If I hadn’t bought tickets in advance, I would’ve skipped this game. The weather was brutal, but I’d made plans several days earlier to be here with a friend. No big deal, though, right? At the five games without batting practice that I’d attended this season, I’d snagged a total of 36 balls. That’s an average of more than seven per game, so you know, whatever . . . right?
This particular game at Yankee Stadium was a ballhawking nightmare. There wasn’t a single player in sight for the first 25 minutes after the gates opened, and even then, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of action:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a lone Ranger standing in the dugout. He didn’t stay there long, and for the next ten minutes, the stadium was dead.
Finally, at around 5:35pm, there was a sign of life . . .
. . . and I was truly concerned that my streak was going to end.
Why the hell was I in the second deck, you ask? Because there were LOTS of fans cramming into the first few rows down below, many of whom were young and/or female and/or wearing Rangers gear. Quite simply, I felt that I needed to distinguish myself from the masses, even if it meant doing something drastic like moving far from the action. What would you have done? Look how crowded it was by the time the players started throwing:
As each pair of players finished throwing, the first few balls got tossed to the fans down below, including one that went to my friend Mateo. (If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the upper half of Mateo’s body. He’s wearing a red cap and blue shirt, and he’s standing a dozen rows back on a staircase.
Just as I was questioning my decision to be in the 2nd deck, I sensed an opportunity and shouted like CRAZY at Roy Oswalt and got him to throw me a ball! I was in the fourth row when he chucked it, and while the ball was in mid-air, I had to scramble down to the second row to catch it. Here it is:
In the photo above, Oswalt is walking toward the tarp on the right, but anyway, as you can imagine, I was incredibly relieved. My consecutive games streak was saved! The last time that I’d attended a game and *didn’t* snag at least one ball was nearly 19 years ago — September 2, 1993, to be exact, at the old Yankee Stadium. (If I could go back in time and attend that game, I’d probably snag half a dozen balls; I had no clue back then and wasted countless opportunities.) Of course, I was still nervous because I still had another streak on the line, dating back to the 2007 All-Star Game: 369 consecutive games with at least *two* baseballs.
Two minutes after I got the ball from Oswalt, I got another player’s attention. I don’t know who it was. All I can tell you is that I got him to look up at me by jumping up and down and waving my arms after he finished throwing. He then acted like a traffic cop and used arm/hand signals to direct me to various spots in the stands. First he had me move one section to my right. Then up the steps until I was a dozen rows back and underneath the overhang. Then five seats to my right. It occurred to me that he might’ve been messing with me — that he’d seen me get the ball from Oswalt and that he had no intention of actually throwing me another. That wasn’t the case. He DID throw me the ball, but as I feared, it fell several rows short and bounced all the way down to one of the first few rows, where another fan ran over and grabbed it. I threw my arms up in disgust, prompting the player to throw his arms up too as a type of shrug, and that was the end of it.
This was the scene for the next hour:
It was pouring, and there was NO action on the field. My only option, therefore, was to camp out behind the 3rd base dugout and wait for a toss-up.
There was an awful lot of waiting. The game was delayed for an hour and 45 minutes at the start.
Finally, when the rain tapered off, the grounds crew came out to remove the tarp:
That’s when my friend showed up — my friend Jeremy, that is, who was with me when I caught Mike Nickeas’s 1st career home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field. He and I got some food and schmoozed it up while the grounds crew watered the grass in shallow left field:
(There are drains in the field. The water was gone two minutes later, though the turf remained soggy.)
At around 8:35pm, the tarp was rolled up:
I was VERY much looking forward to pre-game throwing. Because there hadn’t been batting practice, I figured there’d be more players than usual getting their arms loose. Good logic, right? Yeah, not so much. Only TWO players bothered to play catch, and unfortunately, one of them was Mike Olt, the starting 1st basemen, who predictably kept the ball for infield warm-up purposes. Therefore, when the game started, I still only had one ball.
The Rangers went down in order in the top of the first inning — nothing newsworthy there — but listen to what happened next . . .
Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first, worked the count to 2-1 against Scott Feldman, and then hit a chopper/come-backer to the left side of the mound. Feldman bounded after it, made a lunging/back-handed catch, and made an awkward, across-the-body throw with all of his momentum pulling him toward the 3rd base line. The ball in-between-hopped Olt at first base and took a tricky bounce off the wet turf, but he made a clean catch! The ball was then thrown around the horn, and when 3rd baseman Adrian Beltre ended up with it near the mound, home plate umpire Vic Carapaza was already walking out with a new ball in his right hand. Feldman was still near the 3rd base line at that point, so Carapaza had to wait for a moment. That’s when two things happened simultaneously:
1) Beltre turned toward the dugout.
2) I jumped out of my seat and started waving my arms.
Beltre spotted me right away and lobbed the ball in my direction from more than 100 feet away. As the ball descended toward me, it nearly clipped the steel cable that holds up the protective screen, but thankfully it reached me unobstructed, and I extended my glove above everyone else’s hands for the catch. Here’s the ball — note how far away Beltre is:
That was my final ball of the night.
As for the game itself . . .
Josh Hamilton hit two home runs (and collected his 100th and 101st RBIs of the season), the second of which traveled 447 feet and landed halfway up the bleachers in straight-away right field. When Hamilton was in the field, some of the bleacher creatures were shouting stuff at him like, “Ready to be a Yankee next year?!” while others were taunting him about his drug and alcohol additions. That’s exactly how Yankee fans treat A-Rod; half of them love him, and half of them hate him — but for all the wrong reasons.
Hamilton’s homers accounted for all of the Rangers’ offense, and it wasn’t quite enough. Final score: Yankees 3, Rangers 2.
Meanwhile, Jeremy and I were so busy talking to each other and watching the game that we neglected to get a photo together at the stadium . . . so here’s one of us in the subway on the way back to Manhattan:
Jeremy is from Seattle, so he was wearing an old-school Mariners hat in honor of Felix Hernandez, who had pitched a perfect game earlier in the day. I was wearing a “National Scrabble Championship” t-shirt (from San Diego; the event took place there in 2002) in honor of Nigel Richards, who, earlier in the day, became the first four-time national champion.
• 2 balls at this game
• 425 balls in 53 games this season = 8.02 balls per game.
• 845 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 370 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,244 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.)
• 42 donors
• $2.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $4.52 raised at this game
• $960.50 raised this season
• $20,117.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009