I don’t usually begin with spoilers, but this is a special occasion, so I’m just gonna come right out and say it: this was the day I snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit. (Wow!)
Now that you know that, take a look at this whiny email I sent on the morning on the game:
Forgive me for complaining. The recipient of that email, Meredith Kim, works for my favorite children’s baseball charity, Pitch In For Baseball. Since 2009 I’ve been fundraising for them by getting people to pledge money for the balls I snag at major league stadiums. As a new experiment this season, instead of every ball raising money, I’ve encouraged people to make larger pledges for game home run balls only. Therefore I hope you can understand my frustration. I truly felt like I’d been letting the charity down.
Several hours after sending that email, I had the following exchange on Twitter:
As you can see by the number of retweets, lots of people ended up thinking that was pretty cool — but of course I had no idea at the time that anything special was going to happen. A-Rod started the day with 2,999 hits; I was simply looking forward to witnessing the milestone.
Fast-forward a couple of hours. When Yankee Stadium opened, I was one of the first fans to run inside, and I snagged two quick baseballs during batting practice:
The first was a Mason Williams homer that I caught on the fly. The second was blasted by a left-handed batter (Chase Headley, if I had to guess) toward the back of the section. I darted up the steps, cut 20 feet to my left through an empty row, and nearly made a sweet running catch — but ended up grabbing the ball in the seats.
Several minutes later, I got my third ball of the day from a ballboy in right field, and I tossed it to the nearest kid.
When the Yankees finished hitting, I noticed a bunch of home run balls scattered in their bullpen — probably eight to ten, at least. Several relievers ended up tossing them all into the crowd, sparking a mini-frenzy amongst the handful of nearby fans. Some of the balls went to the bleachers, and the rest were chucked into Section 103 beside the bullpen. I got two of them. The first, thrown to no one in particular by Justin Wilson, landed in the cushioned/folded-up portion of a seat. The second was tossed right to me by Dellin Betances.
The Tigers started hitting soon after, and I headed to left field:
And then I ran back to right field. That happens sometimes — a total waste of time, but hey, free exercise! There were several righties in the first group, so I had thought that left field was the place to be, but once I got there, it was kind of crowded, and I just wasn’t feeling it.
My sixth ball was a homer by Victor Martinez that I picked up in the seats, and guess what? It was a 2014 postseason ball! Check it out:
Last year I snagged a couple of those balls at Game 1 of the ALDS in Baltimore (including this brand-new one) but it was still great to have another. I’m always thrilled to add to my collection of commemorative balls.
My seventh ball, hit by Victor Martinez, was a ground-rule double that took a high bounce off the warming track. Then I caught two homers by a right-handed batter (J.D. Martinez, perhaps?) and gave them both away. The first one went to the smallest kid with a glove, and the second went to a gray-haired man who was standing right behind me. He was much more likely to have gotten drilled by the ball than he was to have caught it, but given his proximity, it seemed like a nice thing to do.
Meanwhile I found myself struggling to identify this guy:
I knew that if I could figure out his name and ask politely for a ball, he’d probably hook me up, but who was it?! According to the Tigers roster, which I had printed and brought with me, there were five left-handed pitchers. I knew it wasn’t Tom Gorzelanny or David Price, which meant it had to be Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, or Kyle Ryan.
Upon further inspection of the roster, I realized that Krol and Hardy were “only” 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2 respectively, while Ryan was 6-foot-5. Given my weird obsession with height, I know when someone’s 6-foot-5, even from afar when they’re standing alone, so when this unknown player eventually wandered over to retrieve a ball, I hurried down to the front row.
“Hey, Kyle,” I said as he went to pick it up, “any chance for the ball, please?”
I was afraid that I’d just made a fool of myself and disrespected a major leaguer by not knowing who he was, but then he looked up and flipped me the ball — my 10th of the day.
My 11th and final ball of BP was a deep, sinking liner by a left-handed batter — no idea who. I drifted down the steps beside the camera well, got caught up on a chain, and lunged out and down over the wall in front of the camera, catching the ball in the tip of my glove. That one felt great because I truly earned it. I didn’t have to sweet-talk the players. It hadn’t been bobbled by another fan. It was just me versus the ball, and I came out on top.
Shortly before game time, after both starting pitchers had finished warming up, I spotted a baseball on the warning track in right-center field. See it in the following photo?
I waited there for five minutes until a groundskeeper wandered over and picked it up. I called out and asked politely for it, and he ignored me. Bleh.
Then I took a photo of the bleachers and bullpen . . .
. . . and hurried downstairs to my seat in right field. (Why is it that when I’m inside a major league stadium, everything always feels rushed?)
Yankees starter Adam Warren needed just nine pitches to get through the top of the first. Anthony Gose led off with a line-drive single to left field, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera followed with a pair of strikeouts, and then Gose was caught stealing.
In the bottom of the inning, Brett Gardner led off with a ground-ball single up the middle and was promptly picked off by Tigers starter Justin Verlander. At that point, Chase Headley was at bat, and I was well aware of the fact that he had 99 career home runs. In fact, I remember thinking that if someone had said to me, “You can have Headley’s 100th homer, but then you’ll have to give up your chance at catching A-Rod’s 3,000th hit,” I would’ve gladly accepted. Yeah, I was taking the whole A-Rod thing seriously, but it seemed *so* unlikely.
As it turned out, Headley hit a routine fly ball to left field, bringing the man himself — Alex Rodriguez — to the plate. This was the view to my right . . .
. . . and here’s what it looked like straight ahead:
As you can see, everyone was standing and ready to witness history. I thought about holding onto my camera and trying to photograph or film the big moment, but then I was like, “Nah, I should keep my right hand free in case he gets a hold of one.” But then I was like, “He’s not going yard off Verlander, you idiot,” but then I was like, “Umm, yeah, he very well might. Verlander’s not that good anymore, but he still throws hard, and A-Rod might go oppo.”
I had thought about getting a ticket for this game in left field, but my season ticket (which I got in the middle of last season) is in right field, and I knew that A-Rod could easily reach me out there. Despite the fact that he’s more likely to pull his home runs or hit them to dead center, I felt I had a better shot in right field. A-Rod, of course, has tremendous power, so when he pulls a home run, there’s a HUGE area of potential seats where the ball can land. He might crush a 450-foot moonshot to left-center, or he might yank a 350-foot line drive down the line. The point is that in left field, you can’t narrow it down to one likely spot. When A-Rod goes deep to the opposite field, however, the ball never lands 30 rows deep. Sure, he’ll sometimes hit a homer into the bullpen in right-center or flare one onto the Short Porch near the foul pole, but there’s a much more concentrated area where the ball can realistically land, and I believed that my spot was right in the middle of it.
Anyway, as A-Rod dug into the batter’s box, I hurriedly placed my camera in a cup holder — I don’t think I even had time to turn it off — and looked up just in time to see Verlander delivering the first pitch:
It was a fastball on the outside corner, and A-Rod connected:
Let me rephrase that. He didn’t merely “connect.” He launched a deep fly ball RIGHT in my direction . . .
. . . and I knew immediately that it was going to be a home run. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just knew. I sit out there all the time, and I’m good at judging fly balls. I was certain from the moment he hit it that it was going to land within a few feet of me, but I didn’t get excited, nor did I panic. Several weeks earlier, when A-Rod was tied with Willie Mays on the all-time home run list, he slugged a remarkably similar fly ball that I thought I was going to catch. My reaction for that one was more along the lines of, “OHMYGOD, IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?!?!?!?!” but the ball ended up tailing a bit and falling short, allowing Delmon Young to make a leaping catch at the wall. It’s hard to explain, but when A-Rod sent his 3,000th hit sailing in my direction, I assumed something would go wrong — something that would prevent me from catching it. It’s like I didn’t want to get too excited because it would make the heartbreak of NOT catching it even worse, so as the ball started coming toward me, my thoughts were more like, “Oh jeez, here we go again,” and then somewhat matter-of-factly, I said to myself, “Okay, let’s do this.”
Of course, in order to DO IT, I needed to get underneath the ball, so let me say this for anyone who’s never played baseball or been close to a home run in the stands: balls hit right at you are the toughest to judge. If they’re hit to the left or right, you’ll know immediately that you need to move to the side, but when you’re lined up with a ball from the start, it’s hard to predict how far back it’ll land. That said, earlier in the day, during the Tigers’ portion of BP, I had noticed that deep fly balls hit by right-handed hitters (in particular J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera) were carrying farther than usual. It’s not that I was surprised to see those guys reaching the seats — it’s that balls that I would’ve normally expected to reach the second or third row were landing halfway up the section. I don’t know if the wind was blowing out, or if the warm summer air had something to do with it, but whatever the reasons might’ve been, I kept that in mind as I jumped out of my seat for the A-Rod ball.
I was sitting beside the staircase in the third row, so I drifted back on the steps to the fourth row. In the following screen shot, you can see me just above the camera, starting to reach up with my glove, wearing light gray shorts and an olive-green shirt:
I knew I needed to drift back a little farther — being on the staircase in the fifth row would’ve been ideal — but as I tried to get there, I got blocked by a wall of people, and as I jumped for the ball, I got pushed a bit from behind:
There was nothing malicious about the jostling. Given the significance of this baseball, I don’t blame anyone for acting a bit crazy, but of course it sucked beyond belief when it sailed a couple of feet over my glove and disappeared into the throng behind me. Looking back on that moment, I can clearly remember my emotions. Part of me was like, “See? I knew I wasn’t gonna catch it,” but the other part was like, “Maybe there’s still a chance.”
If the other fans had been a bit crazy before, they were flat-out psychotic now. There were so many bodies pushing and shoving and scrambling for the ball that I couldn’t see the ground behind me, so I did the next best thing. I looked for the ball where I *could* see the ground — right down at my feet, and whaddaya know? The ball was RIGHT THERE, sitting still on the very step that I was standing on, practically touching my right sneaker, and no one else around me knew where it was! Here’s the moment when I first saw it:
To say that I was astonished would be a laughable understatement.
In the previous screen shot, the man in the “Mattingly” shirt seems to be the only other person who spotted the ball, but he was four rows below me, and I was already bending down for it, so he had no chance. Meanwhile the guy in the red cap (who was wearing an A-Rod jersey) was so busy celebrating that he didn’t bother looking for the ball — lucky for me because he was *right* there and could’ve easily reached for it.
Here’s the moment that I grabbed the ball:
As you can see, the Mattingly guy was starting to run up the steps, but no one else knew where it was. See all the people behind me huddled around the spot where the ball had first landed?
After grabbing the ball, I did something I shouldn’t have done. I’d been thinking about a moment like this for years, and I’d even written some advice about it in my latest book, The Baseball. On page 257, the last full paragraph says:
“When you catch a milestone home run ball, don’t hold it up and celebrate because it might get ripped out of your hand. Keep the ball in your glove, squeeze it shut, pull it tight against your chest, and wrap your bare hand around it. Don’t let anyone else hold it or touch it. Other fans will ask. They’ll want to take pics. They’ll be persistent. Tell them no. Be rude if you have to. Keep your death-grip on the ball until you’re surrounded by stadium security.”
So much for that:
As you can see below (and as you might expect), I completely freaked out:
I did have a death-grip on the ball. There was *no* chance in hell that anyone was going to pry it from my hands — not even the Incredible Hulk, but I did panic and pull the ball close to my body when a fan grabbed me from behind. (You can see him above in the collage of screen shots.) Thankfully he wasn’t trying to mess with me. He was just excited and wanted to give me a hug.
Overall, in the moments following A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, I was more stunned than excited. I truly could not believe what had just happened, and if you look at my face in the final image of that collage (bottom right), you can see that I was like . . . “What?” Instead of a triumphant “I GOT THE BALL,” it was more of a puzzled, “I got the ball?” The whole situation seemed fake, as if my whole life had been secretly scripted as a movie leading up to that moment, and it was all staged, just for me. All I could think was, “This could NOT have actually just happened.” It felt too lucky and easy. I hadn’t even caught the ball on the fly. It landed behind me and disappeared in the crowd. How on earth did the ball then make its way back toward me through a forest of legs? That basically never happens.
It wasn’t long before I was surrounded by security guards, supervisors, and police officers. How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know. The whole thing was a blur, but it probably took less than a minute — possibly less than 30 seconds. They were *on* it and really looking out for me, not just physically but also emotionally. Here’s one of the supervisors trying to help me calm down:
Right around that time, a friend named Tony Bracco snapped a bunch of photos of my section from his seat on the first-base side. Here’s one of them (with another to follow in a bit):
For my own safety, the cops and security guards wanted to get me out of there ASAP, but I wasn’t in any rush. I wanted to take a photo of the ball — and it seemed that everyone else did too. Here I am posing for a bunch of selfies:
I must’ve done a few dozen of those. Security was NOT happy about it, and I don’t blame them. I knew I was making their job more difficult, but this was the biggest baseball moment of my life, and I wanted to soak it in and enjoy it — and really, can you blame me? The guards and cops kept trying to get me to leave with them, but more people kept rushing over for selfies. A few fans asked if they could hold the ball. “No way,” I told them. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t let it out of my possession.” They understood, and everyone was really chill. No one was pissed off, no one tried to snatch it, and, perhaps, most importantly, no one claimed that I’d stolen it from them. Do you remember the story of Barry Bonds’ 73rd and final home run ball from his record-breaking 2001 season? The fan who got it was sued by another man who claimed he had caught it and had it yanked out of his glove in the scrum. What a mess! (There’s a feature-length documentary about the bizarre aftermath of that Bonds homer called “Up For Grabs,” which I highly recommend.) I’m so glad there was nothing controversial about my snag.
Finally, after several minutes’ worth of selfies with other people, I took my own photo of the ball:
The “R” above the Rawlings logo stands for Rodriguez, and the “1” below the logo indicates that it was the first specially-marked ball that Major League Baseball put into play for his at-bats. To be clear, those markings were there when I snagged it, as was the gash near the MLB logo that I photographed later. I want everyone to know that I never defaced the ball in any way.
I realize I’m posting some of these photos and screen shots out of order. Like I said, the whole thing was a blur, but whatever — here’s another one of me freaking out and showing the ball to the TV camera:
Here’s what the camera saw:
Eventually I calmed down and leaned in a little closer toward the camera. Here’s another photo from my friend Tony:
Tony, by the way, is a freelance photographer and graphic artist (and a diehard Yankee fan, who’s been on TV countless times with his famous signs), so if you need any work done, check him out. Here’s his website.
Here what the TV camera captured:
Many of the screen shots I’ve posted were taken from the Tigers’ broadcast. I can’t find that footage online, so here’s the full video as it was shown by the Yankees.
When things calmed down further, I got someone to take a photo of me with the ball:
The guards and cops were so annoyed at that point . . .
. . . but deep down, I think they understood what was going through my mind. That said, I didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer, so I headed with them toward the concourse. Here’s what I saw at the top of the stairs:
In addition to all the fans who were trying to take photos, there were five newspaper reporters holding iPhones and digital voice recorders in my face. Can you spell your name for me? How old are you? Where do you live? Are you gonna give the ball back to A-Rod? The questions kept coming, and I tried to answer them, but security was shouting, “Let’s go!! Let’s go!! We gotta keep moving!!” More and more fans flooded the concourse, including several folks I recognized. They all wanted to see the ball and take photos and congratulate me. It was absolutely insane, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. I couldn’t possibly accommodate everyone, so I followed security and tried to keep answering the reporters’ questions. I don’t know where this next photo came from, but it shows me clutching the ball and being interviewed as I walked through a wider portion of the concourse:
Moments later, I found myself being whisked toward a side door that led to some sort of restricted hallway. I don’t know where or what it was. It was either connected to the suites or it was an employees-only area, but whatever the case, none of the fans or even the reporters were allowed to follow me. Where is your seat? Will you be back there later? How can we get a hold of you? Can you give us your phone number? It was a total frenzy, and thankfully, just before heading into the hallway, I had the presence of mind to take another photo:
And then, for the first time since A-Rod had stepped into the batter’s box, things suddenly became peaceful. All the guards and cops had peeled off except for one — a serious-lookin’ dude who introduced himself as Eddie Fastook, the Executive Director of Team Security. He looked vaguely familiar, but I’d never seen him in person before. As it turned out, The New York Times had done a feature on him four days earlier, specifically about his never-ending quest to retrieve important home run balls.
Eddie was so calm and polite that it almost made me feel bad. At that point, I was determined not to give the ball back, so on one hand, I didn’t want to let him down, and on the other hand, I almost wanted him to be rude or aggressive because it would’ve justified my decision.
I followed him through the hallway and into an elevator that took us down to the lowest level of the stadium. Here’s what it looked like:
It was eerily quiet down there, almost to the point of being creepy, and there was no one else in sight. I remember thinking, “My GOD, this is where the Yankees make people disappear!” But in all seriousness, I knew this wasn’t a sinister operation. Eddie could not have been more respectful. He just wanted to talk in private — in his office, which was modestly-sized and happily cluttered. There was a desk at the far end, a couch along one of the side walls, and lots of Yankees stuff scattered about. Eddie picked up a remote control, pointed it at a TV mounted high on the wall, and put on the game.
We had a long conversation, probably for at least 10 or 15 minutes, during which he offered all kinds of stuff in exchange for the ball. I had kinda been through this type of thing before, but never on such a grand scale. On 4/21/11 at Citi Field, I caught Mike Nickeas’s first career home run and was promptly approached by stadium security. On 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, I caught Mike Trout’s first career homer and dealt with security all over again, and on 4/18/13 at Yankee Stadium, I snagged the first home run of Didi Gregorius’s career. I gave back all three of those baseballs without asking for anything in return, other than getting to be the person who personally handed them to the players. With the A-Rod ball, however, things weren’t going to be so simple.
Eddie offered me a chance to meet A-Rod, to have my own press conference at Yankee Stadium, and to be interviewed live on the YES Network during the game. He also offered me signed A-Rod memorabilia, including baseballs, bats, and jerseys — and that wasn’t all. He mentioned that I would receive lots of free tickets including a bunch in the ultra-fancy Legends area, where the face value of some seats is well over $1,000 per game. Then he asked me what I was interested in.
I thanked him for his generous offer and explained that I had no intention of giving back the ball.
“No offense,” I told him, “but there’s really nothing you could possibly offer that would be more valuable to me than the ball itself.”
I wasn’t bluffing. I wasn’t trying to get him to increase his offer. That’s truly how I felt. It was MY ball, and I was keeping it. Case close. The end. Goodbye. I didn’t know if I was going to hold onto it forever or send it to auction or donate it to the Hall of Fame, but I knew one thing — and I explained this to him. At the very least, I needed to leave the stadium with the ball still in my possession. If I made a quick decision and handed it over, it would go down as the biggest “what if” moment of my life. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I owed it to myself to slow down the process and think about it, and as much as A-Rod wanted it . . . well, what can I say? I wanted it too. The way I saw it, I had the right to take it home and enjoy looking at it and touching it and photographing it. And showing it to my friends. And to my mom. And who knows what else?
Eddie remained calm and said matter-of-factly, “Well, it’s your ball and your decision.”
Before we left his office, I called my girlfriend, Hayley, and asked if she had heard anything about the game. Not surprisingly, she hadn’t, so I said, “A-Rod got his 3,000th hit.”
“He did?” she asked with mild enthusiasm.
“Yeah, and it was a home run.”
“Oh yeah?!” she said, now suddenly excited and curious.
“And I got it.”
I figured she’d say, “Yeah right, what really happened?” but instead she began shrieking and squealing so loudly that I thought I’d suffered permanent hearing loss. She believed me . . . but didn’t believe me, if that makes sense, and when I called my mother right after, she had a similar reaction. Sharing the news with the two most important people in my life was incredible. I just wished my father were alive because he would’ve loved this whole situation so much.
Eddie told me I could have the ball authenticated by MLB, which was nice of him. Even though I’d made it clear that I wasn’t gonna give it back, he was still looking out for me.
After leaving his office, we met up with Yankees equipment manager Rob Cucuzza and then headed through this service-level concourse:
That’s where I met up with the authenticator — a former NYPD Sergeant named Dean Pecorale. He congratulated me for getting the ball and asked if I wanted to have it authenticated.
Umm, gee-whiz, okay!
He told me that in order to do that, he had to take the ball from me for two or three minutes and look at it in private.
“I’m gonna get it back, right?”
I knew the answer, but I was still so jittery that I had to ask. Waiting for Dean to reemerge with my precious baseball might have been the longest few minutes of my life. I assumed there was some secret infrared marking or serial number that he needed to see, so whatever. I was happy to wait for this part of the process to play out.
Once Dean determined that my ball was in fact THE ball, he walked back out into the concourse and asked if I wanted him to put an official hologram/authentication sticker on it. Of course I said yes, and then we posed together for a photo:
Prior to that, I had only gotten one other ball authenticated — the final home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium. Here’s a photo of me with that other authenticator, here and here are photos of that ball, and here’s my blog entry about that incredible day.
After helping me get the A-Rod ball authenticated, Eddie advised me to leave the stadium and go home and lock the ball away in a safe place. Part of me knew he was right; sticking around with that ball in my backpack was not the smartest or safest thing to do. The other part of me was like, “No way, I’m not leaving,” and wouldn’t you know it? That’s the part that had the final say. I told Eddie what I told the guards and cops who initially surrounded me after I snagged the ball: I wanted to enjoy the moment and soak it all in. Quite simply, that meant NOT leaving the stadium.
A few minutes later, Eddie told me that Yankees President Randy Levine wanted to talk to me. I told him I appreciated that, and that I would be delighted to talk to him — but not right away.
“Right now I need to relax,” I said, “and the best way for me to do that is to head back out to my seat in right field and watch some baseball.”
I asked Eddie if I could call him later in the game to find out if Randy was still interested in talking and also to coordinate a plan for me to exit the stadium safely. Of course he said yes, so we parted ways in the concourse just outside my section.
It was probably the third inning by that point. I was really antsy about having missed so much of the game, and you know what? I missed another inning because of all the people in the concourse who wanted to talk to me and interview me and take photos. That was fine, though. I had wanted to stay and get the full experience. If that meant interacting with everyone and missing the rest of the game, so be it.
Eventually I made it back down into my section, and everything seemed right with the world. Lots of people still wanted to talk and ask questions and take photos, but at least I could see the game. That made me feel a whole lot better.
My phone had been ringing/vibrating nonstop since the moment I snagged the A-Rod ball, but other than using it to call my mother and girlfriend, I hadn’t looked at it. Now it was ringing again. I didn’t want to do another interview at that point or talk to a long-lost childhood friend who’d gotten my phone number from who-knows-where. Yeah, I wanted the “full experience” that came with snagging this historic baseball, but I also wanted to catch my breath. That said, when I peeked at my phone, I was ecstatic to see the name Ben Weil on my caller ID. Ben is one of my very best friends. We first met at Shea Stadium in 2008, and as we crossed paths at more and more games and ballparks, we became super-close. We’ve gone on countless road trips together, attended All-Star Games, Home Run Derbies, World Series games, you name it. He has been there for me during some of my biggest baseball moments, including Mike Trout’s first home run. Ben was sitting several rows in front of me for that one, but he wasn’t bitter or jealous that I caught it. He was THRILLED for me, and he ended up taking this photo of me giving the ball back to Trout after the game. Ben is truly one of the kindest and most loving people I’ve ever known. Sorry for gushing, but I need to provide context because he ended up playing a big role on this night at Yankee Stadium. He wasn’t at the game, so he offered to show up and be there with me. I was alone and feeling frazzled and vulnerable, so I gladly accepted his offer.
I did feel safe, for the time being. All the guards and supervisors and cops had beefed up their presence around my section, and the fans around me were all being respectful, so I turned on my camera and then pulled out the ball (much to the surprise and delight of everyone around me) and took a photo of it:
Is that [bleepin’] beautiful or what?
Unfortunately, that nice, crisp photo was going to be stuck on my camera until I got home, so in order to tweet out an image of the ball, I had to take a crappier photo on my crappy phone. That’s around the time that my jaw literally dropped. Prior to snagging the A-Rod ball, I had about 3,000 followers on Twitter, which, you know, is pretty good for a freelance baseball nerd like me. Now, suddenly, that number was over 5,000. I don’t mean to brag about the numbers. I’m just mentioning them as a way of quantifying how big of a deal this was.
Here’s a screen shot of the tweet I posted:
I took that screen shot several days later, but still . . . WTF?!?! More than 4,000 retweets? Are you kidding me?! I knew this whole thing was gonna be huge, but not THIS huge.
That’s around the time when I saw a text from Hayley, suggesting that I delete a particular negative tweet that I’d posted a day earlier. Someone on Twitter had asked me what I’d do if I caught A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, and to put it lightly, I wrote a rather negative response. I was trying to be snarky and funny, but it was just dumb and pointless. Hayley had texted me about it right after we talked, and by the time I went to delete it, I was horrified to see that it had been retweeted 120 times. Hoo-boy.
Just about everyone, if they’re being honest, would probably admit to saying something awful at some point in their lives — something that they wish they could take back. For me, this was it. The tweet wasn’t racist or homophobic or threatening in any way, but it was rude as hell, and I am truly sorry for posting it.
In the top of the fifth inning, Ben made his way into my section:
In the bottom of the fifth, I got a few texts and phone calls from reporters who wanted to ask some follow-up questions. They were in the concourse and weren’t allowed to walk down into the seats, so they wanted me to come meet them. Ben came with me, grabbed my camera, and captured the mayhem:
In the photo above, it looks like the guy touching the wall was ready to fight me, but that wasn’t the case at all. He was just bracing himself and leaning in so he could hear what I was saying.
After spending a solid inning talking to the media, I took selfies with fans and talked to random people for another 15 or 20 minutes. Here I am with one group of guys . . .
. . . and here I am with another:
And hey, time-out. I need to talk about my shirt for a moment. I’ve gotten lots of comments and questions about it. I know it’s not the most attractive item of clothing, and in retrospect, I would’ve chosen to wear something else. I bought it at a U2 concert, which I attended after seeing a game on 9/29/09 at Nationals Park. I’m not a huge U2 fan. I don’t go to concerts often. It was a fun night, but whatever, you know? It’s just a random shirt that I happened to throw on that morning.
Ben and I headed back down to the seats in the seventh inning, pausing briefly in the tunnel to jump up and down and hug each other and scream like maniacs. I still couldn’t believe that I’d snagged the ball, and Ben, as usual, was extremely happy for me.
When A-Rod stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, I made sure to take a photo of his home run listed on the Jumbotron:
A few minutes later, I pulled the ball out of my backpack and got someone to take our picture:
What a treat to share that moment with him.
After that, I allowed him to hold the ball on his own:
That’s right, Benny, be afraid! BE VERY AFRAID and respect that ball!
I had barely watched any of the game. The Yankees were winning, 6-2, at that point. Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner both hit home runs, and I still have no idea where they landed. I don’t want to know. I’m afraid they landed near my seat, and if that happened, I would feel terrible, even having snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit, because that’s how my brain works. I have a tough time watching baseball highlights because it drives me crazy to see all the home runs in various stadiums that I coulda/woulda caught if I’d been there. It’s a sickness. I admit it, okay?
In the eighth inning, Ben took one final photo of me with the ball before I called Eddie:
Did Randy Levine still want to talk to me? Yes indeed, in his office on the suite level. Eddie and I agreed that it was best for me not to wait for the game to end — that I should head upstairs ASAP. I told Eddie that one of my best friends was now with me. Eddie said that Ben probably wouldn’t be able to meet Randy with me, but that he could still come upstairs.
Ten minutes later, Eddie led us through this fancy concourse . . .
. . . into this lobby area . . .
. . . and down this hallway in the Yankees executive offices:
That’s when Randy Levine poked his head out and greeted us warmly.
“C’mon in, fellas!” he said to me and Ben, so in we went with Eddie.
At first I couldn’t tell if Randy was *actually* nice or just pretending to be nice so that I’d give him the ball, but the more I talked to him, the more it seemed that he was a really cool guy. I didn’t feel bullied or pressured. It wasn’t like that.
I should mention that Lonn Trost — the Yankees’ Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel — was also in the room. After the Steinbrenners, he and Randy are the top Yankees executives . . . literally. Take a look at this list of front office employees. I realized I was in the presence of baseball royalty, but I didn’t think too much about it. I tried to stay level-headed and focus on having a nice, relaxed conversation with them.
Randy’s goal was simple: he wanted to get to know me. He said he’d heard some stuff being said about me on the air and had done a little research.
“Eight thousand baseballs?!” he asked.
I told him about my collection and about my blog and books and how I’ve worked in baseball on and off throughout the years and how I’ve been raising money since 2009 for a children’s baseball charity. That piqued his interest. He asked me more about it, so I told him that the charity is called Pitch In For Baseball, and that basically, what they do is provide baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world.
Randy glanced at Lonn and then turned back toward me and said something like, “If it would help you to decide what to do with the ball, we would consider making a sizable donation to the charity.”
I still had no idea what I was going to do with the ball in the long run, but I was still certain that I was going to take it home that night. Again, why rush my decision? It just didn’t make sense. Lots of people on Twitter were already harassing me about “respecting the game” and “doing the right thing,” but none of that mattered. I tried to tune it out. I appreciated how meaningful this ball was to so many people, but ultimately I needed to do what was right for ME — not what everyone else out there was pressuring me to do or claiming THEY would do. The ball had been authenticated by Major League Baseball. It was one of three 3,000th hit baseballs that had ever landed in the stands. The first two, hit by Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter, were given back to the players by the fans who snagged them. Therefore, the ball in my possession was the *only* 3,000th hit baseball owned by the public, so to speak. How much could it sell for? Who knows! If it was valuable now, it would still be valuable in a week, a month, or 50 years. Obviously the Yankees wouldn’t want to wait THAT long to get it back, but so what? If it didn’t work out with them, I could always sell it or just keep the damn thing.
That’s what I’d been thinking all night, but now that Randy, on behalf of the Yankees, was offering a potential donation, there was suddenly a new wrinkle to this whole situation. I told him that I greatly appreciated his kindness and generosity, but that I wasn’t going to make a decision right here on the spot. He understood, acknowledged that I had a lot to think about, gave me all his contact info, and encouraged me to stay in touch. Lonn handed me his card, and then the three of us posed for a photo:
After the meeting, Eddie asked to have his picture taken with the ball:
Then he and I posed together for a photo:
On our way out, I noticed this bar/lounge area . . .
. . . and headed inside . . .
. . . to use the bathroom. In the photo above, did you notice the Yankee Stadium model on the right? Here’s a better look at it:
Back in the concourse, Eddie pointed out the fact that the suites were numbered in honor of various players’ uniform numbers:
When we reached No. 13, I took the following photo:
Then I posed in front of that wall:
My plan with Eddie had been to linger inside the stadium until everyone else had left. Thanks to the timing of the meeting with Randy and Lonn, I’d been kept busy and didn’t need to wait for the crowd to thin out. Forty-five minutes after the game ended, Eddie escorted me and Ben to the main exit at Gate 6. Look how empty it was inside the stadium:
This was the scene directly outside:
Not too scary, right? Well, you never know, but I felt extremely safe with Eddie watching out for me.
“Don’t worry,” he had said earlier, “I don’t carry a gun — I carry two.”
“Ha! Wait, are you serious?” I asked, and he nodded.
Well, damn. Okay.
Eddie led us across the street and hailed a taxi, but that’s not where we said goodbye. He got *in* the taxi and rode half a mile with us to where Ben had parked his car. Here are a couple of photos (including a blurry one — sorry!) that captured the experience:
When the taxi pulled up beside Ben’s car, Eddie waited for us to get out, and when he was certain that we were safe, he headed back to the stadium. THAT is top-notch security. Huge thanks to him and to all the Yankees employees who made me feel secure throughout the night.
As Ben drove me home, I got a call from a reporter with the Associated Press, who interviewed me for 20 minutes and posted his story a little after midnight. Ben came upstairs with me and said a quick hello to Hayley, who was very excited to see the ball. Meanwhile my phone was absolutely BLOWING UP. There were more texts and phone calls than I could possibly deal with, so many emails that I could barely read them all (let alone answer them), and my Twitter was completely out of control. I’d gained another 1,000 followers, and I was getting dozens of replies/notifications per minute! I didn’t even bother trying to keep up with it, in part because people were being so negative, but I seriously didn’t have time. I took a few minutes to photograph the ball because no matter what happened, I wanted to have a nice image of it for myself:
Then I saw an email from WFAN Radio in New York City. They wanted me to call them ASAP so they could put me live on the air with Steve Somers, a longtime sports radio guy whom I’d loved since I was a kid. How cool is that? I got on the air with him at 12:40am, and he interviewed me for about 15 minutes. Naturally he asked me about A-Rod and what I was planning to do with the ball, so I told him what I’d told all the reporters at the stadium. When you catch (or in my case “pick up”) a milestone home run ball, it’s somewhat of a lose-lose situation because no matter what you do with it, people are going to think you’re a jerk or an idiot. If you sell the ball, you’re greedy and selfish, and if you give it back to the player, you’re foolish and naive. Christian Lopez, the fan who snagged Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career hit, gave the ball back immediately. Lots of people, especially Yankee fans, thought he was a hero, while others claimed he was stupid. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense for a normal civilian to give something valuable for free to an unfathomably rich celebrity — not without taking some time to think about it, at least. If someone wants to be generous, fine, but it’s unfair for other people to expect or demand it.
The way I see it, there isn’t one definitive “right thing to do.” There’s no predetermined code of morality in situations like this. Everyone’s opinions are fun to consider, but ultimately, with this whole A-Rod situation, it’s my ball and my decision, so the “right thing to do” is whatever *I* want to do. The Yankees made an intriguing offer to donate money to Pitch In For Baseball, but now that I was starting to comb through my emails, I was seeing lots of other offers. Half a dozen auction houses got in touch, and I heard from a casting producer from “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel. He invited me to appear on the show and sell the ball there. There were dozens of other offers that I didn’t even get to look at that night, and I ended up telling everyone the same thing: I need to think about it.
At 3:30am, with Hayley fast asleep in the other room, I did a live phone interview with WGN Radio in Chicago, and at 5am, I did a taped phone interview with 1010 WINS in New York. I wanted to go to sleep. I tried to go sleep. But I couldn’t. I was too amped up, and there was way too much stuff happening.
At some point, I received an email with an image of the MLB authentication certificate for the A-Rod ball:
That email wasn’t sent by Major League Baseball. It came from a fan who’d zoomed in on the hologram sticker on the ball, looked up the serial number in an MLB database, and saved an image of the certificate. You can look it up yourself — click here and look for the little box near the upper right corner of the page called “MLB.com Referencing System.” Pretty neat, huh?
The sun was already shining by the time I crawled into bed for good. I got two hours of sleep and woke up at 9:15am when ESPN Radio in New York City called, as planned, for a live phone interview. I hadn’t bothered setting an alarm; ESPN was my wake-up call.
To give you an idea of how crazy things were for me, here’s what my email inbox looked like the night before, and here’s a screen shot of my iPhone’s home screen:
The Twitter app never displays a number higher than 20. If it were accurate, it probably would’ve said 2,000. Or 10,000. I have no idea. And did you see the text notifications? There were 85 texts that I hadn’t even looked at. I tried answering as many as I could, but by the time I got through four or five of them, people started texting me back and trying to have conversations, so I gave up.
At 10:45am, I did a phone interview with a guy named Mike Silva, who hosts a show called “Weekend Watchdogs.” Ten minutes later, someone buzzed me unexpectedly from the lobby of my building. That was unnerving, to say the least, and it turned out to be a reporter from the New York Post. He said he was there with a photographer and asked if I could come downstairs for a quick interview. I asked for his name and other info that would prove who he was — and then I Googled him extensively. Though his method of tracking me down was off-putting, I determined that he was legit and agreed to talk to him, but not until I showered and brushed my teeth and groomed myself as best I could. Then, as it turned out, my interview with him had to be cut short at 12pm for a scheduled radio interview with my friend Jeff Sammut, who talked to me live on Sportsnet590 The FAN in Toronto. And then? I jumped in a cab with Hayley and the A-Rod ball for a live, in-studio interview on “SportsCenter.” I won’t bother listing all the other interviews I did that day, but they ranged from ABC’s “World News Tonight” to FOX Sports Radio to TMZ. It was absolutely bonkers. I don’t know how else to describe it. And let me remind you that I’d gotten TWO hours of sleep.
Hayley generously ditched her own plans for the day (and the day after that!) to hang out and run around NYC with me and offer emotional support and take a zillion photos. Perhaps someday, if people are interested, I’ll blog about the media frenzy, but for now, I can’t even think about it. I’m still exhausted. I’m still in a state of disbelief. And I’m still overwhelmed by all the emails, voice-mails, text messages, blog comments, YouTube comments, Reddit comments, and so on. But most of all, I’m happy and enjoying this wild ride while it lasts.
As for the fate of THE BALL, the main thing I can tell you is, “We’ll see.” There are still so many opportunities to consider, and believe it or not, despite everything I’ve said, I’m leaning toward giving it back to the Yankees in exchange for their making a huge donation to Pitch In For Baseball. How huge? I don’t know. I helped bring the two sides together, and they’ve been discussing it all week. If that works out, what will *I* get out of it? That also remains to be seen — probably all the stuff that Eddie initially offered plus some amazing perks from the Yankees, but I’m not terribly concerned about that. I’m not looking to get rich from this. That has never been my goal in life or while chasing baseballs in the stands. My goal is to have fun, and if I can use my hobby and all the attention to do something positive for other people, that’s really the most valuable thing of all. I know that sounds sappy, but it’s true. As much as I want to keep the ball for myself, I realize that it’s bigger than one fan’s collection. My intention has never been to hold the ball hostage or generate more media attention for myself, but you know what? The interviews have actually helped me make a decision because they’ve forced me to talk about it and think about it. I still don’t know exactly how this whole situation will play out, but I know I want to do something huge for Pitch In For Baseball.
On a final note, please don’t believe all the negative crap you might be hearing and reading about me. I don’t knock down little kids. I’ve never knocked anyone down — not even ONCE — in more than 1,200 games. Whether people are making stuff up intentionally or they’re just plain misinformed, there’ve been countless false accusations. Click here and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t listen to the haters who’ve never met me or actually been in my section. You want to know the truth? Talk to the security guards and supervisors who see me every day. They don’t tolerate any B.S., so you can be sure that if I were being aggressive, I would not be allowed to get away with it. Come watch me during batting practice for five minutes or for the next 25 years. I guarantee you won’t see me knock anyone down. It’s not my style. It’s not who I am or what I do. I might run 30 feet to my right and climb over a row of seats, but I’m hyperaware of my surroundings. Before every single pitch is thrown during BP, I look to my right and to my left to make sure my path is clear, and quite often, I glance back over my shoulder to see who’s standing behind me on the staircase. That’s how I operate, and if I catch a ball near a little kid, I’ll almost always hand it over — unless the kid already snagged one — and then I’ll be likely to give it to someone else. Sometimes I’ll give away baseballs after BP when no one’s looking. Sometimes I’ll stand near the exit after a game and look for the littlest kid with an empty glove. Do I give away every single ball? No, but I try to be generous. In the past, have I reached for some baseballs that I probably shouldn’t have reached for? Yes, I’ll admit to having done that, especially when I was just a kid myself, and I’m truly sorry, but I don’t do that anymore, and I’ve never knocked anyone down. I can’t stress that enough.
Oh, and if you’d like to support my own personal fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball, you can find some info here. Thanks for reading this blog entry. I know it was ridiculously long, but the story needed to be told, and I hope you enjoyed it!
• 355 balls in 46 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.
• 955 lifetime balls in 140 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.82 balls per game.
• 1,099 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 763 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 268 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball
• 32 lifetime game home run balls (click here for the complete list)
• 8,161 total balls
• 9,380 words in this blog entry (!!)
(As I’ve mentioned several times, 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.)
• 17 donors for my fundraiser
• $129.40 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $258.80 raised this season
• $40,214.30 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009