One problem with Shea Stadium is that there are only a few decent spots for snagging balls during batting practice. My favorite is the corner spot in the right field Loge. It’s a good place to get balls tossed from the Mets pitchers 25 feet below. That’s been my spot since the 1990s. Last year, I made the mistake of talking about that spot on TV, and today, when I sprinted up there from GATE C at 4:40pm, there was already someone there…someone who reads this blog and comments regularly…someone with whom I’m having a season-long competition to see who can snag more balls.
I sprinted around the entire stadium and reached the quieter LF side before anyone snatched that corner spot too. I plopped down my backpack and looked under all the seats, as I always do, just in case there happened to be a forgotten ball lying around–and wouldn’t you know it? There was.
Last year, for whatever reason, the Mets used balls from the 2005 All-Star Game during BP. Rumor had it that they were now using balls from the 2006 All-Star Game, so naturally I was dying to get one.
Moises Alou was shagging in left field, and two balls rolled past him. It appeared, from my perch, that the ball closer to me had something dark and triangular on it. What was it? A stain or a smudge? Doubtful. But that was actually my first thought. Then–Duh!–I wondered if the dark triangle was a commemorative logo…the type that might be on an All-Star ball. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t a standard ball. No time to think. Moises was walking toward the first ball. If I made my request too soon, he might toss me the wrong ball. If I waited a few seconds too long, the one other fan who’d made his way into the section might ask for it. I didn’t just want any ball. I wanted the ball closer to me. I had to take a chance, so I waited. Moises grabbed the first ball and chucked it toward the infield. “Mo!” I shouted. “Could you please toss a ball up here?” (How innocent.) Luckily, the other fan hadn’t said a word. Moises grabbed it and looked up and threw it hard. THWAP!!! Right into my glove. It was indeed a 2006 All-Star ball, and as anti-climactic as this will sound, I got another one five minutes later from Mets catching instructor Tom Nieto. Know why the stitches are yellow and black? Those are the Pirates’ colors. The 2006 All-Star Game was played at the Pirates’ home: PNC Park.
A few other fans had trickled down into the front row of the Loge, and two young guys in particular were not too happy when I replaced my Mets cap with a Phillies cap. “Traitor!” they yelled. I tried to convince them I really DID like the Mets, but it was no use. Their abuse continued, then intensified when they saw me snag two more balls from Phillies pitchers. One was thrown by Jon Lieber, the other by Tom Gordon. “He already got one!” they complained–and suddenly their attitude changed. “Hey, aren’t you that guy who wrote a book?” one of them asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“And you have a big collection of balls?”
“I just read that book.”
“Cool!” I said. “Have you seen my web site?”
He hadn’t yet checked it out. I told him that the URL was printed in the book below my author bio. His friend didn’t own the book, so I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out one of my new contact cards. Ha-haaa! I finally got to give one away! Not a single person had recognized me last week at Yankee Stadium, and I’d been kicking myself for having 1,000 cards printed.
The rest of BP was dead. And crowded. So I headed downstairs, stopping briefly to say hello to two other guys I recognized from last year. Had they seen my web site? No. Two more contact cards.
As I headed down the steps to the Phillies’ dugout, someone shouted, “Hey! It’s that guy who collects balls!”
“Aren’t you the guy who was on TV?” someone asked.
“Yeah, it is!” someone else shouted. “He wrote a book about getting balls!”
It was insane. Everyone started talking to me and asking questions. How many balls are you up to now? Is it true you own 30 different hats? How does that trick with your glove work? Where do you keep all the balls? Which ballparks have you been to? Can I have your autograph? No joke. Some kid asked me to sign his ball, right next to Wes Helms’ signature. I tried to tell him that my autograph would ruin the value of his ball, but he didn’t care. (Another guy asked me to autograph one of MY balls for him. I told him he’d have to provide the ball.) Naturally, I had one question for everyone: “Have you guys seen my web site?”
When BP ended, Phillies outfielder Michael Bourn tossed two balls into the crowd. I let the kid on my right get the first one, and I snagged the second. One minute later, bullpen coach Ramon Henderson started tossing one ball after another into the crowd. The woman on my left got one. I snagged another (my seventh of the day). All the kids in the front row got one. Everyone was happy. And just about everyone recognized me for the rest of the night. I must’ve given away 30 or 40 more cards.
I didn’t sit down once for the entire game. Instead, I headed back up to the Loge and ran back and forth all night in the concourse behind the plate, scurrying up the runway on the first base side for right-handed batters, and doing the same on the third base side for lefties. The view of Shea, with Citi Field’s skeleton rising in the background, was nice…but I digress. By positioning myself differently for every hitter, I doubled my chances of snagging a foul ball, and in the bottom of the fifth it paid off. Jose Valentin led off the inning and floated a 1-1 pitch from Adam Eaton in my direction. I mean RIGHT in my direction. I took a step forward, braced myself for the inevitable impact with the woman carrying a cup of hot chocolate who was oblivious to the fact that a ball was sailing at her head, reached up, and made the catch. The woman bumped into me, then scowled and grunted and kept walking. Umm, honey-pie, I saved you AND your precious beverage.
When I’d gotten the two balls at the dugout, I thought about what it’d take to reach double digits–but it wasn’t meant to be. The Valentin ball was my last of the day.
The teams combined for just 10 hits, and thanks to the 11 walks issued by the Mets pitchers, the Philles came out on top despite going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Final score: Phillies 5, Mets 2.
• 12 balls in 2 games this season = 6 balls per game.
• 457 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 9 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball
• 99 lifetime game balls
• 2,973 total balls
• 40 days until St. Louis