5/31/08 at Camden Yards

It rained all afternoon and then got sunny just before the stadium opened. It was my nightmare: no batting practice and a big crowd.

I was the first fan to run inside when the gates opened at 5pm, and this is what I saw:

chad_bradford_throwing.jpg

Chad Bradford was playing catch in shallow right field, and he finished throwing before I could turn off my camera and put it away.

“Chad!” I shouted.

He didn’t respond.

“CHAD!!” I yelled even louder. “COULD YOU PLEASE THROW ME THE BALL?!?!”

ball_from_chad_bradford.jpgBradford whirled around and fired the ball at me (with a three-quarters release point, in case you were wondering), and I leaned out over the railing and made a back-handed catch.

At first, I was relieved to have gotten a ball right away on what was surely going to be a difficult day. Then, after a minute, my relief turned to excitement when it occurred to me that I had just snagged my 3,400th lifetime ball:

zack_ball_number_3400.jpg

When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the left field side. The Red Sox pitchers were throwing, and the first few rows were packed with fans, so I stayed about 10 rows back…

red_sox_throwing.jpg

…and got Manny Delcarmen to toss me a ball over everyone’s head. It was a thing of beauty.

dave_trembley_autograph.jpgI didn’t have a chance to snag any other balls before the game started, but I did get Orioles manager Dave Trembley’s autograph. He is SUCH a nice guy, and in a way, you can tell by the way he actually wrote every letter in his name. The reason I got him to sign my ticket from the previous day is that I wanted to keep my May 31st ticket pure in case Manny Ramirez connected for his 500th career home run.

When the game started, there were still a few partially empty rows in left field, so I headed out there for Manny’s first at-bat. Look at my view:

view_for_manny2.jpg

I took this photo DURING his at-bat…between pitches, obviously. There was only one other fan with a glove within 20 feet of me, and he was trapped in the middle of a long row. It was crazy. All the fans in left field were potential lottery winners–that’s how I thought of it–who weren’t doing anything to increase their chances. Sure, there were some people talking about catching the ball, but that was about it. I mean, I understand that not every fan cares deeply about snagging baseballs on a regular basis, but if you knew you were going to be sitting in left field and you knew that a historic home run was about to be hit by a right-handed batter, wouldn’t you at least bring your glove (or go out and BUY a cheap glove if you didn’t already have one)? Anyway, other fans’ stupidity enables me to do what I do, so I don’t mean to complain. Manny, by the way, could have changed my life forever by hitting a simple 370-foot line drive in my direction, but no, instead he had to hit a weak fly ball to Jay Payton in left-center.

manny_ramirez_left_field.jpgI moved one section over toward left-center after the top of the first inning. This put me closer to the direction in which Manny hit the fly ball, and it also made me happy to be sitting right behind him. Also, I considered that if an Orioles batter ended an inning with a deep fly ball to left field, I could run down the steps and have a pretty good chance of getting Manny to flip it to me.

In the top of the 3rd, Dustin Pedroia hit a home run ten feet to the right of where I’d been sitting for his first at-bat. It felt awful to be trapped in straight-away left field with the only empty space around me being a staircase on my left. Pedroia’s homer was a wimpy little fly ball 50 feet to my right–a ball that I might have caught on a fly during an empty batting practice–but I couldn’t even budge during the game.

David Ortiz followe
d with a home run to center field, and Manny ended the inning with a sharp grounder to Melvin Mora at 3rd base.

I abandoned left field and headed back to the standing room only section in right field, where I’d spent most of my time the night before. I knew Manny was unlikely to hit it there, but if he did, I’d have an incredibly good chance of catching it. The odds in left field were reversed: he was likely to hit the ball there, but because of my limited range, there was a very small chance that I’d catch it.

bradford_ramirez.jpgIn the top of the 6th, Manny faced reliever Lance Cormier and lined out to Jay Payton. One inning later, Manny was back in the box against Bradford and launched the first pitch toward the seats in right-center–basically the same spot where I’d been sitting for his first at-bat the day before. I ran toward the edge of the standing room only section and watched the ball descend toward the crowd. My heart sank. I got a lump in the back of my throat. I knew the ball was going to reach the seats, and it was one of the most helpless feelings of my life.

The ball landed about a dozen rows back, and just like that, Manny Ramirez had hit the 500th home run of his major league career. I grabbed my camera and ran over to the spot where the ball landed and saw that an Asian man in a blue shirt was the center of attention. In the four-part pic below (starting at the top left and going clockwise), you can see him a) freaking out right after he snagged it, b) being photographed by another fan as he exited the section, c) high-fiving people as he was whisked away by stadium security, and d) holding the ball up and looking right at me.

damon_woo_snags_mannys_500th.jpg

Here’s a close-up of The Ball:

manny_500th_home_run_ball.jpg

You can see how MLB marked the ball. I’m not quite sure how the marking system works, but my guess is that the “M” is for Manny and that the “92” is there because this is the 92nd ball that was marked and used for his recent at-bats.

I was sooooooo disappointed not to have snagged the ball, but I was glad to have witnessed history and to have been close enough to see the aftermath firsthand. I did get a consolation prize, at least, and that was having one of my photographs appear in an article on the Boston Red Sox web site. (I learned from that article that the lucky fan’s name is Damon Woo.)

Manny got one more at-bat in the 9th and popped up to Kevin Millar at first base. Blah. Final score: Red Sox 6, Orioles 3, Zack 0.

ticket_stubs.jpgSTATS:

? 3 balls at this game

? 8 ticket stubs from this game

? 125 balls in 16 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.

? 512 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 115 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball

? 820 lifetime balls outside NYC

? 3,402 total balls

? 2 more pics for you, starting with my competition for Manny’s 500th:

crazy_red_sox_fan.jpg

And finally, here’s one that a blog reader named Chris (aka “psu532” for those of you who read the comments) took on his way home from the game and sent to me:

church_sign.jpg

0 comments

  1. ceetar

    Better luck next time. Going to Cincinnati? (or wherever they’re playing?)

    I’m assuming the answer is that you don’t have one, but I think it’d be pretty cool to have one of those marked balls, even if it’s not THE ball. I’m sure a handful go foul and get flipped into the stands and the like.

  2. braves04

    Mr. Woo and Manny both showed some great class. I don’t know that I would be so quick to give up the ball freely, but I likely couldn’t afford the taxes for keeping it lol. Love the church sign in Baltimore.

    Hopefully, I’ll get to see Chipper’s 400th this week.

  3. padreleigh

    Hey Zack….

    Nice post. Great pics too. That was cool that one of your pics got picked for that story. How much do you generally get for selling a picture like that? Cubs are in town tonight. Go Padres?

    Leigh

  4. mlbwhiz

    Bradford…Ironic
    P.S. When did you go to PNC Park

    MLBWhiz
    mlbwhiz.mlblogs.com

  5. acsport79@yahoo.com

    Zack:
    I hate that feeling of knowing that i would have had something if i just stayed put. Congrats on #3400. I will be at yankee stadium on saturday. C U THERE???
    AC

  6. meikd423

    im going to yankee stadium this friday against the royals! yay! i really want to get a commemorative ball

  7. acsport79@yahoo.com

    Everyone who reads this:
    ZACK, U SHOULD SUBMIT THIS TO THE GUINESS WORLD RECORD COMPANY AND U COULD HAVE YOUR OWN GUINESS WORLD RECORD.

    AC

  8. .

    zack,

    the mets are in the middle of being rallied on by the giants in the first inning right now, just to let you know. sorry bout manny…go with your instincts always man. citizens bank thursday? fenway next tuesday? shea next saturday?

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