9/21/14 at Yankee Stadium

Day games are awful because there’s often no batting practice; day games on weekends are the absolute worst because there are zillions of kids — and yet here I was. Why was I subjecting myself to guaranteed torture? Why had I set my alarm for 8:30 on a Sunday morning, only to rush off to the subway and take three different trains to the Bronx and stand outside Gate 6 at Yankee Stadium with a thousand other people? I’m not exaggerating. This was (part of) the crowd waiting to get in:

1_crowd_outside_yankee_stadium_09_21_14

I attended this game for two reasons. First, the Yankees were using commemorative baseballs with a Derek Jeter logo, and second, I had received a free ticket for the uber-fancy “Legends” area. The only downside was that I had to give half my baseballs to the person who’d hooked me up with it, and not just any half. If I snagged six regular balls before the game and two Jeter balls during live play, I wouldn’t be able to give him four of the regular balls. I had to give him half the balls from each batch, and if I only ended up catching one Jeter ball, he’d get it. That might sound harsh, but I was okay with that agreement. Ten days earlier, I had somehow snagged eight of these balls, so I didn’t really need any more; I was mainly going for the free food and to see Jeter play one last time.

Here’s what I saw when I ran inside the stadium at 11:00am:

2_field_set_up_for_bp_09_21_14

To my surprise, the field was set up for BP!

The Yankees weren’t hitting, unfortunately — just running some defensive drills with a few players on the right side of the infield, but still, it was a great sign. I figured they’d start hitting soon, or maybe the Blue Jays would take some cuts.

Under normal circumstances, I would’ve stood around with all the other schmucks in the regular seats roughly 30 feet behind the Yankees’ dugout and hoped for an unlikely toss-up, but on this fine day, I was able to head all the way down to the front row:

3_view_from_first_row_09_21_14

One of the coaches hit fungos for about five minutes:

4_yankee_coach_hitting_fungo

During that time, I made conversation with the only other fan in the section, who happened to recognize me as “that guy who catches all the baseballs.”

Before long, a small crowd formed in the regular seats behind the Legends area:

5_the_crowd_behind_me

Did you read the sign in the previous photo? It says, “FLEW From Phx, AZ Yankee Fan 39 years Be an Honor to take a picture with you mR. Jeter Please & Thank You.”

The sign amused me and also made me sad (for reasons beyond the shoddy handwriting and grammar). One does not simply show up at Yankee Stadium and take a picture with Derek Jeter. What was Jeter supposed to do — walk up into the stands and pose with this guy? Tell the security guards to escort him down to the front row?

Despite the fact that I was the only person asking for a ball, every single one of the Yankees ignored me upon walking off the field.

I headed over to the 3rd base side when the Blue Jays came out . . .

6_blue_jays_on_the_field_09_21_14

. . . but I didn’t ask anyone for a ball. I decided to save my opportunities for the game itself, so I kept my mouth shut, and when the Jays started hitting, I headed out to my normal spot in right field.

7_view_from_right_field_during_bp_09_21_14

It was crowded, and tempers were flaring. At one point, when I ran through an empty row and lunged unsuccessfully for a home run ball that had ricocheted high off a railing, a 50-something-year-old man behind me (who caught it) threatened me. He was like, “I’ve seen you out here before doing the same thing to other people! I have MY spot, and you have YOURS, and you better STAY there! If you come over here and do that again, I’m gonna kick your ass!!”

Then some other fan, who was about 20 and might have been the man’s son, started screaming at me — and I do mean screaming. We’re talkin’ veins bulging — an absolute meltdown. He was upset about seeing me wearing clothing of different visiting teams.

Several years ago, I would’ve given these guys a piece of my mind, but at this point, I’m more interested in keeping the peace, so I apologized and said I’d try to be more careful about respecting other people’s space.

It might be hard to believe, but I can see why it would be infuriating to pick a spot and have a ball come right there, only to have some other fan run over and reach in front of you. I get it. I really do. I know there’s certain etiquette that fans should follow, but the whole don’t-try-to-catch-a-ball-unless-it’s-hit-right-to-you rule simply does not exist. Rather than explaining this and likely getting into an argument, I let my glove do the talking. A minute or two later, when a deep fly ball started sailing in my direction, I drifted a short distance to my right, climbed back over two rows of seats, jumped as high as I could, and made a back-handed catch high over my head. That one felt goooooooood — and then I offered the ball to the man who’d threatened me. I love doing the unexpected and catching people off-guard like that. It’s like . . . no matter how rude you are, I’m still going to be nice because I’m in control of my emotions and you’re not, ha ha ha. The guy didn’t accept the ball, of course, so I handed it to the nearest kid.

I coulda/shoulda caught one more home run in the 100 Level, but guess what happened? As I reached up for it (while straddling a row of seats), several other fans converged on my precious spot, one of whom bumped into me, jostling my glove and causing me to drop the ball. Rather than cursing at him and issuing a hollow threat, I headed upstairs to the second deck, where I hoped things would be calmer. Here’s what it looked like as I headed into the seats from the concourse:

8_heading_into_the_second_deck

Once again, I could’ve and perhaps should’ve caught a home run, but barely came up short. I’m not sure who hit it — maybe Colby Rasmus — but anyway, as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row and then jumped for it at the last second, and it tipped off the very end of my glove. It was a tough play that surely would not have been scored an error, but it still pissed me off.

After a few minutes, I headed back down to the 100 Level. Check out the staircase:

9_line_for_monument_park_09_21_14

That was the line for Monument Park. Ew.

Meanwhile, the right field seats were as crowded as I’ve ever seen them during BP:

10_painfully_crowded_in_right_field_09_21_14

The huge crowd didn’t matter. The Blue Jays only had two groups of hitters, and they all jogged off the field moments later.

Instead of potentially catching three home runs, I had only gotten one ball — and I’d given it away. UGH!! But hey, no problem. I had a Legends ticket, so I was able to eat my sorrows away.

Upon entering the restaurant, I headed straight to the celebrity chef station:

11_celebrity_chef_station

The special treat of the day was chicken buns prepared by a Japanese chef named Ryo Hasegawa from a restaurant called Nobu Fifty Seven. Here’s what they looked like:

12_nobu_chicken_buns

So good. And I was just getting started. This was my next plate of food:

13_plate_of_assorted_food

When I was about 10 years old, I might have refused to eat that because I *hated* it when different foods touched each other, but now? Bring it on. I kinda like it when foods touch because it creates an interesting combination of flavors. My plate above had the following:

1) steak
2) grilled onions
3) fried onion rings
4) three kinds of sushi (including salmon and tuna)
5) pasta with shrimp
6) a zeppole

All of this food was free and unlimited. I was very happy. And by the way, I was sitting at the bar. Here’s what it looked like on my right:

14_legends_bar

Game time was still more than 40 minutes away, so I took a quick peek at the field . . .

15_looking_into_dugout_09_21_14

. . . and then headed back into the restaurant for dessert. Look at all these options!

16_desserts_09_21_14

I loaded a bunch of stuff on a plate.

On my way back to the seats, I stopped at the Great Wall of Candy . . .

17_wall_of_candy_09_21_14

. . . and grabbed a handful of Kit Kat bars:

18_handful_of_kit_kat_bars

No, I didn’t eat them. I tossed them in my backpack (and continued to take candy throughout the day).

Then I headed through these doors . . .

19_glass_doors_to_seating_area

. . . and enjoyed my own personal sugar-feast, using the ledge in the cross-aisle as my table:

20_desserts_i_ate_and_bottled_water

The mini-cupcakes were bland, but everything else was solid.

Shortly before game time, I headed out to left field and claimed a spot beside the Blue Jays’ bullpen:

21_drew_hutchison_warming_up

I had to press my face against the netting in order to see pitching coach Pete Walker standing behind the pitcher with his back to the wall. He happened to look up at me, so I asked if I could have a baseball.

“After,” he said, motioning toward Drew Hutchison, who was almost done warming up.

Walker kept his promise . . . sort of. He ended up wandering off without tossing me a ball, but evidently he told bullpen coach Bob Stanley to take care of me. Stanley approached me with a ball in his hand and tossed it too short, causing it to hit the netting and plop down near him. The same thing then happened again, and he finally succeeded on the third try. (Blue Jays fans, does it worry you that a man with NO AIM is coaching your pitchers?) Here’s the ball:

22_ball7759_from_bob_stanley

I was extra glad to have snagged it because it preserved a streak for me. Ever since the Mets and Yankees opened their new stadiums in 2009, I’ve gotten at least two baseballs at all of my games in New York — 131 games at Citi Field and 118 at Yankee Stadium.

On my way back to the Legends area, I passed a souvenir stand with Jeter balls for sale:

23_jeter_balls_for_sale_lol

I didn’t ask how much they were, but I’d guess $40.

This was my view for the first pitch of the game:

24_first_pitch_of_the_game_09_21_14

Masahiro Tanaka was making his first start in more than two months. Here he is delivering a pitch to Jose Bautista in the top of the 1st inning:

25_view_from_1st_base_side_09_21_14

Jose Reyes had led off with a line-drive single to left field, and Bautista followed by beating the shift with a routine grounder through the right side. It looked like Tanaka was in trouble. I wondered if his partially torn elbow ligament might still be causing issues, but then he got Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a double play and struck out Dioner Navarro on three pitches. The double play had given the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead, but it was the only run that Tanaka surrendered for the rest of the game.

This was my view for Derek Jeter’s at-bat in the bottom of the 1st:

26_view_for_derek_jeter_09_21_14

After that, I made sure to be IN a seat whenever he stepped up to the plate.

For the first two innings, I didn’t come close to any 3rd-out balls. There were several little kids sitting near the dugouts, and I also had to deal with this guy standing on my right:

27_competition_lurking_nearby_09_21_14

Did you notice what he was holding? Here’s a closer look:

28_secret_blue_jays_cap

You see? I’m not the only person who uses that trick. I just happen to be the one who gets all the crap for it.

When Chase Headley struck out to end the 3rd inning, this other fan beat me down the steps behind the home-plate end of the Blue Jays’ dugout and then tried to box me out. He stood on my right, and as Jays catcher Dioner Navarro walked toward us from the right, this guy leaned way out in front of me to basically block me from even being seen. I responded by leaning far to my left and reaching all the way out with my glove to give Navarro a target. It also helped that the other fan was still wearing his Yankees jersey (duh) and that I asked for the ball in Spanish. To my delight, Navarro tossed the ball to me perfectly, just beyond the other fan’s reach so that I was able to catch it uncontested.

Here’s the ball:

29_ball7560_from_dioner_navarro

Beautiful!

Here’s another photo of the ball that I took a little while later:

30_ball_and_candy_in_backpack

As you can see, the ball was protected in a Ziploc bag, and my backpack was filled with candy. Right after I zipped up my bag, a police officer walked over and asked what I had in there.

“Uhh, just some candy,” I said nervously. Was I about to be ejected for having taken too much of it?

“Mind if I take a look at it?” he asked.

“Well, okay, but I’m kind of embarrassed because there’s a lot of it. I’m really sorry about that.”

“If it’s only candy,” he said, “then you have nothing to worry about. Now can you please open your bag for me?”

nypd_logoLegally, I don’t know if I had to show him anything, but what was I going to do? Argue with him and ramble about my constitutional rights and demand that he get a warrant? I know plenty of people who would’ve done that, but I’m all about keeping the peace, remember? Therefore I unzipped my bag and let him peek inside.

“Is that candy all the way down?”

“Yeah, I guess I grabbed an awful lot of it. Sorry about that.”

“Move it around so I can see what’s underneath.”

I reached into the bag and churned the candy, and that seemed to satisfy him. Then he asked to see my ticket and told me that I needed to take a seat.

He continued to lurk nearby, so I sat there and pretended to watch the game, but really all I could think about was him. What was HE thinking? What was going to happen next? Was I really going to have to sit there for the rest of the game? Was I going to get in trouble?

Eventually he wandered off . . . and so did I. Over on the 1st base side, it made me feel better to get a close look at Jeter:

31_derek_jeter_in_the_dugout_09_21_14

Here’s the Captain on deck with a young fan holding a pretty cool sign for him:

32_kid_with_derek_jeter_sign

Ticket for game — $400. Gotta love Yankee Stadium.

Half an inning later, I was back on the 3rd base side:

33_view_from_left_field_foul_line_09_21_14

In the previous photo, did you notice the woman staring at me? Here’s a closer look:

34_well_hello_to_you_too

Well, hello to you too!

I didn’t notice her at the time. I only happened to spot her loving gaze the following day when I was going through my photos. Think I should post a “missed connections” ad on craigslist?

Nosy cops aside, one nice thing about having a Legends ticket is that you can wander all over the place and watch the game from different angles. I really loved getting close looks at Jeter on the final day that I would EVER see him playing Major League Baseball. (The Yankees still had four more home games after this, but I already had plans to be at PETCO Park.) Here he is talking to 3rd base coach Rob Thomson:

35_secret_plans_for_derek_jeter

Here he is taking a lead:

36_derek_jeter_taking_a_lead

Here’s the reason it was so tough for me to get 3rd-out balls:

37_unbeatable_competition

There is NO POSSIBLE WAY for a grown man like me to compete with adorableness like that. It just can’t be done. Blue Jays gear . . . asking for baseballs in foreign languages . . . it’s all garbage when kids that age are anywhere near me, and that’s fine. Kids that age *should* get baseballs. They’re always indescribably happy and probably end up being fans for life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating for me.

This was the last batter Tanaka faced:

38_scoreboard_in_the_6th_inning

Encarnacion singled to chase him from the game:

39_masahiro_tanaka_leaving_the_game

In the bottom of the 6th inning, I got more dessert . . .

40_more_dessert_which_sucked

. . . and finished in time for Jeter’s at-bat in the bottom of the 7th. Here he is at the plate:

41_my_final_time_seeing_derek_jeter_at_bat

I had a feeling this would be the final time I’d see him hit, so I switched my camera to video mode and let it roll. Four minutes and seven pitches later, Jeter ripped an RBI double down the left field line to put the Yankees on top, 3-1.

During the pitching change that followed, I noticed Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose walk all the way in to 2nd base to have a few words with Jeter:

42_anthony_gose_greeting_derek_jeter_at_second_base_during_a_pitching_change

Then the other two outfielders did the same thing. It was so touching to see these guys saying goodbye to a departing legend that I got a bit misty-eyed, and I’m getting goosebumps now just writing about it.

Here’s Jose Bautista enjoying a moment with Jeter . . .

43_jose_bautista_greeting_derek_jeter

. . . and here’s rookie Dalton Pompey shaking his hand:

44_dalton_pompey_shaking_derek_jeters_hand

Pompey only had one career hit and was batting .071, but I knew that Jeter was as respectful to him as he would’ve been to a fellow future Hall of Famer.

After the outfielders headed back to their positions, Jose Reyes exchanged a few words and a hug:

45_jose_reyes_greeting_derek_jeter

Munenori Kawasaki? Not impressed:

46_munenori_kawasaki_stretching

That’s how he passed the time during the pitching change, but let’s not judge him for that. For all we know, he might’ve had a nice conversation with Jeter before the game underneath the stands.

After the pitching change, Jeter stole 3rd base to thunderous cheers. Here he is looking down between pitches soon after:

47_derek_jeter_looking_down

Brian McCann followed with a two-run homer — his second longball of the game. Here’s Jeter touching home plate . . .

48_derek_jeter_scoring_on_the_second_homer_of_the_game_by_brian_mccann

. . . and here’s McCann rounding 3rd:

49_brian_mccann_rounding_3rd

The only other home run was a solo shot by Brett Gardner in the bottom of the 5th, which happened to be the 15,000th homer in Yankees history. It would’ve been amazing to catch that, but it landed two sections away from my regular spot in right field, so whatever.

I do, however, feel kinda bummed about not getting any more commemorative Jeter balls. For the entire game, I moved back and forth from dugout to dugout. I tried as hard as possible, but the balls were simply tossed to other fans. I was hoping for an umpire ball at the end, but look how crowded it was:

50_seats_near_umpire_area_overrun_with_kids

Before the final out, I knew I had no chance, and as it turned out, the ump only gave one ball away to the littlest kid.

Final score: Yankees 5, Blue Jays 2.

Here are the Yankees celebrating on the field:

51_yankees_on_the_field_after_winning

This was the scene out on the street:

52_fans_worshipping_derek_jeter_shrine_outside_the_stadium

Jeter-Mania was in full effect, and I was glad to be done with it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 baseballs at this game

• 584 balls in 81 games this season = 7.21 balls per game.

• 1,047 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 716 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 246 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball

• 7,760 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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.)

• 22 donors for my fundraiser

• $2.01 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.03 raised at this game

• $1,173.84 raised this season

• $39,837.84 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

18 comments

  1. Andy

    Zack, don’t you still have the gf with short hair? I’m guessing the missed connections line was a joke?

  2. Big Glove Bob

    Z-Man- Since Yankee Stadium is private property, the Yankees and their “agents” (in this case an NYPD officer) are allowed to check your bags or set other conditions pertaining to your staying on their property.
    In short, you did not legally have to show him the contents of your backpack, but then he is well within his rights to eject you from the stadium. We do things all the time that we are not legally required to do to gain access to a business or service. When a doorman asks you for ID, you do not legally have to provide it, but he ain’t letting in the club either. Same with checking into a hotel and many other instances. I used to work as a factory guard and checked bags all the time, not as a matter of law, but as a condition of their continued employment.

    Big Glove Bob

  3. Zack Hample

    GARRETT MEYER-
    This is New York. Nothing is worth the price. Combine that with a stadium, and it starts to get insane.

    ANDY-
    Ha, yeah, we’re still together.

    DEMETRIUS-
    I’m kinda jealous. I’m the least flexible person of all time, I think.

    BIG GLOVE BOB-
    Interesting. Thanks for the long explanation. Makes total sense.

    LEPORELLO-
    I would rather have caught an extra Jeter ball.

    BOSTON BALLHAWK-
    You have heard correctly. Overall they’re not a friendly bunch, so I enjoy it every year when they miss the playoffs. Remember, that’s the team that had Gustavo Chacin, the biggest jerk in baseball in the last decade.

  4. Liz Merry

    Love, love, love the pics of the players paying their respects to Jeter. Especially Reyes, sniff…must be something in my eye. And the food. Holy cow.

  5. Ray Burton

    Guess who is going to be spending a lot of time in the gym during the off-season. Its amazing the amount of food you can put away. Oh yes , there was a baseball game too. That was definitely a ” come hither ” look from that girl. She must have a thing for men with shaved heads and food all over their face.

  6. Zack Hample

    LIZ MERRY-
    Bwahaha, you call *that* trouble? It takes a lot more than that.

    JVFUENTES-
    Not ’til you posted the link. Very cool. Just finished reading it. Shea was like my second home in the 1990s, so it was great to learn how it all came to be.

    HAYLEY-
    If I were lying and cheating, I wouldn’t be posting about it here on the blog for you to see. Or maybe this is all reverse psychology.

    RAY BURTON-
    Haha! Nice. But I don’t need no stinkin’ gym. As long as I avoid meat pies and neenish tarts, I’ll be fine.

  7. Casey

    Zack, check this ebay listing out. This scummer posted your picture of Jeter when u were behind him in the dugout on that last Sunday day game you went to. He posted 8 pics and the 8/8 picture is the picture which you posted on your blog that you took of jeter. However he cropped the picture and is claiming he took the picture. His foul ball is also completely fake and doesn’t even have the pre game mud on it. Figured I’d let you know. Ebay is spam city !

    http://pages.ebay.com/link/?nav=item.view&alt=web&id=221561003231

  8. Nick Gantz

    Hey zack! Do you think 2015 will bring a new design to the MLB game balls? Rob Manfred takes over next year, so maybe when selig retires, there will be a new layout?

  9. Zack Hample

    NICK GANTZ-
    I think it’ll be the same except for a different signature.

    SAM-
    There’s definitely a chance, but I have no idea yet about anything in 2015.

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