My day started with a brief visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Here’s the outside of it…
…and here I am on the inside:
It wasn’t my idea to go to the museum. My friend Brandon (pictured on the left in the first photo) wanted to check it out, and since we pretty much had to drive past it anyway on our journey from Chicago to St. Louis, I couldn’t really argue. As I mentioned in my entry from 9/17/11 at Kauffman Stadium, I’m not the museum type, and yet I must admit that I enjoyed this place quite a bit. I don’t know why I liked it. I just…liked it. Okay? Can we leave it at that?
In order to exit the museum, we had to pass through the gift shop.
“Ha, nice trick,” I thought. “It’s not gonna work on me.”
Five minutes later (and $26 poorer), I was the proud owner of an Abraham Lincoln t-shirt. Check it out:
The photo above was taken outside the left field gate at Busch Stadium. The guy on the right is named David, and as you can see, he’d brought his copy of The Baseball. (By the way, my shirt says “nerds are cool” underneath Lincoln’s name, and below that it says, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” How could I *not* buy it?) When I asked him how he wanted me to sign it, he requested something that I hadn’t ever been asked to do: sign the baseball on the blank page before the introduction. Here’s what we came up with:
The whole thing was David’s idea. He asked me to (a) write his name on the top part of the ball, (b) sign my name on the sweet spot with my current lifetime ball total, and (c) write the words “and counting…” on the bottom. Very cool.
Game time was 7:15pm, the gates opened at 5:15pm, and when I ran inside, the Cardinals were already done taking batting practice. (LAME!!!) Thankfully the Mets were already on the field, and it didn’t take long for me to snag my 1st — and favorite — ball of the day. Do you remember when I caught the first (and so far only) career home run of Mets backup catcher Mike Nickeas on 4/21/11 at Citi Field? If you’ve never seen that entry, you should check it out immediately, but anyway, when I met Nickeas after that game to return the ball to him, we chatted for a few minutes, and just before we parted ways, I asked him if he’d throw me a ball someday if I got his attention from the stands. He said he would, but unfortunately I never saw him again after that; he got sent back down to the minors, and then when he came back up, the ticket-checking policies at Citi Field made it impossible for me to get anywhere near him. (At Citi Field, the “hospitality attendants” start checking tickets right after BP ends, so no matter where you want to go, you need to have a ticket for that section. Even if it’s 45 minutes before game time and you want to hang out near the Mets’ bullpen [which is 400 feet from home plate] to say a quick hello to the player whose first major league homer you caught, you need to have a ticket. It aggravates me to no end, and if that sounds bad, know that Yankee Stadium is even stricter. This, essentially, is why I root against both New York teams and attend games at their stadiums as infrequently as possible.)
As luck had it, Nickeas wandered out to the warning track soon after I entered Busch Stadium, and he had a ball in his hand.
“Mike!” I shouted from the front row behind the Mets’ bullpen, prompting him to turn around. “I’m the guy who caught your first home run back in April! What’s up?!”
“Hey, Zack!” he replied. “How’re you doing?”
“Great!” I shouted, stunned that he remembered my name. “It’s nice to see you again!”
“Same here!” he shouted back.
We were about 50 feet away from each other, and the music was blasting, so we really did have to shout in order to be heard. When our conversation was winding down, I asked him if he’d toss me the ball. This was the result:
In the photo above, the red arrow (in front of the batter’s eye) is pointing at the ball. Nickeas is on the warning track with his arms up, and I’m standing behind the U.S. Cellular sign, wearing an orange Mets shirt.
Less than a minute later, Bobby Parnell tossed me my 2nd ball of the day. Here it is flying toward me:
Getting toss-ups had never been easier. Not only was I one of the only fans in stadium wearing Mets gear, but I recognized EVERYone. I didn’t even need my roster to identify the September call-ups.
My 3rd ball of the day was thrown by Ryota Igarashi. Here he is letting it fly…
…and here I am making the catch in foul territory:
As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for baseballs, but because Busch Stadium is so bad for ballhawking, I only snagged one more ball during BP — a slicer by a left-handed batter that bounced into the stands and deflected right to me.
Why is the stadium so bad? Because the bullpens are placed where most home runs land — straight-away left and right field. In addition to that, there’s no cross-aisle behind the plate or in left field. There an aisle in deep right field, which is great if anyone happens to hit a 400-plus-foot home run over the bullpen, but that doesn’t happen often. And in addition to THAT, the bleachers behind the bullpens are separated from the seats near the foul pole; in order to move from one section to the other, you have to go up the stairs to the concourse and then head back down. There are worse stadiums for ballhawking — Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, for example — but Busch definitely ranks among the toughest. Therefore, I made a point of looking pissed off in my “stadium number sign” photo:
Busch is the 29th major league stadium that I’ve visited in 2011. (Awww yeah, baby!!) Here’s a collage of the first 28.
There wasn’t much action between BP and the game, but Brandon kept taking photos regardless. Here’s David Wright warming up:
Here’s an on-field videographer getting footage of the Mets:
Here I am posing for a photo (with some random guys who recognized me) while several Mets played catch:
Brandon took photos in the top of the 1st inning…
…and in the bottom of the 1st as well:
We were sitting 10 rows behind the Mets’ dugout, so when Lance Berkman hit a towering two-out pop-up near home plate, I made my move.
The following five photos could be called “The Anatomy of a 3rd-out Ball.” In the first one, you can see me moving down the stairs while Mets catcher Josh Thole circled underneath the ball:
By the time Thole headed back toward home plate to retrieve his mask and helmet, I was already in the front row:
I wanted to be standing 20 feet to my right because it would’ve been easier to get his attention. The front row, however, was packed, so I had to stay where I was and try extra-hard to get him to see me. I did that by waving both arms as he approached the dugout:
Moments later, Thole saw me and under-handed the ball in my direction:
Here I am reaching up for the catch:
Here’s a closer look at the ball. Note the smudge on the bottom half where the bat made contact with it:
The worst thing about the game was this guy:
He was single-handedly making the entire 3rd-base side of the stadium hate New York. Every time the Mets scored (which, surprisingly, was quite often in the early innings), he stood up and turned around and cheered obnoxiously. When the Mets took a 4-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, he faced everyone and held up four fingers:
Everyone eventually got so mad at this guy that the usher told him to stop doing what he was doing — and when he did it again late in the game (right in the usher’s face), three things happened:
1) He got ejected.
2) On his way out, a beer-guzzling Cardinals fan grabbed his cap and flung it into the next section.
3) The Cardinals fan got cheered — and then ejected too.
For the record, the Mets fan did get his cap back, but man, what an idiot. He’s lucky he wasn’t at Dodger Stadium.
During the middle innings, I wandered out to center field:
(Brandon was already gone by that point. He was bored, so he went back to the hotel. I truly don’t understand him.)
I was hoping to find an empty row, or even a few empty seats, but it was a lost cause. Look how crowded it was out there:
The best thing about walking around the stadium was that I found eight bucks in the concourse (and used five of ’em to buy a footlong corn dog). The other best thing was that it really made me appreciate my front-row view for the final two innings. Behold the awesomeness:
At Busch Stadium (and many other places), the ushers and guards aren’t anal about people sitting in the front row. If it’s late in the game, and if there are empty seats, people can move there. No big deal. (Dear fellow New Yorkers: see how good it *can* be?)
In the photo above, the two players whose heads are poking up in front of the dugout are Mike Nickeas (yay!) and Chris Schwinden. At one point, when Nickeas turned around, he saw me sitting there and gave me a subtle nod. It might sound silly, but that was one of the highlights of my day.
Shortly after the Cardinals put the finishing touches on their 11-6 win, I got my 6th ball of the day from Jason Pridie. He was right in front of me in the dugout, I was the only fan who recognized him, and he tossed it to me. I then gave that ball to the nearest kid, and that was actually the 2nd ball that I’d given away. I’d given one to another kid right after BP.
• 1,044 balls in 121 games this season = 8.63 balls per game.
• 782 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 307 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 5,706 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)
• $44.16 raised at this game
• $7,683.84 raised this season