The weather was awful. It rained all afternoon, and it was cold — VERY COLD, like, see-your-breath-and-can’t-feel-your-toes kinda cold. I knew there wasn’t going to be batting practice, but for some twisted reason, I couldn’t convince myself to stay away.
Here’s what I saw when I ran into Yankee Stadium at 5pm . . .
. . . and that’s *all* I saw for the first half-hour. The Yankees were nowhere in sight — probably playing cards and eating a gourmet pre-game meal in the clubhouse — and there was no action on the Orioles’ side either.
Finally, at around 5:35pm, there was a sign of life:
I headed down to the front row, and after a few minutes, I got this:
In the photo above, do you see the player crouching to the right of the ball? That’s Pedro Strop. He had tossed it to me because it had been thrown wildly and gotten wet. It might not look like much, but it was extra special to me; this was my 600th consecutive game in New York at which I’d snagged at least one ball — a streak that goes way back to Shea and the old Yankee Stadium.
Then something unpleasant happened. For starters, there were only a few dozen fans in the entire stadium, and I was kicked out of the section by a security guard. Why? Because at Yankee Stadium, the guards sweep through the seats 45 minutes after the gates open and check tickets. But wait. It gets worse. At 6pm, I went to my assigned section and asked the guard if I could sit in the last row for a few minutes. I figured I didn’t need to ask. Really, I was just being polite. I mean, it was more than an hour before game time, and the entire section was empty. My seat was halfway down, exposed to the steady mist that was falling, but the last row was covered by the overhang of the second deck. Quite simply, I wanted to sit down and rest (I’d bruised my right ankle two days earlier at Fenway) and stay dry — but the guard wouldn’t let me. In a robotic, I-have-no-shred-of-humanity tone, she said, “You have to sit in the seat that you paid for.” I thought she was kidding at first, and when it became clear that she wasn’t, I tried to reason with her, and when that didn’t work, I found a nearby Fan Assistance office and filed a complaint. I even filled out a card to make it official:
In the photo above, the guy standing on the left is the person that I talked to. In a similarly robotic manner, he told me that the guard was “just doing her job” and that “it is our policy to have guests sit in their assigned seats.” He explained that the purpose of the policy is to “prevent that awkward situation when a family arrives and an unruly fan refuses to move.” (Families should know better than to visit Yankee Stadium.) I tried to reason with him, just to see if he’d be real with me — to see if he’d show some decency and say something like, “Between you and me, it’s a silly rule, but it is what it is.” But of course that didn’t happen. Instead, he told me that if I was concerned about staying dry, I could “visit the Yankees Museum or go to the Hard Rock Cafe, where there is a variety of food options.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! I went to complain about the most asinine rule I’ve ever encountered in any stadium that I’ve ever visited in my entire life, and this absolute bozo of an employee tried to sell me something.
Anyway . . .
When Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez began warming up in left field, I headed into the bleachers . . .
. . . and eventually got pitching coach Rick Adair to toss me my second ball of the day:
Five minutes later, I got Mike Harkey to throw me a ball on the terrace overlooking the Yankees’ bullpen, and five minutes after that, I got a ball from Manny Machado on the 3rd base side.
This was my view during the game:
In the previous photo, do you see the little kid on the staircase in the red cap? Every inning, he went down to the front row to try to get a warm-up ball from Ichiro Suzuki (who seems to have gotten less friendly since becoming a Yankee), and late in the game, he wandered over to the bullpen several times. He was trying hard, but wasn’t having any luck, so I hooked him up. “You look like you could use a baseball,” I said as I handed one to him, and yes, he was very excited.
In the top of the 8th inning, something VERY special happened — something that I’d never seen before . . . I don’t think. I’m talking about a triple play! I remember being at a game in Philly several years ago when there was a triple play, but I totally missed it because I was in the concourse. I was really upset about that, but I don’t have to feel that way any longer. Here at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles had runners on 1st and 2nd when Manny Machado smashed a one-hopper to 2nd baseman Robinson Cano, who flipped the ball to 2nd base for the first out. Jayson Nix, the Yankees’ shortstop, caught that throw, but instead of firing the ball to 1st base for an easy double play (which everyone in the stadium assumed he’d do, and which would’ve made sense, given the fact that the Yankees’ were winning, 5-2, and didn’t need to worry about the lead runner), he threw it to 3rd baseman Kevin Youkilis. Alexi Casilla, the runner who had started out on 2nd base, reversed direction and got caught in a rundown. Youkilis threw the ball back to Nix, who then threw it back to Youkilis, who then tagged Casilla for the 2nd out, and then . . . wouldn’t you know it? Machado was caught in between 1st and 2nd base, so Youkilis threw the ball across the diamond to 1st baseman Lyle Overbay. This prompted Machado to dash toward 2nd base, so Overbay threw the ball there. Cano caught it and barely applied the tag in time, and there you have it — the first 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play in major league history. Truly amazing. Even though the play helped the Yankees, I was SO glad to have seen it. I’m also glad that I realized what was happening even before it happened; as soon as Youkilis recorded the second out and threw the ball to Overbay, I was like, “OMG, this could be a triple play!” And then it happened. Everyone was high-fiving in the stands. I’ll never forget it.
One inning later, Mariano Rivera finished warming up . . .
. . . and entered the game:
Everyone loves him, and I do mean EVERYone. Even *I* love him, and I don’t exactly love the team he plays for. He’s a living legend. It’s a real event whenever he pitches. On this particular night, he surrendered a hit, but worked a scoreless inning for his 610th career save.
Oh, I should mention that the Yankees took the lead late in the game when Adam Jones dropped a deep but very catchable fly ball for a two-out, three-run error. The entire bleacher section responded by chanting, “YOU F*CKED UP!!! YOU F*CKED UP!!!” (Just another night in the Bronx.) This is the same bleacher section that was referring to Youkilis as “Useless” when he committed the horrible crime of misplaying a ground ball in the 7th inning. The fact that he helped turn a triple play and went 3-for-3 to raise his batting average to .424 . . . eh, whatever, the guy’s a bum!
• 24 balls in 4 games this season = 6 balls per game.
• 876 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 600 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 2 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field and Fenway Park.
• 6,483 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a gamer, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)
• 23 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $5.04 raised at this game
• $30.24 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $1,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $22,436.24 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, one of the three balls that I kept has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light: