The highlight of the day BY FAR was hanging out with my mom. Here we are outside the stadium:
The baseball portion of the day, unfortunately, was rough. I ran all over the place while the Phillies were taking batting practice…
…and I only managed to snag ONE ball during that time. I won’t even bother listing all the close calls and unlucky moments (most of which were the product of being in a sold-out stadium). All I’ll say is that I snagged the ball with my glove trick and that my mom took a cool photo of me while I was stretching across the flower bed. Check it out:
Once the Giants took the field, I changed my outfit accordingly…
…and it actually paid off. I headed into foul territory as the Giants pitchers were finishing playing catch. Matt Cain ended up with the ball and considered tossing it to a bunch of Phillies fans, but I got his attention. He then looked back at the other fans (which included several young women). Then he looked at me again. I tipped my cap and flaunted the Giants logo on my shirt. He looked at the other fans one last time. Then he looked at me, and I shrugged as if to
say, “Come on, I’m wearing Giants stuff. It doesn’t matter how cute the Phillies fans are. You can’t possibly be serious about giving the ball to them.” (Yes, my shrug communicated all of that.) Cain finally turned and threw me the very dirty ball, pictured here on the right.
Twenty minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by a righty on the Giants. I have no idea who. He was wearing a warm-up jersey over his uniform number, and I was way too busy jockeying for position to pay any attention to his stance or swing. There was a swarm of fans around me. I had to jump up and reach above all of their gloves to make the catch. There was such a frenzy that my mom (who was standing 10 feet away) didn’t even know that I’d gotten the ball until I took it out of my glove and showed her.
That was it for BP.
Tim Lincecum signed autographs for five minutes at the dugout. People were going crazy. I couldn’t get near him. I settled for taking his photo:
After that, I met up with David Rhode, the executive director of Pitch in For Baseball, the charity for which I’m raising money this season. David was there with his 14-year-old son Casey. They’re bigtime Phillies fans, which is understandable given the fact that they actually live in Pennsylvania, but still, when the three of us had our picture taken, I felt compelled to wear my Giants gear and try to cover up their evil Phillies logos. Here we are:
Ten minutes before the game started, I worked my way down to the front row along the left field foul line. Juan Uribe was playing catch with a couple other guys, and when they finished,
I got him to throw me the ball. (The ball is pictured here on the right. As you can see, it has a smudged MLB logo, which I find somewhat
interesting.) It was easy. Not only was I the only person there wearing
Giants gear, but no one else was even wearing a glove or standing up.
After that, my mom and I headed to the Diamond Club seats behind home plate. We stayed near the back of the unofficial standing-room-only area, just in front of the glass doors that lead into the club. This was our view for right-handed batters:
It’s a great foul ball spot — not ideal because of its close proximity to the field — but it’s good enough that I feel like I have a genuine shot on every single pitch. I got my chance with one out in the top of the 2nd inning. Randy Winn hit a very high foul pop-up that was pretty much heading right to me. As I was drifting with it and preparing to make the catch, a man walked up from behind me and inadvertently cut me off…or maybe *I* was the one who cut *him* off. It doesn’t matter. The point is…from my perspective…he got right in my way at the last second. But he wasn’t trying to catch the ball. He didn’t have a glove. He was carrying beers. He didn’t even know the ball was coming. He just happened to stroll out through the doors…and THWACK!!! The ball clocked him on the forehead. Direct hit. Holy hell. My instinct, of course (because I’m such a kind-hearted person), was to grab the ball, which conveniently landed at my feet. The man, meanwhile, spilled his beer and staggered backward and spouted an incredible string of obscenities (not at me, but at his general misfortune) as security whisked him off for medical treatment. I noticed that he had a big bloody welt on his head. It was alarming, to say the least. I was planning to give him the ball (or at least *a* ball) when he returned, but I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.
Here’s a photo of the ball:
(Nope, no forehead imprint.)
I had another shot at a foul ball in the 9th inning, but I totally blew it. It was hit way over my head — into the third deck, I think — and was dropped by some fans. The ball fell all the way back down and landed on the pavement near me in the standing-room area. I ran toward it and tried to smother it before it bounced back up, but I failed miserably and deflected the ball right to some other fans. It was a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t want to relive it by telling the story here. Some things are better left unsaid. Anyway, I was so upset (not just because I’d booted my chance at a foul ball but because I was getting booed by so many people) that a teenaged kid walked over to me and handed me a ball. It wasn’t THE ball. It was a different game-used ball that he happened to have. Long story short: I tried to convince the kid that I really *really* didn’t need his baseball, but he was determined to give it to me, and there came a point when I realized it would have insulted him if I didn’t accept his gift. So, I reluctantly allowed him to hand it over (no, the ball doesn’t count in my collection), at which point a bunch of people (his mom included) started cheering him for his generosity. And then, 15 minutes later, I turned the ball over to a younger kid who was heading out of the stadium with an empty glove.
Those final 15 minutes were action-packed. Cole Hamels completed his two-hit, 1-0 masterpiece — only the fourth 1-0 game in the six-year history of Citizens Bank Park — and I got a ball tossed to me at the Giants’ dugout by one of the relievers.
• 406 balls in 48 games this season = 8.46 balls per game.
• 617 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 176 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 132 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 4,226 total balls
• 122 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.01 pledged per ball
• $150.06 raised at this game
• $10,154.06 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
That pretty much sums it up.
I started out in left field and snagged four balls during the first round of batting practice. (What’s so frustrating about that? Keep reading.) The first one was thrown by George Sherrill…
…and the next three were home run balls.
The first of those homers tipped off my glove (as I made a leaping attempt to catch it) and bounced right back to me off a seat. Even if it hadn’t taken a perfect bounce, I still would’ve snagged it because the seats were gloriously empty.
The second homer came right to me and I easily caught it on the fly while drifting slowly through an empty row.
The third homer was hit by Adam Jones. (I don’t know who hit the others.) It was a high fly ball that barely cleared the wall in left-center. It bounced off some guy’s bare hands and conveniently landed in the empty second row where I was standing.
It was only 5:12pm. The stadium had been open for about 10 minutes. I was all set to have a MONSTER day, but then the Orioles stopped taking BP. Bam! Just like that. They all jogged off the field.
Fifteen minutes later, while the Mariners were stretching in front of their dugout, the entire grounds crew came out and sat on the rolled up tarp:
(The guy who’s sitting fourth from the right is playing with his gum, in case you were wondering.)
I heard a voice crackling out of one of their walkie-talkies. It said, “Stand by for BP breakdown.”
Because it started raining, JUST as the Mariners started hitting. That’s why.
This was the result:
John Wetteland, the Mariners’ bullpen coach, started signing autographs IN STYLE along the left field foul line. Check it out:
It’s official: my new life goal is to have someone hold an umbrella over my head while I sign autographs. Or maybe my goal should simply be to experience ONE rain-free game at Camden Yards.
This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:
Right before the game started, I got Jamie Burke to toss me a ball at the Mariners’ dugout. Then I ran around to the Orioles’ side and got another ball (No. 4,039 lifetime) from Brian Roberts. Check out this “action” shot of my snag from afar:
Roberts always tosses a ball to that spot before the game, but he always tosses it to a little kid. For some reason, though, at that moment, there weren’t any kids in sight, so he had no choice but to toss it to me. Ha.
The game started on time, and for the first couple innings, I moved back and forth between the standing-room-only section in right field and the seats in left-center.
This was the view in left:
Nothing special, right?
Well, look how empty the seats were to MY left:
Did any home runs land there?
No, of course not.
It’s incredible. I’ve positioned myself in so many great spots and given myself so many chances to catch a game home run this season, but it’s just…not…happening.
You know what DID happen?
The game was delayed 27 minutes in the third inning. Fabulous. I spent about 17 of those minutes standing in line for pizza at a concession stand which was run by exceptionally incompetent employees. There was a taco bar next to the pizza area, and there was one employee at each. NONE of the people on line wanted a taco, so what did the taco lady do? She stood there and watched the pizza guy slowwwwwwly cut slices and slowwwwwly put them in boxes, one by one, rather than helping him out and speeding up the process. It’s like she wasn’t allowed to go near the pizza because it wasn’t a taco. And the guy! Oh my God, it’s like he was just learning to use his hands for the first time, and then when he couldn’t find a spatula, he tried using the pizza-slicing wheel thingy to scoop up the slices. But you see, he wasn’t smart enough to keep the boxes near the pizza. No, THAT would’ve made too much sense. Instead he kept scooping up the slices (each of which he touched with his hands so they wouldn’t fall) and carrying them to the boxes, and on several occasions the cheese dripped off the side and landed on the floor. Normally the Orioles do a great job of running the stadium, so I’ll let it slide this time.
Back to the game…
There were two home runs. Luke Scott, who bats left-handed, hit one over the Bud Light ad in left-center (naturally I wasn’t there) and Russell Branyan, who also bats left-handed, hit the sixth longest home run in the history of Camden Yards. That one reached the back off the seats just to the right of dead-center. (Naturally I wasn’t there either.)
About halfway through the game, I gave up on left field; whenever a bunch of righties were coming up, I went for foul balls behind the plate instead. I should’ve caught one in the 6th inning. There was a high pop-up that nicked the facade of the second deck and landed RIGHT in the aisle about five feet away from where I was standing. The aisle had been empty all night. The paid attendance was less than 13,000 *AND* there had been a rain delay. Get my point? Not too many fans. But. of course, at the exact moment that the foul ball was hit, a woman in a wheelchair rolled in front of me and blocked the aisle. She even stopped rolling when she saw the ball go up. Then, after the ball smacked off the pavement (essentially right on the other side of her chair) and bounced far, far away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t wanna get hit.” Fine. Fair enough. I won’t make a wheelchair wisecrack or deny her right to cower in fear. I’m just saying: I’m having the worst luck.
Okay, maybe not THE worst luck. I did end up getting a foul ball in the bottom of the 8th. There were two outs. Mark Lowe was pitching. Ty Wigginton was at bat. The count was 1-0. The ball sailed high in the air and landed in a staircase on my left, and I grabbed it off the steps. Here I am, standing at the bottom of the stairs with the ball:
That made me feel better. The day was not a total loss, but man, the standing-room-only section really let me down. Nick Yohanek (aka The Happy Youngster) was out there too, and we were both disappointed. He *really* had some bad luck earlier on. Man oh man.
Anyway, that was basically it. The Mariners won, 6-3, so I went to their dugout but didn’t get anything there. Nick and I said goodbye (no telling when we’ll cross paths again) just after he took this photo of me and Jona:
On my way out, I found the cutest kid in the stadium and stole a ball from him:
(I hope you know I’m joking. I really was GIVING a ball to that kid in the photo above.)
• 7 balls at this game
• 220 balls in 28 games this season = 7.86 balls per game.
• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 163 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 129 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; those are way too easy in my opinion and don’t deserve to be counted in a special category)
• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York
• 200 lifetime balls at Camden Yards (the Wigginton foul ball, pictured here on the right, was No. 200…the extra-dark mark on the ball came from hitting the black paint on the edge of one of the steps)
• 4,040 total balls
• 109 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)
• $24.06 pledged per ball
• $168.42 raised at this game
• $5,293.20 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Next game for me? Tuesday, June 16th in Kansas City. If there’s one day that I really really really need the rain to hold off, that would be it. And by the way, assuming I get at least one ball every day in KC, the game on June 18th will be the 600th of my streak.
I woke up in Chicago, took a 90-minute train ride to Milwaukee, and found my friend Nick Yohanek waiting for me outside the station:
Nick is an extremely skilled ballhawk who’s known as “The Happy Youngster.” He has his own website and blog, and although we’d been emailing back and forth for a couple years, the first time we met in person was 20 days earlier in Toronto. (One great thing about being a ballhawk is that friendships often develop fast with other ballhawks. Three weeks ago, I barely knew Nick…and now here he was, picking me up at a train station and letting me crash at his place for a night.)
Nick gave me a scenic tour of Milwaukee (which even HE would admit is an oxymoron) on the way to his place. We drove past Miller Park…
…and pulled into his driveway less than 10 minutes later:
As much as Nick loves the Brewers, he loves the Green Bay Packers even more. His basement is basically a memorabilia shrine for the two teams. Check it out below. Here’s one wall of stuff…
…and here’s another:
In the photo above, the home plate-shaped display case holds all 48 game home run balls that Nick has snagged. Truly remarkable. On the lower left, you can see his trademark t-shirt: Glove + Ball = Happy. (Nick is a police officer and has a very effective way of protecting his memorabilia collection. I’ll explain in my next entry.)
We headed to the stadium at around 3pm–plenty of time for me to wander all the way around the outside of it and take some pics. But first, here’s one that Nick took of me:
Nick then walked me out to a nearby spot in the parking lot and showed me this:
It says: “This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron’s career, #755, hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.”
That final home run ball, by the way, caused a LOT of controversy. It was retrieved by a groundskeeper, and when the team asked the guy for the ball, he said he wanted to hand it over himself to Aaron. The team refused, so he was like, “Fine, then I’ll just keep the ball.” What did the team do? They fired him AND they docked him five dollars from his final paycheck for the cost of the ball. True story. (Shame on the Brewers.) I’ll be writing more about this in my next book, along with a bunch of other ball-related controversies. The last thing I’ll say about it for now is that the groundskeeper eventually got the last laugh.
Nick followed me as I kept wandering and taking pics. Miller Park is very nice, but the surrounding area is, in a word, nondescript:
Two edges of the stadium are slightly elevated above the surrounding land, so there’s a railing around the perimeter:
Now…I know that the people in Milwaukee are passionate about their bratwurst, so as I made my way around the stadium with Nick, it saddened me greatly to see the following:
I can’t explain it. It was just…there.
Here’s one final look at the outside of Miller Park. This is the home plate entrance (and you can see Nick in the yellow shirt):
As for the inside of Miller Park…
I met a fellow ballhawk named Shawn and his mother Sue (who also snags her fair share of baseballs). Shawn had a copy of my first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, and Sue had the new one, Watching Baseball Smarter:
I signed the books for them and then got my snagging underway.
Ball No. 1 was tossed by Brewers coach Joe Crawford, and it had something strange written on it. Check it out:
I’ve snagged a lot of marked balls over the years, including this one from the Brewers back in the 1990s, but I’d never seen anything like this. Within the last year or two, I’d been hearing stories about how the Brewers were writing random stuff on their practice balls, so it was great to finally get one.
When the Pirates took the field, there were still a few of the Brewers’ balls laying around on the warning track, and I got Zach Duke to toss one to me. (The line I used was, “How ’bout a ball for a fellow Zack?” First time I ever used that line successfully. I even offered to show him ID, but he took my word for it. Zacks are just cool like that, as are Zachs.) This second ball also had something written on the sweet spot, and when I ran over the right field bullpen and used my glove trick to reel in the following ball…
Here are those first three balls I snagged, logos up:
Now, here they are with the sweet spots up…
…and let me just stress again that I did NOT write this stuff on the balls. They were like this when I caught them.
I managed to glove-trick another ball from the bullpen before security shut me down. There was just one usher who seemed to have a problem with my device, and when he told me I might get ejected if I used it again, I decided to move my operation to the second deck in left field.
I didn’t expect to catch much up there, but it turned out to be a great spot. First, Brandon Moss threw me a ball, and then I snagged a home run that flew 10 feet over my head and landed in the mostly empty benches. Several minutes later, John Grabow tossed me my seventh ball of the day, and soon after I snagged another home run off the steps.
That wasn’t it.
While I was labeling the balls and scribbling down some notes about how I’d gotten them, I noticed that Craig Monroe was getting ready to throw a ball to some fans in the front row about 30 feet to my left. As he fired it up, I bolted to my left and cut through my row. The ball sailed over the fans’ heads, landed several rows behind me, hit the back of a bench, and bounced right back to me as I was cutting across. It was beautiful. I ended up giving that ball away, but it was still fun to catch it, and of course it counts in my stats and for the charity.
Nyjer Morgan then threw me another ball. I hadn’t even asked him. He just looked up into the seats and spotted me, so I pointed at him to acknowledge that I was ready. He fielded a ball moments later and immediately turned and fired it up at me. Perfect aim. Embarrassingly easy. And just like that, I had reached double digits.
I made it to the Pirates’ dugout just before the end of BP and a got my 11th ball tossed to me by coach Luis Dorante as everyone was coming off the field. It was a real beauty:
Nick and Shawn were also down by the dugout, and since security is so laid-back and awesome in Milwaukee (with the exception of that one guy who’s anti-glove trick), we sat down and hung out for about 20 minutes. Turns out we were captured by the Pittsburgh TV cameras. Thanks to Erik Jabs for passing along the following screen shot. You can see Nick on the left, Shawn in the middle, and me on the right:
My plan for the game was simple: Go to the second deck behind the plate, stay there all night, and catch a foul ball. Miller Park has THE best spot for foul balls in the Major Leagues. By far. The only other time I’d ever been to this stadium was on June 11, 2003. I snagged 17 balls that day including two foul balls during the game in that section.
What’s so good about it?
This was my view of the field (I was hearing Bob Uecker’s voice all night)…
…and this was my view to the left:
Is that not THE most glorious cross-aisle you’ve EVER seen?
The height and distance of the section is perfect. The protective screen at the backstop is not too tall. Heaven, I tell you! If I were going to custom-build a stadium, just for myself in order to have the best possible chance of catching a foul ball, this is what I would’ve come up with.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t any action during the first third of the game, but I got my chance in the top of the 4th. Brian Bixler fouled one back and to my left. It was heading toward the “family section” portion of the “KOHL’S” sign in the photo above, so I took off running. I couldn’t reach the ball in time to catch it on the fly, but because the aisle was completely empty, the ball smacked off the blue wall, ricocheted back and hit a seat back, then rolled back toward the wall…and that’s when I swooped in and scooped it up.
Check out the mark on the wall/ball:
Sadly, that was the only ball that came back there all night, but I was satisfied. I mean, what kind of jerk would complain about “only” snagging one foul ball during a game? (Don’t answer that.)
The Brewers had a 10-5 lead heading into the 9th inning, so who did they bring in? All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. He’d been hurt. This was his Brewers debut. The crowd went nuts, and I ran down to the dugout…
…just in time to see him record the final out.
Five minutes later I realized that the foul ball I’d snagged was my 100th ball of the season. (I’d started the day with 88 and the modest of goal of snagging 12 balls combined in the two days I’d be at Miller Park.) Here I am with the ball at the Pirates’ dugout:
You can see a closeup of the ball in the photo down below on the right. I’m pretty sure that the smudge (on the seams to the right of the MLB logo) came from the bat. The blue mark on the sweet spot (shown three photos above) obviously came from the wall. But what’s with the smeared logos in two different places? You can see that “Rawlings” is smeared on the top of the ball, and so is the word “baseball.” Very strange. I’ve never gotten a game-used ball with that many markings.
• 12 balls at this game
• 100 balls in 13 games this season = 7.69 balls per game.
• 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls
• 582 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 152 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 126 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 3,920 total balls
• 96 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $18.17 pledged per ball
• $218.04 raised at this game
• $1,817.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The day got off to a great start.
Thanks to the location of my hotel room and the impressive right arm of a Blue Jays pitcher, I was able to snag a ball 15 minutes before Rogers Centre opened. This is where it all went down:
I’m not sure who threw it–it’s kinda hard to recognize faces from three kilometers up–but I think it was Jesse Litsch. I’d gotten his attention as soon as the Jays started taking BP, and when I asked for a ball, he grabbed his shoulder and rotated his arm as if to indicate that it was sore.
“I can’t throw that far!” he shouted.
“Gimme a break!” I yelled. “I played D-3 ball, and *I* can throw that far!”
That convinced him to give it a shot, but his first throw fell short and the ball bounced out of the 500 Level. Then, before he tried again, he told me that this was going to be his last try. The ball barely sailed wide and again bounced out of the seats.
“C’mon!” I yelled.
He ignored me.
I thought that was it, but then he surprised me by making one final attempt about 20 minutes later, and it was right on the money. That is one impressive throw, and of course it felt incredible to head outside and get on line and already have a “1” in the ball tally. FYI, there’s no way to enter the stadium from the hotel. I had to go outside and wait at the gate like everyone else, and when I got outside, I discovered that it was snowing. Then, according to the plan,
I headed to Gate 13 and met a fellow ballhawk named Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) for the very first time. Here we are…Nick on the left and his father Jack on the right:
Nick and I had known each other through email and blog comments for a few years. Like me, he had planned to go to Toronto to make an attempt at catching Gary Sheffield’s 500th career home run. Even though Sheff got released by the Tigers during the final week of Spring Training, we were still here. Nick and his father had made the 650-mile drive from Milwaukee.
My only concern about meeting fellow ballhawks is that we’ll end up getting in each other’s way and competing for the same balls, but that didn’t happen here. Rogers Centre is big enough (and the crowd was so small) that everyone was able to spread out. As soon as the gates opened, Nick made a beeline for the 200 Level and found an easter egg. I raced to the 100 Level and got one of the Tigers (no idea who) to toss me a ball in right-center field. The first thing I thought of was the charity; snagging baseballs, as fun as it has always been for me, now feels even better because of this new added meaning.
A few minutes later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center:
I used my glove trick to reel it in and heard some fans cheering for me in left-center. The day before, I’d stayed in the 200 Level and didn’t get recognized by anybody. On this fine day, however, I stayed downstairs and had a bunch of people coming up to me and recognizing me from this blog and from YouTube.
Eddie Bonine walked over and asked how I got the ball to stick inside my glove.
“Put another ball down,” I said, “and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
He was so intrigued by my contraption that I think he was considering it, but then another ball rolled onto the warning track.
“There you go,” he said, pointing at it.
The ball was halfway out on the track and my attempt began with a struggle to knock it closer, only because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself by flinging the glove way out. I was trying to be subtle and gentle with all my movements, and it just wasn’t happening.
Bonine moved the ball closer to the wall, then stepped back and watched with Nate Robertson as I reeled it in. Once I had the ball in my hand, he told me to give it to him.
“I’ll give it back,” he said. “I want to see you do it again.”
I tossed him the ball and worried that a) security was going to raise hell and that b) I was missing other snagging opportunities, but I had to go with it. When a major leaguer is talking to you, you can’t just walk away.
Sure enough, as I was reeling in the ball for the second time, a young female security guard (wearing a menacing bright yellow jacket) approached me from behind and told me I had to stop. Bonine jumped to my defense, saying I wasn’t causing any trouble and that he wanted to see what I was doing.
“In that case keep right on going,” the guard told me. “I have to say I’m impressed.”
I got the ball to stick inside my glove and then as soon as I began lifting it up, Bonine kicked the glove and made both the ball and Sharpie fall out. I wasn’t mad. I knew he was just being playful, and I thought it was funny. Then he grabbed the Sharpie and wedged it in my glove and tossed the ball up to me. Mission accomplished.
I ran to left-center because a bunch of righties were taking turns in the cage. Of course there wasn’t a single ball that landed anywhere near me, but I did get Carlos Guillen to toss one my way–ball No. 5 on the day.
Three of the last four balls I’d snagged were from the International League. (Booooo!!!) They felt cheap and plasticky, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re made in China:
Real balls, of course, are made in…let’s say it all together: COSTA RICA!!! And let me just point out that the Tigers are now 0-3 in games I’ve seen them play since last year, so I’ll say it again: If you practice with minor league balls, you’re gonna play like a bunch of minor leaguers. I’m telling you, the Tigers are done. They’re not going anywhere this year. It’s just like the Nationals and their God-awful training balls.
Right after BP, I got Curtis Granderson (he’s nice) to sign my ticket…
…and then I met two of Toronto’s best ballhawks. They knew I was going to be at this game, and they’d said a quick hello during BP in left-center. Once all the players were off the field, we had a good chunk of time to catch up. Here were are in the photo below. The guy on the left is named Ryan, and he’s snagged a grand total of 696 balls. His friend on the right is Tyler, and he’s gotten around 630:
“We’re like the you of this stadium,” said Ryan.
He and Tyler each had me sign a ball. Then we took some photos, and they had me leave a voice-mail for their friend who’s away in college right now–another ballhawk whose claim to fame is that when Carlos Delgado was on the Jays and hit four homers in a game, he snagged the third one. So there ARE some experienced ballhawks here. I hadn’t met any when I was in Toronto in 2000, but of course I didn’t have this blog then, so I wasn’t coming into contact with nearly as many people. Oh, and one more thing about Ryan and Tyler…they each have a full season ticket plan. All 81 home games. When I tell you how much they pay, you’re going to cry and/or move to Toronto. Ready? They pay just $81. Not per ticket, but for the entire season! One dollar per game. That’s one of the deals up here. Of course their seats are in the 500 Level, but it doesn’t matter because they never go up there. Can you believe that? It makes me loathe New York City. But let’s move away from hateful thoughts. Here’s something funny and sooooooo Canadian…
Twenty minutes before game time, as I was walking through the seats, I saw a kid with a hockey goalie glove, and yes, he said he’d brought it to try to catch a foul ball:
I was tempted to give him one of my baseballs, but since he was sitting with three other kids, I didn’t want to do anything that would make the rest of them jealous, so I kept walking around and looking for a worthy recipient. After a few minutes I saw a little boy, probably about five years old, sitting between his parents, wearing a glove and Tigers gear. I walked up and asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and when he said no, I handed him the ball that Eddie Bonine had flipped up to me. It was the only ball I had in my possession with an MLB logo. All the others were International League balls. (The ball I’d caught in my hotel room was a real ball, but I didn’t take it with me.)
Right before the game, I got my sixth ball of the day tossed at the Tigers’ dugout by guess who? Mister Carlos Guillen. God forbid he ever has to pick out the perp in a police lineup.
On Opening Day, the attendance was 48,027. At the second game of the season, the crowd shrunk to 16,790, and that was the “paid” attendance. There’s no way there were that many people in the ballpark. Maybe the fact that there was no alcohol had something to do with it? Whatever the reason, it was great for me. I had endless room to run for foul balls, as you can see in the photo below (along with an arrow pointing to my hotel room):
The seats got a little more crowded during the middle innings, so I wandered up to the 500 Level. Can you spell D-E-S-O-L-A-T-E? Here’s the concourse behind the right field foul pole…
…and here are the empty seats. Note all the railings. Awful:
Here’s the view from the last row behind the plate:
I wish I’d taken photos of what happened next. There wasn’t an actual event, but rather just some good ol’ fashioned exploring. Let me try to describe it. As I was walking down one of the ramps from the 500 Level, I noticed a little alcove at one end, with some steps leading up to an
unmarked metal door. I looked around. No fans. No guards. No security camera. No sign saying “keep out” or “authorized personnel only.” Nothing like that. So, I walked up the steps (slice of pizza in hand) and peeked under the door. All I could see was that the area behind it was well lit. I had no idea what was there. Security? Media? Garbage? Storage? I didn’t even know if the door was locked, so I slowly pulled down on the latch handle, and it moved. I opened the door very slowly…then a little more…and a little more…and found myself in a short hallway, maybe 20 feet long, with another unmarked door at the other end. Weird!! I walked up to that door, and it was also unlocked. Surely there HAD to be a guard on the other side. But no. I opened it all the way and walked right through, and there wasn’t another human being in sight. Turned out I was in the exclusive 300 Level:
I walked through the narrow hallway, passed a few security cameras, and expected to be approached by stadium personnel within 60 seconds. But no. I passed a few employees (including a chef with a huge white hat) and no one said a word. Very strange. Easily one of my strangest stadium experiences ever. I wandered some more, took a few pics, and then found an elevator that deposited me in the 100 Level. Even if I had been caught, it’s not like I would’ve gotten in trouble, right? I wasn’t breaking any rules. I was just wandering. (That’s what I would’ve told the judge.) If they don’t want people to wander, then they should lock the doors and put up signs. Simple as that.
Anyway, I picked out a seat in the ultimate foul ball location…
…and it paid off in the bottom of the 8th inning. Marco Scutaro fouled off a 2-1 pitch from Brandon Lyon. The ball sailed 20 feet over my head, landed in the 200 Level, and bounced down into an empty row. Easy. And lucky. I won’t deny that. I pulled it right out of a folded seat.
After the game, which the Jays won, 5-4, on a walk-off sac fly by Rod Barajas, I caught up with Happy Youngster and invited him (and his dad) to check out my hotel room:
Did you notice the shirt he’s wearing? Last week it became a rather famous design. If you have 1 minute and 50 seconds to spare, check out this YouTube video, and note how many views it’s gotten.
• 7 balls at this game
• 13 balls in 2 games this season = 6.5 balls per game.
• 571 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 144 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 1,100 lifetime balls outside of New York (No. 1,100, pictured here on the right, was the Scutaro foul ball; much better than No. 1,000 which was the product of a cracked rib on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium)
• 125 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 26 lifetime game balls outside NYC
• 3,833 total balls
• 69 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $14.04 pledged per ball (and counting)
• $98.28 raised at this game
• $182.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Finally, in case you’re interested, I taped a radio interview yesterday which is going to air this afternoon (April 8th) at around 4:15pm ET (but you might want to tune in at 4pm to be safe). The network is called Mile High Sports Online. Just visit the site and click the “listen now” button on the upper right, and you should be good to go. In case you miss it today (apologies for the short notice), my segment is supposed to re-air on Saturday, April 11th, at 10am ET.
It was a good day. I didn’t set any records, but I definitely milked Shea Stadium for all it was worth.
The happiness started at 4pm when I got off the No. 7 train, started wandering around the ballpark, and happened to run into a small group of fans who had an extra ticket for the picnic area…which they gave to me for free.
Shea opened at 4:40pm, and when batting practice finally got underway 15 minutes later, I positioned myself along the left field foul line. This was the view:
Because Brandon Backe, a right-hander, was going to be pitching for the Astros that night, I figured that the Mets’ switch-hitters (Jose Reyes, Argenis Reyes, and Carlos Beltran) would be batting left-handed during BP. I was hoping that one of them (or any of the other lefties on the team) would slap a ball down the line–and that’s exactly what happened. I’m pretty sure it was Jose who hit it. The ball plunked onto the grass, 30 feet short of my spot, and then curved sharply (and predictably) into foul territory because of the side-spin. By this point, I had already moved down into the blue seats where I leaned over the low wall for the easy scoop.
That was the only ball I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP.
After the Astros pitchers came out and played catch in left field, I ended up getting a ball from Wandy Rodriguez. And then I got him to sign my ticket:
After the picnic area opened, I raced into the bleachers and got Reggie Abercrombie to toss me my third ball of the day. Five minutes later, I used my glove trick to pluck ball No. 4 off the warning track in left-center.
The bleachers were unbelievably empty throughout BP. I can’t explain it. They’d been packed the night before, but on this day, I had the wide aisle all to myself. Check it out:
The other fans were apparently there to WATCH batting practice. A few of them even looked at me funny because I was the only guy running around with a glove. It was a dream come true, but of course there were hardly any other batted balls that reached the seats.
…and it was totally worth it. When I reached the far end, this is what I saw:
It took about 10 seconds to climb over/under the last few metal beams and work my way to the ball so that I was close enough to grab it. During that time I was more concerned that another fan would appear out of nowhere and beat me to it than with the idea that I might get arrested or electrocuted.
I snagged one more ball–my sixth of the day–during the last round of BP when some righty on the Astros hit a home run right to me. A few other fans half-heartedly reached up at the last second. I reached farther and made the embarrassingly easy catch, prompting one man to suggest that I play left field during the game.
After BP had ended, I caught up with the fans who’d given me the ticket and noticed that they were all wearing pink wristbands. I knew what this meant–they had access to the all-you-can-eat tent–so I asked them if they had an extra wristband. They said they didn’t and suggested that I walk over to the main entrance to the picnic area and tell security that I was with Verizon…which I did…and it worked.
During the 45 minutes between BP and the game, I drank three (free) bottles of water, ate two (free) cheeseburgers with tomato and extra cheese, and ate one (free) bag of Cracker Jacks…and by the way, if you think you can walk up to security any night and
say you’re with “Verizon,” think again. There are different
companies/groups out there all the time, and they’re not all entitled
to free food.
Shortly after the national anthem, I waddled out of the bleachers and spent the rest of the night going for foul balls in the Loge. This was my view during David Wright’s at-bat in the bottom of the first (and for all subsequent right-handed batters):
With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Backe was at-bat and worked a full count off John Maine. Next pitch? 94-mph fastball. Backe swung late, hit the bottom
edge of the ball, and sent it SHOOTING back in my direction, possibly as fast as the pitch itself had traveled. I was already standing in the tunnel (and extra ready to pounce because pitchers often swing late…and because 3-2 counts are great for foul balls), so all I had to do was take one step forward, shift ever-so-slightly to my right, and reach a foot over my head for the backhand catch. Couldn’t have been much easier, and yet the hundreds of people sitting around me went bonkers. I’ve never heard cheers and applause so loud for ANY foul ball before. I could actually feel the vibration from the roar of the crowd. I don’t understand it. Maybe with the Mets already well on their way to an 8-3 loss, the fans needed something else to get excited about? Anyway, it felt good, but unfortunately this was the last ball that came anywhere near me.
Throughout the game, I kept running into Clif (aka “goislanders4” in the comments section) and his friend Marco. They’d had a rough day in the snagging department, but I think they still had fun overall. After the game, Clif’s mom Gail (who you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium) was kind enough to give me a ride home.
? 7 balls at this game
? 346 balls in 48 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 10 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 121 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 5 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
? 5 lifetime seasons with 10 or more game balls
? 2nd time snagging 10 or more game balls in back-to-back seasons
? 544 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 331 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,623 total balls
I decided to bring my big glove to one game at Shea Stadium, and this was it…
By the time Gate C opened at 4:40pm, there must’ve been over 500 people waiting to get in including a guy named Sammy Wu who’d been leaving comments on this blog since July 2007. In fact…hold on…I have his first comment right here:
“Hey Zack, It is the first time I post on your blog. I accidentally
stumbled on your blog and I LOVE IT. I have learned so much about
baseball and am totally amazed by your glove trick. I attend ball games
alot and love to collect autographes. I tried the trick yesterday at
Angel Stadium and I snagged 2 balls!
Also, I love your book “How to Snag ML baseballs.” At first I couldn’t
find it on amazon, ebay or just about any places on web. Good thing is
that I used
Google book search it is avaliable in my local library~I
actually applied for library card just to rent your book!!! THANK YOU
ZACK, YOU ARE MY ROLE MODEL and the video is very cool, too!!!!!”
This was the first time Sammy and I had ever met in person. He had finally made the trip from California, and one of his goals was to snag a commemorative ball. More on this in a bit…
As soon as I ran inside and headed out to the seats along the right field foul line, a few of the Mets (all of whom were stretching) noticed me and started pointing me out to their teammates. Ten seconds later, everyone on the team was staring at me and smiling, and ten seconds after that, bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello tossed me a ball from about 100 feet away. It was a standard ball. Bleh. And to make matters worse, everyone on the team saw me catch it. I figured it was the one and only ball I’d get from the Mets all day.
Moments later, Oliver Perez got up and started walking toward me and waving me down to the front row. He wanted the glove, so I handed it to an on-field security guard who handed it to him. Perez then went back to his spot in right field and posed with it:
Pedro Feliciano tried it on:
Then Johan Santana checked it out…
…and held it up over his face as if he was looking at the catcher while getting the sign:
Every time another player tried on my glove, I asked if I could try on HIS, but no one went for it. That was kinda lame. It’s not like I could’ve run off with anyone’s equipment. There were ushers and security guards all over the place, but whatever. I was having fun just taking pictures, and I had my regular glove ready just in case.
Perez finally walked back over with the big glove, and I snapped the following photo right before he tossed it to me:
One minute later, Duaner Sanchez came over and got the big glove, then took it into right field and actually played catch with it for a couple minutes:
In the four-part photo up above, did you notice the camera man in the pic on the upper left? He had walked out from the area in front of the dugout as soon as he spotted the big glove.
That’s when my girlfriend Jona showed up and started taking a ton of photos.
…and I’d just like to point out that even though he struggled with it for at least 10 minutes, I generously stood back and let him get it:
After Sammy reeled in the ball, I ran up to the Loge level and had my own chance to use the glove trick. Jona stayed on the Field level and documented the action. Starting on the upper left and going clockwise in the four-part pic down below, I’m 1) setting up the trick, 2) leaning under a railing (under the foul pole which was in my way) and starting to lower my glove, 3) getting the glove to drop gently over the ball, and 4) holding up the ball for the camera.
In all four pics, the fan wearing the blue shirt and black cap is a guy named Adam who’s been reading this blog for a while and leaving comments as “cubsbaseball.” This was the first time we’d met, and when Jona came upstairs we got a pic together:
By the way, the ball I fished out of the gap behind the right field wall was commemorative, but the logo was very worn. Check it out:
I got two more (standard) balls before the Padres started taking BP. The first was thrown to me in the Loge by Sanchez, and the second was tossed by hitting coach Howard Johnson at the first base dugout as the Mets left the field. This ball was even more worn than the one I got with the glove trick:
Jona followed me around for the rest of batting practice and kept taking pics, but there really wasn’t anything worth photographing. Why? Because the Padres were THE stingiest team I have ever seen. I was wearing a Padres cap and a Padres shirt, and I was wearing the big glove, and I *still* couldn’t get anyone to toss me a ball. It was terrible. At one point, I was standing along the left field foul line and shouting (politely) at bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds for a ball.
“They’ll hit you one!” he yelled.
“No they won’t!” I yelled back, “not in foul territory!”
I was right.
Twenty minutes later, when I was up in the left field Loge, I managed to get Trevor Hoffman to look up and smile, and that was it for BP. Did I mention it was terrible? I’d put the Hample Jinx o
n the entire Padres organization, but based on the standings, I obviously don’t need to.
Finally, at the very end of BP, I worked my way down to the Padres’ dugout and got my sixth ball of the day from some coach with “RAY 80” on the back of his uniform. My friend Leigh from San Diego (aka “padreleigh” if you read the comments) has since told me that that guy is a batting practice pitcher.
Jona and I switched hats (and possession of the big glove) for a photo after BP…
…and less than 10 minutes later, I used the glove to get Kevin Kouzmanoff to toss me his pre-game warm-up ball from shallow left field. (Fine, so the Padres weren’t ALL bad.) Unfortunately, the ball popped out of the glove and rolled underneath a seat on the other side of a railing, and it took an all-out scramble on my part to get it.
Jona and I spent the game in the Loge where I ran around for foul balls behind home plate. She ran with me at first, but since she was feeling a bit under the weather, she ended up grabbing a seat near the tunnel where I was positioning myself for left-handed batters. This was her view of me late in the game:
For the first eight innings, the only action was when I got recognized by several fans. At one point, a father and son from Detroit asked me if I was the guy from YouTube, and when I said yes, the kid asked me to sign his ticket stub. A couple innings later, a guy around my age asked if I was the baseball collector.
“That’s me,” I said and he replied with something along the lines of: “Oh my God! Me and my friend have been arguing for like half an hour about whether or not you were the guy. This is crazy…umm, I hope this isn’t awkward or anything, but would it be okay if I take your picture?”
“That’s not awkward at all,” I said. “Go for it.”
Finally, in the top of the ninth, I found myself standing in the tunnel on the first base side of the plate with Scott Schoeneweis (boo!!!) on the mound and Tadahito Iguchi at the dish. Somehow, Iguchi swung late on one of the ensuing cream-puff fastballs and looped a nice little foul pop-up in my direction. I judged it perfectly, drifted to the front of the tunnel, moved down one step into the seats in front of the aisle, and reached up above several other gloveless hands for the easy catch. Boom. Easy. Done. Half the section cheered and gave me high-fives. The other half booed and started yelling at me to “give it to the kid.” There was exactly ONE kid in the entire section who not only was using both hands to eat ice cream out of a miniature helmet, but didn’t even have a glove or make any attempt to move toward the spot where the ball was clearly going to land. I’m sorry, but kids like that don’t deserve baseballs. They’re not bad human beings. They just don’t deserve balls. Not in my opinion. And I’d never give away a game ball anyway, especially not a game ball with a commemorative logo, so I stuck it in my pocket. Then I thanked the people who were congratulating me, and I explained myself to those who were still (because of their own pathetic insecurities) heckling me.
When I got home, I learned from Leigh that the foul ball aftermath was captured on the Padres’ broadcast. Here’s what he said:
“When Tad Iguchi fouled the ball back in the 9th, you could hear a little applause. Our color guy, Mark Grant, said something about the ball coming back towards them. The camera cut to the two guys in the booth. They were both leaning over looking down. Grant said something like, ‘Looks like the fan that caught that foul brought his glove to the yard tonight.’ Then, the camera panned down and had a GREAT SHOT of you standing in the tunnel holding the ball in your right hand. You put the ball into your right pocket. They showed you listening to what a few fans were saying to you, then you smiled. The camera then panned down to your shirt that said, ‘Baseball is life.’ Play by play guy Steve Quis said something about your shirt and that was it. Oh yeah, when you put the ball in your pocket Grant said something like, ‘He better hide that ball or he’ll get rolled on the 7 train.’ Ha ha. Anyway, nice job getting on Channel 4 San Diego. If MLB.com has our feed for the game archive, then you can see all the above.”
As for the game itself, both starters–Pedro Martinez and Cha Seung Baek–allowed two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, but one got the win and the other took the loss. Pedro surrendered two home runs in the first inning but settled down after that, giving up just two more hits the rest of the way. Unfortunately for him, he was relieved with one out and a runner on third. Feliciano then recorded a strikeout and a walk and induced what should’ve been an inning-ending ground out. But no. David Wright misplayed it, and the decisive unearned run scored and was charged to Pedro. The Padres tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, and that was it. Final score: Stingy Team 4, Big Glove Appreciators 2.
On my way out of Shea with Jona, I gave a ball to a kid WHO HAD A GLOVE and took a pic of the Iguchi foul ball:
? 8 balls at this game
? 293 balls in 41 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.
? 537 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 327 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 120 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 3,570 total balls
Does anyone reading this have season ticket connections in Pittsburgh? I’m planning to go to two games at PNC Park on August 12-13, and I hear that the stadium opens half an hour earlier for fans who not only have season tickets (as part of a 20-game, 40-game, or full-season plan) but who also have a season ticket holder ID to go with it. How the hell am I supposed to get around THAT?
Let me start with a big THANKS to everyone who took photographs of me yesterday. I really appreciate it…
Okay, so the Associated Press was done with me. They had followed me around for the past two days and felt they got everything they needed, so I was on my own. As a result, I decided to break out the big glove (which I had used only once before on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium). I figured the Indians were sick of me and probably wouldn’t throw me any balls unless I had an edge–a really, really obnoxious edge.
As soon as I ran inside Coors for batting practice, two home runs clanged off the metal bleacher benches in left field, and I grabbed them both. Check out the gash on the first ball:
Before the bleachers got crowded, I was able to race up the steps from the front row whenever a home run was sailing over my head:
It was still early so I kept the big glove in my backpack. There weren’t any kids behind me shouting for balls (yet) but I did have to compete with two Coors Field regulars: Jameson Sutton and Robert Harmon. Here we are…walking around in the front row:
Jameson (wearing the dark blue T-shirt), as many of you know, is the fan who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball, and Robert (in the background with the gray beard) was right there with him on that fateful September night. It was strange to be snagging baseballs with these guys after having written a long article about them only a few months earlier. For the bulk of last winter, I had been trying to track down the mystery man who snagged that ball. I was talking to fans (starting with Robert) and members of the Rockies’ front office and people at the Hall of Fame and presidents of auction houses. It was the ultimate scavenger hunt…and then…poof! Jameson appeared. And it was a HUGE story in the sports world. And I flew to Denver for the press conference. And now…here we all were, just hanging out and chasing BP balls like it was nothing. And by the way, about half an hour later, I saw Jameson reach over the wall and make a nice one-handed catch on a home run. The point is…when I was first interviewing him on the phone, he had claimed that he dropped the Bonds homer because he was bumped from the side, and although the video replay backed him up, I still thought he was just some lucky klutz who’d let a life-changing ball deflect off the heel of his glove. But now that I’ve seen him in action, I can say with confidence that Jameson is very athletic and perfectly capable of catching any ball that comes his way.
It was time for the big glove:
Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (who surrendered Bonds’ final home run) tossed me a ball just before the Rockies finished BP, but the Indians weren’t impressed. C.C. Sabathia smiled at me for about an eighth of a second and then tossed a ball to someone else:
I happened to be wearing the big glove a bit later in left-center field (because I was trying unsuccessfully to get Grad
y Sizemore’s attention) when one of the Indians batters hit a deep fly ball in my direction. Rafael Perez chased the ball but couldn’t catch it and it bounced right to me:
Did I catch it? No. The fan next to me reached out and deflected it and caused the ball to drop back onto the field.
I sensed an opportunity in straight-away left field and took off:
Yes! Francisco DID show me some glove-love after all:
As for Rafael Betancourt?
No love. And when BP ended soon after, I only had five balls. I was hoping for double digits, at least one on this trip, but it just wasn’t happening. At least Mr. Evil (arms folded in the photo above) got shut out for the second game in a row. He hasn’t gotten a single ball since he shoved me three days ago.
After BP, I signed a couple baseballs for two kids named Hunter and Mylee–the kids of a guy named Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” to those of you who read the comments) who’s wearing the floppy hat in the following photo:
I (jokingly) told the kids to hold onto the baseballs because they were worth a lot of money.
“Yeah,” said Jameson in front of the other ballhawks, “but my autograph is worth more than yours.”
We all laughed (even *I* had to laugh) and then posed for a photo:
The guy standing on the right is Danny Wood (who snagged Bonds’ 698th career homer), and the guy to HIS right is Dan Sauvageau (who’s caught 36 homers on a fly during games). I know I’ve mentioned these snagging accomplishments in previous entries, but I’m saying it again here in case you missed it or forgot. Between the five of us, we’ve probably snagged close to 10,000 balls.
I used the big glove to get Casey Blake to throw me a ball at the Indians’ dugout just before the first pitch, and guess what happened…the ball went right through! Apparently, one of the holes in the webbing is just a bit too big, but I got lucky and still ended up with the ball. It landed behind me in the empty second row and trickled out onto the staircase where several other fans were a bit too late in trying to snatch it.
The game was a disaster for me. I had a ticket for the front row in left-center field, and I decided to sit along the left field foul line instead:
I figured it’d be dead in the outfield and that I’d have a bunch of chances to scoop up foul grounders.
This was my view during the game…
…and I *did* catch a foul grounder (my 200th ball of the season) off Francisco’s bat in the top of the third inning…
…but there were **TWO** home runs hit **EXACTLY** to my seat, and the same guy caught them both!!! Oh my God, I felt (and still feel) like the biggest A-Hole on the planet. First Manny in Baltimore…then Griffey in Miami…now this crap in Denver. This is seriously the worst month of my ball-snagging career. What good is it to average 7.7 balls per game if none of the balls mean anything?! Okay, great, I got a foul ball during the game, but in the grand scheme of things, WHO CARES?!?!
I was so upset that I had to distract myself by eating Dippin’ Dots and photographing the clouds…
…but I couldn’t even do THAT right. Robert, the real photographer, was also taking pics of the clouds, and snapped one that was just a little bit better:
In case you’re wondering, Robert’s photo is not Photoshopped. There was no trick photography involved, and I know this because:
1) The silhouette of the stadium isn’t blurry, which means he wasn’t moving the camera, and
2) He came back to my hotel room directly after the game, swapped memory cards with me, and I downloaded all his photos directly onto my laptop. This was one of them.
Here’s another…of me photographing the ball with the gash:
Yes, I like bottled water. And I recycle.
Anyway, the Rockies swept the Indians. Blah blah. As if it matters. I’m so pissed off. And I’m acting like a baby. I know this. You don’t need to point it out. Hopefully I can end this trip with some better luck tonight against the Mets. Reminder: LOOK FOR ME ON TV. Tape the game if you can. If I do happen to catch a home run, I’d love to own the footage. I might not be sitting exactly in my seat all night, but I’m definitely not going to stray too far. Look for the Waldo shirt and if you’re up for it, keep a running tally of all the times you spot me. Game time is 9:05 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it.
? 7 balls at this game
? 200 balls in 26 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
? 522 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 125 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 895 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 117 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 25 lifetime game balls outside NYC
? 5 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls (Click here for my yearly breakdown.)
? 3,477 total balls
The story of the day was Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. He hit it. I didn’t catch it. I was five feet away from it. It hurts. A lot.
After missing out on SUCH an important ball, I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. It felt pointless to go back to chasing foul balls, and right now I’d rather not be spending any mental energy writing about it, but life goes on and I suppose the story ought to be told so I guess I’ll start from the beginning…
I arrived at Gate H at 4:40pm, nearly an hour before Dolphin Stadium was scheduled to open, and I wasn’t the first person there. There was one other guy, and it turned out to be someone who reads this blog. His name is Andy (aka “munkittr” for those of you who read the comments). He lives in Tampa, has season tickets at Tropicana Field, and when he found out I was going to be at this game, he hopped in his car and made the four-hour drive. (Perhaps the fact that Griffey was still at 599 had something to do with his decision to come.)
This was the first time we’d met in person, and we talked nonstop for the next 50 minutes. At one point when Andy was discussing all the games he attends, another man who had joined our conversation said, “I bet you’re single.”
“Actually I’m married,” said Andy. “Very happily married.”
I was happy to see The Stereotype shot down once again–and even happier when I ran inside the stadium and saw that batting practice was already in progress. I headed to the furthest section in right-center field where the orange seats meet the blue tarp. The security guard who was stationed there had seen me snag eight balls over the previous three days, but that didn’t stop him from tossing me another.
“You weren’t saving this for a little kid?” I asked.
“You were the first one here,” he said.
Do balls from security guards count in my collection? Absolutely. Over the years, countless guards at Shea and Yankee Stadium have gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls. I’ve been ejected from games for breaking rules that security supervisors made up on the spot, just for me, just because I was “catching too many balls,” so on the rare occasions that a guard actually shows me some love…yeah, you bet it counts. As for this guard at Dolphin Stadium, several other balls landed on the tarp and he gave them to whoever was smart (or lucky) enough to be standing nearby. Simple as that. Sometimes it was a kid. Sometimes it was an adult. There was no favoritism or attitude, and I appreciated it.
My second ball of the day was tossed by Marlins pitcher Logan Kensing. He had thrown one to me the day before and I thought for sure that he’d recognize me and give this one to someone else. Luckily, though, when it had rolled to the wall, I was the first one to ask him for it and he flipped it up without hesitating.
Ten minutes later, the Reds replaced the Marlins and I caught a Jay Bruce home run. Totally easy. I was on the stairs and had empty seats on both sides. Bruce lifted a deep drive to my left, and I drifted through the seats and reached up for an uncontested one-handed catch.
Ball No. 4 was a ground-rule double that was hit by a righty. It might’ve been Brandon Phillips. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. The ball bounced off the rubberized warning track, barely cleared the outfield wall, skimmed over half a dozen empty rows, and nestled into my waiting glove.
Ball No. 5 was tossed by pitcher Gary Majewski toward a couple little kids, but his aim was off and the ball sailed three inches over their helplessly outstretched gloves. The ball rolled right to me through the empty second row, and I immediately handed it over to one of the kids (whose father thanked me profusely).
Ball No. 6 was thrown by outfielder Corey Patterson, and then with about 10 minutes remaining in BP, I ran around the stadium to the left field side. Look how empty it was:
Of course I didn’t get a ball out there because every Reds player ignored me, and then when I ran to the dugout at the very end of BP, Billy Hatcher tossed me a ball and missed.
Andy and I met up five minutes later (he snagged a few balls in straight-away right field and I’ll let him share the details) and headed to the right field foul line. After we failed to get Mike Rabelo to throw us his warm-up ball, we decided to get someone to take our picture, and THAT, my friends, is when my camera died. I’m not talking about a dead battery. I’m talking about a message on the LCD screen that said, “Lens error, restart camera.” I knew the camera wasn’t going to last much longer. It was missing a few teeny screws, and the whole frame was a bit loose. The screen had a tiny crack in it. The “zoom” lever was slightly jammed…and the fact that I wasn’t allowed to bring my backpack into the stadium didn’t help. It meant I had to keep my camera in that flimsy (and overpriced) drawstring bag that I was forced to buy on the first day. It meant that the camera was in the same pouch as all my baseballs, my markers, pens, cell phone, wallet, glove, and hats. It got smacked around much more than it should’ve, and it died as a result. No doubt about it.
“Watch what’s gonna happen,” I told Andy. “I’m gonna catch Griffey’s 600th homer and get to meet him in the clubhouse after the game, and I won’t be able to have my picture taken.”
I just KNEW something big was going to happen. I felt it. I was sure of it. That’s my luck. That’s my life.
Andy and I parted ways. He headed to the right field seats to get in position for Griffey, and I went to the Marlins’ dugout. Hanley Ramirez finished his pre-game throwing by flipping the ball to a little kid in the front row. One minute later, Dan Uggla finished playing catch with Cody Ross and tossed the ball toward two gloveless, middle-aged men who were sitting 10 feet to my left in the row behind me. They both stood up and reached for it and bobbled it–no wait…that’s too kind…they butchered it–and it dropped into the row in front of them…MY row, which just so happened to be empty. Before they had a chance to lean over their fancy seats, I darted through the row and gloved the ball.
It was 7:08pm. The game was going to be starting in two minutes, so I raced up the steps and sprinted through the concourse (apologies to the beer vendor I nearly took out) and made it to the right field seats with less than a minute to spare. I’d purchased a ticket in (what I felt was) the perfect spot–the same spot I’d picked for each of the previous three days, and on each of those days, there’d been at least one security guard checking tickets in every tunnel. But on THIS day? No security in sight. I can’t explain it, but perhaps if the penny-pinching Marlins had hired a little extra security, they wouldn’t be facing this mess. Meanwhile, the seats were still pretty empty, but I was concerned that there might be a few extra opportunists in my way.
Jerry Hairston led off the game with an infield single.
Most of the fans in the section were crammed into the first 10 or 12 rows. The half dozen rows behind them were partially empty, but I need more than “partial” room to maneuver. I picked a seat in the 21st row–kind of far back, yes, but still within range (as I showed in my previous entry with diagrams from Hit Tracker).
A few fans moved into the row on my left, so I moved down two rows as Jay Bruce stepped into the box. I needed a whole row to myself. The odds that The Ball would be hit with the proper distance were far greater than the odds that it would be hit in the perfect direction. In other words, I was on the end of my row so I could run up or (more likely) down the steps, but that option was soon ruined when two fat men with gloves stood up and moved RIGHT into the middle of the steps five feet in front of me.
Jay Bruce took a called strike three, and Griffey walked toward the plate.
That’s when I noticed that a tallish man with a glove had moved into the far end of the row on my left. All the seats between us were empty, and I remember thinking, “If the ball is hit to my left, that guy is gonna get in my way.”
Mark Hendrickson, the Marlins’ starter, quickly fell behind Griffey 3-0. Everyone in the section was booing. No one wanted to see Griffey walk again, and I was more relieved than anyone when he swung and missed at the next pitch.
The count was 3-1, and I was thinking that he was going to get a great pitch to hit, and that THIS might be it…and then…WHOOSH!!! Griffey unleashed a beautiful, effortless swing and sent the ball flying EXACTLY in my direction. At least that’s how it appeared at the instant it left the bat. But line drives tend to hook, and this was certainly more of a line drive than a fly ball. I paused for a split second, half-expecting that this was going to happen, but also half-disbelieving it. COULD IT REALLY BE THIS EASY?!?! I drifted through the empty row and never took my eye off the ball. I moved with it, just I had moved with hundreds of BP home runs in the past, and as the ball began its final descent, I realized that I was blocked by a couple fans who had somehow slipped into my row. NOOOOO!!!!! I knew I was boxed out as the ball kept hooking, and at the last second, when it was about 30 feet above the seats, it barely nicked the bottom of a support cable, causing its trajectory to fall off slightly. I was too stunned to react, and like I said, I somehow got boxed out and beat to the spot, and the ball disappeared into a pile of people at my feet…or so it seemed. I heard one guy at the bottom of the pile screaming, “I GOT IT!!! I GOT IT!!! I GOT IT!!!” and security surrounded us. Then another guy–THE guy with the glove who’d been standing at the end of my row–said calmly, “I have the ball. I have it…I have the ball,” and a whole new group of security guards surrounded HIM. He was clutching his glove against his chest. I assumed he had The Ball tucked inside, but I never saw it. He was also saying that his bag had gotten caught on a seat and was buried at the bottom of the pile. Security told him to stay put, and while several of the guards stayed with him, a few others worked slowly to get people off of each other, at which point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there, so I climbed over the middle of the rows and got myself out of the section as quickly as possible. I was still stunned and at this point too devastated to even think, and for most of the next hour, I didn’t know how I could even go on living. I’m telling you, it was THAT bad.
Andy had been sitting a couple sections over and caught up with me in the concourse. He bought me a chocolate ice cream cone and walked me toward the seats behind home plate before he headed back to the outfield. I ate the cone and made some phone calls and didn’t bother putting on my glove. I was a mess (and for the record, no, I wasn’t crying). I just wanted to go back to New York City, but my flight wasn’t until the following afternoon. There really wasn’t anything else to do but sit there and sulk. It was better, I figured, to sulk at a major league baseball game than to sulk in my hotel room. So I sat there. And finished the ice cream. And cursed way too loud when Griffey came up again and hit a foul ball RIGHT to the spot where I’d been standing for lefties the day before. They say luck has a way of evening things out, but it didn’t work like that yesterday. It felt like the universe was against me.
I suppose I could feel proud to have picked the spot where the home run would land, and to have been so close to it, but I don’t feel that way. That just makes it hurt even more. I wish Griffey had just hit the damn thing to right-center field instead (or better yet onto the tarp where security could’ve retrieved it and given it back to him). If it had landed four sections away, I wouldn’t have anything to be upset about. All I could say would be, “Oh well, there was nothing I could do. At least I was in the building and got to witness it.” But as things stand, I keep replaying the scene in my mind and thinking about what I could’ve done differently. What if I raced to the spot where the ball was going to land as SOON as it left the bat? Would I have been able to box out the other fans? I just didn’t react with enough urgency. I drifted with the ball too slowly. Or did I? Maybe I really did move fast, and it only feels slow because I didn’t get it, or because I’m a perfectionist and always feel like I could do better. I don’t know. I felt awful, and I still feel awful, and I will always feel awful. That’s just how it is. Unless you’re from the future and know for certain that I’m going to catch A-Rod’s 800th homer, there’s nothing anyone can say to make me feel better. I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It could be worse, though. It’s not like I let the ball clang off the heel of my glove. THAT would be awful. But still, I don’t feel like I took full advantage of the situation. I wonder what would happen if I could relive that moment dozens of times, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” and take different routes to the ball. I guess that’d be too easy, but I can’t help thinking like that.
Well, I finally started going for foul balls again around the third inning, and it paid off (big whoop) because I got one that Bruce hit in the top of the fifth. It was a high pop-up that the fans in the first row of the club level dropped into my tunnel. Another guy standing next to me was closer to the ball when it fell, but somehow he failed to snatch it and he kicked it around, and the second it rolled toward me, I grabbed it. Why couldn’t that have happened with No. 600? Why couldn’t Griffey have swung a tenth of a second later? There are 600 ‘why’s, and they’re all eating at me right now.
Paul Bako hit two homers and knocked in five runs. Brandon Phillips also went deep for the Reds who cruised to a 9-4 victory. Oh, and I got an autograph during the game. There was a former player sitting in my section, and he signed a day-old ticket for me on his way out. That’s your only clue. Take a look and try to guess who it is:
The first person who leaves a comment (not an email) with the correct answer will get a prize: a ticket from the “Griffey 600” game.
After the final out, I made it down to the front row behind the Reds’ dugout and got two balls tossed to me within 30 seconds. The first came from Mark Berry, the third base coach, as a direct result of my wearing a Reds cap (he said so) and the second came from Hatcher after I told him that he’d missed me before. Then, as I walked up the steps to head to the concourse, a friendly security guard who’d seen me chasing foul balls throughout the series (and apparently hadn’t seen me get the one from Bruce) pulled a “practice” ball out of his pocket and handed it to me. Does it count in my collection? I guess so. Is it cheap? Definitely. But whatever. I was entitled to a little charity after what I’d just gone through.
• 11 balls at this game
• 172 balls in 22 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
• 82 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 27 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
• 17 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 518 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 121 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
• 867 lifetime balls outside NYC
• 24 lifetime game balls outside NYC
• 3,449 total balls
• 32 ticket stubs collected at this game (one of which will be mailed to the winner of the Mystery Autograph Contest)
Last week, when I walked up to the ticket window at Yankee Stadium on the day of the game, the cheapest ticket available was over $60. Two days ago at Shea, I was able to pay my way in for just $10. My ticket said “Upper Deck Row N,” but that didn’t matter. I never went up there, and by the time the game started, I was holding a ticket for the 5th row behind the Phillies’ dugout.
There was a HUGE line of fans waiting to get in at Gate C, but after my experience the day before at Fenway, it didn’t phase me, and anyway, my goal for the evening wasn’t too lofty. I pretty much just wanted ONE ball; I began the day with a grand total of 3,299 and a streak of 499 consecutive games at which I’d snagged at least one ball. One lousy little batting practice ball was going to give me two milestones. That’s all I wanted…sort of. Although there wasn’t any urgency, I was also hoping to get to add Johan Santana’s name to my list…and yes, I was also hoping to snag a commemorative ball. I’d heard that all game-used balls this year at Shea would have a special logo because it was the last season that the Mets were playing there. Same deal across town…last year for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium…special balls…and I’d already snagged one. Throughout the winter, friends had been sending me links and photos of these logos, and I never looked at them. I didn’t want to see them until I snagged the balls myself. Of course, I’d only been in the right field Loge (check out the view in the pic on the left) for five minutes when a kid I met last year ran up and shouted, “Look what I got!!” and stuck a commemorative ball right in my face. Wonderful. The kid’s name is Trevor. His older brothers Gary (aka “njmetfan” for those of you who read the comments) and Kyle were also at the game, and they all invaded my section during BP. Luckily, there were enough balls to go around.
I got my first ball of the day from Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti…sort of. I called down to him from the corner spot and asked him for the ball, at which point he walked into the bullpen and tossed it to the strength/conditioning coach and had HIM throw it to me. It would’ve been nice to know the man’s name, but at least I got the most important ball out of the way.
Santana and a couple other pitchers began to practice bunting with Conti (who fed dozens of balls into a pitching machine) in the bullpen. Trevor must’ve shouted at Santana for 10 solid minutes (Gary kept telling him to shut up) and didn’t get anything as a result. Gary waited and politely shouted at Santana when the bunting session ended, at which point we all ran over to the side railing to see the Mets’ ace looking up. Santana then threw the ball to Gary…except his aim was off and the ball drifted right to me. As soon as I caught it, Santana shouted up at me and told me to hand the ball over. I offered it to Gary who didn’t consider taking it. “Your ball total is more important than mine,” he said. It was ball-snagging sportsmanship at its best–and worst possible luck for Gary. We all wanted the ball. We all tried to get Johan’s attention. We all had an equal shot at it. And it happened to end up in my glove. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked a player for a ball and then watched helplessly as his throw sailed to someone else. It happened to me at this game as well. I’d been shouting at Carlos Muniz (in Spanish) and making eye contact with him throughout BP. He even held up an index finger at one point as if to say, “Hold on.” Eventually, when I was standing several rows back in the aisle, he turned abruptly and lobbed the ball in my direction from about 100 feet away. The throw fell five feet short. Gary, who was standing two rows below me, reached up and caught it in front of my glove.
I got one more ball tossed to me before the Mets finished their portion of BP. Nothing special. It came from another trainer-type guy. He was standing on the edge of the warning track when a ball rolled to his feet. Everyone shouted, and he ended up throwing it to me.
The Phillies took the field, and I moved down a level and ran around to the left foul line. Within a few minutes, a right-handed batter (no idea who) ripped a line drive in my direction. The ball hooked foul, fell 30 feet short, took one hop off the warning track and skipped up into my glove. Beautiful. I hadn’t even seen it coming until the fans around me started shouting at the last second. I’d been busy pestering J.C. Romero for a ball, and I was still eying him moments later when another righty batter hooked a deeper line drive, again right at me. For some reason I wasn’t able to catch it cleanly. I think it was just a lack of concentration because I always catch balls that come to me. Luckily, the ball dropped into the empty second row of orange seats behind me, and I was able to grab it off the concrete before anyone else had a chance to react. Duh. I still felt like an idiot.
Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson flipped me my sixth ball of the day, and as soon as I caught it, Romero informed him that I’d already gotten two. (Make that SIX, pal.) I quickly turned my back before Henderson looked over so he wouldn’t see my face.
Okay, in the photo above, see how there’s a double wall with a stool in between and dead space all around it? Whenever a ball drops into that area, it’s almost impossible to lean over the railing and grab it. Although it might not look l
ike it, it’s just too far down, and that’s when the glove trick comes in handy–but not this time. A ball shot in there and rolled halfway underneath the gap at the base of the stands, and there was no chance for me to get my glove (in the propped open position) to drop around it. My friend and fellow baseball collector Greg (aka “gregorybarasch”) ran down from the Loge with his cup trick, which might’ve actually worked in this situation, but he’d already snagged half a dozen balls as well, and I wasn’t about to let him swoop in and snag this one. He was good-natured about it, though. We usually make an extra effort to stay out of each other’s way, but every now and then we’ll both end up in the same spot. Anyway, the ball was tucked behind a narrow metal opening, pretty far down and to the left. I should’ve taken a photograph, but oh well, I got caught up in the excitement and forgot. Greg stood a few feet to my right, then moved behind me and held my legs briefly as I leaned over, but it still wasn’t happening. He then suggested that I use my glove to reach a very thin piece of wood (You know those flimsy little sticks that souvenir pennants/flags are attached to? One of those.) and then use the wood to move the ball. And that’s exactly what I did. The wood was so flimsy, however, and the ball was trapped in such a deep rut–that it took about 30 seconds to pry it out, during which time the on-field security guard walked over and told me I had to stop. I didn’t stop. I was almost there, but the ball was still too far below for me to grab it in the tip of the glove, so I tilted the glove sideways to turn it into a makeshift scoop and tried to roll the ball into it by jabbing at it with the tip of the stick. Blood was rushing to my head, and I could feel my veins bulging as I balanced precariously upside-down. Security, meanwhile, was threatening me and Greg was rooting for me. Craziness all around. Last chance…yes…I was able to work the ball into the tip of my glove, then jerk the glove up a few inches while pressing the stick against the ball. The ball started to roll out of the glove’s open pocket, and I saved it by dropping the stick and using my free right hand to grab the ball. Wow. Snagging that ball took much more skill than any home run ball I’ve ever caught. No doubt about it.
I didn’t get any more balls at the Phillies’ dugout after batting practice or before the game, but I did get recognized by a bunch of people, and I ran into a few others I knew including a guy named Adam who gave me his ticket stub so I’d be able to get back down there. This was HUGE. I still needed a commemorative ball, and I knew my best chance would be to go for a third-out ball at the dugout.
I spent the first four outs of the game trying unsuccessfully to catch a foul ball in the Loge. This was my view (minus the railings blocking the plate) for right-handed batters:
And this was my view from the 5th row behind the dugout:
Good thing I made it back down there. Damion Easley grounded out to end the first inning. Shortstop Eric Bruntlett threw the ball across the diamond to Ryan Howard at first base. Howard brought the ball back to the dugout, and since I was the only fan standing up and shouting for it, he tossed it to me. Just LOOK at this beautiful ball:
I stayed in the Loge for the rest of the game and ran back and forth for foul balls, playing right-handed hitters on the first base side of home plate and lefties on the third base side. Top of the third inning. One out. Mike Pelfrey on the hill. Chase Utley sent a foul ball shooting back right at me. I was standing near the top of the slanted tunnel between sections 2 and 4, took one step forward, reached through a bunch of clueless people, and caught the ball in the pocket of my glove. No wait, I didn’t just catch it. I snatched it. It’s like I reached forward with my glove as if I was giving someone an emphatic high five. BAM! Gimme that ball! And as soon as I caught it, I turned and walked back down the aisle. No celebrating. No holding it up in the air. Nothing. Everyone around me knew I was the one who caught it, and I had people congratulating me for the rest of the night. A few fans said they had my first book. A couple others told me they loved my web site. It felt great. And it occurred to me how lucky I was to have gotten the ball from Howard two innings earlier; the commemorative logo on the ball I’d just caught was smudged where Utley’s bat had hit it.
Pelfrey looked pretty good and picked up his first win after limiting the Phillies to two runs on five hits in five innings. The Mets scored eight runs (for an 8-2 win) despite collecting just five hits. Phillies fans throughout the stadium were generally obnoxious, cheering loudly for their team, waving their jerseys, and making choking gestures at Mets fans who responded by flinging several Phillies hats off the edge of the upper deck and belting out a sing-songy chant of “F*ck the Phillies.” It was a busy night
for stadium security. For once I was the least of their concerns.
With one out in the ninth inning, I used Adam’s ticket to get back into the field level, then waltzed down into the seats behind home plate and got yet another commemorative ball from umpire Lance Barksdale as he walked off the field after the final out.
• 10 balls at this game
• 32 balls in 4 games this season = 8 balls per game.
• 500 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 10 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball (not counting game-used balls that are thrown to me, like the one from Howard.)
• 112 lifetime game balls
• 75 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 1,600 lifetime Bud Selig balls
• 3,309 total balls
• 11 days until I’ll be at Disney World…