This was my last game at Safeco, and I wasn’t the only fan on crutches:
In the photo above, that’s me in the middle wearing the white T-shirt and black jacket. See the guy giving the thumbs-up on the left? That’s Max Van Hollebeke, an 18-year-old ballhawk that you might remember from this photo on 6/13/11 at Safeco Field; the other fan on crutches is Max’s 13-year-old brother, Luke, and the girl on the right is their 11-year-old sister, Hannah. The fan wearing the red sweatshirt is Ben Mersereau (aka “sportzfreeka” to those of you who read the comments on this blog), and the guy wearing the light blue jeans is Wayne Peck. Wayne is almost always at Safeco Field, and Max is there quite a bit, but this was the first time that I’d met the others.
Within the first few minutes of batting practice, I got a ball from some kid in the Mariners’ bullpen. I was on the party deck in center field, and when I asked him for it, he walked over and handed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball (upside down, just because) and the kid:
“Are you related to one of the players or coaches?” I asked him.
“I’m the pitching coach’s son,” he said.
It took me a moment to remember who the Mariners’ pitching coach is: Carl Willis. Very cool. Nice kid. I talked to him for a bit, and he gave baseballs to two other fans, including Hannah.
Five minutes later, rookie outfielder Greg Halman threw a ball toward me on the party deck. The ball sailed a bit too high, so I tried to jump for it off my one good foot. That failed. I only got about six inches off the ground, and the ball sailed a foot over my glove. Normally, I would’ve jumped and caught it easily, but in this case, all I could do was turn around and watch helplessly as a few other fans scrambled for it. Incredibly, the ball eluded all of them, ricocheted off some steps 10 feet behind me, and bounced slowly back in my direction — at which point I carefully bent down and picked it up.
After that, I slowly made my way to the area behind the bullpens. Here’s a photo of the awesome setup back there…
…and here’s another:
I *love* the fact that fans can get close to the bullpens at Safeco Field. I mean really close. This, in my opinion, is stadium design at its very best, and I wish more places were built like this.
When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:10pm, the area behind the bullpens cleared out. Most of the fans took off for other sections at that point, and just as I was also planning to leave, an opportunity presented itself. Someone on the Mariners hit a home run that barely cleared the wall in left-center field, landed on the concrete ramp (which you can kind of see in the photo above), and bounced up into the bullpen. The ball ended up very close to the ramp, so when I saw Jaime Navarro heading down that way, I called out to him and pointed at the ball and asked politely if he’d give it to me. He paused for a moment (while walking down the ramp), carefully reached through a space in the railing, grabbed the ball, and threw it to me.
My day was off to a good start, and I attempted to keep things going in right-center field. Of course, it took me five minutes to make it out there — who knows how many baseballs I missed during that time? — but once I arrived, I liked what I saw. This was my view to the right…
…and to the left:
Glove trick heaven!
Max wandered out to that section and warned me that the on-field security guard is anti-glove trick — that whenever a ball lands in the gap, the guard hurries in there and literally runs through and tries to grab it as fast as possible. That was good to know, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter. There weren’t any baseballs that landed there. I stayed in the front row and got three players to throw me balls within a half-hour span. Aaron Laffey hooked me up with the first. Then, when the Angels took the field, I got one from Hisanori Takahashi (who threw it all the way from the warning track in center) and another from a player that I later identified as Bobby Cassevah. It helped that I’d changed into an old-school Angels cap and a bright red Angels shirt. You’ll see photos of this outfit in a bit.
I headed up the steps and hurried (as best I could) behind the batter’s eye. I stopped briefly to photograph the party deck from above…
…as well as the Mariners’ bullpen:
What an awesome stadium.
I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 5,090 baseballs. Now I had 5,096, and I set my sights on snagging four more.
I went to the left field seats and immediately sensed another opportunity. Ever seen a player taunt the fans by repeatedly tossing a ball into the air just beyond their reach? Well, that’s what someone was doing down below, just on the other side of the manual scoreboard. Because the wall/scoreboard is so tall, I couldn’t see the player. The only thing I saw was the ball rising and falling, five or maybe six feet feet out from my spot in the front row. And then…BINGO!!! My crutches!!! It’s like a light bulb went off inside my brain. Yes! I placed one of the crutches on the seats and grabbed the other one by the narrow end at the bottom. Then, moments later, when the ball reappeared briefly right in front of my face, I jabbed the crutch out underneath it like this…
…and tugged back at just the right instant to make the ball hit the inside of the wider/padded portion at the other end. I knew I’d only have one shot at it, and I nailed it! The ball few back toward me and dropped down into the gap between the scoreboard and the stands. Ha-HAAA!!! My plan was working! Next up? The glove trick. I quickly pulled my glove out of my backpack (I had to stick it back in there while hobbling from right to left field) and set up the rubber band and Sharpie. Scott Downs, I realized, was the player who’d been tossing the ball up and down. By the time I was ready to reel in the ball, he and bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio were staring at me from straight-away left field with looks of sheer awe and bewilderment. They kept staring as I (a) lowered the glove and (b) brought it back up with the ball tucked snugly inside. At the end of it all, I held up the crutch and gave them a fist-pump. They responded with subtle nods of approval.
According to Max and Wayne, the ushers don’t mind when fans retrieve balls from the left field gap, so when another one landed there soon after, I sprung back into action:
Unfortunately (and as you can kind of see in the photo above), the ball was trapped in a narrow space at the far edge of the gap. My glove (with the Sharpie propping it open) was too wide to fit down in there, so I used a different piece of equipment:
In order to reach the ball, I had to extend the crutch to the 6-foot-6 setting and then lean waaay down and out of the front row. (Relax, Mom. I wasn’t in danger of flipping over. Well, maybe a little.) I was hoping to knock the ball out of the narrow space and up onto the main portion of the gap’s platform. Balancing carefully on the railing, I took a little back swing with the crutch and swung it one-handed like a golf club. The good news is that I connected with the ball and moved it from that spot. The bad news is that it dropped down into a hole that I hadn’t seen. That was it. It was gone. But I sure as hell had fun trying.
With ten minutes remaining in BP, I got some random Japanese dude in left field to throw me my 8th ball of the day by — how else — asking for it in Japanese. Then I slowly made my way to the dugout and barely got there as the Angels cleared the field. Russell Branyan threw me my 9th ball of the day from the foul line. I had to catch that one bare-handed because my glove was once again back in my bag. One minute later, with Branyan gone and a new batch of Angels approaching, I convinced pitching coach Mike Butcher to toss me another. He didn’t have a ball on him, so he unzipped a ball bag that was sitting on the top step of the dugout and pulled one out for me — and it was brand new. I’m talkin’ right from the Rawlings box to the bag to his hand to my glove. It was my 10th ball of the day and the 5,100th ball I’d ever snagged. Here I am with it:
I took a moment to mark the ball, and then Max took the following photo:
Another example of Safeco Field’s awesomeness: the ushers behind the dugout didn’t immediately kick us out. They knew we didn’t have tickets there, and we knew we were gonna have to leave, but for 20 minutes, they allowed us to sit there and relax. Before long, Ben and Wayne and Luke and Hannah found us, so we all got to hang out some more. Here we all are:
(In the photo above, are the people in the second row trying to lean out of the way? Nice try, guys, except NOT. You actually made the photo worse by drawing attention to yourselves. Next time, just sit there and act like you don’t see the camera.)
When the game started, I decided to head up to the upper deck and wander all over the place. Screw the crutches! I wasn’t going to let them hold me back, and if I missed a ball or two in the process, so be it. I really wanted to explore the outer reaches of the stadium and photograph the place from all angles. Evidently, Max and Luke and Hannah and Ben felt the same way, as did three of Luke’s friend’s. They ALL decided to head upstairs and wander with me. Here we are after getting off the elevator:
See the kid in the green “Seattle 20” jersey? His name is Aiden. Did you notice his left foot? Yeah, our crew was the walking wounded. The kid on his right is named Cody, and the kid at the very back (wearing the black ski cap) is Ross.
Let the tour begin…
The first stop was the very last row of the upper deck. Here I am working my way up the steps:
(Click the photo above for a closer look at my face. My expression really says it all.)
The railings on the steps actually made it harder to get up and down because there wasn’t enough room to brace myself with my crutches at my sides. As a result, I had to carry my crutches and limp all the way up and down.
I decided that after the game, I was going to give away two baseballs to random kids. Here I am with the eight balls that I ended up keeping:
Here’s my lame attempt at making a panorama from the last row:
After spending a couple innings directly behind the plate, the eight of us headed back down to the concourse…
…and around toward the right field side. When we reached the outermost/right-field corner of the concourse, I had to stop and take a photo. Just look:
That roof is, like, something from a sci-fi movie. It’s huge and dramatic-looking, and I love it. What an awesome stadium.
A few minutes later, we walked out through this tunnel…
…and then headed all the way to the right. When we reached the last section of the upper deck (in straight-away right field), I headed all the way up to the top:
In the photo above, the two people on the far left are random fans who happened to be sitting there. The two people (wearing red) to the right of me are Luke and Hannah.
Here’s what it looked like from up there:
I could’ve made that photo lighter (by not pointing my camera right at the setting sun), but then the water wouldn’t have been visible. I really like water. In an alternative life, I could envision myself as a fisherman out at sea for months at a time.
Anyway, the next stop was the farthest corner of the upper deck in left field. We had to walk all the way back around the concourse and, you know, because I like numbers so much, I decided to count my steps — well, not exactly steps, but rather how many times my crutches touched the ground. Luke walked alongside me in perfect unison and helped me count. Wanna guess the number? I’ll give you the answer after this photo:
Three hundred and eight.
That might not sound like a lot of steps, but imagine what it’s like on crutches. Imagine all your weight pressing against your hands and armpits every single time. I was unbelievably sore, but it was totally worth it; I’ll get un-sore in the near future, and there’s no telling when I’ll be back in Seattle. And also, the view from the left field corner of the upper deck was spectacular. See for yourself:
In case it didn’t occur to you, those tracks on the left are used to roll the roof open and closed.
What an awesome stadium.
Here’s the view to the right, taken from the same spot as the previous photo:
The crew had split up by the time I made it back downstairs in the 5th inning. The game was scoreless, and I really didn’t care. I was worn out, but totally happy and in my own little world. This was my view for the last few innings:
Even though I was in a decent foul ball spot, I didn’t bother wearing my glove. I was content just to sit and stare off into space and take a rare break from ballhawking mode — from always being ON, you know? My body and mind needed to relax.
The Mariners ended up winning the game, 3-1. Erik Bedard pitched seven scoreless innings. Greg Halman hit his first career home run (to dead center so no one snagged it.) Ichiro Suzuki hit two doubles and stole two bases, including the 400th of his career.
After the game, I said goodbye to Wayne, Aiden, Cody, and Ross, and I walked out with Max, Luke, Hannah, and Ben. They all asked to take individual photos with me…
…and then Luke and I clowned around for the camera. First we showed our boots…
…and then had a competition to see who could balance the longest on our crutches:
I think Luke won. Close call.
Finally, Max and Hannah and Luke each asked me to sign one of their baseballs:
Not only is Safeco Field an awesome stadium, but there’s an awesome bunch of people who hang out there.
• 438 balls in 53 games this season = 8.26 balls per game.
• 714 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 240 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 5,100 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)
• $69.40 raised at this game
• $3,039.72 raised this season
Two more things…
First = black light: seven of the eight baseballs that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:
Second = Twitter: Check out this awesome tweet that Luke posted last night:
And hey, did you see the photo that I tweeted yesterday afternoon? In case you missed it, I was a given a private tour of Safeco Field by someone who works in the Mariners’ front office. I’ll be blogging about the experience this weekend…