This was no ordinary game. It was a Watch With Zack game with a 15-year-old kid named Mateo. He and I met on the Upper West Side at around 3:30pm, rode the subway together, and talked baseball/life for the entire 45-minute trip to Citi Field. Here we are outside the stadium, waiting to enter the Jackie Robinson Rotunda:
Mateo had snagged a total of five baseballs in his life, including a batting practice homer that he caught on the fly, so although he was inexperienced as a ballhawk, it was clear that he had some skills. It turned out that his main problem — the main thing that was preventing him from putting up big numbers — was his hesitance to call out to the players. Therefore, after I got a quick ball from Henry Blanco in left-center field, I turned all my attention toward him.
Several lefties started hitting, so we ran over to the seats in deep right-center. I set Mateo up in the corner spot next to the bullpens. Here he is from behind:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a long, narrow sign on the facade of the upper deck on the 3rd base side that says, “NOW BATTING – #5 DAVID WRIGHT.” Pretty cool, huh? Although I’m sure it’s been done before, this is the first time (outside of the 2007 Home Run Derby) that I’ve ever seen a stadium display the name of the batter in the cage.
Anyway, while Mateo was in the corner spot, he narrowly missed a ground-rule double that skimmed six inches beyond his reach, and then five minutes later, I got Johan Santana to toss him a ball that sailed three feet over his glove. It was just one of those
days, and since Mateo wasn’t speaking up, I continued to do all the shouting/begging. I gave Chris Carter a friendly earful about how much it would mean to “this young man right here” to get a ball, and what I said was true. Mateo had never snagged one at Citi Field. Obviously I was prepared to give him the ball I’d gotten from Blanco, but he wanted to snag one on his own. Carter acknowledged us at first and seemed to indicate that he was gonna hook us up. He turned and held up his index finger as if to say, “Hang on, I’ll get one for you,” but then he didn’t. It was strange and frustrating because he retrieved several balls within 30 feet of us and easily could have tossed one in Mateo’s direction, but for some reason he refused. At one point, a white-haired man with a glove wandered near us, and the first thing I thought was, “No way you’re interfering with my dude.” I wasn’t too concerned, though, because the man looked friendly and stayed a few feet away from us. Meanwhile, I kept calling out to Carter and trying to convince him to show us some love. Eventually, he chased a ball onto the warning track, and he turned and tossed it to Mateo. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
Mateo caught it easily and then introduced me to the white-haired man. It was his father! Here they are together:
(In case you’re wondering, Mateo’s father is not 6-foot-8. In the photo above, he’s standing one row above his son.)
When the Cardinals took the field, I lent Mateo my “PUJOLS 5” shirt, and we ran all over the place. We started in foul territory when the pitchers warmed up:
We hurried back to straight-away left field when some righties stepped into the cage:
We even headed up to the second deck when Pujols and Holiday started taking their cuts:
There were lots of other people up there who had the same idea…
…and as a result: nothing.
It was one of the toughest batting practices ever, and my other ballhawk friends agreed. Greg Barasch was there. He often breaks double digits at Citi Field, and yet he only managed to snag ONE ball before the game started. Joe Faraguna was there. So was Gary Kowal and Clif Eddens. All these guys regularly snag half a dozen balls per game, but on this difficult day, no one finished BP with more than three.
Toward the end of BP, I got Dennys Reyes to toss me a ball in left-center field. I gave that one to Mateo, and then I caught a Ryan Ludwick homer on the fly in straight-away left. Mateo was near me on that one, but it was really crowded, and he was blocked by a railing. The Ludwick home run ball had one of the biggest grass stains I’ve ever seen, and you’ll see a pic of it at the end of this entry.
After BP, there was a gathering of ballhawks behind the 3rd base dugout:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at: Dan, Mateo, me, Clif, Joe, Greg, and Gary.
During the game, Mateo and I made a point of heading out to left field for all of Albert Pujols’ at-bats. (No action there. Pujols went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.) We spent the rest of the time behind the Cardinals’ dugout, going for 3rd-out balls. The following photo shows our view. You can see Mateo (in the red Pujols shirt) sitting on the right-hand side of the staircase:
Whenever there were two outs, he inched toward the front. I stayed back and watched his backpack and had my camera ready to get an action shot, but…nothing. He came really close to a few balls, but like I said before, this was just one of those days. He wasn’t getting the breaks.
As for the game itself, the outcome was shocking. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright entered with the second most wins (14) and the second lowest ERA (1.94) in the majors. How did he do, you ask? He surrendered a season-high six runs in five innings, and the light-hitting Mets won, 8-2.
After the game, Mateo and I attempted to get a ball from home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson. I had offered to help him get one — to shout at Hudson on his behalf and then stand back and let him catch it — but he wanted to try to get one on his own. Unfortunately, I ended up getting a ball from Hudson and Mateo didn’t. We then hurried over to the dugout to try to get a ball from the Cardinals relievers as they walked in from the bullpen. That didn’t work out, but two minutes later, when all the players and coaches were gone, a ballboy stuck his head out of the dugout and threw me a ball. It was totally unexpected. I wasn’t even wearing my glove, and just like that, my total for the day had jumped from three to five.
I showed the ump-ball to Mateo and asked him if he’d ever gotten one that was rubbed up with mud. He hadn’t, so I gave it to him. His father then took one final photo of us before we headed out:
Before we said our goodbyes, his father told me that they have a copy of my second book, Watching Baseball Smarter, and that he loves how it was written. He said that between the book and everything I’d taught them about snagging, I’d made baseball more enjoyable for them — that I helped show them a new dimension of the game. He thanked me for that, and I thanked him for the kind words. It was truly one of the best compliments I’d ever received.
• 5 balls at this game (3 pictured on the right because I gave two to Mateo)
• 195 balls in 21 games this season = 9.3 balls per game.
• 650 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 492 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 354 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 16 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls
• 23 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here to see all the stats and records from my Watch With Zack games)
• 4,553 total balls
• 44 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.30 raised at this game
• $1,259.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball