I’ll admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to this game. I was exhausted. It was Sunday morning. I’d snagged 15 balls the night before (including five of these). I assumed there wasn’t gonna be batting practice, and I didn’t feel like begging all day for toss-ups. I didn’t have a specific goal, and it seemed that no matter what I could possibly accomplish, it would be a letdown. I actually considered skipping the game and sleeping late and doing nothing all day — I’m really good at doing nothing — but then I thought about my return flight to New York. I’d booked it for 8:35pm so that I *could* attend this game. So I went.
My day at the ballpark got off to a good start when I ran into my friend Katie outside the left-center field gate . . .
. . . and things got even better when I finally ran inside and got my first look at the field. Here’s what I saw:
The batting cage was set up!!
Here’s a closer look at the groundskeepers doing their thing:
There was an awful lot of time to kill, and I had to make a tough choice in deciding how to spend it . . .
Option No. 1: Get in line with Katie to get Phil Niekro’s autograph in the Fan Plaza. She’d told me that the Braves have a promotion called “Alumni Sundays” during which fans can get free autographs of former players. On this particular day, it was Niekro, but he wasn’t going to start signing until 11:30am — half an hour after the stadium opened. That’s a long time to stand around doing nothing. But Phil Niekro!
Option No. 2: Get some food, grab a seat in the shade, watch the groundskeepers set up the field, and be ready in case the Dodgers came out to hit or throw.
I went with the second option, in part because I was so hungry that my stomach hurt. (I ate a salted pretzel with a side of processed/artificial cheese sauce. It was wonderful and horrible.) Mainly, though, I didn’t want to miss any opportunities to get baseballs. While I sat and ate, I took photos like this . . .
. . . and this:
Batting practice WAS going to happen. It was just a matter of when — and which team.
At around 11:20am, several Dodgers started playing catch in left field. In the photo of them below, the red arrow is pointing at my friend Andrew:
Ten minutes later, when the entire stadium opened, Andrew stayed near the foul pole and I ran to the seats in foul territory. Just as I was entering the section (from the cross-aisle 20 rows back), Kenley Jansen randomly threw a ball into the empty seats. There were several fans closer to it, but for some reason, they didn’t bother going for it, so I was able to hurry over and grab it. Here’s a photo of the ball before I picked it up:
Andrew (pictured above next to the foul pole) flipped me off from afar.
Shawn Tolleson finished throwing soon after, or at least I thought he’d finished. When I asked him for ball, he said something like, “Hang on, I need to go use it in the bullpen.” I wasn’t sure if he was intending to give it me, so I followed him there. Here’s what I saw:
In the photo above, Tolleson is standing closest to me . . . at the bottom/left of the group of players. Ten minutes later, he finished throwing and started walking back toward the field. A woman called out to him and asked for the ball. He looked up at her and said, “Sorry, I already promised it to someone.”
“Hey, Shawn, I’m right here,” I said.
He then looked in my direction and gave me a nod and tossed it to me.
The woman was pissed. “Oh!” she yelled, “just because he’s wearing a DODGERS shirt?!”
Yup. Pretty much.
I knew I wasn’t going to get another ball in the same spot, so I moved here . . .
. . . and got one from bullpen coach Ken Howell when all the guys headed back toward the field.
The Braves eventually started taking BP. Three power-hitting lefties — Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Juan Francisco — were all in the first group, so I headed to right field. On the way, I saw Katie in line and got a glimpse of Phil Neikro:
One minute later, this was my view:
The section was dead — very few toss-ups, even fewer home runs, and no glove trick opportunities. All the action was in right-center.
The Braves only took two groups of BP, and I didn’t snag anything until I moved back to left field at the very end. As I was making way down into the seats, I saw a ball drop into the gap behind the outfield wall. Thankfully I was the only fan with a retrieval device — the regulars must’ve assumed there wasn’t gonna be BP — so I was able to take my time. First I photographed the ball:
Then I moved closer to it, used my glove trick to reel it in, and handed it to the smallest kid. That’s when BP finished. And that’s when I noticed two more balls in the gap in left-center. I snagged them both with my glove trick, gave one to a kid, and kept/photographed the other:
That was my 6th ball of the day.
After BP, I caught up with my friend Matt, who unfortunately had to witness an unpleasant situation for which I was responsible. Game time was still an hour away, so we decided to head for a seat in the shade . . . far from the field . . . under the overhang down the left field foul line. Quite simply, the female usher at the very top of the section denied us. I politely informed her that I had a seat behind the 3rd base dugout and asked if we could sit in the shade for a bit. She responded by saying it was time for us to go to our seats. She was so robotic in her response — she had such a profound lack of compassion and common sense — that it drove me into a mini-fury. I’ll spare you the details. And of course Matt and I were able to find a shady seat elsewhere.
Meanwhile, here’s what was taking place on the field between BP and the game:
At around 1:15pm, this was the scene in shallow left field:
As you can see, two Dodgers were playing catch, and none of the fans were making any effort to get the ball. The people wearing Dodgers gear were all waiting for autographs, so I had no trouble getting Matt Treanor (the player on the left in the photo above) to throw me the ball when he finished. I offered the ball to the only kid near me, but he didn’t want it.
I moved down a few rows and took a peek into the dugout:
Then I moved behind the dugout and got another ball — my 8th of the day — from Hanley Ramirez.
This was my view when the game started:
I stayed there for the first few innings, and in the middle of the 4th, I stood up and moved to the front row and planned to ask for the infield warm-up ball. I was semi-disctracted at the time because the “Kiss Cam” was happening. I mean, who doesn’t love the Kiss Cam? Who doesn’t enjoy making fun of all the dopey couples giving each other pathetic/G-rated pecks on the lips? Who doesn’t enjoy seeing people squirm and/or revel in the spotlight? Who doesn’t hope that the jumbotron will show a brother/sister or a father/daughter or two guys or two girls? Anyway, as the inning break came to a close, 1st baseman Juan Rivera threw the ball toward the dugout, Davey Lopes retrieved it from the warning track, and I asked for it. Lopes then disappeared from sight, and that’s when it occurred to me that the song “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton was playing. At some stadiums, the Kiss Cam will conclude with a shot of a (male) fan sitting alone, usually all the way up in a totally empty section in the upper deck. I was still eyeing the dugout, hoping that Lopes would reappear and give me the ball, but at the same time, I wanted to see who was getting mocked by the Kiss Cam, so I took a quick peek at the jumbotron. “Ha,” I thought, “they’re making fun of some Dodger fan,” and then I looked back at the dugout. Then I was like, “Ohmygod, that’s ME on the jumbotron!” The whole stadium was laughing, and just at that moment, the ball was rolled to me across the dugout roof from someone down below (presumably Lopes). I quickly grabbed it and held it up for the camera — but the shot BARELY got cut off before I had a chance to show it off. This wasn’t how I envisioned making it onto the Kiss Cam, but hey, I’ll take it. It WAS pretty damn funny. And if the Kiss Cam ever DOES show me with my girlfriend, all I can say (to her as well as the viewing audience) is watch out. I’m going to turn kissing into an Olympic event.
After I got the infield warm-up ball, I moved to the tunnels behind home plate. This was my view for all the right-handed batters . . .
. . . and unfortunately, the only time that the aisle was blocked happened to be the exact moment that I had a chance to catch a foul ball. (A 400-pound man, if you must know, was being moved from his seat to a wheelchair, so there was NO getting around him.) The ball was a high pop-up off the bat of Dan Uggla that landed RIGHT in the middle of the aisle, roughly 20 feet to my left. If it had been hit at ANY other moment during the game, I would’ve been able to drift underneath it and make a very easy catch. It was painful.
I’m happy to report that the day ended on a positive note. After the Dodgers recorded the final out of their 5-0 victory, I asked the manager for the lineup cards and got them! But it wasn’t Don Mattingly. Mattingly had recently been suspended for two games, so Trey Hillman (who’s normally the team’s “bench coach”) was running the show. In order to hand me the cards, he climbed up on the edge of the camera well and reached across the dugout roof. Here’s a photo of him that I managed to take at the last second . . .
. . . and here’s a 15-second video of the exchange that Matt filmed.
You could say that I was excited:
Here’s a closer look at the cards:
Note Mattingly’s signature on the blue card (partially obscured by my thumb). I guess he was still officially “the manager” even though he wasn’t allowed to be in the dugout?
I had calmed down somewhat by the time I had my picture taken with Andrew:
Andrew, for the record, snagged three balls at this game, bringing his lifetime total to 19 — not too shabby for someone who’s barely/kinda getting into it and still doesn’t try THAT hard.
• 449 balls in 55 games this season = 8.16 balls per game.
• 847 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 372 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,268 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)
• $20.34 raised at this game
• $1,014.74 raised this season
• $20,171.74 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009