My nightmare nearly occurred in real life. I truly thought I was going
to miss batting practice. My friend Leon (who you might remember from 7/21/08 at Camden Yards)
made the trip with me, but he had to work until 12:30pm, and I had to
meet him in midtown, and I got caught in traffic, and we didn’t get
through the Lincoln Tunnel until 1:15pm, and then we hit a major delay
on the New Jersey Turnpike and heard that there was a “serious
accident” at some point up ahead that had caused all lanes to be closed. The situation
was so bad that I considered a) making a U-turn and going home (after we’d driven nearly 100 miles) or b)
veering off and going to the game in Philadelphia (even though I
wouldn’t have had the right hats or rosters). Somehow, though, the
delay eventually cleared up, and the “serious accident” was nowhere to
be found, and I was able to reach a top speed of 91mph (if only I
could’ve thrown a baseball that fast), and we reached Baltimore at
4:35pm. Camden Yards was set to open half an hour later, so I dropped
off Leon at the warehouse and he ran around the corner and held a spot
in line at the Eutaw Street gate while I parked and found a bathroom.
But then there was the issue of the weather. It was supposed to be mostly sunny, but it ended up being mostly gloomy. I was paranoid that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, so when I made it back to the stadium, I walked around to the gate/fence behind the picnic area in deeeeep center field and climbed up a few inches–and this is what I saw:
I was overjoyed. Need a closer look?
I couldn’t see the field, but I got a glimpse of the top of the batting cage, and that’s all that mattered. There WAS going to be batting practice. Hooray.
So, how was it? Let’s just say that although there were some frustrating moments (like when I first ran in and was the only fan in left field and a home run landed one section over in the totally empty seats and promptly bounced back onto the field), I ended up being so busy that I didn’t have time to take any photographs. Here’s the rundown…
BALL #1 — Home run into the seats, 10 rows back and near the foul pole. Leon probably could’ve gotten it, but knowing that every ball I snagged would be adding to a record and moving me closer to 500 for the season, he kinda took his time getting there and let me grab it. Whatta guy. (The ball, as you can see here on the right, has some beautiful splotchy/muddy marks on and around the logo.)
BALL #2 — Thrown by Orioles pitcher Garrett Olson. I later gave this one away to a kid.
BALL #3 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. (I don’t know who hit ANY of the balls. Some people have a knack for identifying players from 400 feet away who are covering their numbers with warm-up jackets. I’m not one of them.) There were a few other fans in the seats at this point. The ball sailed over my head, landed on the steps, bounced to the back of the section and then conveniently bounced right back down the steps toward me.
BALL #4 — An errant throw that got away from one of the Indians pitchers as they were all warming up along the left field foul line. The ball trickled onto the rubberized warning track in foul territory, and since the front row was basically empty and the wall there is only a few feet high, I was able to move 15 feet to my right and lean over for the easy snag.
BALL #5 — Tossed by a left-handed Indians pitcher despite the fact that I’d JUST snagged the previous ball. It was a white guy with curly hair, and he wasn’t THAT tall. It couldn’t have been Zach Jackson (who was the starter that night) or Cliff Lee (who’s easy to recognize). It wasn’t Rafael Perez (who’s definitely not white) or Rich Rundles (who’s 6-foot-5). I think it was either Scott Lewis or Jeremy Sowers. I looked at their photos when I got home, but I still couldn’t tell who it was. Waaah.
BALL #6 — Thrown by Masahide Kobayashi in foul territory after I asked him in Japanese. His translator then walked over and asked how I knew Japanese. I told him I only knew how to ask for a ball. He was amused.
BALL #7 — Snagged with the “half-glove trick” along the left field foul line. The full glove trick, of course, involves a rubber band and Sharpie; the “half” trick, as I call it, is one that requires nothing more than the string. That was the case here as the ball was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I lowered the glove, swung it out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reached over the low wall for it with my bare hand.
BALL #8 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. I was two sections over in straight-away left, and out of the 20 (or so) fans that were in the vicinity, I was the only one running for it while it was still in mid-air. Everyone else waited for it to land and THEN decided that they might run over and try to grab it. The ball bounced into the row below me, so I lunged far forward, bracing myself with my glove hand on the backs of the seats, and grabbed the ball with my bare hand, one second before the nearest guy would’ve gotten there. (The ball, pictured on the right, has a small patch on the surface that resembles wrinkled skin. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’ve seen this a few times in the past. It’s very strange, and I have no idea how it would’ve happened. Any theories?)
BALL #9 — High foul ball into the seats along the left-field foul line. It was hit by a lefty. It was his first set of swings so I figured he’d be aiming for the opposite field, and indeed he was. The ball landed a couple feet away from me as I bolted up the steps in an unsuccessful attempt to catch it. There were four other guys sitting nearby (none of whom had gloves) and the ball thankfully didn’t bounce in their direction. Of course, 10 seconds later, a righty launched a home run RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been standing had I not moved into foul territory. Ahhhh…
BALL #10 — Deep home run into the seats between straight-away left field and the foul pole. I almost got there in time to catch it on a fly. I reached out with my glove and flinched at the same time to avoid getting hit in the face by a potential ricochet. The ball happened to pop up two feet and hang in the air exactly in front of me, and I nabbed it with a swipe of my glove.
BALL #11 — Ground-rule double. It was a high fly ball hit by a lefty. As David Dellucci drifted back to make the catch, I yelled, “Let it bounce, baby!” and to my surprise (and delight), he backed off at the last second and did just that. The ball bounced high off the warning track, sailed over everyone’s heads in the half-dozen rows in front of me, and came down RIGHT where I was standing. I had to reach up extra high to prevent a gloveless man (who was running through my row from the left) from interfering.
BALL #12 — Home run. Straight-away left field. Caught on a fly. I’d been playing every batter differently. The batter before was bigger and taking more powerful swings, so I’d been standing deeper and in left-center field. THIS batter was smaller and swinging for line drives, so I moved down a few rows and headed one section closer to the foul pole. It paid off. He hit a ball that ended up coming right to me. At first it appeared to be heading to my left so I drifted over a few steps. Then, when it started to hook back, I moved back with it. A man in the front row made a lame attempt to reach up. The ball sailed two feet over his outstretched glove, and I caught it one-handed as two gloveless fans on my left made an equally lame attempt to go for it.
BALL #13 — Tossed by Ryan Garko at the Indians’ dugout right after BP.
BALL #14 — Tossed by an unknown player 30 seconds later.
Then, half an hour before the first pitch, I took the following photo to show how empty the stadium was:
Then I got some (bad) pepperoni pizza and drank a bottle of water.
Then I got Jamey Carroll’s autograph on an old Rockies-Indians ticket stub:
Then I got my 15th ball of the day thrown by Shin-Soo Choo after his pre-game throwing in front of the dugout. (I didn’t ask him for it in Korean, even though I could have. All I needed to do was shout his name.)
There’d been a rumor that Major League Baseball was going to use commemorative balls for the July 4th weekend, as well as on September 11th. The logo was supposed to look like this…
…except not in color.
Well, if there ever WAS a ball with that logo on it, it never made an appearance inside a major league stadium during the July 4th weekend, so I figured I wasn’t going to see one last night. Still, I busted my butt and stayed in motion throughout the night in an attempt to snag a game-used ball.
I played lefties for foul balls on the third base side of home plate:
I went for third-out balls behind the Indians’ dugout…
…and did the same on the Orioles’ side:
What did I get for all my trouble?
ONE lousy non-commemorative ball:
Kevin Millar tossed it to me after the top of the 3rd inning. Oh boy.
I came incredibly close to a foul ball a couple innings later, and of course I had a few bad breaks during BP. I don’t mean to complain. I still had an amazing day, but if things had been just a little better, I could’ve easily snagged 20 balls. I’ll do it there someday.
The Orioles (in case anyone cares) won, 6-3, and I got a photo with Leon (who had snagged four balls of his own) on the way out:
? 105 balls in the last two weeks
? 469 balls in 60 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 556 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 140 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 93 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 37 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 20 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,746 total balls