2014 ALDS — Game 1

Playoff baseball with a bunch of friends at my favorite stadium — does it get any better than that?

1_avi_tim_zack_rick_zevi_ben

In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:

1) Avi Miller
2) Tim Anderson
3) me
4) Rick Gold
5) Zevi L.
6) Ben Weil

This was my 59th lifetime game at Camden Yards, but only my second time here in the playoffs. During all my regular season trips to this stadium, I had averaged more than 9.4 balls per game, but at my one postseason contest — Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS — I had only snagged four. Now that I was back, I knew it was going to be VERY tough. My main goal was simply to avoid getting shut out, and if possible, I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative postseason ball.

Not surprisingly, within a few minutes of the stadium opening, the left field seats started filling up fast. It seemed that before I even had a chance to blink, the whole front row was packed, and there wasn’t much room to move behind it:

2_view_from_left_field_during_bp_10_02_14

Fast-forward 15 minutes.
The Tigers were already playing catch in left field.
The Orioles were almost done hitting.
I still hadn’t snagged ball, and I was starting to freak out.

That’s when I noticed a ball sitting on the warning track . . .

3_ball7804_on_the_warning_track

. . . and broke out my secret weapon. Okay, fine, it’s not much of a secret anymore, but whatever. I’m talking about the glove trick. In the photo above, do you see the security guard standing about 40 feet away? Well, by the time he saw me dangling my glove on the field and began walking over, it was too late. I had the ball! Check it out:

4_ball7804

That wasn’t the commemorative ball I was hoping for, but it was still pretty cool.

By the time the Tigers started hitting, there was almost no room to move. In fact, the seats were so packed that when Miguel Cabrera took his cuts, I moved all the way back to the cross-aisle, roughly 425 feet from home plate. It was almost impossible to move there too, but it didn’t matter. Miggy hit two mammoth shots in my direction, both of which hit the facade of the second deck!

Somehow I managed to find a small patch of empty-ish seats all the way out near the bullpens in left-center. When lefties were hitting, I moved down to the front row and tried to get a toss-up, and when righties stepped into the cage, I moved a few rows back and tried to catch a home run. The latter strategy eventually paid off. I’m not sure who hit the ball — my guess would be Torii Hunter — but I can tell you that the biggest challenge was simply zigging and zagging through the crowd to the spot where I knew it was going to land. At the last second, I stepped up onto a seat and reached high above everyone else for the catch.

Take a look at the ball:

5_ball7805

Hell. Yes.

My day was already complete, and it was still more than an hour until game time.

A little while later, I spotted Ben in the front row in Tigers gear:

6_ben_weil_in_the_front_row

After seeing him struggle for the first half-hour of BP, I was glad when he got a toss-up from Joakim Soria. He got another ball after that, but I forget how. Rick, meanwhile, caught a couple of homers in right-center field.

I headed to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP . . .

7_waiting_for_bp_to_end_at_the_dugout

. . . but didn’t get anything there.

During the lull between BP and the game, I caught up with Ben, and we grabbed a couple of random empty seats here:

8_looking_at_the_field_from_a_random_empty_seat

Perhaps “lull” is the wrong word:

8b_orioles_fan_with_face_paint

One great thing about playoff baseball in stadiums where fans aren’t used to winning is that they’re really into it. I mean . . . really REALLY into it. The atmosphere is truly joyous, whereas venues that are home to perennial winners have a sinister business-as-usual vibe.

When the player introductions got underway, I waltzed right down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout — no questions asked. Here’s a photo of Joba Chamberlain’s phenomenal beard and of Miguel Cabrera high-fiving his teammates:

9_tigers_player_introductions

Here’s what it looked like as the Orioles lined up on the field:

10_orioles_player_introductions

After the introductions, I shifted over to the front row in very shallow left field. Several players were throwing . . .

11_tigers_pregame_throwing_10_02_14

. . . and I ended up getting a ball from Rajai Davis:

12_ball7806

Outstanding!

A minute or two later, Cabrera came over to sign a few autographs:

13_fan_taking_selfie_with_miguel_cabrera

I didn’t get him to sign anything, but he did give me a fist-bump before jogging off.

Here’s what the stands looked like behind me:

14_orioles_fans_excited_pregame

This was my view when Ian Kinsler led off the game against Chris Tillman:

15_first_pitch_of_the_game_chris_tillman_to_ian_kinsler

I was able to lurk for a bit in the aisle and tunnels, but I couldn’t stay in one place for long.

When Victor Martinez led off the top of the 2nd inning, I was standing at the back of the Flag Court in right field — and I nearly snagged the home run that he hit five pitches later. Basically, because of the huge crowd camped out underneath it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I ran right up behind the spot where it was going to land, hoping that everyone would collectively bobble it back in my direction. That’s exactly what ended up happening! It was too good to be true! As I stepped forward and reached out to snag what was about to be my first game home run in the postseason, some random schmuck with a beer in one hand stepped in front of me, knocked the ball down with his bare hand and collapsed on it. If not for that ONE guy, I would have gotten it — no doubt about it. And then, to make matters worse, I wasn’t even paying attention when the next batter, J.D. Martinez, hit an opposite-field homer onto the Flag Court. It ended up barely clearing the wall and getting swallowed up by the throng of fans at the front, but it would’ve been nice to at least make an attempt at snagging it.

Look how crowded it was out there:

16_huge_standing_room_crowd

Here’s a look from the back of the section — gotta love the guy wearing a full Orioles jumpsuit:

17_fan_wearing_orioles_jumpsuit

Look how crowded it WASN’T in the right field seats:

18_empty_seats_in_right_field_10_02_14

All those tickets were donated by the Orioles to a huge group of underprivileged kids — a nice P.R. move, in theory, but why do it in the playoffs if all those seats were going to end up being empty? Am I missing something? Am I being too negative? Were the kids too underprivileged to even make it to the game, or did they simply not care enough to show up? I’m all for helping kids connect to America’s pastime, but this didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Back behind home plate, the crowd was much rowdier in the middle innings:

19_back_on_the_1st_base_side

In the top of the 7th, the Orioles were clinging to a 3-2 lead:

20_scoreboard_top_of_the_7th_inning_10_02_14

Here’s what the stands behind me looked like in the late innings:

21_crowd_behind_home_plate

That seems like a boring/innocent photograph, right? Here . . . let me zoom in on it and show you what was *really* taking place:

22_kate_upton_and_her_bodyguard

So yeah. Kate Upton (who’s currently dating Justin Verlander) was there. I only found out because everyone around me seemed to be talking about her, and given the fact that she was sitting in the second row above the cross-aisle, some folks walked past and held up their cameras and took photos right in her face, prompting angry responses from the handful of security personnel who were standing nearby. I, meanwhile, had the decency to move 30 feet away before attempting to take her picture, and what did I get out of it? A great shot of the side of her head and a death stare from the woman sitting beside her.

The Orioles scored EIGHT runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to take a 12-3 lead. I came close to a couple of foul balls on the 3rd base side and eventually gave up. It was too crowded, and my luck was too crappy.

In the top of the 9th inning, I moved here:

23_view_behind_home_plate_in_the_top_of_the_9th_10_02_14

I was hoping to a get ball from home plate umpire Paul Schrieber, but after the final out, he blew past me and ignored everyone.

At that point, since there was nothing better to do, I wandered over to the Orioles’ dugout:

24_postgame_activity_on_the_field

That’s when I noticed a “famous fan” on my right:

25_recognizable_fans_with_sunglasses_and_a_tie

I’m talking about the dude in the sunglasses and tie. I’d recently seen him a bunch of times on TV, wearing the same outfit and sitting in the front row. It’s hard to miss someone like that. Does anyone know him? What’s his deal? I’m curious.

Here’s a final look at the scoreboard:

26_scoreboard_postgame_10_02_14

Here are the three balls I’d snagged:

27_my_three_baseballs_10_02_14

Here are Rick and Ben with their baseballs:

28_rick_and_ben_with_their_baseballs

Here’s Avi with a ridiculous sign:

29_avi_miller_enjoys_baseball

If you don’t get the joke (and if you feel like spending a couple of minutes learning about it), click here.

On the way back to New York, Rick and Ben and I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants — Waffle House:

30_rick_ben_zack_waffle_house

I’m being serious. I love Waffle House so much. I wish *they* would sponsor me for a season.

When I got home (at like 3am), I examined my three baseballs in black light and discovered a beautiful invisible ink stamp on the BP homer. Check it out:

31_ball7805_regular_light

This game took place on October 2nd. I’m now blogging about it on October 16th. The three playoff teams remaining are the Royals, Cardinals, and Giants, which means my season is probably done . . . which is good. This year there was much more frustration than triumph; I can’t wait to put it behind me and come back stronger in 2015.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 baseballs at this game

• 630 balls in 87 games this season = 7.24 balls per game.

• 544 lifetime balls in 59 games at Camden Yards = 9.22 balls per game.

• 130 lifetime balls in 25 postseason games = 5.20 balls per game.

• 1,053 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 375 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 67 different commemorative balls

• 7,806 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.)

• 24 donors for my fundraiser

• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $6.15 raised at this game

• $1,291.50 raised this season

• $39,955.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

25 comments

  1. Ben

    To fully describe how crowded it was, well, even the all-star game, even the WORLD SERIES was not that crowded!

  2. dave

    Best baseball I have ever attended was game 4, 1996 ALDS Yanks v. O’s Camden Yards Yanks beat the Orioles in a high scoring affair, The Straw(DAAAARRRRREE-UUULLLL) hit 2 homers and the Yanks won and later on scored with some homely girl who was getting over a cough at U of Maryland(I think). No baseballs but not a bad night at all. Camden Yards is a nice place with good fans(some of whom who had accused me of being from Jersey cause they were mad that the O’s were losing) who like their baseball. The Jeff Maier incident had happened earlier in the series and I remember t-shirts they were selling on the streets that said “Spank the Yanks-and the kid!”

  3. Jimmy

    The “famous fan” is the O’s Sunglass Guy (@OsSunglassGuy), http://www.sunglassguyrealestate.com – He strategically bought a full season plan in seats behind the O’s dugout and visible on TV when left-handed batters are at the plate. Even though it seems like a gimmick, he is a true superfan.

  4. Exiledmetfan

    Umpire Paul Shreiver, dissed me last series of the season in Miami. Looked dead at me while I was yelling “Paul , Paul!” Loud enough and politely enough to hear. Tapped his hip bag that had 2 left & went down the tunnel.

  5. Zack Hample

    BEN-
    Well said.

    DAVE-
    That’s very specific and entertaining. And I agree about Maier. He should have been punished, not celebrated.

    BOSTON BALLHAWK-
    Thanks.

    JIMMY-
    Wow, thanks. It’s not just a gimmick. It’s a brilliant gimmick.

    DENNIS B., CHICAGO, ILL.-
    Ha.

    DEMETRIUS-
    You’re missin’ out, son!

    EXILED MET FAN-
    That’s weak. But hey, now we know not to waste our time with that guy.

  6. Ray Burton

    Its been a very good year for calories and commemoratives. How many of each have you snagged this year ? Seriously , how close to a ” shut-out ” have you been in the last few years. What is your last desperate move to snag a ball if all else fails ? Verlander is a lucky bastard.

  7. Zack Hample

    You know . . . I think a good number of my calories were ingested with you in Australia. Those meat pies and neenish tarts are dangerous! I came very close to being shut out this year at Yankee Stadium when the Blue Jays didn’t hit, and I still didn’t have a ball as game time was approaching. I managed to get hooked up near the bullpen by a coach, but that was scary. My backup plan would be to get someone’s ticket (on their way out) late in the game and go down near the dugout and try to get one of the last remaining 3rd-out balls or an umpire ball or a ball from the relievers and coaches walking in from the bullpen. It might sound crazy, but I’m most envious of Verlander for being 6-foot-5 and being in a major leagues.

  8. jvfuentes

    Very nicely written Zack. I love Avi’s sign, I would only suggest, during these times of turmoil, as the MLB considers new ways of “fixing” the perfect game, that he add “JUST THE WAY IT IS” to the signs. Here is a link to an article briefly featured on MLB.com. http://m.mlb.com/news/article/98886426/pitchers-unfazed-by-20-second-clock-in-third-test-at-arizona-fall-league. I hope you don’t mind me pasting my response here on your page, in a blatent attempt at garnering “LIKEs”.

    NoDH4theNL 42 minutes ago
    Well, we are continuing at break neck speed along the path of dumbing down baseball for the masses. Make no mistake, the only reasoning behind these proposed changes is $$$. The dull minded people who lack the attention span to truly appreciate the epic poetry of, say, NLDS game 2 (!!!) are leading the charge, and their cash is just as important and valuable to the owners as those of us who have been fans for 40 years. “Pace of Game” is the term they are using to to sell it, but the true reason is to make it more appealing to the United ADHD Nation. It started with the DH rule, and will continue on in to the future. You want a prediction for the future? How about doing away with extra innings and deciding tied games with “HOME RUN DERBY SHOOT OUT!!!” (cue heavy metal guitar riff). I totally understand your frustration, DocS_inNJ, but the powers that be will gladly sacrifice you if they think they can pick up 10 slows in exchange. The very fact that there are currently only “10 people listening” and only 6 comments shows the way things are going. Truly disgusting. The pitcher’s clock and the “no-pitch” intentional walk are especially insulting. There was a post season game JUST LAST WEEK that was decided by a pitcher’s inability to make the pitch-out, a perfect example of Yogi Berra’s observation that “90% of the game is 50% mental”. Unfortunately, the owners have a jealous streak for the NFLs numbers, and feel no embarrassment whatsoever about tweaking the perfect game to try and bring the concussed head bashers over. The 6 changes listed, and the “several others” left off the list are just the beginning. LOL, I just noticed that in the 30 minutes it’s taken me to compose this rant the banner head for this article has been removed from the headline window. “LIKE” this comment to send a message to anyone listening that the true baseball fans find all this tweaking of the rules nauseating.

  9. Zack Hample

    Now THAT is a comment. I’m torn about the whole pace-of-game issue. I do think that games are now dragging on unbearably, but I hate the idea of a pitch clock. That will turn the whole sport into a frenzy. There have to be other ways to do it.

  10. jvfuentes

    I can see how if someone was attending 60+ games in a season it could certainly start to feel that way. For me, it seems to be one of the few remaining pastimes left in ADHDmurrica that has yet to be subjugated to the tyranny of corporate will, and the fascism of Timex. Have you ever heard a song by the inimitable Frank Zappa called “Greggery Peccary”? No? That’s OK, not many have. An 18 minute masterpiece on the subject of humanity’s voluntary slavery to the almighty clock. Give it a listen someday if…you have the time.

  11. Islefan

    Zack-I know, this is old news, but I’m sorta new to the blog, so my apologies. Anyways, when you were having some problems with someone from Yankee Stadium and you were sent hate mail on NY Islanders material(a few different times), I can only conclude that the sender WAS NOT an Islanders fan(probably a big time rangers fan well known for being a rangers fan) and was trying some classic misdirection to point away from him. Or her.

  12. Zack Hample

    JVFUENTES-
    No, I’ve never heard of that song, and now I’m listening as I type this reply. I don’t mind that it’s long. I love “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which is only four minutes shorter. The issue for me is that it’s totally random and scattered and not the least bit pretty. But I’m glad to hear it and further my music education. I’m about five minutes in, and I’m about to give up on it. I just can’t take it.

    ISLEFAN-
    No problem. I’m always glad when people discover old stuff I’ve written. Interesting theory about the folks who sent that mail.

  13. jvfuentes

    Yeah, he is a bit of “a musician’s musician”, lotsa odd time signatures, nothing you can really tap your feet to. I do have a special affinity for him though.

  14. Ray Burton

    Good post jvfuentes. Unfortunately it’s all true. I added a few thoughts myself but somehow added it on the next post on Commemoratives by mistake. Refreshing to see people actually thinking out there and not just blindly following like sheep.

  15. jvfuentes

    Zack, If you want to hear some Zappa that is a bit more accessible check out an album called “Apostrophe”. He was a brilliant satirist and musical genius who refused to bow to anyone, right up to the end. His testimony during the PMRC hearings is still relevant today. One of the amazing things about his music and lyrics is the conceptual continuity that he maintained throughout his 30+ year long career. Also, if you feel like seeing something truly original and bizarre, go to You Tube and type in “Frank Zappa plays bicycle”, an old clip from the Steve Allen show, 1963, back when he was barely more than a kid. Not very pretty though, consider yourself warned ;)

  16. Zack Hample

    You and my half-brother would probably be best friends. He loves Zappa and is basically a rock-and-roll historian . . . and an ethnomusicologist . . . and a music teacher full-time. I’ll definitely check this stuff out. Thanks for the expert recommendations and background info to go with it — fascinating stuff.

  17. Larry

    You said that “venues that are home to perennial winners have a sinister business-as-usual vibe.” The Giants have won the World Series 3 times in the last 5 years, and I went to NLCS Game 5 this year. Extremely electric, nothing like the 5 games I’ve been to in the past. Just saying.

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