My day started at 5:45am. That’s when I woke up in New York City, and when I walked to the nearest subway station half an hour later, it was still dark:
The subway platform was desolate . . .
. . . but the train had a bunch of half-asleep passengers:
I reached Penn Station at around 6:40am . . .
. . . and had a little time to spare, so I got an egg-and-cheese-on-a-croissant sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. No coffee. Just the food and some ice water. Coffee is for wimps (and tastes like crap).
At around 7am, I found myself on the NJ Transit platform . . .
. . . and ended up on this train . . .
. . . to Newark Liberty International Airport. Of course, in order to connect from the train to the airport, I had to wait here for a tram:
In the photo above, do you see the guy in the dark green camouflage jacket? He’s walking on the right and carrying a light gray bag. Well, soon after I took that photo, he turned around and walked back in my direction and approached me.
“Excuse me,” he said, “are you Zack Hample?”
How’s that for random? He recognized me from this blog — only the third time that a stranger has recognized me in a non-baseball setting — and we rode the tram together. Here he is giving me a thumbs-up:
His name is Andrew, and he has a weird/awesome/hilarious blog called Mr. Moody Met. I won’t describe it. All I’m gonna say is that you should check it out, especially if you’re a Mets fan.
An hour after arriving at the airport, I boarded this teeny plane to Philadelphia:
That’s right. Philadelphia.
Because I booked this trip at the last second, it would’ve cost more than $1,000 to fly nonstop to Atlanta, so I opted for a layover and saved $700.
Here I am on the plane:
When the flight landed, I rode this bus . . .
. . . to another terminal . . .
. . . where I accidentally walked through the wrong doorway and had to go through security AGAIN. That cost me 20 minutes and caused a whole lot of aggravation.
Then I had this for lunch at 10:30am:
It was chicken parmesan from a certain Italian fast-food chain, and it was bad. It tasted like it’d been sitting around for a while. I don’t want to blame this particular chain for anything — I’ve eaten there dozens of times over the years without incident — but I just so happened to start feeling sick several hours later. I’m talking run-to-the-bathroom sick. It wasn’t pretty. And it was a miserable way to start my trip.
After my meal (which I didn’t finish), I sat here for a while . . .
. . . and worked on my blog entry from 9/25/12 at Citi Field. Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see the title of that entry in a WordPress template on my laptop.
Then I flew to Atlanta . . .
. . . and took another tram . . .
. . . to yet another terminal. Rather than spending $30 (or $50 or whatever it would’ve cost) for a cab to my hotel in downtown Atlanta, I spent $3 and rode MARTA. Here I am on the train:
I really wasn’t that tired — just fed up with all the planes, trains, and automobiles, but hey, that’s what I had to do in order to take this trip, so whatever.
I finally reached my hotel at around 3pm . . .
. . . and chilled out in my room . . .
. . . for about 20 minutes. Then I took a $10 cab . . .
. . . to Turner Field and arrived with roughly 40 minutes to spare:
There was a long line of fans waiting to buy tickets . . .
. . . and there were already a bunch of folks waiting outside the gates:
This was the scene shortly before the stadium opened:
Turner Field had a playoff atmosphere, and here’s why:
See that button on the supervisor’s shirt? That’s THE reason why I’d made the trip. This was Chipper Jones’ final regular-season series at home, and I’d heard from a few people (including my friend Zach at bigleaguebaseballs.com) that the Braves were going to be using commemorative balls with that logo. I simply had to have one. I’d never snagged a commemorative ball with a player-logo on it. I’d only gotten balls commemorating stadiums and dates and important games and foreign series and anniversaries, so yeah, that’s why I’d spent several hundred dollars to be here. Crazy, you say? Well, yes, it kind of is.
When the stadium opened, the first thing I noticed was the huge “10” that was painted on the grass in center field:
Normally, fans at Turner Field are confined to the left field seats for the first half-hour, but on this fine day, all the sections opened at the start.
I took advantage by heading to right-center and getting a toss-up almost immediately from Jason Heyward. Then I snagged a home run ball that landed near me in the seats. And then I saw this:
In case you’re not familiar with Turner Field, there’s a gap between the outfield wall and the stands, which is great for reeling in baseballs. The ball pictured above, as you can see, was sitting in a puddle, but that didn’t stop me from snagging it with my glove trick. I must admit, though, that I struggled with it for a couple minutes, and yes, I have an excuse: I had a new rubber band that was too thick and too tight, and as a result, I had a tough time getting it to stretch around the ball. I must also admit that my friend Bryce, a regular at Turner Field with a ball-retrieving device of his own, was kind enough to let me get this ball. He could’ve easily pulled an Alex Patino and swooped in for the kill . . . but he didn’t. And I greatly appreciated it. In fact, he even offered to let me use HIS device to get the ball, and when I politely declined, he backed off and took a photo of me going for it:
I got my rubber band to loosen up after that and snagged FIVE more balls with the glove trick — one in right-center and the rest in left field. I gave three of those balls to the nearest kids (one of the kids’ fathers tried unsuccessfully to force a $10 bill into my hand) but made sure to keep this one for myself:
Because that was my 600th ball of the season.
In case you’ve lost count, I had eight balls by the time the Mets came out and started throwing, and by the way, none of them were commemorative. Meanwhile, the outfield seats were very crowded, and most people were sitting. Very strange. Check it out:
I thought I was gonna get a bunch of balls from the Mets — not only was I the only fan decked out in Mets gear, but I recognized all the players — but that’s not how things worked out. Quite simply, it was too crowded.
This was my view from left-center field:
In the photo above, the one player not wearing a hat is Robert Carson. I got him to toss me my 9th ball of the day, and then 20 minutes later, I got No. 10 from Josh Edgin in right field.
That was it for BP, and that’s when I started feeling sick.
I caught up with Bryce (who’d snagged seven balls) and my friend Matt (who’s always at Turner Field, it seems). I also spent some time with another friend and Turner Field regular named Katie, along with two of her friends named Leah and Andy. I was starving, but afraid to eat anything, so I got the plainest/blandest thing I could find: a pretzel, which was decent, but not worth the $4.25 that I had to throw down for it.
Twenty minutes before game time, I went here:
In the photo above, do you see the player wearing No. 4? That’s Mike Nickeas, a not-well-known but VERY nice guy. You may recall that I caught his first career home run on 4/21/11 at Citi Field and had long conversation with him after the game when I gave the ball back to him. Nickeas has remembered me ever since, and when he saw me standing behind him here in Atlanta, he said hello and then pointed toward left field.
“Go stand out there when I’m hitting,” he joked.
I never did go to the left field seats, but when he and Mets starter Chris Young moved to the bullpen, I went here:
I stood there and watched for ten minutes — never called out or asked for a ball or anything. I just wanted to be near Nickeas and watch him do his thing, so I was pleasantly surprised when he caught the final warm-up pitch and immediately looked up and threw it to me.
(If only Mike Trout would be one-tenth as friendly when I see him; all things considered, I kinda wish I’d kept that ball.)
As a baseball fan, the highlight of the game was witnessing/experiencing the Chipper Jones love-fest. This was the crowd’s reaction when he came to bat for the first time:
Lovey-dovey feelings aside, I needed to snag a game-used baseball, and despite the fact that my stomach wasn’t cooperating, I still made an all-out effort. Whenever the Mets were in the field with two outs, I made sure to be here . . .
. . . and the rest of the time, I played the tunnels behind home plate . . .
. . . in the hope that a foul ball would float my way. As I moved back and forth throughout the game, I saw this kid with an adorable sign:
It made me smile for a moment, but I was panicking. You see, Chris Young is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, so the Mets outfielders kept ending up with the 3rd-out balls, and they kept tossing them to the same damn section behind 3rd base. In the 4th inning, it made sense for left fielder Jason Bay to toss the ball there on his way back to the dugout because that section juts out a bit, and he had to jog past it, but in the 5th inning? Right fielder Scott Hairston caught the 3rd out and jogged right toward me from the outfield. I was perfectly lined up with him. He was going to enter the dugout directly in front of me. I thought I was set to receive a Chipper Jones commemorative ball . . . but as he approached the foul line, he turned to the right and threw it on a 45-degree angle toward that SAME section! You’d think that the Mets’ girlfriends were all sitting there, or something. I seriously hadn’t ever seen anything like it.
With two outs in the bottom of the 6th, Andrelton Simmons grounded out to first baseman Lucas Duda, and I was once again hopeful of finally getting a shot . . . and?
I’d heard that game-used Chipper Jones commemorative balls (from the previous night) were selling in the team store for $300; I’d spent more than that to simply attempt to catch one, and suddenly it all felt very worthwhile. That said, the one I got had a slightly messed-up logo, so I was still hoping to snag another.
Something unusual happened in the top of the 9th inning — a double injury delay:
David Wright had gotten hit by a pitch, causing a deflection that struck home plate umpire Paul Nauert. Thankfully, neither injury was serious. Both men were merely shaken up a bit, but for a moment it was kind of scary.
Chipper Jones ended up going 0-for-4, but the Braves won, 2-0. (Craig Kimbrel worked the 9th inning to earn his 41st save of the season and lower his ERA from 1.04 to 1.03. That’s just sick.)
After the final out, I moved down to the front row and hoped that Nauert wasn’t in too much pain to toss a few balls into the crowd. As he approached the stands, he handed a ball to a little girl who already had one, and just before he disappeared under the dugout roof, he randomly flipped another high into the air. A gloveless man on my left half-heartedly reached for it . . . but I reached higher . . . and here it is:
That is a beautiful, classy logo. I can’t think of anything that could possibly make it better (except maybe red stamping, but I’ll give MLB a pass).
After the game, I got a photo with Matt and Bryce:
Bryce, pictured above in the red shirt, had snagged a Chipper Jones commemorative ball during the game. He also told me that he’d used his device the previous night to snag Ruben Tejada’s ground-rule double from the gap. Not too shabby.
I caught up with Katie and her friends, and we all headed out together. On the way, I stopped to take this photo . . .
. . . and then headed back to my hotel.
• 607 balls in 75 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.
• 867 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 392 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 209 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 51 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 6,426 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)
• $35.36 raised at this game
• $1,651.04 raised this season
• $20,808.04 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Hang on! There’s more. Of the nine balls that I kept, two have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the first one in regular light versus black light . . .
. . . and there’s the other:
That’s all for now, but stay tuned for my upcoming entries from 9/30/12 at Turner Field and 10/1/12 at Yankee Stadium — lots of baseball(s) during this final week of the regular season. Also, FYI, when I have a bit more time, I’ll catch up on emails and comments and Twitter replies. Things are very very extremely hectic at the moment (and I’m still feeling a bit sick).