This was my seventh lifetime game at PETCO Park, and unfortunately it was the first without batting practice — no surprise as it was a day game, but it still sucked to run inside and see that the cage wasn’t set up:
The good thing about the lack of BP (combined with the awesomeness of San Diego and PETCO Park itself) is that the entire day was laid-back. There was a level of tranquility like nothing I’ve ever experienced at a game in New York. No one yelled at me or asked to see my ticket when I wandered down to the “handicapped” seating area . . .
. . . and when I looked to my right, I felt bad. I don’t know how else to describe it. All I can say is that when I saw all this open space . . .
. . . I actually had a melancholic feeling in my heart and a sinking feeling in my gut. Quite simply, PETCO Park is glorious, and when I found myself standing all alone in the front row, it was a visceral reminder of everything that’s lacking at my home ballparks.
Surprisingly, the few Padres that were standing around didn’t toss me a ball, so I headed over to the left field side. Several Astros players were starting to play catch . . .
. . . and for the next ten minutes, I was the only fan on that entire side of the stadium. Did you hear me? I had the place to myself for TEN MINUTES. That just doesn’t happen in New York. I schmoozed it up with the security guards, watched the Astros get loose, and eventually snagged a mis-thrown ball that deflected off one of the players’ gloves and trickled across the warning track right to me.
Several minutes later, a man and three boys wandered down to the front row. As it turned out, he recognized me from this blog, and when he snagged a ball of his own, we got a photo together:
His name is Mike Simpson, and in his spare time, he coaches and does the groundskeeping for a successful Little League team. I learned this after he waved over a Padres groundskeeper and had a semi-lengthy conversation about field preparation. Then I snagged another mis-thrown ball that rolled near me, and then I learned that the guy that Mike was talking to wasn’t just *a* groundskeeper. His name was Luke Yoder, and he was THE Padres head groundskeeper. Mike introduced me, and we all chatted for a few minutes. Ready for a “small world” coincidence? When I told Luke that I’d worked as a part-time groundskeeper for the Boise Hawks in 1995, he told me that he’d worked that season for the Sioux City Explorers — an independent league team that was owned by the same man. Amazing! (Not only had I heard of the Explorers, but I used to have an Explorers t-shirt that I wore all the time.) Luke also told me that he remembered the guy who was the Hawks’ head groundskeeper at the time — a guy named Joe Kelly that I’ve kept in touch with, who just so happens to be one of my absolute favorite people in the world.
The encounter with Luke made my day, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part . . .
He and I decided that we needed to take a photo together that I could email to Joe. Check it out:
That’s right, baby! I was on the field!
I was the one who suggested taking the photo on the field, and Luke didn’t even have to think about it. He just shrugged and was like, “Yeah, c’mon.” But it wasn’t that simple. Even though this was San Diego, it WAS still a major league stadium, which meant there were cameras all over the place and people secretly watching our every move. In addition to that, two security guards were standing near us on the warning track. They were both very friendly, and while they personally had no problem with my climbing over the wall and stepping onto the warning track, they had to radio their supervisor to get clearance. Luke kept telling me to just do it, but I hung back in the stands until I got the official go-ahead from security. I didn’t want to get the guards in trouble, nor did I want to end up in jail. After a minute or so, the guards told me it was okay.
After Luke and I got our photo together, I lingered on the warning track just long enough for Mike to take a bonus pic:
In the photo above, the guard on the left (if I’m remembering correctly and spelling it right) is named Sean, and he was shockingly nice. He wasn’t there to bust my chops. He was totally on my side and was genuinely interested in hearing about my baseball adventures. The other guard was also really cool, but I didn’t get to know him as well.
More than an hour before game time, I hurried over to the little “home run porch” down the right field line and got my 3rd ball of the day from Padres bullpen coach Jimmy Jones. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:
Interesting/unfortunate side note: Jones (indicated above with the arrow) took over that position from the recently deceased Darrel Akerfelds.
For the next 40 minutes, there was no action on the field, so I wandered and got a bite to eat and took a bunch of photos. Here’s my favorite:
There are cross-aisles, and then there are CROSS-AISLES. This one is as good/wide as it gets, and yes, okay, it takes quite a poke to reach it, but so what? It’s not 500 feet from home plate. It’s more like 400. That’s where I caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run on August 16, 2006 — a blast, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, that traveled 409 feet.
Approximately half an hour before game time, I positioned myself here . . .
. . . and got a ball from Astros bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte.
Then I ran over to the left field foul line . . .
. . . and got my 5th ball of the day from Brian Bixler. I’m a bit embarrassed to report (although I loved it at the time) that there was *no* competition for any of these balls.
I spent most of the game here in the second deck:
Just like the section in right field, it would’ve taken a bomb to reach me, but whatever. There was a wide cross-aisle, and I had lots of room to run. Also, I knew it was a good spot because this guy made sporadic appearances throughout the game:
For those who don’t know, that’s a legendary ballhawk named T.C. (See pages 281-282 of The Baseball; I featured him in the book as one of the all-time top ten ballhawks.) He attends every Padres game, so if you go to PETCO Park and hang out in the outfield, you’ll see him.
At some point during the middle innings, I headed over to right field to catch up with a couple other friends who attend every Padres game. Here I am with them:
In the photo above, the guy with his finger up in the air is named Ismael. (He’s the guy who put me on the phone with Heath Bell on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.) The other dude is named Luigi. If you see either of them at the stadium, go say hi and tell ’em that Zack from New York sent you. Same goes for T.C., and the same goes for the usher in right field named Franklin (whom I met in 2006). Not only is he a great guy who’s VERY knowledgeable about baseball, but he’s invented a statistic called “quick outs.” He and several of the regular fans in his section keep track of them like this:
In the photo above, that’s Franklin holding up the sign behind the Q’s.
What exactly is a quick out? It’s simple: three pitches or less. Here’s another photo of Franklin with more signs:
I love the concept of the “Q” because it promotes good, crisp baseball. Franklin hopes that “quick outs” will one day be part of every box score, and you know what? After hearing him talk about it and seeing how much fun everyone had whenever another “Q” was recorded, I do too.
This entire game was played quickly, especially at the start. Both pitchers — Wandy Rodriguez for the Astros and Clayton Richard for the Padres — were in the zone. The first three innings were done in 32 minutes.
The pace, of course, slowed down when the teams started scoring, but it was still done fast. Final score: Padres 8, Astros 4. Final time of the game: two hours and thirty minutes.
During the top of the 9th inning, I had moved here . . .
. . . and after the final out was recorded, I got my 6th and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Paul Emmel.
As the Astros relievers walked in from the bullpen, I noticed this little guy on my right:
I’m talking about the kid being held in his father’s arms. See his right index finger? He and his father were asking the players for “just one ball.” The players completely ignored them so I pulled a ball out of my backpack and handed it to the kid. Then, on my way out of the stadium, I gave away another.
• 296 balls in 38 games this season = 7.79 balls per game.
• 830 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 355 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,115 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)
• $12.60 raised at this game
• $621.60 raised this season
• $19,778.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Hang on! There’s more! I just thought it’d be fun to share some of the randomness that transpired after I walked out of PETCO Park. This was a 12:35pm game, so there was still plenty of day ahead of me . . .
I started by taking two trains:
The train on the left was a trolley that went from the stadium to the nearby Santa Fe Station. The train on the right was a “Coaster” that took me along the coast . . .
. . . and through the hills to Solana Beach. This was the scene when I got off the train:
Those people were dressed for Opening Day at the nearby Del Mar Racetrack. The plan was for me to jump in a cab and head over there to meet my friend Brandon, but it was so crowded and crazy at the track (and the drinks were so expensive) that Brandon left early and met me at the train station. (It was his birthday, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted, including changing the plans at the last second.)
When Brandon met me, he was with some random guy that I’d never met. Here they are:
In the photo above, Brandon (who hates being photographed) is on the right, and as for the other guy . . . I didn’t know what to make of him. He was perfectly nice and looked like a rock-star wannabe. Right? Well, guess what? He pretty much IS a rock star. His name is Pat Kirch, and he’s the drummer for a well-known band called The Maine. What do I mean by “well-known”? Let’s put it this way: he has 58,889 followers on Twitter, and the band itself has 132,153. (I have 1,438, if that gives you any perspective.)
He and Brandon and I hung out for a couple hours, mostly here at this restaurant/bar:
Pat asked me all about my baseball collection, and I asked him all about his music career. It was pretty damn cool. (If you have a few minutes, watch/listen to the video of “Inside of You” by The Maine. I heard a bunch of their songs in the car, and that’s my favorite. It’s very pretty and catchy — straight-up rock/pop at its best.)
And finally, here’s how my day ended:
That’s me with an AK-47. (I look really mean with that pink No. 7 train circle on my shirt, don’t I?) Given recent events, I was hesitant to post that photo on my blog, and believe me, I’m not a fan of guns. I live in a peaceful, liberal neighborhood on the Upper West Side and went to Quaker schools for eight years. Guns are simply not part of my world . . . which is why I decided to post it. It’s so NOT ME that I find it disturbingly amusing.