On a personal level, the best thing about Game 5 of the 2009 World Series was getting a free ticket. The worst thing was that I had to watch the Phillies and Yankees. To put it lightly, I don’t care for either team. I thought about wearing all Mets gear (as a way of staging my own mini-protest), but ultimately I decided to dress like this:
It was my way of messing with fans of both teams without getting laughed at. As I made my way around the stadium, I noticed people staring and pointing. One guy asked if he could get a photo with me. His friend asked if I was bipolar.
It was only 2:30pm — more than five hours before the first pitch — so I had time to get food (don’t order pasta or the turkey burger at McFadden’s) and take a bunch of photos…
Here’s a look at the street that runs from the 3rd base gate to the Ashburn Alley gate in left field:
One word: HOOPLA.
The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere…
…and yet as I walked around, I noticed that I wasn’t really feeling it. It didn’t feel like the World Series. It just felt like any other game, except colder. I was hoping to snag at least eight balls in order to maintain an average of nine balls per game for the entire season, and of course I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative game-used ball with the 2009 World Series logo, but I felt no sense of urgency. I don’t know why — maybe because it’d been so long since my last game that I’d fallen out of SnagMode — but I felt rather Zen about the whole thing. Ultimately, I just wanted to snag one ball and see a good game.
The TV crews were out in full force…
“I gotta talk to you for a minute,” she said, reaching for a microphone.
Sure enough, she asked me about the clothes I was wearing.
I explained that I didn’t like either team.
“You hate everybody!” she joked, and then she asked me why I was even AT the game.
“Because I got a free ticket,” I said.
“How’d you manage that?” she asked.
I told her about my books and my baseball collection and mentioned that there’s a ticket company called First Hand Tickets that recently “sponsored” me…and that I got the ticket from them. She was pretty intrigued by the whole story and kept asking me questions. I couldn’t believe how long the interview was lasting, but once it was over, she told me that it was being taped and that her editor was going to trim it down and air part of it later. Oh well. Still cool.
Before I headed off, she got one of her assistants to take the following photo of us:
First Hand Tickets, you can actually call up and speak to real human beings who can help you get what you need. They even help put together flight and hotel packages, so check out their site and give them a call. The head of the company — a really nice guy named Warren — said he’ll offer discounts to people who ask for him and mention my name. So yeah. Keep these guys in mind.
Anyway, by the time the gates were getting ready to open, the sun was setting…
…and by the time I ran inside and snagged the first November ball of my life, it was already dark:
It was thrown by Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick, and as you can see, it was a regular MLB ball. It’d be really cool if teams used World Series balls during BP before World Series games. I don’t see what the big deal is. I suppose MLB figures they’ll end up selling more World Series balls (at thirty bucks a pop) if they’re harder to get a hold of, but if that’s their logic, then I must respectfully disagree. If there were even a few World Series balls floating around during BP, fans would go nuts to try to catch every single ball. More people would show up early (which would lead to extra concession sales for the home team), and for every fan who managed to catch a World Series ball, there’d be 20 other fans standing right nearby, asking to have a look at it. Those people would be more inclined to buy the balls if they actually saw them being used — and if they felt like they were THIS close to actually catching one. Plus…Home Run Derby balls are used during BP prior to the Derby itself, so obviously it can be done.
At one point, during the first few minutes of BP, Phillies fans were ganging up on the few Yankee fans. One guy who was decked out in Yankee gear got (intentionally) slammed from behind while reaching up to catch a home run. This caused him to drop the ball, and when he tried to scramble for it in between two rows of seats, the Phillies fan (who was absolutely huge) dove on top of him with crushing force. It was perhaps the most blatant case of aggression and violence that I’d *ever* seen at a game. But you know what? Any non-Yankee fan in the Bronx is likely to be treated just as badly, if not worse. I’ve seen Yankee fans rip opposing teams’ caps off fans’ heads and light them on fire. In conclusion: “Yankee and Philly fans, I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Now…did you notice how empty the stands were in the photo above? It didn’t stay that way for long. By the time the Yankees took the field, I still only had one ball, and the seats were packed:
I just wasn’t on my game. In addition to the TWO tossed balls that had tipped off my glove (longer arms would’ve helped), I wasn’t judging home runs well, and I think it was partly due to the fact that the balls weren’t carrying. Everything was falling short — no surprise there — and I was slow to make the adjustment. Once I turned my attention to the glove trick, however, things started picking up. There was a ball that rolled onto the warning track near the left field
foul pole, and as I was trying to reel it in, Alfredo Aceves walked over and stuffed it in my glove. Then, in straight-away left field, I had a chance to use the trick to reel in another — and get this: even though I was wearing my Yankee gear at that point, there was a female Yankee fan in the front row who was incredibly rude to me. Basically, she was taking up two spots against the railing, and she refused to let me in because she wanted the ball for herself. (She was about 25 years old, looked like she was 45, needed a meal more than she needed a ball, and wasn’t wearing a glove.) She made such a big fuss about not letting me into the front row that the two Phillies fans to her right moved over to make some space for me. (Thank you, Philadelphia. You’re not so bad after all.) Once I climbed into the front row, the woman told me that if I got the ball, I had to give it to her since she’d let me in. (I ignored her at that point.) Moments later, as I was starting to lower my glove over the wall, she said, “Ohmygod, you are so embarrassing. Can you go away?” My response went as follows: “Lady, there are 45,000 other seats in this stadium. If you have a problem with me, you can move to any one of them.” While everyone else was cheering for me, the woman was talking trash and cursing. I just tuned it out, went about my business, snagged the ball, and headed back up the steps.
Five minutes later, while still wearing my Yankee gear, a Phillies fan was kind enough to hold my legs while I reached way out and across the flower bed to reel in another ball with the glove trick — my fourth ball overall. Granted, this fan recognized me from YouTube and then proceeded to ask for the ball (I gave him my rally towel instead — estimated eBay value: $20), but it was still a nice gesture on his part.
Batting practice ended two minutes later, and on my way out of the section, I found a ticket lying on the ground. Half an hour later, while walking through the field level concourse, I found another. Check this out:
See the ticket for Section 130? Do you know where that is?! Take a look at the Citizens Bank Park seating chart below:
That’s right…the game hadn’t even started, and for the rest of the night, I was guaranteed to have full access to the seats behind the Yankee dugout. This was a big deal because my actual seat was up here:
I was officially supposed to be in the “right field bleacher deck,” or some kind of nonsense like that, but there was no way that I was going up there. I didn’t know where I’d end up — I was expecting to have a standing-room-only ticket — but I knew I wasn’t going to any section where it was physically impossible to catch a ball. If I had to, I’d stand in the concourse all night and wait until a foul ball or home run started flying in my direction and then bolt down the steps. The problem with sneaking anywhere was that there simply weren’t empty seats.
But wait…hang on…I’m getting ahead of myself. Just after Alanis Morissette sang the national anthem, Derek Jeter came out and started playing catch in front of the dugout (probably to show off for her and/or to ask for her phone number). I used my “Section 130” ticket to get past the ushers, and then I waltzed right down to the front row. Almost every seat was full at that point, but there was one opening in the middle of the section right behind the dugout. It just so happened that this open space was at the outfield end of the dugout, where Jeter was likely to return with the ball. Another happy coincidence: my Yankee shirt said “JETER 2” on the back, so I slipped my arms out through the sleeves and turned the shirt around so that I was wearing his name on my chest. I poked my arms back out, grabbed my camera, positioned my backpack in just the right spot so that it wouldn’t get trampled…and before I knew it, Jeter was finishing up. I didn’t have time to take a photo. All I could do was wave my glove and shout his name and try to make sure that he could see my shirt. He was walking right to me with the ball in his hand. Could it be?! I’d never gotten a ball from him and always wanted one. Even though he played for the Yankees, he was one of my all-time favorite players — one of only two guys (Mariano Rivera being the other) who can actually make me root FOR the Yankees. He kept walking closer. I shouted my head off. He looked to the left, then to the right. Was there a more worthy recipient? A pretty young woman or a cute little kid? No! Jeter took another step and then flipped the ball right to me. The fans on either side reached for it, but they had no chance. I dove forward and caught the ball (pictured on the left) in my glove with full extension, and I belly flopped on the dugout roof. Oh. My. God. DEREK JETER!!! And as a bonus, this ball broke my own personal single-game World Series record of four balls, which I achieved last year at Game 4.
That made my night, week, month, and…I don’t want to say year, because there were quite a few highlights, but man, I was so excited after that. I almost couldn’t tell if it had really happened. I’d been having a lot of snagging dreams lately, and they all felt so real at the time.
As for the game, fun fun fun. Cliff Lee gave up a run in the top of the first, but the Phillies answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame and three more in the third. Chase Utley hit two homers, tying Reggie Jackson’s record for the most home runs hit by one player in a World Series. Unfortunately, I was halfway across the stadium for both of those homers, just chillin’ in foul territory. If I felt like I had a chance to catch a homer, then I would’ve been in the outfield seats, but there’s no cross-aisle at Citizens Bank Park. There’s no way to run left or right. There were no empty seats out there. I wouldn’t have been allowed to stand on any of the staircases, and even if I were, and even if a ball came right to me, there’s no guarantee that I would’ve caught it because the crowd was in a snagging frenzy, even with foul balls. People were pushing and shoving like mad.
In the top of the ninth inning, with the Phillies clinging to an 8-5 lead, this was my view from the back of Section 130:
Then, after Jeter bounced into a run-scoring double play, this was my new spot:
There was a pocket of empty seats down at the front.
I couldn’t sneak all the way down while the game was in progress, but I had my post-game route planned out: down the steps, through the second row, into front row, all the way to the right. That was as close as I could get to the spot where the umpires would be walking off the field. Home plate ump Dana DeMuth had tossed me two post-game balls in the past — both at PETCO Park, incidentally — but those came during the regular season. Would his generosity possibly extend into the World Series?!
The answer had to wait as Johnny Damon smoked a single to center. Mark Teixiera came up next and promptly fell behind in the count, 0-2. I was ready to pounce. I wasn’t sure if any other fans were thinking what I was thinking, so I need to move fast. Teixiera took a ball to bring the count to 1-2. My heart was pounding. I was afraid he’d hit a two-run homer and tie the game. I didn’t want extra innings. I wanted the Phillies to win, and I wanted them to win NOW. Next pitch? Strike three! Ballgame over. Final score: Phillies 8, Yankees 6. I raced down the steps, did some fancy footwork, and reached the corner spot JUST in front of another guy who’d been rushing there too. The rest was up to Mister DeMuth. As he began walking toward me, it was so noisy that I could barely hear myself screaming his name. Somehow, though, he must have heard me because this was the result:
It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but the ball was actually quite rubbed up with mud. The photo below (which shows all six balls that I snagged) will give you a better idea of what the ball really looks like. And here’s the best look of all.
• 6 balls at this game (the Jeter ball is in the middle of the bottom row)
• 538 balls in 60 games this season = 8.97 balls per game.
• 629 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 182 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 12 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball
• 5 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball
• 4,358 total balls
• 129 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.45 pledged per ball
• $152.70 raised at this game
• $13,692.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The charity has already received thousands of dollars’ worth of donations. (Click here and look at the scrolling box on the upper right to see who has officially contributed.) If you’ve made a pledge but haven’t yet sent in the funds, now’s a great time to do it. I’m not free to attend Game 6, and I’m not even going to try to attend Game 7, so this effectively concludes my season. For instructions on how to pay, click here.
I attended this game with my friend Jordan (aka “hockeyguy1011” if you read the comments) and his friend Josh. They’d flown in from Florida just to see Yankee Stadium, and of course they were each hoping to catch a commemorative ball. They had tickets for the main part of the stadium so I sent them to the corner spot at the end of the short porch. I had a seat in the right field bleachers and my day of snagging got off to a fast start.
Less than a minute after I entered the stadium, Phil Hughes tossed me ball number one. Even though his aim was perfect, I jumped up on the chest-high railing so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach…so that I could reach out as far as possible and prevent anyone else from interfering.
Five minutes later, I caught a Robinson Cano homer in the crowded aisle, and five minutes after THAT, I got another ball from Hughes. He didn’t intend to throw this one to anyone in particular. He just flipped it up randomly–one section to the right of where he’d tossed the first ball–and I happened to be standing there so I jumped and made the catch.
I was checking in on Jordan every now and then–his corner spot was only 30 feet from the left edge of the bleachers–and at one point, when I was more than 100 feet away, I saw a player toss him a ball. I ran over and yelled his name and got him to hold it up…
…and learned later that a) the ball was tossed by Alfredo Aceves who b) also tossed one to Josh, and that c) both balls were commemorative. Not bad.
I ended up snagging three more balls with my glove trick during the Yankees’ portion of BP. The first two landed in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall in right-center field, and I had to pounce on them because Greg (aka “gregb123”) was there with his cup trick, and another man (who told me he was inspired by this blog) was there with his own makeshift ball-retrieving device. Those two guys each pulled a ball out of the gap, and Greg ended up getting a couple other balls as well. Anyway, my third glove-trick ball came in left field. I saw a player throw a ball to some fans in the bleachers. Naturally they dropped it, and I ran over, and to my surprise Greg was already on the scene.
“You can have it,” he said. “It’s too far out.”
Cup tricks are better than glove tricks in certain situations (like when a ball is sitting on thick grass or surrounded by garbage, as is often the case in the various gaps at Shea Stadium), but here, when the ball needed to be knocked closer, I was all over it.
Fortunately, stadium security was nowhere in sight, so I was able to spend several minutes flinging my glove out past the ball and then dragging it back by pulling the string. Once I’d moved the ball off the grass, it took an extra effort to bring it closer because the dirt area was slightly sloped and the ball kept trickling away from me. Finally, though, I had the ball where I needed it and went in for the kill.
The man on my right was skeptical, as people often are.
“What you need is a secondary string,” he said.
I didn’t respond at first. I just went about my business, and ten seconds later I was holding the ball.
“What was that you mentioned about extra string?” I asked.
I ran back to right field with six commemorative balls in my drawstring backpack. It’d taken me 40 minutes to snag them, so I figured I’d be able to get four more over the next 45 minutes with the White Sox hitting. It always makes me happy to reach double digits, especially in a tough ballpark like Yankee Stadium, but guess what happened…
The Sox hardly tossed any balls into the crowd. Most of their hitters were right-handed. Their few lefties were either too wimpy to reach the bleachers or, in the case of Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., having too much fun taking aim at the right field upper deck. It was totally dead and my once-promising day quickly turned into a slightly-below-average performance.
I caught up with Greg after BP, and he (expertly) took the following photo:
I only had the baseballs out of my bag for a minute, during which time two people approached me separately and wanted to buy one.
“How much do you want?” asked one guy.
I didn’t even bother asking how much he was willing to pay or making up a number, but it obviously would’ve been a lot more than $30. That’s how much these balls cost in the stadium souvenir stores–and mine were actually USED by the Yankees.
All I said was, “I’m sorry, they’re not for sale.”
I played the tunnels in right field for the first couple innings of the game and had a decent view of Jeter’s fake hit–the one that moved him past Lou Gehrig for “most hits all time at Yankee Stadium.” Seriously, I can’t believe it was ruled a hit. I don’t care what kind of pressure Bill Shannon, the official scorer, was feeling in terms of making a hometown call. He was wrong and his poor decision cheated Jeter and every Yankee fan. He ruined a historic moment. The ball was hit hard–I won’t deny that–but third baseman Juan Uribe should’ve caught it. He’s a major leaguer. Make the play. Get in front of the ball. Move your feet. Knock it down. I used to play shortstop and third base, and I was charged with errors on much harder plays than that. You know when there’s a line drive hit right at an infielder and it in-between hops him and deflects off his glove? In my summer ball leagues (where the fields were crappy and you were lucky if the ball didn’t take a bad hop), those were ruled errors. In the major leagues, why are these plays ruled hits more often than not? It makes me sick. Jeter’s routine ground ball three feet to the right of Uribe should have been caught, and since it wasn’t, it should’ve been an error. Everyone in the stadium kind of cheered as soon as the ball got through, but we were all holding our breaths and looking at the scoreboard. After five to ten seconds, when it was ruled a hit, THEN everyone cheered. It was terrible. And it’s not even like this was the last game at Yankee Stadium. There were still five games and eight innings remaining at that point, so the Captain was clearly going to have plenty of chances. What the hell.
In the second inning, one of my vendor friends walked out of the tunnel where I was standing and said, “No seat again tonight, Zack?”
I actually *did* have a seat in section 41–the second section over from the batter’s eye–but it was in Row M, and there was no way I was gonna sit there.
To make a long story short (and to protect the people who made it happen), I got to sit on an extra folding chair IN the actual aisle directly behind the wall. That aisle is normally reserved for wheelchair seating (just like at Coors Field), but not everyone there is necessarily disabled because those seats often end up getting released to the public shortly before game time.
My view of the game itself wasn’t great because I had to watch the action through the railings…
…but the space on either side of me (and the lack of competition) was to die for. Was this really happening at Yankee effin’ Stadium? This was the view to my left…
…and this was the view to my right:
Wow. If ever there was a night to catch a home run, this was it.
The bottom of the third inning was thoroughly entertaining, not in a snagging sense, but because of the idiot fans sitting directly behind me. Bobby Abreu had committed the horrible crime of grounding out to the pitcher with one out and runner on third, so the fans were already angry when A-Rod stepped into the batter’s box. One guy started screaming, “LOSER!!! LOSER!!!” which prompted his friend to shout, “Pop up to the infield and then pretend you care! I love it!”
(Clearly, A-Rod wants to fail and is more talented as an actor than as an athlete.)
After A-Rod ended the inning with a towering fly out to right field (which would’ve been a 430-foot homer had he swung half an inch higher), the first fan yelled, “YOU BUM!!! YOU BUM!!! YOU PIECE OF SH*T!!!” Then his buddy yelled, “Cheat on your wife!!”
When Abreu took his position in right field in the top of the fourth, another fan screamed, “Way to get the run in, Bobby!! Welcome to free agency!! The Yankees hate you!!”
(Let it be known that Abreu is batting .298 with 91 runs, 17 homers, 19 stolen bases, 38 doubles, and a .372 on-base percentage. Not exactly a terrible season.)
Then the fans started talking about how A-Rod should be dropped to the 8th slot in the lineup, and that the only reason why manager Joe Girardi won’t do it is because it “goes against the book.”
When Jason Giambi led off the bottom of the fourth inning, I was thinking that he had a better chance than anyone on either team to hit a home run to me. That said, I wasn’t rooting for this to happen. I don’t like the guy. To me, he’s a villain who deserves to fail.
Gavin Floyd quickly fell behind in the count 3-0, and all I could think was something along the lines of: “I don’t even want Giambi to enjoy the pleasure of getting a base on balls.”
Giambi predictably took the next pitch–a strike–and fouled off the next one to bring the count to 3-2. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, as I always do, hoping but not necessarily expecting anything to come my way.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Floyd grooved a 91mph fastball, and Giambi launched it about 20 feet to my right. From the moment it left the bat, I knew it was gone, but at first I thought it was going to sail over the aisle and land out of reach in the packed section behind me. Still, I jumped up and drifted through the wide aisle and got in line with the ball. Somehow, either because it was a cool night or because the wind was blowing in (or maybe because I flat-out misjudged it initially), the ball didn’t travel as far as I thought it would, and it began descending toward me in the aisle. I stayed near the back railing, still preparing for the ball to carry (and of course because it’s easier to move forward than backward at the last second), and then determined that the ball was going to land right in the middle of the aisle. Rather than taking
one step forward and preparing to make a face-high catch, I took two steps forward, thereby forcing myself to jump for the ball so that I could catch it as high as possible–and in front of anyone else who might’ve been hoping to make their own attempt.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I jumped. I caught it. The place went nuts (not for me but rather for Giambi) and I held up the ball triumphantly. Then, since I knew I was sitting in a spot where I “belonged” and that I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the section by security (as was the case after my other two home run catches this season), I quickly decided to do a little dorky/celebratory dance…nothing fancy, and certainly nothing GOOD. Just a few silly moves so that that cameras might stay on me for a couple seconds…just to have fun with it and entertain my friends and family and all you blog readers (and the millions of baseball fans) who would end up seeing the highlights later that night.
As it turned out, the cameras captured the whole thing quite well.
My catch (leaping and reaching just behind the “G” in “AIG):
Holding up the ball:
Talking on my cell phone (to Jordan who saw me from the upper deck and called immediately):
I want to give a BIG thanks to my friend Michael Fierman (formerly “tswechtenberg” and now “pinched”) for taping the game and making a compilation of all the footage.
CLICK HERE to watch it, but be warned that it’s about 16 MB and might take a little while to load if you have a slow internet connection.
I was dying to catch another home run–two in one game is a very rare feat–but it wasn’t meant to be.
I am proud to say, though, that as of this moment, I am the proud owner of the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. There are five more games remaining there, and I’ll be at three of them. What are the odds that a) there won’t be any more homers or b) there will be another and I’ll catch it?
Final score: Zack 7, White Sox 6, Yankees 2.
? 7 balls at this game
? 481 balls in 62 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 558 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 124 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 11 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 3 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly at Yankee Stadium)
? 122 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 6 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
? 20 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium
? 3,758 total balls
When I got home, the following email was waiting for me. The subject was “I see 3’s and 1’s.” It was from my friend Brad. Here goes:
There has been a streak of HR catches by some notorious ballhawks over the last six (3 + 3) days. Wanna see how the numbers “3” and “1” occur prominently for each of these?
On Thursday in San Diego, T.C. got Drew Macias’s first (1) MLB homer. Macias’s jersey number is 11 (1) (1). And Leigh got Adrian Gonzalez’s’ 31st (3) (1) homer of the season.
On Friday in San Diego, T.C. got Pedro Sandoval’s third (3) homer of the season,
On Friday in Oakland, Tyler got Hank Blalock’s HR. Blalock went 1-3 that game and wears number nine (3) X (3).
On Saturday at PETCO, Leigh got Bengie Molina’s 13th (1) (3) homer of the year. That’s also 31 backwards from the Gonzalez homer (3) (1) and Molina’s jersey number is one (1).
Monday night at Coors Field, Danny got Matt Antonelli’s first (1) MLB HR. Antonelli is #9 (3) X (3). That catch also makes a total of (3) ballhawks that we know of who got a player’s first (1) major league home run this season; Tyler’s brother Tom in Oakland got Carlos Gonzalez’s first (1)
With all these one’s and three’s flyin’ around, we should have been able to predict that you would catch Giambi’s 31st (3) (1) on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. That also made you the first (1) person to catch three (3) homers at Yankee Stadium in it’s final season. It also happened in the 4th inning (3) + (1). And Giambi ended up going 1-3
for the game.
Also on Tuesday night: Prince Fielder hit his 31st (3) (1) homer of the season onto Sheffield Avenue at Wrigley, and the probability is high that one of the regular ballhawks out there got it. So it is possible that You and Leigh and one of the Wrigley guys have someone’s 31st (3) (1) homer of the 2008 season.
And for the most bizarre stat of the night– the attendance at Yankee Stadium was 52,558.
5 + 2+ 5 + 5 + 8 = 25 (Giambi’s number.)
As awesome as that email was, the response of the night went to my girlfriend (a former professional dancer) who watched the footage and said, “So you were churning butter and then you started doing aerobics.”
Yup. And it worked.