Last week (in case you missed it) I was interviewed on NPR. Since then I’ve heard from a bunch of people who want to watch baseball with me, including a woman who asked if I’d take her son to Yankee Stadium before he had to head back to college on August 17th. I told her I was free on the 14th so she gave me his phone number, and I called him the day before the game to get a little more info.
His name is Peter. He’s 21 years old. About to start his junior year at the University of Miami. Psychology major. Huge Yankees fan. Huge baseball fan. Runs a 20-team fantasy league. Has a partial season ticket plan with his dad at Yankee Stadium. Played varsity baseball in high school…
So, what exactly did he need me for?
“I’ve never been to batting practice,” he admitted, adding that he’d once gotten a ball at Spring Training, but never at a major league stadium.
“I think we can do something about that,” I said.
We ended up talking for 20 minutes–very cool guy–and by 4pm the next day, we were shaking hands and heading to the #4 train.
By the time GATE 6 opened at 5:05pm, the line behind us was insanely long so I set Peter up in the corner spot out in straight-away right field.
It wasn’t a good spot to snag six balls, but there was an excellent chance he’d get at least one thrown to him. He was a bit shy at first, at least in terms of using his voice, so I assured him it wasn’t rude to yell as long as he said please, and soon after, he got Phil Hughes to toss him a ball.
Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to warn Peter that Yankees fans tend to be rather aggressive during batting practice. Therefore, when he didn’t reach all the way out for the ball, another fan reached in front of him and stole it. Not good. It was still early, but I could tell it was going to be a slow day for balls. The players weren’t hitting or throwing much into the seats, there were half a dozen kids with cup/glove tricks, and the entire section had a sinister vibe. I’d managed to snag two balls by that point–one from Mike Mussina and another with the glove trick–so at least Peter was guaranteed not to go home empty-handed, but I wanted him to enjoy the rush of getting a ball for himself. When the Orioles took the field, I told him to lose the Yankees cap and Jeter jersey, and I gave him my Orioles cap.
I also gave him an Orioles roster and helped shout at the players, and within a few minutes, Nick Markakis fired a ball at him from about 100 feet away. The ball was easily traveling 50 to 60mph, but it seemed to float toward us in slow-motion, during which time I was praying that Peter would put his 6-foot-2 frame to good use and reach all the way out. PLEASE!!! Please reach out. Please make the catch. This is your chance. Your second chance. Possibly your last chance for quite some time. Reach all the way out. ALL THE WAY. And don’t just reach. Open the glove. Open the glove and hold it in the right spot and squeeze it at just the right moment. Did you really play high school baseball? Prove it. Make the catch. Make it. Do it. Come on…
He made the one-handed catch with ease. Hell yeah. But the rest of BP was a nightmare. First I tore my (overpriced) cargo shorts on the back of a seat as I tried to squeeze down a narrow staircase (and nearly lost my keys and wallet as a result), and later on, I got knocked down while going for a ball. It was the second time this happened in my last two Yankees games, and I was NOT happy. Basically, there was a ball that got flipped up from the warning track, and it was coming down directly to me, so I reached up and jumped a few inches and got body-checked from all sides. The worst part wasn’t getting elbowed on the right cheek. It’s that the other fans were so reckless that they sent me flying toward a group of little kids. I avoided slamming into them by grabbing onto someone’s shirt on the way down, and when I picked myself up…let’s just say I offered a few choice words to the people around me.
After BP, if I’d been there by myself, I would’ve wandered to the left field foul line and tried to get a few Orioles autographs. Maybe even a third ball. But Peter just wanted to go to the seats and order some food and wait for the game to start, and that was fine. Seriously. It was nice to relax and sit in one place and have some company in the process. When A-Rod came up in the bottom of the first inning, I was hoping he wouldn’t hit a home run to left field. Again…if I were alone, that’s where I would’ve been, so I was glad when he walked.
A-Rod grounded out in the fourth, and Hideki Matsui followed with a line drive single to left to break up Daniel Cabrera’s no-hitter. The Yankees were already losing, 6-0, at that point, and by the time A-Rod came up again in the sixth, the score was 11-0 and Peter and I were in left field. (Even HE got a bit restless with the score so lopsided.) I couldn’t believe how empty the aisle was. If A-Rod had hit a line drive anywhere near us, we would’ve been all over it, but the best he could do was cream a foul homer into the upper deck and then dribble a slow roller toward shortstop Miguel Tejada for an infield hit–the Yankees’ second and final hit of the night.
Peter and I went back to our seats for the next two innings, then snuck down behind the Orioles’ dugout in the ninth, but the players and coaches didn’t toss a single ball into the crowd.
Final score: Orioles 12, Yankees 0.
It’s amazing that the Yankees got blanked, considering that the Orioles walked nine batters: six by Cabrera in 6 2/3 innings, two by Paul Shuey over the next inning and a third, and one by Rob Bell in the ninth. Props to Aubrey Huff for hitting a grand slam and knocking in five runs…and to Kevin Millar who reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with a solo homer, two walks, and four runs. Of course his homer landed right where we’d been sitting half an inning earlier, but whatever. It wasn’t ALL about the balls last night, and I lived to tell the tale.
• 184 balls in 27 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.
• 482 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 107 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
• 3,145 total balls