It was my mom’s birthday, and we celebrated by driving down from New York City to Nationals Park. Here we are outside the center field gate:
Believe it or not, this was her idea. The last time we’d attended a game together was ten months ago — 8/22/12 at Citi Field to be specific. That’s the day she tripped on these stupid steps, and I lost my beloved Rawlings infielders glove in the hectic aftermath, so we were eager to give it another shot. Of course, knowing that I dislike both New York stadiums, she suggested that we take a little road trip, so here we were.
Look who else was here:
In the photo above, that’s Rick Gold on the left and Mateo Fischer on the right — two good friends, who both happen to be talented ballhawks. As for the cardboard box, that contained 1,500 All-Star ballots, which Mateo had punched out. (He’s insane and dedicated — two marvelous qualities.)
Here’s where I stood for most of batting practice:
The Red Porch seats uses to be great. Now they kinda suck, but I still snagged a few baseballs. The first one was thrown by Jordan Zimmerman, and I handed it to a little girl on my right. Ten minutes later, I got Ross Ohlendorf to throw me another by shouting that it was my mom’s birthday. Here she is holding that ball . . .
. . . and if you look closely, you can see Ohlendorf (No. 43) standing in the background.
My mom, by the way, didn’t mind being “used” for my own personal ballhawking gain. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that she enjoyed it, and she was good at it too; when I first shouted at Ohlendorf, and he turned around to look at me, my mom smiled and waved — perfect timing and instincts.
My 3rd ball was a Jayson Werth homer that landed in the seats. Ball No. 4 was thrown by Ross Detwiler as the Nationals started jogging off the field, and then I snagged another from the gap with my glove trick. I handed that one to the closest fans and then changed into my Diamondbacks gear.
Okay, time-out for a moment . . .
Remember when I had lunch with Heath Bell before the game on June 5th in St. Louis? Remember when we talked about hanging out in New York when the Diamondbacks come to Citi Field? Well, Heath didn’t know that I was going to be at Nationals Park, so while I was driving, he happened to text me to ask when I was going to be free the following week. (The D’backs will be in town for four games, starting on Monday, July 1st.) With my mom’s help (because I was driving), I texted him back to say that I was on my way to the game and that we should discuss our plan in person.
Okay, time-in . . .
Soon after the D’backs started taking BP, Heath spotted me in left-center and came over to say hey. We talked for a few minutes and made a plan for New York. Then he and my mom chatted for a bit:
That pretty cute, no?
Twenty minutes later, I saw this:
In the photo above, the guy with the shaved head is D’backs manager Kirk Gibson; he and Heath were clearly talking about pitching mechanics.
I moved to right-center for the last group of hitters. Here’s a photo of the very last guy to take swings:
It was some random army guy — I’ve never seen that before — who failed to hit the ball out of the infield.
I didn’t snag any balls during the Diamondbacks’ portion of BP; the players just weren’t tossing much into the crowd (thumbs-down to A.J. Pollock), and the few homers went to right field or straight-away left.
After BP, my mom and I got pizza and ate it here:
The nearest usher saw us standing there and asked, “Where are your seats?” When I told him we were gonna be in left-center field, he offered to seat us in his section. He was actually the second usher who offered us a spot. The other was in right-center. I politely declined his offer, but when several Diamondbacks came out to do their pre-game throwing, I asked if I could go down into the seats for a few minutes to try to get a ball. The usher said it was fine, and as a result, I worked my way down to the dugout and got Willie Bloomquist to toss me my 6th ball of the day. THIS is how a stadium should be run. THIS is how fans should be treated. But in New York City, it’s just the opposite.
Anyway, this was our view at the start of the game:
In the top of the 1st inning, I had an entire empty row on my right . . .
. . . but it didn’t stay like that for long.
Thankfully, because of the layout of the Red Porch section, I was still able to get over to the bullpen when the seats began filling up, and I took advantage of the mobility a bit later. When Adam LaRoche hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 3rd inning that landed in the bullpen, I hurried over to see if I could get Heath to toss it to me. Unfortunately, though, a security guard retrieved it and appeared to be keeping it, so I returned to my seat while the inning continued. After the 3rd out, I walked back over to the edge of the bullpen. I didn’t have my glove — all my stuff was on the seat next to my mom — so I was surprised to see Heath looking up for me. With no hesitation, he pulled a ball out of his pocket and threw it to me from about 30 feet away. I was holding my camera in my right hand, so I bare-handed the ball with my left.
The stadium was very loud at that moment (as stadiums often are between innings), so I tried my best to shout at him.
“IS THAT THE ACTUAL HOME RUN BALL?!”
I wasn’t sure if Heath heard me, but he did seem to give me a subtle nod before walking off.
All I could do at that point was photograph the ball . . .
. . . and head back to my seat. Here I am with it:
I wasn’t positive that it was the home run ball, but I was pretty sure, so for the time being, I treated it as such. I even took a photo of the jumbotron when LaRoche came up to bat again in the 5th inning:
Knowing that he wouldn’t get the message until much later, I texted Heath to (a) thank him and (b) ask if the ball he’d tossed me was THE ball.
After the 7th inning, my mom and I moved here:
The 8th inning ended with an Anthony Rendon flyout to right fielder Gerardo Parra. Given the fact that I was 16 rows back on the wrong (home-plate) end of the dugout, I didn’t think there was any chance I’d get the ball, but as I saw it get tossed around between the fielders on their way in, I figured I might as well stand up and wave my arms just in case. Martin Prado ended up with it, and as he approached the warning track, I saw him scanning the crowd. Then in happened: he spotted me and fired a seed in my direction. It sailed over everyone’s heads down in front and came right to me. I had to reach up and maybe even jump a couple inches — I don’t remember that level of detail — but I can tell you that I caught it. My mom was stunned, as was Mateo who’d recently moved to my staircase (in preparation for a post-game umpire ball). And you know what? So was I. I’d never gotten a 3rd-out ball thrown from such a great distance.
After the game, which the Nationals won, 7-5, Mateo and I ended up at the outfield end of the dugout. Here he is, not quite prepared to have his picture taken:
Did you notice the three guys walking in from the bullpen? Heath was on the right, and when he approached the dugout (and stopped to sign an autograph for a kid), I asked him about the LaRoche home run. He said that the guard in the bullpen told him he was supposed to keep the ball and give it back to the Nationals, but when the guard set it down for a moment, Heath went over to the equipment bag and pulled out a different ball and swapped it with the home run ball. HAHAHA!!! I love it. (By the way, in case anyone’s wondering, Heath said I could blog about this, so it’s not like I’m gonna get him in trouble.) I feel sorry for LaRoche — the poor sap thinks *he* has the ball — but I consider it payback for all the abuse I’ve taken at Nationals Park over the years, including:
1) Management’s piss-poor handling of a rainout on June 3, 2009.
2) Getting elbowed in the face by a despicable security guard on August 17, 2011.
3) Getting falsely accused of selling baseballs and ejected on September 19, 2012.
You know what? The LaRoche home run is just the beginning of payback. The ushers were all very nice to me this time around — no doubt my mom’s presence had a lot to do with it — but the team still has a loooooong way to go before I’ll forgive and forget.
At around midnight, my mom and I found ourselves here:
That hotel room was in Baltimore. We were planning to be at Camden Yards the next day . . .
• 321 balls in 42 games this season = 7.64 balls per game.
• 261 balls in 19 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 13.74 balls per game.
• 914 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 439 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 30 lifetime game home run balls (24 directly off the bat; six tossed)
• 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
• 6,780 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.)
• 30 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.88 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.04 raised at this game
• $603.48 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $33,009.48 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009