There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.
Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:
That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.
Brandon is always ready, it seems.
Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:
Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.
I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.
Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:
The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:
By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.
Three minutes later?
The rain intensified and batting practice was done.
As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.
The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:
Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:
That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.
The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.
I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:
Brandon made me pose for it as we headed to our seats, and he insisted that I include it in this entry.
This was our view during the game:
I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.
Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:
You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:
I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.
I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…
…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:
Here I am going nuts…
…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:
I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.
Then I went back and grabbed my hat.
Awe and disbelief:
I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.
For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:
1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”
The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.
For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.
After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:
I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.
(I still can’t believe it.)
• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.
• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 486 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)
• 5 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, Camden, and New Yankee)
• 4,307 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $126.30 raised at this game
• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I don’t even know where to begin…
Yesterday I woke up way too early with way too little sleep and spent the entire morning and afternoon attempting to blog. It was impossible to write more than a couple sentences at a time because I was on the phone nonstop, mostly with people from the media asking me when I was free, and I was also trying to keep up with the steady flow of emails. Here’s a (partial) screen shot of my inbox from earlier this morning. Keep in mind that these are just the messages that I haven’t yet had a chance to answer…
I spent most of my time talking to a producer at CBS, who told me that “The Early Show” wanted me the next day at 7:30am. (Damn, that IS early.) I talked to other TV people, a few radio producers, and some newspaper reporters. I can’t even list them all.
I was supposed to meet a member of the Japanese media at Yankee Stadium between 4pm and 4:15, but I ended up running late and calling him and pushing things back to 4:30. I was trying to finish my blog while shaving and gathering my stuff for the game while getting calls from CBS and the YES Network (and a few other places) while updating my publicist while checking my email. I truly can’t convey how crazy it was.
I left my apartment at around 3:45pm and RAN seven blocks to the subway at 72nd and Broadway. Just before I was about to head underground, I remembered I had to return a call from a guy at Newsday…so I called him and got him on the phone, and he immediately started interviewing me. Then I got a call on the other line from a guy with the local NBC news. He wanted to meet me at the stadium, and we made a plan to do the interview at 4:45pm outside the bleacher entrance. (Batting practice was going to start at 5pm and I didn’t want to miss any of it.) I switched back to the Newsday guy and said I had to get
to Yankee Stadium ASAP and asked if we could talk after BP…but no, he was on a strict deadline, so it was now or never. I put my MetroCard away and ran over to Amsterdam to hail a cab. That was the only way to get to the stadium AND have cell phone reception at the same time. It took a few minutes to find a cab, and then I was off. We talked nearly the whole way up. Twenty-five dollars later, I was dropped off near the players’ entrance and RAN halfway around the stadium, where there was already a line of fans waiting to get into the bleachers. Luckily I knew a guy (from Shea) at the front, and he let me stand with him.
I had a couple minutes to spare, so I ate my chicken sandwich (with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and provolone). Dozens of people recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs, and lots of them asked to take pictures with me. One guy even asked me to autograph a mini-bat for his kid. I did all this with mouthfuls of food. (Charming.) Then the NBC crew showed up, and I handed my camera to the nearest fan and asked him to take a few pics while I was being interviewed. Here’s one of ’em:
Oh, I forgot to mention that the Japanese guy (whose name is Hideo) was late, and he showed up AS this other interview with NBC was getting underway. I thought this was going to be a problem, but it wasn’t. Hideo (who’s filming a documentary about the final days of Yankee Stadium for a public TV station called NHK) was glad to get some footage of me talking to the other TV crew…and when I wrapped it up with NBC, he came over and asked his own round of questions. I didn’t get anyone to take a pic of me during the NHK interview so as soon as it was done, I asked Hideo if he could hold up his video camera and point it at me (you know, to recreate the interview from my perspective)…which he did…while cracking up…and this is the pic I got:
The stadium opened at 5pm, and when I ran inside, I got a ball almost immediately. It was a home run by Hideki Matsui. (Yay, Japanese people!!) It landed in the empty benches behind me and took a nice ricochet back into my waiting glove. Thank God. I was relieved to get that first ball out of the way.
My cell phone rang. It was a photographer from Newsday who asked me where I was and then headed out to the RF bleachers. He found me easily because of the bright yellow “Homer” shirt I was wearing. Just as he was getting ready to start shooting, I got a call from a high-ranking official (who’s also a friend) at the National Scrabble Association who’d seen my Scrabble T-shirt all over the news and just wanted to say “hey” and “thanks.” (I was wearing the shirt when I caught the Johnny Damon homer. Here’s the footage again, in case you missed it the first 79,000 times.)
Back to the Newsday photographer…
He had me pose this way and that, and at one point I had to take a one-minute break to reel a ball out of the gap with my glove trick.
The photographer finished up a few minutes later. Then I caught an A-Rod home run on a fly. Then a three-member crew from the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network showed up and took me to the back of the bleachers for a five-or-so-minute interview, which aired a short while later on the Yankees pre-game show. Here they are:
In case you’re wondering, Kimberly Jones (holding the microphone) was very nice. After the interview, I handed her a card and told her to give my love to Michael Kay.
My first three balls were all commemorative:
My fourth ball, which came via the glove trick, was just a regular ball, so as soon as I got it, I handed it to a little girl who was standing on my left…and I’d just like to point out that yes, she was wearing a glove. (Bring your gloves, people!)
The bleachers were very crowded by the end of BP…
…and I didn’t snag any more balls.
After BP, I managed to find a few f
ree minutes (when I didn’t have to be on the phone) and took a picture of the Jumbotron as it showed highlights from the previous game…including my celebratory dance:
After the highlights were done, half the people in sections 41 and 43 were staring at me, so I recreated the dance and got a bunch of laughs and cheers. Throughout the night, people asked to take pictures with me. It never got old.
There was only one home run that landed in the bleachers. It was Bobby Abreu’s second homer of the night–the first one went into the upper deck–and it sailed 10 feet directly over my head. Wow. If he’d swung a millimeter (or something like that) higher, he would’ve hit the ball a little bit more on a line…and it wouldn’t have traveled as far…and I have no doubt that I would’ve caught it. Can you imagine THAT?!
Worse than not catching the ball was the fact that I dropped my five-dollar-and-twenty-five-cent hot dog during the scuffle. And then, for good measure, someone stepped on it:
It was a very sad moment indeed. I *had* managed to take a bite before gravity got the best of it, but I was still hungry so I bought another. I gave the vendor a 75-cent tip each time–one rule of ballpark etiquette is never to ask for coins back from a vendor–so in effect I paid $12 for a hot dog, or two dollars per bite.
Once the game became official in the middle of the 5th inning and the “MetLife regular season countdown” changed from 4 to 3, I got a picture of that as well:
By the late innings, my ex-hot dog wasn’t looking too good…
…and by the time Chris Britton retired Juan Uribe for the final out, my two-game home run streak had ended.
I stopped in the bathroom on the way out and heard a guy in a stall behind me say, “Final piss at Yankee Stadium.”
His friend said (with a heavy New York accent), “Ya want me t’get my video camera?”
“Whoa!” I shouted. “I didn’t know it was gonna be THAT kinda party!”
“It’ll be a very short story,” said another man.
“OHHHH!!!” we all shouted, and that was that. (Thankfully.)
I met up with Hideo outside the bleacher entrance, and we discussed dates/times for a follow-up interview. Thousands of fans were filing past us toward the subway, and many of them recognized me. A bunch of people came over and asked to take pics with me, so I got Hideo to get some shots with my camera as well.
Here’s one of the photos:
Not great. Not bad. Right?
Well, it got better…
Eventually I made it to the subway, and before I got on the No. 4 train, I took one final pic of the New Yankee Stadium:
I’ll be back at the old one tonight with my girlfriend. Look for me/us in the right field bleachers.
? 4 balls at this game
? 490 balls in 64 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
? 560 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 126 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,767 total balls
…oh, and one more thing. The Newsday article is out. It’s in the actual paper today (Sept. 19), on page A69 in the sports section, and it’s probably online as well. I got a hard copy, and I’ll scan it and share the link as soon as I get a chance.
OH! And I was on “The Early Show” today, and I’m meeting a TV crew from FOX at 2:30pm. I’ll share all the details (and photos) in my next entry.
My girlfriend Jona attended this game…
…and wandered around the stadium with me before the gates opened.
There was a lot to see. Check out the four-part pic below. Starting on
the top left and going clockwise, you can see 1) the view of PNC Park from the middle of the bridge, 2) the steps leading down to the water, 3) kayaks for rent, and 4) the promenade behind the right field edge of the stadium (where balls hardly ever land):
Jona and I had lots of time to kill (which was the point), so we had to
find various ways to spend it. In the four-part pic below…1) we’re posing with the home plate gate in the background, 2) I’m trying to look mean after Jona tied a bandana around my head in the team store, 3) I’m being overwhelmed by gravitational force, and 4) Jona is inspecting the Willie Stargell statue (no disrespect intended):
Speaking of the home plate gate, here’s a closer look:
Nothing special, right? Well, here’s an even closer look:
I know the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992, and I know attendance is sagging to the point that PNC Park resembles a ghost town, but c’mon, this is ridiculous. I’ve only seen spider webs in one other major league stadium. Anyone want to guess where?
By the time the center field gate opened at 5pm, there were dozens of people waiting on line. I raced inside ahead of all of them and snapped a quick photograph of the bleachers while I still had the place to myself…
…and then handed the camera to Jona. Check out this cool shot she took of me at the start of BP:
I only snagged one ball during the 13 minutes that the Pirates were on the field. It rolled to the wall in straight-away left field, and I got it with the glove trick as Jeff Karstens was walking over to pick it up. He easily could’ve snatched it, but instead he walked back to his spot in the outfield and watched with several of his teammates. Then, at the last second, as I was lifting my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside, another ball came flying out of nowhere and thumped off the padded wall below. It had missed my glove by inches and made me flinch. I looked up and Karstens was grinning.
“Nice try!” I yelled. I got the sense that he was just being playful–that even if he’d knocked the ball out of my glove he would’ve given it to me–so I added, “Thanks for letting me get it!”
Karstens responded with a subtle wave, and that was that.
Chris Dickerson (who picked up his first major league hit the night before) was the first player to take the field for the Reds. As he was back-peddling to his spot in left field, a left-handed batter sliced a line drive right at him. Dickerson half-heartedly reached for it and somehow missed it, allowing the ball to tip off the side of his glove and roll all the way to the warning track. I used the glove trick to snag this one as well, and Jona snapped a few quick pics of me in action:
In the pic on the left, I was making sure the rubber band wasn’t too tight or too loose. In the middle pic, I had just knocked the ball closer, and in the pic on the right, I had just gotten the ball to stick inside the glove.
I forgot to mention that as soon as the Reds took the field, I’d changed into my Reds outfit. Pretty convincing, eh?
I snagged three more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was thrown (right to me over several rows of Pirates fans) by Jerry Hairston in left-center field. The second was a fungo hit by coach Billy Hatcher, and I made a web-gem-type catch. I immediately judged that the ball was going to sail five to ten feet over my head so I climbed up on a bench, took my eye off the ball briefly as I stepped onto the bench in the next row, then turned back toward the field and spotted the ball flying toward me…and jumped and lunged and made an over-the-shoulder catch high above my head the in the tip of my glove…with the sun in my eyes. It felt great. And as for the last BP ball I snagged…I got it with the glove trick and immediately handed it to the kid on my left.
I made it to the Reds’ dugout one minute before BP ended and got my sixth ball of the day tossed by the equipment manager. Then, with nearly an hour to spare before the first pitch, Jona and I headed to the upper deck:
We wandered and I took photos from every possible angle…
…and ended up behind home plate where I took some pics for my traditional/cheap panorama:
As much as I was complaining in my previous entry about PNC Park not being all that exciting, I have to say that it really is a gorgeous stadium. When Jona and I made it back down to the field level, even the concourse behind/below the left field seats caught my eye:
Concourses aren’t the most exciting things in the world–I will acknowledge that–but having suffered for the last 20 years inside the cramped and dingy concourses of the New York City stadiums, I had to take a moment to appreciate the spaciousness and cleanliness and architectural design of this one in Pittsburgh.
…and then got Luis Rivas to toss me a ball–my seventh of the day–after he finished playing catch along the right field foul line. When I caught that ball, the entire front row was packed with kids, but none of them had gloves. They were ALL there for autographs, so no one protested when I reached out and made the easy catch.
Six of the seven balls I’d snagged at that point were either marked (with a “C” by Cincinnati) or stamped (with “practice”) on the sweet spot. As for the small four-digit numbers that appear on the balls, I wrote them as I snagged each one. They indicate how many balls I have. The ball in the middle of the lower row, for example, was the 3,588th ball of my collection, and if you’re wondering why some of the numbers are upside-down…it’s not my fault. It’s the Reds’ and Pirates’ fault. I mark every ball in the same spot: to the left of the main portion of the stamp, all the way over near the sweet spot. The Reds and Pirates were obviously not concerned with making each mark or stamp face the same way. As far as I’m concerned, THEY marked and stamped some of the balls upside-down; I merely turned them all so they’d face the same way in this photograph.
We wandered back toward the field and got a good look at the open space behind the bleachers where I’d caught a BP homer the day before (I highly recommend this spot whenever a power-hitting righty comes up):
I was filmed juggling three balls late in the game (sorry for the poor quality but this is a screen shot from a low-quality video)…
…and shown on the Jumbotron for at l
east 20 seconds:
As you can see in the photo above, the Pirates had a 4-1 lead after six innings. Each team added a run after that…and that was it. There were four home runs hit in the game, and I didn’t come close to any of them. Paul Maholm worked eight solid innings to earn the win. The game lasted just two hours and 14 minutes. The attendance was a minuscule 15,787. After the final out, I got a ball tossed to me by home plate umpire Kevin Causey as he walked off the field (on the outfield end of the third base dugout) and then got another ball from an unidentifiable Pirate one minute later at the dugout. (It had to be a pitcher because he walked across the field from the bullpen. He was tall and had a beard, and I think he was right-handed. Any ideas who it might’ve been?) I gave this ball to a girl on my right, collected a few extra ticket stubs, and went out to dinner with Jona.
Goodbye, PNC Park.
? 9 balls at this game
? 317 balls in 44 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 540 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 131 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 3,594 total balls
Several other things…
1) I’m five balls away from breaking my single-season record.
2) I’ve decided to go for 400 balls this season, and since I have about 20 more games planned, I should be able to do it.
3) It looks like I’m going to be in Philadelphia with Clif (aka “goislanders4”) on Tuesday.
4) I haven’t had ANY time lately to answer emails or comments (I’ve barely had time to blog and eat and sleep), but I’m hoping to catch up at some point this weekend…