I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,995 baseballs. My main goal, naturally, was to snag five more, but beyond that, I was hoping that No. 5,000 would NOT be thrown to me by a player. Way back in 1996, my 1,000th ball was thrown by Braves pitcher Pedro Borbon Jr. at Shea Stadium. In 2003, my 2000th ball was thrown by Phillies pitcher Joe Roa at Olympic Stadium. On 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, I snagged my 3,000th ball with the glove trick, and on 5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium, I got Mets pitcher Livan Hernandez to throw me No. 4,000. See the trend? Although it was exciting to reach all of these milestones, the way in which I actually obtained the baseballs was not.
That said, this was a Saturday afternoon game. The Blue Jays and White Sox had played the night before, so while the field was set up for batting practice, there wasn’t anything happening when I first ran inside the stadium:
Eventually, several White Sox players came out to run and stretch and throw. I hung out in foul territory behind 1st base, and when Ramon Castro walked by with a ball in his glove, I called out and asked him for it. Castro has always been fan-friendly, so I wasn’t surprised when he turned and chucked it to me. What did surprise me was that he stood there and flapped his glove at me to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. And so…we played catch for a minute. My friend Andrew was with me and filmed a bit of the action. As it turned out, the footage wasn’t YouTube-worthy, so I’m just gonna share a few screen shots. In the first one below, I’m standing on the left in White Sox gear, and Castro is on the far right:
Did you notice that I was workin’ the knuckleball grip? Castro had thrown me a knuckler two days earlier during BP, so I figured I’d send one back his way. Here I am letting it fly…
…and here’s Castro throwing it back:
We made four or five throws apiece and paused briefly at one point when Gavin Floyd absent-mindedly strolled between us. Soon after, Castro made a final throw and let me keep the ball. As he walked off, this was my reaction:
I was like, “That’s how it’s done.”
Four more balls to go…
A few minutes later, I moved farther down the foul line to catch up with Andrew. He was standing behind two pitchers who were playing catch — and not by accident. He was specifically hoping that there’d be an overthrow. At one point, when I was looking elsewhere, I heard someone yell “Heads up!!” and I noticed that Andrew was starting to scramble. I ducked. He was in the front row, I was in the 3rd row, and the ball landed in the 4th row. (Sorry, Andrew.)
Three more balls to go…
Soon after, I got Jake Peavy to sign my comp ticket…
…and then moved even farther down the foul line. This was my view:
The player wearing No. 37 was Matt Thornton. I forget who he was playing catch with, but I clearly remember one of the throws deflecting off Thornton’s glove and trickling to the base of the wall in front of me. I leaned over and grabbed the ball with my glove and flipped it back to him. He didn’t have another ball, so I figured I’d give this one back before he asked for it. As soon as I did that, I started wondering whether or not I could count it in my collection. I *did* snag it after all, and it was my choice to give it back to him. When I catch home runs during BP and immediately hand them off to nearby kids, those balls count for me, so why shouldn’t this one? Right? Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have to make that decision because Thornton tossed the ball to me when he finished using it.
Two more balls to go…
Batting practice was just getting underway. Instead of running out to the seats in straight-away left field, I stayed in foul territory. There were several righties taking cuts, and since batters normally hit balls to the opposite field during their first round of swings, I was hoping that someone would slice a ball in my direction. That’s exactly what happened. Alexi Ramirez swung late and hit a line drive that bounced just inside the foul line. I could tell that the ball was going to hook a bit too sharply, so I shifted to my left and scooped it up with a back-handed swipe of my glove.
One more ball to go…
It was time to head to left field — no, wait, left-center field. The seats in straight-away left were crowded. I wanted to have some room to run. Over the next 15 minutes, several balls rolled onto the warning track below me. I could’ve asked for them, and I probably would’ve gotten at least one, but like I said at the start of this entry, I didn’t want my 5,000th ball to be another toss-up.
So I waited. And waited. And ran to right-center whenever Adam Dunn stepped into the cage. And waited some more. He’d been launching balls there for the last two days. Now that I needed him to do it again more than ever? Nothing. I was getting really frustrated, but I stuck to my plan and hoped for some long-ball magic. Andrew generously sacrificed his own pursuit of baseballs to follow me around with his girlfriend‘s flip cam. He knew how much I wanted my 5,000th ball to be documented — and he did a great job. Here’s a screen shot from his video that shows me standing in left-center field:
Moments later, Alex Rios stepped into the cage.
I turned around and faced the camera and said, “Here we go.” Somehow, I just knew that something was going to happen.
“Alex Rios is up,” said Andrew. “The dude’s hittin’ homers.”
On the very next pitch, Rios cranked a deep drive that was heading to my right. I took off running…
…and if you want to see how the whole thing played out, here’s a 58-second video. It starts with me standing around for a few seconds, so click “play” and give it a moment:
At the 22-second mark in the video, the kid who gives me a high-five isn’t just a random kid. His name is Jon Madden. (Yes, that’s really his name.) He’s 12 years old, and he’s been reading this blog for a couple years and leaving lots of comments. He knew I was on the verge of snagging No. 5,000 and he was there to witness it. You’ll see a photo of us later, but for now, here’s one of me with the special ball:
I only caught one more ball during BP, and guess what? It was another Alex Rios homer that I caught on the fly:
After BP, the retractable roof of Rogers Center began to open, and I took the following photo of my 5,000th ball:
(That’s kind of dramatic, no? It’s like the heavens are opening up above or…like, the ball is going to be zapped up into a flying saucer.)
Then I got some celebratory ice cream…
…which unfortunately cost $6.75, but whatever. It was delicious, and I was so happy that I didn’t care about overpaying by a few bucks. By the time I finished eating it, the roof was fully open, so I took another photo of the ball with the CN Tower looming in the background:
I hope you’re not getting sick of all the “5,000” photos because I have some more…
I really wanted to get a good one of myself (not wearing White Sox gear) with the ball, so Andrew took a bunch of shots shortly before the game started. Of course, I couldn’t decide which one was the best, so here, you tell me:
Soon after those photos were taken, I got two more baseballs at the Blue Jays’ dugout during pre-game throwing. (This raised my daily total to eight balls, and FYI, the Jays’ dugout is on the 3rd base side.) The first was tossed by Jayson Nix; the second was thrown by Rajai Davis, and as soon as I caught, I handed it to the nearest kid.
This was my view at the start of the game:
There were SO many empty seats. I was sure that I was going to snag a foul ball, but no, once again, the foul ball gods were working against me.
Eric Thames was in the starting lineup for the Jays, and since he had a grand total of ZERO major league home runs, I ran out to right-center field for all of his at-bats. In the photo below, the red arrow is pointing at me:
During the 5th inning, Andrew had to leave to go meet some friends. He swung by the hotel room to drop off his stuff, and before he headed out, he took the following photo:
In case you missed my last two entries, we stayed (past tense because I’m now home in NYC as I’m writing this) in the Renaissance Hotel inside Rogers Centre, and yes, our room had a view of the field.
See all those baseballs lined up on the ledge above? I could see them from my seat down below:
In the bottom of the 6th inning, I headed back to right-center for another Eric Thames at-bat. (He ended up striking out.) On the way, I ran into Jon Madden in the concourse — very convenient because he was actually looking for me. He had brought his copies of two of my books to get signed. Here we are with them:
The green book (which is now out of print) is called How to Snag Major League Baseballs. The black book (which came out two months ago) is called The Baseball. If you’re one of the many people who are trying to track down a copy of How to Snag Major League Baseballs, don’t bother. My new book (The Baseball) has a huge section called “How to Snag Major League Baseballs,” and it’s 10 times better than my first book. (That one section is actually longer than the entire first book.) The first book sucks. It was written badly, and I said a bunch of stupid things, but hey, I wrote it when I was a teenager, so that’s my excuse. In any case, don’t waste your money buying it or your time reading it. Just get the new one. You’ll love it. I promise.
After the 7th inning stretch, Jon Madden and I moved to the 6th row behind the White Sox dugout, and after the 8th inning, I got a this 3rd-out ball from Paul Konerko:
Jose Molina had grounded out to Alexi Ramirez. Ramirez had fired the ball across the diamond, and when Konerko walked toward the dugout with it, he tossed it to me. Pretty simple.
Jon Madden, BTW, had snagged a ball during BP. Here’s his profile on MyGameBalls.com, and in case you want to check it out, here’s his music channel on YouTube. I have to say, it’s pretty impressive that he’s only 12 years old. He looked and acted and sounded much older.
The game lasted 14 innings!
Corey Patterson went 5-for-7 with four runs scored and a solo/walk-off homer. Jose Bautista also hit a homer — his 20th of the season in just his 44th game. Wow.
After the game, Jon Madden and I both got baseballs from home plate umpire Rob Drake. This was my reaction upon stumbling into double digits:
On my way out of the stadium, I gave away another ball to a kid.
The plan was for me was to go find Andrew and his friends at a very old Irish pub/restaurant called Duke of York. After leaving the hotel at 7pm, I walked half a mile to the Union Station subway stop and got on a train heading south:
Six stops later, I got off and found myself here. Look closely and you’ll see the CN Tower way off the distance:
This is what it looked like directly behind me…
…and that’s where I walked to get to the pub. It was a short walk. I turned right at the STOP sign, and Duke of York was just half a block away:
There were three floors and two garden/patio areas, so it took me a minute to find Andrew. Here he is (on the left) with his friends:
We all ordered dinner and hung out for a few hours and, you know, it was nice. I was glad to get away from baseball (and my laptop) for a few hours and meet some new people.
Andrew and I didn’t get back until 11pm. Here’s a night-time photo of our hotel…
…and here’s a look at the 1,815-foot CN Tower:
Finally, when we made it back to the room, I had a chance to photograph my baseballs and update my stats. I didn’t mark my 5,000th ball because I’m hoping to get it signed by Rios. From what I hear, though, he’s not exactly someone who’s easy to get, but in any case, in order to “keep the ball separate” and remember which one it was, I wrapped a large rubber band around it…
• 343 balls in 40 games this season = 8.575 balls per game.
• 701 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 227 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 148 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 5,005 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.)
• 47 donors
• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $68.40 raised at this game
• $2,346.12 raised this season
Hold on! There’s more! Here’s a closer look at Ball No. 5,000:
Do you see those light gray streaks on it? A bunch of the balls I’d caught over the previous two days had similar markings. Could they be unique to Rogers Center — or to the White Sox?
Here are two more photos of the streaks on my 5,000th ball:
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the ball in regular light versus black light:
(I didn’t bring the black light to Toronto, so I took those two pics when I got home.)
Here’s how I protected (and distinguished) the ball after photographing it:
I’m sorry to say that that’s toilet paper. It was otherwise unused, but still.
And finally, here a window sill full of balls:
Ball No. 10,000, here I come…