The story begins on April 5th…
I flew from NYC to Toronto, got picked up at the airport by my friend Joy, and checked into the Renaissance Hotel:
This hotel is connected to the stadium, and as I mentioned in my previous entry,
I got one of the rooms that overlooks the field. Joy and I had been planning to go out to dinner, but when we saw what was happening on the field, even SHE wanted to stay (and that’s saying a lot, considering she doesn’t follow baseball and hasn’t even heard of Barry Bonds). Check it out:
Yup. Batting Practice. Here’s another look:
My mind started racing when I discovered that the window could open, so you can imagine what started going through my head when I looked down at the seats and saw this:
Was it possible to get the players to throw balls up to me? Yes, but their aim was off. One guy (I think it was Fernando Rodney) tossed up two balls and missed both times. The first one sailed five feet to my left, and the second was right on line but fell about five feet short. One of the balls ended up bouncing out of the seats, but look where the other one ended up:
After another 15 minutes or so, I got Gerald Laird’s attention (simply by waving, not by shouting) and got him to toss one my way. The ball sailed five feet to my right, smacked off a sturdy window and disappeared into the seats right below me. Hmm. Laird tried once more to throw me a ball. His aim was better, but still off. I had to reach as high as possible and far to my left, and I missed it by mere inches. He flailed his arms in disgust, but there really wasn’t anything I could’ve done, except maybe been born 6-foot-5. Anyway, the ball once again disappeared into the seats below my window. What was going to happen to those balls? Would they go unnoticed by the rest of the world for another 24 hours? (That’s why I didn’t blog about this in my last entry.) Would I be able to enter the stadium the next day and race up to the 500 Level and grab all four of them? I’m not joking when I say this kept me up that night.
Joy and I ordered Indian food (chana masala for her, chicken tikka masala for me, and garlic naan for us both) and I took a ton of photos of the stadium. Here’s one that really shows the open window:
Eventually the lights inside the stadium were dimmed…
…and then it got really dark so the Blue Jays’ staff could practice using spotlights to highlight the baselines for the following day’s player introductions:
I was thinking about the four balls that were sitting in the seats below me. I could still only see two of them, so I reached out of my window as far as possible, aimed my camera straight down, and took a photo. Maybe I’d see a ball hiding in the folded up portion of a seat?
Nope. I figured the other two balls had to be somewhere within the first four rows, so I started making a plan for how I’d comb through the seats as quickly as possible, once I was there. I’d race out the tunnel, take six steps down, and then turn right. They had to be there. But again, would they STAY there overnight and throughout the following
Here’s a photo of the stadium at its darkest. It was only like this for a few minutes:
The lights came back on and stayed on all night. (No big deal. My room DOES have curtains, after all.) I kept looking out at the stadium and then at the seats below from different angles, hoping to spot the other two balls. I moved all the way to the left, then to the right, and I spotted a third ball! Can you see it in the photo below?
That made me feel better, and the balls were still there in the morning. That brings us to April 6th…Opening Day. Good thing the Jays have a dome because it was COLD. I checked weather.com, and it was 17 degrees (Fahrenheit) with the wind chill. And damp. But I still went outside and walked all around the stadium. The four-part photo below
(starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what it looked like when I first stepped out of the hotel and then started exploring:
Here I am, trying not to freeze…
…and here are a few more photos outside the stadium:
Just to give you a quick tour of the hotel, here’s the view to the left as soon as you get out of the elevator:
Here’s the view to the right. Note the restaurant, past the orange beams, called Arriba:
Here’s the view from the restaurant–not as good a setup as I have in my room because it’s enclosed and therefore impossible to snag baseballs. Ha:
<a href=”https://mlblogssnaggingbaseballs.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/17_restaurant_view.jpg” target=”_blank”
Okay, so it’s a well known fact that I’m a huge nerd and love numbers, right? Well, just to show how big this hotel is, I timed myself jogging (at a pretty good pace) from the elevator through the halls and to my room. You know how long it takes? Forty-five seconds! Crazy.
Speaking of my room, here’s what it looks like from just inside the door:
I got to the window just in time to see the outer edge of the infield (the pseudo “lip”) being painted:
Then I sat in front of the window and ate lunch:
That would be pulled pork for those keeping score at home, and yes, the baseballs were still in place:
Only three hours until I’d be able to run inside and claim them. I finished lunch, moved away from the window, fired up the laptop, and did some work on my book.
Half an hour later, I heard some rustling coming from the seats below, and I nearly had a heart attack when I realized what it was. Some teen-aged kid was combing through the seats with a broom and a trash bag. He was coming from the right, so he hadn’t yet seen the balls, so I waited until he got a little closer and then got his attention by shouting a firm “Excuse me!” As soon as he looked up, I told him that there were a few balls in the seats. I explained how they got there and asked if I could have them.
“You can have ONE,” he said.
What could I say to that? I wanted them all, or at least two of them, but I knew that he didn’t have to give me anything. He could’ve easily taken them all and there wouldn’t have been anything I could do to stop him. I was at his mercy, and I was mainly just thankful that he was going to give me anything at all.
“I don’t want to break a window,” he said, looking up at me, ball in hand.
“Don’t worry,” I said, smacking the outside of my window with my knuckles. “These
things are solid. One of the balls yesterday hit the window pretty hard, and it didn’t do a thing.”
That convinced him, so he came closer and lobbed the ball up to me. Perfect aim. Right to my glove. I caught it, and my season of snagging was underway. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I had just raised some money for charity, and it felt great. I blogged about this during the off-season, so in case you missed it, I’m getting people to pledge a little bit of money for every ball I snag this season. The money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to read more about this.
As for the young employee in the seats below, he kept two of the balls for himself and then started heading off…
“Wait!” I shouted. “There’s still another ball in the seats.”
“There is?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think it’s in the folded up part of a seat, like maybe in the first or second row. Can you take a look? Any chance I could get it?”
He went back and poked around, and sure enough he found the final ball. Then he tossed it to me. Cha-ching! More money for Pitch In For Baseball, and as for me? I had two baseballs and the season hadn’t even officially begun. Well, at least not in Canada.
Two hours later, at about 4:30pm, the Blue Jays came out and started throwing:
The stadium was going to open at 5pm. Even though I was tempted to stay up in my room and try to snag more balls, I knew I had to head outside and get on line.
Well, I thought I did. Ten minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was scene outside one of the left field gates:
That’s right. There were THREE people waiting to get in, and none of
them had gloves. At that point, my only concern was whether my stupid
print-at-home ticket would actually work:
I never trust those things, but anyway, it DID work and I raced inside.
Now, one thing to know about Rogers Centre is that there are five levels of seating. The field level seats are called the “100 Level” and the upper deck (where the dude picked up those balls and tossed them to me) is called the “500 Level.” The 300 and 400 Levels are all suites, so they’re basically off limits, and of course there aren’t too many balls that reach the top deck, so really, I was only dealing with the two lowest levels. Of course, as soon as I ran into the 200 Level, a ball was hit into the 100 Level, which was still empty, so I ran down there but couldn’t find the ball, and then once I was down there, a ball was hit over my head, into the 200 Level, not too far from where I’d been two minutes earlier. It was THAT kind of day. And then, once I went back upstairs and pretty much had the place to myself, not a single ball came anywhere near me. It truly sucked. This is what it looked like from the 200 Level after about 10 minutes:
The problem with this stadium, from a home-run catching perspective, is that half the balls get swallowed up by the bullpens (which are covered with netting so the glove trick is useless). Of the remaining 50 percent of home runs, probably three quarters of those land in the 100 Level, but it gets pretty crowded down there, especially considering that you have to be positioned within the first few rows to catch a ball because of the overhang of the 200 Level. That leaves a few home runs for the second deck, which of course is empty for a reason. There’s just not that much action up there, or at least there wasn’t yesterday.
Thankfully I got Jason Frasor to toss me a ball in the 100 Level before I headed back upstairs. Then, as soon I reached the 200 Level (now for the second time) an old usher stopped me from going down the steps and insisted on knowing what I was doing there.
“Trying to get home run balls?” he asked, as if that was the only acceptable answer.
“You know it,” I said, pretending to be friendly.
“Well if you get more than one,” he said, “you have to give ’em to me.”
I wasn’t sure if he was joking. I suspected he wasn’t but treated him like he was and faked a chuckle.
“I give ’em kids,” he said.
“Yeah, I give away some of my baseballs too,” I said, “but I do it on my own terms.”
“Well,” he replied, “you only get one up here.”
Five minutes later, Scott Downs threw a ball to some gloveless fans in the front row, but his throw said high and landed in the fourth row, and I ran over and grabbed the ball. The old usher saw THAT but he wasn’t watching 30 seconds later when Downs successfully threw another ball to the same group of fans.
The usher walked over and told me that the ball I got wasn’t intended for me, and he demanded that I give it to the other people. Thankfully they turned around and told him that they’d already gotten one.
“Just…relax,” I told the usher, making a ‘calm-down’ gesture with my hands. “It’s gonna be all right. Things have a way of working themselves out.” I wanted to throw him off the ledge. That’s probably why there’s a net.
Twenty minutes later, after the Tigers had taken the field, I got one of the players to toss me my fifth ball of the day. I’m not sure who it was. I think it might’ve been Eddie Bonine, but I’ll never know. Doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter is that the usher was several sections away and either didn’t see me catch it or wisely decided not to walk over. I seriously would’ve lost it, which is never a good thing to do during the first game of a series. I’ve learned that it’s best to make a scene on the final day, especially when you’re in another country and not planning to return anytime soon.
The area to the center-field side of the bullpen would’ve been great for the glove trick, but it was constantly being patrolled by security guards:
The place was a snagging nightmare. I pretty much had the entire 200 Level to myself, and NOTHING came up there. On two separate occasions, a home run ball was hit exactly in my direction but fell about five feet short of the front row. So yeah, I still had five balls when BP ended.
Then it was time for the pregame ceremonies:
Right before the game started, I managed to get down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout (on the first base side) and get Adam Everett to toss me his warm-up ball. Let me tell you, it was NOT easy getting down there. There were one or two security guards at every staircase, and they were checking everyone’s tickets. Even in the outfield sections, it was impossible to get down into the seats as soon as BP ended. I tried playing for third-out balls for a couple innings, but it was too crowded. This WAS Opening Day, after all, and the place was pretty much packed, so I decided to wander and explore the stadium a bit.
I realize that the concourses are not necessarily the most interesting feature in a ballpark, but that’s one thing I look for. It’s sort of like my personal benchmark. If you want to judge a company’s ice cream, you start with the vanilla. Pizza? You begin with a plain slice. You know? Same logic. (And just to warn you, the pizza crust at Rogers Center is like cardboard, except not as flavorful.) So anyway, here’s the concourse in the 100 Level:
Nice. Spacious. Cheerful. But right above it, in the 200 Level, it just got weird:
And by the way, I actually had to show my ticket to LEAVE the 100 Level. There was a security guard, fiercely protecting the entrance to the ramps, who actually wouldn’t let me go up until I showed him. If I’d had a 100 Level ticket and wanted to go to the 500 Level to simply have a look and take pics, he wouldn’t have let me. This place is so badly run. It’s a complete joke. I hope it won’t be like this every day.
Speaking of jokes, check out the faux curtains hanging in the club level tunnels:
They looked okay from afar, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they were made of some cheapo synthetic rubberized substance. (Just like the surface of the playing field. Hey!)
For some strange reason, no one said a word as I walked right down into the fanciest seats in the stadium, just behind home plate in the perfect foul ball location. (Of course nothing landed there until I had left.) This was my view:
Look how the people were dressed there:
I was sure I was gonna get kicked out. I was wearing cargo pants and sneakers and a hoodie, and of course I was the only fan with a glove. Talk about not fitting in. But no one said a word.
I headed back to the 100 Level (don’t ask me how I got back in) after the 7th inning stretch and worked my way down to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout. The Jays were winning, 9-5, at that point, and some of the “fans” had left so I figured I’d watch the rest of the game up close.
Now…if you look at the box score from this game and scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that there was a brief delay–rather unusual for a game played indoors. In case you haven’t seen the highlights or read the story of what happened, the Tigers were pulled off the field after two baseballs were thrown at left fielder Josh Anderson from the 500 Level. This happened after a dozen paper airplanes had been thrown onto the field from all points of the stadium AND after a full/uncapped bottle of water crashed down and splattered on the warning track near the right field foul pole. Don’t you love how every team has an announcement thanking their fans and praising them for being “the best fans in baseball” and yet it’s so NOT true in some cases? This was one of those cases. It was Opening Day, and not only wasn’t the game sold out, but it was interrupted with an announcement about a possible forfeit if anything else was thrown onto the field. Most fans around me didn’t even know what was going on. They were booing the Tigers (now losing 12-5) for leaving the field, and they were yelling stuff like “Mercy rule!” and “Where ya going?!” and “Get back out there, you little girls!” Outside of Yankee Stadium, which is the black hole of obnoxiousness, this was the worst fan behavior I can remember seeing in over 750 games.
Here’s a photo of home plate umpire Ed Montague discussing the situation with managers Cito Gaston and Jim Leyland while the other three umps look on:
I did not snag another ball after the game. I did, however, linger in the concourse for 15 minutes to try to find a kid with a glove so I could give away one of mine. There were a few kids without gloves (forget them), and there were a few kids with gloves who already had baseballs (they didn’t need my help), but it was amazing. There was no one worthy of receiving a ball. I had one in my hand, ready to give away, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Remember when I went to the Red Sox home opener last year? The Tigers were at Fenway that day, I snagged a few of their baseballs during BP, and they were all from the Pacific Coast League. Well, the ball I got yesterday from the Tigers pitcher was from the International League. Check it out:
No wonder those BP home runs had fallen short of the 200 Level; the Tigers were using inferior balls. Look at the size of the seams on that thing. Yeesh.
One last photo…
At around 1am, the lengthy process of cleaning the seats was in full swing. Here are the seats in the 100 Level along the left field foul line. Look at the bags of garbage stacked up on the steps, as well as all the un-bagged trash at the bottom of the steps:
That’s it. Now I just have to survive three more Sheffield-less games here…
• 6 balls at this game
• 570 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 3,504 balls during the streak (the second ball from the seat cleaner was No. 3,500)
• 143 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,826 total balls
• 66 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $13.22 pledged per ball (at this point)
• $79.32 raised for Pitch In For Baseball (so far)
Last week, when I walked up to the ticket window at Yankee Stadium on the day of the game, the cheapest ticket available was over $60. Two days ago at Shea, I was able to pay my way in for just $10. My ticket said “Upper Deck Row N,” but that didn’t matter. I never went up there, and by the time the game started, I was holding a ticket for the 5th row behind the Phillies’ dugout.
There was a HUGE line of fans waiting to get in at Gate C, but after my experience the day before at Fenway, it didn’t phase me, and anyway, my goal for the evening wasn’t too lofty. I pretty much just wanted ONE ball; I began the day with a grand total of 3,299 and a streak of 499 consecutive games at which I’d snagged at least one ball. One lousy little batting practice ball was going to give me two milestones. That’s all I wanted…sort of. Although there wasn’t any urgency, I was also hoping to get to add Johan Santana’s name to my list…and yes, I was also hoping to snag a commemorative ball. I’d heard that all game-used balls this year at Shea would have a special logo because it was the last season that the Mets were playing there. Same deal across town…last year for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium…special balls…and I’d already snagged one. Throughout the winter, friends had been sending me links and photos of these logos, and I never looked at them. I didn’t want to see them until I snagged the balls myself. Of course, I’d only been in the right field Loge (check out the view in the pic on the left) for five minutes when a kid I met last year ran up and shouted, “Look what I got!!” and stuck a commemorative ball right in my face. Wonderful. The kid’s name is Trevor. His older brothers Gary (aka “njmetfan” for those of you who read the comments) and Kyle were also at the game, and they all invaded my section during BP. Luckily, there were enough balls to go around.
I got my first ball of the day from Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti…sort of. I called down to him from the corner spot and asked him for the ball, at which point he walked into the bullpen and tossed it to the strength/conditioning coach and had HIM throw it to me. It would’ve been nice to know the man’s name, but at least I got the most important ball out of the way.
Santana and a couple other pitchers began to practice bunting with Conti (who fed dozens of balls into a pitching machine) in the bullpen. Trevor must’ve shouted at Santana for 10 solid minutes (Gary kept telling him to shut up) and didn’t get anything as a result. Gary waited and politely shouted at Santana when the bunting session ended, at which point we all ran over to the side railing to see the Mets’ ace looking up. Santana then threw the ball to Gary…except his aim was off and the ball drifted right to me. As soon as I caught it, Santana shouted up at me and told me to hand the ball over. I offered it to Gary who didn’t consider taking it. “Your ball total is more important than mine,” he said. It was ball-snagging sportsmanship at its best–and worst possible luck for Gary. We all wanted the ball. We all tried to get Johan’s attention. We all had an equal shot at it. And it happened to end up in my glove. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked a player for a ball and then watched helplessly as his throw sailed to someone else. It happened to me at this game as well. I’d been shouting at Carlos Muniz (in Spanish) and making eye contact with him throughout BP. He even held up an index finger at one point as if to say, “Hold on.” Eventually, when I was standing several rows back in the aisle, he turned abruptly and lobbed the ball in my direction from about 100 feet away. The throw fell five feet short. Gary, who was standing two rows below me, reached up and caught it in front of my glove.
I got one more ball tossed to me before the Mets finished their portion of BP. Nothing special. It came from another trainer-type guy. He was standing on the edge of the warning track when a ball rolled to his feet. Everyone shouted, and he ended up throwing it to me.
The Phillies took the field, and I moved down a level and ran around to the left foul line. Within a few minutes, a right-handed batter (no idea who) ripped a line drive in my direction. The ball hooked foul, fell 30 feet short, took one hop off the warning track and skipped up into my glove. Beautiful. I hadn’t even seen it coming until the fans around me started shouting at the last second. I’d been busy pestering J.C. Romero for a ball, and I was still eying him moments later when another righty batter hooked a deeper line drive, again right at me. For some reason I wasn’t able to catch it cleanly. I think it was just a lack of concentration because I always catch balls that come to me. Luckily, the ball dropped into the empty second row of orange seats behind me, and I was able to grab it off the concrete before anyone else had a chance to react. Duh. I still felt like an idiot.
Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson flipped me my sixth ball of the day, and as soon as I caught it, Romero informed him that I’d already gotten two. (Make that SIX, pal.) I quickly turned my back before Henderson looked over so he wouldn’t see my face.
Okay, in the photo above, see how there’s a double wall with a stool in between and dead space all around it? Whenever a ball drops into that area, it’s almost impossible to lean over the railing and grab it. Although it might not look l
ike it, it’s just too far down, and that’s when the glove trick comes in handy–but not this time. A ball shot in there and rolled halfway underneath the gap at the base of the stands, and there was no chance for me to get my glove (in the propped open position) to drop around it. My friend and fellow baseball collector Greg (aka “gregorybarasch”) ran down from the Loge with his cup trick, which might’ve actually worked in this situation, but he’d already snagged half a dozen balls as well, and I wasn’t about to let him swoop in and snag this one. He was good-natured about it, though. We usually make an extra effort to stay out of each other’s way, but every now and then we’ll both end up in the same spot. Anyway, the ball was tucked behind a narrow metal opening, pretty far down and to the left. I should’ve taken a photograph, but oh well, I got caught up in the excitement and forgot. Greg stood a few feet to my right, then moved behind me and held my legs briefly as I leaned over, but it still wasn’t happening. He then suggested that I use my glove to reach a very thin piece of wood (You know those flimsy little sticks that souvenir pennants/flags are attached to? One of those.) and then use the wood to move the ball. And that’s exactly what I did. The wood was so flimsy, however, and the ball was trapped in such a deep rut–that it took about 30 seconds to pry it out, during which time the on-field security guard walked over and told me I had to stop. I didn’t stop. I was almost there, but the ball was still too far below for me to grab it in the tip of the glove, so I tilted the glove sideways to turn it into a makeshift scoop and tried to roll the ball into it by jabbing at it with the tip of the stick. Blood was rushing to my head, and I could feel my veins bulging as I balanced precariously upside-down. Security, meanwhile, was threatening me and Greg was rooting for me. Craziness all around. Last chance…yes…I was able to work the ball into the tip of my glove, then jerk the glove up a few inches while pressing the stick against the ball. The ball started to roll out of the glove’s open pocket, and I saved it by dropping the stick and using my free right hand to grab the ball. Wow. Snagging that ball took much more skill than any home run ball I’ve ever caught. No doubt about it.
I didn’t get any more balls at the Phillies’ dugout after batting practice or before the game, but I did get recognized by a bunch of people, and I ran into a few others I knew including a guy named Adam who gave me his ticket stub so I’d be able to get back down there. This was HUGE. I still needed a commemorative ball, and I knew my best chance would be to go for a third-out ball at the dugout.
I spent the first four outs of the game trying unsuccessfully to catch a foul ball in the Loge. This was my view (minus the railings blocking the plate) for right-handed batters:
And this was my view from the 5th row behind the dugout:
Good thing I made it back down there. Damion Easley grounded out to end the first inning. Shortstop Eric Bruntlett threw the ball across the diamond to Ryan Howard at first base. Howard brought the ball back to the dugout, and since I was the only fan standing up and shouting for it, he tossed it to me. Just LOOK at this beautiful ball:
I stayed in the Loge for the rest of the game and ran back and forth for foul balls, playing right-handed hitters on the first base side of home plate and lefties on the third base side. Top of the third inning. One out. Mike Pelfrey on the hill. Chase Utley sent a foul ball shooting back right at me. I was standing near the top of the slanted tunnel between sections 2 and 4, took one step forward, reached through a bunch of clueless people, and caught the ball in the pocket of my glove. No wait, I didn’t just catch it. I snatched it. It’s like I reached forward with my glove as if I was giving someone an emphatic high five. BAM! Gimme that ball! And as soon as I caught it, I turned and walked back down the aisle. No celebrating. No holding it up in the air. Nothing. Everyone around me knew I was the one who caught it, and I had people congratulating me for the rest of the night. A few fans said they had my first book. A couple others told me they loved my web site. It felt great. And it occurred to me how lucky I was to have gotten the ball from Howard two innings earlier; the commemorative logo on the ball I’d just caught was smudged where Utley’s bat had hit it.
Pelfrey looked pretty good and picked up his first win after limiting the Phillies to two runs on five hits in five innings. The Mets scored eight runs (for an 8-2 win) despite collecting just five hits. Phillies fans throughout the stadium were generally obnoxious, cheering loudly for their team, waving their jerseys, and making choking gestures at Mets fans who responded by flinging several Phillies hats off the edge of the upper deck and belting out a sing-songy chant of “F*ck the Phillies.” It was a busy night
for stadium security. For once I was the least of their concerns.
With one out in the ninth inning, I used Adam’s ticket to get back into the field level, then waltzed down into the seats behind home plate and got yet another commemorative ball from umpire Lance Barksdale as he walked off the field after the final out.
• 10 balls at this game
• 32 balls in 4 games this season = 8 balls per game.
• 500 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 10 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball (not counting game-used balls that are thrown to me, like the one from Howard.)
• 112 lifetime game balls
• 75 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 1,600 lifetime Bud Selig balls
• 3,309 total balls
• 11 days until I’ll be at Disney World…