Under normal circumstances, I would’ve stayed home. The weather was miserable, and I knew there wouldn’t be batting practice, but this wasn’t a normal day. A special friend of mine was in town — someone I only get to see a few times a year — and he dropped by my family’s bookstore at around 11am. Here’s a photo of us:
My friend’s name is Heath. Really cool guy. Loves talking baseball.
This was his first visit to the store, which occupies a small building in Manhattan and has lots more stuff than just books. The photo above was taken in the autograph department on the sixth floor.
Remember when I had lunch with Heath last month in St. Louis? Remember when he told me that when he was much younger, he had thought about becoming a history teacher? Well, he really seemed to enjoy the store (which, by the way, is called Argosy). I gave him an extensive tour, which included a stop in the second-floor gallery, where we flipped through a bunch of 19th-century baseball prints.
We hung out in the store for about an hour and then headed out to lunch at a place called Burger Heaven. Our table was positioned across from a large mirror, so before our food came, I took the following photo:
As for the food (since I’m sure everyone is wondering), Heath had a turkey burger, I had a tuna sandwich on a lightly-toasted “everything” bagel, and we shared a small side order of curly fries. Everything was going great until the end of the meal. That’s when the waitress handed us the check, and it occurred to me that I’d left my wallet in my backpack in the autograph department. Ohmygod, so embarrassing!! I often keep everything in my backpack (keys, phone, wallet, etc.) and take stuff out only when necessary, but damn, that’s a lousy excuse. In this case, I flat-out forgot, and I felt terrible. Heath was cool about it, though. He paid for the meal and poked fun at me, and I promised to pick up the tab next time, but you know what? In a way, he kinda owed me lunch. He had offered to pay for me in St. Louis, and I was like, “Thanks but save your money. BIGS is paying for all my food on the road, but if we meet up in New York, then I’ll be on my own, so how about you treat me then?” and he was like, “Alright, cool.” So you see? I did nothing wrong! But I still felt like an ass.
As always, I could write a chapter’s worth of stuff based on everything I talked about with Heath, but for now, I’ll just share one cool story that he told me: when he was in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, he pitched for a team that had a cramped/stuffy clubhouse, so whenever he arrived at the ballpark, he got changed quickly and sat around outside in the dugout. As a result, he got to see all the visiting teams take batting practice, and he paid close attention to the hitters’ tendencies. (At that level, there weren’t detailed scouting reports, so this was the best way to gain an advantage.) Pretty smart, huh? Every now and then, a teammate would approach him and say, “How come I can’t get that guy out with 97, but you get him out with 88?” and Heath would be like, “Are you able to hit the outside corner with your fastball?” and his teammate would say, “Well, no,” and Heath was like, “You can’t just throw your hardest down the middle and expect to blow guys away. This isn’t high school or college. You actually have to pitch.”
Heath is not just a baseball player; he’s a baseball fan and expert and has a unique perspective on things. He truly loves the game and knows SO MUCH about it. (We discussed the teams are likely to make or miss the playoffs and the reasons behind it. He told me some stuff I promised I’d never repeat — rumors, for example, about various players, and he also named a specific/underperforming team that’s known among MLB insiders to have terrible clubhouse chemistry.) Usually, whenever I talk baseball with someone, I’m the more knowledgeable one, but whenever I hang with Heath, I learn things.
We finished lunch at around 1pm, and I walked him to the subway. He’d found out earlier (when we were at the bookstore) that early BP was canceled, so before we parted ways, he offered to text me with an update on regular BP.
“I’m planning to be there regardless,” I said, “but sure, let me know.” And he did. At 3:24pm, I got a message from him that simply said, “No BP.”
With that in mind, I braced myself for an extra-dull day at Citi Field and showed up proudly wearing my Diamondbacks hat:
There wasn’t much action when the stadium opened at 5:10pm:
As you can see, two D’backs were playing catch along the left field foul line. The player closest to me was Randall Delgado, and I assumed that the other guy was Patrick Corbin. His jersey was covered with a warm-up shirt, and I stayed 20 (or so) rows back, so I obviously didn’t get a good look at his face. When they finished throwing, Delgado pulled a ball out of his back pocket and flipped it to a fan in the front row; Corbin chucked *his* ball all the way back to me. It was beautiful, and oh! I forgot to mention that before Heath headed into the subway, I reminded him about my consecutive games streak. I told him I’d gotten at least one ball at every game I’d attended since September of 1993 — “more than 900 games,” I said. I told him that because there probably wasn’t gonna be BP at Citi Field, I was nervous about getting shut out.
“You’ll catch a home run,” he said.
“During the game?! I can’t rely on that.”
“Why not? You got two in one night earlier this season.”
“Yeah, but I’ve been to 43 *other* games this season at which I haven’t gotten any.”
“Well,” he said, “if you still need one at the end of the night, let me know.”
I figured I wasn’t going to need his help, but it was great to know that he was looking out for me. Anyway, now that you know all of this, I can tell you that after I got the ball along the left field foul line, I sent him the following text: “I got a ball from Corbin, so the streak is intact.”
His response was brief: “Cool.”
Corbin and Delgado signed autographs before heading inside. I could’ve gotten them both, but decided just to get Corbin. Here’s his signature on my ticket:
A little while later, several Mets began throwing along the right field foul line:
In the photo above, that’s Josh Edgin on the edge of the grass and David Aardsma farther out. I didn’t expect to get the ball because there are always more fans on the home team’s side, but somehow, I ended up getting Aardsma to toss it to me.
I chatted with a bunch of fans and employees before the game (including a young man named Harry, who likes this blog and asked to take a photo with me) and ended up here:
I liked my chances of catching a home run. The pitching matchup (Wade Miley vs. Shaun Marcum) was favorable, and the seats weren’t crowded. Paul Goldschmidt kinda proved me right by going yard in the top of the 1st inning, but the ball landed in left-center field (in the section closest to the batter’s eye).
Here’s a random photo of someone/something that caught my eye in the middle innings:
Eventually, my friend Ben Weil (who always seems to make ridiculous faces in photos) dropped by:
In the top of the 6th inning, he pointed out something special on the scoreboard. Can you spot it in the following photo?
Did you see the player note? I snagged that home run ball and gave it back to Didi after the game.
With one out in the bottom of the 7th and runners on 1st and 2nd base, Heath Bell entered the game:
Here he is on the scoreboard:
Four pitches later, Josh Satin grounded into a fielder’s choice, and three pitches after that, John Buck hit a foul pop-up to end the inning — very cool to see my friend pitching well against his former team.
Something scary happened in the bottom of the 8th: Gerardo Parra dove for a ball and landed VERY awkwardly on the warning track in right-center. From where I was sitting, it appeared that he landed and slid on his face. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it was ugly! This was the scene moments later:
Parra was slow to get up . . .
. . . but at least he *did* get up:
In the photo above, you can see that he’s holding a bottle of water against his forehead. He ended up coming out of the game, but appeared not to be seriously injured.
In the top of the 13th inning, I came VERY close to catching a Cody Ross home run. Click here for the highlight, and you’ll see me running across an entire section. The quick version of what happened is that I started in the 7th row, and the ball landed in the 2nd row, one section to my right. There just wasn’t enough time for me to get there, and it ended up rolling near two fans in the front row. I was frustrated as hell, but hey, at least the D’backs were winning.
So much for that.
I moved behind the 3rd base dugout in the bottom of the 13th:
I got there just in time to see Andrew Brown hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run, walk-off single off Josh Collmenter.
Final score: Mets 5, Diamondbacks 4.
I’d been looking forward to saying goodnight to Heath, but because the D’backs lost, all the players made a beeline for the clubhouse — a sudden/disappointing end to an otherwise great day.
• 336 balls in 45 games this season = 7.47 balls per game.
• 599 balls in 77 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.78 balls per game.
• 917 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 442 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
• 6,795 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)
• $3.76 raised at this game
• $631.68 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $33,037.68 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009