It was a day of new and old friends.
THE NEW: A 28-year-old Californian named Matt who’d been reading this blog (and keeping in touch with me) for months. He was finally in New York City and took me out to lunch before we headed to Yankee Stadium.
This was another Watch With Zack game–for Clif only– although I still felt responsible for helping both of these guys snag a Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. Matt didn’t have many chances on the west coast, and he was going to be flying back there the next day at 6am. Clif, meanwhile, had been trying unsuccessfully to snag one of these balls all season–or at least at the few Yankee games that he was able to convince his mom to take him to. Clif had wanted one of these balls SO badly and for such a long time that he told me he felt like he almost didn’t want one anymore.
Matt (on the left in this photo) and Clif (being goofy in the middle) and I hung out for 45 minutes outside Gate 6 and mapped out our strategies. Unfortunately for Clif, I didn’t know I’d be going to this game with him until about a week or two before the fact, whereas Matt had his trip planned for months. Therefore, I had told Matt well in advance that the place to be during BP was the corner spot in the right field seats, all the way out near the bleachers…so he rightfully claimed that spot. Still, I figured the right field upper deck would be pretty good during the first 10 or 20 minutes of BP, and I offered to give that area to Clif. He turned it down. He felt he had a better chance downstairs by roaming for home run balls, trying to get players to toss him balls, and using his “cup trick” to pluck balls off the warning track.
It made sense to split up so we wouldn’t all be directly competing with one another. Clif’s mom Gail had no problem with him being on his own for BP. We all had each other’s cell phone numbers, and I told Clif that if there was lots of action in the upper deck and I got a ball early on, I’d call him and tell him to run upstairs…and then I’d either get out of his way or stay up there and help him snag one. I was willing to simply GIVE Clif one of these commemorative balls, but to his credit, he didn’t want one unless he snagged it on his own.
The stadium opened at 5pm, and I raced up to the upper deck and had it all to myself for the first five minutes:
Of course, there was NO action during this time. In fact, there was hardly any action up there during the forty minutes that the Yankees were on the field. By the time the upper deck was starting to get crowded, one ball was hit into the seats near the foul pole…and one ball was tossed up by Joba Chamberlain to a man with a cup of beer instead of a glove. It was a total disaster, but I did see Matt get a commemorative ball tossed to him by David Robertson.
Matt had told me outside the stadium that he really only needed one ball, and that if he snagged one, he’d hold onto the corner spot for me and let me slip in. After the Yankees finished their portion of BP, I ran downstairs and took him up on his generous offer. I would’ve given the corner spot to Clif, but I assumed the Orioles weren’t using commemorative balls, and anyway, he wanted me to catch at least one ball so my streak wouldn’t end.
I was in total panic mode by this point. It was coming up on 6pm, and the right field seats were so crowded that I literally could not move:
Luckily, I didn’t have to move once I had the corner spot, and thanks to my bright orange Orioles T-shirt (with “RIPKEN 8” on the back), I was able to convince Jamie Walker to toss me a ball. His throw sailed high, so I timed it and jumped as high as I could and lifted myself up even higher by pushing off the side wall with my right arm…and I made the catch. PHEW!!! It was a regular ball, and I offered it to Clif, just because that seemed like the right thing to do, but he wouldn’t take it. And that was IT for batting practice. One lousy ball between the two of us. Can you believe it?
Matt and I parted ways at that point, and Clif asked me if this was my worst game ever at Yankee Stadium. No. But it was close…at least at that point.
During the game, Gail stayed in her assigned seat in the Loge level with her friend Michael while Clif and I moved all over the place. We spent the top of the first inning going for foul balls on the 3rd base side. Since there was only one aisle seat, we alternated batters. I sat on the end for Brian Roberts (a switch-hitter batting lefty against Mike Mussina), then traded seats with Clif when (the next lefty) Nick Markakis came up.
We moved out to straight-away left field in the bottom of the first to prepare for A-Rod. Given the fact that this was the Yankees’ 31st sellout of the season, there weren’t exactly a whole lot of empty seats from which to choose. The best option was ALL the way out near Monument Park (at the very edge of the grandstand) in the first row behind the aisle. Basically, there was a side wall at the edge of the section, then two seats, then a staircase. As the Yankees went down one-two-three, Clif and I slipped into these two seats and security didn’t say a word. A-Rod was batting cleanup so we were going to have to wait half an inning for his turn. Clif sat on the inside (against the side wall) and left the end seat for me.
“I guess I should put on my glove,” I said to Clif as the right-handed Melvin Mora stepped into the box. I didn’t expect anything to come my way, and I almost didn’t care about catching any home run other than A-Rod’s, but it seemed silly not to be prepared…for whatever.
I told Clif that if someone hit a home run to left field, I’d be out of the seat in no time, and that he’d be able to follow close behind, and that if the ball weren’t caught on a fly, there would likely be a scramble for it, at which point there’d be just as good a chance for him to get it.
Mora fell behind in the count but then ripped a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single. This brought up Luke Scott, a lefty, who pulled an 0-1 pitch through the right side to put runners on the corners.
Kevin Millar stepped up to the plate, and I asked Clif if he wanted to switch seats with me. He didn’t. And Millar crushed the first pitch to left field. And I was out of my seat in less than a second. As the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was heading. Fly ball to the warning track? Home run into the seats? I wasn’t sure, but it was obviously well hit, and there was only one direction to run: to the right. The ball reached its apex, and I kept racing through the aisle, and as it began its descent I knew right where it was going to land. It WAS going to be a home run, and I had a chance to get there. I kept running. The ball was coming down. There was a tall guy and a group of fans blocking me at the front of the aisle. I wasn’t going to be able to make a backhanded catch…so I intentionally ran past the spot
where I predicted the ball would land, then cut sharply back to my left at the very last second and jumped and lunged for the ball as half a dozen hands reached up in front of my face. BAM!!! I felt something hit my glove, and for a split second I wasn’t sure if it was someone else’s hand or the ball itself. I opened my glove. It was the ball.
I didn’t hold up the ball or make a big production of it; the last time I’d caught a home run in that section, security kicked me out because I didn’t belong there. After catching Millar’s blast, I just wanted to get back to my seat and apologize to Clif. HE was the one who needed a commemorative ball…not me. And yet he was so excited because he’d gotten to witness my catch. (He’s my new official good luck charm.) He said I disappeared from sight and that he spotted a glove go up at the last second and he knew it had to be me.
The security supervisor walked over–the same guy who’d kicked me out of this section once before.
“Are you the one who caught that ball?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I had to admit. (Leave it to Yankee Stadium to ruin what should be a joyous moment.)
“Wait right here,” he said as he focused his attention on his walkie-talkie. At that point, I turned to Clif and told him to get out of there. “Go find your mom.” I said. “I think I’m about to be ejected from the stadium. There’s no reason why you should stick around and get in trouble with me. Go! Hurry! I’ll call you in a little bit. Don’t worry. We’ll work it out…”
With that, Clif started walking away, and the supervisor turned back to me. He kept one ear to his walkie-talkie and said, “I gotta see if they want the ball.”
“Cool!” I said. “You mean there’s a chance that Millar wants it for himself?
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he said.
“Clif!!!” I shouted, barely getting his attention. He looked up from a distance, and I waved him over. When he walked back, I told him that I wasn’t in trouble and I explained the situation.
As it turned out, no one wanted the ball…except me. After this fact was established, it appeared that I was free to go, and I was just getting ready to head back to the seats when a vendor I know walked over and introduced me to the supervisor.
“Do you guys know each other?” he asked.
“We’ve crossed paths a couple times,” I said, aware that nothing good was possibly going to happen as a result of this interaction.
“This is my good buddy Zack,” said the vendor. “He catches lots of balls. He’s the king of the foul ball.”
“Oh yeah?” said the supervisor. “By the way,” he continued without hesitating, “where are you supposed to be sitting?”
I was officially busted. He told me to leave. I asked if I could come back just for A-Rod’s at-bats. He said no. And that was that.
Clif and I briefly visited Gail and Michael in the Loge, then got some Dippin’ Dots (yum!) and headed back down to the short porch in right field. There were NO empty seats out there, and I was hoping to catch a second home run, so I was forced to stand in the tunnel. This was the view:
By the middle innings, the Yankees were getting blown out. The Orioles had scored four runs in the second, then added two more in the fifth and five in the sixth to take an 11-0 lead.
This meant people would be leaving early, so I took Clif to the third base side as the bottom of the sixth ended and got a fan to give me two ticket stubs for the seats behind the outfield end of the Orioles’ dugout. I knew Clif’s best chance to snag a commemorative ball would be to get a game-used, third-out ball tossed up by the Orioles. I lent him my Orioles shirt, watched as he used the tickets to get down to the fancy seats with his mom, and called him as I headed back to right field to give SPECIFIC directions on how to maneuver for third-out balls. The most important thing to do, I explained, was to anticipate the third out being recorded while the ball was still in play and bolt down to the front row during that small window of time. We discussed several other strategies as well during the top of the seventh. He was all set.
In the bottom of the seventh, I found an empty seat–a folding chair, actually–in the aisle directly behind the right field wall. Robinson Cano was called out on strikes and Xavier Nady followed with his first homer as a Yankee, a blast into no man’s land beyond the left-center field wall. Then there was a pitching change. Then Melky Cabrera reached on a throwing error by Brian Roberts. Then Jose Molina doubled. And then Johnny Damon hit a three-run homer 80 feet to my left that I had no chance of catching. But several pitches before this home run, Damon ripped a line drive that kicked off the base of the wall in foul territory and rolled all the way out to Markakis in right field. To my surprise, I was the ONLY fan who bothered to ask for it, and Markakis flipped it up right to me. Sweet! Two game-used commemorative balls at a sold out Yankee Stadium! But I still felt bad because once again, Clif needed one of these balls…not me.
After Damon’s home run, there was another pitching change, followed by a Wilson Betemit single, a Richie Sexson pop-up (shocker), and an inning-ending strikeout by A-Rod. I knew Clif was screwed. He was behind the outfield end of the dugout. Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez was near the home plate end of the dugout. And that’s where the ball ended up being tossed.
I called Clif again and discussed his remaining options. I told him he’d have another chance for a third-out ball after the eighth inning, and that he might be able to get a commemorative ball after the game. The Orioles were winning by such a wide margin that it wasn’t going to be a save situation. In other words, there was one less reason why an Orioles pitcher would want to hold onto the game-ending ball.
In the top of the eighth, Aubrey Huff crushed a home run off the facade of the upper deck. The ball plopped back down onto the field, and I almost got it tossed to me by Justin Christian, who had replaced Bobby Abreu the previous inning. (Maybe if I’d called him “Justin” instead of “Jason,” he would’ve tossed it to me. Oops.)
The bottom of the eighth seemed to last forever. Christian grounded out, Cano doubled, Nady struck out, Cabrera singled, Molina walked, and the Orioles made another pitching change. With two outs, Damon took the first pitch for a ball and then found himself in a hole after taking two quick called strikes. NOT GOOD. If he struck out, Clif would once again be screwed. I was praying that Damon would at least make contact. A ground ball would’ve been great. Millar always tosses third-out balls into the crowd. But a fly ball would’ve been even better…but not if it were hit too deep or near the foul lines. Then the outfielder might simply toss it to the fans where he caught it. What we needed was a…YES!!! A fly ball to center field. Yes, yes, yes. Center fielder Adam Jones made the easy catch and started jogging in with the ball. Then he tossed it to Markakis who jogged slowly bac
k to the dugout. From my spot all the way out in right field, I could see Clif wearing my bright orange shirt, and I saw Markakis heading toward his end of the dugout. Markakis was looking down as he approached. Not good! He needed to look up and see the shirt. LOOK UP, FOOL!!! At the very last second, he did indeed raise his head and flip the ball toward Clif. I saw a bunch of people reach in front of him, and I had no idea if he caught it. I immediately called him…but his voice-mail picked up. Crap! He was obviously calling me at the same time. I hung up and waited…waited…waited, and then the phone rang. Clif had the ball. I told him he was awesome. He told me he loved me. And we made a plan to meet after the game. (Final score: Orioles 13, Yankees 4.) Here we are, each holding our game-used, commemorative balls from Markakis:
And guess what? Not only had Gail managed to snag a ball (not commemorative) during the Orioles’ portion of BP, but Clif had gotten a second ball (not commemorative) from a security guard after the final out.
When I got home, I turned on “Baseball Tonight” but because I’m too dumb to figure out how to tape anything, I had to film the highlight of Millar’s homer with my digital camera. I’d share the video here, but it’s really low quality, and you can’t see much anyway. I mean, there’d be no way to tell that it was me who caught that ball, so you’ll have to settle for a few basic screen shots.
HERE’S THE PITCH:
ME…JUST GETTING OUT OF MY SEAT:
ME AGAIN…IN THE THICK OF IT:
Again…I know it’s impossible to tell that it was me. I shared these screen shots so you can see how far I had to move to make the catch. I might share the video at some point (in which you can see a little white blur darting through the aisle), but right now I’m waiting to see if I can get a higher quality clip from someone else. Did anyone tape this game?!
I’ll be in the right field bleachers tonight…
? 3 balls at this game
? 263 balls in 37 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.
? 533 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 119 lifetime game balls (not including game-used balls that get tossed into the seats)
? 100 game balls since my streak began
? 120 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 8 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,540 total balls