This was the Phillies’ home opener, and I drove down from New York City for ONE reason: to snag a commemorative “Opening Day” baseball.
Before the stadium opened, I enjoyed a few moments of solitude — here in the parking lot, for example . . .
. . . and here outside the left field gate . . .
. . . but don’t be fooled. This game was sold out, and it got awfully crowded. This was the scene behind me just before I ran inside:
I headed for the left field seats, and within the first few minutes, I snagged a pair of Phillies home run balls — no idea who hit ’em. The first was hit one section to my right. The second landed one section to my left. I out-scrambled several other fans and grabbed both baseballs off the ground.
During the next group of hitters, I jumped as high as I could to catch a John Mayberry homer on the fly. Then, moments later, I caught another homer on the fly (possibly off the bat of Carlos Ruiz) by carefully drifting down the steps and reaching a bit higher than everyone else. And then this happened:
1) A big guy standing five rows back scolded me for bumping into another fan.
2) I assured him that I hadn’t bumped anyone, but he insisted that he saw me do it.
3) The fan he accused me of bumping said I hadn’t bumped anyone.
4) The big guy apologized to me.
With two groups of Phillies batters remaining, I headed to right field and picked a spot in the emptiest row:
I ended up catching three home runs on the fly in that section. My left arm got bumped on the first one, I gave the second one to the nearest kid, and I caught the third one (hit by Cesar Hernandez) on my palm. It stung quite a bit, but I held onto it, so whatever. And by the way, the reason I caught it awkwardly is that it was coming in low toward some gloveless fans in front of me. I wasn’t sure if they’d duck or try to catch it (and possibly deflect it into my face), so I half-lunged for the ball and half-flinched from it.
I moved back to left field when the Brewers came out, and I caught two more home runs. The first was hit by Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) and had a magic-marker streak on the sweet spot:
I have no idea who hit the other one, but I can tell you this: it was the ninth BP homer I’d snagged, including seven that I caught on the fly. These were the only nine balls I got before the game started — no Easter eggs, no toss-ups, nothing with the glove trick, and none of them were commemorative.
Here’s a cool thing that the Phillies did before the game:
In case you can’t tell, those are Phillies players and coaches passing through the crowd and heading down the steps toward a long red carpet, which was lined with fans.
Nice job, Phillies!
THAT is how to kick off a season.
Check out my view for the player introductions:
Did you notice the three guys standing on the top edge of the upper deck? I would love to go up there sometime, in Philly or anywhere. I wonder how I’d go about making it happen. Hmm.
Anyway, when the game was about to begin, I headed to the 1st base side. I wanted to maximize my chances of snagging a gamer, so why not take a shot at getting a 3rd-out ball from the Phillies after the top of the 1st inning, right?
Well, with two outs, Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) hit a routine grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who fired it over to 1st baseman Ryan Howard. I was already crouching in the front row by the time Howard caught it, and it’s a good thing because he took one step into foul territory and lobbed the ball in my direction. Everyone around me reached for it, but I reached a little higher, and I caught it! As eager as I was to look at it and take a photo, I decided to wait until I made it back to the concourse, and when that moment arrived, my heart sank. This is what I saw:
What the hell?!
The ball *was* commemorative, but the logo was crap. How was that even possible? This was a gamer! Right? Howard could not have possibly switched balls and thrown me the infield warm-up ball because . . . like I mentioned above, he tossed me this one the moment he started walking off the field. I mean, he basically took his foot off the bag, turned toward the dugout, and let it fly.
I hurried to the 3rd base side and tried to get a 3rd-out ball from the Brewers. I settled into a spot behind the outfield end of the dugout, so basically I needed each inning *not* to end with a strikeout. If Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy ended up with the ball, there was no chance I’d get it.
That said, wanna guess how the first inning ended? Yup, with a strikeout. But there was no need to worry yet. The day was still young.
The 2nd inning ended when Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) made a diving catch in right field, and wouldn’t you know it, he ended up keeping the ball.
The 3rd inning was a different story. Once again, Braun (BOOOOO!!!) caught the final out, but this time it was a routine play, and when he jogged all the way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball! And the logo was in great shape:
On the way back to my seat, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid — and then there was NO action for the next three innings.
The bottom of the 7th ended with a line-out to Brewers 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez. On his way in, he tossed me the ball, and the logo was perfect.
Then I moved to the home-plate end of the dugout, and in the middle of the 8th inning, I got a commemorative “Opening Day” infield warm-up ball from coach Garth Iorg.
The Brewers won the game, 10-4, thanks to Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) who hit three home runs and had seven RBIs. After the final out, I got another commemorative ball from coach Mike Guerrero — my 14th and final ball of the day.
Here are the 12 that I kept:
Given how badly I was treated on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park, it felt great to have a fun day there and get things back on track.
• 14 baseballs at this game
• 35 baseballs in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.
• 970 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 62 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 7,211 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 14 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.22 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.08 raised at this game
• $38,706.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009