This was my last game in Puerto Rico, and my goal was simple: don’t get shut out. I’d snagged three balls the day before, but they were all kind of flukey, so basically, I just wanted to get on the board early and keep my streak alive.
The gates opened 15 minutes late because some workmen were using a gigantic cherry picker to change the bulbs on a light tower. (During this time, I kept hearing home run balls clanging off the metal bleacher benches.) As a result, I missed the Marlins’ portion of batting practice, and the Mets were already on the field when I ran in:
Two minutes later, a right-handed batter hit a line drive that rolled all the way to the wall. One of the team’s strength and conditioning coaches picked it up, and I convinced him to toss it to me. It was about as uneventful as it gets, but I felt a huge sense of relief. Check out the look on my face right after I got it:
In the photo above (which was taken by my girlfriend Jona), do you see the guy wearing sunglasses and a black Mets shirt? His name is Gustavo. He’s my newest friend. We’d met for the first time two days earlier, and you’ll see a better photo of him later in this entry.
When the bleachers started filling up, the security supervisor gave me (and only me) permission to go underneath the stands. Why? Because she loved me. Why? Because I’d given her a baseball the day before — and because she’d seen me give away several other balls to kids. Here I am standing in the gap behind the outfield wall:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a stadium employee walking underneath the bleachers. Like I said, I was the only fan that was allowed to go down there, and look, it paid off:
This ball landed in the middle of the bleachers and dropped down through one of the spaces between the steps. Here’s a photo that shows those spaces:
I was sure that I’d end up snagging a dozen balls down there, but there wasn’t any action. It was bizarre and extremely frustrating.
Toward the end of BP, an employee wandered over and asked me something in Spanish. I had no idea what he said, so I shrugged. This prompted him to pull a ball out of his back pocket and flip it to me. (He must have asked if I’d gotten a ball yet. Good thing I didn’t pay attention during my Spanish 101 course in college.) The ball had a beautiful smudge on it:
Have you ever seen a green smudge? I have no idea how that mark could have gotten there. Grass doesn’t stain like that. Could this ball have skipped off the artificial playing surface, or could it have been foul-tipped by a green bat?
Anyway, that was it for batting practice. Three balls. Not great. But better than zero.
Want to see what the bathrooms look like in the bleacher area?
Here you go:
In the photo above, you can see how gray the sky was, and sure enough, it ended up raining:
The rain didn’t last long.
Mike Pelfrey started warming up…
…and then it rained some more:
The rain delay lasted an hour and 20 minutes.
Eventually, I changed into a bright pink T-shirt and got Gustavo to take a photo of me and Jona:
The shirt is completely ridiculous. The only reason I wore it was was to make it easier for people to look for me on TV.
Then Jona took a pic of me and Gustavo:
The game itself was thoroughly entertaining, but unfortunately, there weren’t any home runs. Can you believe that? What a waste.
The lack of longballs didn’t stop these kids from having a great time:
But no, really, the game was fun. The Mets scored three times in the top of the first inning, and the Marlins answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame. The score was tied at 4-4 after five innings. Overall, the Marlins committed four errors. It was a sloppy game and a sloppy night. It rained a bit more. It was hot and muggy. The game (not including the delay) lasted nearly four hours, so it turned out to be a loooooong night. You can see the final score in the following photo:
Jona was exhausted and sweaty and hungry. She really wanted to get back to the hotel, but I still had a few more things that I needed to do. First, I took photos of the nicest people I met at the stadium. In the double-photo below, the pic on the left shows a man named Nelson, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Puerto Rico. He and I sat together at all three games, along with his 14-year-old daughter, who’s standing just behind him. The photo on the right shows the three guards/ushers who gave me special privileges and basically looked out for me throughout the series:
As I mentioned in my previous entry, all the ushers were wearing those special “San Juan Series” T-shirts. I really wanted one, but they weren’t for sale, so I had to get creative. Long story short: I learned that the ushers had to report to a certain area inside the stadium after the game and that they had to wear their shirts until they came back out. I also learned from Gustavo how to ask, “Can I buy your shirt?” in Spanish. (It’s “Te puedo comprar la camisa” if you really want to know.)
Jona was ready to collapse. At that point, we’d been at the stadium for nearly nine hours. That’s a long time for anyone, especially someone who doesn’t particularly care for baseball, but I couldn’t just jump in a cab. I had this whole plan worked out for getting a shirt, and I had to see it through. When I explained to Jona that we needed to walk around the outside of the stadium and wait another 15 minutes for the ushers to exit, she wasn’t exactly thrilled. She was a good sport about it, though, and we were able to laugh about it. Before we exited the bleachers, I asked her to act out how she was feeling, both mentally and physically. This is what she did:
(In the photo above, that’s Gustavo in the background. Earlier in the night, he caught one of the outfielders’ warm-up balls. I forget who tossed it — either Jason Bay or Chris Coghlan. It was the first ball that Gustavo had ever snagged at a major league game, and he offered it to me. I didn’t accept it, but thanked him profusely, and he later gave it to his 11-year-old nephew.)
Jona and I headed over to the employee exit and waited. It actually didn’t take that long before they started trickling out.
“Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”
“Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”
“Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”
I shouted the phrase at everyone. Some people ignored me. Some gave me funny looks. Some mumbled a few words in Spanish and kept walking. Some responded in English and told me they were going to keep their shirts. And then, finally, a young, female usher (who was wearing another shirt underneath) stopped and asked, “For how much?”
“Twenty bucks?” I asked, afraid that I’d get laughed at for making such a low offer.
“Are you serious?” she asked excitedly.
“Yeah, I want one of those shirts, but they’re not for sale.”
“Okay!” she said and started taking it off.
“Wait, what size is it?” I asked.
“Large,” she said.
She handed me the shirt. I handed her a $20 bill. She was happy. I was ecstatic…
…and then Jona and I got our cab.
• 3 balls at this game (2 pictured on the right because I gave one to Nelson’s daughter)
• 182 balls in 19 games this season = 9.6 balls per game.
• 648 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 198 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,540 total balls
• 38 donors (click here to learn more)
• $5.56 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.68 raised at this game
• $1,011.92 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Screwed by the weather!
No batting practice.
Miserable day all around.
Game time temperature: 39 degrees.
Don’t go to Chicago in April.
This is what I saw when I ran into the stadium:
Thankfully (and for some strange reason) there was a ball waiting for me in the right field bullpen:
I might not have noticed this ball if not for my new friend Scott and his friend Chad. (In the photo above, Scott is the guy wearing jeans and a black jacket, and Chad is in a maroon shirt just beyond/above the red tarp.) I was staying back under the overhang of the second deck because it was pouring. These two gentlemen, however, were down in the seats and looking for easter eggs when they discovered the ball in the bullpen. Scott doesn’t have a ball-retrieving device and Chad had left his at home, so they waved me down and let me go for it.
In the following photo (which was taken by Scott), you can see me trying to knock the ball closer:
The bad news is that my string got horribly tangled (I blame the wetness) and I failed to reel in the ball. The good news is that a couple of groundskeepers eventually walked into the bullpen and one of them tossed it to me. Although there’s no official “assist” category for ballhawks, Scott and Chad definitely deserve one. Not only had they pointed out the ball, but they didn’t even ask for it when the groundskeepers made an appearance. So…BIG thanks to them.
The ball was soaked, and it weighed about half a pound. My glove was also soaked. My string was soaked. My backpack was soaked. My feet were clammy. The ink on my rosters had bled all over the place. My whole body was freezing. It was just a day of suck. And to make matters worse, when it stopped raining, the Blue Jays never came out. Normally, when there’s no BP, the teams will still take the field and play catch. But no. Not this time. There was nothing happening on the field. There was no way to snag baseballs…so I wandered and took photos, starting with the open-air concourse in center field:
I headed to the left field corner of the upper deck…
…and then made my way toward home plate:
I’m not sure what to make of the support beams. Are they really necessary? I mean, are the really
holding up the top edge of the upper deck? Or are they just there to make The Cell look charming and old? I’m pretty sure–and correct me if I’m wrong–that when construction began on this stadium in 1989, technology had advanced to the point where view-blocking beams would’ve been unnecessary. This upper deck is rather high and far and steep; if I were trapped in the last few rows and THEN had to sit behind one of those beams, I wouldn’t be happy. But then again, security is so laid-back at this stadium that unless it’s sold out, there’s no reason why anyone would ever have to sit there.
Here’s my panorama attempt from behind the plate:
This is what the upper deck concourse looks like. Pretty nice, pretty standard:
I noticed some lousy stadium design as I cut through the seats toward the right field side. In the following photo, look how far the steps extend toward the front of the upper deck:
What’s the big deal?
Let’s say you’re sitting in the front row and you want to get to the concourse. When you reach the steps, you’d either have to climb over them or scoot carefully between the bottom step and the railing. It took somewhat of an effort for ME to reach the tunnel in an empty stadium, so I can only imagine how tough it would be for old/fat people when it’s packed.
Here’s another oddity. Not a mess-up. Just something cute and quirky. Look at the little segment of railing attached to the side of the beam:
Here’s another panorama:
I wasn’t kidding when I said security is laid-back. I *did* have to pay $34 for a field level ticket in order to get into the field level seats, but once I was in, I was free to go everywhere, including here:
Can someone please tell me why it’s okay for autograph collectors to cluster at the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, but not at Wrigley Field? Or Citi Field? Or the new Yankee Stadium? I hate that certain teams (read: owners) have the right to enforce all kinds of strict rules. There should be a league-wide policy that gives every fan permission to get as close to the field as they want, in any section, at any time of the day until the game begins. Then, if certain anti-fun owners feel the need to instruct their security guards to check tickets, so be it. I wish I were the commissioner of Major League Baseball and/or an owner. (Evidently you can be both at once.) I’m telling you, the world would be a better place.
Here’s another look from the front row next to the dugout:
Half an hour before game time, two White Sox players started throwing in shallow left field. I figured there’d be a mob of fans trying to get the ball (at least there would’ve been in New York) but the only mob was passing by on the warning track:
The White Sox had invited 2,200 Girl Scouts (and their parents/siblings/etc.) to take a lap around the field. I was concerned that one of the kids might get hit by an errant throw, but the two players–John Danks and Gavin Floyd–were very careful. (One little girl walked right up to Danks with a ball and pen in her hand and was quickly stopped by security.) Meanwhile, I was the only fan in the seats who had a glove, and when the guys finished throwing, Danks had no choice but to toss me the ball.
Then I got Floyd to sign my ticket:
The game was delayed 14 minutes at the start, and it rained on and off throughout the night. (I’m surprised it was rain and not snow.)
I decided to stay behind home plate and go for foul balls. This was my view late in the game:
Why was I there and not in the outfield? Because Jim “Future Hall of Famer” Thome and A.J. “99 Career Homers” Pierzynski weren’t playing. It was so miserable and cold that I decided I deserved the pleasure of sitting close to the action.
Scott and Chad had the same idea. They were sitting one section to my right. There were a few foul balls that came close enough for us to get up and run, but we didn’t snag any of them. I got a third-out ball from Jose Bautista after the second inning, and Chad kept his mini-streak alive by getting a ball from the ump after the game, but that was it. Hardly any action. Super-lame. The White Sox won, 10-2, and then there were fireworks. Whoop-Dee-Doo!
One final thing…
At some point during the game–I think it was the top of the 5th inning–I felt my phone vibrate in the upper right pocket of my cargo pants.
“Who the HELL is texting me?” I thought as I reached for it. (I don’t text. I have T-Mobile. I didn’t sign up for texting, but I still get charged 20 cents every time I send or receive a text. It’s complete B.S., and as a result, whenever I give my cell phone number to someone, I have to insist that they never text me. But they still do. And my phone bill get inflated several dollars every month. The cheapest texting plan from T-Mobile is $5 per month, so I’m still saving money, but it’s still a ripoff, and I can’t wait to dump them and get an iPhone. Anyway, there IS a point to this story…)
I pulled out the phone and flipped it open, and this is what it said:
Yes, that would be THE Heath Bell who pitches for the San Diego Padres–he’s the only one who has permission to text me–and he was talking about my charity. I had told him about it when I saw him on 4/15/09 at Citi Field, and he told me to email him the link. (Very quickly, for those who don’t know, I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season. That money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. The largest pledge so far is one dollar per ball. The smallest pledge is a penny, and it’s all adding up in a big way. If you want to see the complete list of donors and learn more about it, click here.) I was surprised that Heath signed up so quickly. Ten days? I would’ve been glad to have him sign up after ten weeks, for even a nickel per ball, but he came through. He is truly The Man. I can’t say it enough.
• 3 soggy balls at this game
• 88 balls in 12 games this season = 7.3 balls per game.
• 581 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 151 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,908 total balls
• 95 donors
• $18.16 pledged per ball
• $54.48 raised at this game
• $1,598.08 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?
When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield . . .
. . . I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.
The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for the Wild Card with
the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers won, or if they both lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea to determine who’d be moving on to the post-season.
I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:
I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through. At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned about my seat location.
I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball. Even a training ball. Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.
Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.
I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing . . . and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a chance to catch it.
Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.
“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)
“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.
So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket . . .
. . . and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it was raining. Look how wet the railings were at the front of the bleachers:
Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after. The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:
These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.
The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:
Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me the following ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more) of the Nationals’ baseballs.
The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to me off the warning track in left-center.
I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife. I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:
I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:
I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets were entering the stadium.
I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone . . .
. . . so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:
This was the view slightly to the left:
The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck . . .
. . . and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:
I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:
The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all being former Mets) but it was still cool:
These guys were intense:
This dude nailed it:
This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:
This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:
This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in the background:
Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:
Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:
Then I ran into Elvis . . .
. . . and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.
If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be, but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.
Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day, and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant scoreboard . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:
I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1” so when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.
This was my view straight ahead . . .
. . . and this was the view to my right:
I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.
Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:
The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker. Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run. Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were ahead, 2-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner, and Beltran crushed it in my direction.
It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept coming . . . coming . . . coming . . . and I couldn’t believe I was even going to be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter disbelief before I really started celebrating:
Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:
Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:
Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me. It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing my shaved head:
The celebration just wouldn’t end:
Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives . . .
. . . followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:
And some more high-fives. Check it out . . . two at once:
It was THE . . . CRAZIEST . . . HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.
(Click here to watch the highlight on SNY.)
As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.
“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.
They were all like . . . huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.
One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank god) and had me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did . . . and I kept getting mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like, “C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”
He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90 percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the ball as he could and his friend took a pic.
I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers. The authenticator, pictured below . . .
. . . emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur. This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was racing like you wouldn’t believe.
He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…
. . . and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:
Here’s a look at the sticker:
Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:
Here’s the commemorative logo:
Here’s the whole thing:
People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc. Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get out of the way if one comes.”
“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10 steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”
But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.
A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.
“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.
“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”
I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)
Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers (who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.
Wow, 12 more outs to go . . .
In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers. Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d just traveled an additional 10 feet.
“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.
“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”
Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then BOOM!!! Another home run . . . again into the bleachers but too far over toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.
“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.
“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”
I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.
Ayala retired the next three batters.
The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth or their season was done.
The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning: David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.
Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches, but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.
I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick (which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level. Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full . . .
. . . and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is business.
Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one 380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was history.
The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”
It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to get stuff from them, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout (he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap as everyone headed back in.
I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif (aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) and changed out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but still . . . Marlins = yuck:
Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap . . .
. . . and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:
THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.
Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:
The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto the field one last time . . .
. . . but it was bittersweet. Everyone in the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite bathroom–but even he knew it was time.
I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot . . .
. . . and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:
“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”
When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:
1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you because they just saw you at the Mets game . . . dude, you are a f*ckin’ superstar.”
2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever . . . and you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculous. This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”
3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall, former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair, looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah.”
Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.
It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted this entry about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now 12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the front page of Yahoo, and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot . . .
. . . and here’s the story.
This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats . . .
* 6 balls at this game
* 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
* 568 consecutive games with at least one ball
* 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
* 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
* 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)
* 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
* 99 lifetime game balls in New York
* 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
* 3,816 total balls
The good news is that I caught a Ken Griffey Jr. home run. The bad news is that it happened during batting practice. But before I get into that, I want to share a dozen pics I took outside the stadium before the gates opened. Here are the first nine…
…and here are the rest:
Dolphin Stadium is unlike any other baseball stadium because…it’s a football stadium…hey! It’s so big and weird–and it felt so eerie and desolate–that it reminded me somewhat of Olympic Stadium. This was a good thing, as far as I was concerned; it was more interesting to wander and take pics. It was nice to be there early enough to even get to take pics, unlike the previous day when I arrived at the ballpark at the last minute.
When Gate H opened at 5:30pm, I raced to the right field seats and basically had the place to myself…
…but of course there weren’t any players on the field, at least not in fair territory. The Marlins had ended BP early and were nowhere in sight. The Reds, meanwhile, were stretching in front of their dugout, so I had to sit there like a putz for ten interminable minutes until things got started.
The seats were still pretty empty at that point, and the following ten minutes were action-packed. I started things off by using my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track in straight-away right field, then moved to right-center and ended up snagging FIVE home run balls. The first was hit by Griffey and landed in the seats. The second might’ve been hit by Griffey as well (not sure unfortunately) and landed less than ten feet behind me. As I was climbing over the rows, and just as I grabbed the ball, the seat I was standing on folded up and caught my right leg which slipped all the way through. I wasn’t in any pain–I just couldn’t get out, and for a second I was nervous…that is, until I used my left foot to kick off my right sneaker and then carefully pulled my foot out. I didn’t want to waste any time untying and retying my shoe, so I forcefully wedged my foot back in, and it paid off. Seconds later, another lefty hit a deep fly ball that was heading for the blue tarp in center field. I started moving in that direction as soon as he had made contact, and when I got to the edge of the seats, the ball took a lucky bounce and ricocheted in my direction and I scooped it up in front of another fan who was totally unprepared. (In the photo on the right, you can see this ball and the tarp-induced smudge.)
My fifth ball of the day was a Griffey homer that I caught on a fly. I had to drift about 15 feet to my left through an empty row and then reach high over my head for the one-handed grab. Nothing fancy.
My sixth ball was a monstrous drive to right-center by the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Adam Dunn. He must have hit it at least 450 feet. It was 404 to the outfield wall where I was standing, and this ball landed more than 20 rows behind me. It was incredible, but obviously I didn’t stand there admiring it. I bolted up the steps while it was still airborne and knew that if it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and if I didn’t struggle to find it in the seats, it was going to be all mine.
Okay, so I snagged five home run balls, right? I caught one on a fly, and another hit the tarp. Check out the markings on the other three:
These were the only balls I snagged that had landed in the seats–the very ORANGE seats–and they all had matching physical evidence. Cool, huh?
I thought I was on my way to a double-digit performance, but no, it started raining and the grounds crew pulled out the tarp 20 minutes before the scheduled end of BP:
Around that time, I was approached by two Marlins fans: an eight-year-old boy named Alejandro and his mother, Rosa. They’d emailed me several times in the week leading up to this series and only found out the day before that I was going to be attending this game. To put it lightly, Alejandro is quite a fan and was prepared for our encounter:
That’s right. He’d brought my first book and made a sign for the occasion. I ended up signing four autographs (two for him and two for his brothers), and I sat with him in right field for most of the game.
The game itself was exciting. There were several lead changes, and it ended with a two-out, come-from-behind, walk-off homer. But the Griffey factor was disappointing, mainly because I was sitting in the perfect spot…
…and (with the exception of Alejandro) had zero competition. Check out the pic below. I took it between pitches DURING Griffey’s at-bat in the seventh inning:
At another point in the game, when Griffey was up, I had fourteen empty seats on my right. Why couldn’t he have hit his 600th home run then? WHY?!?!?!?! Why did he have to finish his night with two maddening walks and a harmless single to center? Why did the only thing I caught during the game have to be a T-shirt between innings?
At least there were cheerleaders, and Lord knows I needed some cheer.
? 6 balls at this game
? 153 balls in 20 games this season = 7.65 balls per game.
? 119 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 848 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,430 total balls