Being recognized by a Major League Baseball player should be a joyous event–but when it happens to me, it’s not.
I had my corner spot in the right field Loge, and I was all set for a big day when Dave Racaniello, the Mets bullpen catcher, spotted me and shouted, “What’s the count up to?!”
Normally, this isn’t a big deal. He’s recognized me for years and often asks about my collection, but this time he was standing next to three pitchers: Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, and Joe Smith.
“I forget!” I shouted, trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible so the players wouldn’t catch on.
Racaniello smiled and then kinda shrugged while looking at the other guys as if to say, “They don’t know what we’re talking about.”
Then Heilman turned around and demanded, “How many thousands?!”
I was busted. Right field was ruined. No one on the Mets threw anything my way, and of course since Shea was designed by monkeys who thought it was a good idea not to have more than 17 seats in fair territory, no one hit a single ball to me either.
I ran to the left field side. Dead. Maybe even worse than right field. John Maine–the King of Quiet–was the only player shagging down below. Not only had I never seen him throw a ball into the crowd, but I’d never even seen him acknowledge anyone. What’s his deal? Is he just a shy country boy from Fredericksburg, Virginia? Or has he already blossomed into a stand-offish egomaniacal superstar athlete in the Big City?
I waited for a ball to be hit into the left field corner, and then I made a polite request for it.
I waited for another and asked him again.
Fine. If he was going to be annoyingly quiet, I was going to be annoyingly verbal. I used every clever (and not-so-clever) line I could possibly think of, knowing he could hear everything I was saying and hoping it would finally break him. I wish I had a recording of myself. It probably would’ve sounded something like this: “Hey, John, whaddaya say, how about a ball up here for the cheap seats? C’mon, I need your help. These guys in the cage aren’t pulling anything. I’m desperate up here. Just one ball…just one ball and then I’ll shut up. It would be a real honor to get a ball from you. I mean that. Seriously, is there any possible way to get a ball from you? Even a dirty ball? I’ll take the worst ball you got. I’ll take a ball that belongs in the Minor Leagues. Anything. Just one ball. I won’t tell anyone, I swear.”
He never looked up at me, but when he fielded the next ball, he took a quick peek at it before throwing it back toward the bucket. Success! Clearly, he was inspecting it to see if it was dirty enough to give away.
Maine continued to ignore me for the next 10 minutes, but then he had to satisfy my request because three consecutive balls were hit into the corner. He walked over slowly, picked them all up, inspected each one, fired two of them back in, and finally looked up. By that point, there were a few other fans in the section who were also trying to get a ball, so I jumped up and down and waved my arms like a complete tool, but it worked because his eyes met mine, and he tossed me the ball. It was dirty and worn and I didn’t care.
That was the only ball I got during the 55 minutes of Mets batting practice. (Citi Field, please hurry.) I wanted to run down to the Field Level and try to get a ball at the Mets’ dugout as they left the field, but I knew I’d lose my corner spot, so I stayed there and preyed on the the Giants.
During the next 45 minutes, I got a brand new ball from Steve Kline and mostly-new balls from Matt Cain and Jack Taschner. There was nothing fancy about how I got any of these balls except for the fact that Cain threw his as a half-decent knuckler.
I didn’t get a ball at the Giants’ dugout after BP, but I did get Tim Lincecum’s extraordinarily ugly signature on my ticket.
It’s a good thing I’d bought a seat in right field because security was checking tickets at game time–and not just because of Barry Bonds. They often check tickets out there, depending on who’s working the section.
Top of the 1st inning. Bonds was due to bat fourth. Would he even get to hit? I was hoping he wouldn’t because the sun was in my eyes…
…but at least the narrow aisle was clear on both sides. Randy Winn led off by flying out to right field, and Kevin Frandsen followed with a pop out to second. Rich Aurilia then got his 4-for-4 performance started with an infield single. Bonds time. The count went to 1-1, and he creamed the next pitch…for a single to center. Fabulous.
Right field was worthless aside from Bonds. The only other guys batting left-handed were Endy Chavez, Carlos Delgado (okay, not totally worthless), and the two starting pitchers: Barry Zito and Tom Glavine. There was no point in staying out there when Bonds wasn’t up, so I ran to the seats behind the plate and went for foul balls. Had a few close calls, but…nothing.
I was back in right field when Aurilia singled to lead off the top of the 3rd. Bonds then grounded into a routine 3-5-3 double play. Gotta love that shift.
Two innings later, Aurilia did the worst thing imaginable: he hit a double. That left first base open, and Bonds was intentionally walked.
In the 7th, Bonds ended his night by grounding out to Delgado. I ended my night by getting nothing at the Giants’ dugout. Final score: Giants 3, Mets 0.
• 91 balls in 12 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
• 467 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 3,052 total balls
• 38 days until I’ll be at the Home Run Derby…