The day got off to a GREAT start…
Camden Yards opened at 5pm. I was the first one in, of course, and when I ran out to the left field seats, I found a ball sitting in the front row in foul territory:
As soon as I reached the foul pole and looked to my right, I discovered another ball…
…and when I headed out toward left-center field, I saw this:
Amazing. And then things got better.
During the next ten minutes (or so), I caught four home runs on the fly. I don’t know who hit any of them, but I can tell you that the last one impressed Jeremy Guthrie. He was shagging out in left field, just shy of the warning track, and had a perfect view.
Here’s how it played out (and FYI, all the photos of me were taken by my girlfriend Jona)…
As the home run was approaching, I drifted into the middle of a row to get in line with it, and then I realized that it was going to carry a few feet too far, so I stepped up onto a seat:
At the very last second, I jumped up FROM the seat and made the catch high over my head, reaching back all the way. The following photo shows me at the peak of my jump with the ball already in my glove:
Do you see the guy right in front of me with the dark blue shirt? He’s always out in the left field seats at Camden Yards, and Guthrie got all over him.
“Dude, you got posterized!!!” shouted Guthrie, who then reenacted the fan’s failed attempt to catch the ball:
That other fan happens to be a nice guy and a talented ballhawk. I forget his name (because I just suck with names sometimes) but we’ve snagged together a bunch of times. He robbed me of a few homers earlier in the season, and this time I got the better of him. It happens.
Guthrie and I talked for a few minutes after that. He asked me how things were going with the charity, and I told him that this was probably the last Orioles game I’d be attending this season.
I ended up catching so many home runs during BP that I now can’t remember any of the details. It was truly insane. The following four-part photo shows me catching (or rather, ABOUT to catch) four different homers. In the bottom two photos, I’m wearing a dark blue Rays shirt:
Everything was going my way. I happened to be in the right spot almost every time. Was it luck? Or skill? I suppose it was a combination of the two, but I really can’t explain it beyond that. I’d never experienced a batting practice like this in my life. Even the previous game (at which I finished BP with 17 balls and ended up with 22 by the end of the night) wasn’t this good.
Naturally, over the course of BP, there were some highs and lows and lulls.
There was running:
There was pain:
(The running needed work.)
And there was friendship:
You know how you’ll run into a person several times over the course of a few months or years, and you never really connect or get to know them, but you can tell that it’s someone you could potentially be great friends with, and then eventually it all clicks into place and you finally have a solid conversation with them? Well, last night was THAT night for me and the guy pictured above in the orange shirt. His name is Adam. He’s a regular at Camden Yards, and he reads this blog.
Back to snagging…
For those keeping score at home (including Alan Schuster, who is kind enough to update my MyGameBalls.com profile for me), here’s a rundown of all the balls I got during the first 45 minutes:
1) easter egg
2) easter egg
3) easter egg
4) easter egg
5) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
6) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
7) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
8) Orioles homer; caught on the fly (“posterized”)
9) Orioles homer; grabbed it after it bounced
10) Orioles homer; caught on the fly
11) thrown by an unknown lefty pitcher on the Rays
12) B.J. Upton homer; caught on the fly
13) Rays homer; caught on the fly
14) Pat Burrell homer; caught on the fly
It was around this time that I realized I had a chance to snag 20 balls for a second consecutive game. Could it be done?!
Matt Garza threw me a ball from about 120 feet away. The ball was falling short, so I leaned waaaaay out and down below the left field wall to try to catch it…
…but it tipped off the end of the my glove and settled on the warning track. Grant Balfour walked over and picked it up. I was afraid he’d recognize me from the previous day (when he gave me a ball during BP), and perhaps he did, but either way, I convinced him to toss it up.
Then I caught another home run on the fly in heavy traffic. One guy’s glove was RIGHT in my face, but I managed to hold on.
Then Tom Foley, the Rays’ third base coach, was walking through the outfield with a ball in one hand a fungo bat in the other.
“Coach!” I yelled, “Hit me a fungo!”
He looked up and threw me the ball instead. I was about five rows back, and the ball was falling short, so I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air and then reached way down over the next row to make a lunging catch.
Then a young kid behind me bobbled a home run ball, which I was able to snatch on one bounce. I immediately turned around and handed it to him. It was my 18th ball of the day.
Without warning, a ball smacked down into the seats one section to my right. I couldn’t tell where it had come from. I’d been watching the batter the whole time, and he hadn’t hit anything that reached the seats. Then I realized that Foley was standing on the foul line just behind 3rd base. He was hitting deep fungos toward left field so that the pitchers (who had nothing better to do) could try to rob home runs. The next fungo fell several feet short of the wall, and I lunged way out for it…
…but I got robbed by Brian Shouse. In the photo above, you can see the ball streaking into his black glove. You can also see Lance Cormier’s glove flying 30 feet in the air. He had thrown it up to try to hit the ball. (If I were a manager, I wouldn’t let my players goof around like that unless we had already clinched a playoff berth.)
Then I got my revenge. I think it was Balfour who tried to catch the next fungo, but the ball cleared the wall by three feet, and I was all over it:
That was my 19th ball of the day!
And then I had my chance to snag No. 20. There was a home run hit half a section to my left, so I drifted over and made a leaping catch at the last second, right next to a man who’d been whining about all the balls I was catching (even though he’d already snagged quite a few balls himself). He also accused me of never giving balls to kids (even though I’d just given one to a kid two minutes earlier). In the following photo, you can see this clown standing behind me in the light blue shirt. As for me, this was my reaction after catching the ball and reaching TWENTY for the second straight day:
Foley was still hitting fungos. One more of them reached the seats, and I caught it.
There was one final home run ball hit to me during BP. Here I am tracking it:
Here I am reaching up to make the catch:
See the guy with the long hair and goatee? He must’ve weighed about 250 pounds, and then…
He slammed into me and nearly sent me tumbling headfirst over the railing, but guess what? I held onto the ball.
“AND ONE!!!” I yelled with a smile, indicating that he had fouled me.
Everyone else in the section laughed.
I had snagged 22 balls, including 11 home runs on the fly. Both of those totals were BP records for me.
Six of the 22 balls had interesting markings, smudges, scuffs, and grass stains:
In the six-part photo above, the ball on the top left has a small bat imprint on it. I’m pretty sure the imprinted word (which appears here in reverse) is “SELECT.” This is the ball that Balfour tossed to me after Garza’s throw fell short. The ball on the lower right was my 20th of the day.
After batting practice, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my 23rd ball of the day tossed by Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. (This ball broke my single-game Camden Yards record of 22, which I had set the day before.) Then, right before the game started, I got No. 24 from Evan Longoria. He was using the ball to play catch with Willy Aybar, and when they finished, he threw it to me as a knuckleball. It was such a great day that even Jona got a ball after BP. I was in the front row behind the Rays’ dugout, and she was half a dozen rows back with my camera. I asked George Hendrick, the Rays’ first base coach, for the ball, but he scanned the seats and spotted her and tossed it her way instead. D’oh! (I need an uglier girlfriend.)
I spent the game in the standing-room-only section in right field. Here’s a photo of me walking toward Jona during an inning break:
I stayed out there for all the left-handed batters.
This is where I positioned myself for the righties:
I did lots of running all night, even with my battered right ankle which by this point was stinging and badly bruised. But it was worth it. This was a good foul ball spot. I had empty rows on both sides. But, unfortunately, nothing came close.
Back in right field, there was some action in the bottom of the 7th inning. Luke Scott led off and smoked a 2-0 pitch deep and to my right. The ball was clearly going to land in the seats and NOT in the standing-room-only section, but I took off and ran for it anyway. There were so many empty seats that anything seemed possible.
The following photo is a screen shot that I took from MLB.com. The red arrow is pointing to me:
Miraculously, the ball bounced all the way into the narrow walkway at the back of the section. As it began rattling around, there were two other guys closing in on it from the opposite direction, and I was sure, for an instant, that they were going to get there first…but then the ball hit the edge of one of those brick pillars and ricocheted in MY direction. The ball was heading right for my knee, and it nearly got past me. I barely had time to react as I bent down to simply try to stop it from getting away:
And then, suddenly, I felt the ball in my right hand. Just like that! It bounced RIGHT into my hand. I kind of trapped it up against the wall and against my leg. I couldn’t believe it, but I *did* in fact have sole possession of the ball.
This was my reaction:
It was my 9th career game home run ball (toss-ups excluded). I feel like that’s an embarrassingly low number, but in my own defense, I *have* snagged 124 foul balls and one ground-rule double.
It’s tough to catch balls in the standing-room-only section. The view from the back looks like this…
…so you can’t even see the ball until it’s a third of the way to you.
The following photo shows where I ran to grab the Luke Scott home run ball:
See what I mean? There’s not that much space back there.
Here’s the home run ball itself…
…and here’s the video highlight on MLB.com. I hope it works. I always have trouble with streaming video on my laptop. If there’s anyone reading this who either taped the game or can somehow pull this clip off the internet and convert it into an .AVI or .MOV format, please let me know. I’d love to upload the clip to this page on my web site, which lists all of my game home runs.
Okay, so this seems like the best day ever, right? Well, unfortunately, I pissed it all away with one inexcusable error. In the bottom of the 8th, Matt Wieters hit a deep home run that was heading toward the center-field side of the standing-room-only section. I bolted about 40 feet to my right and, to put it simply (because it’s too painful to relive the details), I should’ve caught the ball and didn’t. Epic fail. No excuses. I was (and still am) stunned and humiliated, and I just hope that I get the chance to redeem myself someday. The few people who witnessed (or heard about) my meltdown tried to comfort me with words of wisdom. The worst thing that anyone said was, “Think how boring life would be if you were perfect.” (That asinine gem came from a female usher who then hugged me.) The best thing anyone said was, “Hey, it happened to Luis Castillo.” (That came from my friend Leon Feingold.) Ultimately, nothing will cheer me up. I’ll just have to get over it, in my own way, at my own pace, and focus better from this moment on…
• 465 balls in 52 games this season = 8.94 balls per game.
• 621 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 178 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 117 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 6 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 9 lifetime game home runs
• 4 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, and Camden)
• 4,285 total balls
• 1 gut-wrenching mistake
• 126 donors (it’s not too late to make a pledge)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $631.50 raised at this game
• $11,745.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I didn’t think there’d be batting practice. This was a dreaded “day game after a night game,” and on top of that the night game hadn’t ended until 10:41pm, so I was overjoyed when I ran into the stadium and saw this:
A few Marlins pitchers were playing catch in the right field corner, and when they finished several others came out. It was perfect. There was a steady flow of snagging opportunities. If the entire pitching staff had been throwing at the same time, I probably would’ve only gotten one ball because all the guys would’ve seen me catch it. Instead, I got one tossed by Mark
Hendrickson, then another five minutes later by Logan Kensing, then another five minutes after that by Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco’s throw sailed to the left and fell two feet wide of my glove as I leaned over the railing. Fortunately, the ball landed in a folded up seat in the wheelchair aisle in front of the railing, and I was able to reach down with my bare hand and grab it.
I would’ve had five balls by that point if not for another baseball collector named Jordan–a college kid who lives in Florida, reads this blog regularly, and has been leaving sporadic comments since 2005 under the name “hockeyguy1011.” Jordan (who recently caught 10 balls in one game at Dolphin Stadium) had already snagged two, and if not for me, HE would’ve had five. He let me get the first one from Hendrickson, so I let him get the next ball from Matt Lindstrom. Then I got the ball from Kensing and let him go to the dugout where he had no competition and got one tossed by hitting coach Jim Presley.
Once BP started, Jordan went to straight-away right field, and I camped out in right-center. He was on one side of the tunnel, and I was on the other. We each had our space, and we both did well. I used the glove trick to snag my fourth ball and got scolded/threatened by security. Nice job, ownership. Open your ugly stadium later than almost every other stadium, prohibit all 17 of your fans from bringing backpacks and food inside, and then institute a stupid, arbitrary rule during batting practice to prevent people from snagging a few extra baseballs so you can sell them for $25 apiece at the souvenir stands. Really…nice job.
At least Andy Fox was nice. I got him to hit me a fungo from about 150 feet away, and it was basically right on the money. The ball was heading right at me but fell a couple rows short. Rather than diving or lunging for it and risking an injury, I held back because I was 20 rows from the field, and with the exception of a couple fans in the first two rows, the seats all around me were TOTALLY empty. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the ball hit the back of a seat and ricocheted back toward the field and kept bouncing and bouncing further away from me, first off the seats, then off the steps, until it had traveled all the way back down to the front row where some lucky kid gloved it. I asked for another try and Fox threw his arms up in disgust. I really thought I was out of luck, but he ended up tossing me another ball after I’d moved back down to the front row. I got my sixth ball thrown by Pierre Arsenault, the Marlins “bullpen coordinator,” after another fan mistook him for Steve Foster, the “bullpen coach.”
That was it for BP. It started late and ended early, but I was glad that it even happened at all. It’s interesting that the Marlins were the ones taking BP. Normally the home team bats first and finishes about an hour and a half before game time. The Reds must’ve told the Marlins well ahead of time that they weren’t going to hit so that the Marlins would be able to sleep late and still get their cuts.
As for the Reds, their entire pitching staff had been warming up in the left field corner, but by the time I ran over…
…only two guys were still throwing. Bill Bray, the lefty, tossed me the ball when he was done, perhaps because I was wearing a generic red T-shirt to go with my Reds cap.
My eighth ball of the day was tossed by Marlins catcher Matt Treanor along the right field foul line about 15 minutes before game time. There were a few other fans nearby. None of them had gloves or even bothered asking for the ball. It was one of the easiest snags of my life. Treanor had looked around briefly before tossing it to me, presumably to spot someone younger and/or cuter, but there just weren’t any options.
About ten minutes before game time, I moved behind the 3rd base dugout so I could take a pic of the right field seats:
Before I headed out there, I stopped at the Marlins’ dugout to try to get a ball from Hanley Ramirez who had started throwing with Jorge Cantu. I wasn’t allowed to enter the first eight rows of blue seats, so I had to hang back, and when Ramirez finished, I asked him in Spanish and waved my arms. Perfect strategy. I got his attention. He crouched down low and made eye contact with me and fired the ball sidearm in my direction, and then, out of nowhere, another fan who was sitting in the third row stuck his glove in the air and intercepted the ball. Props to that guy for having such quick reflexes, but DAMN!!!
Anyway, there was a more important ball to be snagged, and when I settled into my seat for the first pitch of the game, this was my view:
Ryan Tucker, the Marlins starter, was making his major league debut, and Jerry Hairston greeted him by hitting the second pitch down the right field line for a double. Jay Bruce, who entered the game batting .457, struck out on five pitches, and before I knew it, Mister Griffey was pacing toward the batters box.
Now, if you think I was sitting too far back, take a look at the image below. It’s a “scatter plot” from Hit Tracker that shows where all the home runs this season at Dolphin Stadium have landed:
Now take a look at Griffey’s scatter plot from 2008:
And his scatter plot from 2007:
I’d been studying these scatter plots extensively on my flight from New York City and determined that a) Griffey still has 400-foot power and b) if I stayed relatively close to the foul line, I could sit 15 or even 20 rows back and still be well within his range.
In addition, most fans were crowding the first few rows behind the outfield wall. It’s human nature to sit as close to the action as possible, but when it comes to snagging baseballs, that’s usually not the best place to be. I stayed far back because of the empty seats on both sides. When Griffey stepped into the batters box, this was the view to my right:
And this was the view to my left:
I wasn’t thrilled about the railing, but it was the best I could do, and I was so determined to catch The Ball that I might just’ve run right through it.
The right field seats grew slightly more crowded as the game progressed, but it still would’ve been pretty easy to catch The Ball. Unfortunately, Griffey drew a four-pitch walk in the third and grounded into a fielder’s choice in the fifth. He was removed for a pinch hitter in the eighth, and guess what? That hitter, Corey Patterson, launched a home run to right field.
But nothing came my way.
As for the game, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a two-out RBI single by Aaron Harang. The Marlins answered with a run in the third, a run in the fourth, four runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Ramirez hit two homers to left field, and Patterson capped the scoring with his solo homer in the eighth. Final score: Marlins 9, Reds 2.
Look how empty the stadium was in the ninth inning:
The attendance was listed at 12,444. That number, for those who don’t know, represents the number of tickets sold, not the number of fans who actually pass through the turnstiles. How many fans were actually IN the stadium? I’m not good at estimating, but I doubt there were more than 3,000.
I’m hoping for an even smaller crowd tonight. It’ll be my last game here. There’s a 50 percent chance of rain (as there probably always is in Miami), but it’s sunny right now (at 1:48pm). Wherever you are, do a little BP dance for me, and if you believe in God, say a Griffey prayer while you’re at it.
? 8 balls at this game
? 161 balls in 21 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
? 517 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 120 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 856 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,438 total balls