BAD NEWS: Citi Field no longer opens two and a half hours early. More on this at the end of the entry, but for now, all I can say is that after receiving a tweet about it two days ago, I had to experience it to believe it.
Naturally, since this was just the Mets’ second home game of the season, and because it was a weekend and because the gates opened half an hour later than everyone expected, there was a huge crowd waiting to get in:
Thankfully I was at the front of the line (I headed to the back to take that photo), but it made no difference. I didn’t snag a single baseball during the Mets’ portion of batting practice. Finally, after being inside the stadium for more than half an hour, I got Nationals pitcher Chad Gaudin to throw me a ball near the left field foul pole. Here’s a photo of the ball with Gaudin in the background.
This was a special ball for me. It marked the 500th consecutive game in New York at which I’d snagged at least one ball — a streak that dates back to September 10, 1993. The ball was also special because it was an actual official ball (albeit one with a crooked logo and a “practice” stamp on the sweet spot) as opposed to the cheapo training balls that the Nationals had been using for years.
My second ball of the day was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field…
…and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to a 10-ish-year-old girl on my left (who was wearing a glove and trying hard to get a ball on her own).
My third ball of the day was a home run that I caught on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. Might’ve been Ryan Zimmerman or Michael Morse or Jayson Werth, but in any case, I was in left-center and drifted 20 feet to my left and reached up at the last second for the easy one-handed catch. That ball was brand new, as was the one that Matt Stairs tossed me at the dugout after BP.
That was it. Four balls. Not great. But I was satisfied. Given the circumstances, I really couldn’t have done much better.
Over the course of BP, three young fans asked me to sign baseballs, and each was special for a different reason. First take a look at the photo below, and then I’ll explain:
The fan in the green Mets hat is named Zach. He was very excited to meet me and mentioned that he’d watched all my YouTube videos. It was truly flattering, and I enjoyed talking to him and getting to watch him in action.
The fan wearing the Midville hoodie is named J.P. He was in foul territory when I got the ball from Gaudin, and he called out to me and asked if he could have my autograph. “Yeah, c’mon over here!” I called back. Note the railing behind him. At Citi Field, it’s impossible to cut through the seats from foul to fair territory. You have to walk up the steps, head through the concourse, and then walk back down. It’s really annoying. Great American Ball Park has a similar partition in the left field corner. I don’t understand why stadiums are built like that, but anyway, J.P. gave up his spot along the foul line and made the effort to come up and around, so that was cool.
Then there was Jamie, the fan in the NY Giants hoodie. I was talking to some friends behind the dugout after BP, so he approached me cautiously and politely with his father. He asked me to sign a ball that was already autographed by several players, so that was flattering too.
Then these guys asked me to sign their Mets Magazine:
After I signed it, the older boy said, “You’re a player, right?”
“A player?!” I replied. I felt terrible for having defaced his magazine.
“Yeah,” he said, “Which team do you play for?”
It was an odd question for two reasons. First, if I were a player, I wouldn’t have been hanging out in the stands, and second, I was decked out in Nats gear, so again, if I were a player, I certainly wouldn’t have been on any other team. But I can understand why they made the assumption. I’d been signing autographs and talking to lots of people and taking photos, so they guessed right in assuming I was someone. Ultimately I explained who I was and apologized for the misunderstanding, but they didn’t seem upset at all. In fact, they actually seemed intrigued to hear that I’d written a few books and snagged so many baseballs.
Look who I got a photo with next:
Do these guys look familiar? That’s Joe Faraguna on the left (who’s now as tall as me, dammit) and Ross Finkelstein on the right. They’re both former Watch With Zack clients. Joe first attended a game with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. He and I combined that day to set the record for the most balls at a Watch With Zack game with 22. We also went to a game together on 7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park, and then the following season, Joe set another record on 6/23/10 at Camden Yards: most balls at a single game snagged by a client…eleven! Ross, meanwhile, has attended two games with me and might join me for another this summer, possibly at Camden Yards. He outsnagged me, 5 balls to 2, on 9/6/09 at Citi Field, and then we combined for 16 balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field. Good times. If you want to see all the Watch With Zack snagging stats, click here.
What happened next might shock you, but it was part of the plan: I left the stadium and went home. Here’s a look at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda on my way out:
I had to be at a party back in Manhattan by about 9pm (this WAS a Saturday night, after all), and I was given a free ticket to this game, so I figured, why not go for a couple hours and check out the scene and snag a few balls and then be on my way? BTW, there was no mention of baseball at the party. I didn’t find out until 2am that the Mets had won, 8-4.
• 37 balls in 5 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
• 666 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 500 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 359 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 4,699 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.)
• 36 donors
• $5.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $22.96 raised at this game
• $212.38 raised this season
Ready to see the three baseballs in black light? Here’s a side-by-side photo so you can compare:
As you can see, the invisible ink stamps appear on all three balls, but they’re all messy and partially rubbed off. I love the illuminated MLB logo on the bottom ball. That’s the one that Chad Gaudin tossed my way. Show of hands: how many of you have bought black lights in the last month?
Finally, let’s get back to the issue of gate opening times at Citi Field…
The Jackie Robinson Rotunda now opens two hours early for all home games; on Saturdays and Sundays, season ticket holders can enter 30 minutes earlier than that. Unlike Rangers Ballpark, where season ticket holders can bring non-season-ticket-holding friends inside, you actually have to have your own season ticket at Citi Field — and not just any type of partial season plan, but a FULL season ticket. It’s a real pain, and you can imagine how frustrating it was for me yesterday to stand there helplessly and watch the few season ticket holders trickle into the stadium ahead of me. The bigger issue, however, beyond early access for season ticket holders is that the stadium now opens half an hour later. For everyone.
Prior to this season, the Mets had opened their stadiums (Shea and now Citi) two and a half hours early since 1994. Ownership had to be extra fan-friendly at that time because the team had lost 103 games the year before. Why is the policy changing now? (Do the Mets expect to be good this year? They’ll be lucky to win 75 games.) Why deprive fans of the opportunity to see the entire portion of their home team’s batting practice? EVERY SINGLE MAJOR LEAGUE STADIUM SHOULD OPEN TWO AND A HALF HOURS EARLY EVERY DAY. This should be a league-wide policy. It would be GOOD for baseball, and it’s especially important in New York (and Los Angeles and St. Louis and Boston and Minnesota and a few other places), where there are so many fans.
I want to know who made the decision that Citi Field should open later, and I want to know why. Just how much money do the Mets save each game by keeping the fans out until 5:10pm? I called the Mets yesterday and asked who’s behind this. I was told that it was a decision by ownership and the “guest experience” department. I asked for a name, but was not given one. It’s probably too late to change anything this season, but I suggest that we all start making phone calls and writing letters and trying to get to the bottom of it. I know I’m not the only one who’s upset about this, so if you feel the same way I do, let’s make some noise and let the Mets (and other teams) know that we’d like things to change. Let’s start by getting a name. Was it Fred Wilpon himself? Help me investigate, and let’s see if we can do something about this. GAH!!!