Playoff baseball with a bunch of friends at my favorite stadium — does it get any better than that?
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:
1) Avi Miller
2) Tim Anderson
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:
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 . . .
. . . 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:
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:
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:
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 . . .
. . . 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:
Perhaps “lull” is the wrong word:
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:
Here’s what it looked like as the Orioles lined up on the field:
After the introductions, I shifted over to the front row in very shallow left field. Several players were throwing . . .
. . . and I ended up getting a ball from Rajai Davis:
A minute or two later, Cabrera came over to sign a few autographs:
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:
This was my view when Ian Kinsler led off the game against Chris Tillman:
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:
Here’s a look from the back of the section — gotta love the guy wearing a full Orioles jumpsuit:
Look how crowded it WASN’T in the right field seats:
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:
In the top of the 7th, the Orioles were clinging to a 3-2 lead:
Here’s what the stands behind me looked like in the late innings:
That seems like a boring/innocent photograph, right? Here . . . let me zoom in on it and show you what was *really* taking place:
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:
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:
That’s when I noticed a “famous fan” on my right:
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:
Here are the three balls I’d snagged:
Here are Rick and Ben with their baseballs:
Here’s Avi with a ridiculous sign:
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:
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:
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.
• 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
(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