The day started with five hours of sleep and a delayed flight from New York City to Denver. My friend Dan Sauvageau (who has caught 36 home runs on a fly during games) picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel, and soon after I made the 15-minute walk to Coors Field.
I didn’t have time to wander and take pics outside the stadium. I pretty much had to head straight to the gate, and even though I arrived with half an hour to spare, there were already dozens of fans on line. Not only were the Rockies playing the Braves, but there was a big giveaway: replica championship trophies. By the time the gates opened, there were hundreds of fans, and it didn’t matter to me because I had a ticket to snagging heaven…
The front row at Coors Field is THE place to be for batting practice, and I wouldn’t have been able to go there without a front-row ticket. I was psyched just thinking of the opportunities, but I knew I had to play it cool. I’d heard that the ushers weren’t too fond of ball-retrieving devices (like my glove trick), and I also wanted to be respectful of the regular ballhawks who hang out there. Dan was one of them, and Robert Harmon (the guy from my Bonds 762 story) was another. This was their den. I didn’t want to barge in and act like a jerk.
In the photo above, you can kind of see the number on the back of the nearest player’s jersey. It was number 23…Ryan Speier…the guy who’d given me his glove on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. After the “glove incident,” I didn’t see him for a couple years, so I was shocked when HE remembered ME. That was in Philadelphia. Now, here we were, a year later, in a different time zone. Would he still remember?
“Hey!” he said, then walked over and shook my hand. “What brings you out this way?”
“I’m gonna be written up by the Associated Press,” I told him. “There’s gonna be a writer following me around the ballpark starting tomorrow.”
“Sounds like you’re getting some good press,” he said.
“You know about my baseball collection, right?”
“Yeah, I’ve been to your web site,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “That’s right.”
Just then, the batter happened to hit a ball that rolled right to him, and I didn’t bother asking for it. I figured there’d be no way that he’d give it to me, but he scooped it up and said, “Here,” and flipped it my way.
“Wow, thanks!” I said and kept talking. “I want you to know that the glove you gave me is the absolute coolest item I’ve ever gotten at a game. It’s better than any of the balls, even the Barry Bonds home run that I caught, better than the bats, lineup cards, everything, so thanks again.”
And that was pretty much the end of the conversation.
My second ball of the day was a ground-rule double in left-center field. I could’ve actually caught a couple home runs by that point, but one of the regulars, an older guy named Danny (who caught Bonds’ 698th career homer), was hanging out nearby and I felt guilty about reaching in front of him, so I let him take a direct route to the edge of the wall, and I hung back in case the balls sailed over his head. On one of the homers, when the ball was at the top of its arc, I actually said to him, “Fine, you can have it,” and sure enough, he reached up right in front of my face at the last second and caught it. He appreciated my courtesy but also encouraged me to compete with him and the other guys for balls.
The Braves took the field, and I got two balls thrown to me within five minutes. The first came from Brandon Jones and the second (which I later gave to a little kid with a glove) came from Jeff Ridgway.
I finally got to use a little athleticism, and Robert was the unfortunate victim. One of the Braves batters hit a high fly ball that landed in the middle of the warning track in front of me. Robert had time to run over just before the ball hit the ground, and when it predictably bounced high above our heads, it was a straight-up battle of vertical leaps. There was no trash-talking. No shoving. No bitterness. I actually said “sorry” right after I gloved the ball and Robert gave me a high-five. Danny told me I got some “nice air.” Everyone was happy. The competition was friendly. It was the total opposite of Yankee Stadium.
Batting practice ended earlier than I expected. I figured it’d last until 6:25pm (or so) and I’d been planning to run over to the
Braves’ dugout to try to get a ball when all the players and coaches came off the field. So at about 6:10pm, as one of the rounds of BP was winding down–the last round, as it turned out–I found myself all the way out near the end of the left field pavilion, about as close as you can get to center field. There was a lefty in the cage (not sure who), and he ripped a deep line drive in my direction. There was no one else standing anywhere near me, so I shuffled over a few feet and got in line with it. The ball hit the edge of the grass just before the warning track and skipped up toward me. I leaned over the wall and made the catch, and when I looked up I saw all the Braves running off the field. It had been the very last swing of BP.
Soon after, Robert and Dan gave me a tour of the under-the-stands concourse that’s only accessible to players, employees, and fans with front-row tickets…and I have to say, it was pretty cool. At one point, we saw a Braves player (I think it was Manny Acosta) just sitting against the wall, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, talking on his cell phone.
Back in the seats, I met two fans who’d brought their copies of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign. The first was a guy named Don, who leaves comments on this blog as “Rock Pile Ranter,” and the second was a Braves fan (who reads this blog but doesn’t comment…yet) named Caroline. I also met several other fans who recognized me and just wanted to say hey. I was about 1,600 miles from New York City and felt like I was home.
Just before the game started, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar began playing catch in very shallow left field, and when they took a break for the national anthem, I snapped a pic of the ball peeking through Johnson’s glove:
Of course, I wouldn’t be showing you this pic if I didn’t actually GET the ball. As soon as the music finished, the guys continued playing catch, and since I was the only fan wearing a glove, Johnson had no choice but to toss it to me when he was done.
I worked the dugouts for third-out balls for the first few innings and didn’t get a thing. I was annoyed, obviously, every time Mark Teixiera jogged off the field and flipped his ball to grown men without gloves, but for the most part I was okay with it. My goal was to familiarize myself with the dugout seats so I’d be able to dominate the next day when the AP guy would be with me. Was it easy to sneak down? Which staircase was best? Were there enough empty seats on the ends of rows? I quickly answered my own questions and then headed to the upper deck to play with my new camera.
Here are two pics that I took from the last row directly behind home plate. When I got back to my hotel, I used Photoshop to combine them and make a panorama:
No trip to the Coors Field upper deck is complete without visiting the purple row, which sits exactly one mile above sea level:
The Rocky Mountains were hiding way off in the distance against the bright sky, so I darkened the following photo to make them stand out:
I headed downstairs in the fifth inning and photographed the mysterious area in front of the batter’s eye…
…and caught up with Dan and his four-year-old daughter Emily (who knows every Rockies player’s number) in the sixth inning…
…and finally made it to my actual seat in the seventh inning. This was the view:
I took off after the eighth inning and went to the Braves’ dugout, hoping to get a ball after the final out.
Final score: Braves 7, Rockies 1. Chipper Jones went 2-for-4 with a walk to raise his batting average one point to .403.
? 7 balls at this game
? 179 balls in 23 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 519 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 122 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 874 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 9 guys named Johnson who have now thrown balls to me
? 3,456 total balls