After getting ejected from Citizens Bank Park the day before, the last thing I wanted to do was go back . . . EVER. Yet here I was. It was so stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking, but somehow I allowed my girlfriend, Hayley, to convince me to go with her. She had only been to one other game in her life, and she’s rarely free on weeknights, and this was the Sunday night ESPN game, and the weather was perfect, and “C’mon, it’ll be fun, we’ll get to hang out all day,” and so on. Despite my apprehension, I couldn’t say no.
Here we are outside the left field gates:
Hayley had offered to take lots of photos, and she came through. Of course, there were shots like this . . .
. . . and this . . .
. . . but she also photographed me catching my first ball of the day (a toss-up from Zach Miner) . . .
. . . and handing it to a kid:
Unfortunately, she photographed a bunch of near misses like this . . .
. . . and this . . .
. . . but it was still cool to see myself in action.
My second ball was a home run (possibly hit by John Mayberry) that I caught after running/drifting 20 feet to my left and jumping pretty high. Hayley saw it, but didn’t have her camera ready. (These things happen.) She took a photo of this guy instead . . .
. . . and when the rest of the stadium opened, we headed to right field:
In the photo above, that’s me in the “HUDSON” jersey. (My friend Ben Weil had lent it to me for the previous game because my Braves t-shirt was in the laundry. Whatta guy!)
During the Braves’ portion of batting practice, I caught two Jason Heyward homers on the fly in right-center, one of which I handed to the little kid below:
I also got a toss-up from bullpen catcher Alan Butts (while standing on a seat in the second row). Hayley photographed that ball . . .
. . . and here’s why:
Actually, she photographed all the balls, but the one pictured above (with the porous cowhide flap sticking up) was the most interesting.
Toward the end of BP, Andrelton Simmons and several of his teammates recognized me because of my black eye — an injury I suffered on 7/31/13 at Turner Field. You’d think that it would’ve gotten me some sympathy here in Philadelphia, but because I’d been shown on TV in Atlanta wearing Rockies gear, all the Braves (who had evidently seen that footage in the highlight reel) turned against me.
Therefore, when I headed over to the bullpen in the hopes of getting a pre-game toss-up, I threw on Hayley’s ridiculous sunglasses:
Although I didn’t get a baseball there, my crappy little disguise seemed to work. None of the guys in the bullpen . . .
. . . recognized me, so as an experiment, I removed the shades to see what would happen. Moments later, David Carpenter turned around, and when he saw me, he shouted, “Ohhhhhhhhhh!!!” which prompted Luis Avilan to stare in my direction.
“Where’s your Phillies jersey?!” shouted Carpenter. “Back at the hotel?!”
He seemed more pissed than amused, which is fair, but I suspect that if he knew this story, his perception might change.
Several minutes later, bullpen coach Eddie Perez (who was THIS close to getting the Hample Jinx for his behavior on 8/1/13 at Turner Field) spotted me and was actually pretty cool. We chatted on and off during the pre-game lull. At one point, he glanced at Hayley and then looked back at me and mouthed the words, “Your girlfriend?” When I nodded, he made eye contact with her and shook his head as if to say, “How did you get mixed up with HIM?”
Knowing that Craig Kimbrel had pitched in the last two games, I asked Perez if he (Kimbrel) was available for this one. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, which might seem snotty, but (a) he had a right not to reveal his team’s plans, and (b) I sensed that he was being playful.
Here’s where Hayley and I sat for most of the game:
In the photo above, the umpires were huddling for what turned out to be the second instant-replay review within a one-inning span. In the bottom of the 3rd, Carlos Ruiz had hit a deep fly ball to left-center that ricocheted off a railing and was initially ruled a home run, but was then changed to a double. In the top of the 4th, B.J. Upton crushed an opposite field shot, which barely reached the seats, but after circling the bases and entering the dugout, he was sent back to 2nd base because of fan interference. It makes you wonder how this sport ever survived without instant reply — and how much more the technology will take over.
Sorry for doing this to you, but here’s a closeup of my eye:
Nice, huh? I figure that if I have to look at my ugly face in the mirror everyday, then you should have to look at it here on my blog. Come on, that’s fair.
In the 6th inning, I headed out to right-center field with Hayley. As I mentioned in my previous entry, Kimbrel recognizes me, so I wanted to see if I could get his attention from the seats in front of the bullpens. I also thought it’d be nice to watch a bit of the game from that spot — you know, to give Hayley a different perspective and to give myself a chance of catching a home run. As a general rule, ushers in Philly only check tickets for the first inning or two, so after that, you can pretty much go anywhere. That said, we waited in the concourse for an inning break and then walked down into the seats without a problem. Luis Avilan spotted me right away, but Kimbrel didn’t, so he got Kimbrel’s attention for me. I then waved at Kimbrel, who acknowledged me by touching the bill of his cap. I don’t know what to make of him. It’d be nice to have a conversation sometime. I don’t think he knows my name or anything about me, other than the fact that I wear different teams’ gear and catch lots of baseballs. Anyway, when the inning was about to start, Hayley and I grabbed the closest seats, and within five seconds, the usher (who was standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up into the crowd) hurried over and asked to see my ticket.
“Aww, man, we can’t hang out here for a few batters?” I asked.
“Nope . . . nope,” he said brusquely as he made a “get up” motion with his arms. “I heard about you. Ya gotta go back to your seats.”
“What did you hear,” I asked as he led us up the stairs.
“I heard about you before the game. You can’t be here.”
I need a new face, and while we’re at it, I need about 25 new major league stadiums with new employees. Camden Yards and Rangers Ballpark can stay. Same with Turner Field and (though I have some issues with it) Kauffman Stadium, and okay, Fenway too (because it’s so pretty), but everything else and everyone who works there? GONE!!! Forever. I want to start fresh or . . . I don’t know, go snag baseballs in Australia.
For the entire day, I’d been thinking about looking for the security supervisor in left field and apologizing. Part of me felt that it was the right thing to do, but I wondered if I should steer clear of that whole area instead. What if I went to apologize and he decided to mess with me some more? What if he decided to eject me for no reason? (That IS a thing, evidently.) You have no idea how tormented I was by this situation, but I knew one thing: if he WAS going to eject me again, he wouldn’t get to do it until the very end of the game. Therefore, I avoided him until the 9th inning and *then* went to talk to him. As it turned out, he was cool about the whole thing, although he did lecture me about various stuff. I wanted to inform him that he was pretty much the strictest stadium employee I had ever met and that at most other ballparks, fans aren’t threatened with ejection for moving 10 feet to empty seats and that people would enjoy themselves more if he’d just chill out a bit . . . but I didn’t say any of that. I tried to hint at it by telling him that I’ve been to 50 different major league stadiums and that it’s “challenging to adapt to all the different rules,” but that’s as far as I went. We shook hands. I said I was sorry. And that was the end of it.
Kimbrel *was* indeed available, and when he came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th, I moved as close to the field as possible so that Hayley could get a good look at 98-mile-per-hour cheese. This was our view:
Kimbrel throws cartoonishly fast. It doesn’t make sense that someone so small (5-foot-11) can project an object with such force. It’s like he was throwing bullets or missiles. One of the Phillies got lucky and poked an 89-mile-per-hour slider into left field for a single, but the rest of them had no chance. Final score: Atlanta 4, Philadelphia 1.
After the final out, I got my sixth and final ball from home plate umpire Kerwin Danley. Then, as the Braves began heading toward the dugout, I switched back into “Incognito Mode” and got the lineup cards from manager Fredi Gonzalez:
Here’s a closer look at them . . .
. . . and if you’re interested, you can see my entire collection of lineup cards here.
On the way out, Hayley photographed the stadium . . .
. . . and on the way to the car, some random guy struck up a conversation with me. (I think he asked where I got my umpire cap. Yes, that’s how it started.) As we parted ways, he told me to look him up on Twitter at “Plumsteadrocks,” so I shouted (as he crossed the street) to Google “baseball collector.” A minute later, I heard someone call my name from behind, so I turned around and was surprised to see that it was him! He had looked me up immediately, and when he saw all my stuff online, he came running back to keep talking. His name is Art. Here we are:
We chatted for a few more minutes, and as we walked toward the parking lot, he bought me and Hayley a couple of overpriced bottles of water from a street vendor. What a cool dude.
And then? Hayley and I made the two-hour drive back to New York City:
I guess it wasn’t such a bad day after all.
• 453 balls in 59 games this season = 7.68 balls per game.
• 292 balls at 32 lifetime games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.13 balls per game.
• 931 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 456 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 34 lifetime lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards)
• 26 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, Turner Field, and Citizens Bank Park
• 6,912 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.)
• 36 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.18 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $19.08 raised at this game
• $1,440.54 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $13,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $35,846.54 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, one of the four balls that I kept has a really nice invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light: