This was a LONG day of baseball, which started here at Citi Field:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:
Even though this was a 1:10pm game, I was hoping there’d be batting practice, but no, there wasn’t . . . of course. Here’s what the field looked like when I ran in:
After 20 dreadfully slow minutes during which several other fans got baseballs tossed to them, I positioned myself here . . .
. . . and ended up getting one from Pedro Feliciano. The best thing about it (beyond the fact that I’d avoided getting shut out) was that he threw it HARD — probably more than 60 miles per hour. On its way to me, the ball had tailed a bit and nearly hit the man sitting on my right — a sportswriter named Jon Hart. He’s the author of a new book called Man Versus Ball, and he was there to take notes and do a story on me.
The ball itself was a thing of beauty. Check it out:
For some reason, the Braves’ pitching staff never came out to play catch, so I decided to pass some time by wandering out to the seats in deep right-center. While standing in this spot . . .
. . . I looked down and to my left and saw this:
The photo above shows a ball in the gutter on the roof of a little structure in the Braves’ bullpen.
Here’s a closer look at the ball:
That’s right — the cover was missing.
My first thought was, “If I were to grab the ball, would it be fair/accurate to count it in my collection?” I turned to Twitter for some guidance, and everyone pretty much said the same thing: the ball should count if it IS, in fact, an official major league ball. Of course, in order to determine that, I was gonna have to unravel it, the worst part of which would be getting my hands dirty, but whatever. Citi Field has good bathrooms, and I’d dismantled several balls in the past, including this one. Yes, if this gutter ball were the real deal, I’d know it by the time I got to the core. The only problem was that I couldn’t quite reach it without causing a scene. My fingertips came up several inches short, and although I was able to touch the ball with my glove, there wasn’t enough room in the gutter for me to get the leather around it. Just as I was planning to try to scoop it up with my Braves’ cap, a security guard walked down the stairs and told me to stop. I was tempted to say, “Show me IN WRITING where it says anything about fans not being allowed to reach out of the stands before the first pitch,” but I decided to let it go. To hell with the Mets and their withered balls.
Soon after, I saw something amusing in the Braves’ bullpen:
Julio Teheran was working on his mechanics, and pitching coach Roger McDowell was (presumably) filming him with a smartphone. It was a good use of technology, but still made me smile.
I was almost certain that I’d get a ball when they finished — McDowell had a couple of baseballs in his back pocket — but bullpen coach Eddie Perez tossed it to another fan instead. No big deal, right? People ask for baseballs all the time and don’t always get them . . . right? Well, there was another guy near me who was so pissed that *he* didn’t get the ball that he started yelling at Perez and saying stuff like, “I hope you get hit by a foul ball!” This was a grown man, and okay, fine, he was frustrated that he hadn’t gotten the ball for his son, but still, there’s no excuse for behaving like that, and let me tell you, I gave him an earful. I shouted all kinds of stuff back at him, including, “You know why players act rude when they come to New York? Because of people like YOU!!!” I was really annoyed, not to mention embarrassed for my city. On my way out of the mostly-empty section, I got a thumbs-up from a woman and a subtle head-nod from another fan.
Because I’d spent so much time near the bullpen, I missed my chance to say hello to Craig Kimbrel, who’d been signing autographs for quite a while along the left field foul line. All I got was a photo of him . . .
. . . before he said, “Sorry, I gotta go,” and ran off.
Just before the game started, I went here . . .
. . . and got a toss-up from Braves 3rd baseman Chris Johnson. Andrelton Simmons (who recognizes me) saw me catch it and shook his head. Of course, he wasn’t looking when I handed the ball to a little kid ten seconds later.
Here’s where Jon and I sat during the game:
I had lots of room to run, but of course there was nothing to run for.
Jon asked me lots of questions and took a zillion notes.
At one point, when he went to get a drink of water, I took a photograph of my right eye:
That looks a lot better compared to how it was three weeks earlier, huh?
Speaking of the destructive force of baseballs, look what happened to Jason Heyward:
That was the result of a 90-mph fastball from Mets starter Jon Niese. At the time, I had no idea what had happened, but as it turned out, Heyward had suffered a broken jaw!
Thankfully, he was able to get up on his own . . .
. . . and walk back to the dugout:
Chris and Garrett were sitting near the dugout and told me later that Heyward was spitting blood — scary stuff, and hey, what IS it with Braves players suffering season-ended injuries whenever I go to Citi Field? Last month, you may recall, I saw Tim Hudson break his ankle and get carted off the field.
With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the 8th inning, I left Citi Field so that I could get to Yankee Stadium in time for the start of BP. (I found out later that Chris Johnson hit a three-run homer in the top of the 10th; the ball landed one section to my right, and the Braves won, 4-1.) Garrett stayed for the entire Mets game. Chris and Jon left with me, and we ran into Rick on the way. I was exhausted by the time we made it to Grand Central Station . . .
. . . and the day was still young. Here I am outside Yankee Stadium with a few friends:
In the previous photo, the guy on the left is named Jeff. His son George is on the right. Chris (having changed into a Yankees shirt) is standing next to me, and the other guy is named Andy. He posts lots of Yankees photos on his blog and was kind enough to take pics of me for mine . . . like these:
The photos above show me snagging my first ball during BP. Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had thrown it to me, and it fell two rows short. Look closely and you can see me climbing over the seats and reaching down for it.
Here’s a photo that I took soon after:
Did you notice the old guy standing on the railing? I was amazed that he got away with it, but then again, not really; certain guards at Yankee Stadium see what they want to see.
Take another look at the photo above. See the woman wearing dark shorts at the end of my row? Moments after I took that picture, I sensed that a ball was about to be thrown in her direction, so I hurried over in case it sailed a bit too high, and whaddaya know? That’s exactly what happened. The ball missed her bare hands by an inch, and for the record, she hadn’t even jumped. As soon as I caught it, someone shouted, “Aww, c’mon, ya gotta give it to her!! That was HER ball!!” Another fan heard that and yelled, “That ball was thrown by Mariano!! He should keep it!!” Sure enough, Mariano was standing just below us in the bullpen — so I kept the ball and gave her the one that I’d gotten from Harkey. She was disappointed, and I don’t mean to be a jerk, but too bad. I’m disappointed about lots of balls that I almost caught. That’s life.
After that, I headed to left field and caught a Vernon Wells homer on the fly — my 500th ball of the season. Here I am with it:
When the Blue Jays started hitting, I changed into my Jays gear and headed back to right field. After a while, I managed to get one more ball, possibly hit by Anthony Gose, although I’m not sure. Here it is heading toward me . . .
. . . and here I am making the catch:
Toward the end of BP, Andy photographed me standing next to a famous fan — the woman from Seattle who used to have the “Ichi-Meter” at Safeco Field. Check it out:
Entering this game, Ichiro Suzuki had a total of 3,999 hits in professional baseball — 1,278 in Japan and 2,721 in the Major Leagues. That’s pretty much why I attended this game — not just to SEE him reach 4,000, but to actually catch the ball. Of course, given the fact that he was gonna have to hit a home run (or a ground-rule double) in order for me to get my hands on it, the odds were stacked against me, but the way I saw it, the odds would’ve been far worse had I been home watching the game on TV.
After BP, I met up with Garrett in the bleachers, and we headed here:
He was planning to sign up to be a designated driver in order to get a free soda, and he asked me if I’d do the same (so that he could have two sodas). I said sure, and we were all set to do it when we learned that the Yankees don’t give free soda to designated drivers. Huh?! Since I don’t drink alcohol or soda, and since I don’t own a car, I don’t make a habit of signing up for these things, but I’ve seen enough of these booths at various stadiums to know that teams *always* give free soda — well, except the Yankees, evidently. And get this: if you sign up here at Yankee Stadium, you get a Budweiser key chain as a reward. WTF?! Do the Yankees want people NOT to drink, but to be tempted to drink? I don’t get it.
Here I am with Garrett before the game:
Jon and I had tickets on the lower level in straight-away right field, but Garrett was going to be sitting elsewhere, so we were discussing our plans.
This was my view for Ichiro’s first at-bat in the bottom of the 1st inning:
With R.A. Dickey on the mound, Ichiro slapped a 1-1 pitch past the 3rd baseman for his 4,000th professional hit. That’s pretty much what I expected, and yes, it was great to witness this historic moment, but on a deeper/personal/selfish level, it was disappointing.
The crowd went nuts . . .
. . . and after a few seconds, I got really into it too. Here’s a photo of me taking a photo:
Here’s what I was photographing:
Ichiro’s teammates had already spilled out onto the field by that point . . .
. . . and the crowd was still cheering like crazy:
Andy capped the moment by getting a shot of the woman with the Ichi-Meter sign:
Many thanks to Andy for taking and sharing so many great photos with me. I know I linked to it before, but here’s his blog. Check it out if you get a chance.
When Ichiro took the field in the top of the 2nd, he tipped his cap to the crowd:
Later in the game, there was a congratulatory video message from his old Mariners teammate, Ken Griffey Jr.:
It wasn’t long before vendors started selling t-shirts (for $35) and commemorative pins (for some other ungodly amount):
I get it. Believe me. I really do. The Yankees failed in their attempt to sabotage A-Rod’s season and get their insurance company to pay his $28 million salary, so now they’re desperate to make money, but jeez, couldn’t they have waited a day? It’s bad enough to see Ichiro in pinstripes, but to see vendors hawking this merchandise . . . I don’t know, man. It really cheapened the accomplishment.
Of course, at Yankee Stadium, there’s always something special happening, and in the top of the 9th, the great Mariano Rivera entered the game:
Rajai Davis managed to hit a one-out double off him, and before the next pitch, Mariano picked him off 2nd base. You can’t make this stuff up. It was the first pick-off at 2nd base of Mariano’s entire career. Final score: Yankees 4, Blue Jays 2.
• 6 baseballs at these two games (four pictured here because I gave two away)
• 501 balls in 69 games this season = 7.26 balls per game.
• 3 consecutive seasons with 500 or more balls
• 941 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 466 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 29 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, Dodger Stadium, Chase Field, and the Oakland Coliseum
• 6,960 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.)
• 38 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.43 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $20.58 raised at these two games
• $1,718.43 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $37,624.43 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009