It was Bernie Williams Night at Yankee Stadium. Fans had been encouraged to be in their seats more than an hour before the 8:05pm start, and when the stadium opened at 6pm, the Texas Rangers were already taking BP:
Normally the Yankees have one group of hitters after the gates open, but in this case, everything had been moved up to accommodate the big pre-game ceremony.
Though nice and empty at the start, left field was dead, so I raced over to right field, and within a few minutes, I snagged a home run ball that landed in the seats:
I don’t know who hit it — perhaps Mitch Moreland, if I had to guess.
After that group, I moved back to left field, and for the next half-hour, I didn’t get any baseballs. Here’s why:
As you can see, the seats were packed. There wasn’t an empty row anywhere. It wasn’t until BP was winding down that I got another ball — an Adam Rosales homer that I caught on the fly after running back four rows, drifting a bit to the side, and reaching/flinching awkwardly as a guy in front of me flailed at it.
That was it for BP. Mega-lame. But my night was just getting started. Check it out:
I had a fancy “Legends” ticket for the exclusive, all-you-can-eat area behind home plate — and best of all, it was free. A friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought me the ticket in exchange for half the baseballs I snagged. He’s the same guy who paid my way for the 2013 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, and you might recall that he bought me a Legends ticket on September 11, 2014, when the Yankees used commemorative Derek Jeter baseballs. See where I’m going with this? Rumor had it that there were going to be special Bernie Williams balls used during this game.
But first, let’s talk about the food, huh? Once inside the Legends area, I skipped the raw bar . . .
. . . and the sushi . . .
. . . and went for the meat:
In the photo above, that’s pork tenderloin on the left and bacon-wrapped steak on the right. (There was bacon at the edges. Trust me.)
For my first of several desserts, I helped myself to some chocolate-covered strawberries, along with an Oreo cupcake, a brownie, and a black-and-white cookie:
After a while, I poked my head out into the seats to check on the field:
Excellent. There was still plenty of time to keep eating.
Here’s something that caught my attention:
Needing to save room for later, I asked for a “small portion of everything.” Here’s what I received:
After chowing down on the chicken, beans, grits, and biscuit, I gathered another plate of dessert and headed out to the seats:
In the photo above, did you notice the logo on the jumbotron? Here’s another look at it alongside the man himself — Bernie Williams:
Just because there IS a commemorative logo doesn’t mean that it’ll appear on the baseballs, and if it does appear on the balls, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be used in games. Remember when Mariano Rivera was honored with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium in 2013? Remember this logo? I had a Legends ticket for that game as well and was dismayed to discover, upon snagging a 3rd-out ball, that the teams were using regular balls. That’s just how it goes sometimes.
Finally the Bernie Williams ceremony got underway:
It was nice to see a bunch of Rangers watching from their dugout:
I’ve heard some people grumbling about Williams not being worthy of having his number retired by the Yankees — that the honor should be reserved for people like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, and so on. But I disagree. During his 16-year career, in which he batted .297, hit 287 home runs, and had a streak of seven consecutive seasons in which he scored 100-plus runs, he won four World Series and was a four-time Gold Glove winner and a five-time All-Star. He also has more career postseason RBIs (80) than anyone in MLB history, and he’s second all time in postseason home runs (22) to a known cheater. In my opinion, that’s worthy of enshrinement in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Here’s a closeup of some former Yankees who were in attendance:
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Joe Torre, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and (appearing at Yankee Stadium for the first time since retiring last year) Derek Jeter.
I watched most of the ceremony, but then got bored and realized that I was wasting an opportunity by not eating. Here’s a scoop of blackberry sorbet . . .
. . . which was so bland that I tossed it after one bite. I replaced it with an ice cream bar . . .
. . . which was much better.
(Does anyone feel like estimating the number of calories that I ate? If so, add a couple of ice cream sandwiches, which I somehow neglected to photograph.)
This was my view in the top of the 1st . . .
. . . and here’s where I stood during the bottom of the inning:
When Chris Young stepped to the plate with two outs, I pretty much knew what was going to happen. He was going to strike out, and Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos was going to take the ball back toward the dugout. The only question was what he’d do with it — keep it because of the commemorative logo or toss it to someone younger and cuter than me? Or hell, maybe it wasn’t commemorative and I was getting all worked up for nothing?
Sure enough, Young struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch from Yovani Gallardo, and Chirinos hooked me up. Behold this little white sphere of joy:
As thrilled as I was to have snagged that ball, I didn’t feel relaxed or satisfied because I needed to get at least one more for the guy who’d bought me the ticket. Initially, when we first talked about this game, he wanted to claim the first commemorative ball for himself and let me have the second, but I told him that I’d have to decline if that’s how it had to be. I reminded him that of the 69 different commemorative balls I had ever snagged, I still owned at least one of each; I couldn’t take a chance that I’d only get one Bernie Williams ball and then have to give it away. He understood and accepted my reasoning, but made me promise that he’d get the second AND third commemorative balls. Therefore, if I wanted to end up with an extra one for myself, I’d need to snag four.
Prince Fielder struck out to end the top of the 2nd inning, and guess what happened? Yankees catcher Brian McCann gave me the ball. He always tosses 3rd-out ball to little kids, but I was the only one asking for it, so on his way in, he reluctantly rolled it to me across the dugout roof. One inning later, Chris Young tossed me the 3rd-out ball, but unfortunately a very tall, gloveless, middle-aged man in the front row jumped up at the last second and lunged for it and swatted it away. That ball bounced back into the dugout and was never seen again.
After that, I decided to stay on the 3rd base side for a few innings. As far as I know, there’s no rule about moving around in the Legends aisle, but I wanted to avoid drawing too much attention to myself. Earlier this season, a friend of mine had gotten hassled by security for roaming there a bit too much, so it seemed wise to be extra cautious.
When the Rangers were batting in the top of each inning, I stood in the aisle near 3rd base and hoped for one of two things to happen — either a foul pop-up from a lefty or a foul dribbler to the 3rd base coach from a righty. In a typical game, these types of foul balls are fairly common, but on this night, they were pretty much non-existent. In the bottom of each inning, when the Rangers were going to be coming off the field, I moved farther and farther back in an attempt to get some love from Elvis Andrus. Every 3rd-out ball that’s *not* a strikeout gets tossed to him, and I’d noticed that he likes to throw them deep into the crowd. Two nights earlier, I’d seen him throw two of them into the second deck! So guess where I went in the 5th inning? This was my view:
It seemed crazy to leave the Legends area and head to a section that’s so lousy that the guards don’t even bother checking tickets there . . . but I had a hunch. But wouldn’t you know it — Chase Headley, the bum, struck out to end the 5th inning. So much for THAT ball.
In the top of the 6th, I ran back down to the Legends area and camped out in the aisle on the 3rd base side. In the middle of the 6th, I ran back up to the second deck. (Free exercise! Yay!) Brian McCann ended the inning with a groundout, and I drifted down to the front row, hopeful of a long-range missile from Andrus. Instead he threw the ball (quite a distance) to one of Prince Fielder’s sons, who was sitting in the Legends area! How the hell am I supposed to compete with that?! Here he is with the ball:
That young man’s name is Haven. I’d met him two days earlier when he recognized me during BP. I was in the right field seats, and he was shagging out on the field, and he basically came over and asked if I was the guy from YouTube with all the baseballs. Pretty cool, huh? And now here he was in the stands. We’d actually been running into each other throughout this game and chatting briefly here and there. He’s a really nice kid who seemed to be genuinely interested in my collection. At one point, when I was hanging out in the aisle near 3rd base, Haven wandered over to talk to me, and when a security guard noticed that he didn’t have a Legends wristband, he asked, “Are you here with your parents?” I tried to explain the situation, but the guard, who of course was just doing his job, walked off toward home plate and made Haven follow him. (Can you imagine Yankee Stadium security ejecting a member of Prince Fielder’s family? “Suuuuuure your father plays for the Rangers. Uh huh . . . okay, son . . . yeah, you look just like him. Just follow me, and I’ll take you right to him. This is the way to the visitors clubhouse . . . ” and then BAM, the kid is shoved out an exit door onto 161st Street. Totally plausible, right?)
In the top of the 7th, I decided to return to the Yankees’ dugout. Elvis Andrus ended the inning with a soft liner to second baseman Jose Pirela. Moments later, as Pirela jogged toward me, I broke out the Spanish and got him to toss me the ball. Very easy.
In the middle of the 7th, I ran back up to the second deck on the 3rd base side. With two outs, Stephen Drew gave me a scare by fouling off a perfectly good 3-1 pitch. I was sure he was going to screw me over by striking out, but as it turned out, he was kind enough to ground out on the next pitch. By the time Andrus started jogging in with the ball, I was already standing in the front row, and when he approached the dugout and looked into the crowd, I screamed and whistled and jumped up and down and waved my arms. That’s when he noticed me and hurled the ball in my direction — not with a gentle arc, but on a line. I reached forward and slightly down over the railing for a back-handed catch. Perfection!
I headed downstairs and stayed in the Legends area for the rest of the game. Here’s a photo of me, taken with my cruddy little camera by my friend Tony Bracco:
After the final out of the Rangers’ 5-2 victory, I got a ball from home plate umpire Toby Basner, but get this — it was a REGULAR ball! Have a look:
My first reaction was one of extreme disappointment, but as I thought about it more, my sorrow turned to confusion. How had this happened? I’m 100 percent certain that Basner pulled the ball out of his pouch before tossing it to me, and furthermore, there’s no way that he acquired a random ball (from the dugout, for example) on his way over. I watched him the whole way, and I can state definitively that nothing entered or exited his possession until he reached me. My theory is that the Yankees ran out of commemorative balls at some point in the 8th or 9th inning and switched over to regular balls. If that happened, that’s weird. And bad. MLB strives for consistency, so if there’s a special type of ball used at the start of the game, I would expect that same type of ball to be used throughout the game right up until the very end. The size and shape of the logo DOES affect the hitters’ ability to see the ball and recognize pitches, but who knows? Maybe Basner was informed by the ballboy (or by Joe Girardi himself?) that the supply of commemorative balls was running low, and Basner made the switch at the end of an inning in order to keep things as fair and consistent as possible?
In the photo above, did you notice Haven’s aqua-colored shirt on the upper left? He and I were standing near each other at that point because we had planned to get a photo together after the game. Here we are, along with his brother, Jaden (with the awesome hair) and a friend of theirs (in the white hat) who happens to be CC Sabathia’s son:
Haven had offered to get me his dad’s autograph, but I politely declined, simply because I didn’t have anything on me that I wanted signed. There was a brief discussion about getting his batting gloves or a bat, and at one point, it seemed as if I might get invited to tag along to the clubhouse, but I didn’t force the issue. It would’ve been amazing, but I didn’t want to intrude on the Fielders’ family time, and who knows if stadium security would have let me? The Rangers won’t be back in New York this year, so hopefully I’ll run into Haven and Jaden again at some point down the road.
In case you’ve lost count of all the balls I snagged . . . I got two regular balls during BP, four commemorative balls during the game, and one regular ball (?!) from the umpire after the game for a total of seven. Here are the four commemorative balls:
After taking that photo, I entered the indoor portion of the Legends area, simply planning to walk through the restaurant and head upstairs and then exit . . . but something unexpected happened, which held me up for a few minutes. When I approached the wall of free candy, an employee, who was in the process of packing up all the leftovers, encouraged me to help myself.
Before I tell you what happened next, let me give you some background info. Earlier in the night, I had chatted with this employee for a minute when she saw me putting on my Rangers shirt over my other shirt, and she helped me straighten it out a bit. I didn’t need any help, but she was sweet and looked like she could’ve been someone’s grandmother from the south, so I just went with it. I thanked her and said, “Since my mother couldn’t be here tonight,” prompting her to reply enthusiastically, “I’ll take care of you!” Then she asked why I needed a Rangers shirt, and I gave a simple explanation, which didn’t seem to register. Anyway, the point is, by the time she encouraged me to take the candy after the game, we were already on friendly-ish terms.
So there I was, grabbing handfuls of small packages of M&Ms and Mike & Ike’s, along with mini-Twix bars and Peanut Chews, and stuffing it all into my backpack. I had already obtained some candy earlier in the night, but I hadn’t gone crazy with it. Now that I was being TOLD to take it . . . umm, okay!
At one point, I looked over at her and joked that my mother would be upset if she knew how much sugar I was going to eat — but to this Legends employee, it was no joke. She was one of those uber-earnest types, so as soon as the idea of an upset mother entered her mind, she said, “That’s enough,” and blocked my bag with her hands so that I couldn’t place any more candy inside.
“No no,” I said, “it’s okay. I’m kidding. I don’t live with my mother, so she’ll never find out.”
“Who do you live with?” she asked.
“With my girlfriend — she’ll be thrilled to have all this candy.”
“Why do you live with her?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You are living with a woman you’re not married to?!”
Hooooo-boy. I knew right away where this was going, but decided to play along — no point in offending an old woman and making an enemy with someone I might see again.
“Sure, why not?” I said.
“You are not a Christian?!” she asked, totally astonished.
“No, I have no religion.”
“No religion?!” she repeated with a look of what can only be described as horror. “What do you think happens to you when you leave this world?”
I shrugged and said, “I don’t know, I’m not concerned with that.”
“Do me a favor!” she pleaded. “FIND HIM!!! At your age, it’s not too late. You must FIND HIM!!! Promise me you will do that!”
“I’ll consider it,” I said, astounded that in the year 2015 in New York City of all places, this conversation was actually happening.
The woman told me that she works in a hospital and said that dying patients from all walks of life, including scientists, have told her that “there is something else out there.”
“Really? Even scientists?”
“Yes!” she insisted. “Ohhhh, please tell me you will look for him! If you think you are happy now, just wait until you find him!”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll think about it.”
“I will pray for you,” she said.
And that was it. I could’ve helped myself to more candy, but I’d heard enough preaching for one night (if not one lifetime) and needed to get out of there.
Back at home, I dumped out all the candy for Hayley:
Imagine how distraught that poor old woman would’ve been if I told her that my girlfriend looks like a 15-year-old boy.
Here’s a closeup of the seven baseballs that I snagged:
Life is funny, huh?
• 7 baseballs at this game
• 244 balls in 31 games this season = 7.87 balls per game.
• 884 lifetime balls in 131 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.75 balls per game.
• 1,084 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 748 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 259 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball
• 70 lifetime commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 8,050 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.)
• 15 donors for my fundraiser
• $118.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $118.40 raised this season
• $40,073.90 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009