Do you remember when I caught my 5,000th ball on 5/28/11 at Rogers Centre? Check out this video of it and look for the fan in the yellow and black striped shirt. You can see him right at the start, and then he gives me a high-five at the 22-second mark. He had brought copies of two of my books — How to Snag Major League Baseballs and The Baseball — and we got a photo together later that day. Is any of this familiar? Yes? Maybe? Well, I’m mentioning it because that fan was at Yankee Stadium with his copy of my other book, Watching Baseball Smarter. Here we are together outside Gate 6:
His name is Jon, and it’s a little bit frightening, but he’s only 13 years old. The dude is built and has BOSS sideburns (not to mention a voice that’s deeper than most adults), and he’s barely old enough to . . . umm, what can 13-year-olds legally do nowadays? Umm . . . have a Bar Mitzvah AND set up a Facebook account! (Two things I’ve never done.) But anyway, it was great running into him again. This was his first game ever at the new Yankee Stadium, and I’m glad to say that he snagged two baseballs during BP. The first was a toss-up from CC Sabathia, and the second was a Raul Ibanez home run. As for me . . .
When the gates opened at 5pm, I headed to the 2nd deck in right field and found this:
Then, as I made my way down to the front row, I found two more balls, so my day was off to a great start. Two minutes after the stadium had opened, I was already thinking about double digits.
Unfortunately there weren’t any home runs hit into the 2nd deck while I was there, and I didn’t get any balls thrown to me either. The Yankees, by the way, are *great* about throwing balls into the crowd, especially to little kids standing in the front row. I’ve never seen a home team give so many balls away, which is a shame because that’s how it oughta be at every stadium.
I moved to left field for the Yankees’ final group of BP and caught a Jayson Nix homer on the fly. It came right to me, but it was still a tricky play because there was an old guy with a glove standing directly in front of me. When the ball reached the top of its arc, I had to decide whether to move in front of him and try to make a leaping catch . . . or to stay where I was and hope that he wouldn’t be able to reach it. I decided to stay back, and sure enough, the ball ended up sailing one foot over his glove. Don’t feel bad for him, though. He was a good sport about it and caught a Blue Jays homer later on.
As for the Jays, I moved into foul territory when they started playing catch . . .
. . . and figured I’d get at least one ball thrown to me — probably two.
So much for that.
I couldn’t recognize most of the players, and I got ignored by the few whose names I knew. It was terrible, and while I was there, three home runs landed within 10 feet of my spot in straight-away left field. By the time I headed back out there, the seats were packed:
I mean, there was NO room to move, but I still managed to snag three home run balls. The first landed directly behind me and nearly hit the security guard who was standing in the tunnel. (I would’ve caught it on the fly, but I was several rows below the landing spot and got blocked on the stairs.) The ball smacked off the pavement, bounced off the metal fencing above the tunnel entrance, and ricocheted in a perfect/straight arc back in my direction. I took a step back and then jumped as high as I could (on the very crowded staircase) and caught it. The next two homers pretty much came right to me, and I caught them both on the fly. (I got hit in the face on the first one by some guy who carelessly waved his cap at it.)
That brought my total for the day to seven, but I only had five in my backpack. That’s because I’d given two baseballs away to kids.
I headed to right field for the final group of BP, and as you can kinda see in the following photo, the sun was brutal:
I snagged one home run ball out there, but should’ve had three. I don’t know what the hell was going on inside my head, but as soon as I entered the section, back-to-back homers landed near me, one of which came so close that I nearly got hit by it. I never saw either ball coming, but not because of the sun. I simply wasn’t paying attention to the batter, and I’m not sure why. I must’ve been getting settled into my spot — you know, looking all around to identify the competition and to figure out where I was gonna have the most room to run, but that’s no excuse. As for the one home run that I did snag . . . I ran and jumped for it in the last row and would’ve caught it on the fly if not for a fan directly above/behind me in the bleachers who reached out and bumped my glove with his. (Of course, HE probably would’ve caught it if *I* hadn’t been there, so I can’t complain.) The ball bounced off my glove and landed in the second-to-last row, where I was able to grab it.
That was it for BP.
But I felt I should’ve had at least a dozen.
Shortly before game time, I got my 9th ball of the day from Alex Andreopoulos, the Blue Jays’ bullpen catcher. (For some reason, I neglected to take photos of this. Sorry.) He was in the left field bullpen and tossed it to me over the side fence. At the time, there were two adolescent girls decked out in Blue Jays gear, who were standing directly in front of me. The ball had sailed just over their outstretched arms, so I offered it to them.
“That’s okay,” said one of the girls. “We already got one.”
The girls ended up getting another ball from Andreopoulos five minutes later — and five minutes after that, he threw me another! I’ll admit that he wasn’t aiming for me this time, but for the record, it’s not like I robbed anyone. There were a bunch of fans crowding the fence, so he lobbed it in our direction, and what can I say? It happened to come right to me, and I happened to reach up higher than everyone else. As soon as I caught it, I handed it to the man standing next to me — a friendly guy named David who had recognized me from this blog. We’d been talking for several minutes, and he had mentioned his three kids, so I gave him the ball to take home to them. Normally I don’t give away balls in these situations — I need to SEE the kid to believe it, and of course I *don’t* like being asked, but David didn’t ask. He’d actually been telling me about some of the balls that his kids had snagged earlier in the season, so I didn’t feel pestered. He was really cool, in fact, so I was glad to hook him up.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the 4th inning. I was sitting in right field and blew my chance to catch a Robinson Cano homer — and to make matters worse, it cost me $10. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain what happened:
When Cano first made contact and sent the ball flying in my direction, I took a step back and paused for a split-second. I thought it was going to sail deep into the seats, but then I realized that it was going to fall short, so I quickly scooted down the steps. See the guy with his feet up (directly in front of the kid with the cotton candy)? He wasn’t there at the time, so I moved into his row and reached out with my glove for a waist-high catch. That’s right. Despite briefly misjudging the ball at first, I was able to recover and make it to the exact spot where it was going to land. I thought I was going to catch it FOR SURE. I mean, like I said, I was actually reaching out for it, and not even with full extension. I had it all the way. Take another look at the photo above. See the arrow pointing to the fan in the second row, toward the left side? He’s sitting just past the guy in the orange shirt, and he’s turning around to talk to someone behind him. Well, that fan came flying out of nowhere and lunged right in front of me at the last second and caught the ball on the fly ONE FOOT in front of my glove. I practically caught his glove with my glove. That’s how close I was to catching this ball. I was more stunned than pissed, but it still hurt. I mean, good for him. He was wearing a Cano jersey, and I learned later that he was only 15. He did everything right and made a helluva catch, and I congratulated him later, but as for me . . . I was really bummed that I’d misjudged the ball. You know how outfielders sometimes get fooled by big swings and take a step back before running in? That’s what happened to me. It’s a perfectly excusable thing to do, but I was still mad at myself for not reading the ball quicker off the bat. If I had, I would’ve been able to scoot all the way down into the empty camera well, where I would’ve been able to make an uncontested chest-high catch. As for the $10 . . . do you see the other fan with the arrow pointing at him? Well, right after I failed to catch the ball, I felt something under my left sneaker. It turned out to be his box of chicken tenders and fries. He was chill about it, and I was actually the one who said something first. I began by apologizing and then offered to buy him a new one — or to give him the money. He kind of shrugged and nodded, so I asked how much I owed him. He pulled out a receipt for $15, which thankfully included another item that I hadn’t trampled. The chicken and fries had cost $10.50 — a dollar CHEAPER than it is at Citi Field! — so I offered him ten bucks. I would’ve given him the full amount but (a) I didn’t have change and (b) I noticed that it was partially eaten. He accepted the money and never bothered to go spend it. The whole situation was a disaster for me, and the more I sat there and thought about it, the more upset I got. I even considered leaving. What were the chances, I thought, of another home run landing in the same spot in the same game? Not very good. It was crowded. I was tired and sweaty. I was hating myself, and I just wanted to escape. I wanted to go home and get naked and eat ice cream in my air-conditioned apartment with my girlfriend.
It’s a good thing I stuck around.
After sitting in right field for the first eight innings, I decided to run over to left field for the top of the 9th. That’s because the Jays, who were trailing, 6-4, had three right-handed hitters due to bat: Yorvit Torrealba, Moises Sierra, and most importantly Adeiny Hechavarria, who had a grand total of ZERO career home runs. Because I didn’t have a ticket in left field, I wasn’t able to enter the seating area, so I hung out in the tunnel and chatted with the security guard.
Torrealba worked the count full against Yankees closer Rafael Soriano, but then went down swinging. Sierra followed with a single up the middle, and Hechavarria popped out to Cano. That brought up Rajai Davis — another right-handed batter — who managed to keep the game alive with a grounder that snuck through the left side of the infield. Sierra went to 3rd base on the play, but so what? His run didn’t mean anything, and the game was probably gonna end anyway.
The next batter was Colby Rasmus, a power-hitting lefty. I remember thinking, “Crap, I should really be in right field,” but it was too late, so I just stood there and watched, not even sure what to root for at that point.
Rasmus took the first pitch for a ball and launched the next pitch into the second deck in right field — a 381-foot blast that I had no chance of catching — and just like that, the Blue Jays took a 7-6 lead. Edwin Encarnacion then ended the inning with a strikeout.
So . . . there was now going to be a bottom of the 9th. Derek Jeter was due to lead off, but I wasn’t really thinking about his at-bat. Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano were gonna be coming up after him. THOSE were the guys that I was looking forward to seeing, so I slowly made my way back to right field. First I said goodbye to the guard. Then I took a peek at my phone. Then I walked back through the concourse.
By the time I started heading into the corridor/tunnel that leads to the right field seats, Jeter was in the process of taking the first pitch for a called strike. This was my view just before the next pitch was about to be thrown:
The guard waved me down — you know, told me to “go ahead” despite the fact that the at-bat was in progress — but I declined.
“Thanks,” I said, “but I’ll wait here for one more pitch. I don’t want to block anyone’s view.”
Guess what happened on THAT pitch: Jeter connected on a fastball . . .
. . . and sent a deep, towering fly ball in my direction. I knew immediately that it was going to be a home run, and I also knew (simply because it was Jeter and because it was hit so high) that it was not going to land deep in the section. Therefore, there was only one direction to go: down the steps. Here I am near the back of the section . . .
. . . and here I am making my way down toward the front:
Sure enough, the ball barely cleared the wall, and as luck had it, it entered the seats RIGHT on the staircase — three feet to the left or right, and I wouldn’t have had a chance. Take a look at the following screen shot. It was so crowded at the wall that you can’t even see me . . .
. . . but I was there.
And I barely felt something hit my glove.
There were two other fans reaching for it with their gloves, including the guy who’d caught the Cano home run. All of our gloves bumped, and for a split-second I didn’t know whether or not I’d caught the ball. Well, somehow I *did* catch it!!! Somehow the ball found its way into MY glove, and the more I watched the highlight, the more astounded I was that it actually happened. The cameras, unfortunately, or at least the clip on MLB.com, didn’t show my celebration. They showed this instead . . .
. . . but then there were replays of the ball entering the crowd. The red arrow in the following screen shot is pointing at me:
See the three gloves reaching for the ball? The fan on the right (in the pinstriped jersey) is the kid who’d caught the Cano homer. He was wearing a black glove. The fan on the left (in the navy blue Yankees shirt) is reaching up with a reddish-brown glove. My glove is the light tan one at the top/back of the cluster. Here’s another screen shot that shows the ball streaking toward us:
Can you BELIEVE how crowded it was? And how it all came down to a couple of inches? It looks like the fan on the right had a clear shot at catching it . . . right? My glove appears to be positioned slightly behind his . . . and it seems that the ball barely cleared his glove by a couple inches before smacking into the pocket of mine.
The following screen shot shows the ball poking out of my glove right after I caught it:
Yeah, there was a little bit of snow-cone action, and I’m thankful/amazed that I was able to hang onto it.
Here’s one final screen shot that shows me holding up my glove:
Did you notice the backpack that’s draped over my right shoulder? I’m telling you, I was just chillin’ in the tunnel when this all unfolded, so that’s why I was wearing it.
Wow and a half.
When things settled down a bit, I took a photo of the ball . . .
. . . and tweeted about it. Soon after, I got a photo with the fan who’d caught the Cano homer. Here we are:
His name is Alex, and he was cool about everything. He wasn’t pissed at me for catching the ball, but really, he had no reason to be. He might’ve been pissed at himself for not jumping or reaching higher, just as I’d been pissed at myself for not judging the Cano homer quicker, but we’d both made clean plays. There was no shoving or fighting or anything. It’s just nuts to think that he would’ve caught both home runs if not for me, and I would’ve caught both if not for him, but ultimately we each went home happy.
My friend Matt Latimer (who works for MLB.com) came and found me in the 10th inning. Here we are with the ball:
I wanted the game to last 20 innings. Or 120 innings. I was so happy that I wanted to sit there forever and soak it in — but no, the Jays scratched out a run in the top of the 11th, and that was the end of it. Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 7.
After the final out, several fans congratulated me for the catch, and two guys asked if they could pose with the ball. (One kid asked if he could HAVE the ball.) I took a photo of them with their camera and then took this shot with mine:
That’s when it occurred to me that I’d achieved my own mini-milestone with the catch; the Jeter home run was my 6,300th lifetime ball. More importantly, it was his 3,262nd career hit, which to me is much cooler than it being his 254th career home run.
I truly couldn’t stop holding and photographing the ball. Here it is on the No. 2 train:
It’s no secret that I’m not a Yankee fan, but Derek Jeter has always been one of my absolute/all-time favorite players. Whenever he’s at bat, I *am* at Yankee fan. I can’t root against him in any situation no matter what. Even when the Yankees were playing the Mets in the 2000 World Series, I still rooted for Jeter. I *love* him with every morsel of my baseball DNA — Is that a creepy thing to say? — so to finally catch a home run that he hit . . . there are no words.
Keep scrolling past the stats because I have some more photos (plus a humongous screen shot) that might be of interest . . .
• 481 balls in 60 games this season = 8.02 balls per game.
• 852 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 203 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 19 lifetime game home run balls (plus an additional five that I don’t really count because they were thrown to me); click here to see the complete list.
• 6,300 total balls
• 1 unquantifiable dose of happiness
(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.)
• 43 donors
• $2.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $25.96 raised at this game
• $1,135.16 raised this season
• $20,292.16 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Ready for a few more photos? Okay then. Of the eight balls that I kept, three have invisible ink on them. (Note that I didn’t say “invisible ink stamps.”) Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the Jeter home run ball in regular light versus black light:
Here’s a much better stamp on one of the BP balls . . .
. . . and here’s a pair of fingerprints on another:
Pretty neat, huh?
Finally, I thought it’d be fun to share the activity that took place on Twitter (including one message from a hater) after I caught the home run, so here’s a very long screen shot for your viewing pleasure:
Virtual fist-bump to David Bond for being the first to reply and thanks to (almost) all of you for the messages and follows and retweets. Knowing that so many people were thinking of me — and thinking happy thoughts — made the whole experience even better.