The last day of the regular season always starts slowly, and this was no exception. When I ran inside the stadium, this was my first look at the field:
No batting practice.
But that was to be expected.
Five minutes later, there was at least a sign of life…
…and 15 minutes after that, several Tigers began playing catch in left field:
In the photo above, there’s an arrow pointing to Robbie Weinhardt because he ended up throwing me his ball when he finished.
Then I got his autograph. Here he is signing for another fan…
…and here he is posing for a photo:
It was THAT kind of a day — very slow and laid-back.
Lots of Tigers signed autographs. I got six on my ticket:
Since their handwriting is even worse than their won-lost record, I’ll tell you their names: Alfredo Figaro, Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Max St. Pierre, and of course Mister Weinhardt.
Not only did I collect a bunch of autographs, but I also signed one for a young fan named Xavier. Here he is holding it up for the camera:
The Orioles eventually came out and played catch:
I didn’t snag any baseballs from them, but I did get a couple of autographs. Here’s a photo of Matt Albers signing:
I got him on the back of my ticket, along with Mike Gonzalez’s signature:
Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got my second ball of the day (and 299th of the season) from Tigers infielder Scott Sizemore.
Here’s the ball:
As I mentioned in my last entry, the Tigers mark their balls on the sweet spot.
My friends Roger and Bassey and my girlfriend Jona showed up at game time. Here they are, chillin’ on the first base side:
(That’s Roger on the left and Bassey on the right.)
I really wanted to snag my 300th ball of the season, but rather than go for a 3rd-out ball (which would’ve been fairly easy), I stayed in the outfield and tried to catch a home run instead.
Given the fact that this was the final game of the season, and given the fact that the players were likely going to give away some of their equipment after the final out, I made my way to the Tigers’ dugout at the start of the 9th inning.
This was my view:
As soon as the Tigers put the finishing touches on their 4-2 victory, I moved down into the front row:
Here’s what happened next:
It was only the fifth bat I’d ever gotten, and it belonged to Austin Jackson! Are you aware of how awesome Jackson is? This was his first season in the Major Leagues, and he finished with a .293 batting average, 181 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, 27 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored. Okay, so he struck out 170 times. Whatever. Austin Jackson is The Man — and the potential rookie of the year. The way I got his bat was simple and unexpected. As the players were filing into the dugout, some guys flung their caps into the crowd, and a few others tossed their batting gloves. During all the chaos, I happened to see a bat get lifted up from below the dugout roof, and I lunged for it. That was it. I grabbed it a split-second before anyone else realized what was going on. As for those batting gloves, I got one of those, too:
This one belonged to Will Rhymes — not exactly a household name, but give the guy some credit. This was his rookie season, and he batted .304 in 54 games.
After all the Tigers were gone, there was still some action on the Orioles’ side, so I hurried over to their dugout:
It was painfully crowded. I couldn’t get any closer than the 3rd row.
In the photo above, those are fans standing on the field. They were picked through some sort of random drawing to receive “game-worn” jerseys from the players. Why is “game-worn” in quotes? Let’s just say that the jerseys were definitely NOT worn during the game that had just been played on the field. Right after the final out, the players disappeared into the clubhouse, where they obviously changed into alternate uniforms before returning 10 minutes later. How do I know this? Because…during the game, several Orioles dove for balls and slid into bases. Their uniforms were D-I-R-T-Y when the game ended and perfectly clean when they returned for the give-away. (Maybe, after changing, the players spent a few minutes in the clubhouse playing backgammon, in which case their clean uniforms would have actually been “game-worn.”) I’m just bitter because I’ve never gotten a jersey. That’s probably what I’ll ask for when I finally catch an important home run that a player wants back. But anyway…
Here’s a closer look at the bat:
Adam Jones started signing autographs along the foul line…
…so I ran over and got him on an extra ticket I had from the previous day:
I thought about getting him on the back of my October 3rd ticket — I liked the idea of getting all my autographs for the day on one ticket — but because he’s so good and has the potential to become a superstar, I had him sign a separate item.
Just as I was getting set to leave the stadium, the groundskeepers appeared in the right field corner and started playing catch:
I was still stuck at 299 balls for the season, and the playoffs were (and still are) a big question mark, so I thought, “This is my chance.”
(In the photo above, that’s me in the white shirt.)
I asked one of the groundskeepers if I could have a ball when he was finished throwing. He said, “Probably not because this is all we have to play with.”
Ahh. So they were going to play a game on the field. Lucky them…
Well, it just so happened that one of the groundskeepers airmailed his throwing partner. The ball landed in the seats. I ran over and grabbed it. And when the guy started flapping his glove at me, I tossed it back to him, figuring he’d give it to me when he was done. I mean, now he had a reason to give it to me. I had just done him a favor. He owed it to me, in fact. But guess what? He never gave it back. And it gets worse. After he jogged off, one of his buddies taunted me by pretending to throw one to me. Nice. Really nice. (I’m considering placing the Hample Jinx on the entire Orioles grounds crew, but I’m not sure how that would work. I can tell you, though, that I *will* find some way to get revenge.)
I had a long internal debate over whether or not to count that final ball. I mean, I *did* snag it. But then I gave it away. But I normally count balls that I give away. But I give those away voluntarily. GAH!!! Ultimately I decided not to count it. It just seemed cheap. And for what it’s worth, my friend Bassey said, “It’s more poetic to end the season with 299 balls than 300.” But then again, who knows? I might just end up making my way to a playoff game or two.
Here I am with Roger, Jona, and Bassey after the game on Eutaw Street:
If you look at the pavement in the photo above, you can see that it had just started to rain. Ha-haaa!!! It actually rained pretty hard after that. Take THAT, grounds crew!!! And get ready for more misery in 2011…
• 2 balls at this game (pictured on the right)
• 299 balls in 31 games this season = 9.65 balls per game.
• 660 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 203 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 4,657 total balls
• 48 donors (click here to learn more)
• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.06 raised at this game
• $2,251.47 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Hold on! This entry isn’t done. I want to show you a few more photos of the bat. First, here it is in its entirety:
Austin Jackson wears uniform No. 14, so check out the end and knob of the bat:
Here’s the trademark…
…and here are some marks/smudges on the barrel that were caused by balls:
I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:
It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.
When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:
There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:
Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.
Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:
In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!
Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:
Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.
And then we waited…
So much for this being a good day, I thought.
I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.
“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.
Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.
I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”
There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.
I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.
It was 5:50pm.
The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.
I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.
It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:
I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.
“You like that?!” I shouted.
He didn’t respond.
Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.
I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:
Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…
…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:
Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.
I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.
I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:
Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:
I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.
Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.
That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.
The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:
Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.
I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).
Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.
Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.
Something funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.
Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.
“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:
It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.
Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…
and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.
Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:
…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:
Here’s a close-up of his name:
Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…
…and here’s his name and number on the knob:
As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.
What a day.
? 11 balls at this game
? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.
? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 23 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,805 total balls