Did you know that the New York Times web site has a whole video section? (And that it’s free?) I didn’t know until two days ago, when a video journalist named Matthew Orr emailed me and asked if I wanted to be filmed for a segment. “We’d need to do it in the next day or two,” he wrote.
I called him and gave my address–and 23 hours later, he was walking through my door.
My place is small. Really small. (Let’s not discuss square footage.) That’s why I keep most of my baseballs at my parents’ place…so after I showed a few to the camera, along with some other bonus items, that’s where we headed for the main portion of the interview.
I talked about my early days as a baseball collector, told stories about my favorite balls, shared important strategies, demonstrated my glove trick, explained my motivation for being such a dork, etc.
We were there for an hour and a half and left for Shea at 3:15pm. Unfortunately, the Mets PR people refused to give the NY Times permission to take a camera inside their beautiful ballpark, so the best Matthew could do was get some shots of me running down the steps from the #7 train, heading toward the stadium, schmoozing with the lady at the ticket window, and waiting for GATE C to open. (Despite the lack of Shea footage, it’ll still be a fun segment. I’ll post the link when it’s available.)
Once I got inside, I headed up to the right field Loge (2nd deck) and watched with dismay as some guy on the Field Level got three balls within the first 20 minutes. I still had none. Every Mets player was ignoring me…that is, until Oliver Perez started walking toward the Mets’ bullpen. I called down, got his attention, pointed to a nearby ball sitting on the warning track, and got him to toss it up to me. Eh. It was another one of those boring, unstamped/no-logo 2004 All-Star balls–but at least I had another “Perez” to add to my list. I’ve now gotten six balls from guys with that name. One more and I’ll tie the Johnsons.
I caught two more (real) balls within the next 10 minutes. One was thrown by Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti. The other came from backup catcher Mike DiFelice.
At 5:25pm, I was about to head downstairs when someone on the Mets hit a wimpy homer that barely cleared the right field wall. Nice. The ball was trapped in the gap behind the wall, 30 feet below…perfect for the glove trick. As I started setting up the rubber band and Sharpie, an usher walked over and said, “If you get that ball, you’re gonna give it to that little girl, right?”
I looked around nervously, and he laughed. There was no little girl in sight. “You know I’m just messin’ with ya,” he said.
Umm, actually, no, I didn’t know that. Three days earlier, he’d told me (in what seemed to be a no-nonsense manner) that there’s a one-ball limit in his section. What a relief it was to finally have him on my side–and BY my side, watching intently, as I lowered my glove to the bottom and got it to swallow the ball.
By the time I reeled the glove back up, I didn’t have time to label the ball. The Mets were almost done with BP, so I stuck it in my front right pocket and raced downstairs and found an open spot in the first row behind the dugout. A minute later, when all the guys were heading off the field, first base coach Manny Acta tossed me a ball–my fifth of the day and the fourteenth ball that he’s thrown me since May of 2003. Again, no time to label it. The Dodgers had already taken the field, so I stuck it in my front left pocket, took off my Mets cap, put on my “LA” cap, and ran to the left field side. Two minutes later, I convinced former Mets pitcher Tim Hamulack to toss me a ball…no time…back right pocket…thank god for cargo pants…and a minute after that, I got ANOTHER ball…an overthrow that landed on that otherwise useless sloped grassy area in the left field corner. Back left pocket. Wow. No more pockets. Time-out! I had to sacrifice a minute of BP in order to label the balls.
I headed up to the left field Loge, three balls short of double digits. Could I find a way to get one more ball up there? One at the Dodgers’ dugout after BP? And maybe one during or after the game?
The Dodgers were hitting lots of home runs, but none came anywhere near me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of the problems with Shea is the lack of seats in fair territory. Those puny sections down the lines in the Loge barely extend past the foul pole; most home runs land in the bleachers, the bullpens, and in that dead space in front of the right field scoreboard, so I’m forced to do a lot of begging.
Even though my eighth ball of the day was thrown, there was no begging required. It was a home run that fell short of the seats and bounced back onto the field. Hong-Chih Kuo grabbed it and immediately looked up to see if there was a worthy recipient. He spotted my Dodgers cap and tossed it right to me.
“Are you from L.A.?” asked the security guard. (Clearly, he was new, or at least new to the section.)
“Nope, I’m a native New Yorker. I just own all 30 Major League caps.”
The next 20 minutes were useless–no homers, nothing thrown–so I left the Loge at 6:15pm and headed to the dugout. Once again, I was able to slip into the first row, and when everyone came off the field, I got a ball from bench coach Dave Jauss. One more to go. I was desperate, so when the equipment dude started transferring all the balls from the basket to the zippered bag, I cranked up my begging to a whole nother level.
“Is there any chance AT ALL for a ball? Even a dirty one?”
He looked up briefly and tried not to smile.
“C’mon,” I continued, “whaddaya say? There’s gotta be a REALLY dirty ball in there. I don’t want a new one. I want the ugliest ball you got. I want the ugliest ball you’ve ever SEEN. There’s gotta be a ball so ugly that it’s a disgrace to the entire Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and it would be my pleasure to take it off your hands. C’mon, I won’t tell anyone, I swear. Please?”
My shtick was pathetic. And obnoxious. But it WAS kinda fun. And it worked because the guy (pictured here, reaching into the basket) pulled out a ball and tossed it to me. And it wasn’t even that dirty.
I got some water. I ran into a bunch of familiar fans and vendors. I washed my face. I returned to the seats and labeled my last two baseballs. I wrote in my journal. I wandered and took a few photos, and when Nomar Garciaparra started running and stretching in shallow left field, I headed down the steps toward the first row. I had my ticket stub and blue Sharpie ready. All the fans were speculating about whether he’d come over and sign. Most people said “no way,” but I had a good feeling, thanks to a recent comment that was posted on this blog by a Dodgers fan in L.A., and sure enough, after Nomar finished running/stretching/praying, he walked over and signed–and was surprisingly jolly.
Unfortunately, he used some kid’s lame-o black marker and only wrote a few letters of his name, but still. Pretty sweet. I wish I’d had more than one Dodgers stub–I don’t get my baseballs autographed–because Matt Kemp and future Hall of Famer Andre Ethier also started signing, and I was forced to get them on the back. Not ideal.
After the national anthem, I returned to the Loge and spent the majority of the game on the third base side of home plate. I knew there’d be a bunch of foul tips in that area because the hard-throwing, right-handed Brad Penny was pitching for the Dodgers. The Mets lineup, therefore, was stacked with lefties (Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green) and switch-hitters who’d be batting lefty (Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Jose Valentin). Of course, I moved to the first base side each time the Mets’ two righties (Paul Lo Duca and David Wright) stepped to the plate, and it was there that I had two close calls:
1) In the bottom of the first, Wright tipped a foul ball right at me. I mean RIGHT at me. I scooted forward through the aisle and reached out to make what should’ve been an easy one-handed catch…BUT…some overdressed yuppie in the row below me reached up at the last second and unintentionally swatted the ball away. It hit his forearm (duh) and bounced down the steps, plopping into some lucky fan’s lap.
2) In the bottom of the fifth, Lo Duca led off with a foul tip to my right. My path was blocked by a peanut vendor who’d stopped to chat with some fans.
Two batters later, I was back on the third base side for Delgado, who worked the count full and then tipped a fastball 10 feet to my right. It was an absolute laser that shot back nearly as fast as the pitch had been thrown. I knew I wouldn’t get there in time, but the ball was gonna fall short so I darted through the aisle in the hopes that it might get bobbled by the gloveless fans. I’d only made it five feet when the ball hit something–or someone–and ricocheted to the left, right at my face, causing me to duck and reach up in one motion while running full speed (and taking special care not to bump into anyone), and before I knew what happened, I was pulling the ball from the pocket of my glove. Cool.
When I caught the Barry Bonds homer on 8/16/06 at PETCO Park, everyone was oohing and ahhing about what a great play I’d made, and I was like, “Really? Was it THAT impressive?” The Delgado foul tip required much more athleticism and far less luck, yet there were only a few people who seemed to notice or care. Funny how that works.
I kept moving around for the rest of the game, but nothing else came my way. Didn’t matter. I was satisfied with my performance, and the Mets were making me proud. Jose Reyes hit a three-run, inside-the-park homer, while Tom Glavine threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up his 288th career win. Final score: Mets 7, Dodgers 0.
After the game, I got my 12th and final ball from home plate umpire Bill Miller as he walked off the field.
• Competition Factor = 582,996.
• 178 balls in 24 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
• 451 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 61 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 98 lifetime game balls
• 15th time snagging a game ball in back-to-back games
(If you’re wondering why I’m comparing balls to hits, click here.)