I had to make a tough decision when I woke up. I had to choose between staying in my stuffy hotel room and blogging about the previous night’s game–or wandering across the street and into the park and visiting The Arch.
It was 10am on a weekday, and most kids were still in school. (Suckers.) I figured there wouldn’t be much of a line so I headed out.
The Arch is 630 feet high, and since the stairs are closed to the public, I had to ride up in a cramped pod (aka “tram”) with four women who freaked out every time the thing clanked. But the view from the observation deck made it all worthwhile…
I hung out at the top for 20 minutes, then rode back down, grabbed some lunch, went to the hotel, blogged until 4:15pm, gathered my stuff for the game, and walked two blocks to Busch Stadium’s right field gate. I’d gone to left field the day before, and it was packed. Right field had been relatively empty for the first couple rounds of batting practice, so I thought I’d try a different approach for my second and final game.
The bleachers filled up within a few minutes, and the Cardinals didn’t hit or throw a single ball into the seats. It was incredible. I’ve never experienced such a dead half-hour of BP. Even Scott Spiezio dissed me from right field. When I asked him for a ball that he had just fielded, he looked at it and then turned to me and said, “It’s too new.”
“How about if you get a dirty one?” I asked.
“You got it,” he said.
Two minutes later, he started jogging toward the infield.
“Hey! How about that dirty ball?!” I shouted.
He shrugged and kept jogging.
I still didn’t have a ball by the time the Cardinals finished BP. I was a bit nervous, but I figured the drought was about to end because of my secret weapon: color coordination. In addition to my Pirates cap, I was wearing a tight black t-shirt with a bold yellow stripe–a shirt so ugly that I was embarrassed to be seen in it except when the Pirates took the field, so I wore it under my white t-shirt the rest of the time.
I abandoned right field and headed to the left field foul line. Within the next 15 minutes, I got three balls thrown to me by Pirates pitchers. The first came from Jonah Bayliss, the second from Matt Capps, and the third from Tom Gorzelanny.
I only managed to get one more ball during BP, but it was a personal victory. The day before, I’d been stopped by security during my lone attempt to use the glove trick. I really wanted to use the trick at least once at Busch, and I got my chance when some fans dropped a ball onto the grassy ledge in front of the left field wall. I was in foul territory at the time, and the seats were crowded, so it took a minute for me to get there. Luckily, the ball was still in place, and I snagged it with ease. The Pirates had marked a thick “X” on the sweet spot. (Some teams mark their balls so their employees won’t steal them and get them signed.) I marked it just below with a “3035” because it was the 3,035th ball of my collection.
After BP, I got Damaso Marte’s autograph and ran into a superstar baseball collector from Chicago named Dave Davison. We’d been emailing on and off over the years, but hadn’t seen each other since 1999. We took a few photos together, did as much catching up as possible, parted ways shortly before the game, and didn’t see each other again.
I had no agenda for the game. I’d taken all the photos I needed the day before, so I slipped into an empty seat in the first row behind the Pirates’ dugout. I figured I’d get kicked out after an inning (if not sooner) but it was worth it to get such a great view and also have a chance to get another ball.
Pirates starter Ian Snell induced Scott Rolen to pop out to shortstop Jack Wilson to end the bottom of the first. Wilson took the ball with him toward the dugout. I stood up and yelled for it, and he tossed it to me. No competition.
I was convinced that an usher was about to appear out of nowhere and check my ticket…or that the people sitting behind me were going to complain that I stole their ball…or that the fan whose seat I was sitting in was on his way down the steps.
None of these things happened.
Cardinals starter Kip Wells struck out to end the bottom of the second, and Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit rolled the ball back to the mound. As he approached the dugout, I said, “Ryan, next time ya gotta bring the ball back this way.”
He looked me right in the eye and said “No” before disappearing from sight.
Third base coach Jeff Cox was much friendlier. When I asked him for a ball after the top of the fourth inning, he started giving me signs as if I were the batter getting instructions to bunt. You know, he touched the bill of his cap, then his nose, left ear, nose again, chin, and finished by swiping his right arm. I responded by touching each of my ear lobes, then my nose, chin, nose, and followed with a swipe across my chest, two claps, and a swing of my imaginary bat. He ducked into the dugout and reappeared five seconds later. Then he pointed to his cap as if to say, “This is because of YOUR cap,” and he tossed me a ball–my sixth of the day and second since the game had begun.
Half an inning later, Gary Bennett made the third out by grounding to Pirates 3rd baseman Jose Bautista. First baseman Adam LaRoche caught the throw across the diamond and threw me the ball on his way in.
No one else in the section had been trying to get a ball, or even seemed to realize that they were sitting in THE ideal spot for getting one–and yet they started to grumble after LaRoche hooked me up. So I left. No big deal. I’d gotten to watch nearly half the game from the best seat in the stadium and snagged three balls in the process. And anyway, I was hungry and didn’t have the guts to order something from the waitress. The last time I ordered food from a fancy seat that didn’t belong to me, I got kicked out of the section before my food arrived and had to beg security to let me wait for it at the top of the stairs. Not a good situation.
So I wandered. Ate a double-cheeseburger. Wandered some more. Vanilla ice cream cone. Wandered some more. Chocolate ice cream cone. Wandered some more. Took a few more photos. Wandered some more. Ended up behind the Cardinals’ dugout for the last few outs, but didn’t get another ball.
Final score: Cardinals 5, Pirates 3.
I took my time heading out. I knew it would be years, possibly even decades, before I’d be back.
• 77 balls in 9 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.
• 464 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 93 consecutive games outside of NYC with at least one ball
• 620 lifetime balls outside of NYC
• 3,038 total balls