As you might already know, I caught three foul balls during the game on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards. The following day, while standing outside the center field gate at Nationals Park, I was interviewed about it (via telephone) by a radio station in Baltimore. Here’s a photo of me that was taken during the interview:
Jona was with me once again — that’s her green bag above — and as usual, she did a masterful job of documenting everything.
When the stadium opened at 4:30pm, I ran to the right field seats, and when batting practice got underway ten minutes later, I got Matt Stairs to throw me my 1st ball of the day. Here’s a photo of that ball streaking toward my glove:
Not surprisingly, it was one of those cheap, plasticky, made-in-China training balls:
The Nationals have been using these balls for years. I really don’t care for them, but still wanted to snag as many as possible.
Livan Hernandez, always generous when it comes to tossing balls into the crowd, threw me my 2nd of the day. Here I am giving him a target:
Jason Marquis tossed me ball No. 3, and five minutes later, I got another from Nationals coach Bo Porter.
There were empty seats all around me. I was ready to run and jump and catch home runs, but the only ball I jumped for was thrown by Roger Bernadina. Here I am (just below the “Red Porch” sign) making the grab:
Toward the end of the Nationals’ portion of BP, I chased down a Matt Stairs homer that landed in an empty row. That was my 6th ball of the day, and as it turned out, it was the only one that I snagged directly off the bat. I don’t know what was going on — perhaps the fact that it was Friday the 13th had something to do with it — but very few homers landed anywhere near me.
Wilson Ramos tossed me my 7th ball — a home run to right-center that had bounced back onto the field.
The Nationals finished hitting at 5:15pm, so there was an unexpected 15-minute lull before the Marlins started taking their cuts. During that time, I got a groundskeeper to throw me a ball that the Nats had abandoned on the right-field warning track.
Then I threw on my Marlins cap, headed over to the left field seats, and caught up with my friend Ben Weil:
Ben is from Queens, but it was no accident that we ran into each other in D.C. I’d told him a week earlier that I was planning to be here, so he took a bus down from New York, and we ended up driving home together.
We didn’t talk long because there were baseballs to be snagged. I put on my Marlins shirt (you’ll see that it’s the same color as the hat) and got Leo Nunez to throw me my 9th ball of the day. Nunez was in deep left field. I was in the first row behind the Marlins’ bullpen and had to reach down over the railing to catch it. In the following two-part photo, the red arrow on the left is pointing to the ball, and the pic on the right shows how far I reached:
For my next ball, I reached even farther over a railing along the left field foul line. It was thrown by Anibal Sanchez. Check it out:
My 11th ball of the day was much easier. It was tossed up from the left field corner by Ryan Webb. You can’t see him in the following photo, but you can see the ball floating toward my glove:
I headed back to right field and got two more balls thrown to me. (Yes, I know, toss-ups are easy, but hell, there weren’t many home runs, so what was I supposed to do?) The first came from Burke Badenhop, and it was really beat up. Here are three photos of it:
The second of my two right-field toss-ups came from Michael Dunn. He flipped it up without looking, and it sailed over my head into the empty seats behind me. Jona was still in left field at the time and took the following photo while the ball was in mid-air:
In the photo above, I didn’t draw an arrow for myself because I’m pretty easy to spot in that ridiculous aqua (or is it teal?) outfit. As you can see, I was in the process of climbing over a row of seats. Meanwhile, none of the other fans were making any attempt to snag the ball.
Soon after, I noticed that there was a ball in the gap behind the outfield wall:
Here’s a photo (taken by Jona from afar) that shows me snagging it with the glove trick:
That was my 14th ball. I’d started the day with 85 lifetime balls at Nationals Park, so my next one was going to be No. 100. Unfortunately, though, that was it for batting practice; the Marlins cleared the field at 6:05pm, approximately 15 minutes early, so I raced back to the left field side and peeked into the bullpen. Ha-HAAA!!! There were two baseballs sitting out in the open, and though neither one was in a good spot for the glove trick, I figured I’d at least get one tossed up to me. Ten minutes later, Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire made a slow walk from the 3rd base dugout to the bullpen. Not good. When it comes to tossing balls into the crowd, St. Claire is essentially the opposite of Livan Hernandez; no matter how nicely you ask him, and no matter what kind of team gear you’re wearing, he simply doesn’t give balls away. At least that’s been my experience with him. Over the years, he has had at least a dozen opportunities to toss me balls, often in situations when I was the only fan in the section, but he never even looked up at me or acknowledged my existence. (If the Hample Jinx worked on pitching coaches, he would’ve been a recipient long ago.) So yeah, that’s what I was contemplating as he strolled into the bullpen at Nationals Park.
Speaking of Livan Hernandez, do you remember the photo of me giving him a target? Well, as St. Claire retrieved the first ball below me, I gave the same target and made such a polite request that I was almost ashamed of myself. I said, “Excuse me, Mister Saint Claire, is there any chance that you could possibly spare one of those baseballs, please?” St. Claire looked up with an expression that can only be described as a sneer. Then he flung the ball at me so abruptly (and with such piss-poor aim) that I had to lunge over the railing and nearly got handcuffed by it. Check out the following two-part photo, and you’ll see what I mean:
Thankfully I was able to catch the ball, but man, is that bizarre or what? Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? Am I missing something or being too critical? I’m fascinated by human behavior, and St. Claire would certainly make an interesting case study.
Check out the following closeup of the ball:
I wrote “4936” on it because it was the 4,936th major league ball that I’d ever snagged (training balls included). But forget that. I photographed this ball because of the unusual grass-and-dirt streaks.
I had some time to kill at that point, so I spent a few minutes examining all my baseballs. I picked out the two newest official balls and stuck them in a separate compartment in my backpack. My plan was to give them away (to kids with gloves!) by the end of the night. This is an important detail, so keep it in mind.
Just after the singing of the national anthem, Hanley Ramirez tossed me his warm-up ball on the 3rd base side. No big deal, right? Well, after the 2nd inning, Mike Stanton tossed me a 3rd-out ball at the Marlins’ dugout, and guess what happened? Ramirez recognized me and got upset. Here are a few details, along with some photographic evidence…
First, for the record, Danny Espinosa lined out to Stanton to end the 2nd inning. Second, because it’s relevant, there was not a single kid with a glove in my entire section. I don’t know where all the kids were. It was a Friday night. It’s not like they were gonna have to wake up early the next day and go to school, but whatever. The point is, there was no competition, so I strolled down the steps to the front row and got Stanton to toss me the ball. Here’s a photo of it sailing toward me:
I didn’t draw arrows in the photo above because there’s already too much visual clutter, but I think you can see what’s happening. I’m standing in the front row with the aqua/teal cap. Of the four players entering the dugout, Stanton is on the right, and his right arm is up because he had just tossed the ball. The ball can be seen against the dark green background above the center field wall. (Are you with me? Good. I still have to point out two more things.) Of the four players, Ramirez is second from the left. See him? He’s touching his cap. Now, do you see the kid standing behind me in the off-white hat? He has both hands up in the air. Well, as soon as I caught the ball, Ramirez took off his cap and flung out his arms…
…and shouted, “How many?!”
I’m not quite sure what the kid was doing in the photo above — using the railing as a percussion instrument? — but anyway, I told Ramirez that I was going to give a ball away.
(Time out. Let me get this straight. Ramirez is allowed to make $11 million dollars this year, and no one will question that, but God forbid I snag more than one baseball at a game. Right?)
What did Ramirez do next? He gave me a skeptical look and put his hands on his hips and stood at the top step of the dugout. He was waiting to make sure that I kept my word, and I was going to give a ball away, but not THAT ball. I really wanted to keep the ball from Stanton. Not only was it game-used, but I’d been a huge fan of Stanton since I caught his 2nd career home run on 6/28/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. I held up my right index finger as if to say “hold on.” Ramirez, meanwhile, kept standing there and watching me as I hurried back to the 6th row, where Jona was sitting with my backpack. I pulled out one of the two baseballs and held it up for him. He pointed to the kid in the off-white hat, so that’s who I gave it to. Ramirez then gave me a subtle nod of approval and disappeared into the dugout.
Here’s a photo of the kid and his father with the ball:
Ready for another unusual snagging incident?
With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, I took the following photo of Burke Badenhop delivering a pitch to Ian Desmond:
Desmond swung at that very pitch and hit a little tapper that bounced up at the plate. Marlins catcher John Buck jumped out of his crouch and grabbed it and tagged Desmond and jogged back to the dugout with it. Home plate umpire Paul Nauert made the “out” call, and Desmond argued. I hurried down a few steps, camera in hand, and barely managed to get Buck’s attention from the 3rd row by waving my arms. The whole thing happened so fast (and there was so much stuff happening) that none of the other fans stood up or asked for the ball. Buck tossed it to me, and then Nauert reversed his decision, so Buck had to head back out onto the field, and the inning continued. (What?!) The whole situation was weird, and I’m still not even sure what happened, but I ended up getting my 18th ball of the day out of it, so, you know, yay.
Here’s a photo of that ball. The big dirt mark/scuff obviously got there when Desmond pounded it into the ground:
The game lasted 11 innings.
The Marlins won, 6-5.
But that’s not the end of the story…
After the final out, I worked my way down to the front row behind the dugout and asked Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez for the lineup cards:
Well, when I asked Rodriguez, he didn’t say anything. He simply glanced up at me, and when he looked back down, it appeared that his eyes were darting back and forth, as if he were scanning the dugout. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but figured it was a good sign. Somehow, I got the sense that he was looking for something for me, but what could it have been? Managers normally keep the lineup cards in their back pockets, so I really had no idea what was going on. As it turned out, Rodriguez was busy peeling the *BIG* lineup card off the wall for me, and when he poked his head back out and slid it to me across the dugout roof, I was both thrilled and stunned. Check out my reaction:
I’ve gotten lots of lineup cards over the years, but I’d never gotten one like this. It was the Rolls Royce of lineup cards. It was an elusive thing of beauty, and I was very very VERY happy:
Here’s a closer look at it.
Ben came over and found me in the concourse, and we looked it over:
In the photo above, did you notice the ball in my right hand? That was the other ball that I’d been planning to give away, and after hanging out in the concourse for a few minutes, I found a worthy recipient. The following four-part photo shows me (1) placing the ball in a kid’s glove, (2) talking to him and his very appreciative family, (3) holding up my hand, and (4) getting a high-five:
Then, with Ben’s help, I took a moment to fix the tape on the lineup card:
I could’ve peeled off the tape, and eventually I did, but at the time I wanted to see if I could keep it intact.
Then we made the four-hour drive back to New York City.
• 277 balls in 31 games this season = 8.9 balls per game.
• 692 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 218 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 145 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 6 stadiums with at least 100 balls
• 4,939 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 get involved.)
• 43 donors
• $6.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $119.16 raised at this game
• $1,833.74 raised this season