Here’s how my day started . . .
. . . and now let me explain.
That’s me in the photo above. I was waiting for a live phone interview to start on “The Jay Thomas Show” on Sirius XM Radio. It was supposed to begin at 4:30pm. I’d planned it that way so that I’d be done well before the stadium opened at 5:10pm. Things didn’t exactly go as planned, however, and I didn’t get on the air until 4:55pm. (I took that photo of myself with my 10-second timer. At the time, I was on hold, waiting for my segment to start, listening to an on-air discussion between Jay and another guest about whether evolution is real or if humans simply mated with monkeys. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, I was wearing my “San Juan Series” t-shirt from 6/30/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium as well as the Joey Votto wristband that I got on 8/18/11 at Nationals Park. But anyway.) I’d been told that Jay would wrap up my interview by 5:10pm, but things dragged on, and that was a good thing because . . . what freelance writer wouldn’t want to be given extra air time? Of course, since I was *on* the phone, I couldn’t check it to see what time it was, but I knew that we were pushing it, and I decided to just go with it. Batting practice at Citi Field is so lame — especially when the Mets are hitting — that missing a few minutes of it, I’d told myself, wouldn’t matter. That said, my attitude began to change when I actually SAW people entering the stadium. I gave it a few minutes, but it was too painful. I simply *had* to get inside the stadium, so I started walking toward the gates and told Jay (on the air) that I was going to enter. The security guard who checked my bag kinda gave me the evil eye; he probably thought I was rude for being on the phone, BUT IF ONLY HE KNEW. Then I got wanded by the next set of guards (standard procedure for all criminals — err, fans at Citi Field) and self-scanned my ticket at the turnstile. As I made my way up the crowded escalator, Jay asked if he could call me back 15 minutes later and have me back on the air while I was trying to catch baseballs. I said yes (of course) and then raced out to the left field seats. (Just another relaxing day at the ballpark.) This was the view:
I need to point out two things about the previous photo:
1) The usher standing right in front of me was friendly, but nevertheless he still served an evil purpose: preventing fans from wandering down the stairs to the all-you-can-eat-and-drink Party Deck. I just wanted to go down there to catch baseballs. I didn’t give a damn about the food. I would’ve donated food to hang out there.
2) Do you see the guy holding a fungo bat and walking toward the ball in left-center field? That’s Mets first base coach Tom Goodwin. He ended up tossing me a different ball several minutes later.
Soon after the Reds took the field, my phone rang — it was “The Jay Thomas Show” — and when I answered it, my friend Mateo took a photo of me from behind with his own camera. As you can see, I had already changed into my Reds gear:
Just like that, I was back on the air, and moments later, I got Sam LeCure to throw me a ball. Here I am catching it:
Jay and his co-host had heard me shout “SAM!!!” and asked me lots of questions about batting practice. My attention was divided between catching baseballs and being articulate, and as a result, I didn’t succeed with either. During the next five minutes, several listeners called in with questions, and EVERY time they asked me something, one of the Reds batters hit a home run near me. It was nuts . . . but unfortunately (and as I mentioned last night on Twitter) I didn’t snag any of them. Here’s one more photo from Mateo that shows me chasing a home run:
Do you see me? Here, have a closer look:
When a ball is in mid-air, it’s tough enough to climb back over a row of seats when I’m NOT being interviewed live on a nationally syndicated cable radio show; doing it with one hand holding a phone up to my ear (while trying to hear what some snarky callers were saying while crappy pop music was blasting from the stadium speakers) was nearly impossible. One female caller named Michele made the claim that what I do is no big deal and that if she tried, she’d get five balls a game.
“What do you have to say about THAT?” asked Jay.
“Well,” I said for, “if Michele is as cute as she sounds, then she’s probably right. Players love to toss baseballs to little kids and beautiful women, and since I’m neither, I’ve had to get a bit creative in my approach.”
The interview cost me several baseballs. I have no doubt about it. But it was worth it. I wouldn’t want to spend every batting practice doing phone interviews, but trying it once was fun. Just before I got off the phone, a Reds player tossed a ball toward two little kids in the front row who missed it. I was in the third row at the time, so I reached down over the seats, picked up the ball, and handed it to them. That was my third ball of the day. I don’t know who threw it . . . or who threw my next ball because I simply wasn’t watching. I’d been focusing on the batters, so when these random toss-ups started sailing in my direction, I just kinda reacted at the last second. Anyway, do you remember the kid named Zach who got the Marlins commemorative ball that I snagged on 4/25/12 at Citi Field? Well, he was back at this game and had already snagged a few more baseballs, so when he missed one that I ended up catching, I decided to keep it — this was my fourth ball of the day — and to his credit, he was cool with it. What happened was . . . someone on the Reds tossed him a ball that barely eluded his glove and landed right on top of the narrow/flat railing in the front row. The ball then skipped back with a perfect little mini-arc, and I caught it in my glove while cutting through my empty row.
Several minutes later, I took a photo that made me smile. Take a look and then I’ll explain it (for those who might not see what I’m talking about):
See the kid standing in the front row? Did you notice what he’s hiding behind his back? I used to do the same thing before I started bringing a backpack to games.
Toward the end of BP, I got a ball thrown to me by Reds bullpen coach Juan Lopez, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to a little kid on my right. One minute later, after I’d moved two sections away, the kid, no doubt prompted by his parents, ran over and thanked me. He was really small — barely taller than the seats — so it was pretty damn cute to see him making a beeline right for me.
After batting practice, I made it down to the 3rd base dugout and got my sixth ball of the day from the Reds’ equipment guy. You can see him in the following photo, transferring the balls from the basket to the zippered bags. He’s wearing a red shirt and tan pants:
The way I’d gotten him to hook me up was by asking for an old/dirty ball — and let me tell you, he seemed happy to oblige. It’s a trick I’ve used for years; see page 236 of The Baseball for more details. (Ha! Shameless plug!)
Here’s a photo of the ball that he tossed me:
Is that a beauty or what?
This was my view during the game . . .
. . . and here’s what it looked like on the left:
As you can see in the photo above, I had plenty of room to run; not surprisingly, there was nothing to run for.
Three more things about the photo above:
1) Do you see the fan sitting at the far end of the section, one row behind mine. He’s wearing shorts and a Reds cap. That’s Mateo. More on him in a minute . . .
2) Do you see the portion of the scoreboard above the “Budweiser” ad, just to the upper left of where it encourages all the children in attendance to “Grab some buds”? The answer is no, you can’t really see it because of the overhang of the second deck. That overhang blocks the only line score in the entire stadium — you know, where it lists the runs inning by inning. As a general rule, I love looking at the line score, but at Citi Field, forget about it if you’re sitting in left field. This is what we call “bad stadium design.”
3) Did you notice whose stats are listed on the scoreboard? No, of course you didn’t because (a) you’re too lazy to click these photos to make them bigger and (b) even if you’d clicked the photo above, the batter’s name would’ve remained too small, so let me tell you. It was Mike Nickeas. Every time I see him, I fondly remember having caught his first career home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field. Now, nearly thirteen months later, it’s still his only homer. Check out his career stats:
Mister Nickeas needs to get off the interstate, or else he’ll soon find himself in Triple-A.
Now, as promised, here’s Mateo:
In the photo above, did you notice the mark on his left thigh? Let’s zoom in on it, shall we?
During batting practice, while chasing one of the Reds’ elusive home run balls, Mateo had run into an armrest. (You know you’ve smacked into something waaay too hard when it’s not even sharp and there’s blood involved.) (Here’s Mateo’s blog. He’s only 17, and he’s already a very good writer.)
The Reds took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning, and since there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of right-handed power due to bat, I moved here:
My plan was to get a post-game ball from Paul Emmel, the home plate umpire. After the final out, there was a flurry of activity on the field:
Were you able to spot Emmel in the previous photo? He’s just to the right of 3rd base.
When he got closer, I called out to him and got him to throw me a ball — quite satisfying after the slow night I’d had, sitting nearly 400 feet from home plate (and NOT BEING ABLE TO SEE THE LINE SCORE). Speaking of 400, this ball was the 400th that I’d ever snagged at Citi Field. Hooray for milestones, random as they may be.
Two minutes later, when the Reds relievers walked in from the bullpen, a female security guard overheard me shouting for a ball and, of course, had to express her opinion.
“Didn’t you already get one?!” she said as if I’d done something wrong.
How did she know? Because she’d been standing near the Reds’ equipment guy when he tossed me the ball after BP. In fact, if you scroll back up to that photo, you can see her on the right. She’s wearing maroon and looking off to the side.
“Yeah,” I said casually, “I got a few, but it’s all good. I give an average of three balls to kids at every single game that I go to.”
“Oh yeah?” she replied. “Well, why don’t you give a ball to THAT kid over there who’s crying.”
I looked in the direction where she was pointing, and sure enough, there was a little boy, not more than four years old, who was sobbing. (The kid looked like a mini-version of Jose Valverde, minus the glasses and facial hair.) His father was trying to comfort him, but it was no use.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, pulling the cleanest ball that I had from my backpack, and holding it out for the guard. “Why don’t you give it to him so that you can be the hero.”
I get so pissed when people pressure me into giving baseballs to kids that sometimes I like to show them how ridiculous they are.
“Can’t do it,” she said, pulling back and acting all righteous. “We’re not allowed to take balls from fans.”
Yeah, right. I can’t even count the number of times that . . . oh hell. Never mind.
“Okay, then I’ll do it,” I said.
Even though the guard had annoyed the crap out of me, I wasn’t gonna hold it against the kid. Hell, I probably would’ve seen him anyway one minute later and given him a ball without being peer-pressured, so whatever . . . I walked up the steps, slowly approached him, and held out the ball.
“Hey,” I said, “would this make you feel a little better?”
The kid nodded just enough for me to see, and whaddaya know? He actually seemed to stop crying, although he was still trembling a bit and his cheeks were still streaked with tears.
“Thanks SO much,” said his father. “That’s actually why he was upset.”
“No problem,” I told him. “Baseballs are the perfect remedy.”
I didn’t bother looking back at the guard. I didn’t give a damn whether she saw me or not. I mean, now that I’m thinking about it, I hope she saw me so that she’ll leave me the hell alone next time she sees me asking for a ball, but while it was happening, I just wanted to leave.
Before running to the subway (and hurrying back to the Upper West Side to meet my girlfriend at Shake Shack before it closed at 11pm), I stopped to take a photo of the ball that I’d gotten from the umpire:
See ya later, Mets. Watch your balls because I’ll be back . . .
• 120 balls in 17 games this season = 7.06 balls per game.
• 809 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 555 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 390 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 4 different stadiums with 400 or more lifetime balls
• 5,939 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.)
• 28 donors
• $1.66 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $11.62 raised at this game
• $199.20 raised this season
• $19,356.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, of the four balls that I kept, only one has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a two-part photo that shows it in regular light versus black light:
If you’ve never seen my entry about baseballs and black light, click here. You won’t regret it.