9/12/12 at Citi Field

My day got off to an incredible start, which at Citi Field means snagging THREE baseballs during the Mets’ portion of batting practice. Wow!!! The first was thrown by Justin Turner, indicated below with the red arrow:

The second was a homer that landed in the seats in left-center, and the third was a homer that I caught on the fly while drifting down the staircase that leads to the Party Deck. I felt like a superstar after that one.

This was my view when the Nationals started hitting:

My 4th ball of the day was a home run (by a right-handed batter that I couldn’t identify) that pretty much came right to me. I had to jump at the very last second because it sailed a bit farther than I’d expected, and I caught it on the fly. Then I drifted down to the front row and reached WAY the hell over the railing to catch a Bryce Harper homer; I reached so far down that a man below me on the party deck accidentally hit my glove when he reached up for it.

When I moved back to my spot in the 4th row, this is what it looked like on my left:

In the photo above, do you see how the batter’s eye is two sections away? Well, one of the Nats launched a home run that landed there, and when I ran over to take a look, an usher told me to go get the ball. (What?!) Was he messing with me? Or was he seriously encouraging me to jump down and retrieve it? I *had* recently heard that fans were now being allowed to run out onto the batter’s eye to snag home run balls, but as far as I knew, this new rule only applied to the right-field side of the batter’s eye, where the wall is low and there’s just a short railing to hop over. Here I was on the left-field side, where there was a seven- or eight-foot drop down to the slanted black surface. I asked the usher if he was serious, and he was like, “Yeah, you can go get those balls now,” so I climbed over the railing, dangled my legs over the wall, and pushed myself off. Here’s a photo of the wall that I took earlier this season from right field. The arrow indicates where I jumped over:

I landed without a problem. Then I walked down to the bottom and grabbed the ball, and then I got scolded by a security guard who was stationed on the party deck (just to the left of the “Citi” advertisement). I told him that an usher had encouraged me to jump down, but he didn’t believe me. He said that it’s against the rules to jump over the wall on this side of the batter’s eye, and he told me I was lucky that I didn’t break my leg. Rather than making me climb back up over the high wall, he told me to step over the low wall onto the party deck and use the stairs to get back into the regular seats. Meanwhile, we argued about whether or not the usher had actually given me permission. As it turned out, a second usher had been standing nearby and had heard the whole thing, so he backed me up and told the guard that I was telling the truth. (The word “jeez” comes to mind.) One last thing about the batter’s eye, and then we’ll move on: in the photo above, do you see the little/triangular corner spot above the second ‘i’ in the “Citi” ad? It’s below (and slightly in front of) the platform at the top of the stairs. If you ever happen to be on the party deck, know that you ARE allowed to climb over that low/back wall to get balls from the batter’s eye, so technically, fans ARE allowed to enter the batter’s eye from both sides. You just can’t jump over the high wall from the regular seats on the left field side. Of course, now that I’ve explained all of this, the rules will probably change next year. (You’ll only be allowed to climb over if it’s an even-numbered day in an odd-numbered month — unless the Mets won the day before, that is, unless you’re over 5-foot-7 and/or 18 years old, or if you have express written consent from your parents or legal guardians, provided you haven’t been to Yankee Stadium during the current Major League Baseball season, unless you’ve bought a batter’s eye voucher at the advanced ticket window with your Mastercard and have your receipt autographed by Mr. Met and/or the entire Wilpon family in orange or blue ink from pens obtained at Shea Stadium on Bobby Bonilla Beanie Baby Night. Open to Queens residents only. Void where prohibited.)

My 7th ball of the day was a home run that I caught after running 20 feet to my left and jumping.  I handed that ball to the nearest kid, at which point another fan asked me if I could catch one for him. This other fan happened to be a grown/athletic-looking man, who appeared to be in his late 20s and told me that he had played college baseball. More specifically, he wanted the ball for his girlfriend, who was standing nearby and happened to be at her first game ever. Here’s a photo of his girlfriend:

If there were EVER a couple of fans that I wouldn’t give a ball to, this was them. I did, however, give the guy some advice (which included telling him to tell his girlfriend to put her phone away), and whaddaya know, he ended up snagging two baseballs. As much as I hate being asked for balls, I hate it even more when the request comes from an adult who isn’t even trying. Yeah, sure, just sit there in the shade and drink your beer and text your friends while I run around for free and catch baseballs for you.

My 8th ball was a home run that came *right* to me. There were several fans clustered near me, so all I had to do was reach higher than everyone else. As soon as I caught the ball, I offered it to a kid, who looked at me funny and shook his head. I don’t know if he’d already caught one or simply wanted to catch one on his own, but whatever the reason, he had no interest in the ball I was holding out for him.

Several minutes later, I saw a ball land in the corner of the gap in right-center field, so I ran over to take a look. Check it out — it was truly IN the corner:

As I was preparing to snag it with my glove trick, Jordan Zimmermann (pictured above in center field with his hand on his hip) jogged over to retrieve a ball that had rolled onto the warning track. When I asked him for it, he responded with a question of his own: “What do you DO with all these balls?”

We ended up talking for at least three minutes — maybe more like five or seven minutes. I neglected to look at the clock, but it was a long conversation. I asked how he recognized me. He said he remembered me from Nationals Park last year and that he’d noticed me running all over the place at Citi Field for the past few days — that he’d seen me wearing an umpire cap after games and then switching into a Nationals cap and running toward the dugout. I felt completely busted, but he was cool about it and kept asking me questions. (Meanwhile, he tossed the ball to a woman wearing Mets gear.) I told him about my baseball collection and my books and my fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball and about the helicopter stunt. He asked how I managed to arrange the stunt and where it had taken place, so I told him about the Lowell Spinners and about my friend who works as a test flight engineer for the FAA.

“I know I’m completely insane about all of this,” I said, “but I do actually have a job and a girlfriend.”

“I find that hard to believe,” he replied with the hint of a smile.

I told him that some of the players who’ve recognized me have been rude, occasionally going so far as trying to prevent me from getting baseballs. I then expressed how appreciative I was of the fact that he had come over to talk to me — that he actually cared enough to ask questions and find out about me, rather than making judgments and assuming that I was automatically a dick.

At one point during our conversation, the batter hit a deep line drive that was clearly going to roll all the way out to us. Zimmermann was looking up at me in the stands, so I nodded toward the outfield grass behind him and said, “Here you go.” That’s all it took to get him to turn around and scoop up the ball. I didn’t ask him for it. He obviously knew that I wanted it, so I kept on talking. If he gave it to me, cool, and if not, no harm done. I was just glad to be chatting with him. Ten seconds later, while I was in the middle of answering another one of his questions, he tossed it to me. No warning. No “here you go.” Nothing. Just . . . bam. That was my 9th ball of the day.

I sensed that the conversation was winding down, so I told him that there was a ball in the gap behind the outfield wall and asked if he wanted to see me snag it. He did indeed want to see how the glove trick worked, so I retrieved the ball and then explained it. Then I asked him if he’d pose for a moment so I could take a photo for my blog.

“I don’t do photos,” he said. And he meant it. (Strange, no?) And that was pretty much it. I thanked him for everything and said that I hoped to see him again soon.

Back in left-center field, I caught another home run on the fly. This one (my 11th ball of the day) was a high fly ball that soared and drifted and seemed to hang up in the air forever. Eventually a cluster of fans converged near the landing spot, and since I happened to have the best position, I was barely able to reach up higher than everyone else.

My 12th ball was thrown by Edwin Jackson. Tell me if this sounds familiar: as soon as I caught it, I offered it to a kid who didn’t want it. (I actually walked to the next section to offer it because there weren’t any other kids near me — not counting the baby that you’re about to see.) Here’s a photo of the two kids who had turned down my offers:

(Babies at batting practice? Seriously?!)

After BP, I got my 13th ball tossed by . . . someone inside the 3rd base dugout. All the Nationals had cleared the field, and the ball was tossed up from under the dugout roof.

Of the 12 balls that I still had in my possession, nine had the word “practice” stamped under the MLB logo:

The highlight of the day (other than catching six BP homers on the fly) was running into a college friend that I hadn’t seen since college. Her name is Alex. Here we are:

Do you remember the free food vouchers that I’d received the night before after giving a couple of baseballs to some kids? Well, I used one voucher to get a burger before the game . . .

. . . and I used another to get some fries in the 6th inning:

As you can probably tell from the photos, the burger was of such poor quality that to call it a “school cafeteria burger” would be an insult to school cafeterias — and to think that the Mets charge more than seven dollars for it. The fries, I’m happy to report, were outstanding. And did I mention that this food was free? Free food makes me VERY happy.

As for the game, Mets starter Matt Harvey struck out 10 batters in five innings, but the offense-less Mets lost, 2-0. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond hit solo homers, but neither one landed near me.

After the final out, Nationals coach Jim Lett tossed me a very mud-rubbed ball at the 3rd base dugout. I kept that one and gave a cleaner ball to the nearest kid.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 14 balls at this game (twelve pictured here because I gave two away)

• 535 balls in 66 games this season = 8.11 balls per game.

• 858 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 383 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 206 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 6,354 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $38.08 raised at this game

• $1,455.20 raised this season

• $20,612.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the twelve balls that I kept, four have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of them in regular light versus black light:

Anyone planning to be at Nationals Park on Tuesday or Wednesday? I might be there for one of those games.

15 comments

  1. Al

    I’m waiting for the day a player who recognizes you starts throwing all the balls he tosses into the stands to you. Or even just toss you 2 at once.

  2. smillermarlins

    Your rant about jumping on to the batters’ eye and the hypothetical circumstances necessary to do so made me laugh even harder than your generic Citi Field rant a few weeks ago. And I’ve never even been to a New York ballpark!! Also, I’ve noticed that Jordan Zimmerman is one of the most fan-friendly players in the game, however, I had never heard of a “no photo” policy before.
    Steve

  3. Doug

    Wait, So your going to D.C to stalk J. Zimmermann?

    All Jokes aside, are you going to make the short trip from DC to Baltimore friday? 6$ Bleacher seats vs the BoSox!

  4. Doug

    I have a question about Camden Yards… In Two Weeks on a Friday, , I plan to go to the O’s – BoSox game… It being the last Friday game of the season, a Fireworks night, and the AT&T Student night promotion (Tip: the people at the box office don’t give a fuck if you actually are a student), Do you think their would be to many people to BallHawk at BP?

  5. kslo69

    What an awesome player interaction! “running all over Citi field for the past few days”…priceless! ^__^

  6. Ben Weil

    I’m guessing the usher yelled at you for jumping down, cause to me, it looked as if you committed suicide when you jumped haha. You disappeared out of sight. But I’m glad that offer is open to Queens residents only, because it means you won’t be able to go there, and I will!

  7. Zack Hample

    COOK & SON BATS-
    That’s exactly why I *didn’t* go to Baltimore.

    AL-
    Me too! I’m friends with a few kids who read this blog who’ve told me that if/when they make it to the major leagues, they’ll hook me up with a ton of baseballs. I hope that actually happens.

    SOL-
    I have no idea. If the Yankees make it, I’ll probably go to an ALDS game. If not, maybe Nationals Park? If the Orioles make it, I want to be there, but at this point, there are no guarantees.

    SMILLERMARLINS-
    Glad to have brought a smile to your face, and that’s nice to know about Zimmermann. Can’t wait to see him again.

    DOUG-
    I probably won’t be back in Baltimore this year unless the O’s make the playoffs. As for the game you’re talking about . . . all I can tell you is that the crowds have been much bigger in recent weeks, so there will probably be lots of competition.

    CHRIS-
    Well, NOW you know.

    KSLO69-
    It was pretty sweet.

    SHELLEY K. NEWKIRK-
    The practice balls are *slightly* less-than-perfect balls that get sold to teams at a discount for use before the game. (There was once a case of a practice ball accidentally being used during a game, and it caused an uproar.) The invisible ink stamps are part of Rawlings’ quality-control process at their factory in Costa Rica. Click the link in the entry to read more, and read my book called “The Baseball” to read MUCH more.

    LIZ MERRY-
    We should organize a dork convention.

    BEN WEIL-
    Did I say Queens residents? I just saw a press release from the Mets that said the offer is only valid for people who currently reside in the Dominican Republic.

  8. gold price

    Look, the three-game sweep, capped off by a blowout, may not mean anything (the Cardinals swept the Astros and remain four games ahead with 12 to play). But, it’s always nice to unload on the Mets. You know, just place a few dabs of baseball swimmies onto the belly of a sunk ship.

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