This was the scene outside Yankee Stadium at around 1:30pm — an hour and a half before the gates opened:
Thirty minutes later, there were a bunch of fans lined up behind me, and the media was out in full force:
I expected the stadium to be packed, but as you’ll soon discover, that wasn’t the case.
I snagged my first ball of the day as soon as I ran inside and reached the right field seats. Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey retrieved a couple of balls near the foul pole, and because I was the only fan in the stadium, he had no choice but to throw one to me. Here’s a photo that I took moments later. Harkey is standing on the left:
I snagged one more ball during the Yankees’ portion of BP — a home run by Eduardo Nunez that sailed over my head and landed in the last row. I should’ve caught it on the fly and certainly *could’ve* caught two others, but the sun was brutal, and wind was strong. Yeah. That’s my excuse.
When the Orioles came out and started throwing, I was shocked to see Luis Ayala’s monster glove. It wasn’t as big as mine, but it was still quite a sight. Here are a couple photos:
I’m sure it’s fun to play around with that glove — but seriously, Luis?! Before the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series?! That doesn’t seem like the best time to clown around.
A little while later, I saw a fan attempting to use a retrieval device to snag a ball off the warning track in left-center field:
I’m not sure how his device worked, but I can tell you that it really sucked. He struggled with the ball for a solid minute, somehow didn’t get spotted by security, and eventually managed to reel it in. Not surprisingly, when he tried again several minutes later, he got shut down.
As for me, I got completely shut out during the Orioles’ portion of BP, and it didn’t make any sense. Remember when I snagged 14 balls at Yankee Stadium on the final day of the regular season? That’s how crowded the seats were at Game 5, which is to say . . . not terribly crowded by Yankee Stadium standards. There were lots of Orioles fans, so it was tough to get toss-ups, and the batters weren’t hitting many home runs. Even so, with slightly better luck and a tad more awareness sprinkled in, I could’ve ended up with five or six balls. Things just weren’t going my way, and I’ll admit it: I wasn’t on my game. It also didn’t help that the Orioles cut BP short and cleared the field at 4pm. That was more than an hour before game time, but I still blame myself.
This was my view for the first half of the game:
Not bad, huh?
Take another look at the photo above, more specifically the section behind the foul pole in the 2nd deck. It was practically empty! And now look at this:
The photo above shows my (partially zoomed-in) view to the left. There were huge patches of empty seats in all three levels, and sure enough the attendance for this game was later announced at 47,081. That’s 3,416 *below* the attendance two days earlier for Game 3. Was it the 5pm start-time on a weekday? I don’t get it, but I do know this: it doesn’t speak well for the stadium or the Yankees’ fan base. Do you remember when the Braves failed to sell out a bunch of playoff games and everyone made fun of the fans for being spoiled and apathetic?
On a personal level, the lame crowd was great. It meant that when a friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous) got me into the section behind the 3rd base dugout, there were actually a few empty end-seats for me to work with. As a result, when Russell Martin flew out to center field to end the 5th inning, I got Adam Jones to throw me this:
After getting this ball (which Jones threw *right* to me as a knuckleball over all the fans in the Legends area down below), I gave one of my BP balls to a kid. For the record, this kid had been sitting 10 feet to my right, so it’s not like I’d robbed him. It just seemed like a nice thing to do. Then I left the section, waited in line for five minutes to use the bathroom, got a slice of pizza, and caught up with another friend in left field. I’ll show you a photo of him in a moment, but first, check out the view:
It was a do-or-die moment late in the game — so important and intense that even Pedro Strop (who was in the process of getting loose in the bullpen) had to watch:
As for my friend, his name is David, and he’s standing below the “m” in the following photo:
He had purchased the two corner seats at the back of the section next to the bullpen, and he was kind enough to let me hang out there with him for the final few innings.
As for the game . . . it was another pitchers’ duel. Both starters — CC Sabathia for the Yankees and Jason Hammel for the Orioles — were perfect through three innings. Sabathia surrendered his first hit in the 4th, and Hammel finally allowed a hit in the 5th. That was the beginning of the end. The Yankees scored one run that inning, then tacked on another in the 6th and another in the 7th. That’s all they needed. The Orioles managed to score a run in the 8th and load the bases with one out, but Sabathia shut them down after that. He surprised the crowd by coming back out for the 9th inning, and when he got Matt Wieters to end the game with a weak come-backer, this was the result:
As you can see above, the Yankees relievers raced across the field from the bullpen, and as you can see below, the Orioles had to make the march of death:
Poor Orioles. I really really *really* wanted them to win. For the first time in more than a decade, they were actually good enough to beat the Yankees. They just fell a bit short.
Having been to both teams’ stadiums for a playoff game within the span of one week, it was obvious which fan base wanted it more. I always like to quantify things, so it’d be nice to say something like, “Camden Yards was 10 times louder and more intense,” but that would be an insult to Camden Yards. There was truly no comparison. It felt like Orioles fans were going to erupt in the biggest celebration of all time, whereas Yankee fans were merely preparing to call into the Michael Kay Show and complain (for the zillionth time) about A-Rod. A-Fraud. A-Roid. Gay-Rod. Earn your Pay-Rod. Not Today-Rod. Go Away-Rod. It’s so tiresome. It doesn’t matter that the Yankees wasted $29 million on him this year, or that they’re gonna have to waste $28 million on him next year, $25 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015, $20 million in 2016, and $20 million more in 2017. Why? Because they’re the Yankees. They spend money. That’s what they do. Yankee fans were thrilled when Joe Girardi benched A-Rod for Game 5, but guess what? Eric Chavez, his replacement at 3rd base, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, and no one said a word about it. If the Yankees had lost this game, fans would be calling for Girardi to be fired, saying that A-Rod needs to be in the lineup everyday because HE’S A-ROD. (Play-Rod!) New York is a funny baseball town. The Mets are embarrassingly inept, and their fans suffer for obvious reasons; the Yankees are embarrassingly successful, and their fans suffer because anything less than perfection is unacceptable. New York is a tough place in general — too many people, too much attitude, and too many expectations. I’m finally feeling it myself and often fantasize about leaving.
But for now . . . the show goes on.
I lingered in the left field seats for a while. CC Sabathia was shown on the jumbotron . . .
. . . followed by the celebration in the clubhouse:
Two things about the photo above:
1) Is it just me, or does Joba Chamberlain look like he weighs 350 pounds. He is a *large* man and, in my opinion, does not appear to be healthy.
2) Did you notice the huge wrap on Joba’s right elbow? You may recall that he was struck there the day before by a flying/broken bat — interesting to see how his arm is being treated.
Several minutes later, I saw something interesting in the bullpen:
See the guy crouching? Given the fact that he was carrying a roll of stickers, I knew right away what he was doing. He was an authenticator, and he was marking/authenticating the pitching rubber . . . but why? (“This marks the spot where Pedro Strop stood and wished that his team could hit.”) Here’s a closer look at the rubber after the guy took off:
I once got a baseball authenticated — the final Mets home run at Shea Stadium, hit by Carlos Beltran on September 28, 2008 — so if you’re curious to get an even closer look at a similar sticker, click here.
I lingered beside the bullpen until a police officer told me to leave. As a result, I didn’t have a chance to look for tickets, so I was quite pleased to find one in the subway 10 minutes later:
I have to say, though, that that is one fugly ticket. What’s with the plaid background pattern and the generic hitter? I mean, even putting an image of Clay Rapada on there would’ve been an improvement.
When I got home, I turned on Game 5 of the NLDS between the Nationals and Cardinals — we all know how THAT turned out — and photographed the two baseballs that I’d kept:
The Ichiro foul ball that I’d gotten at Game 2 in Baltimore had a messed up logo. (I know, I know, poor me, right?) I’m talking about the part that says, “OFFICIAL BALL 2012 POSTSEASON.” It was so worn (as you can see in this photo) that I could barely read it, so it’s nice to have another that looks better. Of course, the “postseason” logo on this new ball is a bit scuffed, but hey, that’s just how things go.
• 3 balls at this game (two pictured above because I gave one away)
• 640 balls in 80 games this season = 8 balls per game.
• 872 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 21 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball
• 108 lifetime postseason balls
• 6,459 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)
• $8.16 raised at this game
• $1,740.80 raised this season
• $20,897.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009