As a native New Yorker, I’ve been conditioned not to talk to strangers or even make eye contact with them, so when I got on the subway yesterday to go to Citi Field and heard some guy ask a question about Johan Santana, I ignored it. It was a silly question anyway: “What happened with Johan last night? He just didn’t have it?”
Of course Johan HAD it. Sure, he suffered the loss, but–
Suddenly it occurred to me that since I was wearing a Mets cap and a Shea Stadium shirt, the Johan chatter might have been directed my way, so I looked up and sure enough the guy was staring right at me.
“Really,” said the guy with enthusiastic surprise. “I didn’t get to watch the game. I only heard a little bit on the radio.”
We ended up talking for the next five minutes. He asked me if I’d been to Citi Field, and what I think of the new Yankee Stadium, and how I get to go to so many games. Each question led to another and another, so finally I just came right out and explained my whole deal with snagging baseballs.
“How ’bout you?” I asked. “What do YOU do?”
“I’m an actor,” he said.
“Oh…cool,” I replied, not knowing how to follow that up with anything insightful or intelligent. All I could think of was that he was young-ish, outgoing, good looking, and well dressed, so his answer made sense.
“I was on the Sopranos for four years,” he said.
“Seriously?! Wow, forgive me, I’m clueless when it comes to pop culture and the media and celebrities.”
“No problem,” he said.
“So…people come up to you all the time and know who you are?”
“Yeah,” he said, “especially at Mets games for some reason.”
“What’s your name?”
What did he say? Jano…what? There was another syllable at the end, but I didn’t quite catch it, and I didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of myself by asking him to spell it, so I just said I’d look him up later. I asked if he had any projects currently in the works, and he named a couple movies including “Taking Woodstock.”
I gave him my card, and we shook hands and parted ways when the train pulled into Times Square.
I have since looked him up, and his name is Will Janowitz. Has anyone heard of him? Here’s his page on IMDb.
My trek to Queens on the #7 train was less eventful. I sat in the last car, ate two slices of pizza, and wrote a page in my neglected journal. Then, after getting out at the Mets/Willets Point stop, I headed downstairs and walked over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
Who was there? Three important people:
1) My friend Greg (aka “gregb123”) in the comments section.
2) My friend Donnie (aka “donnieanks”).
3) A 60-ish-year-old man named David Ross (not to be confused with the 31-year-old David Ross who plays for the Braves) who’s an editor for an “online rich media magazine” called FLYP.
David was there to interview me (with a very small HD video camera), and he got started right away. I handed my camera to Greg and asked him to take a few photos of me. He took four, and I look ridiculous in all of them, only because I was either blinking or in mid-syllable. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself). Here’s the least bad of the four photos:
See what I mean? Ridiculous. But at least it gives you an idea of what was going on.
I raced out to the left field seats when the gates opened at 4:40pm, and Gary Sheffield greeted me by scorching a line-drive homer to left-center. I was the only one out there (Greg and Donnie had positioned themselves closer to the foul pole), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I just prayed that it wouldn’t ricochet back onto the field. Thankfully, the ball stayed in the seats and rolled down into the front row. I pulled out my camera, looked over my shoulder, and saw Donnie give me a nod as if to say, “Go ahead and take your damn photo. I’m not gonna run over there and steal the ball from you.”
Here’s the photo:
Is that a nice sight or what?
By the way, that ball had last year’s Yankee Stadium commemorative logo on it. Pretty nifty. And random. Obviously there are a bunch of extras floating around.
A minute later, with David’s camera pointed at me, I caught a homer on the fly and robbed the 6-foot-5 Donnie in the process. Donnie was cool with it. I hadn’t boxed him out or slammed into him. It was a clean play all the way. As soon as the ball was hit, I stepped down into the row in front of him, then drifted laterally as the ball approached, and made a leap at the last second. If it had been a couple feet higher, or if he’d run down into the row in front of me, he would’ve had it. That’s how we do it in New York City. If you can catch a batted ball, you go for it. Period. You don’t back off (as the uber-polite guys at Coors Field do) just because someone else is camped under it. In New York, there’s ALWAYS someone else camped under it. It’s a real competition, not a family softball game. That’s what makes it fun, and of course Donnie was a true gentleman about it.
You know who wasn’t a gentleman? A security guard out in center field who stopped me from using the glove trick to reel in the following ball:
I flung the glove out and knocked it closer, and after I’d moved the ball to a spot right below me, he started shouting and then walked out onto the batter’s eye and snatched it. Not cool. I could understand if security wanted to stop me from pulling up a ball off the warning track, but in the dead area behind the outfield wall? Really?! Good job, Mets. Way to train your employees. Tell them to focus on stealing balls from fans (and money from charity) instead of making sure that there aren’t razor blades out in the open in the seating areas. Yeah, that’s right, I found one sitting on the steps in left-center. Unbelievable. Welcome to Citi Field, everybody. Come see the Mets and die.
My third ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez, and it tailed a foot or two to my left. After I reached out and caught it, I realized that it had been intended for the woman standing next to me, so I handed it to her…and yes, it counts as part of my collection. Both Greg and Donnie said it was fair to count it, as did my friend Brad who’s the ultimate voice of reason when it comes to ballhawk-related issues. If Livan had pointed to the woman before throwing the ball, I would’ve stepped aside and let her catch it, but since it wasn’t obvious when he first let it fly (from a distance of about 75 feet), I decided to go for it.
That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP, and I didn’t get anything during the first 20 minutes that the Braves were on the field. Slow day. I was nervous. I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 3,989 balls, and I was planning to snag No. 4,000 in Los Angeles six days later. In fact, by this point, it wasn’t merely a plan–it was a promise. I’d already spoken to someone with the Dodgers and guaranteed that I would snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. This game at Citi Field was going to be my last before flying to the west coast, so I *needed* to snag at least a few more balls. Ideally, I wanted to snag about seven or eight. That would’ve left me three or four balls short of the milestone–just the right amount to create a little suspense but not so short that I’d be nervous about failing to reach it. Even if I only snagged six balls at this game, I felt like I could still probably find a way to snag five at Dodger Stadium, but I didn’t want to take that chance…so yeah, I needed four or five MORE balls in addition to the three I’d already snagged from the Mets.
Tim Hudson flipped one up without looking. I was in the crowded front row, and as soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was going to sail over my head, so I started climbing over the seats, and when the it plunked down (thankfully there was no one behind me), I was right in position to grab it. Phew! That was ball No. 4.
This is how crowded the seats were at that point:
As you can see, it was packed near the foul pole, but there was some room to run in left-center. Of course, there’s a reason for all that room, namely the distance (well over 400 feet) that a batter would have had to hit the ball to clear the 16-foot wall to the right of the “384”
Toward the end of BP, Jeff Francoeur launched a deep drive to my left. I darted across an entire section before anyone else even budged, and I was able to grab that ball off the ground. Hell yes. I was approaching my recommended daily allowance of balls…and then I reached it. Martin Prado tossed me ball No. 6 (I later gave that one away to a kid) and I felt relieved. I was almost certain that I’d find a way to snag at least one more ball, but even if I didn’t, at least I was only five away from the Promised Land.
That was it for BP.
David interviewed me for a bit before the game, and then we moved to our very good seats (courtesy of FLYP) behind the Braves’ dugout.
First inning? Nothing.
Second inning? Dead.
Third inning? Nada.
But in the middle of the fourth inning, I got Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard to toss me the infield warm-up ball.
Sweeeeeet! That was my seventh ball of the day. I was SET. As far as No. 4,000 was concerned, I didn’t need to snag anything else, but of course I kept at it because a) I can’t be at a baseball game and NOT try to use my glove, and b) I still wanted to raise money for Pitch In For Baseball.
The fifth inning came to an end when Mike Pelfrey hit a weak grounder up the middle. Yunel Escobar fielded it, stepped on second base to force out Omir Santos, and threw me the ball as he approached the dugout. It was a thing of beauty (and not just because it was commemorative). Escobar was a full section to my left, but he spotted my Braves gear and tossed the ball JUST high enough to clear the reaching hands of the fans next to me. If they had even a three-inch vertical leap, I would’ve been out of luck. (Not that I’m an Olympian or anything, but I’m always amazed at how unathletic people are.) Anyway, in case you’ve lost count, that was my 8th ball of the day. Now, just three balls away from 4,000, I was really *really* set.
Although this might be hard to believe, the highlight of the game was NOT Carlos Beltran’s extra-inning walk-off walk. No sir. The highlight (and I forget the exact moment at which it occurred) was when a fan ran out onto the field wearing nothing more than a Mets rally monkey. Seriously…he was naked except for…the monkey. The guy ran out into the infield, made a rather graceful foot-first slide into second base (ouch), and was apprehended by security soon after:
The photo above was taken by Donnie (my camera…don’t ask) and it’s not even the best photo he got. If you want to see the real zinger, you’ll have to check out his blog entry about this game. So funny! On Donnie’s blog, you can actually read what’s written on the guys’ stomach.
The game itself was truly exciting. For most of the last two innings, everyone in the stadium was standing, and in the following photo, you can see Fernando Tatis getting plunked by Mike Gonzalez:
After the game (which the Mets won, 4-3), I couldn’t resist trying to get a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher…and I succeeded.
I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?)
As for the FLYP interview, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but hopefully I’ll have an update within the next week or two.
• 178 balls in 22 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.
• 591 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 473 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 343 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 3,998 total balls
• 104 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $20.70 pledged per ball
• $186.30 raised at this game
• $3,684.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball