I woke up in New York City at 4:30am with two and a half hours of sleep — and it was totally worth it. Look where I ended up 12 hours later:
Let me explain . . .
Three years ago, when Target Field was just a month old, I showed up for a three-game series and randomly met a Twins employee who hooked me up with behind-the-scenes access. More specifically, on May 5, 2010, he approached me during BP and introduced himself, and on May 6, 2010, he gave me a private tour of the stadium. As I mentioned back then, he wants to remain anonymous, so I’m going to refer to him as “Kirby.”
Anyway, as you may have gathered, Kirby hooked me up again, this time with a fancy VIP pass that gave me early/field access. Look where I found myself two minutes later:
As nice as it was to hang out on the field, all I wanted to do was go into the stands and get a head start on snagging baseballs. Kirby had no problem with that — he reads this blog and knows all about my collection — so we walked toward the left field foul line. On the way, I photographed some photographers . . .
. . . and resisted the urge to grab this and run like hell:
In the photo above, did you notice the person in a Phillies uniform standing in the background? That was manager Charlie Manuel:
In the photo of Charlie Manuel, did you notice the ball sitting on the warning track in the background?
Now listen, it’s not what you think. Yes, I walked over and picked it up . . .
. . . but look what I did with it:
As you can see, I kissed it goodbye and chucked it back toward the mound, and no, I didn’t count it as a “snagged ball.” For scorekeeping purposes, it was a non-event.
Kirby and I walked a little farther along the warning track and entered the stands here:
Looking back on it, I should’ve headed straight to the left field bleachers. Given the fact that I could’ve gone anywhere (and that the entire stadium was empty except for a few dozen season ticket holders who’d gotten early access and were confined to a teeny section in straight-away right field), hanging out in foul territory was dumb. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I thought it’d look bad if I ran wild, and also, Target Field, gorgeous as it may be, is configured so badly for catching home runs that I figured it wasn’t worth it.
Several minutes later, I got a call from Twins TV reporter Jamie Hersch. She was planning to interview me live on FSN during the game and wanted to come say hey while things were relatively calm. I told her where to find me, and before long, I saw her heading my way from afar:
In the photo above, did you notice all those little white specks against the dark background? Those were raindrops, which, thankfully, weren’t coming down hard enough to cancel batting practice.
Shortly after Jamie arrived, a reporter from the Pioneer Press named Chad Graff came and found me. In the following photo, which features my first ball of the day, you can see him and Jamie (and blurred-out Kirby):
When there was a quick break in the action, I took a pic of my VIP pass:
My second ball was a slicer hit by Joe Mauer that trickled toward me in the corner spot. Little did I know that as I leaned over the wall and snagged it in the tip of my glove, a Pioneer Press photographer named John Autey was zooming in on me from afar. Check out this awesome shot that he got:
I moved several sections toward home plate when the Phillies took the field . . .
. . . and got my third ball of the day thrown by John Mayberry Jr.
Then I got a good look at two of the Phillies’ gloves:
After the gates opened to the general public, I got my fourth ball tossed by a player (most likely a pitcher) that I couldn’t identify. Several minutes later, Joe Savery hooked me up with ball No. 5, which I promptly handed to a very little kid on my left.
Then I headed to the 2nd deck in left field. Jamie had taken off by that point, and John (the photographer) was now with me. Here’s a photo of him:
Did you notice the white specks on the grass in front of the batter’s eye? Those were baseballs. Here’s a better look at them:
If I had longer string (and diplomatic immunity from stadium security), I could’ve used my glove trick to reel in most of them, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. I did, however, discover a ball hiding in an unusual spot after moving to the lower level in right field:
Did you see the ball hiding in the flower pot? How’s that for random? But hang on. Before I made an attempt to snag it, I got another unidentifiable Phillies player to toss up a ball — my sixth of the day. Then I waved John over and pointed out the “garden ball” so that he’d be able to position himself for the best possible photo. Chad and Kirby were hanging out nearby, so I also pointed it out to them, and then I went for it. To my surprise, I was able to reach it with the tip of my glove, and in a word . . . eww! Have a look:
The ball was waterlogged — it probably weighed eight ounces — and had a pungent earthy odor. Unsure of what to do with it or how to store it, I stuffed it into the mesh pouch on the outside of my backpack and turned my attention back to the field. That’s when I had a horrendous streak of bad luck. For starters, a line-drive homer sailed five feet over my head, barely missed the overhang, and landed in the concourse, ricocheting off the back wall. Naturally, I scampered after it and barely lost the race to another fan, and get this: during the five seconds that I was gone, another homer landed in my exact spot in the front row. I barely missed out on that one too as it rattled around the mostly-empty seats. And wait! There’s more! After that, three homers that would’ve been easy catches barely carried a bit too far and got swallowed up by the overhang of the 2nd deck. These balls were all heading right for me, and there wasn’t any competition, so it was maddening. TaRgEt FiElD iS, LiKe, sOoOoOo AnNoYiNg, OMG!!!
Toward the end of BP, I managed to snag a home run ball, but only because the fans nearby were totally out of it. This ball — my eighth overall — smacked off an empty seat in the 2nd row near a family of four. They never saw it coming, and they must not’ve realized what had caused the loud noise because they never stood up to look for it. They were so close to it (and I was so far away — roughly 40 feet) that I didn’t bother going for it at first, but when they didn’t react, I ran over and found the ball wedged between two seats. Very strange. And then I handed it to the youngest member of the family — a little boy who looked to be about eight years old.
BP ended at around 6:15pm, which meant I had 25 minutes before my pre-game interview on FSN, the Twins’ TV network. During that time, I met a fellow ballhawk named Tony Voda, said goodbye to Kirby, and debated whether to go get food (I was so hungry that my stomach hurt) or lurk near the bullpens. There were several balls scattered there, and Tony advised me to stick around. He said that Twins bullpen catcher Nate Dammann was likely to toss a few into the crowd — and he was right. After a little while, Dammann made his way out to the bullpen and started walking toward the balls:
I’m happy to report that Tony and I each got one. Here’s a photo of him:
Earlier in the day, I had posted this tweet to ask if anyone would be able to take photos during my TV interview. Tony kindly offered to do it (as did a woman named Kelly), so now that the time had arrived, we headed over together. Before I handed him my camera, I took a photo of the set:
The two TV guys pictured above are Roy Smalley and Dave Benz. Smalley, you may recall, interviewed me in 2010 about my involvement with Pitch In For Baseball; he’s the president of the charity’s board of directors, so he was glad to talk about it with me on the air again.
When it was time for me to head up onto the stage, Tony grabbed my camera and took a TON of photos (of which I’m only going to share two). Here I am getting set up . . .
. . . and here’s a shot that was taken while Dave was introducing me:
After the interview, I caught up with a local ballhawk named Dave Forstad, who had brought his copy of The Baseball. Here we are:
Dave has snagged approximately 800 balls. Just before my trip to Target Field, he sent me a long email with lots of advice about the stadium. He’s a really good guy, and from the little bit that I saw of him during BP, it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing.
Then I got a photo with Kelly . . .
. . . who was one of the charity prize winners last season.
I had to run after that — game time was 10 minutes away, and I *had* to get something to eat — so I told Kelly, Dave, and Tony to find me after the game at the Phillies’ dugout. (Everything is always rushed when I’m at a major league stadium.) I got pepperoni pizza with two minutes to spare, so I ran with it through the concourse and barely made it down to my seat for the start of the game. This was my view:
Because Cole Hamels (Booo!!) was pitching for the Phillies, I’d decided to work the home-plate end of the dugout. I figured he’d strike out lots of batters and that I’d have lots of chances. As it turned out, though, my first opportunity came from a ball that was put in play. Josh Willingham flied out to end the 1st inning; John Mayberry Jr. made the catch in right field, and since I was clearly sitting at the wrong end of the dugout, I darted up the steps and ran one section over and then headed a few rows back down. Mayberry spotted me deep in the crowd and lobbed the ball right to me. It was perfect. It sailed over everyone down in front, and I reached up for an easy catch, raising $500 for Pitch In For Baseball in the process. Here I am with the ball (after having changed into my BIGS gear):
(By the way, why is okay for fans to have sanctioned dance-offs on the dugout roofs between innings, but if fans dare to sit there after the game for quick photos, stadium security goes ballistic? Hmm? Anyone?)
Several people recognized me and congratulated me, including the nearest usher, who was super-cool about it. He told me that he’d let me run up and around and back down into the seats because of the charity, and I realized that he must’ve heard about it from Kirby. While I’d been busy working the Phillies for pre-game toss-ups, I noticed that Kirby was talking to the ushers. At the time, I didn’t think they were talking about me — I really didn’t think much about it at all — but damn, he must’ve put in a good word. (Kirby, I know you read this blog, so thanks for doing that, and thanks for everything. You’ve made Target Field [and baseball in general] so much more fun, and I seriously owe you for it. I just wish we could have a conversation sometime that lasts more than two minutes and isn’t constantly being interrupted by my zealous pursuit of baseballs.)
After snagging that gamer, which, by the way, was my 300th ball overall this season, I thought about heading to the outfield, but I stayed put, and here’s why:
1) The odds of catching a home run ball seemed rather slim.
2) I thought I had a good chance to snag another 3rd-out ball.
3) Lots more people recognized me, and I was schmoozing it up.
4) Jamie Hersch was planning to find me for a follow-up interview.
5) Chad Graff was also planning to come find me.
6) I was loving the view.
Let’s revisit No. 2 on that list for a moment, shall we? The 3rd inning ended with a Joe Mauer groundout to Phillies 2nd baseman Freddy Galvis. Ryan Howard caught Galvis’s throw at 1st base, and on his way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball. Here’s a photo of me with it (while I was still wearing Phillies gear) that Tony took from the adjacent section:
Getting that ball was so easy that I was a bit embarrassed, but the fans around me were loving it. Word must’ve spread about me and the whole charity thing because half the people in my section were now coming up to me and shaking my hand and congratulating me and asking me stuff like, “How do you DO it?” and “What do you think of Target Field?” and “What’s the next stadium you’re visiting?” and so on. Like I said, it was embarrassing. I wasn’t really doing anything special other than wearing the right clothing and being in the right section, but I suppose that’s more strategy than most people even consider.
After snagging that ball, I decided to take a few photos of my surroundings. Here’s what it looked like on my right:
As you can see, there weren’t any kids except for that one little guy with the awesome hair and white t-shirt. No one was shouting at me to give it to him. It wasn’t like that at all. Like I said, everyone seemed to be getting a real kick out of what I was doing, but I still thought it’d be nice to hook him up, so I handed him one of my BP balls. He and his mother were so appreciative that she later asked if she could take a photo of him with me. I gladly obliged, then asked if she’d send it to me, and got her permission to post it on my blog, so here you go:
The kid’s name is Jasiah, he’s seven years old, and he plays shortstop. His mother’s name is Tanaya, and she sent THE nicest email to me later that night. It’s pretty neat to make new friends by doing something as simple as giving away a baseball.
I ended up snagging another 3rd-out ball after the 5th inning — a Joe Mauer strikeout that was tossed to me by Phillies catcher Humberto Quintero. (Quintero is now the sixth player on my thrown balls list whose last name begins with a kue. The others are Chad Qualls, Paul Quantrill, Ruben Quevedo, Robb Quinlan, and Omar Quintanilla. Aren’t you glad to know that?) A minute later, I gave another ball to a different kid (who was sitting in the last row), so you can imagine how much the entire section was buzzing. Several people asked to take photos of/with me. Here’s one . . .
. . . and here’s another:
(The usher pictured above was pretending to beg me for a baseball.)
All of these photos were sent to me by the folks whose cameras/phones they were taken with. I swear I wasn’t seeking all of this attention, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to hide from it. I mean, the attention is good because it proves that the BIGS Baseball Adventure has really taken off. More attention for BIGS Sunflower Seeds. More attention for Pitch In For Baseball. Everyone wins.
Guess who got the 3rd-out ball after the 6th inning? No, not me. It was Tony. He was in the fancy-schmancy club section directly behind home plate, and I took the following photo of him from above:
While all of this was happening, Chad was texting me interview questions, and Jamie was working out a plan for when and where to meet and do the interview. In the top of the 7th inning, she called (while I happened to be in the bathroom — never a dull moment) and said her producers wanted us to do it in the top of the 8th. She asked me where I wanted to meet, and I suggested the standing-room area in deep right field. It would’ve been fun to do it near all my new friends behind the dugout, but I had visions of catching a home run during the interview. How epic would THAT have been?
I told her to meet me near the American flag, and in the bottom of the 7th, I found her there. She’s the one wearing red pants in the following photo:
As planned, the interview began in the top of the 8th, but unfortunately it ended up being VERY brief. Kevin Frandsen singled on the second pitch of the inning, and that was it. The producers told Jamie to wrap it up — she could hear them in her earpiece — so she could send it back to the booth. Why? Because the leadoff man was on. The Phillies had something going. The game was more important than me. What an outrage! But you know what? I was okay with it because in the brief time that I was on the air, I managed to mention Pitch In For Baseball *and* BIGS Sunflower Seeds. Go me.
Before Jamie took off, we got a photo together (in which I was holding my three gamers):
By the time Chad came and found me in the bottom of the 8th, it had gotten dark. (Three pitching changes will do that.) Here we are:
With the Twins clinging to a 3-2 lead, I headed back to my seat in the top of the 9th. This was my view:
Soon after the final out, I took the following photo, which shows two important things:
First, if you look at the Jumbotron, you can see Jamie Hersch interviewing Jamey Carroll, who had scored the winning run. Also, if you look at the field, you can see several Phillies walking toward me from the bullpen. Less than a minute later, Jesus Tiamo, the team’s bullpen catcher, tossed me my 13th and final ball of the day.
Tony and I finally got a photo together:
He ended up snagging eight balls, and as you can see, he stores them in little plastic bags. Here’s his profile on MyGameBalls.com, and while you’re at it, check out his blog, especially the entertaining entry that he wrote about this game.
I also caught up with Dave and Kelly and met some other folks who recognized me.
I lingered in the stadium for such a long time that the lights were dimmed, and the grounds crew started pulling out the tarp:
I also caught the tail end of the FSN post-game show . . .
. . . and eventually got a photo with Roy and Dave when they wrapped up:
Here are a few more random photos for you, starting with my post-game journey on the Light Rail:
Did you notice the man’s t-shirt on the far left?
Here’s the stack of tiramisu pancakes that I ate at IHOP before heading to my hotel room:
Did you hear me? TIRAMISU PANCAKES!!!
Here’s what I did with the ball that I’d snagged from the flower pot:
When I took that photo, the hair dryer was on full blast. I left it there for about 10 minutes, rotating the ball every so often. That kinda did the trick; it dried out fast, but still smells like a compost heap.
Finally, check out Chad’s article about me in the Pioneer Press:
Phew! What a day.
• 303 balls in 39 games this season = 7.77 balls per game.
• 45 balls in 5 lifetime games at Target Field = 9 balls per game.
• 911 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 436 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 21 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, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Target Field
• 6,762 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.)
• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $23.79 raised at this game
• $554.49 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $10,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $32,460.49 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009