Things keep getting tougher at Citi Field. Last year it was the gates opening half an hour later. Then it was the Mets’ inability to hit. More recently it was the addition of the party deck, and now it’s the fact that Frank Francisco recognizes me. When the stadium opened yesterday at 5:10pm, I hurried out to the right field seats (where it’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls because of the overhang of the 2nd deck), and when I asked Francisco for a ball, he shouted, “How many you got now?!”
“Today’s a brand new day,” I said, “and I got none.”
I thought it was a cute answer, but he wasn’t impressed. Instead of tossing me the ball, he pointed me out to Ramon Ramirez, who later walked over and asked how many stadiums I’d been to.
For me, getting recognized by players is usually a bad thing. It means that they probably won’t ever throw me a ball, and you see, when I’m trapped in the stands of a cavernous stadium and the home team’s few power hitters take their cuts before the gates open, I rely on toss-ups.
Thankfully I got a ball from the center fielder pictured below:
At the time I didn’t know who it was, but now (after having combed through the Mets’ roster), I’m certain that it was rookie outfielder Jordany Valdespin. (Thanks to Francisco, he probably now knows all about me and won’t ever throw me another ball. Life is hard.)
I knew that right field was dead, so I headed over to the left field side for the final group of the Mets’ portion of BP. To my surprise, there was a right-handed batter with impressive power, and he hit a home run RIGHT to me. This was my view when I caught it:
Once again, I had no idea who it was, but later realized (when seeing the guy’s stance and swing during the game) that it was Zach Lutz. I’m no scout, and I’ve barely seen him play, but his swing is so violent that I can see him becoming a Mark Reynolds-esque/all-or-nothing type of hitter. I just hope he sticks around because he could single-handedly make batting practice much more entertaining.
When the Marlins pitchers started playing catch, I headed into foul territory . . .
. . . but didn’t stay there long. None of the players appeared to be using commemorative balls, and with a bunch of heavy-hitting righties taking turns in the cage, there was only one place I wanted to be: straight-away left field.
I’m not sure who hit the next ball I caught — probably Hanley Ramirez — but I can describe exactly how I got it. Starting in the same spot pictured two photos above, I ran 30 feet to my left and made a jumping/lunging catch on my glove side. I noticed right away that there was a kid two rows behind me, who had a glove and appeared to be about 10 years old. Would he have caught the ball if I hadn’t been there? Who knows, but I gave it to him regardless, and both of his parents thanked me.
Now, do you remember the conversation I had with Heath Bell the day before? Remember the part when I asked him to hook me up with a Marlins commemorative ball? Keep that in mind while I refresh your memory about something else . . .
Does this photo look familiar? (Go ahead and click it. Really. Do it. This is important. It’ll be okay. It’ll open in a new window, and you won’t lose your spot. Have you clicked it yet? Okay, good.) It was originally posted in my entry from 4/9/11 at Citi Field. See the kid on the left in the green hat? His name is Zach, he was at Citi Field yesterday, and as soon as he saw me, he asked if I’d sign his copy of The Baseball.
“Absolutely,” I said, “but let’s wait until there’s a left-handed batter.”
Waiting for a lefty turned into waiting for the group to end, and then there were several distractions after that. Twenty minutes later, I still hadn’t signed his book — but I was going to. That’s when Heath Bell (who was shagging in left-center) fielded a ball and turned around and threw it in our direction. Yes, OUR direction. Zach was in the front row, and I was standing directly behind him in the third row. The ball sailed right to him, but seemed to handcuff him a bit, and it tipped off his glove. Where did it end up? Right between us in the second row. As I bent down (over a row of seats) to pick it up, I had every intention of giving it to him, but once I had the ball in my hand, I noticed that it had the Marlins commemorative logo. Zach immediately started freaking out and claiming that the ball had been intended for him. I was like, “Yeah, but it has a commemorative logo,” and he was like, “YEAH!!! THAT’S WHY I WANT IT!!!” and I was like, “Oh Jesus.”
Part of me wanted to say, “Listen, kid, you could’ve caught the ball, but you didn’t, and I got it. The end.” But the other part of me was thinking, “This kid knows me and looks up to me and asked for my autograph last year and now wants me to sign his copy of my book and has the same name as me. Don’t be an ass. Give him the ball. You’ll get another next month in Miami.” And so, with ambivalence and a sinking feeling in my gut, I handed it to him. Here he is with the ball — and my book (which I signed):
What would you have done? Kept the ball? Given it to him? Dig deep and really think about it.
Five minutes later, Heath Bell threw me another ball near the Home Run Apple. I took a quick peek at it, noticed that it lacked the commemorative logo, and gave it to a father and his little boy. Here’s the father showing it to the nearest usher:
Back in the days when I kept every single ball, the ushers and security guards hated me and created a separate set of rules to keep me out of the sections. Now that the stadium employees see me giving balls away, they’re all on my side and often bend the rules so that I can enter their sections. Funny how that works.
Anyway, if you’ve lost count, I had snagged five balls and given away three.
After batting practice, I got two more balls at the Marlins’ dugout. The first was tossed at the home-plate end by a player that I couldn’t identify. (He was white, short, scruffy, muscly, and looked like a bully.) The second was tossed at the outfield end by team owner Jeffrey Loria. Here he is throwing another ball to someone else:
I headed back to left field at the start of the game and stayed there for the rest of the night. This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:
I had lots of room to run, and there *were* two home runs, but both were beyond my range. One of them — a 5th-inning blast by Omar Infante — was close enough that I jumped up and started running for it. In the following screen shot (courtesy of MLB.com), I’ve circled the ball and pointed myself out with an arrow:
The ball hit the “Mazda” advertisement and ricocheted off some people’s hands to the bottom of the staircase under the word “Parts.” I had no chance.
One inning later, David Wright hit a homer that would’ve been GREAT to catch. It made him the all-time Mets leader in RBIs, putting him two ahead of Darryl Strawberry. Unfortunately, though, the ball landed on the party deck, way the hell out in left-center near the batter’s eye.
After the final out of the Mets’ 5-1 victory, I raced over to the Marlins’ dugout in time to see Heath Bell walking off the field:
“See you next month in Miami!” I shouted, but he didn’t look up. Maybe he didn’t hear me. Maybe he was pissed because his team lost. Or maybe both. I’m just hoping that the Marlins can turn things around — if not this year, then next — because I want to see him pitch in the World Series.
• 75 balls in 10 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
• 802 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 549 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 389 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 51 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls
• 5,894 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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)
• 18 donors
• $1.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $7.70 raised at this game
• $82.50 raised this season
• $19,239.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Ready for some black light photos? All four of the balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Check out the following side-by-side comparison:
In the black light portion of the previous photo, did you notice the ball on the upper left? It appears to be double-stamped. Pretty cool, no? Here’s a closer look at it:
Don’t ask me to explain it because I can’t. Just . . . appreciate its beauty and soak it in.