I left New York City at 10:30am, blasted my iPod in the car the whole
way up, got stuck in traffic half a dozen times, and finally parked in
the garage behind the Green Monster at around 3pm. As soon as I walked
down the garage ramp onto Lansdowne Street, a college-aged Red Sox fan
walked up to me and asked if I was Zack Hample.
In my previous entry,
I had mentioned that I was going to be there, and sure enough, this
guy had seen it. His name is Garo. He’s a semi-regular at Fenway Park. And
the first thing he did was show me how to get a sneak peek inside the stadium. Check it out:
Fenway wasn’t going to open until 5pm, so when the Red Sox started taking batting practice at 4:30, Garo (wearing the red shirt in the photo on the right) and I went to the roof of the garage and camped out for home run balls. Of course nothing came over, so at 4:55 I left empty-handed and ran over to Gate A.
This was another Watch With Zack game–my second of the week and fourth of the season–and my clients still had not arrived at that point. They were from Tallahassee and included two 13-year-olds named Lars and Cody, as well as Lars’ grandmother Jean who had gotten in touch last year after hearing me on NPR. Even though we’d planned this game months in advance, they waited until the last minute to make an appearance. Lars and Cody had the basics–baseball gloves and Red Sox caps–but we didn’t have time to discuss any specific strategies for BP. All I could do was give them each a sheet with the rosters of both the Sox and A’s and tell them to follow me as soon as everyone was allowed in. With 30 seconds to spare, I asked them how many games they’d been to. Lars said he’d been to “one or two” major league games, and as for Cody…this was his first professional game! What a way to start. (Jean said she’d been to about 50 games, going back to the days of the Milwaukee Braves. And by the way, if there’s anyone from Tallahassee who’s reading this, or
even anyone who’d just like to talk baseball in general, Jean would
love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know, or email
me and I’ll put you in touch.)
When the stadium opened, several dozen fans got in ahead of us, but we were still the first ones to reach the seats along the left field foul line. Sweeeet!!! I grabbed the corner spot and positioned Lars and Cody about 20 feet apart against the wall in the middle of the section. You can kinda/almost see them leaning out with their gloves in the following photo:
Here’s a close-up. Cody is the one wearing blue, and Lars is in black:
Once the A’s took the field, I told Lars and Cody to turn their hats backward so the players wouldn’t see the logo. (I think Cody turned the logo toward me just for the photo and then quickly switched it back.) This simple form of trickery worked for Lars; he used the roster to identify pitcher Lenny DiNardo and then got him to toss up a ball. Cody, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He had a few close calls during BP but didn’t end up with anything to show for it.
As for me…
Two minutes after the stadium had opened, Justin Masterson tossed a ball to a kid ten feet away, but his aim was off and the ball sailed high and landed in a patch of empty seats. There was a mini-scramble for the souvenir, which I ended up snagging as it trickled down the steps…and yes, I felt a bit guilty. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve handed this ball to the kid for whom it was intended. But this day was special. I had my own “kids” to take care of, so I held onto it, and as it turned out Masterson went and got another ball and hooked up the original kid. Everyone was happy.
Before the Sox finished hitting, I got a second ball by using what I refer to as the “half-glove trick.” I didn’t need the rubber band and magic marker. I only needed the string because the ball was just a few feet out from the wall…in a spot where the wall was nice and low…so I let
out a bit of string and swung my glove out and knocked the ball closer and then leaned over the wall and grabbed it. Easy.
Despite the fact that I had a green and yellow A’s shirt to match my green and yellow cap, I couldn’t get a single player or coach to toss me a ball. I partially blame myself for not being able to recognize anyone, but seriously…Joey Devine? Dallas Braden? Sean Gallagher? Jerry Blevins? Who the hell ARE these guys?!
I managed to get one more ball during BP. It was a rocket-shot, pulled on one hop a few feet to my left. I wish the fan behind me had been holding a radar gun. I’d say it had to be traveling 80 to 90mph. Maybe even more. According to Hit Tracker, some balls fly off the bat in excess of 120mph, so there’s no telling how fast this one was traveling. I was about 200 feet from home plate, and it couldn’t have taken more than a second to reach me. Anyway, I half-dove and half-lunged over the wall and reached way out and half-snared the ball between my upper palm and the pocket of my glove. Yes…ouch. But I had it and that’s all that mattered. Between the ball that Lars snagged and the three that I got, there was exactly one ball for each of us.
After BP, Cody and Lars and I each got an autograph from Greg Smith…
Then Jean joined us and we posed with our loot:
This game was Jason Bay’s first as a member of the Red Sox–or the “Bayston Red Sox” as one fan’s T-shirt read–and the ovation he received during his first at-bat gave me goose bumps and
almost made my eyes a little misty. It was THAT thunderous and heart-warming. I didn’t get the sense that anyone at Fenway missed Manny. He’s behaved so poorly that even I (a longtime Manny supporter with a personal connection to him) have a tough time rooting for him now. On the other hand, Jason Bay is one of those quiet/professional types who consistently puts up solid numbers but gets no respect because he plays in Pittsburgh. I felt so happy for him. After five years of rotting in baseball hell, he was rescued and thrust into a pennant race in front of 37,832 fans who were truly thrilled to have him. With all due respect to the four million-plus fans who’ve been filling up Yankee Stadium each of the past few years, I have to say that the people in New England are without a doubt more passionate about their team than ANY fan base I’ve EVER encountered. There’s no comparison. It’s not even close.
Bay ended up drawing a five-pitch walk in the bottom of the second (you’ve never heard such loud cheers for a walk), moving to third on a J.D. Drew double, and scoring the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly by Jed Lowrie. Tim Wakefield and Justin Duchscherer matched zeros after that, and it looked like the Sox were going to hang on for 1-0 win until Jack Cust (who’s on pace to strike out 205 times this season) hit an opposite field bomb off Hideki Okajima to tie the game at 1-1 in the eighth.
Jean knew a lot about baseball, and in fact, so did Lars and Cody because they’d read my book. I don’t know if they tried to memorize it or what, but I was blown away with the amount of facts and details they remembered. We all wore our gloves, but since there wasn’t much action in the foul ball department, we focused on watching the game. They asked dozens of questions and I explained everything…from the stats on the scoreboard to the Pesky Pole (which was less than 20 feet to our right) to double-play depth…and on and on and on. I had lots of fun, and I’m pretty sure they did as well.
As the game headed into the 10th inning, I was surprised when hardly any fans left the stadium. Six outs later, however, a few seats opened up so I led Jean and Cody and Lars toward home plate…and this is where we settled down:
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, I took Lars and Cody to the third base dugout and explained exactly how to get a third-out ball. We were all set to charge toward the front row and yell at whichever A’s player ended up with the ball…when Kevin Youkilis took a called third strike and the catcher rolled it back to the mound.
Five outs later we were back in position, but we didn’t get another shot. Bay hit a towering fly ball high off the Monster for a triple, Drew drew an intentional walk, and Lowrie punched a weak grounder past the left side of the mound that allowed Bay to score the winning run. Final score: Zack 3, Red Sox 2, Athletics 1.
Lars and Cody and I still went down to the dugout (even though I knew the A’s would be in a foul mood), and it paid off…sort of. We got some gum and seeds from one of the bat boys. He was carrying a few boxes of it, and after I called out and asked him if we could have some, he walked over and held it out and let us grab whatever we wanted. The photo on the right shows what I took. Cody and Lars each got their own stash.
We all lingered inside the stadium as long as possible, then headed outside and I told them where they might be able to get a few more autographs. I didn’t stick around for that, however, and they understood why. It was already well past 11pm, I’d been up since 8:45am, and I had a 211-mile drive ahead of me. Before we parted ways, Jean told me she might send me to a game at Citi Field next season with her son who was born on the day that the Mets won their first World Series…
? 3 balls at this game
? 273 balls in 39 games this season = 7 balls per game.
? 535 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 128 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 9 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,550 total balls