If I had to summarize my first game of the 2013 season in one word, it would be: “COLD!!” And if I had to summarize how I felt all day with one photograph, it would be this:
I was wearing long underwear, two shirts, a hoodie, and my heaviest winter jacket, yet certain parts of my body were frozen. Meanwhile, my friend Ben Weil was bundled up with more cheerful clothing:
No, that’s not a Dwight Gooden jersey in the photo above. It’s a Paul LoDuca jersey — and of course you noticed the Cookie Monster hat, right?
Ben had brought a (cheap) baseball so we could play catch and break in our new gloves. (You might remember my glove from this entry I posted in December.) After a few minutes, our friend Greg Barasch showed up and joined us. Here’s a photo of Greg that shows the area where we were throwing:
Before the gates opened, I saw a few more familiar faces and rounded everyone up for a group photo. Take a look and then I’ll identify everyone:
When the gates finally opened at 5:10pm, I bolted toward the left field seats, and when I got there, I snagged two baseballs within ten seconds. One of the Mets players — I assumed it was a pitcher, but wasn’t sure who — retrieved a ball near the warning track and threw it to me. I hadn’t even asked for it. He just kinda looked up at me since I was the only person there, and when I flapped my glove, he chucked it in my direction. Almost immediately after that, an employee down below on the Party Deck (who recognized me from last season) flipped up a home run ball that had landed there. Not a bad way to start the season.
Not surprisingly (because it was the Mets and because it was freezing and because the wind was blowing in hard from left field), there wasn’t much action after that, so I quickly took a few photos. Here’s one that shows my new glove with the first (official MLB) ball I caught with it:
This was my view from left field:
In the photo above, do you see the two players standing next to each other? Well, the guy who’d thrown me the ball was on the right. I *really* wanted to figure out who it was, so when he turned around for a moment to look at the jumbotron, I got a shot of his face:
Now, as I mentioned in my last entry, I’m being sponsored this season and sent to all 30 major league stadiums by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. My main contact there is a guy named Neal, who plans to hit up a bunch of games with me and document the action, but since he couldn’t be here at Citi Field, I did some extra documenting for him. Greg was hanging out nearby, so I handed him my iPhone and got him to take a photo of me with my first two baseballs. Then I emailed it to Neal (who’s based in Colorado), and within a matter of minutes, he had posted it and written a short blog entry about me at BIGSBaseballAdventure.com. Here’s the direct link to that entry. Pretty cool stuff.
Left field was dead, so I headed over to right-center:
Don’t be fooled by the sunlight in the previous photo. Have you seen the movie “The Day After Tomorrow“? That’s how cold it felt.
Citi Field looked the same as last year . . .
. . . which is to say awful. Seriously, though, I’d been wondering if there’d been any changes to the bullpens or outfield walls, so that’s part of the reason why I’d gone to right field. While I was there, I noticed an unreachable ball in a gutter . . .
. . . as well as an Opening Day commemorative ball directly below me:
In case you’re confused by the previous photo . . . I was looking down over the side railing at a walkway next to the outer edge of the bullpen. That ball was sitting on a thigh-high ledge outside one of the windows of a small, enclosed area where the pitchers and coaches sometimes hang out. In the photo above, you can’t see the Opening Day logo, but that’s because the ball had been moved. I don’t know how it got there, but I did see several employees pick it up and inspect it and put it back down. At one point, the logo was facing up, and AARRGHH!!! I wanted to jump down there and snatch it. There was no chance for me to use my glove trick because (a) I haven’t even set it up yet on my new glove and (b) there was security all over the place. I got scolded for merely leaning over the railing and asking for the ball, so can you imagine what would’ve happened if I’d dangled my glove down there? Eventually, an EMS worker took the ball, and when I asked him for it, he claimed he was going to put inside the enclosed area. Yeah right.
Ten minutes after the Padres starting hitting, I got my third ball of the day, and it was a total fluke. One of the pitchers (not sure who, but it was probably Eric Stults or Joe Thatcher) threw a ball to an adult fan, who was standing 20 feet to my left in the front row. The ball sailed about five feet over his head and landed in the empty third row. This other fan must’ve gotten temporarily blinded by the sun because he didn’t even react. He didn’t reach for the ball or attempt to scamper after it — nothing. It was bizarre. He was so close to it when it landed that *I* didn’t bother running after it. All he had to do was climb back over two rows and pick it up, but he just kinda shrugged and started wandering off, so I hurried over and grabbed it.
Moments later, an oddly-dressed man showed up and stood right in front of me:
To call him “annoying” would be an insult to annoying people. This dude was perhaps THE most annoying fan I’ve ever encountered, and that’s saying something. In the thickest New York accent you can possibly imagine, he immediately starting yelling the following at the Padres: “HEY!! YO!! BALL-BALL-BALL-BALL-BALL-BALL-BALL!!!!!!!”
“Yeah, that’s not gonna work,” I said, but the guy either didn’t hear me or didn’t care — and he kept shouting it over and over and over. And over. And over.
After a while, whenever a player fielded a ball within 100 feet of us, he started shouting, “RIGHT HEEE-YUH!!! YA GOTTA SPREAD ‘EM AROUND!!!!!!!”
It was like a sick joke, and if I hadn’t been concerned about this guy ruining *my* chances to get another ball, I might’ve actually been amused.
“Yeah,” I said, “that’s not gonna work either.”
Five minutes later, when I was seriously about to lose my mind, a left-handed batter was hitting ball after ball to left field.
“WHY UH ALL DEEZ GUYS HITTIN’ BAWLZ T’DA OPPISSIT FIELD?!?!” said the guy to no one in particular.
I couldn’t take it anymore, so I walked down to the front row and asked, “Is that a serious question?”
“YEAH, ITSA NOYING. DEY GOTTA HIT SUM HOME RUNZ OUT HEEE-YUH!!!”
I responded by giving him a semi-lenghty explanation about how baseball (and life) works, at which point he kinda grunted and then headed up the steps. (Seriously, WTF?) A few minutes later, I got Padres bullpen catcher Justin Hatcher to throw me my fourth ball of the day, which you can see here:
I was behind the dugout when the Padres finished hitting . . .
. . . but didn’t get anything there. I did, however, run into a guy that I’ve gotten to know a little bit over the years. His name is Adam, and he’s standing on the right in the following photo. His father, Alan, is on he left:
I stayed behind the 3rd-base dugout for most of the game — for the following reasons:
1) It’s MUCH colder in left field because of wind currents and poor stadium design.
2) Ben was sitting near the dugout, and I felt like hanging with him.
3) I wanted to have a good view of the game.
4) I wanted to snag a game-used ball; for every stadium this season at which I get one, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world.
It didn’t take long. Collin Cowgill led off the bottom of the 1st with a grounder to first baseman Yonder Alonso. Clayton Richard, the Padres’ starter, covered first base on the play, and after the out was recorded, the ball was tossed out of play. I was only half-paying attention at that point and barely noticed it rolling toward the dugout, so I jumped up and hurried down the steps. Padres first base coach Dave Roberts retrieved it, and since I was the only person asking for it (and wearing Heath Bell’s old cap), he flipped it to me. SUCCESS!! Here I am with the ball:
Every time Jedd Gyorko came to bat, I headed to this general vicinity:
Why? Because he’s a rookie, and he’s right-handed, and he has a grand total of ZERO major league home runs. I stayed out there for a few other righties (Carlos Quentin, Collin Cowgill, and David Wright), but nothing came close; Mets starter Matt Harvey was dominant, and although the Mets somehow managed to hit three home runs, they all went to right field.
At one point, I hung out in the 2nd row behind the Padres’ dugout. This was my view:
For whatever reason, there weren’t as many security guards as there normally are, and everything seemed more laid-back. I have to say that it was quite nice.
Ben’s girlfriend Jen showed up halfway through the game. (She’s awesome.) Here she is holding a 3rd-out ball that SHE snagged (after Ben missed it):
Ben felt like an idiot, but hey, an inning or two later, I did too after moving a bit too slowly and reaching a bit too hesitantly for a foul ball that had ricocheted toward me from the back of the section. We all do dumb stuff when chasing baseballs. It’s inevitable.
Late in the game, I gave one of my baseballs to a kid who’d been trying all night to get one. Eventually he *did* get one on his own and offered to return the ball that I’d given him. I told him he could keep it and take it out to the park and play with it or whatever. I suggested that some day he give a baseball to a kid at a game. He seemed to like that idea.
After the final out of the Mets’ 8-4 victory, I gave another ball to a different kid, whose family/friends were very appreciative. We all ended up chatting for a bit and walking outside together, and eventually I took a photo of them:
The kid’s name is Jaden. I suspect he’ll be hanging onto that ball for a while.
• 5 balls in 1 game this season = 5 balls per game.
• 873 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 598 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 398 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,464 total balls
(In addition to the money that BIGS Sunflower Seeds will be donating to Pitch In For Baseball, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season. Click here to learn more.)
• 16 donors
• $0.92 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $4.60 raised at this game
• $4.60 raised this season
• $21,410.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, two of the three baseballs that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the first one in regular light versus black light . . .
. . . and here’s the other: