The day began with a late-morning drive to Scottsdale Stadium–the Spring Training home of the Giants. My friends Brad and Kevin wanted to show me how fun and easy it is to collect baseballs there, so we started by peeking through the fence at one of the adjacent practice fields.
Then we walked around the outside of the stadium…
…and discovered that one of the main gates was wide open, so we headed inside.
We entered on the first base side of home plate, then walked through the seats toward the right field foul pole and climbed the steps to the huge party deck above the bullpen. Brad showed me a specific spot on the deck which was about 400 feet from home plate–on two different fields! There was a practice field on the left, and Brad said he’d once experienced a double batting practice there during which home run balls were flying at him from two directions. Can you imagine that?! I took pics of both fields and stuck them together in Photoshop to make a panorama, and here’s what it looked like:
After drooling over the possibilities, we walked around the outfield to the third base side and cut back toward home plate.
Experienced baseball collectors are always among the first fans to enter a stadium because of the chance to find “Easter eggs.” That’s what you call baseballs that are hidden in the seats. When balls land in the seats before the gates open, ushers are supposed to retrieve them and toss them back onto the field. But sometimes the ushers are lazy and leave the balls there. Sometimes the ushers can’t even find them. And sometimes there are balls that land in the seats right before the gates open, and the ushers don’t have time to get them.
As we approached the dugout, our eyes lit up and we jumped out of our shoes and started drooling again and nearly fainted because of this:
Yes, you counted correctly, there were TEN balls sitting on the dugout roof. Just sitting there. Were we hallucinating in the desert heat? Was this a joke? A trick, perhaps? One of those hidden-camera TV shows? Fifteen minutes earlier, we’d seen a lone groundskeeper drive a golf cart along the warning track and off the field through an opening below the batter’s eye–and that was it. Once he disappeared from sight, there was NO ONE else around, and we didn’t know what to think. My first instinct was to grab the balls (if you’ll pardon the expression) and run like hell. But I didn’t. They were minor league balls. I only collect major league balls, and besides, I had two more days of snagging at Chase Field, and my luggage was already going to be getting a lot heavier–or so I hoped. As for my friends? Kevin decided that the right thing to do was to leave the balls there. “Good karma,” he said, explaining that the balls couldn’t even be considered “Easter eggs” because they HAD been found. Ten balls obviously hadn’t landed on the dugout roof and rolled into a tight cluster; someone had clearly retrieved them and placed them there (for what reason we didn’t know), and since we probably weren’t supposed to be inside the stadium in the first place, we all agreed the balls should stay.
Then, as if the Easter Bunny itself was tormenting us, we spotted three more balls on the way out.
We left those balls behind, too.
As for the Main Event at Chase Field, we got to the Friday’s terrace again at 3:30pm, and I snagged three more balls from Diamondbacks pitchers before the gates opened. The first was thrown from the bullpen by Edgar Gonzalez. The second came from Brandon Medders, and the third was tossed by Dana Eveland. I gave that one to a kid and discovered later that it was my 250th ball of the season.
At about 4pm, Diamondbacks third base coach Chip Hale walked along the foul line with three balls in his glove, and just before he entered the bullpen, he tossed the balls into the empty seats. I had no idea why. At first I thought it was a random act of frustration, but then I wondered if the balls were old and if he just wanted to be nice and dump them where the fans could find them. But it was so early! The gates weren’t going to open for another half hour, and I didn’t think there was any chance that the balls would still be there when I ran inside. I’m not sure where Brad was at that point. I think he had already headed out to hold a spot at the right field gate. Kevin, meanwhile, had moved to the other end of the terrace and apparently hadn’t seen the balls get tossed into the seats, so I waited a minute and walked over and casually told him that I was considering entering the left field gate.
“You might want to get down there early,” he said. “That’s one of the main gates, and the line is usually longer.”
I didn’t want to leave Friday’s too early. Batting practice was still taking place, and I had to keep my eye on the section in foul territory. Every few minutes, an usher strolled into the bleachers directly below to collect the home run balls that had clanged off the metal benches. Whatever. I didn’t care. All that mattered was my special spot down the line. At around 4:10pm, I had a scare when two members of the cleaning crew wandered down to the front row in foul territory and started sweeping, one section away from my hidden treasure. I was paranoid that they’d stumble upon it. But they didn’t. And for the time being there were no ushers in sight.
It was 4:15pm…fifteen minutes until the gates were going to open. I was sure that someone would find those balls before I got inside, but I had to go for it. I told Kevin I’d see him later, and then I ran up the steps, hurried through Friday’s, took the elevator down to the Street Level, sprinted around part of the stadium to the ticket window, overpaid for a seat on the first base side of home plate, and ran back to the left field gate. There were only five people waiting there, and when the stadium (officially) opened, they all hurried to the bleachers while I made a mad dash for the foul line, and this is what I saw:
Good karma indeed! To hell with the balls at Scottsdale Stadium. These three Easter eggs at Chase Field counted. I just had to make sure that I remembered which ball I picked up first, second, and third so I could number them properly. I looked over my shoulder, and there were a couple of fans slowly making their way down the steps. Crap! I snatched the first ball and stuck it in my front right pocket. Then I went for the second one, and as I stuck it in my left front pocket, I spotted a fourth ball down a few steps in the front row!! I grabbed the third ball (back right pocket) and then the fourth (back left pocket) and it occurred to me that there might be more. I scrambled back up the steps and scanned the empty seats on both sides and spotted a fifth ball!!! OH MY GOD!!!!! I grabbed that one and stuck it in a little pouch on the side of my backpack, and 20 seconds later, Livan Hernandez walked out of the bullpen and tossed me another!!! Are you kidding me?! I’d just gotten six balls in half a minute, and I had to take a break and sit down and label them all, and just a few minutes after I finished, the Diamondbacks wrapped up their portion of BP, so I ran to their dugout on the third base side and got yet another ball from Doug Slaten. It was 4:40pm. The gates had been open for 10 minutes, and I’d snagged 10 balls.
Naturally, when the Giants took the field, I was already thinking of breaking my one-day record of 19 balls. I was more than halfway there with almost a whole day of snagging still remaining, but I didn’t feel confident. If I’d been in Philly or Baltimore, I would’ve broken the record. Easily. Guaranteed. Those two ballparks are phenomenal. But Chase Field? Not great. Remember what happened the day before? Yeah, I snagged 12 balls, but it was somewhat of a struggle from start to finish. I hadn’t caught a single ball that was hit during BP, and then during the game, it had taken me six innings to sneak down to the Giants’ dugout for third-out balls, of which I didn’t end up getting any.
But back to the task at hand…
I started out in left field for the Giants’ BP and didn’t catch a thing. Then, when a bunch of lefties began hitting, I ran to right field and managed to snag a Ryan Klesko homer that landed in a section of mostly empty benches deep down the line. Then I ran back to left field and caught a Scott McClain homer on a fly after judging it perfectly and climbing up on a bench at the last second. And then I got Randy Messenger to throw me a ball a minute later. With five minutes remaining in BP, I abandoned left field and ran halfway around the stadium to the Giants’ dugout on the first base side. What happened next? I stood there and watched helplessly as half a dozen homers landed right in the section where I’d just been. Batting practice was done, and I was stuck on 13 balls…not that I’m complaining, but there was no way that I was going to snag an additional seven balls from that point on to break my record. The good news is that I got Barry Zito’s sloppy autograph at the dugout. (Is that a backwards ‘K’?) The bad news is that he signed it upside down (on an extra ticket I’d collected the night before).
I hardly saw Brad and Kevin during the game. They stayed in the outfield and went for home runs. I stayed behind the plate and went for foul balls. Check out my view:
The game itself was a thing of beauty. Rookie Micah Owings pitched a two-hit shutout, facing just one batter over the minimum, as the first-place Diamondbacks won, 5-0. After the game, I got my 14th ball of the day from home plate umpire Derryl Cousins (who names their kid Derryl?), then collected a few dozen tickets stubs and went back out to the players’ parking lot with Brad and Kevin.
In the four-part photo above, you can see the parking lot on the upper left, Stephen Drew in his obnoxiously large truck on the upper right, Pedro Feliz looking dapper on the lower left, and Bob Wickman on the lower right.
Instead of getting Wickman’s autograph, I asked him, “Is there any chance you might be able to throw me a ball tomorrow if I call out to you from the Friday’s terrace at about 4pm?”
“I don’t know if I can throw it that far,” he joked. Then, as he walked off, he gave me a friendly smack on the left shoulder and added, “I’ll see what I can do.”
• 261 balls in 34 games this season = 7.68 balls per game.
• 489 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 2,900 balls during the 489-game streak streak = 5.93 balls per game.
• 103 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 712 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 71 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 15th time snagging 10 or more balls in back-to-back games
• 3,222 total balls