The last few years have been a struggle for me at Fenway Park. In 2011 I attended two games there on crutches, and last season, when I hired a videographer to get footage of my 6,000th ball, batting practice was wiped out by rain.
Things went much better this time around. Here I am outside the stadium:
The previous photo was taken by my friend Ben Weil. He and I drove up for the day from New York, courtesy of BIGS Sunflower Seeds — my official sponsor for the 2013 baseball season. Ben had to pay for his own ticket and food, but everything else was covered. All I had to do was try like hell to snag a game-used ball, and if I succeeded, it would mean an extra $500 for Pitch In For Baseball.
Speaking of food, here’s a double-photo of me and Ben having lunch:
We were at the Bleacher Bar — a great place to go if you want a sneak peek at the field. (I had a grilled chicken sandwich and an order of cheese fries with bacon and sour cream.) Check out the view to my left:
The forecast was iffy, so it was nice to see that the batting cage was set up. When we finished eating, the Red Sox were taking early BP, so we headed here:
That’s the view from the open-air parking garage behind the Green Monster. Ben and I were hoping for a few longballs to find us, but there wasn’t any action.
At around 3:45pm, we headed over to Gate C and met up with a couple of friends and Fenway regulars. Do you recognize them?
In the photo above, the 6-foot-5 guy on the left is named Mike. He works for the FAA and helped me last summer with the helicopter stunt . . . remember? Ben is on the right (molesting the lamppost), and the guy between us is named Jere (pronounced “Jerry”). It’s kind of hard to tell, but Mike is holding a pair of DVDs, which contain bonus video footage from the helicopter stunt. (I know there hasn’t been *any* footage posted yet, and believe me, I’m not too happy about it. Someday, I promise you’ll see how it all went down. I might post some of the bonus footage myself if I can figure out how to convert/edit it.)
When the stadium opened at 4:40pm, Mike and Jere and I headed to the center field seats:
Several minutes later, I snagged this:
It was a ground-rule double hit by Mike Napoli. (Even though the center field wall is 17 feet high, balls do sometimes bounce over it — or at least high enough up it than you can lean over and grab them.)
Halfway through the Red Sox’s portion of BP, I headed to right field. This was the view . . .
. . . and this was right below me in the bullpen:
In the following photo, do you see the two baseballs in the bullpen?
Well, I used my glove trick to snag the closer of the two and handed it to the little kid pictured below in the Pedroia jersey:
Then I headed back to center field, and just as the Sox were wrapping up BP, I got David Ross to throw me my 4th ball of the day.
Soon after the Orioles came out, Chris Tillman recognized me and struck up a conversation. (We got to know each other a little bit at Camden Yards over the past few seasons.) In the following photo, there are two players standing next to each other near the warning track. Tillman is on the right . . .
. . . and if you’re interested in hearing what we talked about, check out Jere’s blog. He got some of it on video. Basically, Tillman wanted to know about the three foul balls I caught on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards, and I told him I’d mail him a copy of my latest book, The Baseball. (I also told him about my sponsorship with BIGS. One of his teammates then pulled out a packet of seeds. I asked if it was David’s — that’s the brand I’ve seen most often at major league games — but they told me it was Frito Lay. [This portion of the conversation was not captured on video.] Never in my life did I ever expect to be so interested in sunflower seeds.)
When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:40pm, I headed here:
I wasn’t thrilled about those protective screens blocking my view, but I knew that balls would still be able to hook around them. The only problem was that it never happened. Nothing was hit to me. Nothing was thrown to me. During the Orioles’ portion of BP, I snagged a grand total of zero baseballs. Thankfully I managed to get Ronnie Deck, the team’s bullpen catcher, to toss me a ball at the dugout right after BP, but still. Bleh. This was my reaction:
Several things happened in the following half-hour:
1) I tweeted a photo of myself with four baseballs.
2) Jere’s finger was bleeding from a scrape he suffered while scrambling for a ball.
3) Mike and Ben schmoozed it up:
Then it started raining, and I headed to the Orioles’ dugout to try to get a warm-up ball. In the following photo, do you see the player standing near home plate?
That’s Manny Machado, and when he finished playing catch with J.J. Hardy, he tossed me the ball — my 6th of the day. Ben was mildly annoyed at that point because he had chosen to go to the other end of the dugout, figuring that Hardy (the veteran) would end up with the ball. Two minutes later, two more Orioles came out to throw. I asked Ben which side of the dugout he wanted, and he picked the home-plate end. I don’t even remember which two guys were throwing. All I can tell you is that Ryan Flaherty was closer my end of the dugout — the outfield end — and when the warm-up session ended, guess who got the ball? Yep. Flaherty flipped it up, and Ben was ready to strangle me. (Don’t feel too bad for him. He ended the day with four baseballs of his own.)
When the game began, my goal was simple: hang out near the Orioles’ dugout and try to snag a 3rd-out ball. I didn’t get one after the 1st inning, but when Stephen Drew ended the 2nd with a routine fly ball to left fielder Nate McLouth, things went exactly as planned. Here’s a screen shot that shows the ball (circled in red) sailing toward me:
Here’s another screen shot that shows me reaching out for the snag:
The video itself (filmed by Ben) isn’t worth sharing. I never intended to post it. I just wanted to be able to grab a few screen shots.
Here I am with the ball, excited to have raised more money for charity:
After that, I spent the next few innings here:
Not only was the view good, but there was an empty cross-aisle right behind me:
I thought it’d be a great spot for a foul ball, but nothing came close.
In the 5th inning, it started raining pretty hard . . .
. . . so I headed for the concourse. Look how crowded it was:
I happened to run into Ben, who told me during the bottom of the 5th that he was going to try to get a 3rd-out ball. I held his backpack while he hurried toward the Orioles’ dugout. While he was gone, I got a vanilla ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles, and when he returned (like, two minutes later), I took the following photo:
Impressive. Dustin Pedroia had struck out to end the inning, and Ben got Matt Wieters to toss him the ball. And then there was a rain delay:
Ben and I considered leaving — it was gonna be a long drive back to New York — but we ended up talking ourselves into staying. The way we saw it . . . if the delay didn’t last long, then there was no point in leaving, and if it DID last long, then everyone else would leave and we’d hate ourselves for not being there.
As it turned out, the delay only lasted 43 minutes. I tried to get a warm-up ball from J.J. Hardy before play resumed, but instead, all I got was a photo of coach Wayne Kirby goofing around near the dugout:
Late in the game, the Red Sox announced that their record-setting sellout streak had officially ended at 794 games (plus 26 post-season contests for a total of 820) — the longest streak in the history of “major professional sports.” This was the message on the jumbotron:
In the last 24 hours, some media outlets have posted positive stories about the streak, while others have bashed its fraudulence. Either way you look at it, it’s still pretty cool that the Sox were THAT popular for THAT long, and I was glad to be there for the historic end. It was certainly easier to move around and find empty seats.
With the Sox holding a 5-3 lead in the top of the 9th inning, Ben and I wandered back toward the dugout. Joel Hanrahan was on the mound:
We hoped to snag a post-game ball from the umpire or from anyone, really. (By the way, can you spot Ben in the previous photo? It’s not hard.)
Hanrahan completely melted down — and it wasn’t my finest inning either. Chris Davis greeted him with a leadoff homer to center field, which I would’ve caught had I been camped out there in the cross-aisle, which is where I’d talked about sitting earlier in the evening. Then, after two quick outs, Hanrahan surrendered a single and two walks and uncorked a 55-footer to tie the game. On the very next pitch, Manny Machado blasted a three-run homer over the Green Monster to put the Orioles on top, 8-5. That ball was thrown back onto the field, retrieved by 2nd base umpire Jim Wolf, tossed to Orioles 3rd base coach Bobby Dickerson, and then tossed to me in the front row behind the dugout. Sounds good, right? Well, I didn’t catch the ball. You know how an outfielder will sometimes dive headfirst for a sinking liner, and the ball will land a few inches short of his glove? Well, that’s sort of what happened to me. Dickerson’s throw was clearly going to fall short, but because there were huge/aggressive guys on either side of me (whom Ben had warned me about), I was forced to lunge forward and dive/flop for the ball atop the dugout roof. Unfortunately, the ball short-hopped my glove and hit the very tip of it and bounced back into the dugout. It was then tossed back up toward me, but fell so short that it didn’t even reach the roof. It was then tossed to a completely different section 20 feet away. At first I was bummed more than words can describe, but then it occurred to me: Would that ball have even counted?! One of the biggest rules in ballhawking, at least for me, is that I have to be the first fan to attain possession of the ball. (This rule is even listed here on the BIGS Baseball Adventure website.) That home run ball WAS acquired by another fan when it first landed in the Monster seats, so if I’d caught it when the Orioles’ coach tossed it in my direction . . . then what? Should the rule be modified so that home run balls that get thrown back onto the field can be “re-snagged” when they re-enter the stands? If so, what would happen if a fan were to throw back a home run ball from deep in the bleachers, only to have the ball fall short and never make it *out* of the stands? Would that count for the person who re-snags it? This is murky, so in a weird way, I’m glad that I didn’t snag the ball. Everyone would’ve been divided. If I counted it, people would be calling me a fraud, and if I didn’t count it, that would’ve felt weird because it *was* the actual home run ball. Oy vey. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.
Anyway, the Orioles held on for an 8-5 win, and after the final out, I got my 9th and final ball from home plate umpire Cory Blaser. On my way out of the stadium, I gave away a ball to a young, exuberant fan named Kyle.
Ben drove us back to New York. I was home by 3:15am and in bed at around 4:45am. Oof. Next time I go to Boston, I need to spend a solid week at Fenway rather than doing this back-and-forth-in-a-day nonsense.
• 20 balls in 3 games this season = 6.7 balls per game.
• 875 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 400 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 316 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 2 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field and Fenway Park.
• 6,479 total balls
(In addition to the money that BIGS Sunflower Seeds will be donating, I’m doing my own fundraiser 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.)
• 23 donors
• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $11.34 raised at this game
• $25.20 raised this season (plus $1,000 from BIGS)
• $22,431.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, one of the seven balls that I kept has an invisible ink stamp (surrounded by unusual speckling). Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light: