This day had huge potential from the start. Not only was I four baseballs away from No. 7,000, but I’d heard that the Nationals were using a variety of old commemorative balls during BP, including two that I’d never gotten from the 2010 All-Star Game and World Series. I was so excited that I was practically jumping out of my shoes when I arrived at the stadium. I couldn’t wait to see the field, so I headed to the roof of the parking garage in deeeeep right-center field for a sneak-peek:
Excellent! The weather was iffy, so it was great to see that the field was set up for BP.
Here’s another photo that I took from the garage roof:
That photo shows the center field gate, and if you look closely, you can see my friend Ben Weil on the sidewalk. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and standing triumphantly with his arms in the air.
At 4:30pm, the stadium opened, and by 4:33pm, I’d snagged my first ball — a home run that I think was hit by Gio Gonzalez. I was in straight-away left field, and when I grabbed it in the seats, I pretty much freaked out because it was a 2010 All-Star Game ball.
After that, I headed to the Red Porch seats in left-center, and within a few moments, I was spotted by Nationals batting practice pitcher Ali Modami. The first words out of his mouth were, “You have enough balls!”
Modami is perfectly friendly, but ever since he figured out who I am and heard about my collection, he stopped giving me baseballs. I can’t really blame him, but now I needed his help more than ever. I asked him if it were true that the Nationals were using 2010 World Series balls in BP. He said yes and mentioned some of the other commemorative balls that that he’d seen. I told him I already had all the others and that I was *dying* to get a 2010 World Series ball and that I’d driven down here from New York just for the purpose of getting one.
As luck would have it, the batter promptly hit a ball to Modami, who fielded it and inspected it.
“This is a 2010 World Series ball,” he shouted from 50 feet away, “but it’s kind of messed up!”
“I don’t care!” I yelled. “If you’d be willing to give it to me, I promise I’ll never harass you for another ball for the rest of my life!”
It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and to my delight, he threw me the ball. The logo wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t THAT bad. Nevertheless, he offered to get me a better one. (Was I dreaming? Had I died and gone to ballhawking heaven? Oh wait, I don’t believe in heaven.) There were two kids shagging near him, and for the next few minutes, whenever either of them fielded a ball, Modami got them to throw it to him, and sure enough, he inspected them all. Unbelievable.
Eventually he got his hands on a good one and looked in my direction. I thought he was simply going to swap balls with me, but instead, he told me to give the crappier ball to the fan on my right. As soon as I did that, he handed the better World Series ball to one of the kids on the field and told him to run over and toss it to me . . . and just like that, I had a brand-new 2010 World Series ball (with the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot). It was too good to be true.
For the record, I decided NOT to count both World Series balls toward my grand total because (a) the second ball was a replacement for the first one and (b) I knew ahead of time that I could give away one to get another. If, hypothetically, I’d given away the first one without being asked and Modami happened to witness it, and he decided to give me another ball as a reward, then I would’ve counted both. Do you understand the difference? It’s subtle (and yes, totally arbitrary), but I do have my reasons for counting certain balls and not others. Ultimately I try to make the “right” decisions that reflect my effort/achievement without falsely padding my stats. So again, just to be clear, the way I saw it, I had snagged *two* baseballs by this point in the day, bringing my lifetime total to 6,998.
My third ball was a homer that I caught on the fly. Here’s a photo of it, along with the first two:
Is that a beautiful sight or what? And yes, the third ball was from the final season of the Metrodome.
Why are the Nationals using all these balls? My guess is that Rawlings had a surplus and sold them cheap. Years ago, the Mets got all the leftover commemorative balls — that’s how I snagged my All-Star balls from 2005, 2006, and 2008 — and now the Nationals seem to have them. Lucky me.
My next ball was going to be No. 7,000, so I wanted it to be a good one, and most importantly, if it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who hit it. Several days earlier, I had thought about hiring a videographer. That’s what I did for my 6,000th ball at Fenway Park last season, but this time around, I decided to film myself. Here’s how it played out:
Quick recap for those who didn’t watch the video: it was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly, reaching far over the railing in the front row. I didn’t know who hit it, so I asked Taylor Jordan, who said (unconvincingly) that it was Anthony Rendon. And there you have it. Here’s a list of all my personal milestones:
Ball No. 1,000 — thrown by Pedro Borbon Jr. on June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
Ball No. 2,000 — thrown by Joe Roa on May 24, 2003 at Olympic Stadium
Ball No. 3,000 — snagged with the glove trick on May 7, 2007 at the old Yankee Stadium
Ball No. 4,000 — thrown by Livan Hernandez on May 18, 2009 at Dodger Stadium
Ball No. 5,000 — BP homer by Alex Rios on May 28, 2011 at Rogers Centre
Ball No. 6,000 — thrown by Brad Lidge on June 8, 2012 at Fenway Park
Ball No. 7,000 — BP homer by Anthony Rendon (??) on August 28, 2013 at Nationals Park
I’ve made a point of snagging all these balls at different stadiums. I’m hoping to get No. 10,000 at Camden Yards, and I’d like to get No. 8,000 and No. 9,000 outside of New York City. I feel like Philly is due for some milestone love, even though they don’t love me, but whatever, I have two years to figure it out.
Here I am with my 7,000th ball . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at it:
It’s weird to achieve a milestone in 2013 by catching a ball from 2010, but hey, that’s just how it all worked out.
My fifth ball of the day was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly in the front row in left-center field. I have no idea who hit it, but I can tell you that it was another 2010 All-Star Game ball.
My sixth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly after jumping pretty high in the middle of a row in left-center. Check out the logo on THAT one:
I didn’t “need” any commemorative balls from Minnesota, but it was still fun to catch them.
Here’s a photo that I took after the Nationals’ portion of BP ended — can you find the ball?
In case you missed it, it’s sitting in the gap behind the right-center field wall. I had noticed it land there several minutes earlier, so when there was a break in the action, I hurried over and snagged it with my glove trick. Look what type of ball it was:
HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!?!
I was hoping that the Marlins would use some of the Nationals’ commemorative balls during BP, but unfortunately, every ball I got for the rest of the day had the standard MLB logo. (Poor me, right?)
Here’s where I was when I got my eighth ball:
In the photo above, the player standing in front of me is Mike Dunn. He had tossed it to me, and when I saw the logo, I handed it to a kid on my right.
My ninth ball was a homer by Christian Yelich that landed in the seats in right-center and ricocheted in my direction as several other fans were closing in on it. Two minutes later, I reached double digits by grabbing a Logan Morrison homer in the seats. That one was pretty simple — a line-drive shot that I read well off the bat. I darted two rows back while the ball was in mid-air and then cut across toward the spot where it ended up landing. Of course, I was still kicking myself for the two Jayson Werth homers that I’d misjudged earlier, and there were others that I coulda/shoulda caught. If I’d done everything right, I might’ve ended up with 20 balls by the end of BP.
At around 6pm, I headed back to left field . . .
. . . and saw something icky:
In the photo above, that’s an exterminator spraying chemicals into a grate beneath a seat in the front row. (Here’s some advice: DON’T SIT THERE.)
My 11th ball was thrown by Arquimedes Caminero, and it was very lucky. I was standing in the front row behind the bullpen when he chuckled it (from the warning track) to a middle-aged woman on my right. The ball clanked off her bare hands and skipped off the railing in my direction. Instinctively, I lunged for it and managed to glove it before it plopped down into the bullpen — and then I handed it to her.
On my way back to the Red Porch seats, I gave another ball to a little kid, and two minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag this one from the gap:
After BP, I used the trick again to snag my 13th ball from the bullpen. In the following photo, there are two balls in the flowers; I got the one directly below me . . .
. . . and gave it to the nearest fan.
Ben had done *very* well in BP. In addition to snagging balls from the 2010 All-Star Game and World Series and from the 2009 All-Star Game, he also got this:
That’s a gold ball from the 2010 Home Run Derby.
It wasn’t actually used during BP; Modami had told one of the kids to hook Ben up after BP, so when the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, Ben hurried over to the seats behind the Nationals’ dugout, and somehow the kid (who had gone inside for a few minutes) appeared with that ball in his hand. That’s insane, and you know what? Ben wins. I don’t know WHAT he wins. He just wins. All-Star balls and World Series balls are nice. The logos change every year, and it’s fun/challenging to snag them, but getting a gold ball from the Derby? Are you kidding me?!
Here’s where I sat for the first half of the game . . .
. . . and here’s where I sat for the rest of it:
While I was in the outfield accomplishing nothing, Ben got two 3rd-out balls behind the Marlins’ dugout, bringing his total for the day to 11.
In the 9th inning, I moved beside the Marlins’ bullpen . . .
. . . and after the final out, I got bullpen coach Reid Cornelius to toss me my 14th ball.
Final score: Nationals 2, Marlins 1.
Here are the four different commemorative balls that I’d snagged:
Here’s my 7,000th ball with the empty stadium in the background:
Here’s the ball at a nearby Chinese restaurant . . .
. . . and here it is in our hotel room:
In case you’re wondering, Ben was not naked. He was wearing shorts. And gold chains.
Here’s a closeup of the ball . . .
. . . and here are the ten that I kept:
The Nationals might be my new favorite team. Just kidding. Go Diamondbacks!! But seriously, what a day. I wonder how long the Nationals’ supply of commemorative balls will last . . .
• 14 baseballs at this game (ten pictured above because I gave four away)
• 551 balls in 73 games this season = 7.55 balls per game.
• 275 balls in 20 lifetime games at Nationals Park = 13.75 balls per game.
• 945 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 470 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 59 different commemorative balls (click here to see my whole collection)
• 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
• 7,010 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)
• $48.02 raised at this game
• $1,889.93 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $37,795.93 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009