I knew this was going to be a good day. Not only had I gotten my hands on a season ticket (which got me in the stadium half an hour early) but it was Cal Ripken Jr.’s birthday. Seriously, what more did I need?
When I first ran inside, the Mets hadn’t quite started taking batting practice, so I headed to right field:
In the photo above, the player on the right is Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was playing catch with pitching coach Dan Warthen, and when they finished, I got the ball by asking for it in Japanese.
Here’s a photo of my second ball of the day:
See it? It’s sitting under the drink/food shelf in the front row. The Mets had started hitting. I was in the regular seats in left field. That ball landed on the party deck, and since there wasn’t anyone else around, I ran down the steps and grabbed it.
My third ball was a homer that landed in the seats near the left field foul pole. It took me a few seconds to find it, which made me nervous, but I still pretty much had the place to myself, so it didn’t really matter.
My friend Greg Barasch had also gotten in early with a season ticket. If you look closely at the following photo, you’ll see him posing with a ball on the far end of the party deck:
My fourth ball was another homer that landed on the party deck, and I’m sorry to say that I have no idea who hit it. Travis d’Arnaud? Andrew Brown? Wilmer Flores? Juan Lagares? I had no clue.
My fifth ball was tossed by Mets coach Tom Goodwin, and as soon as I caught it, bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello shouted, “Nooooooo!!!”
“Rac” (as he’s known) has given me lots of baseballs over the years and knows all about my collection. He’s always been cool, but in this case, I suppose he was annoyed to see me get such an easy toss-up. He then proceeded to tell Goodwin about me and shout, “How many are you up to now?!”
Goodwin has always been generous with toss-ups, but now I’m not sure if I’ll ever get another one from him.
My sixth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly after running a section and a half to my right. The reason why I was able to run so fast and so far is that I wasn’t staring at the ball the whole way. I saw it get hit. Then I focused on sprinting through the front row. Then I looked up at the last second and grabbed it.
Ball No. 7 was a homer that landed closer to Greg, but he couldn’t find it when it was rattling around in the seats, so I was able to race over and snatch it. That said, don’t feel bad for him. Not only has he snagged more than 1,700 baseballs, and not only did he end up with 10 at this game, but he’d robbed the hell out of me several days earlier on a BP homer.
After that, an usher walked over and asked for two baseballs. Normally that would drive me crazy, but this was a guy who has always been friendly, and he said he wanted to give them away later to kids . . . so I obliged.
That’s when Greg suggested that I might end up with 20 balls, and then, as if to make his prediction come true, I caught three homers on the fly within a 30-second span — and look! Two of them were commemorative balls from last year:
One of these homers was a towering fly ball to my right that Greg nearly caught; the other two were hit to my left. I was in the front row for all of them, and they were hit by the same batter — maybe Andrew Brown? I was dying to know, so I called out to just about every Mets player/coach in left field and asked, but they all ignored me. Zack Wheeler was the worst ignorer of all. He was standing right in front of me, so I *know* he heard me, but for some reason, he didn’t have the courtesy to turn around and give me a quick answer. Why would someone behave like that?
By that point, I’d only been inside the stadium for 25 minutes, so I really did feel like I had a shot at 20, and not to sound greedy or anything, but as long as I was gonna be aiming high, why not try to break the Citi Field record of 21, which I set on September 17, 2010?
My 11th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, reaching down over the railing in the front row. Greg guessed that it was hit by Wilmer Flores, but we weren’t sure.
Then, for some reason, Racaniello threw me a ball. I hadn’t asked for it. He just turned and let it fly, and when I asked him what the hell that was all about, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know, I’m in a good mood today.”
Just before the gates opened to the general public, an employee on the party deck tossed a (commemorative) home run ball to me.
Everything was going my way, and with Marlon Byrd and John Buck still due to take their cuts, I thought I might snag 20 balls before the Tigers even took the field.
Look who showed up and grabbed a seat behind me in the shade:
That’s my girlfriend, Hayley. She hadn’t decided to join me until the night before, at which point it was far too late to try to track down another season ticket for her. I’d warned her that I was going to be able to enter the stadium half an hour early, and that she’d be stuck outside the gates on her own during that time, and she was okay with it. (Does that make me a bad boyfriend or a dedicated ballhawk? Or both?)
My 14th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, once again reaching down below the railing in the front row.
My 15th ball was a fairly deep homer that I caught on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo, taken by Hayley, that shows me just before I gloved it:
Knowing that Hayley was sitting behind me, I busted out with some goofy dance moves. Little did I know that she’d photograph me and later insist that I share it on my blog:
Here I am catching my 16th ball — yet another home run by an unidentifiable right-handed batter on the Mets:
Suck it, Greg.
I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and then, to my dismay, the Mets jogged off the field. WTF?! Not only was BP ending 15 minutes early, but the two best righties — Byrd and Buck — had never come out. Oh, what might have been! It was extremely frustrating, but what could I do? I headed to the back of the section with Greg, and we changed into our Tigers gear. That’s when a kid named Eli approached me and asked me to sign a baseball. Here he is watching me do so:
There was so much time to kill that I wandered into foul territory for a bit. I hoped to get a toss-up, but had no luck as the Tigers were not being generous.
Eventually one of the coaches wheeled out the basket of balls . . .
. . . which was a good sign. At least the Tigers *were* going to take BP. Of course, by that point, the left field seats were fairly crowded . . .
. . . but that didn’t stop me from catching a line-drive homer off the bat of Austin Jackson. I handed that ball to the nearest kid (who happened to recognize me from YouTube), and when I saw that Prince Fielder was going to hit in the next group, I headed to the second deck in right field. This is kind of a weird camera angle, but look how steep and scary it is out there:
In the photo above, that’s me standing on the staircase.
Things didn’t go too well for me at first. I got robbed on a Victor Martinez home run by a fan who narrowly edged me out in the front row:
I made a decent catch of my own soon after on a homer by Prince Fielder. I had to run 15 feet to my left and then jump to reach it, and in the process, I banged the crap out of my left shin. That was my 18th ball of the day, and I got another homer five minutes later — a Victor Martinez blast that landed in the seats far to my left. In fact, it was so far away (roughly one and a half sections) that I didn’t even bother running for it at first. There were other fans standing closer to the spot where it was heading, but when I saw slowly/apathetically they all reacted, I decided to haul ass.
That it for BP . . . sort of. There was another group of hitters after that (during which I positioned myself in left-center), but I didn’t catch anything else.
I figured I wasn’t going to break the Citi Field record — that was going to require snagging an additional three balls — so at the very least, I hoped to get one more in order to push my total to 20. I’d snagged 20 balls at a single game 15 times, but only once in New York City, so I was on the verge of achieving something special.
After BP, I raced to the 3rd-base dugout . . .
. . . but got ignored by the last few coaches to clear the field.
Twenty minutes before the first pitch, I sweet-talked my way down into the seats in deep right-center . . .
. . . but didn’t get anything there.
Then I rushed back to my ticketed section in the hope of getting a pre-game toss-up . . .
. . . but the result was the same: no love from the Tigers! (I did, however, give another ball away.)
With Max Scherzer on the hill, I would’ve liked to sit near the home-plate end of the dugout. I figured that several innings were going to end with strikeouts, but let’s just say that I’m not exactly welcome over there. I’m on good terms with nearly every Citi Field employee, but unfortunately, the one who happens to enjoy checking my ticket is stationed there. So I kept my distance and sat here with Hayley:
In the second inning, I had a great opportunity to catch a high foul pop-up that landed four rows in front of me on the stairs, but wouldn’t you know it? The wind was swirling, and the ball drifted slightly, and I got hung up on one of those gosh-darned railings, and the ball ended up falling *just* beyond my reach. That REALLY sucked.
I made myself feel better by thinking about the 19 balls that I’d snagged, which included ten home runs that I’d caught on the fly. Also, I was with my girlfriend, and we were witnessing an incredible pitching matchup. Max Scherzer (and his 18-1 record) was facing Matt Harvey (who had started the All-Star Game last month). It doesn’t get much better than that. And we got to see Miguel Cabrera too. Check out his absurd stats:
Whenever Cabrera took the field, he got heckled mercilessly by this guy:
That guy wasn’t funny. He was flat-out annoying, and I was amazed that no one complained about him. He stood there for entire at-bats — sometimes for entire half-innings — so he was definitely blocking the view of numerous fans. At one point, Cabrera turned toward this guy and (from 100 feet away) made a subtle shushing gesture. It was hilarious, but didn’t exactly work.
Here I am with Hayley:
The previous night, whenever a batted ball resulted in the final out of an inning, Cabrera had it tossed to him, and he proceeded to throw it into the crowd. I had seen a grown man get one of these 3rd-out balls on this same staircase where I was now sitting, so I figured it was a good spot. Unfortunately, at this game, four of the first five innings ended with strikeouts, so I never had much of a chance.
Scherzer ended up fanning 11 batters in six scoreless innings; Harvey surrendered a career-high 13 hits in 6 2/3 innings, but allowed just two runs. The Tigers ended up winning, 3-0, so Scherzer’s won-lost record improved to 19-1. Wow!
After the final out, I figured I only had one good chance to get a ball — not from the players or coaches, but from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Can you spot me in the following photo?
See the yellow-shirted security supervisor on the field? He’s standing directly beyond my glove. Moments after that photo was taken, Nelson tossed me a ball! He gave one to Greg too, and he also hooked up several other fans.
I admit that that’s an unexciting way to get a ball, but given the statistical circumstances, I was pumped. Here I am with Greg and our umpire balls:
Here’s a closeup of my final ball — No. 20 of the day:
If Greg hadn’t been there, I probably would’ve gotten 25 balls, but of course he could say the same about me. Ultimately, we’re friends, and while we do enjoy talking trash every once in a while, we root for each other to catch as many balls as possible and try to stay out of each other’s way.
Here are the 15 balls that I kept:
Five of them have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.
And finally, here are some stats . . .
• 20 baseballs at this game
• 530 balls in 71 games this season = 7.46 balls per game.
• 680 balls in 88 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.73 balls per game.
• 943 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 468 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 16 lifetime games with 20 or more 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
• 6,989 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)
• $68.60 raised at this game
• $1,817.90 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $37,723.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009