My season got off to a terrible start. I went to Yankee Stadium for my first game of 2011…
…and when I ran inside and pulled out my camera to take this photo…
…my friend Ben ran in behind me and found a ball sitting near me in the empty seats.
Then things got worse.
I misjudged several home run balls, including two that would’ve been easy catches had I simply stayed put. I don’t know what was going on. I kept assuming that the balls were going to fall short, but instead they kept carrying. I can’t blame it on a winter of inactivity; at my first game last season, I snagged 15 balls including EIGHT home runs that I caught on the fly.
Anyway, this was my view from right field…
…and when the Yankees finished their portion of batting practice, I had ZERO baseballs. I could’ve easily gotten one from Mariano Rivera at one point. He walked into the bullpen and picked up all the loose home run balls that had landed there, and he began tossing them into the crowd. He aimed one toward a girl who was standing ten feet to my left, but his lob fell short, and the ball bounced back into the bullpen. I wandered over behind the girl, figuring that he’d give her another shot, but I decided ahead of time not to jump or reach over her. I was simply going to reach straight up, and then if the throw sailed too far over her head, I’d innocently end up with it. Well, the throw did sail too high, and just as I was about to squeeze my glove around it, a large man reached in front of ME from behind and snatched it. It was six inches from my glove. The girl had no chance. All I had to do was jump ever so slightly, and I would’ve made an easy grab from a future Hall of Famer, but no, I lost my chance by not being aggressive. I suppose that’s a good way to be in general, but in this case it backfired.
Still, I wasn’t afraid of getting shut out, although maybe I should’ve been. I began the day with a streak of 661 consecutive games with at least one ball — a streak that dates all the way back to September 10, 1993 — and yet I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency. I figured I’d get some baseballs when the Twins started hitting, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
Matt Capps tossed me my first ball of the year. I was hoping that it would be a leftover Target Field ball from last season, but no it was just a regular “Selig” ball:
Still, it was great to get on the board.
But would you believe that I only snagged one other ball all day? Some righty on the Twins (no idea who) lofted a deep fly ball in my direction toward the end of BP. I managed to judge it perfectly, and I camped out in the spot where I knew it was going to land and jumped for it at the last second, simply to prevent the guy on my left from robbing me. All the other fans cheered and yelled “Nice catch!” and I got a few hand shakes and high-fives. That was nice, but I was still annoyed with myself.
The highlight of the day was running into two young fans named Vincent and Adam, who recognized me from this blog. Here I am with Vincent, who’d brought his copy of my new book:
I signed it for him, and we all hung out for a bit. Then I got Vincent to take a potentially very special photo of me. I’m kind of planning to attend games at all 30 major league stadiums this year, so just in case it ends up happening…
For those who can’t tell, that’s a big number “1” that I’d drawn with magic marker on a piece of printer paper. I’m thinking it’d be cool to have photos of myself holding signs numbered 1 through 30 at all the different stadiums. I’ve already booked flights to games in Arlington (April 25-28), Houston (April 29-30), Toronto (May 26-29), Denver (June 9-12), and Seattle (June 13-15). I’m planning to be in Baltimore this week (April 6-8) and Citi Field next week (April 11-13, but probably not if it rains), and I might hit up Philly on April 15th. I’m also thinking of going to Pittsburgh for the first weekend in August and to Boston on June 20-21. Beyond that, don’t ask. I’m hoping to take a mega road trip with my friend Brandon through the midwest and out to the west coast in August and September, but it’s not even close to being confirmed. People often ask me to let them know when I’m gonna be at various stadiums, and I always tell then to check my blog for updates, so here you go. Hope to see/meet lots of you guys along the way, and if you do have a copy of The Baseball, please bring it so I can sign it for you.
Anyway, back to Yankee Stadium, I tried to get a ball from the catchers and coaches shortly before the first pitch. And of course I failed. But I still like the pic I took, so here it is:
The left field seats were spectacularly empty during the game. This was the view to my left in the bottom of the first inning:
In the photo above, did you notice the name on the jumbotron? Yeah, Alex Rodriguez. My number one ballhawking goal is to catch one of his home runs, and whaddaya know, right after I took that photo — I’m talking about the very next PITCH — he smoked a line-driver homer to left field. Unfortunately it landed two full sections (about 100 feet) to my right. Ben and Vincent and Adam were sitting there and all came within five feet of it. If you watch the highlight, you can see me (before the camera zooms in) streaking from the right side of the screen. (One day, A-Rod. One day…)
He’s homered in 46 ballparks, and I’ve snagged at least one ball in 48 ballparks. (Clearly I’m much more talented.) Here’s my complete list.
The Yankees had a 4-3 lead when the top of the ninth inning rolled in. What did that mean? Enter Sandman. Mariano Rivera. Gosh-darn I love him! Here’s a photo of him running in from the bullpen. You might want to click it for a closer look:
Not surprisingly, he pitched a scoreless inning to notch his 562nd career save.
On my way out of the stadium, I looked for the youngest kid I could find who had a baseball glove. It took a while — this was a chilly weeknight in April, after all — but eventually I spotted an adorable boy (who must’ve been about six) walking with his dad. I walked up alongside them and said to the kid, “Hey, did you catch a ball today?”
He looked up and shook his head and looked kinda bummed.
“Well, here’s one for you,” I said, pulling the ball from Matt Capps out of my pocket and handing it over.
The kid’s face lit up. His dad could not believe it and asked, “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “I got two baseballs during batting practice, so I have one to spare.”
The father thanked me profusely and shook my hand. He then told his son to thank me, and when the kid turned back my way and mumbled a few polite words, I said, “I decided to give YOU the ball because you have a glove. It showed me that you really wanted one.”
The kid smiled and disappeared with his dad into the crowd.
As for the other ball that I’d snagged, I took a few photos of it when I got home. First, check out the beautiful imprint of the MLB logo:
Do you see it? It’s just below and to the right of the Rawlings logo. I love stuff like that, and if you click here, you’ll find some other weird/imprinted balls that I’ve snagged over the years.
Now…do you remember that recent entry I posted called “Baseballs and black light?” If you haven’t seen it, you must check it out immediately. And now check THIS out. I looked at the ball in black light, and sure enough, there was an invisible ink stamp on it:
Here’s a side-by-side look at the ball in regular light versus black light:
Baseballs make me happy. That’s really what it all comes down to.
Hopefully I’ll do better at my next game. Perhaps later today at Yankee Stadium? Not sure. When I’m home in NYC, it’s always a last-minute decision.
• 2 balls at this game
• 662 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 498 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 140 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 11 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 4,664 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)
• 30 donors
• $4.86 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $9.72 raised at this game