So . . . yeah, I went to Turner Field.
I usually announce my trips far in advance, but this time I just didn’t feel like it. There was a VERY special baseball to be snagged, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to have a ton of competition. Forgive me.
Let me explain by showing you a couple photos that I took before the gates opened. Here’s the first:
Do you see the security supervisor in the tan shirt? Check out the button that he was wearing:
Since 2007, Major League Baseball has had an annual Civil Rights Game. For the first two years, it was a pre-season affair that took place at AutoZone Park, and after that it became a regular-season event. (I never knew about it until this season; the Civil Rights Game, evidently, doesn’t receive national publicity.) In 2009 and 2010, it was played at Great American Ball Park, and last year the game moved to Turner Field. This season it was back in Atlanta . . . and I’d heard that a special/commemorative ball was going to be used . . . so that’s why I made the trip.
I was hoping that some of the special balls would find their way into the batting practice buckets, but no, this ball . . .
. . . and everything else that I snagged before the game had the standard MLB logo.
My 2nd ball of the day was thrown by Jack Wilson, and it had a really cool marking on it:
Okay, I lied. I did tell one person about my trip, but (a) he’s not a ballhawk and (b) I didn’t tell him until the day before. His name is Matt, and here he is with a brand-new Braves cap for me:
Ten minutes after Matt found me, I saw a ball drop into the gap behind the right-center field wall. I was still in left field at the time and assumed that one of the other fans out there had a retrieval device, but hell, I felt like getting some free exercise, so I ran over and peeked into the gap. This is what I saw:
Sweet! The ball was still there. I used my glove trick to reel it in and was told by a nearby fan that it’d been thrown by Brian McCann.
When the Dodgers started hitting at around 5pm, I ran back to left field and caught an A.J. Ellis homer on the fly. Then I used the glove trick to pluck two more balls from the gap, the second of which I handed to the nearest/smallest/glove-wearing kid.
Toward the end of the Dodgers’ portion of BP (which ended half an hour early at 5:45pm), I ran back to right-center and snagged two more balls. The first was a home run that bounced off the padding atop the outfield wall and plopped into the gap. The second was a towering homer by James Loney that I caught on the fly in the 7th row. I was in the 6th row when the ball was hit, but because I’d been looking elsewhere, I didn’t see it until it was at the top of its arc. I quickly determined that (in addition to landing 20 feet to my right) it was going to sail a bit too far, so I climbed back over a row and reached high over my head for a back-handed grab.
Just before the Dodgers finished hitting, I made it down to the seats behind their dugout on the 3rd base side. This was the view:
When BP ended, bullpen coach Ken Howell tossed me my 9th ball of the day, and I knew right away that I had a chance to get another. Look what was happening in foul territory:
In case you can’t tell, two coaches were transferring all the balls from the basket to an equipment bag. I ended up getting a ball from one of them, and I have no idea who he was. I think the back of his jersey said “MC CULLUM 89.” Look closely above the Red Sox cap two photos above and you’ll see him. Does anyone know who that is?
Twenty minutes later, this happened:
Good timing, huh?
It was pouring, but that didn’t stop the red-shirted fans (whoever they were) from walking slowly around the warning track. The forecast hadn’t called for rain. Few of them had umbrellas. I found it amusing.
Here’s a photo of Matt staying dry:
In the photo above, did you notice the guy in the Dodgers cap? That’s my friend Andrew. (Okay, so I told him about my trip to Atlanta too.)
When the game started, I decided to go all out and try to milk every possible opportunity for a ball. My plan was to go for foul balls in the tunnels and cross-aisle behind home plate . . . and also to play both dugouts for 3rd-out balls . . . and if all else failed, I figured I’d have a shot after the game with home plate umpire Mike Winters.
In the top of the 1st inning, a foul ball sailed 15 feet directly over my head and was caught bare-handed by a fan in the middle of a crowded section. All I wanted to do at that point was SEE the ball; if I was going to bust my ass for one all night, I needed some confirmation that it really WAS commemorative. I headed up the steps and planned to ask the guy if I could take a quick look at it, and as I said the words, “Excuse me,” he happened to move it around in his hands, and I got a glimpse of it. In place of the standard MLB logo, there appeared to be three words in big/bold/capital letters. I couldn’t read them, but assumed they said, “Civil Rights Game.”
I was DETERMINED to snag one of these balls. I simply had to. Not only wasn’t I sure if I’d ever have another chance, but I’d spent roughly $400 to be here for the sole purpose of getting one. The roundtrip flight cost about $280. The hotel cost about $80. The cab to the game cost $14. And so on. Quite simply, if I managed to snag one of these balls, I was going to be overjoyed, and if I didn’t, I was going to need therapy. (I might need therapy regardless, but that’s another discussion for another time.)
I didn’t get the 3rd-out ball at the Braves’ dugout after the top of the 1st inning, so I headed to the Dodgers’ side. Michael Bourn, the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 1st, drew a four-pitch walk. That brought Martin Prado to the plate, and that’s when I took the following photo:
Prado worked the count to 1-1. Then Aaron Harang made a pick-off throw to 1st base. And then Prado drilled an RBI-double into the left-center field gap. Moments later, when the action was done, the umpires called “time,” and the ball was rolled out of play toward the Dodgers’ dugout. By the time Juan Uribe climbed the dugout steps to retrieve it from the warning track, I was already standing in the front row (fully decked out in Dodgers gear) and asking him for it in Spanish. This was the result:
I was truly thrilled at that moment. Mission accomplished. Goal fulfilled. Dreams realized. Okay, I’m getting carried away, but seriously, I was pretty much ecstatic.
During the top of the 2nd inning, I was back behind the Braves’ dugout when three Dodgers batters — Hanley Ramirez, James Loney, and Luis Cruz — hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off Ben Sheets. Here’s a photo of Cruz connecting on the final longball:
I went back to the Dodgers’ dugout in the bottom of the 2nd, and when Michael Bourn went down swinging to end the frame, I figured I had no chance to get the ball. I was sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout, but catcher A.J. Ellis was going to enter the home-plate end. Short story short: I got him to throw the ball to me from about 75 feet away. It was truly a thing of beauty.
Now, as you might expect, the people sitting around me weren’t exactly delighted by the fact that I’d gotten two baseballs in two consecutive innings, but they all ended up loving me. Why? Because I pulled a (batting practice) ball out of my backpack and handed it to the nearest kid. And I wasn’t done. I noticed another kid sitting nearby, so I grabbed another and hooked him up too.
I really wanted to take a photo of the “Civil Rights Game” ball that I’d just snagged, but I didn’t want to flaunt it, so I kinda hid it below the seats and photographed it like this:
Yes, I realize that my hand looks fat and awkward in the photo above, but anyway, fast-forward to the bottom of the 4th inning. I was back at the 3rd-base dugout and got ANOTHER game-used ball. This time it was a foul-grounder (I totally forgot who was hitting because I got caught up in the excitement of the moment) that was fielded by Dodgers 3rd baseman Luis Cruz. Cruz threw it into the dugout, and one of the coaches tossed it to me. (I think it was Trey Hillman, but it could’ve been Tim Wallach. Again, my mind went blank because of the excitement. At the time, I recognized the coach who gave it to me, but then . . . I don’t know, five seconds later, I completely forgot who it was. Very strange.) Here’s a secret photo of that ball:
In case you haven’t noticed, all three of my “Civil Rights Game” balls were somewhat flawed. The main part of the logos (where it says “official major league baseball”) was rubbed and scuffed, so yeah, I was still hoping to snag another.
In the top of the 6th inning, I found myself behind the Braves’ dugout yet again, but this time I knew I had no chance. Here’s why:
As you can see, there were kids standing at the bottom of the staircase, waiting for the 3rd out to be recorded, and no one was stopping them.
I gave up on both dugouts at that point and spent the last few innings going exclusively for foul balls. I had several close calls, and luck finally tipped my way. It was the top of the 7th inning. Luis Avilan was on the mound for the Braves. Luis Cruz was at the plate for the Dodgers. With no outs and a 1-2 count, Cruz sent a foul ball my way. It came back at the perfect angle, smacked off the facade of the press box up above, landed in the tunnel, and bounced over my head back toward the field. Thankfully, it didn’t bounce too high or far, and I was able to scramble after it and catch it. I then gave one of my BP balls to a nearby kid, and I’m glad to say that my friend Matt was there in the tunnel to witness the whole thing. Several minutes later, when the Dodgers were back out in the field, he took my picture with the ball:
It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but THAT logo was messed up too. Hmph.
Here’s a photo of the tunnel/aisle where I snagged it, along with the overhang up above. I’ve drawn a red arrow to show where the ball deflected off of it:
It was quite a night, and as the 9th inning rolled around, I had a chance to make it even better. I went down to the Dodgers’ dugout one final time . . .
. . . and when the game ended, I got a PERFECT ball from the umpire. Check it out:
Final score: Dodgers 6, Braves 2.
Oddly, there were nine total hits in the game — four by the Dodgers and five by the Braves — and ALL of them went for extra bases. All four of the Dodgers’ hits were home runs, while the Braves had three doubles, a triple, and a homer.
As for the “Civil Rights” portion of the day . . . I don’t know what to say. Hank Aaron was there, along with several other baseball dignitaries and three of the original members of Earth, Wind & Fire. There was a smattering of pre-game activity (largely consisting of videos being played on the jumbotron), but it wasn’t extravagant like the kind of stuff I’ve grown accustomed to seeing at All-Star Games and the World Series. There wasn’t a flag that covered the entire outfield. There wasn’t a military jet flyover. And you know what? That’s good. I tend to think that “less is more.” I just wish that more people knew about the Civil Rights Game because it obviously supports a great cause and has a positive message.
Before heading out of the stadium, I grabbed as many of the commemorative balls as I could hold in one hand — that would be four — and took a photo with the other:
Matt was standing nearby and offered to take a photo of me so that I could hold up all five. Here is it . . .
. . . and for the record, I had no idea that Andrew was lurking/pouting in the background until later. Andrew did snag one ball during the game, but it was a regular/practice ball that got tossed up from the Dodgers’ dugout.
Matt and I got a photo together . . .
. . . and then we all headed out. What an awesome day.
Here’s a pic of the 11 balls that I kept . . .
. . . and here are some stats:
• 15 balls at this game (eleven pictured above because I gave four away)
• 440 balls in 54 games this season = 8.15 balls per game.
• 158 balls in 11 lifetime games at Turner Field = 14.36 balls per game.
• 846 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 371 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 202 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 50 different commemorative balls; click here to see them all
• 6,259 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)
• $33.90 raised at this game
• $994.40 raised this season
• $20,151.40 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Welcome to the end of the stats section, where all kinds of cool things happen. Of the 11 balls that I kept, three have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light: