The day did not get off to a good start. First, an aggressive driver on the Turnpike gave me the finger, and half an hour later, a bird pooped on my windshield. (It’s okay. I still like New Jersey.) Thankfully, though, Sean and I reached Baltimore without further incident–and with plenty of time to spare for our traditional Pre-Camden crabcakes.
Camden Yards, like several other ballparks, opens one area early for season ticket holders. That area includes left field, and I was dying to get in there for the first half hour. I knew the right field seats would be packed, and I wasn’t expecting to snag much if I ended up getting trapped there. I nearly bought season tickets the week before on StubHub, but held off in the hopes that Sean and I would be able to buy a couple from a scalper. No luck. We were stuck with crappy/generic box-office tickets. Right field it was.
I raced inside when the gates opened at 5pm, headed to the center-field end of the bleachers, took a peek at the grassy area in front of the batter’s eye, and saw a ball lying 10 feet below me. How nice. I set up my glove trick and lowered it over the railing and quickly had ball #1.
When the seats began filling up, I moved to the back right corner of the standing room only section, just past the edge of the tall wall so I could still see the batter. Usually, it’s dumb to stand 400 feet from home plate, but this seemed to be the best spot. If I’d stood with everyone else at the front of the standing room only section, I would’ve been able to see the balls coming, but most home runs would’ve sailed over my head. If I’d waited at the back of that section, I would’ve been closer to the landing spot of most home runs, but I wouldn’t have been able to see them approaching.
The Orioles have a bunch of left-handed hitters this season: Brian Roberts (who’s a switch-hitter), Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons, Corey Patterson, Paul Bako, and Freddie Bynum. I don’t watch the Orioles enough to be able to recognize batting stances and swings from 400 feet away, so I can’t tell you who hit it, but within a couple minutes, one of these guys lined a deep drive to my left. I bolted around the railing. The ball was falling short. The sun was in my eyes. I hugged the edge of the tall wall. The guys at the front of the section ran back. I ran forward. The usher (in the white shirt and orange cap) ducked. I reached around him and over the wall and caught the ball on a fly. Ball #2 felt good, but it was nothing compared to what happened next.
Another lefty slugged one even deeper to my left. I took off and ran along the back edge of the flag court, but it was such a tape-measure shot that no one was able to get under it and catch it on a fly. I turned left at the garbage cans and watched the ball sail completely over the section and land on Eutaw Street (the wide open-air concourse next to the warehouse). Meanwhile, I’d been joined by half a dozen guys who sprinted after it with me. The ball smacked off the pavement and bounced up and skipped off the brick warehouse 30 feet into the air. All the other guys were roughly my age and size, and within one second, we’d all be jumping. This was a true athletic challenge. I’d literally dreamt about catching balls like this, and I was so pumped by the time the ball started coming down that I defied gravity like never before. For a split second, I felt like I was flying above my competition, and I caught ball #3 several feet above the nearest glove.
Ball #4 required an equally athletic effort, but it wasn’t as eventful. One of the Orioles’ lefties cranked a long fly ball right in my direction. I froze…and worried that I’d misjudged it…but sure enough it kept coming and coming. As the ball began to make its descent, I realized that it was sailing a bit too far, but there wasn’t an entrance to Eutaw Street where I was standing, so I couldn’t run back. Instead, I was trapped on the inside of a tall gate, so I inched back as far as I could and crouched down a bit and jumped at the last second and made the backhand catch high over my head. Sean, who was in the seats below (and had just caught a homer on a fly for the first time in his life), saw me make the catch and later told me that my feet were nearly two feet off the ground.
I left my feet for ball #5 as well. It was another homer hit deep toward the back of the standing room only section. Another guy (who’d also caught several balls by that point) had just beat me to the spot where it was going to land, so I cut in front of him just enough that I could still jump and make the catch.
In my 18 years of snagging, this was easily the most fun I’d ever had–and the day was just getting started.
At 5:30pm, I ran to the left field side and promptly got ball #6 tossed to me by A’s reliever Lenny DiNardo. Moments later, I did something amazingly stupid. I flung my glove up in the air to try to knock down a ground-rule double that was bouncing 10 feet over my head. What’s so stupid about that? I was in the second row at the time, and I accidentally tossed the glove with a forward arc, and it ended up sailing over the outfield wall and landing on the warning track. There weren’t any players or security guards nearby, so I had to stay there like an idiot until someone walked over to retrieve it. That someone happened to be Jay Witasick. He handed it to me and said, “Try keeping it on your hand next time.”
I got ball #7 with the glove trick at the left field foul pole. It took a couple minutes because the rubberized warning track was barely sloped, so the ball kept rolling against the wall every time I tried to knock it out. Eventually, I got lucky and found a spot several inches out where the ball stayed put, and I was able to work the edges of my glove around it. A few minutes later, I used the trick again for ball #8 in straight-away left field.
I heard Sean shout my name from the next section, and I could tell he meant business so I hurried over and he informed me that a ball had just dropped into the gap behind the wall in right-center field. (BTW, Sean also had a book published this past off-season.)
“See you in a few minutes,” I said and took off.
I sprinted up the steps, through the runway, through the concourse, through the center field picnic area, through Eutaw Street where I carefully dodged dozens of vendors and snail-like fans, and down the steps to the front row in right-center. Sean was right. There was a ball waiting to be rescued from the dead area between the wall and the base of the stands. I set up my glove trick once again, and ball #9 was mine.
When I made it back to left field, Sean was chatting with a guy named Adam who’d discovered this blog days earlier and recognized me when he heard Sean telling me about the ball in right-center. Cool. I talked to Adam for a couple minutes, then kept running around (unsuccessfully) for balls for the last round of batting practice. I made it to the 3rd base dugout as the A’s were clearing the field and got two balls within the next minute. Ball #10 was tossed by 3rd base coach Rene Lachemann, and ball #11 came from bullpen coach Brad Fischer.
I got a drink. I used the bathroom. I talked to an usher. I took some photos. I headed back down to the dugout when several players began their pregame throwing and got ball #12 from Mark Ellis as he jogged off the field. The lack of competition was incredible. Shea Stadium would’ve been so packed that I might not have been able to squeeze into the front row, but on this night at Camden Yards, I was one of just a few fans in the front row, and the others weren’t even wearing gloves or paying attention. When I caught the throw from Ellis, a few people behind me applauded. (Are you KIDDING me?!)
Two minutes later–right before the national anthem–I got ball #13 from Alberto Castillo, and a father in the second row immediately told his young daughter to go up to the front and beg for a ball.
Steve Trachsel overheard him and said, “You have $300 seats and you need to beg for a ball?”
“You don’t understand,” I told Steve. “Fans will do anything to get a ball because it has your DNA on it.”
“Not my DNA,” he said.
Bynum then reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ball for the girl.
The whole day had been perfect. All I needed at this point was a foul ball during the game; I had 99 lifetime game balls, and I wanted to crack triple digits at Camden.
I stayed 100 feet (or so) behind home plate, just as I do at Shea, and kept moving back and forth all night for potential fouls: 1st base side for righties, 3rd base side for lefties. There was hardly any action, and within a few innings, I got tired and hungry and antsy and frustrated and eventually too lazy to keep running back and forth for every hitter. By the middle of the game, if a lefty came up and he was going to be followed by a righty, I just stayed on the 1st base side. At least I had enough energy and motivation to stand up for the righties, and it’s a good thing because in the top of the 7th, Nick Swisher hit a high foul pop-up almost directly behind the plate.
“Here it comes!” shouted the nearest usher as if I needed to be told. By the time he got the last word out, I was already sprinting through the empty aisle, but the ball drifted too far behind me for a clean catch. It slammed off a railing in a staircase, and I briefly lost sight of it. I figured the ball had ricocheted 50 feet away, and I looked quickly in all directions to try to spot it. It was nowhere in sight…until I happened to look right in front of me and saw it plop out of the staircase into the main aisle. It took a small bounce, and I grabbed it with my bare hand. (That’s ball #14 for those of you keeping score at home.) Was it anticlimactic? Yeah, but who cares? I was thrilled to be holding my 100th game ball. Unfortunately, Sean was nowhere in sight. I had a feeling he was out in left field with his cousin and a few friends, but I wasn’t sure, and I needed to have my picture taken. I debated using the 10-second timer on my camera, then walked over to the usher and asked if he’d take it and started explaining what I wanted in the background. All of a sudden, Sean came running out of nowhere. He’d been sitting in left field and watching me with binoculars. Not only had he seen me get the ball, but it was the first gamer he’d ever seen me snag. He knew the significance. He knew I need photographic documentation. He knew exactly how I wanted the pic taken. He even indulged me and took a series of pics as I reenacted the historic snag, making it look much more exciting than it actually was.
The game itself was exciting. Swisher homered from both sides of the plate, and Oakland nearly blew a five-run lead. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the A’s clinging to a one-run lead, Huston Street intentionally walked Markakis to load the bases for Miguel Tejada…
…who swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second. Final score: A’s 6, O’s 5.
I got two more balls at the A’s dugout after the game and practically couldn’t believe it. Ball #15 came from a coach–might’ve been Tye Waller–and ball #16 was tossed by reliever Jay Marshall. How convenient that the players and coaches didn’t all walk in at once. The guys from the dugout spilled onto the field to shake hands and pat each other’s butts, and by the time they were done, a few stragglers wandered in from the bullpen.
What a day.
• 16 balls ties my 4th highest one-game total.
• 28 balls in 3 games this season = 9.3 balls per game.
• 458 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 100 lifetime game balls
• 90 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 84 lifetime balls in 9 games at Camden Yards = 9.3 balls per game.
• 598 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 16 lifetime game balls outside of New York
• 16th time snagging a game ball in back-to-back games
• 27 days until St. Louis