First the good news: I had three Watch With Zack clients at this game.
Now some bad news: A magazine writer had been planning to tag along and write about it, but he had to cancel/postpone at the last minute.
More bad news: Not only was this a day game following a night game…and not only wasn’t there batting practice as a result…but it was “Weather Education Day” at Shea. The ballpark opened an extra 40 minutes early because there were 18,000 kids on hand for a special program.
More good news: One of my three clients was a seven-year-old boy named Cooper who had never been to a major league baseball game. (It doesn’t get any better than that.) The other two were his father, Jon, and grandfather, Arthur–and we all ended up having a great time.
Really, though, this day was all about Cooper. He had gotten to skip school and fly up from Washington D.C. with Jon, just to go to this game with me. In fact, Jon had considered taking him to Nationals Park earlier in the season but decided to wait so that Cooper’s first game would be with me. It was truly an honor. I knew I was part of something–responsible for shaping something–that he’d never forget.
The stadium was dead when we entered Gate C at 10am, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t matter to Cooper. It almost didn’t matter to me. I just stood back and grabbed my camera as Arthur and Jon led him across the concourse for his first look at the field:
I remembered the first time I saw a major league field–Yankee Stadium…summer of 1984…me and my dad…walking through a tunnel on the first base side of the upper deck–and I experienced the rush all over again.
Arthur knew a LOT about baseball and could’ve explained everything to Cooper, but instead he let me do it, often with a gentle prompt. “You wanna tell Cooper about the retired numbers?” he asked. “Why is there all this netting?” And so on.
I asked Cooper if he knew what the big building was in the distance, and he did. He told me it was the new stadium. I asked him if he knew what it was called, and when he shook his head, I told him “Citi Field” and explained how it got the name. I kept telling him stuff until the team store opened at 10:40am. Then the three of us grown-ups picked out a Mets cap for him (to go with the Nationals cap he already had) and headed out toward the left field corner where several Nationals pitchers had begun throwing.
The entire left side of the stadium was empty. The right field side, meanwhile, was packed with kids, and it continued to get more and more crowded. Not good. I wasn’t thinking about snagging ten balls. I just wanted ONE. Obviously I wanted to keep my own streak alive (505 consecutive games with at least one ball), but again, this day was all about Cooper. There was no way I was gonna let him go back to D.C. without a ball.
By the time we made it to the outfield seats, there were two other kids with gloves, and they each got a ball tossed to them. Thankfully the kids left as Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire began throwing with John Lannan, so Cooper and I slipped into the corner spot. Before long, there were a few other fans around us, but we were the only ones wearing Nationals gear. I was sure we were going to get the ball, but no, Lannan ignored my polite request and disappeared into the bullpen. After a few more minutes, Saul Rivera started playing catch with Jesus Colome. THIS would be the ball. Yes, I knew it. I paid close attention as their throwing came to a close, and I positioned Cooper in front of me and told him to hold up his glove. Colome ended up with the ball, and I asked for it, and he quickly turned and tossed it in our direction. TIME OUT…I wanted Cooper to enjoy the rush of catching a ball on his own, but I
didn’t want to take a chance that he’d miss it and possibly get hurt. I had asked Jon earlier if Cooper would be able to catch a ball that was thrown to him. The answer? Probably not. Jon said that Cooper simply wanted a ball and wasn’t too concerned about how it ended up in his possession…TIME IN The throw from Colome sailed right toward us. There was an older kid with a glove, standing just to the left–no way I was going to let him interfere, so I reached out and made an easy one-handed catch and immediately handed the ball to Cooper. Just when I was getting ready to apologize for it being one of those cheap training balls, I realized that it had the Nationals Park commemorative logo instead. Wow. How’s THAT for a first ball? If I hadn’t snagged six of these balls on April 10th, it probably would’ve hurt to give this one away, but as things were, it didn’t bother me at all.
We didn’t snag any other balls in that spot, but I helped Cooper get four autographs: Joel Hanrahan, Tim Redding, Jon Rauch, and Saul Rivera. Cooper got three of those guys to sign his cap and the fourth to sign his glove. I got Redding and Rauch to sign a couple old ticket stubs. (Of course Rauch signed it upside-down.)
Soon after the Nationals finished throwing, the Mets pitchers gathered in the right field corner and began their own warm-ups. The Field Level was completely packed, so we headed to the right field Loge and shouted at the players from above. No luck. But Cooper DID get his ticket stub autographed by “Cow Bell Man.”
We got some food and went to our seats–just a few rows behind the Mets’ dugout. I tried unsuccessfully to get Cooper another ball before the national anthem, and finally, after having spent three hours and ten minutes inside Shea Stadium, the game was underway. Mike Pelfrey versus Jason Bergmann. Not exactly a match-up that we expected to yield a pitcher’s duel. But sure enough, that’s exactly what we got. Pelfrey was perfect through the first two innings, then allowed two walks in the top of the third before escaping further damage.
Cooper and I had been running back and forth from the Mets’ dugout to the Nationals’ dugout each half-inning. I really wanted to get him a game-used ball, and that was the best way to do it. Finally, after nearly half a dozen unsuccessful attempts, Carlos Beltran ended the bottom of the third with a line-out to right fielder Austin Kearns. Cooper and I scooted down to the front row right behind the dugout, and as Kearns jogged in with the ball, I yelled at him and asked him for it and pointed at Cooper, and he tossed it right to us. Again, I reached out and caught the ball and handed it over to my snagging companion. Another commemorative ball…this time with the Shea logo.
I have to give credit to Arthur and Jon. They get an unofficial assist on that ball. If they hadn’t trusted me enough to let me run around with Cooper, I never would’ve been able to get it.
Cooper and I made it back to our seats as the fourth inning got started, and every fan around us was amazed that he had two baseballs:
For the first few innings, whenever Cooper and I were behind the Mets’ dugout, we sat next to each other. Arthur and Jon sat directly behind us. We had a four-seat box. Two seats in front, two in back. Shea is weird like that. But it worked out fine. I kept telling Cooper lots of stuff about the field and the stadium and the players and the game itself. I made sure we talked about some fun stuff (skipping a day of school, for example) so he wouldn’t feel overwhelmed with his first MLB lesson. I’ve said it
before, and I’ll say it again…I’ve always wished I had a little brother, and for a while on this glorious day at Shea, it felt like I did.
Pelfrey kept cruising, taking his no-hitter into the fourth…fifth…and sixth inning. The game, however, remained scoreless. There were some amazing plays in the field. Cooper got some cotton candy. The weather was perfect. The world seemed right. Eventually I switched seats with Jon so he could sit next to Cooper. Father and son. It was a beautiful thing to see.
During the seventh-inning stretch, I moved back half a dozen rows for the t-shirt launch (no point in standing right next to Arthur and Jon) and ended up snagging one, and my logic paid off. That logic is as follows:
2) Cover twice as much ground.
3) Snag twice as much stuff.
Arthur also grabbed a t-shirt, which meant I got to keep mine. If he hadn’t gotten one, I would’ve given him the one I caught, and let me tell you, it’s a GOOD looking shirt. I’m thrilled to own it. No joke. It’s such a nice shirt that it’s almost worth going to Shea just to try to catch one. Check it out:
Anyway, Pelfrey lost his no-no when Aaron Boone led off the seventh with a clean/solid line-drive single to right field. An inning later, Jesus Flores ripped a lead-off double, advanced to third on a sac bunt by pinch hitter Willie Harris, and broke the scoreless tie by coming home on a Felipe Lopez sac fly.
After Jose Reyes ran the Mets out of a potential rally in the bottom of the eighth (by trying to go from first to third on a sac bunt), Arthur was ready to leave and beat traffic. Cooper wouldn’t have it. He wanted to stay. (My kinda kid.) So we stayed.
Matt Wise kept the Nats off the board in the top of the ninth, and the Mets came THIS close to tying it in the bottom of the frame. With Beltran on first and nobody out, Ryan Church sliced a fly ball down the left field line. Harris (who replaced Rob Mackowiak in left field) sprinted toward the foul line and dove headfirst and caught the ball IN FAIR TERRITORY inches off the ground, arm fully extended, kicking up a cloud of dust as he skidded across the warning track. Unbelievable. Beltran then stole second base and advanced to third when the throw went into center field. Carlos Delgado followed with a low line drive down the first base line, but Boone, playing first, snared it on a fly and chucked the ball to Ryan Zimmerman at third for a game-ending double play. Final score: Nationals 1, Mets 0.
? 2 balls at this game
? 96 balls in 10 games this season = 9.6 balls per game.
? 506 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 324 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 7 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,373 total balls