Reds versus Phillies? Whatever. I was just excited to get out of New York City for a day and see some playoff baseball.
This was the scene outside the 3rd base gate at Citizens Bank Park:
The whole street was blocked to traffic, and there was all kinds of stuff that you don’t see during the regular season. Check out the four-part photo below. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, you’re looking at a) a stage for a band, b) a live broadcast by a classic rock radio station, c) inflatable goodness, and d) various TV trucks:
Want to see what else there was?
Free/unlimited ice cream samples courtesy of Turkey Hill:
Given the sad fact that I’m allergic to sugar, I only had two. (But given the fact that I seem to be immune to calories, I still consider myself lucky.)
By the time the gates opened at 3:35pm, this was the crowd waiting to get in:
(Don’t get excited about the early opening time; the first pitch was scheduled for a little after six o’clock.)
Less than a minute after I reached the seats in left-center field, I got Phillies pitcher Jose Contreras to throw me a ball:
Two minutes later, it occurred to me that that was my 300th ball of the season.
This was the view to my right soon after:
The front row was already packed, and the left field seats ended up getting seriously crowded.
I headed over to right field. There was more room to run over there:
The main challenge was battling the sun. You can get an idea of the intense glare in the following panorama photo, taken by a friend and fellow ballhawk named Ryan. The red arrow is pointing to me:
Forty-five minutes into BP, I made a nice play in order to come up with my second ball. I’m not sure who was hitting. It was one of the Reds’ lefties. It was probably Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, but might’ve been Laynce Nix. Anyway, the batter ripped a line-drive homer that was heading one full section to my left, so I bolted in that direction, and as I reached the next staircase, I jumped and lunged and caught it on the fly — all this with the sun in my eyes and another guy reaching for the ball from behind. It probably didn’t look all that special from afar, but trust me, there was a lot that went into it.
My third ball was as unexciting as it gets: Aaron Harang retrieved a ball from the warning track in right-center and tossed it up to me. (I ended up giving it away to a kid after the game.)
I headed back to left field when a bunch of righties started hitting. Look how crowded it was:
There wasn’t an empty row anywhere, except at the very back of the section in left-center.
Toward the end of BP, I got the attention of Reds 1st base coach Billy Hatcher. He was roaming the outfield with his fungo bat, and I convinced him to hit me a fungo. I stood on the armrests of a seat in order to elevate above the crowd and give him a better target. He was only about 75 feet away, and I was probably in the sixth row. His fungo was right on the money, but it fell a few feet short of where I wanted it. I wanted to be able to reach up and catch the ball over my head. That would’ve prevented anyone else from interfering, but the ball ended up waist-high, so another fan in front of me got his glove on it. Conveniently, after we both bobbled it, the ball dropped straight down and bounced straight up off the concrete in my row, and I was able to grab it.
After BP, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got my fifth ball of the day from the Reds’ equipment guy. Here he is just before he tossed it to me…
…and here are two photos of the ball itself:
Is that beautiful or what?
Here’s another beautiful thing — the military jet flyover after the national anthem:
The fans were pumped…
…and so was I because I had a ticket for the fancy-schmancy Diamond Club area behind home plate. (I won’t get into all the details of the club here. If you want to know more about it, check out my entry from April 25, 2007. That was my first time there.) This was my view during the bottom of the 1st inning. Note Bronson Arroyo’s fantastic leg kick, in addition to all the standing room behind the seats:
Did I mention that the fans were pumped?
Here’s another photo, pretty much taken from the same spot as the one above. The difference here is that Aroldis Chapman was on the hill:
It was my first time seeing him pitch in person, and MAN-ALIVE can that young fella throw a baseball!!! Look at the radar gun reading in the following photo:
That wasn’t even his fastest pitch.
I don’t know how to describe the movement on his fastball. In fact, there appears to be very little movement. When Chapman releases the ball, it just stays straight, like there’s no gravity or air resistance. It doesn’t even seem that much faster than, say, a 95mph fastball. It just seems sturdier, if that makes sense. Everyone in the aisle was frozen in place…just standing around and watching him pitch:
It was truly awesome, and I was glad to be so close to the action.
Despite Chapman’s velocity, the Phillies managed to score three runs off him, all of which were unearned. The Reds’ defense fell apart. Look how many errors they made:
Despite all the standing room I had, I didn’t come close to a foul ball, but you know what? That hardly even mattered. MLB used to have commemorative balls (like this and this) during the first two rounds of the postseason, but not anymore.
With Brad Lidge in the process of nailing down the save, I worked my way to the seats behind the Reds’ dugout…
…but didn’t get anything there after the final out.
Final score: Phillies 7, Reds 4.
• 5 balls at this game (4 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 304 balls in 32 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 661 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 204 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 13 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least 300 balls
• 4,662 total balls
• 48 donors (click here to learn more)
• $7.53 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $37.65 raised at this game
• $2,289.12 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
This wasn’t just another game. Not only was it the National League Division Series — Cardinals vs. Dodgers — but there was something extra special about it for me: it was the day before my appearance on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and I was going to be filmed by a roving camera crew.
Half an hour before the gates opened, I headed to the Top Deck and picked up my media credential:
I headed down to the left field pavilion and met up with the crew along the way. Here I am explaining my various T-shirts to the camera:
Once inside the stadium, my job was simple: snag as many balls as possible so that there’d be some exciting footage for the show.
In the photo below (taken by my girlfriend Jona), I’m the guy wearing the “RAMIREZ 99” shirt:
There wasn’t much action early on — I had a couple close calls — so I spent most of my time explaining things to the camera.
Finally, after 15 minutes of nothingness, Manny Ramirez launched a home run over my head and I raced up the steps:
There was an all-out scramble for the ball as it rattled around underneath the benches, and I managed to come up with it. Huge relief. Up until that point, I felt like I was personally letting down Conan — like I was a ballhawk fraud who’d made preposterous claims and then failed to back them up.
Several minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double behind the left field wall…and that was it for the Dodgers’ portion of BP. Not good. I’d been hoping to pad my numbers early on before it got crowded, but at least both of the balls had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot. (If you want to see my complete collection of stamped/marked balls, click here.)
Because of my media credential, I was able to exit the pavilion and re-enter the main part of the stadium. My plan? To get some balls from the Cardinals on the right field side. First, of course, I changed into my bright red Cardinals gear, and even though my Dodgers shirt was poking out underneath, I was able to convince Ryan Franklin to toss me a ball. If you look closely at the photo below, you can barely see the edge of the ball as it disappeared into the pocket of my glove:
Soon after, Matt Pagnozzi threw me my fourth ball of the day. Here I am preparing for the easy two-handed catch:
I headed to the right field pavilion after that and snagged a home run that ricocheted down into the gap behind the wall. (I’m not sure who hit it.) Then, when Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday started taking their cuts, I raced back around to the left field side and positioned myself deep in the cross-aisle, more than 400 feet from home plate. Holiday hit two consecutive bombs that reached the aisle. I bolted to my right for the first one, but it sailed over my head and was promptly snatched by another fan. The second homer came closer to me, and I was able to climb over a few benches and reach out over the bullpen for a back-handed catch. The whole section booed me because of my clothing, so I lifted up my Cardinals shirt and revealed my Dodger Blue underneath. Some people laughed, some people cheered, some people continued booing, and some people were like, “Huh?” It was pretty funny.
I played the staircases for the rest of BP…
…but nothing else came my way.
Right before the game started, I headed back into the main part of the stadium and got Mark DeRosa to toss me his warm-up ball behind the 1st base dugout.
Then Slash performed the national anthem…
…and I headed back outside the stadium once again. It was time to change into my Waldo shirt:
In my previous entry I mentioned I was going to wear it, not because it’s sexy but because I knew it’d be easier for people to spot me in the crowd. The only problem was…I was never IN the crowd. I spent the first few innings halfway down a staircase behind the left field wall, and then when security told me I couldn’t stand there, I moved to the very bottom. That really sucked because it meant I couldn’t even see the game. All I could do was look up at the sky and hope that I’d be able to see the baseballs coming toward me. In the bottom of the 4th, I came *really* close to snagging Andre Ethier’s home run, but it took a bad bounce after it cleared the wall and ricocheted right to the ONE other guy who’d raced down a different staircase. That also really sucked, but at least I got to hang out with Manny:
The guy in the photo above is named Jose (aka “Mannywood” and “Jose Being Manny” and he told me that he sometimes refers to himself as “The Mexican Zack Hample”). You can see more photos of him on MySpace and MyGameBalls.com. He’s a super-cool guy, and he always hangs out in the left field pavilion.
The game itself was DAMN exciting, but it didn’t end the way I wanted. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, James Loney hit a line drive right at Holliday in left field. All Holliday had to do was catch it, and the game would’ve been over. The Cardinals would’ve evened up the series at one game apiece. But Holliday failed to make the catch. He said later that he never even saw the ball, and I believe him. As he charged in toward it, it nailed him in the stomach. Casey Blake then drew a nine-pitch walk and Ronnie Belliard followed by ripping the first pitch he saw into center field for a game-tying single. Everyone in the stadium was going nuts, but for different reasons; the other 51,818 fans were simply cheering on their beloved Dodgers. I, however, was ecstatic because it meant the game might go into extra innings, which meant I might get another chance to catch a home run. Russell Martin walked to load the bases, and then Mark Loretta ruined everything with a game-winning single.
Final score: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.
After the game, the camera crew got a final shot of me holding up all seven of my baseballs. Once they took off, I gave away two of the balls to kids and then got a friend to take my picture with Jona:
Good times. Playoff baseball is intense.
• 3 ticket stubs collected at this game (pictured below the balls)
• 532 balls in 59 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.
• 628 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 181 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,352 total balls
• 126 donors (click here to make a pledge…or just to learn more)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $176.82 raised at this game
• $13,438.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One last thing…
The best article EVER written about me was published yesterday on ESPN.com. Here’s the graphic that was originally up on the site…
Next game for me?