This was my 131st and final game of the season — my last dance at the Big Dance — so I had to make it count. My main goal was to catch a home run during the actual game, but if nothing else, I simply wanted my last ball to be special. No matter how I ended up snagging it, it would be the exclamation point on a truly epic season, one in which I visited all 30 major league stadiums and attended the Home Run Derby, All-Star Game, and all three rounds of the post-season. Of course, I had also set a record by snagging more than a thousand baseballs; my final ball, therefore, would establish the new record and represent a *very* important number.
When I first ran inside the stadium, the Rangers weren’t yet taking batting practice. That’s how it had been the day before, and I’d spent the first 13 minutes eating pepperoni pizza and wandering in the outfield. This time, however, I made a beeline for the 1st base side and got three balls thrown to me with minimal effort. The first came from Rangers coach Johnny Narron near the home-plate end of the dugout. Then I moved past 1st base…
…and got balls from Yorvit Torrealba and Esteban German. It was crowded near the field, so I had stayed 10 rows back and gotten both guys to throw the balls over everyone (and everything) in front of me. It was laughably easy — and that’s the World Series for you. Yeah, it’s crowded as hell, but most people are just there for the game, and most of the regular ballhawks are priced out of the stadium.
Here’s some evidence of the crowdedness — a photo of the left field seats at the very start of BP:
I only managed to snag one baseball during the entire Rangers’ portion of BP — an Adrian Beltre homer to straight-away left field that landed on the steps and bounced all the way up to the second deck. The ball glanced off the facade roughly 30 feet above me, and for some reason, when it began to descend toward the row behind me, everyone else gave up on it. I kept my eyes on it the whole time, and at the last second, I lunged/dove over the seats and caught it bare-handed. A bunch of people cheered, and the guy standing next to me helped me up.
Several Cardinals eventually made their way into the left field bullpen:
In the photo above, Jaime Garcia is standing on the mound, bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist is holding onto the fence with both arms over his head, and bullpen catcher Jeff Murphy is wearing the solid red shirt. Murphy ended up tossing me my 5th ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Garcia, who obviously hadn’t noticed.
I didn’t know where to go or what to do after that. It was absolutely packed on both sides of the center field berm…
…and the left field seats were pretty damn crowded as well:
My friend Ben Weil (the guy who owns a gazillion jerseys) caught a Matt Holliday homer on the fly. I wasn’t as lucky, and as the minutes ticked by, I began to worry that the ball I’d gotten from Garcia would end up being my last ball of the season. That wouldn’t have been a disaster, but I was hoping to do better.
Enter Albert Pujols.
Pujols batted in the group after Holliday, and when he first stepped into the cage, I told Ben that I really wanted to snag one of his homers. Ten minutes later, I got my opportunity, albeit somewhat indirectly. One of Pujols’ final longballs fell short of the stands and dropped down into the gap behind the left field wall. I hurried over and pulled out my camera and took a really quick photo that turned out to be blurry:
If I’d taken a few extra seconds, I would’ve gotten a nice crisp photo, but I didn’t feel like I had ANY time to spare. I was concerned that an employee was going to appear below and snatch the ball, or that other fans were going to swoop in with their own ball-retrieving devices, so I did everything as quickly as possible. Luckily, no one interfered as I lowered my glove trick down into the gap, and I ended up snagging the ball. That made me very very very very very happy.
Toward the end of BP, Ben posed with the ball he’d caught…
…and when BP ended, I posed with the Albert Pujols home run:
It was my 1,157th ball of the season, and I had a feeling that it would be my last.
During the lull between BP and the game, I gave a (different) ball to a kid who was sitting nearby with his family. The following three-part photo shows how it played out:
I know it looks kinda staged, and I’ll admit that I did ask Ben to take photos, but the fact is…I would’ve given the ball away even if Ben hadn’t been there to document it. And I still would’ve given the kid a high-five. And his mother still would’ve asked me to pose with him. And I still would’ve shown the kid how to hold the ball so that the logo faced the camera. And I still would’ve told him to try to catch another ball during the game. And he still would’ve given me a hug after it was all said and done. Yes, that actually happened. The kid reached out and put his arms around me as I began heading up the steps. That had never happened before. It was pretty damn sweet.
Shortly before game time, I headed out to my seat beside the berm. This was the scene:
I’ve taken a bit of heat for pulling out my camera during the national anthem, so let me say this: the photo above and the photo below were both taken just before the anthem…
…and this one was taken immediately after:
This was my view during the game…
…and this is what it looked like behind me:
As I mentioned two entries ago, my ticket for Games 3 and 4 was not on the end of the row. I had the 3rd seat in, so I had to do some wheeling and dealing in order to get people to slide over. At Game 3, it took $80 to get someone to move. At Game 4, it took a similar amount *plus* a batting practice ball AND a signed copy of The Baseball, which I’d brought strictly as a bargaining tool.
Ready to see something random/awesome? After the 2nd inning, there was an announcement about Twitter — or so I’m told. I completely missed it, and from where I was sitting, I couldn’t see most of the JumboTron, so this story (and photo) comes from Ben. Evidently, fans were encouraged to post tweets about their favorite Ranger to @theRangersGame, and the best ones would be displayed for everyone in the stadium to see. That said, look who made it onto the JumboTron half an inning later:
It’s Benny_Bang_Bang! Those of you who follow me on Twitter might recall the tweet I’d posted earlier in the day from his phone. (Imagine the damage I’d do if I had my own smart phone. I’d probably own every team in the NL east by now, but eh, I can’t be bothered with silly people who want to text me all day long. Maybe someday. In the meantime, who the hell is de_frog? Someone needs to inform her that she made it onto my blog — Any volunteers? — which, let’s face it, is much cooler than making it onto the JumboTron.)
You know who else made it onto my blog? THIS GUY, sitting two seats to my left, who caught the 3rd-out ball that Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay tossed into the crowd after the 3rd inning:
When the ball was first hit, I drifted down the steps from my seat in the 6th row (and held up my arms to be more visible on TV). My plan was to get as close to the field as possible so that Jay would be able to see me and hear me. Unfortunately I was dressed neutrally, so when he turned to face the crowd, he spotted the guy in Cardinals gear and lobbed the ball to him — directly over my head. I bolted back up the steps while it was still in mid-air, hoping that it’d get bobbled in my direction, but no, the fan made a clean catch despite holding a can of Coors Light in his left hand. Incredible. And get this: the guy who caught the ball was sitting EXACTLY one seat behind my ticketed seat. My actual seat was Section 50, Row 5, Seat 28. He was sitting in Section 50, Row 6, Seat 28, so if (for some reason) I had accepted being trapped in the middle of the row and actually sat where I was supposed to sit, I would’ve easily been able to reach up and catch the ball. How lovely.
Based on the handful of tweets that came my way, I must’ve been visible when Jay first turned to throw the ball into the crowd. Check it out:
Late that night, I tweeted a response:
Coincidentally, my friend Frank was sitting right behind me when Jay tossed the ball into the crowd. (The guy who *had* been sitting behind me for the first two innings had gone to get beer, so Frank snuck into the section and wandered down to say hey.) (You might remember Frank from this photo on 4/27/11 at Rangers Ballpark.) He must not’ve been paying attention because he’s 6-foot-5 and would’ve easily been able to reach across two people, but he wasn’t that upset, and you know what? Neither was I. I mean, it sucked, but I didn’t feel like my life was over. I’d gotten World Series balls in the past (like this and this and this and this), but never caught a World Series home run. THAT was what I wanted; anything else seemed irrelevant, but still, I was pretty stunned to have barely missed the 3rd-out ball. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in between innings, I was staring longingly at the guy who’d snagged it, and Frank took a photo of me:
As for what I’m wearing in the photo above, the shirt is from an event called “BallhawkFest,” which took place on 7/23/11 at Camden Yards and was organized by Alan Schuster, the founder of MyGameBalls.com. And the hat? I simply decided to go with a slightly different look, and I also wanted to be dressed neutrally. That way, if I happened to catch an Albert Pujols homer, it wouldn’t look stupid if I celebrated. It’s important to think about these things ahead of time, and man, let me tell you, I was SO prepared with a hilarious celebration if I caught a Rangers homer.
In the top of the 4th, Frank took a photo of me sitting next to the railing…
…and in the bottom of the inning, I nearly had a chance to celebrate. With one out, Nelson Cruz connected on an 0-1 pitch from Edwin Jackson…
…and sent a deep fly ball toward dead center. From the very start, I was almost certain that the ball wasn’t going to leave the yard, so I paused for a split-second, considering whether or not to even bother running out onto the hill, but then I figured, “Why NOT run out there, dumb-ass?! You’re allowed to do it, so DO IT!! It’s free exercise, and you’ll get on TV, and if the ball carries a little farther than you expected, you’ll have an easy opportunity to make a very special catch.” (I thought about all of this within half a second. What can I say? My mind works fast in these situations. Not so much in others.) So I climbed over the railing and jumped down onto the grass:
As the ball reached its apex, I knew with total certainty that it wasn’t going to be a home run, so I slowed down and flung up my arms at the last second:
It was a calculated gesture, meant to convey my frustration. It might look like I was waving, but that wasn’t the case. I was flat-out pissed that I had the opportunity of a lifetime, but because it was only 68 degrees at game time (as opposed to the 108 degrees that it normally is during the summer), the ball fell about 15 feet short of me. Had it sailed over the fence for a home run, I would’ve caught it easily. I know I was ten feet to the side of where it landed, but like I said, I slowed way down, and of course I hadn’t even gotten a great jump in the first place. I kinda ran out there as a formality, in part to show the world that I was ready, but also for the practice. I wanted to see how much ground I could cover, and the answer was “lots.”
…and the sports section of USA Today was another:
Big THANKS to my friend Garrett Meyer for scanning that article and sending it to me. Slightly smaller thanks to everyone who tweeted at me and mentioned that they saw me on TV:
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who came close to catching a World Series homer. Ben spent the whole game in the standing room area (at the back of the wide cross-aisle) deep down the left field line and came within five feet of Mike Napoli’s three-run bomb in the 6th inning. Here’s a photo that he took of the guy who ended up snagging it:
The story of the night, though, wasn’t home runs. It was Derek Holland’s masterful pitching (and frightening mustache). Holland pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while walking a pair and striking out seven. The crowd was SO disappointed when Ron Washington took him out in the 9th inning, but nowadays that’s how it goes. Holland had thrown 116 pitches and just walked Rafael Furcal on a full count. The Rangers were leading, 4-0, at the time, and Wash didn’t want to let the game slip away, so he brought in Neftali Feliz. Naturally, Feliz ended up walking the first batter he faced, and not just any batter. He walked Allen Craig, who was hitting 2nd in the lineup ahead of Albert Pujols (who had hit three home runs the night before). Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman were due to bat after Pujols, so even though the Rangers had a four-run lead, things got pretty tense. Pujols ended up flying out to center (if only he’d hit the ball 150 feet farther!) and Holliday went down swinging. Game over. Final score: Rangers 4, Cardinals 0. The World Series was tied at two games apiece, and I had to fly back to New York City the following morning.
After the final out, I got a group photo with some of the fans who’d been sitting near me:
See the guy with the unbuttoned Cardinals jersey? His name is Brian. He’s the one who moved over and let me sit next to him (for a serious chunk of change and some goodies). The other guy wearing Cardinals gear is his brother Tim. He’s the one who caught the Jon Jay 3rd-out ball. See the guy in front grabbing his belt? I never did catch his name, but he was hilarious. Throughout the game, he was talking trash (in a funny/friendly/drunk way) and saying that he was gonna tackle me and beat me out onto the grass for a home run ball. “Let’s go!” I said every time. “Competition makes it fun!” We then gave each other a fist-bump and laughed, and oh-by-the-way, he was sitting three seats from the end. He would’ve had to climb over the two people on his right before he would’ve gotten the chance to tackle me, by which point I would’ve been halfway across the berm, making 52,000 people laugh with my celebratory antics. Maybe next year if the Rangers make it back to the Series?
Before leaving the section, a gentleman named Greg (who leaves comments on this blog as “txrangersfan”) asked me to sign his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are with it:
Two things about the photo above:
1) Greg is 6-foot-4. If he’d threatened to tackle me, I wouldn’t have been smiling.
2) I’m holding the Albert Pujols BP homer — my 1,157th and final ball of the season.
Here’s a closer look at The Ball…
…and here’s an even closer look at it:
Funny how a seemingly ordinary batting practice ball can be so valuable.
• 1,157 balls in 131 games this season = 8.83 balls per game. (Interesting bonus stat: when there was batting practice, I averaged 9.67 balls per game; when there wasn’t, I averaged 5.13.)
• 47 balls in 6 post-season games this season = 7.83 balls per game.
• 792 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 317 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 19 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball
• 7 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball
• 5,819 total balls
(I raised money this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. If you made a pledge, sit tight until the World Series is done. I’m planning to email everyone with instructions on how to actually make the donation.)
• 61 donors
• $7.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $52.29 raised at this game
• $8,642.79 raised this season