I snagged my 1,000th ball at Shea Stadium in 1996, and I caught #2,000 seven years later in Montreal. At the start of this season, I decided to bring the next milestone back to my hometown–and to get it at Yankee Stadium.
I started the day with 2,996 balls. I had a good feeling that I’d get at least four, but there was no guarantee; at my previous 30 Yankee games, I’d snagged more than four only eight times.
My dad wanted to be there for the historic snag and offered to be my official photographer. As we rode the subway to the game, I drew him a map of the right field seats, showing him where I expected to be and where he’d get the best shot. As we waited outside the stadium, I showed him how to use my camera. Everything was set. We were first on line. The gates opened at 5pm. I raced inside and didn’t bother stopping to claim my free Yankees visor.
Within the first minute, someone jerked a deep fly ball into the empty seats behind me. I was already motoring up the steps by the time it landed, and I grabbed it just before a few other guys got there.
I was worried. I had no idea who’d hit the ball. I didn’t want #3,000 to come from a player that I couldn’t identify. If I snagged it with the glove trick, that’d be fine…and in fact I was kind of expecting that…but if the milestone ball was going to be hit or thrown my way, I wanted to know the source.
I got my second ball tossed by Yankees pitcher Darrell Rasner, and I quickly got #3 off the bat of Hideki Matsui. He’d hit a homer five feet over my head that landed in a group of fans who couldn’t catch. The ball hit the seats and trickled down the steps toward me. Half a dozen hands clawed furiously for it, and mine was a bit quicker than the rest.
This left me with a grand total of 2,999. My God. I really had to pay attention…every pitch, every swing, every stance, every shagger, every coach…there was no telling where the next ball would come from, but sure enough, as I’d predicted, a ball ended up rolling onto the middle of the warning track near the foul pole. My dad and I hurried over. Ball #3,000 was indeed going to come my way via the glove trick, but it wasn’t going to be easy. The ball was nearly 10 feet out from the wall, so I had to lower my glove and fling it out and try to knock the ball back in. I tried again and again. No luck. But at least stadium security stayed away, and so did the players. This ball was just sitting there. Other fans were getting into it and started giving me advice: Try to make your glove land behind the ball and then drag it in. Yeah, thanks. I didn’t bother explaining that the “drag” technique is usually good for just a few inches at a time. I wanted to GO FOR IT and make the glove land ON the ball. So I kept trying. And cursing. But I knew I could do it. And finally, after two minutes’ worth of failed attempts, I made a perfect toss-and-jerk and knocked the ball all the way to the wall below me. I quickly reeled in my glove and set up the rubber band and magic marker…just like I’d done it hundreds of times…deep breath…nice and easy. I was hoping that my dad was taking pictures. The glove lowered over the ball, and when I lifted the contraption, I had it! Slowly…slowly…I reeled the glove back in, spotted my dad, and gave him a big smile.
No celebrating. The journey toward ball #4,000 would be difficult, so I kept snagging. I got my fifth ball of the day in almost the same way. The only difference was that I was in fair territory. My sixth ball was another glove trick success, and #7 was tossed by a Mariners pitcher. I don’t know who. It was a lefty. Might’ve been Eric O’Flaherty, but whatever. He lobbed it high in the air from the warning track. I drifted back into the very crowded main aisle and timed my jump perfectly. Then I used my Mariners cap to get my next two balls. When Brandon Morrow walked over to pick one up, I basically yelled, “Brandon! Look at my hat!” and he tossed the ball right to me. Toward the end of BP, I used the same line (minus the “Brandon” part) on Mike Goff.
Of course, this left me with nine balls, and I was kicking myself for falling short of double digits.
“Let it go,” said my dad.
I let him go. He had evening plans back in Manhattan, so I walked him to the gate and pointed him toward the subway. It would’ve been nice to spend the game with him, but I knew there’d be other chances, and anyway, mission accomplished.
I found a great seat for the game, just to the left side of home plate, right behind the main aisle on the field level. Good spot for foul balls from lefties. (Came close to a few.) Good spot to watch Matt DeSalvo make his major league debut for the Yankees–and he was sharp, giving up just one run on three hits in seven innings. He had to settle for a no-decision when Kyle Farnsworth let the Mariners tie the game at 2-2 in the top of the eighth, and then, one inning later, Mariano Rivera surrendered a solo homer to Adrian Beltre. Final score: Mariners 3, Yankees 2.
With a great deal of difficulty, I made it down to the seats behind the Mariners’ dugout after J.J. Putz fanned Bobby Abreu to end the game. I got Putz to throw me the ball, and that gave me double digits. It got even better when Mariners manager Mike Hargrove gave me his personal copy of the lineup cards:
• 10 balls ties my 2nd highest one-day total at Yankee Stadium.
• 65 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 45 balls in 5 games this season = 9 balls per game.
• 460 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 14 days until St. Louis