s hands as I belly-flopped on the dugout roof. (I wish I had a personal photographer to capture these moments. Of course, that photographer would also have to find a way past stadium security.) I was ecstatic. Mission accomplished. I’ve always liked Pujols. Now I have an official excuse to root for him…and wouldn’t you know it, he hit a grand slam in the next inning to give him a career high seven RBIs.
The Mets still won. Carlos Delgado hit a granny of his own in the bottom of the fifth–his second long ball of the night and 400th of his career. Then, with the Mets trailing, 7-6, in the bottom of the ninth, Beltran jerked a two-run walk-off shot off Jason Isringhausen–another Mets reject–to send everyone home happy. Even Bill Clinton. Can you find him in this picture?
• Competition Factor = 297,966.
• 157 balls in 21 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.
• 448 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 74 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 783 different players and coaches who have thrown balls to me
(If you’re wondering why I’m comparing balls to hits, click here.)