The Dodgers were in town, Manny Ramirez was back from his 50-game suspension, and the sun was actually shining. Citi Field, as I expected, ended up being unbearably crowded, but for the first 20 minutes after the gates opened, I had some room to maneuver, and I made the most of it.
My first ball of the day should have come from Mike Pelfrey. Within the first minute after I reached the left field seats, I got him to throw one to me–but he chucked it 10 feet over my head. The stands were still totally empty at that point, so I wasn’t too concerned about his horrible aim until I turned around and saw another fan who just happened to be walking down the steps at that very moment. This other guy didn’t have a glove and of course he ended up with the ball.
That hurt. But then things got better.
A right-handed batter on the Mets (no idea who) launched a high fly ball in my direction, and as it sailed over the wall, I drifted a few feet to my left and caught it easily on the fly. The ball had last year’s Shea Stadium commemorative logo. Check it out:
The logo, as you can see above, was smudged, but that didn’t bother me. I’d snagged a bunch of these balls last season and had plenty (like this one) that were game-used and in “perfect” condition.
Two minutes later, I caught another home run that (I think) was hit by Nick Evans. It was a line drive that hooked 15 feet to my right. I bolted through an empty row and made the back-handed catch and then noticed that the ball had a pristine Shea logo.
A few minutes after that, two home runs landed in the seats, prompting an all-out scramble among the fans. I lost out on the first ball to an older man, but grabbed the second ball under a seat just before the nearest guy could get his hands on it.
That was the end of the first round of BP. There were a bunch of lefties due to hit in the second round, and I noticed that there was a ball sitting on the warning track in right-center field…
…so I ran over there and stood above it and decided to wait until a player came to retrieve it. The section began filling up a bit during the next few minutes, but I figured I still had a great shot at getting it. Under normal circumstances, I would have simply snagged it with my glove trick, but Citi Field is not normal. Security is incredibly strict, and as soon as I had entered the stadium, I had been warned/threatened not to use the trick by a guard who recognized me (but obviously didn’t know about my charitable efforts).
Sean Green was the player closest to me:
He’s usually nice about tossing balls to fans, so I was still liking my chances.
Now…I should mention that my friend Andrew Gonsalves was at this game. Andrew and I met a few years ago at my writing group, and just this past winter, he and I spent many many hours together, designing the program that now accepts pledges for the charity.
Three more things you should know about Andrew:
1) This was his first game of the season.
2) He lived in L.A. for a while and loves the Dodgers.
3) He had never snagged a baseball, nor had he even tried.
He hadn’t planned on trying to snag anything at this game. He just wanted to watch his favorite team and see me in action, but once he saw how many balls Livan Hernandez was tossing into the crowd, he decided to give it a shot. I took a photo of him from where I was standing…
…and then he took a photo of me:
Green eventually came over and tossed me the ball, and then less than a minute later, Andrew got one from Livan:
Andrew even snagged a second ball after that and handed it to the woman standing next to him.
When I headed back to the left field seats, I saw a ball sitting on the batter’s eye, just to the side of the Home Run Apple:
It would’ve been SO easy to snag it with my glove trick, but I was too scared to go for it. If I’d gotten caught, I might have been ejected or had my glove confiscated. (I was ejected four times from Shea Stadium for committing horrible crimes such as catching too many baseballs and not sitting in my assigned seat, and I did once have my glove confiscated at Yankee Stadium, although I was able to get it back soon after.)
Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I made a nice catch on a Gary Sheffield homer. It was a high fly ball that was carrying a bit over my head and 10 feet to my right. While the ball was in mid-air, I took my eye off it and climbed back over a row of seats, then picked up the ball as it continued its descent. At the last second, as I reached up to catch it, I was clobbered from behind by a man who of course was not wearing a glove. Not only did I manage to hang onto the ball, but when my hat went flying, I swooped it up before it hit the ground and put it right back on my head in one motion. The man congratulated me and apologized. I noticed that he was wearing a media credential. How dare he compete with (and crash into) fans?
Dodgers BP was a nightmare. I couldn’t even get into the front row to try to get players to toss balls to me. Look how crowded it was:
You know why it’s so crowded? Because Fred Wilpon, the owner of the Mets, thinks it’s a good idea to keep fans out of the seats behind the dugouts during batting practice. (Imagine all the horrible things that would happen if fathers and sons were to loiter there and try to collect autographs. God forbid!) Therefore, all the fans are forced to stand along the foul lines and in the outfield. It’s awful. Shame on the Mets. I refuse to root for a team that treats its fans this way. Go Royals!
Somehow, against all odds, I managed to catch two more home runs on the fly during a 10-second span at the end of BP. They might have been hit on back-to-back pitches. I have no idea, but I remember that I was still holding the first ball in my bare hand when I caught the second ball in my glove. Both balls came within five feet of where I’d been standing, but when the seats are packed, five feet feels like a mile. That said, I judged both balls perfectly. I mean…before the balls even reached their apex, I was carefully weaving in and out of people toward the EXACT spot where they ended up landing, and then I had to reach above all the other gloves (a few of which were bumping into mine) to actually catch them. After I caught the second of these two homers, everyone with a glove crowded around me, as if moving closer was somehow going to increase their chances. One word: duh.
It ended up not making a difference. There wasn’t much else that landed in the seats after that, so I took off for the dugout.
I got some equipment guy to toss me my eighth ball of the day after all the players had disappeared into the clubhouse.
Then Donald Trump made an appearance and started signing balls:
Andrew got him:
(I think the signature says “Duuuuuuy” which of course would be pronounced “DOYYY!!!”)
I could have easily gotten an autograph, but there was no way I was going to allow Donald T. Rump to deface one of my precious baseballs. That just wasn’t going to happen. (How would he like it if I wrote my name on one of his buildings? Yeah.)
Right before the game started, I got Casey Blake to toss me his warm-up ball at the dugout, and then two minutes later, I got another (my 10th of the day!) from Mark Loretta. That one was marked by the Dodgers on the sweet spot:
I later wrote the “4118” because this was the 4,118th ball I’d ever snagged. (If you want to see my entire collection of marked balls, click here.)
I headed out to left field for Manny’s first at-bat, and there was really no point in being there. There simply weren’t ANY empty seats, not at least in the section I had chosen, so I headed back to the Dodgers’ dugout with Andrew, and we stayed there for the rest of the night.
Here’s Oliver Perez (fresh off the DL) pitching to Manny several innings later:
You can see the ball in the photo above, but it doesn’t look like a ball. My camera’s shutter speed isn’t all that great, so the ball looks like a streak. It’s on the grass just below the white ESPN sign…just barely above and to the right of first base.
I was hoping to get a third-out ball tossed to me, but there was some serious competition:
I’m talking about the kids who were sitting near the bottom of the staircase, ready to race to the front row as soon as the third out was recorded.
As for my claim about left field being packed, here’s proof:
There aren’t any cross-aisles on the field level at Citi Field, so once the seats fill up, the only way to catch a batted ball is to pick a staircase and pray. Sorry, but even with two members of the 500 Home Run Club (Sheffield was the other) in the starting lineups, I wasn’t going to waste my time in the outfield. And hey, my decision to stay close to the action paid off. No, I didn’t snag a third-out ball or an infield warm-up ball or a foul ball, but for the first time in my six games at Citi Field, I grabbed a T-shirt during the T-shirt launch:
The guy sitting behind me offered me $20 for it, but his offer was only good if I left the shirt wrapped up. (He wanted to give it away to someone as a gift.) Up until that point, I had never gotten a look at one of these shirts, so as tempting as the offer was, I decided to keep the shirt and unwrap it and take my chances that it would turn out to be something cool that I’d actually be proud to wear. Here’s how that played out:
I was really hoping to snag one more ball. That would’ve given me 300 for the season–a number I’ve never reached before the All-Star break–but there weren’t any other balls to be snagged.
(Click here for Andrew’s blog entry about this game.)
• 299 balls in 34 games this season = 8.79 balls per game.
• 603 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 344 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 6 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least 9 balls
• 108 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 61 lifetime games in New New York with at least 10 balls
• 12 games this season with at least 10 balls
• $6.95 remaining on the MetroCard I found on the third base side in the top of the ninth inning
• 4,119 total balls (73 more balls needed in order for my ball total to surpass Ty Cobb’s lifetime hit total)
• 112 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.37 pledged per ball
• $243.70 raised at this game
• $7,286.63 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
By the way, in the wake of all the negative attention I’ve been getting because that silly Wall Street Journal story, it’s nice to get emails like this:
Just wanted to drop a line and let you know that we are big fans, here in Boise, ID (home of the (last place) Hawks!)
I’m sorry about the negative press in the WSJ and others, but I hope you don’t pay attention to people who don’t get what you do. You have brought a lot of fun into our family with your books and blog. My husband has only become interested in baseball after reading Watching Baseball Smarter.
Also, I gave a copy to my brother-in-law, whose claim to fame up to now has been that the only book he ever read was ‘The Outsiders’ in seventh grade. Now he can add yours to his list! Yay!
Take care and keep up the awesomeness!
p.s. I think the Watch with Zack program is so cool. I have been impressed with how respectful you are of the families and kids. I really appreciate your passion and love for the game. If we were closer I’d send my seven year-old with you in a heartbeat!