I attended this game with my friend Jordan (aka “hockeyguy1011” if you read the comments) and his friend Josh. They’d flown in from Florida just to see Yankee Stadium, and of course they were each hoping to catch a commemorative ball. They had tickets for the main part of the stadium so I sent them to the corner spot at the end of the short porch. I had a seat in the right field bleachers and my day of snagging got off to a fast start.
Less than a minute after I entered the stadium, Phil Hughes tossed me ball number one. Even though his aim was perfect, I jumped up on the chest-high railing so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach…so that I could reach out as far as possible and prevent anyone else from interfering.
Five minutes later, I caught a Robinson Cano homer in the crowded aisle, and five minutes after THAT, I got another ball from Hughes. He didn’t intend to throw this one to anyone in particular. He just flipped it up randomly–one section to the right of where he’d tossed the first ball–and I happened to be standing there so I jumped and made the catch.
I was checking in on Jordan every now and then–his corner spot was only 30 feet from the left edge of the bleachers–and at one point, when I was more than 100 feet away, I saw a player toss him a ball. I ran over and yelled his name and got him to hold it up…
…and learned later that a) the ball was tossed by Alfredo Aceves who b) also tossed one to Josh, and that c) both balls were commemorative. Not bad.
I ended up snagging three more balls with my glove trick during the Yankees’ portion of BP. The first two landed in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall in right-center field, and I had to pounce on them because Greg (aka “gregb123”) was there with his cup trick, and another man (who told me he was inspired by this blog) was there with his own makeshift ball-retrieving device. Those two guys each pulled a ball out of the gap, and Greg ended up getting a couple other balls as well. Anyway, my third glove-trick ball came in left field. I saw a player throw a ball to some fans in the bleachers. Naturally they dropped it, and I ran over, and to my surprise Greg was already on the scene.
“You can have it,” he said. “It’s too far out.”
Cup tricks are better than glove tricks in certain situations (like when a ball is sitting on thick grass or surrounded by garbage, as is often the case in the various gaps at Shea Stadium), but here, when the ball needed to be knocked closer, I was all over it.
Fortunately, stadium security was nowhere in sight, so I was able to spend several minutes flinging my glove out past the ball and then dragging it back by pulling the string. Once I’d moved the ball off the grass, it took an extra effort to bring it closer because the dirt area was slightly sloped and the ball kept trickling away from me. Finally, though, I had the ball where I needed it and went in for the kill.
The man on my right was skeptical, as people often are.
“What you need is a secondary string,” he said.
I didn’t respond at first. I just went about my business, and ten seconds later I was holding the ball.
“What was that you mentioned about extra string?” I asked.
I ran back to right field with six commemorative balls in my drawstring backpack. It’d taken me 40 minutes to snag them, so I figured I’d be able to get four more over the next 45 minutes with the White Sox hitting. It always makes me happy to reach double digits, especially in a tough ballpark like Yankee Stadium, but guess what happened…
The Sox hardly tossed any balls into the crowd. Most of their hitters were right-handed. Their few lefties were either too wimpy to reach the bleachers or, in the case of Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., having too much fun taking aim at the right field upper deck. It was totally dead and my once-promising day quickly turned into a slightly-below-average performance.
I caught up with Greg after BP, and he (expertly) took the following photo:
I only had the baseballs out of my bag for a minute, during which time two people approached me separately and wanted to buy one.
“How much do you want?” asked one guy.
I didn’t even bother asking how much he was willing to pay or making up a number, but it obviously would’ve been a lot more than $30. That’s how much these balls cost in the stadium souvenir stores–and mine were actually USED by the Yankees.
All I said was, “I’m sorry, they’re not for sale.”
I played the tunnels in right field for the first couple innings of the game and had a decent view of Jeter’s fake hit–the one that moved him past Lou Gehrig for “most hits all time at Yankee Stadium.” Seriously, I can’t believe it was ruled a hit. I don’t care what kind of pressure Bill Shannon, the official scorer, was feeling in terms of making a hometown call. He was wrong and his poor decision cheated Jeter and every Yankee fan. He ruined a historic moment. The ball was hit hard–I won’t deny that–but third baseman Juan Uribe should’ve caught it. He’s a major leaguer. Make the play. Get in front of the ball. Move your feet. Knock it down. I used to play shortstop and third base, and I was charged with errors on much harder plays than that. You know when there’s a line drive hit right at an infielder and it in-between hops him and deflects off his glove? In my summer ball leagues (where the fields were crappy and you were lucky if the ball didn’t take a bad hop), those were ruled errors. In the major leagues, why are these plays ruled hits more often than not? It makes me sick. Jeter’s routine ground ball three feet to the right of Uribe should have been caught, and since it wasn’t, it should’ve been an error. Everyone in the stadium kind of cheered as soon as the ball got through, but we were all holding our breaths and looking at the scoreboard. After five to ten seconds, when it was ruled a hit, THEN everyone cheered. It was terrible. And it’s not even like this was the last game at Yankee Stadium. There were still five games and eight innings remaining at that point, so the Captain was clearly going to have plenty of chances. What the hell.
In the second inning, one of my vendor friends walked out of the tunnel where I was standing and said, “No seat again tonight, Zack?”
I actually *did* have a seat in section 41–the second section over from the batter’s eye–but it was in Row M, and there was no way I was gonna sit there.
To make a long story short (and to protect the people who made it happen), I got to sit on an extra folding chair IN the actual aisle directly behind the wall. That aisle is normally reserved for wheelchair seating (just like at Coors Field), but not everyone there is necessarily disabled because those seats often end up getting released to the public shortly before game time.
My view of the game itself wasn’t great because I had to watch the action through the railings…
…but the space on either side of me (and the lack of competition) was to die for. Was this really happening at Yankee effin’ Stadium? This was the view to my left…
…and this was the view to my right:
Wow. If ever there was a night to catch a home run, this was it.
The bottom of the third inning was thoroughly entertaining, not in a snagging sense, but because of the idiot fans sitting directly behind me. Bobby Abreu had committed the horrible crime of grounding out to the pitcher with one out and runner on third, so the fans were already angry when A-Rod stepped into the batter’s box. One guy started screaming, “LOSER!!! LOSER!!!” which prompted his friend to shout, “Pop up to the infield and then pretend you care! I love it!”
(Clearly, A-Rod wants to fail and is more talented as an actor than as an athlete.)
After A-Rod ended the inning with a towering fly out to right field (which would’ve been a 430-foot homer had he swung half an inch higher), the first fan yelled, “YOU BUM!!! YOU BUM!!! YOU PIECE OF SH*T!!!” Then his buddy yelled, “Cheat on your wife!!”
When Abreu took his position in right field in the top of the fourth, another fan screamed, “Way to get the run in, Bobby!! Welcome to free agency!! The Yankees hate you!!”
(Let it be known that Abreu is batting .298 with 91 runs, 17 homers, 19 stolen bases, 38 doubles, and a .372 on-base percentage. Not exactly a terrible season.)
Then the fans started talking about how A-Rod should be dropped to the 8th slot in the lineup, and that the only reason why manager Joe Girardi won’t do it is because it “goes against the book.”
When Jason Giambi led off the bottom of the fourth inning, I was thinking that he had a better chance than anyone on either team to hit a home run to me. That said, I wasn’t rooting for this to happen. I don’t like the guy. To me, he’s a villain who deserves to fail.
Gavin Floyd quickly fell behind in the count 3-0, and all I could think was something along the lines of: “I don’t even want Giambi to enjoy the pleasure of getting a base on balls.”
Giambi predictably took the next pitch–a strike–and fouled off the next one to bring the count to 3-2. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, as I always do, hoping but not necessarily expecting anything to come my way.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Floyd grooved a 91mph fastball, and Giambi launched it about 20 feet to my right. From the moment it left the bat, I knew it was gone, but at first I thought it was going to sail over the aisle and land out of reach in the packed section behind me. Still, I jumped up and drifted through the wide aisle and got in line with the ball. Somehow, either because it was a cool night or because the wind was blowing in (or maybe because I flat-out misjudged it initially), the ball didn’t travel as far as I thought it would, and it began descending toward me in the aisle. I stayed near the back railing, still preparing for the ball to carry (and of course because it’s easier to move forward than backward at the last second), and then determined that the ball was going to land right in the middle of the aisle. Rather than taking
one step forward and preparing to make a face-high catch, I took two steps forward, thereby forcing myself to jump for the ball so that I could catch it as high as possible–and in front of anyone else who might’ve been hoping to make their own attempt.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I jumped. I caught it. The place went nuts (not for me but rather for Giambi) and I held up the ball triumphantly. Then, since I knew I was sitting in a spot where I “belonged” and that I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the section by security (as was the case after my other two home run catches this season), I quickly decided to do a little dorky/celebratory dance…nothing fancy, and certainly nothing GOOD. Just a few silly moves so that that cameras might stay on me for a couple seconds…just to have fun with it and entertain my friends and family and all you blog readers (and the millions of baseball fans) who would end up seeing the highlights later that night.
As it turned out, the cameras captured the whole thing quite well.
My catch (leaping and reaching just behind the “G” in “AIG):
Holding up the ball:
Talking on my cell phone (to Jordan who saw me from the upper deck and called immediately):
I want to give a BIG thanks to my friend Michael Fierman (formerly “tswechtenberg” and now “pinched”) for taping the game and making a compilation of all the footage.
CLICK HERE to watch it, but be warned that it’s about 16 MB and might take a little while to load if you have a slow internet connection.
I was dying to catch another home run–two in one game is a very rare feat–but it wasn’t meant to be.
I am proud to say, though, that as of this moment, I am the proud owner of the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. There are five more games remaining there, and I’ll be at three of them. What are the odds that a) there won’t be any more homers or b) there will be another and I’ll catch it?
Final score: Zack 7, White Sox 6, Yankees 2.
? 7 balls at this game
? 481 balls in 62 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 558 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 124 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 11 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 3 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly at Yankee Stadium)
? 122 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 6 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
? 20 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium
? 3,758 total balls
When I got home, the following email was waiting for me. The subject was “I see 3’s and 1’s.” It was from my friend Brad. Here goes:
There has been a streak of HR catches by some notorious ballhawks over the last six (3 + 3) days. Wanna see how the numbers “3” and “1” occur prominently for each of these?
On Thursday in San Diego, T.C. got Drew Macias’s first (1) MLB homer. Macias’s jersey number is 11 (1) (1). And Leigh got Adrian Gonzalez’s’ 31st (3) (1) homer of the season.
On Friday in San Diego, T.C. got Pedro Sandoval’s third (3) homer of the season,
On Friday in Oakland, Tyler got Hank Blalock’s HR. Blalock went 1-3 that game and wears number nine (3) X (3).
On Saturday at PETCO, Leigh got Bengie Molina’s 13th (1) (3) homer of the year. That’s also 31 backwards from the Gonzalez homer (3) (1) and Molina’s jersey number is one (1).
Monday night at Coors Field, Danny got Matt Antonelli’s first (1) MLB HR. Antonelli is #9 (3) X (3). That catch also makes a total of (3) ballhawks that we know of who got a player’s first (1) major league home run this season; Tyler’s brother Tom in Oakland got Carlos Gonzalez’s first (1)
With all these one’s and three’s flyin’ around, we should have been able to predict that you would catch Giambi’s 31st (3) (1) on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. That also made you the first (1) person to catch three (3) homers at Yankee Stadium in it’s final season. It also happened in the 4th inning (3) + (1). And Giambi ended up going 1-3
for the game.
Also on Tuesday night: Prince Fielder hit his 31st (3) (1) homer of the season onto Sheffield Avenue at Wrigley, and the probability is high that one of the regular ballhawks out there got it. So it is possible that You and Leigh and one of the Wrigley guys have someone’s 31st (3) (1) homer of the 2008 season.
And for the most bizarre stat of the night– the attendance at Yankee Stadium was 52,558.
5 + 2+ 5 + 5 + 8 = 25 (Giambi’s number.)
As awesome as that email was, the response of the night went to my girlfriend (a former professional dancer) who watched the footage and said, “So you were churning butter and then you started doing aerobics.”
Yup. And it worked.
By the time Yankee Stadium opened at 5pm, the line outside the bleachers was VERY long:
That’s right…the bleachers. I’d been there for the first time in my life just nine days earlier at the Futures Game, then went back the next day for the Home Run Derby. This was my first regular-season game in the bleachers.
I was the first fan to enter the stadium, and it paid off. See the guy wearing No. 30 in the photo below?
That’s David Robertson, a 23-year-old reliever who’s been pitching extremely well since getting called up last month from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If you don’t know about him, you should–and now you do. Anyway, I’d never even been able to get his attention from the seats near the foul pole, but on this day, because I was right behind him and had the bleachers to myself for five whole seconds, I convinced him to toss me a ball that had sailed over his head and rolled onto the warning track…and yes, it was a Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. For the last few weeks, I haven’t seen a single ball being used by the Yankees that has NOT had this commemorative logo.
I managed to get one more ball before the Yankees
finished their portion of BP at 5:40pm. It was a home run that landed
in the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall, and I used my glove trick
to fish it out. The pic below shows this gap, and although it’s kinda
hard to see from this angle, there’s a net hanging from a steel cable
in the middle:
The bleachers had remained pretty empty while the Yankees were on the field. Here’s what the section looked like from the last row…
…and this was the view from the aisle down in front:
Nice, huh? You’d think I would’ve caught about 19 home runs out there, but there was a disappointing lack of longballs. I didn’t count the ones that reached the bleachers, but I’d say there were no more than half a dozen…in eighty minutes. It was lame, and by the time the Twins took the field, the section was packed:
Did you notice the kamikaze pigeon? That was pretty much the only thing that flew anywhere near me during BP, but it almost didn’t matter. Not only did I use my glove trick to pluck three more balls from the gap (the last of which I handed to a nearby kid), but I had a secret weapon:
You know how I own baseball caps of all 30 major league teams? Well, I’ve started buying T-shirts, and this one with “Twins” across the chest helped convince both Carlos Gomez and Dennys Reyes to toss balls my way. Ooh yeah.
Being trapped 400 feet from home plate didn’t leave many options once BP ended, so I ducked back into the concourse and headed around to the LF bleachers. At least there were bullpens over there, and as soon as I reemerged in the seats, I saw a group of kids shouting for a ball that was sitting somewhere down below. I squeezed to the front and peeked over the railing, and sure enough, there WAS a ball sitting in the flowerbed at the base of the stands. Just as I started lowering my glove, two things happened:
1) A groundskeeper hurried over and grabbed the ball and tossed it to a woman who needed three tries to catch it.
2) Half the kids recognized me (from various interviews and articles) as “that guy who collects balls.” They were all really cool. We talked for five minutes. A few of them had caught balls earlier in the day. It was a snagging love-fest, and we all posed for a group photo:
The people sitting in the front row were so annoyed by the fact that we were blocking their view of…nothing…that they wouldn’t move. That’s why you can see the backs of their heads on the lower right.
On my way back to the RF bleachers, I took a photo of something that needs to be shared. Remember during the Home Run Derby when two fans ran out onto the batter’s eye to chase one of Josh Hamilton’s bombs? Remember when one of these fans eluded the cops and raced down what probably appeared to be an empty tunnel? Well, in case ESPN didn’t provide a good view, here’s what it looks like from the other end:
For the first nine outs of the game, I sat in the front row in right-center with the following view to my left:
Wow. Too bad there weren’t any home runs that landed in the bleachers, and too bad I had to move when the rightful/gloveless owner of that seat showed up. I only saw a handful of fans with gloves the whole night. Why? Because the so-called “bleacher creatures” are too busy being obnoxious to do anything else, such as catch a baseball or actually think about what’s taking place on the field; when Dennys Reyes made two consecutive pick-off throws in the bottom of the sixth, the fans’ outrage and obscenity was so severe that you’d have thought he took a dump in Monument Park.
When Denard Span took his position in right field for the Twins, one fan screamed, “HEY, SPAN, YOU SUCK!!! YOU EVEN SUCK ON THE VIDEO GAME!!! YOU’RE NOT EVEN ON THE VIDEO GAME!!! YOUR MOTHER’S A YANKEE FAN!!! Then another fan yelled, “Drink lotsa water, Spanny! Yer gonna be running around all night!”
Later, when the peanut vendor made an appearance and shouted, “Hey, peanuts
here!” another fan yelled, “Don’t crush the nuts! Hey! Sack of nuts
here! Big nuts here! Are they salted or unsalted? He’s got salty nuts!”
When a fan walked by with an “I love NY” T-shirt, another fan shouted, “New York hates you!”
It was like this all night.
At one point, the creatures spotted a fan who was both a) on the phone and b) wearing a button-down shirt and tie. Good looking guy. Young. Not more than twenty-five years old. Casual business attire. No penny loafers or tweed blazer or anything too conservative. Just a nice, relaxed, dressy look. Well, about a hundred fans started chanting in unison: “LOSE THE TIE, LOSE THE TIE…” which was followed by, “OFF THE PHONE, OFF THE PHONE…” When the young man failed to end his call, the fans chanted, “BUY BUY BUY, SELL SELL SELL, BUY BUY BUY, SELL SELL SELL…” Then one of the fans hollered, “At least loosen it!!!” Finally the guy loosened his tie, at which point the whole section chanted, “YOU STILL SUCK, YOU STILL SUCK…”
It was funny at first but got old really fast. Can you imagine sitting through all that trash-talking day after day? One fan had the right idea and listened to his walkman throughout the game. (I’m surprised he didn’t get made fun of for simply having a walkman.)
And oh my God, you should’ve heard what the creatures shouted at the few fans who were dumb enough to wear Mets gear. I can’t even repeat it on this blog.
Overall, it was a fun experience, and I hope to make it back out to the bleachers before the season is through.
Final score: Yankees 8, Twins 2.
? 7 balls at this game
? 260 balls in 36 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 532 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 119 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,537 total balls
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the Twins were using a combination of commemorative balls and regular balls. I wish I didn’t have to say this…BUT…please don’t email me and ask for a commemorative ball. I can’t count the number of requests I’ve gotten. It’s really getting out of hand. Sorry if this makes me seem greedy, but I truly love owning every single one of these special balls. I’m not interested in selling any, I’m not going to trade any, and I have no plans to give any of them away. Ever. Not even to my own future kids. I will take these balls to the grave and be buried with them. (Actually, I plan to be cremated, but you get the point.) If you’ve been reading this blog all season, then you know that I’ve started giving away balls at just about every game I attend, but those are regular balls, and I give them out AT the stadium (to kids with gloves who are trying hard to snag on their own). Once I take a ball home, that’s it. It’s not going anywhere. Especially commemorative balls. That’s just how it is. Some collectors keep every single ball. Others give most of their balls away. I fall somewhere in the middle, and I hope that’s okay.