When I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 4pm, I learned that the entire upper deck was sold out and that the cheapest ticket available was $95. Since I never buy tickets ahead of time, my normal course of action would’ve been to curse my way back to the subway and go home, but on this fine day, a friend of mine had an extra ticket and I got in for less than 20 bucks.
Before the stadium opened, I ran into a couple of fellow snaggers outside Gate 6. One of them was Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” for those of you read the comments), and the other was Brian (wearing orange; aka “puckcollector”). Brian already had a ticket, but Greg didn’t. He was there with his father, and when they found out how much it was going to cost to get in, they left. As you can see in this photo, Greg and Brian each had a sheet with the rosters and face pics of both teams. I didn’t. It would’ve taken me half an hour to prepare one, and I didn’t think it was worth it for a game at Yankee Stadium which is always so crowded and noisy that it’s nearly impossible to interact with the players. Anyway, Greg generously gave me his sheet before he took off.
When the gates opened at 5pm, Brian and I ran inside at full speed. Initially, he had a head start because of his position behind the barricade, but somehow he got held up for a couple seconds. Did security look in his bag a little longer than mine? Was the guy who scanned his ticket a little slower? Did the ladies giving away the All-Star Game caps take their time with him? I don’t know, but whatever happened, it made a huge difference. I was just a few steps ahead of Brian as we raced through the tunnel that leads to the seats, and AS we rounded the corner and got our first look at the field, a lefty on the Yankees lofted a fly ball down the right field line that bounced off the warning track and plunked gently in the seats near the foul pole. I was all over it and felt incredibly relieved. The day before, it took me more than an hour to snag my first ball, and I was scared that my streak was going to end.
I think Brian’s family was trying to distract me. At one point, Brian told me that his sister had texted a message with my name it in to the text message board, and that I should look for it. What?! I didn’t even know there WAS a text message board.
“Yeah, right over there,” said Brian, pointing to the thin electronic board along the Loge facade across the stadium. Sure enough, there was a loop of text messages, sent in by the fans, that rotated every few seconds. For the first two minutes, my favorite was “i luv u robbinson cano” but that one soon got trumped by the following:
This was by far the highlight of batting practice. I managed to snag one more ball with my glove trick, only after Brian failed to pluck it off the warning track with his. I tried to let him get it. I hung back a bit and lowered my glove slowly, but Brian rigged his rubber band too tight and couldn’t get the ball to go inside the glove. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem. He just would’ve raised the glove back up, loosened the band, and then lowered it for the easy snag. But in this situation, there wasn’t time to mess around. Another kid (or should I say “brat”) with a cup trick quickly crashed the scene and started going for the ball. I didn’t mind not getting the ball if Brian got it, but there was no way I was going to let this other kid poach our prize. There are many rivalries in baseball–Mets/Phillies, Mets/Yankees, Yankees/Red Sox, A’s/Giants–but none is bigger than that between the glove-tricks and cup-tricks. Even this fall’s McCain/Obama showdown will pale in comparison. You have to understand…I could NOT allow this ball–a commemorative ball no less–to be stolen by the enemy, so I made a full-fledged attempt to snag it. My string got tangled briefly with Brian’s, but he worked with me to free it, and I was able to get the ball to stick inside my glove. As I raised my contraption with the ball tucked snugly inside, the other kid swung his cup from side to side and hit my glove in an attempt to knock the ball out. I swear…these punks with the cups better watch out. One of these days, I’m gonna pull out a pair of scissors and start snipping some string.
I took this photo from the aisle behind the right field wall, or at least what was left of it. How the hell is one supposed to run for a ball or make eye contact with any of the players? Yankee Stadium is THE worst place to snag in the major leagues. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re wrong if you disagree. I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to get to the dugouts at Dodger Stadium or how crowded the foul lines become at Wrigley Field. Those stadiums are like Sesame Street compared to the House that Ruthless Built.
Left field was just as bad. I ran over there (took about five minutes to get from RF to LF) after Ichiro took his cuts, and this was my fabulous view for the rest of the BP:
At one point, I carefully worked my way into the front row to see if I had a chance to use the glove trick. So much for that.
A rather large Yankee fan in that row was eating a cheeseburger and drinking an equally large cup of soda. Although he had no desire to snag a baseball, he intentionally blocked me from passing in front of him, and he refused to let me through even after I politely said “excuse me.” I just needed to lean over a little bit to get a better look at the ball…
“You drop my soda,” he snapped, “and I’ll drop YOU.”
“You’re welcome,” he answered with fake charm.
I was so angry that I nearly went home. Right then. Right in the middle of batting practice. I came THIS close to storming right out through the tunnel and getting on the No. 4 train. I had no desire to be inside that disgusting mecca of rage and pompous entitlement. But I stayed. I don’t know why. I guess I was afraid that this would be the night when A-Rod would hit a home run to my spot in left field…and I also wanted to see if I could sneak down to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout and get Jeter or A-Rod to toss me their warm-up balls after the national anthem. I decided that if I got kicked out, I’d go home.
Long story short: it took half an hour, but I made it. Jeter tossed his ball over my head to a guy my age with a button-down shirt and no glove, and A-Rod tossed his to a teenage girl five feet to my right.
I started the game in right field. Ichiro was due to bat first, and I thought it would’ve been pretty cool to catch one of his home runs. But no. He took three called strikes, and I immediately began my trek around the stadium to the left field side. Brian was out there. We both wanted to catch an A-Rod homer, but A-Rod struck out to end the first inning. Moments later, the security supervisor walked over to Brian (who had grabbed an empty seat 10 feet to my right) and asked to see his ticket and told him he had to leave the section. Brian, being a friendly young lad, walked over to say farewell (and to vent his frustrations). This was the worst thing he could’ve done. It didn’t occur to him that he was still being watched by the supervisor, so when he started interacting with me, it revealed the fact that I didn’t belong there either. I once made the same mistake at Shea Stadium and unintentionally got a friend kicked out as well. No harm done. Nobody went to jail. This is how we learn.
In any case, the supervisor didn’t say anything to me at the time, but I knew something was up because he kept looking at me whenever he walked by. I was a marked man, but as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, I decided to stay. I could’ve gone back to right field for Ichiro’s second at-bat, but I just had a feeling about left field. Two lefties were pitching: Erik Bedard and Andy Pettitte. Most of the batters were right-handed. It was a fairly warm evening. The ball would be carrying. The wide aisle in front of me was emptier than usual. I had a feeling that someone was going to hit a home run in my direction, and even if it wasn’t A-Rod, it was going to be fun to catch it. I kept thinking about the likelihood of catching a home run, and more I considered it, the more obvious it seemed that it was going to happen. It was only 318 feet to the foul pole. I was sitting fairly close to the foul line, so it was probably 330 to the wall directly in front of me. Then there were about 10 rows of seats in front of the aisle. Add another two feet per row? So I figured I was, at most, about 350 to 360 feet from home plate. That’s not far. I reasoned that a righty wouldn’t even have to hit a ball that well to reach me. Three hundred fifty feet was a routine fly ball to the center fielder. All the batter had to do was hit a routine fly ball and swing a little too soon and pull it down the line. Why didn’t this happen all the time?
The Mariners, meanwhile, sandwiched three singles between three strikeouts in the top of the second and took a 1-0 lead.
Hideki Matsui opened the bottom of the inning with a single to center, and Jason Giambi followed with a walk. That’s when Shelley Duncan stepped into the batter’s box with a grand total of zero home runs and a .182 batting average. The fans sitting behind me started debating whether or not he should bunt, at which point I started having a bunch of thoughts that went something like this: Does this guy even know how to bunt? If he could, it would certainly help the team. Runners on second and third with one out? For Robinson Cano? That would be pretty good for the Yankees. Okay, I hope he doesn’t bunt. I hope he swings away and hits into a double play. Well, if he wants to hit a home run to me instead, that’d be cool. I could accept that even though it’d give the Yankees the lead. Alright, Shelley, go ahead, hit the ball to me. Fine.
And that’s exactly what he did. After a called first strike, Bedard threw a cutter down and in, and Duncan dropped his bat on it and lifted a high fly ball in my direction. I was out of my seat in no time, standing in the aisle, watching the ball, half-disbelieving that this was actually about to happen and half-annoyed that it was going to be THAT easy. The ball had the perfect arc. I judged it perfectly. I knew from the second it left the bat that it was coming right to me, and as the ball began its descent, I became hyperaware of everyone around me. The only challenge was going to be making sure that no one else reached in front of me. I sensed that there was an older man, about my height, without a glove, on my left, who was also tracking the flight of the ball, but not quite as well as me. From the moment the ball left the bat, I could have held up my glove like a target, and I wouldn’t have had to move it more than a few inches. That’s how perfectly I judged it. The other fan, whom I realized would be my only competition, seemed to have an idea of where the ball would land, perhaps within an area of several feet. But I was in THE spot. My feet were planted, and I didn’t reach up too soon. I didn’t want to reveal the exact spot where the ball would be coming down, so I waited and waited as the ball floated slowly toward me. It hung up in the air for what felt like two minutes, and finally, at the last second, I reached up above the other man’s hands and caught it effortlessly in the pocket of my glove. It was one of the easiest home run catches of my life. It was so easy that I felt guilty. I was ashamed to take any credit for catching such an easy ball. The stadium roared, and I walked quietly back to my seat. It’s such a cliché to celebrate a snag. Everyone does that. But how many
times do you see a fan catch a home run ball and react like he has instead picked a piece of lint off his shirt? That’s what I did initially. I thought I’d stand out more by not reacting, and perhaps I did stand out to the people in my section, but then I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best way to get on TV. I was in my hometown ballpark. Lots of friends were probably watching, so I felt I should do something that would make the cameras focus on me. That’s when I held up the ball. Nothing fancy. Just enough to be seen.
It turned out that YES never never showed me, but FSN did. My friend Michael Fierman (aka “tswechtenberg”) happened to tape the game and he emailed me the clip later that night. CLICK HERE to watch it.
I was so annoyed. I didn’t even WANT a stupid Shelley Duncan home run ball. I was there for one reason only: to catch an A-Rod homer, and now I’d blown my chance by catching this other ball. I tried to get the supervisor to let me stay. I gave him every excuse. I even told him about my first book. But it was no use. I was officially banned from the section…so I went back to the right field seats and stayed there for the rest of the night. I had considered hanging out behind the plate and simply going for a second game ball, but I figured I should attempt to catch a second home run. THAT would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Duncan homer was the lone longball of the game, and I must say that it did feel pretty great to have caught it, especially when I saw the Jumbotron during his subsequent at-bats:
The Mariners trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the top of the third, but the Yankees answered with two runs in the fourth and eight more in the fifth. Final score: 13-2.
? 3 balls at this game
? 106 balls in 13 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.
? 509 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 113 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 4 game balls in 13 games this season = 1 game ball every 3.3 games.
? 115 lifetime game balls
? 4 lifetime game home runs (not counting Mel Hall’s home run in 1992 which bounced back onto the field and got tossed up to me by Von Hayes)
? 3,383 total balls
BONUS STATS — DUNCAN’S HOME RUN (courtesy of Hit Tracker):
? distance: 349 feet
? apex: 114 feet
? speed off bat: 100.1 mph
? angle off bat: 40.7 degrees