Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?
When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield…
…I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.
The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for
the Wild Card with the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the
first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers
won, or if they both
lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea
who’d be moving on to the post-season.
I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp
air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:
It was only 9:30am–more than three-and-a-half-hours until game
time–when I passed the ticket windows and saw a small line of hopeful
I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was
guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top
corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub
two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans
to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through.
At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I
didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned
about my seat location.
I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t
thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball.
Even a training ball.
Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I
didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured
there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security
would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level
to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.
Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two
starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and
Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed
batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely
be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the
bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.
I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty
about the whole thing…and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home
run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being
trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a
chance to catch it.
Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to
open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at
the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought
one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic
area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.
“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)
“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.
So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket…
batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t
believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it
was raining. Look how wet the railings were
at the front of the bleachers:
Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the
first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after.
The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:
These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of
BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up
sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before
as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy
and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical
circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t
figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing
my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.
The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I
headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:
Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when
they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me
the following ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a
series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more)
of the Nationals’ baseballs.
The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My
fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t
identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to
me off the warning track in left-center.
I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife.
I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his
aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it
never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:
I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew
and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I
unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:
I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a
damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets
were entering the stadium.
I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone…
…so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and
took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:
This was the view slightly to the left:
The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck…
…and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:
I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of
why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle
in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:
The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the
field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra
time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure
what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all
being former Mets) but it was still cool:
These guys were intense:
This dude hit the nail on the head:
This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:
This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:
This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking
about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in
Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:
Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the
dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve
gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium
with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever
I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers
instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this
final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that
assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second
row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was
gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to
catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out
in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured
it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big
orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:
Then I ran into Elvis…
…and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.
If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left
field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be,
but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be
sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were
little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the
small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had
been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things
stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.
Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day,
and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same
time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant
…and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:
I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1”
when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a
quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.
This was my view straight ahead…
…and this was the view to my right:
I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that
might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob
scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.
Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:
The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and
the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led
off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker.
Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners
tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to
left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to
load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did
reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run.
Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things
started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly
out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was
batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The
second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner,
and Beltran crushed it in my direction.
It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it
left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning
track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing
I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20
feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly
empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS
going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land
somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The
ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the
moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was
standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I
had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right
spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept
coming…coming…coming…and I couldn’t believe I was even going to
be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it
descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and
WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to
invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and
caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the
bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned
and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot
of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter
disbelief before I really started celebrating:
Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:
Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:
Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which
I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place
except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me.
It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing
my shaved head:
The celebration just wouldn’t end:
Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives…
…followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:
And some more high-fives. Check it out…two at once:
It was THE…CRAZIEST…HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.
As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude
of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that
point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.
“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.
They were all like…huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how
Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.
One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly
woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank God) and had
me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did…and I kept getting
mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me
and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like,
“C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”
He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90
percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the
ball as he could and his friend took a pic.
I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the
authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came
and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers.
The authenticator, pictured below…
…emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not
even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he
congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a
million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I
asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already
forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a
roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one
off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even
sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur.
This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was
racing like you wouldn’t believe.
He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…
…and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:
Here’s a look at the sticker:
Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:
Here’s the commemorative logo:
Here’s the whole thing:
People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to
see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc.
Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on
back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me
from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me
and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to
return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on
my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the
aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get
out of the way if one comes.”
“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big
head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10
steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”
But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.
A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.
“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.
“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”
I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my
phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no
reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)
Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to
root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers
(who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there
wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the
fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.
Wow, 12 more outs to go…
In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry
Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the
left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by
pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the
at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers.
Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d
just traveled an additional 10 feet.
“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.
“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”
Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis
with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then
BOOM!!! Another home run…again into the bleachers but too far over
toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.
“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.
“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”
I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it
was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.
Ayala retired the next three batters.
The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the
eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They
beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the
bottom of the ninth or their season was done.
The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the
batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning:
David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably
going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming
into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers
for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.
Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches,
but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.
I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick
(which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level.
Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two
outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A
righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on
down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full…
…and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put
on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from
everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is
Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one
380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the
deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the
warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was
The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and
started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing
unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium
started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”
It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this
would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there
to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I
was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were
chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight
collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As
for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional
collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all
disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since
they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to
get stuff from them…and sure enough, that’s exactly
I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout
(he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap
as everyone headed back in.
I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif
(aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) and changed
out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but
Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap…
…and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:
THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.
Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the
Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see
on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:
The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being
there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I
need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl
Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto
the field one last time…
….but it was as bittersweet as it gets. Everyone in
the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did
Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite
bathroom–but even he knew it was time.
I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot…
…and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:
“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”
When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:
1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did
you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you
because they just saw you at the Mets game…dude, you are a f*ckin’
can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up
on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever…and
you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was
ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see
Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculolus.
This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you
getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic
area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run
at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”
3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall,
former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a
really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of
things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair,
looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos
Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the
American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the
people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had
time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long
homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t
be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night
if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days
until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah
Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.
It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog
entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize
that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl
Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted
about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now
12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started
getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the
front page of Yahoo…and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot…
…and here’s the story.
This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats…
? 6 balls at this game
? 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
? 568 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)
? 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
? 99 lifetime game balls in New York
? 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
? 3,816 total balls
I attended this game with my friend Jordan (aka “hockeyguy1011” if you read the comments) and his friend Josh. They’d flown in from Florida just to see Yankee Stadium, and of course they were each hoping to catch a commemorative ball. They had tickets for the main part of the stadium so I sent them to the corner spot at the end of the short porch. I had a seat in the right field bleachers and my day of snagging got off to a fast start.
Less than a minute after I entered the stadium, Phil Hughes tossed me ball number one. Even though his aim was perfect, I jumped up on the chest-high railing so that I was briefly balancing on my stomach…so that I could reach out as far as possible and prevent anyone else from interfering.
Five minutes later, I caught a Robinson Cano homer in the crowded aisle, and five minutes after THAT, I got another ball from Hughes. He didn’t intend to throw this one to anyone in particular. He just flipped it up randomly–one section to the right of where he’d tossed the first ball–and I happened to be standing there so I jumped and made the catch.
I was checking in on Jordan every now and then–his corner spot was only 30 feet from the left edge of the bleachers–and at one point, when I was more than 100 feet away, I saw a player toss him a ball. I ran over and yelled his name and got him to hold it up…
…and learned later that a) the ball was tossed by Alfredo Aceves who b) also tossed one to Josh, and that c) both balls were commemorative. Not bad.
I ended up snagging three more balls with my glove trick during the Yankees’ portion of BP. The first two landed in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall in right-center field, and I had to pounce on them because Greg (aka “gregb123”) was there with his cup trick, and another man (who told me he was inspired by this blog) was there with his own makeshift ball-retrieving device. Those two guys each pulled a ball out of the gap, and Greg ended up getting a couple other balls as well. Anyway, my third glove-trick ball came in left field. I saw a player throw a ball to some fans in the bleachers. Naturally they dropped it, and I ran over, and to my surprise Greg was already on the scene.
“You can have it,” he said. “It’s too far out.”
Cup tricks are better than glove tricks in certain situations (like when a ball is sitting on thick grass or surrounded by garbage, as is often the case in the various gaps at Shea Stadium), but here, when the ball needed to be knocked closer, I was all over it.
Fortunately, stadium security was nowhere in sight, so I was able to spend several minutes flinging my glove out past the ball and then dragging it back by pulling the string. Once I’d moved the ball off the grass, it took an extra effort to bring it closer because the dirt area was slightly sloped and the ball kept trickling away from me. Finally, though, I had the ball where I needed it and went in for the kill.
The man on my right was skeptical, as people often are.
“What you need is a secondary string,” he said.
I didn’t respond at first. I just went about my business, and ten seconds later I was holding the ball.
“What was that you mentioned about extra string?” I asked.
I ran back to right field with six commemorative balls in my drawstring backpack. It’d taken me 40 minutes to snag them, so I figured I’d be able to get four more over the next 45 minutes with the White Sox hitting. It always makes me happy to reach double digits, especially in a tough ballpark like Yankee Stadium, but guess what happened…
The Sox hardly tossed any balls into the crowd. Most of their hitters were right-handed. Their few lefties were either too wimpy to reach the bleachers or, in the case of Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., having too much fun taking aim at the right field upper deck. It was totally dead and my once-promising day quickly turned into a slightly-below-average performance.
I caught up with Greg after BP, and he (expertly) took the following photo:
I only had the baseballs out of my bag for a minute, during which time two people approached me separately and wanted to buy one.
“How much do you want?” asked one guy.
I didn’t even bother asking how much he was willing to pay or making up a number, but it obviously would’ve been a lot more than $30. That’s how much these balls cost in the stadium souvenir stores–and mine were actually USED by the Yankees.
All I said was, “I’m sorry, they’re not for sale.”
I played the tunnels in right field for the first couple innings of the game and had a decent view of Jeter’s fake hit–the one that moved him past Lou Gehrig for “most hits all time at Yankee Stadium.” Seriously, I can’t believe it was ruled a hit. I don’t care what kind of pressure Bill Shannon, the official scorer, was feeling in terms of making a hometown call. He was wrong and his poor decision cheated Jeter and every Yankee fan. He ruined a historic moment. The ball was hit hard–I won’t deny that–but third baseman Juan Uribe should’ve caught it. He’s a major leaguer. Make the play. Get in front of the ball. Move your feet. Knock it down. I used to play shortstop and third base, and I was charged with errors on much harder plays than that. You know when there’s a line drive hit right at an infielder and it in-between hops him and deflects off his glove? In my summer ball leagues (where the fields were crappy and you were lucky if the ball didn’t take a bad hop), those were ruled errors. In the major leagues, why are these plays ruled hits more often than not? It makes me sick. Jeter’s routine ground ball three feet to the right of Uribe should have been caught, and since it wasn’t, it should’ve been an error. Everyone in the stadium kind of cheered as soon as the ball got through, but we were all holding our breaths and looking at the scoreboard. After five to ten seconds, when it was ruled a hit, THEN everyone cheered. It was terrible. And it’s not even like this was the last game at Yankee Stadium. There were still five games and eight innings remaining at that point, so the Captain was clearly going to have plenty of chances. What the hell.
In the second inning, one of my vendor friends walked out of the tunnel where I was standing and said, “No seat again tonight, Zack?”
I actually *did* have a seat in section 41–the second section over from the batter’s eye–but it was in Row M, and there was no way I was gonna sit there.
To make a long story short (and to protect the people who made it happen), I got to sit on an extra folding chair IN the actual aisle directly behind the wall. That aisle is normally reserved for wheelchair seating (just like at Coors Field), but not everyone there is necessarily disabled because those seats often end up getting released to the public shortly before game time.
My view of the game itself wasn’t great because I had to watch the action through the railings…
…but the space on either side of me (and the lack of competition) was to die for. Was this really happening at Yankee effin’ Stadium? This was the view to my left…
…and this was the view to my right:
Wow. If ever there was a night to catch a home run, this was it.
The bottom of the third inning was thoroughly entertaining, not in a snagging sense, but because of the idiot fans sitting directly behind me. Bobby Abreu had committed the horrible crime of grounding out to the pitcher with one out and runner on third, so the fans were already angry when A-Rod stepped into the batter’s box. One guy started screaming, “LOSER!!! LOSER!!!” which prompted his friend to shout, “Pop up to the infield and then pretend you care! I love it!”
(Clearly, A-Rod wants to fail and is more talented as an actor than as an athlete.)
After A-Rod ended the inning with a towering fly out to right field (which would’ve been a 430-foot homer had he swung half an inch higher), the first fan yelled, “YOU BUM!!! YOU BUM!!! YOU PIECE OF SH*T!!!” Then his buddy yelled, “Cheat on your wife!!”
When Abreu took his position in right field in the top of the fourth, another fan screamed, “Way to get the run in, Bobby!! Welcome to free agency!! The Yankees hate you!!”
(Let it be known that Abreu is batting .298 with 91 runs, 17 homers, 19 stolen bases, 38 doubles, and a .372 on-base percentage. Not exactly a terrible season.)
Then the fans started talking about how A-Rod should be dropped to the 8th slot in the lineup, and that the only reason why manager Joe Girardi won’t do it is because it “goes against the book.”
When Jason Giambi led off the bottom of the fourth inning, I was thinking that he had a better chance than anyone on either team to hit a home run to me. That said, I wasn’t rooting for this to happen. I don’t like the guy. To me, he’s a villain who deserves to fail.
Gavin Floyd quickly fell behind in the count 3-0, and all I could think was something along the lines of: “I don’t even want Giambi to enjoy the pleasure of getting a base on balls.”
Giambi predictably took the next pitch–a strike–and fouled off the next one to bring the count to 3-2. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, as I always do, hoping but not necessarily expecting anything to come my way.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Floyd grooved a 91mph fastball, and Giambi launched it about 20 feet to my right. From the moment it left the bat, I knew it was gone, but at first I thought it was going to sail over the aisle and land out of reach in the packed section behind me. Still, I jumped up and drifted through the wide aisle and got in line with the ball. Somehow, either because it was a cool night or because the wind was blowing in (or maybe because I flat-out misjudged it initially), the ball didn’t travel as far as I thought it would, and it began descending toward me in the aisle. I stayed near the back railing, still preparing for the ball to carry (and of course because it’s easier to move forward than backward at the last second), and then determined that the ball was going to land right in the middle of the aisle. Rather than taking
one step forward and preparing to make a face-high catch, I took two steps forward, thereby forcing myself to jump for the ball so that I could catch it as high as possible–and in front of anyone else who might’ve been hoping to make their own attempt.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I jumped. I caught it. The place went nuts (not for me but rather for Giambi) and I held up the ball triumphantly. Then, since I knew I was sitting in a spot where I “belonged” and that I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the section by security (as was the case after my other two home run catches this season), I quickly decided to do a little dorky/celebratory dance…nothing fancy, and certainly nothing GOOD. Just a few silly moves so that that cameras might stay on me for a couple seconds…just to have fun with it and entertain my friends and family and all you blog readers (and the millions of baseball fans) who would end up seeing the highlights later that night.
As it turned out, the cameras captured the whole thing quite well.
My catch (leaping and reaching just behind the “G” in “AIG):
Holding up the ball:
Talking on my cell phone (to Jordan who saw me from the upper deck and called immediately):
I want to give a BIG thanks to my friend Michael Fierman (formerly “tswechtenberg” and now “pinched”) for taping the game and making a compilation of all the footage.
CLICK HERE to watch it, but be warned that it’s about 16 MB and might take a little while to load if you have a slow internet connection.
I was dying to catch another home run–two in one game is a very rare feat–but it wasn’t meant to be.
I am proud to say, though, that as of this moment, I am the proud owner of the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. There are five more games remaining there, and I’ll be at three of them. What are the odds that a) there won’t be any more homers or b) there will be another and I’ll catch it?
Final score: Zack 7, White Sox 6, Yankees 2.
? 7 balls at this game
? 481 balls in 62 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 558 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 124 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 11 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 3 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly at Yankee Stadium)
? 122 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 6 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
? 20 lifetime game balls at Yankee Stadium
? 3,758 total balls
When I got home, the following email was waiting for me. The subject was “I see 3’s and 1’s.” It was from my friend Brad. Here goes:
There has been a streak of HR catches by some notorious ballhawks over the last six (3 + 3) days. Wanna see how the numbers “3” and “1” occur prominently for each of these?
On Thursday in San Diego, T.C. got Drew Macias’s first (1) MLB homer. Macias’s jersey number is 11 (1) (1). And Leigh got Adrian Gonzalez’s’ 31st (3) (1) homer of the season.
On Friday in San Diego, T.C. got Pedro Sandoval’s third (3) homer of the season,
On Friday in Oakland, Tyler got Hank Blalock’s HR. Blalock went 1-3 that game and wears number nine (3) X (3).
On Saturday at PETCO, Leigh got Bengie Molina’s 13th (1) (3) homer of the year. That’s also 31 backwards from the Gonzalez homer (3) (1) and Molina’s jersey number is one (1).
Monday night at Coors Field, Danny got Matt Antonelli’s first (1) MLB HR. Antonelli is #9 (3) X (3). That catch also makes a total of (3) ballhawks that we know of who got a player’s first (1) major league home run this season; Tyler’s brother Tom in Oakland got Carlos Gonzalez’s first (1)
With all these one’s and three’s flyin’ around, we should have been able to predict that you would catch Giambi’s 31st (3) (1) on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. That also made you the first (1) person to catch three (3) homers at Yankee Stadium in it’s final season. It also happened in the 4th inning (3) + (1). And Giambi ended up going 1-3
for the game.
Also on Tuesday night: Prince Fielder hit his 31st (3) (1) homer of the season onto Sheffield Avenue at Wrigley, and the probability is high that one of the regular ballhawks out there got it. So it is possible that You and Leigh and one of the Wrigley guys have someone’s 31st (3) (1) homer of the 2008 season.
And for the most bizarre stat of the night– the attendance at Yankee Stadium was 52,558.
5 + 2+ 5 + 5 + 8 = 25 (Giambi’s number.)
As awesome as that email was, the response of the night went to my girlfriend (a former professional dancer) who watched the footage and said, “So you were churning butter and then you started doing aerobics.”
Yup. And it worked.
It was a day of new and old friends.
THE NEW: A 28-year-old Californian named Matt who’d been reading this blog (and keeping in touch with me) for months. He was finally in New York City and took me out to lunch before we headed to Yankee Stadium.
This was another Watch With Zack game–for Clif only– although I still felt responsible for helping both of these guys snag a Yankee Stadium commemorative ball. Matt didn’t have many chances on the west coast, and he was going to be flying back there the next day at 6am. Clif, meanwhile, had been trying unsuccessfully to snag one of these balls all season–or at least at the few Yankee games that he was able to convince his mom to take him to. Clif had wanted one of these balls SO badly and for such a long time that he told me he felt like he almost didn’t want one anymore.
Matt (on the left in this photo) and Clif (being goofy in the middle) and I hung out for 45 minutes outside Gate 6 and mapped out our strategies. Unfortunately for Clif, I didn’t know I’d be going to this game with him until about a week or two before the fact, whereas Matt had his trip planned for months. Therefore, I had told Matt well in advance that the place to be during BP was the corner spot in the right field seats, all the way out near the bleachers…so he rightfully claimed that spot. Still, I figured the right field upper deck would be pretty good during the first 10 or 20 minutes of BP, and I offered to give that area to Clif. He turned it down. He felt he had a better chance downstairs by roaming for home run balls, trying to get players to toss him balls, and using his “cup trick” to pluck balls off the warning track.
It made sense to split up so we wouldn’t all be directly competing with one another. Clif’s mom Gail had no problem with him being on his own for BP. We all had each other’s cell phone numbers, and I told Clif that if there was lots of action in the upper deck and I got a ball early on, I’d call him and tell him to run upstairs…and then I’d either get out of his way or stay up there and help him snag one. I was willing to simply GIVE Clif one of these commemorative balls, but to his credit, he didn’t want one unless he snagged it on his own.
The stadium opened at 5pm, and I raced up to the upper deck and had it all to myself for the first five minutes:
Of course, there was NO action during this time. In fact, there was hardly any action up there during the forty minutes that the Yankees were on the field. By the time the upper deck was starting to get crowded, one ball was hit into the seats near the foul pole…and one ball was tossed up by Joba Chamberlain to a man with a cup of beer instead of a glove. It was a total disaster, but I did see Matt get a commemorative ball tossed to him by David Robertson.
Matt had told me outside the stadium that he really only needed one ball, and that if he snagged one, he’d hold onto the corner spot for me and let me slip in. After the Yankees finished their portion of BP, I ran downstairs and took him up on his generous offer. I would’ve given the corner spot to Clif, but I assumed the Orioles weren’t using commemorative balls, and anyway, he wanted me to catch at least one ball so my streak wouldn’t end.
I was in total panic mode by this point. It was coming up on 6pm, and the right field seats were so crowded that I literally could not move:
Luckily, I didn’t have to move once I had the corner spot, and thanks to my bright orange Orioles T-shirt (with “RIPKEN 8” on the back), I was able to convince Jamie Walker to toss me a ball. His throw sailed high, so I timed it and jumped as high as I could and lifted myself up even higher by pushing off the side wall with my right arm…and I made the catch. PHEW!!! It was a regular ball, and I offered it to Clif, just because that seemed like the right thing to do, but he wouldn’t take it. And that was IT for batting practice. One lousy ball between the two of us. Can you believe it?
Matt and I parted ways at that point, and Clif asked me if this was my worst game ever at Yankee Stadium. No. But it was close…at least at that point.
During the game, Gail stayed in her assigned seat in the Loge level with her friend Michael while Clif and I moved all over the place. We spent the top of the first inning going for foul balls on the 3rd base side. Since there was only one aisle seat, we alternated batters. I sat on the end for Brian Roberts (a switch-hitter batting lefty against Mike Mussina), then traded seats with Clif when (the next lefty) Nick Markakis came up.
We moved out to straight-away left field in the bottom of the first to prepare for A-Rod. Given the fact that this was the Yankees’ 31st sellout of the season, there weren’t exactly a whole lot of empty seats from which to choose. The best option was ALL the way out near Monument Park (at the very edge of the grandstand) in the first row behind the aisle. Basically, there was a side wall at the edge of the section, then two seats, then a staircase. As the Yankees went down one-two-three, Clif and I slipped into these two seats and security didn’t say a word. A-Rod was batting cleanup so we were going to have to wait half an inning for his turn. Clif sat on the inside (against the side wall) and left the end seat for me.
“I guess I should put on my glove,” I said to Clif as the right-handed Melvin Mora stepped into the box. I didn’t expect anything to come my way, and I almost didn’t care about catching any home run other than A-Rod’s, but it seemed silly not to be prepared…for whatever.
I told Clif that if someone hit a home run to left field, I’d be out of the seat in no time, and that he’d be able to follow close behind, and that if the ball weren’t caught on a fly, there would likely be a scramble for it, at which point there’d be just as good a chance for him to get it.
Mora fell behind in the count but then ripped a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single. This brought up Luke Scott, a lefty, who pulled an 0-1 pitch through the right side to put runners on the corners.
Kevin Millar stepped up to the plate, and I asked Clif if he wanted to switch seats with me. He didn’t. And Millar crushed the first pitch to left field. And I was out of my seat in less than a second. As the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was heading. Fly ball to the warning track? Home run into the seats? I wasn’t sure, but it was obviously well hit, and there was only one direction to run: to the right. The ball reached its apex, and I kept racing through the aisle, and as it began its descent I knew right where it was going to land. It WAS going to be a home run, and I had a chance to get there. I kept running. The ball was coming down. There was a tall guy and a group of fans blocking me at the front of the aisle. I wasn’t going to be able to make a backhanded catch…so I intentionally ran past the spot
where I predicted the ball would land, then cut sharply back to my left at the very last second and jumped and lunged for the ball as half a dozen hands reached up in front of my face. BAM!!! I felt something hit my glove, and for a split second I wasn’t sure if it was someone else’s hand or the ball itself. I opened my glove. It was the ball.
I didn’t hold up the ball or make a big production of it; the last time I’d caught a home run in that section, security kicked me out because I didn’t belong there. After catching Millar’s blast, I just wanted to get back to my seat and apologize to Clif. HE was the one who needed a commemorative ball…not me. And yet he was so excited because he’d gotten to witness my catch. (He’s my new official good luck charm.) He said I disappeared from sight and that he spotted a glove go up at the last second and he knew it had to be me.
The security supervisor walked over–the same guy who’d kicked me out of this section once before.
“Are you the one who caught that ball?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I had to admit. (Leave it to Yankee Stadium to ruin what should be a joyous moment.)
“Wait right here,” he said as he focused his attention on his walkie-talkie. At that point, I turned to Clif and told him to get out of there. “Go find your mom.” I said. “I think I’m about to be ejected from the stadium. There’s no reason why you should stick around and get in trouble with me. Go! Hurry! I’ll call you in a little bit. Don’t worry. We’ll work it out…”
With that, Clif started walking away, and the supervisor turned back to me. He kept one ear to his walkie-talkie and said, “I gotta see if they want the ball.”
“Cool!” I said. “You mean there’s a chance that Millar wants it for himself?
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he said.
“Clif!!!” I shouted, barely getting his attention. He looked up from a distance, and I waved him over. When he walked back, I told him that I wasn’t in trouble and I explained the situation.
As it turned out, no one wanted the ball…except me. After this fact was established, it appeared that I was free to go, and I was just getting ready to head back to the seats when a vendor I know walked over and introduced me to the supervisor.
“Do you guys know each other?” he asked.
“We’ve crossed paths a couple times,” I said, aware that nothing good was possibly going to happen as a result of this interaction.
“This is my good buddy Zack,” said the vendor. “He catches lots of balls. He’s the king of the foul ball.”
“Oh yeah?” said the supervisor. “By the way,” he continued without hesitating, “where are you supposed to be sitting?”
I was officially busted. He told me to leave. I asked if I could come back just for A-Rod’s at-bats. He said no. And that was that.
Clif and I briefly visited Gail and Michael in the Loge, then got some Dippin’ Dots (yum!) and headed back down to the short porch in right field. There were NO empty seats out there, and I was hoping to catch a second home run, so I was forced to stand in the tunnel. This was the view:
By the middle innings, the Yankees were getting blown out. The Orioles had scored four runs in the second, then added two more in the fifth and five in the sixth to take an 11-0 lead.
This meant people would be leaving early, so I took Clif to the third base side as the bottom of the sixth ended and got a fan to give me two ticket stubs for the seats behind the outfield end of the Orioles’ dugout. I knew Clif’s best chance to snag a commemorative ball would be to get a game-used, third-out ball tossed up by the Orioles. I lent him my Orioles shirt, watched as he used the tickets to get down to the fancy seats with his mom, and called him as I headed back to right field to give SPECIFIC directions on how to maneuver for third-out balls. The most important thing to do, I explained, was to anticipate the third out being recorded while the ball was still in play and bolt down to the front row during that small window of time. We discussed several other strategies as well during the top of the seventh. He was all set.
In the bottom of the seventh, I found an empty seat–a folding chair, actually–in the aisle directly behind the right field wall. Robinson Cano was called out on strikes and Xavier Nady followed with his first homer as a Yankee, a blast into no man’s land beyond the left-center field wall. Then there was a pitching change. Then Melky Cabrera reached on a throwing error by Brian Roberts. Then Jose Molina doubled. And then Johnny Damon hit a three-run homer 80 feet to my left that I had no chance of catching. But several pitches before this home run, Damon ripped a line drive that kicked off the base of the wall in foul territory and rolled all the way out to Markakis in right field. To my surprise, I was the ONLY fan who bothered to ask for it, and Markakis flipped it up right to me. Sweet! Two game-used commemorative balls at a sold out Yankee Stadium! But I still felt bad because once again, Clif needed one of these balls…not me.
After Damon’s home run, there was another pitching change, followed by a Wilson Betemit single, a Richie Sexson pop-up (shocker), and an inning-ending strikeout by A-Rod. I knew Clif was screwed. He was behind the outfield end of the dugout. Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez was near the home plate end of the dugout. And that’s where the ball ended up being tossed.
I called Clif again and discussed his remaining options. I told him he’d have another chance for a third-out ball after the eighth inning, and that he might be able to get a commemorative ball after the game. The Orioles were winning by such a wide margin that it wasn’t going to be a save situation. In other words, there was one less reason why an Orioles pitcher would want to hold onto the game-ending ball.
In the top of the eighth, Aubrey Huff crushed a home run off the facade of the upper deck. The ball plopped back down onto the field, and I almost got it tossed to me by Justin Christian, who had replaced Bobby Abreu the previous inning. (Maybe if I’d called him “Justin” instead of “Jason,” he would’ve tossed it to me. Oops.)
The bottom of the eighth seemed to last forever. Christian grounded out, Cano doubled, Nady struck out, Cabrera singled, Molina walked, and the Orioles made another pitching change. With two outs, Damon took the first pitch for a ball and then found himself in a hole after taking two quick called strikes. NOT GOOD. If he struck out, Clif would once again be screwed. I was praying that Damon would at least make contact. A ground ball would’ve been great. Millar always tosses third-out balls into the crowd. But a fly ball would’ve been even better…but not if it were hit too deep or near the foul lines. Then the outfielder might simply toss it to the fans where he caught it. What we needed was a…YES!!! A fly ball to center field. Yes, yes, yes. Center fielder Adam Jones made the easy catch and started jogging in with the ball. Then he tossed it to Markakis who jogged slowly bac
k to the dugout. From my spot all the way out in right field, I could see Clif wearing my bright orange shirt, and I saw Markakis heading toward his end of the dugout. Markakis was looking down as he approached. Not good! He needed to look up and see the shirt. LOOK UP, FOOL!!! At the very last second, he did indeed raise his head and flip the ball toward Clif. I saw a bunch of people reach in front of him, and I had no idea if he caught it. I immediately called him…but his voice-mail picked up. Crap! He was obviously calling me at the same time. I hung up and waited…waited…waited, and then the phone rang. Clif had the ball. I told him he was awesome. He told me he loved me. And we made a plan to meet after the game. (Final score: Orioles 13, Yankees 4.) Here we are, each holding our game-used, commemorative balls from Markakis:
And guess what? Not only had Gail managed to snag a ball (not commemorative) during the Orioles’ portion of BP, but Clif had gotten a second ball (not commemorative) from a security guard after the final out.
When I got home, I turned on “Baseball Tonight” but because I’m too dumb to figure out how to tape anything, I had to film the highlight of Millar’s homer with my digital camera. I’d share the video here, but it’s really low quality, and you can’t see much anyway. I mean, there’d be no way to tell that it was me who caught that ball, so you’ll have to settle for a few basic screen shots.
HERE’S THE PITCH:
ME…JUST GETTING OUT OF MY SEAT:
ME AGAIN…IN THE THICK OF IT:
Again…I know it’s impossible to tell that it was me. I shared these screen shots so you can see how far I had to move to make the catch. I might share the video at some point (in which you can see a little white blur darting through the aisle), but right now I’m waiting to see if I can get a higher quality clip from someone else. Did anyone tape this game?!
I’ll be in the right field bleachers tonight…
? 3 balls at this game
? 263 balls in 37 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.
? 533 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 119 lifetime game balls (not including game-used balls that get tossed into the seats)
? 100 game balls since my streak began
? 120 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 8 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,540 total balls
Does the name Danny Wood sound familiar? It should if you’ve read (and memorized) my last four blog entries, but just in case you’ve forgotten:
1) He’s a season ticket holder at Coors Field.
2) He snags a LOT of baseballs.
3) One of those balls was Barry Bonds’ 698th career home run.
Danny and I had never met until our mutual friend Dan Sauvageau (another bigtime ballhawk) introduced us outside Gate E four days earlier–and and on THIS day, I took a pre-Coors detour to visit his place and check out his baseball collection. Dan had been telling me I had to see it. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, but let me just say he was right:
The photo above doesn’t even BEGIN to capture the magnitude of his collection, so hopefully the following photos will. Here’s another shot of Danny’s collection:
Every ball in the double-case above was autographed by a Hall of Famer. We’re talking more than 150 balls, and most were signed on the sweet spot. It was truly awesome.
Now…keep in mind that Danny hasn’t caught all these balls himself or gotten them all signed in person. He’s bought lots of stuff on eBay, but still, it was the most incredible collection I’d ever seen.
There were several smaller cases of note. Here’s one that had a variety of All-Star and World Series balls:
Here’s one with Little League balls and various National League presidents:
One of his cases featured balls that were falling apart…
…and another had nothing but baseball boxes from various manufacturers:
Then there were individual balls that I’d never seen in person and, in some cases, didn’t even know existed. In the photo below, the top two balls are self-explanatory, and as for the bottom two…
…the ball on the left is from the Negro Leagues, and the ball on the right is an official American League ball from 1927 which oh-by-the-way just happened to be signed on the sweet spot by Babe Ruth.
Ever heard of “millennium balls”?
Neither had I.
American League balls were made by Reach, and National League balls were made by Spalding. (Reach was owned by Spalding, but it’s still cool.)
Let’s not forget that Bonds homer–number six-ninety-eight:
…and here’s Danny’s unofficial certificate of authenticity on MLB.com:
There are dozens of other photographs I could share. I could literally write a different blog entry about his collection every day for a year and still have plenty of stuff left to talk about. It was THAT impressive. But I’ll just leave you with one other pic from Danny’s place.
I had heard that at Coors Field, fans received “Clean Catch” pins from the ushers whenever they caught a foul ball or home run on a fly during a game–but I hadn’t actually seen one. Naturally, Danny had about a dozen, and here it is:
What a great idea. Seriously…what an excellent way to encourage fans to bring their gloves and be participants. What a shame that neither team in my hometown has the brains/incentive to do this.
I took a few photographs of the exterior…
…and posed with my two shirts once we reached the gate:
As you may already know, I own all 30 major league team caps; visiting teams love to spot their “fans” on the road and reward them with baseballs. In this case, since the Mets were the visiting team, I went one step further and brought a matching shirt–but I didn’t wear it during the game. That’s where the striped shirt came in. My plan (as I mentioned in an entry last week) was to dress like Waldo to make it easier for people to spot me on TV.
Gate E opened at 5pm, and I nearly got hit by a ball as I ran inside. From the concourse behind the left field bleachers, I saw one of the Rockies players looking up as if he were following the flight of a long home run. I paused for a second, expecting the ball to clang off the metal benches down below when all of a sudden, SMACK!!! The ball hit the concourse five feet to my left (about 425 feet from the plate according to Hit Tracker), bounced up and hit a metal support beam above the roof of a concession stand, and ricocheted back toward me. I was totally caught off guard. I wasn’t even wearing my glove…I was carrying it with my right hand, so I lunged forward and knocked the ball down with my left hand (almost like a basketball dribble) to prevent it from bouncing back into the bleachers, and I finally grabbed it.
Moments later, another home run landed near me, this time in the bleachers, and when I ran over and grabbed it off the concrete steps, an usher down below yelled, “Give it to the kid!”
I looked up, and there was indeed a kid nearby, but I
knew he didn’t need any charity. His name was Hunter. I’d signed a baseball for him the day before. He and his dad Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” if you read the comments) had front-row access for this game, and sure enough, they ended up snagging a bunch of balls…and you can read about it on Don’s blog.
The Rockies’ portion of BP was slow. I didn’t get any more balls from them. The highlight was seeing Danny trade gloves with Ubaldo Jimenez…
…and then use it to catch a home run ball. Unfortunately, it was a ball I easily could’ve caught, but I backed off (because the idea of robbing him on his own turf made me feel guilty) and let him have it, and he thanked me several times.
Anyway, it almost didn’t matter because I got SEVEN balls tossed to me during the Mets’ portion of BP. The first came from Scott Schoeneweis near center field. The second came from coach Guy Conti in left-center. The third came from Ramon Castro near the left field foul line. The fourth came from Conti again…it was ridiculous…I didn’t even ask him for it…I was sitting just behind the wall in left-center, minding my own business and labeling the ball from Castro when Conti walked over and grabbed a ball off the warning track and flipped it up without looking at me. The fifth ball came from Marlon Anderson in straight-away left field. The sixth came from Pelfrey, also in left field, and the seventh came from Pedro Martinez in center. It was incredible. There was NO competition, and yet some of the fans behind me were grumbling. One guy (who I’m ashamed to admit was wearing a Mets jersey) shouted angrily, “How many balls do you need?!” and before I had a chance to walk over and respond, he snapped, “Go ahead, say something stupid.”
Too bad he was so rude. I’d been considering giving one of my baseballs to his son, but instead, when batting practice ended, I handed one to a different kid whose father had been minding his own business.
I made sure not to give away any of the three baseballs in the following photo:
As you can see, I got two commemorative balls. The one on the left was thrown by Castro, and it happened to be the 900th ball I’ve snagged outside of New York. The ball in the middle was thrown by Pelfrey, and it’s just cool. I love how worn out it is. The ball on the right (not commemorative but still cool) was thrown by Pedro.
Throughout the week, Danny had been telling me that he knew one of the guys who worked the manual, out-of-town scoreboard in right field (?!?!) and he kept offering to arrange a visit for me. This was the day that I finally took him up on it…so after BP ended, Danny made a phone call and sent me on my way. It was as simple as that. I exited the tunnel at the bottom of the left field pavilion, turned right, and walked through the “secret” concourse:
After walking for a couple minutes and not really knowing who or what to look for (and hoping that I wasn’t going to be arrested), a woman stuck her head out of one of the black doors on the right and called me over by name.
HER name is Beverly Coleman. She works for the Rockies in the “Business Operations” department. (You can find her on this list of Rockies front office employees.) Her husband is the guy that works the scoreboard.
Beverly led me down into a party area…
…and we headed toward an unmarked door…
…and climbed some steep/narrow steps…
…and before I knew it I was standing behind the scoreboard, witnessing an update in progress:
Then things calmed down a bit, and I met her husband, David Holt:
David gave me a quick tour and told me I was welcome to take as many photos as I wanted and share them on my blog.
This was my view of the field through one of the small holes in the wooden boards…
Did you notice the ball in the photo above? It’s tucked into a little nook in the wall on the upper right. Here’s a closeup:
At least once per minute, Jim shouted some sort of update–a score change, an inning change, or a pitching change–and David went to work:
He showed me how to make sure that the boards were facing the right way. Quite simply, the front (which faced the field) had big letters…
…and the back had small letters:
If the board was right-side-up in the back, that meant it was facing the proper way in the front. Easy…I had it…and David let me make some updates:
…and it got better.
Beverly, being a front office employee, had received a 2007 National League Championship ring and gave me all the time I needed to photograph it. Note her last name (Coleman) on the side:
I actually didn’t have much more time. The game was about to begin, and although I probably could’ve stayed longer, I really wanted to get back to left field and unleash my Waldo Essence.
David removed one of the boards so I could reach out and take a few more photos before I left. Check this out. You can see the shadow of my hand and camera:
I made it back to the left field pavilion just before the first pitch, then pulled out my big glove and let Emily (Dan’s four-year-old daughter) try it on:
I didn’t bring the big glove to help me snag extra balls. I just brought it to help me stand out even more on TV.
I was so psyched to be sitting in the wide aisle in straight-away left field. Even though I didn’t have much room on my right…
I had a ton of space on my left:
In the top of the second inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single and Carlos Delgado followed with a deep drive to my left. I jumped out of my seat, raced through the aisle, and watched helplessly as the ball sailed 15 feet over my head.
There were two other home runs in the game, both of which were hit in the first few innings and went to right field, so I had to find other forms of entertainment:
Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 2.
? 10 balls at this game
? 210 balls in 27 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 83 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
? 28 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
? 18 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
? 523 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 126 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 905 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,487 total balls
When I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 4pm, I learned that the entire upper deck was sold out and that the cheapest ticket available was $95. Since I never buy tickets ahead of time, my normal course of action would’ve been to curse my way back to the subway and go home, but on this fine day, a friend of mine had an extra ticket and I got in for less than 20 bucks.
Before the stadium opened, I ran into a couple of fellow snaggers outside Gate 6. One of them was Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” for those of you read the comments), and the other was Brian (wearing orange; aka “puckcollector”). Brian already had a ticket, but Greg didn’t. He was there with his father, and when they found out how much it was going to cost to get in, they left. As you can see in this photo, Greg and Brian each had a sheet with the rosters and face pics of both teams. I didn’t. It would’ve taken me half an hour to prepare one, and I didn’t think it was worth it for a game at Yankee Stadium which is always so crowded and noisy that it’s nearly impossible to interact with the players. Anyway, Greg generously gave me his sheet before he took off.
When the gates opened at 5pm, Brian and I ran inside at full speed. Initially, he had a head start because of his position behind the barricade, but somehow he got held up for a couple seconds. Did security look in his bag a little longer than mine? Was the guy who scanned his ticket a little slower? Did the ladies giving away the All-Star Game caps take their time with him? I don’t know, but whatever happened, it made a huge difference. I was just a few steps ahead of Brian as we raced through the tunnel that leads to the seats, and AS we rounded the corner and got our first look at the field, a lefty on the Yankees lofted a fly ball down the right field line that bounced off the warning track and plunked gently in the seats near the foul pole. I was all over it and felt incredibly relieved. The day before, it took me more than an hour to snag my first ball, and I was scared that my streak was going to end.
I think Brian’s family was trying to distract me. At one point, Brian told me that his sister had texted a message with my name it in to the text message board, and that I should look for it. What?! I didn’t even know there WAS a text message board.
“Yeah, right over there,” said Brian, pointing to the thin electronic board along the Loge facade across the stadium. Sure enough, there was a loop of text messages, sent in by the fans, that rotated every few seconds. For the first two minutes, my favorite was “i luv u robbinson cano” but that one soon got trumped by the following:
This was by far the highlight of batting practice. I managed to snag one more ball with my glove trick, only after Brian failed to pluck it off the warning track with his. I tried to let him get it. I hung back a bit and lowered my glove slowly, but Brian rigged his rubber band too tight and couldn’t get the ball to go inside the glove. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem. He just would’ve raised the glove back up, loosened the band, and then lowered it for the easy snag. But in this situation, there wasn’t time to mess around. Another kid (or should I say “brat”) with a cup trick quickly crashed the scene and started going for the ball. I didn’t mind not getting the ball if Brian got it, but there was no way I was going to let this other kid poach our prize. There are many rivalries in baseball–Mets/Phillies, Mets/Yankees, Yankees/Red Sox, A’s/Giants–but none is bigger than that between the glove-tricks and cup-tricks. Even this fall’s McCain/Obama showdown will pale in comparison. You have to understand…I could NOT allow this ball–a commemorative ball no less–to be stolen by the enemy, so I made a full-fledged attempt to snag it. My string got tangled briefly with Brian’s, but he worked with me to free it, and I was able to get the ball to stick inside my glove. As I raised my contraption with the ball tucked snugly inside, the other kid swung his cup from side to side and hit my glove in an attempt to knock the ball out. I swear…these punks with the cups better watch out. One of these days, I’m gonna pull out a pair of scissors and start snipping some string.
I took this photo from the aisle behind the right field wall, or at least what was left of it. How the hell is one supposed to run for a ball or make eye contact with any of the players? Yankee Stadium is THE worst place to snag in the major leagues. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re wrong if you disagree. I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to get to the dugouts at Dodger Stadium or how crowded the foul lines become at Wrigley Field. Those stadiums are like Sesame Street compared to the House that Ruthless Built.
Left field was just as bad. I ran over there (took about five minutes to get from RF to LF) after Ichiro took his cuts, and this was my fabulous view for the rest of the BP:
At one point, I carefully worked my way into the front row to see if I had a chance to use the glove trick. So much for that.
A rather large Yankee fan in that row was eating a cheeseburger and drinking an equally large cup of soda. Although he had no desire to snag a baseball, he intentionally blocked me from passing in front of him, and he refused to let me through even after I politely said “excuse me.” I just needed to lean over a little bit to get a better look at the ball…
“You drop my soda,” he snapped, “and I’ll drop YOU.”
“You’re welcome,” he answered with fake charm.
I was so angry that I nearly went home. Right then. Right in the middle of batting practice. I came THIS close to storming right out through the tunnel and getting on the No. 4 train. I had no desire to be inside that disgusting mecca of rage and pompous entitlement. But I stayed. I don’t know why. I guess I was afraid that this would be the night when A-Rod would hit a home run to my spot in left field…and I also wanted to see if I could sneak down to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout and get Jeter or A-Rod to toss me their warm-up balls after the national anthem. I decided that if I got kicked out, I’d go home.
Long story short: it took half an hour, but I made it. Jeter tossed his ball over my head to a guy my age with a button-down shirt and no glove, and A-Rod tossed his to a teenage girl five feet to my right.
I started the game in right field. Ichiro was due to bat first, and I thought it would’ve been pretty cool to catch one of his home runs. But no. He took three called strikes, and I immediately began my trek around the stadium to the left field side. Brian was out there. We both wanted to catch an A-Rod homer, but A-Rod struck out to end the first inning. Moments later, the security supervisor walked over to Brian (who had grabbed an empty seat 10 feet to my right) and asked to see his ticket and told him he had to leave the section. Brian, being a friendly young lad, walked over to say farewell (and to vent his frustrations). This was the worst thing he could’ve done. It didn’t occur to him that he was still being watched by the supervisor, so when he started interacting with me, it revealed the fact that I didn’t belong there either. I once made the same mistake at Shea Stadium and unintentionally got a friend kicked out as well. No harm done. Nobody went to jail. This is how we learn.
In any case, the supervisor didn’t say anything to me at the time, but I knew something was up because he kept looking at me whenever he walked by. I was a marked man, but as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, I decided to stay. I could’ve gone back to right field for Ichiro’s second at-bat, but I just had a feeling about left field. Two lefties were pitching: Erik Bedard and Andy Pettitte. Most of the batters were right-handed. It was a fairly warm evening. The ball would be carrying. The wide aisle in front of me was emptier than usual. I had a feeling that someone was going to hit a home run in my direction, and even if it wasn’t A-Rod, it was going to be fun to catch it. I kept thinking about the likelihood of catching a home run, and more I considered it, the more obvious it seemed that it was going to happen. It was only 318 feet to the foul pole. I was sitting fairly close to the foul line, so it was probably 330 to the wall directly in front of me. Then there were about 10 rows of seats in front of the aisle. Add another two feet per row? So I figured I was, at most, about 350 to 360 feet from home plate. That’s not far. I reasoned that a righty wouldn’t even have to hit a ball that well to reach me. Three hundred fifty feet was a routine fly ball to the center fielder. All the batter had to do was hit a routine fly ball and swing a little too soon and pull it down the line. Why didn’t this happen all the time?
The Mariners, meanwhile, sandwiched three singles between three strikeouts in the top of the second and took a 1-0 lead.
Hideki Matsui opened the bottom of the inning with a single to center, and Jason Giambi followed with a walk. That’s when Shelley Duncan stepped into the batter’s box with a grand total of zero home runs and a .182 batting average. The fans sitting behind me started debating whether or not he should bunt, at which point I started having a bunch of thoughts that went something like this: Does this guy even know how to bunt? If he could, it would certainly help the team. Runners on second and third with one out? For Robinson Cano? That would be pretty good for the Yankees. Okay, I hope he doesn’t bunt. I hope he swings away and hits into a double play. Well, if he wants to hit a home run to me instead, that’d be cool. I could accept that even though it’d give the Yankees the lead. Alright, Shelley, go ahead, hit the ball to me. Fine.
And that’s exactly what he did. After a called first strike, Bedard threw a cutter down and in, and Duncan dropped his bat on it and lifted a high fly ball in my direction. I was out of my seat in no time, standing in the aisle, watching the ball, half-disbelieving that this was actually about to happen and half-annoyed that it was going to be THAT easy. The ball had the perfect arc. I judged it perfectly. I knew from the second it left the bat that it was coming right to me, and as the ball began its descent, I became hyperaware of everyone around me. The only challenge was going to be making sure that no one else reached in front of me. I sensed that there was an older man, about my height, without a glove, on my left, who was also tracking the flight of the ball, but not quite as well as me. From the moment the ball left the bat, I could have held up my glove like a target, and I wouldn’t have had to move it more than a few inches. That’s how perfectly I judged it. The other fan, whom I realized would be my only competition, seemed to have an idea of where the ball would land, perhaps within an area of several feet. But I was in THE spot. My feet were planted, and I didn’t reach up too soon. I didn’t want to reveal the exact spot where the ball would be coming down, so I waited and waited as the ball floated slowly toward me. It hung up in the air for what felt like two minutes, and finally, at the last second, I reached up above the other man’s hands and caught it effortlessly in the pocket of my glove. It was one of the easiest home run catches of my life. It was so easy that I felt guilty. I was ashamed to take any credit for catching such an easy ball. The stadium roared, and I walked quietly back to my seat. It’s such a cliché to celebrate a snag. Everyone does that. But how many
times do you see a fan catch a home run ball and react like he has instead picked a piece of lint off his shirt? That’s what I did initially. I thought I’d stand out more by not reacting, and perhaps I did stand out to the people in my section, but then I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best way to get on TV. I was in my hometown ballpark. Lots of friends were probably watching, so I felt I should do something that would make the cameras focus on me. That’s when I held up the ball. Nothing fancy. Just enough to be seen.
It turned out that YES never never showed me, but FSN did. My friend Michael Fierman (aka “tswechtenberg”) happened to tape the game and he emailed me the clip later that night. CLICK HERE to watch it.
I was so annoyed. I didn’t even WANT a stupid Shelley Duncan home run ball. I was there for one reason only: to catch an A-Rod homer, and now I’d blown my chance by catching this other ball. I tried to get the supervisor to let me stay. I gave him every excuse. I even told him about my first book. But it was no use. I was officially banned from the section…so I went back to the right field seats and stayed there for the rest of the night. I had considered hanging out behind the plate and simply going for a second game ball, but I figured I should attempt to catch a second home run. THAT would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Duncan homer was the lone longball of the game, and I must say that it did feel pretty great to have caught it, especially when I saw the Jumbotron during his subsequent at-bats:
The Mariners trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the top of the third, but the Yankees answered with two runs in the fourth and eight more in the fifth. Final score: 13-2.
? 3 balls at this game
? 106 balls in 13 games this season = 8.2 balls per game.
? 509 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 113 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 4 game balls in 13 games this season = 1 game ball every 3.3 games.
? 115 lifetime game balls
? 4 lifetime game home runs (not counting Mel Hall’s home run in 1992 which bounced back onto the field and got tossed up to me by Von Hayes)
? 3,383 total balls
BONUS STATS — DUNCAN’S HOME RUN (courtesy of Hit Tracker):
? distance: 349 feet
? apex: 114 feet
? speed off bat: 100.1 mph
? angle off bat: 40.7 degrees