My first baseball of the day . . .
. . . was thrown to me at the start of BP by Mets pitcher Vic Black, and it was extra special. Not only was it the 700th ball that I’d ever snagged at Citi Field, but it marked an important milestone in my consecutive games streak. You know how I’ve gotten at least one ball at each of my last 951 games? Well, the first of those games took place on September 10, 1993, so this was the 20th anniversary.
Five minutes later, I caught an Adam Brown homer on the fly, and after the Mets finished hitting, my friend Griffin took a photo of me with the ball I’d gotten from Black:
It’s funny how an ordinary ball that gets tossed up by a lesser-known player in an empty stadium can be so meaningful.
This was the scene before the Nationals started hitting:
When their portion of BP got underway, I caught three homers on the fly in the first group. I wasn’t sure who hit them, but Griffin was pretty sure that Wilson Ramos was responsible for all three. The first was a towering fly ball that forced me to reach over the railing in the front row, the second was a line drive that I caught on a semi-crowded staircase, and the third was another high fly ball that I caught after drifting 20 feet to my left.
That’s all I got during BP, which is to say that I got shut out during the final half-hour. Things just weren’t going my way, and part of it was my fault. For example, on one home run, I drifted back several steps, only to watch it smack off the facade of the 2nd deck and bounce down into the front row. Then, ten minutes later, expecting a similar ricochet, I scurried down to the front row and watched helplessly as the ball fell short of the facade and landed several rows behind my original spot. Early in the day, I let my friend Greg catch a home run on my right (because he had gotten to the spot first), and later on, I let a guy named Jeff catch one on my left for the same reason. To Jeff’s credit, he didn’t have his glove on at that moment and caught the ball bare-handed. I can’t really complain about snagging five balls during BP (including four homers on the fly), but with a bit more luck and less stupidity, I could’ve easily hit double digits.
Before the game, I made my way down toward the left field foul line . . .
. . . and over to the Nationals’ dugout, where I saw Anthony Rendon:
I’d brought my 7,000th ball with me, hoping to get him to sign it. (You may recall that he hit that ball during BP on 8/27/13 at Nationals Park.) Evidently he was really busy staring at the warning track because when I shouted, “Anthony, can you please sign one?” he barely turned around long enough to shake his head and wave his hand dismissively.
I stood there for a couple of minutes, trying to think of something else to say or do.
I expected him to ignore me, but he actually turned around, so I kept talking . . .
“You hit a ball that I caught two weeks ago in D.C., which was actually my 7,000th ball!” He and his teammates glanced at each other and smiled, but whatever. At least I had his attention. “I know it sounds crazy,” I continued, “but I’ve caught more baseballs than anyone, and it would be VERY meaningful to me if you would sign it! I’m sorry to bother you! I’ll be here tomorrow, and I’ll try to give you a shout then!”
It was impossible to interpret his reaction. All I can say is that (a) he definitely heard every word I said and (b) he seemed to nod at the end. I don’t know if he was nodding just to be polite so that I’d shut up or if he was considering my request or if he was actually indicating that he’d sign for me the following day, but in any case, I gave it my best shot.
Just before the game got underway, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid and headed out to my seat in left field. Rather than taking a photo of my view (as I normally do), I decided to get a shot of what the seats looked like on my right. Check it out:
As you can see, it wasn’t exactly crowded out there . . . and two women were sleeping in the row behind me. They were totally passed out for a solid inning or two, prompting several other fans in the section to take photos of them while posing nearby. I know it’s depressing to watch the Mets and that fans need some sort of escape, such as reading a newspaper or playing a dopey video game, but sleeping?! That’s a new one.
At the tail end of yet another slow night, pinch hitter Scott Hairston came to bat against Mets reliever Tim Byrdak and launched a deep fly ball to left field. Here are some screen shots, courtesy of MLB.com, that show how it all played out, starting with the moment of impact:
Everyone knew it was gone . . .
. . . including me. Of course, the ball was heading one section over, so I jumped up and took off running through the empty 3rd row:
I knew exactly where it was going to land. The only question was whether or not I’d be able to get there in time. As the ball was descending, I reached the stairs and began heading down toward the front row:
The ball was heading toward a large man who was standing in front of the end seat. I didn’t know if he was going to try to catch it or if he’d end up flinching at the last second. All I could think was . . . I’m going for it. This was a GAME HOME RUN. I just couldn’t let it go.
Here I am reaching out for the ball — look closely and you can see a teeny white speck about to enter my glove:
It was a tough catch because (a) I was still moving forward toward the railing as the ball landed and (b) the big guy made his own attempt to grab it . . . literally.
The ball landed in the palm of my glove, and as I tried to grab it with my bare hand and move away from him, he tried to snatch it from me:
Thankfully I was able to hang onto it, and as you can see below, I was surprised and excited:
I shouldn’t really have been surprised. It’s not like this was the first home run I’d ever caught, but it was the first for me this year at Citi Field — and this was my 20th game here. I guess I was surprised to have come up with the ball after running so far and tussling with that fan.
As Hairston rounded the bases . . .
. . . I headed back to my seat . . .
. . . and thought about apologizing to the fan. I really did feel bad about having reached in front of him, but on the flip side, he shouldn’t have tried to take the ball from me after I’d caught it.
Back in my seat, I photographed the ball . . .
. . . and after a few minutes, the guy and his two friends started heading my way. My first thought was, “This isn’t good.” I truly thought they were going to start a fight, but as it turned out, they were cool as hell and just wanted to get a photo with me. Here we are:
Still hoping to make nice, I started to apologize, and the big guy was like, “Don’t even worry about it, bro.” He told me that I’d made a great catch, and when he saw my shirt and heard about the charity, he said, “It’s good that you caught it because if I’d gotten it, I probably would’ve thrown it back on the field.” His friends were teasing him for having failed to catch the ball, and they were all excited about seeing themselves later on SportsCenter.
A few facts about that ball:
1) It was Hairston’s 105th career home run, and by the way, here’s the video of it.
2) It was my 26th game home run ball (not counting toss-ups).
3) I’ve caught game home runs on the fly in three different stadiums this season.
Also, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but someone who donated money to my charity fundraiser last year has pledged $100 per home run that I catch this season during games. I’m not sure if the Did Gregorious homer that I snagged on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium will count since I picked it up off the ground, or if the Adam LaRoche homer that I got on 6/25/13 at Nationals Park will count since Heath Bell tossed it to me from the bullpen. I guess I’ll let the donor decide. Either way, I’m glad to be raising extra money for a great cause. (In case you’re wondering, this donor reads my blog and often leaves comments. I’m not sure if he wants to be identified, so if he does, he can reveal himself.)
After the game, which the Nationals won, 6-3, I hurried over to the 3rd-base dugout and got these two balls thrown to me:
Now let me explain . . .
I was about 10 rows back when one of the players threw me a ball. (Greg was certain that it was Ross Ohlendorf, but I’m not so sure.) I didn’t realize until after I’d caught it that the cover had been removed. When I looked back up at the player with a “WTF” expression, he was laughing and holding another ball, which he threw to me. Those are the two balls pictured above, and yes, I’m counting them both toward my grand total. Remember the coverless ball that I snagged from a bullpen gutter on 8/23/13 at Citi Field? I decided to count that one, so there’s no reason why this one shouldn’t count as well.
What a wacky day — and it wasn’t quite done. On the 7 train back to Manhattan, Greg and Griffin and I decided to “triforce” by “touching our balls together,” but as you can see below, it turned out to be a . . . quadforce?
Greg ended up with seven baseballs at this game; the guy reaching out with the striped shirt got four and wishes to remain anonymous.
• 598 balls in 79 games this season = 7.57 balls per game.
• 707 balls in 91 lifetime games at Citi Field = 7.77 balls per game.
• 951 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 26 lifetime game home runs (plus six that I don’t really count because they were tossed to me, and c’mon, let’s face it, that’s way too easy)
• 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
• 7,057 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.)
• 39 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.48 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $27.84 raised at this game
• $2,081.04 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $14,500 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $37,987.04 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009