Tagged: houston astros

10/4/09 at Citi Field

This was the final game of the regular season, and I was there for one reason only: to snag a piece of equipment after the game at the winning team’s dugout. There was no guarantee that this would happen, but since it WAS the last day, I knew that the players would be extra generous.

Unfortunately, since it was a day game and both teams were mailing it in, there was no batting practice…BUT…the lack of action did give me a chance to hang out with half a dozen of my fellow ballhawks:

1_zack_and_fellow_snaggers

Pictured from left to right: Conner (whom I met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium), Joe (a former Watch With Zack client who combined to snag 22 balls with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field), Alex (whom I met at Game 4 of the 2008 World Series), me, another Alex (who you might remember from 8/17/09 at Citi Field), Ross (another Watch With Zack client who snagged four different types of balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field), and Clif (who first attended a game with me on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium). I knew all these guys pretty well, so it was good to catch up with them.

We were all so frustrated at the lack of BP that we posed for a second photo in which we pretended to punch each other…

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…except for Clif (in the red hat). Somehow he escaped unscathed.

There was NO action on the field for the first hour, so we all wandered into the area behind the center field scoreboard and took some swings in the batting cage. Here’s a two-part photo of me in which I’m a) settling into my stance and b) unleashing a furious swing (at a 30mph pitch):

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I hadn’t swung a bat for quite some time, and since I had plans to take BP on the field at PNC Park two days later, this was a valuable tune-up.

Yes, you read that right: I’m going to be taking BP on a major league field on Tuesday, October 6th, and I owe it all to Erik Jabs. I’ll be sharing the details/photos after it happens. I think that’ll be my next blog entry, but there’s so much stuff going on right now that I’m not even sure what to write about next. But anyway…

A few Mets pitchers finally came out and started playing catch in right field. The front row along the foul line got so crowded that I headed up to the second deck…

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…but no one tossed any balls to me.

Half an hour later, ONE Astros player came out to play catch (with some random strength coach guy) on the left field side. It was a relief pitcher named Samuel Gervacio, and as soon as he finished, he began walking toward me with the ball in his hand:

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At that point, I was concerned about getting shut out, and there weren’t any other players in sight, so my heart sank when he ended up tossing the ball to someone else.

BUT…

He then pulled another ball out of his back pocket and kept walking toward the stands and eventually tossed it right to me.

Here are two photos of the ball:

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Some teams have tried marking their baseballs so their employees won’t steal them and get them signed; the Astros have been marking their balls with an “H” for as long as I can remember.

I was already wearing my Astros gear by the time I got the ball from Gervacio, and so were most of my snagging companions. In the photo below, not one person is an actual Astros fan:

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Sorry, Houston.
Nothing personal.

A few minutes later, someone asked me how many balls I’d snagged this season, and when I said, “Five hundred and twenty-four,” Brandon took a photo that captured a nearby woman’s reaction.

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Right before the game started, Chris Johnson (wearing No. 23 in the photo below) and several other Astros played catch in shallow left field:

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I got Johnson to throw me the ball when they were done.

Ready for a totally random/worthless statistic? This was the 11th guy named Johnson to have thrown me a ball. The other 10 are: Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, Reed, and Russ. What’s YOUR record for the most players/coaches with the same last name to have given you a ball? (For the complete list of everyone who’s ever thrown me a ball, click here.)

For the first few innings, while I was making unsuccessful attempts to snag a 3rd-out ball behind the Astros’ dugout, Brandon was taking action shots (like the one below) of the game itself:

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The batter in the photo above is Mets rookie catcher Josh Thole. He entered the game batting .286 (14-for-49) and went 3-for-4 to finish the season at .321. Nicely done.

Mets left fielder Angel Pagan had an even better day, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple, but the best performance belonged to starting pitcher (and super-nice guy) Nelson Figueroa. Entering the final day with a hard-luck record of 2-8 and an ERA of 4.70, he pitched the first complete game of his career — a four-hit shutout with no walks — as the Mets beat the Astros, 4-0.

Lots of fans had homemade signs. This was the best one:

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As for me…

It took a major effort just to make it down into the front row behind the Mets’ dugout, and once I got there, I wasn’t too hopeful. I was trapped in the middle of the section, in between the two entrances to the dugout, which meant I wasn’t going to be standing directly in front of the players as they walked off the field. Still, I stayed alert and kept looking out in front of me to pick up on any possible opportunity. Several players flung their caps into the crowd 20 feet to my right. Then I saw a few balls get tossed as well as some batting gloves, but I wasn’t close to any of it, and it was killing me. Ten seconds later, I noticed that Angel Pagan was veering toward my end of the dugout and looking up into the crowd, so I took off my cap and made a frisbee-throwing gesture with it. I was trying to indicate that I wanted him to throw HIS cap to me…and it worked! But he flung it way over my head. When the cap first left his hand, it looked like it was going to reach the sixth row, but then, somehow, thankfully, just like a frisbee that gets thrown up at an angle, it started slicing back down toward me, and I jumped for it:

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It’s easy to spot me in the photo above because I’m the only person who appears blurry. While everyone else was simply reaching (and pushing) for the cap, I was the only person who actually jumped for it. (What a concept!) As you can see, I was wearing my glove on my left hand and holding my own cap in my right hand. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to catch Pagan’s twirling cap in my glove and then be able to hold onto it, but I had no other choice. I *had* to try to catch it that way…and it worked! I caught the damn cap IN my glove and then immediately brought it down to my chest and hugged it tightly. One second later, after I had transferred Pagan’s cap to my right hand, the guy standing next to me tried to snatch it, but I had a death-grip on it. There was no way anyone was going to steal it, and I offered the guy a few choice words.

Here’s a look at the cap:

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As you can see, the Citi Field commemorative logo is on the outside, and Pagan’s uniform number is written on the inside. Coolness. It was the fourth cap I’d ever gotten and the first with a commemorative logo. You can see the other caps here.

Here’s one final photo that shows me with everything I snagged at this game:

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Ooh yeah, that’s right, I also got a little sumpin’-sumpin’ during the 5th-inning T-shirt launch. I haven’t kept track of all the T-shirts I’ve snagged, but I’m pretty sure that number is in the double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 525 balls in 58 games this season = 9.05 balls per game.

• 627 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 487 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 351 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 4,345 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $50.52 raised at this game

• $13,261.50 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One thing about the charity (since people have been asking)…

It’s not too late to make a pledge. There’s a good chance that I’ll be snagging a few more balls this post-season, so hold onto your donations until the end of the World Series, and then I’ll email you with some very easy instructions about how to pay. You’ll have the option of using a credit card on the Pitch In For Baseball web site OR mailing them a check. Either way, your money will never be in my possession.

Stay tuned for some BIG stuff over the next week. PNC Park is just the beginning…

8/25/08 at Shea Stadium

This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “clients” were going to be with me for two days. They’d flown in from Los Angeles to see both New York City ballparks for the first time, and their trip kicked off with this Mets-Astros game at Shea Stadium. Here we are before the gates opened:

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In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left. The person (I can’t bring myself to call him a “kid” since he’s taller than me) on MY left is a 16-year-old named Evan who’s been reading this blog for a few years and leaving comments as “evan.bizzz.” The other two people are Evan’s 12-year-old sister Hailey and their father Mark.

Evan was no stranger to batting practice. He had snagged 41 lifetime balls, but he didn’t simply want to pad his numbers on this trip; he was determined, if not flat-out dying, to add a commemorative ball from each stadium to his collection–not an easy task. Hailey, meanwhile, with just a handful of lifetime snags, was still hoping for a commemorative ball but willing to accept any ball that came her way.

Now…
Before I continue, I want to give a shout-out to a kid named Joe–aka
“josephfaraguna”–who not only recognized me outside Gate C and took the above photo but was kind enough to let me have the corner spot in the Loge once the
stadium opened. There were actually two corner spots on the right field side that I wanted–one for Evan on the Field Level–and another for Hailey and her father upstairs. Each spot was probably going to be good for at least one ball. We just had to GET THERE before anyone else, and thanks to Joe’s generosity (plus the fact that we were first on line), we did.

When Shea opened at 4:40pm, I quickly took Evan to the place he needed to be, then hurried upstairs with Hailey and Mark and got them situated. Here they all are:

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Hailey told me she didn’t know any of the players’ names, and I told her it didn’t matter–that because she was young AND was basically the only girl in the stadium with a glove, all she had to do was be loud and polite and begin each request by saying “Excuse me.”

When the Mets finally finished stretching and began throwing, I ran back downstairs to help Evan. We looked closely at every ball that was in use, trying to spot the commemorative logos, so we’d know who to ask. I helped Evan identify all the players and coaches, and when Guy Conti strolled by (with a jacket covering his uniform number), I called him by name and asked for a ball. Evan and I both knew he had a couple balls in his back pocket, but we weren’t sure if they were commemorative. Conti pulled one out and tossed it to someone else, then took out the second ball and tossed it to Evan. It was commemorative!!! Perfect logo. No smudges. No scuffs. It was even rubbed up with mud (like this). We were both SO relieved, and we waved to Hailey and Mark and exchanged a thumbs-up.

As for Hailey…
She got Dave Racaniello, the Mets’ bullpen catcher, to toss her a ball, and as it sailed through the air, I was praying that she wouldn’t drop it. What did she do? She reached out and made a backhand catch like it was nothing. (She told me later that she plays baseball and softball.) Unfortunately, her ball wasn’t commemorative, but it almost didn’t matter. Everyone had pretty much accomplished their goals within the first 20 minutes–everyone but me, that is. I still hadn’t snagged anything.

I headed out to the left field foul line for a bit, but it was deader than dead so I headed back to the right field side and checked in with Hailey and Mark in the Loge. While I was up there, she got Aaron Heilman (who normally ignores EVERYone) to toss her a ball, and once again she made the catch look easy. I took her picture, then ran downstairs to check on Evan, and while I was there, I saw him catch a ball tossed by Jose Reyes! He and Hailey each had two baseballs. Not bad…

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…and oh-by-the-way, I nearly forgot to mention that the ball Hailey got from Heilman was commemorative.

The left field bleachers (which you can see directly over Hailey’s glove in the photo above) opened 15 minutes early, so we all had to hurry out there. This was one of those rare days when bleacher tickets were being sold individually, and apparently everyone else wanted to be there too. Remember how empty the bleachers were two days earlier? Check out how crowded it was this time:

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Shea Stadium had been open for nearly an hour, and I still hadn’t snagged a single ball. I was starting to get nervous, but thankfully, right at the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled all the way out to the wall in left-center and I was able to reel it in with my glove trick. Before I could lower my glove over the ball, I had to swing it out and knock it closer. Evan took a few photos with his camera, and since he hadn’t packed the cable that connects the camera to his laptop, I took a photo of his photo. Naturally the quality is bad, but whatever. You can still tell what’s going on. Here it is:

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By the time I snagged the ball, the Astros had taken the field and Reggie Abercrombie was standing nearby and watching me. He didn’t say much after I got the ball, but I suspect he was impressed. Evan managed to snag TWO more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was a ground-rule double that he had to reach over the railing to catch, and the second actually hit my left shoe. An Astros player had tossed it into the bleachers. It landed several rows back, got bobbled by some fans (shocker!), and quickly trickled down the steps to where we were standing in the aisle, which was so crowded that I literally wasn’t able to bend down to grab it. The ball hit my shoe and deflected right toward Evan who snatched it with one clean lunge.

Hailey and Mark were positioned in the front row in left-center, and if the Astros weren’t so stingy, it would’ve been a great spot to get another ball or two. But nothing was tossed their way. I was able to use the glove trick once more to snag another ball off the warning track, and that was it for BP. Evan had four balls, while Hailey and I each had two. Mark hadn’t snagged any, but I don’t think he cared. He just wanted to see us all in action, and of course he was happy that his kids had done well.

zack_hample_autograph.jpgOne of the highlights of my day occurred between BP and the game, while Evan and Hailey were with me. I’d been getting recognized by fans throughout the day, and one of them (a kid named Jordan) asked me to sign his copy of the Mets Magazine.

“Where do you want me to sign it?” I asked.

“Wherever,” he said and suggested that I sign David Wright’s photo on the cover.

It was an honor to get to write my name there, so after I did it, I took a photo…and here it is on the right. If you look closely, you can see that I wrote my up-to-the-minute ball total. That’s how I do all my snagging-related signatures. Whenever I sign copies of Watching Baseball Smarter, I write the date after my name. I always thought it was cool when major leaguers (or any celebrities) had variations in their signatures–no doubt because my mom runs the autograph department of the family book store–so I decided long ago that whenever someone asked for my autograph, I’d change it up every now and then.

From a Mets fan’s perspective, the game was great–the Mets won, 9-1, Mike Pelfrey pitched his second straight complete game, Carlos Delgado hit two three-run homers, and Jose Reyes had three hits including his major league-leading 15th triple–but from a ball-snagging perspective, it was lousy. For each of the first three innings, I snuck Hailey down to the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, then brought her back to Mark at our assigned seats on the left field side…then did the same with Evan at the Astros’ dugout. The goal was to snag a third-out ball as the players came off the field each half-inning, but there were a million little kids in the first few rows behind the Mets’ dugout, and as for the Astros…Lance Berkman kept ending up with the balls and tossing them deep (and unpredictably) into the crowd. We came up empty but still had fun sneaking around and playing our own little game-within-the-game.

After the third inning, I helped Hailey and Mark sneak back into the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, and I took Evan up to the Loge to go for foul balls. Again, we had fun running around, but came up empty. There was nothing I could do about that. I can guarantee BP balls, but the game itself is a whole nother story.

During the last half-inning, all four of us went down to the seats behind home plate, hoping for at least one ball from umpire Chad Fairchild as he walked off the field. But no. As soon as the final out was recorded, he marched through the tunnel and never looked up at us.

Oh well. The day was still a success.

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Hailey didn’t actually keep my baseballs. She was content with the two she’d snagged on her own, so she just borrowed mine for this photo.

STATS:

? 2 balls at this game

? 348 balls in 49 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.

? 545 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 332 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 11 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

? 3,625 total balls

? 1 more photo for you (taken just before we headed out of the stadium)…

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8/23/08 at Shea Stadium

It was a good day. I didn’t set any records, but I definitely milked Shea Stadium for all it was worth.

The happiness started at 4pm when I got off the No. 7 train, started wandering around the ballpark, and happened to run into a small group of fans who had an extra ticket for the picnic area…which they gave to me for free.

Shea opened at 4:40pm, and when batting practice finally got underway 15 minutes later, I positioned myself along the left field foul line. This was the view:

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Because Brandon Backe, a right-hander, was going to be pitching for the Astros that night, I figured that the Mets’ switch-hitters (Jose Reyes, Argenis Reyes, and Carlos Beltran) would be batting left-handed during BP. I was hoping that one of them (or any of the other lefties on the team) would slap a ball down the line–and that’s exactly what happened. I’m pretty sure it was Jose who hit it. The ball plunked onto the grass, 30 feet short of my spot, and then curved sharply (and predictably) into foul territory because of the side-spin. By this point, I had already moved down into the blue seats where I leaned over the low wall for the easy scoop.

That was the only ball I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP.

After the Astros pitchers came out and played catch in left field, I ended up getting a ball from Wandy Rodriguez. And then I got him to sign my ticket:

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After the picnic area opened, I raced into the bleachers and got Reggie Abercrombie to toss me my third ball of the day. Five minutes later, I used my glove trick to pluck ball No. 4 off the warning track in left-center.

The bleachers were unbelievably empty throughout BP. I can’t explain it. They’d been packed the night before, but on this day, I had the wide aisle all to myself. Check it out:

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The other fans were apparently there to WATCH batting practice. A few of them even looked at me funny because I was the only guy running around with a glove. It was a dream come true, but of course there were hardly any other batted balls that reached the seats.

At one point, a ball cleared the outfield wall in left-center but fell short of the bleachers. I thought it was going to be the perfect glove trick opportunity, but when I ran over and looked down into the gap, I saw that the ball had rolled back under the bleachers. I wasn’t going to be able to lower my glove straight down. Long story short (and because I don’t want to get myself in trouble), let’s just say that I found a way to get down there. The following photo shows the obstacle course under the bleachers that I had to work my way through…

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…and it was totally worth it. When I reached the far end, this is what I saw:

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It took about 10 seconds to climb over/under the last few metal beams and work my way to the ball so that I was close enough to grab it. During that time I was more concerned that another fan would appear out of nowhere and beat me to it than with the idea that I might get arrested or electrocuted.

I snagged one more ball–my sixth of the day–during the last round of BP when some righty on the Astros hit a home run right to me. A few other fans half-heartedly reached up at the last second. I reached farther and made the embarrassingly easy catch, prompting one man to suggest that I play left field during the game.

All five of the balls I’d snagged from the Astros were marked with a big “H” on the sweet spot:

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After BP had ended, I caught up with the fans who’d given me the ticket and noticed that they were all wearing pink wristbands. I knew what this meant–they had access to the all-you-can-eat tent–so I asked them if they had an extra wristband. They said they didn’t and suggested that I walk over to the main entrance to the picnic area and tell security that I was with Verizon…which I did…and it worked.

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During the 45 minutes between BP and the game, I drank three (free) bottles of water, ate two (free) cheeseburgers with tomato and extra cheese, and ate one (free) bag of Cracker Jacks…and by the way, if you think you can walk up to security any night and
say you’re with “Verizon,” think again. There are different
companies/groups out there all the time, and they’re not all entitled
to free food.

Shortly after the national anthem, I waddled out of the bleachers and spent the rest of the night going for foul balls in the Loge. This was my view during David Wright’s at-bat in the bottom of the first (and for all subsequent right-handed batters):

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With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Backe was at-bat and worked a full count off John Maine. Next pitch? 94-mph fastball. Backe swung late, hit the bottom ball3623_brandon_backe_foul.jpg
edge of the ball, and sent it SHOOTING back in my direction, possibly as fast as the pitch itself had traveled. I was already standing in the tunnel (and extra ready to pounce because pitchers often swing late…and because 3-2 counts are great for foul balls), so all I had to do was take one step forward, shift ever-so-slightly to my right, and reach a foot over my head for the backhand catch. Couldn’t have been much easier, and yet the hundreds of people sitting around me went bonkers. I’ve never heard cheers and applause so loud for ANY foul ball before. I could actually feel the vibration from the roar of the crowd. I don’t understand it. Maybe with the Mets already well on their way to an 8-3 loss, the fans needed something else to get excited about? Anyway, it felt good, but unfortunately this was the last ball that came anywhere near me.

Throughout the game, I kept running into Clif (aka “goislanders4” in the comments section) and his friend Marco. They’d had a rough day in the snagging department, but I think they still had fun overall. After the game, Clif’s mom Gail (who you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium) was kind enough to give me a ride home.

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STATS:

? 7 balls at this game

? 346 balls in 48 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 10 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 121 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 5 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 5 lifetime seasons with 10 or more game balls

? 2nd time snagging 10 or more game balls in back-to-back seasons

? 544 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 331 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,623 total balls

8/22/08 at Shea Stadium

crowd_outside_gate_c.jpgBy the time Gate C opened at 4:40pm, the line of fans waiting to get in was longer than I’d ever seen it. (This photo, by the way, only shows the first part of half the line. There were just as many people behind me, snaking off into the distance in the opposite direction.)

During the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, I managed to snag ONE ball. I was in the Loge Level in right field and got Luis Ayala (who didn’t recognize me because he was recently traded to the Mets) to toss it up after he finished playing catch. The ball was commemorative, which made me feel good for about 1.6 seconds, and then I went back to being annoyed that my day was off to such a slow start.

At least I got to have a funny conversation with Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti. A bit earlier, when I was standing along the right field foul line on the Field Level, I got his attention by asking if he wanted to play catch.

“I need to warm up my arm,” I said.

“So do a lot of these guys,” he replied while giving a little nod toward the pitchers. Then he asked, “When does school start back up?”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” I said, “because I graduated from college almost eight years ago.”

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Conti couldn’t believe it. “You look so young!” he shouted.

“Good,” I said.

“It IS good,” he continued. “Feliciano is always trying to get young girls, but he looks so old. I keep telling him he’s got no chance.”

“No chance at all,” I said, and we both laughed.

Despite the fact that there was an enormous crowd waiting for autographs behind the Mets’ dugout, I was able to work my way into the front row just before the whole team came off the field, and I got a ball tossed to me by Mets bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr.

Jona (my girlfriend, in case you’re new to this blog) was with me again, and for the second day in a row we were able to get tickets for the picnic area. Once that section opened, I ran out there and immediately grabbed a home run ball, hit by some righty on the Astros, that clanged off the metal flooring.

Fifteen minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball that had dropped into the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall, and two minutes after that I got Michael Bourn to toss me another.

Ready for the funny photo of the day? It’s actually not THAT funny without an explanation, so let me first tell you what happened…

During the final round of BP, another unidentifiable Astros righty launched a deep fly ball 50 feet to my right, at which point I ran through the aisle and jumped as high as I could and made a backhand catch with people all around me. It WAS a nice catch, but considering the fact that most of the other fans were flinching, and that I played college ball, and that I’m still relatively young and fit…I’m sorry but it wasn’t THAT incredible. None of the grown-ups were wearing gloves. None of the kids even saw the ball coming. And there was lots of luck involved. If the ball had traveled six inches farther, my white-boy-vertical-leap wouldn’t have been enough, so after everyone was done oohing and ahhing and I was walking back to my spot in the middle of the section, Jona happened to capture me with a funny/telling facial expression:

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It’s like I was thinking, “People. Please. That was easy. You’re all fools for thinking otherwise. I had it all the way. Now step aside.”

One minute before BP ended, I used my glove trick to snag another ball which I promptly handed to a little girl on my right who (of course) was wearing a glove and hadn’t yet snagged one on her own.

Jona and I stayed in the bleachers for the game. At least I think there was a game. I heard later that it was pretty good–that the Mets won, 3-0, behind another strong outing by Johan Santana. I didn’t know it at the time because this was my view during most of it:

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Seriously, the kids were out of control–or rather the “parents” were out of control for allowing their kids to eat sugar all night and get hyper and run around the aisle nonstop and stand right in front of people who were there, ostensibly, to watch baseball.

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STATS:

? 7 balls at this game (five of which were marked with an “H” by the Houston Astros, one of which I gave away)

? 339 balls in 47 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.

? 543 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 330 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 3,616 total balls