4/14/15 at Citi Field

This was my first Mets game of the season, and I was expecting a big crowd. No, it wasn’t the home Opener. Mets ace Matt Harvey, who had missed all of last season while rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, was going to be pitching at Citi Field for the first time in 19 months.

The stadium looked calm from afar . . .

1_citi_field_from_afar_04_14_15

. . . and because I’d arrived so early, there wasn’t much action yet outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.:

2_no_metal_detectors

Do you remember all the metal detectors outside Yankee Stadium that I saw last week? Major League Baseball and the Department of Homeland Security had worked together this past offseason and decided that every stadium would have metal detectors in 2015 — so how come there weren’t any at Citi Field?

I figured the guards and supervisors were going to bring them out any minute and set them up. It was only 4pm, so there was still plenty of time — more than an hour until the stadium would open.

Well then. Let’s fast-forward an hour, shall we? First take a look at the loooooong lines of fans waiting to get in:

3_huge_lines_04_14_15

Now check out the area between the barricades and the stadium gates:

4_lots_of_guards_but_no_metal_detectors

Do you see any metal detectors? I didn’t see any, but as it turned out, there were a bunch. Sort of. Rather than using the big, airport-style rectangular things that fans would have to walk through, the Mets’ security guards all had hand-held metal-detecting wands. Here’s how it worked: the guard at my table inspected my backpack as he had always done. Then, after being told that I could go, I headed toward the gate and was stopped by a guard, who had me spread my legs and arms, at which point he wanded me front and back for about 20 seconds. Despite the fact that I was first on line, several fans at other lines got in ahead of me, presumably because they weren’t wanded as thoroughly. Overall I’d say the level of security was pretty good, though not foolproof or consistent. I heard later from a guard I know that the Mets only got SIX of the walk-though metal detectors and placed them at the club/suite entrances — two each at the Stengel, Seaver, and Hodges gates. Not that I’m complaining or anything (because this whole metal-detecting thing is awful), but how can they get away with that?

Anyway, last season the Mets often finished taking BP before the stadium opened. Here’s what I saw at my first Mets game of 2015 when I made it out to left field:

5_empty_seats_04_14_15

Hooray!!

David Wright was in the cage, and before anyone else made it out to the left field seats, he launched a home run in my direction. Just my luck . . . it sailed 40 feet over my head, landed in the second deck, and bounced back onto the field. That might have prompted me to curse the universe. Wright proceeded to hit two more homers into the empty seats surrounding me. Even though there still wasn’t anyone else nearby, I scrambled after the balls. Here they are:

6_david_wright_bp_home_run_balls

During the final group of Mets BP, I got a toss-up from rookie pitcher Erik Goeddel, and then I got THE luckiest bounce on a John Mayberry Jr. home run. I was standing in the fourth row, not too thrilled about another guy who had decided to stand directly in front of me in the third row. Mayberry hit a deep line drive right at us, and we both knew it was going to fall short. The other guy drifted down the steps to the front row, but I stayed in my spot — not for any particular reason. It just seemed pointless to move because I could tell that the ball might not even reach the Party Deck down below.

Guess what happened? The ball struck the railing at the very front of the Party Deck . . .

7_crazy_lucky_bounce

. . . and ricocheted up into the stands, looping directly over the other guy and landing *right* where I was standing. I didn’t have to move. I simply reached up and gloved it. Ha!

When the Phillies took the field, I headed into foul territory. As usual, I would’ve liked to be behind the 3rd base dugout, but wasn’t allowed to go any farther than this:

8_blocked_by_the_green_guy

In the photo above, do you see the guard on the right in the green jacket? There’s always a guard there during BP, whose *only* job is to prevent people from walking through the seats toward the dugout. No other stadium does that during BP. Even at the prison-like Yankee Stadium, which has more rules than the other 29 stadiums combined, all fans are allowed to go behind the dugouts early on — not all the way down to the “Legends” area, where people need wristbands, but whatever. Just being able to hang out in the vicinity of the dugouts is a nice thing. It enables fans to interact with the players and see them up close, but the Mets have not allowed it since Citi Field opened in 2009.

When the Phillies started hitting, I headed to the seats in right-center field:

9_right_center_field_04_14_15

I chose this section for two reasons. First, a bunch of lefties were taking turns in the cage, and second, I wanted to see the new outfield configuration. In case you haven’t heard, the Mets moved in the fences during the offseason . . . AGAIN. Here’s what it looks like up close:

10_new_expanded_gap_04_14_15

SO MUCH WASTED SPACE!!!

If the Mets want to maximize revenue (and happiness), they should consider building a little staircase down to that area, replacing the outfield wall with a chain-link fence, and converting that dead zone into a group/party area. Hell, they don’t even need to sell it separately. They could just open it up to anyone . . . ya know, to be nice. Put a beer cart down in there. Sell some pretzels and sausages. Turn the dead zone into a fun zone.

Back in left field, I found myself standing behind four Mets fans wearing jerseys of the all-time greats:

11_klemm_santana_lenefsky_harvey

Wait a minute . . . Klemm and Lenefsky? I think not.

I snagged two home runs hit by Jeff Francoeur — my fifth and sixth balls of the day. The first landed in the seats one section to my left, and as I lunged for it, I bashed my right tit on the metal corner of a seat. The second one, thankfully, was uneventful by comparison; it came right to me, and I caught it on the fly.

Look how crowded it was after BP:

12_crowded_concourse_04_14_15

All this for Matt Harvey?!

Shortly before the season started, I read an article about various concession items debuting at stadiums around the major leagues. When I learned that Citi Field was going to offer thick-cut bacon covered in s’mores, I *had* to try it.

After BP, I met up with my friend Mark McConville, and we headed to the “Pig Guy NYC” stand together. As you can see below, there was quite a line:

13_line_at_pig_guy_nyc

No problem, right? How long does it take to dip a piece of bacon in a vat of gooey chocolatey stuff? The answer is that it takes a LONG-ASS TIME when you run out of bacon. And it takes even longer when you have to wait five minutes for a new container of bacon to arrive. And it takes *even* longer when that new container of bacon is uncooked. If we’d known at the start how long it was going to take, we wouldn’t have waited, but by the time everything got held up, Mark and I had already invested 10 minutes and were in the middle of the line.

So we waited.

And waited.

To pass the time (and also because it was kinda cool), I took a photo of the $100 million roof being built over Arthur Ashe Stadium:

14_us_open_construction

And then we waited some more.

No exaggeration — we were on that effin’ line for nearly 40 minutes, and when we finally made it up to the front, the bacon wasn’t even close to being adequately cooked:

15_thick_cut_bacon_being_cooked

I prefer my bacon crispy, but what could I do? Leave after waiting such a long time?! Wait another 10 minutes for one piece of it to be cooked more just for me? Mark and I were in danger of missing the start of the game.

I was tempted to bail, but then I saw this sign up close:

16_bacon_sign

I couldn’t resist. I’d waited too long, and I was starving, so I handed over my money and received this in exchange:

17_bacon_covered_with_smores

It was meh.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled. Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of eating thick-cut bacon (followed by a full steak dinner) at Peter Luger. Take a look at this photo. THIS is how it’s supposed to be done — it was like the Mike Trout of bacon. What I got at Citi Field was the Ruben Tejada of bacon. It was soft and lacked oomph. The chocolatey s’mores coating wasn’t flavorful enough and therefore didn’t add much, and there wasn’t nearly enough marshmallow. Remember when I tried some chocolate-covered bacon on 6/12/11 at Coors Field? That certainly looked gross, and at the time I didn’t think much of it, but at least the flavors were powerful.

It should be noted that Mark got the s’mores-covered bacon *and* the caramel-coated bacon. He agreed with me about the s’mores, but said the other one was much better.

I barely made it here for the first pitch:

18_matt_harvey_first_pitch

Matt Harvey struck out Odubel Herrera (not to be confused with Asdrubel Cabrera) to start the game, and everyone in the stadium was PUMPED:

19_mets_fans_excited_04_14_15

There was palpable energy and enthusiasm everywhere; this game felt like a hybrid of Opening Day and the playoffs.

When Harvey struck out Freddy Galvis with a 98mph fastball, the stadium erupted. Here’s the pitch speed on the jumbotron:

20_matt_harvey_throwing_cheese

Here’s Harvey delivering a pitch to Chase Utley:

21_matt_harvey_leg_kick

When the count went to 1-2, it felt as if the stadium were about to explode:

22_fans_in_batman_masks

But then something funny happened: Chase Utley hit a home run. Everyone was like, “WTF did we just see?” But it was only one run, and Harvey struck out the next batter, Ryan Howard (which probably wasn’t all that difficult), to get everyone re-energized.

The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the 1st inning, and then I headed to left field for a bit. Look how crowded it was out there:

23_left_field_crowded

The paid attendance for this game was 39,489. And let me remind you that this was NOT the Mets’ home opener. That had taken place the day before, drawing a crowd of 43,947 — the biggest in Citi Field history.

Here’s where I sat for the next few innings:

24_view_from_left_field_04_14_15

I absolutely hate sitting in the middle of a row, but I had no choice because it was so damn crowded. Thankfully I had a bit of room on my right . . .

25_small_amount_of_open_space

. . . but I was antsy. I felt like a caged animal, and to make matters worse, I had a lousy view of the scoreboard because of the overhang of the second deck:

26_shitty_view_of_scoreboard

I had to get out there. I just couldn’t sit still.

I headed up to the second deck in right field, stopping along the way to take this photo:

27_heading_to_the_second_deck_in_right_field

Then I went to the outermost staircase in the second deck. I wanted to get a view from above of the new/shorter outfield wall and all that dead space behind it. Check it out:

28_expanded_gap_from_above

That is THE weirdest outfield/bullpen setup in the major leagues.

Look who was at the bottom of my staircase:

29_signguy

SIN GUY!! He commits all sorts of horrible acts and . . . oh wait, his ponytail was blockin’ the gee.

SIGNGUY. My bad. I’d never seen him up close.

I could write 10,000 words about all the oddities in this game, but instead I’ll summarize them quickly. Two Mets players were injured — Michael Cuddyer on a hit-by-pitch followed by David Wright, who messed up his hamstring on a stolen base and is now on the disabled list. Chase Utley was beaned (probably intentionally) by Harvey and hit a second homer later on. Both teams were warned by the home plate umpire. There were instant replay reviews that dragged on. Mets manager Terry Collins got ejected for arguing a catcher’s interference call (which turned out to be a bad call). Mets backup catcher Anthony Recker played 3rd base in the 9th inning — the first time in his professional career that he’d done that. And so on. I’m probably forgetting a few things, but you get the idea. This game was weird, and the Mets held on for a 6-5 win.

After the final out . . .

30_postgame_activity_on_the_field_04_14_15

. . . I got my seventh and final ball of the day from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. (Can you spot him in the photo above?) Here I am with the balls:

31_zack_with_seven_baseballs_04_14_15

On my way out, I lingered in the concourse for a few minutes until I saw a cute kid walking by slowly with an empty glove. I drifted over to the kids’ father and asked, “Did you guys catch a ball today?” When the kid predictably shook his head, I reached into my pocket, pulled out a clean BP ball, placed it in his glove, and said, “Well, you got one now.”

They were thrilled, of course, and I felt good too. I had survived my first of many Mets games this season.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

32_the_six_balls_i_kept_04_14_15• 7 baseballs at this game (six pictured here because I gave one away)

• 30 balls in 5 games this season = 6 balls per game.

• 1,008 lifetime balls in 134 games at Citi Field = 7.52 balls per game.

• 1,058 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 470 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 7,836 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.)

• 11 donors for my fundraiser

• $108.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $108.40 raised this season

• $40,063.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

31 comments

  1. The Teenage Sports Guy

    Hey Zack,
    I’m sure that the Bacon will get better as the season goes on and they have a chance to work out all of the kinks in making it. Anyway, I last saw you on 7-22-11 at Camden Yards the day before BallHawk Fest. I just wanted to tell you that I’m playing College Football now at a small Division 3 school in Birmingham, AL called Birmingham-Southern College. If you’re ever near Birmingham, you need to come to a Birmingham Barons game. They have built a new ballpark in Downtown Birmingham that’s a BallHawk’s paradise. I think you would absolutely enjoy it. Anyway, I have a new social network that you need to check out. It’s called Fancred. I know that you always said Twitter and Myspace were the first and last social networks that you would join. However, I think you would really enjoy this one. I think that Fancred is better than Twitter and MySpace because it’s all sports, all the time. The people on their are really knowledgeable and passionate about their teams. The link to the website is http://www.Fancred.com and the link to my profile is: http://fancred.com/#users/35296 Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think. They also have an app for both iPhone and Android so you don’t have to only access it from the computer.

    J.B. McCracken

  2. Eric Lenefsky

    Hey I’m the lenefsky in that picture you took. I didn’t know who you are until today and I remember seeing you there making a nice catch off some Phillies homerun.

  3. sanjaysridhar

    Hey Zack! Great post! I can’t wait to head up to NYC to try those smores. Just wanted to point out that you mispelled Arthur Ashe Stadium as Arthur Asche Stadium.

    Sanjay

  4. Zack Hample

    WAYNE-
    Yeesh, That sounds awful!

    THE TEENAGE SPORTS GUY-
    Well, I don’t ever plan to get the bacon at Citi Field, so if it gets any better, I’ll never know. But anyway, thanks for commenting here. I don’t have any plans to be in Birmingham, but okay, I’ll keep that in mind. As for social media, all I can say is . . . if I get a chance and feel motivated, I’ll check it out, but no promises. At the very least, it’s nice to know that something like Fancred exists.

    ERIC LENEFSKY-
    Ha, wow! Never expected to hear from you. What’s up? I actually thought your customized jerseys were pretty cool — where did you get them? Hope you weren’t offended by my commentary on the blog. I was just having a little fun with it.

    SANJAYSRIDHAR-
    Whoops! I’m dumb. Thanks for pointing that out. Just fixed it.

  5. Eric Lenefsky

    Haha thanks I got it as a gift so I’m not sure but it’s probably from the Mets website and I’m not offended at all more like honored

  6. Dennis B.

    Hey Zack-
    Have you heard of any “Allen H. Selig” balls showing up this season?

    Dennis

  7. blakevonhagen

    So I use this ball retriever at Turner Field that is basically a plastic cup with a 1/4 pound disc weight on top…I’m assuming I won’t be able to bring that in any more with these new metal detectors? If so, that sucks because that’s how I’ve been able to get about half the baseballs I’ve snagged
    Haha. Oh, and I saw you catch that ball live in the Yankees vs Red Sox game. It was like 2 AM and my whole family was asleep but I woke my dad up because I burst out laughing when you faked the throw back. Awesome stuff man.

  8. Zack Hample

    GARRETT MEYER-
    Thanks for your concern. It’s still a bit tender and could use a massage.

    ERIC LENEFSKY-
    Ha, excellent! I’m honored that you’re honored.

    DENNIS-
    Yes. I’ve heard that the Nationals have been using them on the road, and I know that a bunch of other teams are using them too, but I can’t remember which ones.

    BLAKE VON HAGEN-
    You’ll be able to bring it in. Just put it inside your bag, and you’ll be fine. Metallic objects are still allowed inside stadiums. You just can’t have them in your pockets when you’re entering. That’s hilarious about the home run at 2am. Thanks for letting me know and glad to have provided some entertainment.

  9. raytheaustralian

    You definitely are more sympathetic to the Mets organisation over the Evil Empire. You would think that a multi-million dollar consortium like the Mets could be a little more creative with that empty space behind the new wall. How about an effigy of Fred Wilpon that fans could pelt with rotting fruit ?

  10. Troy Gustavson

    You’re gonna lose your boyish figure eating crap like stuffed thick-cut bacon… Not to mention the coronary.

  11. Zack Hample

    RAY THE AUSTRALIAN-
    The Mets have actually been great to me so far this season. I’ve made peace/friends with a security supervisor in the outfield, and the social media team has been getting footage of me during BP and interviewing me for a segment of some sort. Not sure when it’ll air — probably not for another month or two.

    TROY GUSTAVSON-
    Challenge accepted!

  12. tC

    U look like you are singing Opera when you celebrate oooooo.hample on broadway soon Where were u for the mets hr. #4 first career Padre leigh says Hi.

  13. Marinersallday

    Nice work Zach. Aside from Mother’s Day and the Nationals 10th anniversary, do you know what commemorative balls we can look for this regular season?? Or where we can go to find out?

    Mahalo

  14. Jeremy

    Hey zack
    Any chance you have a schedule of when you’ll be visiting Rogers Centre? Will sure love to meet you in person. And dont forget to bing your girlfriend!

  15. Zack Hample

    TC-
    Never heard the opera comparison before, but ha, okay.

    MARINERS ALL DAY-
    Check out bigleaguebaseballs.com. That’s a great source of info for commemorative balls. The Astros are also using one this season. (Thanks for catching your misspelling. You are forgiven.)

    JEREMY-
    It’d be nice to meet up, but I have no plans to be back in Toronto. I’m not going to be traveling much this season, unfortunately. It’s still only April, and the NYC stadiums are already driving me crazy.

  16. Marinersallday

    I attended an Astros and Mariners game at Safeco last week, got a toss up from Tony Sipp of the Astros bullpen, but unfortunately it wasn’t commemorative. Perhaps they don’t use the commemoratives during BP? And thanks for the reply, i will be looking for you at the Safe!

  17. Marinersallday

    Thanks for clarifying. By the way, used the glove trick in the Mariners bullpen, a Seattle police officer walked up in the middle of my retrieval, and simply says, “that’s pretty cool man”. It was funny

  18. Jeremy

    Planning to go to a game on may 10 (mother’s day). Any details on what the mother’s day balls will look like? Or will they be regular baseballs? I hope not. Will definitely be looking to get one of those balls. Already bought tickets on the foul section so i can try to get them without having to sneak through security. And will you be going to a mothers day game?

  19. Jeremy

    Oh i also just found out that “The Baseball” and “Watching Baseball Smarter” are available in my local library. Your popularity had reached an international level! (Im in Canada). Keep up the good work!

  20. Zack Hample

    I assume the Mother’s Day ball will be pick and commemorative, just like the last few years. I probably won’t attend that game. As for my books, ha! Thanks for letting me know.

  21. Tracy Collins

    Would u care if us 10 ballhawks signed our pages in your book only at bookstores not libraries TC close to two hr today 9home runs in petco in two gms RU goin for Arods 660??

  22. Zack Hample

    Eh, I don’t think it’d be good for you guys to sign the books. I don’t know . . . if anyone else sees this and has an opinion, please speak up. I’ll be at Yankee Stadium for the next three days, so yeah, I’ll be going for it.

  23. Ben

    Any plans to be in Baltimore on 5/11 to search for Easter eggs from yesterday’s zero attendance game?

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