Kelly and Jen are from Chicago. They have season tickets at Wrigley Field and travel quite a bit to other stadiums–but they’d never been to Shea so they flew to New York City to Watch With Zack. Jen (wearing the white shirt) is not a collector. Kelly (wearing the blue “Zambrano is Money” shirt) most certainly is, and my job was to help her snag baseballs and get autographs.
When Shea opened for batting practice at 4:40pm, we headed up to my usual spot in the right field Loge. Within the first few minutes, we shouted at Paul Lo Duca for a ball, and when he turned to throw it, I backed off and let Kelly go for it. “Please don’t miss it,” I thought, and when Lo Duca put some velocity on it, the only thing that went through my mind was, “Please don’t get hurt.”
Kelly didn’t get hurt. She didn’t miss it either. Instead, she reached out and caught it effortlessly with one hand. I was impressed, and no, I’m not being sexist; I never assume ANYone can catch.
Soon after, we saw the not-too-friendly Aaron Heilman down below, and Kelly told me that she went to college with his wife.
“Do you know her name?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “Think he’d throw me a ball?”
“Maybe. You should say something like, ‘Hey, Aaron, I know [wife’s name] from [college’s name], and she said you’d give me a ball.'”
The wife hadn’t promised a ball, but so what. I knew Heilman wouldn’t know the difference, and sure enough, when Kelly shouted at him and dropped the appropriate names, he turned around and smiled. It didn’t hurt that Kelly also mentioned the name of his wife’s dorm.
Heilman then went out of his way to get a ball, and just before he was about to toss it up, Kelly shouted, “Hey! Can you autograph it for me first!?”
I thought she might’ve just ruined her chances at getting the ball by making such a brazen request, but Heilman wasn’t phased. He walked into the bullpen and got a pen from a security guard and signed the ball. And then he tossed it. And Kelly caught it, making a nice over-the-railing snag.
Lo Duca started signing autographs in foul territory. Kelly ran downstairs and got there just in time to have him sign the ball that he’d thrown to her. I got Mets catching instructor Tom Nieto to throw me a ball, and since it was brand new and Kelly wanted more autographs, I gave it to her.
When the Nationals took the field, we headed to the left side, and I immediately saw a ball drop into the “triangle.” That’s the small area of dead space just beyond the end of the fancy blue seats down the line. I ran down the steps, slipped into the front row, swung my backpack out to knock the ball closer, and began my careful balancing act over the railing to try to reach the ball. I didn’t have time to set up my glove trick because a fellow baseball collector named Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” to those who read the comments) was hurrying over with his cup trick. Before I had a chance to reach the ball, the on-field security guard climbed over the outer wall and grabbed it. I was sure he was going to hand it to the kid on my right, but he ended up flipping it to me. Then I learned two things: 1) the ball was originally tossed to the kid, and 2) the kid was the younger brother of a guy named Gary (aka “gjk2212”) who’s been regularly reading this blog and leaving lots of comments–and whom I’d just met in person for the first time. It was a no-brainer. I gave the ball to the kid. His name is Trevor, and he’s nine years old. (FYI, I didn’t used to count balls in my collection when I gave them away, but now I do, so this was my second ball of the day.)
I headed up to the left field Loge after positioning Kelly and Jen in the corner spot on the Field Level. I didn’t get a single ball for the rest of BP, but Kelly got one from Winston Abreu, and then of course she convinced him to sign it. Three balls for her…all autographed by the players who tossed them…not bad.
Kelly and I went to the Nationals’ dugout at the end of BP, and I got three training balls tossed to me within a one-minute span. The first one came from first base coach Jerry Morales, the second from manager Manny Acta, and the third from pitcher Saul Rivera. (Rivera is not Jewish; his first name is pronounced “sah-OOL,” which is to say that it rhymes with “Raul,” as in Raul Mondesi.)
Kelly had never snagged a training ball, so I gave her the one from Morales, and she asked me to sign it, along with a copy of my book.
Before the game, we headed to the right field foul line to try to get an autograph from Jose Reyes and/or David Wright. No luck. Kelly had to settle for Carlos Gomez’s sloppy autograph–in Sharpie–on the brand new ball. She tried to hand him a ball-point pen, but he didn’t take it and instead used the marker that another fan had given him. What a putz.
We had great seats for the game, just behind the main aisle on the first base side of the Field Level. It was the perfect spot to run for foul balls hit by righties, and in the bottom of the second inning, I got my chance. Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey was at bat and swung late on a 1-0 fastball from Matt Chico and sliced it in my direction. I jumped out of my seat, darted 10 feet to my right through the aisle, turned left and raced down a few steps, and when I looked back up, the ball was coming toward me. Not right to me, but several feet over my head and a few rows in front. At the last second, I lunged down the staircase and made the backhand catch high over my head while simultaneously banging the crap out of my right calf on the corner of an empty seat. (I now have a nice big bruise, and it was worth it. The pain will go away. The ball will last a lifetime.)
Kelly and Jen had been sitting in the row directly behind me and had a great view of my “web-gem”-worthy catch. They didn’t ask for the ball. They were just happy to have seen me in action, and they rewarded me with a slice of pizza and an ice-cold bottle of water as we made our way up to the Loge.
We watched the next few innings from a good foul ball section on the third-base side of home plate, but there wasn’t much action. After the seventh inning, with the Mets trailing, 8-3, we headed back down to the Field Level and watched the rest of the game from a spot just behind the Nationals’ dugout.
Jose Reyes grounded out to end the eighth, and I got first baseman Robert Fick to toss me the ball–my seventh of the day–as he jogged toward the dugout. That was nice, but the Mets’ performance wasn’t. Pelfrey took the loss, giving up seven runs–six earned–in 5 2/3 innings. Guillermo Mota allowed three runs in the eighth, and Dave Williams surrendered three more in the ninth as his ERA ballooned to 22.85. Final score: Nationals 13, Mets 4.
After the game, I got my eighth and final ball tossed to me by Justin Maxwell, but the best news of all is that I got the lineup cards from Manny Acta–my first lineup cards EVER at Shea Stadium!
See the circles with the numbers inside? Those are scribbled throughout the game to keep track of who made the third out of each inning. Moises Alou (who extended his hitting streak to 28 games with a leadoff double in the sixth) has a “1” and “3” written just above his name because he made the final out of both the first and third innings. The ball I got from Fick was the ball that caused the “8” to be written next to “REYES.” Cool, huh?
Once again, Kelly and Jen generously let me keep my prized possession. I offered Kelly the ball I got from Maxwell. She refused. I insisted. It was the least I could do.
After the game, Kelly and Jen and I hung around outside the stadium and went for Nationals autographs. I got Dmitri Young and Wily Mo Pena to sign my “SEPT 24” ticket stub, and I got several other guys to sign some older Nationals-Phillies stubs that I’d brought from home: Brian Schneider and Tim Redding, Christian Guzman, Winston Abreu, and Ronnie Belliard who signed it upside down. Kelly got all those guys to sign her brand new ball, and Jen collected a second set of autographs for her on her ticket.
As I parted ways with the ladies, they asked if I’d be interested in coming out to Chicago for the NLDS. Hmm, yeah, I guess I could do that, I mean, if I really had to. Fingers crossed that the Cubs win the NL Central. They’re two games ahead of the Brewers with five games remaining…
• 290 balls in 36 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.
• 491 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 319 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
• 110 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that were tossed to me, like the one from Fick)
• 16 balls from Manny Acta since 2003
• 3,251 total balls