Let me start by showing a photo of the line outside the Ashburn Alley gate in left field:
Do those two guys in the front look familiar?
The guy on the left is probably more recognizable. He’s a very talented up-and-coming ballhawk named Grant Edrington, and I met him for the first time this summer in Baltimore. Remember this photo of us from 7/31/14 at Camden Yards?
In the photo above, did you notice Jeff’s fancy camera? He was there to film me for an upcoming documentary, and let me tell you, he worked HARD to get great footage from many different angles. Here he is filming me from behind . . .
. . . and from the side:
Jeff was constantly on the move, but made sure not to block me from running left or right. As a former/occasional ballhawk, he knew that lateral mobility was essential for me.
The Phillies only had one group of hitters after the gates opened, but I managed to snag three balls during that time. The first was tossed by Jake Diekman in center field, just to the left of the batter’s eye. The second was a home run that I grabbed in the seats in left-center JUST before Grant charged over from his spot in straight-away left. The third was thrown by Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in left field as BP ended; I had noticed that he was holding a ball, so when the Phillies started jogging off, I shouted his name and got him to hook me up.
Soon after the Pirates began getting loose . . .
. . . I got my fourth ball thrown to me in the left-field corner by some coach-like catcher guy, and when BP got underway, I got ball No. 5 tossed by John Holdzkom. (Don’t feel bad — I hadn’t heard of half these players either.)
The first group of Pirates hitters was great. They were all right-handed, they all seemed to have power, and I caught four home runs on the fly. The first was a deep drive to left-center by Andrew McCutchen, and although I made a highlight-reel-worthy play, it was ugly and unnecessary — kinda like when an outfielder misjudges a ball and then ends up having to dive for it. It’s like, “Yeah, nice catch, but you’re an idiot.” Basically, I climbed back over two rows in the process of running one full section to my left, and when I reached the far staircase, I looked up for the ball, expecting it to be sailing over my head. I thought I was going to have to jump for it, or maybe even keep running up the steps and scramble for it in the seats. I also thought I had a bit more time before it was going to land, but instead the ball was right on me, and it didn’t travel as far as I predicted, so I ended up sticking my glove out awkwardly, for a palm-up, waist-high catch. Duh. I’m not sure who hit the next homer, but I can tell you that I ran full-speed one and a half sections to my right and made a lunging, thigh-high, back-handed catch. That one felt good except for the fact that I might have robbed Grant on it. He was camped out two rows behind the spot where the ball landed and might have been able to reach it. The next two homers were hit by McCutchen, and they were both routine; I drifted down a few steps for one and then moved 15 feet to my left for the other — no competition. Several fans started getting on me to give a ball away, but I didn’t because (a) the few little kids in my section had already gotten balls and (b) the bigger kids were too big. Sorry, but when a 14-year-old starts begging me for a ball, that’s just silly. Catch one yourself. And when a middle-aged man asks me for a ball for his eight-year-old daughter, and I’m like, “Okay, where is she?” and he’s like, “Oh, she’s at home,” that’s just not a situation I want any part of. Go buy one for her at the team store.
For the second group of Pirates hitters, I moved to right field . . .
. . . and promptly got my 10th ball of the day tossed by Gregory Polanco. Several minutes later, I made a nice catch on an Ike Davis homer, climbing down over two rows and back-handing it just behind a small cluster of flinching fans. I handed that ball to the nearest kid.
When I ran back to left field for the Pirates’ third group, a couple of guys sitting deep in left-center recognized me. I stopped to chat for about five seconds, but then had to keep moving and get into position. A minute later, I looked back in their direction and noticed Jeff standing at a railing just above them. I pulled out my camera to take a picture of him, but it didn’t turn out as planned:
See the guy in the white shirt giving a thumb-up? That’s the main guy who recognized me. See Jeff above him, looking off to the side? Basically, the person I wanted to photograph wasn’t paying attention, and the guy I wasn’t interested in photographing was posing for me. Ha! Oh well.
Meanwhile, look how crowded it had gotten in left field:
In the photo above, that’s me in the yellow shirt in the fourth row. I didn’t get any baseballs there, but guess what? I ran back to right field for the Pirates’ fourth and final group, and I caught one more ball — a home run by an unidentifiable lefty. That was my 12th ball of the day and my 500th of the season. Here I am with the ball . . . with Grant:
He had gotten six balls during BP, and then I saw him snag No. 7 — a toss-up from Phillies bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo. Grant and Jeff and I hung out near the bullpens for a while, and to my surprise, roughly 10 minutes later, when nothing was happening, Jeff got a ball thrown to him, seemingly out of nowhere. Here he is with it:
He told me that it was thrown from the Pirates’ bullpen, and sure enough, when I looked over there, I saw bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade milling about. I called out to him, and whaddaya know? He pulled a ball out of the bag and chucked it to me — perfect aim *over* the Phillies’ bullpen down below. That was pretty cool.
My total for the day had reached 13, but I did experience some failure and rejection along the way. During BP, I misjudged a ball or two and got a couple of unlucky ricochets. Before the game, I was unable to get a toss-up from the Pirates along the left-field foul line, and after the first inning, I didn’t even come close to a 3rd-out ball at their dugout. For a poorly-attended weeknight game in September, there were an awful lot of kids sitting close to home plate, so I gave up on that and moved to left field with Jeff. This was my view out there:
The Phillies had a player in the starting lineup with zero career home runs — 3rd baseman Maikel Franco — so I was glad to be in the outfield.
During the game, Jeff took some photos of me, including this one:
See me there in my MLB hat and dark gray T-shirt? I don’t know what I was doing. Playing with my phone? Admiring my beautiful fingernails? Whatever. It’s still a cool shot.
One unexpectedly nice thing about the game was that the out-of-town scoreboard was dead:
I guess I still had Wrigley Field on my brain, and I was missing baseball in its simplest form — just the game being played in a cozy stadium without any B.S. to distract me.
This was my dinner:
When several lefties were due to bat, Jeff had gone to get a cheesesteak, and I went with him, but then I realized I wasn’t actually that hungry, so I wandered over to the adjacent concession stand, and when I saw the Old Bay-flavored popcorn, I had to try it.
It was awful!
In general, I love Old Bay (especially in this form), but somehow it didn’t work with popcorn. It just made me thirsty, and the flavor was too strong, and I wanted to be eating something like this instead.
Anyway, late in the game, with the Phillies trailing by a couple of runs, the stadium cleared out. I had so much room to run . . .
. . . but nothing to run for. That’s usually how it goes. There was only one home run all night — a 5th-inning blast to left-center by Starling Marte — and Grant nearly caught it.
After the final out of the Pirates’ 6-4 win, I bolted through the seats and barely made it to their dugout as the relievers were walking in from the bullpen. It was crowded, so I stood on a seat and got one of the players to throw me a ball. As soon as I reached out and made the catch (which, I have no doubt, was intended for me all the way), I noticed a little kid standing directly below me, so I bent down and opened my glove and let him take the ball out of it. D’awww!!
Overall it was a great day. It would’ve been nice to catch Franco’s first career homer, but I put up big numbers in BP and got to reconnect with Jeff, who got some good footage . . . so no complaints.
• 14 baseballs at this game (12 pictured here because I gave 2 away)
• 502 balls in 72 games this season = 6.97 balls per game.
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least 500 balls
• 335 lifetime balls in 36 games at Citizens Bank Park = 9.31 balls per game.
• 1,038 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 371 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 7,678 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.)
• 21 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $23.94 raised at this game
• $858.42 raised this season
• $39,522.42 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009