It’s weird to use the word “hate” to describe a stadium where I’ve averaged more than 14 balls per game, but that pretty much sums up how I feel about Nationals Park. Last season, on September 19th, I was falsely accused of selling baseballs and ejected by stadium security, and the season before that, on August 17th, I was bashed in the face by a security guard during batting practice. Nationals Park is Evil, yet here I was, giving it another shot. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, here’s a photo of me outside the gates with a young man named Jacob:
Jacob recognized me from this blog and asked me to sign a ball, and we ended up crossing paths throughout the day.
As much as I trash-talk Nationals Park, I must admit that there are a few nice things about it, starting with the fact that it opens two and a half hours early. That’s why I’ve snagged so many baseballs here, so I was looking forward to piling up some big numbers.
Unfortunately, when I ran inside at 4:30pm, this was the scene:
The field was set up for BP, but the Nationals were nowhere in sight. Evidently, because they’d played an extra-inning game the night before in Philadelphia, they were too tired to hit. (That game, by the way, went 11 innings and lasted a whopping three hours and 35 minutes. Boo-hoo.)
With absolutely nothing to do for the next hour, I headed over to the left field seats and caught up with these guys:
In the photo above, that’s Ben Weil in the red jersey and Mateo Fischer in the teal shirt. Ben had driven down with me from New York City; Mateo, who used to live in New York, now splits his time between Washington D.C. (where he has family) and Minnesota (where he goes to college).
At around 5pm, I wandered out to right field because of this:
Nationals Park was dead, and I was regretting my decision to be here — and get this: one big reason was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Normally I don’t follow basketball, but I’d watched the first six games and really gotten into it. LeBron James has a way of doing that to me, and I was certifiably bummed about missing the finale. That said, there *was* one more thing that I was still looking forward to doing at Nationals Park — one thing which, if it happened, would almost make the whole day worthwhile; the Rockies were in town, and I was hoping to snag one of their 20th-anniversary commemorative balls.
Long story short:
I didn’t get that ball for a while — the pitchers had been warming up with regular balls — and as you can imagine, I was pretty damn excited. It wasn’t until BP was well underway that one of the batters hit it to the warning track in left-center, and Jorge De La Rosa threw it to me.
I don’t actually like that logo. I think it’s too dark, and the mountains are not mountainous enough, and of course I hate the fact that there aren’t years. Every commemorative ball, in my opinion, should include the year(s) of whatever is being celebrated. Why not add a small “1993-2013” in there somewhere? Remember the Chipper Jones commemorative balls that I snagged on 9/29/12 at Turner Field? Those had a perfect logo. There were lots of commemorative balls last year, some better than others. The 100th anniversary Fenway Park balls included the first year of that ballpark, but the Dodgers weren’t as smart in designing this logo for the 50th anniversary of their stadium. Check out all of my commemorative balls and see for yourself.
I managed to snag two more (regular) balls during BP in this section:
The first was a Todd Helton homer that I caught on the fly, and the second (which I handed to a little girl) was a random toss-up from the team’s strength coach.
I caught up with my friend Wayne Cimons (aka “Father Puck” for those of you who’ve been reading the comments on his blog for a long time) and headed to the dugout toward the end of BP:
I got some food after BP, caught up with Ben and Mateo, and eventually headed back to the Rockies’ dugout. This was my view for the first pitch of the game:
I still had one more thing to accomplish: snagging a game-used ball.
As you might already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is sponsoring me this season and sending me to all 30 major league stadiums. (I wish they’d sponsor my trip to Australia next year for the Opening Series, but hell, I’ll be there regardless.) For every stadium at which I snag a gamer, they’re going to donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t take long for me to cross Nationals Park off my list. With two outs in the bottom of the 1st inning, Adam LaRoche went down swinging at a 3-2 pitch from Roy Oswalt. Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba jogged off the field with the ball and flipped it to me on his way into the dugout. Here it is:
An inning later, I got another 3rd-out ball — a first-pitch fly out hit by Kurt Suzuki to Michael Cuddyer. It was very very very very very easy. (That’s one “very” for each ball I ended up snagging over the course of the day.)
I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for another, but I decided to head to the outfield instead and try to catch a home run. There were very few empty seats (the attendance was nearly 32,000), so I ended up here with very little room to maneuver:
Ben and Mateo were sitting on that same staircase, more than a dozen rows back, and eventually I went and hung out with them for a bit:
In the photo above, Mateo is pretending to take his own photo, and Ben is holding up a stack of All-Star ballots. He’d heard about a promotion at the stadium through which he could win a free Bobblehead doll if he punched out 500 ballots. So he did. I’d call him crazy, but who am I to talk?
I sat in the Red Porch seats in the middle innings, then got some more food around the 7th-inning stretch, and eventually made my way back to the dugout:
Jacob was sitting nearby in the front row and had snagged a 3rd-out ball — the very first one of his life. Here he is holding it up:
There was only one home run hit all night — a 419-foot blast by Ian Desmond. Even if I hadn’t been sitting behind the dugout at the time, I wouldn’t have had a chance to catch it. Look where it landed.
After the final out of the Nationals’ 5-1 victory, I caught up with a couple of friendly ushers named Kenyon and Troy. (I should’ve gotten a photo with them. Damn.) I got to know them two years ago when I attended a bunch of games at Nationals Park. They still remember me, and they’re really cool, so you see? The stadium isn’t totally bad.
On my way out with Ben, I checked the score of Game 7. It was half-time, and the Heat were beating the Spurs by (I think) two points. Hmm. Even though we had a four-hour drive ahead of us, we decided to go watch the second half on a huge screen at a nearby outdoor venue called The Bullpen. Check it out:
The Heat won. LeBron is good.
Seeing the game was a nice end to an otherwise difficult day. (And in case you’re wondering, the sun was coming up by the time I got into bed.)
• 308 balls in 40 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
• 253 balls in 18 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 14.06 balls per game.
• 912 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 437 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 22 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, Target Field, and Nationals Park
• 6,767 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.)
• 28 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $9.15 raised at this game
• $563.64 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $32,969.64 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Here’s a bonus photo for you — a side-by-side comparison of one of the balls I snagged. Check out the invisible ink stamp (shown here in black light) on the right: