For the last six months, people have been sending me photos and videos of Shea Stadium being torn down. I never looked at a single one. The mere thought of it not being there was too painful, but I had to face that reality today as the No. 7 train approached the Willets Point station. Shea was now just a big pile of rubble–and Citi Field, trying so hard to be charming, stood nakedly behind it:
Speaking of Willets Point, the signs no longer say “Shea Stadium” on them:
This was Citi Field from the subway platform…
…and this was Shea just a couple hundred feet to the left:
Maybe it was the gloomy weather. Maybe it was the fact that I had to wake up at 8am (which for me is essentially the middle of the night) to get there. I don’t know, but I wasn’t happy. It felt lonely and foreign, like the first day at a new school.
I walked up to the gate outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, stuck my camera through the bars, and took a pic. I have to admit it was nice. Seriously nice. Downright glorious, in fact:
“Are you Zack?” asked a voice. It was a kid named Aaron (aka “Howie” in the comments section) who knew I was going to be there. I signed his copies of my first two books, and in exchange he and his father Jon gave me a free ticket (for the meaningless college game that was scheduled to begin at 1pm). Here we all are:
A few other baseball collectors met us there, and then we all headed over to the left field gate, which was going to open first:
Because I happened to be the first fan to run inside, I got interviewed by a reporter from the New Jersey Star Ledger:
As a result of the interview, it took a few minutes for me to reach the “seating bowl” and get my first look at the place:
A couple minutes after that, I went to the nearest concession stand and got a hot dog–the very first hot dog sold in the history of Citi Field (according to the employees there). Here it is:
It sucked. It cost $4.75 and the bun was stale, and even the dog itself wasn’t all that great, and you want to know what else sucked? One of the ushers tried to stop me from walking down into the left field seats. It was two hours before the start of a COLLEGE game, and he asked to see my ticket. Are you kidding me?! Fortunately the other ushers let me walk down into the seats and take pics. Ready for more suckiness? First of all, there’s no cross-aisle…so it’ll be impossible to move laterally during games…so for anyone who hopes to catch a game home run, you’ll have to sit on the end of a row and pray that the ball is hit directly toward your staircase…and then you’ll have to judge it perfectly. Secondly, there’s a big railing that makes it impossible to move directly from fair to foul territory:
Third, there are smaller railings on all the staircases that block two out of every three rows, and if that’s not bad enough, they were built six inches too long (in my not-so-humble opinion) so they jut out into the rows that they’re not even supposed to be blocking:
These railings are pointless and in some cases dangerous. Some ballparks have them. Some don’t. If they really made people feel THAT safe, and if they really prevented THAT many folks from taking nasty spills, I think you’d see them in every stadium. (Citizens Bank Park, by the way, doesn’t have any staircase railings.) Lucky me. I’ll be battling these effin’ things until I die. At least the seat backs are raised enough for balls to trickle down the steps:
That’ll be good for me and bad for just about everyone else who makes the mistake of running directly to the row where the ball lands. Anyway, the railings are annoying, and the overhang of the second deck will be a nightmare (don’t bother trying to catch a ball behind Row 10) but at least the home-run-catching area spans from the foul pole all the way out to left-center:
Another good thing: glove trick opportunities at the bottom of the hill next to the (new) home run
apple. It’s kind of hard to see in the following photo, but the slope flattens out at the bottom. Of course stadium security will probably be stupid and strict and try to prevent fans from using ball-retrieving devices, but if we can get away with it, this will be a good spot:
Remember the huge scoreboard out in right field at Shea Stadium? On the top of that scoreboard, there was a NYC skyline. Nice to see it survived the demolition and has a home in the new ballpark:
Here’s a look at the bullpens (terrible design to have them side by side and not even have the one in back elevated) and a row of tables above them:
(Am I being too negative?) It would be fun to use the glove trick from up there, and maybe I’ll get away with it once, but I don’t expect that to be a permanent option. That said, behold the bridge!
Here’s the way-too-steep section in right field:
There are lots of interesting angles and nooks and crannies at Citi Field. Some were clearly intentional and some were just as clearly random byproducts of questionable design. In the photo below, you can see that the rows of seats end with a foot or two (or three) of space next to the concrete wall. So…although there IS room for people to walk between the seats and the wall, it wasn’t meant to be used as a staircase because there aren’t any little/manageable steps. And let me tell you, if there IS room for people to move around, the room WILL be used. So basically, what you’re gonna have here is people wedging themselves between the seats, trying to climb up these gigantic double steps. It’s funny for me because I’m 31 years old and in the best physical shape of my life so I can treat Citi Field like my personal playground and stomp all over these unintentional obstacles, but I feel strongly that this is TERRIBLE stadium design. Thus, I’m forced to ask: when is HOK going to hire me as a consultant?
Ready for more weirdness? Check out the space surrounding the right field foul pole:
I’m thinking there might be cameras there during the regular season, and if there are, then the Mets should install a chain to keep people out. If, however, there’s neither a camera nor a chain, this area will be great for catching home runs during games, especially for the fan in the front row who’s sitting closest to the pole. Here’s a look at that same area from above:
More weird angles:
I really don’t understand the point of all these walls and railings. I think the architects were just showing off. And here’s the weirdest one of all. I’ve never seen anything like this in ANY stadium. Can someone please explain this? Here…look:
Yes, that’s right, there’s a random row, right in the middle of all the other rows, where the seats are elevated a few feet. If there were an aisle in front of the elevated row, I could understand it. You know…give people a spot to cross through the seats. But no. It just randomly…goes up…and there’s not much extra space. Maybe a few inches. You know what that means? I’ll tell you. The people in the elevated row will be the only people in the stadium without cup holders. This means they’ll be forced to put their cups on the ground (life is hard) and then those cups, when kicked over (and they WILL be kicked over) will splash the people’s heads sitting in front of them. Brilliant. And even if the people sitting in front don’t get splashed, they will definitely get kicked in the head, especially when little kids are sitting behind them. Just look at this absurdity:
Why not just have the entire lower level of seats slant up uniformly? It seems to work fine in every other stadium. Ready for something else? This’ll look like an ideal spot to catch foul balls and get autographs…
…except you will never, EVER be allowed to go down there. Not even God will get to sit there. I have no idea what those fancy seats are for (millionaire fans and their disabled companions?) but I can guarantee you they will be totally off limits. It’s just another example of opportunities to collect being taken away. And wait…it gets worse. Ready for THIS? The entire seating area behind home plate is completely sectioned off. I think it’s called the Sterling Club, or some nonsense like that, and the face value on those tickets starts in the triple figures. Here, have a look. I’m standing at the edge of the section (you can see the railing at the bottom of the photo), and I’ve drawn a red arrow which shows the boundary on the other side. That is a LOT of real estate which is now completely off limits:
At least the water fountains are good:
The field level concourse behind home plate? Awful. The ceiling is claustrophobically low to make room for an extra level of suites. Look:
But okay, I’ll take a break from my complaining to show you the magnificent Rotunda. This is truly incredible. HOK deserves some props for this:
I had to talk my way down into the seats behind the third base dugout. It looks a lot like Philly, except there are railings on the staircases. Pretty standard design. I can work with that:
The St. John’s players began warming up…
…and even though I didn’t bring my glove or bother to print their roster, I still got one of them to toss me a ball. I learned later that it was a player named Scott Ferrara, who can supposedly run the 60-yard dash in 6.3 seconds. Hey look! There’s more weird space around the left field foul pole:
I returned to the foul line when another group of players began throwing and I got a second ball from a freshman named Kevin Kilpatrick. Here are the two balls (which will NOT count in my collection):
Did I mention that the balls will NOT count? Good. Okay. Ready for another critique? This one is minor, in the grand scheme of things, and it’s going to take three photos to illustrate my point, so bear with me. Here’s the first. It shows the ramps leading up to the “Empire,” “Excelsior,” and “Promenade” levels:
(By the way, what’s with the fancy names of the seating levels? Are they actually planning to play baseball here or are they just gonna sit around and plan wars?) Here a photo of the first landing. Notice where the big metal beam is?
It’s right at eye level! It completely blocks the view! DUH!!! Why not put that beam a couple feet higher and create a nice little area where people can look out and catch their breath? Am I crazy?
Here’s something that actually looks pretty…
…but upon closer inspection, there appears to be a bit of a drainage problem:
Here’s a nice look at the lowest concourse from a couple levels up…the third deck…the Excelsior Level:
Here’s the field from the third base side. Not bad:
This brings me to the club itself. I don’t know if it’s going to be open all the time, or if this was a special day. I hope it’s open all the time because people seem to like it, and the more people who go up there, the fewer people I’ll have to deal with in the seats. It was “nice” in that it was clean and spacious and well designed, but I think the design would be more appropriate for a mall and/or an airport:
All right, here’s the single greatest thing about Citi Field. If you can afford $150 tickets (or whatever they cost…probably more on StubHub), you’ll have a phenomenal foul ball opportunity behind the seats on the Excelsior Level. Here’s the view of the field…
…and here’s the view to the left:
Wow! The only problem is that in order for the ball to reach the aisle, it’ll have to fly back on a line or else it’ll clip the facade of the upper d–err, I mean, the “promenade” level. But seriously, if I can find a way to get into that heavily guarded section during the regular season, I’ll be a happy boy.
I bought a six-dollar slice of pepperoni pizza. It was small (the baseball is in the shot for perspective) and forgettable. It was like college-cafeteria-quality pizza. Soooo not worth it. Granted, I only tried a couple items, but my early assessment is that the food at Citi Field sucks bigtime. Do yourself a favor and eat before you go to the ballpark, then pack a protein bar and avoid having to eat there. Stick it to the Mets for raising ticket prices and trying to sell crappy food:
I wandered up to the right field corner…
…and saw the very nice bridge from above, as well as the old home run apple…
…and made it to the top corner of the second deck (which is the top deck in right field):
There was a big open-air concourse up there, which looks a lot like the one in Anaheim:
Then I went to the Promenade level and got a photo from the highest/furthest corner in right field:
Here’s the Pepsi Deck from above. I think you’ll see guys like Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder hit balls completely over the seating area. It should be fun up there during the Home Run Derby:
I’m not sure how far back foul balls will fly (I can’t judge distances in a college game where the pitchers are topping out at 81mph or whatever), but I’d say that some foul balls WILL reach the top deck. This is the view from a potentially good foul ball spot up there:
It’s good because of the room to run on either side:
But like I said, there might not be too many balls that go up that high. We shall see. Here’s the view from the last row of the upper deck directly behind the plate:
Here’s more weird random space, this time between the staircase and the wall, under a lowish ceiling:
Check this out. Look how easy it’ll be for people to jump onto the roof and run around near the fans and cause all kinds of trouble. People WILL do it. People will get drunk and clown around and climb up there, with very little effort, and if they stick their fingers into that machinery…yeah:
Here’s the Promenade concourse:
I want to see Fred Wilpon and the CEO of HOK sit and watch a game from the last row of the Promenade level in left-center field. This is what it’ll be like for them:
What the bloody hell is the purpose of that obstruction? Why have it in the first place? And why build seats that’ll force people to stare at it? Here’s another look from the side:
Here’s one final shot from way up high that shows the area behind the batters eye:
That’s it. I know I complained quite a bit, but it’s more fun that way, right? I have to be critical because I’ve been to 44 other major league stadiums, and this is the one I’m going to be stuck with for the rest of my life. My overall assessment is that it’s a quality structure. Aside from several drainage problems, it’s well put together. Solid. Pretty. Nice. I just question some of the choices that were made. The third base side looks like Philly. The left field seats look like Cincinnati. The right field seats look like Washington D.C. combined with Arlington. It’s like a big Mr. Potato Head stadium. Too segmented overall. Too complicated. It’s like a poster with ten different fonts and too many exclamation points. It’s trying sooooo hard to be nice, and in most places it succeeds, but if you look closely and KNOW what you’re looking for, you can see a lot of flaws. Fan interference is going to be a big problem at this stadium because there’s nothing that separates the fans in the front rows from the field. No gaps. No flower beds. Nothing. So get ready for that. The whole place strikes me as a haphazard collection of quirks and interesting features without much consideration about how it’s all going to play out and what it’s going to be like for the majority of fans who either want to collect things and get close to their favorite players or who simply can’t afford the best seats. The main thing that’ll make this place tolerable is that it will open two and a half hours before game time. Eventually, when the Mets lose 100 games and Citi Field is old news and the crowds shrink to 20,000 or so per game, this place might be great, but until then, I don’t expect to average much more than my typical seven balls per game. And even THAT might be tough to achieve here for quite some time.
Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?
When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield . . .
. . . I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.
The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for the Wild Card with
the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers won, or if they both lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea to determine who’d be moving on to the post-season.
I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:
I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through. At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned about my seat location.
I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball. Even a training ball. Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.
Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.
I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing . . . and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a chance to catch it.
Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.
“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)
“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.
So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket . . .
. . . and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it was raining. Look how wet the railings were at the front of the bleachers:
Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after. The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:
These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.
The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:
Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me the following ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more) of the Nationals’ baseballs.
The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to me off the warning track in left-center.
I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife. I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:
I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:
I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets were entering the stadium.
I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone . . .
. . . so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:
This was the view slightly to the left:
The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck . . .
. . . and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:
I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:
The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all being former Mets) but it was still cool:
These guys were intense:
This dude nailed it:
This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:
This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:
This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in the background:
Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:
Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:
Then I ran into Elvis . . .
. . . and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.
If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be, but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.
Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day, and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant scoreboard . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:
I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1” so when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.
This was my view straight ahead . . .
. . . and this was the view to my right:
I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.
Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:
The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker. Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run. Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were ahead, 2-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner, and Beltran crushed it in my direction.
It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept coming . . . coming . . . coming . . . and I couldn’t believe I was even going to be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter disbelief before I really started celebrating:
Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:
Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:
Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me. It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing my shaved head:
The celebration just wouldn’t end:
Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives . . .
. . . followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:
And some more high-fives. Check it out . . . two at once:
It was THE . . . CRAZIEST . . . HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.
(Click here to watch the highlight on SNY.)
As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.
“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.
They were all like . . . huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.
One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank god) and had me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did . . . and I kept getting mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like, “C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”
He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90 percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the ball as he could and his friend took a pic.
I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers. The authenticator, pictured below . . .
. . . emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur. This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was racing like you wouldn’t believe.
He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…
. . . and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:
Here’s a look at the sticker:
Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:
Here’s the commemorative logo:
Here’s the whole thing:
People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc. Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get out of the way if one comes.”
“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10 steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”
But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.
A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.
“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.
“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”
I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)
Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers (who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.
Wow, 12 more outs to go . . .
In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers. Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d just traveled an additional 10 feet.
“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.
“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”
Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then BOOM!!! Another home run . . . again into the bleachers but too far over toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.
“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.
“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”
I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.
Ayala retired the next three batters.
The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth or their season was done.
The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning: David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.
Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches, but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.
I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick (which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level. Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full . . .
. . . and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is business.
Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one 380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was history.
The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”
It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to get stuff from them, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout (he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap as everyone headed back in.
I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif (aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) and changed out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but still . . . Marlins = yuck:
Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap . . .
. . . and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:
THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.
Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:
The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto the field one last time . . .
. . . but it was bittersweet. Everyone in the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite bathroom–but even he knew it was time.
I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot . . .
. . . and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:
“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”
When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:
1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you because they just saw you at the Mets game . . . dude, you are a f*ckin’ superstar.”
2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever . . . and you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculous. This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”
3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall, former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair, looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah.”
Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.
It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted this entry about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now 12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the front page of Yahoo, and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot . . .
. . . and here’s the story.
This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats . . .
* 6 balls at this game
* 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
* 568 consecutive games with at least one ball
* 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
* 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
* 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)
* 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
* 99 lifetime game balls in New York
* 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium
* 3,816 total balls
This was a day game that followed a night game, and it was drizzling when the stadium opened, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I ran in (with my girlfriend Jona) and saw the Mets taking batting practice.
I raced out to the seats along the right field foul line and quickly got my first snagging opportunity. There was a slicing line drive hit by a right-handed batter, and as the ball was curving toward me, I could tell that it wasn’t going to curve enough for me to reach it, so I climbed over one of the many orange railings and darted five feet to my right and reached far out of the seats at the last second and made a back-handed catch. It felt good at the time (especially when all the Mets who were standing in right field applauded) and it felt even better later on when I saw the great photos that Jona had taken from the Loge Level.
Here’s one that shows me starting to lean out for the ball. I’m wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, and if you look closely at the photo you can see the ball itself:
Here’s another photo that Jona took just after the ball entered my glove. Notice the full extension:
Here’s a closer look:
I didn’t realize just how far I’d reached until I saw the photos. Go me.
Jona headed back down to the Field Level and took a few more photos of me before we headed out to the bleachers (which you can see in front of Citi Field below):
There wasn’t much action out there:
In fact, it was so dead that I only snagged one more ball for the rest of the day. It was a BP homer by Nick Evans. I caught it on a fly, and Jona once again caught me in action:
Both of my baseballs were commemorative:
Jona and I never left the bleachers. After BP ended, we staked out a great spot for potential home-run catching, but as it turned out, nothing left the yard. It was all about the pitching. Johan Santana, working on three days’ rest and fighting to keep the Mets’ playoff hopes alive, went the distance and blanked the Marlins, 2-0. He allowed three hits and three walks while striking out nine…truly brilliant. The crowd of 54,920 was as revved up as ever, and I took a bunch of photos during the final few pitches of the game.
This was my view of the field:
This was the view to my left…
…and this is proof that just about EVERYONE in the stadium was standing:
The Mets had entered the day one game behind the Brewers in the Wild Card race. The Brewers lost their game to the Cubs, which meant it was all gonna come down to the Final Day…
? 2 balls at this game
? 533 balls in 71 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
? 567 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 337 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,810 total balls
The game was thrilling; the snagging was not.
I arrived at Shea at 4:43pm–three minutes after the stadium opened–and bought a $10 ticket and raced inside to the left field foul line.
I managed to get ONE ball during the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, and it was thrown by Nick Evans from more than 100 feet away:
Earlier this season, I’d gotten Evans to throw me a ball by announcing that I was “going deep” and then bolting up the steps. I didn’t think it’d work a second time, but I tried it anyway, and to my surprise he threw the ball in my direction. The first time he did this, he’d waited for me to reach the cross-aisle and then made a perfect throw that hit me on the run. This time, however, he launched the ball 10 feet over my head before I’d made it up half a dozen rows. Luckily, there were only a handful of fans scattered along the front row and none of them bothered to run for the ball after it landed. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was so scuffed and worn that I couldn’t read any of it:
If this had been my first Mets commemorative ball, I would’ve been pissed, but I’ve gotten enough that I actually thought this one was kinda cool.
At around 5:25pm, I exited the stadium and headed to the bleacher entrance and was lucky enough to run into my friend Gail (aka “Clif’s mom”) who introduced me to a woman who happened to have an extra ticket. This other woman wouldn’t let me pay her for it. She gave it to me for free, and in exchange I had to catch a ball for her.
I didn’t give her the next ball I snagged because it was commemorative AND brand new. For some reason, the Cubs were using it, and I got Michael Wuertz to toss it to me. Check it out:
The bleachers were still gloriously empty five minutes later…
…and they remained fairly empty throughout BP.
With powerful righties like Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Mark DeRosa all taking cuts, you’d think that I would’ve snagged about 40 balls. But no. I only got ONE more ball–a regular ball–and it was tossed to me by Jeff Samardzija. I know he’s supposed to be the future stud of the world, but still…what a disappointment. I can’t explain it. Batting practice was just dead.
I gave the regular ball to the lady who’d given me the ticket and then (since the bleachers are general admission) claimed a spot in the front row out in left-center.
This was the view to my left in the top of the first inning…
…and this was the view straight ahead about an hour later:
And I sat through it with Gail and Clif because a) I really wanted to catch a home run and b) the game was THAT important/good.
Enough about me. Let’s talk about the game…
The Mets basically HAD to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they DID win after coming back from a three-run, seventh-inning deficit. Pedro Martinez pitched for the last time at Shea and struck out a season-high nine batters. Jose Reyes scored a pair of runs and stole three bases. And then there was that game-tying, Houdini-like slide by Ryan Church with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. I didn’t get a great view of it from my spot nearly 400 feet from the plate. All I could tell was that the ball beat him by like 10 feet and yet he somehow managed to elude the catcher and reach back with his hand…and that the ump called him safe. It was unreal.
There weren’t many fans left at that point…
…but that just made the whole thing more special. It was OUR little private game. OUR Amazin’ Mets. OUR soggy/dumpy stadium. OUR walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.
Final score: Mets 7, Cubs 6.
(Hooray for meaningful baseball games in late-September.)
? 3 balls at this game
? 531 balls in 70 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
? 566 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 336 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,808 total balls
My trip to Shea Stadium started with a live 20-minute interview on the Covino & Rich Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I actually had to go to the studio for this one, and while I was waiting (on the 36th floor of the McGraw-Hill building on 49th Street & 6th Avenue) for the producer to come and get me, I got permission to take photographs. Here’s the lobby area:
See the blue screen on the upper right? See the black panels with orange text just below it on either side? They were like little scoreboards that kept listing different song titles and artists. I think they indicated what was being played on the various Sirius music channels.
I took a pic of the view of Radio City Music Hall…
…and was led into the studio soon after.
After the interview ended at 3:55pm, Jessica the call-screener took a photo of me and Covino (Rich was still sitting across from us)…
…and then I got a shot with both of the guys:
It was 4:04pm when I made it back out to the street. I ran over to 7th Avenue and then ran seven blocks south (right through Times Square) and ran down the steps into the subway and kept running until I was on an express No. 7 train…which then sat in the station for about 10 minutes.
By the time I made it to Shea, Gate C was already open and hundreds of fans were in the process of filing in.
My plan was to wait outside until I found someone with an extra bleacher ticket–and the bleachers weren’t even going to open for another 50 minutes.
It took 40 (of the longest) minutes (ever) to get myself the ticket I needed, at which point I raced back to Gate C (you can enter the main part of the stadium with a bleacher ticket) and ran up the ramps to the Field Level concourse and headed around to the first base side and darted down the steps to the front row behind the Mets’ dugout. The Mets were still taking BP. This is what it looked like:
See the guy standing on the warning track with the tan pants and dark green jacket? That’s Marty Noble, the Mets’ beat reporter for MLB.com (in case you’ve seen his name a thousand times and always wondered what he looked like).
“You didn’t see the thing about the guy who caught home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium?”
“I saw that,” he said.
“Well that was ME,” I said.
“That was YOU?! No way.”
I then tried to convince him that it WAS me while he transferred the balls from the basket to the equipment bags. I’m not sure if I succeeded, and it didn’t matter. The only reason I was at the dugout was to try to get a ball, and before I even had a chance to ask for one, Dave looked up and said, “I suppose you want a ball.”
“Well,” I said, “if you happen to have a really dirty one that you were planning to throw out anyway…”
Dave then started fumbling through all the balls and he quickly pulled out a dirty one and tossed it to me. It was commemorative. Here it is:
“Thanks so much,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”
“I know,” he replied with the hint of a smile and disappeared underneath the dugout roof.
“Where is it?!” I asked frantically.
“Over there,” he said, pointing toward the front row in the middle of the bleachers.
I ran over and saw the ball sitting right where the guard had been pointing, and I took a photo before I grabbed it:
The Cubs were already on the field by this point, and I quickly got my third ball of the day from Carlos Zambrano. Then, because the section were still basically empty, I had ZERO competition when a home run ball landed in the center field end of the bleachers. I was like 40 feet away, and there wasn’t anyone else over there or even near me–not even security–so
A few minutes later, a man turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who was on the FAN?” (He was referring to my recent radio interview on the “Boomer & Carton” Show on 660 WFAN here in New York City.)
“Yup, that’s me,” I said as another home run ball headed our way, landed on a metal bench two rows in front of us, bounced up and hit me on the wrist, and settled at my feet where I picked it up. (This ball, pictured on the right, had a VERY cool smudge on the logo.)
“How many balls is that now?” asked the man.
“Lemme think for a second,” I said, trying to remember how many balls I’d finished the previous day with. “Um…this one makes it three thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight.”
The man didn’t seem jealous or pissed off or anything about the fact that I’d just snagged this one right next to him. He seemed happy for me. I love Mets fans.
My sixth ball of the day was thrown by Reed Johnson–the 10th “Johnson” (along with Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, and Russ) to have thrown me a ball–and my seventh was tossed by a player that I couldn’t identify.
I’d snagged the last six balls in such a short time frame that I didn’t have a chance to label any of them or put them away. Good thing I was wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets…and good thing there weren’t more people out there because I’m sure I would’ve gotten some strange looks. There were balls bulging out everywhere (sorry if that sounds gross), and it was hard to walk. I couldn’t even sit down because I had two of the balls in my back pockets. Thankfully, I soon had a minute to spare when the Cubs started a new round of BP so I quickly wrote the numbers on the balls and put them in my backpack.
My friend Greg (aka “gregb123” if you read the comments on this blog) was watching all of this from the corner spot in the left field Loge, and when I happened to move closer to him at one point, he got my attention and told me that a ball had dropped into the gap at the far end of the bleachers, all the way out in left-center field. Naturally, I ran over there and took a look, and this is what I saw:
Sweet!! (Thanks, Greg.) I set up my glove trick and reeled in the ball with ease.
There were two clumps of G.S.M. (Grody Shea Muck) caked to the sweet spot:
Still, I was glad to have the ball and made my best attempt to clean it off (by scraping it on the edge of a bench) before dropping it into my bag.
My ninth ball of the day was thrown by Kerry Wood, and my 10th was a home run that I caught on a fly in the wide cross-aisle. That one (I have no idea who hit it) had a big dirt/scuff pattern on it:
I managed to get one more ball, and I wouldn’t have had this one either if not for Greg. It was a ball that he’d pointed out at the start of the Cubs’ BP. It was in the gap behind the wall on the foul-pole end of the bleachers, and I hadn’t seen it because it was half-buried under weeds and trash. You can see the ball clearly in the photo below, but when I’d originally peeked into the gap from a spot to the left, it was completely hidden. Check it out:
It took me quite a while to fish this one out of the gap. At one point, I had it in the glove and started to lift it up when it slipped up. I nearly had a fit when that happened, but I kept trying (starting with swinging my glove from side to side in order to knock the ball a few inches to the side where I thought I’d have fewer leaves getting in my way) and eventually got it.
This ball, like several others I’d snagged throughout the day, was worth photographing:
I ended up giving three balls away to little kids; the security guards had been so nice to me during BP–first by pointing out the ball when I ran into the bleachers and then by letting me use the glove trick–that I decided to “share the wealth” a little more than usual with the fans in their section. I don’t normally take pics of the kids that I give balls to, but I made an exception because one of them was just sooooo damn cute:
The game itself was boring from a ball-snagging standpoint but exhilarating from a Mets-supporting standpoint. The Mets fell behind, 2-0, early on but tied the game in the fifth inning and took the lead for good in the sixth on Jose Reyes’ 200th hit of the season, which just so happened to be his 19th triple, which just so happened to come with the bases loaded. I was very excited. Shea was rockin’. It was fun.
Meanwhile, Johan Santana struck out 10 batters in eight solid innings to pick up his 15th win.
Final score: Mets 6, Cubs 2.
? 11 balls at this game
? 517 balls in 68 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
? 564 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 335 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 95 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 22 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,794 total balls
AND IN OTHER (media) NEWS…
1) Someone at CBS recently uploaded my “Early Show” segment onto YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is.
2) Do you remember when I mentioned in my last entry that I had to pull over while driving to Philadelphia to do an interview with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal? Well, that story is now up, and you can read it here. Because it’s a blog-type piece, there are comments at the bottom, and as a rule, I never read comments about myself on other people’s blogs. They’re always so negative, and they’re always from people who don’t know a single thing about me (or might have seen me snag 11 balls but didn’t notice when I quietly gave three of them away), so please, if you’re going to read that piece, don’t leave a comment here and tell me how badly I’m getting bashed. I’m not interested.
3) I got quoted today in the New York Times about something only slightly related to snagging baseballs. Here’s the article. You’ll find my name about halfway down…
This was a Watch With Zack game with a 13-year-old named Jeremy, who took the subway to Shea Stadium with me nice and early…
…and his mother Cathy, who showed up a bit later.
When Gate C opened at 4:40pm, Jeremy and I raced out to the seats along the right field foul line, and I set him up in the corner spot:
The Mets wasted the first 10 minutes by stretching and running, and then when they finally began to pair off and play catch, I gave Jeremy (who had, up until that point, snagged two lifetime baseballs) an important piece of advice: when a ball was tossed to him, he needed to reach out for it as far as possible to prevent anyone else from stealing it.
Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti happened to walk by a few moments later, and I noticed that he had a couple balls in his back pocket. I identified him for Jeremy and told him to ask for a ball, which he did–but not quite loud enough, so Conti kept walking.
“Guy!” I said a bit more forcefully, prompting him to stop and look over. “Is there any chance you could spare a ball for my friend?”
Conti looked at Jeremy, noticed his glove, and then asked him to take off his cap. “Lemme see your hair,” he said.
Jeremy obliged and revealed the thick red mane that lay beneath.
“You got great hair,” said Conti as he reached into his pocket. “You get a ball for that.”
Conti then flipped a ball to Jeremy who reached over the railing and made the catch look easy.
“I wish I had hair like that,” said Conti as he walked off.
“Let’s see the ball,” I said to Jeremy, and when he took it out of his glove and turned it over, I told him how lucky he was. It was a BRAND NEW commemorative ball.
Jeremy was nice enough to let me catch the next ball so my streak wouldn’t end. Al Reyes tossed it in our direction after he finished playing catch, and it too was commemorative (though quite worn).
I helped Jeremy get another (commemorative) ball from Brian Stokes, and after he got it signed by Duaner Sanchez, we headed to the left field corner. I quickly changed into my Phillies gear (yuck) and lent Jeremy an extra Phillies cap I happened to own. Of course the cap wouldn’t have helped if the Mets logo on his shirt were still showing, so he put on his sweatshirt (even though it was still about 84 degrees with 110 percent humidity).
That’s when Jeremy’s mother arrived, and while they were talking briefly in the concourse, I got a Nationals commemorative ball from J.C. Romero. The Phillies had just completed a three-game series with the Nats and must’ve somehow gotten hold of some of their baseballs.
Jeremy and I went up to the Loge Level and Scott Eyre tossed a ball to him…but Eyre’s aim was off, and the ball sailed a few feet over his outstretched glove. I happened to get lucky and catch it because I’d been standing right behind him. There were a dozen other fans nearby, so it’s not like I could’ve stepped aside and let Jeremy scramble for it in the seats. If I hadn’t made the snag, neither of us would’ve gotten it, but everything worked out in the end because I convinced Adam Eaton to toss another one to Jeremy, and THIS time the throw was right on the money.
Jeremy and I each had three balls. Snagging equilibrium had been achieved:
Unfortunately (because a crowded Shea Stadium is a baseball collector’s nightmare) we didn’t snag anything else during the remaining portion of BP.
As for the game, Jeremy and Cathy and I grabbed some empty seats along the third base line and stayed there for more than an hour. That was Jeremy’s choice, and I don’t blame him. The view was excellent, and our chances of catching a foul ball were pretty good as well, but around the fourth inning, he decided it was time to head back up to the Loge. I took him to the best tunnels for both righties and lefties and showed him how far up he could crouch without blocking the view of the fans sitting behind him…
…and then stood back with Cathy and hoped that something would fly his way.
Nothing did. And there was nothing I could do about it. But I’m pretty sure he still had fun running and sneaking around. I think Cathy enjoyed herself too. At the very least, this was a new way to “watch” a game for both of them.
When the Phillies took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, I moved down behind the dugout with Jeremy and encouraged him to grab an empty seat in the second row:
Brad Lidge then worked into and out of trouble and closed the door on his 34th save. Game over. No more balls for us. Not a good night for Mets fans, but still a pretty good one for me and Jeremy. That’s one nice thing about snagging baseballs. Even when the team you’re rooting for sucks, you can still walk out of the stadium with a smile. (Aww.)
? 426 balls in 57 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
? 553 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 333 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 13 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,703 total balls
This was a Watch With Zack game, and my “clients” were going to be with me for two days. They’d flown in from Los Angeles to see both New York City ballparks for the first time, and their trip kicked off with this Mets-Astros game at Shea Stadium. Here we are before the gates opened:
In case you’re new to this blog, I’m the guy on the left. The person (I can’t bring myself to call him a “kid” since he’s taller than me) on MY left is a 16-year-old named Evan who’s been reading this blog for a few years and leaving comments as “evan.bizzz.” The other two people are Evan’s 12-year-old sister Hailey and their father Mark.
Evan was no stranger to batting practice. He had snagged 41 lifetime balls, but he didn’t simply want to pad his numbers on this trip; he was determined, if not flat-out dying, to add a commemorative ball from each stadium to his collection–not an easy task. Hailey, meanwhile, with just a handful of lifetime snags, was still hoping for a commemorative ball but willing to accept any ball that came her way.
Before I continue, I want to give a shout-out to a kid named Joe–aka
“josephfaraguna”–who not only recognized me outside Gate C and took the above photo but was kind enough to let me have the corner spot in the Loge once the
stadium opened. There were actually two corner spots on the right field side that I wanted–one for Evan on the Field Level–and another for Hailey and her father upstairs. Each spot was probably going to be good for at least one ball. We just had to GET THERE before anyone else, and thanks to Joe’s generosity (plus the fact that we were first on line), we did.
When Shea opened at 4:40pm, I quickly took Evan to the place he needed to be, then hurried upstairs with Hailey and Mark and got them situated. Here they all are:
Hailey told me she didn’t know any of the players’ names, and I told her it didn’t matter–that because she was young AND was basically the only girl in the stadium with a glove, all she had to do was be loud and polite and begin each request by saying “Excuse me.”
When the Mets finally finished stretching and began throwing, I ran back downstairs to help Evan. We looked closely at every ball that was in use, trying to spot the commemorative logos, so we’d know who to ask. I helped Evan identify all the players and coaches, and when Guy Conti strolled by (with a jacket covering his uniform number), I called him by name and asked for a ball. Evan and I both knew he had a couple balls in his back pocket, but we weren’t sure if they were commemorative. Conti pulled one out and tossed it to someone else, then took out the second ball and tossed it to Evan. It was commemorative!!! Perfect logo. No smudges. No scuffs. It was even rubbed up with mud (like this). We were both SO relieved, and we waved to Hailey and Mark and exchanged a thumbs-up.
As for Hailey…
She got Dave Racaniello, the Mets’ bullpen catcher, to toss her a ball, and as it sailed through the air, I was praying that she wouldn’t drop it. What did she do? She reached out and made a backhand catch like it was nothing. (She told me later that she plays baseball and softball.) Unfortunately, her ball wasn’t commemorative, but it almost didn’t matter. Everyone had pretty much accomplished their goals within the first 20 minutes–everyone but me, that is. I still hadn’t snagged anything.
I headed out to the left field foul line for a bit, but it was deader than dead so I headed back to the right field side and checked in with Hailey and Mark in the Loge. While I was up there, she got Aaron Heilman (who normally ignores EVERYone) to toss her a ball, and once again she made the catch look easy. I took her picture, then ran downstairs to check on Evan, and while I was there, I saw him catch a ball tossed by Jose Reyes! He and Hailey each had two baseballs. Not bad…
…and oh-by-the-way, I nearly forgot to mention that the ball Hailey got from Heilman was commemorative.
The left field bleachers (which you can see directly over Hailey’s glove in the photo above) opened 15 minutes early, so we all had to hurry out there. This was one of those rare days when bleacher tickets were being sold individually, and apparently everyone else wanted to be there too. Remember how empty the bleachers were two days earlier? Check out how crowded it was this time:
Shea Stadium had been open for nearly an hour, and I still hadn’t snagged a single ball. I was starting to get nervous, but thankfully, right at the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, a ball rolled all the way out to the wall in left-center and I was able to reel it in with my glove trick. Before I could lower my glove over the ball, I had to swing it out and knock it closer. Evan took a few photos with his camera, and since he hadn’t packed the cable that connects the camera to his laptop, I took a photo of his photo. Naturally the quality is bad, but whatever. You can still tell what’s going on. Here it is:
By the time I snagged the ball, the Astros had taken the field and Reggie Abercrombie was standing nearby and watching me. He didn’t say much after I got the ball, but I suspect he was impressed. Evan managed to snag TWO more balls during the remaining 45 minutes of BP. The first was a ground-rule double that he had to reach over the railing to catch, and the second actually hit my left shoe. An Astros player had tossed it into the bleachers. It landed several rows back, got bobbled by some fans (shocker!), and quickly trickled down the steps to where we were standing in the aisle, which was so crowded that I literally wasn’t able to bend down to grab it. The ball hit my shoe and deflected right toward Evan who snatched it with one clean lunge.
Hailey and Mark were positioned in the front row in left-center, and if the Astros weren’t so stingy, it would’ve been a great spot to get another ball or two. But nothing was tossed their way. I was able to use the glove trick once more to snag another ball off the warning track, and that was it for BP. Evan had four balls, while Hailey and I each had two. Mark hadn’t snagged any, but I don’t think he cared. He just wanted to see us all in action, and of course he was happy that his kids had done well.
One of the highlights of my day occurred between BP and the game, while Evan and Hailey were with me. I’d been getting recognized by fans throughout the day, and one of them (a kid named Jordan) asked me to sign his copy of the Mets Magazine.
“Where do you want me to sign it?” I asked.
“Wherever,” he said and suggested that I sign David Wright’s photo on the cover.
It was an honor to get to write my name there, so after I did it, I took a photo…and here it is on the right. If you look closely, you can see that I wrote my up-to-the-minute ball total. That’s how I do all my snagging-related signatures. Whenever I sign copies of Watching Baseball Smarter, I write the date after my name. I always thought it was cool when major leaguers (or any celebrities) had variations in their signatures–no doubt because my mom runs the autograph department of the family book store–so I decided long ago that whenever someone asked for my autograph, I’d change it up every now and then.
From a Mets fan’s perspective, the game was great–the Mets won, 9-1, Mike Pelfrey pitched his second straight complete game, Carlos Delgado hit two three-run homers, and Jose Reyes had three hits including his major league-leading 15th triple–but from a ball-snagging perspective, it was lousy. For each of the first three innings, I snuck Hailey down to the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, then brought her back to Mark at our assigned seats on the left field side…then did the same with Evan at the Astros’ dugout. The goal was to snag a third-out ball as the players came off the field each half-inning, but there were a million little kids in the first few rows behind the Mets’ dugout, and as for the Astros…Lance Berkman kept ending up with the balls and tossing them deep (and unpredictably) into the crowd. We came up empty but still had fun sneaking around and playing our own little game-within-the-game.
After the third inning, I helped Hailey and Mark sneak back into the seats behind the Mets’ dugout, and I took Evan up to the Loge to go for foul balls. Again, we had fun running around, but came up empty. There was nothing I could do about that. I can guarantee BP balls, but the game itself is a whole nother story.
During the last half-inning, all four of us went down to the seats behind home plate, hoping for at least one ball from umpire Chad Fairchild as he walked off the field. But no. As soon as the final out was recorded, he marched through the tunnel and never looked up at us.
Oh well. The day was still a success.
Hailey didn’t actually keep my baseballs. She was content with the two she’d snagged on her own, so she just borrowed mine for this photo.
? 2 balls at this game
? 348 balls in 49 games this season = 7.1 balls per game.
? 545 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 332 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 11 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,625 total balls
? 1 more photo for you (taken just before we headed out of the stadium)…
It was a good day. I didn’t set any records, but I definitely milked Shea Stadium for all it was worth.
The happiness started at 4pm when I got off the No. 7 train, started wandering around the ballpark, and happened to run into a small group of fans who had an extra ticket for the picnic area…which they gave to me for free.
Shea opened at 4:40pm, and when batting practice finally got underway 15 minutes later, I positioned myself along the left field foul line. This was the view:
Because Brandon Backe, a right-hander, was going to be pitching for the Astros that night, I figured that the Mets’ switch-hitters (Jose Reyes, Argenis Reyes, and Carlos Beltran) would be batting left-handed during BP. I was hoping that one of them (or any of the other lefties on the team) would slap a ball down the line–and that’s exactly what happened. I’m pretty sure it was Jose who hit it. The ball plunked onto the grass, 30 feet short of my spot, and then curved sharply (and predictably) into foul territory because of the side-spin. By this point, I had already moved down into the blue seats where I leaned over the low wall for the easy scoop.
That was the only ball I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP.
After the Astros pitchers came out and played catch in left field, I ended up getting a ball from Wandy Rodriguez. And then I got him to sign my ticket:
After the picnic area opened, I raced into the bleachers and got Reggie Abercrombie to toss me my third ball of the day. Five minutes later, I used my glove trick to pluck ball No. 4 off the warning track in left-center.
The bleachers were unbelievably empty throughout BP. I can’t explain it. They’d been packed the night before, but on this day, I had the wide aisle all to myself. Check it out:
The other fans were apparently there to WATCH batting practice. A few of them even looked at me funny because I was the only guy running around with a glove. It was a dream come true, but of course there were hardly any other batted balls that reached the seats.
…and it was totally worth it. When I reached the far end, this is what I saw:
It took about 10 seconds to climb over/under the last few metal beams and work my way to the ball so that I was close enough to grab it. During that time I was more concerned that another fan would appear out of nowhere and beat me to it than with the idea that I might get arrested or electrocuted.
I snagged one more ball–my sixth of the day–during the last round of BP when some righty on the Astros hit a home run right to me. A few other fans half-heartedly reached up at the last second. I reached farther and made the embarrassingly easy catch, prompting one man to suggest that I play left field during the game.
After BP had ended, I caught up with the fans who’d given me the ticket and noticed that they were all wearing pink wristbands. I knew what this meant–they had access to the all-you-can-eat tent–so I asked them if they had an extra wristband. They said they didn’t and suggested that I walk over to the main entrance to the picnic area and tell security that I was with Verizon…which I did…and it worked.
During the 45 minutes between BP and the game, I drank three (free) bottles of water, ate two (free) cheeseburgers with tomato and extra cheese, and ate one (free) bag of Cracker Jacks…and by the way, if you think you can walk up to security any night and
say you’re with “Verizon,” think again. There are different
companies/groups out there all the time, and they’re not all entitled
to free food.
Shortly after the national anthem, I waddled out of the bleachers and spent the rest of the night going for foul balls in the Loge. This was my view during David Wright’s at-bat in the bottom of the first (and for all subsequent right-handed batters):
With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Backe was at-bat and worked a full count off John Maine. Next pitch? 94-mph fastball. Backe swung late, hit the bottom
edge of the ball, and sent it SHOOTING back in my direction, possibly as fast as the pitch itself had traveled. I was already standing in the tunnel (and extra ready to pounce because pitchers often swing late…and because 3-2 counts are great for foul balls), so all I had to do was take one step forward, shift ever-so-slightly to my right, and reach a foot over my head for the backhand catch. Couldn’t have been much easier, and yet the hundreds of people sitting around me went bonkers. I’ve never heard cheers and applause so loud for ANY foul ball before. I could actually feel the vibration from the roar of the crowd. I don’t understand it. Maybe with the Mets already well on their way to an 8-3 loss, the fans needed something else to get excited about? Anyway, it felt good, but unfortunately this was the last ball that came anywhere near me.
Throughout the game, I kept running into Clif (aka “goislanders4” in the comments section) and his friend Marco. They’d had a rough day in the snagging department, but I think they still had fun overall. After the game, Clif’s mom Gail (who you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium) was kind enough to give me a ride home.
? 7 balls at this game
? 346 balls in 48 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 10 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
? 121 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 5 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)
? 5 lifetime seasons with 10 or more game balls
? 2nd time snagging 10 or more game balls in back-to-back seasons
? 544 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 331 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,623 total balls
By the time Gate C opened at 4:40pm, the line of fans waiting to get in was longer than I’d ever seen it. (This photo, by the way, only shows the first part of half the line. There were just as many people behind me, snaking off into the distance in the opposite direction.)
During the entire Mets’ portion of batting practice, I managed to snag ONE ball. I was in the Loge Level in right field and got Luis Ayala (who didn’t recognize me because he was recently traded to the Mets) to toss it up after he finished playing catch. The ball was commemorative, which made me feel good for about 1.6 seconds, and then I went back to being annoyed that my day was off to such a slow start.
At least I got to have a funny conversation with Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti. A bit earlier, when I was standing along the right field foul line on the Field Level, I got his attention by asking if he wanted to play catch.
“I need to warm up my arm,” I said.
“So do a lot of these guys,” he replied while giving a little nod toward the pitchers. Then he asked, “When does school start back up?”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” I said, “because I graduated from college almost eight years ago.”
Conti couldn’t believe it. “You look so young!” he shouted.
“Good,” I said.
“It IS good,” he continued. “Feliciano is always trying to get young girls, but he looks so old. I keep telling him he’s got no chance.”
“No chance at all,” I said, and we both laughed.
Despite the fact that there was an enormous crowd waiting for autographs behind the Mets’ dugout, I was able to work my way into the front row just before the whole team came off the field, and I got a ball tossed to me by Mets bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr.
Jona (my girlfriend, in case you’re new to this blog) was with me again, and for the second day in a row we were able to get tickets for the picnic area. Once that section opened, I ran out there and immediately grabbed a home run ball, hit by some righty on the Astros, that clanged off the metal flooring.
Fifteen minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag a ball that had dropped into the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall, and two minutes after that I got Michael Bourn to toss me another.
Ready for the funny photo of the day? It’s actually not THAT funny without an explanation, so let me first tell you what happened…
During the final round of BP, another unidentifiable Astros righty launched a deep fly ball 50 feet to my right, at which point I ran through the aisle and jumped as high as I could and made a backhand catch with people all around me. It WAS a nice catch, but considering the fact that most of the other fans were flinching, and that I played college ball, and that I’m still relatively young and fit…I’m sorry but it wasn’t THAT incredible. None of the grown-ups were wearing gloves. None of the kids even saw the ball coming. And there was lots of luck involved. If the ball had traveled six inches farther, my white-boy-vertical-leap wouldn’t have been enough, so after everyone was done oohing and ahhing and I was walking back to my spot in the middle of the section, Jona happened to capture me with a funny/telling facial expression:
It’s like I was thinking, “People. Please. That was easy. You’re all fools for thinking otherwise. I had it all the way. Now step aside.”
One minute before BP ended, I used my glove trick to snag another ball which I promptly handed to a little girl on my right who (of course) was wearing a glove and hadn’t yet snagged one on her own.
Jona and I stayed in the bleachers for the game. At least I think there was a game. I heard later that it was pretty good–that the Mets won, 3-0, behind another strong outing by Johan Santana. I didn’t know it at the time because this was my view during most of it:
Seriously, the kids were out of control–or rather the “parents” were out of control for allowing their kids to eat sugar all night and get hyper and run around the aisle nonstop and stand right in front of people who were there, ostensibly, to watch baseball.
? 7 balls at this game (five of which were marked with an “H” by the Houston Astros, one of which I gave away)
? 339 balls in 47 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 543 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 330 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,616 total balls
Jona (the G.F.) joined me for this game, and when we got off the No. 7 train at Shea Stadium, this is what we saw:
Talk about timing! The (ugly) sign for Citi Field was in the process of being put up, and if you look closely at the photo above, you can see the “E” dangling backward as it was being hoisted.
Thirteen minutes after Shea opened, the Mets still hadn’t started taking batting practice, so I was reduced to begging (unsuccessfully) for balls along the right field foul line. (I’m wearing a white T-shirt and blue cap in the photo below.)
Once the Mets finally started hitting, I headed up to the corner spot in the Loge and got two (non-commemorative) balls thrown to me during the next half-hour. The first came from Ramon Castro. The second came from Brian Stokes, and Jona snapped three quick photos as the ball was in mid-air. Here’s the first:
Here’s the second…
…and here’s the third (with the nearly-completed Citi Field sign visible):
Jona and I had been able to find a couple bleacher tickets, and apparently Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments) had gotten one as well because we all ended up there when that section opened:
My third ball of the day was tossed up unexpectedly by a Braves player that I couldn’t see from my spot several rows back. Luckily, Greg had been standing in the front row and told me that Jo-Jo Reyes was the guy who tossed it.
Five minutes later, I scooted to my left along the top of a bench and caught a ground-rule double that Chipper Jones had hit while batting left-handed.
Greg ended up getting a couple balls that I easily would’ve had if he weren’t there, and I’m sure I snagged a few that he would’ve had if not for me. That’s just how it goes. There’s not much room to maneuver at Shea (or Yankee) so whenever we end up at the same game, we inevitably end up getting in each other’s way. (And yet we’re still friends. Awwww.)
That was it. Slow day.
I gave the Nunez ball to the youngest kid (with a glove!) that I could find. The kid was with some friends, one of whom recognized me from SNY, and Jona (who photographs everything, much to my delight) took a pic while I was talking to them:
Just to give you an idea of how I unfairly get a bad reputation…
During BP, there was a man (with no glove or kids) who complained every time I snagged another ball, and when I told him that I was planning to give one of the balls away to a kid, he said, “Yeah right,” and continued bad-mouthing me to everyone in sight. When I finally gave the ball away, not only was the man nowhere to be seen, but a security guard walked over and said, “I see what you did. You gave away the most beat
up ball you had.”
I tried to explain that all my other balls had been labeled…that I wanted to give one away that I hadn’t yet written on…that I simply gave away the LAST ball I had…that I would’ve given it away even if it were brand new…that I prefer to keep beat up balls because it’s fun to look at the markings and figure out how they got there.
He didn’t buy it.
The point is, if you read negative things about me on other blogs and message boards, don’t assume they’re true. I’m not saying I’ve NEVER done anything wrong–just that some people only see what they want to see.
As for the game itself…
I stayed in the bleachers and nearly snagged two home run balls. The first was hit by Yunel Escobar on the first pitch of the game. I was lined up perfectly, but the ball fell about 10 to 15 feet short and landed on the netting that (in some places) covers the gap between the bleachers and the outfield wall. Just as I was starting to set up my glove trick, a fan who was standing down below was able to pull the netting aside JUST enough to reach up and squeeze the ball through.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, David Wright hit a line drive homer about 30 feet to my right. I couldn’t have caught it on a fly because it fell several rows in front of the aisle, but because the fans dropped it and bobbled it, I was able to get close enough to it to ALMOST grab it off the ground. My right hand was about a foot away from the ball when I got pinned against the sharp metal corner of a bench (ouch), had my hat knocked off (whatever), and got a cup of beer splashed against my left shin (gross). If I’d gotten there half a second sooner, I would’ve had the ball, and I WOULD HAVE gotten there in time if not for three little kids who were standing right in the middle of aisle, completely blocking my path as I initially jumped up and started running. Some people might’ve knocked the kids over. I, on the other hand, was totally aware of my surroundings and valued the kids’ safety more than getting a David Wright home run ball so I slowed down and carefully slipped past them, and it cost me.
At Yankee Stadium, the people in the bleachers are crude and hostile, but I will say this in their defense: They are INTO the game. At Shea Stadium, the bleacher crowd is out-of-it and just plain annoying. I can’t count the number of times I had to get up and walk across the aisle and ask people to move or sit down because they were blocking my view. Sitting in the bleachers at Shea Stadium is basically like doing three hours of people-watching while something called baseball is being played way off in the background.
The Mets won, 5-4. That much I knew. But I had no idea that Carlos Delgado went 5-for-5 until I got home and read the box score.
I’ll leave you with a pic I took of some of the 51,952 “fans” heading for the subway after the game (followed by my stats):
? 6 balls at this game
? 332 balls in 46 games this season = 7.2 balls per game.
? 542 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 329 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,609 total balls
? 1 last thing (in case you missed it in the comments on a recent entry): there are a couple regular ballhawks at PNC Park who recently started a blog about their snagging exploits, and you can check it out here. Unfortunately I didn’t meet them while I was there earlier this month. Thankfully they found me online and got in touch.