This was my first trip to Raider Stadium since 2013, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered:
That might be a joke. Or maybe not. I happen to enjoy old/funky stadiums that’re designed badly, but I also recognize the shortcomings.
My friend Brandon Sloter — a professional videographer — was with me to get footage for my YouTube channel. That’s my new project: to do a ballhawking video in every major league stadium. Last year he filmed me at Miller Park, Kauffman Stadium, Busch Stadium, and U.S. Cellular Field. In 2014 we did videos at PETCO Park and Wrigley Field. In 2012 he filmed me at Dodger Stadium, and I did a video with someone else at Fenway Park. This game at the Oakland Coliseum was going to be my 9th stadium on video. It was also the first of four cities that we’d be visiting in four days, followed by Seattle, Denver, and Arlington.
Here I am standing outside Gate MM with a few other fans . . .
. . . and here’s a group photo:
In the photo above, the guy wearing shorts is my best friend in Oakland — a fellow ballhawk named Nick Badders, who has snagged more than 200 balls. (Check out his MyGameBalls.com profile.) The guy in the gray jersey is named Taylor, the gentleman wearing blue sleeves is Koji, and the fan in Angels gear is Warren. They were all really cool and made me feel welcomed.
Batting practice was a disaster. I spent most of my time in left field . . .
. . . and there wasn’t much action. It didn’t help that the stadium opened just 90 minutes before game time. The A’s had already finished hitting by the time I ran inside, and the Angels didn’t hit many balls into the seats.
Here’s a screen shot from Brandon’s video that shows me catching my ONLY ball during batting practice:
Here’s a closeup of the ball:
I was hoping to snag a commemorative “AZ” Spring Training ball, but I didn’t see any in use. You may recall that I got the “FL” version on 4/6/16 at Yankee Stadium. That’s actually a big reason that I booked this west coast trip so early in the season. I *really* wanted one of the “AZ” balls and figured there might still be a few floating around.
By the way, my lone BP ball here in Oakland was thrown by Joe Smith. After I caught it, I turned to the camera and said, “It should not have taken me twenty-seven minutes to get a baseball, but I’m gonna blame the stadium and not myself. This is a tough place. Much respect to the ballhawks who are here regularly because these are some tough conditions.”
Being filmed for YouTube is stressful, especially when I’m only at a stadium for one day. Finishing BP with just one lousy toss-up was not what I envisioned, but oh well. The videos are meant to show what it’s like to ballhawk at various stadiums, so if a particular venue turns out to be crap, the world might as well know about it.
After BP, I caught up with a guy named George who seriously might be my No. 1 fan. Here we are:
Quite simply, he was VERY happy to meet me. He knew all about my collection and blog and videos and even asked for personal advice based on some non-baseball stuff he had seen on my website. He also asked me to sign a ball which he had gotten during BP. Really nice guy. I’m glad to have crossed paths with him. And check out that slick/red A’s cap! I’d never seen one like that — perfect for blending in with the Angels in town.
A little while later, Nick (pictured below in the Cody Ross jersey) led me down to the right field foul line:
Back in 2013, I’d met the super-friendly bullpen security guard, and now I was looking forward to catching up with him. According to Nick, there was an extra reason for me to go see this guy. Supposedly he had something for me — “a surprise” of some sort.
I followed Nick all the way down to the front row, and sure enough, the guard, whose name is Mark, greeted me warmly and handed me a little paper gift bag. I was overjoyed when I peeked inside and pulled this out:
From reading my blog and following me on Twitter, Nick knew how much I wanted one of those balls, so what did he do? He asked Mark to save one for me and told him when I’d be there. Amazing. Nick also knew that he couldn’t personally give me a ball because it wouldn’t count in my collection. The rule that I’ve always followed is that I can only count a ball if it comes from someone who plays or works for the team or at the stadium — basically, anyone who’s paid to be there. Therefore, fans can’t give me baseballs for my collection (a young fan had actually offered me a brand-new “AZ” ball during BP, and I politely declined), but balls that come from stadium employees *do* count. So there you have it. HUGE thanks to both Nick and Mark. Here I am with them:
In addition to the ball, Mark also gave me an autographed baseball card . . . of himself! Check it out:
I love it.
My third ball of the day was given to me unexpectedly by Angels starter Nick Tropeano. In fact, I wasn’t even paying attention to him when he walked toward the bullpen after playing catch in the outfield. Keep in mind that the bullpens here in Oakland are actually on the field. See the slanted bullpen roof in the photo above? Well, Tropeano dropped/placed the ball in front of me, and it rolled right down, practically into my arms. At that instant, I didn’t fully realize what had happened because I was talking to someone. The fan next to me could have reached over and snatched the ball, but instead he resisted the urge, and he let me have it. That was very kind of him, and the only reason he backed off is that he recognized me. His name is Ryan, and you’ll see photos of him later in the entry.
Somehow I’d stumbled my way into snagging three baseballs, two of which had entered my possession simply because of other people’s generosity.
Only two pairs of Angels played catch before the game:
With no one else’s help, I got Yunel Escobar to throw me a ball as he jogged toward the dugout. In the following screen shot, the ball appears as a blurred streak, but you can still see it:
That was my fourth ball of the day.
This will probably sound crazy, but I don’t care: I’d purchased two tickets for myself — one on either side of home plate — so that I could move back and forth for righties and lefties and maximize my chances of snagging a foul ball. (I’ll have you know that those two tickets combined cost much less than my single ticket at Yankee Stadium, so whatever. I hadn’t been to Oakland in three years, and there was no telling when I’d be back, so why not splurge a little, right?)
This was my view for left-handed batters:
At one point, when I was on the 1st-base side of home plate and getting ready to run back over to the 3rd-base side, Ryan (who was also positioned in the 2nd deck with his glove) asked me to sign one of his baseballs. Want to guess what happened next? Another fan asked me to sign his hat, and then a girl asked me to sign her ticket, and while that was happening, a left-handed batter hit a foul ball RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been. I don’t blame these other people, though. I blame myself, and I blame the universe. Anyway, here they are — Ryan on the left, Max in the middle, and Lacey on the right:
They were all very friendly, and I was glad to spend a few minutes with them.
Brandon, meanwhile, was wandering around in the upper deck taking photos. Check out this one:
Huge crowd, huh?
Brandon posts lots of baseball photos on his Instagram. You should follow him. And while you’re at it, you should follow me on there too. I haven’t posted anything yet, but who knows? Maybe I will, and you’ll be sad if you miss it.
In the top of the 4th inning, with Sonny Gray on the mound, I grabbed a Daniel Nava foul ball that whizzed 10 feet over my head and deflected down to me off an empty seat.
This was my 163rd lifetime foul ball during a major league game, not counting toss-ups. I guess I can’t be pissed at the universe after all.
An inning later, I found myself sitting with the A’s roving TV reporter:
Ryan had told her to interview me. And she did . . . between innings. (Sometimes it IS, in fact, that easy.) Here’s a screen shot from a video that Nick sent me. It shows me mid-interview on the jumbotron:
Here’s one final photo of me with the reporter, whose name is Kara Tsuboi:
She was very nice and let me give a couple of plugs to Pitch In For Baseball, the charity I’ve been supporting since 2009. Off air, she happened to mention that my segment bumped a kid from being interviewed (I’m such a jerk, right?), so I gave her a ball to bring to the kid. She caught up with me later and said it made his night.
Other than snagging the foul ball, the highlight of the game was seeing Mike Trout BLAST his first homer of the season off Sonny Gray. Here he is touching home plate:
Here’s a photo of an empty tunnel in the 2nd deck behind home plate:
Here’s Nick with another ballhawk I had just met for the first time named Sean Cheng:
Sean is a great guy. If you have a few minutes, watch this news segment on him. He gets of a ton of foul balls and has an unbelievably positive attitude. (Bonus fact: he works as a groundskeeper for the Giants.)
In the 9th inning, I headed down to the lower level with Nick:
No one stopped us or asked to see our tickets, and really, why should they have? Look how blissfully empty it was:
The paid attendance was announced at 13,371, but c’mon, there couldn’t have been more than . . . what, 3,000 fans in the stadium?
Nick and I tried for an umpire ball, but it wasn’t meant to be. All I got after the game was a photo of Mike Trout being interviewed.
Before heading out, I hurried over to the right field bullpen to say goodbye (and another “thank you”) to Mark, the security guard. Nick wandered over there too, as did Ryan and several other young fans who recognized me. Here we are posing for a final group photo:
The Angels won the game, 4-1.
Other/final thoughts: (1) The Oakland Coliseum is a tremendous pain in the ass for batting practice, but it’s fun during games. It’s empty and laid-back, the people are friendly, and it’s *great* for snagging foul balls. (2) Brandon is still working on editing the video footage. I decided to blog about the game now rather than wait for him to finish. (3) I love Mike Trout. (4) My entire dinner during the game consisted of two Quest bars. I wish they would sponsor me. (5) Shout-out to Nick’s mom. I met her for the first time, and let’s just say that she’d win most “best mom” competitions. (6) I met Tyler Snyder for the first time at this game. He’s the guy who caught Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run. I enjoyed seeing him in action during BP. (7) Two days before I left for this trip, I had a sore throat and a hint of fever. I was exhausted and felt like crap all day at the Coliseum, but held it together. (8) I think that’s it.
UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube video. Wish I knew how to embed it, but WordPress likes to make everything difficult.
• 14 balls in 3 games this season = 4.67 balls per game.
• 59 balls in 9 lifetime games at the Oakland Coliseum = 6.56 balls per game.
• 1,169 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 79 different commemorative balls (click here to see my full collection)
• 8,647 total balls