Camden Yards is so awesome that it hurts. Literally. It’s such an incredible stadium that I actually get a sinking feeling in my gut when I think about all the games there that I miss. If I tried to list all the great things about it, it’d take me an hour, so for now, I’ll just explain the one great thing about Camden Yards that took place long before Game 2 of the American League Division Series got underway. You’re familiar with the huge warehouse in deep right field, yes? And you’re aware that there’s a wide walkway — an open-air concourse, of sorts — that runs alongside it, right? Well, that walkway is called Eutaw Street, and if you arrive early enough on a game day, you’ll find that it’s open to the public. You can’t go into the seating areas of the stadium or even into the Flag Court, but there’s quite a bit of room to wander, including this spot in deep left-center:
The photo above was taken at around 3:30pm, and just to be clear, I didn’t have to do anything to be there — didn’t need to show my ticket for the game or anything. I just walked in with my friend Andrew Gonsalves (pictured above in the Dodgers cap), and that was it.
Based on that photo, you’re probably thinking that it was a sunny day. Let me assure you: it was not. Not only did it rain a bit during our drive down from New York City, but the forecast in Baltimore called for a 65 percent chance of precipitation in the late afternoon. As a result, I truly believed that my streak (870 consecutive games with at least one ball) was in jeopardy. Here I was at (a) a sold-out playoff game against (b) the Yankees at which (c) there likely wasn’t going be batting practice. Despite buying tickets in advance (from my friend Jere), I considered skipping the game and staying home and watching it on TV . . . but then I thought, “That’s stupid. I’m going. If my streak ends, then it ends.” I mean, what good is a statistic if you don’t challenge yourself to achieve it? Anyone can manipulate numbers. Stats should reflect life; life shouldn’t be lived for the sake of having good stats. Of course, I was still nervous, and when I saw that the batting cage wasn’t set up, that doubled my anxiety. Then I noticed that the tarp’s cover had been removed:
In other words, the grounds crew was ready to roll out the tarp. But wait! Moments later, I saw the cover being put ON the tarp. (Would a tarp cover be a “tarp tarp“?) That was a great sign. It meant that the grounds crew didn’t expect to need to use the tarp . . . but damn. BP was still hours away — plenty of time for things to go wrong.
Ten minutes later, a player started throwing in left field:
It took me a moment to realize that it was Derek Lowe. Then I watched him move back. And back. And back. Eventually his throwing partner wasn’t able to reach him. The solution? The throwing partner became a hitting partner; he hit long fungos to Lowe, who fielded them and fired them back. When he finished, I tried to get him to throw me the ball. All I got, unfortunately, was a wave, but several minutes later, when this guy wandered over near the bullpen . . .
. . . I got him to throw one to me! At the time, I wasn’t sure who he was — Jorge Posada’s cousin? — but now I’m certain that it was bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez. Anyway, as you can imagine, I was rather excited:
As I tweeted soon after, the stadium hadn’t even officially opened, and I was already on the board. It was a HUGE relief.
After that, Andrew and I had lots of time to kill, so we got sandwiches (at Jimmy John’s, if you must know) and ate them outside the gates. Then we stood around. Very exciting stuff. Here’s Andrew:
Not only was this his first time at Camden Yards, but it was the first postseason game he’d ever attended for any sport. Rain or no rain, BP or no BP, Andrew was just glad to be here.
The following photo doesn’t even begin to show the enormity of the crowd . . .
. . . so take my word for it. It was packed.
It was strange to see all those barricades. Camden Yards is normally the most laid-back stadium. I’m not complaining, though. This was the 20th postseason game that I’d ever been to, so I knew what I was in for. Mainly, I was loving the fact that the Orioles were IN the postseason. They’d been so bad for such a long time that when I finally ran inside and saw the ALDS logo on the jumbotron . . .
. . . I was filled with pride and joy on behalf of Baltimore. They’d finally made it.
The left field seats got crowded fast . . .
. . . and I got completely shut out during the Orioles’ portion of BP. When the Yankees started hitting, I moved to the Flag Court, but it was insane out there. Again, the following photo doesn’t capture it . . .
. . . so let me just say that there were half a dozen other guys with gloves, all within 10 or 20 feet of me. Every time a ball merely flew in our general direction, there was a stampede. I expected dozens of balls to be hit onto the Flag Court, but there were very few. Most of them cleared the wall by 5 or 10 feet and got swallowed by the throng of fans at the front. I only had one good chance out there, and I misjudged it. I knew right away that it was an extra-long homer, but I made the mistake of drifting to the back gate. As it turned out, I should’ve drifted through the opening in the gate and out into Eutaw Street because that’s where the ball landed. It sailed completely over the Flag Court and bounced off the warehouse and landed on a slanted awning, and I still nearly chased it down. I was sprinting to get underneath it before it trickled off, but there was a 6-foot-6 guy already standing there. He was holding a plate of Boog’s BBQ in his left hand and reached up for the ball with his right. I had no chance.
I gave up on that area and moved to the seats in right-center. Look how crowded it was in left field at that point . . .
. . . and did you notice the guards standing on the warning track? So much for using the glove trick.
Here’s what the crowd looked like on my left:
It was absolutely packed, and there wasn’t much action in the seats. This was one of the toughest BP experiences of my life, and I wondered if I’d find a way to snag another ball.
Toward the end of BP, Derek Lowe wandered into the Yankees’ bullpen. I don’t know why he went there, but after a minute, he headed back out and stopped to pick up a ball below the “Utz” advertisement:
I shouted my head off and managed to get his attention, and to my surprise, he chucked me the ball from that spot. As you can see in the photo above, it was quite a distance, and his throw was right on the money. That was huge for me because it extended another streak: 396 consecutive games with at least two baseballs.
I headed back to left field during the final group of BP, but it was so crowded there . . .
. . . that I didn’t bother staying. Instead I headed to the 3rd base dugout. This was my view:
Soon after I got there, I recognized a guy on the warning track with whom I’d worked at minorleaguebaseball.com. His name is Dan Friedell, and when I called out to him, the first thing he asked was how many balls I’d gotten. I was ashamed to reveal my total, and when I did, he pretty much said what I expected. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something along the lines of, “That’s it?! I’m disappointed. For you, that’s like getting shut out.”
One minute later, I realized that I was standing next to a kid that I’d met several times before. Remember Emory? That’s who it was. I’m so bad with names/faces, and it took me a moment to recognize him.
Just before BP ended, I noticed that Andruw Jones had a ball in his back pocket. When he started walking toward the dugout, I called out to him and asked for it, and he hooked me up.
Something strange happened after BP — something that I’d never seen before. There was a 40-minute rain delay, and the tarp was never used. It drizzled enough for the grounds crew to cover the mound and home plate area with mini-tarps, but evidently it wasn’t raining hard enough to prevent several other groundskeepers from watering the infield dirt. I’m not making this up. Check out the following photo:
Of course, it WAS raining hard enough to chase thousands of fans into the concourse. I made the mistake of trying to get food around that time, and it was ridiculously crowded. Look how packed this tunnel was:
Shortly before game time, I wandered down to the Yankees’ dugout to try to get Alex Rodriguez’s warm-up ball . . .
. . . but he didn’t end up near me, and he tossed it to a little kid.
I lingered behind the dugout for a few more minutes and LOVED the size and intensity of the crowd:
I knew it was going to be tough to snag anything during the game, but I didn’t really care. This was playoff baseball! This was what I’d signed up for.
Early in the game, I got a peek at a foul ball that was snagged by a nearby fan. It had a special/commemorative “postseason” logo on it, and quite simply, I *had* to get one for myself. I decided to abandon my quest for home runs and go for foul balls instead — that is, for the first five outs of each inning. Then I finished each inning by making an attempt to get a 3rd-out ball at the Yankees’ dugout.
This was my view for right-handed batters:
This was my view behind the dugout . . .
. . . and this was my view for lefties:
The crowd was into the game with a spectacular level of intensity like nothing I’ve experienced at the new Yankee Stadium. Playoff baseball in the Bronx, quite simply, is business as usual. For Yankee fans, it seems that there’s no joy in winning; there’s only outrage in losing. But here at Camden Yards, the crowd was going crazy in a truly blissful way. It was great to be a part of it.
From a ballhawking perspective, time was running out. Getting a 3rd-out ball proved to be impossible. Inning after inning, Robinson Cano got all the 3rd-out balls thrown to him as the Yankees jogged off the field. He’s the designated 3rd-out-ball-tosser, and he tossed them to everyone BUT me — little kids in the very front row and fans decked out in Yankee gear 30 feet behind me. Meanwhile, things just weren’t going my way with foul balls. There were two VERY close calls, but I just didn’t get lucky deflections.
The luckiest thing that happened during the first half of the game was getting this:
Andrew and I had standing-room-only tickets, so we stayed on our feet all night and floated from tunnel to tunnel. At one point, some random guy walked up to us and offered us his tickets. He said he was leaving because his wife was bored, or something like that, so we were like, “Hell yeah! Your wife is awesome!” I took the previous photo from our new seats. Andrew sat there for the rest of the game; I kept wandering all over the place in pursuit of a foul ball, and in the top of the 7th, I finally got my chance. It happened with no outs and Wei-Yin Chen on the mound. Ichiro Suzuki was at bat and sliced a ball back in my general vicinity. It was clearly going to fall short of the cross-aisle, and it was heading roughly 20 feet to my left, so I took off, weaving in and out of several people along the way. The ball skimmed off the hands of the fans 10 feet in front of me and deflected back toward the aisle. As I closed in on it, it landed IN the aisle and bounced against the back wall. That’s when I got there. The ball skipped up toward me at chest level, and I did my best to smother it against my body as other fans swarmed me. For a split-second, I had the ball pinned between my right wrist and my fingertips and my stomach. Another man reached for it and partially got his hand on it and tried to snatch it away from me — but it was pinned against MY body — no way in hell I was going to let this opportunity slip away. While continuing to press the ball against myself, I managed to get a better grip on it by sliding my arm to the right. This caused the ball to roll from my wrist into the palm of my hand. I was squeezing it SO hard, and the guy was still grabbing it. I couldn’t believe that he was trying to steal it from me, and a mini-tug of war ensued. I started screaming, “MINE!! MINE!! MINE!! MINE!! MINE!!” and twisted quickly and violently back and forth to shake him. That did the trick, and he finally lost his grip, and the ball was indeed MINE. The whole thing probably lasted just a couple seconds, but it was the most intense ball-related struggle of my life, and let me tell you . . . I was PUMPED. This may sound strange but I was much more excited about this ball than most of the home runs that I’ve caught this year. The Derek Jeter homer on 8/27/12 at Yankee Stadium was obviously a great moment, but even that didn’t energize me to this extent. Here’s why — just take a look at the ball:
It’s not the fanciest or most distinctive logo, but I still love it. I don’t know what’s gotten into my head over the last few years, but commemorative balls are now turning me into a whole new level of crazy. I think it’s because of all the opportunities that I missed during the first decade that I did this. Even as recently as 2004, I had no idea what I was doing. The Phillies opened Citizens Bank Park that season and used commemorative balls during all 81 of their home games — and it didn’t even occur to me go there and try to catch one. What was I thinking?! Same deal with game home run balls. I’d easily have more than 100 by now (including some huge milestones) if I’d just put in the effort, so now it’s payback time. And by the way, the extra-special thing about this “postseason” ball is that it’s the first time since 1999 that there has been a commemorative ball in the playoffs. I’m not talking about the World Series; there’ve been commemorative balls used in the Fall Classic since 1978. I’m talking about the League Division Series and the League Championship Series. I happened to get lucky and snag a couple of those balls in 1999 — see here and here — but there’s been a dry spell ever since. Big thumbs-up to the folks at the commissioner’s office for reversing it and designing these new balls.
Here’s something funny for you: as soon as I snagged the Ichiro foul ball, an old/female usher told me to leave. She was like, “Okay, you got your ball. Now go stand somewhere else.” She wasn’t really picking on ME because she’d been doing a half-assed job all night of shooing people away, and in addition to that, there’s kind of an understanding between me and the ushers behind home plate. They don’t *really* let people stand in the tunnels, but I can usually get away with it for a couple of batters here and there. I just need to keep moving, and that works out just fine because there are inning breaks and pitching changes, and of course I constantly reposition myself for righties and lefties, so I’m never in one spot for more than a couple minutes. Anyway, when she told me to leave, I was like, “Why? What’s the problem?”
“You’re always here!” she complained, gesturing toward the tunnel.
“Are you kidding me?” I replied. “This is only my second game at this stadium all season, and I wasn’t even HERE last time.”
That was true. I had spent the entire other game in straight-away left field. I hadn’t even stood in her precious tunnel the year before; whenever lefties were at bat, I was in the Flag Court. Same with the 2010 season. This woman was remembering me from years ago — and conveniently forgetting all the balls that I’d given to kids in her section. So I took off. I mean, whatever. There were only a couple innings remaining, and I *had* indeed gotten the ball that I wanted. That’s why the previous photo was taken on the first base side of home plate; I had returned to the seats that Andrew and I had been given.
If you take another look at the photo of the ball, you’ll see that it’s a bit too light. I tried over and over to get a good shot, but it just wasn’t happening, so Andrew made an attempt his camera phone:
It was a good problem to have, and eventually I tweeted a photo of the ball. As a result of that tweet, I got a reply from my friend Tom in Kansas City. He correctly assumed that it had occurred during Ichiro’s at-bat in the 7th inning, so he took/sent a screen shot of Ichiro’s lone foul ball from that at-bat. Here it is:
Tom nailed it. That’s THE ball being fouled off.
In the 8th inning, I headed out to the Flag Court for a few batters. I neglected to take a photo out there, but I did get a shot along the way, and as you can see, it was rather crowded:
You might be getting tired of hearing this, but I don’t care so I’m going to say it again: it was bizarre/awesome to see Camden Yards overflowing with fans. Obviously I’ve enjoyed being there when the attendance has hovered around 10,000 per game, but this playoff experience was a different kind of special. I was SO happy for the Orioles and for the city of Baltimore. I really feel like they needed this.
They also needed to win this game. If they lost, they’d end up heading to Yankee Stadium trailing 0-2 in the series — not good.
Did you notice the score in the screen shot of Ichiro? The Orioles were winning, 3-2, and that’s where things stood when the Yankees came to bat in the top of the 9th inning. Jim Johnson, the Orioles’ closer (who led the major leagues with 51 saves during the regular season), got Derek Jeter to ground out on the first pitch. Ichiro then grounded out, and when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate, I found myself here:
The crowd was going nuts:
It was such a beautiful moment — and A-Rod made it even better by striking out.
I tried unsuccessfully to get a ball from home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. (He only gave baseballs to little kids.) Then Andrew and I had our picture taken together on the way out . . .
. . . and we found some tickets in the seats. Here are the ones that I collected:
Look how crowded it was on Eutaw Street:
The game didn’t end until 11:58pm, and we didn’t make it back to the garage until 12:30am. Then we got held up there for a while, in part because there was an all-out brawl between some Orioles and Yankees fans. These guys were pummeling each other and flopping/wrestling on the ground between cars. It was terrible and fantastic all at once. Andrew and I were in our car at the time, watching and then filming through the windshield. I wish I’d grabbed my camera sooner because it would’ve been a smashing success on YouTube. We hit the road at 12:46am. I was home at 4am and in bed an hour later.
• 637 balls in 79 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.
• 871 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 20 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball
• 176 lifetime game balls (not counting toss-ups); 153 foul balls, 22 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double
• 52 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 6,456 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)
• $10.88 raised at this game
• $1,732.64 raised this season
• $20,889.64 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Now that you’ve made it this far, I have one more photo for you — a side-by-side comparison of the four baseballs in regular light versus black light:
That glow-ball on the upper left is pretty weird, huh? I have no idea how it ended up looking like that.