This was my third Watch With Zack game with Clif, a 14-year-old Mets fan who’s been reading this blog since last year and leaving comments as “goislanders4.” Our first game together was on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium. The second was on 7/28/08 at Yankee Stadium. His mother Gail couldn’t make it to this game, so I picked Clif up at home, then got a tour of his baseball collection…
…and drove him to Philadelphia. (I don’t know why Clif decided to wear a Padres hat for the photo above, but I can explain the shirt: the Phillies were going to be playing the Nationals. Clif’s favorite player is Nationals center fielder Lastings Milledge and the shirt said “MILLEDGE 44” on the back.) This was the 10th Watch With Zack game I’d done since starting the business last year, but it was the first time that I went with a kid and no one else. I was extra responsible for Clif’s well-being, and yet I felt more free than ever to run around for balls and help him do the same. He’d already proven (to both me and his mom) that he knew his way around a major league stadium. He didn’t need a babysitter. He just needed someone to GET him to Citizens Bank Park so he could do his thing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that that someone was me.
We arrived at the stadium at 3:15pm…
…and got cheesesteaks at McFadden’s:
We were the first ones to run inside the stadium when the Ashburn Alley gate opened at 4:35pm. Clif peeled off and headed to the corner spot in center field. I walked over to the foul pole and took a photo of the left field seats:
See the flower bed that separates the seats from the outfield wall? Once BP got underway, I leaned all the way across it (with my knees on the back railing and my elbows on the front) and used my glove trick to snag two balls off the warning track.
As the left field seats were getting more crowded, I caught a line drive homer on a fly and snagged another home run ball off the ground–a ball that had initially hit the heel of my glove when an aggressive Phillies fan bumped me from behind. The ball was lopsided. Check it out in the photo on the right. You don’t see that too often with “official major league baseballs.”
Toward the end of the Phillies’ portion of batting practice, Clif and I convened in left-center field, and I caught another home run on a fly. I was about six rows back, and the ball was hit high in the air. I judged it perfectly and drifted down the steps as it descended, and I reached up above half a dozen hands at the last second to make the catch. This was my record-breaking 322nd ball of the season (my previous record was set in 2005) and Clif was excited because he’d gotten a great view.
Clif and I ran out to the seats in right-center when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:35pm. Less than two minutes later, he got his second ball of the day from Nationals pitcher Garrett Mock, and I took a photo as the ball was flying his way. Check it out:
Clif is wearing the dark glove. The ball was thrown right to him. The kid on his left (with the light blond hair) nearly interfered. Good thing Clif was reaching out for the ball instead of standing back and waiting for it.
A little while later, Clif headed over to left-center and got ball No. 3 from Tim Redding. (I’ll let Clif share all the details about this and his other balls in a comment.)
The next ball I caught was my sixth of the the day and the 3,600th of my life. I wish I knew who hit it. It was another home run. It was hit by a right-handed batter on the Nationals. I bolted to my right through the empty second row, then realized the ball was tailing back so I darted back to my left and made a two-handed catch right where I’d been standing in the first place. Duh. And it was one of those crappy training balls:
The ball was so slick…it felt like it was made of wax. I really don’t understand why teams use these balls. I mean, okay, they’re trying to save money, but these balls feel nothing like game balls. If you were a concert pianist, would you practice on a Fisher Price keyboard? If you were a NASCAR driver, would you train by driving a ’98 Pontiac? Umm, no, probably not. Therefore, I demand to know: WHY ARE MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYERS USING CHEAP PLASTICKY BASEBALLS?!?! The only theory I can come up with is that if the players are forced to hit inferior balls, they might not try to hit home runs because they’ll know the balls won’t travel that far. This might make them focus on swinging level and hitting line drives, which ideally would improve their hitting. But it’s not. The Nationals are the worst team in baseball, and as of three days ago, they were mired in a losing streak that ended up lasting 12 games.
Collin Balester tossed me my seventh ball of the day–another stupid training ball–in straight away right field, and that was it for BP.
Ten minutes before the game started, two Nationals players began throwing in front of the third base dugout. I asked Clif which end of the dugout he wanted, and he chose the outfield end. It was a good choice because Ronnie Belliard, the older of the two players, was on that end. (The more experienced player usually ends up with the ball.) Sure enough, several minutes later, Belliard flipped the ball to Clif on his way in. I got another action photo:
Did you see the ball? Here’s a closer look:
Moments later, two more Nationals came out and started throwing. Clif stayed on his end. I stayed on mine. Ryan Zimmerman, the more experienced player, was closer to me and ended up tossing me the ball.
The ball he’d gotten from Belliard was a training ball.
The ball I got from Zimmerman was…
…a thing of beauty. But don’t feel too bad for Clif. He’d already gotten one of these balls earlier this season at Nationals Park, and when I offered to give him this one, he wouldn’t accept it.
Another reason not to feel bad for Clif is that he got Lastings Milledge to sign his T-shirt. Here’s Milledge tossing the shirt back to Clif:
Here’s Clif wearing the shirt backwards to show off the signature…
…and here’s a closeup of the signature:
As for the game…
Gail had hooked us up by going on StubHub and getting two Diamond Club tickets. The club itself is pretty lame. It’s just a big, over-fancy restaurant tucked underneath the concourse behind home plate, but the seats themselves were IDEAL for chasing foul balls. Seriously, just look at this view from the first-base side of home plate:
It’s truly impossible to sneak down to this section without a ticket. When you first arrive, there’s a pair of ushers (at the bottom of each of the two staircases) who make SURE you belong. The first guy checks your ticket and punches a hole in it, and the second guy gives you a wristband that you have to wear for the rest of the night. There’s no way to take off the wristband and give it to so
meone else. The only way to take it off is to rip it off, and get this…the color of the band changes from game to game, and the date of the game is printed right on it:
I’m telling you, the ushers guard this section as if their lives depend on it. On 4/25/07 at Citizens Bank Park, I got to explore the Diamond Club before the game because I had media credentials for a TV segment I was being filmed for, but once the game started, I got kicked out. I was stunned. This was my 15th game ever at Citizens Bank Park, and it was the first time I’d ever been in this section during the game, but of course, since I’m jinxed, there wasn’t a single foul ball hit anywhere near me all night. Amazing. But it was still fun to roam and hope.
Clif spent the first few innings going for third-out balls behind the Nationals’ dugout, and it paid off in a BIG way. Phillies catcher Chris Coste flied out to center field to
end the bottom of the second. Who was playing center field for the Nationals? That’s right: Lastings Milledge. From my spot behind home plate, I could see Clif work his way down to the front row as soon as the catch was made, and eventually I saw Milledge flip the ball in Clif’s direction. But there were a bunch of other kids, and I couldn’t tell who had gotten it. I immediately called Clif on his cell phone. His voice-mail picked up. He was trying to call me. I answered and asked if he’d gotten the ball. He had! WOOO!!! Go Clif!!! How awesome is that?! Getting a game-used ball tossed to you by your favorite player?! Damn. I wish I could take credit and say that Clif couldn’t have done it without me–and perhaps he wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gone to this game with him–but he deserves all the credit. He knew what to do, and he made it happen. I was proud of him and very excited.
Clif and I were rooting for the Nationals all the way, but they blew a 4-1 lead and ended up losing, 5-4. I figured the best shot of getting a post-game ball was from the home plate umpire on the Nationals’ side, so I let Clif go for that. I went to the Phillies’ dugout and didn’t expect to get anything because it was so crowded and noisy, but as it turned out, Clif wasn’t able to make it all the way down to the front row to even ask the umpire for a ball, and I happened to get Brad Lidge to toss me the game-ending ball. Sweet! It was THE ball he had used to record his 31st save of the season and the 154th of his career (not to mention his 631st career strikeout). It felt good.
Once again, I offered to give that ball (and others) to Clif, but he wouldn’t take it. He had his collection. He knew I had mine. And that was that.
? 9 balls at this game
? 326 balls in 45 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 541 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 132 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 10 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,603 total balls
But wait! That’s not the end of this blog entry. Because this was Clif’s third Watch With Zack game, he got a bonus the following day. I invited him over to my place where he saw (among other things) my 210-pound rubber band ball…
…and played some Arkanoid:
Then we went over to my parents’ place where I keep most of my baseballs. You could say Clif was in awe:
You could also say Clif had fun:
There are exactly 1,200 balls (three barrels’ worth) in the photo above. Clif stayed buried for about 20 minutes until Gail showed up. You could say she had fun too.
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