This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “clients” were going to be with me for two days. They’d flown in from Los Angeles to see both New York City ballparks for the first time, and their trip kicked off with this Mets-Astros game at Shea Stadium. Here we are before the gates opened:
In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left. The person (I can’t bring myself to call him a “kid” since he’s taller than me) on MY left is a 16-year-old named Evan who’s been reading this blog for a few years and leaving comments as “evan.bizzz.” The other two people are Evan’s 12-year-old sister Hailey and their father Mark.
Evan was no stranger to batting practice. He had snagged 41 lifetime balls, but he didn’t simply want to pad his numbers on this trip; he was determined, if not flat-out dying, to add a commemorative ball from each stadium to his collection–not an easy task. Hailey, meanwhile, with just a handful of lifetime snags, was still hoping for a commemorative ball but willing to accept any ball that came her way.
Before I continue, I want to give a shout-out to a kid named Joe–aka
“josephfaraguna”–who not only recognized me outside Gate C and took the above photo but was kind enough to let me have the corner spot in the Loge once the
stadium opened. There were actually two corner spots on the right field side that I wanted–one for Evan on the Field Level–and another for Hailey and her father upstairs. Each spot was probably going to be good for at least one ball. We just had to GET THERE before anyone else, and thanks to Joe’s generosity (plus the fact that we were first on line), we did.
When Shea opened at 4:40pm, I quickly took Evan to the place he needed to be, then hurried upstairs with Hailey and Mark and got them situated. Here they all are:
Hailey told me she didn’t know any of the players’ names, and I told her it didn’t matter–that because she was young AND was basically the only girl in the stadium with a glove, all she had to do was be loud and polite and begin each request by saying “Excuse me.”
When the Mets finally finished stretching and began throwing, I ran back downstairs to help Evan. We looked closely at every ball that was in use, trying to spot the commemorative logos, so we’d know who to ask. I helped Evan identify all the players and coaches, and when Guy Conti strolled by (with a jacket covering his uniform number), I called him by name and asked for a ball. Evan and I both knew he had a couple balls in his back pocket, but we weren’t sure if they were commemorative. Conti pulled one out and tossed it to someone else, then took out the second ball and tossed it to Evan. It was commemorative!!! Perfect logo. No smudges. No scuffs. It was even rubbed up with mud (like this). We were both SO relieved, and we waved to Hailey and Mark and exchanged a thumbs-up.
As for Hailey…
She got Dave Racaniello, the Mets’ bullpen catcher, to toss her a ball, and as it sailed through the air, I was praying that she wouldn’t drop it. What did she do? She reached out and made a backhand catch like it was nothing. (She told me later that she plays baseball and softball.) Unfortunately, her ball wasn’t commemorative, but it almost didn’t matter. Everyone had pretty much accomplished their goals within the first 20 minutes–everyone but me, that is. I still hadn’t snagged anything.
I headed out to the left field foul line for a bit, but it was deader than dead so I headed back to the right field side and checked in with Hailey and Mark in the Loge. While I was up there, she got Aaron Heilman (who normally ignores EVERYone) to toss her a ball, and once again she made the catch look easy. I took her picture, then ran downstairs to check on Evan, and while I was there, I saw him catch a ball tossed by Jose Reyes! He and Hailey each had two baseballs. Not bad…
…and oh-by-the-way, I nearly forgot to mention that the ball Hailey got from Heilman was commemorative.
The left field bleachers (which you can see directly over Hailey’s glove in the photo above) opened 15 minutes early, so we all had to hurry out there. This was one of those rare days when bleacher tickets were being sold individually, and apparently everyone else wanted to be there too. Remember how empty the bleachers were two days earlier? Check out how crowded it was this time:
Shea Stadium had been open for nearly an hour, and I still hadn’t snagged a single ball. I was starting to get nervous, but thankfully, right at the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled all the way out to the wall in left-center and I was able to reel it in with my glove trick. Before I could lower my glove over the ball, I had to swing it out and knock it closer. Evan took a few photos with his camera, and since he hadn’t packed the cable that connects the camera to his laptop, I took a photo of his photo. Naturally the quality is bad, but whatever. You can still tell what’s going on. Here it is:
By the time I snagged the ball, the Astros had taken the field and Reggie Abercrombie was standing nearby and watching me. He didn’t say much after I got the ball, but I suspect he was impressed. Evan managed to snag TWO more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was a ground-rule double that he had to reach over the railing to catch, and the second actually hit my left shoe. An Astros player had tossed it into the bleachers. It landed several rows back, got bobbled by some fans (shocker!), and quickly trickled down the steps to where we were standing in the aisle, which was so crowded that I literally wasn’t able to bend down to grab it. The ball hit my shoe and deflected right toward Evan who snatched it with one clean lunge.
Hailey and Mark were positioned in the front row in left-center, and if the Astros weren’t so stingy, it would’ve been a great spot to get another ball or two. But nothing was tossed their way. I was able to use the glove trick once more to snag another ball off the warning track, and that was it for BP. Evan had four balls, while Hailey and I each had two. Mark hadn’t snagged any, but I don’t think he cared. He just wanted to see us all in action, and of course he was happy that his kids had done well.
One of the highlights of my day occurred between BP and the game, while Evan and Hailey were with me. I’d been getting recognized by fans throughout the day, and one of them (a kid named Jordan) asked me to sign his copy of the Mets Magazine.
“Where do you want me to sign it?” I asked.
“Wherever,” he said and suggested that I sign David Wright’s photo on the cover.
It was an honor to get to write my name there, so after I did it, I took a photo…and here it is on the right. If you look closely, you can see that I wrote my up-to-the-minute ball total. That’s how I do all my snagging-related signatures. Whenever I sign copies of Watching Baseball Smarter, I write the date after my name. I always thought it was cool when major leaguers (or any celebrities) had variations in their signatures–no doubt because my mom runs the autograph department of the family book store–so I decided long ago that whenever someone asked for my autograph, I’d change it up every now and then.
From a Mets fan’s perspective, the game was great–the Mets won, 9-1, Mike Pelfrey pitched his second straight complete game, Carlos Delgado hit two three-run homers, and Jose Reyes had three hits including his major league-leading 15th triple–but from a ball-snagging perspective, it was lousy. For each of the first three innings, I snuck Hailey down to the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, then brought her back to Mark at our assigned seats on the left field side…then did the same with Evan at the Astros’ dugout. The goal was to snag a third-out ball as the players came off the field each half-inning, but there were a million little kids in the first few rows behind the Mets’ dugout, and as for the Astros…Lance Berkman kept ending up with the balls and tossing them deep (and unpredictably) into the crowd. We came up empty but still had fun sneaking around and playing our own little game-within-the-game.
After the third inning, I helped Hailey and Mark sneak back into the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, and I took Evan up to the Loge to go for foul balls. Again, we had fun running around, but came up empty. There was nothing I could do about that. I can guarantee BP balls, but the game itself is a whole nother story.
During the last half-inning, all four of us went down to the seats behind home plate, hoping for at least one ball from umpire Chad Fairchild as he walked off the field. But no. As soon as the final out was recorded, he marched through the tunnel and never looked up at us.
Oh well. The day was still a success.
Hailey didn’t actually keep my baseballs. She was content with the two she’d snagged on her own, so she just borrowed mine for this photo.
? 2 balls at this game
? 348 balls in 49 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.
? 545 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 332 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 11 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,625 total balls
? 1 more photo for you (taken just before we headed out of the stadium)…