You know how some teams play “over their heads” and win more games than they should? You know how scrubby players sometimes get off to really hot starts in April, only to fall apart once the “sample size” increases? Here’s what I’m getting at . . .
Prior to this game, I’d only been to Angel Stadium twice since 1995, and both times I snagged exactly 11 balls. Angel Stadium, quite simply, is not an 11-ball type of place. I knew I wasn’t going to maintain that average forever, and unfortunately this was the day when it all came crashing down — when everything seemed to go wrong. The players were stingy. I was constantly out of position. Balls were taking unlucky bounces. And so on. It was a true ballhawking nightmare — but hey, at least I got to hang out with some friendly people before the home plate gate opened. Here I am with two of them:
In the photo above, that’s Warren on the left and Ryan on the right. Warren asked me to sign a card (which you can kinda see if you take a closer look) and Ryan had me sign copies of my last two books — Watching Baseball Smarter and The Baseball. Warren is a talented ballhawk who once somehow managed to snag 17 balls on back-to-back games at this stadium. Ryan is more of an autograph collector, and if he looks familiar, that’s because we met last year. (Yes, he’s holding a copy of The Baseball in both photos; the new one was for a friend who couldn’t make it.)
I also got to catch up with my buddy Devin Trone and re-meet a ballhawk named Eli. Here I am with them.
In the photo above, Devin’s wearing the red hat. He and I have crossed paths half a dozen times at various stadiums since last season. Eli, wearing the red shirt, was at the game that I’d attended here last year, but we’d only talked briefly and didn’t really get to know each other. (We still barely know each other, but this time we actually got to have a non-frenzied conversation that didn’t take place during BP.)
Despite everything I said earlier, batting practice *did* get off to a great start. During the first minute that I was in the right field seats, I used Japanese to get Hisanori Takahashi to throw me a ball, and it was commemorative! Check it out:
(The Angels used those balls last year and obviously have a bunch left over.)
Then my day fell apart. I didn’t snag another ball for the next HOUR, but before I get to that, let me show you a few photos. Here’s one of me in the second row, running behind Devin:
Here’s a shot of me with an Angel Stadium regular named Rob:
Rob (like Devin) is an old-school ballhawk in that he only tries to catch home runs. He hangs out in straight-away right field and usually wears shirts with cut-off sleeves, so he’s easy to spot. Next time you’re at Angel Stadium, go say hi to him, but give the man his space.
As you may have noticed, I was wearing Rangers gear in the photo above, but it barely helped.
Here’s a photo of me in the front row, being ignored . . .
. . . and here’s something random/funny for you — a photo of a fan walking on the batter’s eye:
See him in the background, trudging up the green hill? At the Rangers’ ballpark in Arlington, fans are allowed to run out onto a similar hill for baseballs, but here in Los Angeles of Anaheim, where the guards are way more strict than they need to be, it’s prohibited. Security didn’t chase him out there. They waited calmly for him to return to his seat, and then they removed him from the section. They might’ve kicked him out of the stadium and, for all I know, arrested him for trespassing. I’m not sure how it played out.
Toward the end of BP, I raced over to the corner spot in right-center field and got a ball from this guy:
At the time, I had no idea who he was, so my friend Brandon (who was with me for BP only) took that photo of him. My plan was to post it on Twitter and hope that someone would be able to identify him.
My 3rd ball of the day was tossed by Ian Kinsler before the game. Here’s a photo that I took as he flipped it to me:
Soon after, several Rangers relievers headed out toward left field . . .
. . . and so did I (via the concourse). Here’s what it looked like as I entered the seats in left-center at the start of the game:
In the photo above, do you see the wide green platform between the outfield wall and the stands? I decided to sit behind it in the mostly-empty second row. This was my view:
I was hoping that one of the Rangers’ many power-hitting righties — or better yet, Albert Pujols — would hit a home run onto the platform and that the ball would bounce to me. Not a bad plan, right? Well, with one out in the top of the 1st inning, Elvis Andrus cranked a 3-2 pitch in my EXACT direction, and I knew immediately that it was gone. The only problem was that it seemed to be traveling too far, so I climbed back into the 3rd row while the ball was in mid-air:
Let me clarify something: when I said that the ball was traveling “too far,” I didn’t mean that it was going to sail completely over my head. I meant that it was heading for the middle of the platform and was therefore likely to bounce over my head. During BP, I’d noticed that home run balls were bouncing high off the platform, so in order to have a chance now, I needed the ball to barely clear the wall — but Andrus’ shot was clearly going deeper than that. Here’s a screen shot of the ball landing . . .
. . . and here I am jumping helplessly for it:
The stupid ball bounced FIVE FEET over my outstretched hand and plopped into the lap of an unsuspecting fan several rows behind me. Can you believe that crap?!
At the time, I wasn’t sure where the ball had struck the platform. Maybe it *had* barely clearly the outfield wall. Maybe I was in the wrong spot. Perhaps the ball was destined to bounce half a dozen rows deep no matter where it landed. I drove myself crazy thinking about it, but now at least I have a definitive answer. Here’s a screen shot of the landing spot, courtesy of Greg Rybarczyk and his incredible website ESPN Home Run Tracker:
The ball HAD landed deep on the platform. GAH!!!!!!! I’d done everything right and gotten screwed at the end by bad luck. Here’s the actual video of the home run on MLB.com.
Halfway through the game, I gave up on home runs and found these guys:
That’s Kevin in the blue “Texas” shirt and his father Scott on his left. Scott is the guy who filmed me snagging this one-hopper as well as this ground ball during BP on 7/17/12 at Dodger Stadium. In the photo above, Kevin is generously handing me a memory stick with bonus footage from the two Dodger games that I’d attended earlier in the week. I hung out with them for a couple innings. Then I wandered for a bit and ended up here in the top of the 9th:
It seemed to be my best shot at getting a post-game ball. The Angels were winning, so I wanted to avoid the chaos behind their dugout, and the umpires were going to be inaccessible. They exit the field directly behind home plate, and without a Diamond Club ticket, there’s no way to get there, so I played the bullpen . . . and it worked! After the final out of the Angels’ 6-1 victory, I made eye contact with Alexi Ogando and got him to toss me a ball.
My day ended with four lousy toss-ups — not a total disaster, but from a ballhawking perspective, this was probably my most frustrating game of the season. I did, however, enjoy a brief post-game adventure. During the finale of the fireworks show . . .
. . . I found my way into the Diamond Club behind home plate. (Don’t ask how. Use your imagination.) Then, when the fireworks ended and the lights came back on, I took a bunch of photos. Here’s one that shows the staircase where the umps exit:
Here’s a peek inside the field-level seats behind home plate:
Here’s the outdoor table area (and wow, look at all the room to run for foul balls):
Here’s what the indoor dining area looks like . . .
. . . and here the hallway that leads to the bathrooms:
That’s all I got. Several yellow-shirted security guards were milling about, and I wasn’t feeling particularly conversational.
• 316 balls in 40 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 832 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 357 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,135 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)
• $8.40 raised at this game
• $663.60 raised this season
• $19,820.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Now, about that mystery Rangers player who tossed me a ball . . .
It took me a couple days, but eventually I tweeted the photo of him:
Within minutes, a gentleman named Brian Miller responded, and several other fans confirmed his answer soon after:
Although my day in Anaheim ended on a positive note, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there and head back to PETCO Park for one final game.