I woke up stupid-early in New York City with three hours of sleep . . .
. . . and jumped in a cab to JFK airport:
Then I flew to Los Angeles:
I slept a bit on the plane, which was good because my day was only beginning.
After landing in L.A. at around 11am, I waited nearly half an hour for a shuttle bus . . .
. . . that took me to Union Station:
From there, I took another cab . . .
. . . and was seriously about to pass out.
Sixteen dollars later, the taxi dropped me off at my friend Brandon’s place in Silver Lake. Brandon was at work, so his roommate, Mike, was supposed to be there to let me in. Mike, however, wasn’t there, so I called Brandon. He told me to walk over to the “BEWARE of DOG” sign and shake the gate until — you guessed it — the dog started barking at me and the landlord came out to see what the fuss was all about. Then I was supposed to try to convince her that I was his friend and that she should let me in.
The first part of the plan worked great, as the dog did indeed start barking:
Unfortunately, it was still barking 20 minutes later because the landlord wasn’t home. (I passed the time by eating a tuna sandwich and looking at box scores.)
Brandon eventually told me that he’d hidden some keys to his place in the back driveway. Of course, I couldn’t get there because the side gate (which he was supposed to have left unlocked) was locked. What happened next? He convinced me to climb over it — not an easy task considering (a) it was eight feet high, (b) I’d gotten three hours of sleep, (c) I had two heavy pieces of luggage, (d) there were thorny bushes in the way, and (e) there were houses all around and people walking/driving by every minute or so.
Long story short: I climbed over the gate. The good news is that I didn’t get hurt or arrested. The bad news is that I got very dirty in the process; my hands were so greasy that after two or three minutes of scrubbing them, they still weren’t totally clean.
I was SO PISSED OFF after that . . .
. . . but managed to calm down a bit by the time I walked to Sunset Boulevard at 3pm:
After 15 minutes, I boarded this bus . . .
. . . and eventually got off near Dodger Stadium.
I couldn’t see the stadium from the bus stop, so I followed a bunch of Dodgers employees who had also gotten off:
At 3:35pm, I made it to this stadium entrance:
Three minutes later, as I walked along the road that leads to the parking lots, I was stopped by a security guard at a tollbooth. (Dodger Stadium has the dumbest rule of all time: the parking lots open when the stadium itself opens.) He asked where I was going, so I told him I was going to buy advanced tickets — a total lie, but one that I knew would work. I got nervous, though, when he asked to see my driver’s license and then started punching my info into a computer. My mind started racing, and I wondered if I was already in their system for having gotten busted by Dodger Stadium security five years earlier. Thankfully, after returning my license, all he did was hand me a visitor pass and tell me stick it on my shirt — so weird:
When I reached the Top Deck, I noticed some of the renovations:
In the photo above, do you see the V-shaped steps? Those weren’t there last year, nor was the gigantic team store.
These retired numbers were also new:
At around 3:50pm, I made my way down these steps . . .
. . . and passed by the wide-open Loge Level . . .
. . . and eventually ran into a few fans near one of the Field Level entrances.
At Dodger Stadium, season ticket holders get in THREE hours early. I was hoping to see my friend Jose (aka “Jose Being Manny“) and enter with him, but he was still stuck in his car outside the parking lot. That’s when some guy named David recognized me and introduced himself, and after chatting for a few minutes, he offered to bring me inside as his guest. Nice! But of course the Dodgers weren’t hitting:
They’d played the night before in St. Louis, and evidently, they got back to L.A. so late that manager Don Mattingly cancelled BP.
If there was one good thing about the lack of BP, it’s that I had time to check out the new cross-aisle in foul territory . . .
. . . and to photograph Kenley Jansen’s R-rated shirt:
Personally, I’m not offended by that type of language (or by anything, really), but I do think it showed bad judgment. That’s the kind of shirt one should wear in private, not on a major league baseball field when fans/kids are in the seats.
The lack of BP also gave me a chance to hang out with these guys:
In the photo above, David is on the right. He’s the guy who had brought me in early with the season ticket holders. The man on the left is named Benny; he had recognized me from this blog. The two of them were giving thumbs-ups as their way of authenticating the autographed ball that the gentleman in the middle was holding. His name is Jason, and when he heard about my charity fundraiser, he GAVE the ball to me. Check it out:
From left to right, you’re looking at the signatures of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, and Scott Van Slyke.
In giving me the ball, Jason made one request: I need to use it in a way that will be most beneficial to Pitch In For Baseball. That could mean selling it on behalf of the charity (any offers?) or offering it as a prize to get more people to make pledges. Remember, I’m already planning to give away these prizes at the end of the season, so this ball could be added to the mix. What do you think is the best thing to do with it? Many thanks to Jason. That was incredibly generous of him.
After spending more than an hour in the stadium, I finally snagged my first ball of the day:
Why did I photograph it in the concourse? Because that’s where I got it. Basically, I was standing more than a dozen rows back when I convinced Chris Withrow to throw it to me. His aim was way off, and the ball sailed ten feet over my head and deflected off the back of a seat into the concourse. It then rolled waaaaay the hell away from me, prompting an usher (pictured above) to chase after it. When she realized that it had been thrown to me, she gave it to me.
Moments later, I saw Yasiel Puig in person for the first time:
I don’t know what it is, but he seems larger than life.
When the Rays finally started hitting, and when the rest of the stadium finally opened at 5:40pm, I went here:
I snagged *one* ball during batting practice — a liner/slicer by a righty that rolled all the way to me. In the photo above, did you notice the two balls sitting on the warning track? I could’ve easily gotten them with my glove trick, but I didn’t want to lose my corner spot.
The highlight of BP was seeing Fernando Rodney throw (and I do mean THROW) no fewer than a dozen balls into the crowd, many of them to fans in suites and in the 3rd deck. Here he is about to chuck one:
Rodney was clearly in the mood to interact with people. At one point, he booed a teenager who dropped a home run in the right field bleachers, and then he gave a mock/slapstick lesson on how to use a glove.
When BP ended, I raced to the 1st-base dugout and got a toss-up from Rays coach Tom Foley. I handed that ball to the nearest/smallest kid, who was completely unappreciative. (“You know what, kid? I think I’ll take it back.”)
Then I got some pizza, followed by chocolate frozen yogurt in a mini-helmet. Which color helmet did I want — blue or pink? Duh, pink, of course:
Do the Dodgers always have pink mini-helmets available? Or was this a specialty item because of the pre-game cancer-related ceremony? What were these doctors doing on the field?
I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention. Cancer-schmancer. It killed my dad in 2010, and it’ll probably kill me too. I don’t like talking about it or hearing about it, especially when I’m at a baseball game. Baseball is supposed to be an escape, not a reminder of things that suck. That’s how I see it, so I was glad when the game finally got underway. This was my view for the first pitch:
Six outs later, Rays 1st baseman James Loney ended up with the ball. I was in the perfect spot to get his attention, but to my dismay, he flipped it to coach George Hendrick, who was hanging out on the top step of the dugout. Hendrick stood around with it for half a minute before handing it to the nearest kid.
I knew right away that it was going to be tough to get a game-used ball, so I maximized my chances by spending some time here:
It was a great place to catch a foul ball, but nothing came near me, so with one out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, I ran back down to the dugout. Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist ended up with the 3rd-out ball and tossed it into the crowd at the wrong end of the dugout, so I headed back to the 2nd deck for a few more batters. At the conclusion of the 3rd inning, Loney once again ended up with the ball and flipped it to Hendrick — but this time, Hendrick wasn’t on the top step. He was down in the dugout, hidden from view. Ten seconds later, he poked his head out and scanned the crowd, and when I shouted his name, he under-handed me the ball. YES!!!
Here it is:
But wait . . . was that THE actual game-used ball? It looked kinda beat up. Perhaps Hendrick had pulled a little switcheroo and tossed me the infield warm-up ball instead? GAH!!! Given the fact that he *had* given away the actual gamer after the 1st inning, I assumed that he had done the same for me, but how could I be sure? As you might already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is donating $500 this season to Pitch In For Baseball for every stadium at which I snag a game-used ball. Therefore, for charity purposes, it made sense to assume that I’d snagged a gamer, but for my own conscience, I couldn’t do that. For the rest of my life, I want to be able to say that I snagged a game-used ball at all 30 major league stadiums in one season — and I want it to be true. I don’t want there to be any doubts. And so . . . after giving one of my practice balls to a little girl sitting nearby, I decided to keep trying.
David Price, batting for just the fifth time all season, struck out to end of the top of the 4th inning. Once again, I was in a good spot to get the ball, but Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz tossed it to the folks in the front row, rather than lobbing it over their heads to me.
The bottom of the 4th inning ended with a play at the plate. I wasn’t in a good spot to get the ball from Rays catcher Jose Molina, but it didn’t matter because he ended up keeping it.
In the top of the 5th, I was sitting here . . .
. . . when the rays batted around. Once again, Price came to bat with two outs, and once again, he struck out. This time, however, as Federowicz jogged off the field, he lobbed the ball deep into the crowd. It was floating right toward me, and a bunch of people reached up for it, but I reached a bit higher, and when I felt it smack the pocket of my glove, it was a HUGE relief. I’d done it — I’d snagged my gamer, and there wasn’t any doubt. Here’s the ball:
I’m now 27-for-27 on the charity challenge; I’ve been to 27 different major league stadiums this season, and I’ve snagged at least one game-used ball at all of them. I should be able to complete the challenge because I’ll be attending at least two games at each of the final three venues — Chase Field, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field. I get nervous when I only have one game at a stadium, so it’s nice to know that I’ll have some margin for error moving forward.
Anyway, after I got the gamer from Federowicz, I decided to move to the left field bleachers. Look how crowded it was out there:
In case you’re wondering, fans at Dodger Stadium are not allowed to move back and forth between the grandstand and bleachers. I was able to do it because I’d bought two tickets for this game, and the time had come for me to use the second one:
The bleachers at Dodger Stadium have the weirdest setup:
I hung out on the staircases until security told me I wasn’t allowed to do it. Then I spent most of my time behind the wall, but I also hung out here for a bit:
I didn’t snag any more baseballs, but man, I got to see one hell of a game. The Rays had a 6-0 lead going into the 7th inning, but the Dodgers chipped away at it, and in the bottom of the 9th, they scored four times off Fernando Rodney to win, 7-6.
There was pandemonium in the bleachers:
It was like a playoff atmosphere — packed and truly electric. The energy must’ve had an effect on me because I wouldn’t have been this hyper otherwise:
Not counting my nap on the plane, I’d been up for about 22 hours at that point. Keep scrolling past the stats to see what happened next . . .
• 460 balls in 61 games this season = 7.54 balls per game.
• 77 balls at 10 lifetime games at Dodger Stadium = 7.7 balls per game.
• 933 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 458 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 27 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, Citizens Bank Park, and Dodger Stadium
• 6,919 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.)
• 37 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.33 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.65 raised at this game
• $1,463.55 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $13,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $35,869.55 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
When I got back to the house, Brandon still wasn’t there, so I hung out with Mike (whom I’d met several times before) and Mike’s girlfriend Nathalie:
Finally, at some point well after midnight (which felt like 3am to me), Brandon came home. It wasn’t long before he got into bed . . .
. . . and as you can see, there was a place set up for me to sleep on the floor beside him. It wasn’t comfortable, but I barely noticed and instantly passed out.