This was the final game of my 23-day/13-stadium road trip, and things got off to a pretty good start. Soon after I entered the stadium, I used my glove trick to snag my 1st ball of the day from the Mets’ bullpen. Mike Nickeas (my newest BFF) was standing nearby and let me go for it. Some players would’ve snatched the ball before I had a chance to reel it in, but he was curious to see how my device worked.
My 2nd ball was thrown by Bobby Parnell, and my 3rd was tossed by Mets bullpen catcher Eric Langill. In the following photo, Langill is standing in the right-hand corner of the bullpen; I’m wearing the orange shirt in the 4th row, and if you look closely, you’ll see the ball floating into my glove:
I ran all around the outfield seats after that — left field for right-handed batters and right field for the lefties — and accomplished nothing. I’m gonna get tired of saying it (and I feel bad for saying it because St. Louis is an outstanding baseball city), but this stadium is miserable for ballhawking. Every minute that I spent in the outfield was a wasted minute of frustration, and okay, fine, the Mets’ hitting had a lot to do with that, but whatever. It was clear that I wasn’t going to catch any home runs, so I moved to the corner spot along the left field foul line.
The move paid off.
Someone on the Mets (I forget who) rolled a ball to me from deep left field. As I leaned out and reached down for what should’ve been an easy back-handed grab, the ball hit a pebble (or something) and took a bad hop. It wasn’t a crazy-bad hop that anyone else in the stadium would’ve noticed — just bad enough that the ball ended up two inches to the side of where I expected it to bounce, and as a result, it deflected off the edge of my glove. I still ended up snagging the ball (because I knocked it down), but it was embarrassing because several people noticed my error, including Mets reliever D.J Carrasco. He responded by telling me to throw the ball back to him so that he could give me another try to catch it cleanly. Here’s his return throw…
…and here I am using textbook fundamentals to make sure that I didn’t botch it again:
Ten minutes later, Mets coach Ricky Bones threw me my 5th ball of the day and intentionally aimed low to give me a challenging in-between hop. I caught it cleanly (on the 1st try, thank you very much), and when I thanked him for it, he turned his back and flung his hand at me as if to say, “Shut up, go away.” I’m not saying that THAT’S what he meant, but that’s what it looked like. It was an odd gesture for him to make, and whatever he was thinking, he clearly wasn’t happy.
Bones was even less happy when he saw me scoop up a foul grounder two minutes later. In the following photo, he’s standing on the left and staring right at me:
(Haha! Suck it, Bones!)
Bones started yelling at me for having snagged two baseballs (make that six, pal), and when he finally turned his attention elsewhere, I handed the one that I’d just gotten to the man on my right. You can see this man two photos above, standing just behind me in the pale yellow shirt.
I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I’m drawing a blank on this guy’s name. I think it’s Tyler, but I’m not sure. When I met him, I wrote his name on a piece of paper so that I’d remember, but now, as I sit here writing this blog entry six days later, I’m in Atlanta, and I just realized that I left the paper at home in New York City.
I do remember the name of the guy in this photo:
That’s because I’ve known him for years, albeit mostly through blog comments and emails. His name is Darron, and we first met on 5/22/07 at Busch Stadium. Don’t be fooled by his serious expression. He was in a perfectly good mood. He just has a history of not smiling for photos (and on top of that, he was trying to look grouchy to match the character on his clothes). Check out this photo from our very first encounter, and you’ll see what I mean.
Before the game, I got David Wright to throw me his warm-up ball in shallow left field, and 30 seconds later, I got another ball from Justin Turner in the same spot. I handed the second of these baseballs to the nearest kid and caused a big/happy scene in the process. The kid was there with his whole family, so his father came over and thanked me. The usher also thanked me and chatted for a minute. Everyone else was smiling and in awe of the fact that I’d gotten two baseballs, perhaps because I’d been standing four or five rows back and seemed to be buried in the crowd, but it was no big deal. My bright orange Mets shirt helped me stand out, and on top of that, I was the only fan who was waving and shouting at the players. There were other kids in the section, but they were all standing around passively, mostly waiting for autographs. Josh Thole finally obliged:
I’m aware that photo above isn’t terribly exciting. I pretty much took it to show where I was standing when I caught those two balls. My friend Brandon had been with during batting practice — that’s why there were action shots of me snagging baseballs — but once BP ended, he left the stadium and went back to the hotel. I can’t explain it. He’s just not THAT into baseball, evidently, which is strange because he’s the one who suggested/planned this whole trip in the first place. To his credit, he brought his glove to this game and caught a home run on the fly in left field — his only ball of the entire trip. I would’ve taken a photo of him with it, but he hates having his picture taken.
Anyway, I want to show you two different types of practice balls:
In the two-part photo above, the ball on the left is the one that I got from David Wright, and the one on the right came from BP.
I sat behind the Mets’ dugout during the game, and when Skip Schumaker grounded out to end the 3rd inning, I got the ball from first baseman Josh Satin as he jogged off the field. Here it is:
This ball was significant because according to MyGameBalls.com, it established a new single-game record for Busch Stadium. (The previous record of eight was held by…ME!!) I celebrated by giving a ball to this random young fan on my right:
At that point, I was hoping to snag one more ball and reach double digits — something that I’d previously thought was impossible at Busch Stadium.
As the innings ticked by, my opportunities dwindled, and when Adron Chambers struck out on a 55-footer to end the 8th inning, I figured I had no shot. I was sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout, way too far from the home-plate end where Mets catcher Ronny Paulino would soon be walking back with the ball. At the last second, though, I noticed some empty seats in a nearby row, so I scooted through it toward the home-plate end until I couldn’t go any farther. Throughout the game, Paulino had tossed all the 3rd-out balls over that end of the dugout, so now that he had one final ball to give away, he looked elsewhere. I waved my arms and shouted my head off, and succeeded in getting his attention. The only problem was that I was half a dozen rows back, so if he even tossed the ball my way, there was no telling if it’d ever reach me. Well, he did toss it to me, and his aim was perfect, and no one else around me even bothered reaching for it. (I love going to games outside of New York.) I made the catch and felt pretty damn good. Here’s a photo of the ball, complete with the dirty scuff mark from having bounced in front of the plate:
Ready for a random/awesome statistic? I’ve now had a double-digit game in **TWENTY** different stadiums this season. That has to be a record, and I challenge anyone/everyone to break it. (Going to all 30 stadiums in one season is pretty special; having a double-digit game in all 30 stadiums in one season would be insane. What do you think? Is it even possible? Should I try to do it next year?)
As for the game, all the Cardinals fans around me were anxious when the Mets took a 4-3 lead in the top of the 3rd inning.
“Don’t worry,” I told the ladies sitting behind me, “the Mets will blow it.”
And they did.
In an extreme case of over-managing by Terry Collins, three different Mets relievers each surrendered a run in the bottom of the 7th. That gave the Cardinals a 6-4 lead. The Mets scratched out a run in the top of the 9th, but that was it. Final score: Cardinals 6, Mets 5.
After the game, when I saw D.J. Carrasco walking in from the bullpen with a ball in his hand, I took off my Mets cap in the hope that he wouldn’t recognize me. And it worked. Sort of. He ended up rolling this beautiful ball to me across the dugout roof…
He wasn’t pissed about it like Ricky Bones had been during BP. Carrasco just seemed to be amused. He’s a good guy.
On my way out, I lingered in the concourse for a few minutes until I saw a little kid with an empty glove. I gave him one of my BP balls, and when the stadium cleared out, I went back into the seating bowl and used my camera’s 10-second timer to take this photo of myself:
It was hard to believe that my huge road trip was over. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t burned out. I wasn’t sore or injured in any way. I felt better than ever and could’ve gone to another 13 stadiums if the schedule (and my budget) allowed it.
• 1,055 balls in 122 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.
• 205 balls in 20 games on this road trip = 10.25 balls per game.
• 783 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 308 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 177 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 5,717 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)
• $80.96 raised at this game
• $7,764.80 raised this season