Does the name Robert Harmon sound familiar? He’s the bearded ballhawk from Denver–the guy who came THIS close to snagging Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball. I wrote a big article about it a few months ago. Remember?
Robert was in New York City and joined me for this monster day, which started with the 2008 Futures Game at Yankee Stadium and ended with some Mets-Rockies action at Shea.
Even though I wasn’t going to count any balls from the Futures Game in my collection, I still printed rosters for both teams. I had to take my
snagging seriously enough to familiarize myself with the bleachers. That’s basically the only reason
I went to the Futures Game. I’d never been in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, and I was going to be there the following day for the Home Run
Outside the stadium, there wasn’t a single security guard who knew what time the gates were going to open. Some of them shrugged, others said “eleven o’clock,” and I ended up getting in at 10:30am. As I bolted into the bleachers, I got Nate Schierholtz to toss me a ball despite the fact that I wasn’t yet wearing my glove. (I wasn’t wearing it because the geniuses who run Yankee Stadium recently decided not to let me bring my dangerous drawstring backpack inside, so now I’m forced to smuggle it in while cradling all of my belongings in my arms.) Phew! I caught my breath, took out my bag, put my stuff in it, looked around…and wow.
From a ball-snagging perspective, the bleachers were truly glorious. I couldn’t believe it’d taken me nearly two decades (and an impending Home Run Derby) to make it out there.
Robert didn’t have a ticket for the bleachers. He’d never been inside Yankee Stadium, and because he’s a semi-professional photographer, it was important for him to be able to wander and explore the ballpark from as many angles as possible. (At Yankee Stadium, you can’t move back and forth between the bleachers and the rest of the stadium.) But before he wandered, he grabbed the corner spot in the RF grandstand and snagged a few balls during batting practice.
BP went pretty well for me. I got my second ball tossed by Rockies prospect Dexter Fowler, then grabbed two home run balls that landed behind me in the empty benches. I got my fifth ball tossed by Casey Weathers–another Rockies farmhand–and got my sixth and final ball tossed up by…someone. I forget who, and it doesn’t matter. I ended up giving away two of my six balls, and I passed up opportunities to snag others because I ran into someone that I simply HAD to talk to.
At the end of BP, I approached a middle-aged man who was wearing a black Marlins cap and said, “Excuse me, you look familiar.”
“Okay,” he said, waiting for me to take the lead.
“Do you live in Miami?” I asked, and when he nodded, I said, “Griffey six hundred.”
“Oh my GOD!” he shouted to his friends. “Someone recognized me!”
After catching Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run, this guy had revealed himself to the media simply as “Joe” and did not allow anyone to take his picture. (He’s lucky my camera broke earlier that day.) Naturally, when I spotted him at Yankee Stadium, he asked how I knew who he was, so I told him I was five feet away from catching that ball. Then I said, “I was the guy who tried to give you a contact card.”
“Oh yeah! I remember that,” he said. “I didn’t want it. I just wanted to get out of there. You’re some sort of businessman? A memorabilia dealer?”
“Not exactly,” I replied, “but I do collect baseballs.”
I started telling him about myself, and when I mentioned my name, not only did he know who I was, but he pulled out a folder which contained a copy of the New York Times article that was written about me in 2006. (His copy of the article was from another newspaper that hadn’t used the photo.)
We ended up talking for the next half-hour. He told me every detail about his pursuit of No. 600 and the controversy that followed. Turns out he’s snagged more than 1,000 baseballs including 65 home runs DURING games! (So at least I didn’t get outsnagged by some random/lucky chump.)
Joe never told me his last name, but he did take one of my cards, and he promised to keep in touch.
As you can imagine, there’s a LOT more I could say about our conversation, and perhaps I will at some point. Joe mentioned that a publisher has already approached him about writing a book….and I mentioned that I’d be interested in co-authoring it with him, or perhaps writing the foreword…so we’ll see.
After we parted ways, I explored the bleachers and took dozens of photographs. Here’s the gap between the bleachers and the grandstand:
Here’s the “platform” seating in front of the bleachers:
Here’s a view from the left field bleachers (which, I discovered, are accessible via a long concourse that begins under the right field bleachers):
Shortly after the game began, I exited the stadium and used an extra (non-bleachers) ticket I’d bought to re-enter.
I don’t know what inning it was. I don’t know who was winning at that point, and I didn’t care. My mission for (the first part of) the day had been accomplished. I just wanted to chill out with Robert and help him take the best possible photographs, so I led him to the upper deck and ended up taking a few pics of my own. Here’s a look at the New Yankee Stadium (which we saw from an escalator landing area on the way up):
Here’s the view from the last row in the upper deck:
Here’s a look at the auxiliary press area…
…and here are two cops on the top edge of the upper deck:
I think there were more cops than fans. It was insane.
Robert and I left Yankee Stadium at 2:45pm. The Futures Game still had a couple innings remaining (and there was still an entire celebrity softball game to be played), but we had to go. Why so soon? WELL…if bags were allowed inside Yankee Stadium (as they should be), we could’ve brought our stuff for Shea and stayed longer and then headed directly to Queens. But no. We had to go all the way back to my place on the Upper West Side for a pit-stop and then head back out to Shea. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Yankees. I really appreciate it.
We arrived at Shea at 4:55pm–forty minutes before Gate C was scheduled to open. This gave me time to buy two tickets and get on line, and it gave Robert (who’d never been to this stadium either) an opportunity to take more pics.
Here’s one I took of Citi Field on the way to the ticket windows:
Here’s a rare photograph of Robert wearing anything other than Rockies gear as we waited for the gate to open:
Robert really wanted to snag a Shea Stadium commemorative ball, so I lent him a Mets shirt and printed him a Mets roster and showed him exactly where to stand during BP and convinced him to beg for balls.
Less than five minutes after we entered the stadium, Robert got one tossed to him by Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti, and it was indeed one of the prized commemorative balls.
As for me…
I ended up snagging seven balls, and I got each one in a different spot.
1) A 2008 All-Star Game ball (the Mets have been using them in BP) from Brian Schneider along the right field foul line.
2) Another All-Star ball from Billy Wagner in the second deck (aka the “Loge Level”) in right field.
4) A regular ball (which I later gave to a kid) from Rockies bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter at the 3rd base dugout after BP.
5) Another regular ball from Joe Koshansky during pre-game throwing along the left field foul line.
7) Another commemorative ball…after the game…from a security guard who got it from home plate umpire Marvin Hudson…in the seats behind the plate on the Field Level.
Earlier in the day at Yankee Stadium, Robert had collected a bunch of those commemorative plastic cups–you know, the ones that come from concession stands. Brilliant! Why hadn’t I done this yet at Shea? I don’t know. Maybe because I’m so focused on snagging baseballs that I forget to collect anything else. Anyway, I followed Robert’s lead and grabbed a bunch of these cups after the game. Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 0.
Speaking of collecting things other than balls, I suppose I should mention that I got Jeff Francis to sign my ticket after BP. Unfortunately, he used someone else’s wimpy pen:
I think that about covers it. In the next day or two, I’ll post an entry about my experience at the Home Run Derby.
STATS (not counting the Futures Game):
? 7 balls at this game
? 235 balls in 33 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.
? 529 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 326 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 118 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 75 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
? 3,512 total balls