I was the first fan to enter the stadium.
I made a beeline for the left field seats.
Mark Teixeira, batting right-handed, was taking BP.
Three swings later, the entire team jogged off the field.
That was it for the Yankees’ portion of batting practice. I don’t know what the hell happened. All I can say is that I was NOT happy when I took this photo:
I did several things at that point:
1) Unleashed a string of profanities.
2) Changed into my Angels gear.
3) Wished I lived in Baltimore.
4) Headed to the 3rd-base dugout.
This was the scene:
Several minutes later, I waved my arms to get the attention of a coach that I didn’t recognize. Then I made a few gestures to indicate that I wanted to play catch — you know, pretending to catch and throw and then rotating my arm/shoulder as if I were trying to get loose.
The coach responded by throwing me a ball, and as soon as I caught it, he gave me a target by holding up his glove. Even though I’d asked to play catch, I was surprised. As you can see above, there were lots of people standing on the warning track; I didn’t expect the coach to risk their safety by having some random fan chuck a baseball over their heads, but whatever, he was willing to do it, so it was ON.
We played catch for about a minute, and then he let me keep the ball . . . but who was he?! I took a couple photos of him . . .
. . . to show my west coast friends later on. I simply *had* to find out his name.
Five minutes later, I got his attention again and got him to play catch with me AGAIN with another ball. It occurred to me, though, that he probably wasn’t going to let me keep it, and you know what? Normally I would’ve been fine with that — simply getting to play catch was enough of a thrill — but this ball was special. There were two Twitter handles stamped onto the sweet spot! One said “@YANKEES” and the other said “@YankeesPR.” It pained me to throw that ball back to him, but what else was I supposed to do? I thought about switching balls, or maybe asking him to trade balls with me when we finished, but for the time being, I was playing catch again, so that’s what I focused on.
Moments later, something GREAT happened: my friends Mateo Fischer and Ben Weil appeared out of nowhere, and Mateo pulled out his photo/camera. I thought he was just taking pictures, but he was actually filming me. Here’s a screen shot from the video that shows the coach (in foul territory between 3rd base and home plate) throwing the ball:
Here’s a screen shot that shows the grip I was using:
That’s right: knuckleballs. Here I am throwing one:
To my surprise and sheer delight, the mystery coach let me keep the ball when we finished! Here’s a photo of it . . .
. . . and here’s the actual video:
Thank you, Mateo, for filming it!
Once I finished playing catch, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of action . . .
. . . so Mateo and Ben and I clowned around for a bit. Here’s a photo of them in which (a) Ben is standing on a ledge to appear taller and (b) Mateo wants to be somewhere else:
We still had more time to kill, and apparently, so did Steve Phillips and Cecil Fielder. Here they are talking to each other:
As the Angels started hitting, I noticed these folks (in the red shirts) trying to get Mike Trout’s attention:
Given the fact that their shirts said “Trout” on the back and that they were pleading with security to let them move closer to the field, I assumed they were family. I cautiously approached them and asked if they were related, and when the woman identified herself as Mike Trout’s aunt Maureen, I told her that I had caught his first major league home run last year and that I gave it back to him and met his parents and brother and blah blah. I wasn’t trying to get anything from her. I just wanted to be friendly and say hello.
Look where it got me:
Mike Trout had made several half-hearted attempts, spread out over 20 minutes, to wave Maureen down toward the field. She, meanwhile, had been pleading/arguing with security, trying to prove that she WAS related to him and that he WAS, in fact, trying to wave her down. During this time, she’d been insisting that I stay with her. (She told me she recognized me from Mike’s Facebook page. I’m not on Facebook, so I’ll take her word for it.) She said she’d get me down to the front row, but I was torn. I was insisting that I didn’t want to intrude on her family, and I also told her that I wanted to run out to left field and catch some home run balls. At one point, Maureen grabbed the Angels cap right off my head and said she’d get it signed for me, but I politely refused. I needed my cap, and I didn’t really care about getting Mike Trout’s autograph. If anything, I just wanted to say hello to him, but DAMN, I was missing BP, and I was concerned that I was overstaying my welcome. The whole situation was bizarre and awesome, and when she made it clear (by jokingly raising her voice and cursing) that I had to stay with her, I obeyed her orders. Hell, the left field seats were packed beyond belief, so it’s not like I was was missing much anyway. At best, I might’ve caught a couple home runs out there, but that was a small sacrifice for hanging with Mike Trout’s family and seeing where the adventure would lead me.
Here I am with Maureen and her son Dan:
They were both extremely friendly.
While were hanging out in the front row, Gary Sheffield walked by and waved to us:
Then Maureen called some guy over who was standing on the warning track.
Because he was wearing this:
(In the photo above, that’s Maureen’s hand holding his hand. Thanks. Just wanted to make that clear.)
The guy said he was a scout, prompting Maureen to tease him about not picking her nephew, but the guy can’t be blamed; Trout was selected 25th overall in the 2009 draft, four slots before the Yankees got their first pick.
Maureen gave me her email address and asked me to send her some photos. I didn’t send her the shot I took of the dugout . . .
. . . but I did send her this one . . .
. . . and this one . . .
. . . and this one:
I could’ve easily gotten him to sign something, but I truly didn’t care. I didn’t want to ask Trout for anything. I was just there to take it all in as an innocent bystander. (Several collectors, upon seeing me heading down to the Legends area with his family, had asked me to get stuff signed for them, but I refused. Then they begged me, and I refused again. And again. They also begged Maureen repeatedly, and when they didn’t take “no” for an answer, they got yelled at by one of her friends. Twice. It was an ugly situation.)
Maureen was kind enough to re-introduce me to Trout.
“This is the guy who caught your first home run,” she told him.
“Hey, what’s up?” he said to me.
“Nice to see you again,” I said, extending my right hand for a firm handshake.
“Same here,” he said, and that was the end of it.
It would’ve been great to talk longer (and without a zillion people trying to get a piece of him), but whatever. I’m just glad I got to say hello, and I’m sure I’ll see him again before long.
On my way out of the Legends area, I grabbed a free bottle of water and raced to the left field seats. This was my view:
There was only one group of hitters remaining, and nothing came anywhere near me.
The only other ball I got for the rest of the day was thrown before the game by T. J. Harrington, the Angels’ strength and conditioning coach. Here’s a photo of him (in the black shorts and pink shirt) that I took shortly before he hooked me up:
Ben and I sat in straight-away left field during the game, and we both pulled out our cameras when we saw this:
Who keeps track of the number of homers that outfielders rob, and how do they do it? The Elias Sports Bureau? Do they sit there and review video footage from various angles to determine whether or not all these balls would’ve cleared the walls? Is that why the number is an approximation? I’ve seen a LOT of baseball stats in my life, but that was a first.
This was our view late in the game:
The attendance was 47,873.
There were very few empty seats.
There was no cross-aisle or standing room.
I wanted to scream.
Having NO ROOM to run for baseballs — essentially no chance of catching a game home run — is beyond frustrating.
You know what else was frustrating? Seeing Scott Downs (who’s very nice and funny) enter the game with an 0.30 ERA and leaving with a 1.47 ERA. With the Angels leading, 5-2, in the bottom of the 8th, Downs allowed four runs, including a three-run homer by Mark Teixeira that sailed just inside the left field foul pole and landed nowhere near me.
Final score: Yankees 6, Angels 5.
After the game, I figured out the mystery behind the “Twitter ball” that I’d snagged. Mateo informed me that it was “Social Media Night” at Yankee Stadium (whatever THAT means), and I noticed that the groundskeepers were all wearing these shirts:
I figured out something else when I got home. Remember the two-part photo of the mystery Angels coach? Well, I posted it in the following tweet . . .
. . . and got a response two minutes later:
I poked around on Google for a minute, and sure enough, there he was. Social Media Night, indeed. I bow down to the power of the internet.
This was my response on Twitter . . .
. . . and that’s all I got for now.
My next game will be Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Anyone else gonna be there?
• 263 balls in 35 games this season = 7.51 balls per game.
• 827 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 352 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,082 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.)
• 38 donors
• $2.10 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $6.30 raised at this game
• $552.30 raised this season
• $19,709.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009