Let me start by saying that I had a good time — but I also want to state, for the record, that Marlins Park is VERY annoying. If I lived in Miami and had to attend games here regularly, I would seriously lose my mind.
Anyway, I arrived at the stadium several minutes before 5pm . . .
. . . which was cutting it close. Sort of. Remember the club in left field where I hung out last season? It’s called the Clevelander, and sometimes, if the people in charge were in a good mood, it used to open at 5pm — half an hour before the regular gates. Fast-forward to 2013. The Clevelander no longer opens early. Ever. But I knew someone with connections who claimed to be able to get me in.
Early access or not, I still wanted to get a Clevelander ticket for the game itself, but because there was gonna be some sort of charity auction taking place (with free food and other perks), tickets cost more than $100. Therefore, when I arrived, all I could do was look inside . . .
. . . and wait.
It wasn’t long before I saw a familiar face:
In the photo above, I’m attempting to stand tall beside Erik Jabs, a talented ballhawk from Pittsburgh (who’s 6-foot-4). He goes to a ton of games, and we seem to run into each other in random places every season. I didn’t see him on 5/8/13 at PNC Park, but we crossed paths on 6/7/13 at Wrigley Field. Go figure.
While Erik and I were chatting, I was recognized by this young man:
His name is Andrew, and he described me to his family so quickly and excitedly that one of the grown-ups mistook me for a player.
Then I ran into these guys:
From left to right in the photo above, you’re looking at Carol, Joe, me, Drew, and Stacy. (Did you notice Drew’s shirt? Aww yeeeah.)
Joe and Drew have been attending Marlins games for years, and they seem to know everyone. They often use their connections to get inside the Clevelander early, and in this case, since I was only here for one day (and since we’re good friends), they took me inside with them. I offered to stay out of their way, but they insisted that I try to snag a ball or two.
We didn’t get inside until 5:15pm, and when I asked Drew if he wanted to run ahead of me, he shook his head and extended his arm as if to say, “After you.” As a result, I was the first (among our little group of five) to make it down to the front row, and look what I found:
In case you can’t tell from the photo above, it was a Marlins Park commemorative ball from last year!
Moments later, I heard the unmistakable sound of a baseball landing on pavement — and then I noticed that a ball was bouncing down the stairs toward me. (WTF?) It must have landed on the canopy up above and plopped down, and guess what? It was another commemorative ball. Check it out:
(That’s another annoying thing about Marlins Park. The one good place for BP happens to be a club which is tough to get into, and there are now canopies that cover most of it during BP. Balls that land on the canopies drop down into the first two rows, but it’s not fun.)
Even though I’d snagged a few of these commemorative balls last year (including the first Rockies home run ever hit at Marlins Park), I was excited to have a couple more.
Drew and Joe were all smiles . . .
. . . and why not? They’re practically the kings of that stadium.
I quickly photographed one of the charity brochures . . .
. . . and then got a shot of the entire Clevelander seating area:
Several minutes later, as the Marlins started running off the field, Chad Qualls tossed Stacy a ball that landed on a canopy and plopped down near me in the 2nd row. Even though it had a commemorative logo, I felt that she deserved it, so I picked it up and handed it to her. (That was my third ball of the day.) She had also grabbed a ball on her way in, and I think Joe had gotten one too. It was *very* kind of them to bring me inside with them because it was a small space with a limited number of opportunities, so they willingly sacrificed a few baseballs. If you visit Marlins Park, say hi to these guys if you see them, but don’t ask them to get you in early. I’ve known them for years, and Joe actually knew about me before we ever met, so that’s why they hooked me up. (By the way, Joe is the guy who caught Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run on 6/9/08 at Dolphin Stadium. I didn’t know him them, but met him soon after.)
At 5:29pm, the five of us exited the Clevelander and got on the regular line at one of the regular gates:
When the stadium opened for real, I headed to the right field foul line . . .
. . . which turned out to be totally dead, so I headed to right-center:
That was dead too, so I ran to the left field corner . . .
. . . and managed to get a toss-up from Mets coach Tom Goodwin. (He’s great about tossing balls into the crowd, so keep that in mind if you see the Mets.)
Twenty minutes later, I was back in the right field corner . . .
. . . and got Josh Edgin to throw me a ball — my fifth of the day. (Quick shout-out to a ballhawk named Clark who recognized me in right field.)
I coulda/shoulda snagged another ball toward the end of BP, but I guessed wrong. Basically, I decided that it wasn’t worth being in the outfield, so I headed here instead:
My strategy was to get a toss-up from the Mets when they cleared the field, and it backfired. Not only did the Mets ignore everyone, but someone (maybe Andrew Brown) blasted a home run to the exact spot in left field where I would’ve been. These things happen.
Being near the dugout turned out to be a good thing because I was spotted by a random guy named Jeff who offered me an extra ticket in the front row! He reads this blog and knew that if I snagged a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds would donate an additional $500 to Pitch In For Baseball. That’s why he offered to help.
So, why is Marlins Park annoying? Well, in addition to not opening early enough for fans to see the home team warm up, and in addition to the terrible layout of the stadium (and the gosh-darned canopies in the Clevelander), they charged me $10 for this inferior pizza:
Technically, they charged BIGS Sunflower Seeds $10, but still . . . what a ripoff! And as if that’s not bad enough, they were going to remove the cap from the $4 bottle of water that I was about to buy. Sorry, but that’s just stupid. Not even the Mets and Yankees (who treat fans like crap) do that anymore, and yet in Miami of all places, where fans are so scarce that everyone should receive a free massage, the team doesn’t trust people with bottle caps. That is lame. And I didn’t buy the water. Screw them. In 50 years, their stadium is going to be UNDER water.
This was my view during the national anthem . . .
. . . and here’s where I was sitting for the first pitch of the game:
Many thanks to Jeff (pictured below in the orange shirt) for hooking me up:
In the photo above, the young lady is his daughter Danielle, and the gentleman in the red shirt is her friend Robert. Really nice folks. Unfortunately, their seats were in the middle of the section, but they had no problem with my desire to roam. (I rarely take people up on ticket offers because I don’t want to be expected to watch the game with them. Thanks but no thanks. I’d rather pay my own way in and be free to do whatever the hell I want.)
For the first few innings, I spent most of my time here:
I was hoping for a foul ball to land in the cross-aisle, and of course by staying back there, I could dart to either end of the dugout depending on how the inning was going to end. Two outs and two strikes? No problem. I’d wander toward the home-plate end in case of a strikeout. Two outs and the ball put into play? Easy. I’d hurry over to the outfield end to catch the position players jogging off the field.
Actually, it wasn’t easy. There were lots of Mets fans and kids, and I didn’t get anything through the first two innings. (Oh no! Two whole innings! I know, I know. Poor me. But no, really, there was lots of pressure because this was my only game in Miami. Somehow I *had* to get a game-used ball.)
Just before the bottom of the 3rd inning got underway, Mets first baseman Ike Davis tossed the warm-up ball on one bounce to Justin Turner, who was hanging out at the top step of the dugout. Turner had thrown the previous two warm-up balls into the crowd, so I made a point of getting into a good position, and sure enough, he spotted me and hooked me up. That was my sixth ball of the day, which was nice, but it wasn’t a gamer. For the BIGS charity challenge, I specially have to snag game-used balls.
I didn’t get the 3rd-out ball after the 3rd inning, and yes, it was still “early,” but I was officially in freak-out mode. At the start of the night, I had expected to do all my in-game snagging behind the Mets’ dugout, but now that it wasn’t happening, I decided to maximize every opportunity, so I headed to the Marlins’ dugout on the 3rd-base side. When Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner came to bat with two outs . . .
. . . I knew I had a good chance of getting a strikeout ball from Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis.
That’s exactly what happened. Here I am with it:
I was very very very happy at that moment, although I was doing a good job of hiding it.
The person who took that photo is a young ballhawk named Michael, whom I’d met last year. Here’s a photo of him (he’s on the right) with lots of baseballs and a friend named Brian (who also had lots of baseballs):
I hung out with them for a few minutes, then hurried back to the Mets’ dugout and ended up getting the next 3rd-out ball over there. Moments later, I gave one of my practice balls to a little girl who was sitting nearby — she held it up triumphantly for 30 seconds as if it were an Olympic medal — and then I realize that I’d snagged *both* 3rd-out balls in the 4th inning. Here they are:
One thing that I like about 3rd-out balls is that they actually represent a piece of action from a major league game. Sometimes it’s a strikeout. Sometimes it’s a double-play or an out at the plate, and so on. But THIS 3rd-out ball that I got from the Mets . . . wow. It represents a whole lot. It was a bases-loaded grounder hit by Jacob Turner that Omar Quintanilla booted to allow two unearned runs to score. Jake Marisnick, the runner who’d started on 1st base, ended up getting caught in a run-down between 2nd and 3rd. After several throws, David Wright tagged him out, and soon after that, he flipped me the ball on his way back to the dugout. Hot damn! I really love that ball, and I’m going to donate it to the charity auction at the end of the season that BIGS will organize. All proceeds will go to Pitch In For Baseball. Stay tuned for details.
I intended to head to the outfield after that, but with views like this . . .
. . . and this . . .
. . . it was tempting to stay.
When the dancers were doing their thing on the dugout roof, I made Wheeler chuckle by shouting, “It’s okay, Zack, you’re allowed to look!”
Eventually, I headed to left field . . .
. . . and not surprisingly, it was dead out there. The best thing that happened was getting to hang out with Joe and Drew (and their exuberant friend Frank) for a couple of innings.
At one point, I wandered down to the front row and took a photo of the folks directly below me in the Clevelander:
Then I headed as far to the left as I could possibly go in the front row and leaned over the railing to get this shot:
Marlins Park is so weird! I kind of like it. But no, I mostly hate it.
In the photo above, did you notice the two baseballs atop the outfield wall? Here’s a closer look:
Drew was certain that one of those balls was Giancarlo Stanton’s recent game home run, but whatever. There was no way to get there.
Drew, by the way, snagged FIFTY-ONE game home runs during the final three seasons at the Marlins’ old stadium. Wanna guess how many he has snagged through the first season and a half at the new ballpark? Here’s a hint: none. And that just goes to show how important a stadium can be. Did Drew suddenly lose all of his ballhawking ability? No. So don’t judge ballhawks on the number of game home runs or foul balls that they snag without considering all the factors. Some of the most talented ballhawks are stuck in the worst stadiums and rarely get any opportunities, and on the other hand, there are some real klutzes out there who rack up huge numbers because of easy circumstances.
Late in the game, I stopped by the bar in deep left-center to chat with this guy named Devin:
He had shouted my name earlier in the day when I was running back and forth during BP, but I didn’t have a chance to say a proper hello then. He said he recognized me from the old Yankee Stadium.
Eventually I made it back to the Mets’ dugout and snagged another 3rd-out ball after the 8th inning. See the dirty scuff on it?
That’s the result of Mets 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy catching a short-hop and tagging out Nick Marisnick, who was caught stealing.
With the Mets clinging to a 6-5 lead, I moved here in the bottom of the 9th . . .
. . . and after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher. He placed it right into my glove as he walked past. That was my 10th ball of the day and 400th of the season.
A minute or two later, I got my 11th and final ball of the day from Gonzalez Germen when he walked in from the bullpen.
Here I am (holding No. 400) with Joe and Drew and their friend Shelly — an usher who remembered me from the 2008 Home Run Derby:
By that point, I had given a third ball away to a little kid behind the dugout, and just before leaving the stadium, I gave away another. (I owe another shout-out to an usher near the dugout named Nick. He was really cool, and given the fact that I was being respectful of all the fans in my section, he seemed to get a kick out of watching me do my thing. There are some really good people at Marlins Park. It’s a shame that the owner isn’t one of them.)
Here are the seven baseballs that I kept . . .
. . . and here are some numbers for you:
• 11 balls at this game (seven pictured above because I gave four away)
• 401 balls in 53 games this season = 7.57 balls per game.
• 32 balls at 3 lifetime games at Marlins Park = 10.67 balls per game.
• 925 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 450 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 227 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 23 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, Nationals Park, and Marlins Park
• 6,860 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, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 34 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.03 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $33.33 raised at this game
• $1,215.03 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $11,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $34,121.03 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009