One great thing about PETCO Park is “The Beach” in right-center field; having a huge sandbox-like section inside a stadium is a marvelous, kid-friendly idea. Unfortunately, though, half the section is usually roped off and wasted with sand sculptures. That was the case at this game . . .
. . . and that’s where I spent the first half-hour of batting practice.
My friend Brandon was at this game with his fancy camera and took lots of great photos. Here’s one that shows several fans competing for a toss-up:
I’m not in the photo above, but I need to point out two of the people who are: the guy in the Luebke jersey is named Ismael (there’s a photo of him in my previous entry), and the guy in the brown shirt is named Leigh (aka “Padre Leigh” in the comments section of this blog).
I got a couple toss-ups of my own in that section. The first came from Padres bullpen coach Jimmy Jones, and the second came from one of the players kids. That’s not the most exciting way to get a ball, but hey, it counts.
On my way to the main part of the stadium, I walked past these people:
In the photo above, do you see the guy in the dark gray suit? That’s Trevor Hoffman! I really wanted to say hello and get a photo with him, but he was busy — just as well, perhaps, because there were baseballs to be snagged.
For the next 20 minutes, I pretty much had the entire left field foul line to myself. That’s because I talked my way in with the season ticket holders, all of whom rushed to the Padres’ dugout on the 1st base side. (At PETCO Park, fans without season tickets are trapped in center field for the first hour; season ticket holders only have to stay there for the first half-hour.)
The short version of how I snagged my next ball is that I leaned over the wall and grabbed it off the warning track. The long version of the story goes like this: a right-handed batter on the Padres smoked a line drive toward the spot where the 3rd baseman normally stands. The ball happened to hit another ball that was sitting on the infield grass, and as a result, this other ball was knocked into foul territory. At the time, I was hanging out near the corner spot in shallow left field, and the deflected ball ended up on the warning track near 3rd base — more than 100 feet away from me. An on-field security guard (who was stationed near the dugout) started walking toward it and easily could’ve gotten it, but when he saw me charging toward him through the front row, he backed off and let me lunge over the wall and grab it. (In New York, I wouldn’t have been allowed to be in the front row. I also would’ve been yelled at for running, and the guard would’ve pocketed the ball.)
Moments later, I heard two guys shouting at me from above. More specifically, they were in the second deck near the Western Metal Supply Co. building, and as I quickly realized, they were employees. At first I thought I was trouble, but as it turned out, they simply wanted to inform me that there were two baseballs in the stands. (San Diego is the best.) They actually waved me up half a dozen steps and directed me through a specific row where they could see one of the balls. Then they pointed at a general area one section away where they’d seen another ball land . . . and sure enough, there it was. HA!!! I gave that ball to a kid who was wandering aimlessly in the seats along the foul line, and less than a minute later, I caught a foul pop-up that was sliced by a left-handed batter. Brandon was in the cross-aisle at that moment (slowly making his way over from the 1st base side) and took a photo just before I caught it:
I realize that you can’t see much in the photo above, so here’s a closer look:
As you can see, I was still holding one of the “Easter eggs” with my left hand; I was snagging baseballs faster than I could toss them into my backpack.
A few minutes later, Ross Ohlendorf jogged over to retrieve a ball in the left field corner. Before he bent down to pick it up, I asked him if he wanted to play catch — a reasonable request, given how empty the stands were. What did Ohlendorf do? He threw the ball to me and started walking away.
“Hey!” I yelled, “aren’t we gonna throw?”
“You can throw it back to me,” he said, “but I’m gonna keep it.”
“Oh, MAN!!!” I shouted, exaggerating my disappointment.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll throw it back once.”
And that’s exactly what happened. I chucked the ball to him, and he tossed it back — not life-changing, but still fun.
Brandon (who hates being photographed) was sitting right behind me:
Hopefully he got some footage of me snagging my 8th ball of the day — a foul grounder that deflected off a protective screen on the warning track and rolled near me.
Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that the Padres were jogging in from the outfield. Batting practice was ending 15 minutes earlier than I expected. Without hesitating, I took off for the 1st base dugout, cutting through the cross-aisle and barely making it in time. In fact, I was still in the aisle when I got Alonzo Powell, the assistant hitting coach, to throw me a ball. Here’s a photo that I took from that spot moments later:
Then I ran back to the 3rd base side and got one of the Astros’ 3rd basemen (not sure who) to throw me a ball. This was my view after catching it:
That was my 10th ball of the day, and it didn’t take long to snag No. 11 — a wimpy grounder that trickled in foul territory. (I want to move to San Diego. To hell with Baltimore. Too humid.)
When the Astros took the field and started playing catch, I used my glove trick to snag two baseballs along the left field foul line. That gave me 13 for the day, and then I headed out to right field. Here’s a photo of me from afar:
It was only 5:30pm. The Astros were just starting to hit. I was thinking about going for 20 balls, and then . . . I got completely shut out for the rest of BP. Here are four reasons why:
1) The power-hitting lefties were absolutely worthless.
2) Several Astros players recognized me and wouldn’t toss balls to me.
3) The left field seats are configured miserably for catching home runs.
4) There was a PETCO Park regular named Kurt in the prime spot in left field, and I didn’t want to get in his way. It would’ve been fun to compete against him, but out of respect, I decided to give him space . . . and he ended up catching four homers on the fly.
So yeah, I was still stuck at 13 balls at the end of BP. (Poor me, right?) Here’s a peek inside my backpack:
“Padre Leigh” caught up with me at the dugout . . .
. . . and then I got a visit from Kurt:
During games, Kurt exclusively goes for foul balls, and T.C. goes for homers. They’re both really laid-back, but don’t let that fool you. They cover lots of ground and seem to catch more batted balls at PETCO than anyone.
While I was talking to Leigh and Kurt, Brandon was (literally) focusing on this woman:
It’s safe to say that he’s in love, but here’s the kicker: he has no idea who she is. He thinks she’s a Padres intern, but that’s all he’s got, so if anyone knows anything and/or has any expertise in arranged marriages, leave a comment here or give him a shout on Twitter @Trickholmes.
Here’s a random photo that I took of the glorious corner spot down the left field foul line:
Look at all that space! Ladies and gentleman, THAT is how to build a baseball stadium. (Now, if only the Padres would demolish those horrendous sand castles in right-center field.)
Shortly before game time, Scott Moore threw me my 14th ball of the day, and less than two minutes later, I got No. 15 from Gene Coleman, the Astros’ strength and conditioning coach. Here’s a photo of Coleman holding the ball just before he turned around and tossed it my way:
I spent the top of the 1st inning here, hoping for a foul ball:
I spent the bottom of the 1st inning here, hoping for a 3rd-out ball:
I spent the next few innings here, hoping for a long home run:
Then I moved to right field for a while . . .
. . . and eventually ended up back at the dugout:
I didn’t snag anything during the game, but that was okay because it WAS quite a game. Check out this mini-scoreboard, photographed by Brandon in the 9th inning:
As you can see, the Astros only managed to get one hit. Here’s another photo that Brandon took moments later:
Final score: Padres 1, Astros 0.
(Terrible night to have tried to catch a home run.)
Edinson Volquez pitched a one-hitter, the lone hit being a fourth-inning dribbler by Matt Downs that Volquez himself failed to handle cleanly. (D’oh!)
After the final out, Brandon happened to take a picture of home plate umpire Lance Barrett . . .
. . . which turned out to be significant because Barrett hooked me up with my 16th and final ball of the day.
Over the course of the day, I ended up giving away eight balls. (Does anyone feel like combing through all my blog entries from this season and counting the number of balls that I’ve given away?) Here I am with six of the balls that I kept:
Did you see me in the photo above? Take a look at the area behind Trevor Hoffman’s right shoulder. (Yeeeeeah, baby!!)
The FOX Sports post-game show was taking place in the “Park at the Park.” That’s the area in very deep center field, and as is often the case with post-game shows, fans are able to hang out in the background and be obnoxious and get on TV.
The behind-the-scenes FOX people were all really cool, as were the security guards. At one point, they let all the fans move to the front of the set. Here I am hanging out there:
Everyone else was waiting/dying to get Hoffman’s autograph, but as I mentioned earlier when I saw him during BP, I just wanted to say hello and get a photo.
It took a while for the show to wrap up, but eventually . . .
When Hoffman saw all those baseballs, he asked me what the deal was, so I told him about my collection and thanked him for the ball that he’d thrown to me at Shea Stadium in the mid-1990s. I gave him a few details — that I’d seen him getting off the No. 7 train hours before game time, and that instead of requesting his autograph, I asked him if he’d toss me a ball later on during BP. (This story, by the way, appears on pages 231-232 of The Baseball.) Hoffman seemed to get a kick out of everything I was saying, and when I finished telling that story, he said, “You know something? I think I remember that.”
“No way, are you serious?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It was such an unusual request that it kinda stuck in my mind.”
Did I mention that I want to move to San Diego? (If I did move to San Diego, Brandon and I would probably drive each other completely insane — I’ve finally realized that we have a love/hate brotherly relationship — but it’d be worth it. And by the way, in case you missed it, Brandon’s video of me from 7/17/12 at Dodger Stadium is now done and on YouTube. Click here to watch it.)
• 312 balls in 39 games this season = 8 balls per game.
• 831 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 356 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 196 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 6,131 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)
• $33.60 raised at this game
• $655.20 raised this season
• $19,812.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009