That’s right. I went to Arizona. And now I’m back. There’s lots of catching up to be done, so let’s get started…
I woke up on September 17th with four and a half hours of sleep, left for Newark Airport at 9am, took off for Phoenix at 11:50am, met two friends at the airport at 2pm (after gaining three hours by changing time zones), got a ride to the Super 8 Motel, dropped off my stuff, and made the 15-minute walk to Chase Field.
The two friends were baseball collectors from San Francisco named Brad and Kevin. Brad, you may recall, is the guy who helped
bring me to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. Kevin, who’s attended over 130 major league games this season, is the guy wearing the orange shirt in my 8/14/06 at PETCO Park entry. Both he and Brad were familiar with Chase Field, and they shared the greatest ball-snagging secret of all: There’s a restaurant built into the ballpark called Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill. You enter on the outside, and you can walk right through it and exit out the back onto a terrace inside the stadium in the second deck in deep left field. I’d like to think that if I were there by myself, I would’ve discovered this trick on my own, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.
Check out the view as I walked out the back of Friday’s and headed into the seats:
Game time was 6:40pm. The gates were going to open at 4:30pm. Brad and Kevin and I went into Friday’s at 3:30pm, just as the Diamondbacks were starting to take batting practice. I was stunned. I
mean, I literally couldn’t believe it. There weren’t any other fans there. We had the whole stadium to ourselves, and really, I had the whole stadium to MYself. That’s because Brad decided not to go for balls until the gates opened, and Kevin was only interested in catching home runs. This meant I was the ONLY fan asking for balls.
A pitcher on the Diamondbacks threw me my first ball. I have no idea who it was, and it doesn’t matter. I was just psyched to get one so early in the day. There’ve been a few other times when I snagged a ball before the stadium opened (Friday’s in Miller Park, Waveland Avenue outside Wrigley Field, the portwalk outside AT&T Park) and it’s a great feeling…getting on line at the gate and already having a ball. Or three.
Livan Hernandez tossed me a second ball, and Dustin Nippert fired up another. I felt lucky that all three throws were right on the money. The Friday’s terrace is about 40 feet high–not to mention 450 feet from home plate–so it took some skill for the guys to make accurate throws that didn’t fall short. (According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the ball from Nippert was the 1,500th Allan H. Selig ball of my collection.)
While I was busy snagging, Brad went outside and bought me a ticket for the special gap section directly behind the right field wall. Then, after he returned to Friday’s to deliver the ticket, he went back outside and held a spot in line at the right field gate. It was really nice of him to do that, but as it turned
I’d started the day with 3,196 lifetime balls, so my next ball was going to be No. 3,200. As I ran inside, I tried to pay extra close attention to all the action taking place so I’d be able to identify the source of my milestone. I headed into the right field bleachers and scanned the section for balls as I made my
way down to the front. I didn’t plan on staying in the gap section (which is officially known as Section 105-W), but I wanted to check it out briefly. Brad introduced me to the friendly usher, and when she saw coach Kirk Gibson ignore my polite request for a ball, she reached into a cup holder and pulled one out that had landed in the gap a few minutes earlier, and she handed it to me. And there it was: Ball No. 3,200. Not too exciting, but it counts. I never counted the few balls that were given to me by other fans, but I decided long ago that balls from stadium employees would count. Why? Because security guards at Shea and Yankee Stadium used to (and still occasionally) go out of their way to prevent me from getting balls. At Shea, the on-field guard down the left field line used to run over and kick ground balls away during BP as I was leaning over the wall to scoop them up, and at Yankee Stadium…don’t even get me started. The worst offense took place in the early 90s when I got Royals pitcher Hipolito Pichardo to throw me a ball along the left field foul line. The on-field guard darted to his left and reached out with his bare hand and slapped the ball out of the air and deflected it to another fan as I was reaching out to catch it. And let’s not forget all the times I’ve been stopped from using the glove trick. Security guards have probably cost me 300 balls over the years, so at this point, if I’m on the road and a stadium employee doesn’t know me and feels like handing me a ball…yeah, you bet it counts. The usher’s name, by the way, is Annie Schock. I had to get her name, not just for ball-snagging documentation purposes, but because I wanted to let management know how great she was.
I sprinted from right field to left field (which only took a minute thanks to the concourse that runs behind the batter’s eye) and was surprised when the Diamondbacks’ portion of BP ended at around 4:40pm. The home team always takes BP first, and usually they wrap up about 90 minutes before game time. Luckily, the D’backs occupy the 3rd base side so I was able to race through the seats and make it to their dugout just as the last few guys were coming off the field. That’s when I got my fifth ball of the day from a guy who looked like he was the team’s strength and conditioning coach, and if that’s who it was, then his name was Nate Shaw.
The Giants took the field, so I switched into my orange and black “SF” cap and got my sixth ball of the day from pitcher Noah Lowry along the left field foul line.
I’d heard that security at Chase Field is strict and that they don’t like people using ball-retrieving devices. That’s how it was when I was there for two games in 1998, but this was a new decade, and when I saw a ball sitting in the left field bullpen, I had to go for it. The ball was about eight feet out from a 15-foot wall, so I had to let out quite a bit of string and then fling the glove out and tug the string at just the right moment in order to knock the ball closer. I nailed it on the first try, then quickly pulled up the glove and set up the magic marker and re-lowered it for the easy snag. Moments later, a security supervisor walked down the steps and stood behind the bullpen and visually stalked me as I disappeared into the left field bleachers.
At that point, I realized that there were more lefties than righties taking turns in the cage, so I ran back to right field. The outfield sections at Chase Field are good because they’re expansive and extend back
a few dozen rows, but they’re bad because of the cup holders that jut out and make the narrow rows even tighter, and because the benches have sharp corners. I discovered this the hard way when I lunged for a ball that Jack Taschner tossed my way and got a nasty little scrape in the process. (At least I got the ball.) When I showed my battle wound to a Chase Field regular named Tony Dobson, he said, “Now you’re one of us.” He was wearing shorts and pointed out several fresh recent cuts and older scars. Thus, my advice for anyone going to Chase Field: Wear long pants. I don’t care if it’s 109 degrees. If you plan on running around for balls, your legs will need protection.
I avoided bodily harm while snagging my next two balls–numbers nine and ten–directly behind the swimming pool which, by the way, costs $6,000 per game for a group of 35. Scott Munter threw me the first and Daniel Ortmeier threw the second. I was pumped to have reached double digits, but disappointed that I hadn’t caught a single batted ball.
As BP was ending, I went to the Giants’ dugout on the 1st base side and got my 11th ball from hitting
coach Joe Lefebvre. Then I got Tim Lincecum and Scott McClain to sign my ticket stub. Then I got a hot dog and a small pepperoni pizza and once the game began, my evening of wandering was underway. I walked through the concourses and up to the upper deck. I couldn’t believe how much space there was. That’s the beauty of new ballparks, especially those that’re built on cheap land in the desert.
The upper deck had huge patches of empty seats…
…and there weren’t any security guards up there. It was ideal. No one harassed me or gave me weird looks as I explored the outer reaches of the stadium and went nuts with my camera.
After a few innings, I went back down to the gap section in right field and checked in with Brad. The corner of the section closest to the foul pole provided a great view into the Giants’ bullpen. In the photo below, it might look like reliever Patrick Misch is trying to pull out the batting cage, but he was just stretching.
Around the 7th inning stretch, I managed to sneak down to the fourth row behind the Giants’ dugout, and let me tell you, it was not easy. At Chase Field, you have the dugouts, then about 10 rows of seats, then an aisle that cuts through the seats, then another 20 or 30 rows that go right up to the concourse. Now get this…there’s an usher checking tickets at every staircase in the concourse AND there’s an
usher checking tickets at the bottom of every staircase in the aisle. So, to get down to either dugout, you have to sneak past two ushers, and unlike most ballparks where the ushers stop checking tickets after a few innings, the folks in Phoenix continue checking tickets late in the game. What the hell?! How dare they try to keep me out of sections where I don’t belong?! Anyway, I didn’t get any third-out balls at the end of innings, but I did get the infield warmup ball from coach Willie Upshaw before the bottom of the 9th. And that was it. Twelve balls. Not terrible.
The Giants won the game, 8-5. Randy Winn went 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs. Brandon Webb got a no-decision after giving up three runs in six innings, and of course the Diamondbacks fans were grumbling about how he wasn’t effective anymore. Scott Munter picked up the win in relief. And as for
After the game, I collected a few dozen ticket stubs in the empty seats, and then my personal tour guides (a.k.a. Brad & Kevin) took me to the players’ parking lot where I got 11 autographs: Eric Byrnes, Alberto Callaspo, Tyler Walker, Bob Wickman, Eugenio Velez, Dan Giese, Rich Aurilia, Patrick Misch, Eliezer Alfonzo, Kevin Frandsen, and Jeff Salazar. Within one hour, I got more autographs than I’d collected all season.
• 247 balls in 33 games this season = 7.48 balls per game.
• 23 autographs in 33 games this season = 0.7 autographs per game.
• 488 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 102 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 698 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 70 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 3,208 total balls
(FYI, this was not the only game I attended in Phoenix…)