Pat picked me up at my hotel at 2pm, took me out to lunch, and interviewed me extensively about my baseball collection. We had talked for an hour before I’d left for Denver, and by the end of the meal, he had more than 5,000 words of notes and quotes on his laptop.
We headed over to Gate E at 4:45pm. Pat had a press pass that gets him into just about any game in any sport in any stadium–but he didn’t have a ticket for this game at Coors, so he had to trek halfway around the stadium to the media entrance and then
rush back. He barely made it in time, and it’s a good thing because I snagged three home run balls within the first minute or two of batting practice. The first landed in the front row aisle all the way out in left-center field and rolled to an usher who was kind enough to step aside and let me grab it. The second (pictured here on the left) landed several rows deep in the bleachers near the foul line, and since the stands were still mostly empty, I had time to race up the steps from the aisle and cut through the section of metal benches. The third landed 15 rows deep and conveniently bounced right back to me.
As soon as I stopped running all over the place for balls, the Associated Press photographer showed up, but before long, he got a cool action shot of me lunging for (and catching) a ball tossed by Indians pitcher Scott Elarton. Over the next 20 minutes or so, I got two more balls thrown to me (one of which I gave to a kid with a glove) by David Dellucci and Edward Mujica, and that was IT for batting practice. It was incredibly frustrating. I came within five feet of at least half a dozen balls, both home runs and ground-rule doubles. I don’t know what was going on. I just seemed to be consistently out of position or a step too slow. Was it just bad luck? Was I losing my edge? I really can’t explain it. Then, on several occasions, when I left my spot briefly to try to get a ball thrown to me somewhere else, the batter ended up hitting a home run RIGHT to where I’d been standing. It was just one of those days, and the worst moment of all occurred late in BP. First check out the following photo (taken by my friend Robert Harmon…the guy from my Bonds 762 article), and then I’ll explain what happened:
Let me start by identifying everyone:
1) the AP photographer
2) an usher (note the tunnel that he’s standing in)
3) a guy named Dan who reads this blog and brought his copy of my book for me to sign
4) Zachary Ben Hample
5) Pat Graham
6) pure evil
There was a home run ball hit right at us that barely sailed over our heads. We jumped for it, or at least *I* jumped for it. I don’t even know if he’s athletic enough to get both feet off the ground at the same time, but anyway, after we missed the ball, there was a brief lull when we were both trying to figure out where it went. Suddenly we realized that it had landed in the tunnel directly behind us, and we started running. I didn’t take a pic of this tunnel, so you’ll have to settle for this cheap drawing. Basically, where the tunnel goes underneath the stands, the left half is blocked by a concrete wall, and the right half has an open door. The ball had rolled through the door, and I was running straight for the opening, about to zoom past this guy Doug when he realized he was about to get beat so he elbowed me from the right side and shoved me into the wall on the left as he kept running…and he ended up getting the ball. I couldn’t retaliate with a shove of my own because my every move was being witnessed and captured by the Associated Press (and anyway, using physical force against other fans is not my style), so I had to settle for giving him a piece of my mind. I pretty much told him that what he did was uncalled for and that that kind of behavior belongs at Yankee Stadium.
His response: “Oh grow up!!”
But enough of that. I have better things to talk about, like the fact that Pat was so nice that it was almost unbelievable. I got the sense that he would’ve been interested in me even if he weren’t writing about it for his job. I’m not saying he still would’ve hung out and taken notes for eight and a half hours, but he was just a GOOD guy. Some people in the media have gone out of their way to make me look bad and poke fun at what I do, but I knew that wasn’t the case with Pat. And then there were the little things he did for me…like, for
example…when he ran up to the press box after BP to drop something off, he returned with a cup of peanut M&M’s.
Before the game started, I snuck down to the Indians’ dugout and heard an usher tell another fan (who wasn’t as skilled in the art of sneaking) that the players don’t give out balls. Thirty seconds later, after the fan had walked back up the steps, Casey Blake tossed me my seventh ball of the day.
Generally speaking, a seven-ball day is great in the Bronx and lousy in Philadelphia. Overall, it’s about average for me–not enough to celebrate, but not bad enough that I can complain. That said, I was sooooooo frustrated to have snagged just seven balls by that point. If things had been a little better during BP, I could’ve easily had a dozen. I explained all of this to Pat during the game, and he never stopped taking notes. At one point, he pulled out a voice recorder and had me give a 90-second monologue about what I do and how I got into it. While I was halfway through, an Indians batter lost the grip on his bat and sent it flying in our direction. (It fell about 30 feet short.) I didn’t miss a beat and kept talking, but I must’ve been distracted because when I mentioned my ball total, I accidentally said “3473” instead of “3463.” Pat told me not to worry about it. The way he saw it…I would have that many balls by the time the piece ran. He told me that the audio clip would soon be on the AP web site along with a slide show from BP. (The photographer had to leave before BP ended, but he’ll be back again today with Pat. It was so much fun just to BE photographed. He was crouching in the aisle during BP, telling me to pose this way and that, getting pics of my glove…and of course all the fans were staring at me and probably wondering, “Who the hell is THAT guy?”)
I never went to my assigned seat during the game. Instead I worked the dugouts and tried to get a third-out ball tossed up. Once again, things just weren’t going my way, and in case you want to hear me complain a bit more, let me just say that Brad Hawpe hit a home run EXACTLY to the spot where my seat had been the night before.
Despite the fact that the attendance was only 28,146, the lower level was nearly full. There weren’t many aisle seats behind the dugout, so I ended up having to sit in Row 34. That’s not exactly the best place to be if you want a third-out ball, but I got lucky as the sixth inning came to a close. Hawpe hit a towering pop up to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, so I had time to bolt down the steps while the ball was in mid-air. I ended up getting it tossed to me, and when I turned around, there was a little kid (with a glove!) standing right behind me. It just so happened that I already had another ball in my pocket because I’d been planning to give it away, so I asked the kid if he’d snagged a ball yet, and when he said “no,” I pulled out the practice ball and handed it over. He thanked me and raced up the steps to show his family. The usher patted me on the back and several fans gave me high-fives, and meanwhile I got to keep the game-used ball so it was a win-win situation. By the way, this was the furthest back I’d ever been sitting before a successful attempt for a third-out ball. I challenge you–I dare you–to sit in the 30th row (in the ballpark of your choice) and try to snag one.
More frustration? Late in the game, I tried to move to a great spot for foul balls behind home plate and was stopped by an usher. Less than an inning later, a batter hit a high foul pop-up that landed on the staircase ***RIGHT*** where I wanted to sit (there were even a couple empty seats there), and no one even bothered to stand up and try to catch it. AARRGHH!!! Pat could’ve used his press pass to get me into any section in the stadium, but he wanted to see how I maneuvered on my own.
I tried going for an umpire ball after the game and ran into some bad luck there as well. Tim Tschida, it turned out, only had two extra balls and gave them both to kids in the first few rows. He actually stopped and told me he only had two…and get this…he apologized and then thanked me for asking.
Yeah, great, you’re welcome. Anytime.
Final score: Rockies 10, Indians 2.
? 8 balls at this game
? 187 balls in 24 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 520 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 123 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 882 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,464 total balls