In case you haven’t heard (not that there was a press release or anything), I have a newish girlfriend named Hayley. Not only was this her first major league game, but it was also the first professional sporting event she’d ever attended. Wow! (Right?) Here we are outside the stadium:
Hayley has the coolest hair ever. You’ll see a few more photos of it in a bit, but first, check out the huge crowd waiting to get in:
All those fans seemed grumpy, and you know what? I ended up feeling the same way when I ran inside and saw this:
In case you can’t tell, the Mets were not taking batting practice. My only option, therefore, was to camp out along the left-field foul line and try to get a toss-up from the Nationals.
Hayley followed me down to the front row and grabbed a seat on my right:
In the 20 minutes before the Nationals started hitting, two things happened:
1) Bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo threw me a ball (which he’d used to play catch with Stephen Strasburg).
2) A fan named Rich (pictured below in Mets gear) recognized me from this blog and asked me to sign a baseball for him:
Just as we were about to take a couple of photos together, I noticed that BP was starting, so we made a plan to meet later.
Citi Field is one of the worst stadiums for BP, but this was a rare day when there was actually a decent amount of action in the left field seats. Why? Because the wind was blowing out and the Nationals have a bunch of power-hitting righties.
Here’s a photo, taken by Hayley, that shows me running for my second ball — a deep home run by a batter that I couldn’t identify:
Did you notice that I was jumping over a row of seats? The ball sailed 15 feet over my head and deflected back in my direction for an easy snag.
My third ball was thrown by Ross Ohlendorf thanks to my friend Ben Weil who gave me a heads-up. (I hadn’t noticed that Ohlendorf was walking toward a ball on the warning track, and Ben had already gotten one from him in right field, so he was glad to help.)
Ball No. 4 was an Ian Desmond homer that I caught on the fly in the front row.
My next ball was a Jayson Werth homer that I caught “in traffic” after drifting 20 feet to my left. I gave it to the nearest fan, whose bare hands had deflected it.
Two minutes later, Werth cranked another deep fly ball, this time in my direction. My first instinct was to drift down the steps — that’s always my instinct at Citi Field because the seats are two miles from home plate — but because Hayley was sitting directly behind me, I held my ground. I figured it was better to watch the ball fall short than to let my girlfriend get beaned. As it turned out, the ball carried to my spot in the 4th row, and I reached up for the easy catch, saving Hayley’s life in the process. It seriously would’ve nailed her. I then gave it to her, and she photographed it:
My seventh ball of the day was a long home run by Ryan Zimmerman, which landed half a dozen rows back in left-center field. It must’ve hit an armrest (or something else with a hard edge) because the cowhide was punctured. Check it out:
Rich caught up with me after that, and we finally took a few photos. Here’s one that shows him holding the ball that I’d signed:
Hayley, meanwhile, was in awe of her surroundings. (She’s sitting next to me as I’m writing this and just said, “Really?” with a sarcastic tone.) With her own camera, she was taking photos like this . . .
. . . and this:
She also took a photo of me standing around . . .
. . . but who can blame her for that?
(She just said, “Of course you don’t post any of the NICE photos that I took. I took some nice ones of the field.” It’s true. She did. And I’m not posting them. Haha.)
After BP, we took a leisurely stroll around the 100 Level. Our first stop was the section in right-center field. When we wandered down to the front row, a little kid recognized me and said excitedly, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube?!”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “there are lots of guys on YouTube.”
“No, you know, with all the balls? Like, don’t you get one every game?”
“Ha, yeah, pretty much. That’s me.”
He was with two other kids. They were all wearing gloves. I asked them if they’d caught a ball. His friends said they’d each snagged three, but the little dude who recognized me had gotten blanked . . . so I pulled a ball out of my backpack and handed it to him.
On my way out of the section with Hayley, I took the following photo of the three kids. The one I gave the ball to is on the far right:
Hayley was half-impressed and half-amused that so many people recognized me. One person who said hey was Adam from South Dakota — just want to give him a quick shout-out since he’d traveled so far to be at this game.
Okay, time-out for a moment . . .
Do you remember when I hung out recently at Citi Field for a film shoot with the Daily News? Here’s my blog entry about it, in case you missed it — pretty cool stuff. The Mets were on the road, and there was lots of work being done at the stadium. Remember this photo of Shea Bridge? It looked like it was being re-paved, and I wondered why. Well, here’s why:
That looks pretty snazzy. It’s amazing what an All-Star Game will do. (“Oh, hey, a zillion people are gonna be watching — guess we oughta try to make our stadium look nice!”)
Shortly before game time, while Hayley was waiting on line for 10 minutes for a crappy, overpriced cold-cut sandwich from Subway, I got my eighth ball of the day tossed to me near the 3rd-base dugout by a guy whom I can only assume was Landon Brandes, the Nationals’ strength and conditioning coach.
Here’s where we sat for the first six innings . . .
. . . and yes, that’s Hayley (and her rattail) in the foreground. Whenever possible, I have my companions sit in front of me at games. That way, I can still talk to them (or, you know, kiss the back of their neck, for example) while having as much room as possible to run for baseballs.
Because of the weather, there was indeed lots of room to run. Here I am huddled under an umbrella with Hayley:
Of course, there wasn’t anything to run for. That’s because (a) the Mets can’t hit and (b) Matt Harvey was pitching. He took a perfect game into the 5th inning, which Ian Desmond ruined with a towering homer off the facade of the second deck, two sections to my right.
That was the only longball of the night, which is a shame because I really did have a good shot. When the rain intensified, Hayley (and just about everyone else) moved underneath the overhang of the second deck. I sat with her during inning breaks and while left-handed batters were up; when righties stepped to the plate, I went here:
In the 7th inning, we moved to this spot near the Nationals’ dugout:
If I’d been there on my own, I would’ve stayed in the outfield, but because Hayley was with me, I wanted her to see the game (and especially Harvey’s mid-90s heat) up close.
By the way, in the photo above, that’s Hayley standing at the bottom of the staircase. She was interested in Jayson Werth’s beard, so when I noticed him walking slowly back toward the dugout, I sent her down there to get a closer look.
Toward the end of the game, Ben came and found us . . . and photo-bombed:
As for the game itself, I have three words: poor Matt Harvey.
Here are a few more words: he left with a 4-1 lead in the 7th inning, and the Mets’ bullpen managed to blow it. In the top of the 8th, Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-out, three-run double to tie the game, and in the 9th, the Nats scored twice off Bobby Parnell. Final score: Nationals 6, Mets 4.
Here I am at the dugout after the game:
I didn’t get a ball in that spot, but a minute or two later, I moved a section over and got one from Fernando Abad.
Here I am with Hayley before heading out:
When we got home, I asked her if she was interested in writing something for my blog about her experience at the game. She said sure. Here you go:
“While Zack and I were walking around Citi Field, several of the people we encountered made joking remarks along the lines of: ‘Oh, it’s your first game and you’re spending it with this guy? Poor girl.’ But in fact I was glad to be with someone who made me run around for half the time we were there. Maybe sitting in one place, eating Shake Shack and watching the game for three hours is enough to entertain people who are really into the sport, but I probably would’ve been bored. Seeing Zack in action was fun, as was experiencing a stadium in person for the first time. I realized that there was a lot that I didn’t notice when watching games on television. Now I know to listen for players’ intro music selections, many of them amusingly corny, and that cameras really can’t capture the intensity of a 95 mph fastball. Maybe next time I’ll be less in awe of the clouds and finally get to put some of the baseball terminology I’ve picked up in the past few months to use.”
• 334 balls in 44 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.
• 597 balls in 76 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.85 balls per game.
• 916 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 441 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
• 6,793 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)
• $16.92 raised at this game
• $627.92 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $33,033.92 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, four of the six balls that I kept have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side photo of them in regular light and black light: