Day 2 of the San Juan Series started with another long line outside the bleacher entrance:
See the guy in the gray All-Star Game shirt? His name is Mike. We’d met the day before, and we ended up sitting together at this game.
One minute after the gates opened, this was the scene:
In case you can’t tell, it’s a photo of the Marlins jogging off the field.
During that lone minute of batting practice, Anibal Sanchez threw two baseballs to me. I was the only one wearing Marlins gear, and at that point, I was the only fan wearing a glove and calling out to him, so he didn’t have many other options. He probably figured that I’d give away the second ball, and I did. In fact, I gave them both away to a pair of extremely friendly security guards.
Soon after the Mets started hitting, the bleachers got insanely crowded:
There wasn’t any room to run, so I headed underneath the bleachers and played the gap behind the outfield wall. Here’s what it looked like down there:
Several minutes later, a different security guard kicked me out (along with the few other fans who’d ventured down), so I had to find another spot.
Hmm, where to go…
I decided to stand behind the outfield wall in right-center. Surely, there’d be a few bombs hit that way, right?
This was my view straight head:
This was my view to the right…
…and to the left:
I had a ton of open space all around me, and there wasn’t anyone else who was even thinking of snagging a baseball.
How many balls do you think I got during the next half hour? Go ahead, take a guess. Three? Five? Ten? Twenty? Think big. It was warm. Fly balls were carrying. The players, undoubtedly, were pumped to be playing in Puerto Rico. Home runs galore, right?
Ready for the answer?
The Mets didn’t hit a single home run to center field — or anywhere near center field. They didn’t hit any ground-rule doubles either. It was so dead that for a moment I wondered if BP was still taking place. I peeked through a narrow gap in the center field wall:
Yup, the Mets were still hitting.
Meanwhile, half a dozen balls dropped into the gap behind the left field wall. I would’ve snagged all or most of them if I’d been allowed to stay there. It was just one of those days. And that was it for BP.
Now get this: I had three tickets for this game. Let me explain…
When tickets first went on sale, I wasn’t able to just buy one ticket for one game. I had to buy one ticket for all three. Does that make sense? It’s like they were being sold as a strip, or as a package, or whatever you want to call it. I knew that my girlfriend wasn’t going to attend all three games, but since she was going to attend at least one, I had to buy two tickets for each game. Anyway, this was the game that she chose to skip. (She decided she’d have more fun at the hotel, working out in the fitness room, getting woozy in the steam room, and lounging at the pool.) So, in addition to my own bleacher ticket, I also had hers.
What about the third ticket, you ask?
Well, once individual seats finally went on sale, I splurged and bought an extra, fancy-ish ticket on the first base side. Why? Because I’d learned that the bleachers were completely separate from the rest of the stadium. Buying that extra ticket was the only way I’d be able to wander all around and get the full experience.
This was the first thing I saw when I entered the main concourse behind home plate:
There was a band blasting music just outside the gates, and as you can see, there were people walking on stilts and dancing in crazy mascot costumes. It was a truly wild/festive scene, and the best thing about it (unlike all the hoopla I experienced at the 2007 All-Star Game) is that none of it felt contrived. There was a genuine vibe of joy and exuberance. People were just excited to be at a baseball game, plain and simple.
I walked through the concourse to the 3rd base side, then headed through a tunnel and into the seats. Check out this cross-aisle — a perfect place for chasing foul balls:
I walked up the steps toward the upper/outermost corner…
…and discovered that there was a secondary concourse at the very back:
Behold the puddles:
What’s up with that? Was the ice machine leaking?
This was the view of the field from that back corner of the ballpark:
I walked down the steps, and when I looked to my left, this is what I saw:
Gotta love the Roberto Clemente truck. It was parked in an employees-only area between the grandstand and the bleachers. See that thing with the black fence and tan roof? That was the Mets’ batting cage. Here’s a closer look at it:
This was as close as I could get to the field:
As you can see in the photo above, the four rows down in front were roped off.
There was no way to sneak down there; every single staircase around the entire stadium was guarded by an usher. Here’s one of the ushers behind the 1st base dugout:
See the shirt that he’s wearing? I really wanted one, but obviously they weren’t being sold. The ushers wore those shirts every day. If the fans had been able to buy and wear them, too, it would’ve caused all kinds of security issues. There were some “San Juan Series” shirts for sale at the main souvenir stand, but they weren’t nearly as nice.
Normally, when I visit a stadium for the first time, I make a point of going to the last row of the upper deck and taking a couple photos that I can later combine into a panorama. Hiram Bithorn Stadium has no upper deck, so here’s what I ended up with:
Here’s a look at the stadium from the back of the seats on the 1st base side:
Here’s one of two ramps that lead to the press box:
I suspect this would be a good place to get autographs, but I didn’t stick around. It was only 20 minutes ’til game time, so I made my way back down the steps and took a couple pics of the multi-colored seats:
Then I headed into the lower concourse and saw the best concession stand of all time:
That concluded my tour of the main part of the stadium.
I headed out through the gate…
…and stopped for a minute to watch the band:
It might not look like they were playing, but they were. The blurry guy right in front was jumping all over the place while performing a drum solo.
When I made it back to the bleachers, there happened to be a TV crew from some local station called El Nuevo Dia getting shots of the crowd. The host recognized me as the guy who’d caught Mike Stanton’s home run the day before, and he asked if he could interview me. (He was bilingual.) While he was introducing me, Mike grabbed my camera and took the following photo:
It was a quick interview. Probably less than 60 seconds. Standard stuff. The guy basically asked me where I’m from and what I was doing in Puerto Rico, and we talked baseball.
The highlight for me during the game was that I snagged another San Juan Series commemorative ball (I’d gotten two the day before), and it was embarrassingly easy. With one out in the bottom of the 2nd, Dan Uggla ripped a line drive down the left field line. The ball hooked foul. I raced to my right through the cross-aisle. Mets left fielder Jason Bay jogged over and retrieved it. I was the only person in the aisle, so when I shouted at him, he tossed it right to me.
This was my view of the field, at least for a few moments here and there:
(FYI: the woman in the photo above is a vendor.)
In the bottom of the 5th, Uggla smoked a line drive home run right at me. I was lined up with it. There wasn’t any competition in the stands. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but the ball fell five feet short and dropped into the gap and trickled under the bleachers. Here’s a screen shot that shows me looking down at it:
If I could do it all over again, I would have climbed over the railing and jumped down into the gap. At the time, I was one-third concerned about getting in trouble, one-third worried about getting hurt, and one-third convinced that there was already someone down there (a cameraman or security guard or fan) who must’ve grabbed the ball, so I stood there like an idiot and watched and waited…and waited…and waited, and 15 seconds later, some little kid appeared out of nowhere and ran under the bleachers and grabbed the ball and ran back out holding it up triumphantly. Good for the kid. Bad for me. It really would’ve been great to get that ball, and as it turned out, someone else jumped over the fence later on — without any negative consequences — for a warm-up that dropped into the gap. I really feel like I wasted an opportunity. It was one of only two homers in the game. The other was a grand slam by Hanley Ramirez that barely cleared the wall in left-center, bounced back onto the field, and immediately got tossed back into the crowd by Mets center fielder Angel Pagan. I tried running over, but didn’t even come close.
Final score: Marlins 7, Mets 6.
As for that Uggla foul ball that got tossed up to me, I took a bunch of photos of it and ended up with two that I simply have to share. I’ll post one now and the other after the stats:
• 3 balls at this game (1 pictured above/below because I gave the other two away)
• 179 balls in 18 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 647 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 197 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,537 total balls
• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.23 raised at this game
• $968.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I woke up in Cleveland at 5:15am with three hours of sleep. By the time I checked into my hotel in Minnesota, I was so tired that my eyes hurt. I should’ve taken a nap, especially considering that I was going to be on TV later that evening, but I was too excited about Target Field. To hell with sleep. I had to get over there and see it. This was my first look at it:
(Did you notice the HUGE Target logo on the walkway?)
I could tell from afar that the place was gorgeous, and once I got closer, I noticed that the Twins (unlike the Mets) did an amazing job of honoring their past. One of the first things I saw was a long, wall-like display featuring the team’s former stadiums:
Right nearby, there was a fence with pennant-shaped tributes to important players and executives in Twins history…
…and then I saw Gate 29:
That’s kind of a random number for a gate, right? Well, it was named after Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who wore uniform No. 29 for the Twins for 12 seasons. Target Field has five gates, all of which are named after Twins players who’ve had their numbers retired. Genius.
I walked clockwise around the outside of the stadium. Here’s the team store…
…and here are some of the many team-related banners:
FYI, there are service ramps behind those long wooden boards. If you look closely at them, you can see a door on the lower left that swings open.
Check out the view through Gate 14 (named after Kent Hrbek):
It was one o’clock. First pitch was scheduled for 7:10pm. That’s why there weren’t many people around.
This is what I saw when I walked past Gate 14 and turned the corner:
The fence on the left was lined with poster-sized replica Topps baseball cards of Twins players, past and present. Brilliant.
At the far end of the walkway, I passed a Light Rail station…
…and turned another corner:
Here’s another sneak peek inside the stadium through Gate 6 (named after Tony Oliva):
I felt very welcomed, indeed.
I kept walking. Here’s more of what I saw:
I passed some artwork (officially known as the “5th Street Panels at Target Field”) on the far end of the building:
This piece in particular is called “A History of Minnesota Baseball.”
I risked my life to take the following photo:
Okay, not really, but I *was* standing awfully close to the train tracks.
(Gate 3, which you can see in the photo above, is named after Harmon Killebrew. I later learned that on Opening Day, Killebrew stood just inside the gate and greeted fans as they entered. That’s how to run a major league organization.)
Here’s where it gets weird. I’d been walking around the stadium without any problems. Everything was beautiful and clean and simple. But when I passed Gate 3, this is what I saw:
Where was I supposed to walk? Into the tunnel? Was it even possible to walk all the way around the outside of the stadium? I crossed the street on the left side and headed onto a narrow walkway. I had no idea where I was going. There were no signs. There was nothing but a pair of unmarked glass doors:
Just when I was was preparing to retrace my steps and head back toward Gate 3, two guys walked by and gave me directions. They said I had to enter the doors and walk through a long hallway and follow the signs and head upstairs…and…what? I was so confused, but they seemed convincing, so I did what they said.
This is what it looked like just inside the doors:
Was this a trick or a scam? Perhaps a hidden-camera TV show? Should I have been concerned for my safety?
I walked quite a ways down the hallway and eventually saw this:
What was the Target Plaza? Was that connected to Target Field? Ohmygod, what was going on? I hadn’t researched the stadium beforehand. I intentionally showed up knowing as little as possible so I could explore and discover things.
There were escalators at the far end of the hallway:
I headed up to the second level and saw this:
Uh…was I supposed to go up to the 3rd level?
It looked like there was a little sign on the door, so I walked over for a closer look. This is what it said:
Hooray! Thank you! Finally, there were clear directions that applied to what *I* hoped to find. Target Field, through the doors. Right?
Umm, not so fast…
This is what I saw when I opened the door:
WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!
I figured the sign had to be right, so I walked across the garage and encountered another set of doors. This is what I saw on the other side:
I walked past the Kirby Puckett statue. This is what was on the right:
Now we’re talking.
Gate 34…the right field gate…just behind the standing room area. I hurried over for a peek inside:
The giant “gold” glove was sitting nearby on the right:
Just how big is it? Here’s my backpack:
I still had a little more exploring to do, so I continued heading around the stadium:
Is that a slick design or what?
In the photo above, do you see the fan wearing red sleeves? More on him in a bit, but first, I have to show you even more Twins history that was on display. Check this out:
You know what those things on the fence are?
There was a roster from every single season since the franchise moved to Minneapolis.
Even the team store was exquisite:
Back outside, I walked right past Justin Verlander and two of his teammates:
One fan approached Verlander and asked for an autograph.
“Not today,” said the Tigers ace.
(Ballplayers are so friendly nowadays.)
Okay, remember the guy wearing red? His name is Greg Dryden, but he’s known simply as “Waldo.” He’s the No. 1 ballhawk in Minnesota. He used to sit in the front row in left-center at the Metrodome, and he always wore a helmet. That was his thing. I’d been hearing stories about him for years — some good, some bad. Everyone I knew who visited the Dome had something to say about the guy, and here he was. I knew it was him because the back of his jersey said “WALDO 13,” so I walked over and introduced myself, and as it turned out, he had heard lots of stories about me, too. Here we are:
I knew that we were only going to have a few minutes to chat, so I asked him the basic questions about how many baseballs he’d snagged over the years. He told me that he only kept count one season and ended up with 352. (He was a season ticket holder and attended all 81 of the Twins’ home games.) He said that was probably a typical season for him and that he’d been ballhawking regularly since 1999.
“So you’ve probably gotten over 3,000 balls?” I asked.
He shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”
“How many game home runs?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “probably 40 or 50…and I’ve gotten about 20 ground-rule doubles.”
Not too shabby.
At 2pm, two attractive women (who looked to be in their mid-20s) started walking right toward us. Waldo’s jaw literally dropped, and when they got closer, one of them asked me, “Are you Zack?”
“Catherine?” I asked.
She welcomed me to Minnesota and introduced me to her twin sister, Laura-Leigh. Then, as the three of us headed off together, I turned toward Waldo and shouted, “I’ll see you back here in an hour!” The look on his face was priceless.
The ladies led me to a nearby mall called Butler Square. Here’s the main entrance:
See the arrow in the photo above? There’s a restaurant in the mall called Smalley’s 87 Club:
That’s where we went. It’s named after former major league All-Star Roy Smalley, who played nine of his 13 seasons with the Twins. Now get this…
1) Roy Smalley just happens to be their father.
2) Roy Smalley is the president of Pitch In For Baseball.
3) Roy Smalley is a commentator on FSN North.
See where I’m going with this? In case you’re new to this blog, I’ve been raising money for the last two two seasons for Pitch In For Baseball — a charity that provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Roy was planning to interview me live on the Twins’ pre-game show about it, and he was at the restaurant. Here I am with him and his daughters:
(Catherine is on the left, just above my red-and-white Pitch In For Baseball cap, and by the way, I should mention that both plates of food were mine: chicken strips and a caesar salad. The food there is great.)
We all hung out for a couple hours, during which time Roy let me play with his 1987 World Series ring:
Here’s the ring with Roy in the background…
…and here are two close-up shots of it:
(His championship ring is slightly cooler than mine.)
My lack of sleep was killing me, but I was so happy that it didn’t even matter.
By the time I made it back to the Target Field Plaza (that’s the official name of the area outside Gate 34), there were quite a few people milling about:
At 5pm (half an hour before the stadium opened), look who showed up and found me:
It was my girlfriend, Jona.
As I’d mentioned the day before on Twitter, there was a chance that she wasn’t gonna be able to make it to Minnesota, but everything ended up working out, and here she was.
Remember the small crowd waiting outside the gate on 5/1/10 at Progressive Field? If not, click here to see what I’m talking about. Here’s the difference between Cleveland and Minneapolis. Ready? Take a deep breath and brace yourself:
Holy mother of GOD!!! And don’t forget that this was just one of five gates. My biggest gripe about the stadium is that it doesn’t open earlier. I think it’s a real slap in the face to the fans that they can’t even get inside early enough to watch the Twins take batting practice. Every team should open its stadium two and a half hours early. Not just for season ticket holders. Not just on weekends. Always. For everyone. Forever. And especially when it’s the first season of a new stadium and the crowds are extra large. Seriously, Twins: duh.
Shortly before the stadium opened, I learned that FSN’s cameras were going to be filming me from afar during BP. I wasn’t going to be miked up. They didn’t need any audio. They just wanted some B-roll footage that they could later use during my interview with Roy. Catherine (who helped set up the interview) told me to call the producer as soon as I ran into the stadium. She said I needed to let him know where I was so he’d be able to make sure that the cameras were following me — and if I ran to another section, I was supposed to give him another call.
You know what I did instead? I handed my phone to Jona, who offered to make the phone calls for me.
I was so stressed and tired, and at 5:30pm it was time to roll. I raced inside and peeked at the right field seats and quickly decided to head for the left field bleachers. Jona chased after me and called the producer.
“Where do I tell him we are?!” she shouted.
“Ohboy,” I mumbled loud enough for her to hear me, then yelled, “Tell him I’m running behind the batter’s eye!”
It was nuts, and yet Jona somehow managed to take photos while all of this was happening. Here I am in the bleachers:
The bleachers were awful. Too steep. Too crowded. Too many railings. Tucked underneath an overhang. And because of the flower bed down in front, there was absolutely no chance to use the glove trick:
If someone asked me to design a miserable section for catching home run balls, I probably would’ve come up with this. Oh…and the sun was in everyone’s eyes, too.
The bleachers got crowded pretty fast:
Things were NOT looking good.
At one point, I had a chance to catch a home run ball:
(In case you can’t tell, I’m wearing the dark blue jacket with a Tigers shirt.)
Here’s that same moment captured by an FSN camera:
Want to see how it ended?
Yeah, the short guy in the front row jumped up and caught the ball two feet in front of my glove. Then, five minutes, later, I got robbed once again by a guy who reached out and made a bare-handed grab as I was cutting through the second row:
My overall assessment:
My friend Bob (aka “Big Glove Bob” in the comments section) made an appearance in the bleachers:
He had kindly picked me up at the airport that morning, and he’d given me lots of tips on Target Field and Minneapolis in the previous weeks. It was great hanging out with him — this was the first day that we had ever met in person — and I foolishly neglected to get a photo with him. (Random coincidence: he was interviewed on TV that day, too.)
I was getting desperate. I still didn’t have a ball. I was worried about my streak. And I was embarrassed to be putting on such a lousy ballhawking display for the cameras, which were evidently capturing my every move.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally got Tigers reliever Brad Thomas to throw me a ball. He was in left-center field. I was standing near the slanted railing next to the bullpens. His throw fell short. I nearly had a panic attack. I reached way out — full extension — and caught the ball in the tip of my glove. It was a true snow-cone. Here’s an FSN screen shot…
…and here I am pointing at Thomas as if to say, “You’re the man. Thank you.”
I was so relieved at that point. My streak was alive, and I had snagged a ball in my 47th different major league stadium. Here I am with the ball:
I wasn’t sure what type of balls the Tigers were going to be using during BP; in 2008 they used Pacific Coast League balls and in 2009 they used International League balls. As you can see in the photo above, the ball that Thomas threw me was an official major league ball, but check out the logo:
The Tigers had marked it. Many other teams have done the same thing over the years, but never on the logo itself.
My phone rang. Jona handed it to me. I answered it. It was Roy. He asked me to swing by the FSN set down the left field line, and since BP was such a colossal waste of time, I didn’t mind sacrificing a few minutes of it to go check in with him:
He asked me to be back there by 6:25pm. The pre-game show was going to start at 6:30. I was going to be interviewed during the second segment, and I needed to get miked up…so for the time being, I was free to run around a bit more and try to snag a few additional baseballs. Unfortunately, there weren’t any more to be snagged — at least not during BP. The bleachers were dead, and when I ran over to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP, I didn’t get anything there. The look on my face tells the whole story:
I had snagged ONE pathetic baseball during batting practice. I was sweaty and exhausted…
…and I wanted to go back to Cleveland.
It was time to head over to the FSN set, so I cut through the seats with Jona. I stopped along the way to photograph a fugitive hot dog:
Here’s what it looked like from my perspective:
Remember the random sausage I photographed on 4/27/09 at Miller Park? Yeah, I don’t know what to say. It’s just one of those things that needs to be documented.
I made it to the FSN area as Roy and his fellow commentators were finishing up the first segment:
He and I caught up for a moment during the commercial break…
…and headed into the left field bleachers:
(Roy is adjusting his ear piece in the photo above, and if you look closely, you can see The Ring on his right hand.)
See those two women sitting behind us? When we walked into the bleachers, the blonde one said to Roy, “You look like you’re famous.”
“Umm, that’s because he IS famous,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, half-excited and half-embarrassed, “should I know your name?”
I turned toward Roy and said, “Would you like me to to be your spokesperson?”
“Smalley,” he said to the women. “I used to play for the Twins.”
The women were like, “Smalley…Smalley…oh! Yeah!” but they had no idea who he was.
The interview itself went pretty well…I think. Here’s a photo that Jona took while it was in progress:
We were being filmed by the camera behind home plate in the upper deck.
The interview flew by — they always do — but I got to talk about Pitch In For Baseball. That was the most important thing, and I ended up getting a few new pledges as a result.
I still have yet to see the interview itself, but I did manage to get a screen shot. Here’s what it looked like to the folks watching on TV, and for the record, I did NOT write the text that appeared below my name:
The interview ended just in time for me to make it down to the front row along the left field foul line for pre-game throwing:
I ended up getting a ball from Scott Sizemore, and then less than 60 seconds later, because there wasn’t anyone else competing with me, I got another from Adam Everett. That made me feel a little better, but of course the FSN cameras weren’t on me anymore, so as far as the general public in Minnesota was concerned, I was just some random putz who happened to catch ONE ball during batting practice and then talked about some charity thing.
I spent most of the game in the standing room area down the right field line. Here’s that section from above. The red “X” marks the spot where I was standing:
Here’s what my view from that spot looked like:
Yeah, it was rainy and nasty and cold — about what I expected.
Here’s a photo from the back of the standing room area, with my back against the inside of Gate 34:
(I can’t explain that random box, so don’t ask.)
Waldo was on the outside looking in:
He’s “protesting” Twins management because he feels he got screwed over on his season tickets. Long story. Go to Target Field and ask him about it. But anyway, as part of his protest, he’s refusing to enter Target Field this year. He also wants to catch the first home run that either flies or (more likely) bounces out of Target Field, so in that sense, his spot just outside Gate 34 is actually ideal. Personally, I would go crazy if I had to spend even one game outside a stadium with such slim odds at snagging a homer, but he seems content (relatively speaking) out there, and he doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, so I say hey, why not?
Jona and I sat in a few different places throughout the game. Here’s one…
…and here’s another:
I thought it was going to be really tough to move around, but a) there were empty seats to be found and b) the ushers were really laid-back.
After the bottom of the 8th inning, I got Miguel Cabrera to throw me a ball as he jogged off the field:
Although it had a commemorative Target Field logo, I knew it wasn’t the actual third-out ball that’d been used in the game because it was kinda beat up.
In the photo above, do you see the kid on my right, reaching up with both hands? It was a girl who was probably about 10 years old. Even though she didn’t have a glove, I just felt that giving her a ball was the right thing to do, so I pulled out a regular/non-marked/non-commemorative ball from my backpack and handed it over. I ended up sitting next to her and her father for the last half-inning, and they thanked me about a dozen times.
The Twins won the game, 4-3, on a run-scoring wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. That made a winner of starter Nick Blackburn, who went the distance. It also meant that I notched a rare “tie” in the Ballhawk Winning Percentage category. My record moved to 4.5 wins and 1.5 losses, so my percentage is .750, second only to the Rays, who lead all of baseball with a .759 mark.
Jona was freezing her you-know-what off, but I was not in any rush to leave. (Sorry, baby.) I took more photos of basically everything around me, including the beautiful MLB logo atop the visitors’ dugout:
And then I had to stick around and watch the FSN crew do their on-field analysis of the game-ending wild pitch:
1 = Tim Laudner
2 = Bert Blyleven
3 = Roy Smalley
Very cool to see former players using the field itself as a teaching instrument. That’s how it should be.
• 66 balls in 6 games this season = 11 balls per game.
• 635 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 186 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 47 different major league stadiums with at least one ball
• 4,424 total balls
• 29 donors
• $3.85 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.40 raised at this game
• $254.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One last thing…
I just discovered that someone with Minnesota Public Radio wrote a short article about me — and about this actual blog entry. Here’s the link to it, and here’s a screen shot of the piece:
It was really hot.
And I was interviewed for ESPN.com.
I met the reporter, Patrick Hruby, at my hotel at 2:30pm. Then we went out for (mediocre) Thai food (which ESPN paid for) and drove to Camden Yards at 4:45pm.
As we headed toward the media entrance, I stopped to take a photo and Patrick inadvertently walked into the frame:
I didn’t bother to retake the photo because we were in a rush. He had to pick up his media credentials. I needed to walk halfway around the stadium to meet Jona, who was holding a spot for me at the front of the line.
Patrick wasn’t allowed to enter the stadium until 5pm, and even then he had to use the media entrance behind home plate. By the time he caught up with me in left field, I had already snagged three balls. The first was a home run by a left-handed batter (possibly Luke Scott, but I’m not sure) that landed in the totally empty seats in left-center. (I ended up giving that ball to a kid during the game.) The second was a homer by Melvin Mora that I scrambled for in straight-away left, and the third was a homer that also landed in the seats. I have no idea who hit that one.
Just as Patrick made his way out to left field, he saw me sprint across two sections toward the foul pole and beat out a couple other guys for yet another home run ball. The photo below shows Patrick interviewing one of them; the arrow is pointing to Erik Jabs, founder of the ballhawk league (which recently got a nice mention in USA Today):
I made sure that Patrick and Erik talked to each other.
My fifth ball was a home run that I caught on the fly. It was only 5:08pm. I was all pumped up and ready for a monster day, but then things slowed down and the bad luck kicked in. Adam Jones, for example, hit a home run right at me when I was the ONLY fan in the section. The ball fell two rows short, smacked off a seat, and bounced back onto the field. If the ball had stayed in the seats — even if it had ricocheted 30 feet in any direction — I would’ve been able to get it. I did, however, manage to snag two more home run balls that landed in the seats. I have no idea who hit them. Most of the hitters were wearing warm-up jerseys that covered their uniform numbers, and I was also distracted (in a good way) by Patrick’s steady stream of questions.
Four of the seven balls had interesting markings:
I’m pretty sure that the ball on the top left got scuffed by landing on a concrete step in the stands. The “Rawlings” logo on the top right probably got smudged by a non-squarely-hit drive off the bat. The ball on the bottom left? No idea. Maybe it hit one of the screens? The ball on the lower right probably got its mark from skipping off the infield dirt.
I changed into my A’s gear for the second half of BP, and Patrick kept interviewing me:
I only managed to snag ONE ball during the A’s portion of BP. It was a lame performance on my part. There’s no denying it. I just wasn’t on my game. I wasn’t judging homers as well I normally do, and of course I had more bad luck…for example…I was in the third row and got Trevor Cahill to toss a ball in my direction, but the ball fell a bit short, which enabled the fans in front of me to reach up for it. The ball tipped off of someone’s glove and ended up hitting me on the left wrist as I was reaching down to make the catch — and then the ball bounced off in some crazy direction and someone else grabbed it. Crap like that. As for the one ball I snagged from the A’s, it was “thrown” into the crowd in the form of a bounce-pass off the rubberized warning track. I don’t even know who threw it (which is another example of the lameness of my overall performance), but I did make a decent play on it. I was in the front row, and it was pretty crowded, and the ball was sailing three feet over my head, so I jumped as high as possible and reached up with my right hand and swatted at the ball with my fingertips in an attempt to tip it back toward me, and it worked, but I bobbled it a bit, and everyone was grabbing for it, but I managed to secure it after a second or two. Phew! That felt good.
After BP (another mistake was not making it to the A’s dugout) I spotted a ball in the staircase next to the bullpens in left-center. Here’s a cool photo, taken by Jona, that shows me leaning out and looking at it:
Then I made a brazen attempt to reel it in with my glove trick…
…and I was stopped by a female usher within five seconds. I kind of expected that, but hey, ESPN was with me so I had to go for it. (And hey, did you notice my delicious crack sweat?)
The thing that bothered me in this situation is that the usher threatened me with a trespassing charge if I didn’t bring my glove back up. (Please.) As soon as I climbed down off the seats, a whole bunch of fans (who recognized me and had been talking to me throughout BP) approached her and said, “Do you know who this guy is?!”
“No,” she said, “should I?”
The fans then proceeded to tell her all about me. They mentioned that I was there with ESPN and that I had caught over 4,000 balls.
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” she asked in the most condescending of tones.
They told her all about my TV appearances and mentioned that I’m snagging baseballs for charity and said that I give balls away to kids (“That’s what a good Christian does,” she replied a little too enthusiastically), but she didn’t seem to care. At one point, she asked me if other stadiums allow fans to use ball-retrieving devices, and I informed her that YES, some places do.
Anyway, enough of that.
Right before the game started, I got autographs from Tommy Everidge and Rajai Davis…
…and snagged two more baseballs. The first was thrown by Adam Kennedy along the shallow left field foul line, and the second ball was tossed further down the line by A’s bullpen coach Ron Romanick (who has used it to play catch with Kurt Suzuki). It was beautiful. Although the front row was full, I was the only fan with a glove, so it was basically a guaranteed ball. I need those to balance out the inevitable bad luck. It’s sort of like how a .300 hitter needs to get his share of swinging-bunt base hits and broken-bat bloopers to make up for all the “at ’em” balls.
In case you’ve lost count, I had 10 balls at this point — a number I’d told Patrick after lunch that I’d be shooting for. Even though it wasn’t a particularly skillful or action-packed 10, at least I hadn’t embarrassed myself.
Patrick followed me everywhere during the game:
I had warned him that I’d be moving all over the place and suggested that he wear comfortable shoes.
Here we are in the tunnel on the right side of home plate:
It was a great foul ball spot, and I had a great opportunity to catch one…BUT…bad luck, of course. The ball shot back over the protective screen, ricocheted off the concrete facade of the press level and bounced RIGHT back to me as I darted to my left through the cross-aisle. Unfortunately, however, just as I put up my glove to make the catch, a man stood up in the seats above me (those seats are behind the aisle, and they’re elevated about six feet) and he reached out and caught the ball bare-handed.
See what I mean? Yes, sure, fine, I had snagged 10 balls (and raised an additional $247.50 for Pitch In For Baseball). I know that’s nothing to be complaining about. Most people don’t snag 10 balls per week, month, season, lifetime, etc. I realize this. But for ME, things just weren’t going well. I hope I don’t sound spoiled or obnoxious. The fact is, I know what I’m capable of (when I’m at an awesome stadium with an attendance under 15,000) and I’m very competitive, and I’m a perfectionist, and I hold myself to very high standards…and it simply wasn’t happening as I envisioned it. Does that make sense? I know that my fellow ballhawks (especially the ones who average half a dozen balls per game) understand what I’m talking about, but I want everyone to get it.
I played the right field standing room only section for lefties…
…but there wasn’t any action.
More bad luck? Gio Gonzalez, a left-hander, was pitching for the A’s, so the Orioles stacked their lineup with righties. Only two Oriole batters were left-handed. That would be Nick Markakis (future Hall of Famer…don’t argue) and Luke Scott, who hit the game’s lone longball to center field.
It rained like HELL during the 7th inning…
…which should’ve been a good thing. I figured that after the rain delay I’d have a chance to get a ball thrown to me when the players came back out to warm up…and I did…but the throw was a bit off, which enabled another fan to reach out and catch the ball right in front of me.
NOW do you get it?
But wait, that wasn’t the end of my bad luck. In the eighth inning, a foul ball shot back over the screen and landed in the press box. First of all, if it had gone six inches lower, it would’ve hit off the base of the press box and ricocheted into a section which, by that point, was completely empty. Secondly, I was the first fan to run up there (you can just about look into the press box from the last row of seats) and asked the guy who retrieved the ball if I could “please possibly” have it. He said he wanted to give it to a little kid, and he scanned the seats to find one.
“There ARE none!” I wanted to scream, but I just stood there silently, knowing I wasn’t gonna get it. Five seconds later, the guy finally spotted a kid. How much did the kid want that ball? Let’s just say that even when the guy called out to him, the kid didn’t look up. So…I offered to deliver the ball to the kid, which I did (resulting in a big round of applause), and no, I’m not counting that ball in my collection because it was predetermined to be for someone else. If I’d randomly gotten the ball and THEN decided to give it away (as I normally do), then I would’ve counted it.
Blah blah blah. I even failed to make it to the A’s dugout at the end of the game. Why? More bad luck…duh! Melvin Mora was on second with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and I was making my way though the cross-aisle on the first base side. What happened next? Not only did Cesar Izturis swing at the first pitch, but he lined it back to the pitcher for a 1-6 double play.
And then, of course, I saw a ball get tossed right to the spot where I would’ve been standing.
Final score: A’s 9, Orioles 1.
I’m not sure when the story will be up on ESPN.com, but I was told that it’ll probably be a couple weeks.
• 356 balls in 41 games this season = 8.68 balls per game.
• 610 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 170 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 112 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 50 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,176 total balls
• 13 days until I’ll be at Coors Field
• 118 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.75 pledged per ball
• $247.50 raised at this game
• $8,811.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I expect to snag at least 10 balls at every game. I talked about that in my previous entry, remember? I also said that something has to go wrong in order for me not to snag that many.
Well, yesterday, something nearly went horribly wrong at the start of the day, and then I had to deal with two unexpected challenges soon after.
Speaking of the start of the day, here I am outside the left field gate:
The stadium opened at 4:30pm–two hours and 40 minutes before game time–and soon after I ran inside, I nearly sprained/broke my ankle. What happened was…I stepped onto a little concrete ridge on the upper concourse, not realizing that it WAS a ridge. I thought it was a platform that extended out at that height, so when I took a step forward, my right foot rolled off the edge, and as a matter of instinct, I gave with it and nearly fell down in the process. The right side of my ankle hurt a little bit right after, and I was scared out of my mind. It seemed to be okay, but I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a delayed reaction of pain, or if it was going to get worse as I kept running around.
Jona was with me (she’s the one who took all these photos) and she told me to “be careful” and “take it easy,” but those are phrases that mean nothing to me when I’m inside a major league stadium–especially one as awesome as the New K–so I just started doing my thing and running all over the place as if nothing was wrong. Somehow, thankfully, the slight pain in my ankle actually went away.
I started off by running out to left-center and peeking over the outfield wall to see if there were any balls on the warning track:
Nope. Nothing. And I should probably mention the first of my two challenges: the Royals hadn’t started hitting yet. The previous day, when I ran inside, batting practice was already in progress, but this time the place was dead.
That turned out to be a good thing.
I headed over to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch in right field…
…and ended up playing catch with Kyle Farnsworth for more than five minutes! I’m not exaggerating. I just asked him straight-up if he wanted to play catch, and he tossed me the ball he was holding. Then, after I caught it, he held up his glove to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. (Normally, when I ask guys to play catch, they’ll toss me the ball and then just let me keep it right away.)
Here’s a photo of Farnsworth throwing the ball to me…
…and here I am firing it back:
I didn’t have much room to work with; after every throw I had to make sure not to follow through all the way so that my hand wouldn’t whack the metal railing.
I managed to avoid getting hurt, and all I can say about the whole thing is…it was amazing. Jona switched her camera to movie mode and got several minutes’ worth of video. When I have more time (perhaps this coming weekend), I might put it on YouTube. I don’t know yet, but anyway, I’ve played catch from the stands on many occasions, and the only time that rivals this one was the Heath Bell Experience on 9/29/05 at Shea Stadium. THAT was awesome because Bell was shouting playfully at me and crouching down and calling balls and strikes, and there was a small audience of fans that gathered near me in the seats…but this throwing session with Farnsworth was great because it was calm. Once we started, he and I never talked. We were just two guys throwing the ball back and forth. Nothing needed to be said. Baseball was our common, silent language.
As I expected, we stopped throwing as soon as BP started and of course he let me keep the ball.
I headed to the upper level of the Porch and got Luke Hochevar to throw me a ball:
His aim, however, was off and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the fountains. No big deal. I just pulled out my little water-retrieval-device and reeled it in.
The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows how it all went down:
Someone left a comment on my previous entry and asked if it’s possible to reach over the railing and grab baseballs out of the water. As you can see in the photos above, the answer is no…although at one point, over in left field, a fan climbed over the railing and sprawled out on that green/gray concrete ledge, and he grabbed a couple balls out of the water before I had a chance to snag them with my device. Security wasn’t around when he did that. That’s how he got away with it. I don’t recommend climbing over. I talked to a few different ushers who said that fans who go in the water are punished just like fans who run on the field: a night in jail and a $1,500 fine. It’s not worth it for a BP ball, but for a walk-off grand slam? I’d consider it.
Back to the Hochevar ball…
After I reeled it in, I put it in a Ziploc bag so it wouldn’t soak everything else in my backpack:
See the plastic shopping bag in the photo above? First of all, it’s a Fairway bag. Best food market ever. There’s one right near me in NYC on Broadway and 74th Street. Secondly, I brought it with me to the stadium so that I could keep the device from leaking all over my backpack as well. Water management is key.
My ankle was totally fine, and I ran nonstop all over the place:
Back in left field, I got Coco Crisp to toss me my third ball of the day. You can see it in mid-air in the following photo:
Just a few minutes later, Ron Mahay tossed me Ball No. 4, and then I headed back to right field to use my glove trick.
Remember those two challenges I talked about earlier in this entry? The second challenge was security. There was one guard in particular who wasn’t too fond of the trick, and he hurried out to the Porch while my glove was dangling:
At some stadiums, like AT&T Park, fans are allowed to bring all kinds of crazy contraptions inside, and security doesn’t care AT ALL if people pluck balls right off the field. I realize, however, that not every owner/stadium/city is as cool as San Francisco. If security doesn’t want fans to take balls off the field, fine. I still don’t think it’s “stealing” but whatever. They have a right to draw the line somewhere, so I wasn’t too upset (or surprised) when the guard came over and made me stop. What DID make me mad was when he stopped me from using the trick five minutes later for a ball in the gap in dead center field. There’s nothing in that gap. You know those seven balls that were there the day before? They were STILL there. No one goes back there. There’s no camera. No equipment. Nothing. I strongly feel that fans should at least be allowed to retrieve balls from gaps like this. The guard’s explanation? He didn’t want ME to lower my glove on a string because it would encourage other fans to do it too.
Well, guess what. I have news for that guard: his job is about to get way more stressful. Not only did FSN film me using the glove trick the previous day, and not only did they broadcast that footage for the whole world (okay, maybe just Missouri) to see, but there’s also this wonderful invention called the internet. And then there’s this blog. And then there’s a whole blog entry I wrote a few years ago that shows people exactly how to use the glove trick. Want to see how to do it? Click here. Then take your glove trick to Kauffman Stadium and wreak havoc and tell ’em Zack sent you. (You might need to specify that it was Zack Hample and not Zack Greinke. He’s still the more famous Zack, but I’m working on it.)
The outfield seemed worthless to me at that point, and I seriously thought my day was going to end with a grand total of six balls, so once the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side:
The Royals were about to finish their portion of BP. I thought I might be able to get someone to toss me a ball on the way in. (In the photo above, do you see the other fan walking through the seats with the white Greinke jersey and the blue backpack? His name is Garrett. More on him in a bit.) What I didn’t consider was finding a ball in the seats:
Did you notice how sweaty I was?
I felt great after finding that ball and then I got Roman Colon to toss me my 6th of the day a couple minutes later:
After that, I changed into my Diamondbacks gear, headed out to left field, and snagged two more balls within the next ten minutes or so. The first was tossed by Chad Qualls near the foul pole, and the second was a Mark Reynolds homer that landed in the last row in straight-away left field and then conveniently plopped right down at my feet. There were a bunch of other fans out there at that point, so it’s a good thing the ball didn’t ricochet elsewhere.
Then I heard Jona shouting frantically to get my attention. I was way over near the batter’s eye, and there was a ball that had landed in the fountain. I don’t know how I missed it. It must’ve been thrown because I was paying close attention to the hitters.
I ran over to the ball, knowing that it might sink at any second…
…and then I lowered my device into the water…
…and got it!
Moments later, another ball landed in the water (it was a home run and I don’t know who hit it), and I fished that one out as well.
Hoo-haaaa!!! Just like that, I had reached double digits.
Toward the end of BP, Blaine Boyer tossed me a ball in left-center…
…and then I used my water gadget to fish another ball out of the fountain. It was a home run that I absolutely would’ve caught on the fly, but some guy (who had no business even thinking about catching it) bumped into me at the last second, and the ball deflected off my glove as a result.
That gave me 12 balls.
Garrett, who had recognized me the day before from YouTube, asked me to sign his scorebook, and then we took a photo together:
As soon as BP ended, I hurried to the restaurant at the upper concourse in right field and met up with a few guys from the FSN crew. It was time for my pre-game interview. I was drenched in sweat, so I changed into my Royals shirt and hoped that the camera wouldn’t see the embarrassing sweat stain on my butt:
The sweat stain actually went all the way around my waist, several inches below my belt, but the shirt was just long enough to cover it. You have no idea how hot and humid it was, and how much running I’d been doing during BP. I think I drank three 20-ounce bottles of water during BP, and I never had to use the bathroom. My body just absorbed all that water and sweated out the rest.
The photo above, by the way, was taken as I was being led to the interview location on the left field side. The guy walking next to me (in the black shirt and light tan pants) is named Nate Bukaty. He’s the one who interviewed me. Here we are, right before we went live, down in the camera well next to the bullpen:
Here’s a photo that Jona took during the brief interview itself:
I was so amped up at that point (from running around for two hours and snagging a dozen balls and playing catch with a major leaguer and being reprimanded by stadium security) that I ended up being all jittery in the interview. It also didn’t help that I was told right beforehand that the whole interview was only going to last 90 seconds. There was so much I wanted to cover. I wanted to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity, and I wanted to mention my books, especially Watching Baseball Smarter. At the time, I just thought I was being all energetic and fun, but now that I’ve had a chance to watch the tape, I really don’t like how I came off. In fact, I’m downright embarrassed by my performance. I just needed to stand still and slow the HELL down, and I’ve been interviewed enough by now that I should’ve had the presence of mind to take a deep breath and step back from it all for a moment and just…collect myself.
Oh well. The other interview I did during the third inning went better. But before that one took place, I signed a few more autographs…
…and got Diamondbacks coach Glenn Sherlock to toss me a ball along the left field foul line:
(No red arrows in the photo above. You can figure out what’s happening.)
I ran back and forth from right field to left during the first two innings, and of course there weren’t any home runs hit.
Then it was time to make my way over for my in-game interview. For some reason, the TV announcers (Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White…yes, THE Frank White) weren’t doing the game from up in the booth. Instead, they were set up on the Pepsi Party Porch near the right field bullpen:
It’s really a shame. I was looking forward to getting a media credential and then wandering all over the stadium as soon as my interview was done, but because all of my interviews took place in the stands, there were no credentials to be had. Still, it was a total thrill to get to be interviewed during the game. I can’t count the number of in-game interviews I’ve seen where some lucky stiff gets to put on a headset and stand between the announcers and talk about his charity or whatever. Now, for the first time in my life, *I* was going to be that stiff. HA! And unlike all the other stiffs, I was actually going to be fun. I just knew it.
Here’s a look at the announcers from above…
…and here’s a view from the side:
That’s Frank White shielding his eyes from the sun. He won eight Gold Glove Awards. Wow.
Here’s a shot that Jona took of me from above, right before I went on the air…
…and here I am, being interviewed during the actual game. DAMN it was fun:
I was told that I was only gonna be interviewed during the top of the third inning, and of course, just my luck, the invincible Zack Greinke was pitching. I was sure he was gonna mow down the D’backs one-two-three, and that I’d be told to take a hike as soon as FSN went to a commercial break.
My prediction was half-right: Greinke DID retire the side in order…BUT…two good things happened:
1) Felipe Lopez had an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off, and Justin Upton worked a full count two batters later. So…the three outs took a bit longer than usual.
2) As the third out was being recorded, and as my heart was sinking faster than a baseball in the fountain, Lefebvre said ON THE AIR that I would be sticking around for another half-inning. That came as a total surprise, and I was ecstatic.
It gave me a chance to be a human being and discuss ballhawking without having to rush through my talking points. During the interview, I could hear some producer’s voice in my ear. He was making occasional comments and suggestions to all of us. At one point, he told Lefebvre what to ask me, and another time, he pointed out the fact that I’d been turning my back to Mister Frank White. We were in a commercial break at that point, so I turned and faced White and put my arm around him and offered a sincere apology and told him that since his partner was asking all the questions, I had just been facing him out of instinct. White wasn’t offended, and we laughed about it, and then during the bottom of the inning, I made sure to look at both guys as I told my various stories. Another thing that I did during my interview was…whenever the ball was put into play (or when someone struck out), I had to stop talking and give Lefebvre a chance to do the play-by-play. No one told me to do this. I wasn’t coached at all for this interview. I just did that because I’ve seen enough interviews to know that’s how it’s done.
Here’s another photo taken during the interview:
Lefebvre and I were both wearing our gloves. White didn’t need one.
“Mine are all made out of gold anyway,” he said. (Awesome.)
The bottom of the third saw five men come to the plate (yay) but two of them hit the first pitch (boo). So…it wasn’t THAT long of an inning, but at least I had a little extra time to do my thing.
Here I am with Lefebvre and White after the interview:
No, I didn’t ask for White’s autograph. I probably could’ve had him sign all 12 of my balls during the commercial break, but I just didn’t care. I’ve become less and less interested in autographs. It was the experience the mattered. I got to shake his hand three times. Yes, I counted. Yes, I have since washed my hand. And yes, I meant to say “12 of my balls” and not 13; I forgot to mention that after the pre-game interview, I gave away one of the balls to a man in a wheelchair. Normally I only give balls to kids, but this guy was wearing a glove, and he had a leg missing. I couldn’t NOT give him a ball.
For the rest of the game, I kept running back and forth for potential home run balls. Jona sat next to the batter’s eye and held my backpack:
Mark Reynolds was the only guy who went deep. I should’ve gotten the ball but I was playing him too far toward left-center and he hit it to straight-away left. The ball didn’t reach the walkway. It landed in the second row, so it would’ve been tough, but I still feel like I should’ve had it. And that was the only action for me during the game.
Greinke was very hittable. He struck out nine guys in 6 2/3 innings, but he allowed six runs–four earned–on eight hits and two walks. Not great, but his ERA is still dazzling at 1.96.
Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5.
I raced to the D’backs dugout with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and:
1) Got coach Jeff Motuzas to toss me my 14th ball of the day
2) Found a crumpled up dollar on the ground as I headed up the steps.
An hour after the game ended, I was in a Denny’s restaurant near the stadium with Jona, and who walked in? Clay Zavada.
The end. Gotta run back to Kauffman for my third and final game. I’ll get those interviews up on my site at some point soon so everyone can see them. (I’d put them on YouTube, but MLB would take them down for copyright infringement. Duh. I need to have a word with Mister Selig about that…)
• 14 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 30 games this season = 8.23 balls per game.
• 599 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 165 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 106 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 46 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,067 total balls
• 110 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.16 pledged per ball
• $338.24 raised at this game
• $5,967.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
A couple weeks ago, when I decided to snag my 4,000th ball at Dodger Stadium, I called the Dodgers and suggested that they do a story about it. I told them I was gonna be there on May 18th and that they needed some good press in the wake of Manny being Juiced. The Dodgers didn’t give me an answer right away, of course, but ultimately they decided to go for it.
The day got off to a shaky start when my taxi driver not only revealed he didn’t know where Dodger Stadium was (he was foreign and had only been driving for two weeks), but he unhooked his GPS device from the dashboard and handed it to me. And then there was traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. I was due at the stadium by 4:15pm for an interview before the gates were going to open, and for a while it looked like I was going to be late. Thankfully, though, the snagging gods smiled down upon me and got me there with a few minutes to spare.
I met up with a P.R. guy named Jon and a cameraman named Paul. They conducted the interview right outside the entrance to the Dodgers offices:
This is what it looked like from my point of view:
Why the camera? Because the Dodgers decided to do a segment about me for a kids show on their web site.
Jon asked a ton of questions–everything from “How did you get started doing this?” to “Have you ever missed an important event because of going after baseballs?” to “What advice would you give to kids who want to start a collection of balls?” He even gave me a chance to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity this season. (Hopefully that part will make the cut.)
We wrapped up the interview at around 4:45pm, then headed inside for a minute…
…and finally made our way down toward the left field pavilion:
(Dodger Stadium sits on top of a hill and is surrounded by parking lots and ramps and roads and tollbooths and staircases. It is BY FAR the most colossal and confusing and difficult stadium in baseball. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, all these pics of me were taken by my mom. She and my dad went early with me.)
The following four photos were taken outside the pavilion. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) hanging out with an up-and-coming L.A. ballhawk named Evan (whom you might remember from 8/25/08 at Shea Stadium and 8/26/08 at Yankee Stadium), b) posing with a Manny fan named Jose who asked if he could get a pic with me, c) reconnecting with a legendary ballhawk named John Witt who can be seen giving me a commemorative ball from the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and d) waiting to enter:
(For the record, I will NOT count the ball that John gave me in my collection, but it’s still nice to have.)
The stadium finally opened at 5:10pm and the camera followed me inside:
I started the day with a lifetime total of 3,998 balls, so I *had* to snag at least two more. Normally that wouldn’t have been much of a challenge–I’ve been averaging eight balls per game this season–but in this case, I felt a whole lot of pressure. Here’s why:
1) I was going to be trapped all day in the left field pavilion, so once BP ended, that was pretty much it. No pre-game warm-up balls. No foul balls. No third-out balls. No post-game balls.
2) Paul (the cameraman) was going to have to leave at 6pm to do another interview.
3) Jon (the P.R. guy) didn’t want me to be decked out in Mets gear when I snagged ball No. 4,000. This meant I needed to snag two balls during the first half-hour when the Dodgers would be on the field.
4) I was hoping that ball No. 4,000 (and even No. 3,999) would be a home run and NOT a thrown ball.
5) There was no chance to use my glove trick.
6) TWELVE additional family members were going to be showing up later, including three kids (ranging in age from 7 to 11) who had each asked me to catch a ball for them.
You know how many home runs reached the seats during the Dodgers’ portion of batting practice? ONE!!! And it wasn’t hit anywhere near me. I had no choice but to ask the players for balls–but even THAT didn’t work. The highlight of my begging occurred when I asked Hiroki Kuroda for a ball in Japanese and he responded by smiling at me.
The Mets took the field, and I had *zero* baseballs. What the hell was I supposed to do? I only had 20 minutes of camera-time remaining, so I asked Jon if I could put on my Mets gear.
“Do whatever you would normally do,” he said.
So I did:
In the photo above, you can see a second camera (a palm-corder) pointed at me. It was being operated by a freelance videographer named Angela who was there to get footage for the FLYP segment that I was originally filmed for on 5/12/09 at Citi Field. Now I really *really* had to snag two baseballs. I couldn’t wait around for home runs. I had to use the Mets gear to my advantage, so I headed down toward the front row and camped out on a staircase in left-center field:
The player closest to me was the ultra-quiet John Maine. I wasn’t expecting much, but I gave a shout anyway when a ball was hit near him, and to my surprise he threw it to me! Then I took a look at the ball and I was even more surprised. In fact, I was downright elated, thrilled, and ecstatic. Check it out:
Unbelievable. I attended Game 4 of the 2008 World Series and busted my butt all night to try and get a third-out ball, and I came up empty…and I was seriously bummed…so to end up snagging this ball totally unexpectedly seven months later was more than a dream come true, if that’s even possible.
The cameras were all over it…
…and then came the moment of truth. I was sitting on 3,999 so the next ball was going to be THE ball. David Wright stepped into the cage, and I had visions of a home run ball sailing into my glove, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t want to ask for my next ball. I wanted to wait until I caught a home run. Anyone’s home run. Even Ramon Castro. But there weren’t many balls leaving the yard. Six o’clock was approaching. Jon and Paul were each on their cell phones, asking Whoever for a few more minutes. I *had* to snag another ball, and I had to snag it FAST, so I called out to Livan Hernandez, who fielded a ball in center field. Livan scooped it up, looked over at me, and let it fly from more than 100 feet away. I was halfway down the stairs. The ball was falling a bit short. I leaned way out over the side railing of the staircase and reached out and made the back-handed catch. That was it!!!
Then I thought, “That was IT?!”
It didn’t happen the way I envisioned it. Not even close. Not only had I let down the camera crew by wearing my Mets gear, but the ball hadn’t been hit, and most of my family wasn’t even there yet to witness it…BUT…at least I got it. I’d reached my milestone, and that’s what mattered most.
I showed the ball to both cameras:
Did you notice in the photo above that the ball doesn’t have a standard MLB logo?
Oh yes, that’s right, it was a commemorative ball from the final season of Shea Stadium. Check it out:
The next thing I did was take a photo from my spot on the staircase. I wanted to show the area between the outfield wall and the seats. There was quite a lot of space down there…
…and I used it to catch my next ball. I’m not sure who hit it, but basically, it was a home run that barely cleared the left field wall. While the ball was in mid-air, I scurried down the steps and kept my eye on it and made a one-handed catch high over my head when I got to the bottom. Both cameras captured the whole thing, and then Paul and Jon had to take off.
The ball had a weird marking on it:
Have you ever seen anything like this? It’s like there’d been a round sticker on the ball that had been pulled off and left a papery residue.
Toward the end of BP, I got Brian Stokes to toss up a ball, but instead of facing me and throwing it like a normal human being, he nonchalantly flung it in a sidearm/submarine motion. As a result, the ball sailed high and wide and hit a fat woman, who was eating nachos just above me in the front row. The ball wasn’t thrown that hard, and it only hit her in the arm. She was stunned more than hurt. She truly didn’t even know what had hit her, and obviously she wasn’t there to snag, so I didn’t feel guilty about reaching under her bench and grabbing the ball. Anyway, I was going to be giving that ball away to a kid in my own family, so whatever, I had to go for it. Angela was still there, and she got the whole thing on film.
After BP, I caught up with a guy named Chris (aka “cjpyankee” in the comments section on this blog). He and I had met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium, but this time he was more prepared. He had me sign his copy of my first book, and he also had me sign a photo of the two of us from that game in the Bronx. I signed his book: “To Chris, the fan who was closest to me when I snagged ball No. 4,000…” or something like that. He was indeed a mere five feet away when I caught that low throw from Livan. Here I am with Chris:
That was Chris’s idea to do the 4-0-0-0 in the photo above. Very cool.
This was my view when the game started:
No disrespect to Juan Pierre, but I was really bummed not to be seeing Manny out there in left field all night.
Angela was still there, and she kept her camera on me, just in case…
…but aside from a few between-inning-warm-up balls that got tossed near me, there wasn’t any action.
During one inning break, I got a photo with Evan (pictured below on the left) and John (on the right):
The reason I was wearing this yellow Homer Simpson shirt was just so my people back home in NYC could have an easier time trying to spot me on TV.
As for my family, they’d been trickling into the bleachers at various times. By the end of the second inning, everyone was there. I really wanted to get a group photo, but it was impossible. We had five seats in the front row and ten seats in the fourth row, so we couldn’t even sit together. That said, this is the best I could do:
I claimed the aisle seat in the front row. This was the view to my right:
Perfect for running down the steps and catching a home run, but as I mentioned, nothing came anywhere near me.
As for the issue of there being three kids who each wanted a ball, let me just say (without going into the details) that my friend John snagged a ball during BP, and that his ball ended up in my possession, so between that one and the final two standard balls I had snagged from the Mets, I was able to take care of all the kids.
Here’s Armand and Hannah with their baseballs:
(I taught them how to hold the balls so that the logos face the camera.)
The game itself was devastatingly entertaining, and it all came down to the 11th inning. First, in the top of the frame, Ryan Church scored the apparent go-ahead run on an apparent two-out triple by Angel Pagan…BUT…Church neglected to touch 3rd base on his way to the plate and the run was taken off the scoreboard. Then, in the bottom of the inning, after the Mets’ fourth error of the night placed runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Brian Stokes intentionally walked Pierre to load the bases. (Half my family was gone by this point. The little ones had to get to sleep. They were worn out from a full day at the Universal Studios theme park. Even I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done anything all day except read the box scores and eat at In-and-Out burger.) Mets manager Jerry Manual waved in center fielder Carlos Beltran and brought him into the infield. Look at the following photo. I challenge you to find more than two outfielders:
Here’s a closer look at the infield. (My camera is good, but not THAT good, so it’s a little blurry. Sorry about that.) You can see Beltran (wearing No. 15) standing near second base:
Here are all three right-infielders in ready position:
I *love* baseball. That’s really all I can say. I mean…seriously, what a great game. This particular game, however, wasn’t great for the Mets. After Rafael Furcal flied out weakly to Pagan, Orlando Hudson hit a one-hopper to Jeremy Reed at first base. (Reed is playing for the injured Carlos Delgado). Reed threw home for what should’ve been an easy force-out. His throw beat the runner by about 30 feet, and in fact there might’ve even been time to turn a rare 3-2-3 double play. Or maybe a 3-2-4 double play? I don’t know, Hudson has some speed, but we’ll never know what would’ve happened–if the game would’ve gone into the 12th inning–because Reed’s throw was 10 feet up the 3rd base line. (Mets error No. 5.) The catcher had no chance to knock it down, let alone catch it, and Mark Loretta scampered home with the winning run. It was an ugly and exhilarating end to a day I’ll never forget.
I wanted to linger in the pavilion and bask in my post-game euphoria and take a bunch of photos, but a swat team of security guards descended upon my family and made us get the hell out. The seven us who remained did manage to get this photo together…
…and yes, that ball I’m holding is No. 4,000.
Six years ago, when I snagged my 2,000th ball, I decided to start marking the balls with teeny numbers so I’d always be able to remember which ball was which. At the time, some people said it was silly, even pointless, to start marking balls after I’d already snagged so many, and I remember telling them, “It might seem silly now, but some day, when I have 4,000 balls, I’ll be able to say that the first half of my collection is not marked and the second half is. It won’t sound quite so silly then.”
Well, I’ve reached the 4,000 ball plateau, and it feels great on a number of levels. I have no intention of slowing down, and I’m already pretty sure I’m going to snag No. 5,000 at Citi Field. I need to bring the next milestone back to New York City. But for now, my next goal is to pass Pete Rose on the all-time hits list.
That’s my next goal. I might even be able to get there this year.
Thank you all for being with me on this journey…
• 4 balls at this game
• 182 balls in 23 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 592 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 159 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,002 total balls
• 106 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $23.95 pledged per ball
• $95.80 raised at this game
• $4,358.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Pat picked me up at my hotel at 2pm, took me out to lunch, and interviewed me extensively about my baseball collection. We had talked for an hour before I’d left for Denver, and by the end of the meal, he had more than 5,000 words of notes and quotes on his laptop.
We headed over to Gate E at 4:45pm. Pat had a press pass that gets him into just about any game in any sport in any stadium–but he didn’t have a ticket for this game at Coors, so he had to trek halfway around the stadium to the media entrance and then
rush back. He barely made it in time, and it’s a good thing because I snagged three home run balls within the first minute or two of batting practice. The first landed in the front row aisle all the way out in left-center field and rolled to an usher who was kind enough to step aside and let me grab it. The second (pictured here on the left) landed several rows deep in the bleachers near the foul line, and since the stands were still mostly empty, I had time to race up the steps from the aisle and cut through the section of metal benches. The third landed 15 rows deep and conveniently bounced right back to me.
As soon as I stopped running all over the place for balls, the Associated Press photographer showed up, but before long, he got a cool action shot of me lunging for (and catching) a ball tossed by Indians pitcher Scott Elarton. Over the next 20 minutes or so, I got two more balls thrown to me (one of which I gave to a kid with a glove) by David Dellucci and Edward Mujica, and that was IT for batting practice. It was incredibly frustrating. I came within five feet of at least half a dozen balls, both home runs and ground-rule doubles. I don’t know what was going on. I just seemed to be consistently out of position or a step too slow. Was it just bad luck? Was I losing my edge? I really can’t explain it. Then, on several occasions, when I left my spot briefly to try to get a ball thrown to me somewhere else, the batter ended up hitting a home run RIGHT to where I’d been standing. It was just one of those days, and the worst moment of all occurred late in BP. First check out the following photo (taken by my friend Robert Harmon…the guy from my Bonds 762 article), and then I’ll explain what happened:
Let me start by identifying everyone:
1) the AP photographer
2) an usher (note the tunnel that he’s standing in)
3) a guy named Dan who reads this blog and brought his copy of my book for me to sign
4) Zachary Ben Hample
5) Pat Graham
6) pure evil
There was a home run ball hit right at us that barely sailed over our heads. We jumped for it, or at least *I* jumped for it. I don’t even know if he’s athletic enough to get both feet off the ground at the same time, but anyway, after we missed the ball, there was a brief lull when we were both trying to figure out where it went. Suddenly we realized that it had landed in the tunnel directly behind us, and we started running. I didn’t take a pic of this tunnel, so you’ll have to settle for this cheap drawing. Basically, where the tunnel goes underneath the stands, the left half is blocked by a concrete wall, and the right half has an open door. The ball had rolled through the door, and I was running straight for the opening, about to zoom past this guy Doug when he realized he was about to get beat so he elbowed me from the right side and shoved me into the wall on the left as he kept running…and he ended up getting the ball. I couldn’t retaliate with a shove of my own because my every move was being witnessed and captured by the Associated Press (and anyway, using physical force against other fans is not my style), so I had to settle for giving him a piece of my mind. I pretty much told him that what he did was uncalled for and that that kind of behavior belongs at Yankee Stadium.
His response: “Oh grow up!!”
But enough of that. I have better things to talk about, like the fact that Pat was so nice that it was almost unbelievable. I got the sense that he would’ve been interested in me even if he weren’t writing about it for his job. I’m not saying he still would’ve hung out and taken notes for eight and a half hours, but he was just a GOOD guy. Some people in the media have gone out of their way to make me look bad and poke fun at what I do, but I knew that wasn’t the case with Pat. And then there were the little things he did for me…like, for
example…when he ran up to the press box after BP to drop something off, he returned with a cup of peanut M&M’s.
Before the game started, I snuck down to the Indians’ dugout and heard an usher tell another fan (who wasn’t as skilled in the art of sneaking) that the players don’t give out balls. Thirty seconds later, after the fan had walked back up the steps, Casey Blake tossed me my seventh ball of the day.
Generally speaking, a seven-ball day is great in the Bronx and lousy in Philadelphia. Overall, it’s about average for me–not enough to celebrate, but not bad enough that I can complain. That said, I was sooooooo frustrated to have snagged just seven balls by that point. If things had been a little better during BP, I could’ve easily had a dozen. I explained all of this to Pat during the game, and he never stopped taking notes. At one point, he pulled out a voice recorder and had me give a 90-second monologue about what I do and how I got into it. While I was halfway through, an Indians batter lost the grip on his bat and sent it flying in our direction. (It fell about 30 feet short.) I didn’t miss a beat and kept talking, but I must’ve been distracted because when I mentioned my ball total, I accidentally said “3473” instead of “3463.” Pat told me not to worry about it. The way he saw it…I would have that many balls by the time the piece ran. He told me that the audio clip would soon be on the AP web site along with a slide show from BP. (The photographer had to leave before BP ended, but he’ll be back again today with Pat. It was so much fun just to BE photographed. He was crouching in the aisle during BP, telling me to pose this way and that, getting pics of my glove…and of course all the fans were staring at me and probably wondering, “Who the hell is THAT guy?”)
I never went to my assigned seat during the game. Instead I worked the dugouts and tried to get a third-out ball tossed up. Once again, things just weren’t going my way, and in case you want to hear me complain a bit more, let me just say that Brad Hawpe hit a home run EXACTLY to the spot where my seat had been the night before.
Despite the fact that the attendance was only 28,146, the lower level was nearly full. There weren’t many aisle seats behind the dugout, so I ended up having to sit in Row 34. That’s not exactly the best place to be if you want a third-out ball, but I got lucky as the sixth inning came to a close. Hawpe hit a towering pop up to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, so I had time to bolt down the steps while the ball was in mid-air. I ended up getting it tossed to me, and when I turned around, there was a little kid (with a glove!) standing right behind me. It just so happened that I already had another ball in my pocket because I’d been planning to give it away, so I asked the kid if he’d snagged a ball yet, and when he said “no,” I pulled out the practice ball and handed it over. He thanked me and raced up the steps to show his family. The usher patted me on the back and several fans gave me high-fives, and meanwhile I got to keep the game-used ball so it was a win-win situation. By the way, this was the furthest back I’d ever been sitting before a successful attempt for a third-out ball. I challenge you–I dare you–to sit in the 30th row (in the ballpark of your choice) and try to snag one.
More frustration? Late in the game, I tried to move to a great spot for foul balls behind home plate and was stopped by an usher. Less than an inning later, a batter hit a high foul pop-up that landed on the staircase ***RIGHT*** where I wanted to sit (there were even a couple empty seats there), and no one even bothered to stand up and try to catch it. AARRGHH!!! Pat could’ve used his press pass to get me into any section in the stadium, but he wanted to see how I maneuvered on my own.
I tried going for an umpire ball after the game and ran into some bad luck there as well. Tim Tschida, it turned out, only had two extra balls and gave them both to kids in the first few rows. He actually stopped and told me he only had two…and get this…he apologized and then thanked me for asking.
Yeah, great, you’re welcome. Anytime.
Final score: Rockies 10, Indians 2.
? 8 balls at this game
? 187 balls in 24 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 520 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 123 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 882 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,464 total balls