I’m convinced that Jona is my good luck charm. The last time she went with me to a game, I snagged 14 balls including three foul balls during the game. Last night at Shea wasn’t much different (except there were three times as many fans). It seemed that everywhere I went, there were balls to be snagged. It was insane. Almost everything worked out in my favor, and here’s the story…
Normally, when Shea opens at 4:40pm, I make a beeline for the right field Loge, but yesterday I decided to check out the Field Level seats on my way up there, just in case there happened to be a ball sitting around. There was.
Jona was already taking a ton of photographs, which was great…
…but I realized she could help me out even more by heading up to the Loge and holding my corner spot for me.
She took pics from there as well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t notice that there was a ball sitting on the field next to the low wall, and neither did she. I did, however, notice that Carlos Gomez had a ball in his pocket, and I got him to throw it to me. He was about 100 feet away and put some velocity on it. Nothing major. He probably threw it about 50mph, and the ball made a nice crack as it met the pocket of my glove.
Since the first two rows to my left were blocked by other fans, I moved back to the fourth row. That way, if the batter sliced a foul ball into the seats, I’d be able to bolt straight across for it, rather than being forced to run up a few steps and THEN taking off. My plan nearly backfired when the batter pulled a grounder just foul of first base. I raced down the steps, hurdled the chain that separates the orange and blue seats, flew down the remaining steps, and lunged over the wall at the very last second, barely catching the ball in the tip of my glove.
Moments later, the batter (might’ve been Endy Chavez) crushed a deep fly ball toward Jona’s empty section. I wasn’t sure if she saw it coming, so I yelled her name. She looked up as the ball hit the facade of the Mezzanine behind her and bounced down to her row. Amazing. I spend an hour up there every day and never get any balls hit to me. She goes up there for 15 minutes and gets the first ball of her life.
A minute after I ran up to the Loge to take the pic of her, I had to run back down. Sandy Alomar, Jr. had tossed a ball to some fans, but it had fallen short and landed on the sloped grassy area next to the DreamSeats. In the four-pic sequence below, you’ll see the ball sitting on the grass on the upper left. On the upper right, I’m just starting to lower my glove. On the lower left, everyone (including a security guard) is watching the glove trick in progress, and on the lower right, I’m raising the glove with the ball wedged snugly inside.
Back up in the Loge, I slipped into the corner spot and got my fifth ball of the day from Alomar. His first throw fell short, but since the ball bounced back onto the field, he retrieved it and made a perfect throw on his second attempt. Five minutes later, I moved back to the main aisle so Alomar wouldn’t be able to see me from down below as I called out to Lastings Milledge who had just fielded a ball in right-center. Without hesitating, Milledge turned around and flung the ball 10 feet over my head. It hit the facade of the Mezzanine and dropped straight down to me. The ball was completely beat up.
I was completely happy.
Every time I snagged a ball, I scribbled down some quick notes about how I got it.
I managed to get one more ball during the Mets’ portion of BP. Billy Wagner tossed it short onto the same grassy area below, so I ran down and used the glove trick, and when I reeled it in, I let the kid next to me reach into the glove and keep the ball. I gave him a high-five, and everyone (including the security guard) thanked me.
I ran back upstairs. The rest of the Mets’ BP was dead. But at least I had a nice view.
Jona followed me to the Mets’ dugout, and when all the players and coaches came off the field, I got Sandy Alomar, Sr. to toss me my eighth ball of the day. (First time that I’d gotten balls from a father and son on the same day.) Here I am reaching out for it.
Four of the eight balls were marked in various ways on the sweet spot.
As soon as the last Met had gone inside, I put on my Braves cap and ran to left field. One of the nice things about older ballparks is that there are nooks and crannies and random places for balls to hide. Down each foul line at Shea, there’s a small triangular area tucked between a strange double wall. It’s not in play. It’s too small for seats or cameras. It’s the product of poor design, but I can’t call it useless because every now and then, a ball lands in there and stays there for whatever reason. Sometimes the fans don’t see it. Other times they can’t reach it. I don’t know. But when I ran out there yesterday and took a peek into the triangle, my eyes lit up. Here’s how it played out.
Upper left: I’m heading to the triangle.
Upper right: Ohmygod, there’s a ball down there.
Lower left: If anything happens to me, tell my parents I love them.
Lower right: You can see the ball wedged under the outer wall.
The good thing about getting that ball was that none of the Braves had seen me get it. So I continued asking for balls…
…and got Chuck James to toss me number 10.
After that, I made one of my greatest athletic plays EVER as a baseball collector. It may be hard for you to appreciate the greatness, especially if you’re not familiar with Shea, but here’s what happened. A righty on the Braves pulled a grounder down the line, and I could tell it was going to hook toward me. Just for the hell of it, I climbed onto the inner of the two walls and leaned over the second wall. In the span of three seconds, I kept scooting out and reaching down and balancing myself perfectly. Both of my feet were up in the air, well over my head, and no part of my body was even in the seats as I hung precariously over the edge. The ball zipped along the wall, and I reached all the way down to the field and scooped up it up, then used my strength to push off the field with my glove hand and muscle my way back over the two walls and into the seats. It was like a vertical, one-armed push-up, and I apologize for bragging, but seriously, if the cameras had been rolling, this play would’ve made SportsCenter. In my 18 years of collecting balls at Shea, I’d never seen anyone attempt to catch a grounder from that spot, nor had I even considered that it was physically possible. Let me further explain just how tough this was. Take another look at the pic up above where I’m leaning over the railing for the ball that was wedged under the wall in the triangular area. That’s how far down it is to the field, so what I had to do to catch this grounder was reach that far down AND reach over two walls. I have another sequence of pics that will help illustrate it. Here are four different shots of me labeling the balls at various points during BP.
The pic right above these words (in which I’m wearing the Braves cap with the red brim) shows part of the double wall. It probably doesn’t look like a big deal, but take my word for it, and if you find yourself at Shea at any point this season or next, head out to that spot and consider what it would take to reach the field without tumbling over. (Of course, I can make a great play like that on a worthless BP grounder, but I can’t judge an A-Rod homer properly during a game. Go figure.)
I got my 12th ball from Manny Acosta and headed up the left field Loge. To my surprise, the corner spot was open, so Jona sat there while I hung back in the aisle. Moments later, a righty on the Braves hit a homer that flew over the aisle, landed in the seats, bounced away from two fans and dropped into the empty tunnel next to me.
That ball and the previous two were training balls. Made in China. Watch out.
I went down to the corner spot and got Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell to toss me ball #14 (not a training ball), and I took a minute to catch up on my notes. (Yeah, I forgot to shave. So?!)
The bad thing about Jona’s ever-present camera was that it captured a failed glove trick attempt. A ball landed in the gap behind the left field wall, and I tried to get it from 25 feet up. Normally, this wouldn’t’ve been a problem, but it was stuck against a metal bar, and there were various obstacles directly above it, so I couldn’t lower the glove straight down. I had to swing it from side to side and try to knock it out into an open area, and before I had a chance, the security guard from the bullpen walked into the gap and took the ball.
Here I am about to lower the glove.
And here I am, mid-attempt, with several other fans looking on.
So frustrating! But I’m not about to start complaining.
The pitching matchup was great. Tim Hudson versus Oliver Perez. Two guys topping out above 90mph. I knew there’d be some foul balls, so even though there were a bunch of empty seats early on, I stayed on my feet and waited in the tunnels behind home plate in the Loge.
After a few near misses and several innings of running back and forth, Jona and I grabbed a pair of seats on the first base side. Martin Prado led off the top of the fifth and sent a foul ball flying back at me. I made a wild jump for it. The ball sailed five feet over my head. I bumped a pretzel vendor who happened to be walking past in the narrow aisle at that precise moment. The fans two rows behind me were not wearing gloves and not only bobbled the ball but somehow managed to tip it toward me. I reached out and caught it, then showed it to Mr. Pretzel whose grumpy demeanor turned to one of delight. I apologized. He said, “It’s all good. Just part of the game.” We shook hands and he continued on his way.
Three innings later, the left-handed Kelly Johnson pinch hit for Hudson, and I was already waiting in a tunnel on the third base side when he stepped up to the plate. Mets reliever Aaron Heilman was throwing well above 90mph, and Johnson swung late and blooped a foul ball in my direction. I knew right away that it was heading 10 feet over my head so I moved forward into the aisle and turned my back to the field in anticipation of a ricochet. Sure enough, the ball landed in the press box, rattled around for a second, and dropped down exactly to my spot. (I can’t judge an A-Rod homer, but damn I’m good at reading foul balls.) Everyone around me applauded and gave me high-fives and asked to see the ball and yelled “Nice catch!”
Nice catch? Really? The ball dropped 10 feet down right to me. What exactly was nice about it? If I were to toss a ball 10 feet up in the air and then catch it, would THAT be nice? I don’t get it, but anyway, here are the two foul balls which brought my total number of balls for the day to 16.
The game itself was terrific. Jose Reyes reached on an infield single and scored in the first inning. David Wright hit a two-run homer in the sixth to put the Mets on top, 3-0. (He now has 28 homers to go with 31 stolen bases.) Brian McCann connected for a two-run shot in the seventh to make it a 3-2 game, and that’s how it ended thanks to a 1-2-3 ninth inning by Wagner.
But wait. This isn’t all about me and my two foul balls. The girl can snag, too.
In my last two games with Jona, I’ve snagged 30 balls including *FIVE* gamers. See what I mean? Good luck charm.
On the way to the subway, we heard the following exchange between two rowdy Mets fans…
FAN #1: “A-Rod can have his MVP! He’ll never win a championship!”
FAN #2: “F*ck A-Rod!!”
FAN #1: “Ken Caminiti won an MVP, and now he’s dead!!!”
Gotta love New York.
• 226 balls in 31 games this season = 7.29 balls per game.
• 486 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 318 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
• 69 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 6 lifetime games with at least 16 balls
• 13 lifetime games with at least two game balls
• 11 game balls this season in 31 games = 1 game ball every 2.8 games.
• 4 different seasons with at least 10 game balls
• 109 lifetime game balls
• 71 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
(Remember the stat I created last year called Competition Factor? Well, I gave up on it, but I’d still like to point out that with 16 balls and a paid attendance of 48,557, I set a new record with 776,912. Thank you.)