Tagged: john witt

5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium

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:

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This is what it looked like from my point of view:

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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…

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…and finally made our way down toward the left field pavilion:

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(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:

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(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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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…

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…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:

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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:

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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…

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…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:

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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:

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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:

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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…

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…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):

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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:

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I claimed the aisle seat in the front row. This was the view to my right:

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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:

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(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:

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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:

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Here are all three right-infielders in ready position:

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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…

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…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.

4,257.

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…

SNAGGING STATS:

• 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

CHARITY STATS:

• 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