The best part about the day was that I had a two-man camera crew from UGO.com following me around. The other best part was that the producer–a supernice guy named Chris–paid for everything. Oren, the camera man, was also really cool, and we all had lots of laughs as we drove to Baltimore together.
The worst part about the day was the weather. The forecast was iffy, and we were paranoid that batting practice would be canceled. We celebrated the brief patches of sunlight and cursed the sporadic raindrops. The sky was dark gray. Then bright gray. Then partly sunny. Then a mixture of grays. It was maddening, but at least the sun had reemerged by the time we headed inside Camden Yards at 4:30pm with our media credentials…
Woo-hoo!!! There was batting practice!!! We weren’t allowed to go to the outfield seats until the stadium opened to the public at 5pm, so we headed down to the front row for a closer look. Oren hooked up my microphone. Chris made some phone calls. We discussed my plans for BP. I was going to spend the first half-hour in the right field standing-room-only section and then head to the left field seats.
Suddenly, at around 4:45pm, the grounds crew pulled back the batting cage and frantically started covering the field. It was still sunny. We were heartbroken. And confused. What was the rush?
And why was Melvin Mora helping to pull the corner of the tarp into place?
Fine, it was about to start raining, and there wasn’t going to be batting practice. No big deal. It was only my nightmare, and life went on. I needed to snag some baseballs, and Oren needed to get some footage of me snagging them. Unfortunately, he hadn’t yet turned on his camera when I got an unexpected ball tossed to me behind the plate by Nationals coach Jose Martinez. Five minutes later, he followed me out to the left field foul line, and Jason Simontacchi threw me my second ball of the day. Because I was the only fan in the seats, Simontacchi spotted me before I even asked for the ball and chucked it in my direction.
Within the next 10 minutes, three things happened:
1) It started drizzling.
2) The rest of the Nationals pitchers came out to left field and began to play catch.
3) Two dozen fans packed into the front row in foul territory.
The seats in straight-away left field were completely empty, so I jogged out there and asked John Patterson if he could toss me the ball when he was done. By the time he finished and looked my way, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain.
“Go long!” he yelled.
Sweet. He wanted to make me earn it by racing through the seats like a wide receiver.
Poor Oren. Not only was his camera getting wet, but I nearly ruined the shot for him. When he heard Patterson’s command, he figured I was going to run up the steps to get farther away from the field–so HE headed up the steps–but instead I darted to my left and cut through a row of seats. Just before Patterson threw the ball, I took a quick peek down to make sure I was running in a straight line, and I saw another ball wedged in a seat. Hell yeah, it must’ve landed there during early BP, but I didn’t want to do anything that would prevent Patterson from giving me his ball, so I kept running and looked up as his throw sailed 10 feet over my head. The ball disappeared into the seats, and I panicked when I couldn’t find it right away. How much time did I have before the other fans would join the search? The ball had landed several rows above me, and I waited for it to trickle down the steps, but that didn’t happen, so I started climbing over rows of seats and looking at the ground in all directions. Finally, I saw it on the wet concrete and grabbed it. Where was the other ball?! How many rows had I climbed over? How many sections had I run through? I looked all around but couldn’t find it. Oren hurried over, and I told the camera what I was doing. I had no clue where to look so I started combing through each row, hoping that I’d rediscover my partially-hidden treasure, and finally, BAM! There it was. I was overjoyed when I grabbed it because it was a different kind of ball–a new variation that I’d never seen before. Last year I snagged eight green training balls. This was my first blue one.
It started pouring, so we took advantage of our media credentials by checking out the press box…
…and even though UGO.com was paying for all of us, we took advantage of the free hot dogs. There was other stuff for the taking–including snacks and copies of Orioles Magazine–but the coolest thing I got was the game notes. I learned all sorts of useful information, for example:
1) The Orioles had won Game No. 65 in each of the previous four seasons.
2) Of the 259 batters that Orioles pitchers had walked this season, 78 ended up scoring.
3) The Orioles had scored first in 11 of their previous 12 games, but went 4-8 during that span.
4) The Orioles’ stolen base percentage of 84.2 was the third best in the American League.
5) The Orioles were 3-7 in games when the score had been tied after six innings.
Chris and Oren and I still had half an hour to kill before the first pitch, so we headed up to the next level and got free ice cream in the media dining room. Jim Palmer was sitting so close that we could hear him talking. (Can you spot him in this photo?)
One of the best things about seeing a ballpark behind the scenes is discovering secrets about how things are run. Take the pre-game announcements and on-field activities, for example. I’d heard/seen them hundreds of times in my life, but never realized that they’re planned right down to the minute–until I saw the “Pre-Game Schedule of Events” taped to the door of a TV booth.
We headed down to the field level seats at 6:58pm and picked a great spot (for foul balls) on the first base side of home plate. Chris stayed there and kept an eye on my stuff while Oren followed me and kept the camera rolling. I went to the third base side for left-handed hitters and went back to the first base side for righties. I also tried to work both dugouts for third-out balls after each half-inning.
Poor Oren. He had to do a lot of running (and explaining to ushers and fans), and I wasn’t producing. He decided my failure was okay. UGO.com would edit down all the footage and make a montage of my unsuccessful attempts to beg for balls…of Kevin Millar flipping the ball to a little kid after the top of the first…of Tony Batista throwing the ball to the far end of the dugout after the bottom of the first…of Millar giving the ball to a different kid after the top of the second…of Brian Schneider not even taking the ball back to the dugout after the bottom of the second.
Things were going so badly that Oren suggested taking a break for a few innings so he could get footage later on when it was dark–you know, to emphasize the fact that time was passing. I convinced him to keep following me a bit longer, and it paid off. With two outs in the top of the third, Steve Trachsel induced Felipe Lopez to ground out to Miguel Tejada. Millar caught the throw at first base and FINALLY hooked me up with my fifth (and final) ball of the day. I felt bad about snagging it because I figured it was going to screw up the montage, but Oren insisted that he wanted me to snag as many balls as possible.
Both starting pitchers–Trachsel for the Orioles and Matt Chico for the Nationals–were unable to throw harder than 87mph. It was lame and infuriating. Their “fast”balls weren’t coming in fast enough for the batters to swing late. There was so little action in the seats that Oren and Chris decided it wasn’t worth it to keep filming.
Late in the game, when hard-throwing relievers had taken over, I came close to a few foul balls, but missed them for reasons which are too frustrating to mention. I was glad the camera wasn’t rolling, and we were all glad when the game ended. It lasted 11 innings, and we had a three-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of us.
After getting shut out at the Nationals’ dugout, I met my friend Brad for the first time in person. (Brad is the guy who’s sending me to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.) We’d spoken on the phone and emailed dozens of times since August, and this was his first trip to the East Coast since then. Eleven hours earlier, he’d flown from San Francisco to New York City and then taken a train to Baltimore in time to race into Camden Yards and see the tarp covering the infield. He’d spent the whole game going for homers in right and left field, so we didn’t catch up until the end of the night. I won’t gush about him too much–I don’t want to be accused of having a Man Crush–so I’ll just say that he’s incredibly kind and generous…and lots of fun to talk to about snagging.
• 107 balls in 14 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
• 469 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 94 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 625 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 89 lifetime balls at Camden Yards
• 3,068 total balls
• 22 days until the Home Run Derby
• 2 months (at least) until the video segment will air on UGO.com