The day got off to a great start, and it had nothing to do with baseball: I saw my very first girlfriend for the first time in 14 years, and it wasn’t awkward at all. We met in the lobby of my hotel, went out for a three-hour lunch, and pretty much just caught up and laughed about the past. I was in such a good mood after seeing her that nothing else mattered. Batting practice at Turner Field? Whatever. Baseball was the last thing on my mind — that is, until I walked over to the stadium and met up with my friend Matt Winters:
(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left.)
That helped get me back into snagging mode. My goal for the day was to get at least six baseballs. That’s what I needed to reach 4,500, and thanks to the dreamlike configuration of the left field stands…
…I knew it wouldn’t be hard. It was more a question of how than if.
My first two balls of the day were home runs hit by right-handed batters on the Braves. I’m not sure who. All I can tell you is that the first one landed near me in the seats, and I caught the second one on the fly.
That’s when I encountered my first challenge of the day. Another batter hit a homer that happened to land in the gap behind the outfield wall. I figured I’d be able to snag it with my glove trick, but before I could get there, some old guy snagged it with his own funky-looking device. Here he is holding it up:
It’s a gigantic roll of duct tape — with additional tape inside the center hole to make the ball stick. On the other side (where the guy is holding it), there was a big/clunky object attached to it, presumably to help weigh the whole thing down.
As it turned out, this guy was one of a dozen fans who’d brought devices into the stadium. There were devices everywhere. It was nuts. Some people even dangled them over the wall in anticipation.
Somehow, I managed to beat the competition and use my glove trick to snag my third ball of the day. I handed that one to the nearest kid, and two minutes later, I sprung into glove-trick action once again.
That’s when I encountered (or rather created) another challenge. In my haste to get down to the front row, I rolled my left ankle on the edge of a step, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I felt a sharp twinge on the outside of my foot, and for a moment, I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to walk for the next two weeks. It was one of those “what did I just do to myself” injuries; I knew it was bad, but I wasn’t sure just how bad, so I decided that as long as I could still stand, I might as well proceed down to the front row and try to snag the ball — and yes, I did end up getting it.
My ankle really hurt after that…
…but the pain was bearable as long as I ran in straight lines and changed direction slowly.
My fifth ball of the day was another home run (not sure who hit it), and the catch itself was anything but routine. I was cutting through the second row to my right. The ball was heading toward a teenaged kid in the front row. It was going to be an easy chest-high catch for him, so I didn’t expect to have a chance. That said, I still stuck my glove out for a potential catch in case he missed it, and at the last second, I jerked my head to the side so that I wouldn’t get drilled in the face by a potential deflection. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The kid somehow managed to miss the ball. I mean, he completely whiffed — didn’t even get any leather on it — and I ended up making a no-look, thigh-high catch while running through the seats on a sprained ankle.
That was the 4,499th ball of my life. The next one was going to be a fairly significant milestone, so I wanted it to be special.
Another home run was hit toward the same kid. I was standing right behind him at the time, and while the ball was in mid-air, I could have easily climbed down into the front row and reached in front of him — but I didn’t want to interfere with his chance at redemption, so I hung back in the second row. This is how it played out:
The ball smacked the pocket of his glove and jerked his wrist back, but he hung onto it, and everyone cheered and congratulated him.
Toward the end of the Braves’ portion of BP, a ball cleared the wall and landed in front of the visitors’ bullpen down the left field line. It sat there for a minute, so I ran over to the seats in foul territory, thinking that I might be able to snag it with my glove trick. Once I got there, I realized that the ball was trapped underneath a bench. There was no way for me to reach it, and even if it had been sitting right below me, there wouldn’t have been time. A security guard was about to retrieve it. Here he is with the ball in his hand:
There were several other fans asking for it, so he decided to give it away in the fairest way possible: he asked when everyone’s birthday was. As soon as I said “September fourteenth,” he tossed me the ball.
“When’s your birthday?” I asked.
“September twelfth,” he replied.
“Cool, thanks so much,” I said, and then I asked, “Can I take a picture of the ball with you in the background?”
Either he didn’t hear me or he simply ignored me because he promptly exited the bullpen and began walking toward the infield. Meanwhile, I wanted to fully document my 4,500th ball, so I “chased” after him:
(It wasn’t exactly a high-speed chase.)
In the photo above, he had stopped walking for a moment to shout something to another guard in the bullpen, and then moments later, he continued marching ahead. I pulled out my camera, and this was the only photo I got:
Meh. A little blurry. But at least it captured the “excitement” of the moment. (It’s fun to put “random” words in quotes. I should “do” this more often.)
Here’s a better photo of the ball itself:
Now that my milestone was out of the way, my goal was to snag four more balls and reach double digits.
When the Braves cleared the field, I headed over toward their dugout on the first base side, and I wasn’t allowed past this point:
If you look closely at the photo above, you can kinda see that the arrow is pointing to an extra chair in the front row — a little folding chair with slats on the back. That’s how stadium security marks its arbitrary cut-off line; if you don’t have a ticket for the seats beyond that point, you can’t go there, even during batting practice. Matt and I had tickets in the 3rd row behind the 3rd base dugout, and yet we weren’t allowed anywhere near the 1st base dugout. It’s such a bad policy — so thoroughly asinine and misguided and anti-fan — but what could I do? I had to stay there and SHOUT REALLY LOUD to get Terry Pendleton’s attention. He was standing all the way over near the home-plate end of the dugout. I didn’t think he’d even look up, but to my surprise, he finally turned and threw a ball all the way to me. (Take THAT, stadium security!!)
I headed over to the left field foul line when the Reds started throwing…
…and didn’t get a single ball there. What’s up with that? I was decked out in Reds gear and still got ignored by all the players. Good thing there were a few batters hitting bombs to left-center field — and get this, they were left-handed. Although I’m not sure who was in the cage, I’m pretty certain it was Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. (Maybe Laynce Nix, too?) My eighth and ninth balls of the day were homers that landed in the seats. Here I am scrambling for one of them:
This was my view straight ahead:
See that kid in the front row with the arrow pointing to him? He was standing there because I told him to. Two minutes earlier, he had asked me a for a ball, and I said, “Don’t ask ME. Ask the players. Stand in the front row, and when a ball rolls near you, ask them politely for it.”
This was the view to my right:
See the man with the arrow pointing to him? He overheard my exchange with the kid and asked me, “How many balls do you have?”
He seemed friendly — I’m usually pretty good at determining when someone is asking me just for the purpose of starting an argument — so I told him.
“Nine?!” he asked. “Do you think that’s fair?!”
“Well,” I said calmly, “considering that I give away a lot of balls to kids and also do this to raise money for charity, yeah, actually I do think it’s fair.”
The guy was speechless. He just nodded and walked back over to his spot…however…when I caught my 10th ball of the day less than a minute later — another homer by one of the Reds’ lefties — he was not too happy about it.
The kid in the front row turned around and started begging me all over again for a ball. I pointed at the field and told him, “You should be focusing on the players, not on me.” And guess what happened soon after? Arthur Rhodes tossed a ball to the kid, who was so excited that he ran back and showed me.
“Now see?” I asked. “Wasn’t that better than getting a ball from me?”
“YES!!!” he shouted with a huge smile on his face.
I looked over at the man who’d been giving me a hard time, and I shrugged. He was still stewing. And then, five minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball from the gap and gave that one away to another kid. I don’t even think the man saw that, and I don’t care.
That was my 11th ball of the day, and batting practice was almost done, so I ran (gingerly) to the 3rd base dugout. None of the players or coaches gave me a ball, but some random equipment-manager-type-guy was dumping all the balls from the bucket into a zippered bag. I got his attention and convinced him to toss one to me, and man, it was a beauty. Here are two different photos of it:
Not only was there a big/diagonal/striped/green mark on it, and not only was the word “practice” stamped in a bizarre spot, but the logo was stamped too low. See how the word “commissioner” overlaps the stitch holes? I once snagged a ball with the logo stamped too high, and I also once snagged one with the logo stamped crookedly, but these are just a few examples out of thousands of balls, so you can see how rare it is.
I wandered for a bit after BP…
…and made it back to the dugout just in time for the national anthem:
Is that an amazing sight or what? I’ve never seen groundskeepers keep the hose on their shoulders during the playing of the song.
Reds third base coach Mark Berry tossed me a ball after the second inning, and in the bottom of the third, I headed up the steps to meet a 13-year-old kid from Atlanta named Evan. He’d been reading this blog for years, but we’d never met in person, and now finally, for the first time, we were at the same game together. I was planning to head over to the tunnels behind the plate and play for foul balls, but because he and his dad met me in the cross-aisle behind the dugout, I lingered there for a couple minutes to chat. Well, as luck would have it, while were were all standing around, Brian McCann fouled off a pitch from Aaron Harang and sent the ball flying 20 feet to my left. I took off after it (what sprained ankle?) and watched helplessly as it landed in a staircase just behind me. Thankfully, there was no one there, and the ball didn’t take a crazy bounce. Instead, it trickled down into the aisle, where I was able to grab it. Ha-HAAAA!!! The whole thing never would’ve happened if not for Evan, so he gets the unofficial assist. Here we are together:
Evan has snagged approximately 300 balls. (He doesn’t have an exact count, but he owns 295 and has given a few away.) That’s an impressive number at any age, let alone 13. When I turned 13, I had a lifetime total of four baseballs. He and I hung out after that, first behind the plate, then with Matt behind the dugout, but there were no more balls to be snagged.
The game itself was very entertaining. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who began the night with an 0-6 record and a 5.79 ERA, pitched six scoreless innings and left with a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately for him, his countryman, Takashi Saito, gave up three runs in the top of the eighth, and then Billy Wagner surrendered a solo shot in the ninth to pinch hitter Chris Heisey. With the score tied, 4-4, in the the bottom of the ninth, Martin Prado hit a two-out single, and Jason Heyward plated him with a line-drive double into the right-field corner.
Game over. Final score: Braves 5, Reds 4.
Heyward finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored. This guy is the real deal. He has unbelievably quick bat speed and a beautiful swing. He’s 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and he’s 20 years old! He has blazing speed, too, and he seems pretty solid in the field. I won’t pronounce him a future Hall of Famer just yet, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t end up having a very good/long major league career. Wagner, by the way, two months shy of his 39th birthday, was consistently hitting 98mph on the gun. (I’ve never felt so athletically inadequate, but damn, these guys were fun to watch.)
After the game, I said goodbye to Evan (who got the lineup cards), then met a guy named Glenn Dunlap (who runs a company called Big League Tours), and caught up with another friend named Matt (who you might remember from 5/17/10 at Turner Field).
On my way out of the stadium, I took a photo of the empty seats…
…and walked past the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame…
…which was now closed.
I’m not a museum person anyway. (I’m more of a doer than a looker.)
Five minutes later, this is what I was doing just outside Turner Field:
No, I wasn’t bowing down to my baseballs as part of a religious ritual; I had my camera in my hands, and I was trying to angle it just right in order to take one last photo. Keep reading past the stats to see how it turned out…
• 14 balls at this game (12 pictured below because I gave two away)
• 150 balls in 14 games this season = 10.7 balls per game.
• 643 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 194 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 138 lifetime game balls (125 foul balls, 12 home runs, and one ground-rule double; this does NOT include game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 126 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 60 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,508 total balls
• 34 donors (click here and scroll down to see the complete list)
• $5.20 pledged per ball (if you add up all 34 pledges)
• $72.80 raised at this game
• $780.00 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Bye, Turner Field. Thanks for being so awesome. I’m gonna miss you…
This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:
The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.
I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.
This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:
That big area is called Monument Grove.
I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:
Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:
In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.
Here’s the center field gate…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:
Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.
Here’s another look from further down the street…
…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:
Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:
I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…
…and rounded yet another corner:
That’s more like it.
Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:
See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)
Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:
I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:
Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:
Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.
In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:
It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.
After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:
The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)
Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:
When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:
Glove trick heaven!
Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.
My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:
The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:
The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.
I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.
I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.
The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:
It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.
When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.
Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.
“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.
“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.
“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”
That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).
Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.
When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!
I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.
Check out the ball:
It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.
The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:
The left field seats got pretty crowded…
…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.
Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.
I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:
Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.
As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.
The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:
Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.
Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.
Kevin asked me two main questions:
1) How do you catch so many baseballs?
2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?
It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)
Here I am with Kevin after the interview:
I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.
Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”
I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:
There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.
If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:
Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:
1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.
2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.
3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.
4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.
Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.
So that was it.
My day ended with 19 balls.
(Yeah, I know, poor me.)
The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).
Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…
…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)
Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…
• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 192 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,477 total balls
• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $94.05 raised at this game
• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Jacobs Field, the Indians were in first place, and every seat was sold out for the season. That was 1998. Let’s just say that things have changed.
Yesterday, before I headed over to Progressive Field, I met up with two ballhawks from Pittsburgh named Nick and Bryan Pelescak. (Yes, they’re brothers, and I first met them last fall when I got to take BP on the field at PNC Park.) It was only 2pm. They’d just checked out of their hotel, and they had lots of time to kill, so they wandered around the outside of the stadium with me while I took photos. One of the first things I saw was the view through the gate behind the “Home Run Porch” in left field:
This was a beautiful sight. It had been raining two hours earlier, yet the batting cage was now set up for BP.
We kept walking…
…and I took a ton of photos. Here are two more.
Whenever I visit a new stadium, I always walk around the outside of it and go nuts with my camera. Yeah, I’d been here before, but it had been so long that I did all my exploring/documenting from scratch.
Here’s a shot of Gate C — the gate that opens first. It’s located in deeeeep right-center:
Do you see the person standing at the gate? That was another Pittsburgh ballhawk named Erik Jabs. (He’s the guy who founded the Ballhawk League.) I knew that he and Nick and Bryan were going to be at this game, and although I was looking forward to hanging out with them, their presence meant that I’d have to face some serious competition.
Erik stayed at Gate C and watched our bags. Nick and Bryan and I kept wandering. Here’s a four-part photo that shows what it looked like as we walked from the right field edge of the stadium around toward home plate:
Here I am across the street from Progressive Field, imitating the building-sized LeBron James poster way off in the distance:
In the four-part photo below, the pic on the upper right shows the stadium’s “toothbrush lights.” The pic on the lower right shows my old (circa 1992) Indians cap next to a long overdue replacement.
(Don’t worry, I took that sticker off the bill as soon as I took the photo. People who leave those things on their caps — that’s one thing I’ll never understand.)
Here I am with Nick (who’s fielding an imaginary grounder), Erik (who’s reaching out for the backhand), and Bryan (who’s tracking a fly ball) outside Gate C:
Yeah, it’s a ridiculously dorky photo (and I look fat), but whatever. Good times, I tell you. (The photo was taken by a guy named Chad from Canton, Ohio. He and I were in touch about a year ago, and when he heard that I was going to be at this game, he decided to make the trip to hey in person. We ended up crossing paths throughout the day and sitting together on and off during the game. Cool dude.)
Want to see the line of fans waiting to get inside the stadium for BP? Yes, of course, you do, but first, I want you to think about how crowded it gets at some places, like Fenway Park and Citi Field. Are you ready? Okay, here we go. I took the following photo THREE minutes before Gate C opened:
Right before we all ran inside, we made a little bet. I’m not sure if it could be called a “friendly wager” because there was a little bit of money involved. Erik, Bryan, Nick, and I decided that at the end of batting practice, the guy who snagged the most baseballs would receive one dollar from each of the other three people.
The good thing about Progressive Field is that it opens two and a half hours early for night games. The bad thing is that fans are confined to the right field seats for the first hour and a half! So, basically, by the time the entire stadium opens, it’s 6pm, and there’s only 15 or 20 minutes left of batting practice. Bleh. I will say, though, that the right field seats are pretty good. There’s lots of room to run. Check it out:
In the photo above, Nick is on the left, Bryan is down in the front row, and Erik is standing one section further away, with his hand on his head. The reason why we were all clustered in right-center is that there were a bunch of righties batting. We figured that if any of them were gonna go oppo, it was going to happen closer to the center field edge of the section. (BTW, that concrete platform down in front is great for preventing fan interference, but it sucks for snagging baseballs. It makes it impossible to use the glove trick, and if you’re not careful, home run balls will bounce up off it and hit you in the face.)
Erik snagged a ball fairly quickly, and then Bryan got one as well. Things weren’t looking good for me, but then something unusual happened. Jensen Lewis fielded a ball, and when everyone started asking for it, he turned and fired it into the upper deck. The ball then bounced down into the second deck, and I ended up getting a seat cleaner to toss it down to me. Here’s the ball, and you can see the guy in the background:
Here’s another look at the right field seats after it started getting a bit more crowded:
Erik and Bryan each had three balls, while Nick and I were stuck at one apiece. I was sure that I was going to lose the bet — and I was okay with it. At least I was having fun.
I snagged two more balls within a matter of minutes. I got Chris Perez to throw the first one after I told him I was “going deep” and started running up the steps. Then I caught a Russell Branyan homer on the fly more than 15 rows back. Maybe even 20 rows. Everyone was crowding the front (as usual) so I played deep, figuring that he’d be able to reach me.
I was still a couple balls behind when the Twins took the field and started playing catch:
I was hoping to snag a Target Field commemorative ball, but I wasn’t freaking out about it. This was the first of five Twins games that I was going to see in the next week, so I assumed I’d get one eventually.
The Twins started hitting. A ball rolled onto the warning track right below me. I had to climb on a seat in order to look down and see it, but the logo was facing away from me. In other words, I had no idea what type of ball it was. Jesse Crain walked over and picked it up. I asked him politely for it, and he tossed it my way. Here’s a photo of THAT ball:
(You can see Crain in the photo above. He’s walking toward another ball on the warning track in right-center.)
My fifth ball of the day was rather odd…in terms of how I got it. During the first hour of BP, several balls landed in the empty seats along the right field foul line. I was hoping that they’d all still be there when the rest of the stadium opened, but unfortunately, a cop wandered down into the section and retrieved them all. For some reason (perhaps because I held up my glove), he threw one of them to me from about 100 feet away. The Twins’ bullpen was positioned between us. It was quite a toss, and it was right on the money.
Speaking of money, I was in good shape with the bet after getting Ron Mahay to give me my sixth ball of the day. Erik and Nick and Bryan all had solid numbers at that point, but I had taken the lead — and then I got another Target Field ball from Pat Neshek. Nothing fancy about it. Someone hit the ball onto the track. I ran down to the front row. He flipped it up, and I reached higher than everyone else around me. I was really happy to finally get one from him after having read his truly awesome blog on and off for a few years. (To prove how much I like his blog, check out my favorite links on my web site.)
Finally, when the rest of the stadium opened, I decided to go to the left field bleachers. On the way, I stopped and peeked over the edge of the Indians’ bullpen in right-center, and wouldn’t you know it? There was a ball sitting all the way at the back, waiting for me. I neglected to photograph it, but wait…here’s a photo that I had taken earlier in the day. It shows a different ball sitting in nearly the same spot:
I had enough string for the glove trick — that wasn’t the problem — but the chest-high railing made it impossible to lean over. See how it angles back? I had to pull one of those plastic chairs over and stand on it. An elderly usher watched me and didn’t say a word. The whole thing took a couple minutes, and when I was done, I got a nice round of applause from the dozen or so fans who were also looking on.
That was my eighth ball of the day. Double digits? Keep reading…
I ran to the bleachers and got Jon Rauch to throw me No. 9. Here he is down below:
The bleachers are quite steep, as you can see in the following photo:
It’s hard to maneuver up and down the benches, but in straight-away left field, there’s a cross-aisle at the front that provides plenty of room to run laterally. You’ll see a photo of it later…
During the last round of BP, I caught two Delmon Young homers on the fly. The first was a nice lazy fly ball. The second was a laser that required me to reach slightly over the low railing down in front.
I had eleven balls, three of which had the word practice stamped underneath the MLB logo:
(The balls are not actually yellow. They’re nice-n-white, but I was forced to photograph them in my hotel room, which has terrible lighting.)
As soon as batting practice ended, Erik, Nick, and Bryan entered Heritage Park…
…and headed down to the lower level to look for baseballs hidden in the trees:
They didn’t find any, which meant it was time to settle the bet. Erik had seven balls. (He finished the night with eight, and you can read all the details on his blog.) Bryan had snagged five, and Nick (who also has a blog) had four. Excellent numbers all around. I just happened to come out on top, and this was the result:
Erik decided to hold all his baseballs while he handed over the dollar, just to prove that he hadn’t gotten blown out.
It turned out that we’d each gotten at least one Target Field ball:
Now, to make a long story a little less long…
When we were taking these photos in Heritage Park, all my baseballs were on the ground right behind me, not more than five feet away. I’d taken them out of my backpack, and I then placed the bag on top of them, you know, to (mostly) shield them from the few other fans who were milling about, looking at the plaques, etc. I didn’t think much about these people. It was quiet. It was Cleveland. There was no need to act all paranoid and New-Yorker-ish, so I turned my back for a few moments here and there, and when I started putting all the balls back into my bag, I noticed that there was one missing. Which ball? My best Target Field ball, of course — the one that Jesse Crain had tossed to me. I thought one of my fellow ballhawks was playing a joke, but they assured me repeatedly that they had nothing to do with it, and that’s when it hit me that someone else, in fact, had stolen one of my commemorative balls. Unbelievable.
Anyway, life goes on.
Shortly before the game started, I got Justin Morneau to sign the front of my ticket and Denard Span to sign the back:
I tried for a pre-game warm-up ball behind the Twins’ dugout, but came up empty. Then I moved toward the back of the section and got Nick to take the following photo of me:
Nothing special about it. I just wanted a decent photo of myself inside the stadium.
As for the game, I decided to go for nothing but home runs. To hell with foul balls and third-out balls. There was room to run in the outfield, and I intended to take full advantage. I wanted to be in the standing room area (aka “the Home Run Porch”) down the left field line, but Nick was there all night, and I didn’t want to get in his way, so I spent most of my time running back and forth for righties and lefties from the bleachers in straight-away left to the stands in right-center. Here’s what it looked like from the tunnel in left field:
The usher was nice and let me stand there. Every usher was nice. No one ever harassed me or asked for my ticket. I was free to roam, and that’s how it should be, especially at a stadium where a Saturday night game draws just 13,832 fans.
When I moved to the front of the tunnel, this is what it looked like to the right:
Is that awesome or what?! (The lady sitting closest to me doesn’t appear to be all that excited about it.) Of course, there weren’t any home runs hit there while I was there. I was in right-center field when Justin Morneau was batting, and he ended up hitting a home run that landed less than ten feet from where I’d been standing all night for righties. My home run curse continues. It’s official. Last year was pretty much a disaster in terms of game home runs, and things are not looking good early in 2010.
This is what it looks like under the left field bleachers:
And this is the greatest rally cap I’ve ever seen:
That was an Indians cap, FYI, and it obviously worked because the Tribe scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game at 4-4, and then they won it in the 11th.
The final score was 5-4, which means my Ballhawk Winning Percentage remained perfect.
Nick and Bryan left early — it’s a two-hour drive back to Pittsburgh — so we didn’t get to say goodbye, but Erik stuck around, and we walked out together. No telling when I’ll see these guys again, but hopefully it won’t be long.
• 11 balls at this game (10 pictured on the right because one was stolen)
• 34 balls in 3 games this season = 11.3 balls per game.
• 632 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 183 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 122 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 56 lifetime games outside of New York with at least ten balls
• 22 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 4,392 total balls
• 24 donors (click hereto see what this is all about)
• $2.86 pledged per ball
• $31.46 raised at this game
• $97.24 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I hardly ever get my baseballs signed. Normally I don’t even try too hard to get autographs in the first place, and when I do, I usually get them on ticket stubs. In 1996 I made an exception and got my 1,000th ball signed by Pedro Borbon Jr., the player who threw it to me. In 2003 I made another exception and got No. 2,000 signed by Joe Roa. Then, on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, I used my glove trick to snag my 3,000th ball, so I didn’t get it signed by anybody. But here’s the thing…with Borbon and Roa, I was able to get their autographs shortly after they tossed the balls to me–both of them came over and signed as soon as batting practice ended–but when Livan Hernandez threw me my 4,000th ball on 5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium, I was trapped in the left field pavilion where there was no chance to get near him.
Fast-forward to this past weekend. I still hadn’t gotten Livan to sign The Ball, so I wrote a blog entry in which I asked for autograph advice. What I learned was: Livan is nice about signing autographs in general, but it’s really hard to get the Mets to sign on their way into the ballpark because fans aren’t allowed near the entrance where they walk in from the parking lot.
Yesterday, feeling nervous about taking my 4,000th ball out of my apartment and hoping that I wouldn’t ever have to do it again, I arrived at Citi Field at 2pm and made a beeline toward the players’ parking lot:
Here’s another photo that shows exactly where I headed:
Once I reached the end of the walkway, I saw firsthand why it’s so tough to get autographs. The players enter on the other side of a black, six-foot-tall fence; fans are kept 30 feet away from the fence by a barricade. This was as close as I could get:
Is that obnoxious or what?
I soon learned a piece of good news from the few other autographs collectors who were there: if we got a player’s attention and he called us over, the security guard would allow us to slip through the barricades and approach the fence.
More good news: I was armed with secret weapon:
How could Livan Hernandez possibly ignore my charming homemade sign?
Over the next 20 minutes, every single Mets player ignored our polite requests and blew right past us: Daniel Murphy, Alex Cora, Jonathon Niese (karma), Bobby Parnell, Angel Berroa, Jeremy Reed, and a few others that I’m forgetting. I heard that Carlos Beltran and Brian Stokes had signed earlier, but still, it was a disgusting display of human behavior. I mean, Angel Berroa?! Really?! Does he think his 2003 AL Rookie of the Year award gives him the right to blow people off? There were FOUR of us asking for autographs. It would have taken him–or any of the other players–approximately 20 seconds to stop and sign. Maybe 30 seconds if they cared to sprinkle a few pleasantries into the interaction. I was just about ready to start screaming obscenities at the next player when Livan pulled up in a big, boxlike silver vehicle. I held up my sign, shouted his name, jumped up and down like a little schoolgirl, and to my surprise/delight, he waved me over! I rushed to the fence and handed my ball over and resisted the urge to tell him why it was special (I didn’t want him to feel used) and simply asked him to sign it on the sweet spot. Here he is, doing it…
…and here’s his signature:
Five minutes later, Nelson Figueroa started walking past us with two big rolling suitcases. We asked him to sign and he said, “One minute.” He disappeared into the stadium for no more than 10 seconds, then returned without the bags and waved us over. He was VERY nice and talkative and articulate, and he even posed (as best he could) for a photo through a small gap in the fence. What a guy. I got his autograph on a Shea Stadium ticket that I’d brought from home:
I could’ve gotten a few more autographs after that, but I chose instead to sit in the shade and read Portnoy’s Complaint. (That book is beyond brilliant and hilarious; I was too young to appreciate it fully when I first read it in college.) While I was reading, a man wearing black spandex shorts and a sweaty white T-shirt walked strangely close, prompting me to look up and realize that it was Tony LaRussa. If he hadn’t been wearing earphones, I might’ve said hello. Colby Rasmus also walked by around that time and refused to sign baseballs on the sweet spot.
“I’m just a collector, I swear,” pleaded one fan.
“That’s what they all say,” said Rasmus.
You know what *I* say? Colby Rasmus (and every other baseball player who refuses to sign balls on the sweet spot) is an ass. Who the hell does he think he is? He was a first-round draft pick in 2005 and received a $1 million signing bonus. Now he’s earning $400,000 this year to PLAY A GAME, and he stands to earn a lot more if he stays healthy. (I, for one, hope he doesn’t). And yet, God forbid some fan out there might possibly want to make twenty bucks by showing up early at a stadium, standing out in the 90-degree heat, obtaining his precious autograph, and then selling it.
I raced to the left field seats as soon as the stadium opened at 4:40pm, and I immediately got Gary Sheffield to throw me a ball. I was so out-of-breath that I almost wasn’t able to call out to him, but it all worked out, and the ball turned out to have a worn Shea Stadium commemorative logo (like this).
For some reason, all the batters during the first two rounds were left-handed, so I headed over to right field:
There was a ball on the warning track near the foul pole–one of the few places in the stadium where the outfield wall isn’t absurdly high. As I began to reel it in with my glove trick, Brian Stokes jogged over and threw his glove at mine. His glove thumped against the wall, causing me to jerk my glove which caused the ball to fall out. I noticed then that it was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball (like this). Stokes walked over and stood there, watching me. I lifted my glove back up to readjust the rubber band and asked him
to give me one more chance to go for the ball. He didn’t say anything. He just kept standing there, so I went for it, and sure enough I got the ball to stick inside my glove. As I started lifting it, Stokes moved closer and tapped my glove with his bare hand, knocking the ball loose for a second time. He picked it up off the warning track, then took a couple steps toward the infield and drew his arm back as if he were going to fire the ball toward the bucket. Just when I was ready to put the Hample Jinx on him, he turned around and smiled and flipped it to me.
Oliver Perez walked over and asked, “How many balls you got?”
It was the first time he had ever spoken to me, so it came as a surprise that he recognized me. Meanwhile, I didn’t want to give him a specific answer; better he should assume I had a few hundred than a few thousand.
“How many?” I asked. “You mean today? Or in my whole life?”
“In your life,” he said, “because I’ve seen you on TV and I know what you do.”
“But did you know that I’m now collecting baseballs for charity?”
He asked what I meant by that, so I told him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this season, and how I’ve raised more than $8,000 so far, and how I also give away baseballs at just about every single game I attend.
“I don’t want you to think I’m greedy,” I said. “I want you to know that I give back a lot.”
“That’s good,” he said.
And that was the extent of our conversation.
Two minutes later, a left-handed batter ripped a deep line drive in my direction. I knew that it was going to fall short, but I knew that it had a chance to bounce up to me, so I shuffled over a few feet and as the ball skipped up in the form of a gigantic in-between hop, I turned the palm of my glove face down and swatted down at the ball, hoping to trap it against the padded outfield wall. It was a maneuver I’d tried in the past, without much success because it requires perfect timing and an equally perfect prediction about how high the ball is going to bounce. Somehow, on this fine day, I nailed it and got a nice round of applause from the fans along the foul line.
I headed over to the deepest part of left-center field, all the way out near the Home Run Apple, and I got Livan to throw me my fourth ball of the day. This is what the field looked like from the spot where I caught it:
Then, when the righties finally started hitting, I battled the crowd in straight-away left field and caught a Gary Sheffield homer on the fly. Moments later, Jeff Francoeur launched one in my direction–a bit over my head–and I jumped at the last second to try to make the catch. The ball hit off my glove (I should’ve caught it) but luckily landed right near me in a semi-crowded row. I bent down and scrambled for it and snagged the ball just before the nearest fan was about to grab it. It turned out that the other fan was a woman who was there with kids, so I handed her the ball. (That ball counts toward my grand total, FYI.)
As the Cardinals took the field, the seats became more and more crowded:
In the photo above, do you see the fan standing in the front row wearing red? He’s almost a full section away. That’s a friend and fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212” in the comments section).
I headed back to right field because, once again, there were a bunch of lefties hitting. It’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field at Citi Field (because of that stupid Pepsi Porch overhang), so I had to focus on other sources: the players’ kids. There were four of them shagging balls in the outfield: two kids with blank jerseys, one with “FRANKLIN” and another with “PUJOLS.” Here’s Trever Miller with two of the kids:
Young Franklin fired a ball up into a patch of empty seats in right field. It was a two-person race: me and a 40-something-year-old man in a Cardinals shirt. (I was wearing a Cardinals shirt, too, at that point.) Neither of us could find the ball at first. We must’ve searched for five seconds (which at the time felt like five years), and eventually I spotted it, tucked out of view against the back of a seat. That was my seventh ball of the day, and I got another one right after from Miller. I would’ve snagged it on my own with the glove trick because it was sitting right below me on the warning track, but some old grumpy security guard in the bullpen (who has personally cost me about 30 balls since 1992) made me stop.
Remember where I got the ball thrown by Livan in left-center field? I headed back there and got another one from Little Pujols. The kid made a heck of a throw from about 60 feet away and 15 feet below. Right on the money. I was stunned, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, given his last name.
I moved to Death Valley after that–the deepest part of the ballpark in right-center field where it says “415” on the outfield wall. This was the view:
I didn’t expect to catch a batted ball out there. I was just focusing on trying to get one of the players to throw one to me, when all of a sudden I heard people shouting, “Heads up!!” so I looked up and saw a deep fly ball heading about 10 feet to my right. I shuffled through the empty row and tracked the ball and couldn’t believe that it kept carrying and carrying. Eventually I reached out and made a back-handed catch. (Remember Gail from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and from Game 4 of the 2008 World Series? She was in the section at the time and thanked me for “saving” her from the home run ball, but I don’t think it would’ve hit her. She and I ran into each other a few times throughout BP, but we could never talk for more than a minute because I was always running off to a different spot.)
As soon as I caught this home run, I started shouting, “Who hit it?! Who hit it?!”
Soon after, a man walked over and showed me the screen on his fancy digital camera.
“This is the guy who hit it,” he said.
It was a zoomed-in photo of Colby Rasmus. Bleh.
I asked him if he was 100 percent sure, and he said yes, so I’ll just have to take his word for it.
During the final 20 minutes of BP, it was an absolute zoo in left field. Pujols and Matt Holliday were batting, and people were in a snagging frenzy. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen Citi Field during BP, and granted, this was only my seventh time there, but still. It was nuts. Every staircase was packed. Every row was full. There wasn’t any spot in left field where I had more than five feet on either side…so I pretty much gave up. It was Shea Stadium all over again, which is to say that batting practice was in progress, and there was absolutely NO point in even being there.
I made my way over to the Cardinals’ dugout at the end of BP and got Little Pujols to throw me another ball on his way in. Ha-HAAA!!! I was standing five rows back, and he made another perfect toss, this time right over everyone’s head.
I lingered 20 rows behind the dugout for the next half-hour, read more of my book, and eventually moved back into the front row when Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo (pictured below) came out to play catch:
I’d picked the end of the dugout where DeRosa was throwing, figuring he’d be the one to end up with the ball, but I was wrong. Luckily, I was the only fan behind the entire dugout who was yelling for the ball, so Lugo lobbed it to me from about 50 feet away. As easy a toss as it was, I almost dropped it because I lost it in the lights. It was my 12th ball of the day (tying my personal Citi Field record), five of which had the word “practice” stamped onto the sweet spot:
I stayed behind the dugout for the first few innings, hoping to get a third-out ball tossed to me by Pujols. This was my view:
It seemed as if there were always at least two vendors blocking my view and/or the stairs.
Pujols ended up with the ball after the first inning, but tossed it to someone else. I noticed that the ball had a standard MLB logo on it, which meant that Pujols had switched the game-used ball with the infield warm-up ball.
In the second inning (thanks to a Luis Castillo ground out), Pujols ended up with the ball once again. I was blocked at the bottom of the stairs so as Pujols approached the dugout, I scooted about five feet to my right through the partially empty second row. I waved my arms and shouted at him and pointed straight up as if to say, “Throw it high so the people in front of me won’t be able to reach it.” Pujols DID throw me the ball, but he threw it on a line. Chest-high. Oh no. Easily interceptable. I said a silent prayer, knowing I was at the mercy of the people seated directly in front of me, and I reached straight out, hoping to be able to make the catch. As it turned out, no one in the front row even noticed or cared that a ball was sailing two feet over their heads, and I snagged it. The ball had a Citi Field commemorative logo, but I don’t think it was THE ball that had been used in the game. It looked really beat up. Take a look for yourself. Here are two different views of it:
Is it possible that Pujols switched balls and still ended up tossing me a commemorative ball? Sure, why not. I believe that’s what happened.
As soon as I turned to head back up the steps, some guy asked me for the ball. Duh. Not only was it commemorative (I never ever ever ever never ever ever EVER give those away), but it came from Albert effing Pujols. Did you hear me? Albert Pujols!! Okay, so it was the second ball I’d ever gotten from him, but so what? ALBERT PUJOLS!!! (It should be noted that I never give baseballs to people who ask for them, whether or not they’re commemorative, but that’s another story.)
I wandered a bit during the game and eventually made it back to the 3rd base side when things started getting interesting in the eighth inning. With the Mets leading, 7-4, and Johan Santana still in the game, Senor Pujols led off the frame with a mammoth homer to dead center. Then, in the top of the 9th, Francisco Rodriguez melted down, and in the process of throwing 41 pitches, he managed to give up two runs. Tie game. Blown save. No win for Johan. In the top of the 10th, Pedro Feliciano allowed the Cardinals to load the bases. Then Sean Green came in and, in typical Mets fashion, hit DeRosa with his first pitch. That gave St. Louis an 8-7 lead. Next batter? God Himself. Green quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, but God wasn’t bothered by such insignificant things as balls and strikes. The third pitch was a foul ball. The fourth pitch resulted in a grand slam to left-center. It was God’s fifth granny of the season, tying a National League record.
Final score: Cardinals 12, Mets 7.
What does one ask God after such a performance? I don’t know, but apparently someone was brave enough to stick a microphone in front of His face:
In this tainted era of Major League Baseball, I can only say that I ***hope*** Pujols’ name never appears on any “list.” Of course it wouldn’t surprise me if it does, but until then I’ll be rooting for Him.
After the game, Trever Miller threw me a ball at the dugout–the second from him on the day and my 14th overall–as he walked in from the bullpen.
• 346 balls in 40 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.
• 609 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 480 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 345 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 7 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls
• 111 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 62 lifetime games in New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,166 total balls
• 117 donors (if you make a pledge now, it will include all the balls I’ve snagged this season)
• $24.74 pledged per ball
• $346.36 raised at this game
• $8,560.04 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
My girlfriend Jona attended this game…
…and wandered around the stadium with me before the gates opened.
There was a lot to see. Check out the four-part pic below. Starting on
the top left and going clockwise, you can see 1) the view of PNC Park from the middle of the bridge, 2) the steps leading down to the water, 3) kayaks for rent, and 4) the promenade behind the right field edge of the stadium (where balls hardly ever land):
Jona and I had lots of time to kill (which was the point), so we had to
find various ways to spend it. In the four-part pic below…1) we’re posing with the home plate gate in the background, 2) I’m trying to look mean after Jona tied a bandana around my head in the team store, 3) I’m being overwhelmed by gravitational force, and 4) Jona is inspecting the Willie Stargell statue (no disrespect intended):
Speaking of the home plate gate, here’s a closer look:
Nothing special, right? Well, here’s an even closer look:
I know the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992, and I know attendance is sagging to the point that PNC Park resembles a ghost town, but c’mon, this is ridiculous. I’ve only seen spider webs in one other major league stadium. Anyone want to guess where?
By the time the center field gate opened at 5pm, there were dozens of people waiting on line. I raced inside ahead of all of them and snapped a quick photograph of the bleachers while I still had the place to myself…
…and then handed the camera to Jona. Check out this cool shot she took of me at the start of BP:
I only snagged one ball during the 13 minutes that the Pirates were on the field. It rolled to the wall in straight-away left field, and I got it with the glove trick as Jeff Karstens was walking over to pick it up. He easily could’ve snatched it, but instead he walked back to his spot in the outfield and watched with several of his teammates. Then, at the last second, as I was lifting my glove with the ball tucked firmly inside, another ball came flying out of nowhere and thumped off the padded wall below. It had missed my glove by inches and made me flinch. I looked up and Karstens was grinning.
“Nice try!” I yelled. I got the sense that he was just being playful–that even if he’d knocked the ball out of my glove he would’ve given it to me–so I added, “Thanks for letting me get it!”
Karstens responded with a subtle wave, and that was that.
Chris Dickerson (who picked up his first major league hit the night before) was the first player to take the field for the Reds. As he was back-peddling to his spot in left field, a left-handed batter sliced a line drive right at him. Dickerson half-heartedly reached for it and somehow missed it, allowing the ball to tip off the side of his glove and roll all the way to the warning track. I used the glove trick to snag this one as well, and Jona snapped a few quick pics of me in action:
In the pic on the left, I was making sure the rubber band wasn’t too tight or too loose. In the middle pic, I had just knocked the ball closer, and in the pic on the right, I had just gotten the ball to stick inside the glove.
I forgot to mention that as soon as the Reds took the field, I’d changed into my Reds outfit. Pretty convincing, eh?
I snagged three more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was thrown (right to me over several rows of Pirates fans) by Jerry Hairston in left-center field. The second was a fungo hit by coach Billy Hatcher, and I made a web-gem-type catch. I immediately judged that the ball was going to sail five to ten feet over my head so I climbed up on a bench, took my eye off the ball briefly as I stepped onto the bench in the next row, then turned back toward the field and spotted the ball flying toward me…and jumped and lunged and made an over-the-shoulder catch high above my head the in the tip of my glove…with the sun in my eyes. It felt great. And as for the last BP ball I snagged…I got it with the glove trick and immediately handed it to the kid on my left.
I made it to the Reds’ dugout one minute before BP ended and got my sixth ball of the day tossed by the equipment manager. Then, with nearly an hour to spare before the first pitch, Jona and I headed to the upper deck:
We wandered and I took photos from every possible angle…
…and ended up behind home plate where I took some pics for my traditional/cheap panorama:
As much as I was complaining in my previous entry about PNC Park not being all that exciting, I have to say that it really is a gorgeous stadium. When Jona and I made it back down to the field level, even the concourse behind/below the left field seats caught my eye:
Concourses aren’t the most exciting things in the world–I will acknowledge that–but having suffered for the last 20 years inside the cramped and dingy concourses of the New York City stadiums, I had to take a moment to appreciate the spaciousness and cleanliness and architectural design of this one in Pittsburgh.
…and then got Luis Rivas to toss me a ball–my seventh of the day–after he finished playing catch along the right field foul line. When I caught that ball, the entire front row was packed with kids, but none of them had gloves. They were ALL there for autographs, so no one protested when I reached out and made the easy catch.
Six of the seven balls I’d snagged at that point were either marked (with a “C” by Cincinnati) or stamped (with “practice”) on the sweet spot. As for the small four-digit numbers that appear on the balls, I wrote them as I snagged each one. They indicate how many balls I have. The ball in the middle of the lower row, for example, was the 3,588th ball of my collection, and if you’re wondering why some of the numbers are upside-down…it’s not my fault. It’s the Reds’ and Pirates’ fault. I mark every ball in the same spot: to the left of the main portion of the stamp, all the way over near the sweet spot. The Reds and Pirates were obviously not concerned with making each mark or stamp face the same way. As far as I’m concerned, THEY marked and stamped some of the balls upside-down; I merely turned them all so they’d face the same way in this photograph.
We wandered back toward the field and got a good look at the open space behind the bleachers where I’d caught a BP homer the day before (I highly recommend this spot whenever a power-hitting righty comes up):
I was filmed juggling three balls late in the game (sorry for the poor quality but this is a screen shot from a low-quality video)…
…and shown on the Jumbotron for at l
east 20 seconds:
As you can see in the photo above, the Pirates had a 4-1 lead after six innings. Each team added a run after that…and that was it. There were four home runs hit in the game, and I didn’t come close to any of them. Paul Maholm worked eight solid innings to earn the win. The game lasted just two hours and 14 minutes. The attendance was a minuscule 15,787. After the final out, I got a ball tossed to me by home plate umpire Kevin Causey as he walked off the field (on the outfield end of the third base dugout) and then got another ball from an unidentifiable Pirate one minute later at the dugout. (It had to be a pitcher because he walked across the field from the bullpen. He was tall and had a beard, and I think he was right-handed. Any ideas who it might’ve been?) I gave this ball to a girl on my right, collected a few extra ticket stubs, and went out to dinner with Jona.
Goodbye, PNC Park.
? 9 balls at this game
? 317 balls in 44 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 540 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 131 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
? 3,594 total balls
Several other things…
1) I’m five balls away from breaking my single-season record.
2) I’ve decided to go for 400 balls this season, and since I have about 20 more games planned, I should be able to do it.
3) It looks like I’m going to be in Philadelphia with Clif (aka “goislanders4”) on Tuesday.
4) I haven’t had ANY time lately to answer emails or comments (I’ve barely had time to blog and eat and sleep), but I’m hoping to catch up at some point this weekend…