Evan (age 16) and Hailey (four years younger) had each snagged a commemorative ball at Shea. Now they were hoping to accomplish the same thing at a sold-out Yankees-Red Sox game.
As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, the bleachers at Yankee Stadium are a) awesome for snagging baseballs during batting practice and b) completely separated from the rest of the ballpark. You can’t enter the bleachers without a bleacher ticket, and once you’re there, you can’t leave.
That said, Evan and I had two tickets apiece–one for the bleachers and another for the main part of the stadium, where we were planning to meet Mark and Hailey after BP. Well before the gates had opened, I gave Mark detailed instructions on how to reach the corner spot in the right field grandstand as quickly as possible. That whole area was going to be insanely crowded; it was essential that he and Hailey get there first and hold their ground.
Evan and I were first in line at the bleacher entrance. When we finally got to run inside, not only did we have the whole place to ourselves for 30 seconds, but we had a great view of Mark and Hailey running in and claiming the corner spot.
Evan claimed a spot against the railing in right-center field, so I gave him some space and positioned myself one section closer to the foul pole. That’s when I got the first ball of the day–I’m not saying “my” first ball because it was literally THE first ball that entered the stands. It was thrown by Jose Veras. I had asked him in Spanish. He put some serious velocity on it. I had to jump two inches to make the catch, and when I opened my glove and noticed that the ball was commemorative I felt a bit guilty. That feeling, however, half-disappeared a few minutes later when Veras tossed another commemorative ball to Hailey.
I used my glove trick to snag my second ball from the gap between the outfield wall and the bleachers. It was a home run by Derek Jeter that landed there, and as soon as I reeled it in, all my guilt returned. Evan (for some reason) hadn’t brought the materials for HIS glove trick, and I realized I could have let him snag that ball with mine. I wasn’t too concerned, though, because it was still early, but I grew increasingly anxious as the remaining minutes of the Yankees’ portion of BP ticked away. Would the Red Sox be using commemorative balls that belonged to the Evil Empire? Doubtful.
Did Hailey feel guilty when she snagged a second commemorative ball? Equally doubtful. It had fallen short after being thrown to her by a Yankee, landed in the gap between the bleachers and the grandstand, and gotten tossed up by a police officer who retrieved it.
With 20 minutes remaining before the Sox were going to take the field, I got extremely lucky and snagged my third ball of the day. Brian Bruney had tossed it to a woman in the front row who somehow managed to drop it and let it trickle behind her into the aisle where I was standing. No one else even saw the ball. Even the woman herself hadn’t seen it roll behind her, so no one else was reaching for it. It was the easiest and most undeserved ball ever, and of course it was commemorative. The woman, whom I’d met several weeks earlier (and who was very friendly), immediately turned around and asked for it. She said it had been thrown to her, and everyone else agreed. What did I do next? I asked Evan if he wanted it, and when he said “no” (because he hadn’t snagged it himself), I handed it to the woman. I hardly ever give away commemorative balls (because it gives me a sinking feeling in my gut), but in this case it was clearly the right thing to do.
The Yankees were beginning their final round of BP, and Evan still didn’t have a commemorative ball. He’d come extremely close to snagging an A-Rod homer (and later came close to two other balls), but got a dreadfully unlucky bounce and had to watch it ricochet all the way back onto the field. I felt responsible and awful. The bleachers were more crowded than ever because of the Red Sox, and for some reason there just weren’t any other balls dropping into the gap…but then, by some miracle, with five minutes remaining in the Yankees’ portion of BP, a ball fell short of the wall in right-center and landed there. Ohmygod. This was our chance, and yet we didn’t know if the ball was even commemorative because it was lying logo-side-down. Meanwhile, Evan told me he’d practiced using his glove trick at home but had never tried using it at a game…so I stretched my rubber band over my glove, then propped it open with a blue Sharpie, and handed it to him. I held the end of the string in case he lost his grip, but he had it under control and I talked him through it. He didn’t realize he had to aim for the ball with the tip of the glove, and it was hard for him to even see the ball because of a hanging net that’s two feet out from the wall. He finally managed to get the ball to stick inside the glove, but because I hadn’t put the rubber band on tight enough, the ball slipped out after he’d raised the glove one foot. The good news is that no one else had a ball-retrieving device. The better news is that security didn’t notice us. And the best news was that the ball had rolled onto its side, and we could see the edge of a commemorative logo.
I yanked the glove back up, tightened the rubber band, and handed it back to Evan. Then I reached down as far as I could and grabbed the netting and pulled it back so he could get a better view of the ball. (I realize this might be hard to visualize.) The entire operation took a minute after that. I was shouting instructions and encouragement (for example “jiggle the glove a little bit so the ball goes inside!”) and eventually he got it. I was afraid someone else would reach over the railing and snatch the ball away from him as he was raising the glove, but no one did, and he HAD it. The ball was nearly brand new. The logo was perfect.
He hurried over to the foul-pole end of the bleachers and called out to his father and sister to show them the ball. I followed close behind and took the following photograph as he was holding it up:
Did you notice Mark and Hailey’s reaction? If you look closely (and please forgive the lousy image quality), you can see that he’s yelling/cheering and she’s giving a thumbs-up:
After the Red Sox took the field, Evan didn’t snag any other balls, and I only managed to get one more. It was a home run to right-center by David Ortiz. I was standing at the railing. The ball landed half a dozen rows back and got bobbled into the tunnel, prompting a wave of fans to race after it. I happened to break through to the front of the pack, and I reached down and scooped the ball into my glove while on the run.
After BP, I took a photo of Evan leaning over the gap with his ball, and then I caught up with Hailey in the concourse and took a photo of her with the three–yes, THREE–balls she’d snagged.
Her final ball was tossed by Justin Masterson, and she told me that all the fans around her were complaining that she’d gotten so many. (Too bad, people. Learn to show up earlier.)
During the game, as you might imagine, security was extremely tight and the crowd was enormous. There weren’t any empty seats to be had until the sixth inning, when the hometown crowd realized that the Yankees weren’t going to overcome a 7-3 deficit.
Mark stayed in his seat for most of the game while I ran around with Evan and Hailey. In the four-part photo below (starting on the top left and going clockwise), we were a) waiting for home run balls in the tunnel in right field, b) camping out in left field when A-Rod came up with a chance to hit a game-tying grand slam, c) checking out shirts in the team store, and d) enjoying a better view late in the game.
Evan and I were able to get some ticket stubs from people as they were leaving the game–tickets for the seats behind the dugouts. He got one on the Yankees’ side, which he gave to me. I got two on Boston’s side, which I gave to him and Hailey.
Two minutes after Jonathan Papelbon recorded the final out for his 34th save, I got Damaso Marte to throw me a commemorative ball on his way in from the bullpen. Evan and Hailey, I learned five minutes later, unfortunately didn’t get anything.
Final score: Red Sox 7, Zack 5, Hailey 3, Yankees 3, Evan 1.
Just before we were all about to get kicked out of the stadium by security (you’re not allowed to linger after the game at Yankee Stadium like you can everywhere else), Evan and Hailey and I all started pulling out our baseballs for a group photo.
What happened next was distressing: Evan couldn’t find his ball.
We all emptied our bags and pockets, and his ball was literally NOWHERE to be found. We started looking under the seats, and within two minutes, the nearest security guard was demanding that we head for the exit. (He suggested that we check the lost-and-found. Thanks, genius.) We couldn’t figure out what had happened…but it was official. Evan had lost the ball. I’m amazed that he took it as well as he did. If it were me, I would’ve screamed and cried and cursed and carried on like a baby. Evan, as disappointed as he was, realized that there wasn’t anything he could do about it and stayed calm. I offered him one of my commemorative balls, and he wouldn’t take it until I insisted about four times. I still had three commemorative balls at that point and gave him a choice of two: the ball from Veras or the ball from Marte, which he ultimately selected after inspecting both logos for quite some time. We were in the concourse, and since security wasn’t yet hassling us about vacating THAT spot, we decided to turn the “hand-over” into an official ceremony. Here’s the silly photographic documentation:
(You know you like my farmer’s tan.) I think I might have successfully convinced him that owning an actual “Zack Hample baseball” was nearly as cool as owning one that he’d snagged on his own…and then we all headed for the subway.
In case you were wondering, the reason why I didn’t give him a choice of all three commemorative balls was that one of them had a special marking that I wanted to take home and photograph (and keep). It was the Derek Jeter home run ball, which had a faint imprint of the MLB logo from another ball. Check it out:
My theory is that another ball was pressing hard against this one in the BP bucket or basket…or even in a ball bag…and that the logo was slightly imprinted onto this one.
Here’s a photo of the imprinted ball next to another ball, which will hopefully illustrate my point:
And finally, here’s one more photo which I took earlier in the day when Tim Wakefield was warming up in the bullpen. It’s just a cool shot that should be shared for all to see:
? 5 balls at this game
? 353 balls in 50 games this season = 7.06 balls per game.
? 546 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 122 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 12 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,630 total balls