Sixteen months ago, I had a Watch With Zack game at Shea Stadium with a seven-year-old kid named Cooper. Remember? It was Cooper’s first game ever, and even though there wasn’t batting practice that day, I managed to snag two commemorative baseballs for him.
Well, Cooper is now nine years old, and yesterday his family brought him back back to New York for another game with me. Here we are outside Citi Field:
In the photo above, the woman is Cooper’s mother Becky; the older gentleman is his grandfather Arthur.
As soon as the stadium opened, Cooper and I raced out to the left field seats. It was a day game, so I was glad to see that the Mets were taking batting practice. Meanwhile, Cooper was excited because it was the first time that he’d ever been to batting practice. Here he is, running down into the seats:
As soon as we reached the front row, Mets coach Razor Shines tossed a ball to another kid. That kid was older than Cooper (and wasn’t nearly as cute), so I called out to Shines and got him to look up at us, and then I asked him if he could possibly spare another ball. Shines said no and proceeded to mumble something about how we should stay where we were because there’d be some balls hit to us. (Gee, thanks!) But then he retrieved another ball that had rolled onto the warning track and, without much warning, tossed it up toward Cooper. Please don’t drop it, I thought. The ball was coming. I held my breath. It was falling a bit short, but Cooper wasn’t phased. He reached six inches over the railing and made a nice two-handed basket catch. I gave him a high-five and took his photo with the ball:
It was the first ball that he had ever snagged on his own.
The Mets didn’t throw many balls into the crowd after that, and the seats were still pretty empty, so I moved back a few rows and focused on snagging home run balls. I explained some basic strategies to Cooper, and he caught on quickly. Even though we were more than 375 feet from home plate, and even though he had never been to BP, and even though he was only nine years old, he was able to track the flight of the balls. He admitted that he wasn’t quite ready, however, to actually make an attempt at catching one, so when David Wright lifted a deep fly ball in our direction, I drifted down the steps and reached out over the wall for the easy one-handed catch. As soon as I took the ball out of my glove, I realized that I had reached in front of another kid who’d been camped out underneath it, so I handed him the ball. Then, two minutes later, I grabbed another Wright homer after it sailed over my head and ricocheted back to me.
That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP. The players were only on the field for 20 minutes, so Cooper and I headed to the 3rd base side. The Nationals were stretching in front of their dugout, but because the rules at Citi Field are so strict, we couldn’t get anywhere near them. Still, I was able to convince coach Marquis Grissom to throw us a ball from more than 100 feet away. In the following photo, the arrow is pointing at Grissom…
…and did you notice that Cooper was no longer wearing his Mets cap? Little things like that make a difference, but anyway, as the ball started sailing toward us, I was hoping that Cooper would be able to catch it. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t within his reach, so I had no choice but to lean out over the railing and snare it. (It was a training ball.) Cooper had said that he didn’t mind which one of us actually caught the balls, but I knew it would be more exciting for him if he was actually the one to get them.
When the Nationals started playing catch along the left field foul line, I positioned Cooper behind THE most generous ball-giver in baseball: Livan Hernandez. Cooper was now wearing a red Nationals cap. He was all set. This was our view:
As soon as Hernandez finished throwing, I called out to him and asked for the ball on Cooper’s behalf. Hernandez turned and tossed it to him. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, and as you can see, the guy on my right tried to reach out and catch it:
It was no coincidence that I was standing between Cooper and this other guy. I could tell just by looking at him that he was going to try to catch the ball no matter what, so I used my body as a shield to prevent him from reaching all the way out…and Cooper was able to make the catch! I was actually hoping that Hernandez had been using a training ball — Cooper had never gotten one of those — but it was just a standard Selig ball. I told Cooper that if he didn’t snag a training ball, I’d give him mine.
We moved to the left field corner in foul territory. Ron Villone jogged past and picked up a ball. Cooper was in the front row. I was standing right behind him. I asked Villone if he could toss the ball “to the little guy” and he DID toss it, but it sailed five feet over Cooper’s head and came right to me. Once again, I had no choice but to make the catch. That was my fourth ball of the day, and then after moving with Cooper to the seats in left-center, the same thing happened with Logan Kensing. I asked for the ball FOR Cooper, but it was tossed to me instead. (Another training ball.) My theory is that the players were afraid that Cooper wasn’t big/athletic enough to make the catches. Finally, J.D. Martin showed some faith and tossed a ball to Cooper, who caught it easily. (Standard ball.)
When batting practice ended, I had five balls and Cooper had three, and there was a chance to get one more. Someone on the Nationals had hit a home run that landed on (and rolled to the bottom of) the batter’s eye:
I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to use my glove trick, so I took Cooper to the other side of the batter’s eye (where the side railing is much lower) and asked a security guard if he could get someone to walk out there and retrieve the ball. The four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise) shows what happened next:
Let me explain:
TOP LEFT: A police officer climbed over the railing.
TOP RIGHT: The officer walked around the Home Run Apple toward the baseball.
BOTTOM RIGHT: The officer returned with the ball.
BOTTOM LEFT: The usher bobbled the ball when the officer tossed it to him.
And then the usher handed it to Cooper. (Another standard ball. Aarrghh!)
Cooper and I headed over to Shake Shack, where his mother and grandfather were already on line. We saw them before they saw us, so I placed all four of Cooper’s balls in his glove and had him stand in just the right spot so that when the line snaked back around toward us, his mother and grandfather would see him. This was their reaction:
And THIS was my lunch:
Arthur was kind enough to treat me, and let me tell you…I didn’t need to eat again for seven hours.
The photo above was taken from our actual seats. As good as they were, I still wanted to be a bit closer so that Cooper would have a steady flow of chances to snag a 3rd-out ball. Since we were on the Mets’ side, Cooper changed back into his Mets cap. Here he is from behind, sitting on the end of the row, getting ready to race down the steps:
Most of the 3rd-out balls ended up in the hands of first baseman Daniel Murphy, who tossed them unpredictably all over the place. I really wanted Cooper to snag a Citi Field commemorative ball, or at least to snag one for him. In the middle innings, I nearly caught one of Murphy’s throws, and then late in the game, Cooper nearly got his glove on a toss from Carlos Beltran. Check out the photo below. You can see Beltran right above the security guard’s head. Cooper is in the front row (just to the right of the guard) and the ball is in mid-air (in front of the red advertisement on the left field wall):
Unfortunately, the kid to the right of Cooper got that ball, but not all hope was lost.
In the 9th inning, I worked my way down with Cooper into the seats on the 3rd base side. The home plate umpire was Rick Reed. He was our last shot at getting a Citi Field ball, but the final three outs seemed to last forever, and Cooper seriously HAD to get going. He and his mother had to catch a flight at 5:30pm, and the game (which had started at 1:10pm) was coming up on three hours. She and Cooper probably would’ve left in the 7th or 8th inning if not for me, but I convinced them to stay until the end. I told them there was a good chance at getting one more very special ball, so she and Arthur lingered patiently (though perhaps anxiously) in the concourse while Cooper and I did our thing. Brian Stokes was not cooperating. He retired Willie Harris on seven pitches, but then surrendered a single to Ian Desmond, an RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman, and an RBI single to Adam Dunn. Then pitching coach Dan Warthen held a tea party on the mound. Then Stokes struck out Josh Willingham and walked Elijah Dukes after getting ahead on him 0-2. It was ugly. Manager Jerry Manual had seen enough. Pitching change. (Oh my God! Hurry UP!!!) Francisco Rodriguez came in and fanned Christian Guzman to end the game. (Finally! Thank you!!!) I bolted down to the front row and tried to get Reed’s attention as he headed toward the tunnel. He blew right past me without looking up, but I saw him pause briefly to toss balls to some other fans, so I raced back up the steps and moved alongside him as he walked quickly through the tunnel down below. Just before he reached the end, he pulled out one final ball and tossed it up near me. There were some other fans reaching for it too, but I managed to grab it, and I immediately handed it to Cooper. Here he is with that ball:
But wait, there’s more!
The Nationals relievers were walking in from the bullpen, so I raced back over near the dugout and squeezed into the front row behind the photographers’ box. Someone wearing No. 55 was walking toward me with a ball, but I had no idea who it was, so I frantically pulled out my roster for a quick look. It was Marco Estrada. “MARCO!!!” I shouted when he was still 40 feet away. He spotted me and threw the ball right to me, but some HUGE guy on my right reached out in front of me. Our gloves bumped and the ball fell down into the photographers’ box. A security guard climbed down in there and got the ball and tossed it back to Estrada. I pointed at Cooper, and he threw the ball toward us for a second time. I wanted Cooper to be the one to catch it, but I knew that if I hung back and let him go for it, someone else was going to reach in and snatch it, so I reached out as far as I could and made the grab. It was a standard ball, and I handed that one to Cooper as well. Phew!
I really wanted to stay and take some photos, but Cooper and his mother ***HAD*** to go, so I walked outside with them and gave Cooper a training ball and said a very quick goodbye.
Final score: Zack 7, Mets 6, Cooper 4, Nationals 2.
• 472 balls in 53 games this season = 8.91 balls per game.
• 622 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 484 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 349 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 20 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls (click here for more Watch With Zack stats; note that Cooper is now the youngest client to have snagged a ball)
• 4,292 total balls
• 126 donors (it’s not too late to become No. 127)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $176.82 raised at this game
• $11,922.72 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I hardly ever get my baseballs signed. Normally I don’t even try too hard to get autographs in the first place, and when I do, I usually get them on ticket stubs. In 1996 I made an exception and got my 1,000th ball signed by Pedro Borbon Jr., the player who threw it to me. In 2003 I made another exception and got No. 2,000 signed by Joe Roa. Then, on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, I used my glove trick to snag my 3,000th ball, so I didn’t get it signed by anybody. But here’s the thing…with Borbon and Roa, I was able to get their autographs shortly after they tossed the balls to me–both of them came over and signed as soon as batting practice ended–but when Livan Hernandez threw me my 4,000th ball on 5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium, I was trapped in the left field pavilion where there was no chance to get near him.
Fast-forward to this past weekend. I still hadn’t gotten Livan to sign The Ball, so I wrote a blog entry in which I asked for autograph advice. What I learned was: Livan is nice about signing autographs in general, but it’s really hard to get the Mets to sign on their way into the ballpark because fans aren’t allowed near the entrance where they walk in from the parking lot.
Yesterday, feeling nervous about taking my 4,000th ball out of my apartment and hoping that I wouldn’t ever have to do it again, I arrived at Citi Field at 2pm and made a beeline toward the players’ parking lot:
Here’s another photo that shows exactly where I headed:
Once I reached the end of the walkway, I saw firsthand why it’s so tough to get autographs. The players enter on the other side of a black, six-foot-tall fence; fans are kept 30 feet away from the fence by a barricade. This was as close as I could get:
Is that obnoxious or what?
I soon learned a piece of good news from the few other autographs collectors who were there: if we got a player’s attention and he called us over, the security guard would allow us to slip through the barricades and approach the fence.
More good news: I was armed with secret weapon:
How could Livan Hernandez possibly ignore my charming homemade sign?
Over the next 20 minutes, every single Mets player ignored our polite requests and blew right past us: Daniel Murphy, Alex Cora, Jonathon Niese (karma), Bobby Parnell, Angel Berroa, Jeremy Reed, and a few others that I’m forgetting. I heard that Carlos Beltran and Brian Stokes had signed earlier, but still, it was a disgusting display of human behavior. I mean, Angel Berroa?! Really?! Does he think his 2003 AL Rookie of the Year award gives him the right to blow people off? There were FOUR of us asking for autographs. It would have taken him–or any of the other players–approximately 20 seconds to stop and sign. Maybe 30 seconds if they cared to sprinkle a few pleasantries into the interaction. I was just about ready to start screaming obscenities at the next player when Livan pulled up in a big, boxlike silver vehicle. I held up my sign, shouted his name, jumped up and down like a little schoolgirl, and to my surprise/delight, he waved me over! I rushed to the fence and handed my ball over and resisted the urge to tell him why it was special (I didn’t want him to feel used) and simply asked him to sign it on the sweet spot. Here he is, doing it…
…and here’s his signature:
Five minutes later, Nelson Figueroa started walking past us with two big rolling suitcases. We asked him to sign and he said, “One minute.” He disappeared into the stadium for no more than 10 seconds, then returned without the bags and waved us over. He was VERY nice and talkative and articulate, and he even posed (as best he could) for a photo through a small gap in the fence. What a guy. I got his autograph on a Shea Stadium ticket that I’d brought from home:
I could’ve gotten a few more autographs after that, but I chose instead to sit in the shade and read Portnoy’s Complaint. (That book is beyond brilliant and hilarious; I was too young to appreciate it fully when I first read it in college.) While I was reading, a man wearing black spandex shorts and a sweaty white T-shirt walked strangely close, prompting me to look up and realize that it was Tony LaRussa. If he hadn’t been wearing earphones, I might’ve said hello. Colby Rasmus also walked by around that time and refused to sign baseballs on the sweet spot.
“I’m just a collector, I swear,” pleaded one fan.
“That’s what they all say,” said Rasmus.
You know what *I* say? Colby Rasmus (and every other baseball player who refuses to sign balls on the sweet spot) is an ass. Who the hell does he think he is? He was a first-round draft pick in 2005 and received a $1 million signing bonus. Now he’s earning $400,000 this year to PLAY A GAME, and he stands to earn a lot more if he stays healthy. (I, for one, hope he doesn’t). And yet, God forbid some fan out there might possibly want to make twenty bucks by showing up early at a stadium, standing out in the 90-degree heat, obtaining his precious autograph, and then selling it.
I raced to the left field seats as soon as the stadium opened at 4:40pm, and I immediately got Gary Sheffield to throw me a ball. I was so out-of-breath that I almost wasn’t able to call out to him, but it all worked out, and the ball turned out to have a worn Shea Stadium commemorative logo (like this).
For some reason, all the batters during the first two rounds were left-handed, so I headed over to right field:
There was a ball on the warning track near the foul pole–one of the few places in the stadium where the outfield wall isn’t absurdly high. As I began to reel it in with my glove trick, Brian Stokes jogged over and threw his glove at mine. His glove thumped against the wall, causing me to jerk my glove which caused the ball to fall out. I noticed then that it was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball (like this). Stokes walked over and stood there, watching me. I lifted my glove back up to readjust the rubber band and asked him
to give me one more chance to go for the ball. He didn’t say anything. He just kept standing there, so I went for it, and sure enough I got the ball to stick inside my glove. As I started lifting it, Stokes moved closer and tapped my glove with his bare hand, knocking the ball loose for a second time. He picked it up off the warning track, then took a couple steps toward the infield and drew his arm back as if he were going to fire the ball toward the bucket. Just when I was ready to put the Hample Jinx on him, he turned around and smiled and flipped it to me.
Oliver Perez walked over and asked, “How many balls you got?”
It was the first time he had ever spoken to me, so it came as a surprise that he recognized me. Meanwhile, I didn’t want to give him a specific answer; better he should assume I had a few hundred than a few thousand.
“How many?” I asked. “You mean today? Or in my whole life?”
“In your life,” he said, “because I’ve seen you on TV and I know what you do.”
“But did you know that I’m now collecting baseballs for charity?”
He asked what I meant by that, so I told him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this season, and how I’ve raised more than $8,000 so far, and how I also give away baseballs at just about every single game I attend.
“I don’t want you to think I’m greedy,” I said. “I want you to know that I give back a lot.”
“That’s good,” he said.
And that was the extent of our conversation.
Two minutes later, a left-handed batter ripped a deep line drive in my direction. I knew that it was going to fall short, but I knew that it had a chance to bounce up to me, so I shuffled over a few feet and as the ball skipped up in the form of a gigantic in-between hop, I turned the palm of my glove face down and swatted down at the ball, hoping to trap it against the padded outfield wall. It was a maneuver I’d tried in the past, without much success because it requires perfect timing and an equally perfect prediction about how high the ball is going to bounce. Somehow, on this fine day, I nailed it and got a nice round of applause from the fans along the foul line.
I headed over to the deepest part of left-center field, all the way out near the Home Run Apple, and I got Livan to throw me my fourth ball of the day. This is what the field looked like from the spot where I caught it:
Then, when the righties finally started hitting, I battled the crowd in straight-away left field and caught a Gary Sheffield homer on the fly. Moments later, Jeff Francoeur launched one in my direction–a bit over my head–and I jumped at the last second to try to make the catch. The ball hit off my glove (I should’ve caught it) but luckily landed right near me in a semi-crowded row. I bent down and scrambled for it and snagged the ball just before the nearest fan was about to grab it. It turned out that the other fan was a woman who was there with kids, so I handed her the ball. (That ball counts toward my grand total, FYI.)
As the Cardinals took the field, the seats became more and more crowded:
In the photo above, do you see the fan standing in the front row wearing red? He’s almost a full section away. That’s a friend and fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212” in the comments section).
I headed back to right field because, once again, there were a bunch of lefties hitting. It’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field at Citi Field (because of that stupid Pepsi Porch overhang), so I had to focus on other sources: the players’ kids. There were four of them shagging balls in the outfield: two kids with blank jerseys, one with “FRANKLIN” and another with “PUJOLS.” Here’s Trever Miller with two of the kids:
Young Franklin fired a ball up into a patch of empty seats in right field. It was a two-person race: me and a 40-something-year-old man in a Cardinals shirt. (I was wearing a Cardinals shirt, too, at that point.) Neither of us could find the ball at first. We must’ve searched for five seconds (which at the time felt like five years), and eventually I spotted it, tucked out of view against the back of a seat. That was my seventh ball of the day, and I got another one right after from Miller. I would’ve snagged it on my own with the glove trick because it was sitting right below me on the warning track, but some old grumpy security guard in the bullpen (who has personally cost me about 30 balls since 1992) made me stop.
Remember where I got the ball thrown by Livan in left-center field? I headed back there and got another one from Little Pujols. The kid made a heck of a throw from about 60 feet away and 15 feet below. Right on the money. I was stunned, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, given his last name.
I moved to Death Valley after that–the deepest part of the ballpark in right-center field where it says “415” on the outfield wall. This was the view:
I didn’t expect to catch a batted ball out there. I was just focusing on trying to get one of the players to throw one to me, when all of a sudden I heard people shouting, “Heads up!!” so I looked up and saw a deep fly ball heading about 10 feet to my right. I shuffled through the empty row and tracked the ball and couldn’t believe that it kept carrying and carrying. Eventually I reached out and made a back-handed catch. (Remember Gail from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and from Game 4 of the 2008 World Series? She was in the section at the time and thanked me for “saving” her from the home run ball, but I don’t think it would’ve hit her. She and I ran into each other a few times throughout BP, but we could never talk for more than a minute because I was always running off to a different spot.)
As soon as I caught this home run, I started shouting, “Who hit it?! Who hit it?!”
Soon after, a man walked over and showed me the screen on his fancy digital camera.
“This is the guy who hit it,” he said.
It was a zoomed-in photo of Colby Rasmus. Bleh.
I asked him if he was 100 percent sure, and he said yes, so I’ll just have to take his word for it.
During the final 20 minutes of BP, it was an absolute zoo in left field. Pujols and Matt Holliday were batting, and people were in a snagging frenzy. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen Citi Field during BP, and granted, this was only my seventh time there, but still. It was nuts. Every staircase was packed. Every row was full. There wasn’t any spot in left field where I had more than five feet on either side…so I pretty much gave up. It was Shea Stadium all over again, which is to say that batting practice was in progress, and there was absolutely NO point in even being there.
I made my way over to the Cardinals’ dugout at the end of BP and got Little Pujols to throw me another ball on his way in. Ha-HAAA!!! I was standing five rows back, and he made another perfect toss, this time right over everyone’s head.
I lingered 20 rows behind the dugout for the next half-hour, read more of my book, and eventually moved back into the front row when Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo (pictured below) came out to play catch:
I’d picked the end of the dugout where DeRosa was throwing, figuring he’d be the one to end up with the ball, but I was wrong. Luckily, I was the only fan behind the entire dugout who was yelling for the ball, so Lugo lobbed it to me from about 50 feet away. As easy a toss as it was, I almost dropped it because I lost it in the lights. It was my 12th ball of the day (tying my personal Citi Field record), five of which had the word “practice” stamped onto the sweet spot:
I stayed behind the dugout for the first few innings, hoping to get a third-out ball tossed to me by Pujols. This was my view:
It seemed as if there were always at least two vendors blocking my view and/or the stairs.
Pujols ended up with the ball after the first inning, but tossed it to someone else. I noticed that the ball had a standard MLB logo on it, which meant that Pujols had switched the game-used ball with the infield warm-up ball.
In the second inning (thanks to a Luis Castillo ground out), Pujols ended up with the ball once again. I was blocked at the bottom of the stairs so as Pujols approached the dugout, I scooted about five feet to my right through the partially empty second row. I waved my arms and shouted at him and pointed straight up as if to say, “Throw it high so the people in front of me won’t be able to reach it.” Pujols DID throw me the ball, but he threw it on a line. Chest-high. Oh no. Easily interceptable. I said a silent prayer, knowing I was at the mercy of the people seated directly in front of me, and I reached straight out, hoping to be able to make the catch. As it turned out, no one in the front row even noticed or cared that a ball was sailing two feet over their heads, and I snagged it. The ball had a Citi Field commemorative logo, but I don’t think it was THE ball that had been used in the game. It looked really beat up. Take a look for yourself. Here are two different views of it:
Is it possible that Pujols switched balls and still ended up tossing me a commemorative ball? Sure, why not. I believe that’s what happened.
As soon as I turned to head back up the steps, some guy asked me for the ball. Duh. Not only was it commemorative (I never ever ever ever never ever ever EVER give those away), but it came from Albert effing Pujols. Did you hear me? Albert Pujols!! Okay, so it was the second ball I’d ever gotten from him, but so what? ALBERT PUJOLS!!! (It should be noted that I never give baseballs to people who ask for them, whether or not they’re commemorative, but that’s another story.)
I wandered a bit during the game and eventually made it back to the 3rd base side when things started getting interesting in the eighth inning. With the Mets leading, 7-4, and Johan Santana still in the game, Senor Pujols led off the frame with a mammoth homer to dead center. Then, in the top of the 9th, Francisco Rodriguez melted down, and in the process of throwing 41 pitches, he managed to give up two runs. Tie game. Blown save. No win for Johan. In the top of the 10th, Pedro Feliciano allowed the Cardinals to load the bases. Then Sean Green came in and, in typical Mets fashion, hit DeRosa with his first pitch. That gave St. Louis an 8-7 lead. Next batter? God Himself. Green quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, but God wasn’t bothered by such insignificant things as balls and strikes. The third pitch was a foul ball. The fourth pitch resulted in a grand slam to left-center. It was God’s fifth granny of the season, tying a National League record.
Final score: Cardinals 12, Mets 7.
What does one ask God after such a performance? I don’t know, but apparently someone was brave enough to stick a microphone in front of His face:
In this tainted era of Major League Baseball, I can only say that I ***hope*** Pujols’ name never appears on any “list.” Of course it wouldn’t surprise me if it does, but until then I’ll be rooting for Him.
After the game, Trever Miller threw me a ball at the dugout–the second from him on the day and my 14th overall–as he walked in from the bullpen.
• 346 balls in 40 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.
• 609 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 480 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 345 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 7 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls
• 111 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 62 lifetime games in New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,166 total balls
• 117 donors (if you make a pledge now, it will include all the balls I’ve snagged this season)
• $24.74 pledged per ball
• $346.36 raised at this game
• $8,560.04 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
A couple weeks ago, when I decided to snag my 4,000th ball at Dodger Stadium, I called the Dodgers and suggested that they do a story about it. I told them I was gonna be there on May 18th and that they needed some good press in the wake of Manny being Juiced. The Dodgers didn’t give me an answer right away, of course, but ultimately they decided to go for it.
The day got off to a shaky start when my taxi driver not only revealed he didn’t know where Dodger Stadium was (he was foreign and had only been driving for two weeks), but he unhooked his GPS device from the dashboard and handed it to me. And then there was traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. I was due at the stadium by 4:15pm for an interview before the gates were going to open, and for a while it looked like I was going to be late. Thankfully, though, the snagging gods smiled down upon me and got me there with a few minutes to spare.
I met up with a P.R. guy named Jon and a cameraman named Paul. They conducted the interview right outside the entrance to the Dodgers offices:
This is what it looked like from my point of view:
Why the camera? Because the Dodgers decided to do a segment about me for a kids show on their web site.
Jon asked a ton of questions–everything from “How did you get started doing this?” to “Have you ever missed an important event because of going after baseballs?” to “What advice would you give to kids who want to start a collection of balls?” He even gave me a chance to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity this season. (Hopefully that part will make the cut.)
We wrapped up the interview at around 4:45pm, then headed inside for a minute…
…and finally made our way down toward the left field pavilion:
(Dodger Stadium sits on top of a hill and is surrounded by parking lots and ramps and roads and tollbooths and staircases. It is BY FAR the most colossal and confusing and difficult stadium in baseball. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, all these pics of me were taken by my mom. She and my dad went early with me.)
The following four photos were taken outside the pavilion. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) hanging out with an up-and-coming L.A. ballhawk named Evan (whom you might remember from 8/25/08 at Shea Stadium and 8/26/08 at Yankee Stadium), b) posing with a Manny fan named Jose who asked if he could get a pic with me, c) reconnecting with a legendary ballhawk named John Witt who can be seen giving me a commemorative ball from the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and d) waiting to enter:
(For the record, I will NOT count the ball that John gave me in my collection, but it’s still nice to have.)
The stadium finally opened at 5:10pm and the camera followed me inside:
I started the day with a lifetime total of 3,998 balls, so I *had* to snag at least two more. Normally that wouldn’t have been much of a challenge–I’ve been averaging eight balls per game this season–but in this case, I felt a whole lot of pressure. Here’s why:
1) I was going to be trapped all day in the left field pavilion, so once BP ended, that was pretty much it. No pre-game warm-up balls. No foul balls. No third-out balls. No post-game balls.
2) Paul (the cameraman) was going to have to leave at 6pm to do another interview.
3) Jon (the P.R. guy) didn’t want me to be decked out in Mets gear when I snagged ball No. 4,000. This meant I needed to snag two balls during the first half-hour when the Dodgers would be on the field.
4) I was hoping that ball No. 4,000 (and even No. 3,999) would be a home run and NOT a thrown ball.
5) There was no chance to use my glove trick.
6) TWELVE additional family members were going to be showing up later, including three kids (ranging in age from 7 to 11) who had each asked me to catch a ball for them.
You know how many home runs reached the seats during the Dodgers’ portion of batting practice? ONE!!! And it wasn’t hit anywhere near me. I had no choice but to ask the players for balls–but even THAT didn’t work. The highlight of my begging occurred when I asked Hiroki Kuroda for a ball in Japanese and he responded by smiling at me.
The Mets took the field, and I had *zero* baseballs. What the hell was I supposed to do? I only had 20 minutes of camera-time remaining, so I asked Jon if I could put on my Mets gear.
“Do whatever you would normally do,” he said.
So I did:
In the photo above, you can see a second camera (a palm-corder) pointed at me. It was being operated by a freelance videographer named Angela who was there to get footage for the FLYP segment that I was originally filmed for on 5/12/09 at Citi Field. Now I really *really* had to snag two baseballs. I couldn’t wait around for home runs. I had to use the Mets gear to my advantage, so I headed down toward the front row and camped out on a staircase in left-center field:
The player closest to me was the ultra-quiet John Maine. I wasn’t expecting much, but I gave a shout anyway when a ball was hit near him, and to my surprise he threw it to me! Then I took a look at the ball and I was even more surprised. In fact, I was downright elated, thrilled, and ecstatic. Check it out:
Unbelievable. I attended Game 4 of the 2008 World Series and busted my butt all night to try and get a third-out ball, and I came up empty…and I was seriously bummed…so to end up snagging this ball totally unexpectedly seven months later was more than a dream come true, if that’s even possible.
The cameras were all over it…
…and then came the moment of truth. I was sitting on 3,999 so the next ball was going to be THE ball. David Wright stepped into the cage, and I had visions of a home run ball sailing into my glove, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t want to ask for my next ball. I wanted to wait until I caught a home run. Anyone’s home run. Even Ramon Castro. But there weren’t many balls leaving the yard. Six o’clock was approaching. Jon and Paul were each on their cell phones, asking Whoever for a few more minutes. I *had* to snag another ball, and I had to snag it FAST, so I called out to Livan Hernandez, who fielded a ball in center field. Livan scooped it up, looked over at me, and let it fly from more than 100 feet away. I was halfway down the stairs. The ball was falling a bit short. I leaned way out over the side railing of the staircase and reached out and made the back-handed catch. That was it!!!
Then I thought, “That was IT?!”
It didn’t happen the way I envisioned it. Not even close. Not only had I let down the camera crew by wearing my Mets gear, but the ball hadn’t been hit, and most of my family wasn’t even there yet to witness it…BUT…at least I got it. I’d reached my milestone, and that’s what mattered most.
I showed the ball to both cameras:
Did you notice in the photo above that the ball doesn’t have a standard MLB logo?
Oh yes, that’s right, it was a commemorative ball from the final season of Shea Stadium. Check it out:
The next thing I did was take a photo from my spot on the staircase. I wanted to show the area between the outfield wall and the seats. There was quite a lot of space down there…
…and I used it to catch my next ball. I’m not sure who hit it, but basically, it was a home run that barely cleared the left field wall. While the ball was in mid-air, I scurried down the steps and kept my eye on it and made a one-handed catch high over my head when I got to the bottom. Both cameras captured the whole thing, and then Paul and Jon had to take off.
The ball had a weird marking on it:
Have you ever seen anything like this? It’s like there’d been a round sticker on the ball that had been pulled off and left a papery residue.
Toward the end of BP, I got Brian Stokes to toss up a ball, but instead of facing me and throwing it like a normal human being, he nonchalantly flung it in a sidearm/submarine motion. As a result, the ball sailed high and wide and hit a fat woman, who was eating nachos just above me in the front row. The ball wasn’t thrown that hard, and it only hit her in the arm. She was stunned more than hurt. She truly didn’t even know what had hit her, and obviously she wasn’t there to snag, so I didn’t feel guilty about reaching under her bench and grabbing the ball. Anyway, I was going to be giving that ball away to a kid in my own family, so whatever, I had to go for it. Angela was still there, and she got the whole thing on film.
After BP, I caught up with a guy named Chris (aka “cjpyankee” in the comments section on this blog). He and I had met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium, but this time he was more prepared. He had me sign his copy of my first book, and he also had me sign a photo of the two of us from that game in the Bronx. I signed his book: “To Chris, the fan who was closest to me when I snagged ball No. 4,000…” or something like that. He was indeed a mere five feet away when I caught that low throw from Livan. Here I am with Chris:
That was Chris’s idea to do the 4-0-0-0 in the photo above. Very cool.
This was my view when the game started:
No disrespect to Juan Pierre, but I was really bummed not to be seeing Manny out there in left field all night.
Angela was still there, and she kept her camera on me, just in case…
…but aside from a few between-inning-warm-up balls that got tossed near me, there wasn’t any action.
During one inning break, I got a photo with Evan (pictured below on the left) and John (on the right):
The reason I was wearing this yellow Homer Simpson shirt was just so my people back home in NYC could have an easier time trying to spot me on TV.
As for my family, they’d been trickling into the bleachers at various times. By the end of the second inning, everyone was there. I really wanted to get a group photo, but it was impossible. We had five seats in the front row and ten seats in the fourth row, so we couldn’t even sit together. That said, this is the best I could do:
I claimed the aisle seat in the front row. This was the view to my right:
Perfect for running down the steps and catching a home run, but as I mentioned, nothing came anywhere near me.
As for the issue of there being three kids who each wanted a ball, let me just say (without going into the details) that my friend John snagged a ball during BP, and that his ball ended up in my possession, so between that one and the final two standard balls I had snagged from the Mets, I was able to take care of all the kids.
Here’s Armand and Hannah with their baseballs:
(I taught them how to hold the balls so that the logos face the camera.)
The game itself was devastatingly entertaining, and it all came down to the 11th inning. First, in the top of the frame, Ryan Church scored the apparent go-ahead run on an apparent two-out triple by Angel Pagan…BUT…Church neglected to touch 3rd base on his way to the plate and the run was taken off the scoreboard. Then, in the bottom of the inning, after the Mets’ fourth error of the night placed runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Brian Stokes intentionally walked Pierre to load the bases. (Half my family was gone by this point. The little ones had to get to sleep. They were worn out from a full day at the Universal Studios theme park. Even I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done anything all day except read the box scores and eat at In-and-Out burger.) Mets manager Jerry Manual waved in center fielder Carlos Beltran and brought him into the infield. Look at the following photo. I challenge you to find more than two outfielders:
Here’s a closer look at the infield. (My camera is good, but not THAT good, so it’s a little blurry. Sorry about that.) You can see Beltran (wearing No. 15) standing near second base:
Here are all three right-infielders in ready position:
I *love* baseball. That’s really all I can say. I mean…seriously, what a great game. This particular game, however, wasn’t great for the Mets. After Rafael Furcal flied out weakly to Pagan, Orlando Hudson hit a one-hopper to Jeremy Reed at first base. (Reed is playing for the injured Carlos Delgado). Reed threw home for what should’ve been an easy force-out. His throw beat the runner by about 30 feet, and in fact there might’ve even been time to turn a rare 3-2-3 double play. Or maybe a 3-2-4 double play? I don’t know, Hudson has some speed, but we’ll never know what would’ve happened–if the game would’ve gone into the 12th inning–because Reed’s throw was 10 feet up the 3rd base line. (Mets error No. 5.) The catcher had no chance to knock it down, let alone catch it, and Mark Loretta scampered home with the winning run. It was an ugly and exhilarating end to a day I’ll never forget.
I wanted to linger in the pavilion and bask in my post-game euphoria and take a bunch of photos, but a swat team of security guards descended upon my family and made us get the hell out. The seven us who remained did manage to get this photo together…
…and yes, that ball I’m holding is No. 4,000.
Six years ago, when I snagged my 2,000th ball, I decided to start marking the balls with teeny numbers so I’d always be able to remember which ball was which. At the time, some people said it was silly, even pointless, to start marking balls after I’d already snagged so many, and I remember telling them, “It might seem silly now, but some day, when I have 4,000 balls, I’ll be able to say that the first half of my collection is not marked and the second half is. It won’t sound quite so silly then.”
Well, I’ve reached the 4,000 ball plateau, and it feels great on a number of levels. I have no intention of slowing down, and I’m already pretty sure I’m going to snag No. 5,000 at Citi Field. I need to bring the next milestone back to New York City. But for now, my next goal is to pass Pete Rose on the all-time hits list.
That’s my next goal. I might even be able to get there this year.
Thank you all for being with me on this journey…
• 4 balls at this game
• 182 balls in 23 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 592 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 159 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,002 total balls
• 106 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $23.95 pledged per ball
• $95.80 raised at this game
• $4,358.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball