It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve gone to a game and *not* snagged at least one ball — and my streak nearly ended at this one. No matter where I went or what I did, it seemed to be the wrong choice. Bad luck. Bad ricochets. Lots of competition. Rude players. It was amazing.
I started in left field . . .
. . . and watched helplessly as another fan caught a home run that sailed right to him in my regular spot. No, I don’t own that spot, and yes, he’d gotten there first; I can’t complain, but it still bummed me out.
When I saw that Curtis Granderson and Travis Hafner were getting ready to hit in the next group, I raced to the 2nd deck in right field:
As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of competition. ANY home run that landed anywhere near me would’ve been mine, but there were none. Hafner pounded nearly a dozen grounders and line drives in my direction. All he had to do was elevate! But no. Nothing. Unreal.
When the Blue Jays started hitting, I headed back to left field:
In the photo above, do you see the big/square area on the lower right, blocked by railings? It’s also blocked by chains in the front row. See the guy wearing black shorts? There are chains just to his right. That space is sometimes used for TV cameras, but even when it’s empty, fans (for some reason) are not allowed to be there. Keep that in mind. I’ll be talking more about it in a bit.
I figured that there’d be lots of action in left field. Jose Bautista? Edwin Encarnacion? J.P. Arencibia? Brett Lawrie? Hell, even Henry Blanco and Mark DeRosa. All these guys bat right-handed, but they combined to put on a pathetic display. There seriously would’ve been more action in the left field seats if *I* had been hitting (with a metal bat). I knew I was in trouble, and I tweeted about it. One home run sailed 10 feet over my head and was grabbed several rows behind me by another fan — the ONLY fan, it should be noted, who was behind me. Another homer landed 20 feet to my right and deflected back to the exact spot where I’d been standing before I started chasing it. Another one landed 30 feet to my left and unexpectedly deflected AT ME and tipped off my glove as I scrambled for it. I was having THE worst luck. Around that time, I tweeted another update, and let me tell you, I was nervous as hell. Getting shut out during BP at just about any other stadium wouldn’t be the end of the world, but here at Yankee Stadium, where *every* staircase is fiercely guarded throughout the game? Oy vey. I knew I wouldn’t be able to head into foul territory for a pre-game toss-up or a 3rd-out ball. Somehow, I was gonna have to find a way to snag a ball in the outfield, but BP was winding down, and to make matters worse, the Blue Jays pitchers in left field completely ignored me. They had no problem tossing baseballs to other fans (a) in Blue Jays gear or (b) who were female, but for whatever reason, it’s like I didn’t exist to them. I’m talking about Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers, Chad Jenkins, and the worst of the worst . . . Brad Lincoln. I was making the nicest and funniest and most polite requests of all time, but none of these last-place bozos even looked at me. (And to think that I actually rooted for them at the beginning of the season!)
Something lucky happened at the end of BP, and I do mean THE END. On the 2nd-to-last pitch, the batter hit a deep line drive in my direction. It was hooking a bit to the right of my staircase, and I could tell that it wasn’t going to reach me in the 4th row, so I scurried down the steps and hopped the chain to get into the camera well, and I reached out for the ball as Brett Cecil was jumping up for it . . . and BAM!!! I felt the impact on my glove, but what caused it — the ball or his glove? I opened mine, and the ball was there! I actually thumbed my nose at him as he jogged off, though I’m sorry to say he didn’t notice. Then I got scolded by security for entering the precious camera well, but it was worth it. I’d extended my 898-game streak to 899, and no one could take that away from me. Moments later, I photographed the ball . . .
. . . and if you look closely, you can see the last-place Blue Jays jogging back to the dugout in the background.
I tweeted another update with this photo:
It’s weird to be simultaneously stressed and relieved.
After I posted that tweet, my friend Todd Cook responded with this, and he was correct. It was indeed “Harkey time.”
Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey tosses half a dozen balls into the crowd before every game, and I’d already gotten seven from him this season. In fact, I’ve gotten one from him every time I’ve tried, except once, and that was when a security guard kicked me out of the bleachers (despite the fact that I had a much better 100 Level ticket), so it almost doesn’t count. If I ever needed a ball from Harkey, this was the time. Yeah, I’d managed to keep my streak alive, but I had another one on the line: 423 consecutive games with at least two baseballs. The last time I “only” snagged one ball was at the 2007 All-Star Game.
Long story short: Harkey hooked me up. I don’t think he recognizes me because I always change my appearance and position myself in different spots. Sometimes I work the 100 Level seats. Other times (when security isn’t being insane) I play the bleachers, and occasionally I go here:
I took that photo from a terrace, which has lately been closed quite a bit for “private events.” Thankfully it was open at this game, and I took advantage. In the photo above, you can see Harkey walking on the bullpen mound, about to disappear from view. The ball I got from him was the last one that he threw. Phew!
After that, I hurried down to my ticketed section, which just so happened to be adjacent to the last-place Blue Jays’ bullpen. Here’s what I saw when I got there:
Pitching coach Pete Walker was talking to starter Mark Buehrle. Walker, as you can see, was holding a baseball in his right hand, which he ended up tossing into the bleachers. But wait! Did you notice the 3rd guy in the bullpen? See his head poking up on the left? That was bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, whose pockets were stuffed with baseballs. He tossed them all into the crowd, and I snagged one.
I sat in straight-away left field for the entire game. This was the view to my left . . .
. . . and this was the view to my right:
Why did I draw a red circle around that little kid? Because (a) it would’ve been tough to point him out without it and (b) I gave him the BP home run ball that I’d caught. He was sitting there all night with his glove, staring at everything super-attentively. Every time a vendor walked down the stairs and shouted, the kid turned and looked. Every time there was a video on the jumbotron, he watched it. He was *so* into the entire experience, but of course there was one thing missing. It was the middle of the 4th inning, I think, when I walked over to him and said, “Hey, you look like you could use a baseball. Am I right?” Then I held out the ball, and man-oh-man, the way his face lit up might’ve been the highlight of my day.
The lowlight was when I missed a David Adams ground-rule double in the bottom of the 7th inning by an arm’s length, and you know what? If I hadn’t been skittish about the camera well, I totally would’ve caught it. Basically, I was standing next to the chain as the ball was approaching. I didn’t think it was going to clear the wall, so I didn’t bother climbing over. Catching a ball in a restricted area is bad; jumping into a restricted with NO ball is worse, so I hung back and reached out pathetically as the ball skimmed over the wall by mere inches. It deflected off some fans and unfortunately, rather than plopping down into the camera well where I could’ve grabbed it, it bounced deeper into the section. These are the folks that ended up with it:
As they posed with the ball, I thought, “They’ve snagged as many ground-rule doubles in their life as I have — and who knows, maybe more?” (My one ground-rule double was hit by David Justice at SkyDome in 2000; I would’ve caught another two years ago at Coors Field if I hadn’t been on frickin’ crutches.)
The game itself was . . . pthpththpththh!!! Hiroki Kuroda limited the last-place Blue Jays to two hits and a walk in eight scoreless innings — his ERA is now 1.99 — and the Yankees won, 5-0. There were no home runs.
After the final out, I hurried over to the last-place Blue Jays’ bullpen and tried unsuccessfully to get one final toss-up. I ran into a fellow ballhawk named John Lisankie (whom I’d seen on and off throughout the night), and we chatted for a minute. He’d managed to get one ball during BP — tough day all around. When he and his father left, I lingered in the seats for another minute, first to chat with a few other fans that I recognized and then to say goodnight to the security guard, who’s actually really cool. That’s when I noticed this:
You have no idea what I’m talking about, right? See the big blue advertisement below the bleachers? See where it says “AgeWell”? See the little white rectangle on the dark blue wall below it? That was the last-place Blue Jays’ lineup card. They were nice enough to leave it behind, and the groundskeeper was nice enough to peel it off the wall and hand it to me. Here’s a closer look:
Getting this lineup card (or “LINE-UP CARD” as the last-place Blue Jays call it) kinda almost made the whole day worthwhile. Here I am with it before leaving the stadium:
This is where the story would normally end, but in this case, I have one last thing to share . . .
While waiting for the downtown No. 2 train at the 149th Street station, look what I saw on the tracks:
See that little round white thing? Yep, that’s a baseball, and check it out — it definitely came from a major league stadium:
That’s a “practice” stamp on the sweet spot. How do you like that?! (I hope that’s not the ball that I gave to the kid.) Upon seeing that ball, my thoughts went something like this:
1) I could jump down there and get it!
2) Oh, wait, it wouldn’t even count because I’m not IN a stadium.
3) Screw it — probably not the safest thing to do anyway.
4) Oh! I could glove-trick it.
5) Oh, wait, I don’t have any of my glove trick materials on me.
6) Those were some big rats.
7) Here comes my train.
8) Maybe the ball will still be there next time I’m coming home from a Yankee game!
9) Oh, wait, that’s gonna be at least two weeks from now.
10) What would I do with that ball anyway?
11) Who cares? I’d enjoy the challenge of snagging it.
I just thought of one more thing that I need to share . . .
Before the game, I was talking to a friendly guard in the bleachers (yes, they do exist), who told me something interesting: last season, his shifts started at 4:30pm for night games, but this year, his clock-in time has been pushed back to 4:45pm. He said it’s because ticket sales are down and the Yankees are losing money — and he’s going to quit as a result. Every four days, he loses an hour of pay, which he can’t really afford, but it’s not even about the money. He said the Steinbrenners have added a bunch of rules that he now has to enforce, so his job has become more annoying and difficult. I asked him to give an example, so he pointed out a white stripe on the pavement behind the last row of bleacher benches. He said it wasn’t there last season, but now he’s being instructed not to allow fans to stand in front of it. As you might expect, fans get pissed off when they’re told to move (when they’re already standing 500-plus feet from home plate), so he’s constantly forced to be the bad guy. Many guards enjoy wielding their power, but for the decent folks who work at The Stadium, the rules are a real burden.
• 212 balls in 27 games this season = 7.85 balls per game.
• 899 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 424 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 32 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards)
• 14 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, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards
• 6,671 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.)
• 26 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $4.89 raised at this game
• $344.56 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $28,750.56 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009