Last day in Toronto.
Day game after a night game.
Was there going to be batting practice?
I had seen the batting cage and screens from my hotel room, but unfortunately this is what was taking place when I ran inside the Rogers Centre at 11am:
At least it was the Blue Jays and NOT the Tigers who were on the field; at each of the previous three games, Detroit had been using cheap International League balls during BP.
Not long after the Jays started throwing, one of the balls got loose and rolled halfway onto the warning track in foul territory. I’m not sure which player had let the ball get away from him, but instead of walking over and picking it up and using it to finish throwing, he left it there and pulled a new ball out of his back pocket. The abandoned ball was sitting 30 feet to my right. There was an on-field security guard standing 50 feet to my left. In New York City, he would’ve walked over and grabbed the ball (and probably kept it for himself), but here in Canada, where
few people go out of their way to snag baseballs, the guard just stood there and watched while I ran over and successfully used the “half-glove trick.” That’s what I call it when I don’t actually rig my glove to pick up a ball but simply fling the glove out in order to knock a ball closer. Then I moved one section to my left to get near the pitchers–and I found myself standing right in front of the guard.
“Thanks for letting me get that ball,” I said.
“No problem,” he replied. “You’re the guy who gets all the balls, right?”
“Yeah! How’d you know?”
“I’ve been reading your blog,” he said. “I think what you do is pretty cool. I don’t want you writing about any Gestapo sh*t here, and I don’t want you to put the Gustavo curse on me.”
Again, just to point out the difference between Toronto and my hometown…
In September 2008, a bunch of security guards at Shea Stadium actually got angry at me (and confronted me) after they read a Newsday article in which I was paraphrased–not even quoted, mind you, but paraphrased–as saying that security at Shea was more lax than at Yankee Stadium. I meant it as a compliment, but they took it as an insult that would get them in trouble with their superiors. Unbelievable.
Anyway, I bolted out to the seats in left-center field as soon as the Jays started hitting, and I used my glove trick to pluck my second ball of the day off the warning track. Several players watched me do it and were nice enough not to interfere, but when I ran around to right-center and tried to use the trick again, they weren’t as kind. As I began raising my glove with my potential third ball of the day wedged precariously inside, Jesse Litsch and Jesse Carlson both started throwing balls at my glove to knock it loose. I got the sense that they weren’t REALLY trying to mess me up. If they seriously wanted to foil my attempt, they could’ve just jogged over and grabbed the ball out of my glove…but instead they stayed about 40 feet away and took turns
firing balls at it.
“This guy gets like 800 balls a year!” said Litsch to his teammate.
“I don’t get THAT many!” I yelled, “but wait, how do you even know who I am?”
“Man, I see you EVERYwhere,” he said as he continued to fire balls at my glove. “You’re in New York. You’re in Baltimore. You’re all over the place.”
The balls he and Carlson were throwing were thumping off the padded outfield wall as I continued to lift my glove. One of their throws nicked my glove and caused it to spin around, but incredibly the ball remained inside.
As I kept raising my glove, their throws kept getting higher and higher and eventually reached the top of the outfield wall. Litsch had another ball in his hand and paused to look up at me.
“Yeah, what’choo got NOW!!!” I yelled.
He cocked his arm as if he were threatening to throw it.
“Go ahead!” I yelled as my glove dangled just a couple feet below the railing. “Throw it! I dare you! I’ll just catch it!”
I grabbed the string with my left hand in order to free up my dominant right hand, and just then, Litsch fired his ball at my glove and I reached down and bare-handed it just before it was able to hit it.
“HAHA!!!” I yelled. “Yeah!!! That’s what I’m TALKIN’ about!!! You like that?! Pretty good hands, huh?!”
He didn’t say anything. He just turned around and walked back to his spot in shallow right-center field. It felt amazing. I’d lunged and caught a 50mph throw in my right hand while another ball was tucked inside my glove that was dangling by a string from my left hand. It was truly a glorious moment.
The stadium had been open for about 15 minutes, and look how empty the seats were:
That’s why I don’t feel sorry for people who tell me, “I’ve been going to games for 40 years, and I’ve never gotten a ball, not even in batting practice.”
The left field seats got fairly crowded (by Toronto’s standards) toward the end of BP, and if you look closely at the photo below, you can see Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) in the second deck, wearing a blue jersey and long white sleeves:
My fifth ball of the day was a random toss-up that got bobbled by some fans and rolled right to me through an empty row. Total luck, yes.
After the netting above the Jays’ bullpen was pulled back (as it always is late in BP), I used the glove trick to snag another ball there. Then, two minutes later, I used the trick yet again to pull up a ball from the wide gap on the center field side of the ‘pen. My string got tangled on that one, and I nearly ran out of time.
…and asked if he was the guy who’d thrown a ball up to my hotel room two days earlier.
“That was YOU?!” he asked.
Here’s a photo of him signing…
…and here’s a shot of his glove, which was sitting on top of the low wall right in front of me:
Five minutes before the game started, I headed out to the front row along the left field foul line to say hey to the nice security guard. We talked for a bit, and then I noticed that there was a ball sitting underneath the ballboy’s stool:
“Do what you need to do,” he said. “It’s his fourth day on the job. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Poor ballboy. Totally oblivious. He was looking out at the field and talking to the fans sitting behind him. I felt guilty, like I was taking advantage of him, like I was about to steal his lunch money. And what about the Blue Jays outfielders? How would they warm up if I took that ball? Screw it, I thought. They’ll find another ball somehow. It’s not my problem.
“I gotta do it,” I told the guard. “In the name of charity. Yes! It’s for a good cause!”
Because the 200 Level wasn’t quite as empty as I’d hoped it would be, I spent the game going for foul balls on the first base side of home plate. Nothing came my way, but I did manage to maneuver down behind the dugout after the first inning and get Tigers first baseman Miguel
Cabrera to toss me a ball on his way in. I quickly realized that it was not the ball he’d actually caught to end the frame; it was too scuffed/marked (as you can see on the right), which means he’d switched the gamer with the infield warm-up ball and given me THAT one instead. Rrr.
I really wanted one more ball. That would’ve given me double digits, my personal benchmark of stadium domination, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get any (other) third-out balls, and like I said, there weren’t any fouls that came anywhere near me. I felt like I would’ve had a great shot at getting an umpire ball after the game, but when Nick made his way down into my area in the late innings, I told him he could go for it. It was only fair. He’d backed off the day before and given me the dugout, and I’d snagged two balls as a result. Now it was my turn to be generous, and sure enough he ended up getting a ball at the dugout, not from home plate ump Chris Guccione but from one of the Tigers pitchers walking in from the bullpen. Overall, during the three days that Nick and I were both at the Rogers Centre, we managed to stay out of each other’s way and NOT lose any opportunities, but this was one of the few times that it couldn’t be avoided. It happens. Sometimes there IS only one place to be, but we handled it well. We communicated and shared our strategies and made it work.
The game itself was historic. It was the first time in major league history that two first-round draft picks made their debuts against each other. Ricky Romero, drafted 6th overall by the Blue Jays in 2005, earned the win after giving up two runs on seven hits in six innings. Rick Porcello, the 27th overall pick by the Tigers in 2007, suffered the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits in five innings. (I should’ve saved my ticket and tried to get it signed by them instead of Litsch). Final score: Toronto 6, Detroit 2.
• 9 balls at this game
• 31 balls in 4 games this season = 7.75 balls per game.
• 573 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 146 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,851 total balls
• 75 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $14.88 pledged per ball
• $133.92 raised at this game
• $461.28 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
My day started with a trip to the CN Tower:
For 30 years, the tower was the tallest “free-standing structure” in the world. Now it’s merely the tallest in the Americas.
Here’s the view of downtown Toronto from the main observation deck:
The main deck has two levels. The photo above was taken from the upper level. The following photo, which shows Lake Ontario, was taken from the lower level:
The best part about the lower level (assuming you’re not scared of heights) is that there’s a glass floor in one area. Here I am, standing on it, looking straight down:
Did you notice the Rogers Centre in the photo above? My right foot is pointing at it. See the red lettering on the side of that white building? That’s it.
Okay, now I have to share a random photo that I grabbed from Google, just to show where I went next:
That teeny area up towards the top is called the “Sky Pod” and it’s the second highest public observation deck in the world. Here I am up there:
Here’s the view facing west…
…and here’s what the Rogers Centre looks like from 1,465 feet above:
I made it back to my hotel room just in time to see the Blue Jays start taking batting practice, but I couldn’t convince any of the players to toss me a ball. So I shaved. While watching BP from my window. Totally surreal.
At 5:25pm (only five minutes before the stadium was going to open), I headed outside to Gate 11, where my new friend and fellow ballhawk Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) was holding a spot for me at the front of the long line of passionate Jays fans. You can see him holding up his arms under the red sign:
In the photo below you can see two important things:
1) Nick standing behind the bullpen netting…and…
2) An annoying railing that needlessly divides the left field seats into two main sections:
I snagged my first ball of the day by jumping over the railing and grabbing a Blue Jays home run that landed in the empty front row. (Nick was elsewhere at the time.)
Five minutes later, a song called “Killing In The Name” by Rage Against The Machine started playing, and the first thing that went through my mind was, “This is either a clean version or it’s going to get cut off a minute early.” But no. It was the regular version (Google the lyrics at your own risk) and it did NOT get cut off in time, and F-bombs ended up being blasted throughout the cavernous stadium. There were a few little kids standing around with their parents at that point, but they didn’t seem to notice. I did, however, spot a couple security guards looking around nervously, and then a few seconds later, the song abruptly faded out. That made my day.
I moved to the seats in right-center and got several balls tossed to me. Armando Galarraga was the first to hook me up out there, and after he tossed it to me, he said, “You only get one.” (Whatever.) Then Curtis Granderson caught a deep fly ball in center field and flipped it up, and just a few minutes after that, Bobby Seay fielded a ball and immediately turned around and threw it to me without my even asking. Very strange. He’s the guy wearing No. 44 in the following photo:
Several righties started taking cuts, so I moved back to left-center. I didn’t get a chance to catch any batted balls, but I got two more thrown to me. Granderson provided the first–he flung it randomly into the crowd without looking–and Misty May-Treanor‘s husband tossed me the second. That gave me a total of six balls; all five from the Tigers were cheap International League balls. (Just to clarify something for people who might be new to this blog: The only way that I’ll count a minor league ball in my collection is if I snag it at a major league game.)
A short while later it occurred to me that I’d done something rare: I’d gotten Granderson to throw me two balls in one game, and the day before I’d gotten Carlos Guillen to throw me two as well. I don’t know how one would one phrase that in a record book, or if it’s even a record, or if anyone even cares, but I’m assuming that this little oddball feat isn’t accomplished often (not that I specifically tried to make it happen). Has anyone else ever done this? Has anyone ever gotten THREE balls from the same player in one game?
I had some time to kill between BP and the game so I took a photo of the empty seats down the right field foul line…
…and watched Zach Minor warming up:
Just before the national anthems, several Tigers began playing three-way catch. There was only one other fan with a glove, and it happened to be a little kid who couldn’t have been more than seven years old. He was standing quietly in the front row, watching the players, and wearing a Blue Jays cap. I decided to stay out of his way and give him a chance to get the ball…and I also decided that if he didn’t get it, I was going to give him one of mine. Well, as fate would have it, Ramon Santiago ended up with the ball…
…and looked right at me and lobbed it my way, directly over the kid’s head. I immediately walked down the steps and asked the kid, “Have you gotten a ball yet today?” He said no, so I handed him the Jays home run ball that I’d snagged at the start of BP. (I didn’t give him the ball from Santiago because at that moment, it was the last ball I’d ever snagged. What if, for some reason, I never snagged another ball? It would be a shame not to own the final one, just like Barry Bonds secretly wishes he owned No. 762.) Then I knelt down next to the kid and got eye-to-eye with him and said, “Hey, let me give you a little piece of advice.” He stared back blankly and I kept talking. “You know how you’re wearing a Blue Jays cap? Well, the Jays might be your favorite team, but if you’re trying to get a ball from the other team, you should hide your hat. If the Tigers see that you’re rooting for someone else, they’re not gonna want to give you a ball. Right?” The kid didn’t say a word, but I think he got the point. “Just remember that,” I told him, “and enjoy the game.”
Then I got some food and headed to my actual seat in the second deck:
(Yes, that’s a lot of onions. They were free at the condiment stand. I ate them with the fries. Good combination of te
mperature and flavor.)
With the exception of a few gloveless fans scattered throughout the front row, the 200 Level was empty. I’d decided to give up foul balls for one night and make an attempt at catching home runs.
Of course nothing came my way, but Nick managed to get HIS glove on a home run ball. First, check out where he was sitting. This was the view to the left from my seat. He’s on the lower level, just behind the red “Rogers” sign, wearing the yellow version of his signature shirt:
In the top of the 5th inning, Miguel Cabrera’s second homer of the game hit the windows directly above Nick. The ball bounced back on the field and rolled to Vernon Wells, who scooped it up and tossed it to him. Very cool.
In the 8th inning, I abandoned my home run quest and moved to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout. This was my view:
Nick turned up just before the game ended and sat down right behind me. We discussed our post-game strategy. Both of us were hoping to get a ball from home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, but since I’d gotten there first, Nick let me go for it.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s just proper ballhawk etiquette.”
Fernando Rodney got Lyle Overbay to fly out to end the game. (Final score: Tigers 5, Blue Jays 1.) Curtis Granderson made a leaping catch at the wall. I scooted down to the front row. Randazzo approached, I shouted like hell, and got him to toss me my eighth ball of the day. Then, moments later, I saw Granderson jog in and hand the game-ending ball to Rodney. When Rodney walked toward the dugout, I shouted at him in Spanish and got him to toss it to me. Not bad. I’d gone from seven balls (average) to nine balls (good) in less than 60 seconds.
• 9 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave one away)
• 572 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 145 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,842 total balls
• 72 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $14.52 pledged per ball
• $130.68 raised at this game
• $319.44 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Back in my hotel room, this was the scene as I started working on this entry:
Stay tuned for one more tale from Toronto…