As I mentioned at the end of my previous entry, my good friend Leon Feingold was invited to try out for the Newark Bears, and he invited me to tag along. It was a tough decision at first because I’d been planning to go to Yankee Stadium (and really looking forward to it) but I realized quickly that the potential for once-in-a-lifetime baseball awesomeness was much greater with him. Remember when I got to sneak into Citi Field with him on April 15, 2009? Yeah, good things happen when Leon is around so I scrapped my Yankee plans and took New Jersey Transit with him to the stadium in Newark. (The photo on the right shows us on the train, and in case you’re new to this blog, Leon is the one wearing black.) It was an easy ride. Seven bucks for a round trip from Penn Station. Two stops. Twenty-five minutes. Short walk from the station to the stadium.
A little background on Leon…
He’s 36 years old, 6-foot-6 (if you round up), and 240 pounds.
He pitched in the minor leagues (in the Indians organization) in the 1990s.
He recently pitched professionally in the Israel Baseball League.
He once ranked 12th in the world in competitive eating.
He’s the vice-president of the New York chapter of Mensa.
…and I love him. As a friend, thank you. Perhaps even like a brother.
The Bears were scheduled to play a game at 6:05pm. We arrived at the stadium about five hours early and walked right inside the front gate:
There was no security. No one ever hassled us. It was the most laid-back atmosphere you could imagine–minor league baseball (or in this case independent league baseball) at its best.
This was the view to the right as we crossed the concourse behind the plate:
We headed to the left, and of course I took a photo of the incredible open-air concourse down the foul line:
I don’t count minor league (or independent league) balls in my collection, but still, I appreciated the heavenly set-up for foul-ball catching.
This was my first time at the ballpark, officially known as “Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.” Leon had been here before and knew his way around so he led me inside though an official-looking reception area and into the media room:
Did you notice the backdrop on the right? We still had lots of time to kill, so Leon posed for a few pics against it:
That’s not trick photography. He’s not holding a miniature ball. Leon’s hands really ARE that big, and as a result, he can throw a nasty split-finger fastball which basically moves like an 82-mph knuckleball. Every time we play catch and he throws it, I fear for my teeth, nuts, and life.
We wandered down some stairs and ended up here:
Down the hall to our left, there were Gatorade coolers and BP screens and other random pieces of equipment lying around:
Even though it wasn’t a major league stadium, I was still thrilled to be there and just soaking it all in. In fact, I think it’s better that it wasn’t a major league stadium because if it were, there would’ve been security guards crawling all over the place. Instead, I was treated to a pure, uninterrupted, behind-the-scenes look.
Leon needed to change into his uniform, and since he didn’t have a locker in the clubhouse, he changed in a storage room down the hall:
Look what was in that storage room:
There weren’t any security cameras in there. I could’ve stuffed 20 balls into my backpack and no one would’ve known the difference. But I didn’t do that. I had opportunities throughout the day to take balls, but I didn’t pocket a single one. I just wanted to inspect them and photograph them.
I was surprised to find three different types of balls in the basket, one of which appeared to be autographed:
Any theories about whose signature that might be?
Leon and I were both invited into the clubhouse. Here’s what it looked like:
At one point, there were about 15 players milling about, blasting salsa and later rap, playing cards, eating, swinging bats, and getting dressed. Armando Benitez walked by. Then Tim Raines, the manager. Then Shane Komine. And Willie Banks. And Keith Foulke. And Ryan Bukvich. And Alberto Castillo. And Tike Redman. These were ALL guys who had played in the major leagues. Some (like Komine) only had a cup of coffee while others (like Foulke) were World Series heroes. One guy (Leon thinks it was Charlton Jimerson) started changing right in front of us, without warning, and when he took off his shirt, I thought I was at a bodybuilding competition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such big arms up close, and it made me realize how tough it is to make it in baseball. You have to compete against guys like that just to REACH the major leagues. I suddenly felt a strong connection to David Eckstein.
I went and used the bathroom, not so much because I was dying to pee, but mainly just to check out the facilities. Pretty simple. Looked like a college gymnasium bathroom. There was half a sunflower seed shell atop my urinal. On my way back to the main room (where Leon was waiting for me), I passed the training room (where several players were sprawled out on tables) and a modest assortment of snacks: peanut butter crackers, Hostess cake-type sweets, etc. There were a few dozen boxes of balls that several players had already signed. The whole place was noisy and cluttered and somewhat shabby in spots–nothing as glamorous as the few major league clubhouses I’ve been lucky enough to set foot in, but far better than any locker room I ever got to use as an aspiring college player a decade earlier.
At around 2:30pm, half an hour after Leon had been told to arrive, no one had come for him. The clubhouse was clearing out, so we headed out too. We walked down the carpeted hallway, out through a tunnel behind home plate, and onto the warning track:
(Leon, if you’re reading this, do us all a favor and get a haircut. I know I shouldn’t be talking smack about your [or anyone’s] hair, given the fact that I’m losing mine, but seriously, that bushy mess is starting to look like a mullet.)
There were a few guys playing catch in right field. I had my glove with me, just in case, and Leon asked if I wanted to throw. I was about to say yes when I noticed a couple batters starting to take early BP:
There was only ONE person shagging balls in the entire outfield, and it was a teenaged kid–one of the players’ sons, I think–so I asked a few people if it’d be okay if I went out there and “helped” by shagging. They were delighted that I offered (less running for them) and of course I couldn’t have been happier to be out there.
Leon surprised me by going in my bag and grabbing my camera and taking a few pics. Here I am out there:
After 20 minutes or so, the hitting stopped and the throwing started, so I headed back to the foul line and took some photos. Here’s one that shows three former major leaguers (plus Leon):
Here’s another shot from high up in the stands, just short of the foul pole…
…and here’s one that shows Bukvich pitching to Castillo, with someone (not sure who) standing in like a batter:
Benitez wore headphones onto the field:
I guess you can do whatever you want in Newark when you have 289 big league saves.
After the throwing ended, several of the pitchers gathered near the foul line. You can see Leon on the right, and do you know who’s standing with his hands on his hips?
I shagged some more during regular BP (that must’ve lasted an hour) and I really felt like I was a player. I mean, I was standing in the outfield, surrounded by players, doing what all the players were doing: catching fly balls and scooping up grounders and firing them back in toward the bucket. At one point, I made a really nice running/leaping/over-the-shoulder catch and immediately looked around to make eye contact with everyone. I was all like, “Yeah! Who saw that?! Who saw that?!” but the answer was: nobody. In my world, it was a great catch. In their world, it’s just…a catch.
This was the view from deep right field:
Did you notice those clouds? The visiting team (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs) had started taking BP, but the sky got darker and the grounds crew began removing equipment from the field, and that was the end of that. I’m totally jinxed by the weather. I can’t even get a full BP in the Atlantic League. (I should mention that when the visitors were taking BP, I didn’t feel right about running all over the field with them, so I grabbed a seat in the front row down the right field foul line. During the next 10 minutes or so, three balls landed in the seats near me — all of which were sliced by righties — and I tossed them all back onto the field. I’m telling you, I didn’t keep a single ball. Leon even walked over at one point and tried to hand one to me, but I wouldn’t take it.)
Leon had disappeared for a while toward the end of BP, and I figured he was pitching in the bullpen. I could’ve walked out there (the ‘pens are located behind the left field wall) and watched him, but I didn’t want to intrude on his big moment. I’d brought a book. I was happy to just sit and read and look at the field. There’s something about baseball fields — any baseball fields — that make me feel like I’m meant to be there. I’m most at peace with myself and with the world when I’m standing on a baseball field. I feel like I’m home, like I’ve reached the promised land, like I’m in a place that I’ve always dreamed of being. In my mind I’ve always been and always will be a major leaguer. There’s no other way to describe it.
Eventually I caught up with Leon and a few older gentlemen near the 1st base dugout:
It was right around that time that fans were being let into the ballpark. Any autograph collectors reading this? If so, I would suggest that you invest in a $7 train ride, go see the Newark Bears, and make yourself happy. All the Bears players seem to file out onto the field through that tunnel right behind the plate, and of course there’s no security to stop anyone from going down into the seats alongside that tunnel. Seriously, go get some autographs. Carl Everett is even on the team. Who doesn’t want Carl Everett’s autograph? (Yesterday I never saw him up close, although I think I caught one of his fly balls during BP.)
While Leon was schmoozing it up, I wandered down into the dugout and inspected every inch of it. I peeked into the bat rack and noticed a pink slip of paper at the bottom of one of the vertical cubby holes. I bent down and grabbed it and had a look:
Yeah, I took it. Whatever. It had the previous day’s date on it. It wasn’t even the original–just a carbon copy. If the Bears wanted it, they would’ve kept it. I figured it would have a happier home with me than in some random landfill.
Then it started raining, and as I ducked inside the tunnel with Leon, I could see the grounds crew racing to cover the field:
What happened next?
A rain delay.
Ryan Bukvich passed the time by trying to putt golf balls into a plastic cup in the hallway outside the clubhouse:
Leon and I got to talk to him for quite a while, and what can I say? The guy is supercool. I told him about my baseball collection, and he told me that when he makes it back to the major leagues, he’s going to look for me and hook me up with a ball. I told him about the list of players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls. Leon even pulled it up on his phone, and we all looked at it together for a minute. I gave Bukvich my card, and he gave me his email address, so hopefully we’ll stay in touch.
Tim Raines walked by while we were out in the hallway. So did Ron Karkovice, who’s also a coach on the team. There were players and coaches all over the place, and there I was, just hanging out with them and shootin’ the sh*t like it was no big deal. In a way it wasn’t a big deal. They’re just guys. Most of them are in their 30s, just like me, and they all love baseball, just like me, so why should it be a big deal to hang out with them? I don’t know, it just IS. I’ve been a huge baseball fan for such a long time, and as a fan, you’re always kept on the outside. When there’s a rain delay, you’re either hiding in the concourse at the stadium or watching reruns of “Seinfeld” at home. You’re never killing time WITH the actual players, so yeah, it was a big deal. Some of the players even recognized me after Bukvich told them that I was the guy who’d caught those home runs last year at Yankee Stadium and been on Leno, so in a way, I was famous to them, which was cool as hell, but mainly, *I* was the one who was honored to be in their presence.
Leon had to get back to New York City. I suppose I could’ve stayed and kept hanging out at the ballpark, but he was really my link to all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I left with him and got one last look at the field on the way out:
I could’ve stayed and just sat in the stands and watched the game and tried to catch foul balls, but that would’ve felt like a major letdown after everything I’d experienced. I just wanted to go home, and of course I wanted to ask Leon all about his tryout.
As we rode NJ Transit back to the city, he told me that Alberto Castillo had caught for him with Tim Raines and pitching coach Mike Torrez looking on. (No pressure.) They didn’t have a radar gun on him, but Leon thinks he was throwing in the mid-80s and *could* get back up to 90 with the right workouts and guidance. Speaking of guidance…the Bears did not offer him a contract, but they DID tell him that he can come back and work out with the team anytime, and that they’ll continue to work with him and get him back into shape…which means they saw his potential, but he’s not yet ready for game action. That was no surprise to Leon. He knew he wasn’t ready. His pitches had sick movement, but his velocity was a bit down and he had no command.
That’s pretty much it. Leon had some meeting to go to at 6pm, so as soon as our train pulled into Penn Station, we went our separate ways. I headed home and heated up some day-old General Tso’s chicken (and pork fried rice) and watched the Yankee game. (There’s really no point in watching the Mets anymore.) Good thing I didn’t go. I heard that it had rained in the Bronx, too, and that BP was canceled early on.
Remember that Nolan Ryan statue giveaway that I complained about in my previous entry? Well, I ended up using it to my advantage. I brought the statue with me to this game…
…and gave it to one of the season ticket holders. In exchange, he brought me into the stadium as his guest when the special “season ticket holders” entrance opened two and a half hours early. I was pumped! The rain had held off. I was gonna have a huge head start on the competition. Double digits would finally be mine. I could FEEL it.
But then I ran inside and saw this:
The cage was set up for batting practice, but the Rangers weren’t hitting. I don’t think I need to describe how frustrating that was.
I used the downtime to photograph the amazingly wide tunnel on the right field foul line:
Here’s another look at it from the seats:
Just before the gates had opened, I met a guy named Dan (aka “drosenda” in the comments) who’s been reading this blog since 2005. He and I ended up hanging out for most of the first hour, and he kindly alerted me when a certain Rangers player began signing autographs along the foul line in shallow right field. I ran over and got the player to sign my ticket. (Note the price.) Can you identify the signature? Apparently this guy hardly ever signs. Here, check it out:
I got another autograph soon after on my ticket from May 1st:
That ticket had gotten soaked on May 2nd, but you can hardly tell, right? (Note the price.) Can you identify this autograph?
(The reason why this one was signed in black is that I lost my blue sharpie on 4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field, and I haven’t yet had a chance to buy a new one; I’ve been at the mercy of other people’s markers, which often suck.)
The pitchers had already begun playing catch at this point, and when they finished several minutes later, I got Eddie Guardado to toss me a ball near the foul pole where the wall slants up really high.
The White Sox finally took the field. The following photo might suggest that they were defending themselves against a swarm of killer gnats…
…but in fact they were just stretching.
Batting practice got underway about an hour after the stadium opened…
…and it ended 25 minutes early! It was a snagging nightmare. The seats were crowded. There were kids everywhere. The White Sox weren’t hitting or throwing much into the stands. And I had to deal with a real jerk. There was a guy (who was about the same age and size as me) who thought it would be a good idea to block/grab me as I tried to run past him up the steps to get in position for a long home run. But that’s not all. When I told him to get his ******* hands off me, he accused me of running into him. It was one of the worst BP’s of my life. I only managed to get one ball. Gavin Floyd tossed it to me in left-center field. Meh.
The highlight for me was simply watching the kids run out onto the batter’s eye for balls:
That was the one spot that had a decent amount of action, so I was tempted to head over there and claim a spot along the side railing. What kept me from doing that, however, was the fact that I would’ve been twice as old as everyone else. There wasn’t an official “kids only” rule, but that’s how it felt. Also, I noticed that whenever a ball landed there, the kids would dive and slip and pile on top of each other. It was an injury (and a grass stain) waiting to happen. I didn’t want any part of it.
Before BP started, I had gotten a photo with Dan (pictured below in the “W” cap), and after BP ended, I got a photo with another blog reader named Frank (aka “texas4”) who had brought his copy of my book for me to sign:
It was time to do one final round of wandering. I started by taking a photo of another unique tunnel on the field level…
…and then headed up to the upper deck. Check out this huge open-air concourse:
I need to show one more photo of the concourse so you can see how wide it was in one spot. I took the following shot with my back against a closed concession stand. You can see a Six Flags roller coaster poking up in the distance:
Once again…outstanding design. Why doesn’t every stadium have a concourse this wide? If you’re going to try to cram roughly 50,000 people into one building, especially in Texas where people tend to be rather large, you might as well give them room to walk around.
Here’s a photo from the edge of the upper deck all the way out in left field:
Here’s my panorama attempt:
Here’s a look from the very top corner of the upper deck in right field:
In many stadiums, when the upper deck is empty, security does not allow fans to wander all over the place, but here in Awesome Arlington, the only reason why security stopped me was to ask where I was from. (Screw New York. God Bless Texas.)
Rangers Ballpark, as great as it is, DOES have a few ugly signs of disrepair:
This surprised me because the stadium is only 15 years old, and really, how hard can it be to fix something like that? Get a little concrete mix. (Or some gray Play-Doh.) I’m pretty sure the upper deck didn’t start falling apart last month, so the question is: why wasn’t it fixed during the off-season?
Here’s a part of the stadium that needs no fixing:
It’s like the Great Hall at the new Yankee Stadium–minus the ego.
Back in the seating bowl, this was the scene shortly before the game started:
(Gotta love Carlos Quentin practicing his swing. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? From what I saw, he ignored everyone for three straight days.)
When the players finished throwing, I got Jayson Nix to toss me the ball. That was No. 3 on the day for me–still lousy but at least respectable, given the circumstances.
During the game I sat in center field, right next to the batter’s eye as I had done the previous two nights. This was my view:
At this stadium, there’s a promotion (I’m still not sure exactly how it works) where if the Rangers score a certain number of runs in a certain inning (or something like that), every fan wins a free taco. Well, it happened last night, and when the usher walked down the stairs and handed me a coupon, this was my reaction:
Okay, so it happens to be incredibly easy to catch a foul ball at Rangers Ballpark (there’s a great cross-aisle in the second deck, just in front of the press box…just like Miller Park), but so what? This type of fraudulent marketing is not only uncalled for, but it’s downright insulting to ballhawks across North America. I think we should all boycott Taco Bueno.
As for my ridiculous shirt, there might have been a time when I actually thought it looked good, but now I only wear it to make it easier for people to spot me on TV…and hey, it worked! Check it out:
It happened in the bottom of the 8th inning (and thanks, BTW, to everyone who sent me screen shots). Nelson Cruz launched a deep fly ball in my direction, so I got up, scooted down the steps, weaved around a couple fans (without running into them, thank you), and made it to the corner spot at the bottom just as the ball was approaching. I knew it was going to fall short. I knew I didn’t have a chance. Certain camera angles might have made it look like I missed it by six inches, but in fact it was at least four feet away from my outstretched glove. The only reason why I even bothered reaching for it is that I figured I was on TV, and I wanted to look more like a participant than a spectator. But yeah…no chance in the world to catch it. If the ball had been hit a few feet father, I would’ve caught it on the fly, and if it had just gone a few inches father, it probably would’ve landed in the gap and I would’ve been able to retrieve it with my glove trick. But instead, the ball hit the very top edge of the outfield wall and bounced back onto the field.
An inning before the near miss, I got my fourth ball of the day from White Sox center fielder Brent Lillibridge (not to be confused with Derek Lilliquist). It was his between-inning warm-up ball. I didn’t expect a visiting team’s player to toss one into the crowd, but when he looked up toward my section, I suspected that he was gonna let it fly, so I ran down to the front row and waved my arms. I quickly looked around to see if there were any White Sox fans. Maybe he was planning to aim for someone specific? Nope…just a sea of Rangers gear…so when he tossed it a bit over my head and five feet to my right, I didn’t feel guilty about moving back to the second row and making a controlled lunge for it at the last second. Other people had reached for it too. It WAS just intended for the crowd in general, so I went for it and made the catch.
“Give it to the kid!” yelled someone in the third row.
“Yeah! Give it to the kid!” yelled another fan sitting nearby.
What kid? The kid who wasn’t wearing a glove and hadn’t even stood up to make an attempt to catch the ball?
There was another kid I was thinking about–a little boy who looked to be about seven years old–who’d been sitting between me and his dad in the 9th row. They were both wearing gloves, and his dad had been teaching him about baseball throughout the game. It was such a sweet scene, so when I got back to my seat, I held out the ball for the kid and said, “Here, I think you should have this. I got a few others today.”
The kid’s face LIT UP, and his jaw dropped in such an exaggerated way that he could’ve been a cartoon character.
“What do you say?” prompted his father.
“Thank you,” mumbled the kid without taking his eyes off the ball. Turns out it was the first ball he’d ever gotten, so I pointed out a few things about the logo and explained the “practice” stamp on the sweet spot. That was definitely one of the highlights of my day.
Another highlight? Seeing a vendor eating ice cream while selling ice cream:
The game itself was fine. Nothing special. The Rangers won, 5-1, and as soon as the final out was recorded, I threw on my White Sox cap and rushed over to the bullpen and got coach Juan Nieves to throw me a ball. But he missed. Of course. He flung it carelessly and it sailed ten feet to my left. Thankfully he had another ball and was nice enough to under-hand it right to me.
As the last member of the Sox was packing up, I noticed that there was a lineup card taped to the wall:
I started to ask the guy for it, but he hurried out of the bullpen before I had a chance to finish my request.
There were still a few fans milling about. Three groundskeepers entered the bullpen and began working on the mound. I walked down to the front row and asked them if they could give me the lineup card. They ignored me. An old usher walked over and told me it was time to leave. I explained why I was still there, so he encouraged me to ask them again, but insisted (very politely) that I’d have to leave after that.
“Excuse me, guys–” I began.
“Can’t do it,” one of them snapped without looking up.
I headed up the steps with the usher…who then walked off and left me there. There were a few other employees walking around, but none of them approached me, so I took off my Waldo shirt (I had the plain white t-shirt on underneath) and put on my Rangers cap. I figured that’d make me blend in more. The groundskeepers kept working on the mound, so I took a seat in the last row and watched them. There was nothing else to do. My flight back to NYC was still 17 hours away, so as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, there was no reason to leave. I was hoping that the three guys would eventually finish up with the mound and then disappear…and that perhaps a different member of the grounds crew would wander into the ‘pen. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the three guys covered the mound and took off. The bullpen was empty. This is what it looked like from where I was sitting:
I couldn’t believe that I was allowed to just sit there, but this wasn’t New York, so anything was possible.
Five minutes later, the sprinklers came on…
…and five minutes after that, a few other groundskeepers exited the bullpen in right-center and started walking along the warning track toward my side of the field. This was my chance! I waited at the back of the section until they got closer, then rushed down the steps and caught their attention at the bottom.
“Excuse me,” I began, “I believe there’s a lineup card taped to the wall in the bullpen, and if you guys aren’t planning to save it, it would mean a lot to me if I could possibly have it.”
They looked at each other like I was crazy, then flagged down another groundskeeper (who must’ve been their boss) and explained what I wanted and asked if it was okay.
“I don’t give two *****,” said the guy who then walked briskly into the bullpen, headed over to the lineup card, yanked it off the wall (which made me cringe, but thankfully it didn’t tear), and handed it to me.
It was barely filled out, but that’s to be expected from a bullpen lineup card. All that mattered was that it was official. It had a nice big “Sox” logo on the upper right. It had “5/3 @ Texas” written on the upper left in blue marker, and the Rangers’ lineup had been written in as well, along with a few bench players’ names at the bottom.
Moments after I got it, a couple other fans conveniently wandered down into the section, and I got them to take the following photo. I think you can tell how happy I was:
So yes, even though I lost more than an hour of batting practice, and even though I had a frustrating near miss during the game, it ended up being a great day. I can’t wait to go back to this ballpark. Hugs and kisses to Texas.
• 128 balls in 17 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
• 586 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 156 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,948 total balls
• 15 lifetime lineup cards (click here for the complete collection, including the full-sized version of the one pictured here)
• 103 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $20.38 pledged per ball
• $101.90 raised at this game
• $2,608.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This was my first game of the year, and I have to start with three pics of the New Yankee Stadium. Here it is from the end of the #4 train subway platform:
Here’s the view from the middle of the other side of the platform:
Last one…from the same spot but looking to the right. Notice how the beautiful white facade is just ugly brown metal with a coat of paint:
As for the current Yankee Stadium…
It was $5 Night. I didn’t have a ticket. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked up to the ticket window at 4pm — a little more than an hour before the gates would be opening for batting practice. The people in front of me asked about the cheap seats. The man behind the bullet-proof glass said, “The five-dollar seats are sold out for the rest of the season. Cheapest ticket for tonight is sixty-five.”
“Sixty-five bucks?” I asked after the people ahead of me stepped out of line. “Even for a single?”
“Come back in an hour,” said the man, explaining that some cheaper tickets might get released into the computer system by then.
“I can’t wait an hour,” I said. “Batting practice will be starting and I need to be inside then.”
He shrugged. I walked away. Ran into a friend named Eric. Started eating a sandwich I’d brought. Got approached by two men. One had heard me trying to get a ticket, said he and his friend had an extra one, and offered it to me…for free. It was a $75 season ticket up in the Loge. No way I was going to sit there, but WOW. I really couldn’t believe it. I was sure it was a conspiracy to prevent me from snagging baseballs. (“Hey, Jimmy, see dat guy ova deh? Dat’s da baseball collecta. Give ’em wunna deez bogus tickets. Joik won’t be able t’get scanned at da gate. He’ll hafta get outta line and find anudda ticket and miss da starta battin’ practice.”) But as it turned out, the ticket was good.
The Yankees’ portion of batting practice was a disaster, and I got completely shut out, in part because I got outsnagged by a few other fans who regularly read this blog (“puckcollector” and “gregorybarasch” for those of you who read the comments…and I also want to say thanks to my friend Nelson who let me slip into the line ahead of him so I could be the first fan to enter the stadium). I came close to several balls — almost plucked one off the right field warning track with my glove trick, but a security guard stopped me just before I lowered it all the way down. A few other people had glove/cup tricks, and when we all complained that we were allowed to use them last year, the guard radioed his boss and then informed us several minutes later that yes, we WERE allowed to steal balls from the field. Woo-hoo!
Sure enough, my first ball of the season came via the glove trick, and let me tell you, it was a huge relief to get it out of the way. I snagged ball #2 with the trick and got ball #3 from a Blue Jays pitcher. I’m not sure who, but I think it was Dustin McGowan. It was impossible to identify any of the players because it was cold and they were all wearing warm-up jackets over their jerseys and none of their numbers were showing. I’d brought a team roster, but it was basically useless. Anyway, there was a thick cluster of Yankee fans shouting for the ball, and I was buried several rows back, so I took off my Blue Jays cap and waved it frantically when the player looked up to find a deserving recipient. He spotted it and lobbed the ball right to me. Perfect aim. Right over everyone’s head. I still had to jump and make a nice grab above the forest of outstretched hands, and it felt great.
At around 6pm, I had a chance to snag yet another ball with the glove trick, this time a few feet shy of the foul pole. Before I lowered my glove, I announced that I’d be giving the ball to a kid. Big mistake. It caused a frenzy as soon as I reeled in the ball. So many kids (and even a few grownups…fathers, I guess) hurried over and started pushing that I nearly toppled backwards over the wall and onto the warning track nine feet below. I announced that I would only consider kids with gloves who had NOT already gotten a ball that day. There were still dozens of kids swarming me, so I announced that I’d give the ball to the youngest one. Another mistake. This prompted every kid to lie about his age, and it was obvious. The whole thing caused quite a scene, and that was not my intention. I just wanted to do something nice and disappear back into the crowd. Finally, after a solid minute of mayhem, I handed the ball to the shortest kid I saw and got lots of thumbs-ups and pats on the back as I headed back to my spot in straight-away right fiel
I got one more ball at the end of BP. One of the ball boys retrieved a ball that had rolled near the warning track, and he flipped it up into the aisle behind the wall. Everyone dropped it. The ball boy tossed it up again. Same result. I worked my way into the middle of the pack, and when the ball came up for the third time, I jumped and gloved it.
I’d heard that the Yankees were using special balls during games to commemorate the final season of the stadium, but I didn’t get any during BP. No surprise there. As I mentioned, I didn’t get a single ball while the Yanks were on the field, and there was no chance that the Jays would be using them. I figured that within a few weeks or months, these balls would find their way into the BP buckets and eventually circulate around the league. And since I live less than five miles from Yankee Stadium and can go there anytime, I figured I’d get one of these balls eventually, but man, I wanted one right away.
BTW, the pic on the left shows me after BP with the four balls I kept. You can see the new Yankee Stadium way off in the distance.
Once the game started, I headed to straight-away left field and pretty much stayed there through the seventh-inning stretch. Other than getting my hands on one of those commemorative balls, my ONLY purpose for going to Yankee Stadium this season is to catch an A-Rod home run. Not during batting practice. I’m talking about real live action. I still haven’t forgiven myself for misjudging one of his blasts last season, and I need to redeem myself. He’s going to end up as the all-time home run king. I need to catch one. It’s as simple as that.
I was in a great spot for all his at-bats (the pic on the right shows my view when he stepped to the plate for the first time), and he DID hit a home run late in the game…but it went to dead center. At least he’s hitting well. It’d be great if he has another monster April. I’d like to catch one sooner than later, especially if I’m gonna be paying a $65 cover charge every time I go.
A.J. Burnett was mowing down the Yankees and took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. That’s when A-Rod went yard, but the Yankees’ rally died, and half the crowd bolted for the exits. That’s when I snuck down to the Jays’ dugout, and at the end of the next inning, I got 1st base coach Ernie Whitt to toss me a ball. I didn’t even think he had one. In fact, I knew he didn’t, but I asked anyway, just in case there happened to be a loose ball sitting around in the dugout. And there was. And it was one of those commemorative balls. YES!!!
I ran back to left field for the bottom of the ninth. Jeter and A-Rod were both due up, so it was worth being out there. Thankfully, Jeter (who batted 2nd) and Abreu (who batted 3rd) both led off with singles, so when A-Rod finished his night by striking out, there was only one out, and I still had time to get back to the Jays’ dugout. Juicin’ Giambi and Robinson Cano both flied out to end the game, and I bolted down the steps to the front row. All the players and coaches walked out on the field to shake hands. I didn’t get the game-ending ball (which was the reason I was down there), but I ended up getting something even better. All the coaches headed back to the dugout in a small cluster, and I shouted (while wearing my Jays cap), “Hey, guys, any chance I can get the lineup card?!”
One of them (not sure who) looked up and said, “I got ya,” and disappeared from sight for a full minute. Was he serious?! Was he going to give it to me? What was taking so long? The few other fans standing around nearby were oblivious, so when the coach poked his head out of the dugout and slid a big piece of thick card stock my way, no one else bothered to lunge for it. Oh. My. God. It was beautiful. THAT’S what took so long. He had to peel the thing off the dugout wall. Most of the lineup cards I’ve gotten look like this, and they’re small–only about 5″ x 7″. But this one? How about 8.5″ x 13.5″. Check it out:
Every team seems to organize and mark its lineup cards differently. One thing I figured out about this one is that the Jays mark all the lefties (hitters and pitchers) with a yellow hi-liter and mark all the switch-hitters with blue. As for the black circles, every team keeps track of which hitter makes the last out in each inning. Then a coach writes the number next to the player’s name and circles it. The Jays, for whatever reason, color in the circles as the game progresses. Johnny Damon struck out swinging to end the bottom of the eighth, and you can still see the “8” next to his name because as soon as the final out was recorded in the ninth, there was no point in making the effort to scribble over it. Cool, huh?
• 6 balls at this game
• 497 consecutive games with a
t least one ball
• 109 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball