Milestone Month rolls on!
Seven days ago, I saw Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run in
Baltimore. Two days ago, after Chipper Jones connected for his 400th in
Atlanta, I was a) bummed that I wasn’t there and b) preparing to jump on a plane and go for Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th in Miami…and, well, here I am.
Ready to hear about my hellish day?
My flight, which wasn’t scheduled to land until 2:45pm, was delayed an hour and a half, so I didn’t get to my hotel until 5:02pm. I didn’t have time to check in because the front desk staff needed “ten to fifteen minutes” to find my reservation in their computer system…so I put my bags in their office and grabbed my glove and hats and camera and all the other stuff I’d need for the game and tossed it in my backpack. I ran back outside where my taxi driver from the airport was nice enough to wait for me. He drove way too slowly, and we got to Dolphin Stadium at 5:21pm. The gates were going to open in nine minutes. I raced to the ticket window and bought a seat (15 rows back on the end of a row between sections 129 and 130) and learned that I had to get to Gate H. That was the only gate (or possibly one of two gates…I don’t know…I heard conflicting reports) that was going to open “early” at 5:30pm.
Now, look at the following seating chart and keep in mind that the ticket office was between Gates E and F:
Dolphin Stadium is huge. It’s huger than huge. It’s colossal. So I had to run quite a distance to make it over to Gate H, and by the time I got there, I was drenched with sweat, and this is what I saw:
There was no way to sneak to the front of the skinny line, so I waited at the back and cringed as dozens of people slowly filed into the stadium ahead of me. When I finally reached the front and was about to have my ticket scanned, a security guard informed me that my backpack was too big and that I couldn’t take it inside. He said the size limit was 14″ x 14″ and since mine was a few inches too long, I was out of luck. Long story short: I had to go to Gate E (!!!) and check my bag with security and THEN go back to Gate H to actually enter the stadium. I was so pissed off–there truly aren’t words to describe it–but I had no choice. And when I finally headed inside the stadium at 5:48pm, not only did it pain me to be temporarily trapped behind home plate while several fans were already camped out in right field…
…but everything I had with me–all my snagging materials–were crammed into the pockets of my cargo shorts. I was overflowing with stuff. My pants (pardon the expression) were bulging. It was tough to run fast and nearly impossible to run at all through the narrow rows of seats.
The right field seats started filling up fast, and not only were there long railings on the steps that blocked four out of every five rows, but the sun was directly in my eyes.
AND…as if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there was a HUGE tunnel right in the middle of the seats that swallowed home runs and further crippled my mobility. Here it is from behind:
At one point, a home run was hit almost right to me, and I had to move back and duck because I couldn’t see the ball. Meanwhile, the fact that the warning track was rubberized meant that balls never rolled to the wall and stopped. Instead, they bounced off the wall and rolled back all the way to the outfield grass, so there was no chance to use the glove trick, and even if there was, the place was swarming with security guards. I probably would’ve been ejected. It was a miserable batting practice. Thankfully, I got Corey Patterson to toss me a ball at around 6:10pm, so I can’t say it was the worst BP of my life. There HAVE been a few days (not since 1993) when I didn’t get any balls at all, but still, this was nightmarish. I had attended two games at this stadium in 2000 (back when it was called “Pro Player”) and somehow managed to snag seven balls at each game. I seriously have no idea how I did it.
I probably could’ve snagged at least one or two other balls during BP by asking the players. None of the Marlins fans seemed to know who any of the players were (one guy somehow mistook Gary Majewski for Bronson Arroyo) so I could’ve dominated in that sense, but I didn’t try. Why? Because I was saving my ball requests for later in the series. Can you believe that?! I’ve almost never had to use a defensive, multi-day strategy. Normally I go for whatever I can get, but because Dolphin Stadium is so bad, I was actually worried about getting shut out in subsequent days. I didn’t want all the Reds pitchers to recognize me after the first day, so I kept my mouth shut. I didn
‘t even bother going to the dugout as BP was ending. I didn’t want to be seen there either in case I needed to get a ball there the next day.
After BP, I was forced to spend/waste $20 (plus tax) on one of those crappy drawstring backpacks at a souvenir stand. It had a Marlins logo on one side, and I made sure I wore it with that side against my back. Oh, and let me just say that during BP, I was trapped in right field with THE most annoying fan I’ve encountered this decade. It was a guy, maybe 40 to 50 years years old, with a glove, a frighteningly perfect tan, and a voice like Joe Pesci. He was giving a running play-by-play commentary for EVERY ball that was hit, and not only was he trying to predict where each ball was going to land, but he was way off half the time. At one point, the batter hit a Texas Leaguer in our direction and this clown yelled, “Heads up!! Here it comes!! Oh, it died, it died, it died, it died.” I had to listen to this crap for more than half an hour.
During the game, the fans in right field weren’t much better at gauging the distance of batted balls. When Griffey got jammed in the fourth inning and lifted a wimpy, 50-foot-high pop-up to the second baseman, half the people around me jumped up and started jockeying for position.
“Learn the game, people!” I shouted. “Learn the game.”
The other half of the people who hadn’t jumped out of their seats found this to be rather amusing.
That was Griffey’s third plate appearance. He had walked in the first inning, and I was glad because the sun was still in my eyes. Look how bad it was:
I don’t know what I would’ve done if he’d hit the ball at me. I mean, I really don’t know. How embarrassing would that be? To be forever remembered in all the highlights as the fan who ducked out of the way of No. 600?
I spent the second inning along the right field foul line, hoping that a righty would slice a long foul ball my way (so much for that), but mostly I was just enjoying my rare opportunity to sit in a patch of empty seats:
I took a pic of the right field seats from this spot, and as you can see below, it was pretty crowded out there:
The section clearly wasn’t sold out. There were even some empty seats on the ends of rows, but there definitely wasn’t much room to maneuver. If I was going to catch The Ball, it was going to have to be right to me, and even then there was no guarantee.
Griffey walked in the third, doubled to right field in the fifth, and singled softly to left in the seventh. He would’ve come up for a sixth time in the eighth, but he had already left the game. Blah. The Marlins were getting blown out by that point, and a lot of fans had left. That would’ve been a great chance to catch The Ball, but instead I was going to have to wait at least one more day.
Okay, so…given the fact that I was in Florida, I have two more weird things to report. Well, one is just gross and the other is weird:
1) While I was sitting behind home plate for a few innings, a young man in the row in front of me threw up all over the place. It got on the chairs, on his shoes, on his hands, on the railings, and all over the ground. There was more vomit than I’d ever seen in one place in my life, but that might not be saying much because I’m not a drinker and hardly ever go to bars. (I’ve actually decided not to enter a single bar in 2008. That’s how little I drink–and how much I loathe the bar scene.) This guy, however, was clearly plastered, and he stumbled out of the section alone. Ew.
2) I got a second ball in the strangest way possible. The story isn’t as sexy as this one, but man, talk about random. Basically, I was still sitting behind home plate, minding my own business, waiting for a righty to foul a ball back in my direction, when I noticed…out of the
corner of my eye, that a ball was trickling out of the tunnel on my left and into the seats! What?! The ball came to a rest underneath a fan sitting in a wheelchair. I looked around. No kids. There were two ushers standing in the tunnel, and they were oblivious. There weren’t any fans looking around frantically under their seats. There was no way to determine who, if anyone, had lost a ball. So I waited until the batter put the next ball in play, and then when I assumed everyone’s eyes were on the field, I swooped down the few steps and grabbed the ball and bolted out of the section. I had thought about giving the ball to the guy in the wheelchair. I had thought about turning it over to the ushers. I had thought about holding it up and asking the few fans around me if they’d dropped it, but I realized that anyone could’ve said yes. Anyway, don’t feel bad for the guy in the wheelchair. He never knew the ball was there, and I ended up giving it away to kid wearing a glove and a full Marlins uniform. He was about nine years old, and he was standing in the concourse between innings with a man who must’ve been his father. I just walked up and said, “Did you catch a ball today?” and when the kid said no, I handed him the one I’d found, WHICH, by the way, was an Official Major League Baseball with the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot, just like the ball on the lower right in this photo, except not as smudgy. It’s not like I found a scuffed Little League ball. There’s no way I would’ve counted that in my collection or even picked it up in the first place, but this was a real ball. And because I’d recently snagged a bunch of “practice” balls from the Reds in Philadelphia, I knew that this was one that the team had to have used. At first, however, I wasn’t sure if I should count it. It seemed cheap. But then I decided I *would* count it. I reasoned that if I can find balls when the stadium is empty and count those, then why shouldn’t I be able to find a ball when the stadium ISN’T empty? Same thing except harder, right? I mean, shouldn’t I be rewarded for finding one like that instead of penalized? If another fan had handed me the ball, or if I had actually seen someone drop it, I would not have counted it. (In the latter situation, I would’ve returned it.) I didn’t know what to do so I called my friend Brad (aka “my snagging guardian angel”) and asked him. He didn’t think it should count. So I decided not to count it. But then we talked again later, and we discussed it and decided that there was no way to determine if a fan ever had possession of it in the first place. It was possible, however unlikely, that the ball had been thrown into the seats during BP, possibly even during early BP before there were fans or ushers in the seats…and that it had been sitting somewhere, forgotten, undiscovered, for hours…and maybe it somehow got loose. Maybe it was under a seat and someone bumped it gently with their foot, causing it to roll to that spot where I happened to see it. I still wasn’t convinced, and I was undecided about whether to count it. I must’ve dreamed about it, although I have no recollection of that, but regardless, I sprung out of bed this morning and immediately thought about the ball and decided that it should definitely count. There’s no official scorer for snagging, of course, and even scorers make mistakes, so there’s no way to say for sure what the right decision is. But as it stands, the ball DOES count in my collection, and I’m curious to hear what you would’ve done. Would you have counted it? Do you think I made a good decision?
I snuck down (with ease) to the dugout in the ninth inning and took a pic of the seats in right field to show you how empty it got. Yeah, THAT’S what I was photographing…
And that was it. No balls at the dugout. No lineup card from Dusty Baker. Final score: Reds 11, Marlins 3.
It took over 45 minutes to get a cab outside the stadium, but that’s another story…
? 2 balls at this game
? 147 balls in 19 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
? 515 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 118 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 842 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,424 total balls