This was my fourth World Series game ever and only the second at which I was actually going to be inside the stadium. (I spent Games 1 and 2 of last year’s World Series behind the Green Monster.)
I wouldn’t have gotten to attend this game if not for my friends Clif and Gail. Gail has a friend at ESPN. The friend was able to get tickets. Gail had a couple extras and invited me and my girlfriend Jona to come along.
Here we are heading down to Philadelphia on the New Jersey Turnpike:
The parking situation was a nightmare. There were about a million fans (including tailgaters) at Lincoln Financial Field right next door for the Eagles game, and that evening there was going to be a concert by The Who at the neighboring Wachovia Center. Somehow we managed to find a spot amidst the sea of RVs, and as we headed over to McFadden’s for a pre-BP meal, I made everyone wait while I recreated a photo of myself that was taken 15 years earlier. Check it out below. The photo on the left was taken outside Veterans Stadium before Game 5 of the ’93 Series, and the photo on the right was taken yesterday:
There was quite a line for tickets:
Other people had their own methods:
I can only describe the scene surrounding the stadium as one of general hoopla:
I’d been to this stadium 18 times before for regular season games; it was strange (and more stressful than exciting) to be there for all this madness. There was even a mechanical bull in the middle of a big inflatable ring:
I’ll admit that I was part of the madness. Not only did I bring my Big Glove, but I had a big ball to go with it:
Here are the four of us…Jona, me (wearing a ’93 World Series cap), Clif (wearing an Eagles jersey), and Gail:
Clif and I wandered around with the Big Glove, and I made sure he was the one carrying it so he’d be the center of attention. It worked. Not only did a dozen people approach us and ask to take photos with him, but he was interviewed by a TV crew from Florida. I should’ve taken a photo of Clif with the microphone in his face, but I spaced out. This was my first game in more than four weeks, and there were other moments when I just wasn’t on MY game.
The stadium opened at 5:30pm (roughly three hours before game time), and we received a few giveaways as we headed inside. The first was toilet paper (aka a Phillies “rally towel”)…
…and even THAT had an authentication sticker:
(The sticker on my Beltran ball is cooler.) The second item was a coin commemorating the Hank Aaron Award, and it came in a nifty little decorative cardboard case (which also had a sticker):
Here’s a look at both sides of the coin:
As for BP…
Since every section was going to be open at the start of the day (to accommodate the huge crowd), I raced out to the seats in right-center and had the whole place to myself for the first minute.
Well, almost all to myself.
As I was racing to pick up a home run ball that landed in the empty seats, an usher came charging down the steps and slammed into me and started scrambling for it.
“What the HELL are you doing?!” I shouted.
“The same thing as YOU!” he snapped. “Trying to get a ball.”
“Yeah but you WORK here!”
“They haven’t even opened UP yet!” he said. “You’re not supposed to be here!”
“Um, actually the stadium HAS opened,” I said, and the usher was like, “Uhhh…sorry.”
Anyway, I got that ball (along with a nice bruise on my left biceps) and snagged another homer that landed in the seats two minutes later. Neither of these balls had the World Series logo on them. No surprise there. They were just regular balls.
The seats in right-center stayed pretty empty for the first 10 minutes or so…
…but nothing else was hit within my reach. I could have easily gotten Scott Eyre to toss me a ball, but instead of asking for it, I asked if he might be able to toss me one with a World Series logo instead. He said he hadn’t seen any, and that they weren’t being used in BP, and that he hadn’t even seen those balls in the bullpen.
Clif (aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) started off in the corner spot in left-center:
Here’s a closer look at him:
He didn’t get anything there, but he didn’t go home empty-handed. I’ll let him be the one to tell you about it.
I’d made/brought a sign to help me get balls, and Jona took a pic of me waving it around in the front row:
It didn’t work. Here’s what it said:
When the Rays pitchers came out and started playing catch along the left field foul line, I changed into my Rays gear and positioned myself near Dan Wheeler, who was all the way out near the outfield wall. I didn’t shout his name. I didn’t wave my arms. I just stood there, and within FIVE seconds, he looked up (on his own) and spotted me in the crowd.
“ZACK!!!” he shouted. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you!”
“What’s up!” I shouted back.
“Was that you who caught the two home runs at Yankee Stadium and–”
“–and did that stupid dance?”
“Yeah, that was me!” I yelled, “and I also caught the last Mets homer at Shea!”
“Unbelievable!” he said as he continued throwing.
“Dan!” I shouted a few moments later, and when he looked up, I told him I was dying to get a World Series ball and asked if he could help. He pretty much said the same thing as Eyre. I asked if I could meet him out by the bullpen or at the dugout after the game, and he said he didn’t think he’d be able to get one. “Well then, how am *I* supposed to get one?” I asked.
“Catch a B.J. Upton homer during the game,” he said.
“Yeah, that’d be nice,” I replied, and that was pretty much the end of our conversation.
(I should probably point out, for those who might be new to this blog, that I got to know Wheeler back in the days when he pitched for the Mets, and he’s remembered me ever since; last year, when I saw him at Camden Yards, he asked for a signed copy of my book.)
I started working my way down the foul line (can you spot me in the pic below?)…
…and set up my operation behind the Rays’ dugout:
I stayed there for the entire portion of the Rays’ batting practice. I knew I was missing opportunities to catch (or at least chase) home run balls in the outfield, but I figured my best chance of getting a World Series ball was to get someone’s attention–Joe Maddon, perhaps?–and work the personal touch. It didn’t happen. I got acknowledged by plenty of people, but NO ONE had a World Series ball or even knew where to find one.
I did, however, get a regular ball (not sure who tossed it…might’ve been Fernando Perez) and got filmed/photographed/interviewed by at least 20 different members of the media who were milling about on the warning track. In the photo above, in case you missed it, there’s a guy pointing a camera at me. Apparently there was a brief shot of me that was used during the FOX pre-game show, and I also got a couple mentions online. The following photo appeared on a blog on the St. Petersburg Times web site…
…(did you notice Jona in that pic?) and the following text appeared in this article in the Times itself:
So it wasn’t a complete loss.
Here’s some general weirdness…
…and here’s what the pre-game festivities looked like from my spot behind the Phillies’ dugout:
NOTE: I said “spot” and not “seat” for a reason. My actual seat was in the upper deck on the third base side. I never went up there. Gail and Jona did (and I believe Clif even went up there too for a bit), and this was their view during the game:
Not bad, I suppose, but MY view was better:
That was only my view for about two minutes. It was incredibly easy to get down into the seats behind the dugouts. The only problem was that there weren’t any EMPTY seats, so I was constantly jockeying for position and trying to avoid getting caught. I had to crouch on the steps a couple times while I waited for the third outs to be recorded. And I was only down in the seats when there were two outs. The rest of the time? I was hiding in the field level concourse, trying not to go crazy from having a view like this:
Yup, that’s how I watched most of Game 4 of the World Series. Sad but true. Sometimes I climbed up and tried to look over everyone’s heads…
…but it never ceased to be annoying. Anyway, if I was willing to spend an entire World Series game (two games, in fact) last year outside the stadium without seeing a single pitch, you can be sure I was willing to do it here in Philly for the chance to remain on the field level and get a game-used ball with the Series logo.
Sadly, though, I kept getting blocked/dissed. The competition on the Phillies’ side was in-SANE. At one point, as I was reaching high up and leaning to my backhand side to catch a third-out ball tossed by Ryan Howard, someone grabbed my arm and yanked it down, causing me to fall over onto the people sitting next to me. (Maybe THAT’S when I bruised my arm.) I can’t even begin to describe how pissed off I was. The fact is, I would have caught that ball if I weren’t…violated. Yes, that’s the word.
The competition behind the home-plate end of the Rays’ dugout was nonexistent. There were a few times when I was the ONLY fan standing and shouting for the ball as Carlos Pena jogged in with it, and he ignored me each of those times and kept the ball for himself as he disappeared from sight. It was depressing.
One good thing that happened is that I found a couple of ticket stubs, including one in section 117 which was exactly where I needed to be for third-out balls on the Phillies’ side…
…but it didn’t make a difference. No luck. No love.
I was obviously rooting for the Phillies to lose, and yet if I were given the choice between a) the Rays winning by a small margin or b) the Phillies winning a laugher, I probably would’ve picked the latter. Even at the World Series, I’ve learned, fans WILL leave early, and I was in desperate need of empty seats.
Well, I got my seats in the bottom of the 8th when the Phillies scored four runs to open up a 10-2 lead. It wasn’t the way I envisioned it, but it gave me all the space I needed to maneuver down to the front row behind the Rays’ dugout to try to get a ball from home plate umpire Tom Hallion after the final out. Unfortunately, Hallion ignored me on his way in, and just like that…POOF!!!…my night ended without a World Series ball. On a lifetime list of disappointing moments at baseball games, that one ranks just behind my near miss of Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. And then, to make matters worse, I ran into a kid who’d been competing with me for third-out balls all night…and he’d gotten one…THE final third-out ball…the ball that J.C. Romero used to strike out Rocco Baldelli to end the game. Carlos Ruiz had tossed it to him on the Phillies’ side. He was thoroughly excited, as he should’ve been, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
“I learned from the best,” he said, referring to me (and my blog), which was nice, but I was feeling so defeated at that point that I could only offer a weak “congrats.” I just wanted to go home. I wanted the season to end. A couple minutes earlier, I’d gotten my fourth ball of the day from Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos, but so what? It was another regular ball. All four of my balls at this game were regular. How sad…
What a lousy way for a magical season to end.
• 4 balls at this game
• 543 balls in 73 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
• 569 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 4 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball
• 3,820 total balls
Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?
When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield . . .
. . . I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.
The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for the Wild Card with
the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers won, or if they both lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea to determine who’d be moving on to the post-season.
I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:
I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through. At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned about my seat location.
I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball. Even a training ball. Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.
Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.
I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing . . . and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a chance to catch it.
Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.
“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)
“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.
So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket . . .
. . . and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it was raining. Look how wet the railings were at the front of the bleachers:
Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after. The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:
These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.
The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:
Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me the following ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more) of the Nationals’ baseballs.
The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to me off the warning track in left-center.
I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife. I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:
I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:
I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets were entering the stadium.
I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone . . .
. . . so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:
This was the view slightly to the left:
The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck . . .
. . . and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:
I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:
The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all being former Mets) but it was still cool:
These guys were intense:
This dude nailed it:
This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:
This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:
This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in the background:
Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:
Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:
Then I ran into Elvis . . .
. . . and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.
If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be, but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.
Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day, and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant scoreboard . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:
I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1” so when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.
This was my view straight ahead . . .
. . . and this was the view to my right:
I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.
Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:
The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker. Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run. Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were ahead, 2-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner, and Beltran crushed it in my direction.
It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept coming . . . coming . . . coming . . . and I couldn’t believe I was even going to be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter disbelief before I really started celebrating:
Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:
Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:
Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me. It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing my shaved head:
The celebration just wouldn’t end:
Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives . . .
. . . followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:
And some more high-fives. Check it out . . . two at once:
It was THE . . . CRAZIEST . . . HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.
(Click here to watch the highlight on SNY.)
As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.
“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.
They were all like . . . huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.
One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank god) and had me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did . . . and I kept getting mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like, “C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”
He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90 percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the ball as he could and his friend took a pic.
I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers. The authenticator, pictured below . . .
. . . emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur. This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was racing like you wouldn’t believe.
He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…
. . . and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:
Here’s a look at the sticker:
Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:
Here’s the commemorative logo:
Here’s the whole thing:
People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc. Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get out of the way if one comes.”
“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10 steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”
But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.
A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.
“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.
“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”
I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)
Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers (who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.
Wow, 12 more outs to go . . .
In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers. Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d just traveled an additional 10 feet.
“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.
“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”
Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then BOOM!!! Another home run . . . again into the bleachers but too far over toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.
“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.
“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”
I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.
Ayala retired the next three batters.
The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth or their season was done.
The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning: David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.
Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches, but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.
I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick (which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level. Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full . . .
. . . and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is business.
Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one 380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was history.
The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”
It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to get stuff from them, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout (he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap as everyone headed back in.
I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif (aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) and changed out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but still . . . Marlins = yuck:
Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap . . .
. . . and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:
THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.
Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:
The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto the field one last time . . .
. . . but it was bittersweet. Everyone in the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite bathroom–but even he knew it was time.
I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot . . .
. . . and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:
“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”
When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:
1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you because they just saw you at the Mets game . . . dude, you are a f*ckin’ superstar.”
2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever . . . and you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculous. This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”
3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall, former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair, looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah.”
Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.
It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted this entry about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now 12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the front page of Yahoo, and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot . . .
. . . and here’s the story.
This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats . . .
* 6 balls at this game
* 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
* 568 consecutive games with at least one ball
* 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
* 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
* 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)
* 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
* 99 lifetime game balls in New York
* 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
* 3,816 total balls
Does the name Danny Wood sound familiar? It should if you’ve read (and memorized) my last four blog entries, but just in case you’ve forgotten:
1) He’s a season ticket holder at Coors Field.
2) He snags a LOT of baseballs.
3) One of those balls was Barry Bonds’ 698th career home run.
Danny and I had never met until our mutual friend Dan Sauvageau (another bigtime ballhawk) introduced us outside Gate E four days earlier–and and on THIS day, I took a pre-Coors detour to visit his place and check out his baseball collection. Dan had been telling me I had to see it. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, but let me just say he was right:
The photo above doesn’t even BEGIN to capture the magnitude of his collection, so hopefully the following photos will. Here’s another shot of Danny’s collection:
Every ball in the double-case above was autographed by a Hall of Famer. We’re talking more than 150 balls, and most were signed on the sweet spot. It was truly awesome.
Now…keep in mind that Danny hasn’t caught all these balls himself or gotten them all signed in person. He’s bought lots of stuff on eBay, but still, it was the most incredible collection I’d ever seen.
There were several smaller cases of note. Here’s one that had a variety of All-Star and World Series balls:
Here’s one with Little League balls and various National League presidents:
One of his cases featured balls that were falling apart…
…and another had nothing but baseball boxes from various manufacturers:
Then there were individual balls that I’d never seen in person and, in some cases, didn’t even know existed. In the photo below, the top two balls are self-explanatory, and as for the bottom two…
…the ball on the left is from the Negro Leagues, and the ball on the right is an official American League ball from 1927 which oh-by-the-way just happened to be signed on the sweet spot by Babe Ruth.
Ever heard of “millennium balls”?
Neither had I.
American League balls were made by Reach, and National League balls were made by Spalding. (Reach was owned by Spalding, but it’s still cool.)
Let’s not forget that Bonds homer–number six-ninety-eight:
…and here’s Danny’s unofficial certificate of authenticity on MLB.com:
There are dozens of other photographs I could share. I could literally write a different blog entry about his collection every day for a year and still have plenty of stuff left to talk about. It was THAT impressive. But I’ll just leave you with one other pic from Danny’s place.
I had heard that at Coors Field, fans received “Clean Catch” pins from the ushers whenever they caught a foul ball or home run on a fly during a game–but I hadn’t actually seen one. Naturally, Danny had about a dozen, and here it is:
What a great idea. Seriously…what an excellent way to encourage fans to bring their gloves and be participants. What a shame that neither team in my hometown has the brains/incentive to do this.
I took a few photographs of the exterior…
…and posed with my two shirts once we reached the gate:
As you may already know, I own all 30 major league team caps; visiting teams love to spot their “fans” on the road and reward them with baseballs. In this case, since the Mets were the visiting team, I went one step further and brought a matching shirt–but I didn’t wear it during the game. That’s where the striped shirt came in. My plan (as I mentioned in an entry last week) was to dress like Waldo to make it easier for people to spot me on TV.
Gate E opened at 5pm, and I nearly got hit by a ball as I ran inside. From the concourse behind the left field bleachers, I saw one of the Rockies players looking up as if he were following the flight of a long home run. I paused for a second, expecting the ball to clang off the metal benches down below when all of a sudden, SMACK!!! The ball hit the concourse five feet to my left (about 425 feet from the plate according to Hit Tracker), bounced up and hit a metal support beam above the roof of a concession stand, and ricocheted back toward me. I was totally caught off guard. I wasn’t even wearing my glove…I was carrying it with my right hand, so I lunged forward and knocked the ball down with my left hand (almost like a basketball dribble) to prevent it from bouncing back into the bleachers, and I finally grabbed it.
Moments later, another home run landed near me, this time in the bleachers, and when I ran over and grabbed it off the concrete steps, an usher down below yelled, “Give it to the kid!”
I looked up, and there was indeed a kid nearby, but I
knew he didn’t need any charity. His name was Hunter. I’d signed a baseball for him the day before. He and his dad Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” if you read the comments) had front-row access for this game, and sure enough, they ended up snagging a bunch of balls…and you can read about it on Don’s blog.
The Rockies’ portion of BP was slow. I didn’t get any more balls from them. The highlight was seeing Danny trade gloves with Ubaldo Jimenez…
…and then use it to catch a home run ball. Unfortunately, it was a ball I easily could’ve caught, but I backed off (because the idea of robbing him on his own turf made me feel guilty) and let him have it, and he thanked me several times.
Anyway, it almost didn’t matter because I got SEVEN balls tossed to me during the Mets’ portion of BP. The first came from Scott Schoeneweis near center field. The second came from coach Guy Conti in left-center. The third came from Ramon Castro near the left field foul line. The fourth came from Conti again…it was ridiculous…I didn’t even ask him for it…I was sitting just behind the wall in left-center, minding my own business and labeling the ball from Castro when Conti walked over and grabbed a ball off the warning track and flipped it up without looking at me. The fifth ball came from Marlon Anderson in straight-away left field. The sixth came from Pelfrey, also in left field, and the seventh came from Pedro Martinez in center. It was incredible. There was NO competition, and yet some of the fans behind me were grumbling. One guy (who I’m ashamed to admit was wearing a Mets jersey) shouted angrily, “How many balls do you need?!” and before I had a chance to walk over and respond, he snapped, “Go ahead, say something stupid.”
Too bad he was so rude. I’d been considering giving one of my baseballs to his son, but instead, when batting practice ended, I handed one to a different kid whose father had been minding his own business.
I made sure not to give away any of the three baseballs in the following photo:
As you can see, I got two commemorative balls. The one on the left was thrown by Castro, and it happened to be the 900th ball I’ve snagged outside of New York. The ball in the middle was thrown by Pelfrey, and it’s just cool. I love how worn out it is. The ball on the right (not commemorative but still cool) was thrown by Pedro.
Throughout the week, Danny had been telling me that he knew one of the guys who worked the manual, out-of-town scoreboard in right field (?!?!) and he kept offering to arrange a visit for me. This was the day that I finally took him up on it…so after BP ended, Danny made a phone call and sent me on my way. It was as simple as that. I exited the tunnel at the bottom of the left field pavilion, turned right, and walked through the “secret” concourse:
After walking for a couple minutes and not really knowing who or what to look for (and hoping that I wasn’t going to be arrested), a woman stuck her head out of one of the black doors on the right and called me over by name.
HER name is Beverly Coleman. She works for the Rockies in the “Business Operations” department. (You can find her on this list of Rockies front office employees.) Her husband is the guy that works the scoreboard.
Beverly led me down into a party area…
…and we headed toward an unmarked door…
…and climbed some steep/narrow steps…
…and before I knew it I was standing behind the scoreboard, witnessing an update in progress:
Then things calmed down a bit, and I met her husband, David Holt:
David gave me a quick tour and told me I was welcome to take as many photos as I wanted and share them on my blog.
This was my view of the field through one of the small holes in the wooden boards…
Did you notice the ball in the photo above? It’s tucked into a little nook in the wall on the upper right. Here’s a closeup:
At least once per minute, Jim shouted some sort of update–a score change, an inning change, or a pitching change–and David went to work:
He showed me how to make sure that the boards were facing the right way. Quite simply, the front (which faced the field) had big letters…
…and the back had small letters:
If the board was right-side-up in the back, that meant it was facing the proper way in the front. Easy…I had it…and David let me make some updates:
…and it got better.
Beverly, being a front office employee, had received a 2007 National League Championship ring and gave me all the time I needed to photograph it. Note her last name (Coleman) on the side:
I actually didn’t have much more time. The game was about to begin, and although I probably could’ve stayed longer, I really wanted to get back to left field and unleash my Waldo Essence.
David removed one of the boards so I could reach out and take a few more photos before I left. Check this out. You can see the shadow of my hand and camera:
I made it back to the left field pavilion just before the first pitch, then pulled out my big glove and let Emily (Dan’s four-year-old daughter) try it on:
I didn’t bring the big glove to help me snag extra balls. I just brought it to help me stand out even more on TV.
I was so psyched to be sitting in the wide aisle in straight-away left field. Even though I didn’t have much room on my right…
I had a ton of space on my left:
In the top of the second inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single and Carlos Delgado followed with a deep drive to my left. I jumped out of my seat, raced through the aisle, and watched helplessly as the ball sailed 15 feet over my head.
There were two other home runs in the game, both of which were hit in the first few innings and went to right field, so I had to find other forms of entertainment:
Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 2.
? 10 balls at this game
? 210 balls in 27 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 83 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
? 28 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
? 18 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
? 523 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 126 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 905 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,487 total balls