This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…
When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:
My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.
Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:
In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.
Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.
My seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.
“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.
“You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.
(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)
Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.
I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:
It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.
But guess what happened next…
Here, let me show you:
That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.
The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:
The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.
In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”
I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…
…and here we are with the balls:
Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.
Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:
I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:
Abe Lincoln was not impressed:
It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:
In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.
Another thing about the photo above…
On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:
This was the result:
He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.
Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…
…and here are the autographs themselves:
Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:
I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:
I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.
Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:
His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).
In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:
Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.
Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to load the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:
Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.
After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…
• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.
• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 180 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 4,343 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $454.68 raised at this game
• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
As I was saying, the parking lot…
When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:
That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.
There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.
Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:
That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.
Brandon is always ready, it seems.
Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:
Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.
I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.
Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:
The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:
By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.
Three minutes later?
The rain intensified and batting practice was done.
As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.
The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:
Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:
That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.
The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.
I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:
Brandon made me pose for it as we headed to our seats, and he insisted that I include it in this entry.
This was our view during the game:
I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.
Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:
You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:
I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.
I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…
…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:
Here I am going nuts…
…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:
I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.
Then I went back and grabbed my hat.
Awe and disbelief:
I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.
For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:
1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”
The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.
For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.
After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:
I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.
(I still can’t believe it.)
• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.
• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 486 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)
• 5 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, Camden, and New Yankee)
• 4,307 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $126.30 raised at this game
• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I woke up at 6:20am, raced to Newark International Airport, flew nonstop to Denver, and made it to Coors Field by 3:30pm:
I headed inside to the Rockies’ office…
…and met up with Jay Alves, the Rockies’ vice president of communications and public relations. I’d spoken to him a week earlier, told him that I was working on a book about baseballs, and asked if I could see the humidor. (In case you don’t know, the Rockies have been storing their game balls in a humidor since 2002 to prevent them from drying out in the mile-high air; dry baseballs become lighter and harder, and they travel way too far when they’re hit.) Jay warned me that I was going to be “underwhelmed” by the humidor — that it was small and that there really wasn’t much to see. I didn’t care. I had to set foot in it, and Jay kindly accommodated me. He even let me take photos, and he said I could share them on my blog, so here we go…
The humidor is located in the street-level/employees-only concourse:
The whole thing is VERY small (and yes, it’s locked). Here’s what it looks like on the inside:
As you can see, there are cases of balls on the left (six dozen balls per case). The smaller boxes which hold a dozen balls apiece are on the right.
The temperature in there is 70 degrees, and the humidity is kept at 50 percent, but I didn’t see any dials or gauges.
Even though the room was small, there was a lot to see…
…but I didn’t get to photograph everything because Jay was in a serious rush to get back to work. I probably spent less than two minutes inside the humidor, but at least I got to SEE it.
Here I am inside it:
Before I knew it, I was back out on the street. The brief tour felt like a distant blur, like a strange fragment of a dream that kept replaying in my mind.
I headed over to Gate E and (after switching caps) met up with some friends.
Pictured below from left to right:
1) Dan Sauvageau (who has snagged roughly 90 game home runs)
2) Danny Wood (who showed me his incredible baseball collection on June 20, 2008)
3) Danny’s wife Nettie (who’d picked me up at the airport earlier in the day)
4) me (happy to be staying with Danny and Nettie this week)
The gates opened at 4:30pm (two hours and ten minutes before game time) and I raced out to the left field bleachers. Here’s what the seats looked like after a couple minutes:
Dan had hooked me up with a front-row ticket, but there were a bunch of ballhawks in that row, so for the most part, I stayed farther back and took my chances in the main part of the bleachers. (At Coors Field, you can’t go into the front row in left field unless you have a ticket for the front row, even during batting practice.) I got Ubaldo Jimemez to toss me a ball by asking him in Spanish, and that was the only ball I snagged during the Rockies’ portion of BP.
When the Giants started hitting, I headed over to right field. As you can see in the following photo, the platform that extends out from the seats makes it impossible to use the glove trick for balls that are sitting on the warning track:
The nice thing about the right field section, however, is that there aren’t any railings in the staircases, so it’s easy to run around. Unfortunately, the section only extends out to straight-away right field, so most of the home runs were uncatchable and landed in the bullpen in right-center.
Tim Lincecum was shagging in right-center, and I got him to toss me a ball. I took the following photo from the row where I caught it:
Five minutes later, I caught a home run that was hit by Eugenio Velez. It was a line drive that was heading RIGHT at me, but since I was in Denver (where the air is thin and balls carry a long way), I turned around and bolted up the steps past a fat guy with a glove, then turned around at the last second and jumped as high as I could and made the catch high over my head. And guess what? That was the end of batting practice. It ended more than 20 minutes early because it started drizzling and the wussy grounds crew rolled out the tarp:
I noticed that there were two balls sitting within reach in the bullpen. I used my glove trick to reel in the ball on the right…
…and was stopped by security while going for the ball on the left.
There were more than a dozen balls sitting further out in the bullpens. Two security-type guys walked out and retrieved them and didn’t toss a single ball into the crowd. I thought that was really weak, and I let them know it. There were a few young kids with gloves nearby, standing quietly in the rain, but no, the Rockies couldn’t afford to part with a few baseballs (which were probably too damp to re-use anyway). I later gave away one of my baseballs to a kid.
I had some time to kill after BP, so I wandered up to the “rock pile” section in deeeeeeep center field and took a few photos. Here’s one of them:
(The tarp didn’t stay on the field long.)
Before the game started, I snuck down near the Giants’ dugout and tried to get Pablo Sandoval’s warm-up ball…
…but I ended up getting one from Nate Schierholtz instead.
Then Schierholtz signed my ticket:
What a lame signature. Seriously, what kind of garbage IS that?
I headed out to left field once the game started. This was my view:
This was the view to my right…
…and this was the view to my left:
It was home run HEAVEN — or rather it would have been home run heaven if anyone had managed to hit a ball anywhere near me, but no, my game home run curse continued.
Do you remember that story I wrote last year about Barry Bonds’ final home run ball? Well, two of the three key ballhawks in that incident were at the game last night. Jameson Sutton, the fan who snagged that ball was there:
Jameson sold that ball at auction for $376,612 largely because of this man, Robert Harmon:
Robert, as you may recall, snagged a dummy ball that Jameson had inadvertently dropped while going for the real one. I won’t re-tell the whole story here. It’s archived on Yahoo Sports for your viewing pleasure.
Anyway, the game was really slow for the first 13 innings. Pablo Sandoval put the Giants on the board with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 1st, and Todd Helton tied the score by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 5th.
That was it.
The 14th inning, however, was a totally different story. In the top of the frame, Edgar Renteria hit a one-out triple and Travis Ishikawa walked. Eugenio Velez then hit a two-run triple to left center and scored two batters later on a Juan Uribe groundout,.
The Giants had taken a 4-1 lead:
I was sick of sitting 400 feet from home plate at that point, so I told Robert that I was heading over near home plate, and that he could have the walk-off grand slam.
This was my view in the bottom of the 14th inning:
How did that half-inning start? With a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti made a visit to the mound, and his advice must have helped because Brandon Medders got Clint Barmes to pop out.
But then things fell apart.
Medders was taken out of the game and the new pitcher, Justin Miller, proceeded to give up a single to pinch hitter Chris Iannetta. Then he walked Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases, and then he walked Adam Eaton to force in a run. (Did you hear me? He walked ADAM EATON!!!) Merkin Valdez came in to pitch after that, and on his second pitch, Ryan Spilborghs blasted an opposite field shot into the Rockies’ bullpen. It was the first walk-off grand slam in Rockies history.
Final score: Rockies 6, Giants 4.
• 385 balls in 44 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.
• 613 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 172 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,205 total balls
• 119 donors (Heath Bell made a pledge; you can too)
• $24.76 pledged per ball
• $123.80 raised at this game
• $9,532.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball