9/29/05 at Shea Stadium

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was fairly easy to recreate. Enjoy!

What a day . . .

It rained all morning and continued into the early afternoon. Then the sun came out at 3pm, so my friend Sean and I decided to go. (He’s the guy from 9/6/05 at Camden Yards and 9/22/05 at Shea Stadium.) We got to Shea and saw from the subway platform that the field was set up for BP. We bought our tickets, waited in line outside Gate C, and ran insude when the stadium opened at 4:40pm.

No BP. Just the Japanese media:

1_japanese_media_09_29_05

Half an hour later, I saw a Mets player walk out of the bullpen and start playing catch with someone in the right field corner:

2_heath_bell_throwing_09_29_05

It was Heath Bell. He waved to me. I waved back. It was nice to be recognized, but I usually don’t get baseballs from guys who know me. Therefore my first thought was something along the lines of, “Dammit, why couldn’t it have been anyone else?”

Sean gave me my space and went to left field. (What a nice friend.) I waited a minute and then yelled, “Heath! You and I should be throwing instead!”

“You don’t have a glove!” he called back.

I unzipped my backpack and pulled out my glove and shouted, “Ohhhhhh!” as if to say, “You feel busted.”

“Tuck in your shirt!” he snapped.

Okay, fine, he wanted me to look like a ballplayer, so I scrambled to tuck in my big, floppy, long-sleeved shirt. I put my glove back on, and he threw the next one right to me. I wasn’t expecting it – not that quickly, anyway. He was about 75 feet away, and I threw it back. Perfect throw. Not much velocity, though. My arm wasn’t warmed up. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t bounce it or launch it over his head. He threw the next one back to his partner on the field. The other guy wasn’t a player or even a trainer. I think he was the Mets’ Japanese translator.

Heath moved back farther and farther until he was long-tossing. Then, after a few minutes, he began moving closer and eventually finished with a few short throws. Finally he tossed me the ball again. I threw it back. He threw it back. I threw it back, and so on. I tried to show off my knuckleball, but he put me to shame with his. He threw one that danced so much that I dropped it, causing him to fling up his arms in disgust because the ball had fallen onto that hard-to-reach, sloped, grassy area between the seats and the field.

“Don’t worry,” I said when he walked over. “I can get it. You’ve seen the trick with my glove, right?”

He shook his head.

“Oh, man,” I said, pulling out my rubber band and sharpie, “check it out.” I stretched the band over the glove and propped it open with the marker, and then I paused to give an explanation.

“I can see what you’re doing,” he said.

“Alright alright, here goes . . . ”

I lowered the glove over the ball and jiggled it around for a few seconds. The grass was thick, and I wanted to make sure that the band had stretched all the way over the ball. I raised the glove slowly for dramatic effect, and the ball was stuck inside. He loved it! He turned to the few other fans, who had made their way out to the right field corner, and said, “This guy is a professional.”

I thought he was going to let me keep the ball at that point, but instead he backed up onto the outfield grass and held up his glove, so I threw it back.

It was tough to play catch from the stands. Not only was I eight feet above the field and throwing downward at an awkward angle, but there were steps and railings and seats all around me.

I moved a few sections over where the wall wasn’t as high, and we continued to play catch. One of Heath’s throws was too low and clipped the back of the seat. The ball ricocheted far to my left, and I had to climb over several railings to get there. He waited patiently.

“Give me your camera,” said a voice from behind.

It was Sean! He saw me playing catch from the other side of the stadium and ran over (I love having athletic friends) to take pictures. I pointed at my backpack, which was sitting on an orange seat 30 feet away. He went over and found the camera and came back.

“Get behind me!” I said. “Then you can get me with Heath in the background!”

Sean rolled his eyes. He already had it all figured out — and he went to work.

The set . . .

3_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

The wind-up . . .

4_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

The pitch . . .

5_zack_playing_catch_with_heath_bell

Heath was calling balls and strikes from his crouch. I ran the count to 3-2 (on some questionable calls) and ended up bouncing a curveball. Bah!

Several fans crowded around and asked me how I got to play catch with him. Meanwhile, a pack of security guards marched out of the bullpen to see what was going on and realized there wasn’t anything they could get mad about, so they left. It was great. Heath and I played catch for about 10 minutes, and at the end of it, he let me keep the ball.

When he came over to sign autographs for everyone, I asked if he’d ever seen the photo of me buried in baseballs in a bathtub. He shook his head, so I pulled out my wallet (where I keep a copy) and handed it over.

“That’s less than one-third of my collection,” I told him.

He had lots of questions.
“What do you do with them?”
“Where do you keep them?”
“Do you live with your parents?”
“Do you work?”

He must not have believed me because he started looking at my credit cards and counting my money:

6_heath_bell_stealing_my_money

“Take whatever you need,” I said, but he left it all there and handed it back. And that was it. I shook his hand and thanked him, and he headed off to the bullpen.

I was so happy that I didn’t even care what happened for the rest of the day, but of course I still headed out to left field when the Rockies started BP at 5:25pm.

Sean was out there. He’d already gotten a ball:

7_sean_heffron_holding_a_baseball

Before long, I got one from a Rockies pitcher who was hiding his jersey under his warm-up jacket. I’m pretty sure it was Scott Dohmann, but it was hard to tell. With the exception of a handful of guys, the Rockies are seriously a bunch of no-names. Anyway, the ball had some bizarre writing on the sweet spot, and I still have no idea what it means.

8_ball2730_strange_writing

FYI, I wrote the “2730” on it because it was the 2,730th ball of my collection, but all the other writing was there when I snagged it.

My next goal was to get *one* more ball to keep a certain streak alive; I’d been to 50 consecutive games at which I’d snagged at least three.

A few minutes later, a very tall player wearing No. 23 began playing catch in left field. I pulled out my roster and did a quick search. It was Ryan Speier. I
wasn’t sure if I’d even heard of him, but he didn’t need to know that. I waited 9_ryan_speier_head_shot_2005until he finished throwing and then yelled his name. He turned around, spotted my Rockies cap, and flung his GLOVE to me from 40 feet away. I could not believe my eyes. The whole situation unfolded in slow-motion. I’d seen him take off the glove . . . and swing his right arm back . . . and under-hand this bundle of leather toward me in a high arc over several fans and half a dozen rows of seats. Was this a joke?! Was I dreaming? Was he going to walk over and tell me to give it back? I’ve attended more than 600 major league games, and I had never gotten a glove. I’d never even considered the possibility of getting one.

A minute later, I was still in shock:

10_zack_gets_glove

The other fans were pretty stunned too, and several folks came over to have a look. It was gorgeous. Rawlings. Gold Glove Series. Black leather with red labels and a red “Speier” stitched onto the outside of the thumb:

11_ryan_speier_glove

Then I realized why he’d given it away. A few of the leather laces had torn, leaving a large hole in the pocket:

12_ryan_speier_glove

“You could get it re-strung!” Someone shouted.

Re-strung?! Why would I want to do that? I want to leave it exactly as I got it. It’s perfect.

At that point, I *really* didn’t care what happened for the rest of the day.

Sean decided (and I agreed) that it was stupid for us to be competing with each other in the same section, so he headed upstairs to the Loge Level:

13_sean_heffron_loge_level

He ended up getting two more baseballs up there. One was thrown by Todd Greene, and the other was a homer that rattled around in the mostly-empty seats.

As for me, I got my third ball from Garrett Atkins. He was taking fungos at shortstop. I was 10 rows back along the 3rd base line. He probably threw it from 120 feet away. It was my record-tying 300th ball of the season, and it kept my streak alive.

14_ball2732_301st_of_2005Two minutes after returning to the left field corner, I spotted a ball sitting on the infield dirt between 3rd base and shortstop. I knew that someone would eventually walk over and pick it up and toss it into the crowd, so I ran over, hoping it would happen sooner than later. It did. Clint Barmes approached the ball and gave me a sidearm flip as soon as I shouted his name. There it was. Ball No. 301 of the season — a new record. (It’s an ugly ball, pictured here on the right, scuffed and beat up and discolored, which makes me love it even more.)

I went back to the left field corner and got my fifth ball of the day from . . . someone. I think it was an outfielder, and I think it was Brad Hawpe, but there was no way to tell. That’s a shame, but at least it wasn’t the record-breaker. Whenever I catch an important ball, I try to make sure that I know the source.

Todd Helton was walking from left field to the dugout. I really wanted a ball from him, so I kept pace by climbing over railings and running through the aisle. There were two baseballs sitting near the protective screen behind 3rd base, so I cut down the stairs to get there before he did. As he approached, I called out and asked him as politely as I’ve ever asked for a ball. He paused just long enough to say, “It’s not free ball day,” and then he kept walking. Nice.

15_mr_mccarthyI didn’t get anything at the Rockies’ dugout after BP, but that was okay because another good thing happened there instead. I ran into a woman named Diane Firstman, who not only is a friend of mine from the Scrabble world, but she’s the one who’d recently mentioned me on her “Diamonds Are For Humor” MLBlog. She was there with her friend Kevin McCarthy — the guy she’d written about whose company has season tickets in the front row. They invited me to sit with them during the game. I said I was there with a friend. They told me to get him, and they lent me their tickets so I could sneak him back into the field level. (Once BP ends, security starts checking tickets; poor Sean had gotten stuck in the Loge when BP abruptly ended five minutes early.)

Sean and I ended up sitting there all night, but before the game started, I ran out to the left field foul line and got my sixth ball from Rockies second baseman Luis Gonzalez (not to be confused with the Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder with the same name). I also got three players to sign my ticket:

16_signed_ticket_09_29_05

From left to right, those are the autographs of Clint Barmes (who oughta be ashamed of himself for writing like that), Ryan Shealy (who’s enormous), and Ryan Speier (my new favorite player of all time). I got to talk to Speier for a minute, during which I thanked him for the glove and asked why he didn’t re-string it.

“I have like three others,” he said.

I got my picture taken with him (which came out horribly) and ended the conversation with my second major league handshake of the day. I think that might be a new record for me as well.

When the game started, I was in the perfect spot to get a ball tossed to me by the Rockies as they jogged off the field every inning. Of course the view wasn’t bad either:

17_view_during_game_09_29_05

Sure enough, after Cliff Floyd grounded out to Gonzalez to end the bottom of the 1st, Shealy (playing 1st base) tossed me the ball on his way in. That was my seventh of the day.

Several innings later, Diane got a ball from Barmes. Little kids were getting balls left and right. It was amazing how many balls were being tossed into the crowd. I rarely sit behind the dugout and always forget that there’s constant action there. Still, I didn’t think I’d get anything else for the rest of the night because the munchkins had taken over.

I was wrong.

Before the bottom of the 8th inning got underway, 1st base coach Dave Collins (who stole 395 bases during his major league career) tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Then, when the Rockies came off the field three outs later, Shealy tossed me another. Tom Glavine had chopped it off the plate to my favorite player.

Unlike the nonsense I had to endure three days earlier in Philadelphia, no one at Shea got mad at me for getting three balls during the game . . . except Kevin . . . although I think he was joking. What did Sean think? Nothing. He had to leave early and missed out.

Two other fans got into a heated debate over a ball. Two fathers. Father #1 (who had front row seats) had gotten two balls. Father #2 (who was sitting six rows back and kept running down to the front) had barely missed out on the second. Father #2 was yelling and cursing until father #1 handed him one of the balls. Father #2 then apologized for all the mean things he’d said and marched off triumphantly to present the ball (which he didn’t deserve) to his young son. I told father #1 he should’ve kept them both. He shrugged. We agreed that father #2 was an idiot who should’ve just gone to the souvenir stand instead.

Meanwhile, a lucky fan in the Mezzanine (third deck) caught TWO foul balls during the game, and everyone cheered their heads off. Is one ball enough? Is two balls too many? What about nine? Everyone’s got an opinion, and that’s fine. I just don’t like it when that opinion is forced upon anyone else.

Glavine ended up winning his 275th career game with a brilliant 2-hit, 11-strikeout performance. Mike Piazza blasted his 397th career home run. David Wright went deep twice and picked up his 100th RBI of the season. Jose Reyes set a Mets record for most at-bats in a season. He’s now up to 684.

Final score: Mets 11, Rockies 0.

STATS:

• 306 balls in 41 games this season = 7.5 balls per game

• 425 consecutive games with at least one ball

18_perez_goslin• 51 consecutive games with at least three balls

• 2,737 total balls . . . moves me into 49th place on the all-time hits list ahead of Tony Perez (2,732) and Goose Goslin (2,735). Next up is Barry Bonds (2,742).

12 comments

  1. Big Glove Bob

    Cool retro entry. I have had on several major leaguer’s glove. Omar Vizquel’s was super fancy.

    Big Glove Bob AKA “Long Relief”

  2. raytheaustralian

    Back when the Mets were actually competitive. Whatever happened to Ryan Speier and his glove ? Were they 4 seamers that you were throwing to Heath [ now Mr National ] Bell ?

  3. Zack Hample

    LONG RELIEF-
    Thanks. And that’s cool about the gloves. That reminds me . . . there was a guy in Denver several years ago who knew a bunch of the players and would sometimes trade gloves with them for a few minutes during BP until he caught a home run. I was super-envious.

    RAY THE AUSTRALIAN-
    Ryan Speier hurt his arm (and wasn’t dominant to begin with), so his career Speier-aled downhill rather quickly after that, unfortunately. When not attempting to throw any sort of off-speed pitch, I always use a four-seam grip, so yeah. Four-seamers to Heath all the way.

  4. Cook & Son Bats

    We got a glove this season (from Jerome Williams) and, you are absolutely correct, it is a bizarre, confusing and awesome situation when a player throws you his glove. Man, Heath looks young in this entry.

  5. BGB AKA The Dinner Portion

    The big glove is the trick. They will trade their glove for the big glove to shag BP for a few minutes. I have never played catch with a major leaguer though. Actually, I don’t even think I brought the big glove to any games last year or snagged any balls. My love for baseball hasn’t waned any, but my love for the baseball has somewhat. Heath does look really young in this entry. Seems like a great guy. Are you going to blog more this year or keep the same tact as last year? I would suggest the latter. I enjoy the blogs, but know how time consuming they can be and what a drain they are.

    Big Glove Bob AKA The Dinner Portion

  6. Zack Hample

    JON-
    Ha.

    COOK & SON BATS-
    Was that the pink glove? Very cool.

    DINNER PORTION-
    Now that you mention that, I do recall having some fun interactions with players when I first started bringing the big gloves to games. Maybe I should break it out for a game or two in 2015. I will probably to continue to blog at the laid-back pace of 2014 — just games on the road and anything noteworthy that happens in New York. Cutting down on my blogging made me enjoy baseball and life a whole lot more.

    RYAN MCGOVERN-
    I sure do. Thanks for asking. Take a look at this entry about two games in Anaheim in 1995:
    http://zackhample.mlblogs.com/2014/02/03/82495-and-82595-at-anaheim-stadium/
    At the very end of it, you’ll see a dozen links to other “Turn Back The Clock” entries.

  7. Ryan McGovern

    I’ve seen some of those turn back the clock entries. I’ll rephrase my original question because I didn’t make it clear. My bad. Should we expect to see anymore blog posts from before 2005 to pop up in the near future? I enjoyed baseball more in the early 2000s, and it would be nice to see more photos of baseball games from that time period.

  8. Zack Hample

    Ahh, gotcha. There are some games I could blog about from before 2005, but I’m not exactly planning to do it anytime soon. Maybe someday. How’s that for a vague/disappointing answer?

  9. Ryan McGovern

    That’s at least something. I do enjoy your blog, and I think you have an interesting hobby. I’ll probably leave a lot more comments in future blog posts you make.

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