Several weeks before the All-Star break, I heard that the Padres were going to start using commemorative baseballs for the 10th anniversary of PETCO Park. For some reason, these balls weren’t ready in April or May, and according to my source, they were going to be used for the remainder of the season. Weird, huh? The good news was that I suddenly had an extra commemorative ball to try to snag; the bad news was that the Padres were already done playing on the east coast, so in order to get one, I’d have to fly to San Diego. After months of debating whether it was worth the time and money, I booked the trip, and as you can see below, I was VERY excited to be here:
Oh wait. That’s Qualcomm Stadium. Haha, silly me! (Full disclosure: my friend Brandon thought it’d be funny to dress me up in his old-school Padres jersey and photograph me outside their old ballpark.)
Here’s what it looked like outside PETCO just before the gates opened:
As you can imagine, I was psyched about the tiny crowd. At my previous game one day earlier at Yankee Stadium, there were a zillion people waiting to get in, so this was a great change of pace. And yes, rather than attending Derek Jeter’s final home series in the major leagues (for which I already had tickets), I chose to travel across three time zones to see the 3rd-place Padres host the 4th-place Rockies. Perfect.
This was my reaction upon entering PETCO Park:
Brandon (who took most of these photos) had gotten inside one minute before me because a security guard painstakingly inspected every pouch, pocket, compartment, and crevice of my backpack. I realize that’s how it *should* be done, but let’s face it: bag inspection across MLB is haphazard at best, so I was shocked to experience such intense scrutiny here in San Diego of all places.
For the first hour, I was going to be confined to the huge sandbox in right-center field (aka “the Beach”). If you look closely at the following photo, you can see me on the left, standing near the garbage can:
The Beach is not the best place to snag baseballs, but MAN is it gorgeous! There’s no other area in any major league stadium that compares to it.
Here’s what it looked like at the front of the section:
Moments after I got there, a fellow ballhawk named Devin Trone called out to Cameron Maybin and got a ball thrown to him . . . and it was commemorative!
Devin is a great guy, so I was happy for him, but it was still frustrating to have missed that opportunity. If I’d gotten to the Beach sooner or been more alert when I ran down the steps, I might’ve been able to get Maybin’s attention first, but as things were, I didn’t even notice that he was in right-center or that a ball had been hit to him.
According to my friend Leigh Barratt — a PETCO regular with more than 1,300 lifetime snags — all of the Padres’ BP balls were commemorative, but he warned me that the team wouldn’t be out on the field for long. He said we’d only get to see them hit for about 15 minutes.
Then something bad happened. Several kids wandered down to the chain-link fence, and sure enough, they started getting all the toss-ups.
Just as I was convincing myself that I didn’t have a chance, some random player threw a ball in my direction — a no-look flip intended for Leigh, who was positioned in front of me, but the ball sailed over his head, allowing me to jump up and catch it. Here I am with it in my glove:
Leigh was pissed off, though not at me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. That ball was fair game, and I happened to get lucky, but I still felt bad. That’s why I was holding my glove in the air. You know how a basketball player will hear the whistle and put his hands up to show the refs that he wasn’t touching anyone? It was kinda like that.
Before pulling the ball out of my glove, I said, “Please be commemorative!” and walked toward Brandon. And then I looked at it:
I was thrilled, of course, to have snagged a commemorative ball, but this one in particular had a magnificent logo. I’m not talking about the condition (which was pretty good), but rather the actual design. Check it out:
Is that beautiful or what? I love the round border as well as the “SD” logo floating in the sky, the baseball stitches, the detailed image of the stadium, and the big years in cute font at the bottom. This might be my favorite commemorative logo ever.
Here I am with Devin:
Here’s another ball flying into the crowd:
That one was snagged by another PETCO regular named Ismael:
Ismael is super-friendly and never misses a game. If you visit PETCO, you *will* see him, and when you do, tell him that Zack from New York says hi.
Here’s another action shot:
That was a ground-rule double, and if it looks like it was heading right at the camera, that’s because it was. Brandon took that photo, and then he caught the ball bare-handed. Pretty slick. And yeah, it was commemorative.
Here’s yet another action shot — look at the intense diving effort by this fan:
It was Leigh!
And he got the ball!
A few minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was in better condition. I had no idea who hit it until Ismael wandered over and told me with 100 percent certainty that it was Cory Spangenberg.
“Thanks,” I said. “Do you happen to know who tossed the ball that I caught earlier?”
“Torres,” he said.
I looked at my roster, and sure enough . . . number 54 . . . Alex Torres . . . left-handed and 5-foot-10. That seemed to match the mystery man who had tossed the ball, so that’s what I’m going with. Alex Torres and Cory Spangenberg. In the 10-year history of PETCO Park, Ismael has never missed a game, so I believe anything he tells me about the Padres.
The Padres finished BP soon after, and that’s all I got. Two baseballs. Not great, but they were both commemorative, so in a way, it WAS great.
Here I am with Leigh and the famous T.C. (and a woman named Christina whom I’d never met):
If T.C. looks familiar, that’s because (a) I’ve blogged about him in the past and (b) I featured him in The Baseball (see pages 281-282) as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time.
Now, remember when I said I was going to be stuck at the Beach for the first hour? Well, that’s what I assumed was going to happen. The Beach opens two and a half hours before game time. Season ticket holders can get into the seats in foul territory two hours before game, and half an hour after that, the whole stadium opens to everyone. Season ticket holders used to be allowed to bring guests inside, so Leigh or Ismael (or sometimes random folks) would escort me through the gates, but the rule changed this year. No more guests. That said, Brandon and I still managed to get in with a season ticket holder, who happened to know a really cool guard.
Here I am running into the main part of the stadium:
You could say I was excited, and as you may have noticed, I had changed into my Rockies gear.
On our way into the seats, Brandon stopped to take a photo behind home plate. The red arrow below is pointing at me:
I was running toward the left field foul line. That’s where the players were warming up, so it made sense to get as close to them as possible.
Within moments of arriving, a wild throw eluded Ben Paulsen and skipped up into the stands. There was only one other fan in the section, and I was closer to the ball, so I grabbed it easily. (This was ball No. 3 on the day.) Paulsen asked if he could have it back and said he’d return it when he finished, so I tossed it to him. Ten seconds later, some trainer-type guy (who must’ve seen me toss the ball but not heard the exchange) walked by, flipped me a ball, and said, “Here, take this one instead.” (This was ball No. 4.) Moments after that, a different pair of Rockies accidentally threw a ball into the seats (ball No. 5), and five seconds after THAT, it happened again with yet another couple of guys! (Ball No. 6.) Somehow I’d grabbed three overthrows and gotten four balls overall within a 30-second span. That’s not an exaggeration. It *really* happened that fast. And wait! There’s more . . . sort of. The player who’d had ball No. 6 sail over his head asked for it back, so I tossed it to him, and then guess what happened? Paulsen waved at me from 100 feet away and threw me the ball that I’d returned to him. AAAHHH!!! Here’s a photo of that ball (circled in red) sailing toward me:
Did you notice that I wasn’t wearing a glove? (It was still in my bag from when I ran inside the main part of the stadium.) Look closely at the photo above and you’ll see me cupping two baseballs against my stomach with my left land. It was in-SANE.
I decided not to count the final throw from Paulsen as ball No. 7 because I had already snagged it when it skipped up into the stands, and now he was simply returning it. So yeah . . . I’d gotten two baseballs at The Beach and four more along the left field foul line for a total of six.
Here’s a funny photo that Brandon took:
I’m pretty sure they were using body language to ask each other, “Are we done throwing?”
Here’s a photo I took of the spacious corner spot.
This was the view behind me:
That’s winning stadium design. Most places don’t have staircases along the walls in foul territory, and why not? It makes things super-convenient.
When the entire stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the seats in left-center. Here I am in the front row next to a guy who clearly had no chance:
I mean . . . seriously.
Things were pretty slow out there at first, but then there was a bit of action. My first opportunity came on a high, deep fly ball that was heading one section to my right. After running over and getting in line with it, I noticed it was going to fall short and that a player was drifting back onto the warning track to catch it. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I yelled, “LET IT BOUNCE!!!” and to my surprise, he did. The ball bounced high in the air, and I reached up for it:
In the photo above, do you see the guy in the light blue shirt? The ball cleared his hand by an inch or two, and I caught it, and by the way, the player who had allowed the ball to bounce was Eddie Butler. He’s very friendly.
Here’s a six-part photo that shows me snagging and then giving away my next ball — number eight on the day:
In case you can’t tell what was happening in all those photos, here’s a quick rundown:
1) The guy with gray hair reached up helplessly for a line-driver homer.
2) He dropped it.
3) It deflected back toward me, and I lunged for it.
4) The ball fell short, so I reached down and grabbed it in the second row.
5) I asked the guy if he was okay and if he wanted the ball.
6) He’s holding it.
Here I am jumping for another homer several minutes later:
Not only did I miss it, but my flailing attempt messed up Devin, who was two rows behind me, so I felt doubly bad.
Here I am running to my left for a home run . . .
. . . which was caught by the white-shirted fan in the front row.
Here’s something that happened a bunch of times:
At PETCO Park, the second deck in left field is so low that it swallows half the BP homers. Sometimes they bounce down, but on this particular occasion, I had no such luck.
I did manage to grab another home run in the seats. I handed it to the nearest kid and then had a chance to use my glove trick for a ball in the gap near the bullpen:
After knocking it closer, I took a moment to get the ball to go into my glove:
Then I lifted my contraption . . .
. . . and voila! I had reached double digits.
I should mention that none of the Rockies’ baseballs were commemorative, but whatever. I’d gotten two from the Padres, so I was all set.
After BP, I enjoyed a moment of solidarity with Leigh:
Here we are strolling through the open-air concourse in deep center field:
In the photo above, did you notice the concession stand on the left with all the license plates? It’s called Hodad’s. That’s where I got this:
The burger itself was good, but the meat-to-vegetable ratio was weak.
Shortly before game time, I caught up with one of my favorite people at the stadium — an usher (from Brooklyn!) named Franklin, who has invented a brilliant statistic called “quick outs.” Here he is with one of his newer signs:
(Can you imagine the Yankees allowing one of their employees to display a sign like that, or any sign at all?)
As you may have noticed in the background of the previous photo, a quick out (or “Q”) is one that requires three pitches or . . . umm, fewer. I wish MLB would officially adopt this stat; if it somehow became sexy, I guarantee we’d have quicker games.
Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the top of the 1st inning:
This was my view in the bottom of the 1st:
This was my view in the top of the 2nd:
Here I am heading back down to the seats behind the Rockies’ dugout in the bottom of the 2nd:
Did you spot me in the photo above? See the ballboy sitting on the field, just to the left of the dugout? Look directly above him. That’s me in the white jersey, heading down the stairs. (By the way, Devin is also in the photo, sitting all the way on the right in the front row.)
My ticket was on the 3rd base side, and there was no security on the 1st base side, so I decided to move back and forth each half-inning until I got a 3rd-out ball. Even though I’d gotten two commemorative balls during BP, I wanted another one now. I wanted one that had been rubbed with mud, and this was obviously the best way to make it happen.
So much for that. As soon as I sat down, the usher approached me and asked to see my ticket. He told me he’d gotten a call about me from security, who had seen me moving back and forth.
“Yeah, they got cameras all over this place.” Then he pointed at the row of tinted windows in the batter’s eye and added, “They’re watching’ everything from out there in the command center.”
He told me I needed to stay in my seat, which was in the middle of a long row. I asked if I could sit on the end of the row, where there was plenty of room.
“No, you can’t do that,” he said. “This isn’t open seating.”
“Okay, well, I better run to the bathroom first so I don’t have to disturb all those people later.”
Then I walked quickly up the steps, cut across the concourse, and went directly into the men’s room where I took off my jersey and switched hats . . . and then I headed straight for the seats in left-center. Screw the dugouts! No way I was going back there. Maybe I’d try it again the following day and stay in one spot, but as far as this game was concerned, I needed to lay low. This was my view for the rest of the night:
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, I caught up with Leigh, who has season tickets in left field. One of the first things he told me was that Cameron Maybin throws his warm-up balls into the crowd nearly every inning — and then he predicted where the next one was going to end up. This was the result:
No . . . wait. THIS was the result:
Want to see how much of a difference a good camera (and a whole lot of photography skills) can make? I took the photo above; Brandon took the photo below:
But hang on a second. Let’s backtrack for a bit. In the photo of everyone reaching up for the Maybin ball, you can see my dark brown glove. The guy in the front row missed it by a foot, the guy behind me whacked my glove with his bare hand, two other people were jostling for position, and somehow I ended up with it.
Here’s Maybin throwing another warm-up ball into the crowd an inning later:
I didn’t get that one, nor did this guy . . .
. . . but there were still more opportunities. When the Padres took the field before the top of the 7th inning, Leigh predicted that Maybin was going to throw the next ball into the second deck.
“Any particular spot?” I asked. “Straight-away or more toward left-center?”
Leigh suggested left-center, but said that if I went anywhere up there and got Maybin’s attention, he’d probably throw it to me.
“Don’t YOU want to go up there and give it a shot?”
“Nah,” he said, “I’m lazy. It’s all you.”
This was the result:
It was so easy that it was almost embarrassing.
That was my 12th ball of the day, and without Leigh, I probably wouldn’t have snagged half of them. And by the way . . . how about the logo on the one above? If that had been my only commemorative ball, I would’ve been extremely disappointed, but given the fact that I’d snagged three others, I loved it.
Before heading back down to the 100 Level, I took a few photos. Here’s the phenomenally specious cross-aisle in the second deck:
Here’s something that amused me — a Padres reliever letting himself out through a doorway and onto the field:
At most stadiums, a bullpen attendant would’ve opened the door, but here in San Diego, it’s self-service.
One of my favorite things about PETCO is the architectural quirkiness. Here’s one example — a single row at the front of the second deck:
Back in the 100 Level, I made one final attempt at a warm-up ball. Here I am standing in the middle of the 3rd row (wearing Brandon’s Padres jersey):
My post-game strategy was weak, but it was all I could do. I tried to get a ball from the Padres relievers as they filed out of the bullpen:
They all ignored me . . .
. . . but it was still a great day, and this was just my first of three games at PETCO.
• 12 baseballs at this game
• 596 balls in 82 games this season = 7.27 balls per game.
• 122 lifetime balls in 11 games at PETCO Park = 11.09 balls per game.
• 1,048 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 372 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 260 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 66 different commemorative balls
• 7,772 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.)
• 23 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.04 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $24.48 raised at this game
• $1,215.84 raised this season
• $39,879.84 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009