It was another day of A-Rod hysteria:
Perhaps “hysteria” is an exaggeration. “Anticipation” and “excitement” and “teenage girls hoping to get on TV” would be a better way to describe the atmosphere.
When the stadium opened at 5pm, I raced out to the right field seats. My girlfriend Jona followed close behind with my camera. Here’s a shot of the section from afar. I’m standing in the last row (see the red arrow) wearing a black T-shirt and khaki green cargo shorts:
When A-Rod stepped into the cage, I moved up a few rows and quickly got my first chance of the day when he launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I could tell right away that it was going to fall a bit short, so I climbed over a row of seats…
…and when the ball predictably tailed to my left, I began to drift with it. If you look really closely at the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air:
One second later, I reached to my left and made an uncontested, one-handed catch:
For the first 10 minutes, the seats remained fairly empty. I took advantage by running all over the place…
…but it didn’t always pay off. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking a home run ball…
…and here’s another that shows me NOT catching it:
I always seem to make great facial expressions when I narrowly miss baseballs. In my own defense, I missed this one because it sailed five feet over my head. Anyway, I got a chance to redeem myself moments later. A-Rod was back in the cage, and I was in position:
He launched another home run ball, this time to my right, and I took off after it:
Once I got close to the spot where I knew it was going to land, I slowed down a bit and started drifting:
I reached the spot:
The ball was heading right for me, but I could tell that it was going to sail a few feet over my head. There was no time to climb up on a seat. Did I have enough vertical leap in me to make the catch?
Here’s your answer:
Here I am just after landing with the ball…
…and here I am holding it up for Jona (who deserves received many hugs and kisses for taking these outstanding photos):
Five minutes later, Curtis Granderson really got a hold of one and sent the ball flying deep to my left. The sun was in my eyes, so as I started moving through my row, I held up my right hand to reduce the glare:
As soon as I passed the Modell’s sign, I climbed over a row of seats:
The ball landed, and I climbed over another row:
And then I climbed over another:
That’s when I grabbed it. (Did you notice that the guy in the red shirt never even moved? All he did was turn around to see where the ball landed.)
Moments later, I caught another A-Rod homer on the fly. It’s too bad that Jona didn’t get a photo of this one because I got clobbered while making the catch. I was in the middle of a cluster of people, and when I jumped for the ball, another guy crashed into me, elbowed me in the back of the head, caused my hat to go flying, and nearly made me tumble forward over a row of seats. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think that some people are out of control and have no sense of their surroundings.
I’d snagged four baseballs in the first 15 minutes. Things were looking good. I thought I was on my way to double digits for the first time ever at the new Yankee Stadium — but then things slowed way down.
I still kept running all over the place…
…and climbing over seats…
…but I couldn’t get close to any other balls. I was still stuck at four when the Yankees’ portion of BP ended.
I threw on my Blue Jays cap and headed over to the left field side:
I don’t know what caused it, but the Blue Jays (who lead the majors in home runs) experienced a severe power outage. There was hardly any action in the stands, and as a result, I only snagged two more baseballs. The first was tossed by Jesse Litsch (who recognized me from Toronto). It was my 200th ball of the season. Here it is:
The second ball was a John McDonald homer. I grabbed it when it landed in the seats and handed it to the nearest kid.
Simple stuff. Six balls. Not terrible. Not great. But that’s to be expected at Yankee Stadium.
Did you know that there’s a butcher inside the stadium? And did you know that Jona is generally repulsed by meat? This photo pretty much tells the story…
…although I should point out that the three balls I’m holding were my A-Rod homers.
Could A-Rod break out of his slump and hit one to me during the game?! Jona asked me what I thought my chances were of catching No. 600. This was my reaction:
All I can say is that Yankee Stadium stresses me out. One thing, however, that did temporarily improve my mood was the free chocolate samples that we got from a Dylan’s candy stand inside Gate Two:
In the photo above, it looks so empty and peaceful, doesn’t it?
One word: HA!!
This was my view during the bottom of the first inning with A-Rod on deck:
(Historical tidbit No. 1: This was the 31st anniversary of Thurmon Munson’s death.)
Jona and I had seats in the middle of a row. Early in the game, we were able to grab a couple open seats next to the stairs, but in the middle innings, every single end-seat was taken. I had to make a choice. The options were:
1) Move into the middle of the row and basically have no chance to move if A-Rod happened to go yard.
2) Leave the section and try my luck somewhere else.
We left the section. I couldn’t even bear the thought of sitting in the middle of a row. I knew I would’ve felt like a caged animal, so we wandered for a few innings and ended up in the bleachers.
Why does Yankee Stadium stress me out? Why haven’t I bothered to make a serious attempt at catching No. 600 in New York?
This is why:
The strategy for catching a milestone home run ball at Yankee Stadium is simple: be exactly where the ball is going to be hit. There is NO room to move. Security checks tickets at every section. And even if you can somehow sneak into a section, there aren’t any empty seats. It’s a ballhawking nightmare.
When A-Rod grounded out to end the 7th inning, some people foolishly assumed that he wouldn’t come up again — and they left. Jona and I took advantage and moved back to our original section. Look at all this room I had:
(At Yankee Stadium, that’s a lot of room.)
The Yankees got two guys on base in the eighth, which meant that A-Rod would be due to bat fourth in the bottom of the ninth…and…thanks to a one-out homer by Nick Swisher in the final frame, A-Rod did indeed get one last turn to hit.
It would have been nice if Mister Rodriguez hit a line drive right to me because I almost definitely would’ve caught it. Obviously, there’s no way to guard against someone in the front row throwing their glove up at the ball and deflecting it, but putting freak plays aside, I really do believe that if A-Rod had hit the ball anywhere within, let’s say…five feet of me, I would have caught it. But instead, he grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 6.
(Historical tidbit No. 2: During this game, the Blue Jays tied an American League record by hitting six doubles in one inning.)
I raced over to the Jays’ bullpen and got one final ball from bullpen coach Rick Langford. I didn’t take my camera or backpack with me — Jona was hanging onto all my stuff — so when she finally made her way over, this was the only photo that she got:
It shows Langford and Janssen and the bullpen catcher walking across the field toward the dugout.
(Jona would like you to know that she took that last photo with her brand new iPhone 4, which she loves.)
• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 202 balls in 22 games this season = 9.2 balls per game.
• 651 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 493 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 139 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 10 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 7 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls
• 4,560 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $45.43 raised at this game
• $1,310.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I attended this game for one reason only: to catch Alex Rodriguez’s 600th career home run.
The day, of course, started with batting practice, and there was quite a surprise waiting for me on the inside of Gate 6. Check it out:
It’s a little hard to see, so in case you can’t tell, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte was there to greet fans and hand out the giveaway. (It was “Yankees Insulated Can Cooler Night.”)
A few other fans got in ahead of me, one of whom stopped to have his picture taken with Pettitte:
As much as I wanted to race inside and start snagging baseballs, I couldn’t pass up the chance to say hi to the potential/future Hall of Famer. I reached out to shake his hand, and he responded by handing me a Can Cooler.
“Thanks,” I said, “but I really just wanted to shake your hand.”
“Oh!” he said. “Well, it’s good to meet you.”
I attempted to take a photo with him. I stood next to him and held the camera at arm’s length and pointed it back toward us. I’m usually good at taking photos like that, but in this case, it turned out looking ridiculous, so I’m not going to share it here.
I hurried out to the right field seats and grabbed two home run balls within the first minute. Colin Curtis might’ve hit one of them, but I’m really not sure. I didn’t catch either one on the fly, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just glad to get on the board and not have to worry about being shut out.
Five minutes later, I got C.C. Sabathia’s attention (by jumping and waving and shouting) and got him to throw me a ball. The following photo shows where Sabathia was when he threw it:
It was gorgeous. He lobbed it with the perfect arc so that it sailed over everyone’s heads and came right to me. I’ve always liked Sabathia and rooted for him, so it was great to finally get a ball from him.
That’s all I got during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Once the Royals started hitting, I headed over to the left field side. This is what it looked like over there — pretty standard stuff:
My fourth ball of the day was another home run. Once again, I have no idea who hit it — all I know is that it was a right-handed batter — but this time I caught it on the fly. Several other fans were closing in on it, so I jumped and reached above them at the last second.
The ball had an interesting marking on it:
Royals closer Joakim Soria threw me my fifth ball of the day. Then I snagged a ground-rule double (hit by a lefty) that bounced off the warning track and rattled around in a mostly-empty row. Finally, toward the end of BP, I got another ball from Soria. This time he flung it randomly into the crowd. The ball landed in an empty row, and I barely beat out another man for it.
“That’s okay!” shouted the guy as I walked off. “I’ll get A-Rod’s!”
I gave that ball to the littlest kid in the section and later gave another ball to a slightly bigger kid.
Shortly before the game started, Chris Getz hooked me up with my eighth ball of the day. He and Mitch Maier were playing catch in shallow left field. I got as close as possible, which wasn’t close at all because of that stupid partition, and managed to get his attention from about 100 feet away. Here’s a photo of him walking back toward the dugout after he threw me the ball:
I had a great seat in left field for the game. Check out the view in the bottom of the first inning:
Things got a bit more intense when A-Rod stepped to the plate…
…but then again, not everyone was into it. Check out the two fans sitting down in the following photo:
A-Rod ended up working the count full and then drawing a walk. No big deal. The night was young, and he wasn’t the only player going for a milestone. Jorge Posada had 999 career RBIs, and I had visions of catching his home run, but it wasn’t meant to be. He stroked a run-scoring double down the right field line, and that was that:
A-Rod led off the bottom of the 3rd with a single. The people who operate the Jumbotron responded by posting a baby photo of him the following inning:
A-Rod struck out swinging in the bottom of the fifth, and then there was an 85-minute rain delay. Here’s the grounds crew rolling out the tarp:
Here’s a shot of the water on the field:
I did some wandering and found myself in the Great Hall:
Eventually the grounds crew removed the tarp…
…and when the game resumed, the seats were half-empty.
Perfect! I finally had some room to run. All A-Rod had to do was hit a line drive right at me, and I’d have an easy, uncontested catch. But no, he singled in the 7th and grounded out weakly in the 8th.
There’s a lot of other stuff that took place over the course of the day, but I’m too busy/stressed/exhausted to go into great detail about any of it. To give you a quick rundown:
1) While waiting for the stadium to open, I did a 20-minute phone interview about A-Rod’s 600th home run for the SeatGeek Blog.
2) During the rain delay, a man had a seizure in the Great Hall and had to be carted off on a stretcher. (He was rather large. Not sure if that had anything to do with it.)
3) Late in the game, a female security guard recognized me and asked in all seriousness, “How are your balls?”
4) Even later in the game, I had a long conversation with the man behind me about why he hadn’t brought his glove.
Final score: Yankees 7, Royals 1.
It was a busy night, and right now, it’s a busy life. That’s why it took me three days to post this entry. I’m dealing with a lot of stuff right now, some good, some bad. I was planning to go to Cleveland and make an attempt at No. 600 there, but I’ve had to cancel my trip, at least for now. Maybe I’ll still make it out there for a game or two if A-Rod holds off a bit longer.
• 8 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 190 balls in 20 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 649 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 491 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 138 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 9 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 4,548 total balls
• 44 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $51.68 raised at this game
• $1,227.40 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Several months ago, I heard that the old Yankee Stadium was finally being demolished. People sent me videos and photos and articles, but I never looked at any of it. Even though I often complained about that stadium, it really was a special place for me, and I wasn’t ready to see proof that it was gone. Yesterday, however, I had no choice. It was my first time at the new stadium since September 28th, and this was one of the first things I saw after getting off the No. 4 train:
I’d actually left my apartment extra early so that I’d have time to wander and take pics. I figured that if I had to see it, I might as well see ALL of it. Here’s another look at what remains of the old Yankee Stadium:
I wonder how Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio would feel if they could see this.
The bleacher concourse, way out in what used to be deep left field, was partially intact:
So was the escalator structure at the old home plate entrance:
I headed down to street level and began walking clockwise around the old stadium. The outer shell was still intact in some places. Here’s a look at it from underneath the elevated train tracks on River Avenue:
I peeked through a construction gate behind the old right field corner…
…and imagined that it was just a bad dream. Then I headed up to the roof of the nearby parking garage, and when I looked back down, I was surprised to see how much clutter there was:
I guess the Yankees are planning to build more scaffolding and dismantle it slowly? I have no idea, and I don’t even care. I’m just glad/sad to have seen it firsthand.
Here’s a shot that shows the new stadium off in the distance:
Here’s another shot of the new stadium, taken from a bit lower down:
The garage was practically empty. It smelled like concrete dust and urine. Just about everything was abandoned or in ruins. It felt apocalyptic, like a deleted scene from “Terminator.”
…and this is what it looked like as I made my way around the stadium:
There was one more place to take photos: from the walkway that runs along the edge of the new Joe Yancey Track and Field. Check it out:
Here’s one final photo of the old stadium:
I’m still in shock.
Anyway, enough of that. I should probably mention that Jona was with me. Here we are in front of the new stadium…
…and here’s the crowd (at just one of the four gates) that was waiting to get in:
Last year, Yankee Stadium opened three hours before game time. This year? Two hours. Lame, lame, lame. That’s still better than some teams, but the Yankees aren’t just any team. I think they owe it to their fans to open at least two and a half hours early so that people can watch Jeter & Company take batting practice for more than 20 minutes. (Every stadium should open two and a half hours early; if I were the commissioner, I’d make it a league-wide rule.)
Jona offered to take photos of me during BP, so I handed her my camera and raced inside. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to me way off in the distance:
If you click the photo above to make it bigger, you’ll see a fan wearing a red shirt four rows in front of me. That was a 14-year-old ballhawk named Connor, whom you might remember from 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium. Yesterday, he and I often found ourselves in the same section, but we did a good job of staying out of each other’s way.
In case you can’t tell, the ball flew over my head and landed in the tunnel.
What happened next?
I’m always concerned that I’m gonna get shut out at Yankee Stadium, so it felt good to get that first ball out of the way. As it turned out, that was the only ball I snagged until the Angels took the field. Not good. But it wasn’t like I was dropping balls or misplaying them. There just weren’t many opportunities.
Now, let me just state for the record that I really do like the Angels. I worked as an unpaid intern for one of their minor league affiliates in 1995 — the Boise Hawks — and it was the best summer of my life. Among the many awesome things that happened, the Hawks ended up winning the Northwest League championship, and I was unexpectedly given a championship ring. It’s one of my most prized possessions, baseball or otherwise, so I’ve always rooted for the Angels as a result. That said, I’ve taken some heat from Yankee fans for wearing visiting teams’ gear in the Bronx, so I want to make it very clear that on this particular occasion, I did it for a personal reason. No disrespect intended.
Here I am with my second ball of the day:
It was thrown by Angels catcher Bobby Wilson after he finished warming up along the left field foul line.
Ready for some more action shots?
When Jered Weaver finished warming up, I shouted his name and got him to throw me a ball from about 150 feet away. In the following photo, you can see me holding up my glove as he was just about to unleash it:
Here’s a shot of the ball in midair (it’s just a teeny little speck)…
…and here I am making a leaping catch:
The foul line turned out to be a good spot while various players were finishing their warm-ups. Brian Stokes (who remembered me from his days with the Mets) tossed me another ball. The following photo shows me leaning out over the “moat” and making a two-handed catch:
I moved from the foul line to the seats in straight-away left field and snagged a home run hit by Brandon Wood. It landed several rows behind me and to the right, and I raced a couple other grown men for it. Then one of the Angels batters hit a deep line drive that short-hopped the outfield wall and bounced to Reggie Willits. I called out to him, and he tossed it my way. Here I am preparing for another two-handed catch. (Better safe than sorry.) The arrow is pointing to the ball, and you can see Connor in the background:
Don’t feel bad for Connor. He ended up snagging a few baseballs of his own, and I’ll let him tell you about it himself in the comments.
The ball from Willits had a big dirt/scuff mark near the Rawlings logo, and the next ball I got — a home run that landed in the last row of seats — had a big grass stain in the same spot:
BP ended shortly after that, so I raced through the seats and made it to 3rd base dugout just as the Angels were coming off the field. (I couldn’t get all the way down to the dugout. I had to stay half a dozen rows back.) First base coach Alfredo Griffin tossed a bunch of balls into the crowd. I got one of them. It was my eighth ball of the day, tying my personal new Yankee Stadium record.
Jona and I sat in straight-away left field during the game. This was the view:
Nothing special, right? Well, for the first few innings, this is what it looked like to my left:
There was SO much room to run, and on top of that, the left-handed Scott Kazmir was pitching for the Angels, so the Yankees’ lineup was stacked with righties. The good news is that there were four home runs (two by Robinson Cano, one by Hideki Matsui, and another by Derek Jeter). The bad news is that they all went to right field.
Between innings, I hung out near the Angels bullpen…
…but didn’t get anything else. I did however, give away one of my baseballs to a little kid sitting directly behind me. He was so happy that he couldn’t stop playing with it. At one point, when the ball slipped out of his glove and nearly rolled under my seat, I joked, “Hey, look what I found!” and his parents laughed.
Time out for a moment. Do you notice the uniform number of the pitcher in the photo above? Did you notice the uniform number of the left fielder two photos before that? Yep, it was Jackie Robinson Day, so everyone was wearing No. 42 in his honor. My rosters were basically useless as a result, but I’m not complaining. Believe me. I’m just pointing out one silly/related detail. Okay, time in.
The game itself was interminable. Kazmir threw 87 pitches in four-plus innings, while Yankees starter Phil Hughes threw 108 in five-plus. Then the bullpens continued the trend of inefficiency. I wouldn’t have minded except it got really cold, and Jona’s allergies were killing her — but we stayed and watched Mariano Rivera bail out Joba Chamberlain with a one-out save. Final score: Yankees 6, Angels 2.
• 8 balls at this game (7 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 23 balls in 2 games this season = 11.5 balls per game.
• 631 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 489 consecutive games in New York with at
least one ball
• 137 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4,381 total balls
• 17 donors (click here to learn more and support the cause)
• $1.61 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $12.88 raised at this game
• $37.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
On a personal level, the best thing about Game 5 of the 2009 World Series was getting a free ticket. The worst thing was that I had to watch the Phillies and Yankees. To put it lightly, I don’t care for either team. I thought about wearing all Mets gear (as a way of staging my own mini-protest), but ultimately I decided to dress like this:
It was my way of messing with fans of both teams without getting laughed at. As I made my way around the stadium, I noticed people staring and pointing. One guy asked if he could get a photo with me. His friend asked if I was bipolar.
It was only 2:30pm — more than five hours before the first pitch — so I had time to get food (don’t order pasta or the turkey burger at McFadden’s) and take a bunch of photos…
Here’s a look at the street that runs from the 3rd base gate to the Ashburn Alley gate in left field:
One word: HOOPLA.
The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere…
…and yet as I walked around, I noticed that I wasn’t really feeling it. It didn’t feel like the World Series. It just felt like any other game, except colder. I was hoping to snag at least eight balls in order to maintain an average of nine balls per game for the entire season, and of course I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative game-used ball with the 2009 World Series logo, but I felt no sense of urgency. I don’t know why — maybe because it’d been so long since my last game that I’d fallen out of SnagMode — but I felt rather Zen about the whole thing. Ultimately, I just wanted to snag one ball and see a good game.
The TV crews were out in full force…
“I gotta talk to you for a minute,” she said, reaching for a microphone.
Sure enough, she asked me about the clothes I was wearing.
I explained that I didn’t like either team.
“You hate everybody!” she joked, and then she asked me why I was even AT the game.
“Because I got a free ticket,” I said.
“How’d you manage that?” she asked.
I told her about my books and my baseball collection and mentioned that there’s a ticket company called First Hand Tickets that recently “sponsored” me…and that I got the ticket from them. She was pretty intrigued by the whole story and kept asking me questions. I couldn’t believe how long the interview was lasting, but once it was over, she told me that it was being taped and that her editor was going to trim it down and air part of it later. Oh well. Still cool.
Before I headed off, she got one of her assistants to take the following photo of us:
First Hand Tickets, you can actually call up and speak to real human beings who can help you get what you need. They even help put together flight and hotel packages, so check out their site and give them a call. The head of the company — a really nice guy named Warren — said he’ll offer discounts to people who ask for him and mention my name. So yeah. Keep these guys in mind.
Anyway, by the time the gates were getting ready to open, the sun was setting…
…and by the time I ran inside and snagged the first November ball of my life, it was already dark:
It was thrown by Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick, and as you can see, it was a regular MLB ball. It’d be really cool if teams used World Series balls during BP before World Series games. I don’t see what the big deal is. I suppose MLB figures they’ll end up selling more World Series balls (at thirty bucks a pop) if they’re harder to get a hold of, but if that’s their logic, then I must respectfully disagree. If there were even a few World Series balls floating around during BP, fans would go nuts to try to catch every single ball. More people would show up early (which would lead to extra concession sales for the home team), and for every fan who managed to catch a World Series ball, there’d be 20 other fans standing right nearby, asking to have a look at it. Those people would be more inclined to buy the balls if they actually saw them being used — and if they felt like they were THIS close to actually catching one. Plus…Home Run Derby balls are used during BP prior to the Derby itself, so obviously it can be done.
At one point, during the first few minutes of BP, Phillies fans were ganging up on the few Yankee fans. One guy who was decked out in Yankee gear got (intentionally) slammed from behind while reaching up to catch a home run. This caused him to drop the ball, and when he tried to scramble for it in between two rows of seats, the Phillies fan (who was absolutely huge) dove on top of him with crushing force. It was perhaps the most blatant case of aggression and violence that I’d *ever* seen at a game. But you know what? Any non-Yankee fan in the Bronx is likely to be treated just as badly, if not worse. I’ve seen Yankee fans rip opposing teams’ caps off fans’ heads and light them on fire. In conclusion: “Yankee and Philly fans, I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Now…did you notice how empty the stands were in the photo above? It didn’t stay that way for long. By the time the Yankees took the field, I still only had one ball, and the seats were packed:
I just wasn’t on my game. In addition to the TWO tossed balls that had tipped off my glove (longer arms would’ve helped), I wasn’t judging home runs well, and I think it was partly due to the fact that the balls weren’t carrying. Everything was falling short — no surprise there — and I was slow to make the adjustment. Once I turned my attention to the glove trick, however, things started picking up. There was a ball that rolled onto the warning track near the left field
foul pole, and as I was trying to reel it in, Alfredo Aceves walked over and stuffed it in my glove. Then, in straight-away left field, I had a chance to use the trick to reel in another — and get this: even though I was wearing my Yankee gear at that point, there was a female Yankee fan in the front row who was incredibly rude to me. Basically, she was taking up two spots against the railing, and she refused to let me in because she wanted the ball for herself. (She was about 25 years old, looked like she was 45, needed a meal more than she needed a ball, and wasn’t wearing a glove.) She made such a big fuss about not letting me into the front row that the two Phillies fans to her right moved over to make some space for me. (Thank you, Philadelphia. You’re not so bad after all.) Once I climbed into the front row, the woman told me that if I got the ball, I had to give it to her since she’d let me in. (I ignored her at that point.) Moments later, as I was starting to lower my glove over the wall, she said, “Ohmygod, you are so embarrassing. Can you go away?” My response went as follows: “Lady, there are 45,000 other seats in this stadium. If you have a problem with me, you can move to any one of them.” While everyone else was cheering for me, the woman was talking trash and cursing. I just tuned it out, went about my business, snagged the ball, and headed back up the steps.
Five minutes later, while still wearing my Yankee gear, a Phillies fan was kind enough to hold my legs while I reached way out and across the flower bed to reel in another ball with the glove trick — my fourth ball overall. Granted, this fan recognized me from YouTube and then proceeded to ask for the ball (I gave him my rally towel instead — estimated eBay value: $20), but it was still a nice gesture on his part.
Batting practice ended two minutes later, and on my way out of the section, I found a ticket lying on the ground. Half an hour later, while walking through the field level concourse, I found another. Check this out:
See the ticket for Section 130? Do you know where that is?! Take a look at the Citizens Bank Park seating chart below:
That’s right…the game hadn’t even started, and for the rest of the night, I was guaranteed to have full access to the seats behind the Yankee dugout. This was a big deal because my actual seat was up here:
I was officially supposed to be in the “right field bleacher deck,” or some kind of nonsense like that, but there was no way that I was going up there. I didn’t know where I’d end up — I was expecting to have a standing-room-only ticket — but I knew I wasn’t going to any section where it was physically impossible to catch a ball. If I had to, I’d stand in the concourse all night and wait until a foul ball or home run started flying in my direction and then bolt down the steps. The problem with sneaking anywhere was that there simply weren’t empty seats.
But wait…hang on…I’m getting ahead of myself. Just after Alanis Morissette sang the national anthem, Derek Jeter came out and started playing catch in front of the dugout (probably to show off for her and/or to ask for her phone number). I used my “Section 130” ticket to get past the ushers, and then I waltzed right down to the front row. Almost every seat was full at that point, but there was one opening in the middle of the section right behind the dugout. It just so happened that this open space was at the outfield end of the dugout, where Jeter was likely to return with the ball. Another happy coincidence: my Yankee shirt said “JETER 2” on the back, so I slipped my arms out through the sleeves and turned the shirt around so that I was wearing his name on my chest. I poked my arms back out, grabbed my camera, positioned my backpack in just the right spot so that it wouldn’t get trampled…and before I knew it, Jeter was finishing up. I didn’t have time to take a photo. All I could do was wave my glove and shout his name and try to make sure that he could see my shirt. He was walking right to me with the ball in his hand. Could it be?! I’d never gotten a ball from him and always wanted one. Even though he played for the Yankees, he was one of my all-time favorite players — one of only two guys (Mariano Rivera being the other) who can actually make me root FOR the Yankees. He kept walking closer. I shouted my head off. He looked to the left, then to the right. Was there a more worthy recipient? A pretty young woman or a cute little kid? No! Jeter took another step and then flipped the ball right to me. The fans on either side reached for it, but they had no chance. I dove forward and caught the ball (pictured on the left) in my glove with full extension, and I belly flopped on the dugout roof. Oh. My. God. DEREK JETER!!! And as a bonus, this ball broke my own personal single-game World Series record of four balls, which I achieved last year at Game 4.
That made my night, week, month, and…I don’t want to say year, because there were quite a few highlights, but man, I was so excited after that. I almost couldn’t tell if it had really happened. I’d been having a lot of snagging dreams lately, and they all felt so real at the time.
As for the game, fun fun fun. Cliff Lee gave up a run in the top of the first, but the Phillies answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame and three more in the third. Chase Utley hit two homers, tying Reggie Jackson’s record for the most home runs hit by one player in a World Series. Unfortunately, I was halfway across the stadium for both of those homers, just chillin’ in foul territory. If I felt like I had a chance to catch a homer, then I would’ve been in the outfield seats, but there’s no cross-aisle at Citizens Bank Park. There’s no way to run left or right. There were no empty seats out there. I wouldn’t have been allowed to stand on any of the staircases, and even if I were, and even if a ball came right to me, there’s no guarantee that I would’ve caught it because the crowd was in a snagging frenzy, even with foul balls. People were pushing and shoving like mad.
In the top of the ninth inning, with the Phillies clinging to an 8-5 lead, this was my view from the back of Section 130:
Then, after Jeter bounced into a run-scoring double play, this was my new spot:
There was a pocket of empty seats down at the front.
I couldn’t sneak all the way down while the game was in progress, but I had my post-game route planned out: down the steps, through the second row, into front row, all the way to the right. That was as close as I could get to the spot where the umpires would be walking off the field. Home plate ump Dana DeMuth had tossed me two post-game balls in the past — both at PETCO Park, incidentally — but those came during the regular season. Would his generosity possibly extend into the World Series?!
The answer had to wait as Johnny Damon smoked a single to center. Mark Teixiera came up next and promptly fell behind in the count, 0-2. I was ready to pounce. I wasn’t sure if any other fans were thinking what I was thinking, so I need to move fast. Teixiera took a ball to bring the count to 1-2. My heart was pounding. I was afraid he’d hit a two-run homer and tie the game. I didn’t want extra innings. I wanted the Phillies to win, and I wanted them to win NOW. Next pitch? Strike three! Ballgame over. Final score: Phillies 8, Yankees 6. I raced down the steps, did some fancy footwork, and reached the corner spot JUST in front of another guy who’d been rushing there too. The rest was up to Mister DeMuth. As he began walking toward me, it was so noisy that I could barely hear myself screaming his name. Somehow, though, he must have heard me because this was the result:
It’s hard to tell in the photo above, but the ball was actually quite rubbed up with mud. The photo below (which shows all six balls that I snagged) will give you a better idea of what the ball really looks like. And here’s the best look of all.
• 6 balls at this game (the Jeter ball is in the middle of the bottom row)
• 538 balls in 60 games this season = 8.97 balls per game.
• 629 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 182 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 12 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball
• 5 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball
• 4,358 total balls
• 129 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.45 pledged per ball
• $152.70 raised at this game
• $13,692.10 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The charity has already received thousands of dollars’ worth of donations. (Click here and look at the scrolling box on the upper right to see who has officially contributed.) If you’ve made a pledge but haven’t yet sent in the funds, now’s a great time to do it. I’m not free to attend Game 6, and I’m not even going to try to attend Game 7, so this effectively concludes my season. For instructions on how to pay, click here.
There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.
Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:
That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.
Brandon is always ready, it seems.
Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:
Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.
I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.
Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:
The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:
By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.
Three minutes later?
The rain intensified and batting practice was done.
As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.
The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:
Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:
That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.
The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.
I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:
Brandon made me pose for it as we headed to our seats, and he insisted that I include it in this entry.
This was our view during the game:
I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.
Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:
You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:
I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.
I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…
…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:
Here I am going nuts…
…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:
I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.
Then I went back and grabbed my hat.
Awe and disbelief:
I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.
For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:
1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”
The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.
For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.
After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:
I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.
(I still can’t believe it.)
• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.
• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 486 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)
• 5 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, Camden, and New Yankee)
• 4,307 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $126.30 raised at this game
• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
When I ran inside Yankee Stadium yesterday, I was glad to see that the grounds crew was in the process of setting up batting practice:
Why was I glad? Because BP was not guaranteed. Not only was there a “flood watch” in the forecast, but this was a dreaded weekend day game–the absolute toughest time to snag baseballs. If it were up to me, I would not have attended this game. But it wasn’t up to me. I had Watch With Zack clients, and this was the game they picked. The photo on the right shows me with the two of them, and yes, they’re both grown-ups.
This photo was taken at about 11am. By that point, batting practice still hadn’t started, and the right field seats (as you can see) were already packed. Not good.
As for my clients, the man standing next to me is named Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), and the woman on the right is his wife Kathryn. They’ve been married for 20 years. She grew up in Kansas City and went to a ton of games there. He grew up in Israel and only recently got into baseball. This was just the fourth game he’d ever been to, and it was the first time he’d ever arrived in time for batting practice. Needless to say, he’d never gotten a ball from a game–and neither had she, but that wasn’t why she had hired me for the day. I was, in effect, Eli’s surprise birthday present. (Kathryn always orchestrates some type of surprise for his birthday; last year she flew a bunch of his friends in from Italy.) I was there strictly to teach him about baseball and to help him understand all the rules and strategies and nuances and statistics, etc.
Anyway, batting practice, afterthought that it was…
The Yankees finally got started at around 11:30am. I had two close calls but ended up empty handed. (The sun got in my eyes on one; a security guard got in my way on the other.) No big deal, right? I’d snag a bunch of balls during the Athletics’ portion of BP…right?
The Athletics didn’t take BP, but no problem, right? I’d just get a ball from one of the pitchers playing catch in left field…right?
Even though I was decked out in a rather eye-catching Athletics costume, no one threw me a ball. And then the grounds crew took the screens down and started preparing the field for the game.
Crap. (And then some.)
My streak was in serious danger of ending. I’d gotten at least one ball in each of the previous 606 games I’d been to–a streak dating back to September of 1993. And now I could feel the whole thing slipping away. In fact, I was convinced that it was going to end, and not only that…I was going to have to refund the $500 fee that Kathryn had paid me. That’s part of the deal with a Watch With Zack game: No ball = epic fail = full refund for the client.
Somehow, despite my inner turmoil, I was able to pull myself together and smile for a photo with this guy:
His name is Stuart Jon (check out his web site) and he’s been reading my blog for quite some time. After many many emails (and his pledge of three cents per ball for my charity), this was the first time we’d met in person. Knowing I would be at this game, he brought both of my books and asked me to sign them for his one-year-old boy named Charlie.
Finally, at around 12:45pm, there was a promising sign of life on the field:
The A’s players had come out to stretch and run and throw. THIS was going to be my chance to get a ball, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t go in front of the railing (the one with the drink holders in the photo above), so I was somehow going to have to get the players’ attention and convince one of them to launch a ball over eight rows of seats and dozens of fans. I had done it before, but it was always tough.
There were only two balls in use. I screamed my head off for the first one, but Adam Kennedy tossed it to a little kid in the front row. Daric Barton, the starting first baseman, ended up with the other ball, and I was sure that he’d hang onto it and use it as the infield warm-up ball, but I shouted for it anyway. What else was there to do? I shouted and he ignored me, so I shouted again, and he looked up into the crowd, so I shouted once more and waved my arms and he looked right at me. I flapped my glove, and he turned and fired the ball. It was falling a bit short. I knew that I’d be able to reach it, but I was afraid that the man in front of me would reach up and intercept it…but it barely cleared his hands, and it smacked right into the pocket of my glove. It was the biggest relief EVER. The ball had a Yankee Stadium commemorative logo (like this) and I immediately handed it to Eli:
Five minutes later, a few outfielders began throwing, and I got a second ball (also commemorative) from Rajai Davis! I gave that one to Kathryn. Here she is with it in her hand as she was filling out the starting lineups on her score sheets:
My streak was alive. They both had a ball. I could relax…and that was great because there wasn’t much I could’ve done during the game anyway. We were sitting in the middle of a long row, one and a half sections from the end of the 3rd base dugout. Great seats to watch the game? Yes, of course. Great seats to catch a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball? Erm…no. I’d bought the tickets off StubHub, which unfortunately doesn’t provide seat numbers so there was no way to find out (until the transaction was complete) if we’d be on the aisle. So yeah, we were all trapped there, but given the fact that I’d snagged those two baseballs, it was actually nice to sit still and focus on Eli and not have to worry about adding to my total.
This was our view.
This was my lunch:
This was also my lunch:
I don’t have good luck with waiter-service-food at baseball games. This was only the second time I’d ever ordered it. The other time was at Turner Field nearly a decade ago. I’d snuck down into the fancy seats with a friend, so we ordered food and before it arrived, we got kicked out by security. We’d already paid for it, and thankfully we were allowed to wait at the top of the section (in the cross-aisle) until it arrived. It was highly embarrassing.
I sat next to Eli during the game and explained stuff nonstop from Watching Baseball Smarter. He already knew quite a bit (including the infield fly rule), so it was a challenge at times to come up with things that were new, but I found a way.
The game itself was thoroughly entertaining. There were several lead changes, and there was only one home run. (Home runs bore me if I’m not in a position to catch them. I wish the MLB Network would show highlights of triples instead.) When Mariano Rivera entered the game (for a four-out save) and “Enter Sandman” started blasting, a fan in the upper deck was shown headbanging on the Jumbotron. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s hilarious:
During the 9th inning, Kathryn asked me to sign the baseballs to her and Eli. I suggested signing one ball to the two of them so they could keep the other ball pure. She was fine with that, and this was the result:
The “4142” represents my current ball total. That’s how I sign everything snag-related.
Kathryn and Eli had their own copy of “Watching Baseball Smarter,” and after the game I signed that too. Here we are:
Final score: Yankees 7, Athletics 5.
Here are Kathryn’s score sheets:
Very impressive. (“I’m a semi-serious geek for a girl,” she told me.)
On our way out, I stopped to get a pic of the Great Hall…
…and when we got outside (and because Kathryn and Eli’s camera battery had died), I took one last photo of them, which you can see below on the right.
• 2 balls at this game
• 322 balls in 38 games this season = 8.47 balls per game.
• 607 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 135 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 6 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 18 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,142 total balls
• 114 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more…)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $49.18 raised at this game
• $7,917.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Once again, there was a huge crowd waiting to get inside Yankee Stadium:
Think that’s a lot of people? Well, guess what…this was just one of the four entrances. I wasn’t surprised or concerned. It’s always that crowded, and I’ve learned to deal with it. There was, however, one thing that set this day apart from all of my other trips to The New Stadium: it was a Watch With Zack game.
My clients were a father and son from California, and the photo below shows the three of us. I’m on the left, 11-year-old Andrew is in the middle, and Jeff is on the right:
For the record, they weren’t wearing Yankees gear just to fit in; they really are big Yankee fans.
Batting practice hadn’t yet started, so we took some more photos and discussed our ball-snagging strategies. Then, to make it easier for Andrew and Jeff to ask the players for baseballs, I gave them each a sheet of paper that looked like this:
Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey had been playing catch with Chien-Ming Wang. I’d had my eyes on them at first, then shifted my attention elsewhere, and luckily looked back up just as they were finishing.
“MIKE!!!” I yelled.
There were other grown-ups and ballhawks standing all around us. It all happened so fast. There wasn’t time to get Andrew out in the open where he might’ve been seen, so I instinctively darted off to the side and waved my arms and got Harkey to throw me the ball. It was commemorative:
The fact that I had snagged that ball was both good and bad. It was bad because Andrew hadn’t gotten it, but it was good because I was on the board. I no longer had to worry about getting shut out, so I turned all my attention to Andrew and made sure that HE would be the one to snag the next ball.
Coming into this game, Andrew had snagged a lifetime total of four baseballs, including one that his dad had caught and given to him. Andrew’s single-game record? One ball. I was determined to help him break that.
Several Yankee pitchers were playing catch in right field, so I headed over to the foul line with him and set him up as close as possible:
As you can see, this actually wasn’t close at all, and the pitchers didn’t show him any love. We could’ve fought our way down into that section on the right, but it didn’t make sense to be buried in the crowd.
Speaking of crowds, look how crowded it was in right field as BP was getting underway:
In the photo above, the red arrow is pointing to a fellow ballhawk named Alex who did three nice things for me over the course of the day:
1) He took photos of me with Andrew and Jeff.
2) He gave me space during BP (so we wouldn’t compete for the same balls).
3) He hooked me up with a dugout-area ticket stub during the game.
As for Andrew, I knew he needed to be in the front row, and although it took some time, eventually I found him the perfect spot. When you’re 11 years old–let’s face it–most people are going to be taller than you, so I had Andrew slip into a spot that was good for two reasons. First, there were two pitchers playing catch right in front of him, and second, the person on his right was even shorter:
Three minutes later, Phil Coke ended up with the ball and looked up into the crowd to pick out a worthy recipient.
“Phil!” I shouted. “How ’bout a ball for this young man right here?!”
Coke looked up, and I pointed down at Andrew from the second row. That did the trick. Coke took a step toward us and appeared to be getting ready to toss the ball. At the very last second, I leaned forward and reminded Andrew to reach as far out as possible for it. The ball started sailing our way, and the little kid on the right made his own attempt to catch it. This was the result:
It was a perfect Yankee Stadium commemorative ball.
BTW, did you notice that the woman in the background has a ball in her pocket? Yeah, don’t feel bad for that little kid who got outsnagged by Andrew. That woman was the little kid’s mom. He’d already gotten a ball.
Andrew ran over to the next section and showed the ball to his dad:
If I’d been at this game by myself, I would’ve snagged several balls during the Yankees’ portion of BP. Lots of homers had landed near my normal spot at the back of the section, but I was at this game for Andrew. He wanted to get balls on his own rather than having me run all over the place and snag balls for him. And so…I only got one ball out in right field. It was a homer that *might* have been hit by Erik Hinske, but I’m not sure. It landed in a thick crowd of people and ricocheted right to me. Commemorative ball. Pristine logo. Hell yes.
After the Yankees finished hitting, we headed over to the left field side and changed into bright orange Orioles shirts. I already had my own “RIPKEN 8” shirt that I bought on eBay a while back, and just recently I’d received a free pair of “MORA 6” shirts at a Camden Yards giveaway. I lent those two shirts to Andrew and Jeff. Look how much it helped them stand out…
…and within a couple minutes, Andrew snagged his second ball of the day:
This one came from Felix Pie. I helped Andrew by calling out for it, and Andrew helped himself by making a nice jumping catch–and just like that, he had doubled his single-game record.
He and I each snagged one more ball during BP. For me, it was a home run (don’t ask me who hit it) that landed in the seats, and for him, it was a toss from Brad Bergesen.
Once BP was done, we took off the Orioles shirts and posed with our haul:
Just before game time, Andrew and I worked our way to the seats behind the Orioles’ dugout. Of course we had to stay behind that ghastly partition, but because he was once again wearing one of my bright orange Orioles shirts, it didn’t make a difference. I don’t need to point him out with an arrow in the photo below. You can pick him out easily on your own:
This was the scene two minutes later:
Yes, he had snagged another ball (his fourth of the day), this time courtesy of Nolan Reimold.
With a bit of trickery and assistance, Andrew and his father and I managed to stay in that section for the rest of the night. It was a great spot not only to watch the game but for Andrew to get a 3rd-out ball. Unfortunately he did a lot of shouting/waving that wasn’t getting him anywhere. Here’s one of his unsuccessful attempts to get a ball…
…and here’s another, this time in competition with Alex:
Things weren’t looking good. Even when 1st baseman Aubrey Huff ended up with the inning-ending balls, he wasn’t throwing THE game-used balls into the crowd. He was saving those for himself (or perhaps for MLB’s authentication program) and tossing the non-commemorative infield warm-up balls into the crowd instead.
Finally, though, Andrew had his chance.
The sixth inning ended when Huff fielded a grounder and tossed it to pitcher David Hernandez, who ran over to cover 1st base. Alex wasn’t there (it turns out he was on line for sushi), so Andrew didn’t have any competition. Andrew didn’t realize that Hernandez was the guy who had the ball; he had his eye on Huff and nearly gave up when Huff disappeared under the dugout roof. I told him that the pitcher had the ball, so Andrew held his ground, and we both started waving our arms to get Hernandez’s attention.
Here’s a photo of Hernandez throwing the ball into the crowd:
Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
It appeared to be falling short. I wasn’t sure who Hernandez was aiming for, but I didn’t think there was any chance for Andrew to catch it.
Here’s a photo of Andrew reaching WAY over the railing for the ball, while the grown men in front of him are falling all over themselves:
And here’s a priceless reaction from one of them:
Why was that guy so stunned (and saddened)? Because my young dude had just made a catch that would’ve made most major league 1st basemen wet their pants.
Andrew had more-than-doubled his entire lifetime total in one game. We joked about the fact that I’d have to snag more than 4,000 balls in one game to do that.
During the game, I sat next to Andrew and pointed out some of the things I had written about in Watching Baseball Smarter: the positioning of the 3rd base coach, the catcher looking into the dugout for signs, the runner on 2nd taking his lead behind the baseline, etc. Meanwhile, Jeff used a fancy camera to take some high-quality action shots. Here’s one of them:
The game itself was good, I suppose, if you enjoy games in which every run scores on a solo homer.
Top of the 1st inning? Nick Markakis homer.
Bottom of the 2nd inning? Eric Hinske homer.
Bottom of the 9th inning? See below:
Walk-off shot by Hideki Matsui. (Nice camera work, Jeff!)Final score: Andrew 5, Zack 3, Yankees 2, Orioles 1.
Andrew really deserved to get pointed at in the post-game photo:
He and his father were nice enough to let me keep my two commemorative balls. I gave the other/standard ball to Andrew (I couldn’t send him back to California without an official Zack Hample snagged ball), and then he posed with all of them:
• 3 balls at this game
• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.
• 605 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 134 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 5 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least three balls
• 17 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4,130 total balls
• 114 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $73.77 raised at this game
• $7,622.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
We lingered outside the stadium until most of the people were gone, and then Andrew and I played catch for about 20 minutes. This is what it looked like from my point of view:
After that, we rode the subway together back into Manhattan and then said our goodbyes.
When Yankee Stadium was getting ready to open yesterday at 4pm, there were at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in at Gate 6 alone. The fans (myself and Jona included) had formed mini-lines in front of the dozens of guards and doors. For some reason, however, only TWO of these doors were opened, causing 10 minutes’ worth of congestion while everyone was forced to head to that one spot from various directions. Look at this mess:
I truly don’t understand it.
To make matters worse, I felt a few raindrops as soon as I forced my way inside, but thankfully the grounds crew left the batting cage in place. Batting practice hadn’t yet started so I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, picked a spot behind that horrendous partition, got the attention of hitting coach Kevin Long, and got him to throw me a ball. Here I am reaching for it (with a red arrow pointing to the ball):
I was hoping that the ball would have a commemorative logo…and it did…but it wasn’t the one I wanted.
Check it out:
I’d already gotten a bunch of these Metrodome balls earlier in the season. (Here’s a better one.) What I really wanted was a ball with the new Yankee Stadium logo. I’d only snagged one of those all season (on May 21st) and it ended up getting water-stained because of a terrible mishap. Quite simply, I needed another.
Nevertheless, I was still glad to have the Metrodome ball because a) any commemorative ball is cool and b) it was my 300th ball of the season. Here I am posing with it:
Finally, at around 4:25pm, the Yankees started taking BP. I headed to right field and briefly had the last few rows to myself:
Five minutes later, the whole section was packed and I had to fight (not literally, although that wouldn’t be a stretch at Yankee Stadium) for both of the balls I caught out there. The first was a home run by Hideki Matsui with another Metrodome logo, and the second was a regular ball hit by Nick Swisher. Here I am catching one of the balls:
The photo above might make it look like I’m trampling that poor woman, but that wasn’t the case at all. At Yankee Stadium, there’s a good amount of space between rows, so I was able to step carefully in front of her and reach up at the last second. She’s not flinching because of me; she’s flinching because she was scared of the ball and didn’t see it coming. Even though it wouldn’t have hit her, she thanked me on three separate occasions for saving her life. You
know whose life I *did* save? Jona’s. As you can kinda tell based on the photo above, she was sitting two rows directly behind the spot where I reached up.
After the catches, several fans recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs and to pose in photos with them. I obliged their requests only when right-handed batters were in the cage.
I moved to left field when the Tigers started hitting, and it was nearly a total waste. The only ball I snagged during their entire portion of BP was a fungo that sailed over an outfielder’s head and landed in the third row. And, of course, since the Tigers are too cheap to use real major league balls, this is what I found myself holding:
(In case you’re wondering, this ball counts in my collection because it was used by major league players in a major league stadium.)
At the end of BP, I noticed that there was a ball sitting in the corner of the left field bullpen:
I’d been planning to take Jona for a scenic tour of the stadium, but once I saw that ball, I had to stay and wait until someone came and got it. While I was standing around, I saw a teenaged kid hurdling seats and running toward me.
“OH MY GOD!!!” he shouted. “ZACK HAMPLE!!! ZACK HAMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!”
At first I thought he was making fun of me with sarcastic enthusiasm, but he turned out to be totally serious. He was just…excited to see me, apparently. His name is Jon Herbstman. (We’d met once before on 7/8/08 at Yankee Stadium.) Here we are:
Fifteen minutes later, a groundskeeper wandered into the bullpen, and Jona got a real action shot of him handing me the ball:
It was another International League ball, and yes, it counts. As long as another fan doesn’t give me a ball, it counts, and would you believe that that actually happened yesterday? One of the guys who’d been waiting for my autograph snagged a home run ball that I would’ve gotten had he not been standing there. He obviously felt guilty about getting in my way (it was my own stupid fault for having misjudged it) so he scooped it up and flung it to me in one motion.
“I don’t want this,” I said as I tossed it back to him, “but thanks.”
I’ve probably had 10 to 20 fans randomly try to give me balls over the years. I’ve never accepted a single one, although I now realize I should’ve taken them, NOT counted them in my collection, and used them for my own BP in Central Park.
Shortly before the game started, I got Adam Everett to toss his warm-up ball to me over the partition. (That was my sixth ball of the day.) The four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, shows how it all played out. The arrows in the final three photos are pointing to the ball in mid-air:
This ball had the regular MLB logo.
My goal during the game was simple: Hang out behind the Tigers’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball tossed to me over the partition. Having seen the Tigers for four games in April, I remembered that their first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, had a habit of tossing balls deep into the crowd. I felt good about my chances. All I needed was a third out to be a ground out.
It didn’t take long. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Tigers starter Lucas French induced Jorge Posada to roll one over to 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. I crept down the steps as Inge fired the ball to first base and waited for Cabrera to jog in.
He tossed me the ball!!!
But it turned out to be a regular ball. GAH!!! Cabrera, as some first basemen have started doing, pulled a little switcheroo and threw me the infield warm-up ball.
It was a major letdown.
But at least the game itself was entertaining. The highlight was the 57-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth because it chased away 90 percent of the “fans.”
Here’s a photo I took during the delay when everyone was hiding under the overhangs and in the main part of the concourse:
The way-too-narrow center field concourse was eerily quiet:
I love having a stadium to myself, or at least feeling like I do, especially when that stadium is typically packed beyond belief.
I was in left field when A-Rod came up in the bottom of the 8th. If EVER there was a time when he should’ve hit a home run in my general vicinity, this was it. I had empty rows on both sides of me. No one else was wearing a glove. Blah blah. But of course he struck out to cap his 0-for-5 performance.
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth:
He allowed a one-out double to Placido Polanco, then retired the next two batters on two pitches. He’s so good. And classy. It pains me that he’s on the Yankees because I’m forced to root for them whenever he’s in the game.
Final score: Yankees 5, Tigers 3.
During the game, I had used Jona’s iPhone to look up the box score. I learned that Tim Tschida was the home plate umpire. After the final out, I moved one section to my left, to the approximate spot where he’d be exiting the field. I was still trapped behind the partition, so I shouted “MISTER TSCHIDA!!!” as loud as I possibly could. To my surprise, he actually looked up, at which point I took off my black, MLB umpires’ cap (thank you very much) and waved it at him. Was I going to be able to get him to pull one of the Yankee Stadium commemorative balls out of his pouch and chuck it to me over half a dozen rows of fans from more than 50 feet away? It seemed unlikely, but I went for it and continued shouting my request. While walking toward the exit, he pulled one out and under-handed it to me (!!!) but it drifted to the right, and I leaned way out over a side railing to try to make the back-handed catch, and I watched helplessly as it sailed less than a foot past my outstretched glove. NO!!! I looked back at the field, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there…and he was watching! He had seen some other fan get the ball, so he pulled out another. At this point all the other fans realized what was going on, and they all crowded toward me, so I climbed up on a little concrete ledge just behind the partition and waved my arms. Tschida flung the second ball toward me. It was heading in the right direction, but it was sailing too high, so I waited until the last second and then jumped up off the ledge and made the catch and landed right in the middle of a big puddle in the drainage-challenged front row. Water splashed everywhere, mostly on me, and I was over-JOYED. I was holding a game-rubbed commemorative ball:
As soon as I caught it, a little kid three rows back started chanting, “Give it to the kid! Give it to the kid.”
“I don’t think so,” I told him, then headed up the steps and handed one of my regular baseballs to a different kid who happened to be walking past with his dad (and with an empty glove on his left hand) at that exact moment.
• 4 different types of balls at this game (might be a world record)
• 307 balls in 35 games this season = 8.77 balls per game.
• 604 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 133 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4 consecutive games at the new Yankee Stadium with at least four balls
• 4,127 total balls
• 114 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.59 pledged per ball
• $196.72 raised at this game
• $7,549.13 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Ready for a quick blog entry about a lame day? Good, here goes…
Yankee Stadium opened at 4pm, and for the first half-hour, there was NO action:
Then the sky got dark, and it started drizzling, and the grounds crew began to clear the field. In the photo below, you can see one guy actually rolling the L-screen away:
Just as I was contemplating how to announce my permanent retirement from ballhawking, the sky cleared and the grounds crew rolled the screens back into place.
The Yankees eventually came out and started throwing. Batting practice was still 10 minutes away and the place was packed:
I got completely shut out during the Yankees’ portion of BP.
Then the Mariners came out, so I changed into my Mariners gear and got Jason Vargas to throw me a ball in right field:
I was six rows back when he threw it. It sailed over everyone else’s head and came right to me. It was my 4,100th ball. Yay.
I headed back to left field, caught a homer on the fly, got Garrett Olsen to toss one to me, and then caught another home run ball which I later gave away.
It was impossible to use the glove trick because the stadium was crawling with security guards. I saw one other kid attempt to use the trick, and he was stopped within 10 seconds.
I had some close calls on other homers, but luck simply wasn’t on my side, and to make matters worse, I had to deal with a startlingly hostile fan. I deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing an “incident” from arising. Let’s leave it at that.
I ran into a fellow ballhawk named Alex who’d already been to Yankee Stadium more than a dozen times this season. We had some time to kill so we wandered into the bleachers, and since it was my first time in that area of the stadium, I took a bunch of pics. (At the new stadium, anyone with any ticket can go in or out of the bleachers.)
I started at the back of the bleachers next to the batter’s eye in left-center field…
…and walked down to the front row. This was the view (of the visitors’ bullpen) to the right…
…and this was the view (of Monument Park) to the left:
Ever wonder what’s behind those shiny black windows? There’s a restaurant, and when I pressed my camera against the glass, I was able to get a peek inside:
Here’s the concourse that runs behind the bleachers:
Left field…right field…it’s all connected.
There’s a “cafe” on top of the batter’s eye. Here’s one side of it…
…and here’s the front:
Anyone can go there at anytime, and on the right field side, there’s a nice view of the Yankee bullpen. Here’s Andy Pettitte warming up:
The new Yankee Stadium is a glorious facility. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the team and the employees and the fans that ruin it.
As for the game…yawn. The Yankees won, 4-2, and five of the six runs scored on homers. I’m sorry but that’s just not interesting baseball. I don’t care that Griffey and A-Roid went deep. I was nowhere near either of those longballs so it didn’t matter. At least it was a quick game and I got the hell out fast.
• 4 balls at this game (ball No. 4,100 pictured here on the right)
• 283 balls in 32 games this season = 8.84 balls per game.
• 601 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 475 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 132 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4,103 total balls
• 111 donors (It’s not too late to make a pledge. Click here to learn more.)
• $24.34 pledged per ball
• $97.36 raised at this game
• $6,888.22 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
For months and months, I’ve been hearing that the seats from the old Yankee Stadium were going to be on sale for nearly $2,000 a pair, and I couldn’t believe it–not just from a financial standpoint, but because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that THE stadium was really going to be demolished. Well, yesterday, as my No. 4 train approached 161st Street, I got a glimpse inside and saw that the seats are indeed being pulled out:
It was strange and sad to see the field devoid of grass, and of course to see the seats stacked up on the field itself.
I headed over to Gate 6 and saw a couple familiar faces. In the photo below, I’m with Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments section) on the left and Eric (the ultimate bobblehead/autograph collector) on the right:
The stadium opened at 4pm (wow!) and to my delight, a few Yankees were already on the field, taking an early round of batting practice. I headed down to the right field seats…
…and noticed that there were more righties than lefties taking turns in the cage, so I ran around to the left field side. (I love being able to run behind the batter’s eye. It only takes a minute. At the old stadium, if you wanted to move from right field to left, you had to run all the way around home plate and then head back out along the foul line. It took such a long time that it usually wasn’t even worth it.) The seats were pretty much empty. I had two sections to myself out in left-center. I was all set for a monster day when a security guard came over (oh no…) and gave me advice on how to get a ball.
“Sometimes,” he said, “when they hit one to the wall and the player comes over to get it, you can get him to give it to you.”
Moments later, one of the righties connected on a deep fly ball that was heading to my left. I started running through the third row, then judged that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so while it was still in mid-air, I climbed down over a row of seats and lunged at the last second over another row for the thigh-high catch. (I have no idea who hit it.) I opened up my glove to take a look at the ball, hoping that it would be commemorative, but the sweet spot was facing up, so I grabbed the ball, not expecting much, and turned it over, and Oh My God:
It was a BRAND new commemorative ball. I mean, it was newer than new. Right-out-of-the-box new. One pitch, home run, into my glove, yay. That pretty much made my entire day right there. I figured I was going to end up snagging a bunch of these balls before the season was through, but I hadn’t gotten one yet and I was officially antsy.
I caught another homer on the fly in left field. So easy. All I had to do was move five feet to my right and reach up over a gloveless fan who was ducking.
Let me quickly say two things now so I won’t have to keep repeating myself:
1) Every ball I snagged yesterday except for that first one was standard.
2) I have no idea who hit any of the balls I got, so don’t ask.
The Yankees finished their early round of BP, and then the whole team came out to stretch and run along the right field foul line. I had a little time to kill, so I slowly made my way around the field level and stopped to take the following photo. It shows the gigantic/awful partition as well as the netting that protects the fancy seats:
FYI, the netting doesn’t stay up during the game–not that it matters because neither you nor I will ever get to sit there.
I met up with Brian along the right field foul line. He’d already snagged four balls, including one with the commemorative logo, but within the next 10 minutes, I tied his total for the day by snagging two more of my own. The Yankees had begun playing catch, and when they were wrapping up, I got one thrown (over the netting and partition) by Jose Veras and then got Nick Swisher to toss me another.
When this stadium opened last month, fans were not allowed into the field level seats without field level tickets, even during BP. Now that the Yankees have eased up on that moronic policy, anyone is allowed to get down close to the field (as it should be), at least until 5:40pm, and as a result, the seats were packed while the Yankees were hitting:
The sun was brutal in right field, so if you’re planning to spend any time out there during BP, you better wear a cap and/or sunglasses. I managed to catch another home run out there–my fifth ball of the day–when everyone around me got blinded and ducked out of the way at the last second. (I’m sure my own retinas suffered some damage, but whatever, it was worth it.) The ball was hit by a righty (mighta been Jeter). I was in the third or fourth row, and it was falling short and tailing to my left, so I scooted down the steps, hopped over a knee-high metal bar, stepped into a little open area (which is probably meant to be a camera well), and made the catch. I was proud of myself for that one because it actually required some skill.
At 5:40pm, security kicked everyone out of the seats who didn’t belong there. I changed into my bright orange “RIPKEN 8” shirt and found my way into the left field seats. Amazingly, I didn’t get a single ball thrown to me by the Orioles, but I did catch another homer. Nothing fancy about it. I had to move about 20 feet through an empty row, and after I made the catch, a security guard (there were about two dozen guards out there) complimented me for having gotten a great jump on the ball, and he asked me if I ever played. I told him I played some college ball and that I could probably play left field better than Johnny Damon. He laughed, but I was serious.
Then something really bad happened…
I was so upset about this that I considered leaving the stadium and just going home. I actually had to leave the seats for 10 minutes DURING BATTING PRACTICE to deal with it. I had to wrap up my cell phone in some plastic bags from a souvenir stand because it was overheating, and I went to the bathroom and got some paper towels to put around the commemorative ball. It was a true disaster.
The rest of the night? Whatever. I stayed for the game, but I was too bothered by everything that had happened to enjoy it.
Adam Jones was one of four players who came out to play catch before the game started…
…and I managed to get him to toss me the ball on his way in. (He’s now the eighth “Jones” to have thrown me a ball, joining Andruw, Bobby J., Bobby M., Brandon, Chipper, Chris, and Todd. This is important stuff. Only the Johnsons have more entries on my master list.)
Another thing the Yankees messed up was the info on the jumbotron. Brian Roberts is NOT 25:
I sat behind the dugout during the game and proudly wore my orange Ripken shirt:
I was hoping for a third-out ball, but the players kept tossing them to a specific little girl in the front row. She ended up getting SIX balls. It was so ridiculous the way she kept getting them that all the fans around her kept throwing their arms up in disgust every time she got another. Who ARE these kids, and how the hell do they get to sit down there? Whatever. I shouldn’t be complaining. I did fine for myself, and as Mariano Rivera put the finishing touches on the Yankees’ ninth straight win, I handed a brand new ball to a little boy who’d been wearing a glove and sitting near me all night. The way his face lit up…let’s just say it brought some nice closure to an otherwise unsettling day.
• 8 balls at this game
• 4 gorgeous, gold-stamped ticket stubs collected at this game, pictured on the right. (These are for the seats right next to the 3rd base dugout.)
• 190 balls in 24 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 593 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 474 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 131 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4,010 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
One final thing…and normally I wouldn’t do this…but it’s for a friend who did an incredible set of favors for me, and by extension those favors helped me snag more balls for the charity, so I owe her. Remember Kelly from Chicago? She’s the Cubs fan who let me crash at her place last month. She gave me her season tickets (for free!) to Wrigley Field on April 21st and 23rd and drove me back to Chicago after that game in Milwaukee. Yes? Remember now? Anyway, she asked me to help spread the word about a contest that she’s in. If she wins, she’ll get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley (something she’s always dreamed of) and she needs everyone’s help. All she has to do is get the most people to sign up for a Cubs-related newsletter, and she’s currently in the lead. There’s a new restaurant inside Wrigley called the Captain Morgan Club. Kelly says:
“Please go HERE and sign up for the Captain Morgan newsletter (you can easily unsubscribe later). Put email@example.com in the “Who Referred You” field. Ideally, you can just use an old email address to sign up, but make sure it’s still active because you have to click a link in a confirmation email for your entry to count. This email will most likely go into your junk folder, but it will come from Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, so you can easily find it. Don’t forget to go in there and click the activation link, or your entry won’t count!!”