QUESTION: What do you do when you’re craving baseball, but you have a ton of work and a huge family dinner planned?
ANSWER: You go to batting practice and then leave.
That’s what I did yesterday at Citi Field (and yes, I still had to buy a ticket just like everybody else).
Here I am with some of the usual supects before the stadium opened:
In the photo above, you’re looking at:
1) Greg Barasch, who recently joined the 1,000-ball club.
2) Gary, who has some pretty impressive stats of his own.
3) Brian (aka “puck collector”) who’s not too far behind Gary.
6) Mike from Denver. I had just met him through a mutual friend: Robert Harmon of 762 fame.
7) Brian’s father Wayne (aka “father puck”) who’s holding up his copy of the new Sports Illustrated article about me.
When the gates opened at 4:40pm, Brian won the race to the left field seats and narrowly beat me out for the first ball of the day. It was a BP homer that landed in the 3rd row, and he was all over it.
Less than a minute later, I got Elmer Dessens to throw me a ball in left-center field, and moments after that, I got another tossed to me by Mike Pelfrey. That second ball was pretty special:
As you can see, it had a Citi Field commemorative logo from last year’s inaugural season of the stadium. It’s nice to see that these balls are still floating around. (Here’s what a good one looks like, and while we’re at it, here’s my entire collection of commemorative balls.)
After the seats had filled up a bit, I saw Chris Carter toss a ball to a little kid in straight-away left field — and wouldn’t you know it? The kid dropped it. I wandered closer as Carter jogged over to retrieve the ball, and when he gave it another toss, it happened to sail over the kid’s head and come right to me. I made the easy catch and immediately handed it to him. That was my third ball of the day. (I count balls even if I give them away.)
A bunch of lefties started hitting, so I headed over to the right field side. I wasn’t too optimistic because of the overhang of the second deck…
…but I gave it a shot anyway. As I headed down to the corner spot near the bullpen, a fan dressed in Rockies gear recognized me and introduced himself as Alex. He reads this blog. He was wearing a glove. And he pointed out a ball that was trapped nearby in a narrow gap behind the outfield wall. Check it out:
I asked Alex if he was gonna go for it, but he didn’t have a ball-retrieving device, so basically, it was all mine. All I had to do was a) use my glove trick to knock the ball closer and b) not get caught by stadium security.
While I was contemplating my next move, Hisanori Takahashi picked up a ball in right field. Once again, I asked Alex if he wanted to go for it — to call out to Takahashi and ask for it — but he was like, “Nah, that’s all you.”
So…I called out to Takahashi in Japanese, and he threw it to me.
Then I took another peek at the ball in the gap:
There was a gutter with a small metal flap jutting out at the bottom. I was going to have to be careful not to get my string tangled around it.
Long story short: I knocked the ball closer on the first try and reeled it in without incident.
I thanked Alex for being so generous, and before I took off, we got a photo together:
Alex is a fan of both the Rockies and Yankees, and he writes a blog called “Purple & Pinstripes.” Here’s the link. Check it out if you get a chance.
At around 5:30pm, I changed into some Rockies gear of my own. Remember when I got that free jersey on 8/26/09 at Coors Field? Well, it was time for the jersey to make its Citi Field debut:
The jersey didn’t draw as much attention as I’d hoped for, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Once the Rockies started hitting, Ubaldo Jimenez tossed me a ball in left-center, and I later got one in the same spot from Jorge De La Rosa. The latter wasn’t thrown specifically to me. It was tossed high in the air, and when I came down with it, I noticed that there was a really little kid standing nearby, so I handed him the ball.
At one point toward the end of BP, I had another chance to use my glove trick. This time the ball was sitting one foot out from the wall on the warning track in left field. I looked around, wondered if security was watching, and although I didn’t see a direct threat, I decided against going for it. Thirty seconds later, Gary hurried over with his cup trick and began lowering it over the railing. I got my camera out to take a photo of him reeling it in, but instead I ended up with a photo of this:
Stadium security (wearing maroon) appeared out of nowhere and confiscated the cup trick from Gary (wearing the black Rockies T-shirt). They didn’t give him a warning or anything. They just took it, leaving me to wonder what would have happened if they’d caught me instead. A cup is relatively easy to replace, but a well-worn baseball glove? Not so much.
In case you’ve lost count, I was now up to seven balls for the day. It would’ve been eight, but Gary had actually robbed me of a home run in right field during the Mets’ portion of BP. I’m not complaining — just reporting. He had a better angle on it and reached out right in front of my glove for the catch. You want to know how severely he robbed me? When I squeeze my glove to make the catch, I ended up squeezing his glove in the process. I basically caught his glove as he caught the ball. Lots of people teased me about it — Greg had seen the whole thing play out from right-center — but that’s just how it goes. You can’t win ’em all, and as I often say, what makes it fun is that it’s a competition.
I raced over to the Rockies’ dugout at the end of BP and got two baseballs within a 60-second span. The first was tossed by hitting coach Don Baylor, and the second came from bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter.
Of the seven balls that I kept, four looked pretty cool:
Did you notice that the ball on the upper left is lopsided? And that the ball on the bottom right has a crooked logo? I love that kind of stuff.
It was tempting to stay and go for double digits, but quite simply, I *had* to head home.
This was my view of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda on my way out:
It bothered me that just inside the entrance, Jackie Robinson’s name was covered by a bunch of dirty floor mats, but hey, that’s the Mets for you.
The area outside the stadium was bustling, and let me tell you, it felt weird to be out there right before game time.
I’m not really sure what to say about the following photo other than the fact that I took it before heading to the subway:
What was that dog looking at, you ask?
Poor dog. Dressed up in Mets gear. How humiliating.
The dog’s owner, it should be noted, was making a LOT of money. Just about everyone (including me) put a dollar in the jug.
I took one final photo of Citi Field from the platform of John Rocker’s favorite train:
And that was it.
• 9 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave two away)
• 220 balls in 24 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 653 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 494 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 355 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 17 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls
• 4,578 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $58.41 raised at this game
• $1,427.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was the final day of my trip, and it began with a home-cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs:
The meal was prepared by Nettie, my “host mother” for the week. She and her husband Danny have season tickets at Coors Field, and to put it lightly, they are C-R-A-Z-Y about baseball. Their home is filled with baseball-related items, and when I finished eating my breakfast, I photographed as much of them as I could before leaving for Coors Field.
First of all, did you notice the smaller plate in the photo above? Yeah, those are baseball seams coming out in all four directions. And how about the salt and pepper shakers? I’m telling you, these people are nuts (and I mean that in a good way; I keep trying to get them to adopt me). Wherever I looked, there was a baseball-themed object.
The four-part photo below shows some of their food-related baseball items. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) a baseball sign on their kitchen wall, 2) a baseball mixing bowl, 3) teeny baseball candles with burnt wicks, and 4) a baseball toothpick holder:
See what I mean?
And we’re just getting started…
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) baseball caps hanging on baseball hooks, 2) mini-baseball statues high up on a ledge, 3) a baseball key hook with an “I Love Baseball” lanyard hanging from it, and 4) a baseball stool sitting in front of a bottle-shaped Colorado Rockies piggy bank:
Ready for more?
Here’s another collage that shows 1) baseball rugs, 2) a baseball lamp sitting in front of a baseball clock, 3) a baseball calendar, and 4) baseball coasters and a baseball pad:
Speaking of clocks…
The one pictured below on the lower left has a baseball pendulum swinging back and forth:
Let’s go from clocks to pillows…
…and from pillows to the downstairs bathroom. Here are the towels:
Here’s the soap dish:
And hey, let’s not forget the baseball hooks on the inside of the door:
Elsewhere in Danny and Nettie’s apartment, there were two baseball mouse pads:
Then there was the pair of All-Star Game sneakers, which were sitting in front of a dresser with baseball handles:
And finally (although I’ve only shown a fraction of the baseball items in their home), check out the Rawlings luggage:
How cool is that?! (I’d be too nervous to travel with it. I’d be paranoid that someone would steal it.)
Anyway, yes, Coors Field…
It was a dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game, which meant there might not be batting practice. Still, I was optimistic and marched confidently toward Gate E:
Oh yeah, baby, that’s right: the big glove was BACK.
Unfortunately, this is what the field looked like when the stadium opened:
No batting practice!
I don’t get it. Why wasn’t there BP? The previous night’s game (at which there was no BP because of rain) had started at 6:40pm. It lasted two hours and 46 minutes. That means it ended at 9:26pm. That’s not exactly late. And the Rockies had only scored one run. Why?! I demand to know! Because it was get-away day? Sorry, but that’s lame.
This was my eighth game of 2009 without batting practice. My baseball totals at the previous seven were: 4, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4, and 2. That’s an average of a little over 3.5 balls per game. Not good…not now…not when I needed to snag five balls in order to reach 400 for the season. It’s not like this was going to be my last game of the year, and it’s not like I’d never reached 400 before. It’s just that…I don’t know…it was something I’d been shooting for by the end of August.
There wasn’t much happening early on, but I still had a chance to get myself on the board. Several Dodgers pitchers began playing catch in the left field corner, and one of them made a bad throw that rolled all the way into deep left-center. They didn’t bother to retrieve the ball, so it just sat there, right on the grass in front of the warning track. Naturally, I ran over and got myself as close to the ball as possible. This was my view as I waited there for the next five minutes:
Finally, a couple pitchers stepped out of the bullpen in right-center and began walking slowly across the field. Hiroki Kuroda was the player closest to me, and he spotted the ball on his own. I didn’t have to point at it or call his name. I didn’t even bother asking him for the ball in Japanese. I didn’t say a word. I was the only fan standing there *and* I had the big glove. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, I figured, this was it…and sure enough, he walked over and picked it up and tossed it to me. I made a careful two-handed catch and squeezed the ball inside the gigantic pocket. I thanked Kuroda in Japanese, then took a peek at the ball, and was happy to see that it said “DODGERTOWN” on the sweet spot. Nice!
Danny had not snagged a Dodgertown ball at either of the previous two games, and he knew that I had, so he asked me if I could spare one of mine.
“I know you always give away one of your baseballs to a little kid,” he said, “so can I be the little kid today?”
Danny had the ball in his possession soon after. It was an honor to give it to him, knowing that he would treasure it in his own collection.
There wasn’t too much action after that, unless you consider THIS to be action:
Everyone inside Coors Field, it seemed, wanted to see the big glove, and everyone asked the same question: “Where did you get it?” I meant to count the number of times I got asked that question, but once the stadium opened, I quickly forgot. I would estimate the number to be somewhere around 50, and I gave the same answer every time: “I don’t know. It was a gift. A friend found it online and sent it to me.” Next time I take the big glove to a game, I might print up cards with that answer and hand them out.
Meanwhile, the lack of activity on the field was mind-numbing. All I could do was spend my time posing with the big glove…
…and then take photos of my friend Robert Harmon doing the same:
Finally — I don’t even know when — a few more Dodgers came out to run and stretch and throw in shallow left field.
Ramon Troncoso spotted my big glove and asked if he could see it.
Here he is checking it out as Ronald Belisario stood nearby looking on.
Belisario tossed a few balls to Troncoso, who struggled to catch them and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Then he handed the glove to Belisario, who inspected it thoroughly before walking it back over to me:
(Is it just me, or does the glove kinda look like an octopus or giant squid? You have to click these links. Especially the octopus. In fact, better yet, copy-and-paste the link into a new window and then drag it down next to the glove. Huh? Huh?)
Soon after my big glove was returned, I got George Sherrill to toss me my second ball of the day. Just like the ball I’d gotten from Kuroda, this one also had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot.
One of the nice things about being at a game without batting practice (just kidding, there IS nothing nice about it) is that the players have more free time, and they’re usually more relaxed, and it’s easier to get close to them. That was the case here, as Troncoso came over and leisureley signed autographs for everyone:
I got his autograph on a ticket from the previous game, then ran around to the right field side and got Ubaldo Jimenez to sign one from August 25th. Here are the two autographs:
Coincidentally, both of those players wear number 38 and wrote it underneath their names.
Then, once again, there was a lack of action.
See what I mean?
I *thought* I was going to snag my third ball along the right field foul line, but I ran into some bad luck. Franklin Morales was playing catch with Joe Beimel, so I headed down to the front row and held up the big glove:
I simply wanted Morales to see me so that he’d consider tossing me the ball when he was done. Well, totally unexpectedly, right in the middle of long-tossing, he decided to throw one to me — except he airmailed me, and the ball landed in the fourth row, and some other fan ended up with it. Fabulous.
I headed to the left field corner after that because Jonathan Broxton started playing catch with Guillermo Mota. Here’s a shot of Broxton catching one of the throws:
There were a bunch of fans waiting along the foul line, but I was the only fan in fair territory. When the two players finished throwing, Broxton walked over and looked at the big glove and smiled and fired the ball at me from about 40 feet away. I was lucky to catch it. It was another Dodgertown ball, and before I had a chance to label it, he started waving at me with his glove as if to say, “Throw it back.” So I did. I tossed him a near-perfect knuckleball, and he seemed to be mildly impressed. He then turned his back to me and took a few steps toward the fans in foul territory and cocked his arm back as if he were going to throw them the ball. He then turned back to me and laughed and tossed me the ball for a second time. I was really surprised by the whole interaction. I’d seen the Dodgers a bunch of times in recent years, and Broxton was never friendly. It’s nice to know that even the most serious player can be “cracked,” as it were, and it’s also nice to have an extra reason to root for him (beyond the fact that he’s a freak of nature with a frighteningly strong arm).
The following photo needs no explanation…
…although I should point out (because it’s hard to see here) that the guy has a purple goatee.
Shortly before the game started, Juan Castro threw me another Dodgertown ball along the left field foul line, and then I got Andre Ethier to sign a ticket. This one, unlike the autograph he’d signed for me the day before, did not get smudged:
A few minutes later, Manny Ramirez and several other guys began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I decided to put on my Dodgers T-shirt, and I wore it backwards so that the “RAMIREZ 99” would face toward the field. I *really* wanted a ball from Manny, and I thought it might help convince him to toss one to me. Unfortunately (I know…shocker) when Manny finished throwing, he didn’t toss the ball to anyone. He didn’t even end up with the ball (he could have if he wanted to), so I turned my attention elsewhere. Rafael Furcal…yes! He’d thrown me a ball two days earlier, right in that section, right before the game. I knew he was going to end up with the ball again. My only concern was whether or not he’d recognize me.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” boomed the voice of the public address announcer, “will you please rise and remove your hats for the singing of our national anthem?”
Furcal caught the final throw and jogged toward the dugout. I was being forced to stand behind Row 10. (That’s one of the stupid rules at Coors Field.) I held up my big glove and shouted his name. He looked up and lobbed the ball to me. I was convinced that someone else was going to reach in front of me…but no one touched it! I made another careful two-handed catch with the big glove and felt great about having just snagged my 400th ball of the season. (My single-season record is 543. I did that last year.)
Seconds before the music started, I took a photo of the ball. The red arrow is pointing to Furcal:
Then, after the anthem was done, I asked a nearby fan to take my picture in the approximate spot where I’d made the catch:
It was game time. I headed out to my front-row seat in left field.
The two worst things about the game were that:
1) There was only one home run, and it didn’t land anywhere near me.
2) I was sitting in the sun, and the right side of my face ended up pinker than the left.
The highlight of the game was when a one-armed fan (who looked like Robert) ran over and grabbed my big glove and sat back down in his seat (in front of which was his own little strip of AstroTurf) and posed for my camera:
Yep, just another day at the ballpark…
Here’s a photo of me, taken by Robert who was sitting just beyond the one-armed fan:
Here’s another photo that was taken by Robert. He’s in the middle. Jameson Sutton (the guy who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and sold it for $376,612) is on the left…and I’m on the right:
I’m ashamed to admit that Robert’s ear hair (okay, no, it was just his regular hair) was tickling MY ear…and no, I didn’t enjoy it. (The fan in the background is like, “Whoa, take it easy, fellas…”)
Good times (but not a whole lot of balls) in Denver.
Final score of this game?
Dodgers 3, Rockies 2.
My boy Broxton notched a four-out save.
And then Danny and Nettie drove me to the airport.
• 400 balls in 47 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.
• 616 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 175 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,220 total balls
• 120 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.86 pledged per ball
• $124.30 raised at this game
• $9,944.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Talk about bad timing…
There was only half an hour of rain all day, and it came right around the time that the grounds crew would’ve been setting up the field for batting practice. When the gates opened, I was hoping to see various screens out on the field, but instead, THIS is what greeted me:
See that yellow chain?
Not only was the infield covered, but I wasn’t even allowed to run down into the seats along the foul line; whether or not there’s BP at Coors Field, fans have to stay in the left/center field bleachers for the first half-hour.
There was, however, something good that happened as a result of the limited access and lack of baseball-snagging opportunities: I ran into a guy named David — a friend of a friend — who works inside the manual scoreboard and invited me back to check it out. Remember when I first visited the scoreboard on 6/20/08 at Coors Field? Well, this second visit was special because I was with my friend (and personal photographer) Brandon and got to share the experience with him.
Here I am inside the scoreboard:
Here’s a photo of David, monitoring the scores on a laptop:
The TV in the background is new. It gets a special feed from the MLB Network and can display eight games at once.
I helped out a little by removing the previous day’s scores and placing the wooden panels back on their hooks…
…but mainly I was just there to goof around:
The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:
That’s Nora on the left and Liz on the right. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that Nora has a small bandage on her right shin. Several days earlier, while working inside the scoreboard, she got nailed by a BP homer that sailed through one of the small openings.
Here’s a photo that shows how long and narrow the space is back there…
…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:
Normally I get freaked out by cobwebs (I’m a city boy so I’m allowed to get freaked out by anything that even resembles nature or the wilderness; you get freaked out by riding the subway to the Bronx so we’re even), but it was oddly comforting to see them here. It showed that there can be neglected nooks and crannies even in a relatively new stadium.
I removed another panel and took a peek through the open space…
…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:
Brandon and I left after that. I had to get back into the stands and make an attempt to snag it.
We headed down the steep steps…
…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:
He led us to the tunnel that connects to the center field bleachers, and we said our goodbyes.
It was several minutes past 5pm. The whole stadium was now open, which meant I was finally free to go to the right field seats. On my way out there, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk name Don (aka “Rockpile Ranter“), who was there with his son Hunter. The three of us barely had a chance to talk. I had to rush out to right field, and then I ended up getting pulled in a bunch of different directions, and they ended up leaving the game early because Don had to wake up for work the next day at 2:30am. Yeesh!
Anyway, right field…
I raced out there and grabbed the corner spot near the Rockies’ bullpen:
Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:
Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:
I called his name, and he looked up.
I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.
He picked it up and paused to look at it:
(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)
Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:
His throw (probably in the neighborhood of 50mph) was right on the money. I caught the ball one-handed in front of my right shoulder and felt incredibly relieved; my consecutive games streak had survived a BP-less day.
As for the ball, there WAS something unusual about it:
Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.
I’d snagged two of these balls the day before, and as I mentioned then, “WIN” stands for a charity called “Women’s Initiatives Network.”
A few more players came out and started throwing. Check out this magazine-quality photo that Brandon took of Rafael Betancourt:
I was busy at that point, taking my own photos and stewing over the fact that it was sunny AND the tarp was still on the field:
One of the Rockies’ pitchers made a bad throw that rolled all the way out to the grass in front of the warning track in straight-away center field. His throwing partner didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. As soon as I saw that (and because there were so many other fans along the foul line), I headed toward the left field bleachers. My simple plan was to position myself as close to the ball as possible — all the way out in the corner spot of the front row in left-center. There were several Dodgers in the bullpen. I was thinking that when they finished their throwing session and headed out of the ‘pen, I might be able to convince one of them to take a slight detour and walk over to the ball and toss it to me. My plan, however, was foiled as I headed toward the bleachers. I was running through the open-air concourse at the back of the bleachers when I noticed that a groundskeeper was driving a lawnmower on the grass at the edge of the warning track. He was heading right for the ball, and when he got close to it, he stopped the mower, climbed down, picked up the ball, stuck it in his pocket, and then kept mowing. By the time I made it down to the front row, he was driving past me. It was too loud for me to shout at him. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and watched him mow a few more lanes into the outfield grass. Then, rather abruptly, he drove off into a wide ramp near the foul pole — a ramp that evidently leads to a concourse where the groundskeepers store their equipment. I rushed over to the edge of the ramp and waited for a minute. All of a sudden, the groundskeeper reappeared without the lawnmower and ran past me out onto the field. I don’t know what he did out there. Maybe he was on his way somewhere and forgot something because he then ran back to the ramp and disappeared into the concourse. Then he reappeared, and as he began to run past me for a second time, I yelled, “Hey, did you happen to pick up that baseball in center field?” He looked up and nodded, so I shouted, “Any chance I could have it, please?” He never said a word. Instead, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then he ran back into the concourse. Ten seconds later, he came running back with the ball and tossed it to me. Then he disappeared once again. How random is THAT?
Brandon, unfortunately, was on the phone while this whole thing played out, so he wasn’t able to get an action shot. Here’s a photo of me posing with the ball next to the ramp:
Here’s a photo of the ball itself:
As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, which means it was either used during a game or was intended for game use. I love how the mud is caked into the stitch holes above the logo.
Here I am with Brandon:
In case you’re wondering, Brandon was wearing a Padres cap because he’s from San Diego. (He hadn’t been home for 70 days because he’d been on the road with Warped Tour.) He WAS planning to sit with me during the game, but his family decided at the last minute to show up (they live 50 miles from Denver), so he spent the game with them on the 3rd base side.
Too bad for him. He missed the next round of action out in the bleachers…
My friends Robert Harmon (the bearded guy who nearly snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball) and Dan Sauvageau (the clean-shaven guy who has caught 41 game home runs on the fly) were engaged in a secret mission in one of the tunnels:
What were they doing?
Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.
Here are a couple photos of the finished product:
As soon as Dan took those photos, I raced over to the seats along the left field foul line. I was hoping to get one of the Dodgers to throw me a pre-game warm-up ball, but instead I had to settle for getting Andre Ethier’s autograph on a ticket from the previous day:
Do you see that nice little smudge? Ethier did that. After he “wrote” his name (if that’s even what he “wrote”), he carelessly touched it while handing the ticket back to me.
Once the game started, Brandon took a photo of me from afar. I’m sitting right behind the last “R” in the “Frontier Airlines” advertisement:
If you look to the left of me, there’s a guy wearing a maroon baseball cap. That’s Dan. He always sits near the Frontier ad, and he always wears that cap, so you can look for him on future home run highlights. His five-year-old daughter Emily (blonde hair) is sitting beside him. I’m not sure who the two guys are to the left of Emily, but the two people next to them are Nettie (platinum blonde) and her husband Danny (black cap), my “host parents” for the week.
Speaking of hair, this was my view of Manny Ramirez, who was unable to stand still for more than two seconds at a time:
This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:
Once again, the fans were really letting Manny have it. My favorite heckles included:
• “Hey, Manny! We’re having a pool: who’s gonna have kids first, you or your wife?!”
• “Manny, it’s okay, I like boobs on a guy!”
• “Did you and Big Papi share a needle?”
• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”
• “I didn’t know ‘HGH’ stands for Hair Growth Hormone!”
• “Girl, you know it’s true: you suck!”
I used to be a HUGE Manny fan, and even *I* will admit that he sucks. He’s a lazy, arrogant, one-dimensional player (who cheats, no less), and I feel that he deserves everything negative that comes his way as a result.
But enough of that…
If you’ve been reading this blog consistently since the beginning of this season, take a good look at the following photograph and see if you spot a familiar face somewhere in the crowd:
Here’s a close-up of the photo above. Any thoughts? Here’s a hint: it’s a legendary ballhawk who doesn’t normally attend games at Coors Field:
Okay, here’s one last chance to identify the mystery fan before I tell you the answer. He’s sitting halfway up the section just to the right of the steps. He’s wearing a black Rockies cap, a gray T-shirt, and black pants. He’s touching the right side of his face with his hand, and his elbow is resting on his right knee.
If you’re going to call yourself a ballhawk (or even a fan of ballhawks), you have to know the all-time greats.
Here I am with him:
It’s Rich Buhrke (pronounced “BRR-kee”) from Chicago. This man has snagged 178 game home runs (including five grand slams!) and more than 3,400 balls overall. Although Rich does count balls from Spring Training, it should be noted that more than 97 percent of his home runs are from actual regular-season or post-season major league games.
Halfway through the game, Robert was miked up for a segment on FSN that was going to air the next day. In the following photo, you can see the microphone’s battery pack sticking out of his pocket:
Robert attends EVERY game and always sits in the front row in left-center. If you ever visit Coors Field, go find him and buy him a beer, or at least tell him that Zack from New York says hello. Anyway, Robert told the FSN producer about me, so the producer came over and told me that he was gonna have Robert sit with me for half an inning and ask me some questions, and that we should just have a normal conversation about baseball. The producer also mentioned that everything I said would get picked up by Robert’s microphone and might end up getting used on the air. Robert came over after that, and we did our thing, which was kind of silly because we just ended up talking about stuff that we’d discussed a hundred times in the past (how many balls have you snagged, what do you think about the new stadiums in New York, etc.), but it was still fun. Just about all TV is staged theater. Even when things look like they’re random and spontaneous, they’re not.
During an inning break late in the game, the Rockies’ mascot came running out onto the field for the “jersey launch.” Yes, jerseys. The Rockies don’t give away cheap T-shirts with fugly corporate logos (ahem, Citi Field, cough, cough). You see, at Coors Field, they do things right and give away real, authentic, high-quality, Majestic jerseys that fans are proud to wear — jerseys that would normally cost about $100 in the team store. Why am I telling you this? Because the mascot came running out on the warning track in front of my section. He (She? It?) had one of these jerseys in his hand, and as he started running out toward left-center, I followed him by running through the not-too-crowded aisle. It seemed like an obvious move, and eventually, as I predicted, the mascot flung the jersey into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It came right to me, and I made a leaping grab. Apparently this was a **BIG** deal, but I didn’t know it until Robert ran over and basically tried to mug me for the jersey (in a friendly way). Indeed, when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the jerseys had not been launched anywhere near the bleachers over the previous two days. They got shot (and in some cases tossed) into the crowd sparingly, and always in different spots.
Here I am wearing the jersey:
Whose fingers are those behind my head? Robert’s, of course.
(See my glove sitting on the chair on the lower right? Thanks to Dan, my seat was a folding chair. I turned it around so that I’d be able to jump up and immediately start running for balls without having to maneuver around it.)
Here I am with Nettie and Danny:
(Danny forgot to take his earphones out for the photo. He and Nettie both listen to the radio broadcasts of the games.)
And finally, here I am with Emily and Dan. As you can see, I borrowed some of Emily’s hair for the photo:
I came really close to snagging Ryan Spilborghs’ solo homer in the bottom of the third inning. It sailed 10 feet over my head, landed on the staircase, and then ricocheted back toward me. Dan had raced up the steps ahead of me. I was right behind him. He got close enough to the ball that he ended up scrambling for it underneath a bench, but some lady (without a glove, of course) managed to reach down and grab it.
Andre Ethier hit two homers for the Dodgers, both of which landed in the bullpens in right-center field.
What a waste.
Still a fun day.
Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.
• 2 balls at this game
• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.
• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 174 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,215 total balls
• 120 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a donation)
• $24.86 pledged per ball
• $49.72 raised at this game
• $9,819.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’m staying here in Denver with my friends Danny and Nettie. Danny has THE most extraordinary collection of baseballs you’ll ever see. I blogged about it last year and showed a bunch of photos. Yesterday I visited his office where he has even more memorabilia. It’s truly unbelievable…
First, here’s a shot of Danny in his office. It was such a big space that I had to take two photos and fuse them together with Photoshop:
Seriously, THAT is an office.
Here’s a look at one of the walls:
Here are some bobblehead dolls:
Did you notice the shelves below?
Yup, all different kinds of baseballs. Here are my four favorites:
Here’s another cool ball, which has a painting of Buck O’Neil along with some info about him on the other side:
Of all the balls in Danny’s collection, my absolute favorite is this:
Those little metal things are the actual sewing needles.
Here are some wooden baseballs…
…and yes, Danny has a matching set from the American League.
Danny has a closet in his office.
Does he hang coats in there?
No, of course not.
He has more baseball stuff:
Have you ever seen a “Gold Glove Award” baseball?
Neither had I.
Danny has a few non-baseball items, such as this signed program from a golf tournament in 1994:
There actually IS a baseball autograph in there — someone who was serving as a caddy for one of the golfers. Can anyone pick out the signature and identify whose it is?
After the office tour, Nettie and Danny took me to lunch (they’re outstanding host-parents), and I headed to Coors Field at around 4pm. It had drizzled a bit earlier in the afternoon, and it was still cloudy when the gates opened, but there WAS batting practice.
I started out in the front row…
…and got Jorge De La Rosa to toss me my first ball of the day.
Then I met up with my friend Brandon. Here he is, refusing to look at the camera:
If Brandon looks familiar, that’s because we’ve been to several games together including (but not limited to):
Brandon is a professional photographer/videographer, and once again, he got some great photos of me in “action.” (The word “action” is in quotes because, as you’ll see, there wasn’t much of it.)
My second ball of the day was tossed by Rockies coach Mark Strittmatter at the 1st base dugout just after the Rockies finishing taking BP.
After that, I changed into my Dodgers gear and headed back to left field. My Dodgers shirt does, unfortunately, say “RAMIREZ 99” on the back. I’m no longer a Manny fan, and in fact I was ashamed to have his name on my back. But, for the record, I bought the shirt long before he was busted for steroids, and I do still feel somewhat of a connection to him because (as I’ve mentioned in the past) I’ve been close friends with Manny’s high school coach since Manny was in high school. The point is, it’s hard not to root for a guy that I’ve been hearing about since he was 16 years old, but I *am* in fact done with him.
I was dying to snag some balls from the Dodgers because of this. In case you’re too lazy to click the link, it’s a photo of fan from Los Angeles who’s known as “Mannywood” on MyGameBalls.com. In the photo, he’s holding a baseball that was stamped “DodgersWIN” on the sweet spot. The “WIN” stands for a charity called Women’s Initiatives Network. There’d been some talk about these new stamped balls in the comments section on this blog and so…I really REALLY wanted to get one.
Someone on the Dodgers hit a ball that rolled to the wall in left-center. I positioned myself right above the ball as Ramon Troncoso walked over to retrieve it. Here’s a photo of me leaning over the wall, asking him for it:
Troncoso looked up and flipped me the ball, or at least I thought he did. The ball sailed five feet over my head and landed behind me in the wide front-row aisle. I scrambled back and grabbed it off the ground, and when I looked at the ball, I was excited and puzzled and slightly disappointed. Here’s what was on the sweet spot:
I’d forgotten that the Dodgers are now stamping their baseballs in two different ways. Yes…it was all coming back to me. I’d seen photos of these “DODGERTOWN” balls as well. It was great to finally have one, but I still really wanted one of the balls that said DodgersWIN.
Two seconds after I grabbed this ball, I realized that Troncoso had been trying to toss it to a little kid who’d been standing in the front row behind the aisle. I decided to give him the ball…but wait…did I have to give him THAT ball? Could I keep the one that said DODGERTOWN and give him the regular ball from Strittmatter instead? The kid was there with his mother, and I explained the situation to them and pointed out the stamp on the sweet spot. The mother assured me that the kid just wanted *a* ball and didn’t care what was printed or stamped on it, so I made the switch.
I headed to the left field corner and lined myself up with Guillermo Mota and Jonathan Broxton. They were the last two guys who were playing catch, and Mota promised to give me the ball when he was done. I looked closely at it each time he took it out of his glove, and I finally saw that it was a brand new DodgersWIN ball. I was bursting with anticipation as the throwing session came to an end. When Mota caught the final throw, he flung the ball directly from his glove, and it sailed ten feet wide. The seats were empty at that point except for ONE guy who happened to be sitting right where the ball was heading. He didn’t even have a glove. He just reached back and snatched it out of the air with his left hand. I wasn’t too pleased. Mota didn’t even acknowledge his mistake, nor did he hook me up with another ball. He just walked out toward the middle of the field, and that was that.
I headed to right field and ran around nonstop…
…but didn’t catch anything.
Then I went back to left field and did some more fruitless running:
The photo above is actually kinda cool. As Troncoso was running for that ball, I was racing over from the opposite direction, hoping to get near it and convince him to toss it up.
Here’s another action shot. It shows me racing down the steps from the right while another guy is racing down on the left. We were both going for the ball that was sitting on the warning track:
It’s hard to tell from this angle, but that ball was about five feet out from the wall, so none of the fans were able to reach it. Once I moved into the front row, I let out of a few feet worth of string (which is tied to my glove) and easily knocked the ball closer. I bent down and grabbed it, and I was thrilled to see that it had a DodgersWin logo! But then some guy in the front row started making a big fuss about how the ball had been thrown to his kid, and he basically demanded that I hand it over. It was the biggest crock, and I was stunned when the other fans nearby took his side. The whole thing was about to turn ugly. I offered to give one of my regular balls instead, but they wouldn’t accept it. They wanted the DodgersWIN ball (even though they were Rockies fans). I had two choices: 1) Tell them all to **** off or 2) give them the damn ball. Fifteen years ago, I would’ve gone with Option No. 1, but this is 2009, and I like to think of myself as being a bit more generous and mature, so I went with Option No. 2. (What would YOU have done?) I figured I’d snag another one of those balls at some point in the following two days, so as frustrating as it was to finally get my hands on one and then immediately turn it over, I wasn’t terribly concerned.
Broxton (who is NOT a friendly man) had seen the whole thing play out and rewarded me with another ball. DodgersWIN?! No…Dodgertown. It was my fifth ball of the day (counting the two I’d given away).
Batting practice was almost done so I headed to the Dodgers’ dugout as everyone was coming off the field. Then, totally unexpectedly, a ball came flying up from below. Someone had tossed it from inside the dugout. It landed on the roof about five feet to my right and started rolling away from me. Luckily, the front row was empty enough that I had room to chase after it and grab it. I had no idea where Brandon was at that point, and in fact I was annoyed that he wasn’t with me. I didn’t know that he was watching my every move from afar, and as I learned later, he took a photo of me taking a photo of the ball. Did that make sense?
Here…look at the photo below. The arrow is pointing to me, and I’m taking a picture of the ball that I’d just snagged:
Why was I photographing it?
Check it out:
I’d snagged both kinds of balls and met Brandon back in left field:
Before the game, I got Casey Blake to sign a ticket…
…and then Blake tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout five minutes later. It was another DodgersWIN ball, and then moments later, Rafael Furcal tossed me one that said DODGERTOWN. There was NO competition for balls at the dugout. The only challenge was that the ushers made me stay behind Row 10. That’s just one of the silly rules here. But thankfully there was no one in front of me with a glove.
This was my view during the game:
The fans behind me were heckling Manny nonstop. More on this in a bit…
This was the view to my left, and if you look closely, you’ll see a tiny red dot in the aisle, off in the distance:
I put that dot there to indicate where I ended up after running for Blake’s home run in the top of the 4th. It was probably 80 feet away, and I might’ve caught it had it actually landed in the aisle, but no, it landed three rows deep. That was the first of three home runs. Brad Hawpe hit the second one to center field in the bottom of the 4th (Jameson Sutton nearly caught it) and Clint Barmes hit one to my section in the 7th. I was in line at a concession stand at that particular moment (duh) so you know who ended up catching it? Dan Sauvageau, the guy who hooked me up with the front row ticket in the first place. Here he is with his five-year-old daughter Emily, who’s holding THE home run ball:
It’s the 41st game home run that Dan has caught on the fly. He’s snagged another 50 or so that have landed in the front row, but he doesn’t even count those.
Now, about those Manny hecklers…
They were out in full force. Here’s a Top Ten list (in reverse order) of the best heckles I heard:
10) “Get a haircut, you cheater!”
9) “How does it feel to be the worst left fielder in the National League?!”
8) “Where’d you get your uniform, Goodwill?”
6) “Hey, Manny, I got some weed for you from Jackson Heights!”
5) “You look like the Predator!”
4) “The only thing steroids gave you was hemorrhoids!”
3) “Hey, Manny! One word: shrinkage!”
2) “When you heard that Tulo hit for the cycle, did you think you had a new friend?!”
1) “You let everybody down!”
After Heckle No. 6, I shouted, “It’s Washington Heights!” to which the heckler replied, “Whatever, he doesn’t know the difference!”
There were, of course, a number of anti-gay (and otherwise obscene) taunts, the worst of which came from a fan who was wearing a Mets cap. Of course, the ushers did nothing to stop him, and yet security felt the need to stop me from using my harmless glove trick the day before for a damp ball that wasn’t even on the field.
The game went into extra innings. I moved to the seats behind home plate with Brandon. The Rockies put runners on the corners with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. Coors Field was rocking:
Then, after a one-out intentional walk loaded the bases, Troy Tulowitzki delivered a walk-off single. His teammates mobbed him behind second base:
I didn’t get a ball from the ump. I didn’t get a ball from the Dodgers relievers when they walked in from the bullpen. Nothing. My night was over. But I’m not complaining. I snagged a bunch of interesting balls, hung out with some friends, and saw another great game.
Final score: Rockies 5, Dodgers 4.
• 393 balls in 45 games this season = 8.73 balls per game.
• 614 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 173 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,213 total balls
• 120 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.86 pledged per ball
• $198.88 raised at this game
• $9,769.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I woke up at 6:20am, raced to Newark International Airport, flew nonstop to Denver, and made it to Coors Field by 3:30pm:
I headed inside to the Rockies’ office…
…and met up with Jay Alves, the Rockies’ vice president of communications and public relations. I’d spoken to him a week earlier, told him that I was working on a book about baseballs, and asked if I could see the humidor. (In case you don’t know, the Rockies have been storing their game balls in a humidor since 2002 to prevent them from drying out in the mile-high air; dry baseballs become lighter and harder, and they travel way too far when they’re hit.) Jay warned me that I was going to be “underwhelmed” by the humidor — that it was small and that there really wasn’t much to see. I didn’t care. I had to set foot in it, and Jay kindly accommodated me. He even let me take photos, and he said I could share them on my blog, so here we go…
The humidor is located in the street-level/employees-only concourse:
The whole thing is VERY small (and yes, it’s locked). Here’s what it looks like on the inside:
As you can see, there are cases of balls on the left (six dozen balls per case). The smaller boxes which hold a dozen balls apiece are on the right.
The temperature in there is 70 degrees, and the humidity is kept at 50 percent, but I didn’t see any dials or gauges.
Even though the room was small, there was a lot to see…
…but I didn’t get to photograph everything because Jay was in a serious rush to get back to work. I probably spent less than two minutes inside the humidor, but at least I got to SEE it.
Here I am inside it:
Before I knew it, I was back out on the street. The brief tour felt like a distant blur, like a strange fragment of a dream that kept replaying in my mind.
I headed over to Gate E and (after switching caps) met up with some friends.
Pictured below from left to right:
1) Dan Sauvageau (who has snagged roughly 90 game home runs)
2) Danny Wood (who showed me his incredible baseball collection on June 20, 2008)
3) Danny’s wife Nettie (who’d picked me up at the airport earlier in the day)
4) me (happy to be staying with Danny and Nettie this week)
The gates opened at 4:30pm (two hours and ten minutes before game time) and I raced out to the left field bleachers. Here’s what the seats looked like after a couple minutes:
Dan had hooked me up with a front-row ticket, but there were a bunch of ballhawks in that row, so for the most part, I stayed farther back and took my chances in the main part of the bleachers. (At Coors Field, you can’t go into the front row in left field unless you have a ticket for the front row, even during batting practice.) I got Ubaldo Jimemez to toss me a ball by asking him in Spanish, and that was the only ball I snagged during the Rockies’ portion of BP.
When the Giants started hitting, I headed over to right field. As you can see in the following photo, the platform that extends out from the seats makes it impossible to use the glove trick for balls that are sitting on the warning track:
The nice thing about the right field section, however, is that there aren’t any railings in the staircases, so it’s easy to run around. Unfortunately, the section only extends out to straight-away right field, so most of the home runs were uncatchable and landed in the bullpen in right-center.
Tim Lincecum was shagging in right-center, and I got him to toss me a ball. I took the following photo from the row where I caught it:
Five minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by Eugenio Velez. It was a line drive that was heading RIGHT at me, but since I was in Denver (where the air is thin and balls carry a long way), I turned around and bolted up the steps past a fat guy with a glove, then turned around at the last second and jumped as high as I could and made the catch high over my head. And guess what? That was the end of batting practice. It ended more than 20 minutes early because it started drizzling and the wussy grounds crew rolled out the tarp:
I noticed that there were two balls sitting within reach in the bullpen. I used my glove trick to reel in the ball on the right…
…and was stopped by security while going for the ball on the left.
There were more than a dozen balls sitting further out in the bullpens. Two security-type guys walked out and retrieved them and didn’t toss a single ball into the crowd. I thought that was really weak, and I let them know it. There were a few young kids with gloves nearby, standing quietly in the rain, but no, the Rockies couldn’t afford to part with a few baseballs (which were probably too damp to re-use anyway). I later gave away one of my baseballs to a kid.
I had some time to kill after BP, so I wandered up to the “rock pile” section in deeeeeeep center field and took a few photos. Here’s one of them:
(The tarp didn’t stay on the field long.)
Before the game started, I snuck down near the Giants’ dugout and tried to get Pablo Sandoval’s warm-up ball…
…but I ended up getting one from Nate Schierholtz instead.
Then Schierholtz signed my ticket:
What a lame signature. Seriously, what kind of garbage IS that?
I headed out to left field once the game started. This was my view:
This was the view to my right…
…and this was the view to my left:
It was home run HEAVEN — or rather it would have been home run heaven if anyone had managed to hit a ball anywhere near me, but no, my game home run curse continued.
Do you remember that story I wrote last year about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball? Well, two of the three key ballhawks in that incident were at the game last night. Jameson Sutton, the fan who snagged that ball was there:
Jameson sold that ball at auction for $376,612 largely because of this man, Robert Harmon:
Robert, as you may recall, snagged a dummy ball that Jameson had inadvertently dropped while going for the real one. I won’t re-tell the whole story here. It’s archived on Yahoo Sports for your viewing pleasure.
Anyway, the game was really slow for the first 13 innings. Pablo Sandoval put the Giants on the board with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 1st, and Todd Helton tied the score by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 5th.
That was it.
The 14th inning, however, was a totally different story. In the top of the frame, Edgar Renteria hit a one-out triple and Travis Ishikawa walked. Eugenio Velez then hit a two-run triple to left center and scored two batters later on a Juan Uribe groundout,.
The Giants had taken a 4-1 lead:
I was sick of sitting 400 feet from home plate at that point, so I told Robert that I was heading over near home plate, and that he could have the walk-off grand slam.
This was my view in the bottom of the 14th inning:
How did that half-inning start? With a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti made a visit to the mound, and his advice must have helped because Brandon Medders got Clint Barmes to pop out.
But then things fell apart.
Medders was taken out of the game and the new pitcher, Justin Miller, proceeded to give up a single to pinch hitter Chris Iannetta. Then he walked Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases, and then he walked Adam Eaton to force in a run. (Did you hear me? He walked ADAM EATON!!!) Merkin Valdez came in to pitch after that, and on his second pitch, Ryan Spilborghs blasted an opposite field shot into the Rockies’ bullpen. It was the first walk-off grand slam in Rockies history.
Final score: Rockies 6, Giants 4.
• 385 balls in 44 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.
• 613 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 172 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,205 total balls
• 119 donors (Heath Bell made a pledge; you can too)
• $24.76 pledged per ball
• $123.80 raised at this game
• $9,532.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I can’t believe I almost skipped this game. Wow. What a mistake that would’ve been. I’d gone to Angel Stadium the night before and PETCO Park the night before that.
Over the course of those two days, I’d snagged a total of 32 balls and
ended up with a comparable number of bruises and blisters. I needed to
sleep. I needed some painkillers. I wanted to blog. I wanted to go to
the beach. And to top it all off, this was a dreaded
day-game-after-a-night-game; I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be
I arrived at PETCO at 9:30am, and two good things happened within the
next 15 minutes. First I ran into my friend Leigh (aka “padreleigh” if
you read the comments) who’d been given an extra $50 ticket and passed
it along to me for free. Then I saw Brad Hawpe entering the ballpark
and learned that the Rockies WERE planning to take BP. Hot damn!
Of course the Padres were nowhere to be found when the stadium opened
at 10:30am, but the protective screens–minus the batting cage–for BP
were indeed ready to go. This was the view from behind “the beach” in
deep right-center field:
Did you notice the sand sculpture in the photo above? Here’s a closer look…
…and here’s the other side:
Finally, the batting cage was on its way toward home plate…
…but when the rest of the stadium opened at 11am, this was the only action:
In case you can’t tell from the photo above, Rockies bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter was playing
catch in front of the dugout with bullpen coach Rick Mathews. If this
were New York, there would’ve been about 50 people screaming at them by
the time they finished, but here in San Diego only two other fans had
made it down to the dugout. One was Leigh, who had a glove but no
Rockies gear, and the other was a man with Rockies gear and no glove.
It almost goes without saying that I was the guy who ended up getting a
ball from Mathews, and what a ball it was. He had dug around in the
basket for at least 10 seconds before pulling one out and tossing it to
me. I think he was trying to find the dirtiest, most beat up ball, and
that was fine by me. Brand new balls, while fun to snag because I feel
like I’m getting away with robbery, are not nearly as interesting.
As soon as I snagged that first ball, two Padres began playing catch in right field:
How convenient. And best of all, there was NO competition. A father and
son wandered down to the front row at the last second, but neither of
them had a glove or even bothered to ask for
the ball. The player who ended up with it was a pitcher named Josh Geer
who had made his major league debut the night before and gone five
innings for the win. When I asked him to throw me the ball, he said,
“Are you gonna throw it back?”
“Absolutely!” I said. “I’d love to play catch. I really need to warm up my arm.”
Geer then threw me the ball and held up his glove to indicate that he
wanted it back. I threw a perfect chest-high strike and was excited to
be playing catch with a major leaguer, even someone who’d been one for
less than 24 hours, but he then threw the ball back and told me to keep
it. So much for that.
The Rockies started taking BP soon after, and I raced out to the left
field seats. As I got there, Troy Tulowitzki lined a ball that landed
20 feet to my right and one row below me. There was another fan in that
row, cutting through the seats from the opposite direction, and I was
sure he was going to end up with the ball, but he didn’t because I got
one of the luckiest bounces of all time. Basically, the ball rattled
around, as if trapped briefly in a three-dimensional pinball machine,
and bounced up into my row. It was fantastic and I grabbed it, fully
aware that it was my third ball of the day and No. 399 on the season.
I’d never reached 400 before. The next ball was going to be historic–at
least for me–and I started paying extra close attention so I’d be able
to identify the source.
“Excuse me,” said another fan who was standing in the front row, “are you Zack?”
“Here,” he said, holding out his cell phone, “Heath Bell wants to talk to you.”
“Excuse me?!” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “he’s been looking for someone named Zack for the last two days.”
I did recognize the guy with the phone–I’d seen him two days earlier
and remembered him from the three games I attended at PETCO in 2006–but
how the hell would he have had Heath Bell’s number? I was sure one of
my friends was playing a trick on me. Leigh? Brandon? Someone in the
ballpark knew that *I* knew Heath and was messing around. They had to
be. So I decided to play along.
I picked up the phone and said, “Yeah, hello?”
“Zack!!” said the voice on the other end.
“Who is this?”
“Okay, really, who is this?”
“I see you in left field,” said the voice. “Look across the stadium. I’m waving in front of the dugout.”
I looked up…and oh my God…Heath WAS waving at me from across the field and holding a phone next to his ear.
“Wow, it really IS you,” I said.
“What are you up to right now? You trying to get some baseballs out in left field?”
“Well, yeah…why, what’s up?”
“I have a ball here for you,” he said. “I think it might be something
you haven’t seen. I don’t know, maybe you already have one, but do you
want to come over and take a look? Or do you want to wait ’til after
On the one hand, I *did* want to wait until BP was over so I wouldn’t
lose any snagging opportunities, but on the other hand…could there
have possibly been a better way to snag (or in this case “receive”)
ball No. 400?
“I’ll head over right now,” I told him, “but it’s gonna take me at least three minutes to get there.”
“Perfect,” said Heath, “the ball’s in my locker so it’ll take me a few minutes to get it.”
“I’ll even take off my Rockies gear for the occasion.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it.” he said. “Leave it on. Just meet me right here.”
I handed the phone back to the guy and sprinted around the
stadium. PETCO is one of those segmented ballparks–the shortest
distance between two sections is never a straight line–so it really did
take several minutes to reach the dugout, and when I got there, a
security guard standing on the warning track looked up and said, “Heath
“Wait here,” said the guard. “He’ll be right out.”
Thirty seconds later, Heath popped out of the dugout and tossed me a Padres cap:
He was wearing an identical cap, so it’s not like he took this one
right off his head and gave it to me–but clearly it was HIS cap because
his uniform number was written on the inside.
I had no idea what to expect. I’d been assuming (or at least hoping)
that the ball would have some type of commemorative logo, and when I
got my first look at it, my jaw literally dropped. This is what I was
“Oh my GOD!!!” I shouted. “Thank you SO much!!!”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Heath.
“No really,” I replied, “I can not thank you enough.”
I told him that I’d once gotten an Opening Day ball during BP that was
so worn that I could barely read the logo. And of course I loved the
cap as well. I actually needed a Padres cap (the plastic, adjustable
strap on my old one broke two days earlier), and I’d been making
late-nite trips with Brandon to various Walmarts in search of a
I asked Heath if I could actually give the cap and ball back to him for
a moment so I could get a photograph of him holding them. He suggested
that we get a photo together instead, so security let me down into the
camera-well next to the dugout, and the guard on the field took our pic:
The guard handed the camera back to me as I was asking him to take
another pic, so Heath grabbed the camera and held it out at arm’s
length and took the pic himself. It didn’t come out well, only because
I wasn’t ready and was looking off to the side, but whatever. I was
still in shock over the whole thing.
I thanked Heath again. He asked how long I was gonna be in town. I told
him I’d be seeing him the next two days in L.A. and then flying back to
New York City. We then shook hands, and I ran back out to left field to
The fan who’d lent me his phone was still there:
His name is Ismael. He has season tickets. He knows people. Incredible.
I snagged four more balls in left field during the next half-hour. The
first was a deep drive by Matt Holliday that Ubaldo Jimenez caught near
the warning track and tossed to me. The second was a home run to
left-center that got snared by the netting that separates the stands
from the Padres’ bullpen. The third (which I later gave away) came via
the glove trick, and the fourth was thrown by Scott Podsednik.
I headed over to right field when a bunch of lefties started taking
cuts, and I snagged my ninth ball of the day behind the foul pole. One
of the batters hooked a deep line drive that landed in a totally empty
section, so I had all the time in the world to walk over and pick up
the ball. (I love the Padres for being in last place. I wish every team
could be in last place.)
I didn’t snag anything else during BP. I had to wait until closer to
game time to reach double digits. Two pairs of Rockies started playing
catch along the left field foul line, and I got Clint Barmes to throw
me his ball when he finished. Simple. Easy. No competition once again.
I was in heaven.
I caught up briefly with Leigh and met another PETCO Park
regular/ballhawk named Rob (aka “juveasts”). We all chatted for a bit
until the Padres started throwing in right field. I ran out there and
ended up getting Nick Hundley to toss me my 11th ball of the day just
after the national anthem.
My actual/assigned seat was behind the Padres’ dugout, so I stayed
there for the whole game and waited for a chance to snag a third-out
ball. I was still banged up from Anaheim, and the blisters on the
bottom of my right toes were now on fire. Jake Peavy was on the hill. I
knew it was going to be a good game, and although this might come as a
surprise to many people reading this, I actually wanted to sit in one
spot and watch it. Peavy, meanwhile, kept making things difficult for
me by ending each inning with a strikeout. I was behind the outfield
end of the dugout, hoping that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez would end
up with the inning-ending balls, but catcher Josh Bard kept getting
them and tossing them to little kids behind the home-plate end of the
dugout. Thus, the only ball I snagged for the first eight innings was
made of nerf and thrown by the mascot:
I later gave this ball to Brandon’s roommate.
Peavy ended up fanning 13 batters in eight innings and handing a 1-0
lead to Trevor Hoffman. What did Hoffman do? He gave up a run…which
was a shame…but it gave me an extra chance to snag a ball. I knew
there’d be a bottom of the ninth…which meant there’d be another
third-out ball tossed into the crowd after the top of the ninth
(instead of an on-field celebration), and wouldn’t you know
it…Tulowitzki ended up grounding out to third baseman Kevin
Kouzmanoff to end the frame. Gonzalez took the throw at first. All the
kids were waiting behind the home-plate end of the dugout. I had no
competition at the outfield end. Gonzalez jogged in and tossed me the
But wait, it wasn’t THE ball. It was too scuffed to be THE ball, and I
realized he must’ve switched balls. You know how the first baseman
always catches a ball on his way into the dugout after each inning?
That’s the infield warm-up ball. Gonzalez, for whatever reason (maybe
he’s a baseball collector too?), had tossed me that one and kept the
gamer for himself. Here’s the ball he tossed to me:
The Padres ended up scoring in the bottom of the ninth on three
singles. Game over. Thank God. I needed to rest. I’d be running into
Dodger Stadium less than 24 hours later…
? 12 balls at this game
? 550 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 136 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 89 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 34 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 3,685 total balls
As I headed to this game with my friend Brandon, I told him that my goal for this entire trip was to snag 20 balls–but perhaps I should’ve been more optimistic. Good things tend to happen to me at PETCO Park. The last time I was there, I caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run, and now I was back to be filmed by Steve Smith for San Diego’s Channel 10 News.
In case you’ve forgotten (or are new to this blog), Brandon is the guy who photographed me the day I brought my Big Glove to the Rays-Jays series at Champion Stadium. Thankfully, he likes using his camera more than his baseball glove, so he followed me around the stadium and documented the action.
Moments after the stadium opened, I convinced Padres manager Bud Black to throw me my third ball of the day, and yes, you read that right: third.
Before the stadium had opened, I’d found a way to get inside and snag a couple balls. Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis tossed me the first, and a female security guard hooked me up with the second. That’s all I can say. The place I went to is kind of a secret spot–more of a well-guarded secret, really, and the person who shared it with me did so only after I promised not to tell anyone else. Sorry.
Soon after I got the ball from Bud Black, I spotted Heath Bell walking by in right-center field and I shouted, “Heath!!! It’s me, the baseball collector, from New York!!!”
Heath looked up and immediately walked over and made his best attempt to shake my hand through the chain link fence. He had gotten to know me when he was an under-appreciated middle reliever with the Mets–and he has remembered me ever since. (One time, while he was still with the Mets, he played catch with me at Shea Stadium. He was on the field. I was in the stands. He even crouched down like a catcher and called balls and strikes. It was awesome. That was also the day Ryan Speier gave me his glove, and you can read about it here. As far as I’m concerned, Heath Bell is BY FAR the nicest major league baseball player.)
“What’re you doing out here?” he asked as Steve walked up with his camera.
We talked on and off for the next 15 minutes. The only reason it was “off” was because I had to race back from the fence to chase a few more balls. At one point, I got one tossed to me by someone I couldn’t identify–until I asked Heath and he told me it was Chad Reineke.
“Did you know I have a new book?” I asked.
Heath said he didn’t, so I asked if he had another minute to spare.
“I’m not doing anything right now,” he said.
“Cool, wait just a moment,” I said. “I have a copy in my bag. I’ll run and get it.”
I ran back to the first row of the bleachers and grabbed the book, and as I was about to run back, a right-handed batter hit a deep drive toward right-center that I knew had a chance to reach the warning track and bounce over the outfield fence…so I bolted to my left as the few other grown-ups in the section did their best impressions of statues, and finally, as the ball cleared the fence and bounced to the back of the sandy area, everyone started chasing it. The ball ended up hitting a concrete wall and ricocheting back toward the field as I cut across at just the right angle to scoop it up and keep running back to Heath:
Moments later, Heath had the book in his hands:
At around 4:55pm–five minutes before the rest of the stadium was going to open–I asked Heath if he was going to give me a “welcome to San Diego” ball.
“Just hang out here,” he said. “I’ll get you one.”
“Well, actually, I was planning to head over to left field at 5pm.”
“No problem,” he told me, “I’ll get you one before that.”
Less than a minute later, he got one of his teammates to throw one to him, and then he flipped it to me:
We kept talking about a million things after that. He told me he’s hoping to get the closer’s job after Trevor Hoffman retires…and that he gets heckled for being fat…and that I inspired him to be more creative with the ways in which he gives balls to fans…and that Pedro Martinez is a cool guy. It was the BEST conversation. Oh my God. It seemed like the conversation wasn’t ever going to end. I was enjoying myself so much that I sacrificed the first few minutes of BP in left field–and definitely lost a few balls as a result, including an easter egg I heard about later from my friend Leigh (aka “padreleigh” in the comments section), but it was totally worth it.
Steve filmed me running to the left field seats and kept the camera rolling after I got there. In the four-part photograph below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m 1) hurrying back into position after trying unsuccessfully to get a ball in the left field corner, 2) scribbling notes about all the balls I’d snagged, 3) giving a glove trick tutorial, and 4) showing how I labeled one of the FIVE balls that I plucked off the warning track.
It was crazy. I kept pulling up one ball after another, and the ushers weren’t saying a word. Were they giving me a break because I was being filmed? Or because they were distracted by the guy who got hit on the nose by a home run ball and was bleeding all over the place? I had no idea. I just kept doing my thing and Brandon kept taking pics. Here are some highlights:
I got Brian Fuentes to throw me my 12th ball of the day and then used the glove trick to snag No. 13. It was then that an usher finally walked down the steps and informed me that security had been watching me on various cameras and that I had to stop. So I did.
There was still half an hour left in BP when Steve decided he’d already gotten enough footage and took off. Ugh. I’d been planning to give away a ball or two right after BP, as I often do, and I was looking forward to having Steve film that. I wanted the world (or at least the people of San Diego) to see that I’m not a total ball hog…but…so much for that.
The Rockies were hitting bombs into the second deck in left field, and since I couldn’t use the glove trick anymore, I went up there. It would’ve been great if I didn’t have to share the terrain with a legendary ballhawk named T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky”), but that’s his regular spot for right-handed batters so I gave him some room. He caught several balls up there, and I only got one–a ball that he would’ve had if not for a silly/lazy mistake on his part. Someone on the Rockies crushed a deep home run over the aisle, and T.C. beat me up the steps. The ball landed on the steps and bounced all the way to the back of the section to where we couldn’t see it. T.C. assumed it had bounced over the back railing and into the concourse down below so he gave up and headed back down to the aisle.
“You don’t think it’s there?” I asked?
“I don’t know,” he said as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “You can check.”
I did check. And the ball was there, waiting for me in the last row.
Several minutes later, Brandon got a cool action shot as a home run sailed into the seats below. Check it out. I’m on the far left, leaning over the edge of the second deck, watching as a guy in the front row makes a leaping catch in front of Leigh and next to a woman ducking for cover:
After BP ended, I got Jeff Francis to toss me my 15th ball of the day at the Rockies’ dugout, and Brandon got a couple great photos. Here’s the first one. It shows Francis as he’s about to under-hand the ball to me:
Here’s the second pic, which shows the ball in mid-air, about a foot from my glove:
Brandon took some photos of me with my 15 balls (the best pic turned out to be the one he took two seconds before I was ready)…
…and then I gave one to kid (who had a glove!) who was sitting a few sections over with his dad.
What did Brandon look like on this fine day? See below:
Earlier in the day, I’d met a kid named Timmy (aka “holdsworthtimmy”) who’s been reading this blog for a while. When I ran into him after BP, I found out that he’d snagged almost as many balls as me! Here we are with Leigh who’d also snagged a bunch.
Soon after this pic was taken, four Rockies began playing catch along the left field foul line. Timmy ended up getting one of the balls, and I was left to try to talk Troy Tulowitzki out of the other. When he finished throwing, he tucked the ball in his glove and walked
over to sign a few autographs. Instead of asking him to sign anything, I asked for the ball, and when it appeared that he might not give it up, I said, “In all seriousness, Troy, it would be a real honor to get a ball from you.”
“Why is that?” he asked as he finished signing and backed away from the wall.
I thought fast and said, “I just love how you play the game. I played shortstop too.”
He then nodded and flipped me the ball.
Several Padres had just started playing catch across the field, so I raced around to the RF foul line and got there just in time. Will Venable, who’d been called up from the minor leagues earlier that day, ended up with one of the balls, and I got him to toss it to me…but the ball fell a bit short and tipped off the end of my glove as I reached over the wall for it. Then it rolled about six feet to my left and a security guard started walking toward it. I quickly let out some string and flung my glove to the left, got it to land just beyond the ball, and then tugged the string to jerk the glove back and bring the ball with it. It worked on the first shot! The ball rolled back along the warning track, right to the spot in front of me, and I was able to lunge over the wall and grab it with my bare hand.
Brandon got a pic of this too. In fact, he got about two dozen pics, but I won’t share them all–just the best one:
I had 17 balls at that point. I needed to get three more, and my plan was simple: snag a third-out ball during the game from each dugout, then get a ball from the home plate umpire after the game.
Just then, by some miracle, the man sitting to my right made a comment about my glove and said he wanted me to protect him from foul balls.
“I’d love to,” I replied, “but I actually don’t belong in this section.” I then told him I had to run over and visit a friend behind the other dugout and asked if I could possibly borrow his ticket stub for “five to ten minutes.” Naturally he didn’t want to hand it over so I offered my book as collateral.
That did the trick.
“Wait,” he said as I headed off. “You WROTE this?”
I nodded and told him to enjoy it and that I’d be back half an inning later.
I raced around to the third base side and called Brandon. He understood the situation, and because he’s so awesome, he was willing to trade ticket stubs and sit out in left field with Leigh. (No offense, Leigh, but your view can’t compare to dugout seating.)
I didn’t get anything after the first inning because Gonzalez struck out, and I was in the wrong spot.
In the top of the second inning, I used the borrowed ticket stub to get back down into the seats behind the Padres’ dugout. How many more innings could I keep this up? The back-and-forth business was stressing me out. I absolutely NEEDED to get a ball this time, but I was at the mercy of the action on the field…and when Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook came up with two outs, I didn’t like my chances. I was convinced he was going to strike out, and when he fell behind in the count 0-2, I seriously thought I was doomed. But then another miracle occurred: he made contact! He stuck his bat out and punched a weak grounder to shortstop Luis Rodriguez. YES!!! Gonzalez took the throw at first base and jogged off the field with the ball. When he approached the dugout, he looked up and rolled it across the roof a foot to my left. I reached out and scooped it easily with my glove…and then realized I was surrounded by little kids who had apparently charged down the steps behind me after the out had been recorded. I felt kinda silly, towering above all those kids, so I handed the ball to the smallest one I could find and got a big round of applause from the entire section. That was my 18th ball of the day; remember that I still count balls even when I give them away.
Atkins, the Rockies’ first baseman, kept ending up with the inning-ending balls, but he was tossing them all over the place to fans who were several rows deep. He was hard to predict, but I didn’t outsmart myself. I just ran down to the front row every inning and hoped that eventually he’d toss one right to me…and he did at the conclusion of the fifth inning after Cook induced Rodriguez to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play. SWEET!!! I only needed one more ball, and for the rest of the game I tried like crazy to catch a foul ball behind the plate–but nothing came close.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth. The Rockies were clinging to a 9-4 lead. This meant I was going to have (at least) two more chances to snag ball No. 20–one from umpire Dana DeMuth who’d be exiting the field at the home plate end of the Rockies’ dugout, and of course another chance from the Rockies themselves.
Brian Fuentes fanned the first two batters in the ninth and then got Josh Bard to pop up to second baseman Clint Barmes to end the game.
I bolted down to the corner spot at the far right end of the dugout and got my 20th ball from DeMuth. WOO!!!
Less than a minute later, all the Rockies players and coaches walked in, and I spotted Fuentes with the ball in his glove before he even crossed the foul line. I knew he wasn’t going to keep it because a) it wasn’t a special ball (he hadn’t used it to record a save), and b) he throws lots of balls into the crowd. Well, sure enough, I got him to toss it to me, and just like that, I’d tied my second highest single-game total ever. (The other time I got 21 balls was on 9/19/07 at Chase Field.)
Here are the last two balls I snagged:
Here are the 19 balls I kept:
Here are the notes I’d frantically scribbled throughout the day (so that I’d be able to remember the details later and write this entry):
Here’s one final pic that Brandon took. He’d taken a bunch of shots from across the field as I was snagging those last two balls. This one shows me jumping for what would’ve been ball No. 22. Glenallen Hill tossed it five feet over my head on his way in, and if you look closely you can see the ball in mid-air as it’s about to sail over my outstretched bare hand:
Oh well. I won’t complain about that one getting away.
? 21 balls at this game (tied my second highest one-game total)
? 385 balls in 52 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
? 548 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 134 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 87 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 32 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 3 lifetime games with at least 20 balls, all of which occurred outside NYC (of course)
? 3,662 total balls