I knew it’d be cold. I knew there’d be a huge crowd for “Cap Night.” But I couldn’t stay away. I had a free night, and it seemed dumb to spend it anywhere else.
GATE 6 opened at 5:05pm, and I was the first fan to run inside for batting practice. Almost immediately, some lefty on the Yankees hooked a line drive into the protective netting along the first base foul line–netting that has cost me dozens of balls since it first went up in BP a decade ago. But on this frigid day, it actually helped. The ball hit the net and dropped straight down between the outside of the blue wall and the inner curve of the rolled up tarp. I ran over to take a look and noticed that the netting wasn’t fastened to anything, so I lifted it up, leaned over the wall, and grabbed the ball. No security. No other fans. Not a bad way to start my season of snagging.
Five minutes later, a ball rolled onto the warning track about eight feet out from that same low wall. By that point, I was already back in straight-away right field, so I hurried back down to that section. It was time for what I refer to as the “half-glove trick.” I didn’t need the marker or rubber band. I just had to let out a little string, swing my glove out, and knock the ball back toward me.
My first attempt missed, and while I was pulling my glove back in, a fan with a “cup trick” appeared out of nowhere and started going for MY ball. I knew I only had one more shot. I couldn’t miss again. I swung the glove out and BAM! Perfect aim. Just as it landed on top of the ball, I tugged the string and knocked the ball toward me. I lunged over the wall and snatched it with my bare hand before the other fan had a chance to react.
Back in right field, the seats were packed, and the home runs were nonexistent. I don’t know if Johan Santana was pitching BP or if the painfully low temperature robbed the hitters of their power, but there simply wasn’t any action.
At least I got to use the full glove trick a couple times–and in case you were worrying about Mr. Cup, he snagged at least two balls for his young son.
I got Nick Markakis to toss me a ball. It would’ve been my fifth had he not carelessly flung it five feet over my head; the aisle was too crowded for me to take a step back and jump. Thanks a lot, Cap Night. Toward the end of BP, I helped a girl get a ball by identifying the lone Oriole who was shagging in right field. It was Jeremy Guthrie. I knew it was him because I’d made another cheat-sheet with photos and rosters of both teams.
So yeah, I was still stuck on four balls when BP ended, and because security at Yankee Stadium is so strict, the 50 minutes between BP and the game were a complete waste. I couldn’t get down behind the dugouts for balls. I couldn’t even get down to the foul lines to get autographs. So I sat. And froze. And watched helplessly as luckier fans with better seats cashed in. Then again, the only Yankee who signed autographs before the game was Josh Phelps. Ooh.
The attendance was huge (50,074), but the cold weather (mid-30s) kept a few thousand people away, so I was pretty much able to choose my spot: the first row in straight-away right field. Nice view, but as it turned out, no action.
I moved to the third base side for the last few innings and sat in the second row behind the Orioles’ dugout in the bottom of the ninth. (Side note: Yankee fans accuse A-Rod of being phony, but THEY are phony. They cheered him like crazy when he came up with two on and no outs in the bottom of the seventh, then booed him mercilessly when he committed the horrible crime of striking out semi-awkwardly on a Chad Bradford frisbee. Make up your minds, people. Do you like him? Do you hate him? I’m sick of this bipolar fandom.) Final score: Orioles 6, Yankees 4.
I didn’t get any balls at the dugout, but I got something else…something I’d never gotten before…something I didn’t even know existed. Two different players tossed me these tiny “Heat Treat” heat packets. They were still warm, and I needed them. After being outdoors for seven hours, my fingers (and toes) were numb.
• 456 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 18 seasons with at least one ball
• 45 days until St. Louis
• 2,965 total balls…moves me out of a tie with Sam Crawford (2,961) on the all-time hits list and into sole possession of 28th place. Next up is Sam Rice (2,987). And to refresh your memory, here’s the reason why I’m comparing balls to hits.