Another two-stadium doubleheader? Oh yes, my friends. I’d already done it twice this season, first on 4/14/11 at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium and again on 8/23/11 at Progressive Field and PNC Park. Why not try it once more in the Bay Area?
The A’s had a 1:05pm game against the last-place Mariners, and the Giants had a 6:05pm game against the first-place Diamondbacks. AT&T Park was scheduled to open 4:05pm, and it was going to take at least 45 minutes to get there. I wanted to arrive an hour early, so I figured that I had to leave the Coliseum at around 2pm. That gave me three hours inside the stadium, and not surprisingly, there was no batting practice. This was the first sign of life:
The photo above shows Chone Figgins fielding softly-hit fungos at third base. (Look closely and you’ll see him making an off-balance throw across his body.) When he finished and headed back to the dugout, Mariners bench coach Robby Thompson reached into the equipment bag and flipped me a brand new baseball.
Ten minutes later, several A’s began playing catch in left field, and since there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of competition from other fans, I had no trouble getting Gio Gonzalez to throw me his ball when he finished. The dozen fans in the section were more interested in getting his autograph, so when they called him over, I got him to sign a ticket that I’d saved from the previous game. Check it out:
In the photo above, the player wearing the helmet is a rookie catcher named Anthony Recker. I got him to sign another ticket and later got Jemile Weeks to sign it as well. In the photo below, Recker’s signature is on the right:
Before long, both teams’ pitching staffs were playing catch. Look closely at the following photo and you’ll see the Mariners all the way across the field:
I stayed in left field and got one of the players (no idea who) to throw me a ball. Then I raced to the right field corner and got another from Felix Hernandez. That ball was rubbed up with mud, and it was sticky with pine tar. Interesting.
There were a bunch of Mariners fans camped out near the bullpen, and they were shouting like hell at Hernandez. I didn’t think he was going to come over. But he did. And I got him to sign my final ticket:
Allow me to point out two things which you probably didn’t notice:
1) Of the three tickets that I’ve shown in this entry, two were for section 219 (which is on the 3rd base side of home plate), and one was for section 215 (which is on the 1st base side). That’s what allowed me to run back and forth throughout the game, and as a result, I snagged two foul balls.
2) In the upper left corner of the photo above, there’s a player on the field with a very little kid. That’s Jason Vargas and (I assume) his son.
They were playing something that resembled catch, and when they finished, Hernandez was still signing, so every fan on the right field side of the stadium was focusing on him. As Vargas and his kid began walking back toward the dugout, I cut through the seats to keep pace with them and got Vargas to throw me my 5th ball of the day. Here’s a photo that I took moments later:
Something beautiful happened before the game: the A’s took infield practice. I can’t begin to describe how much I love infield practice. It’s baseball’s version of ballet. Teams used to do it all the time (right after BP) and now I never see it. I can’t even remember the last time I saw it. It’s been years. I don’t think I’ve even seen it in this millennium. Here’s a photo (that doesn’t capture the magic) that I took from afar:
This was my view during the game…
…and this is a Hideki Matsui foul ball that I snagged in the bottom of the 4th inning, mere minutes before I had to leave:
(The A’s were leading, 2-0, at the time, and let me tell you, it was painful to leave.)
In the photo above, do you see all those empty seats? That was the view to my left. I ran two full sections in that direction to grab the ball. The lack of competition was absurd. I mean, it was so easy to snag baseballs before/during this game that I was almost ashamed of myself. That said, a ball is a ball is a ball, and I was glad to pad my total a bit before heading to the zoo known as AT&T Park.
The following six-part photo shows the journey that it took to get there. Have a look and then I’ll explain below:
1) the bridge that connects the Coliseum to the BART station
2) Jona, Brandon, and Brandon’s girlfriend Siobhan on the BART train
(Brandon is wearing the Angels cap. He and Siobhan and Jona didn’t attend the A’s game. We timed it so that I met them on train. And by the way, Siobhan’s name is pronounced “Sha-VON.”)
3) another station where we caught the Muni train
4) Jona and Siobhan on the Muni
5) the view from the Muni
6) AT&T Park across the street from the Muni platform
It was 3:15pm.
Jona, Brandon, and Siobhan went to lunch.
I walked around the stadium…
…and headed toward the center field gate:
In the photo above, do you see the man standing near the garbage can? That’s Todd, the guy I mentioned in my last entry. Remember? I had said that he was a key player during my weekend in the Bay Area, and here’s one of the reasons why: he held a spot for me at the front of the line so that I could wander out to the Portwalk and stay there right up until 4pm and try to snag a ball before the stadium opened and not have to worry about getting in late. As it turned out, the other two guys in the photo above recognized me and were willing to help. One of them, a season ticket holder named Bill who sits in section 138, joined me on the Portwalk…
…and helped me get this:
It’s hard to see in the photo above, but there’s a tiny space in the outfield wall, just above one of the padded beams; Bill shouted at one of the Giants’ coaches and got him to push a ball through the opening for me. The ball didn’t roll far enough for me to reach it through the gate, so Bill called out to an usher that he knew on the inside and got him to retrieve it and hand it to me.
Before I headed back to the center field gate, I caught up with the unofficial mayor of the Portwalk. Here he is:
His name is Joe Dirt (don’t ask), and he’s there just about every game with his water-retrieval device. (He’s missed two games this season because he had to rehearse with his band.) Since the stadium opened in 2000, he’s snagged 17 game home run balls from McCovey Cove. If you see him, go say hi and tell him that Zack from New York sent you. The man is a legend.
When the stadium opened, I made a beeline for the left field bleachers. In the photo below, I’m inside the red circle:
Before the stands got packed, I used my glove trick to snag a ball off the warning track and then caught a Pat Burrell homer on the fly.
One of the many great things about AT&T Park is that fans are allowed to use all kinds of retrieval devices, and it’s totally acceptable to snag balls directly off the field. Quite simply, Giants management realized that their fans wanted to snag baseballs like that, so they decided to allow it. Bill told me that when the Dodgers were in town several years ago, the players complained about all the retrieval devices, and Giants management essentially said, “Too bad. This is our stadium, and we run things our way, and our fans want to snag baseballs off the warning track, so deal with it.” How awesome is that?! And that’s just one example of the fan-friendliness. You know that annoying rule across Major League Baseball that says you can’t bring an open beverage inside stadiums? Well, here in San Francisco, there’s a simple solution. The security guards at the gates have a stack of tiny plastic cups; if a fan wants to bring in an open beverage, the guards pour a tiny bit into a cup and sniff it. As long as it’s not alcohol or gasoline (or whatever), it’s good to go. TA-DAAA!!! What a concept!!! I love San Francisco so much and want nothing but good things to happen to the team and the people who live there. Of course, the fact that retrieval devices are allowed means that lots of guys have them, and there’s a ton of competition for balls. Here I am (wearing pink) losing out to a man who had a net attached to the end a rope:
Here I am after losing another battle to a man named Alex Patino:
If Alex’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because I included him in The Baseball as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time. (See pages 283-284 and get ready to laugh your ass off at his obnoxiously funny quotes.) Alex had a device that blew mine away. He had a small cooking pot with two bungee cords stretched over the opening, and the pot was attached to a long, flat, dog-leash-type-of thing. At one point, when there was a ball near the outfield grass, he threw the pot out there and knocked it closer. Then he lifted it back up and dropped it down over the ball — and that was it. The device is indestructible, and when he talked a little trash, I said, “Yeah, but I still have the height advantage.” I said it loud so all the regular ballhawks heard me, and everyone cracked up. Alex personally robbed me of three balls from the warning track, and although I wasn’t too happy about it at the time, I can only shrug now. There’s absolutely no ballhawking etiquette in San Francisco — not that I witnessed, at least — and I got the sense that most of the guys in the left field bleachers would rob their own mothers.
Here I am getting robbed again, this time by a gloveless fan on a home run:
In the two-part photo above, I’m wearing red Diamondbacks gear. The man on my right literally reached into my glove and ended up knocking the ball back onto the field.
When I said that all kinds of retrieval devices are allowed at AT&T Park, I wasn’t kidding. Check out the one below:
In case you can’t tell, that’s a 15-foot light bulb changer with a little “grabber” on the end! I’m actually surprised that THAT is allowed inside the stadium, but hey, the Giants are cool as hell, and anything goes in San Francisco.
In the photo above, do you see the guy in the old-school/purple Diamondbacks hat? That’s Todd (who, by the way, leaves comments as “Todd A.” on this blog). He’d spent an awful lot of money on some incredibly fancy tickets right behind home plate, and he got me down there after BP. From there, I wandered over to the heavily-guarded section behind the Diamondbacks’ dugout:
Look how crowded it was in the bleachers at the end of BP:
It was truly insane out there, so I was glad to sacrifice the final few minutes in order to head to the dugout — and it paid off. When the players cleared the field, J.J. Putz tossed me a ball on his way in. All four balls that I’d snagged (at AT&T Park) had ugly marker streaks through the sweet spot:
After BP, while wandering in search of garlic fries, I ran into a young fan named Connor who recognized me and asked me to sign a ball. Here he is with it:
That ball might look dirty and disgusting, but he’d actually snagged it in that condition at a recent game. It must’ve been used all day as the infield warm-up ball.
At the start of the game, I was allowed to stand in a tunnel near the Diamondbacks’ on-deck circle. Check out the view:
Pretty sick, huh?
In the following photo, do you see the three rows of seats directly behind the protective screen?
That section is called the Lexus Dugout Club. That’s where Todd sat.
Brandon, meanwhile, was chillin’ in the upper deck with Siobhan and Jona. Here’s a photo that he took from up top. I’m inside the red circle
I could’ve stayed there longer, but I needed to get a photo with my stadium number sign, and I wanted to do it in a place where I could see the water. Therefore, I headed upstairs and walked through the upper deck concourse…
…and ended up here:
OH YEAH, BABY!!!!!!
19 STADIUMS DOWN, 11 TO GO!!!!!
After the photo session in the upper deck, Brandon and Siobhan left the stadium and went to dinner across the street. Jona and I headed downstairs and walked across the Arcade. Look how glorious it is:
There’s standing room.
There’s running room.
AT&T Park could not have been designed any better.
Check out the view from the Arcade in straight-away right field:
Joe Dirt was still on the Portwalk, and there were a few kayakers behind him:
Jona and I didn’t stay there long. We wandered for a couple innings and marveled at the size of the crowd. (The crowds are even bigger at Yankee Stadium — 47,000 per game versus 42,000 — but the atmosphere is much more subdued.) Look how packed it was in the bleachers:
Here’s a shot of the concession stands in dead center field:
Beautiful, beautiful, and furthermore, beautiful.
In the top of the 4th, Jona and I headed back down to the fancy section near home plate, and when Tim Lincecum struck out to end the inning, I got Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero to toss me the ball. Todd saw me get it from his nearby seat and came over to say hey. Here we are:
Throughout the game, every seat in that section was taken, but when the D’backs scored a pair of runs in the top of the 9th to take a 7-2 lead, lots of fans headed for the exits. As a result, I ended up sitting here for the last few outs:
The one bad thing about sitting there was that I was truly concerned about my safety. I constantly felt like I was one check-swing away from losing my teeth. Or an eye. Or my life. No joke. I don’t know how people (without gloves or hand-eye coordination) can sit there and not be scared. Maybe it’s because they didn’t research a century’s worth of gruesome injuries for a chapter called “Death by Baseball” and I did.
After the final out, I worked my way to the front row behind the middle of the dugout, and just when I thought all the Diamondbacks were gone, a coach poked his head out and made eye contact with me and tossed me a ball. That was my 6th at this game (and 12th overall on the day), and I gave it to Todd. Because of him, I snagged three balls that I definitely wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and by the way, I forgot to mention that I gave two baseballs to kids at the Coliseum.
Before I headed up the steps toward the concourse, I caught up with Connor, who showed me the ball that I’d signed for him earlier. Check this out:
Do you recognize that signature?
That would be Barry Bonds.
Connor told me that Bonds had been sitting near him during the game, and that Bonds was friendly (imagine THAT) about signing. When Connor handed him the ball, Bonds looked at it for a moment and asked who the other guy was who’d signed it. (HA!!!) Connor then told him a little bit about me.
“Did you tell him that I caught one of his home runs?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he said, “I forgot.”
• 882 balls in 106 games this season = 8.32 balls per game.
• 767 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 292 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 158 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 141 foul balls, 16 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)
• 5,544 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.)
• 57 donors
• $7.16 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $85.92 raised at these two games
• $6,315.12 raised this season