This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:
The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.
I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.
This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:
That big area is called Monument Grove.
I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:
Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:
In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.
Here’s the center field gate…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:
Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.
Here’s another look from further down the street…
…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:
Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:
I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…
…and rounded yet another corner:
That’s more like it.
Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:
See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)
Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:
I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:
Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:
Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.
In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:
It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.
After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:
The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)
Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:
When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:
Glove trick heaven!
Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.
My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:
The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:
The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.
I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.
I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.
The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:
It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.
When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.
Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.
“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.
“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.
“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”
That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).
Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.
When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!
I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.
Check out the ball:
It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.
The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:
The left field seats got pretty crowded…
…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.
Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.
I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:
Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.
As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.
The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:
Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.
Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.
Kevin asked me two main questions:
1) How do you catch so many baseballs?
2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?
It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)
Here I am with Kevin after the interview:
I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.
Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”
I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:
There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.
If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:
Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:
1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.
2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.
3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.
4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.
Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.
So that was it.
My day ended with 19 balls.
(Yeah, I know, poor me.)
The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).
Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…
…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)
Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…
• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 192 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,477 total balls
• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $94.05 raised at this game
• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I woke up in Cleveland at 5:15am with three hours of sleep. By the time I checked into my hotel in Minnesota, I was so tired that my eyes hurt. I should’ve taken a nap, especially considering that I was going to be on TV later that evening, but I was too excited about Target Field. To hell with sleep. I had to get over there and see it. This was my first look at it:
(Did you notice the HUGE Target logo on the walkway?)
I could tell from afar that the place was gorgeous, and once I got closer, I noticed that the Twins (unlike the Mets) did an amazing job of honoring their past. One of the first things I saw was a long, wall-like display featuring the team’s former stadiums:
Right nearby, there was a fence with pennant-shaped tributes to important players and executives in Twins history…
…and then I saw Gate 29:
That’s kind of a random number for a gate, right? Well, it was named after Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who wore uniform No. 29 for the Twins for 12 seasons. Target Field has five gates, all of which are named after Twins players who’ve had their numbers retired. Genius.
I walked clockwise around the outside of the stadium. Here’s the team store…
…and here are some of the many team-related banners:
FYI, there are service ramps behind those long wooden boards. If you look closely at them, you can see a door on the lower left that swings open.
Check out the view through Gate 14 (named after Kent Hrbek):
It was one o’clock. First pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm. That’s why there weren’t many people around.
This is what I saw when I walked past Gate 14 and turned the corner:
The fence on the left was lined with poster-sized replica Topps baseball cards of Twins players, past and present. Brilliant.
At the far end of the walkway, I passed a Light Rail station…
…and turned another corner:
Here’s another sneak peek inside the stadium through Gate 6 (named after Tony Oliva):
I felt very welcomed, indeed.
I kept walking. Here’s more of what I saw:
I passed some artwork (officially known as the “5th Street Panels at Target Field”) on the far end of the building:
This piece in particular is called “A History of Minnesota Baseball.”
I risked my life to take the following photo:
Okay, not really, but I *was* standing awfully close to the train tracks.
(Gate 3, which you can see in the photo above, is named after Harmon Killebrew. I later learned that on Opening Day, Killebrew stood just inside the gate and greeted fans as they entered. That’s how to run a major league organization.)
Here’s where it gets weird. I’d been walking around the stadium without any problems. Everything was beautiful and clean and simple. But when I passed Gate 3, this is what I saw:
Where was I supposed to walk? Into the tunnel? Was it even possible to walk all the way around the outside of the stadium? I crossed the street on the left side and headed onto a narrow walkway. I had no idea where I was going. There were no signs. There was nothing but a pair of unmarked glass doors:
Just when I was was preparing to retrace my steps and head back toward Gate 3, two guys walked by and gave me directions. They said I had to enter the doors and walk through a long hallway and follow the signs and head upstairs…and…what? I was so confused, but they seemed convincing, so I did what they said.
This is what it looked like just inside the doors:
Was this a trick or a scam? Perhaps a hidden-camera TV show? Should I have been concerned for my safety?
I walked quite a ways down the hallway and eventually saw this:
What was the Target Plaza? Was that connected to Target Field? Ohmygod, what was going on? I hadn’t researched the stadium beforehand. I intentionally showed up knowing as little as possible so I could explore and discover things.
There were escalators at the far end of the hallway:
I headed up to the second level and saw this:
Uh…was I supposed to go up to the 3rd level?
It looked like there was a little sign on the door, so I walked over for a closer look. This is what it said:
Hooray! Thank you! Finally, there were clear directions that applied to what *I* hoped to find. Target Field, through the doors. Right?
Umm, not so fast…
This is what I saw when I opened the door:
WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!
I figured the sign had to be right, so I walked across the garage and encountered another set of doors. This is what I saw on the other side:
I walked past the Kirby Puckett statue. This is what was on the right:
Now we’re talking.
Gate 34…the right field gate…just behind the standing room area. I hurried over for a peek inside:
The giant “gold” glove was sitting nearby on the right:
Just how big is it? Here’s my backpack:
I still had a little more exploring to do, so I continued heading around the stadium:
Is that a slick design or what?
In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing red sleeves? More on him in a bit, but first, I have to show you even more Twins history that was on display. Check this out:
You know what those things on the fence are?
There was a roster from every single season since the franchise moved to Minneapolis.
Even the team store was exquisite:
Back outside, I walked right past Justin Verlander and two of his teammates:
One fan approached Verlander and asked for an autograph.
“Not today,” said the Tigers ace.
(Ballplayers are so friendly nowadays.)
Okay, remember the guy wearing red? His name is Greg Dryden, but he’s known simply as “Waldo.” He’s the No. 1 ballhawk in Minnesota. He used to sit in the front row in left-center at the Metrodome, and he always wore a helmet. That was his thing. I’d been hearing stories about him for years — some good, some bad. Everyone I knew who visited the Dome had something to say about the guy, and here he was. I knew it was him because the back of his jersey said “WALDO 13,” so I walked over and introduced myself, and as it turned out, he had heard lots of stories about me, too. Here we are:
I knew that we were only going to have a few minutes to chat, so I asked him the basic questions about how many baseballs he’d snagged over the years. He told me that he only kept count one season and ended up with 352. (He was a season ticket holder and attended all 81 of the Twins’ home games.) He said that was probably a typical season for him and that he’d been ballhawking regularly since 1999.
“So you’ve probably gotten over 3,000 balls?” I asked.
He shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”
“How many game home runs?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “probably 40 or 50…and I’ve gotten about 20 ground-rule doubles.”
Not too shabby.
At 2pm, two attractive women (who looked to be in their mid-20s) started walking right toward us. Waldo’s jaw literally dropped, and when they got closer, one of them asked me, “Are you Zack?”
“Catherine?” I asked.
She welcomed me to Minnesota and introduced me to her twin sister, Laura-Leigh. Then, as the three of us headed off together, I turned toward Waldo and shouted, “I’ll see you back here in an hour!” The look on his face was priceless.
The ladies led me to a nearby mall called Butler Square. Here’s the main entrance:
See the arrow in the photo above? There’s a restaurant in the mall called Smalley’s 87 Club:
That’s where we went. It’s named after former major league All-Star Roy Smalley, who played nine of his 13 seasons with the Twins. Now get this…
1) Roy Smalley just happens to be their father.
2) Roy Smalley is the president of Pitch In For Baseball.
3) Roy Smalley is a commentator on FSN North.
See where I’m going with this? In case you’re new to this blog, I’ve been raising money for the last two two seasons for Pitch In For Baseball — a charity that provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Roy was planning to interview me live on the Twins’ pre-game show about it, and he was at the restaurant. Here I am with him and his daughters:
(Catherine is on the left, just above my red-and-white Pitch In For Baseball cap, and by the way, I should mention that both plates of food were mine: chicken strips and a caesar salad. The food there is great.)
We all hung out for a couple hours, during which time Roy let me play with his 1987 World Series ring:
Here’s the ring with Roy in the background…
…and here are two close-up shots of it:
(His championship ring is slightly cooler than mine.)
My lack of sleep was killing me, but I was so happy that it didn’t even matter.
By the time I made it back to the Target Field Plaza (that’s the official name of the area outside Gate 34), there were quite a few people milling about:
At 5pm (half an hour before the stadium opened), look who showed up and found me:
It was my girlfriend, Jona.
As I’d mentioned the day before on Twitter, there was a chance that she wasn’t gonna be able to make it to Minnesota, but everything ended up working out, and here she was.
Remember the small crowd waiting outside the gate on 5/1/10 at Progressive Field? If not, click here to see what I’m talking about. Here’s the difference between Cleveland and Minneapolis. Ready? Take a deep breath and brace yourself:
Holy mother of GOD!!! And don’t forget that this was just one of five gates. My biggest gripe about the stadium is that it doesn’t open earlier. I think it’s a real slap in the face to the fans that they can’t even get inside early enough to watch the Twins take batting practice. Every team should open its stadium two and a half hours early. Not just for season ticket holders. Not just on weekends. Always. For everyone. Forever. And especially when it’s the first season of a new stadium and the crowds are extra large. Seriously, Twins: duh.
Shortly before the stadium opened, I learned that FSN’s cameras were going to be filming me from afar during BP. I wasn’t going to be miked up. They didn’t need any audio. They just wanted some B-roll footage that they could later use during my interview with Roy. Catherine (who helped set up the interview) told me to call the producer as soon as I ran into the stadium. She said I needed to let him know where I was so he’d be able to make sure that the cameras were following me — and if I ran to another section, I was supposed to give him another call.
You know what I did instead? I handed my phone to Jona, who offered to make the phone calls for me.
I was so stressed and tired, and at 5:30pm it was time to roll. I raced inside and peeked at the right field seats and quickly decided to head for the left field bleachers. Jona chased after me and called the producer.
“Where do I tell him we are?!” she shouted.
“Ohboy,” I mumbled loud enough for her to hear me, then yelled, “Tell him I’m running behind the batter’s eye!”
It was nuts, and yet Jona somehow managed to take photos while all of this was happening. Here I am in the bleachers:
The bleachers were awful. Too steep. Too crowded. Too many railings. Tucked underneath an overhang. And because of the flower bed down in front, there was absolutely no chance to use the glove trick:
If someone asked me to design a miserable section for catching home run balls, I probably would’ve come up with this. Oh…and the sun was in everyone’s eyes, too.
The bleachers got crowded pretty fast:
Things were NOT looking good.
At one point, I had a chance to catch a home run ball:
(In case you can’t tell, I’m wearing the dark blue jacket with a Tigers shirt.)
Here’s that same moment captured by an FSN camera:
Want to see how it ended?
Yeah, the short guy in the front row jumped up and caught the ball two feet in front of my glove. Then, five minutes, later, I got robbed once again by a guy who reached out and made a bare-handed grab as I was cutting through the second row:
My overall assessment:
My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob” in the comments section) made an appearance in the bleachers:
He had kindly picked me up at the airport that morning, and he’d given me lots of tips on Target Field and Minneapolis in the previous weeks. It was great hanging out with him — this was the first day that we had ever met in person — and I foolishly neglected to get a photo with him. (Random coincidence: he was interviewed on TV that day, too.)
I was getting desperate. I still didn’t have a ball. I was worried about my streak. And I was embarrassed to be putting on such a lousy ballhawking display for the cameras, which were evidently capturing my every move.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally got Tigers reliever Brad Thomas to throw me a ball. He was in left-center field. I was standing near the slanted railing next to the bullpens. His throw fell short. I nearly had a panic attack. I reached way out — full extension — and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. It was a true snow-cone. Here’s an FSN screen shot…
…and here I am pointing at Thomas as if to say, “You’re the man. Thank you.”
I was so relieved at that point. My streak was alive, and I had snagged a ball in my 47th different major league stadium. Here I am with the ball:
I wasn’t sure what type of balls the Tigers were going to be using during BP; in 2008 they used Pacific Coast League balls and in 2009 they used International League balls. As you can see in the photo above, the ball that Thomas threw me was an official major league ball, but check out the logo:
The Tigers had marked it. Many other teams have done the same thing over the years, but never on the logo itself.
My phone rang. Jona handed it to me. I answered it. It was Roy. He asked me to swing by the FSN set down the left field line, and since BP was such a colossal waste of time, I didn’t mind sacrificing a few minutes of it to go check in with him:
He asked me to be back there by 6:25pm. The pre-game show was going to start at 6:30. I was going to be interviewed during the second segment, and I needed to get miked up…so for the time being, I was free to run around a bit more and try to snag a few additional baseballs. Unfortunately, there weren’t any more to be snagged — at least not during BP. The bleachers were dead, and when I ran over to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP, I didn’t get anything there. The look on my face tells the whole story:
I had snagged ONE pathetic baseball during batting practice. I was sweaty and exhausted…
…and I wanted to go back to Cleveland.
It was time to head over to the FSN set, so I cut through the seats with Jona. I stopped along the way to photograph a fugitive hot dog:
Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:
Remember the random sausage I photographed on 4/27/09 at Miller Park? Yeah, I don’t know what to say. It’s just one of those things that needs to be documented.
I made it to the FSN area as Roy and his fellow commentators were finishing up the first segment:
He and I caught up for a moment during the commercial break…
…and headed into the left field bleachers:
(Roy is adjusting his ear piece in the photo above, and if you look closely, you can see The Ring on his right hand.)
See those two women sitting behind us? When we walked into the bleachers, the blonde one said to Roy, “You look like you’re famous.”
“Umm, that’s because he IS famous,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, half-excited and half-embarrassed, “should I know your name?”
I turned toward Roy and said, “Would you like me to to be your spokesperson?”
“Smalley,” he said to the women. “I used to play for the Twins.”
The women were like, “Smalley…Smalley…oh! Yeah!” but they had no idea who he was.
The interview itself went pretty well…I think. Here’s a photo that Jona took while it was in progress:
We were being filmed by the camera behind home plate in the upper deck.
The interview flew by — they always do — but I got to talk about Pitch In For Baseball. That was the most important thing, and I ended up getting a few new pledges as a result.
I still have yet to see the interview itself, but I did manage to get a screen shot. Here’s what it looked like to the folks watching on TV, and for the record, I did NOT write the text that appeared below my name:
The interview ended just in time for me to make it down to the front row along the left field foul line for pre-game throwing:
I ended up getting a ball from Scott Sizemore, and then less than 60 seconds later, because there wasn’t anyone else competing with me, I got another from Adam Everett. That made me feel a little better, but of course the FSN cameras weren’t on me anymore, so as far as the general public in Minnesota was concerned, I was just some random putz who happened to catch ONE ball during batting practice and then talked about some charity thing.
I spent most of the game in the standing room area down the right field line. Here’s that section from above. The red “X” marks the spot where I was standing:
Here’s what my view from that spot looked like:
Yeah, it was rainy and nasty and cold — about what I expected.
Here’s a photo from the back of the standing room area, with my back against the inside of Gate 34:
(I can’t explain that random box, so don’t ask.)
Waldo was on the outside looking in:
He’s “protesting” Twins management because he feels he got screwed over on his season tickets. Long story. Go to Target Field and ask him about it. But anyway, as part of his protest, he’s refusing to enter Target Field this year. He also wants to catch the first home run that either flies or (more likely) bounces out of Target Field, so in that sense, his spot just outside Gate 34 is actually ideal. Personally, I would go crazy if I had to spend even one game outside a stadium with such slim odds at snagging a homer, but he seems content (relatively speaking) out there, and he doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, so I say hey, why not?
Jona and I sat in a few different places throughout the game. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I thought it was going to be really tough to move around, but a) there were empty seats to be found and b) the ushers were really laid-back.
After the bottom of the 8th inning, I got Miguel Cabrera to throw me a ball as he jogged off the field:
Although it had a commemorative Target Field logo, I knew it wasn’t the actual third-out ball that’d been used in the game because it was kinda beat up.
In the photo above, do you see the kid on my right, reaching up with both hands? It was a girl who was probably about 10 years old. Even though she didn’t have a glove, I just felt that giving her a ball was the right thing to do, so I pulled out a regular/non-marked/non-commemorative ball from my backpack and handed it over. I ended up sitting next to her and her father for the last half-inning, and they thanked me about a dozen times.
The Twins won the game, 4-3, on a run-scoring wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. That made a winner of starter Nick Blackburn, who went the distance. It also meant that I notched a rare “tie” in the Ballhawk Winning Percentage category. My record moved to 4.5 wins and 1.5 losses, so my percentage is .750, second only to the Rays, who lead all of baseball with a .759 mark.
Jona was freezing her you-know-what off, but I was not in any rush to leave. (Sorry, baby.) I took more photos of basically everything around me, including the beautiful MLB logo atop the visitors’ dugout:
And then I had to stick around and watch the FSN crew do their on-field analysis of the game-ending wild pitch:
1 = Tim Laudner
2 = Bert Blyleven
3 = Roy Smalley
Very cool to see former players using the field itself as a teaching instrument. That’s how it should be.
• 66 balls in 6 games this season = 11 balls per game.
• 635 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 186 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 47 different major league stadiums with at least one ball
• 4,424 total balls
• 29 donors
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.40 raised at this game
• $254.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One last thing…
I just discovered that someone with Minnesota Public Radio wrote a short article about me — and about this actual blog entry. Here’s the link to it, and here’s a screen shot of the piece:
This was my first game of the season. Don’t let my facial expression in the photo below fool you. I was indeed happy to be there:
Mainly, I was (and still am) shocked that the season had arrived — that I was actually standing outside Citi Field. The off-season flew by. I never had a break from baseball. I was (and still am) working full-time on my book.
(If you’re not familiar with Citi Field, the Home Run Apple wasn’t there last year. It was hidden behind the bullpens. And FYI, this is the old Apple from Shea Stadium, which I miss very much.)
Now, onto another important topic…
As I mentioned recently on Twitter, I’ve gained 11 pounds in the last six months. I went from a light-on-my-feet weight of 167 pounds to a sluggish-and-constantly-feeling-bloated 178. I basically haven’t gotten any exercise since Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, so it was good to be back at a stadium where I’d be “forced” to run around. It was also good that my friend Greg was there with an old ball. He and I and another friend named Matt tossed it around for 20 minutes before the gates opened, and thankfully, I hadn’t forgotten how to catch. Here’s Matt getting ready to fire the ball to Greg:
There was a fairly big crowd waiting to get in:
In the photo above, you can see Greg waving. He started the day with a lifetime total of 875 balls, and because Citi Field is Citi Field, I got stuck in a bad line, and he got a major head start on the dash to left field — and surprise-surprise, he had two baseballs by the time I got there.
I was completely out of breath. It was pathetic. I mean, it’s a long run from street level behind home plate to the elevated concourse in the outfield, but still, that’s just lame. I have some serious work to do.
It didn’t take long for me to snag my first ball of the season. Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi threw it to me after I asked him for it in Japanese. Here it is:
Oh yeah, baby, a Citi Field inaugural season commemorative ball. As it turned out, every single one of the Mets balls were commemorative. They obviously have a lot left over from last year.
Moments later, I snagged a Fernando Tatis home run that landed in the seats in left-center, and then I caught another one of his homers. That one came right to me. There was nothing to it. The real challenge came five minutes later when David Wright smoked a deep line drive in my direction. For some reason, I was standing in the middle of the third row when I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so I quickly climbed over the seats into the second row, then climbed over THAT row of seats so that I was standing in the front row. I got there just as the ball was about to land, and I reached over the railing and made the catch.
“How did that feel?!” asked a man on my right, who probably thought it was the first ball I’d ever caught.
I shrugged and said, “Great.”
What else was I supposed to say? That those few seconds from the time the ball jumped off Wright’s bat until it smacked the pocket of my Mizuno glove showed me that I still had it?
When I finally looked at the ball, I noticed that it had a beautifully smudged logo:
Matt’s goal for the day was to snag one ball. As soon as he got it, he came over and grabbed my camera and took a few action shots of me. Here’s one that shows me climbing over some more seats as a home run flew into the second deck. I was trying to get in position in case it bounced back down into the front row (it didn’t). The red arrow is pointing at Greg:
Here I am scrambling unsuccessfully for a home run ball:
The guy in the black jersey ended up grabbing it. I suspect that the man in the gray jersey was bending over in case the ball trickled down the steps. (He looks kinda funny, no?)
Angel Pagan then tossed up a ball that sailed over the first few rows and was about to sail over my head, too…
…but I managed to climb up on a seat at the last second and catch it.
Matt told me to hold up the ball so he could take a photo, but I didn’t want to take my eye off the batter. In the two-part photo below, the pic on the left shows me saying, “Hold on,” and the pic on the right is the actual pose that Matt had requested:
Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I caught two Luis Castillo homers on the fly in straight-away left field, then happened to catch another homer out in left-center. I wasn’t looking at the batter. I was trying to get someone to toss me a ball from down below, when all of a sudden, I heard people shouting at something else, so I looked up and saw a HIGH fly ball coming toward me. At first, I didn’t think it was going to reach the seats, but it carried, and I reached far over the railing and made the catch. It was either hit by Jeff Francoeur or Jason Bay. Not sure.
Before the stadium had opened, Matt predicted that I’d snag 12 balls. I thought his guess was too high, but by the time the Marlins took the field, I was two-thirds of the way there. Hmm…
My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Burke Badenhop. It helped that I had changed into a Marlins cap and shirt, but my outfit didn’t do me any good for the rest of BP. I’m happy to report, though, that I caught three more home runs on the fly. (That’s a total of eight home runs that I caught on the fly, in case you lost count.) The first was hit by Dan Uggla, and I have no idea who hit the next two. I gave one of them to the nearest kid.
With a few minutes remaining in BP, I made my way toward the dugout and didn’t get anything there — except a photo of my Marlins crew:
From right to left, you’re looking at Greg (who ended up with nine balls), Matt (three), Ben (only one because he missed most of BP), me (keep reading), Ryan (six), and Ryan’s friend T.J. (three). Not one of us is actually a Marlins fan. We just had the gear to try to get extra baseballs.
Matt had bought a ticket in the front row behind the Marlins’ dugout. (Don’t ask how much it cost. He’s from California. This was his one and only game here, and the rest of his trip was paid for by his job, so he splurged.) I could’ve stayed down there with him, but I felt like wandering and playing for home runs. The left field seats were basically packed…
…so I headed toward the newly named “Shea Bridge”…
…and went up to the second deck in right field so I could take a photo of the bullpens. This is how the ‘pens looked last year. (If you’re too lazy to click that link, just know that they ran parallel to the outfield wall. The Mets’ bullpen was closer to the field; the visitors’ bullpen was tucked out of view below the overhang — stadium design at its worst.) This is the new bullpen configuration:
Weird but better. (Does anyone know anyone who works for the architectural firm that designs all these stadiums? It used to be called HOK. Now it’s named Populous. With all due respect, they could really use my help.)
By the way, when I first tried to photograph the bullpens from the field level seats in right field, the security-guard-usher-type-person stopped me. He wouldn’t let me down the steps from the concourse — and this was 20 minutes after batting practice had ended. He told me that I needed to have a ticket to go down there. I told him that I’d heard about the new improvements to Citi Field, and that I was excited to see them and take some photos so I could blog about it, but he was like, “Sorry, you’re not allowed. You need a ticket. That’s what I’ve been told.” How sad that some teams are so un-fan-friendly.
There really wasn’t anywhere for me to go. Mike Jacobs was sitting on 99 career home runs, so I found my way into the seats in deep right-center for each of his at-bats. This was my lousy view:
I don’t enjoy sitting 3.2 miles from home plate, but I’m willing to do it on special occasions. Of course, Jacobs ended up going 1-for-5 with a single and two strikeouts. I have nothing against the guy, but he doesn’t look good. He’s batting .111 so far this season, and it’s no surprise. He always seems to be behind in the count 0-2, and his swing looks awfully long.
Eventually, I went and sat with Matt behind the Marlins’ dugout. The view there was much better…
…and thanks to his generosity, I got a third-out ball from Gaby Sanchez after the fifth inning. I was going to let Matt go for it, but he insisted.
“It’s for the charity,” he said.
When the Marlins made a double-switch with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, I was back in right-center. Emilio Bonifacio took over in center field, so Tim Wood came out of the bullpen to play catch with him. I quickly changed into my Marlins gear and heard a few grumbles (about my lack of team loyalty) from the fans sitting nearby. I hurried over to the side railing and got Wood’s attention as he was walking back toward the bullpen. He threw me the ball, and when I turned around, all the fans were smiling. They knew what was up, so once I was out of Wood’s view, I made a big production of taking off the Marlins gear and revealing my Mets shirt underneath. It was classic. The whole section burst into laughter, and then, for added comedic effect, I pretended to wipe myself with the teal-colored clothing.
The game was rather entertaining — and unusual. Not only did the Mets tie it up after trailing 6-1, but all six of their runs scored without a hit. In the bottom of the first, there was a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the seventh, there was another sac fly and a bases-loaded walk. One inning later, they plated three more runs on a throwing error, another bases-loaded walk, and a balk.
In the top of the 10th, I was sitting several rows behind the Marlins dugout with Matt, Greg, Ben, and Ryan. Wes Helms led off the inning, and on a 2-1 pitch, he dribbled a foul grounder toward Joey Espada, the third base coach. Ryan reacted quickly and made a beeline for the front row. Espada scooped up the ball and tossed it into the seats. It wasn’t thrown to anyone in particular. It was just one of those up-for-grabs lobs, and Ryan gloved it. There was some talk about whether or not he’d “stolen” the ball from a kid, but I don’t think he did. Check out this screen shot from the game (sent by a friend in Florida):
See the little red numbers?
1 = Ryan
2 = me
3 = Greg
4 = Ben
From where I was standing, it appeared that the ball sailed above the kid’s left/bare hand. (I’m talking about the kid wearing the white striped shirt.) To some people, it may have appeared that Ryan reached in front of him, but in fact Ryan respectfully stayed behind the kid and simply reached above him. It’s hard to tell. There’s so much gray area with these things, but really, it looked like a clean play as far as I could tell.
Here’s another screen shot:
5 = Matt
The Marlins ended up taking a 7-6 lead, and guess who came in and notched his first major league save in the bottom of the 10th. That’s right: my boy Tim Wood.
After the final out, I got a ball from Laz Diaz, the home plate umpire, as he walked off the field. It was my 15th ball of the day — a new Citi Field record. My previous high for this stadium was 14 balls, which I accomplished on 8/4/09.
On my way out of the stadium, I gave another ball away to a kid and then posed with my eight Citi Field balls:
• 15 balls at this game (13 pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 131 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citi Field = 9.36 balls per game.
• 630 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 488 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 121 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,373 total balls
• 13 donors (click here to see what this is all about)
• $1.37 pledged per ball
• $17.81 raised at this game
• $17.81 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball.