When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:
I truly don’t understand it.
To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):
I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.
Check it out:
I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.
Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:
Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:
Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:
The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.
After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.
I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:
(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)
At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:
I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.
“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!”
At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:
Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:
It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.
“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”
I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.
Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:
This ball had the regular MLB logo.
My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.
It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.
He tossed me the ball!!!
But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.
It was a major letdown.
But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”
Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:
The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:
I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.
I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:
He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.
Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.
During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and waved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:
As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”
“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.
• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)
• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.
• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls
• 4,127 total balls
• 114 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $196.72 raised at this game
• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
My day started with a trip to the CN Tower:
For 30 years, the tower was the tallest “free-standing structure” in the world. Now it’s merely the tallest in the Americas.
Here’s the view of downtown Toronto from the main observation deck:
The main deck has two levels. The photo above was taken from the upper level. The following photo, which shows Lake Ontario, was taken from the lower level:
The best part about the lower level (assuming you’re not scared of heights) is that there’s a glass floor in one area. Here I am, standing on it, looking straight down:
Did you notice the Rogers Centre in the photo above? My right foot is pointing at it. See the red lettering on the side of that white building? That’s it.
Okay, now I have to share a random photo that I grabbed from Google, just to show where I went next:
That teeny area up towards the top is called the “Sky Pod” and it’s the second highest public observation deck in the world. Here I am up there:
Here’s the view facing west…
…and here’s what the Rogers Centre looks like from 1,465 feet above:
I made it back to my hotel room just in time to see the Blue Jays start taking batting practice, but I couldn’t convince any of the players to toss me a ball. So I shaved. While watching BP from my window. Totally surreal.
At 5:25pm (only five minutes before the stadium was going to open), I headed outside to Gate 11, where my new friend and fellow ballhawk Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) was holding a spot for me at the front of the long line of passionate Jays fans. You can see him holding up his arms under the red sign:
In the photo below you can see two important things:
1) Nick standing behind the bullpen netting…and…
2) An annoying railing that needlessly divides the left field seats into two main sections:
I snagged my first ball of the day by jumping over the railing and grabbing a Blue Jays home run that landed in the empty front row. (Nick was elsewhere at the time.)
Five minutes later, a song called “Killing In The Name” by Rage Against The Machine started playing, and the first thing that went through my mind was, “This is either a clean version or it’s going to get cut off a minute early.” But no. It was the regular version (Google the lyrics at your own risk) and it did NOT get cut off in time, and F-bombs ended up being blasted throughout the cavernous stadium. There were a few little kids standing around with their parents at that point, but they didn’t seem to notice. I did, however, spot a couple security guards looking around nervously, and then a few seconds later, the song abruptly faded out. That made my day.
I moved to the seats in right-center and got several balls tossed to me. Armando Galarraga was the first to hook me up out there, and after he tossed it to me, he said, “You only get one.” (Whatever.) Then Curtis Granderson caught a deep fly ball in center field and flipped it up, and just a few minutes after that, Bobby Seay fielded a ball and immediately turned around and threw it to me without my even asking. Very strange. He’s the guy wearing No. 44 in the following photo:
Several righties started taking cuts, so I moved back to left-center. I didn’t get a chance to catch any batted balls, but I got two more thrown to me. Granderson provided the first–he flung it randomly into the crowd without looking–and Misty May-Treanor‘s husband tossed me the second. That gave me a total of six balls; all five from the Tigers were cheap International League balls. (Just to clarify something for people who might be new to this blog: The only way that I’ll count a minor league ball in my collection is if I snag it at a major league game.)
A short while later it occurred to me that I’d done something rare: I’d gotten Granderson to throw me two balls in one game, and the day before I’d gotten Carlos Guillen to throw me two as well. I don’t know how one would one phrase that in a record book, or if it’s even a record, or if anyone even cares, but I’m assuming that this little oddball feat isn’t accomplished often (not that I specifically tried to make it happen). Has anyone else ever done this? Has anyone ever gotten THREE balls from the same player in one game?
I had some time to kill between BP and the game so I took a photo of the empty seats down the right field foul line…
…and watched Zach Minor warming up:
Just before the national anthems, several Tigers began playing three-way catch. There was only one other fan with a glove, and it happened to be a little kid who couldn’t have been more than seven years old. He was standing quietly in the front row, watching the players, and wearing a Blue Jays cap. I decided to stay out of his way and give him a chance to get the ball…and I also decided that if he didn’t get it, I was going to give him one of mine. Well, as fate would have it, Ramon Santiago ended up with the ball…
…and looked right at me and lobbed it my way, directly over the kid’s head. I immediately walked down the steps and asked the kid, “Have you gotten a ball yet today?” He said no, so I handed him the Jays home run ball that I’d snagged at the start of BP. (I didn’t give him the ball from Santiago because at that moment, it was the last ball I’d ever snagged. What if, for some reason, I never snagged another ball? It would be a shame not to own the final one, just like Barry Bonds secretly wishes he owned No. 762.) Then I knelt down next to the kid and got eye-to-eye with him and said, “Hey, let me give you a little piece of advice.” He stared back blankly and I kept talking. “You know how you’re wearing a Blue Jays cap? Well, the Jays might be your favorite team, but if you’re trying to get a ball from the other team, you should hide your hat. If the Tigers see that you’re rooting for someone else, they’re not gonna want to give you a ball. Right?” The kid didn’t say a word, but I think he got the point. “Just remember that,” I told him, “and enjoy the game.”
Then I got some food and headed to my actual seat in the second deck:
(Yes, that’s a lot of onions. They were free at the condiment stand. I ate them with the fries. Good combination of te
mperature and flavor.)
With the exception of a few gloveless fans scattered throughout the front row, the 200 Level was empty. I’d decided to give up foul balls for one night and make an attempt at catching home runs.
Of course nothing came my way, but Nick managed to get HIS glove on a home run ball. First, check out where he was sitting. This was the view to the left from my seat. He’s on the lower level, just behind the red “Rogers” sign, wearing the yellow version of his signature shirt:
In the top of the 5th inning, Miguel Cabrera’s second homer of the game hit the windows directly above Nick. The ball bounced back on the field and rolled to Vernon Wells, who scooped it up and tossed it to him. Very cool.
In the 8th inning, I abandoned my home run quest and moved to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout. This was my view:
Nick turned up just before the game ended and sat down right behind me. We discussed our post-game strategy. Both of us were hoping to get a ball from home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, but since I’d gotten there first, Nick let me go for it.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s just proper ballhawk etiquette.”
Fernando Rodney got Lyle Overbay to fly out to end the game. (Final score: Tigers 5, Blue Jays 1.) Curtis Granderson made a leaping catch at the wall. I scooted down to the front row. Randazzo approached, I shouted like hell, and got him to toss me my eighth ball of the day. Then, moments later, I saw Granderson jog in and hand the game-ending ball to Rodney. When Rodney walked toward the dugout, I shouted at him in Spanish and got him to toss it to me. Not bad. I’d gone from seven balls (average) to nine balls (good) in less than 60 seconds.
• 9 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave one away)
• 572 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 145 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,842 total balls
• 72 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $14.52 pledged per ball
• $130.68 raised at this game
• $319.44 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Back in my hotel room, this was the scene as I started working on this entry:
Stay tuned for one more tale from Toronto…