This was the final day of my trip, and it began with a home-cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs:
The meal was prepared by Nettie, my “host mother” for the week. She and her husband Danny have season tickets at Coors Field, and to put it lightly, they are C-R-A-Z-Y about baseball. Their home is filled with baseball-related items, and when I finished eating my breakfast, I photographed as much of them as I could before leaving for Coors Field.
First of all, did you notice the smaller plate in the photo above? Yeah, those are baseball seams coming out in all four directions. And how about the salt and pepper shakers? I’m telling you, these people are nuts (and I mean that in a good way; I keep trying to get them to adopt me). Wherever I looked, there was a baseball-themed object.
The four-part photo below shows some of their food-related baseball items. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) a baseball sign on their kitchen wall, 2) a baseball mixing bowl, 3) teeny baseball candles with burnt wicks, and 4) a baseball toothpick holder:
See what I mean?
And we’re just getting started…
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) baseball caps hanging on baseball hooks, 2) mini-baseball statues high up on a ledge, 3) a baseball key hook with an “I Love Baseball” lanyard hanging from it, and 4) a baseball stool sitting in front of a bottle-shaped Colorado Rockies piggy bank:
Ready for more?
Here’s another collage that shows 1) baseball rugs, 2) a baseball lamp sitting in front of a baseball clock, 3) a baseball calendar, and 4) baseball coasters and a baseball pad:
Speaking of clocks…
The one pictured below on the lower left has a baseball pendulum swinging back and forth:
Let’s go from clocks to pillows…
…and from pillows to the downstairs bathroom. Here are the towels:
Here’s the soap dish:
And hey, let’s not forget the baseball hooks on the inside of the door:
Elsewhere in Danny and Nettie’s apartment, there were two baseball mouse pads:
Then there was the pair of All-Star Game sneakers, which were sitting in front of a dresser with baseball handles:
And finally (although I’ve only shown a fraction of the baseball items in their home), check out the Rawlings luggage:
How cool is that?! (I’d be too nervous to travel with it. I’d be paranoid that someone would steal it.)
Anyway, yes, Coors Field…
It was a dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game, which meant there might not be batting practice. Still, I was optimistic and marched confidently toward Gate E:
Oh yeah, baby, that’s right: the big glove was BACK.
Unfortunately, this is what the field looked like when the stadium opened:
No batting practice!
I don’t get it. Why wasn’t there BP? The previous night’s game (at which there was no BP because of rain) had started at 6:40pm. It lasted two hours and 46 minutes. That means it ended at 9:26pm. That’s not exactly late. And the Rockies had only scored one run. Why?! I demand to know! Because it was get-away day? Sorry, but that’s lame.
This was my eighth game of 2009 without batting practice. My baseball totals at the previous seven were: 4, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4, and 2. That’s an average of a little over 3.5 balls per game. Not good…not now…not when I needed to snag five balls in order to reach 400 for the season. It’s not like this was going to be my last game of the year, and it’s not like I’d never reached 400 before. It’s just that…I don’t know…it was something I’d been shooting for by the end of August.
There wasn’t much happening early on, but I still had a chance to get myself on the board. Several Dodgers pitchers began playing catch in the left field corner, and one of them made a bad throw that rolled all the way into deep left-center. They didn’t bother to retrieve the ball, so it just sat there, right on the grass in front of the warning track. Naturally, I ran over and got myself as close to the ball as possible. This was my view as I waited there for the next five minutes:
Finally, a couple pitchers stepped out of the bullpen in right-center and began walking slowly across the field. Hiroki Kuroda was the player closest to me, and he spotted the ball on his own. I didn’t have to point at it or call his name. I didn’t even bother asking him for the ball in Japanese. I didn’t say a word. I was the only fan standing there *and* I had the big glove. If ever there was a guaranteed ball, I figured, this was it…and sure enough, he walked over and picked it up and tossed it to me. I made a careful two-handed catch and squeezed the ball inside the gigantic pocket. I thanked Kuroda in Japanese, then took a peek at the ball, and was happy to see that it said “DODGERTOWN” on the sweet spot. Nice!
Danny had not snagged a Dodgertown ball at either of the previous two games, and he knew that I had, so he asked me if I could spare one of mine.
“I know you always give away one of your baseballs to a little kid,” he said, “so can I be the little kid today?”
Danny had the ball in his possession soon after. It was an honor to give it to him, knowing that he would treasure it in his own collection.
There wasn’t too much action after that, unless you consider THIS to be action:
Everyone inside Coors Field, it seemed, wanted to see the big glove, and everyone asked the same question: “Where did you get it?” I meant to count the number of times I got asked that question, but once the stadium opened, I quickly forgot. I would estimate the number to be somewhere around 50, and I gave the same answer every time: “I don’t know. It was a gift. A friend found it online and sent it to me.” Next time I take the big glove to a game, I might print up cards with that answer and hand them out.
Meanwhile, the lack of activity on the field was mind-numbing. All I could do was spend my time posing with the big glove…
…and then take photos of my friend Robert Harmon doing the same:
Finally — I don’t even know when — a few more Dodgers came out to run and stretch and throw in shallow left field.
Ramon Troncoso spotted my big glove and asked if he could see it.
Here he is checking it out as Ronald Belisario stood nearby looking on.
Belisario tossed a few balls to Troncoso, who struggled to catch them and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Then he handed the glove to Belisario, who inspected it thoroughly before walking it back over to me:
(Is it just me, or does the glove kinda look like an octopus or giant squid? You have to click these links. Especially the octopus. In fact, better yet, copy-and-paste the link into a new window and then drag it down next to the glove. Huh? Huh?)
Soon after my big glove was returned, I got George Sherrill to toss me my second ball of the day. Just like the ball I’d gotten from Kuroda, this one also had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot.
One of the nice things about being at a game without batting practice (just kidding, there IS nothing nice about it) is that the players have more free time, and they’re usually more relaxed, and it’s easier to get close to them. That was the case here, as Troncoso came over and leisureley signed autographs for everyone:
I got his autograph on a ticket from the previous game, then ran around to the right field side and got Ubaldo Jimenez to sign one from August 25th. Here are the two autographs:
Coincidentally, both of those players wear number 38 and wrote it underneath their names.
Then, once again, there was a lack of action.
See what I mean?
I *thought* I was going to snag my third ball along the right field foul line, but I ran into some bad luck. Franklin Morales was playing catch with Joe Beimel, so I headed down to the front row and held up the big glove:
I simply wanted Morales to see me so that he’d consider tossing me the ball when he was done. Well, totally unexpectedly, right in the middle of long-tossing, he decided to throw one to me — except he airmailed me, and the ball landed in the fourth row, and some other fan ended up with it. Fabulous.
I headed to the left field corner after that because Jonathan Broxton started playing catch with Guillermo Mota. Here’s a shot of Broxton catching one of the throws:
There were a bunch of fans waiting along the foul line, but I was the only fan in fair territory. When the two players finished throwing, Broxton walked over and looked at the big glove and smiled and fired the ball at me from about 40 feet away. I was lucky to catch it. It was another Dodgertown ball, and before I had a chance to label it, he started waving at me with his glove as if to say, “Throw it back.” So I did. I tossed him a near-perfect knuckleball, and he seemed to be mildly impressed. He then turned his back to me and took a few steps toward the fans in foul territory and cocked his arm back as if he were going to throw them the ball. He then turned back to me and laughed and tossed me the ball for a second time. I was really surprised by the whole interaction. I’d seen the Dodgers a bunch of times in recent years, and Broxton was never friendly. It’s nice to know that even the most serious player can be “cracked,” as it were, and it’s also nice to have an extra reason to root for him (beyond the fact that he’s a freak of nature with a frighteningly strong arm).
The following photo needs no explanation…
…although I should point out (because it’s hard to see here) that the guy has a purple goatee.
Shortly before the game started, Juan Castro threw me another Dodgertown ball along the left field foul line, and then I got Andre Ethier to sign a ticket. This one, unlike the autograph he’d signed for me the day before, did not get smudged:
A few minutes later, Manny Ramirez and several other guys began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I decided to put on my Dodgers T-shirt, and I wore it backwards so that the “RAMIREZ 99” would face toward the field. I *really* wanted a ball from Manny, and I thought it might help convince him to toss one to me. Unfortunately (I know…shocker) when Manny finished throwing, he didn’t toss the ball to anyone. He didn’t even end up with the ball (he could have if he wanted to), so I turned my attention elsewhere. Rafael Furcal…yes! He’d thrown me a ball two days earlier, right in that section, right before the game. I knew he was going to end up with the ball again. My only concern was whether or not he’d recognize me.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” boomed the voice of the public address announcer, “will you please rise and remove your hats for the singing of our national anthem?”
Furcal caught the final throw and jogged toward the dugout. I was being forced to stand behind Row 10. (That’s one of the stupid rules at Coors Field.) I held up my big glove and shouted his name. He looked up and lobbed the ball to me. I was convinced that someone else was going to reach in front of me…but no one touched it! I made another careful two-handed catch with the big glove and felt great about having just snagged my 400th ball of the season. (My single-season record is 543. I did that last year.)
Seconds before the music started, I took a photo of the ball. The red arrow is pointing to Furcal:
Then, after the anthem was done, I asked a nearby fan to take my picture in the approximate spot where I’d made the catch:
It was game time. I headed out to my front-row seat in left field.
The two worst things about the game were that:
1) There was only one home run, and it didn’t land anywhere near me.
2) I was sitting in the sun, and the right side of my face ended up pinker than the left.
The highlight of the game was when a one-armed fan (who looked like Robert) ran over and grabbed my big glove and sat back down in his seat (in front of which was his own little strip of AstroTurf) and posed for my camera:
Yep, just another day at the ballpark…
Here’s a photo of me, taken by Robert who was sitting just beyond the one-armed fan:
Here’s another photo that was taken by Robert. He’s in the middle. Jameson Sutton (the guy who snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball and sold it for $376,612) is on the left…and I’m on the right:
I’m ashamed to admit that Robert’s ear hair (okay, no, it was just his regular hair) was tickling MY ear…and no, I didn’t enjoy it. (The fan in the background is like, “Whoa, take it easy, fellas…”)
Good times (but not a whole lot of balls) in Denver.
Final score of this game?
Dodgers 3, Rockies 2.
My boy Broxton notched a four-out save.
And then Danny and Nettie drove me to the airport.
• 400 balls in 47 games this season = 8.51 balls per game.
• 616 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 175 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,220 total balls
• 120 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.86 pledged per ball
• $124.30 raised at this game
• $9,944.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?
When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield . . .
. . . I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.
The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for the Wild Card with
the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers won, or if they both lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea to determine who’d be moving on to the post-season.
I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:
I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through. At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned about my seat location.
I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball. Even a training ball. Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.
Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.
I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing . . . and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a chance to catch it.
Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.
“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)
“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.
So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket . . .
. . . and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it was raining. Look how wet the railings were at the front of the bleachers:
Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after. The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:
These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.
The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:
Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me the following ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more) of the Nationals’ baseballs.
The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to me off the warning track in left-center.
I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife. I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:
I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:
I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets were entering the stadium.
I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone . . .
. . . so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:
This was the view slightly to the left:
The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck . . .
. . . and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:
I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:
The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all being former Mets) but it was still cool:
These guys were intense:
This dude nailed it:
This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:
This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:
This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in the background:
Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:
Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:
Then I ran into Elvis . . .
. . . and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.
If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be, but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.
Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day, and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant scoreboard . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:
I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1” so when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.
This was my view straight ahead . . .
. . . and this was the view to my right:
I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.
Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:
The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker. Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run. Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were ahead, 2-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner, and Beltran crushed it in my direction.
It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept coming . . . coming . . . coming . . . and I couldn’t believe I was even going to be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter disbelief before I really started celebrating:
Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:
Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:
Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me. It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing my shaved head:
The celebration just wouldn’t end:
Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives . . .
. . . followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:
And some more high-fives. Check it out . . . two at once:
It was THE . . . CRAZIEST . . . HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.
(Click here to watch the highlight on SNY.)
As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.
“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.
They were all like . . . huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.
One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank god) and had me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did . . . and I kept getting mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like, “C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”
He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90 percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the ball as he could and his friend took a pic.
I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers. The authenticator, pictured below . . .
. . . emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur. This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was racing like you wouldn’t believe.
He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…
. . . and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:
Here’s a look at the sticker:
Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:
Here’s the commemorative logo:
Here’s the whole thing:
People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc. Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get out of the way if one comes.”
“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10 steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”
But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.
A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.
“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.
“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”
I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)
Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers (who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.
Wow, 12 more outs to go . . .
In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers. Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d just traveled an additional 10 feet.
“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.
“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”
Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then BOOM!!! Another home run . . . again into the bleachers but too far over toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.
“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.
“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”
I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.
Ayala retired the next three batters.
The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth or their season was done.
The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning: David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.
Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches, but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.
I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick (which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level. Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full . . .
. . . and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is business.
Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one 380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was history.
The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”
It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to get stuff from them, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout (he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap as everyone headed back in.
I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif (aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) and changed out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but still . . . Marlins = yuck:
Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap . . .
. . . and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:
THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.
Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:
The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto the field one last time . . .
. . . but it was bittersweet. Everyone in the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite bathroom–but even he knew it was time.
I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot . . .
. . . and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:
“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”
When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:
1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you because they just saw you at the Mets game . . . dude, you are a f*ckin’ superstar.”
2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever . . . and you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculous. This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”
3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall, former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair, looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah.”
Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.
It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted this entry about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now 12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the front page of Yahoo, and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot . . .
. . . and here’s the story.
This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats . . .
* 6 balls at this game
* 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
* 568 consecutive games with at least one ball
* 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
* 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
* 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)
* 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
* 99 lifetime game balls in New York
* 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
* 3,816 total balls