When my flight landed in Atlanta at 12:30pm, it was raining. When I walked from the Peachtree Center MARTA stop to my hotel at 2pm, it was raining. When I headed to the stadium at 3:45pm, it was still raining — a huge bummer because I was with a newspaper reporter, who was planning to follow me around all day.
I figured there was no chance in hell that there’d be batting practice. Even if it magically stopped raining and the sun came out, the field would be too wet, and even if it weren’t, it’d still be too late for the grounds crew to pull out the cage and set everything up. Right?
Well, it *did* stop raining, and the field *did* get set up for BP at the very last second, and within a couple of minutes of running inside, I got my first ball of the day:
It was a toss-up from Braves pitcher Anthony Varvaro, who had messed with me by intentionally throwing the ball short . . . twice. Each time, it had thumped off the padding of the outfield wall in front of me, and I threw my arms up in mock-disgust. The reporter asked if I had a relationship with that player, but no, it was just a simple case of Varvaro being randomly playful.
After that, I moved to straight-away left field, and the reporter came with me. Here he is sitting near me with his notebook:
His name is Bill Banks, and he writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I’m not sure when his story about me will be published, but I’ll say this: he asked so many questions and took so many notes that he could practically write a whole book about me. He also interviewed several of my fellow ballhawks, including the man pictured below:
That guy (who had just retrieved a ball from the gap with his glove trick) is named Eric, and he’s been highly supportive of my charity fundraising for Pitch In For Baseball. He donated money last year and made a 10-cent-per-ball pledge this season. (If you’re interested in learning more about the fundraiser, click here, and if you want to see the list of people who have pledged money in 2013, scroll to the bottom of that page.) When the stadium first opened, he told me that he’d brought my books for me to sign, so we made a plan to meet behind the 3rd-base dugout after BP.
My second ball of the day was a toss-up from Alex Wood, and soon after that, I caught an Evan Gattis home run on the fly. That impressed Bill because Gattis had just stepped into the cage, and I had announced that I was going to move back half a dozen rows. Moments later, Gattis’s towering fly ball pretty much came right to my new location. At the last second, sensing that it was going to fall several feet short, I climbed down over a row and made a one-handed catch. Then, after another minute or so, I scrambled in the seats and lunged up/over a row to grab a Chris Johnson homer. (Relax. I didn’t snatch it from a kid. There was only one other fan racing me for it, and he was in his 40s.)
I used the glove trick to snag my fifth ball from the left-field gap, and then I ran over to right-center and got this one:
Things were going well. The Braves were still hitting. I was on my way to double digits. Bill was still following me and taking notes — and he said that a photographer was gonna show up.
At around 5:20pm, a left-handed batter launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I knew right away that it was going to be a home run, but I didn’t think it would carry far enough to reach me. I was standing in the middle of the third row, and the seats in front of me were empty, so I lined myself up with it and watched it descend toward me. I figured it was gonna land in the gap or maybe plunk down in the front row, so I kept my eye on it and then . . . THWACK!!! The ball landed *on* the narrow concrete ledge at the very front of the stands and bounced up and hit me in the face just below my right eye. My first thought was something along the lines of, “This is not good,” but surprisingly, it didn’t really hurt, and for a moment I wondered about the damage that had been done to my face. I could still see out of my right eye — THAT was good — but had the ball broken my cheekbone? Was I bleeding? Was I going to have a black eye? Would I need surgery? Home run balls are typically traveling about 55 or 60 miles per hour when they enter the stands, and this one hadn’t lost much velocity when it ricocheted off the concrete, so I knew that it was going to leave a mark, and hey, where WAS the ball anyway? I looked around, but it was long gone, and when I turned back toward the field, I noticed that Braves pitcher Julio Teheran was standing near the warning track, staring at me, ball in hand. I realized that he was going to toss it to me because of what had just happened, which was cool. I don’t often get toss-ups without asking or putting in some type of effort, so I held up my bare/left hand, and he threw it to me. Then I felt my eye, which was very puffy, so before I bothered looking for my hat (which had gone flying), I pulled out my phone and flipped the camera around so that I could see myself. It wasn’t pretty:
Several ushers had already rushed over, and a nearby fan told me he worked in a hospital and asked to take a look at my eye. He actually touched my face for a moment, which was fine. He was gentle and reassuring, and I could tell he knew what he was doing, but one of the ushers yelled, “You can’t do that!!” at him, so he backed off. Within another minute or two, the EMS crew was on the scene. They briefly examined my face, and then we all walked up the stairs to the concourse. They had one of those golf-cart thingies waiting for me, so I sat down and took another pic of myself as we drove off:
In the photo above, do you see the person in the light green shirt sitting behind me? That was Bill. He saw everything, and all I could think was . . . why? Why did this have to happen while a reporter was with me? Why did it have to happen at all? Why was I such a schmuck not to anticipate the ricochet? Why was I even being driven off somewhere? It was just a black eye, and it didn’t even hurt. Why didn’t it hurt? Was the adrenaline masking the pain? Was I going to have to miss the rest of BP? Was I going to have to leave the stadium and go to an emergency room for X-rays?
When I first got hit, I was tempted to forego medical attention. All I wanted to do was stay in the stands and try to snag more baseballs. That’s what I did the only other time I got hit in the face by a ball. Remember that one? It happened on 4/22/08 at Champion Stadium when a fan jumped up in front of me during BP and deflected a home run ball of the tip of his glove. That one hit me on the bridge of my nose, causing it to bleed and leaving a small bruise. I really didn’t want to miss the rest of BP then, and I felt the same way here at Turner Field, but this injury was much more severe, so I did the “right thing” and went to get some ice. Here I am in the First Aid room:
The staff there was amazing. All the employees were kind and attentive and really made me feel better. Here are the three folks who tended to me:
I had to fill out some forms — “initial here, sign there” — and give them my phone number and address and blah blah. Some people hate giving out their personal information, but I didn’t care. I was just glad that the ball hadn’t hit my eye directly — let’s not even think about THAT — and I was still hopeful that I’d be turned loose and allowed to return to the stands. I had no idea what time it was. Had I been in there for 10 minutes or an hour? I just wasn’t thinking straight, and I wondered if BP was still happening or if I’d completely missed the rest of it.
The EMS people asked a bunch of questions including, “Do you have a headache?” and “Is your vision blurry?” Thankfully the answer was no, but they still warned me about flying back home to New York City. They said the pressure at 30,000-plus feet might be bad for my eye. Obviously, that wasn’t thrilling to hear, but I couldn’t do anything about it at that moment. They said I was good to go (and suggested that I return to get more ice), so off I went to the left field stands. I tried running, but that made my eye throb, so I slowed down.
Look what was waiting for me in left field:
Excluding the ball to the face in 2008, this black eye at Turner Field was the third “major” injury of my ballhawking career. You may recall that I cracked a rib on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium and sprained the absolute crap out of my ankle on 6/3/11 at Citi Field. Those other two accidents were totally avoidable; I was simply reaching too far and running too fast. That said, I do think this incident in Atlanta was avoidable, but perhaps less so? Anyway, if there was one good thing that came out of this (and believe me, I’d give it all back because it’s not THAT good), it’s that the players and coaches took pity on me when they saw my ugly face and seemed more willing than ever to throw me baseballs. Rockies coach Jerry Weinstein hooked me up with one in left field, and when I headed over to right field . . .
. . . Jeff Francis threw me another. He even offered to sign it for me, and when I politely declined, he smiled and said, “Are you one of those fake Rockies fans?”
Ha! But seriously, how did he know? I was wearing a Rockies cap, but no shirt or jersey. Since my eye matched the Rockies’ colors, I figured I didn’t need to be fully decked out in team gear — and since my real challenge was to snag a game-used ball later on, I wanted to save my tricks for when it mattered.
Toward the end of BP, I headed to the dugout . . .
. . . and got two more balls tossed to me when everyone cleared the field. I have no idea who threw them. The first one came from a player (maybe Manny Corpas?) and the second came from a coach (maybe Bo McLaughlin?). At the time, I was talking to my friend Evan and being interviewed by Bill and thinking a million thoughts including, “I should probably get more ice.” I was so distracted that I forgot about my plan to meet Eric and sign his books. Instead, I headed straight to the First Aid room.
Just before game time, I got my 12th ball of the day from a rookie named Charlie Culberson, and I have to say that it was stupid-easy. He was walking off the field with it, and I didn’t even have my glove. All I did was walk through an empty row to get closer to him, and when he approached the dugout, I said, “Hey,” and held up my hand. That’s all it took.
Just before the bottom of the 1st inning got underway, Rockies 1st base coach Rene Lachemann scanned the crowd to find a worthy recipient for the infield warm-up ball. Despite the fact that there were several kids in front of me, Lachemann spotted me and waved me down (from the 3rd row) and tossed it to me (and asked what had happened to my eye). I gave that ball to the nearest kid and returned to my seat.
Do you remember how tough it was for me to snag a gamer the night before at Tropicana Field? Sometimes it’s nearly impossible, and sometimes it’s laughably easy. Here at Turner Field, I didn’t bother waiting for the 3rd-out ball in the 1st inning; I got the no-out ball. Jason Heyward led off with a grounder to Culberson, who was playing 2nd base and bobbled it. Heyward reached on the error, and the ball was tossed out of play Rockies manager Walt Weiss scooped it up and flipped it to me, and just like that, I’d raised another $500 for Pitch In For Baseball, courtesy of the wonderful folks at BIGS Sunflower Seeds. (If you don’t know about my involvement with BIGS, click here.) Here I am with the ball . . .
. . . and here’s another shot of me in BIGS gear:
That ball, by the way, was my 200th at Turner Field . . . in only 15 games. This stadium is awesome.
As for my eye, it was attracting lots of attention from everyone — ushers, vendors, fans, coaches, players, and even a roaming TV cameraman. Look where my dumb face ended up:
But hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself. That screen shot, evidently, was taken at 9:23pm, which means it was late in the game. Before that happened, I got the 3rd-out ball after the 2nd inning, and it was a total fluke. Todd Helton had ended up with it and tossed it (from about 50 feet away) to a 13-ish-year-old kid on my right. The kid dropped it (even though it went right to him), and it bounced back into the dugout. He then gave up on it and returned to his seat, but I stayed in the front row just in case. Sure enough, after five seconds, the ball came flying up out of nowhere. Even though it was a gamer, I handed it to the kid who, by the way, asked to borrow my jersey (umm, how about no) and ended up snagging two more baseballs on his own.
With two outs in the bottom of the 3rd, a young girl in the middle of my row got up and headed down the stairs. Justin Upton had just stepped to the plate, and she was clearly trying to get into position for a potential 3rd-out ball. Of course, it wasn’t safe for her to stand there, and she was blocking the view of several fans, so the usher kindly told her that she had to move. Moments after she returned to her seat, Upton went down swinging. Wanna guess what happened next? Yeah, another 3rd-out ball for me, this time from catcher Yorvit Torrealba. That was my 16th ball of the day, and when I retuned to my seat, I gave the girl my cleanest BP ball. I’m certain that she didn’t know the difference; she was super-excited, and she and her mother thanked me.
Late in the game, I got a photo with Evan:
In the bottom of the 7th, Andrelton Simmons got hit by a pitch, causing the ball to deflect and hit home plate umpire Marty Foster on the left arm. Foster was pretty shaken up . . .
. . . and actually had to leave the game. Marvin Hudson took over the home-plate umpiring duties, and the game resumed with only three umps — no big deal given the fact that the Braves were winning, 9-0, but I hope that Foster is okay. I have lots of respect for umpires (except maybe Bob Davidson and Angel Hernandez and Jordan Baker and Laz Diaz), and I know what it feels like to get hit by a ball.
During the injury delay, several fans in the front row took off, and get this: one of them gave me his ticket and told the usher on his way out that I could sit there. Everyone was being SO nice to me. My eye, obviously, was the main reason — lots of people were asking about it and taking photos — but I also think that folks appreciated that I was giving so many balls away to kids. By the way, it was embarrassing to have to tell people that I’d gotten hit by a ball. They all assumed that it had missed my glove or that I’d lost it in the sun, so I had to clarify that it was an unexpected ricochet that got me — funny to think that I got through the helicopter stunt without being injured, but then got nailed by an ordinary home run ball during BP.
Here’s a photo of me sitting with Bill in the front row:
Did you notice the kid in the pink shirt? That’s the young fella who’d dropped the toss-up from Helton.
With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Justin Upton lined a 2-2 pitch from Wilton Lopez to left field for a single. Once again, the ball was tossed out of play, and once again, I ended up getting it, this time from 3rd base coach Stu Cole. Here it is:
You know about the game-used-ball charity auction that I’m planning for the end of the season, right? Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds came up with the idea to help raise even more money for Pitch In For Baseball. Basically, I’m going to donate one game-used ball from (hopefully) all 30 major league stadiums this season to the auction, and all the money will go directly to the charity. Of the four gamers that I snagged at this game in Atlanta, I decided to donate the Upton/single ball to this cause. I think it’s the best one that will hopefully generate the biggest donation. I don’t yet know how the auction will work, so if you’re interested, follow BIGS on Twitter (@BIGS_Seeds) and stay tuned for announcements. They’re going to be helping/organizing it, so they’ll be able to tell you what’s up.
Before the bottom of the 8th inning got underway, several things happened:
1) I talked to the Rockies’ trainer and asked about my eye, specifically about the risk of getting on a plane. He said that since I wasn’t gonna be flying for two days, I should be fine.
2) Hitting coach Dante Bichette saw me and asked what happened, and when I told him, he said, “That’s keeping your eye on the ball.”
3) Rene Lachemann tossed the infield warm-up ball into the front row, ten feet to my right. Two little kids (who must’ve been brothers) fought over it, prompting Lachemann to insist that the younger kid get it. I quickly reached into my backpack and handed a BP ball to the other kid.
. . . and gave away two more baseballs to little kids as we all walked toward the exit. Bill was still with me, as was my friend Bryce. I’d seen him on and off throughout the day, but somehow we neglected to get a photo together. He kindly gave me a ride back to my hotel, the best part of which was getting to hang out for an extra 20 minutes. As I often say, everything is rushed when I’m at games, especially on the road, especially when I’m being interviewed, and especially when I have a gruesome-ish injury that needs constant attention.
As for my eye, I’ll show you a few more photos after the stats, so make sure to keep reading/scrolling all the way to the bottom. First, though, here are the dozen baseballs that I kept (with the Upton/single ball on the lower right):
I would’ve lined up the balls up neater, but it was too uncomfortable for me to stay bent over and looking down at the floor. The area directly below eye was throbbing, or perhaps “pulsing” would be a better word. It never hurt, although it was so swollen that I could feel it pressing against the bottom of my actual eyeball. That whole area on my face is tender and sensitive and tight. It feels like someone is constantly/gently pinching me, which is more annoying than anything. If I touch it, it hurts, and if I clench my face with an exaggerated smile, it really hurts, but if I’m just sitting/walking around, it doesn’t bother me much.
• 18 balls at this game (twelve pictured above because I gave six away)
• 424 balls in 55 games this season = 7.71 balls per game.
• 204 balls at 15 lifetime games at Turner Field = 13.6 balls per game.
• 927 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 452 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 25 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, Marlins Park, Tropicana Field, and Turner Field
• 8 stadiums with 200 or more balls: Shea Stadium (2,173), Citi Field (635), old Yankee Stadium (560), Camden Yards (525), new Yankee Stadium (480), Citizens Bank Park (282), Nationals Park (261), and Turner Field (204)
• 6,883 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.)
• 33 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.06 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $55.08 raised at this game
• $1,297.44 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $12,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $35,203.44 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Now, as promised, here are a few more photos, starting with my hotel room:
If you look closely at the 12 balls on the floor, you can see that the Upton/single ball is wrapped up. I forgot to bring Ziploc bags on this trip, so I covered that ball in tissues and wrote the details on a piece of paper and secured it with a rubber band.
As for my face, which, admit it, is what you really want to see, the swelling had gone way down, and the discoloration was already fading:
I was looking worse than ever.
Here are a few more shots:
Might as well have some fun with this, huh?
Any doctors in the house? What should I be doing?