Let’s start with a photo of the GIGANTIC crowd outside the center field gate, 25 minutes before the stadium opened. Ready? Here goes:
Yeah. It’s like that. And by the time the stadium did open, there were only about a dozen more people.
Speaking of Wayne and his shirt, here’s a closer look at him/it:
When the gate opened at 4:40pm, I made my way to the party deck in center field and grabbed the corner spot next to the camera. Wayne then took the following photo of me from behind:
Eleven days after spraining my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field, I was still on crutches and (as you’ll see later) still wearing a bulky aircast.
Mariners pitcher David Pauley tossed me my 1st ball of the day, and soon after, I used my glove trick to snag another — a ground-rule double that a nearby fan dropped into the gap below. Wayne had his own glove trick, but generously let me go for the ball.
At around 5pm, I moved to the area behind the visitors’ bullpen. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:
In the photo above, did you notice the ball sitting on the grass? Well, there was a nearby usher who kindly looked the other way as I repeatedly flung my glove out and knocked it closer. Here are four photos, taken by Josh, that captured the action:
(Awesome photos, Josh. Thanks!)
Once the ball was directly below me, I made the easy snag with my glove trick.
Two minutes later, another ball landed in the bullpen. I used the glove trick once again and promptly handed the ball to the nearest/youngest fan. Here I am with him and his parents:
The “fan” was a four-month-old baby. Normally, I only give balls to kids with gloves, but in this case, an exception was clearly in order.
Moments later, another home run ball landed in the bullpen, and like the others that I’d just snagged, it was within reach. Why the hell hadn’t I hung out here the day before?! The setup behind the bullpen was ideal, and the opportunities seemed to be endless. I was practically drooling at the thought of glove-tricking 10 or 20 balls over the course of BP — and then it all came crashing down.
“Don’t do that,” said a different usher as I flung my glove out.
In an instant, my mood went from excited to deflated. I tried to reason with the guy, but it was no use. He was stationed right near the bullpen and simply wouldn’t change his mind. And then, to make matters worse, another ball landed in the bullpen and rolled right below me.
I didn’t know what to do with myself at that point. On one hand, I didn’t want to stay there, but on the other hand, it required too much of an effort to move. Hmm, what to do…
Just then, I noticed that the roof was closing, so I decided to stay for a minute and take some photos. Here’s the best one I got:
In the photo above, do you see the fan in the corner spot above (and to the right of) the bullpen? He’s wearing red and white Angels gear. I’d met him the day before, and just a few minutes earlier, he and his friend had been standing behind me as I used the glove trick. His name is Devin Trone, and according to his MyGameBalls.com profile, he’s snagged a lifetime total of 256 baseballs. He doesn’t go for toss-ups or use a retrieval device; he just tries to catch batted balls, so obviously his numbers could be a lot higher. Really nice guy.
After taking photos of the roof and once again contemplating my next move, a right-handed batter on the Mariners drilled a deep fly ball right at me. I’m not sure who hit it. I think it was either Greg Halman or Franklin Gutierrez, but anyway, the ball cleared the outfield wall, landed two-thirds of the way back in the bullpen, and skipped up toward me off the grass. I jumped off my good leg and lunged over the ledge and caught it.
A female security supervisor walked up to me after that.
“We have a ruling on you throwing your mitt out there at the balls,” she said very matter-of-factly.
“Am I in trouble?” I asked. I had a sinking feeling in my gut and didn’t know what she’d say. I thought she was going to tell me that if I did it again, I’d be ejected — or maybe she was going to cut the string off my glove. My heart was racing.
“Not at all,” she said. “The rule is that you can get the balls so long as there are no players in the bullpen.”
“Oh!” I said, trying to contain my excitement.
“Can you agree to that?”
“Yes,” I said calmly, “I think that’s reasonable, and I appreciate it.”
Before she left, I made sure that the strict usher knew about the official ruling. Unfortunately, however, the two baseballs that had recently landed in the bullpen had already been removed by a police officer who was stationed there.
I was so pumped after that. All I could think was, “C’mon baby, let’s see some longballs!” but of course nothing else reached the bullpen. I’m happy to say, though, that I got Brandon League to throw me a ball from deep left field — I had to lunge even farther for that one — and then I got Jamey Wright to throw me another. I gave that final ball to a kid (with a glove!) who was standing nearby with his mother.
The security lady came back.
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” she began, “but the big boss overheard our conversation and said you can’t place anything in the bullpen.”
“Are you serious?!” I asked.
“Yes, unfortunately,” she said, “it’s considered part of the field, and we can’t have any objects thrown or lowered there.”
That was that. I can’t really blame the Mariners for being strict about the bullpen. I mean, some teams are fine with retrieval devices, even when used to pluck balls off the warning track. What annoyed me is that Safeco Field has been open for TWELVE years, and the polices still aren’t set in stone. Make a decision. Inform ALL your employees of that decision. And then stick to it. It’s not hard. Come on. This is a widespread problem throughout the major leagues. Some ushers are nice, some ushers are mean, and they all seem to invent or ignore rules at will.
Anyway, I’d snagged seven balls by the time the Angels took the field, so I was thinking about reaching double digits. Beyond that, I was hoping to break the single-game Safeco Field record of 11, set by Max Van Hollebeke on May 31, 2010.
I threw on my Angels gear and headed up to the corner spot above the visitors’ bullpen. Wayne eventually wandered over and took another photo of me:
I spent the entire portion of the Angels’ batting practice shouting/begging unsuccessfully for baseballs. It was bizarre how every single player ignored me. At one point, I took off my hat to make sure that I wasn’t accidentally wearing the wrong one. (I’ve done that several times.) Fernando Rodney, Ervin Santana, Bobby Abreu, and coach Alfredo Griffin were all standing below me, and despite my polite requests in Spanish, they didn’t even look up.
Finally, with two minutes remaining in BP, Santana tossed a ball to me, and then as all the players began jogging off the field, Griffin turned around and threw me another. For some reason, I wasn’t wearing my glove when Griffin let it fly, and I was bracing myself with one of my crutches, so I had to catch the ball one-/bare-handed while leaning out a bit over the railing. It wasn’t hard, just strange, and I handed the ball to a little kid (with a glove!) behind me.
Before the game, Angels bullpen coach Steve Soliz played catch with Hang Conger along the left field foul line. I slowly worked my way over there and took the following photo of Soliz throwing the ball:
When they finished, Soliz tossed it to me, and I handed it to the nearest kid. As soon as I did that, I kinda wished that I’d kept it because it marked the first time that I’d reached double digits at this stadium, but whatever. It just made me extra motivated to snag another.
Just before the Mariners took the field, I caught up with Wayne, who’d brought his copy of my 2nd book, Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are with it:
It looks like we’re standing on the field, doesn’t it?
The wall in foul territory is very low, and hey, since there were several empty seats in the front row, I decided to stay there. This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:
I was convinced that I was going to snag a foul ball there, but not surprisingly, I got kicked out within a couple minutes. When the usher asked me where I was supposed to be sitting, I pointed back and over a couple sections and told her that my folks were there. She bought it. And it was almost true. There WERE, in fact, parents sitting where I pointed — just not my parents. Do you know the name Todd Cook? He’s a diehard Mariners fan who travels all over with his kids and tries to get baseballs (and ice cream helmets) and blogs about it. Here’s a photo of me with his family that was taken on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards — the day I caught three foul balls during one game. Todd’s parents are partial season ticket holders at Safeco Field. I’d never met them before, but they were at this game, and Todd had told me where to find them. In fact, he asked me to find them because, he said, they were going to bring their copy of my new book, The Baseball, so that I could sign it. Here we are with it:
Todd’s parents’ names are Marilyn and Jim. I wasn’t planning to sit with them for more than an inning or two, but (a) they were incredibly friendly, (b) they had awesome seats and lent me a ticket stub when the usher came down, and (c) a friend of mine arrived in the top of the 2nd inning with his kid, and they needed a place to sit, so when they came and found me, I just stayed there, and we all hung out. This was our view:
Did you notice this in the previous photo?
Cheer up, man! The Mariners might suck, but you’re at a major league baseball game!
I was sitting on the end seat next to the stairs, directly in front of Jim, who was wearing a glove. Marilyn was sitting on his left. My friend and his kid (who you’ll soon see) were sitting on my left. Sorry if that’s confusing, but you have to understand the seating arrangement. Here’s a really cheap diagram that should make it clearer:
Are you with me? Okay…
Given the fact that I was injured AND invading Jim’s area, I decided not to wear my glove. The odds of a foul ball coming right to us were very slim, and if I had to get up and move…screw it. Todd had told me that his father had snagged two foul balls over the years, so I figured I’d let the man snag a third — that is, if one happened to come our way. (Despite being on the verge of tying/breaking the single-game Safeco Field record and feeling extra motivated 20 minutes earlier, I was now feeling pretty chill about everything.)
Well, with nobody out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Adam Kennedy fouled off a towering pop-up, and wouldn’t you know it? The ball was heading right for us. At first, I thought it was going to come to ME, so I got ready to bare-hand it. As I said before, I was prepared to let Jim go for any foul balls — but not at the expense of my getting hit. The ball kept coming and coming, and I’m telling you, I was directly in line with it. At the last second, though, I realized that it was going to land a few feet behind me, so I half-heartedly reached back for it. I knew that it was going to fall just beyond my reach, and I figured that Jim would be there to catch it. Sadly (and terrifyingly), that’s not what happened. Jim had misjudged it and shifted over to the other side of the stairs, so by the time the ball landed, it was beyond his reach as well.
I heard the ball strike something that sounded like bone. It’s a truly eerie and unmistakable sound, and for a split-second, I was freaking out and imagining the worst — that Marilyn might have gotten hit on the head.
“OW!!! OW!!! OW!!!” she yelled, holding the back of her right hand.
She was in serious pain, and as I turned to get a better look at her, I tweaked my bad ankle and noticed the ball trickling down the steps right to me. I grabbed the ball (there were no other fans involved in the “scuffle”) and before I even had a chance to give it to her, I got booed by some schmucks in the second deck. Seriously, people?! I was going to give her the ball, and I *did* give it to her a minute later, but when she first got nailed by it, the ball itself was the least of our concerns. She was in pain. I was in pain. My friend’s (six-year-old) kid was utterly amazed by the whole thing. And then the usher rushed down the stairs with an ice pack and two paramedics.
“Can I get another bag of ice?” I asked, and within a minute, I had it. For the next few innings, Marilyn iced her hand, and I iced/wrapped my foot. What the HELL is going on with me this month? It’s been one ball-related disaster after another.
The following photo shows what happened next:
Marilyn and I each had to fill out a “Safeco Field Incident/Accident Report Card.”
I had already given her the ball at that point; she “lent” it back to me so that I could take a picture of it. And then she lent me this as well:
Even though I was the one who’d snagged the ball, the usher handed her that nifty “Seattle Mariners Foul Ball Club Member” card. No biggie. I was glad just to photograph it so I could share it here on the blog.
What an insane series of events. And hey! I got my 11th ball of the day out of it! (Ugh. Stupid Adam Kennedy. If possible, I would gladly give up that snag and undo the whole thing. I’m sure Marilyn feels the same way.)
Here’s a photo of the five of us:
In the photo above, the guy wearing the brown jacket and red plaid shirt is the mystery friend that I’ve been talking about. His name is Joe Kelly, and we’ve been friends since 1995. That’s when I spent a summer working (as a 17-year-old unpaid intern) for the Boise Hawks, a Class A short-season minor league baseball team in the Northwest League. Joe was the head groundskeeper, and the rest, as they say, is history. He’s one of my all-time favorite people in the world. You know how some people just have something magical about their personalities? That’s Joe. He never went to college, and yet he’s smarter and writes better than most of my New York writer-friends. He’s completely crude (even in front of his son), yet eloquent and inspiring and hilarious at the same time. He’s the coolest dude ever, doesn’t give a damn about anything, never used to wear a shirt, smoked two packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes every day, and just…I don’t know. I love him. I’m not IN love with him — that’s an important distinction — but I truly love that man and can’t imagine not knowing him. I hadn’t seen him for four years, so it was incredible to be reunited with him and to get to know his son, Booker, who was wearing diapers when I’d seen him last.
Joe and Booker went to get food during the middle innings, and when they returned, Joe made good use of my crutches:
I said goodbye to Jim and Marilyn before the 9th inning and headed closer to the dugout. This was my view in the bottom of the 9th — of Jered Weaver pitching to Ichiro Suzuki:
Suzuki doubled to right-center on that pitch, but Weaver escaped the jam and completed the game with a 128-pitch effort. Final score: Angels 4, Mariners 0.
As soon as the last out was recorded, I sprung into action and hopped down the steps into the front row. I just needed ONE more ball to break the Safeco Field record, and unfortunately, I didn’t get anything from home plate umpire Joe West as he walked off the field. Weaver, of course, wasn’t going to toss his “shutout ball” into the crowd, but thankfully, Alfredo Griffin walked out with a ball in his back pocket. Was he going to remember me from BP? I had no idea. All I could do was ask and hope…and he tossed it to me! Hell yeah!! The Angels relievers were quickly approaching from the bullpen, so I limped through the second row toward the outfield end of the dugout, and BAM, Jordan Walden tossed me a ball as well. I had to reach way out for it and battle a pack of rowdy/gloveless/grown-up fans who were clawing for it. Whatever. It was clearly intended for me, and I’d already given away five balls at this game, so I felt that I had a right to snag this one. And then, as it turned out, those fans got a ball tossed to them, so everyone was happy. Here I am with my record-breaking 12th and 13th balls of the day:
Wayne and Josh and Josh’s girlfriend Ginny caught up with me:
We were some of the last fans to leave the stadium, and once I made it outside, I got a photo with Joe and Booker:
Booker is the coolest kid ever. Joe says he’s “gonna be famous,” and I believe it. Perhaps this blog entry is the start.
(Keep reading past the stats for more photos…)
• 428 balls in 52 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.
• 713 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 239 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 135 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 26 different stadiums with at last one game with ten or more balls
• 6 consecutive games at which someone showed up with a copy of The Baseball
• 5,090 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.)
• 52 donors
• $6.94 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $90.22 raised at this game
• $2,970.32 raised this season
Okay, time for more photos…
Six of the eight baseballs that I brought back to the hotel have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:
One of the balls has an eye-catching streak on the MLB logo, almost as if the ball IN the logo is whizzing past at a high speed:
Another one of the balls has a “secret fingerprint.” That’s what Booker and I called it. Check it out:
I told Booker that he could pick one baseball and keep it. He chose the one with the fingerprint.
“I bet Uncle Zack’ll sign it for you if you ask nicely,” said Joe.
Booker did indeed ask nicely, and this is what I wrote on it:
Joe and Booker had made the three-hour drive from Portland, Oregon to meet me at Safeco Field, and they crashed in my hotel room. While Joe read the paper and I got started on this blog entry, Booker entertained himself by playing video games:
As I sit here writing this, Joe and Booker are already gone, but we didn’t have a sad goodbye. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a train to Portland to spend a long weekend with them. But first, I have to survive one more game at Safeco — or maybe Safeco has to survive one more game with me…