It was 4:30pm.
Rangers Ballpark was opening for batting practice.
A security guard asked me to open my backpack, and when I did, the zipper broke.
I got my ticket scanned, cradled my already-stuffed backpack in my arms, and sprinted out to the left field seats. Sixteen minutes later, when the first group of hitters finished taking their cuts, I had so many baseballs that I’d lost count. I thought I had 11. Turns out I only had 10. But still, ohmygod. It was a repeat of the previous day, except the stands weren’t totally empty. This time I actually had to compete against two other guys, and I suffered a very minor injury while scrambling for one of the balls. Check it out:
As you can see, I scraped the knuckle on my right thumb — not a big deal, although it did sting for a little while.
Anyway, my first 10 balls were all hit into the seats; the first five were home runs, the sixth was a liner into the stands along the left field foul line, and the following four were homers. Ian Kinsler hit a few. Adrian Beltre hit a few — or was it Nelson Cruz? I was so busy snagging that I didn’t have time to take notes or photos. I do, however, remember one of my catches, but can’t recall which ball it was. Kinsler blasted a deep drive that I quickly determined was going land several rows behind me, so I turned my back to the field and raced up the steps and and darted to my right. When I turned back around and looked up for the ball, it was right there. I mean RIGHT there. It felt great to have picked the exact spot where the ball was going to land, but I ended up misjudging another homer at the end of BP, so, you know, I’m not perfect.
Do you remember Trent and Clyde from 4/25/11 at Rangers Ballpark? They were both playing the berm in center field…
…and snagged several balls apiece.
Chris Davis was shagging balls in left field:
At one point, when he jogged toward me to retrieve a ball near the warning track, I asked him if he wanted to play catch. He responded by tossing it to me, and when he held up his glove, I threw a decent knuckleball back to him. He smiled and gave me a friendly nod and fired an equally decent knuckleball back my way. We kept throwing knucklers, taking brief breaks whenever the batter was about to swing, and after a minute he let me keep the ball.
My 12th ball of the day was a home run that landed in the seats. My 13th was a homer that landed in the gap behind the left-center field wall; I used my glove trick to reel it in.
Several other fans had retrieval devices. Here are two guys attempting to pluck baseballs from the visitors’ bullpen:
As I’ve mentioned before, the security guards at Rangers Ballpark don’t stop people from using devices. The whole stadium is fan-friendly in every conceivable way.
In the photo above, the man using the device in the corner of the bullpen was unable to snag the ball, so I ran over and asked if I could give it a shot. It turned out that he worked at the stadium, so he stepped aside and let me go for it. My glove trick worked perfectly, and as soon as I lifted the ball all the way up, I handed it to a little kid who was walking past with his family. Moments later, another home run landed in the bullpen and rolled to the back wall. Here’s a photo of me lowering my glove for it:
As my glove reached the ground, an employee in the bullpen walked over and picked up the ball. Then he grabbed my glove and peeked inside to see how it was set up. Then he tossed me the ball, my 15th of the day. I returned to the left field seats with it and picked out the smallest kid in the section. I walked over to him (and his family) and asked to see his glove. He must’ve thought I was going to do something bad because he hid it behind his back and hugged his mother. I responded by holding out the ball for him. He didn’t understand what was happening, so his father encouraged him to show me his glove.
“Go like this,” I said, making a gesture with my own glove so that it was open with the palm facing up. When the kid imitated me, I placed the ball in his glove, and his entire family cheered.
Here’s a random photo of some fans chasing a home run ball on the berm:
What an awesome stadium. Wow, wow, and more wow.
When the Rangers cleared the field, I changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off immediately. Travis Snider wandered over in my direction to retrieve a ball on the warning track.
“Travis,” I called out politely, “is there any chance you could toss that ball up here, please?”
“No chance at all,” he said without looking up.
“What would it possibly take to get one from you?” I asked.
That made him look up for a split-second.
“Oh! I didn’t see what you were wearing,” he said, and he flipped the ball to me. That was my 16th ball of the day, and I got No. 17 from Shawn Camp soon after. My 18th ball was a homer that landed on this platform behind the left field wall:
I used my glove trick to snag it and handed the ball to the nearest kid. My backpack, meanwhile, was getting heavier by the minute. I had to hold it carefully to prevent all my stuff from spilling out. It was a constant source of stress.
Soon after I snagged the ball off that platform, I caught a home run on the fly. It wasn’t easy because the left field seats were filling up, and the sun was in my eyes. That was my 19th ball of the day, and I got No. 20 from Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo (who was wandering in left field with a fungo bat).
I wasn’t quite done. I got one more ball during BP — a Juan Rivera homer that deflected off a man’s glove and landed in my row. Then, with BP about to end, I raced over to the Jays’ dugout…
…and got Kyle Drabek to toss me a ball on his way in. That was my 22nd ball of the day, and this was my reaction:
All I could do was shrug.
An hour earlier, I ran into a guy named Frank who’d brought his copy of my new book, The Baseball. At the time, I was too busy snagging baseballs to sign it or pose for a photo, so we took care of all of that after BP. Here we are with it:
For the record, Frank is 6-foot-5, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years (and have a sick memory), he might look familiar. He and I first met on 5/3/09 at Rangers Ballpark when he showed up with a copy of my last book, Watching Baseball Smarter.
Shortly before 7pm, I waltzed down to the dugout for pre-game throwing. This was my view:
Unfortunately, I didn’t end up getting that ball.
I could’ve easily stayed in the first or second row for the game. There were empty seats, and the usher didn’t seem to notice or care that I was in her section, but I gave up that spot for this:
This was the view from my actual seat. To hell with third-out toss-ups. I wanted to run out onto the berm and catch a home run. That was actually my goal — the ONE thing I wanted to accomplish — in Arlington.
I did catch something halfway through the game…
…but it was just a T-shirt. I gave the shirt to an 11-year-old girl named Sarah, who was sitting directly behind me, and I gave a baseball to her six-year-old brother, Drew. Here they are with their father, Mark:
The three of them were great, and we talked on and off (mostly on) throughout the game.
“Can I ask you a really random question?” I said to Mark in the sixth inning.
He said yes, so I told him about my broken zipper and asked if he could think of any place nearby where I might be able to buy a new backpack. He and two other guys (who were sitting next to me and getting in on parts of the conversation) said there was a Walmart just down the road. They looked it up for me on their iPhones — I’m still rockin’ the Razr — and showed me a map. It was right next door to the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium, which was about a mile away. I knew I wasn’t going to have time the next day to get over there — the Rangers were gonna be playing a day game, and the stadium was going to open at 10:30am — so my only option was to go to Walmart after this game. I didn’t really want to walk, and I wondered if Trent (who was sitting directly across the berm from me) would be able to give me a ride. I didn’t have his phone number, so during the 7th inning stretch (with Mark keeping an eye on all my stuff), I hurried up the steps, ran around the back of the batter’s eye, and headed down the steps toward Trent’s seat. The steps were packed. It seemed as if everyone was heading to or from the bathroom or carefully carrying beers or walking slowly because they were fat or old or both. Still, I headed down the steps and talked to Trent for a minute. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to drive me to Walmart because he planned to stay at the stadium for a while and get autographs. We planned to meet up after the game regardless, and then I hurried (as best I could) back up the steps and back around the batter’s eye. The bottom of the 7th was about to get underway. I’d already heard Mitch Moreland’s name announced, and I was worried that I wouldn’t get back to my seat in time. I completely missed the first pitch of his at-bat — a called strike. As I headed down the steps toward my seat, Octavio Dotel (who had just entered the game for the Jays) went into his windup. I’d made it about halfway down (there are about 20 rows; my seat was at the end of Row 5) when Moreland connected on a DEEP drive that was heading just to the right of dead center. It took me a split-second to realize that the ball was going to be a home run, so I jumped over the side railing (without my glove!) and started running. Here’s a screen shot from MLB.com that shows how it played out:
As you can see, Trent had also jumped over the railing (on the right side of the berm). The dollar sign indicates the “money spot” where the ball ended up landing.
I could tell that Trent had me beat. The ball was much closer to his side, and he played it perfectly. Here he is reaching up for the catch:
Now, do you remember when I caught home runs on back-to-back nights during the final week at the old Yankee Stadium? Do you remember the silly cabbage patch dance that I did after each one? (Click here and here to see what I’m talking about.) Well, as soon as Trent caught the ball, he did THAT DANCE while running back to his seat:
I wasn’t sure what to make of it. For a moment, I thought he was taunting me, but then I realized (and he confirmed it later) that he did it as a shout-out/tribute to me. He’s a good guy, and he was just having fun with it, and if I couldn’t be the one to catch the ball, I was happy that he got it. But man, I was really kicking myself for not having been in my seat. I still think Trent would’ve caught the ball, but I would’ve made it a lot closer. Here’s the video highlight of the home run on MLB.com.
The Rangers ended up winning the game, 7-6. Moreland’s homer was the difference. After the game, I got another lineup card from the Blue Jays’ bullpen and then met up with Trent:
Here’s a closer look at the lineup card…
…and here’s a photo of Trent reenacting the dance:
Trent wasn’t able to give me a ride, so I went back to my hotel and dropped off my dying backpack. Then I spent an hour updating the stats and taking the ball photos that you’re soon going to see. Then I walked to Walmart. It was midnight. It was cold. I had to walk past cheap motels and car dealerships and fast food chains that I didn’t even know existed. I stopped at Hooters to ask for directions. (No, really.) And when I reached the Wall of Mart, I saw a wall of backpacks that all had Cowboys logos. Thankfully, there were two other sections in the store with backpacks, and I found a logo-free beauty for $17. It was 1am by the time I got back to the hotel. I was dead tired –but happy — and I stayed up for a couple more hours.
• 162 balls in 19 games this season = 8.5 balls per game.
• 680 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 213 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 140 lifetime games 10 or more balls
• 10 lifetime games with 20 or more balls (nine of which have taken place outside of New York…shocker)
• 4,824 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.)
• 39 donors
• $6.11 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $134.42 raised at this game
• $989,82 raised this season
Here are a few more photos of the baseballs. First, check out this one with a scuffed logo:
Here’s a practice ball with a huge blemish (if that’s the word) under the MLB logo:
I snagged six practice balls at this game. Here they are:
(The day before, I had snagged 12 practice balls, 11 of which looked like this.)
Of the 18 balls I kept, seven had invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparision that shows these balls in regular light versus black light:
And here’s the end.