It was another day of begging for balls at Shea. The only difference was that my girlfriend Jona was with me to experience the first baseball game of her life.
We started off in the right field Loge, and when it became clear that none of the Mets pitchers were going to throw me a ball, I gave Jona the corner spot and begged her to beg for balls for me. She didn’t know what to say, and it didn’t matter. That’s the beauty of being female. Baseball players are dogs, and their ears perk up whenever they hear a melodious voice in the stands. Want some proof? During the first 10 minutes of batting practice, I asked Joe Smith several times for a ball in the most polite of ways. Not once did he even look up at me. But when Jona yelled his name, he immediately looked in our direction, and when she made an ordinary request for the ball, he threw it to her. Naturally, I reached out and made the catch and then pretended to hand it over.
I should’ve gotten my second ball of the day tossed up from the bullpen by Tom Glavine. I was in the right spot along the side railing, I was the only fan who even noticed that there was a ball lying off to the side, and I made a polite request. But Glavine’s first throw fell short, and his second throw was lazy and sailed to another fan. Jona got to experience me cursing at a baseball game for the first time in her life.
Things got better when a right-handed hitter on the Mets (not sure who) sliced a ball that bounced onto the grassy slope next to the Dreamseats. Jona was nice enough to hold my corner spot and take photos of me after I ran down to the field level to snag it with my glove trick…
Unfortunately, the ball was half-buried in long grass against a wooden board, and I couldn’t get the edges of my glove to drop around it. Oliver Perez saw me struggling and walked over.
“Can you give me a little help?” I asked.
He moved the ball six inches closer.
“Can you toss it up?” I asked.
“You said a LITTLE help,” he replied and walked away.
“Okay, okay,” I yelled, “That’s fine. I appreciate it.”
It wasn’t fine. The grass was still too long, and I was sure that stadium security was going to kick me out of the section, but no one said a word. One minute later, I got the ball to stick inside my glove.
I went back up to the Loge and got another ball tossed by Ruben Gotay. It was my third ball of the day, and all three had interesting smudges on them.
Earlier in the afternoon, I’d warned Jona that I was going to be running all over the place during BP. She wasn’t fazed, but just to be safe, I drew her a diagram of Shea Stadium and mapped out my plans. She never used it. Instead, she wore comfortable shoes and ran around with me.
Our next stop was the first base dugout. I squeezed into the front row just before the Mets came off the field and got my fourth ball of the day tossed by bench coach Jerry Manuel.
After that, Jona followed me up to the left field Loge and kept taking photos. She captured the moment when I reached out to catch a ball thrown by Twins pitcher Ramon Ortiz, and soon later, she got another action shot as I used the glove trick for a ball lying on the grassy slope 20 feet below. When I reeled it in, I was disappointed to discover that it wasn’t an Official Major League Baseball. Instead, it was a cheap ball made in China with a logo that said, “Donated by the New York Mets Foundation,” and I decided not to count it in my collection. On 9/22/05 at Shea Stadium, I found four Foundation balls in the seats didn’t count those either. I think they’re charity balls, literally donated by the Mets to underprivileged kids (who are privileged enough to play at Shea). I’ve still never seen one of these balls actually being used by a major league player, and that’s why I don’t count them. Training balls are different because they ARE used during BP.
Pat Neshek was jogging back and forth on the warning track, and when he paused for a moment, I told him that I love his blog. He waved and smiled, and a few minutes later, he threw a ball to me–except his aim was off. The damn thing went TEN feet over my head, and some old dude in a Hawaiian shirt got it. Jona understood the suckiness of the situation. “He’s a pitcher?” she asked?
Boof Bonser had better aim in throwing me my sixth ball of the day, and I got another from hitting coach Joe Vavra at the Twins dugout after BP.
The highlight of the game was getting selected as the “Barbados contestant” for the Mets’ home-run inning. I didn’t win, but it was still cool to see my name on the Diamond Vision screen and then root like hell for a longball. If anyone on the Mets had gone deep in the bottom of the 5th, I would’ve won two plane tickets to Barbados and hotel accommodations. Jose Reyes led off the frame with a deep line drive to right-center, but it was hauled in on the warning track. Paul Lo Duca followed with a single. Carlos Beltran bounced into a fielder’s choice. David Wright singled. Carlos Delgado flied out to left field, and that was it. Bleh.
The rest of the game was great for the hometown crowd. John Maine allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings to earn his seventh win and lower his ERA to 2.90. Wright finished 3-for-5 with two doubles to raise his batting average to .287. Reyes stole his major league-leading 38th base. Delgado and Ricky Ledee hit home runs (in the 2nd and 8th innings, which average out to the 5th). The Mets had 15 hits and beat the Twins, 8-1.
Aside from the bottom of the 5th, Jona never really got into the game, and that was fine. I didn’t expect her to. Baseball is a tough sport to watch, especially for someone who didn’t grow up watching it. It was just fun to be together and give her a glimpse of my madness.
• 119 balls in 16 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
• 471 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 18 consecutive games with at least four balls
• 3,080 total balls
• 20 days until I’ll be at the Home Run Derby…