The last day of the regular season always starts slowly, and this was no exception. When I ran inside the stadium, this was my first look at the field:
No batting practice.
But that was to be expected.
Five minutes later, there was at least a sign of life…
…and 15 minutes after that, several Tigers began playing catch in left field:
In the photo above, there’s an arrow pointing to Robbie Weinhardt because he ended up throwing me his ball when he finished.
Then I got his autograph. Here he is signing for another fan…
…and here he is posing for a photo:
It was THAT kind of a day — very slow and laid-back.
Lots of Tigers signed autographs. I got six on my ticket:
Since their handwriting is even worse than their won-lost record, I’ll tell you their names: Alfredo Figaro, Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Max St. Pierre, and of course Mister Weinhardt.
Not only did I collect a bunch of autographs, but I also signed one for a young fan named Xavier. Here he is holding it up for the camera:
The Orioles eventually came out and played catch:
I didn’t snag any baseballs from them, but I did get a couple of autographs. Here’s a photo of Matt Albers signing:
I got him on the back of my ticket, along with Mike Gonzalez’s signature:
Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got my second ball of the day (and 299th of the season) from Tigers infielder Scott Sizemore.
Here’s the ball:
As I mentioned in my last entry, the Tigers mark their balls on the sweet spot.
My friends Roger and Bassey and my girlfriend Jona showed up at game time. Here they are, chillin’ on the first base side:
(That’s Roger on the left and Bassey on the right.)
I really wanted to snag my 300th ball of the season, but rather than go for a 3rd-out ball (which would’ve been fairly easy), I stayed in the outfield and tried to catch a home run instead.
Given the fact that this was the final game of the season, and given the fact that the players were likely going to give away some of their equipment after the final out, I made my way to the Tigers’ dugout at the start of the 9th inning.
This was my view:
As soon as the Tigers put the finishing touches on their 4-2 victory, I moved down into the front row:
Here’s what happened next:
It was only the fifth bat I’d ever gotten, and it belonged to Austin Jackson! Are you aware of how awesome Jackson is? This was his first season in the Major Leagues, and he finished with a .293 batting average, 181 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, 27 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored. Okay, so he struck out 170 times. Whatever. Austin Jackson is The Man — and the potential rookie of the year. The way I got his bat was simple and unexpected. As the players were filing into the dugout, some guys flung their caps into the crowd, and a few others tossed their batting gloves. During all the chaos, I happened to see a bat get lifted up from below the dugout roof, and I lunged for it. That was it. I grabbed it a split-second before anyone else realized what was going on. As for those batting gloves, I got one of those, too:
This one belonged to Will Rhymes — not exactly a household name, but give the guy some credit. This was his rookie season, and he batted .304 in 54 games.
After all the Tigers were gone, there was still some action on the Orioles’ side, so I hurried over to their dugout:
It was painfully crowded. I couldn’t get any closer than the 3rd row.
In the photo above, those are fans standing on the field. They were picked through some sort of random drawing to receive “game-worn” jerseys from the players. Why is “game-worn” in quotes? Let’s just say that the jerseys were definitely NOT worn during the game that had just been played on the field. Right after the final out, the players disappeared into the clubhouse, where they obviously changed into alternate uniforms before returning 10 minutes later. How do I know this? Because…during the game, several Orioles dove for balls and slid into bases. Their uniforms were D-I-R-T-Y when the game ended and perfectly clean when they returned for the give-away. (Maybe, after changing, the players spent a few minutes in the clubhouse playing backgammon, in which case their clean uniforms would have actually been “game-worn.”) I’m just bitter because I’ve never gotten a jersey. That’s probably what I’ll ask for when I finally catch an important home run that a player wants back. But anyway…
Here’s a closer look at the bat:
Adam Jones started signing autographs along the foul line…
…so I ran over and got him on an extra ticket I had from the previous day:
I thought about getting him on the back of my October 3rd ticket — I liked the idea of getting all my autographs for the day on one ticket — but because he’s so good and has the potential to become a superstar, I had him sign a separate item.
Just as I was getting set to leave the stadium, the groundskeepers appeared in the right field corner and started playing catch:
I was still stuck at 299 balls for the season, and the playoffs were (and still are) a big question mark, so I thought, “This is my chance.”
(In the photo above, that’s me in the white shirt.)
I asked one of the groundskeepers if I could have a ball when he was finished throwing. He said, “Probably not because this is all we have to play with.”
Ahh. So they were going to play a game on the field. Lucky them…
Well, it just so happened that one of the groundskeepers airmailed his throwing partner. The ball landed in the seats. I ran over and grabbed it. And when the guy started flapping his glove at me, I tossed it back to him, figuring he’d give it to me when he was done. I mean, now he had a reason to give it to me. I had just done him a favor. He owed it to me, in fact. But guess what? He never gave it back. And it gets worse. After he jogged off, one of his buddies taunted me by pretending to throw one to me. Nice. Really nice. (I’m considering placing the Hample Jinx on the entire Orioles grounds crew, but I’m not sure how that would work. I can tell you, though, that I *will* find some way to get revenge.)
I had a long internal debate over whether or not to count that final ball. I mean, I *did* snag it. But then I gave it away. But I normally count balls that I give away. But I give those away voluntarily. GAH!!! Ultimately I decided not to count it. It just seemed cheap. And for what it’s worth, my friend Bassey said, “It’s more poetic to end the season with 299 balls than 300.” But then again, who knows? I might just end up making my way to a playoff game or two.
Here I am with Roger, Jona, and Bassey after the game on Eutaw Street:
If you look at the pavement in the photo above, you can see that it had just started to rain. Ha-haaa!!! It actually rained pretty hard after that. Take THAT, grounds crew!!! And get ready for more misery in 2011…
• 2 balls at this game (pictured on the right)
• 299 balls in 31 games this season = 9.65 balls per game.
• 660 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 203 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 4,657 total balls
• 48 donors (click here to learn more)
• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.06 raised at this game
• $2,251.47 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Hold on! This entry isn’t done. I want to show you a few more photos of the bat. First, here it is in its entirety:
Austin Jackson wears uniform No. 14, so check out the end and knob of the bat:
Here’s the trademark…
…and here are some marks/smudges on the barrel that were caused by balls:
The latest piece of Gustavo news broke last week when I was snagging baseballs in Toronto. I didn’t get a chance to blog about it then, but hey, it’s never too late to discuss the misfortunes that befall him.
Do you remember, back in December, when I was chillin’ in Ireland and making fun of Gustavo for getting signed by the lowly Washington Nationals? Well, it didn’t take long for the Nationals to release him. (Tee-hee!) Here’s the story on MLB.com.
Now…don’t be fooled by the fact that he ended up signing with the Phillies; it was a minor league contract and we all know that the entire Phillies organization is going to fizzle in ’09.
But enough about the Phillies. Yuck. It’s all about the Mets right now. Last night, in honor of the official opening of Citi Field, the Empire State Building was illuminated with orange and blue. Here’s the view of it from my apartment. It’s way off in the distance (more than two miles away), right in the center of the photograph:
There’s a 50 percent chance of rain tomorrow, but I don’t care. I’ll be at Citi Field even if there’s a monsoon. Bring it on. I’m so ready…
Day 3 of our trip was Christmas, aka “Rickey Henderson’s birthday” to those whose religion is baseball. (More on baseball in a bit.) There wasn’t anything to do in Dublin. Everything was closed. So Jona and I hung around the house all afternoon with her aunt and uncles and cousins and their kids (a few of whom aren’t pictured below):
During the last hour of daylight, we walked over to Dublin Bay (less than half a kilometer away) and took a long, leisurely stroll along the promenade. The tide was way out, so it wasn’t as pretty as it normally is, but I still got a couple nice photos. Here’s the first…
…and here I am with Jona (and her pink mohawk hat) in the second:
Back at the house, we ate a traditional Irish Christmas dinner:
That’s right. We had turkey with gravy, mashed and roasted potatoes (or “spuds” as they’re called here), cranberry sauce, and stuffing. There were also a few vegetables that I avoided.
After dinner, Jona and I played a game of Scrabble (on a mini-travel set that we’d packed for the flight). We all watched a lot of TV, and Jona and I fell in love with a comedy duo that’s insanely popular here in the UK. It’s called “Little Britain.” Check them out on YouTube.)
That was pretty much it. Slow day. But I have a few baseball things to report.
Seamus (Jona’s aunt’s husband, whose name, as I mentioned in my Day 1 entry, is pronounced “SHAY-muss”) surprised me with his interest in baseball. Not only does he own The Ultimate Baseball Book…
…as well as three major league caps and a 1986 Mets mug…
…but he’s related to a Hall of Famer; his great-grandfather was married to Ed Delahanty‘s aunt!
By the way, Seamus and his wife Joan had a funny exchange when he first put on the Sox cap. She thought it was perched too high up on his forehead, so she told him to “bring down the peak.”
“Don’t tell me how to wear me bloody cap!” he barked with a smile, then turned to me and said, “She’s a terrible woman.”
Seamus really DOES like the Mariners and reminisced about the days when Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Randy Johnson all played together on the team. Seamus gets a good amount of MLB games (and news) through his standard cable TV package, and he makes a point of watching the World Series every year. (He doesn’t understand why it’s called the “World” series when it only involves teams from North America.) His favorite player nowadays is Ichiro Suzuki, and he described a defensive play he once saw in which Ichiro “threw the ball nearly all the way to home base from the boundary.”
I’ve been keeping up with MLB news since I got here. First it was Teixiera, and now it’s…
GUSTAVO WATCH, PART 17
You remember the sad story of Gustavo Chacin, right? To sum it up quickly:
The latest Gustavo news is proof that the Jinx is always with him, even during the off-season when I’m an ocean away and distracted by other things. Just within the last few days, he was signed to a minor league (Ha!) contract by the worst team in baseball. That would be the Washington Nationals. Chacin has become such an inconsequential scrub that the move didn’t even make front page news on MLB.com. Here’s the story.
ANSWER: I was there with my mom.
This game ended up being the Phillies’ 35th sellout of the season, and we hadn’t bought tickets in advance, so when we arrived at the ticket windows nearly four hours before game time, the best we could buy were obstructed-view seats behind the right field foul pole in the upper deck.
We never went up there.
By 3:45pm, we were waiting outside the Ashburn Alley gate in left field, and by four o’clock I got my first “Are you Zack Hample?” of the day.
It was a guy named Ethan who’d been reading this blog for years and leaving comments as “dodgerdude.” This was the first time we’d ever met in person. He was there with his friend Paul, and my mom took a picture of the three of us. (Ethan is on the right.)
The Phillies started hitting less than a minute later, and another ball ended up rolling to the same spot. By this point Taguchi wasn’t anywhere in sight. There weren’t any players nearby, for that matter, so once again I began the process of flinging my glove out and knocking the ball closer. Jeff also had a glove trick and asked if he could try to get the ball even though I had already started making my attempt.
“Sure,” I said, “we’ll just have a good ol’ fashioned battle for it.”
From the time that I knocked the ball closer to the time that I raised my glove back up to set up the rubber band and magic marker, Jeff had several opportunities to lower his glove right over the ball and snag it. But for whatever reason his trick failed. His rubber band was probably too tight or too loose, so I ended up getting the ball to stick inside my glove. As I was raising it back up for the final time, another ball flew out of nowhere and slammed the padded wall below. I looked up. Shane Victorino. Who else? Thankfully his aim was off, and he was still too far away to run over and grab my glove, so I was able to lift it the rest of the way and pull out my second ball of the day. (I’m not mad at Victorino. I think he was just being playful. Of course if he’d actually prevented me from getting that ball, I would’ve unleashed the Hample Jinx on his Hawaiian you-know-what.)
A little while later, I botched my chance at snagging ball No. 3, although it was a difficult chance that surely would NOT have been scored an error if there were an official scorer for snagging. Here’s what happened. Pat Burrell launched a home run over my head. The ball landed in an empty row, ricocheted back toward my row, clipped the back of a seat, popped up in the air but flew away from me on an angle as I was just arriving. In the split-second that the ball was in the air right in front of me, I took a swipe at it with my bare hand, but unfortunately the ball hit the tip of my fingers and deflected over the seats below and started trickling down the steps. I was trapped in the middle of the row, and I knew I was done. VERY frustrating.
To make matters worse, the left field seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them. (You can see my mom in the photo on the right. She’s wearing sunglasses and looking at me.) Granted, it wasn’t nearly as packed as the short porch gets at Yankee Stadium, but by this ballpark’s standards, it was highly unpleasant. Finally, toward the end of the Phillies’ portion of BP, a right-handed batter (no idea who) hit a home run in my direction. I was standing on a crowded staircase. I judged the ball perfectly. I shuffled down a couple steps as the ball began its descent, and at the last second I reached up and made the catch above half a dozen other hands. My mom was sitting a few feet away and had a great view. That felt good.
I took her out to right-center field when the rest of the stadium opened at 5:35pm, and as soon as we got there, I saw a ball roll to the wall in left-center so I raced back. I snagged that one with the glove trick, then got Ke
vin Gregg to toss me another in straight-away left field, then got Arthur Rhodes to toss me my sixth ball of the day in left-center. I was wearing
an aqua-colored Marlins T-shirt to go with my aqua-colored Marlins cap, and it was definitely paying off.
Back in right-center field, I crossed paths with Jeff (here we are in the pic on the left) and caught another home run in front of my mom. (Might’ve been hit by Mike Jacobs. Might’ve been Jeremy Hermida. Whatever.) Then I got Alfredo Amezaga to throw me a ball by asking in Spanish, and when Renyel Pinto ended up with a ball in his glove several minutes later, I shouted, “Para mi madre!” which means “for my mother” and got him to toss that one as well. I made sure to be the one to make the catch–I couldn’t have counted it in my collection if my mom had caught it–and then made a big production of handing the ball to her because I could see both Pinto and Amezaga staring at me.
Toward the end of BP, I tried to use my glove trick for a ball that was several feet out from the wall in the bullpen, but before I had chance to reel it in, a security guard marched down the steps and made me stop. I told him I was trying to get it for a little kid (which was true), and he still wouldn’t let me get it. Not only that…he cut the string off my glove and then marched back up the steps as if he was proud of himself for accomplishing something. Normally I keep extra string with me, but I didn’t have any this time. I just forgot it. No big deal. Batting practice ended several minutes later, and before I left the seats, I reached into my backpack and pulled out a ball for the kid. He had a glove. He’d been trying unsuccessfully for the previous 45 minutes to get a ball. I thought he deserved one. It’s as simple as that.
Right before the game, I snuck down to the Marlins’ dugout and got my 10th ball of the day tossed by Hanley Ramirez. Sweet!! I’d been hoping to get to add him to my list for years.
My mom and I grabbed a couple empty seats on the third base side. Nice view. (The stairs were on my left.) And as you can see in the photo below, the Phillies “fans” were really into the game:
When the Marlins took a 4-0 lead in the 7th inning, lots of “fans” left the stadium and my mom and I moved two sections to the right. This was the view:
When Rhodes fanned pinch hitter Greg Dobbs to end the 8th inning, catcher John Baker
forgot how many outs there were and jumped up in preparation to throw the ball around the horn. Rhodes got his attention, but Baker still appeared confused, so Rhodes got the ball from him, and since I was already in the front row at this point, I got him to toss it to me on his way in. It was the second ball of the day that he’d given to me.
“Did anybody get that one?” asked my mom when I returned to our seats.
I opened my glove and showed her the ball, and she couldn’t believe it. (Believe it, lady!)
We both had a great time at the game. Obviously it was nice to spend 12 hours together (including our time in the car), but it was more than that. She got to see me in action and get a real glimpse into my world. I got to teach her a few things about baseball and share my passion. The weather was perfect. We ate hot dogs and peanuts while secretly rooting against the Phillies, who ended up losing, 8-2. It was just perfect.
After the game, I bolted back down to the dugout and got a ball from Marlins 1st base/infield coach Andy Fox. I think it was the infield warm-up ball. How else could it have gotten so beat up. Check it out. Is this NOT a thing of beauty?
? 12 balls at this game
? 140 balls in 14 lifetime games at Citizen Bank Park = 10 balls per game.
? 85 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
? 30 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
? 536 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 129 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 3,562 total balls
I know I said I’d blog about my seat location for the Home Run Derby, and I will…tomorrow…but first I have to give an update about North America’s No. 1 ball thief.
You all remember the sad story of Gustavo Chacin, right? On 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium, he knocked a ball out of my glove while I was using the glove trick–sound familiar?–so I put the Hample Jinx on him and he began to suffer one misfortune after another. First he pitched badly. Then he got hurt. Then he was arrested for DUI. Then he got sent to the minors.
The the update is that he has spent the entire 2008 season pitching for Class A Advanced Dunedin in the Florida State League. HA!!!
But wait, it gets better. Ready for his stats? In 11 starts, he’s 1-7 with a 7.88 ERA. He has allowed more than 14 hits per nine innings. His WHIP is nearly 2.00 and he has surrendered more than one home run per start.
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. And you don’t mess with the Hample.