The last time I went to a game and didn’t snag at least one ball was September 2, 1993 at Yankee Stadium. I’ve been to hundreds of games since then, and this was one of the few times I knew my streak was in danger before I even left my apartment. That’s because I was going to be filmed by two shows for SportsNet New York, and the interviews were going to take place during batting practice. Why the danger? Because the interviews had nothing to do with my baseball collection and everything to do with my new book.
I’m not complaining. It’s every author’s dream to be on TV and have his (or her!) book featured. I’m just saying that the snagging situation was looking grim. I’d been told that the filming would last until game time, which meant that in order to keep my streak alive, I’d have to find a way–ANY way–to get a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball or a warm-up ball between innings or a foul dribbler from the 1st base coach or a ball from the winning team at their dugout. I was so paranoid that I’d go the whole night without getting a ball…and convinced that I’d be relying on the home plate umpire to toss me one as he left the field after the game…that I printed the complete Major League Umpire Roster so I’d be able to identify him by number and call him by name instead of simply yelling, “Hey, blue!”
Anyway, I met two members of the film crew at the Press Gate at 3pm and got my media credential. Then we headed inside and took the elevator up to the Mezzanine (the 3rd level) to meet the others. As I stepped out of the ramp and into the seats, I was surprised to see the Giants players taking early BP–while wearing shorts and t-shirts. It was an odd sight, and I wanted to watch, but there was work to be done. First, one of the guys hooked me up with a microphone. Then I was introduced to “Kooz,” the puppet/mascot of the show “Mets Weekly.” And after that, the producer set up the first shot and told me what we’d be doing.
The first part was a straight-up interview with Kooz. What inspired me to write the book? How long did it take? What are some interesting things that people can look for?
The second part was a lesson on keeping score. I was given a score sheet. I wrote the first few names of the Mets lineup. I invented some action and showed Kooz how to fill it in.
The third part was a game of “20 Questions.” Kooz thought of a player, and I had to figure out who. Is he alive? Yes. Is he currently playing? Yes. Is he in the American League? No. Is it Albert Pujols? No. Is he on the Mets. Yes. Aha! And so on.
For the fourth and final part of the segment, Kooz and I took turns reciting lines from my poem called “159 Ways to Hit the Ball” (which you can find on pages 54-55 in the book). Kooz started by chanting, “Squib, squirt, nub, chop,” and I continued with “Drive, line, send, pop.” We did the first verse in the seats, then sang the second on a ramp overlooking the parking lot, the third in front of a concession stand, the fourth while riding up an escalator, and the fifth in the upper deck.
At 4:35pm, the Mets were starting BP, the gates were about to open, and I felt completely helpless as I was escorted down to the Field Level to be filmed for “Kids Clubhouse.” At least if my streak ended, I’d have a good excuse to last me a lifetime: “Oh yeah, May 29, 2007…I remember that…whatever…I was being interviewed by Kenneth Cole’s daughter for some show on the Mets’ cable network and had to miss batting practice…whatever.”
As I stepped onto the warning track behind home plate and headed toward the Mets’ dugout, I heard a few people shout my name from the crowd. It was a small group of autograph collectors that I’d gotten to know over the years, and one of them was a close friend named George Amores. I don’t know how to put it any other way, so let me just say this: George is The Man. When I told him last week that I’d be doing a couple pieces with SNY, he offered to meet me at Shea and take pictures, so when I saw him standing in the front row behind the dugout, I walked over as close as I could and tossed him my camera. (I love having athletic friends.)
The crew attached a new microphone to my shirt and prepped me for the interview with Amanda Cole, who started by asking me a few basic questions about the book. Then, since this episode of the show was mainly about pitching, I showed her how to grip and throw different types of pitches: four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curve, knuckle-curve, knuckleball, change-up, etc.
Meanwhile, the Mets were taking BP, and it was seriously weird not to be running around for balls. Thankfully, I got a brief chance to snag, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Just after 5:30pm, the crew had to do a separate interview with Pedro Feliciano. I was told that when my segment continued, it was going to be filmed in the seats, so I headed up that way with five minutes to spare.
“Hey!” someone shouted at me from the first row behind the photographers’ box. “You’re the ball guy! Are you gonna give us a ball?!”
“I’m just trying to get ONE for myself,” I said.
The first few rows behind the dugout were packed, but one of my friends (pictured here with the green sign) cleared a little space for me and let me in. Two minutes later, the Mets finished BP and headed off the field. David Wright tossed three balls over the far end of the dugout, and other players and coaches ignored me, but then at the last second, Mets 3rd base coach Sandy Alomar Sr. walked over with a ball and flipped it to me. WOO!!! No time to celebrate. Two minutes after that, the crew was in the seats, discussing the final portion of the interview with me, which was all about “The Fair Ball Quiz” (on page 116). We picked five questions to ask kids–stuff like “If a bunt rolls onto home plate and stays there, is it fair or foul?”–and I had to explain the answers. And that was it. It was 6:15pm, and I was free, and the Giants were just about to finish batting practice.
I switched into my Giants cap and raced over to their dugout on the 3rd base side. Pedro Feliz tossed me a ball on his way in, and moments later, someone else flipped one up from underneath the dugout roof. Not bad.
I spent the next half hour wandering all around the Field Level seats and taking notes for New York Magazine. (You can read more about that in my last entry.) Then I headed up to the Loge for the start of the game. Great pitching matchup. Tim Lincecum versus Oliver Perez. Two hard throwers. (Lincecum topped out at 99mph.) There weren’t nearly as many foul balls as I’d expected, but I did catch one in the top of the 9th. No outs, 1-0 fastball from Billy Wagner to Bengie Molina. I was standing at the top of the ramp for no other purpose than to catch a foul ball, so as soon as it left the bat, I was all over it. I didn’t have to move much–just a few feet to my left–and that’s a good thing because the ball flew back nearly as fast as the pitch was thrown…and yet it didn’t even seem that fast. You know how a hot hitter will sometimes talk about the game appearing to slow down, almost as if everything is moving in slow-motion while he’s able to operate at full speed? Well, that’s how it felt as I traced that foul ball. From the instant it left the bat, I knew it was mine. Other people seemed to be frozen in place, paralyzed by fear and/or slow reflexes, as I glided into position for the easy one-handed grab.
“Thanks!” shouted the man standing right behind me. “You saved me from breaking my hand.”
“Glad to help,” I said.
B*rry B*nds pinch-hit in the top of the 10th, and Scott Schoeneweis walked him on five pitches. Just as well. If he’d gone deep, there wouldn’t have been much of a chance for me to catch it. Right field was a zoo. There were four security guards blocking the ramp to the seats, with fans crammed behind them, and everyone in the seats was standing. It was nearly impossible to see, let alone move.
It was an amazing game. David Wright had nearly ended it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th, but the ball hit the very top of the right field fence. Three batters later, with the winning run on second base, Omar Vizquel made a diving play on a grounder up the middle and got an inning-ending force out at second.
The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th but couldn’t score. The entire 11th inning was uneventful, but then the Giants took a 4-3 lead in the top of the 12th. In the bottom of the inning, former Mets closer Armando Benitez entered the game and nearly got booed off the mound. The reception might’ve rattled him because he started by walking Jose Reyes and balking him to second. Endy Chavez laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Benitez then balked AGAIN, sending Reyes home with the tying run. Beltan then grounded out, and Delgado followed with his second home run of the night. Game over. Final score: Mets 5, Giants 4. Please drive carefully and arrive home safely.
• 87 balls in 11 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 466 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 4 game balls in 11 games this season = 1 game ball every 2.8 games.
• 102 lifetime game balls
• 3,048 total balls
• 3 days until the segments air on SNY (that would be Saturday, June 2)
• 37 days until San Francisco