Last week, when I walked up to the ticket window at Yankee Stadium on the day of the game, the cheapest ticket available was over $60. Two days ago at Shea, I was able to pay my way in for just $10. My ticket said “Upper Deck Row N,” but that didn’t matter. I never went up there, and by the time the game started, I was holding a ticket for the 5th row behind the Phillies’ dugout.
There was a HUGE line of fans waiting to get in at Gate C, but after my experience the day before at Fenway, it didn’t phase me, and anyway, my goal for the evening wasn’t too lofty. I pretty much just wanted ONE ball; I began the day with a grand total of 3,299 and a streak of 499 consecutive games at which I’d snagged at least one ball. One lousy little batting practice ball was going to give me two milestones. That’s all I wanted…sort of. Although there wasn’t any urgency, I was also hoping to get to add Johan Santana’s name to my list…and yes, I was also hoping to snag a commemorative ball. I’d heard that all game-used balls this year at Shea would have a special logo because it was the last season that the Mets were playing there. Same deal across town…last year for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium…special balls…and I’d already snagged one. Throughout the winter, friends had been sending me links and photos of these logos, and I never looked at them. I didn’t want to see them until I snagged the balls myself. Of course, I’d only been in the right field Loge (check out the view in the pic on the left) for five minutes when a kid I met last year ran up and shouted, “Look what I got!!” and stuck a commemorative ball right in my face. Wonderful. The kid’s name is Trevor. His older brothers Gary (aka “njmetfan” for those of you who read the comments) and Kyle were also at the game, and they all invaded my section during BP. Luckily, there were enough balls to go around.
I got my first ball of the day from Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti…sort of. I called down to him from the corner spot and asked him for the ball, at which point he walked into the bullpen and tossed it to the strength/conditioning coach and had HIM throw it to me. It would’ve been nice to know the man’s name, but at least I got the most important ball out of the way.
Santana and a couple other pitchers began to practice bunting with Conti (who fed dozens of balls into a pitching machine) in the bullpen. Trevor must’ve shouted at Santana for 10 solid minutes (Gary kept telling him to shut up) and didn’t get anything as a result. Gary waited and politely shouted at Santana when the bunting session ended, at which point we all ran over to the side railing to see the Mets’ ace looking up. Santana then threw the ball to Gary…except his aim was off and the ball drifted right to me. As soon as I caught it, Santana shouted up at me and told me to hand the ball over. I offered it to Gary who didn’t consider taking it. “Your ball total is more important than mine,” he said. It was ball-snagging sportsmanship at its best–and worst possible luck for Gary. We all wanted the ball. We all tried to get Johan’s attention. We all had an equal shot at it. And it happened to end up in my glove. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked a player for a ball and then watched helplessly as his throw sailed to someone else. It happened to me at this game as well. I’d been shouting at Carlos Muniz (in Spanish) and making eye contact with him throughout BP. He even held up an index finger at one point as if to say, “Hold on.” Eventually, when I was standing several rows back in the aisle, he turned abruptly and lobbed the ball in my direction from about 100 feet away. The throw fell five feet short. Gary, who was standing two rows below me, reached up and caught it in front of my glove.
I got one more ball tossed to me before the Mets finished their portion of BP. Nothing special. It came from another trainer-type guy. He was standing on the edge of the warning track when a ball rolled to his feet. Everyone shouted, and he ended up throwing it to me.
The Phillies took the field, and I moved down a level and ran around to the left foul line. Within a few minutes, a right-handed batter (no idea who) ripped a line drive in my direction. The ball hooked foul, fell 30 feet short, took one hop off the warning track and skipped up into my glove. Beautiful. I hadn’t even seen it coming until the fans around me started shouting at the last second. I’d been busy pestering J.C. Romero for a ball, and I was still eying him moments later when another righty batter hooked a deeper line drive, again right at me. For some reason I wasn’t able to catch it cleanly. I think it was just a lack of concentration because I always catch balls that come to me. Luckily, the ball dropped into the empty second row of orange seats behind me, and I was able to grab it off the concrete before anyone else had a chance to react. Duh. I still felt like an idiot.
Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson flipped me my sixth ball of the day, and as soon as I caught it, Romero informed him that I’d already gotten two. (Make that SIX, pal.) I quickly turned my back before Henderson looked over so he wouldn’t see my face.
Okay, in the photo above, see how there’s a double wall with a stool in between and dead space all around it? Whenever a ball drops into that area, it’s almost impossible to lean over the railing and grab it. Although it might not look l
ike it, it’s just too far down, and that’s when the glove trick comes in handy–but not this time. A ball shot in there and rolled halfway underneath the gap at the base of the stands, and there was no chance for me to get my glove (in the propped open position) to drop around it. My friend and fellow baseball collector Greg (aka “gregorybarasch”) ran down from the Loge with his cup trick, which might’ve actually worked in this situation, but he’d already snagged half a dozen balls as well, and I wasn’t about to let him swoop in and snag this one. He was good-natured about it, though. We usually make an extra effort to stay out of each other’s way, but every now and then we’ll both end up in the same spot. Anyway, the ball was tucked behind a narrow metal opening, pretty far down and to the left. I should’ve taken a photograph, but oh well, I got caught up in the excitement and forgot. Greg stood a few feet to my right, then moved behind me and held my legs briefly as I leaned over, but it still wasn’t happening. He then suggested that I use my glove to reach a very thin piece of wood (You know those flimsy little sticks that souvenir pennants/flags are attached to? One of those.) and then use the wood to move the ball. And that’s exactly what I did. The wood was so flimsy, however, and the ball was trapped in such a deep rut–that it took about 30 seconds to pry it out, during which time the on-field security guard walked over and told me I had to stop. I didn’t stop. I was almost there, but the ball was still too far below for me to grab it in the tip of the glove, so I tilted the glove sideways to turn it into a makeshift scoop and tried to roll the ball into it by jabbing at it with the tip of the stick. Blood was rushing to my head, and I could feel my veins bulging as I balanced precariously upside-down. Security, meanwhile, was threatening me and Greg was rooting for me. Craziness all around. Last chance…yes…I was able to work the ball into the tip of my glove, then jerk the glove up a few inches while pressing the stick against the ball. The ball started to roll out of the glove’s open pocket, and I saved it by dropping the stick and using my free right hand to grab the ball. Wow. Snagging that ball took much more skill than any home run ball I’ve ever caught. No doubt about it.
I didn’t get any more balls at the Phillies’ dugout after batting practice or before the game, but I did get recognized by a bunch of people, and I ran into a few others I knew including a guy named Adam who gave me his ticket stub so I’d be able to get back down there. This was HUGE. I still needed a commemorative ball, and I knew my best chance would be to go for a third-out ball at the dugout.
I spent the first four outs of the game trying unsuccessfully to catch a foul ball in the Loge. This was my view (minus the railings blocking the plate) for right-handed batters:
And this was my view from the 5th row behind the dugout:
Good thing I made it back down there. Damion Easley grounded out to end the first inning. Shortstop Eric Bruntlett threw the ball across the diamond to Ryan Howard at first base. Howard brought the ball back to the dugout, and since I was the only fan standing up and shouting for it, he tossed it to me. Just LOOK at this beautiful ball:
I stayed in the Loge for the rest of the game and ran back and forth for foul balls, playing right-handed hitters on the first base side of home plate and lefties on the third base side. Top of the third inning. One out. Mike Pelfrey on the hill. Chase Utley sent a foul ball shooting back right at me. I was standing near the top of the slanted tunnel between sections 2 and 4, took one step forward, reached through a bunch of clueless people, and caught the ball in the pocket of my glove. No wait, I didn’t just catch it. I snatched it. It’s like I reached forward with my glove as if I was giving someone an emphatic high five. BAM! Gimme that ball! And as soon as I caught it, I turned and walked back down the aisle. No celebrating. No holding it up in the air. Nothing. Everyone around me knew I was the one who caught it, and I had people congratulating me for the rest of the night. A few fans said they had my first book. A couple others told me they loved my web site. It felt great. And it occurred to me how lucky I was to have gotten the ball from Howard two innings earlier; the commemorative logo on the ball I’d just caught was smudged where Utley’s bat had hit it.
Pelfrey looked pretty good and picked up his first win after limiting the Phillies to two runs on five hits in five innings. The Mets scored eight runs (for an 8-2 win) despite collecting just five hits. Phillies fans throughout the stadium were generally obnoxious, cheering loudly for their team, waving their jerseys, and making choking gestures at Mets fans who responded by flinging several Phillies hats off the edge of the upper deck and belting out a sing-songy chant of “F*ck the Phillies.” It was a busy night
for stadium security. For once I was the least of their concerns.
With one out in the ninth inning, I used Adam’s ticket to get back into the field level, then waltzed down into the seats behind home plate and got yet another commemorative ball from umpire Lance Barksdale as he walked off the field after the final out.
• 10 balls at this game
• 32 balls in 4 games this season = 8 balls per game.
• 500 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 10 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball (not counting game-used balls that are thrown to me, like the one from Howard.)
• 112 lifetime game balls
• 75 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 1,600 lifetime Bud Selig balls
• 3,309 total balls
• 11 days until I’ll be at Disney World…