Camden Yards is 194 miles from my home in New York City, but in this case, the distance meant nothing. I had three big reasons for skipping work and driving down for the day. First, I’d heard that the Orioles were using special baseballs to commemorate their 60th anniversary, and I *really* wanted to snag one. Second, the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be there, and I wanted to catch up with Heath Bell. And third, my girlfriend, Hayley, had a rare day off and was willing to tag along because she’d never been to Maryland. We made it to Baltimore more than four hours before the stadium was going to open, but I’ll spare you the details of how we spent it. Instead I’ll cut to the chase — here we are outside the gates:
That photo was taken by my friend and fellow ballhawk Tim Anderson. In the following photo, Tim is wearing the white t-shirt, and you can see Hayley waving in the background:
You can also see my first baseball of the day, which, disappointingly, was not commemorative. It was a batting practice homer by J.J. Hardy, which landed in the seats, took a series of wild ricochets, narrowly eluded Tim, and eventually trickled to me.
Meanwhile this was Hayley’s view:
I had told her to sit all the way back there so that she wouldn’t get drilled by any baseballs. I had also asked her to try to get a few action shots of me.
This is not what I had in mind:
I don’t know why I was making that horrified face (on the left) or prancing around like a complete tool (on the right), but hey, anyone can look stupid for an instant, right?
Thankfully there were moments when I looked a bit better, and Hayley captured those too. Although the following photo is blurry, it’s my favorite because it shows me jumping high for my second ball of the day — a J.J. Hardy homer that I caught on the fly. Check it out:
The left field seats were crowded. Look how much competition there was just on my staircase:
When the Rays started warming up, I was glad to see Heath Bell:
After a few minutes, I changed into my Rays gear and headed to the seats along the left field foul line:
That’s where I got my third ball — a softly-thrown one-hop knuckler from Jake McGee that I trapped against the wall after lunging out of the stands.
Eventually Heath came over to say hello, and we chatted for a few minutes:
He noticed Hayley taking photos nearby and asked, “Is that your girl?”
I waved her down and introduced them. (It felt weird to say, “Hayley, this is Heath. Heath, this is Hayley.”) He asked how we met (heh), and we all chatted briefly.
Toward the end of BP, I got a toss-up from Grant Balfour in straight-away left field. Then, at the end of BP, I hurried to this spot behind the 3rd base dugout . . .
. . . and got my fifth ball of the day from Rays coach Tom Foley. He’s always been generous.
In the 1st inning, I led Hayley out to the Flag Court:
My plan was to hang out there for all left-handed batters and to go for foul balls from righties behind the plate.
So much for that.
The stadium was too crowded for me to run back and forth through the cross-aisle, and on top of that, I wanted a commemorative ball more than I wanted a home run. All five of my pre-game balls had the regular MLB logo, so I pretty much *had* to snag one during the game. Therefore I went for foul balls all night. Whenever a righty was at bat, I stood in a tunnel on the 1st base side of home plate, and whenever a lefty was hitting, I hung out here:
The only exception was when the Rays were in the field with two outs. That’s when I tried to work my way down behind their dugout in the hopes of getting a 3rd-out ball.
Long story short: TOTAL FAILURE. There was a shocking lack of foul balls, and I kept having bad luck at the dugout.
As the Orioles were about to wrap up their 7-1 win, I knew that my only remaining chance was to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the final out. I looked up the box score to find out who it was, and when I saw the name, I was like, “Huh?”
I’d never heard of him before, so obviously he was a rookie. Was he cool? Was he a jerk? I had no idea what to expect, but my strategy remained the same.
As he walked quickly off the field and out through the tunnel, he only gave away one ball. Somehow I was the lucky recipient and . . . just LOOK at this thing of beauty:
THAT is a gorgeous logo.
Moments later, I noticed three guys walking across the field from the Rays’ bullpen:
It just so happened that Heath Bell was in the middle. I waved him over as he approached the dugout, and we chatted for a minute. Before we said goodbye, I showed him the commemorative ball, figuring he might be mildly interested, but as it turned out, he liked it so much that he said he was gonna try to get one for himself. I’m calling it now: after he retires, we’re going to attend a game and ballhawk together.
On the way out, I gave away two BP balls to random kids, and I got someone to take my photo with Hayley:
Even though the paid attendance was only 15,799 at this game, the stadium felt MUCH more crowded than it used to be. Not too many years ago, I would expect to snag 10 to 15 balls per game here. On September 14, 2009, I snagged 22 balls, and the next day I got 25. Those days are loooooong gone, but it’s still an amazing ballpark, and I’m always glad to make the trip.
Here are the four balls that I kept . . .
. . . and here are some numbers for ya:
• 6 baseballs at this game
• 58 baseballs in 7 games this season = 8.29 balls per game.
• 973 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 63 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 7,234 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.)
• 16 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.37 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $8.22 raised at this game
• $79.46 raised this season
• $38,743.46 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
SPECIAL BONUS SECTION — some words from Hayley herself:
Baltimore’s a cute town. I’ve been to four different stadiums now, so, in my highly expert opinion, I thought Camden Yards was pretty nice. It was cool being able to walk around the whole place easily via the cross-aisle without having my view obstructed, or feeling like an usher was going to demand my ticket at any second. I ended up just sitting in my seat and letting Zack do his thing for the final third of the game, but it was a good time nonetheless. Also, the crowds were bigger than I expected — who are all these people staying out at a baseball game until 10pm on a Monday night?