Let me start with a photo of (one teeny portion of) the crowd outside Yankee Stadium:
Did you notice the guy in the funky hat who’s holding open a blue book? He was asking people to write “get well” wishes to Mariano Rivera — 608 people, to be specific, in honor of Rivera’s 608 career saves. I was one of the people that he asked, so I wrote a short message and then photographed the page:
When the stadium opened at 5pm, I was disappointed to see that the Yankees were not taking batting practice. They were getting ready to hit, but for the first ten minutes, this was the only action:
(It’s wonderful to be at an empty stadium and have to stay 50 feet away from the field. The huge nets along the foul lines are real life-savers. I mean, if fans were standing in the front row with no protection, they could fall over and/or get nailed by wayward line drives. The Yankees sure know how to treat people and how to make everyone feel safe! Go Yankees! And it’s just great how they charge so much money for tickets and send people back to their seats halfway through BP. They know how important it is to keep out the riff-raff so the real fans can enjoy the game. Go Yankees!)
In the photo above, the player standing “closest” to me is Freddy Garcia, and when he finished playing catch, he threw me this:
When the Yankees started hitting several minutes later, I headed out to left field:
Despite the multitude of right-handed batters in the first group, the only ball I got out there was a home run that landed in the Rays’ bullpen. Cesar Ramos was standing nearby, and I got him to throw it to me, but he chucked it so high over the side fence that I had to chase it through a mostly-empty row. When the ball first sailed over my head, there was a man standing ten feet behind me in my row, so I thought I was screwed. For some reason, though, he didn’t run after the ball. Instead he stepped aside and watched it bounce into the folded-up portion of a seat and let me run past him to grab it. Very strange.
That’s when it occurred to me that the Rays weren’t going to hit. They’d played 14 innings the day before in Baltimore, and even though that had been a day game, it made sense (although I wasn’t happy about it) for Joe Maddon to let his players rest pre-game. That’s why the Yankees started hitting late. Damn!
For the next group of BP, I headed up to the second deck in right field and snagged three home runs off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. (Three-chiro?) The first one landed in the seats and forced me to lunge over a row. Then, as I was standing up with that ball in my hand, I saw the second homer sailing toward me, so I drifted 10 feet to my left and caught it on the fly. The third homer landed in the seats, ricocheted to the right, and hit a woman in the back who was standing at the side railing and peering down at the seats below. I swooped in and caught the ball before it hit the ground again, and I gave it to her. She was fine — just a bit stunned. Look closely at the following photo, and you’ll see her sitting with the ball (and talking on the phone) at the end of my row:
After that group of BP, I headed down to the lower level in right field . . .
. . . but didn’t snag anything there.
After BP, I went back to left field and noticed several balls in the bullpen:
I also noticed how crappy the outfield grass looked as a result of the recent Madonna concert . . .
. . . but let’s get back to the bullpen, shall we? There was a groundskeeper out there who always throws the extra balls into the crowd. He had given me a few this season, but he usually tosses them to little kids and beautiful women. Well, when I asked him for a ball this time, he remembered me and (in a friendly way) told me that he’d given me enough. That’s when I used a desperation strategy that only works once per season: I told him it was my birthday and offered to show him ID to prove it. He kinda rolled his eyes at me, and when it came time to toss all the balls into the crowd, he made sure to take care of the more worthy recipients. At the very end, he called me down to the corner spot and said, “For your birthday.” Then he pulled a ball out of his pocket and handed it to me around the fence. Here I am with it, along with my driver’s license . . .
. . . and just for the hell of it, here’s a closer look at the license itself:
See? It really *was* my birthday. I’m 35 now (although I feel like I’m six), which means I’m old enough to be the president. (Wouldn’t THAT be something?) That photo of me was taken when I was 16 or 17; in New York State, people are given the option of taking a new photo or keeping the one they have. I plan to keep this one for as long as I’m allowed. It has certainly caused some funny looks/conversations, especially when I traveled to Israel in 2005 and pretty much had to be interviewed in order to get past airport security, but that’s not my problem. Quite frankly, I found the whole thing amusing. The most troubling thing on my license is my height. For the longest time, my official height was 5-foot-10 and five-eighths, so I always rounded up to 5-foot-11. That’s fair, right? I mean, I *was* closer to 5-foot-11 than 5-foot-10, so I’m not sure why the license is robbing me of a valuable inch. Several months ago, I went to my doctor for a physical — my first one in ages — and measured in at exactly 5-foot-11. I don’t know if I grew three-eighths of an inch in my 20s, or if my posture simply improved, but hey, I’ll take it. Meanwhile, I’m still holding out hope that I’ll make it to seven feet.
Anyway, after the groundskeeper hooked me up, I gave a ball to a little kid and left the stadium. That’s right. Bye-bye, Yankees! This was my view from the elevated subway platform:
Did I mention that it was my birthday?! Last year, I celebrated by snagging 36 balls in Cincinnati, but this year, my plans took me far away from the world of professional sports.
• 541 balls in 67 games this season = 8.07 balls per game.
• 859 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 384 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,360 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.)
• 45 donors
• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.32 raised at this game
• $1,471.52 raised this season
• $20,628.52 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
One more thing: of the four balls that I kept, three have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of them in regular light versus black light: