The good news is that I caught a Ken Griffey Jr. home run. The bad news is that it happened during batting practice. But before I get into that, I want to share a dozen pics I took outside the stadium before the gates opened. Here are the first nine…
…and here are the rest:
Dolphin Stadium is unlike any other baseball stadium because…it’s a football stadium…hey! It’s so big and weird–and it felt so eerie and desolate–that it reminded me somewhat of Olympic Stadium. This was a good thing, as far as I was concerned; it was more interesting to wander and take pics. It was nice to be there early enough to even get to take pics, unlike the previous day when I arrived at the ballpark at the last minute.
When Gate H opened at 5:30pm, I raced to the right field seats and basically had the place to myself…
…but of course there weren’t any players on the field, at least not in fair territory. The Marlins had ended BP early and were nowhere in sight. The Reds, meanwhile, were stretching in front of their dugout, so I had to sit there like a putz for ten interminable minutes until things got started.
The seats were still pretty empty at that point, and the following ten minutes were action-packed. I started things off by using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track in straight-away right field, then moved to right-center and ended up snagging FIVE home run balls. The first was hit by Griffey and landed in the seats. The second might’ve been hit by Griffey as well (not sure unfortunately) and landed less than ten feet behind me. As I was climbing over the rows, and just as I grabbed the ball, the seat I was standing on folded up and caught my right leg which slipped all the way through. I wasn’t in any pain–I just couldn’t get out, and for a second I was nervous…that is, until I used my left foot to kick off my right sneaker and then carefully pulled my foot out. I didn’t want to waste any time untying and retying my shoe, so I forcefully wedged my foot back in, and it paid off. Seconds later, another lefty hit a deep fly ball that was heading for the blue tarp in center field. I started moving in that direction as soon as he had made contact, and when I got to the edge of the seats, the ball took a lucky bounce and ricocheted in my direction and I scooped it up in front of another fan who was totally unprepared. (In the photo on the right, you can see this ball and the tarp-induced smudge.)
My fifth ball of the day was a Griffey homer that I caught on a fly. I had to drift about 15 feet to my left through an empty row and then reach high over my head for the one-handed grab. Nothing fancy.
My sixth ball was a monstrous drive to right-center by the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Adam Dunn. He must have hit it at least 450 feet. It was 404 to the outfield wall where I was standing, and this ball landed more than 20 rows behind me. It was incredible, but obviously I didn’t stand there admiring it. I bolted up the steps while it was still airborne and knew that if it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and if I didn’t struggle to find it in the seats, it was going to be all mine.
Okay, so I snagged five home run balls, right? I caught one on a fly, and another hit the tarp. Check out the markings on the other three:
These were the only balls I snagged that had landed in the seats–the very ORANGE seats–and they all had matching physical evidence. Cool, huh?
I thought I was on my way to a double-digit performance, but no, it started raining and the grounds crew pulled out the tarp 20 minutes before the scheduled end of BP:
Around that time, I was approached by two Marlins fans: an eight-year-old boy named Alejandro and his mother, Rosa. They’d emailed me several times in the week leading up to this series and only found out the day before that I was going to be attending this game. To put it lightly, Alejandro is quite a fan and was prepared for our encounter:
That’s right. He’d brought my first book and made a sign for the occasion. I ended up signing four autographs (two for him and two for his brothers), and I sat with him in right field for most of the game.
The game itself was exciting. There were several lead changes, and it ended with a two-out, come-from-behind, walk-off homer. But the Griffey factor was disappointing, mainly because I was sitting in the perfect spot…
…and (with the exception of Alejandro) had zero competition. Check out the pic below. I took it between pitches DURING Griffey’s at-bat in the seventh inning:
At another point in the game, when Griffey was up, I had fourteen empty seats on my right. Why couldn’t he have hit his 600th home run then? WHY?!?!?!?! Why did he have to finish his night with two maddening walks and a harmless single to center? Why did the only thing I caught during the game have to be a T-shirt between innings?
At least there were cheerleaders, and Lord knows I needed some cheer.
? 6 balls at this game
? 153 balls in 20 games this season = 7.65 balls per game.
? 119 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 848 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,430 total balls
I brought a secret weapon for my third and final game at Disney, and to make myself stand out even more, I bought an obnoxious/eye-catching shirt on my way to Champion Stadium. Are you ready for this? Hang on tight. Here goes:
Yes, I had the biggest baseball glove that anyone had ever seen. Don’t ask me where I got it or how much it cost. I have no idea. All I can tell you is that a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent it as a surprise house-warming gift when I moved last month.
There weren’t any other fans around when I pulled out the glove to take this pic, but several stadium employees ended up walking by and asking a bunch of questions: “Where’d you get that thing?” (I don’t know. A friend sent it to me.) “How much did it cost?” (Unlike you, I was polite enough not to ask.) “Is that Shaquille O’Neal’s glove?” (Actually it’s Verne Troyer’s chair.) “You wouldn’t happen to be compensating for something, would you?” (Ask my girlfriend.) “Is that real leather?” (I think so.) “Can you actually catch with that?” (Probably not.)
And so on. It was fun to get all that attention, and I was hoping that the players on the Rays and Blue Jays would notice me as well.
Shortly before the stadium opened, a 20-something-year-old guy walked over and introduced himself. His name was Brandon. He’d been reading this blog for a while and knew I was gonna be at this game. He’d written to me on MySpace a week earlier (here’s HIS profile) to say he’d be there too, but because I’m a slacker when it comes to that site, I hadn’t gotten the message…so he summarized it. Basically, he’s the photographer for a band called The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. They’re on tour. He’s traveling around with them. They were playing a few shows at Disney. He had an off day and was spending it here, and he offered to follow me around and take a ton of photos.
He didn’t miss a thing. He even got me going through the bag check:
Thankfully, unlike John Adams, the fan in Cleveland who brings a drum into the stadium, I didn’t have to buy an extra ticket for my oversized item.
The left field berm was dead as usual, and I don’t understand why. For the first 20 minutes, there was not ONE home run that landed there, and as I mentioned before, the slope of the hill and the height of the outfield wall made it impossible to see the warning track. At any regular major league stadium, fans would’ve been asking for the balls in the pic below, but here at Disney we were oblivious:
I didn’t use the big glove at first. I decided to snag like a normal person while the berm was still reasonably empty, and before long, I had a chance to catch one. Someone on the Rays hit a deep fly ball, and one of the pitchers (Edwin Jackson, I think) ran back and made the catch and disappeared from sight. In the four-part pic below, you can see exactly what happened next. Starting from the upper left and then going clockwise, we’re all reaching up with our gloves in anticipation of the ball being tossed over. Then, when the ball flies up in the air, we all jockey for position. On the lower left, I’m jumping and reaching unsuccessfully for the ball, and on the lower right, I’m landing and feeling both frustrated AND good about myself. Check out the pics, and then I’ll explain why…
Okay, see the little kid wearing blue who’s standing on my right? I knew he was standing there before the ball was tossed, so when it started sailing to my right…well, rather than moving in that direction and potentially bumping into him while getting under the ball, I sacrificed my own chance of catching it in order to prevent him from getting hurt. In other words, I didn’t move laterally. Instead I jumped straight up and reached to my right, and as it turned out, the ball missed my glove by six inches, but NO ONE GOT HURT. I can’t stress enough how important it is to respect the safety of the fans around you, especially when there are little kids involved. One of the reasons why I hate Yankee Stadium so much is that the “grown-ups” there are truly out of control. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been knocked down while reaching for balls just like this.
There still weren’t any homers being hit, and the berm was getting uncomfortably crowded, so I finally broke out the big glove:
I got a few laughs from the Blue Jays pitchers in the left field corner, but I realized this wasn’t the best time or place to harass them; they were just starting to throw (and therefore needed their baseballs), and the Rays were still hitting (so even if a ball had been hit to the Jays, it wouldn’t have been theirs to give away), so I ran around the stadium and found a spot in the right field corner. Dan Wheeler, a former Mets reliever who always used to talk to me at Shea Stadium, was out there and immediately recognized me.
“What’s up!” I yelled, holding the big glove up in the air.
“Can you fit all your balls in there?” he asked.
“Not quite,” I told him as another player (not sure who) walked over and asked me to toss the glove down.
“Let me try out that glove,” said the other player, “and I’ll give you a ball.”
I didn’t have to think twice about it. I tossed the glove over the railing (and briefly got scolded by a security guard until I informed him that one of the players ASKED me to do it), and the player with the glove headed back to straight-away right field and started posing:
Wheeler ended up being the one to reward me with a baseball, and Brandon took a pic JUST as I was about to catch it:
The snagging was underway, and life was good. (If you look closely at the pic below, you can see the mark on my nose where I was hit with a ball two days earlier.)
The Rays player (can anyone tell who it is?) tried fielding a few batted balls and then flung the glove back up to me:
I reached out and made another clean catch:
Shortly before the Rays’ wrapped up their portion of batting practice, I told Wheeler that if he got another ball and put it on the warning track below me, I’d show his teammates the glove trick and then give the ball to a kid of his choice.
Less than 10 seconds later, there was ball in place, but unfortunately, as soon as I started setting up my glove, the players had to run off the field and make way for the Blue Jays.
“Make sure you give it to a kid!” shouted Wheeler as he ran off.
“Don’t worry, I will!” I yelled and we both waved goodbye.
For some reason, my string was more tangled than ever before, but the trick still worked, and I reeled in the ball with ease:
There were a few kids to my right who asked for the ball, but they weren’t wearing gloves so I kept scanning the section. (I never give balls to kids without gloves. When I was a kid, I ALWAYS brought my glove to games and I remember how badly I wanted a ball. Even when I was starving and got my first hot dog of the day, I’d wait until the third out to eat it, and in the meantime, I was often standing on my chair and holding my glove high over my head and shrieking, “Hit it heeeeeeeeere!!!” so whenever I see a kid without a glove, it tells me he [or she] doesn’t care THAT much about getting a ball, and when I see a kid who IS wearing a glove, it reminds me of myself.) The smallest kid around happened to be wearing a glove, and even though he was wearing a Braves cap, I called him over and started walking down the steps. The kid started climbing over the benches, and his father was smiling in the background. It was a pretty cute scene:
I put on my Blue Jays cap and ran back to the berm. Not only was it still dead out there, but now I had to battle the sun:
Eventually there was a little action, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Jason Frasor threw me a ball and missed. Then another ball was tossed over my head, and I raced up the hill for it…
It didn’t help that I was carrying my backpack and the big glove, so I put them both down just behind the outfield wall, but that didn’t help either as I lost another race:
It was time once again for some Big Glove Love:
All the Blue Jays pitchers immediately spotted me and started cracking up. B.J. Ryan tossed me a ball (my third of the day) which I managed to catch IN the glove. This was quite an accomplishment. The glove was so big and heavy that it was impossible to close all the way. It was also a bit stiff, as new gloves tend to be. How am I supposed to break it in? Rubber-band it around a basketball and stick it under my mattress?
Moments later, Jeremy Accardo called me over to the foul pole, and when I got there, he said he wanted to use the big glove for a few minutes, and he offered me a ball in exchange. I couldn’t believe it. He’d already thrown me a ball each of the last two days, and now here he was asking ME for something and handing me another ball. Incredible.
We made the trade…
…and he took the glove into left field:
I was wearing my regular glove when he ran over and threw the big one back to me:
I made two jumping catches in the next ten minutes. The first was a ball that landed in the fenced-off gap next to the berm and was tossed up by a random employee. The second was a ball that rolled onto the warning track along the left field foul line and was thrown by Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos. Then I snagged two more balls from the bullpen with my glove trick, and I want to thank Jim from St. Louis (the guy wearing the Cardinals cap in the pics below) for pointing out the first one. It was about eight feet out from the wall, so before I rigged the glove with the Sharpie, I flung it out and tried to knock the ball back toward me:
It took longer than it should have…
…and I was almost certain that stadium security would appear and force me to stop, but they didn’t, and before long, I’d moved the ball close enough to lower the glove straight down over it:
The second bullpen ball (number eight on the day) was much easier. It was already sitting right next to the wall, and I had it in my glove within seconds:
Everyone stared as I headed to the dugout toward the end of BP…
…and as soon as I got there, the on-field photographer swung his camera around and started taking pics of me instead of the players:
My one complaint about Brandon is that he didn’t tell me that the tag was sticking out of my hat, but I suppose he was just doing his job. As a photographer, he’s probably just supposed to document history, not change it.
I ended up getting my ninth ball tossed at the dugout by some random kid who happened to be standing on the warning track. (Hey, it counts.)
I didn’t have any luck during pre-game throwing along the left field foul line…
…so I hurried over to the Rays’ dugout:
Did you notice the Rays smiling at me? Here’s a close-up of the pic above:
I didn’t think I was going to get a ball there because Carlos Pena, the Rays 1st baseman, was one of the last two guys throwing. First basemen rarely toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the crowd because they use them again when they actually take the field…but Pena couldn’t resist. If you look closely at the pic below, you can see him smiling too as he walked toward the dugout:
Look closely again at the following two pics and you can see the ball in mid-air. Here it is in front of the police officer’s right elbow…
…and here it is about to enter my glove. There are four holes in the pocket, and you can see the bottom half of the ball through the upper right hole:
I should’ve used two hands to squeeze the glove shut, but I didn’t and the ball popped out, so I had to grab it with my bare hand. Jonny Gomes (the player standing on the left, watching intently) was disappointed when I bobbled it and made me give the ball back to him so he could toss it again. He probably thought I was a complete klutz, and I don’t blame him because I *did* look shaky with the big glove, but I doubt he had any idea just how hard it was to use. Anyway, he’s not even a good fielder with a normal glove, so whatever, and for the record, I got the ball to stay in the glove when he tossed it back to me.
I ran into the Rays’ cheerleaders and let them be in a photo with me…
…and then I walked with Brandon to the open-air concourse along the right field foul line. I’d snagged a foul ball there during each of the previous two games, but it was dead for Game Three. It was so dead that I went outside the stadium for half-an inning, hoping that the hard-throwing Dustin McGowan would induce a few monstrous foul balls, but no. Still, I have two things to say about being out there:
1) Big thanks to Andrew (who also reads this blog) for letting me go out there. He was about to head outside as well but then generously changed his ball-snagging plan and let me go outside by myself.
2) Since I couldn’t see the batters or hear the PA announcer, and since the game wasn’t on the radio, I had no way of following the action, so Brandon stayed on the inside and called my cell phone and gave me the play-by-play. (“Here’s the pitch…NOW.”) Even though nothing came over, it was fun just to have an accomplice and make an attempt. And by the way, this was my view as I stood outside the stadium, looking up at the sky:
The game itself was fine. Nothing spectacular. (The highlight was hanging out with Brandon.) The Rays won, 5-3, to sweep the series and improve to 6-0 all time at Champion Stadium. McGowan took the loss. Andy Sonnanstine made a quality start to pick up the win. Carl Crawford went 3-for-5 with two stolen bases. Evan Longoria was 2-for-2 with a double and a triple. Troy Percival worked a scoreless ninth to earn his 328th career save, and that was pretty much it.
I’ll leave you with a few more pics that might be of interest. First, here’s a shot that Brandon took mid-game from the first base side…just a nice look at the stadium:
Here’s a pic I took of a table in the concourse that was loaded with free stuff, including magnetic schedules (on the far left) and vouchers for free tickets at Tropicana Field (on the right). If there’s anyone reading this who wants some vouchers, leave a comment or send me an email. I took a whole bunch of them to give away. (Do they give these out AT the Trop?) It’s nice of the Rays to give them out, but it’s also sad that a major league team literally can’t give away free tickets. FYI, you have to redeem them at the Rays’ box office, and they’re only good for weekend games in May and June.
Here’s a pic of the nine balls I kept:
I didn’t get anything after the game except a pack of sunflower seeds at the Blue Jays’
dugout and a free ride back to my hotel from a father/son snagging duo named Paul and Michael. So…another thanks to them. I can’t believe how many people I met on this trip who read this blog…Leigh from San Diego (aka “padreleigh”), Paul and Michael, Andrew, Jim from St. Louis, and Brandon. Am I forgetting anyone? Hope not.
I’m not sure when my next game will be. I might go to Shea on Monday. (Anyone else planning to be there?) I’ll probably (unfortunately) be going to Yankee Stadium Tuesday through Friday as long as the weather’s nice. I might head up to Boston for Manny’s 500th home run. I might go to Shea for Griffey’s 600th. I’m now officially planning to go to Coors Field this season (I have a few friends out there now, and there’s also a Denver-based writer who wants to do a story on me). I’ve also been offered a free trip to Wrigley Field. And has anyone heard about the Mets and Marlins playing in Puerto Rico later this season? Details, please! I might need to go and raise my stadium total to 45. Oh, and another random thing…I haven’t had time to answer comments for the last few days, but I’m planning to catch up very soon, so if you’re waiting for a response, keep an eye on my recent entries.
Last thing, I promise…
? 10 balls at this game
? 78 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 87 balls in 8 games this season = 10.875 balls per game.
? 504 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 112 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 801 lifetime balls outside of New York (The ball from the kid at the dugout was No. 800.)
? 3,364 total balls