Angel Stadium is one of my least favorite ballparks, but I was still excited to be here:
This was the first game of my first road trip with Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds. Neal, as you may recall from my entry about being sponsored, is the Director of Marketing for BIGS and will be spending quite a bit of time with me this season. (I’m happy to report that he’s a whole lot of fun to be around.)
Look who showed up a little while later:
In the photo above, the guy on the left (who, it should be noted, brought his own bag of BIGS seeds), is a legendary ballhawk named T.C. In fact, he’s so legendary that I featured him on pages 281-282 of The Baseball as one of the Top Ten ballhawks of all time.
Soon after that, I photographed T.C. getting Joaquin Benoit’s autograph:
Neal will usually be the only BIGS representative with me at games, but here in Los Angeles of Anaheim, we were joined by a woman named Bianca Cadloni, who does social media for the company. Here she is (in the white t-shirt and green shorts) handing out free samples of seeds as well:
The stadium was supposed to open at 11am, but get this: at around 10:40, a security guard announced that the right field gate would open at 10:45, so everyone hurried over there:
The extra 15 minutes made a difference. When I first ran inside, Max Scherzer was playing catch along the right field foul line:
He finished five minutes later and threw me the ball . . .
. . . and for the record, he threw it hard (compared to the gentle lobs that fans typically receive) — probably about 50 miles per hour.
In the photo of Scherzer playing catch, did you notice the white chain barricade on the warning track? It was Little League Day, which meant three things:
1) no batting practice
2) a zillion kids
3) lots of stress
Day games tend to suck in general; day games on weekends are the absolute worst. Everything that I normally try to avoid at stadiums was happening here. It was my ballhawking nightmare, so I was relieved to have kept my streak alive.
I noticed that one of the Tigers was throwing a bullpen session, so I ran over. It was Justin Verlander, and he was just finishing up. He signed exactly one autograph for another fan . . .
. . . and headed toward the dugout.
Then all the Little Leaguers came out and started walking around the field:
An hour later, I got my 2nd ball of the day from Scott Pickens. (Getting a pre-game toss-up from a bullpen catcher isn’t terribly exciting, but I was proud of myself for this one. I was in right field when I saw him playing catch on the other side of the stadium, so I raced over and got there just in time.) Here I am with it:
Just before the national anthem, I went here . . .
. . . and got Austin Jackson to throw me my 3rd ball. Because it was so crowded, I had to stand on a seat and wave my arms to get his attention. His throw fell several feet short, but the guy pictured above with the straw hat wasn’t paying attention. (None of the other fans seemed to notice the ball either.) If he had been, he could’ve easily reached up and caught it.
This was my view for the first pitch of the game:
Bianca was still handing out seeds to random people, and for a little while, Neal had my camera. Here’s a photo that he took of a nearby family with their free samples:
As part of the BIGS Baseball Adventure, my challenge is to snag a game-used ball at all 30 major league stadiums this year; for every venue where I succeed, BIGS will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball. Therefore, I hung out near the Tigers’ dugout in the hope of snagging a 3rd-out ball.
The 1st inning ended with an Albert Pujols strikeout; Tigers catcher Brayan Pena kept the ball. The 2nd inning ended with a Hank Conger groundout; Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder tossed it to a grown man 20 feet to my left. The third inning ended with a Howie Kendrick groundout — Doug Fister, an extreme ground-ball pitcher, was on the hill — and this time Prince Fielder hooked me up. Here he is about to toss it to me while walking toward the dugout . . .
. . . and just like that, I’d raised another sizable chunk of change for my favorite charity.
I ended up giving away my Austin Jackson ball to the nearest kid. (I would’ve preferred to part with the Pickens ball, but it had a black marker streak on the sweet spot, so I decided it was too ugly to give away. The Tigers do that to some of their baseballs. It’s annoying.) Then I changed out of my Tigers gear and into my official BIGS attire for a photo:
Do I mind wearing that clothing with the BIGS logos? Hell no! I actually think it’s pretty cool. Did you notice my shirt in the photo with T.C.? Take another look. Underneath the BIGS logo, it says:
1 SEASON . . . 30 STADIUMS
SNAGGING BASEBALLS FOR CHARITY IN 2013
What’s not to like about that? And wait’ll you see the back of the shirt. It’s mostly visible in the photo of Bianca handing out seeds, but I’ll post a better shot in just a bit. Even if I hated the shirts, I would still wear them because BIGS is paying for *all* my expenses as I travel to all 30 major league stadiums this year. My taxi to the airport two days ago in New York City? The $25 fee to check my bag? All the tickets to games and all my food? Yes, yes, and yes. This is a dream come true, so I want to help them as much as possible.
Speaking of food, look what I ate in the later innings:
That’s orange chicken (on the upper right) and honey shrimp with walnuts (on the left). I have a weakness for crappy Chinese food. And hey, did you notice where I was sitting? I was in the “front row” in left-center — 50 feet behind the outfield wall with an obstructed view of the field. (Why, exactly, does anyone claim to like Angel Stadium? I like the weather and the easy-to-circumvent ushers, but that’s about it.)
Neil and Bianca were sitting on my right:
The most annoying kids of all time were climbing all over the place on my left:
I think kids are great and would love to have my own someday (if I ever happen to meet a woman who, shall we say, embraces my oddities), but these little guys were hard work. Really, I blame their parents, who were sitting 15 rows back and letting them run wild.
Little League Day. Awful.
Check out the back of my shirt:
Neal told me that he had 72 of these shirts made! I’m not sure what he’s planning to do with them all, but don’t be surprised if you see me wearing them for years to come.
Speaking of shirts:
Yeah, so anyway . . .
Bianca was scheduled to fly out of San Diego at 8pm, which wouldn’t have been a problem under normal circumstances, but when the game dragged into the 12th inning, she and Neal started scrambling for other options. Here they are changing her flight to a closer airport:
Bianca had already checked out of her hotel room, and she had all of her stuff in the car, so Neal left the game with her and took her to the airport. All of our phones were about to die — not only did the game last more than four hours, but we were out in the sun for most of it, so we had to crank up the brightness, which drained the batteries — so Neal and I made a plan: I was going to stay at the game until it ended and then meet him at the big A in the parking lot.
Soon after they left, Mark Trumbo led off the bottom of the 13th inning with a 425-foot blast to straight-away left field. Game over. Final score, Angels 4, Tigers 3.
Here’s where the walk-off home run ball ended up:
It had short-hopped the back wall of the Tigers’ bullpen (less than 40 feet to the right of where I’d been sitting) and then rolled back toward the field. Jeff Kunkel, the Tigers’ other bullpen catcher, was the last member of the team in the bullpen. I asked him for the ball, but he ignored me and walked off. (It really WAS a walk-off homer.) Everyone was screaming and begging the nearest usher to go get it, but he said he wasn’t allowed.
Take another look at the photo above. See the kid hanging on the fence and leaning over the railing? Well, it occurred to me that if I waited long enough (for some fans and ushers and guards to take off), I might be able to glove-trick the ball from that corner spot — you know, fling my glove way out at it and get the glove to land beyond it and then tug my string in order to knock the ball closer. Just as I was starting to set up my glove and head over there, a teenaged kid in Yankees gear jumped out of the stands and ran into the bullpen and grabbed the ball and tried to make a quick exit . . . but didn’t get very far.
Here he is standing on a nearby staircase, surrounded by stadium security:
I was glad he got busted because he’d ruined my chance to snag a game home run ball, and also, ball or no ball, YOU DON’T JUMP INTO A MAJOR LEAGUE BULLPEN. Seriously, what a jackass.
I was also glad that one of the ushers confiscated the ball, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see it. Check it out:
After the kid was hauled off, I politely asked the usher for the ball.
“Sorry, can’t do it,” he said, “It’s going to a challenger.”
“A child in a wheelchair,” he explained.
I couldn’t argue with that. Of course, I never did see the usher give the ball away (and believe me, I kept my eyes on him for a while), but who knows what happened? Chances are he kept it, but maybe it did end up in the hands of a kid who will always treasure it. I’d like to think so, anyway.
I headed toward the big A and photographed the three balls that I’d kept:
With my last remaining shred of iPhone power, I read the previous day’s box scores until Neal showed up.
• 4 balls at this game (three pictured above because I gave one to a kid)
• 61 balls in 9 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.
• 881 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 406 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 4 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Angel Stadium.
• 6,520 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, 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
• $76.86 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $2,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $23,482.86 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009