Two months ago, someone bought me tickets to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in exchange for half the balls I snagged. The same person (who wishes to remain anonymous) bought me a “Legends” ticket for this game at Yankee Stadium, and as you can see below, it wasn’t cheap:
In fact, it cost a whole lot more than $260.00 because it came from StubHub.
I know what you’re thinking — why spend so much money for a ticket to a regular-season game, right? Well, the answer is that I’d heard (from a reliable source at MLB) that the Yankees were going to be using commemorative balls with a Mariano Rivera retirement logo. The guy who bought me the ticket wanted one of these game-used balls, and obviously I did too, but in order for me to get to keep one, I’d have to snag two. That was the deal. The first one would go to him, and the second one would be for me.
Unfortunately, the biggest source of stress had nothing to do with my ability to snag a gamer. I knew I’d get one, and I was pretty sure I’d get two. I was concerned that the commemorative balls weren’t even going to be used. I’d been told that they’d be used at every home game from September 22-26, but when I snagged a 3rd-out ball on September 24th, it turned out to be a regular ball.
What was I supposed to do? Try to resell the Legends ticket? Keep the ticket and hope for the best? On the morning of September 25th, I decided to call Steiner Sports — “the official collectibles company of Mariano Rivera and the New York Yankees” — and pretend to be interested in buying one of these game-used balls. They said they had some from Sunday and that they’d be “getting more from tonight and tomorrow.”
“What about from yesterday?” I asked.
“No,” said the customer service representative, “those are the only three games that they’re being used.”
As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to keep the Legends ticket and go for it, but there was still lots of uncertainty. MLB had told me that the balls were supposed to be used the day before, so why weren’t they used? Was MLB wrong? Did someone with the Yankees mess up? If so, how did that happen? Could Steiner Sports be trusted? I truly had NO idea what to think, and I knew that by keeping the ticket, I was taking a huge risk. That’s because there was a two-part deal that would take effect if I failed to deliver:
1) If the Yankees ended up using commemorative balls and I failed to snag one, I would have to give the guy who bought the ticket my Scott Hairston game home run ball that I caught on 9/10/13 at Citi Field.
2) If the commemorative balls did not end up being used, I would have to pay for half the cost of the ticket, give up my Hairston home run ball, and give him a game-used ball from this game.
See why I was stressed? But hey, at least the shipment of Charlie Brown Bobbleheads had arrived:
I’m not kidding. The Yankees were actually going to be giving out Charlie Brown Bobbleheads, and after the fiasco that occurred the day before with the Mariano Rivera Bobbleheads, it was a relief to see that things were running smoothly.
Before the stadium opened, I was joined in line by two friends:
In the photo above, the man with the bag draped over his shoulder is named Andy Bingham, and he was planning to take some pics of me during BP. The guy he’s talking to is Chris Hernandez, whom you might remember from the helicopter stunt.
I ran in ahead of Andy, so I took the first photo of BP . . .
. . . and got a toss-up from Cesar Cabral soon after.
The Yankees only took one group of BP, but I made the most of it. I caught a towering home run by Mark Reynolds that I jumped for in the second-to-last-row. Then Reynolds smoked a line-drive shot just over my head that I grabbed in the folded-up portion of a seat. And finally, I ran one full section to my left and steadied myself just in time to catch an Eduardo Nunez homer. Andy got a photo of that one as the ball entered my glove:
A few minutes later, when there was a quick break in the action, I met a guy from Brazil named Diego and signed his copy of Watching Baseballs Smarter. Here we are:
Did you notice the hat I was wearing? Four words: Pitch In For Baseball. It’s not too late to make a pledge for my charity fundraiser — donations won’t be collected until after the World Series — and if you do, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.
Check out this jumping catch I made on a Ben Zobrist homer:
Here’s a closeup of the ball in the tip of my glove:
Here I am getting a toss-up from Jamey Wright:
That was my sixth ball of the day, and I wasn’t close to being done. A little while later, I caught a line-drive homer on the fly that was hit by the despicable Delmon Young, and then I made a good play on this home run:
I’m not sure who hit it, but as you can see, I had stepped down over a row of seats to get into position. Here’s a closeup of the ball in my glove:
As always, I was extremely careful not to bump into anyone, and I gave some balls away. Here I am handing one to a little guy that I noticed one section to my right:
That was one of four balls that I gave away over the course of the day.
Here’s a cool photo of a ball that I didn’t catch:
Did you spot me? My face is just below the two baseball gloves.
Take another look at the photo above, specifically at the two sections in right field below the Modell’s advertisements. See how they’re much emptier than the sections on the right? That’s because the security guards were in the process of making their “sweep.” That’s when they comb through the 100 Level seats DURING BATTING PRACTICE and kick out anyone who doesn’t have a ticket for that section. Got a 3rd base ticket and want to stay in left field? Screw you. Go back to your seat. Got a left field ticket and want to go to right field? Piss off. That’s not allowed. And that’s why I laugh when my friends in other cities complain about their local stadiums.
Anyway, after batting practice, I went and got my wristband for the Legends area:
It’s a good thing I was hungry because there was LOTS of food, and it was all “free.” (Once you’ve taken out a second mortgage on your home to pay for the ticket(s), you don’t have to pay anything extra for the food. It’s just there for the taking.) I started in the upstairs restaurant, but decided not to get anything here at the Raw Bar:
Instead I got some steak and pork tenderloin:
After I ate that, I headed downstairs . . .
. . . and passed through this dining area . . .
. . . and got a few pieces of sushi:
I could’ve gotten a lot more. In fact, when I pointed to a certain kind, the server grabbed four pieces. I guess that’s the default amount that they distribute, so I told him that I only wanted one of this and two of that, etc.
I was saving room for dessert:
(This was my 2nd time in the Legends area — click here to read about my first experience — but that didn’t make it any less fun.)
I started off easy with a Rice Krispy treat, two small cupcakes, and three chocolate-covered strawberries:
If I hadn’t been eating, I could’ve been working the Rays for pre-game toss-ups behind the dugout and along the left field foul line. I could’ve also headed to the bleachers and tried to get a ball from Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey or from Rays bullpen catcher Scott Cursi, but whatever. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stuff myself silly, and I was also being strategic. If I’d gotten a bunch of toss-ups before the game, the players might’ve recognized me during the game and NOT tossed anything my way when it really mattered.
Eventually, though, it was time to head up into the seats. I could’ve gone anywhere — once you’re in the Legends area, you’re pretty much free to roam — so I chose the front row behind the Yankees’ dugout. Why not, right? Check out the view:
After the national anthem, Mariano Rivera looked up into the crowd, so I waved at him. Here’s how he responded:
That’s right — he waved back! Here’s a closer look at the previous photo:
He was definitely waving at ME because there was no one else on either side of me, and I was the only one waving. That was pretty damn cool.
I was glad to see that he and all his teammates were wearing the commemorative patches on their uniforms. The commemorative balls HAD to be used. Right?
Just before the game started, I wandered as close as possible to the Rays’ on-deck circle:
Given the fact that I could go anywhere, I decided to sit here for the first two batters of the game:
I was planning to try to get the 3rd-out ball at the Yankees’ dugout after the top of the 1st inning, but why waste the first two outs over there? I figured . . . why not sit near 3rd base coach Tom Foley in case the batter were to hit a weak grounder into foul territory?
Well, there were no foul grounders, but while I was there, I leaned over the wall and noticed this:
Even the bases were commemorative! Ohmygod, the baseballs haaaaaaaaad to have a special logo on them.
With two outs (and the Rays already winning, 1-0), I headed to the 1st-base side. This was my view of the field . . .
. . . and here’s what it looked like on my right:
Basically, I was lurking in the aisle between two staircases so that I could dart left (toward home plate) in case the inning ended with a strikeout or right (toward the outfield end of the dugout) in case the batter put the ball in play. That batter was the loathsome Delmon Young, who flew out to left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Here’s what ended up happening with the ball:
(I had no idea that Andy was still taking pics. He’s the best. Check out his blog. It has lots of photos, and it’s called The Cooperstown Kid.)
In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing at me, watching helplessly as the ball was tossed to some middle-aged ladies on my right. I wasn’t concerned about not getting the ball because I knew I’d have lots more chances. I was, however, nervous as the ladies began inspecting it. I peeked over and thought, “Please-please-PLEASE, be commemorative!!” but then I saw the logo and was absolutely crushed to see that it was a regular ball. I can’t remember the last time I felt THAT disappointed about anything. Mariano Rivera is a hero to me. I hate the Yankees, but I love and respect him. His career started in 1995 when I was a senior in high school; he has been a part of my baseball experience for my entire adult life. I knew this was the last time I’d ever see him as an active player, and I wanted to snag a baseball SO BADLY that commemorated his brilliant career. It would’ve been the perfect end to this chapter of our baseball lives.
What was I supposed to do next? Run around and try to snag a bunch of regular baseballs and eat more free food? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I did.
My goal was to snag two more balls and reach double digits, and in the bottom of the 1st inning, I got one step closer. David Price was pitching. Vernon Wells was hitting. David DeJesus caught a fly ball for the 3rd out and tossed it to me on his way in. It felt good to snag a game-used ball, but compared to what could’ve been, I still felt deflated. This was my reaction:
Do you recognize the white-haired man standing next to me? That’s Brandon Steiner — the CEO of Steiner Sports. I’d met him several years earlier at some fancy dinner event, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have remembered if I’d mentioned it here at Yankee Stadium. Instead, I showed him the ball that I’d just snagged and asked what the deal was. Quite simply, he was surprised that it wasn’t commemorative. I mentioned my guy at MLB and said I’d heard that the commemorative balls were going to be used. I even mentioned that I’d called Steiner Sports earlier in the day and gotten the same information. Brandon pulled out his phone and seemed to be looking for emails related to what we were discussing, but who knows? I could tell that he was a bit distracted, but before he wandered off, he complimented me for “being on top of it,” and he handed me his card:
In the 2nd inning, I ate this:
After the 3rd inning, I got the 3rd-out ball — an Alfonso Soriano strikeout which ended up getting tossed from Jose Molina to Tom Foley to me. It was so easy. There was no competition.
The top of the 4th inning ended with an Evan Longoria strikeout, and yes, I got that ball from Chris Stewart.
Other than getting a commemorative ball, my biggest goal was to get a toss-up from Robinson Cano. Four years ago, I snagged a grand slam that he hit, but he’d never actually thrown one to me. When else would I have the chance to add his name to my list?
Over the last few seasons, I’d noticed that Cano had become the designated 3rd-out-ball tosser. It didn’t seem to matter how or where the 3rd out was recorded; when the Yankees jogged off the field each inning, the ball would inevitably find its way into his hands. Therefore, I made a sign to increase my chances of getting one from him, and in the top of the 5th inning, I finally had an opportunity to use it. This was my view with two outs:
Jose Molina was at bat, and he ended up lining out to shortstop Brendan Ryan. To my delight, Ryan threw the ball to Cano, and when Cano jogged off the field, he saw my sign and laughed. I’m not making this up. He actually chuckled and pointed it out to one of his teammates. The sign itself wasn’t funny; he was, no doubt, amused by the simple fact that someone had bothered to make a sign in the first place, but anyway, he ended up flipping me the ball, and Andy got a photo of it in mid-air! Check it out — I’ve circled Cano on the left and my glove on the right:
Several folks behind me wanted to know what the sign said, so I held it up for everyone:
Here’s a closer look:
See? There’s nothing funny about that. It simply says, “tirame la pelota, por favor,” which translates to “throw me the ball, please.”
Several people asked to borrow the sign, but I held onto it. Everyone was amused, and several folks recognized me. I really felt great after that, and I will always cherish that ball.
That was my 12th ball of the day, and there really wasn’t anywhere else for me to try to snag another. I’d gotten FOUR 3rd-out balls — one from each end of each dugout — so I decided to wander and take photos . . . and to eat more food.
Have you ever heard of the “Champion” seats at Yankee Stadium? They’re the final three sections along each foul line, which look just like the Legends seats. If you ever decide to spend hundreds of dollars for dugout access, make sure to buy a Legends ticket, not a Champions ticket, or else you’ll be trapped far from the action. Here’s a photo of the aisle behind the spot where the two areas connect:
See the security guard standing in the aisle? She was there for the sole purpose of preventing people with Champions tickets from entering the Legends area. (Even the wristbands that fans receive are different colors.) But of course with a Legends ticket, I was able to enter the Champions area. Haha! Here’s what it looked like behind me:
I headed down the steps and found myself outside the DKNY Lounge:
Here’s what the interior looked like:
Here’s a photo of the area that leads to the bathrooms . . .
. . . and here I am in the bathroom mirror:
All the food in the DKNY Lounge is free . . .
. . . but it’s not nearly as fancy as the food in the Legends area. There were hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches and sodas and bottled waters and bags of Cracker Jacks and a few other simple things. Here’s what I got:
That’s a buffalo chicken sandwich with blue cheese sauce — way too bready, but still pretty good.
I took a peek at the field from the empty front row . . .
. . . and then headed back to FancyLand. Craving something sweet after my spicy sandwich, I got some sorbet:
Those two flavors are mango and raspberry.
Meanwhile, look who WISHED he were in the Legends area:
That’s my friend Ben Weil.
Over the course of the night, I must’ve passed by this wall of candy several dozen times:
Each time, I grabbed a handful of various stuff and tossed it into my backpack. Here’s a closer look at some of the items I got:
The funny thing about that photo is that I’d been moving my glove for several seconds to find the right angle. The whole time, I was holding down the button on my camera, which was set on “continuous mode,” so I probably ended up with a dozen pics. At the very last second, that woman approached me, so I stepped aside to let her pass. I got the feeling she was thinking something like, “I’m hot and you’re weird.” Or maybe I’m just projecting.
In the 8th inning, I checked out the Kettle One Lounge down the right field foul line — same exact thing as the DKNY Lounge on the other side. Then I wandered toward the field through this tunnel . . .
. . . and checked out the view from the front row . . .
. . . before returning to Legends area.
Given the fact that the Yankees were losing, 7-3, and about to get eliminated from the postseason, there were quite a few empty seats, so I sat in the front row behind the 3rd-base dugout. Just before the 9th inning got underway, someone in the dugout rolled a ball to me across the roof. I hadn’t asked for it, and I didn’t even see who it was, so it was like, “Umm, okay, thanks.” Easiest ball ever.
This was my view in the bottom of the 9th:
In the photo above, the player on the left is Chris Archer. Guess what happened? He rolled a ball to me across the dugout roof — yes, another ball that I hadn’t asked for. It was embarrassing, and I was loving every second of it.
Some old people behind me shouted, “What about us?”
Archer looked at them and shook his head. Then he pointed at the logo on his hat and said, “Yankee fans.”
It was classic.
After the final out of the Rays’ 8-3 victory, I got a ball from home plate umpire Mike Winters. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows him just before he tossed it:
A minute or two later, I got my 16th and final ball of the day from Scott Cursi:
Wow and more wow. Can you imagine if there’d been commemorative balls? Or if I’d worked every possible angle for toss-ups before the game? What if I’d had *slightly* better luck during batting practice? (I didn’t catch anything during the final 20 minutes of BP.) I might’ve snagged 20 balls instead of tying my Yankee Stadium record of 16, but hey, I’m not about to complain.
Actually, yes, I will complain. I was told that commemorative balls were going to be used, and I feel cheated that it didn’t happen, and I’m going to lose hundreds of dollars (and a game-used home run ball) as a result. But it’s not just about me. Yankee fans and baseball fans deserved to see these balls. Everyone is going nuts for Mariano Rivera. We want as much of him as possible, and having commemorative balls during his final home series would’ve been a classy, ceremonious thing to do. The Braves and MLB did it last year for Chipper Jones; look at this gorgeous baseball that I snagged on 9/29/12 at Turner Field. Why why why why WHY were the Mariano Rivera balls NOT used at Yankee Stadium? It doesn’t make any sense. If anything, the Yankees lost money by not using them. Think about how much they’d be selling for right now.
I took one final photo of the field because Evan Longoria and James Loney were being interviewed:
Then I turned around and got a shot of my friend Chris in the normal-people seats:
Ben gave me a ride . . .
. . . back to Manhattan, and when I finally made it home, I photographed my baseballs and all the candy I’d gotten. First, here are the dozen balls that I kept:
In the photo above, my four gamers are on the bottom row; the Robinson Cano toss-up is on the lower right.
That’s when I noticed that one of the BP balls has a wonky practice stamp:
And finally, here’s the candy:
Halloween is starting early this year . . .
• 16 baseballs at this game
• 670 balls in 87 games this season = 7.70 balls per game.
• 534 balls in 81 lifetime games at the new Yankee Stadium = 6.59 balls per game.
• 959 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 236 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 30 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, the Oakland Coliseum, and Coors Field.
• 7,129 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I’ve snagged 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)
• $55.68 raised at this game
• $2,331.60 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $15,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $38,837.60 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009