Step 1: Check out the Astros’ website to see how early the stadium opens.
Step 2: Learn that it opens two hours early *only* on Saturdays.
Step 3: Plan to be there on a Saturday and RUSH to get there on time.
Step 4: Look forward to snagging an Astros commemorative ball during BP.
Step 5: Hear that the website is wrong and that the gates open 90 minutes early.
Step 6: Be very VERY annoyed and hope that the Astros never win another game.
When the gates finally opened, the Astros were already gone. (Fabulous.) The Tigers were starting to hit, and I headed to the right field seats:
It was dead out there, so I headed over to the Crawford Boxes in left:
That section filled up fast, but I still managed to catch this home run ball:
(That’s how the Tigers mark their baseballs.)
I didn’t catch it on the fly, though. The ball sailed 30 feet over my head and smacked off the back wall above the arches:
I caught the ricochet while cutting to my left through the 2nd row.
When I realized that Prince Fielder was gonna hit in the next group, I raced to the 2nd deck in right field:
There was one other guy with a glove in the front row, along with a bunch of Little Leaguers who were standing around aimlessly at the back of the section:
Within a minute or two, Prince crushed a ball that appeared to be heading right toward the other guy. I could’ve easily drifted to my left and reached in front of him, but I don’t know . . . I felt like he deserved a chance to catch it. Therefore, as the ball was descending, I climbed back into the 2nd row in case he missed it.
That’s exactly what happened. The ball sailed two feet over his head, and his two-inch vertical didn’t quite get the job done. As the ball barely cleared his glove, this guy toppled over backward into a seat, and I made the catch.
I snagged three more Prince Fielder home runs after that and tossed two of those balls to the kids. The first of the three landed near me in the seats and thankfully didn’t take a crazy bounce. The next home was a towering shot that I caught on the fly after climbing two or three rows up. Then I caught the final one after running 40 feet to my right through the front row, breaking a cup holder (which snapped off when my left knee grazed it), and reaching out over the railing. I could hear/sense that the whole stadium was buzzing — more for Prince’s power display, no doubt, but it was cool to be on the receiving end of it.
After that, I headed downstairs and stayed in right field. I didn’t snag any more baseballs for the rest of BP, but I signed a few for some kids that recognized me.
Then I caught up with a couple of friends:
In the photo above, the guy on the left is named Mike Miles, and I’ve known him for quite a while. Way back in 1997, my girlfriend (whom I ended up dating for four years) happened to be best friends with his girlfriend, so that’s how we met. He used to live right around the corner from me in New York City. Now he lives in Houston. The other guy in the photo is named Donny Haltom. He’s a local ballhawk, and I’ve known him for a few years.
Did you see this tweet that I posted before the stadium had opened? That’s how she won the seeds.
For such a lousy team, the stadium sure seemed crowded. A large percentage of the fans had traveled to see the Tigers, but still, look how packed it was along the left field foul line before the game:
When the game started, my total for the day was still stuck at five, and the way I saw it, I needed to snag two more. You know about the whole charity thing with BIGS, right? (For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball.) Well, in addition to that, I’m planning to give BIGS a game-used ball from every stadium so they can auction them off for charity at the end of the season. Therefore, I “needed” two baseballs — one for the auction and one that I could keep for myself. (No pressure, right?)
In the top of the 1st inning, I went here:
I was hoping for a 3rd-out ball from Astros 1st baseman Carlos Pena (or any of his teammates), but it wasn’t meant to be, so in the bottom of the frame, I moved to the 3rd base side:
Given the fact that Max Scherzer was on the hill (and that the Astros are terrible), I figured there’d be lots of strikeouts, so I positioned myself near the home-plate end of the dugout.
My plan worked.
With two outs, Jason Castro took a called third strike, and Tigers catcher Alex Avila tossed me the ball on his way in. Check it out:
<cue the sound of angels singing>
I was super-excited to have gotten that ball. Even if I didn’t snag another, at least I fulfilled the charity challenge (and knew that I’d end up with a good photo for this page on my website). I gave one of my BP balls to the nearest kid, moved to the outfield end of the dugout, and stayed there for the rest of the game. Here’s the best I photo I took from that spot — Torii Hunter talking to Miguel Cabrera between innings:
As the innings ticked by and my opportunities dwindled, I knew that my best shot at getting another commemorative ball would be from home plate umpire Scott Barry after the game.
Before the bottom of the 9th got underway, I got the infield warm-up ball from Tigers coach Rafael Belliard, and although it *was* commemorative, the logo was quite worn — nice but not good enough. As far as I was concerned, I still had to get another.
Meanwhile, I wondered if there was any tidbit of personal info about Scott Barry that I could possibly use to my advantage, so I looked him up on my phone, found his Wikipedia page, and learned that he was born in Michigan! HA! What’re the odds? Even though umps are supposed to be neutral, I figured he probably rooted for the Tigers at some point in his life, so I kept my Tigers shirt on when I moved here:
After the final out of the Tigers’ 17-2 victory (in which Miguel Cabrera went 4-for-4 with two homers and six RBIs), the umps began walking toward me, and I’m glad to report that I got Barry to hook me up! Less than two minutes later, I got my 9th and final ball of the day from Tigers bullpen catcher Scott Pickens. Then I posed for a pic with a young ballhawk named Angel who’d brought copies of my last two books:
Angel and I had exchanged some emails over the past few seasons, but this was the first time that we actually met. It was great to catch up in person, and I also got to meet his father, whose name is . . . Angel. Nice guys — very polite and respectful.
On my way up to the concourse, I took a closer look at the umpire ball . . .
. . . and was surprised to see a lumpy, uneven spot above the commemorative logo. See it there on the stitches, just left of center? That’s the kind of ball that I’m used to seeing in BP with the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot. I wonder what the folks at MLB would say if they knew that a less-than-perfect ball nearly made it into a game.
Before leaving the stadium, I took a few moments to sign Angel’s books:
I was hoping to buy a new Astros cap on the way out — the one I have is waaay out of date — but by the time I finished, the team store was closed. No big deal. I’ll keep rockin’ the old cap. Maybe it’ll help me get future toss-ups. I mean, it shows that I’ve been a fan for a long time, right?
Back at my hotel (which I didn’t check into until midnight), I photographed the six baseballs that I kept . . .
. . . and stayed up way too late — as always.
• 9 balls at this game (six pictured above because I gave three away)
• 132 balls in 18 games this season = 7.33 balls per game.
• 44 balls in 5 lifetime games at Minute Maid Park = 8.8 balls per game.
• 890 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 53 different commemorative balls; click here to my whole collection
• 10 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, and Minute Maid Park
• 6,591 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.)
• 25 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.61 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $14.49 raised at this game
• $212.52 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $5,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $26,618.52 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009