Do you remember when the Mets unveiled the logo for the 2013 All-Star Game? It happened in a pre-game ceremony on August 7, 2012, and when I blogged about it the next day, I threw a little parenthetical in there which said, “(If anyone feels like buying me a ticket for the 2013 Home Run Derby or All-Star Game, I’ll share half the balls I snag. Just putting it out there now because it’s never too early to start planning.)” The following day, I got an email from someone who offered to spend up to $1,000 to send me to the Derby. Ultimately, rather than using all that money to buy the very best ticket, he decided to split it up and buy me two decent tickets — one for the Derby and another for the All-Star Game, and so, 11 months after he first contacted me, here I was:
This was my fourth Home Run Derby, and I’m happy to say that I haven’t paid to attend any of them. For the 2007 Derby at AT&T Park, a friend bought me a ticket and flew me out to California as part of a Watch With Zack package that he sold on eBay. The following season, a different friend gave me a ticket to the 2008 Derby at Yankee Stadium (in exchange for half the balls), and for the 2011 Derby at Chase Field, State Farm hooked me up with an all-expenses-paid trip.
Anyway, as you probably determined from the previous photo, I arrived at Citi Field VERY early. Not only did I hope to beat the crowd, but I wanted to have plenty of time to wander and soak in all the hoopla. The last time the Mets had hosted the All-Star Game was in 1964, and the next time they host it, I’ll probably be old enough to get on the bus for half-price, so why NOT get there early?
This was the scene on the 3rd-base side of the stadium . . .
. . . and here’s what it looked like on the 1st-base side:
Several minutes later, I heard sirens in the parking lot and rushed over to see what was going on. Check it out:
In the photo above, do you see the bus in the background? I heard someone say that the National League All-Stars were on it, so I headed over here to *try* to catch a glimpse of them:
At Citi Field, you can’t get anywhere near the players as they enter . . . ever. Those barricades and covered fences are always there, even for regular-season games. As a fan, the best you can do is see the tops of the taller players’ heads as they walk inside. It’s one of the many reasons why this stadium sucks.
My solution was to stand against the fence and hold my camera high above my head and zoom in and hold the button down. “Continuous mode” is a beautiful thing, and although my photos tuned out kinda blurry, I still think they’re pretty cool. Here are the first three guys that got off the bus:
In the photo above, that Joey Votto in the gray pants. He’s shaking the hand of Bryce Harper, who appears to be carrying a plastic take-out container. The player behind them is Jordan Zimmermann.
Here’s a four-part photo of some players walking by themselves — Domonic Brown, Marco Scutaro, Jean Segura, and Patrick Corbin:
I wonder what was inside Corbin’s box.
Here’s a photo of Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman, and Jeff Locke:
Ready for a four-part photo with twelve players? See how many you can recognize, and then I’ll identify everyone:
Okay, here goes . . .
1) Mark Melancon (the worst-dressed player, in my non-expert opinion)
2) Paul Goldschmidt (walking confidently . . . I like it)
3) Travis Wood (so clean-shaven that it took me a minute to figure out who he was)
4) Carlos Gonzalez (carrying his own bag — a man of the people!)
5) Edward Mujica (who looks like he’s learning how to walk)
6) Joey Votto (who’s forgotten something and returned to the bus)
7) Madison Bumgarner (cheer up, buddy)
8) Buster Posey (I think — hard to tell based on the back of his head)
9) Adam Wainwright (who looked freakishly tall in street clothes)
10) Troy Tulowitzki (oh, the after-hours stories I’ve heard about HIM)
11) Michael Cuddyer (who “looks [expletive deleted] OLD” according to my girlfriend)
12) Brandon Phillips (whose attire matches his personality)
Here are Sergio Romo and Andrew McCutchen . . .
. . . and finally, we have Carlos Beltran, Jason Grilli, Jose Fernandez, and Aroldis Chapman:
I’d been planning to enter the Bullpen Gate, and by “planning,” I mean obsessing/worrying for weeks. The Bullpen Gate is in right-center field, and when the stadium opened, I wanted to get out there as quickly as possible. Why all the stress? Because at Citi Field, there’s one gate that always opens half an hour earlier than all the others — the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is located at home plate. I had heard that “all gates” were going to open at 5:15pm for the Derby, but I didn’t believe it. Why? Because the Mets, quite simply, are inept and unreliable. And sure enough, every employee that I asked about the gates gave a different answer. GEEEAAAHHH!!!
At around 2pm, there were a few fans already waiting outside the Bullpen Gate . . .
. . . and I seriously didn’t know what to do.
Feeling anxious about my decision, I waited there too. Fifteen minutes later, some random guy with a reporter’s pad approached the other fans and started asking them about catching baseballs at the Home Run Derby. When he finished with them, I asked if he was with the New York Times, and indeed he was; a friend of mine had run into this reporter half an hour earlier and told him about me, so we were actually looking for each other at this point. This reporter’s name, by the way, is Corey Kilgannon, and we ended up talking for quite a while.
At around 3pm, several employees began setting up a row of tables and chairs inside the Bullpen Gate, right in front of the main part of the gate. This seemed rather odd, so I got their attention and asked where exactly I should wait in order to be at the front of the line. One of the employees walked over and said, “I don’t think this gate is opening to the public. There’s gonna be a private event here.”
Wow. Just wow. I ran over to McFadden’s (that’s the bar/restaurant built into the stadium) to ask if THEY were going to open at 5:15pm, but of course they didn’t know. (“We haven’t been told anything,” they said.) Then I ran back past the Bullpen Gate and around the corner to the Right Field gate. Thankfully, there wasn’t much of a line there, but I still didn’t know what to do. One of the fans there called the Mets’ front office and asked about that gate and was told that it *would* open at 5:15pm. Then we heard 5pm from someone else. Several minutes later, my friend Ben Weil called me from the parking and asked where he should go. He, too, planned to camp out in right field for BP, so I told him to grab a spot in line outside the Rotunda. That way, if I found out that the Right Field gate WAS definitely going to open at the same time as all the others, he could run over there and jump in line with me, and if I found out that it wasn’t going to open on time, then I could run over and join him, and at least we’d be among the first fans to enter the stadium somewhere. People with standing room tickets were showing up early to claim spots on the Shea Bridge, autograph collectors were there to grab spots in the front row along the foul lines, and of course there were lots of folks who were going to head straight to the outfield seats to try to catch baseballs. Jesus Aitch. It was so stressful, and I’d done everything ahead of time to figure all this crap out. Several weeks earlier, I’d heard that there was going to be a big security briefing at Citi Field on July 11th, so I arranged for two different Mets employees to find out how things were going to be and to email me. Unfortunately, the briefing, according to one of these employees, “turned out to be a customer service rally,” and I didn’t get any insider info.
A little after 4pm, a security supervisor poked his head out and told everyone that the Rotunda was going to open at 4:30, so naturally, we all freaked out and ran over there. My spot outside the Right Field gate had been in the shade, but at the Rotunda, everyone was forced to stand in the sun, and let me tell you, it was HOT. To my delight, Ben had managed to get a spot at the front of the line. Here he is, reacting to the suffocating humidity:
Five minutes later, one of the kids who’d run over with me from the Right Field gate told me that he’d just heard that it WAS going to open at 5:15pm. WHAT THE HELL?! He said his dad had stayed at the Right Field gate, and as soon as we all left, the supervisor came back out and apologized and said he’d gotten confused by the gate-opening time for the All-Star Game (which was supposed to be 4:30pm) and that all the gates *would* be opening at the same time. I was so pissed off at that point that there truly aren’t words to describe it. What was I supposed to do — go BACK to the Right Field gate? What if the kid and/or the supervisor was wrong? What if they were right? Two years ago in Phoenix, there was practically a stampede when the gates opened for the Derby, and the left field seats filled up shockingly fast. Now, suddenly, after weeks of planning, and after having gotten to the stadium four hours before the gates were supposed to open, I felt everything slipping away.
Ben and I decided to stay at the Rotunda and to run like hell when it opened. But then what? At the Derby in Phoenix, fans were actually forced to go TO THEIR SEATS during batting practice. Not only did I have to show my left field ticket just to get into the left field seats, but the ushers made me (or at least they tried to make me) stay in my seat in Row 12, or wherever the hell it was. It was a disaster, and I was paranoid that the way-too-strict Mets would have a similar policy in place. I had a ticket in right-center field, but it was waaay at the back of the section. If I had to stay there for all of BP, I was probably going to be shut out, and for the record, the last time I was shut out at a major league stadium was September 10, 1993. Do you understand why I was so stressed? Worse than the rules themselves was not knowing what the rules were going to be. I’m usually in control when I go to games, but now I felt helpless.
Here’s something cool that the Mets did . . . sort of. Half an hour before the gates were (supposedly) going to open, manager Terry Collins walked through the crowd:
Of course, there was no warning, so most people didn’t even realize he was there, and he was surrounded by security so you couldn’t get THAT close to him, and they all walked very fast, so I was like, “Oh hey! Oh . . . well, bye.”
Fifteen minutes before the gates were (supposedly) going to open, I walked several hundred feet away from the stadium and photographed everyone:
I’d actually expected the lines to be much longer, so hmm . . . maybe I was going to survive this day after all?
Finally, after hours of agonizing, the gates DID open at 5:15pm, and I made a frickin’ beeline for my section in right-center. When I first got a glimpse of it from the 1st-base side, I could see that it was mostly empty, but what was gonna happen during the minute that it’d take for me to run out there? Would a bunch of people get there ahead of me? Had the Right Field gate opened? I was so nervous, but all I could do was keep running. Thankfully, when I made it to the outfield, all I had to do was show my ticket to a guard at the top of the stairs, and then I was free to go anywhere within the section. WOO-HOO!! I ran down to the front row and grabbed the spot beside the batter’s eye. Here I am with a dopey grin on my face:
I didn’t expect any homers to come directly to me, but I’d been planning or at least hoping to be able to run out onto the batter’s eye in case any balls landed on my right.
So much for that.
Not only was there a Chevrolet truck positioned next to me, but a guard was standing behind me on the slanted, black surface. Check it out:
During regular-season games, fans *are* allowed to run out there for baseballs, but it doesn’t happen often. Most people don’t even realize they can do it, and even so, there aren’t many opportunities. Here at the Home Run Derby, however, I didn’t bother asking the guard if I could run out there. I feared I might get ejected for even thinking about it, so I turned my attention back to the field and focused on getting a toss-up.
Then it happened:
[Cue the sound of angels singing.]
Carlos Gomez tossed me that ball, and I was very very very VERY very happy and relieved. But what if I didn’t snag another? Who would get to keep it — me or the guy who’d bought me the ticket?
Several minutes later, a ball landed in the gap on my left:
Under normal circumstances, it would’ve been an easy snag with my glove trick, but here at the Derby, I was nervous about (a) getting busted by security and (b) losing my spot, so I didn’t go for it.
Ten minutes later, I got another ball (with a Home Run Derby logo) from Clayton Kershaw, and despite the fact that I’d jumped and caught it back-handed above my right shoulder, the people on my left complained that I “stole” it from them. Unreal. Thankfully they soon snagged a ball and stopped pestering me.
That was it for the National League’s portion of BP. Here are the American Leaguers warming up in left field:
As I’ve mentioned before in other blog entries about Home Run Derbies, there are always lots of kids running around the outfield during BP — players’ and coaches’ kids, to be specific, and some of them throw a LOT of balls into the crowd. That said, here’s a photo of my third ball . . .
. . . which was thrown by a little kid with “BARR 13” on the back of his jersey. (It’s unusual to see a worn-out Home Run Derby ball.) Here’s a photo of BARR, along with Prince Fielder’s kid who tossed me ball No. 4:
Does anyone know who BARR is? I have no clue, but it’d be nice to find out. I’d also like to know who this guy is . . .
. . . because he threw me my fifth ball of the day (after I asked him for it in Spanish). I apologize for the crappy quality of the image of him facing the camera, but he was very far away, so I had to zoom way in, and I was also shooting into the sun. I think it’s Mariano Rivera Jr., but I’m not sure.
Toward the end of BP, the left field seats were insanely crowded:
Corey (the newspaper reporter) caught up with me to find out if I’d snagged any baseballs. Here he is (with the colorful, striped bag) looking at me:
Mariano Rivera Sr., meanwhile, was being interviewed by Harold Reynolds in center field:
When BP ended, there was a ball sitting nearby on the warning track.
Several minutes later, a groundskeeper walked by and tossed it to me.
All six of my baseballs had the Home Run Derby logo on them.
The Shea Bridge was an absolute zoo . . .
. . . but that’s what I expected. The whole stadium was packed — the official attendance for this event was 43,558 — and that’s a good thing. Although the dreadfully slow, commercial-packed pace of the Derby has alienated lots of fans, it’s still extremely popular.
Before the Derby got underway, I wandered all over the place, caught up with some friends, used the bathroom, got some food, etc. Basically, I got everything out of the way before 8pm so that I wouldn’t have any distractions when it mattered most.
In the days leading up to the Derby, I’d considered positioning myself behind the seats in the 2nd deck in right field, but when the time came, it seemed like such a long shot that I gave up on that spot. Instead, I went with a different strategy and pretty much stayed here all night:
Five of the eight participants in the Derby were left-handed, or at least that’s what the media had reported, so I figured that right field was the place to be. As it turned out, though, two high-school studs each got to take some cuts (with metal bats!) as part of some type of bonus round; they both batted right-handed and launched balls all over left field . . . and I was trapped in right field at the time.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t see the batters, I felt like I had a good chance of getting some home run action. I could kinda see the Jumbotron through the beams of the Shea Bridge . . .
. . . so I knew when each pitch/swing was happening. In the photo above, the bridge was more crowded than it was for most of the Derby. The security guards out there did a decent job of confining all the people with standing-room tickets to the front of the walkway. That left lots of room in back for people to pass through, and there were times when there was quite a bit of open space. I knew that it was going to take quite a blast to reach me, no doubt upwards of 460 feet, but I knew it was possible. Unfortunately, there were very few balls that actually flew in my direction. It was strange and *very* frustrating. If anything had come near me, I would’ve had a great chance of catching it, but there just weren’t any opportunities. Sure, I could’ve camped out in the seats in right-center, and of course I’d considered getting a ticket on the lower level in left-center, but those areas seemed lousy. Lots of balls landed there, but because there was no aisle or walkway, if I caught anything, it would’ve been a matter of luck. In the regular seats, balls would’ve had to come right to me, and that didn’t seem ideal. That’s why I picked the weird spot next to the bridge, but it completely backfired.
I thought it was cool to be near the ESPN tent until I imagined what Barry Larkin and Curt Schilling were saying about me:
When Yoenis Cespedes was due to bat late in the 2nd round, I headed up to the 2nd deck in left field. He had hit lots of balls there his first time up, so I figured . . . why not try to see if I can get into a good spot? To my surprise, it was easy. Lots of fans had already left (because David Wright had been eliminated), and some of the guards weren’t checking tickets! I didn’t catch any home runs up there, but I liked my chances; I’d found an empty seat on a staircase, so at least I was able to move up and down.
After Cespedes finished hitting, I ran back downstairs for the final round — Cespedes versus Bryce Harper. Those were the two guys who were gonna be competing, and the left-handed Harper was going to be swinging first. That’s when I posted this tweet, announcing that I’d be in the 2nd deck for Cespedes. Harper’s turn at bat was worthless. He hit eight home runs (which isn’t bad), but none of them came anywhere near my spot beside the bridge. Then I raced back to the 2nd deck and got ready for my final chance. This was the view:
Remember when I blogged about what I was planning to wear at the Derby? Well, don’t be fooled by the white shirt that I wore during BP. For the Derby itself, I wore the yellow Homer Simpson shirt, which can be seen in the following screen shot:
Cespedes hit two home runs RIGHT at me in the final round. I’m telling you, the direction could not have been better. Unfortunately, though, the first one fell five feet short of the 2nd deck, and the second one landed just above me in the upper deck. What a pisser. And that was it. He ended up crushing the clincher to dead center — an absolute blast that hit the back wall of the batter’s eye on the fly! Amazing. But also disappointing. I really wanted to catch a home run during the Derby, and I failed.
Before leaving the stadium, I headed over to the 3rd-base side. While Cespedes was being interviewed on the field, look who was decked out in A’s gear in the front row behind the dugout:
That’s Ben. The dude has a zillion hats and jerseys, and he practically brought them all to the Home Run Derby.
Here’s a photo of Cespedes being interviewed:
Here I am (drenched in sweat) with my six baseballs . . .
. . . and here are the balls themselves (three of which I was gonna have to give away):
Did you notice how weird the “2013” looks on the Home Run Derby logo? The first two digits appear to be navy blue on a white background, and the last two digits are the opposite — white on a navy blue background. I don’t like that at all, but I do think the apple looks nice.
Evidently, toward the end of the Derby, there’d been a subway fire on the No. 7 line that screwed up everyone’s commute back to Manhattan. Here’s an article about it with some photos. Some of my friends got in touch to ask if I got caught up in it, and the answer is no. Trains were suspended (or should I say “Cespended”?) at around 10:40pm, and by the time I left the stadium well after midnight, everything was running smoothly. Always remember that the best way to beat the crowd is to outlast it.
Finally, speaking of articles, here’s the one by Corey Kilgannon in the New York Times. You’ll find me in the final two paragraphs.
• 6 balls at this game (and yes, I do count the Home Run Derby as a “game” in my stats)
• 366 balls in 49 games this season = 7.47 balls per game.
• 23 balls at 4 lifetime Home Run Derbies = 5.75 balls per game.
• 921 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 446 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
• 6,825 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)
• $11.28 raised at this game
• $688.08 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $33,094.08 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009