If there was EVER going to be a day with perfect weather, I wanted this to be it. I was planning to snag my 6,000th ball . . . so I’d hired a videographer to follow me around the stadium . . . and I was going to be joined by a reporter from The Boston Globe. Quite simply, I *needed* there to be batting practice more than ever, so you can imagine how I felt after making the four-hour drive to Fenway Park and then seeing this:
That was the view from the Bleacher Bar, and as you can see in the following photo, I wasn’t the only person feeling disappointed:
In the photo above, I’m wearing the shirt that I got on Day 9 of my recent trip to Japan. The white lettering on it means “baseball fanatic” (or at least that’s what I was told). As for the other three people in the photo, my friend Andrew Gonsalves is standing on the left. He’s the guy who filmed me catching my 5,000th ball last year in Toronto and, more recently, who wrote the controversial-but-popular entry on his blog called “In Defense of a Ballhawk.” My friend Matt Winters, visiting from California, is standing on the right. He was either hiding the Red Sox logo on his shirt or admiring his pecs — possibly both. Finally, the 6-foot-5 man in the red shirt is someone that you’re going to be hearing about a lot in a few weeks. His name is Mike Davison, and he’s a test flight engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration. Did you see my recent Tweet about catching a baseball dropped from a helicopter at 1,000 feet? I’m planning to attempt it on July 2nd in Massachusetts, and Mike is taking care of all the logistics (including the part about me not dying). But anyway, here’s what it looked like when I ran inside Fenway at around 4:35pm:
In the photo above, do you see the player on the right who’s standing closest to 2nd base? (He’s in the process of winding up, so his hands are positioned above his head.) That’s Daisuke Matsuzaka. When he finished playing catch, I shouted at him in Japanese and got him to throw me this:
That’s six E’s and six exclamation points for the SIX different commemorative balls that I had now snagged in 2012 — seven if you count the Opening Series balls from Japan — and just like that, I’d accomplished my season-long goal of getting them all. Of course, because the commemorative logo on the ball from Matsuzaka was a bit worn, I wanted to get another that was even better, but I was psyched regardless.
In the photo above, did you notice the guy pointing the camera at me? That was my videographer. I found him on craigslist. His name is Adam. (Here’s his blog.) He got lots of footage of me throughout the day and is now in the process of editing it. I’d told him that I wanted to end up with a three- to five-minute segment that I could put on YouTube, so we’ll see what he comes up with. Here’s another photo of him, talking to a security guard that he knows:
I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 5,998 baseballs, so the next one was going to be No. 6,000. I’d been hoping that my milestone ball would have the Fenway Park commemorative logo, and that it’d be a home run. Was that too much to ask for? Eh, who knows? All I can tell you is that the weather completely screwed me. Without BP, I knew that my 6,000th ball was going to be thrown to me, and when the Red Sox pitchers disappeared, I knew that it was going to be a regular ball from the Nationals. The only question was who it would come from.
Before I headed to the left field side, I met up with the guy from The Boston Globe. His name is Alex Prewitt, and you’ll see a photo of him in a bit. Alex wasn’t free for the first half-hour that the stadium was open — he was doing some other work in the press box — so in a twisted way, the crappy weather was a good thing. It delayed my ballhawking just enough for him to witness my big moment.
Here’s what I saw when I made it to the left field foul line:
In the photo above, you’re looking at:
1) Tyler Clippard
2) Sean Burnett
3) Ross Detwiler
4) Tom Gorzelanny
5) Brad Lidge
6) Craig Stammen
7) Michael Gonzalez
8) Chien-Ming Wang
I was torn between going for Lidge — the best player on the field, who’d be unlikely to autograph the ball afterward — or focusing on someone unremarkable like Gorzelanny, who’d probably come over and sign if anyone asked. Ultimately I decided on Lidge, so I moved directly behind him.
“Hey, Brad,” I said between throws, “any chance you could toss the ball up here when you’re done, please?”
“We’ll see,” he said as he turned around, just before noticing that I was decked out in Nationals gear.
Adam was filming me from behind, Alex was taking notes next to me, Mike was watching nearby, Andrew was trying to get Chien-Ming Wang’s attention, and Matt was graciously giving me some space. The stage was set. And then Lidge tossed it to me. Here’s an action shot from the footage that Adam got:
In the photo above, I’m standing on the right, wearing a red Nationals shirt and reaching out with my glove. As soon as I caught the ball, I pointed at Lidge with my glove to say thanks . . .
. . . and he gave me a little wave as if to say, “No problem”:
Then I faced the camera and held up the ball . . .
. . . and followed that by taking a picture of it:
Here’s what it looked like through my camera:
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Lidge didn’t sign any autographs, so if anyone has any advice on how to get him, I’d love to hear it. (Same for Alex Rios. I’m still hoping to get him to sign my 5,000th ball someday.)
I got a few high-fives and then got two more balls thrown to me. The first came from Clippard (pictured below on the left) . . .
. . . and the second came from Wang. I was half a dozen rows back for the ball from Wang, shouted at him in Taiwanese, and got him to lob it right to me over everyone down in front, including Andrew, who was pissed at me, but probably wouldn’t have gotten it anyway.
Mike asked me to sign one of his baseballs after that . . .
. . . and then I got a photo with Alex:
Alex is planning to be there for the helicopter stunt, so he’s going to combine that with my 6,000th ball and write about everything at once.
I snagged one more ball along the left field foul line, which was tossed by Jhonatan (yes, I’m spelling that right) Solano. Here’s a photo of him flipping it up to me:
I gave that one to a kid:
Then I wandered over to the Nationals’ dugout and met up with a fan named Jacqui, who asked me to sign her ticket. Here she is with it . . .
. . . and here’s a photo of the two of us, which I stole from her photo album on Twitter:
(By the way, quick shout-out to my pal Jere, who made a brief appearance on Landsdowne Street before the stadium opened, then left to go have dinner, and disappeared into the Boston night.) (UPDATE: Here’s Jere’s photo gallery from this game, which contains two shots of me.)
In the following photo, do you see the guy with red sleeves, leaning on the railing in front of the dugout?
That’s Rick Eckstein, the Nationals’ hitting coach (and brother of David Eckstein). He tossed me a brand new baseball.
Here’s a photo of Stephen Strasburg, which I took just before the singing of the national anthem:
Strasburg was the starting pitcher, and I’m happy to report that in the bottom of the 1st inning, I snagged a ball that he pitched. It was a foul ball that Dustin Pedroia hit off his foot. The ball rolled all the way out to 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who picked it up and rolled it to a group of coaches near the home-plate end of the dugout. One of those coaches grabbed it and tossed it to me. Here I am catching it . . .
. . . and here’s a photo of the ball itself:
Unfortunately, though, the logo was ever-so-slightly messed up. Do you see the teeny circle at the bottom, just below the “YE” in “100 YEARS”?
I still wasn’t satisfied, and since there were still a few empty seats behind the dugout, I stayed put and tried for another ball. With two outs in the bottom of the 2nd, Scott Podsednik hit a come-backer to Strasburg, who fielded it and threw the ball to first baseman Adam LaRoche. When LaRoche jogged back to the dugout, he tossed that ball to me. Check it out:
Doesn’t it look nice in the following photo?
Not that it’s a competition or anything — okay, fine, everything with me is a competition — but I think I’m the first person to have snagged all six of the “regular” commemorative balls this season. Did anyone beat me to it? Is anyone close to completing the set? Click here to see my entire collection of commemorative balls, dating back to 1999.
The ball from LaRoche was my 8th of the day. After I caught it, I gave the ball that I’d gotten from Eckstein to a cute little kid with a glove. Here I am holding it out so he could see it:
Here he is (in the red “GONZALEZ” shirt) looking at me and reaching for it . . .
. . . and here’s one more photo of the cute exchange that shows (a) the ball in his glove and (b) his father (in the black jacket) waving and saying thanks:
Moments later, the kid happened to be shown on the Jumbotron, smiling and holding up the ball.
Adam (the videographer) was still hanging out with me, but since MLB doesn’t allow civilians to film actual game footage, we decided to wrap things up with a final shot in a tunnel. After we finished, he grabbed my camera and took the following photo:
While I was walking through the cross-aisle, I heard someone say my name. It took me a split-second to recognize him, and once I did, I was stunned. Do you remember when I hung out on the parking garage behind the Green Monster for Games 1 and 2 of the 2007 World Series? Well, there was one other ballhawk there named Lee Gregory. He was a diehard Red Sox fan who’d made the trip from Texas, and as you might imagine, we had a lot of time to kill on that garage and talked for hours. THAT’S who recognized me at this game. There were no empty seats near him, so in order to catch up, we had to head down the nearest ramp to the concourse. Here we are:
Lee still lives in Texas and only makes it to Fenway a few times each season, so it’s rather awesome/random that we ran into each other at this game. Unfortunately our reunion cost us a chance to witness a bit of history; while we were schmoozing it up in the concourse, Bryce Harper became the youngest player since Robin Yount to go yard at Fenway. There’s no chance that I would’ve caught that ball, but it would’ve been nice to see it.
This was my view later in the game:
The seats behind the Nationals’ dugout were pretty much full at that point, but even if they hadn’t been . . . Matt was there, and I wanted to return his favor by giving him some space for a while. Eventually, though, at some point around the 7th-inning stretch, I moved back there. It had started to drizzle, and the Red Sox were losing, so a bunch of seats opened up — and hey! Look what I got after the 8th inning:
Strasburg was out of the game by that point — he had fanned 13 batters in six innings — so that ball had none (or at least very little) of his DNA on it. Ross Detwiler had pitched it. Darnell McDonald had hit it. Tyler Moore had caught it. And it found my glove from there.
The Nationals won the game, 7-4. I made it down to the front row as everyone was coming off the field . . .
. . . and unexpectedly got a (commemorative!) ball when someone down below rolled it to me across the dugout roof. For just the 4th time in my life (and 2nd time this season), I’d managed to snag 10 balls at a game without batting practice.
Matt ended up getting a perfect commemorative ball from home plate umpire Doug Eddings, and thanks to Matt, I ended up getting these:
I wasn’t gonna bother looking for tickets until he reminded me that I’d snagged my 6,000th ball at this game. It’s not like I’d forgotten about No. 6,000, but hearing him make a fuss about it snapped me back into focus, so I sprung into action and asked everyone around me for their tickets. I could’ve gotten a dozen more, but whatever. I was fine with the few that I’d acquired and wanted to leave some time to pose with my milestone ball. Matt took a whole bunch of photos of me. Here’s my favorite:
After that? Andrew found six bucks as we waited on line for chicken teriyaki sandwiches at a cart outside the stadium, and then I drove us back to New York City in record time — 3 hours and 10 minutes from Fenway to the Upper West Side. Our top speed was slightly faster than Stephen Strasburg’s fastest pitch.
• 10 balls at this game (eight pictured below because I gave two away)
• 189 balls in 25 games this season = 7.56 balls per game.
• 817 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 342 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 191 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 6,008 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.)
• 33 donors
• $1.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $18.40 raised at this game
• $347.76 raised this season
• $19,504.76 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Here are the eight balls that I kept . . .
. . . and here’s a side-by-side comparison of Ball No. 6,000 in regular light versus black light:
I’m only 3,992 balls away from 10,000. Camden Yards. I’m calling it now . . .