I wasn’t planning to attend this game. Not only was it supposed to rain, but the geezerly pitching matchup of Glavine vs. Moyer wasn’t likely to produce many foul balls. The rain, however, stayed away and I realized I could use the matchup to my advantage. It gave me the perfect opportunity to wander around the stadium and take photographs from every angle without worrying about what I might be missing–but first there were batting practice balls to be snagged.
I started off in the right field Loge and had the entire section to myself. Of course there wasn’t a single ball hit up there, but I did get two thrown to me. The first came from Billy Wagner whose first attempt fell short. The second was FIRED at me by Guillermo Mota. My internal radar gun clocked it at 64 mph.
I sensed that right field was dead so I went downstairs and ran around the stadium to the left field foul line. Of course I wasn’t allowed into the blue seats to scoop up all the grounders that rolled by, and the only ball that landed in the seats flew 30 feet over my head–but I got Ben Johnson to throw me my third ball of the day, and I convinced Mets first base coach Howard Johnson to toss me another.
Just before the Mets finished BP, I ran back around the stadium and found an empty spot in the first row behind their dugout. Bench coach Jerry Manuel tossed me a ball on his way in, and 15 seconds later, Mota threw me another. Ha! It was a personal victory because Mota had been rude to me during the first three years of his forgettable career. Less than a minute later, bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello headed toward the dugout with a whole bag of balls.
“Dave!” I shouted. “You blew my cover the other day. Now it’s payback time.”
He rolled his eyes and reached into the bag and flipped me a ball–my seventh of the day. (Six of the seven had “practice” stamped onto the sweet spot.) None of the fans at the dugout seemed to care that I’d just snagged three balls. They were all waiting for autographs and feeling pretty good about life since David Wright had just been signing.
I ran back to the left field foul line. The Phillies were about to finish playing catch, and I was about to put in an early request for a ball when the only two players in front of me abruptly stopped throwing. Jayson Werth ended up with the ball, and he was all the way out in shallow center field near the screen and bucket. I didn’t think there was much of a chance that he’d throw me the ball from 150 feet away, but I had nothing to lose so I shouted his name. He looked up. I waved my arms. He launched the ball in my direction. Perfect throw.
“Whoa!” shouted a man several rows behind me. “That was one helluva catch!”
“No, it wasn’t,” I said. “The ball came right to me.”
He was confused.
I ran back upstairs and went to the left field Loge. Of course there wasn’t a single ball hit into the seats, but I did get one thrown to me by Antonio Alfonseca. It was my ninth ball of the day, and five minutes later, I realized it was my 100th of the season.
I was hoping to get one more ball and reach double digits, but the rest of BP was a complete waste. Alfonseca stayed in left field, and he was pretty much alone out there, so I couldn’t even ask anyone else for a ball. Toward the end of BP, I ran back downstairs and headed to the Phillies’ dugout, and when all the players and coaches headed in, I got my 10th ball of the day from Adam Eaton. Seconds later, another ball trickled toward me on the dugout roof. I lunged for it, grabbed it with my glove, and handed it to a little kid on my left. Years ago, I would’ve kept it, but now…I don’t know. It just seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Cole Hamels was signing autographs just past the 3rd base end of the dugout. As I climbed the railings to get over there, several fans asked me who he was. Are you kidding?! I wasn’t sure I’d get there in time. I expected him to bolt after 30 seconds, but he stuck around long enough for me to get him on my ticket. Then I went to the back of the line and took off my hat (to change my appearance) and got him again on a Phillies ticket from last season.
I nearly got Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to sign before the game. Just missed them. Whatever. I had a bag full of balls and new comfortable sneakers, the weather was perfect, my digital camera battery was fully charged, and my photographic mission was set to begin.
First order of business: Taking pics of the construction of Citi Field…
The photo on the upper left shows Citi Field’s left field foul line, with left and center field in the distance. See the gray metal beams right in the middle of the photo that are sloping gently downward? I’ll be catching lots of home runs there. The photo on the upper right shows Citi Field’s left field foul line behind Shea’s bleachers. The photo on the lower right shows the left field foul line curving around home plate and out to the right field foul line off in the distance. The photo on the bottom left shows the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which will serve as the main entrance behind the plate.
I photographed the foul poles, the bullpens, and the fans from above…
As I wandered through the upper deck, I was flagged down by two good friends–Jon Braunstein and Mike Miles–who happened to be sitting there. They’re pictured above in the photo on the lower right. You might remember Mike from 9/20/06 at Citizens Bank Park.
I’d never been to the right field corner of the upper deck. Never. Not once in over 370 games at Shea Stadium. Cool view. I had no idea you could see the water from up there…
There was more water to be seen–if you count the scummy puddle in the concourse of the upper deck…
If that puddle had been on the Field Level, where lots of high-paying season ticket holders walk past, it would’ve been mopped up within two minutes and blocked by orange cones in the interim. But in the outer reaches of the upper deck? Not a priority. How did that puddle even get there? Did the wall take a leak? It doesn’t matter. That’s just the beauty AND horror of Shea Stadium. The horror is that it’s falling apart, and that there’s garbage all over the place as well as puddles and chipped paint and exposed pipes and dangling wires and crooked railings and missing chains and jagged metal edges and narrow aisles and bathroom doors that were brilliantly designed to swing open into the concourses and terrible seats half a mile from home plate and random nooks and crannies and other unimaginable hazards. Look at the pic up above on the upper left. What the **** is that? There was a small room at the back corner of the upper deck with a ferocious black unit in the middle that was growling and clanking. The room was wide open. There was no security. There was no reality. I had to wander inside and take a peek, and at that moment, I wondered why a swat team of security guards is put in place to keep kids out of the Field Level seats while NO ONE bothers to guard other places in the stadium. And THAT, is the beauty of Shea, a beauty that will disappear when Citi Field is hatched in 2009. Shea is cavernous. If you want to bring your laptop to the game and chill out in a patch of empty seats, or sneak down to the front row of the upper deck and dangle your feet over the edge, no one’s gonna say anything. There were 43,078 fans at the game last night, and look how empty the stadium was in certain places…
It wasn’t just empty. It was downright desolate. There’s so much wasted space at Shea. You know why all those green seats were empty? Because any sucker that sits there would have this as their view:
You can’t see the scoreboard. You can’t see the Diamond Vision screen. You can’t see the right field corner. You can’t see the pitch speed or the batter’s stats or the number of balls and strikes and outs. You can’t even follow the arc of a fly ball. It’s absurd, but it’s awesome. Ballparks aren’t designed like this anymore. Every inch of Citi Field will be carefully painted and paved and designed with a specific purpose, not to mention guarded by Flushing’s Finest. With all those fans at last night’s game, there were still 13,000 empty seats and plenty of places to hide. In less than two years, a crowd that size will leave fewer than 2,000 seats empty. But there won’t be any empty seats because every game will be sold out. You want intimacy? You want better sight lines? Fine, take it, but remember what’ll be dying with it.
• 102 balls in 13 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
• 10 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls
• 66 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 468 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 33 days until the Home Run Derby…