I was 14 years old when I started attending Mets games regularly in the spring of 1992. At the time, one of the Shea Stadium regulars that I got to know was a woman named Karen. She and I used to run into each other all the time, but lately we’ve been seeing each other less and less. Long story short: when I got off the train the other day at Citi Field, she was already waiting outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and before I had a chance to say hello to her, she pulled out copies of my last two books and asked me to sign them. Here we are:
The game was scheduled to begin at 4:10pm. Normally, there would’ve been batting practice, but because there’d been a really long rain delay the night before…
NOTHING — not at first, anyway, but at least there was a sign of life. The grounds crew was on the field. The batting cage and protective screens were set up. Everything was in place for BP; there just weren’t any players.
Fifteen minutes after the stadium opened, this was the scene:
In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing the navy blue shirt behind the dugout?
That was me.
Now, do you see the two guys walking across the left side of the infield? That was Rickie Weeks (also wearing navy blue) and a coach (wearing light gray). The coach had just finished hitting a few dozen fungos to him; the photo above was taken as they walked back toward the dugout with their bag of balls. When they reached the warning track, the coach pulled one out and tossed it to me.
One more thing about the photo above: did you notice the few players/coaches in center field? After I got the ball at the dugout, I jogged through the concourse and headed out there. Here I am making my way behind the batter’s eye:
Who took all these photos, you ask? Jona, of course. You’ll see a photo of us in a bit, but first let me show you what happened when I tried to enter the seats in deep right-center field:
That’s me on the left, being stopped by a “Hospitality Attendant” on the right.
Even though the game was still more than two hours away, and even though we were 14 light-years from home plate, she asked for my ticket. I told her that I didn’t have a ticket for that section. She told me that I wasn’t allowed to enter the seats. I explained that fans are normally allowed to go wherever they want during batting practice, except behind home plate and the dugouts.
“Batting practice,” I said politely, “isn’t technically taking place at the moment, but it’s early enough in the day that I should be able to go down there.”
The woman said that she had to find out what the rule was. Here she is walking toward some other Hospitality Attendants while a security guard waited with me:
The guard wasn’t sure what to do, so I followed the woman to see what was going on.
Ready for it?
The Hospitality Attendants discussed the matter and eventually concluded that I *should* in fact be allowed to enter the right-center field seats.
The players and coaches were in the bullpen at that point, so I walked over and took a peek:
Chris Narveson was pitching, bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel was behind the plate, and manager Ron Roenicke was watching with bullpen coach Stan Kyles. I was the only fan there (and of course I was decked out in Brewers gear), so when they finished, I had no trouble getting Narveson to toss me the ball.
Then, as the stadium got a bit more crowded, I headed to the left field foul line when the rest of the pitching staff came out to throw:
Stan Kyles ended up tossing me a ball, which had a magic-marker streak through the sweet spot:
Many years ago, the Brewers used to mark their baseballs like this. Then there was a time when they didn’t mark them at all. Then they went to the marker streak. Then they started writing random crap on the balls (which made BP even more fun). And now they’re back to the streak. What next?!
The Brewers didn’t take BP, so the Mets pushed their own time slot back and started hitting at 2:30pm. That’s when I headed out to left-center field. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing at me:
Batting practice was dead. During the 40 minutes that the Mets were hitting, only a handful of batted balls reached the seats, and I didn’t snag any. Meanwhile, lots of balls were tossed to kids in the front row. I could’ve easily snagged this one by reaching over their gloves…
…but pulled my own glove back at the last second to let them go for it.
In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing the Jason Pridie Twins jersey? That’s my friend (and jersey-God) Ben Weil. I’m telling you, he has more jerseys than anyone. Ever. In the history of history. Someday I’m going to blog about it so you can see for yourself.
The final group of BP featured four lefties, so I made the trek to the second deck in right field. (It really *is* a trek to get there. You have to go all the way to the concourse in foul territory in shallow right field, then take a long escalator to the top, then walk through the concourse toward fair territory, then proceed through a couple of zig-zagging ramps, then cross the wide open-air concession area, then head down a few steps toward a slightly lower platform-thingie, and finally make your way down into the seats. It’s soooo not worth it. I pretty much ran up there for the exercise.) Here’s what it looked like up there:
Not surprisingly, there was a grand total of ZERO home runs that reached the seats.
And then batting practice ended.
Right before the game started, I made my way down to the 3rd base dugout and got a warm-up ball from Jerry Hairston. Before leaving the section, I asked the nearest security guard if there were any kids that he wanted to give a ball to. He said yes, so I handed it over and watched from afar. Here’s how it played out:
In the photo above, the kid is holding up the ball so that the fan on the far right (wearing the yellow cap) could see it. I assumed that was his father, but regardless, it was a cute scene that left me felling warm-n-fuzzy. This was one of three balls that I gave away over the course of the day.
Jona and I had really good seats for the game. This was our view:
It was a good foul-ball spot, made even better by the empty space on both sides. This was the view to my left…
…and this was the view to my right:
I seriously thought I was gonna catch at least two foul balls there, but no, the only one that came close flew directly over my head and was bobbled/snagged by a fan who was sitting seven rows behind me.
At one point in the middle of the game, I spent a few minutes wandering and taking photos of the fancy club that was connected to our section. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
By the time I made it back through this tunnel to the seats…
…something rather insane was happening. Have a look at the following photo and see if you can spot it:
Here’s a closer look:
Do you see the smoke billowing up behind the Budweiser sign? Evidently, there was a huge fire right across the street at one of the chop shops. Check out this brief article about it on MLB.com. I was tempted to run up to the upper deck in left field and have a look — dozens of fans were converging there — but I didn’t want to leave my awesome foul-ball spot.
Instead, I took this photo with Jona:
See the bruise on my nose in the photo above? Three words: Nationals Park security (with “security” in humongous quotes). Click here if you missed that story from earlier in the week.
As for the game…
The Brewers had a 7-1 lead after six innings.
The Mets scored five in the seventh and three more in the eighth to take a 9-7 lead.
The Brewers then scored four in the ninth and held on for an 11-9 win.
That’s just a quick/cheap recap; being there and witnessing it in person was really exciting. The best part was hearing Francisco Rodriguez get booed mercilessly — and then watching him surrender the three go-ahead runs in the eighth. Of course, the Brewers’ rally in the ninth made him a winner.
After the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, and when the Brewers walked in from the bullpen, I got another from Stan Kyles behind the dugout. I was surprised that he didn’t recognize me. Perhaps the fact that I’d removed my hat had something to do with it.
• 811 balls in 95 games this season = 8.54 balls per game.
• 756 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 538 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 382 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 5,473 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.)
• 56 donors
• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $42.72 raised at this game
• $5,774.32 raised this season
Finally, of the three balls that I kept, two have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the balls in regular light versus black light: