It’s never a good sign when fans are sitting in line outside the gates of a Major League Baseball stadium:
In this case, there was a large crowd because (a) it was Friday, (b) it was “college night, and (c) there was a “beard hat” giveaway for the first 20,000 fans. I figured there’d be a large crowd, but I wasn’t prepared for the madness.
My first ball was a fluke. I was standing on the center field party deck (which, by the way, had a huge area blocked off for a private gathering) when Oliver Perez flipped a ball to a fan in the front row. Several folks reached for it, and they all bobbled it, and the ball somehow fell to the ground and trickled 20 feet back to where I was standing.
There were two reasons why I was positioned so far back:
1) It was crowded at the front.
2) Michael Morse was hitting.
As if on cue, Morse crushed a monstrous fly ball in my direction. I barely had to move, and I caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo of the ball, taken at the spot where I gloved it:
That’s a looooong way from home plate — roughly 425 feet.
The day before, I’d snagged two that way before security shut me down, but he managed to get away with it here.
As much as I hate promotions, I have to admit that the beard hats were amusing. Little kids were wearing them . . .
. . . as were the not-quite-drunk guys on the new left field party deck:
I went up there because there was nowhere else to be. Safeco Field is nice-lookin’, but let’s face it: left field is worthless when it comes to catching home runs.
After a minute or two, I headed to right field, stopping along the way to photograph the center field party deck from above:
How about NO.
The right field seats were also crowded, but I managed to snag a couple of baseballs there in the next half-hour. The first was thrown by Angels pitcher Barry Enright in this area . . .
. . . and the second was a long home run by Hank Conger, which I caught on the fly here:
Yes, I was actually underneath the overhang, twenty (or however many) rows back. There weren’t any empty rows farther down, so I played deep and got lucky.
With Albert Pujols set to take his cuts in the next group, I headed to the second deck in left field. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much action up there, but I did get a nice look at the new, two-tiered party deck setup in the left field corner:
While I was up there, I got an autograph request — the second of the day. Before the stadium had opened, a man had approached me and asked me to sign a baseball with my “number” on it. I had ended the previous day with a lifetime total of 6,551 baseballs, so that’s what I wrote. Fast forward 90 minutes. A teenaged kid asked me to sign another ball the same way . . . so I did with a “6555” after my name. As it turned out, these two fans were a father-and-son duo named Mark and Alex. Here they are with the baseballs:
A little while later, I played pretend-catch with Ernesto Frieri. In other words, I pretended to throw a phantom ball to him, and he pretended to lunge and catch it and throw it back. I then pretended to catch *his* throw behind my back, and then I threw him an imaginary knuckleball, which somehow sailed over his head. He actually jumped for this nonexistent knuckler and chased it down by jogging toward the infield — hilarious, but as we all know, my aim isn’t that bad. After our little game of make-believe, he got his hands on a real ball and threw it to me. He then flapped his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back, so I did — right on the money. His return throw fell short and landed in the bullpen. I pretended to dive after it. He held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” He then went out of his way to get another ball, and before he threw it to me, I handed my camera to Mark. I was hoping to continue playing catch with him and get a video of it, but unfortunately he didn’t ask me to throw the ball back a second time. The video isn’t really worth posting, but I’ll share a couple of screen shots. Here’s Frieri throwing the ball . . .
. . . and here I am catching it:
Many thanks to Mark for documenting it. Too bad it wasn’t more exciting.
(It should be noted that Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds didn’t attend this game. Earlier in the day, he flew to Baltimore for another work assignment; I’ll be seeing him in Kansas City in a few days. He and I are planning to attend games at Kauffman Stadium on May 1st [and possibly the 2nd], Ameriquest Field on May 3rd, Minute Maid Park on May 4th, Great American Ballpark on May 6th, Progressive Field on May 7th, PNC Park on May 8th, Camden Yards on May 9th, and Nationals Park [where I hopefully won’t get ejected for photographing my baseballs] on May 10th. Come say hi if you see me.)
The upper left field party deck was packed:
Here’s a look at the lower of the two left field party decks from above:
Yuck. But if you think THAT’S crowded, check out the concourse behind the left field bullpens:
It. Was. Insane.
And it was like that all night. It felt like a frat party — loud/awful music, endless lines for the bathroom, schmucky drunk people behaving obnoxiously. I hated everything about it. At one point, I saw a guy with a very bloody nose.
Batting practice ended while I was trapped in the crowd, so I went and checked out the lower party deck. I had to show my ID to get in. Then I walked through this area:
The outdoor portion of the deck or bar (or whatever you want to call it) was absurdly crowded:
If this party deck were empty, it’d be a nice little spot to catch home run balls, but as things were, the only good thing about it was the gap behind the outfield wall:
I photographed the oddly-configured area around the foul pole . . .
. . . and got the hell out of there. Not only was I about to lose my mind, but my friend Joe had arrived from Portland, Oregon with his eight-year-old son, Booker. Here I am with them:
I’ve known Joe since the summer of 1995; I had an internship with the Boise Hawks, and he happened to be the head groundskeeper. He’s one of my favorite people in the world — I can’t even comprehend what it’d be like not to have him in my life — and Booker is one of the best kids I’ve ever known.
We all chatted for a bit until I noticed that two Angels were playing catch in the left field corner. Booker decided to come with me as I headed off to try to get the ball, and I succeeded because of him. I have no doubt about it. Bullpen coach Steve Soliz (who was one of the guys playing catch) saw me in my Angels gear crouching down next to Booker, and quite simply he couldn’t resist. He tossed the ball in our direction. I caught it and immediately handed it to my young companion, and yes, I counted it — my 6th ball of the day. Think of all the balls I haven’t gotten *because* there were cute little kids standing next to me. Now that I happened to be with one and got a ball as a result . . . ha! You bet your ass I counted it.
Booker and I headed closer to home plate — to the front row along the left field foul line. Two more Angels were throwing, and although we didn’t get a ball from them, we still got hooked up. Check out the following photo:
See the guy in the black pants? I can only assume that he’s the Angels’ strength and conditioning coach, He walked over to the edge of the warning track and waved to get our attention. When I looked up at him, he tossed us a brand-new baseball. Once again, I made the catch and promptly handed it to Booker. Here he is with it, and if you look closely, you can see the other ball in the right/front pocket of his shorts (just to the right of his forearm).
Booker is officially my secret weapon — too bad he lives 2,894 miles away or else I’d bring him to every game.
Just before game time, Mike Trout signed a few autographs along the left field foul line, so I went over and said hello. I had gotten my picture taken with him the day before, and this time we got to talk a bit more.
“Whose home run are you trying to catch today?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “there are three guys on your team who haven’t yet hit a major league homer, so I’m focusing on them.”
Then I asked him if he’d heard of BIGS Sunflower Seeds. He said he had, so I told him about my sponsorship and the whole thing about the charity. He mentioned that he’d seen the split-screen of me on “SportsCenter” after my two home run snags at Yankee Stadium. I said that it was great to see him again, and we shook hands, and just before he ran off, I got him to sign one of Booker’s baseballs:
I’m not sure if Booker realized that he was in the presence of greatness, or if he appreciated the awesomeness of that autograph. Joe certainly did, and he captured the aftermath with his camera:
Do you remember all the stuff in my previous entry about Angels bullpen catcher Tom Gregorio? The quick recap is that he had recognized me and told me to come find him in the bullpen during the game. Of course, I’d spent the entire previous game hustling for a 3rd-out ball, so now I finally had my chance. I headed out there in the top of the 1st inning . . .
. . . and got his attention in the bottom of the frame. He came over, and we talked for about five minutes. How cool is that? I don’t care if he’s “only” a bullpen catcher. He played briefly in the major leagues, and he now travels with the team and wears the uniform and appears in the “manager & coaches” section on the roster. THAT is cool. It turns out that he’s from New York City — born in Brooklyn, raised on Staten Island — so we had some stuff in common. I told him about my books and ballhawking and about the BIGS Baseball Adventure. He told me about his family and about life on the road and his off-season routine. He asked me when I’m planning to see the Angels again. I said I had no idea — probably whenever they head to New York — and he told me to look for him and say hello. Before he walked off, I asked if I could get a photo of him giving a thumbs-up for my blog. Here it is:
It’s been a good week for me in terms of being recognized by major leaguers. First it was Didi Gregorius, and then it was Mike Trout and Tom Gregorio. I also had several long conversations with Heath Bell, and in just a few days, I’ll be seeing Jeremy Guthrie at Kauffman Stadium. There are lots of other guys that recognize me: Chris Tillman, Ricky Bones, Jordan Zimmermann, and Frank Francisco, just to name a few. I miss Brian Stokes, Josias Manzanillo, Mike Nickeas, and Dan Wheeler. And Ryan Speier. All of those guys recognized me too.
Joe and Booker and I hung out near the bullpen for a few innings. Here’s a photo of Booker with his baseballs and beard hat:
Here’s something random that amused me: In honor of Jason Bay (who, for some terrible reason, was batting leadoff for the Mariners), I brought a bag of “old bay” sunflower seeds:
For the record, those seeds were DAMN GOOD. Joe and Booker liked ’em too.
Eventually we headed up to the second deck in left field . . .
. . . which was nice for about an inning. It was good to rest my feet for a little while, but after that, I got antsy and felt detached from the game and had to get back downstairs. Here’s where I ended up:
My view of the game was lousy, but I enjoyed being close to Gregorio.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, I headed to the Angels’ dugout:
In the photo above, do you see the kid looking back at me? He’s sitting three rows down, and his leg is sticking out. If you’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years, he might look familiar because we attended four games together in 2011 in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. His name is Maple, and he (along with his sister Maxine and father David) was a Watch With Zack client.
I knew he was going to be at this game, and it was great to catch up with him, although it was way too brief. After the game, which the Angels won, 6-3, I got a photo with Maple and his friend Wes:
Then I got another pic with Maple and his father:
(Maple still looks like Justin Morneau . . . no?)
After that, I took a pic of the trio of ballhawk siblings: Luke, Hannah, and Max:
Luke had caught two baseballs, Hannah had gotten one, and Max had snagged nine, all with the glove trick. There wasn’t time for him to explain how it all went down, so I’m hoping he’ll leave a comment and share some details.
Max had given away four of his baseballs, and I’d given two of mine to Booker. Therefore, we were each left with five::
I really like Max and Luke and Hannah. Wayne too. And Tom. And Maple and Wes. And Mark and Alex. There’s a genuine feeling of camaraderie among these Seattle ballhawks. There’s no trash-talking. There’s no ill-will or cut-throat competitiveness. It’s like they’re all in it together, and I was glad to be welcomed into their world for a couple of days.
• 7 balls at this game
• 99 balls in 14 games this season = 7.07 balls per game.
• 886 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 411 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 322 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 7 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, and Safeco Field
• 6,558 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.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.51 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $10.57 raised at this game
• $149.49 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $3,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $25,055.49 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009