The last day of the regular season always starts slowly, and this was no exception. When I ran inside the stadium, this was my first look at the field:
No batting practice.
But that was to be expected.
Five minutes later, there was at least a sign of life…
…and 15 minutes after that, several Tigers began playing catch in left field:
In the photo above, there’s an arrow pointing to Robbie Weinhardt because he ended up throwing me his ball when he finished.
Then I got his autograph. Here he is signing for another fan…
…and here he is posing for a photo:
It was THAT kind of a day — very slow and laid-back.
Lots of Tigers signed autographs. I got six on my ticket:
Since their handwriting is even worse than their won-lost record, I’ll tell you their names: Alfredo Figaro, Brad Thomas, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Max St. Pierre, and of course Mister Weinhardt.
Not only did I collect a bunch of autographs, but I also signed one for a young fan named Xavier. Here he is holding it up for the camera:
The Orioles eventually came out and played catch:
I didn’t snag any baseballs from them, but I did get a couple of autographs. Here’s a photo of Matt Albers signing:
I got him on the back of my ticket, along with Mike Gonzalez’s signature:
Just before the singing of the national anthem, I got my second ball of the day (and 299th of the season) from Tigers infielder Scott Sizemore.
Here’s the ball:
As I mentioned in my last entry, the Tigers mark their balls on the sweet spot.
My friends Roger and Bassey and my girlfriend Jona showed up at game time. Here they are, chillin’ on the first base side:
(That’s Roger on the left and Bassey on the right.)
I really wanted to snag my 300th ball of the season, but rather than go for a 3rd-out ball (which would’ve been fairly easy), I stayed in the outfield and tried to catch a home run instead.
Given the fact that this was the final game of the season, and given the fact that the players were likely going to give away some of their equipment after the final out, I made my way to the Tigers’ dugout at the start of the 9th inning.
This was my view:
As soon as the Tigers put the finishing touches on their 4-2 victory, I moved down into the front row:
Here’s what happened next:
It was only the fifth bat I’d ever gotten, and it belonged to Austin Jackson! Are you aware of how awesome Jackson is? This was his first season in the Major Leagues, and he finished with a .293 batting average, 181 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, 27 stolen bases, and 103 runs scored. Okay, so he struck out 170 times. Whatever. Austin Jackson is The Man — and the potential rookie of the year. The way I got his bat was simple and unexpected. As the players were filing into the dugout, some guys flung their caps into the crowd, and a few others tossed their batting gloves. During all the chaos, I happened to see a bat get lifted up from below the dugout roof, and I lunged for it. That was it. I grabbed it a split-second before anyone else realized what was going on. As for those batting gloves, I got one of those, too:
This one belonged to Will Rhymes — not exactly a household name, but give the guy some credit. This was his rookie season, and he batted .304 in 54 games.
After all the Tigers were gone, there was still some action on the Orioles’ side, so I hurried over to their dugout:
It was painfully crowded. I couldn’t get any closer than the 3rd row.
In the photo above, those are fans standing on the field. They were picked through some sort of random drawing to receive “game-worn” jerseys from the players. Why is “game-worn” in quotes? Let’s just say that the jerseys were definitely NOT worn during the game that had just been played on the field. Right after the final out, the players disappeared into the clubhouse, where they obviously changed into alternate uniforms before returning 10 minutes later. How do I know this? Because…during the game, several Orioles dove for balls and slid into bases. Their uniforms were D-I-R-T-Y when the game ended and perfectly clean when they returned for the give-away. (Maybe, after changing, the players spent a few minutes in the clubhouse playing backgammon, in which case their clean uniforms would have actually been “game-worn.”) I’m just bitter because I’ve never gotten a jersey. That’s probably what I’ll ask for when I finally catch an important home run that a player wants back. But anyway…
Here’s a closer look at the bat:
Adam Jones started signing autographs along the foul line…
…so I ran over and got him on an extra ticket I had from the previous day:
I thought about getting him on the back of my October 3rd ticket — I liked the idea of getting all my autographs for the day on one ticket — but because he’s so good and has the potential to become a superstar, I had him sign a separate item.
Just as I was getting set to leave the stadium, the groundskeepers appeared in the right field corner and started playing catch:
I was still stuck at 299 balls for the season, and the playoffs were (and still are) a big question mark, so I thought, “This is my chance.”
(In the photo above, that’s me in the white shirt.)
I asked one of the groundskeepers if I could have a ball when he was finished throwing. He said, “Probably not because this is all we have to play with.”
Ahh. So they were going to play a game on the field. Lucky them…
Well, it just so happened that one of the groundskeepers airmailed his throwing partner. The ball landed in the seats. I ran over and grabbed it. And when the guy started flapping his glove at me, I tossed it back to him, figuring he’d give it to me when he was done. I mean, now he had a reason to give it to me. I had just done him a favor. He owed it to me, in fact. But guess what? He never gave it back. And it gets worse. After he jogged off, one of his buddies taunted me by pretending to throw one to me. Nice. Really nice. (I’m considering placing the Hample Jinx on the entire Orioles grounds crew, but I’m not sure how that would work. I can tell you, though, that I *will* find some way to get revenge.)
I had a long internal debate over whether or not to count that final ball. I mean, I *did* snag it. But then I gave it away. But I normally count balls that I give away. But I give those away voluntarily. GAH!!! Ultimately I decided not to count it. It just seemed cheap. And for what it’s worth, my friend Bassey said, “It’s more poetic to end the season with 299 balls than 300.” But then again, who knows? I might just end up making my way to a playoff game or two.
Here I am with Roger, Jona, and Bassey after the game on Eutaw Street:
If you look at the pavement in the photo above, you can see that it had just started to rain. Ha-haaa!!! It actually rained pretty hard after that. Take THAT, grounds crew!!! And get ready for more misery in 2011…
• 2 balls at this game (pictured on the right)
• 299 balls in 31 games this season = 9.65 balls per game.
• 660 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 203 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 4,657 total balls
• 48 donors (click here to learn more)
• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.06 raised at this game
• $2,251.47 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Hold on! This entry isn’t done. I want to show you a few more photos of the bat. First, here it is in its entirety:
Austin Jackson wears uniform No. 14, so check out the end and knob of the bat:
Here’s the trademark…
…and here are some marks/smudges on the barrel that were caused by balls:
For the final weekend of the regular season, I drove down to Baltimore with Jona and two other friends. Here we are outside the stadium:
In the photo above, the gentleman on the left is a teacher named Roger. He and I have known each other for more than a decade, and this wasn’t our first baseball road trip together. He was with me in 2003 when I snagged my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium. The guy in the yellow shirt is a writer named Bassey. I met him last year at my writing group. He played high school baseball in Milwaukee and now works for the New York Times.
Anyway, let’s get on with the action…
My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer hit by Adam Jones that landed in the empty seats in straight-away left field. Nothing fancy about it. My second ball, however, was a bit more exciting. Someone on the Orioles (not sure who) launched a homer 30 feet to my right. I bolted through my row and made a leaping back-handed catch at the last second. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jona had reached the left field seats by that point, and she took a beautiful action shot of the ball flying toward my open glove. The ball is hard to see because it’s overlapping the white uniform pants of some players in the background, so I drew a red circle around it. Check it out:
Do you see the fan positioned two rows behind me? His name is Ben. He’s a new-but-very-talented ballhawk who recently snagged A-Rod’s 607th career home run. Do you see the fan running over from the next section? His name is Tim, and he, too, is fairly new and highly skilled as a ballhawk.
Ready for a funny photo of all three of us? Look at our ridiculous facial expressions as another home run ball sailed over our heads:
I forget who ended up snagging that ball, but I can tell you that it wasn’t me.
Tim and Ben write a blog together called Baltimore’s Finest, and of course they both have profiles on mygameballs.com. Here’s Tim’s profile, and here’s Ben’s. (And hey, here’s mine. Awesome website. Totally free. Go there immediately and create a profile if you haven’t done so already.)
As for Roger and Bassey…
…they weren’t interested in snagging baseballs. They just stayed in one spot and watched the action unfold all around them.
My third ball of the day was a Nolan Reimold homer that landed in the seats and rolled down to the front row. My fourth ball was a ground-rule double, and I have no idea who hit it. I’ve had a tough time this season with ground-rule doubles in Baltimore. The warning track is made of rubber, and the outfield wall is low, so lots of balls have bounced over me. On this one, however, I played it perfectly. Once I determined that the ball was going to land on the track, I backed up a few rows and ended up in the perfect spot to reach up for the easy catch.
When the Tigers took the field, I got Phil Coke to throw me a ball as he walked toward the bullpen. Here I am (wearing dark Tigers gear) about to catch it:
My sixth ball was another homer. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a back-handed catch in traffic:
That one felt pretty good — and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. Here’s a photo of that ball on its way down:
As soon as I caught the ball, I noticed that there was a young boy standing right in front of me. Even though I hadn’t robbed him, I decided to hook him up with the ball, and yes, Jona got a photo of that, too:
Halfway through the Tigers’ portion of BP, Eddie Bonine tossed me a ball in straight-away left field, and then I caught another homer on the fly in left-center. This was probably my best play of the day. There were people all around, so I climbed up on a seat while the ball was in mid-air and reached far to my left over everyone. In the following photo, the diagonal arrow in the upper right is pointing to the ball, and the vertical arrow down below is pointing at me:
Every time I snagged a ball, I tossed it to Jona so she could put it in my backpack. Here I am preparing to toss her another:
Remember when I saw the Tigers at Target Field earlier this season on May 4th and May 5th? The Tigers were using balls during BP that had been marked like this with a thick black magic marker. Well, the Tigers were still using marked balls this past weekend in Baltimore. Some were marked on both the logo and sweet spot, while others were marked only on the sweet spot…like this:
(That’s Jona’s hand, by the way. Don’t get the wrong idea.)
Later in the day, I noticed that one of my baseballs had a faint black streak on it:
It occurred to me that the streak was probably the residue (or imprint) from one of those black marks on another ball. Cool, huh? It probably happened while the balls were being pressed together in the BP bucket or an equipment bag. I love stuff like that.
Every batter in the final group of BP was left-handed, so I headed over to the standing-room-only section (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field:
The sun out there was brutal. Even though I was wearing a cap, I had to use my right hand to shade my eyes:
Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a photo that Jona took while standing right behind me:
Not only was it tough to see, but every time a ball sailed into the Flag Court, there was an all-out stampede for it:
At one point, I completely whiffed on a line-drive homer that pretty much came right to me because I simply couldn’t see the ball. I found myself backing away from it and stabbing awkwardly at a random spot in the air where I thought it was going to end up. I suppose it was worth missing out on it to avoid getting hit in the face, but I still felt like a failure.
Here’s another action shot of a home-run-induced stampede:
This ball ended up sailing completely over the Flag Court and clanging off the grill in Boog’s Barbecue.
I did manage to snag one ball in right field, and I owe it all to Jona and Bassey. The ball bounced into the cross-aisle just next to the Flag Court and came to rest at Jona’s feet. I was about 20 feet away at that point, and because there were other fans nearby, I figured Jona or Bassey would grab the ball. But instead Jona yelled, “Don’t touch it!!” and Bassey used his body to form a mini-barricade (or, as he desribed it, a “containment zone”) around it so that no one else could grab it. I was able to race over and scoop up the ball, and because it hadn’t entered the possession of any other fan, I was able to count it. If Jona or Bassey (or Roger, who was also standing nearby) had picked it up and handed it to me, that would have nullified it. So…big thanks to my friends for bailing me out and helping me reach double digits — that was my 10th ball of the day — when luck/skill seemed to turn against me.
Here are the four of us being silly after BP…
…and here’s a HUGE moth-like creature that was chillin’ nearby on a brick wall:
If that thing had flown into my face, I’m quite certain that Roger, Bassey, and Jona would now be deaf because I would have shrieked THAT loud. We all have our weaknesses, and bugs are one of mine. Nature is pretty and all, but I don’t like to get too close to it, if you know what I mean. I live a quarter of a mile from Central Park. That’s good enough.
Shortly before game time, I got Will Rhymes to sign my ticket…
…and then I snagged two more baseballs within a 10-second span. The first was thrown by Brandon Inge. Here’s a photo of him just before he let it fly:
In the photo above, do you see the guy on the field wearing the navy blue athletic gear? Well, I assumed that he was the Tigers’ strength/conditioning coach, so I pulled out my cheat sheet…
…and felt pretty certain that his name was Chris. When all the players headed back to the dugout, there was one ball that was still sitting on the grass near the foul line. This guy happened to pick it up, so I shouted, “CHRIS!!!” as loud as I could, and what do you know? He turned and flung it to me as he jogged off the field.
That was my 12th — and unfortunately last — ball of the day. During the game, I had two really close calls on foul balls behind the plate, and I missed Nick Markakis’s fourth-inning homer by two feet. It was so depressing. I was standing at the back of the Flag Court. The ball was hit exactly in my direction, meaning I was perfectly lined up with it from the moment that it left the bat. I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to reach the back of the section, so I darted forward, hoping to make the catch just behind the wall at the front. Well, the ball landed ON TOP of the wall (where there’s a three-foot-wide metal platform) and skipped back over my head and rolled to the EXACT SPOT where I’d been standing in the first place. I still would’ve had the ball if some bozo eating a pulled pork sandwich hadn’t been standing there. It was terrible. Meanwhile, it seemed as if everyone else I knew was snagging game-used baseballs. Tim somehow got his hands on the only other homer of the night, a blast to straight-away left by Brandon Inge, and Bassey managed to grab a foul ball despite sitting in the middle of a row on the first base side.
Here’s Bassey with his ball — the first one he’d ever snagged in his life, including batting practice:
Great for Bassey. Great for Tim. But it just added to my frustration. I busted my butt and ran all over the stadium for two hours and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s right. Two hours. That’s how long the game lasted. The Orioles won, 2-1, behind a strong six-inning performance from Brian Matusz. Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara each worked a quick scoreless inning in relief. For the Tigers, Armando Galarraga went the distance and notched a rare complete-game loss. He threw just 91 pitches in eight innings. That’s how to play a game in two hours. (Yankees and Red Sox, are you listening?)
After the final out, I met up with a friend from Baltimore named Adam. You might recognize him from previous blog entries. Here we all are:
The five of us went out to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and then Jona and Roger and Bassey and I went back to our hotel. We were gonna have to be up early-ish the next day for the final game of the regular season.
• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 297 balls in 30 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 659 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 185 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 202 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 132 lifetimes games with at least ten balls
• 4,655 total balls
• 48 donors (click here to learn more)
• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $90.36 raised at this game
• $2,236.41 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Hey, wait, here’s one more photo. I was playing around with Photoshop and…well, here, just have a look:
I wasn’t too happy about paying $23 apiece for the cheapest seats in the stadium…
…but money was the last thing on my mind when I ran inside at 4:40pm. Here I am with left field all to myself during the first minute of batting practice:
By the way, the reason why I bought two tickets is that Jona was with me — and for the record, she took every photo in this entry with her iPhone 4. She’s very proud of her phone. She’ll be happy when she reads this entry and sees that I mentioned it. But anyway, my first ball of the day was a rather unusual snag. While standing in straight away left field, I saw a left-handed batter slice a soft line drive into the seats in foul territory. There was another fan at the back of the section where the ball landed, but he didn’t see it until a security guard waved him down toward the front. Guess what happened? He couldn’t find it, so after 10 or 20 seconds, I decided to run over there and have a look for myself. I found the ball right away, sitting in the middle of the 3rd row behind the rolled up tarp.
My second ball was thrown by a ballboy named “Jimmy” deeper down the left field foul line. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air sailing toward me:
All the batters in the first two groups were left-handed, so I ran over to the right field side. As soon as I got there, Mike Pelfrey tossed me a ball that fell short and bounced back onto the field. One of the Mets’ Japanese/translator-guys (who was shagging balls in the outfield) retrieved it and chucked it to me. That was my third ball of the day. Soon after, Jona made her way out to right field and took the following photo that shows me roaming through the seats above The Mo’s Zone:
As you can see, the stadium was almost completely empty, and I ended up taking full advantage.
When several righties started hitting, I ran across the Shea Bridge…
…and rushed back to the left field seats. Jona wasn’t far behind, but things tend to happen quickly, and once again, she missed out. As soon as I reached the front row, Mets rookie pitcher Dillon Gee picked up two baseballs that were sitting on the warning track. He tossed the first one to a little kid, so I shouted, “How about a ball for a big kid?” That worked. He tossed the second one to me, and then moments later, I lunged over the railing and grabbed a David Wright ground-rule double that conveniently bounced right to me.
That’s when Jona arrived.
Jesus Feliciano then threw me a ball in straight-away left field, and 30 seconds later, I raced out to the seats in left-center and got Manny Acosta to throw me another. In case you’ve lost track, I now had seven balls, and things kept going from there. David Wright launched two home runs in my direction. I grabbed the first one after it landed in the seats (here I am chasing after it)…
…and caught the second one on the fly. Then Mike Hessman blasted a home run that landed a full section to my left — landed in my glove, that is, after I ran over and caught it on the fly.
It was 5:09pm. The stadium hadn’t even been open for half an hour, and I already had double digits. Unfortunately, the Mets cleared the field soon after, so it was going to take a solid performance during the Braves’ portion of BP in order for me to break my single-game Citi Field record of 15 balls.
When the Braves started throwing, I changed into my Braves gear and moved over to the left field foul line…
…but I didn’t get anything there.
Ball No. 11 was thrown by Billy Wagner in left-center. Ball No. 12 was a home run that I caught on the fly in straight-away left. (Don’t know who hit it.) Ball No. 13 was another homer, and I ranged three full sections for it. I was in left field when the batter connected (once again, I have no idea who), and I immediately took off running to my left:
Here’s a four-part photo that shows what happened next:
It’s pretty simple. In the first two photos above, I was running like a madman. (Note the ball in photo No. 2 streaking in front of the Home Run Apple.) In the third photo, I was racing up the steps, and in the fourth photo, you can see me holding the ball right after I snagged it.
My 14th ball was another home run. I have no idea who hit it, and I caught it on the fly.
The record-tying ball was thrown by Melky Cabrera in left-center. I was several rows back. His throw sailed a bit too high, so I jumped and made a back-handed grab. Here’s a photo of both me and the ball in mid-air:
Now, it might seem like I was catching everything in sight, but that wasn’t the case. There WAS some competition, and at one point, I got flat-out robbed on a home run. Check it out:
The ball was coming right toward me. I could sense that there was another guy standing on my right, so I tried to box him out of my row. Well, unfortunately for me, he snuck past me on the steps and moved into the row directly in front of me and jumped at the last second and caught the ball right in front of my glove. What can I say? I misplayed it, and he did everything right. I should have climbed up on a seat. Then he wouldn’t have been able to reach above me. But hey, it’s hard to think/move that fast, so I can only tip my cap and admit defeat. As it turned out, the other guy reads this blog regularly and leaves comments as “li7039.” I’ve crossed paths with him a couple times in the past, and for some reason, I always forget who he is. (I just suck with faces and names sometimes. Forgive me.)
What happened next? I’ll tell you what happened next. I caught two more homers on the fly. They were both hit by righties, and I still had no idea who was batting. The first one was routine. The second one required a basket catch. The following two-part photo shows how it played out:
In the photo on the left, I was drifting through the seats while another fan down in front was moving to his right. The photo on the right shows me making the catch while the other fan was leaping and lunging for the ball.
That gave me 17 balls, and I wasn’t done. Craig Kimbrel tossed me No. 18 with a nice, easy, under-handed toss, and then I caught another home run on the fly in left-center. This homer was hit by a lefty. I think it was Rick Ankiel, but I’m not sure. It’s very rare for anyone to go oppo at Citi Field, so I consider myself lucky.
That was it for BP.
I had 19 balls!
That tied my single-game record for New York City; on April 19, 2004, I somehow managed to snag 19 balls at Shea Stadium.
I decided to go for No. 20 behind the Braves’ dugout. Snagging a third-out ball seemed like the most reliable option, and I didn’t have to wait long for my chance. When Tommy Hanson struck out Carlos Beltran to end the first inning, I bolted down to the front row and got Brian McCann to toss me the ball as he jogged off the field.
It was the eighth time in my life that I’d reached the 20-ball plateau and, of course, it was the first time I’d ever done it in New York.
Let’s cut to the chase…
After the game (which the Braves won, 6-4), I got a ball from home plate umpire Bill Hohn as he walked off the field. It was my 21st and final ball of the day. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows the ball sailing toward me…
…and because there’s been some speculation, let me just say that the ball was NOT heading toward the kid on my left. I was the one who called out to the umpire. The umpire tossed the ball directly to me. What’s the problem? See the huge security guy in the purple-ish outfit? He was watching the whole thing. If I had indeed reached out in front of the kid, do you think the guard would’ve let me get away with it? Do you think the ump or any of the other fans would’ve been okay with it? No one said a word to me because it was a clean play. But the more important fact here is that I simply don’t reach in front of kids for baseballs. I used to reach in front of people when I was a kid myself, and I regret it. Now I give baseballs to kids. I also raise money for a children’s charity by snagging baseballs. But the “media” doesn’t like to report that. Nope. The media prefers to write negative crap because it’s more entertaining. And whenever there’s negative crap written, there’s never a quote from me. Have you noticed that? I never get a chance to explain my side of the story. That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?
Anyway, here I am with my 20th and 21st balls of the day…
…and here I am outside the stadium with my total haul:
If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that there are only 18 balls. That’s because I gave three of them away over the course of the night. The first one went to the nearest kid after I snagged the ball from McCann. (I kept the gamer and handed him a much cleaner practice ball instead.) After the game, I gave a ball to a kid at the dugout, and when I was walking out of the stadium, I gave away another to a boy who was so excited that his parents had to remind him to thank me. It was pretty sweet.
• 21 balls at this game
• 268 balls in 27 games this season = 9.93 balls per game.
• 656 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 495 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 356 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball
• 18 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls
• 130 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 8 lifetime games with at least 20 balls
• 4,626 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $136.29 raised at this game
• $1,739.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…
…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:
Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:
“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.
“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.
As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.
One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.
“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.
“Tatum,” he said.
Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.
At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:
As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:
Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:
The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:
Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:
Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.
Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…
…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:
(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)
In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.
When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:
The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:
Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:
Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.
A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.
“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.
I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.
“What is it?” I called back.
She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.
I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:
Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.
Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”
All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?
Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:
Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:
He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):
You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.
The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:
Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.
After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:
• 16 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,605 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $103.84 raised at this game
• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was my first game in more than a month, and let me tell you, it felt great to be back…
The story of the day was running. It seemed as if that’s all I did. Here’s a photo (that my girlfriend took) of me bolting toward a section in left-center for a home run that landed in the seats:
I grabbed that ball and caught a line-drive homer on the fly soon after. (I have no idea who hit either one.)
Things were off to a good start — but then it all fell apart.
The whole running thing? Not too successful. Despite the many rows of seats that I sprinted through and climbed over, I kept finding myself out of position. Here are two screen shots from a video that will illustrate my point. First I climbed over a row while the ball was in mid-air…
…and then I watched helplessly as it fell short:
And then the Orioles stopped hitting at 5:17pm — more than 15 minutes early. It was such a waste. All I could do was wander into foul territory and watch the Blue Jays get loose:
By that time, of course, I had changed into my Blue Jays gear, and it paid off. Lyle Overbay spotted me and threw a ball my way. Here I am behind the dugout, reaching out for the catch:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the ball in the pocket of my glove.
Once the Jays started hitting, I ran back out to left field and got some love from from Adam Lind. Here’s a photo that shows the ball sailing toward me:
Here I am running around some more and climbing over another row of seats:
Don’t forget, I had switched into Jays gear, so that’s me on the left with my back facing the camera. And in case you were wondering…no, I didn’t get that ball. I didn’t get this one either…
…but two minutes later, I did manage to catch a homer on the fly in the front row. Again, I have idea who hit it. I wish I did, but the batters were wearing shirts over their jerseys, so I couldn’t see their uniform numbers, and I didn’t recognize their stances from 375 feet away. Anyway, here I am reaching up for that ball…
…and if you look closely, you can see a little kid ducking out of the way on my left. I gave that ball to a different kid later on.
I had five baseballs at that point — a respectable total that could’ve been much higher if I’d been a little quicker and/or luckier. Here I am losing out in a scramble…
…and here I am losing out on a bobble:
In the photo above, you can’t see me, but trust me, I was there. Do you see the random glove in front of the left edge of the warehouse? That’s my glove.
Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays first base coach Omar Malave to throw me a ball in left-center, and I also snagged a ground-rule double in that same area. I think it was hit by DeWayne Wise, but I’m not sure.
Then I met a father-and-son duo named Gregg and Kyle. Gregg is the sports director for a TV station in Harrisburg, PA, and Kyle follows me on Twitter. (Here’s a link to my Twitter page. I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I’ve been tweeting just about every day.) They were both very nice, and I posed for a picture with Kyle before running off to the 3rd base dugout. Here were are together:
I won’t bore you with a photo of my dash to the dugout. Instead, I’ll skip to the good part:
In the photo above, do you see the player who’s about to throw a ball? That’s Shawn Marcum. He threw it to me. It was my eighth ball of the day.
Soon after BP ended, I got Marc Rzepczynski to sign my ticket. Here I am in the process of getting the autograph…
…and here’s the ticket itself:
Right before the game started, I got my ninth ball from John McDonald. He and Yunel Escobar had played catch in front of the dugout. Easy snag. No competition. Happy birthday to me. (Actually, it WAS my birthday.)
I spent the top of the first inning in left field. This was the view:
After that, I pretty much stayed in the standing room only section in right field. This was the view late in the game.
(It was Buck Showalter T-shirt Night.)
I also spent some time chasing (nonexistent) foul balls behind the plate. Here’s the view from that spot:
As for my girlfriend…
She picked a comfy spot and stayed put while I ran around and did my thing.
The game itself was whatever. I didn’t come within 100 feet of any of the three homers, and I never got closer than 50 feet to a foul ball. For the record, the Orioles pounded out 16 hits and won, 11-3.
Just after the final out, I got a ball from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. (GOSH, I love his name.) Then I got another ball from Jason Frasor near the 3rd base dugout when he walked in from the bullpen with his fellow relievers.
It didn’t feel like I had a great day — I wasted lots of opportunities during BP — but somehow still ended up with double digits.
• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 231 balls in 25 games this season = 9.24 balls per game.
• 654 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 200 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 128 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,589 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $71.39 raised at this game
• $1,499.19 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:
Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.
When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:
When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…
…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:
One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:
For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…
…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…
…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:
I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:
He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:
Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:
I reached the spot:
The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?
Here’s your answer:
Here I am just after landing with the ball…
…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):
Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:
As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:
The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:
And then I climbed over another:
That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)
Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.
I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.
I still kept running all over the place…
…and climbing over seats…
…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.
I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:
I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:
The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.
Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.
Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…
…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.
Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:
All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:
In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?
One word: HA!!
This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:
(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)
Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:
1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.
2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.
We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.
Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?
This is why:
The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.
When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:
(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)
The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.
It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.
(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)
I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:
It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.
(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)
• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 493 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls
• 4,560 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $45.43 raised at this game
• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was my last game in Puerto Rico, and my goal was simple: don’t get shut out. I’d snagged three balls the day before, but they were all kind of flukey, so basically, I just wanted to get on the board early and keep my streak alive.
The gates opened 15 minutes late because some workmen were using a gigantic cherry picker to change the bulbs on a light tower. (During this time, I kept hearing home run balls clanging off the metal bleacher benches.) As a result, I missed the Marlins’ portion of batting practice, and the Mets were already on the field when I ran in:
Two minutes later, a right-handed batter hit a line drive that rolled all the way to the wall. One of the team’s strength and conditioning coaches picked it up, and I convinced him to toss it to me. It was about as uneventful as it gets, but I felt a huge sense of relief. Check out the look on my face right after I got it:
In the photo above (which was taken by my girlfriend Jona), do you see the guy wearing sunglasses and a black Mets shirt? His name is Gustavo. He’s my newest friend. We’d met for the first time two days earlier, and you’ll see a better photo of him later in this entry.
When the bleachers started filling up, the security supervisor gave me (and only me) permission to go underneath the stands. Why? Because she loved me. Why? Because I’d given her a baseball the day before — and because she’d seen me give away several other balls to kids. Here I am standing in the gap behind the outfield wall:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a stadium employee walking underneath the bleachers. Like I said, I was the only fan that was allowed to go down there, and look, it paid off:
This ball landed in the middle of the bleachers and dropped down through one of the spaces between the steps. Here’s a photo that shows those spaces:
I was sure that I’d end up snagging a dozen balls down there, but there wasn’t any action. It was bizarre and extremely frustrating.
Toward the end of BP, an employee wandered over and asked me something in Spanish. I had no idea what he said, so I shrugged. This prompted him to pull a ball out of his back pocket and flip it to me. (He must have asked if I’d gotten a ball yet. Good thing I didn’t pay attention during my Spanish 101 course in college.) The ball had a beautiful smudge on it:
Have you ever seen a green smudge? I have no idea how that mark could have gotten there. Grass doesn’t stain like that. Could this ball have skipped off the artificial playing surface, or could it have been foul-tipped by a green bat?
Anyway, that was it for batting practice. Three balls. Not great. But better than zero.
Want to see what the bathrooms look like in the bleacher area?
Here you go:
In the photo above, you can see how gray the sky was, and sure enough, it ended up raining:
The rain didn’t last long.
Mike Pelfrey started warming up…
…and then it rained some more:
The rain delay lasted an hour and 20 minutes.
Eventually, I changed into a bright pink T-shirt and got Gustavo to take a photo of me and Jona:
The shirt is completely ridiculous. The only reason I wore it was was to make it easier for people to look for me on TV.
Then Jona took a pic of me and Gustavo:
The game itself was thoroughly entertaining, but unfortunately, there weren’t any home runs. Can you believe that? What a waste.
The lack of longballs didn’t stop these kids from having a great time:
But no, really, the game was fun. The Mets scored three times in the top of the first inning, and the Marlins answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame. The score was tied at 4-4 after five innings. Overall, the Marlins committed four errors. It was a sloppy game and a sloppy night. It rained a bit more. It was hot and muggy. The game (not including the delay) lasted nearly four hours, so it turned out to be a loooooong night. You can see the final score in the following photo:
Jona was exhausted and sweaty and hungry. She really wanted to get back to the hotel, but I still had a few more things that I needed to do. First, I took photos of the nicest people I met at the stadium. In the double-photo below, the pic on the left shows a man named Nelson, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Puerto Rico. He and I sat together at all three games, along with his 14-year-old daughter, who’s standing just behind him. The photo on the right shows the three guards/ushers who gave me special privileges and basically looked out for me throughout the series:
As I mentioned in my previous entry, all the ushers were wearing those special “San Juan Series” T-shirts. I really wanted one, but they weren’t for sale, so I had to get creative. Long story short: I learned that the ushers had to report to a certain area inside the stadium after the game and that they had to wear their shirts until they came back out. I also learned from Gustavo how to ask, “Can I buy your shirt?” in Spanish. (It’s “Te puedo comprar la camisa” if you really want to know.)
Jona was ready to collapse. At that point, we’d been at the stadium for nearly nine hours. That’s a long time for anyone, especially someone who doesn’t particularly care for baseball, but I couldn’t just jump in a cab. I had this whole plan worked out for getting a shirt, and I had to see it through. When I explained to Jona that we needed to walk around the outside of the stadium and wait another 15 minutes for the ushers to exit, she wasn’t exactly thrilled. She was a good sport about it, though, and we were able to laugh about it. Before we exited the bleachers, I asked her to act out how she was feeling, both mentally and physically. This is what she did:
(In the photo above, that’s Gustavo in the background. Earlier in the night, he caught one of the outfielders’ warm-up balls. I forget who tossed it — either Jason Bay or Chris Coghlan. It was the first ball that Gustavo had ever snagged at a major league game, and he offered it to me. I didn’t accept it, but thanked him profusely, and he later gave it to his 11-year-old nephew.)
Jona and I headed over to the employee exit and waited. It actually didn’t take that long before they started trickling out.
“Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”
“Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”
“Te puedo comprar la camisa?!”
I shouted the phrase at everyone. Some people ignored me. Some gave me funny looks. Some mumbled a few words in Spanish and kept walking. Some responded in English and told me they were going to keep their shirts. And then, finally, a young, female usher (who was wearing another shirt underneath) stopped and asked, “For how much?”
“Twenty bucks?” I asked, afraid that I’d get laughed at for making such a low offer.
“Are you serious?” she asked excitedly.
“Yeah, I want one of those shirts, but they’re not for sale.”
“Okay!” she said and started taking it off.
“Wait, what size is it?” I asked.
“Large,” she said.
She handed me the shirt. I handed her a $20 bill. She was happy. I was ecstatic…
…and then Jona and I got our cab.
• 3 balls at this game (2 pictured on the right because I gave one to Nelson’s daughter)
• 182 balls in 19 games this season = 9.6 balls per game.
• 648 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 198 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,540 total balls
• 38 donors (click here to learn more)
• $5.56 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.68 raised at this game
• $1,011.92 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball