I knew this was going to be a good day. Not only had accuweather.com reported that there was a ZERO percent chance of rain, but 15 minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was the crowd waiting to enter:
I’d never seen so few people waiting outside Citizens Bank Park, and even though there were dozens of fans lined up behind me by the time the stadium did open, batting practice was still emptier than usual.
Throughout this season, the Phillies have been starting BP several minutes after the gates open. It’s awful. I’ve always been the first fan to run inside, and every time I’ve reached the seats, there’s never been any action on the field. Well…on this fine day, perhaps because of all the September call-ups who needed to take their cuts, BP was already underway when I ran in, and the batter immediately launched a ball over my head into the seats. There was one other man already sitting in the middle of the section–a very old man who clearly worked at the stadium–and after I found the ball, Shane Victorino started yelling at me and insisting that I give it to him.
“I give balls to KIDS!!!” I shouted at him, to which he yelled, “Suuuure!!!”
Of course Shane Victorino would know whether or not I give balls away because, after all, he spends every second of every game following me around the stadium. What a punk. Maybe if he focused more on the field instead of the stands, he wouldn’t be playing for a second-place team.
Thirty seconds after I snagged that first ball, another home run flew over my head, landed several rows behind me, popped up into the air, and bounced back over me toward the empty-ish seats below. It was like an instant-replay of that ball on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium that led to my rib injury. This time, however, I couldn’t make an attempt to catch it. It still hurt when I ran, hurt when I reached, and would’ve killed if I’d jumped, so I stood there and watched helplessly as the ball plunked down two rows away. Amazingly, the few fans IN that row took their time getting there, so I carefully climbed over the first row and reached under the second and grabbed the ball (pictured on the right) with half a second to spare.
Then things went dead.
There was an entire 15-minute round of BP with left-handed hitters–Jimmy Rollins, Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard–who didn’t hit a single ball into the left or center field seats. (Remember that at Citizens Bank Park, you’re trapped in left and center for the first hour.) I’d gotten off to such a good start, and now it was being wasted on a day when the seats were still deliciously empty:
Halfway through the Phillies’ portion of BP (with Victorino still jawing at me), I drifted 20 feet to my right and caught a Jayson Werth home run on a fly. Then things slowed way down once again. I wanted to have a big day, but I wasn’t snagging balls in bunches. I did get lucky, though, right before the Phillies left the field. First I caught another home run on which
the fans in front of me ducked, and then I caught a ball thrown by Kyle Kendrick that I totally didn’t deserve. He was aiming for a kid in the front row, but he didn’t put enough muscle into it. The ball fell a few feet short, landed ON the railing in front of the flower bed, bounced directly over the kid’s head, and sailed into my glove. I immediately walked down the steps and offered him the ball, but he wouldn’t take it. A woman sitting nearby asked me why. I explained that the kid preferred to try to catch a ball on his own rather than have one handed to him by someone else. She didn’t get it. Anyway, it’s a good thing (for me) that the kid didn’t want that ball because it was commemorative.
When the Marlins took the field and Logan Kensing started playing catch near the foul pole, he had a few extra balls with him and after a few minutes I got him to toss one to me. Five minutes later, I moved about 50 feet closer to home plate and got Andrew Miller to throw me another–my seventh ball of the day–when he finished warming up.
Normally, when the rest of the stadium opens, I head out to right field but because the Marlins had so many right-handed hitters, I decided to stay in left.
My eighth ball was a home run that landed near me, hit an empty seat, and bounced straight up in the air as fans converged from all sides. It seemed like they were all waiting for it to drop back down before they made their move. I, however, lunged and snatched it with my bare hand while it was still on the way up.
“Nice grab!” shouted a guy who apparently didn’t mind that he’d just been outsnagged.
A little while later, Paul Lo Duca threw a ball *AT* a fan who was taking his heckling a few steps too far. Lo Duca didn’t throw it THAT hard, however, and I don’t think he really meant to hit the guy because the ball smacked a seat five feet away from him and happened to roll right to me through a row of mostly empty seats. As soon as I picked it up, I handed it to the nearest kid and quickly got a chance to reach double digits. There was a deep fly ball hit in my direction which I happened to judge perfectly. (It doesn’t always work out that way.) I put my head down, ran up a few steps, looked back up and spotted the ball and then darted five feet to my right. As I reached out and made the one-handed catch, I got clothes-lined by a fan in the row behind me. I wasn’t mad because I realized it was an accident. He had a glove too and I assumed he’d just been reaching for the ball, albeit recklessly.
A bit earlier, someone had successfully reached in front of ME for a ball. It happens. It’s a competition. You win some. You lose some. And usually people are good-natured about it.
Toward the end of BP, I happened to reach in front of a guy’s face to catch yet another home run ball on a fly (pictured on the right with a faint “TPX” imprint), and guess what? He was thrilled. Why? Because he hadn’t seen the ball coming. He actually thanked me for saving his life. Unfortunately, several men sitting behind us didn’t see it that way. First they accused me of stealing the ball from him, and then one of them started cursing at me for having changed into Marlins gear. I tried to explain that he had misinterpreted the situation, and that’s when things got really nasty. The guy who’d been cursing then threatened me (“Don’t make me come over there,” etc.) and ended up reporting me to security, claiming that I had crashed into another fan and stolen a ball. I didn’t know this until a guard came over and told me that a “formal complaint” had been filed against me. He then asked to see my ticket, and he pretty much demanded that I apologize to everyone involved. Needless to say, my ticket never left my backpack and the word “sorry” never left my mouth. But do you know what DID happen? While all of this garbage was taking place, I snagged ANOTHER home run ball!!! Oh my God, it was beautiful. It landed several rows behind me and took a perfect bounce in my direction. So easy. It was my 12th ball of the day, and the rude fan was NOT happy after that (even though, as far as he knew, I only had two or three balls). He actually had the nerve to follow me out of the section as I made my way toward the dugout. Gimme a break.
With all due respect to the many people in Philadelphia who I’m sure are wonderful human beings, I have to say (and not just because of this incident) that Phillies fans are the second worst in baseball–a very distant second behind Yankees fans and only slightly worse than Dodgers fans.
Hanley Ramirez tossed me my 13th ball of the day at the 3rd base dugout after finishing his pre-game throwing.
Ryan Howard threw me my 14th ball as he jogged off the field in the middle of the fourth inning. I was sitting behind the Phillies’ dugout, solely for the purpose of snagging a third-out ball, and Mark Hendrickson helped my cause by making contact on a 1-2 pitch from Joe Blanton and grounding out to Chase Utley to end the frame. There were a million little kids running down to the front row after every inning, and on this occasion, Howard lobbed the ball right to me over all of their heads, so I didn’t feel guilty. (I do, at times, feel a bit old and out-of-place when playing the dugouts, so when I do it, I take extra care to be respectful to those sitting around me. Ask Shane Victorino.)
Although the Marlins never held the lead and only tied the score once early on, it was still a good game with lots of drama. The Phillies took an 8-6 lead into the top of the ninth, and I headed back to the seats behind their dugout (after having wandered for much of the night). Brad Lidge allowed a double and a single to put runners on the corners with one out, but he then struck out the next two batters–Wes Helms and Jorge Cantu–on six pitches to notch his 35th save.
As soon as the final out was recorded, someone on the Phillies unexpectedly flipped a ball onto the dugout roof from down below. I was already in the front row at that point, so I gloved it before anyone around me even knew what had happened, and then, about 45 seconds later, I got Lidge to toss me the game-ending ball on his way in.
Here I come…
? 16 balls at this game (new personal record at Citizens Bank Park, beating my old record of 14 which I set the day CBS was with me)
? 442 balls in 58 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
? 165 balls in 16 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 10.3 balls per game.
? 554 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 139 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 91 lifetime games with at least 10
? 36 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 18 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,719 total balls