Billy Wagner tossed me a ball within the first few minutes of batting practice, but his aim was off. I was in the corner spot of the right field Loge, and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the Mets’ bullpen. Wagner didn’t even apologize or look for another ball–at least not at first, but eventually he wandered into the bullpen, and when I shouted down and asked him for another chance, he walked over to the ball and threw it right to me. Once I labeled the ball with a “3110” and made a separate note of how I’d snagged it, I walked along the front row and peeked down into the narrow, cluttered gap behind the outfield wall. I always do that in case there’s a loose ball lying around and usually it doesn’t do me any good, but this time my eyes lit up…
There was a small wooden platform surrounding the foul pole, and for whatever reason, there was a ball resting on top of it. I set up my glove trick and let out all the string (to make sure it wasn’t tangled) before lowering it. Then I leaned way out to get my dangling glove over the lower portion of the foul pole and dropped it carefully over the ball, which turned out to be damp and heavy. It also smelled like mold, and in addition to that, its logo was mis-stamped and printed so high that it barely overlapped the stitching. Autograph collectors hate balls like that. I love them.
Twenty minutes later Orlando Hernandez finished his bullpen session and started throwing balls at one of the metal poles that supports the protective screen. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello joined him and began chucking balls as well. Most of their throws missed the pole and hit the short picket fence, but one ball glanced off the pole and ricocheted onto the concrete surface at the back corner of bullpen. When their target practice concluded, pitching coach Rick Peterson retrieved the one loose ball, and I called down and got him to toss it up to me.
The rest of Mets BP was dead, but I did get to meet a guy named Gavriel who’s been reading my blog since 2005. One of the Mets photographers happened to come around and ask if we wanted our pic taken for mets.com. I said “no thanks,” knowing that it was just a ploy to get us to go to the site and spend money, but Gavriel was up for it. I made faces behind his back, and the pic you see here on the left was the result. (Check out my snazzy All-Star Game t-shirt, courtesy of Brad.) Later on, I met another blog reader named Andre.
When the Pirates took the field, I raced to the left field Loge because a Japanese pitcher named Masumi Kuwata was playing catch in front of the warning track. I knew his name, I had a glove, I was wearing a Pirates cap, and I spoke his language. It was basically an automatic ball, and as soon as he threw it to me, the man on my left turned and said, “How about a ball for my son? It’s his 11th birthday.”
I haaaaate it when people ask me for a ball when they haven’t even made an attempt to get one for themselves. All I could think was, “How about you and your son learn the players’ names, bring gloves, wear Pirates caps, learn to speak Japanese, and stop wasting the corner spot?”
Instead, I told them that they needed to speak up and ask the players for a ball, and that if they weren’t able to get one on their own, I’d try to get one for them…and whaddaya know…within a few minutes they got one of the Pirates pitchers to toss one up. Funny how that works.
I used my glove trick again toward the end of BP, and I got my sixth ball from Jack Wilson before the game at the Pirates’ dugout. I was the ONLY fan there with a glove, and I was the ONLY person who even stood up and asked for the ball, and yet everyone around me complained when I got it. (Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be a New Yorker.) All three balls I got from the Pirates had an “X” marked on the sweet spot.
I was hoping for a quick game because I had to leave Shea by 9:30pm because I had to get to a party in Manhattan. But no. Both teams loaded the bases in the first inning, and I was en route to being screwed. It didn’t really matter because Tom Glavine was only going for his 299th career win, but it still would’ve been nice to be there for the final out.
I came close to a few foul balls, but the only thing I got during the game was a nice view of Citi Field rising up in the background…
…and as soon as Glavine completed his six-inning performance, I had to leave…
The following afternoon, I heard that the Mets had won.
• 154 balls in 22 games this season = 7 balls per game.
• 477 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 2 consecutive games with at least six balls