Before I talk about Wrigley Field, I need to tell you about something that happened on the way there because it was SO DAMN AGGRAVATING. Basically, I just need to vent for a minute, because if I don’t, it’s going to stay bottled up inside, and that’s not healthy. Right?
First, have a look at the following photo. It shows me walking across a lane of traffic at a toll plaza in Illinois:
The story is that the tolls in Illinois are stupid and moronic and idiotic and all messed up. At the previous toll plaza, which my friend Brandon and I had driven through the night before, we received a ticket from a machine — you know, one of those slips of paper that indicates where you are so that your distance can be tracked. Well, when we got to the next toll (pictured above), we handed over the ticket and learned that we had to pay two fees. First, there was a $1.90 charge just for being there, and in addition to that, based on where we’d been when we received the ticket, we had to pay an additional $2.15, or something dumb like that. I forget the exact amount, but it was a random/annoying total that required nickels and dimes. In any case, the stupid/moronic/idiotic/messed-up part is that before we paid, we were told that we had to fill out a form with our license plate number as well as the date/time that we’d passed through the previous toll. We were also told that we could (a) pay online or (b) pay through the mail or (c) pay the next time we passed through this particular toll plaza (as along as it was within seven days, which of course wasn’t gonna happen) or (d) pull off on the side of the road and fill out the form and then take it back to the toll booth and hand over the cash to go with it. Given the fact that we were on the verge of running late, we were NOT happy to be forced to jump though all of these ridiculous hoops, but regardless, we chose Option D, and that’s why I was walking across the friggin’ highway. Unreal. I might have to put the Hample Jinx on the entire state of Illinois.
Okay. (Deep breath.) I feel better now. Ready to hear about Wrigley?
Brandon and I arrived at around 4:15pm and headed straight to Waveland Avenue — the famous street behind the left field bleachers. That’s where I ran into an old friend and *legendary* ballhawk named Moe Mullins. Here we are:
Moe might look familiar to those of you who own a copy of The Baseball (see pages 271-272) and even to some of you who don’t. He’s been interviewed and featured all over the place, and he’s recognized by lots of people as the No. 1 ballhawk of all time. When I asked him what his lifetime total was up to, he said, “Hang on, I gotta take a look at my schedule.” It’s not that he was too busy to give me an answer; he literally writes the number of balls that he snags ON his Cubs pocket schedule. Check it out:
As you can see, he writes the number of balls each day and totals it up each month — pretty impressive stats for a guy in his 60s who doesn’t ask for toss-ups and hardly ever sets foot in foul territory. But the most impressive stats are written on the top of the schedule: “241 HR’s” and “5 GS.” Of the 5,517 baseballs that Moe has now snagged, 241 have been game home runs, including five grand slams. (Wow, oh my god, holy crap, and furthermore wow.) I might have him beat in “total balls,” but when it comes to game home runs, he’s the undisputed king, and I bow down to his greatness.
Another bigtime ballhawk named Dave Davison (who refused to be interviewed for my book) was also hanging out on Waveland Avenue. More on him in a bit.
The Cubs were about to start taking BP, so I headed around to Sheffield Avenue — the street behind the right field bleachers. On that side of the stadium, there’s a gate with a space in it (similar to the one at AT&T Park) that allows people to see inside. That’s where I hung out for the next half-hour, and that’s where a young woman named Kyra found me with her copy of The Baseball. Here we are with it:
The signed book was going to be a gift for her boyfriend Ryan, who was stuck in school that day. (I hope he’s received it by now or else I just ruined the surprise.)
Ten minutes later, a batter on the Cubs ripped a line drive into the right field corner. John Grabow jogged over to retrieve it, and guess what happened next? I got him to throw the ball to me over the bleachers and onto the street. Here I am making the catch:
Hot damn! I was pumped!
Dave (the guy wearing the dark green shirt in the photo above) and the few other old-school ballhawks out there gave me crap about begging for toss-ups, but whatever. They all had smiles on their faces, and we were all doing what we each wanted to do: they were strictly trying to catch home runs, and I was trying to snag as many balls as possible.
Here I am marking the ball with a tiny “5691”:
I no longer mark all of my baseballs — just the ones that are extra-special. This one qualified since I snagged it outside the stadium and because it was my first ball at Wrigley in two and a half years.
Shortly before the gates opened, I ran into another friend and superstar ballhawk named Rich Buhrke. Here we are shaking hands:
Over the past few decades, Rich has snagged more than 3,500 balls, including 175 home runs at major league games. Like Moe, he’s also gotten his glove on five grand slams, and you can read more about him in The Baseball. (See pages 273-274.)
When the stadium opened at 5pm, Moe and I were two of the first fans to head inside…
…and it didn’t take long before I got robbed. Check out the follow two-part photo. The arrow on the left shows a home run ball streaking down right to me; the arrow on the right is pointing to the glove that caught it:
Oh well. These things happen. And it didn’t take long for my fortunes to change.
My 2nd ball of the day was a Reed Johnson homer that I caught on the fly after climbing up three rows. My 3rd ball, pictured below in mid-air, was a toss-up from rookie pitcher John Gaub:
Here’s a photo that I took of my 4th ball of the day:
It was a home run by a Cubs righty that I couldn’t identify; I caught it on the fly after jumping as high as I possibly could in the middle of the section.
I had a bit of time to kill toward the end of the Cubs’ portion of BP (Tony Campana was spraying weak line drives all over the field), so I got my “stadium number sign” photo out of the way. Here it is:
In all of these photos, my facial expressions indicate how I feel about the stadiums, mostly from a ballhawking perspective. Wrigley Field is a pretty tough place to snag baseballs, but it’s so unbelievably awesome in every other way that I decided to go with a neutral expression.
Here’s a collage of photos from the first 28 stadiums that I’ve visited this season:
Here’s a gorgeous photo, taken by Brandon, that shows the bleachers and Waveland Avenue:
It’s hard to believe that Wrigley Field and Citi Field pretty much hold the same number of people. Taking standing room out of the equation, both stadiums have capacities in the 41,000 range.
When the Brewers took the field, I snagged my 5th ball of the day — a Corey Hart homer that I chased down and grabbed after it landed in left-center. I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and ten minutes later, I got Marco Estrada to toss one to me.
Then I grabbed another home run ball in left-center. On the upper right of the following photo, the red circle shows it streaking down, and at the bottom, you can see me running toward the spot where I’d predicted it was going to land:
Isn’t it odd that NO ONE behind me was making any effort to catch the ball? They were all just…sitting there.
Something really funny happened in right field toward the end of BP…
Brewers bullpen coach Stan Kyles was shagging in the outfield near LaTroy Hawkins and Francisco Rodriguez. I’ve seen the Brewers enough this year that I can recognize most of the players and coaches, but evidently, lots of fans confuse Kyles with Hawkins. These guys are both slender and African-American, their skin tone is similar, and Kyles is only 11 years older than Hawkins. From 100 feet away, it’d be easy for a casual fan to confuse them. That said, when Kyles fielded a ball and I shouted his first name, Hawkins immediately turned toward me and yelled, “Ohhh, you got it right!!! Just for that, you get a ball!!!”
Kyles, however, was not impressed, and he fired the ball back toward the bucket in shallow center field. Hawkins responded by holding up his right index finger as if to say to me, “Hold on, I’m gonna get you one.” Sure enough, he then motioned to one of his teammates to throw him a ball, and just before he got it, Rodriguez fielded one that was hit.
“Here you go, homeboy!” shouted Rodriguez as he turned and threw it to me.
The following photo was taken while the ball was in mid-air. Look for the little white streak inside the red circle:
By the time Rodriguez threw me that ball, Hawkins had just gotten another ball from one of his teammates, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see him holding it. Two seconds after I caught the Rodriguez ball, Hawkins held up his ball and waved it to get my attention, and then he threw it to me. I was stunned. Nothing like that had ever happened before.
“TWO baseballs?!” I shouted. “What’s up with that?!”
“Stan said he’d kick our ass if we gave you a ball!” shouted Hawkins with a large grin.
“Well,” I shouted back, “Stan has a lot of ass-kicking to do!”
Hawkins and Rodriguez cracked up, and then I made them laugh even harder when I yelled, “Stan, it’s gonna be a busy night for you!!”
The whole situation was hilarious, and after things calmed down, this was my reaction:
By the way, I normally wear a shirt of the visiting team during BP, but because I’d switched some dates/games around during this trip, I found myself without the proper attire.
At the end of BP, I headed to the Brewers’ dugout on the 1st base side, but had to stay all the way back in the cross-aisle. That’s one of the silly rules at Wrigley, but thankfully it didn’t affect me. I still got a player to toss a ball to me over 10 rows of seats. This was my view shortly after I caught it; the arrow is pointing to the guy who threw it:
I wish I knew who it was because this was my 5,700th lifetime ball.
Here’s a closeup of the ball:
All six of the balls that I got from the Brewers were marked on the sweet spot. Here are the five that I kept:
Because the Cubs were playing the Brewers, and because Chicago is less than two hours (by car) from Milwaukee, look who happened to be there:
That’s my friend Nick Yokanek (aka “The Happy Youngster“), who’d traveled from Milwaukee to see his beloved team inch closer to the post-season.
During the game, while I sat here…
…in an attempt to catch a foul ball, Nick sat here…
…in the last row in straight-away left field in an attempt to catch a home run.
Wanna guess which one of us came closer?
If you said Nick, you’d be correct. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Geovany Soto launched a two-run homer that appeared to be heading right toward him.
Wanna guess who ended up catching it?
This man standing in the middle of Waveland Avenue:
That would be Dave Davison (wearing his famous blue “BALLHAWK.NET” shirt). The dude is incredible.
Late in the game, I wandered out to the bleachers. Soon after I got there, Alfonso Soriano was getting ready to throw his warm-up ball into the crowd:
In the photo above, that’s me on the staircase. I didn’t bother waving at him because I could tell that he was going to throw it far to my right. Look closely at the following photo to see where the ball ended up:
No, I didn’t end up snagging it. I just really like that photo (taken by Brandon) and wanted to share it.
Nick and I hung out on the narrow walkway behind the bleachers and talked for quite a while:
He’s a really good guy, and it sucks that the media dragged him through the mud after he caught Chris Coghlan’s 1st career homer and asked for a few goodies in return. (See pages 260-261 of The Baseball for the real story of what happened, or better yet, read about it here in great detail on his blog.)
In the top of the 9th inning, Brandon and I headed toward the Cubs’ dugout. From that section all the way in foul territory, he took this outstanding photo of the fans in left field:
Why was everyone looking up?
Because a home run (by Casey McGehee) was about to land amongst them.
Why did I put red numbers on four of them?
Because their reactions are priceless:
1) “OH MY GOD!!! IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HOME RUN I’VE EVER SEEN!!!”
2) Absolutely no chance in hell of catching it.
3) Twenty feet from the landing spot and cowering (slightly) in fear.
4) “La-la-la, nice night for a stroll.”
Not surprisingly, the ball was bobbled:
(People! Bring your glove to the game! It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 or 16 or 60. Bring. Your. Glove.)
Carlos Marmol, the pitcher who surrendered that longball, got a visit from his teammates soon after:
Several fans sitting near me were grumbling about Marmol’s pitching skills, but the homer didn’t make a difference.
Final score: Cubs 5, Brewers 2.
Geovany Soto, the only player on either team with more than one hit, went 3-for-3 with two homers and knocked in all the runs for the Cubs.
Ronnie Woo-Woo was excited…
…and so was I. I’d seen a great game, gotten to hang out with some friends, and put up double digits in a rather difficult (but awesome) ballpark.
• 1,038 balls in 120 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.
• 781 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 306 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 176 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 100 lifetime games outside of New York with ten or more balls
• 5,700 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.)
• 59 donors
• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $73.60 raised at this game
• $7,639.68 raised this season