The day got off to a better start than my last trip to Shea. This time, as soon as the gates opened for batting practice, I raced inside and managed to get my spot in the right field Loge.
Aaron Sele tossed me my first ball of the day from the Mets’ bullpen, but his throw was too weak and the ball fell short. He didn’t bother to get it until after he finished throwing. His second throw also fell short, and on the way down, the ball clipped a random protruding piece of metal and bounced far away, so he grabbed another ball and finally threw it far enough. That ball happened to be from the Arizona Fall League. At first, I was upset that it was a “fake” minor league ball that’d been made in China, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I should count it in my collection, but I thought about it for a minute and had a change of heart. I realized it was kinda cool. It was the first time I’d ever gotten a minor league ball at a major league stadium, and I decided to count it. After all, the ball WAS used by a major league player, and I’d counted a bunch of cheap Training Balls last year under the same circumstances.
Sele, by the way, is the only player on the Mets who hasn’t shaved his head. All the other guys shaved theirs last week to show some solidarity after a few rough games. It was surprisingly difficult to tell them apart from 25 feet above.
Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti (who’s easily recognizable because he’s 143 years old) tossed me my second ball, also from the bullpen, and Ramon Castro threw me my third from about 150 feet out in right-center field. The seats were still pretty empty, so he had no trouble hearing me. I’d moved back a bit before yelling in case he threw it short. That way, it would’ve still had a chance to reach the seats, but it didn’t matter because he was right on target. (Note to Mr. Sele: THAT’S how it’s done.)
Mets first base coach Howard Johnson had been roaming the outfield with a fungo bat, so naturally, when he ended up grabbing a batted ball, I shouted, “Hojo! Hit me a fungo!” First he waved. (Yeah, hi.) Then he hit it. Right over my head and into the mostly empty seats. I sprinted through the aisle and watched it take a few crazy bounces that made no difference. I knew it was mine, and I was all over it before anyone else had a chance to blink.
Toward the end of Mets batting practice, I went back down to the Field Level and managed to find one open spot in the front row behind the 1st base dugout. At 5:40pm, when all the Mets started heading toward me, I spotted a ball behind the 1st base screen and pointed it out to Ruben Gotay and asked him for it in Spanish. He veered off his path, picked up the ball, and tossed it to me on his way in. It was an All-Star Game ball from 2005. The Mets had been using those during BP last year. This one must’ve somehow stuck around all season–and it showed.
The Cubs had already begun BP, so I switched from my Mets cap into my Cubs cap and jogged out to the left field seats. Almost immediately (and from 10 rows back), I got Scott Eyre to throw me a ball from 100 feet out in left field. That was my sixth of the day.
Soon after, I was up in the left field Loge, trying to figure out a way to get Will Ohman to throw me a ball. The genius fans down below were yelling at him–typical stuff like “The Cubs suck!!!” and “You belong in the minors!!!”–and he was yelling right back and pointing at his hecklers and laughing and making quite a scene. Even though he was having fun, I knew that an extra polite approach would work best, so I waited for a quiet moment and shouted his name.
He turned around and looked up and yelled “What!”
“By any chance,” I shouted back, “could you pleeeeez toss a ball up this way?”
“Maybe,” he yelled, “just because you said ‘please’.”
Moments later, he fielded a batted ball, turned back around, took a few steps toward me, and tossed it up.
I had seven balls when batting practice ended, and I’d worked my way down to the front row behind the Cubs’ dugout on the 3rd base side. When all the players and coaches left the field, I got a ball from Tim Buss, the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator. He seemed a bit surprised that I knew his name, and I’m not sure why; he’s listed with the other staff members, right below the coaches on the Cubs’ web site.
Tim played catch with Matt Murton before the game along the left field foul line. I’d snuck down to the first row of those fancy blue seats, and as the guys were finishing, an usher who didn’t recognize me said I had to leave the section. I pretended to be confused about the rules…for…the…sole…purpose…of…stalling…for…10…seconds…and it worked because the throwing quickly ended and Murton tossed me the ball. Then he came over and signed autographs, and I got him on my ticket.
I just needed one more ball to reach double digits, but it never happened. I went back up to the Loge and went for foul balls behind the plate, but there was hardly any action. Shawn Green hit a soft foul pop-up to my right that was heading straight into my glove when some bare-handed fool cut me off at the last second and lunged for the ball and knocked it into the seats below.
The Mets played like a bunch of Little Leaguers and fell behind, 4-0, after two innings. I wandered down to the Field Level and spent an inning and a half with a friend, then went back upstairs as the Mets launched their comeback. In the bottom of the 4th, David Wright flicked a ball over the fence down the right field line to trim the deficit to 4-2, and two innings later, the Mets tied it up on an RBI double by Paul Lo Duca and a sac fly by Damion Easley.
The game stayed tied until the bottom of the 9th. After two quick outs, Jose Reyes singled to center and stole his second base of the night. Endy Chavez and Carlos Beltran drew back-to-back walks to load the bases, and the count went full on Carlos Delgado. With the whole stadium holding its collective breath, what did Delgado do? Foul ball. Next pitch?! Another foul ball. NEXT PITCH?! Fastball upstairs. Ball four. The ever-dramatic walk-off walk.
Final score: Zack 9, Mets 5, Cubs 4.
• 62 balls in 7 games this season = 8.9 balls per game.
• 462 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 2,701 balls since the streak began, the 2,700th coming from Tim Buss
• 7 days until St. Louis