This was my first game at Turner Field in ten years, and I was pretty excited:
The crowd was going to be fairly small. The gates were going to open two and a half hours early. The configuration of the left field seats was going to be ideal. And in my previous four games at this stadium (two in 1999 and two in 2000), I’d averaged 9.5 balls per game.
I wasn’t merely hoping to have a big day. I was expecting it. But first, I had some exploring to do outside the stadium.
This is what I saw when I walked to the top of the steps:
That big area is called Monument Grove.
I walked over to the gate in deep left-center field and took a peek through the metal bars:
Two photos above, you can see a blueish wall in the distance. Here’s a closer look at it:
In case you can’t read it, the words on top say, “THE LONGEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING FRANCHISE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.” (I was not aware of that fact.) Underneath it, there were years and logos and names of all the Braves’ former cities and teams: Boston Red Stockings (starting in 1871), Boston Red Caps, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Doves, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves, Boston Bees, Boston Braves (again), Milwaukee Braves, and finally the current Atlanta Braves. It wasn’t nearly as snazzy as any of the Twins shrines that I saw on May 4th at Target Field, but it was still cool to see the Braves honoring their past.
Here’s the center field gate…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the corner of the stadium:
Meh. Nothing wrong with it, but not particularly memorable.
Here’s another look from further down the street…
…and this is what it looked like after I rounded another corner:
Pretty standard stuff, I guess. The street on that side of the stadium was so green and hilly that it didn’t even feel like a stadium. Check it out:
I resisted the urge to try to talk my way in as I passed the media entrance…
…and rounded yet another corner:
That’s more like it.
Two-thirds of the way down the street, a bunch of autograph collectors were waiting for the Mets players to arrive:
See the guy standing on the right with the red ESPN shirt? His name is Pete Gasperlin (aka “pgasperlin” in the comments). I had met him on 5/6/10 at Target Field. He’s a huge Twins fan. He’s the founder of the Denard Span fan club on Facebook. And he’s the guy who took my girlfriend Jona into the Metropolitan Club when she needed a break from the 40-degree drizzle. Yesterday, while I was talking to him, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and Oliver Perez were dropped off right in front of us. There were a dozen people begging for their autographs, including one guy (as you can see above) who was wearing a REYES jersey. It would have taken the players a minute or two to sign for everyone, but instead, they headed inside without even looking up or waving. It was pathetic. (David Wright, by the way, had stopped to sign on his way in shortly before I got there. Pete showed me a card that he’d gotten autographed.)
Here’s what the stadium looked like just beyond the autograph collectors…
…and this is what it looked like when I rounded the final corner:
I was back to where I’d started, and I still had some time to spare, so I headed into the parking lot in order to get a look at Turner Field from afar:
Then I walked even further (about a quarter of a mile) and checked out the remnants of Fulton County Stadium:
Fulton County was the home of the Braves from 1966-1996. I was there for one game in 1992 and snagged one ball. It was thrown by a (now totally obscure) player on the Padres named Guillermo Velasquez. I remember it well. It was rainy. There wasn’t BP. I was in the left field corner with my family. I didn’t have a Padres cap. I was 15 years old at the time. And…what else can I say? The whole thing was lucky and feels like it happened in a previous life.
In the photo above, do you see the little random piece of wall on the little random patch of grass? Let me take you closer and show you what that is:
It’s the spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run landed. (At the time, Babe Ruth held the record with 714, so this was a big big big big BIG big big deal. And of course it was more than just the numbers. There was the whole issue of race, too. Big deal. Very big.) Very cool to be standing so close to where such a major piece of history went down.
After that, I headed back to Turner Field and claimed at a spot just outside the gates:
The photo above was taken by Pete. The guy sitting on the right was the first person I had seen while wandering around the stadium earlier. He had stopped me and asked, “Are you Zack Hample?” Most people who recognize me are like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from YouTube,” but this dude actually knew my name. (If I’m remembering correctly, his name is Matt.)
Five minutes before the gates opened, this was the line behind me:
When I ran inside and headed down to the front row in left-center, I was rather excited to see this:
Glove trick heaven!
Even more important, perhaps, was the fact that the seats extended all the way from the foul pole to the batter’s eye. In other words, I was going to be able to position myself in all sorts of different spots based on who was batting and where the crowd was clustered.
My friend Pete unintentionally got the assist on my first ball of the day. It was a ground-rule double that kinda handcuffed him in the front row, and when it dropped down into the gap, I was all over it. Then I caught a home run on the fly, hit by a right-handed batter on the Braves that I couldn’t identify. Nothing fancy about it. It was pretty much hit right to me. All I had to do was drift a few feet to my right and reach up for the easy, one-handed grab. Two minutes later, I saw a ball drop into the gap in right-center, so I ran over there. I reeled that one in and then discovered another ball in the gap, just a few feet to my left:
The problem with the section in right-center is that it’s really far from home plate. Check out the view:
The batters basically have to hit the ball 400 feet just to reach the seats, and because the front row is always crowded, you’re talking 410 to 420 in order for them to reach a spot where you’ll have some room to run.
I ran back to left field and snagged a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats near the foul pole. I was proud of myself for this one because the ball had been hit really high, and I was all the way over in straight-away left field. I knew that it wasn’t going to clear the wall on the fly, but instead of giving up on it, I kept running in case it bounced over. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have made that play. I wasn’t as good at judging fly balls, and didn’t have The Vision. I don’t know what’s happening, but my instincts are suddenly improving. I can feel it. It’s awesome.
I ran all the way to the seats in straight-away right field (it takes an effort to get there; the path is anything but direct) and caught a home run hit by Melky Cabrera. I had to move a full section to my right for it, and when I looked back up for the ball, I found myself staring right into the sun — so I felt good about that snag as well.
The gap in right field is partially blocked by the backside of the LED board:
It’s still possible to use the glove trick there, but balls don’t drop down too often.
When the Braves finished their portion of BP, I raced over to the seats behind their dugout — and was told by various ushers that I wasn’t allowed down there.
Seriously, what kind of Citi-esque nonsense was that? Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was throwing ball after ball into the crowd, and since I was already halfway down into the seats, I started yelling to get his attention. He threw a ball to a nearby female usher, presumably for me, and when she dropped it and it started rolling toward me, she yelled at me to get away from her ball. Then, after she “ran” over and grabbed it, Pendleton threw her another, which she kept.
“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled.
“Theesa fo’ my keeeids!” she insisted.
“Are you really competing with me for baseballs,” I asked, “and kicking me out of your section an hour and a half before game time?”
That IS, in fact, what was happening. As this usher was guiding me up the steps, however, I managed to get Pendleton’s attention, and he threw me my seventh ball of the day (which I caught right in front of her face).
Unbelievable. Does anyone have Ted Turner’s phone number? I need to have a word with him.
When the Mets took the field, I was once again prohibited from entering the seats behind their dugout — or even next to their dugout. The closest I could get was shallow left field!
I got a ball tossed to me in the left field corner by one of the trainer-type-strength-and-conditioning-coach dudes. Then I moved to straight-away left and fished a home run ball out of the gap. (That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was some competition from other fans with devices.) Less than a minute later, I caught a homer on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. All I can tell you is that I was in the third row, and there was a guy around my age in the second row. When the ball went up, he misjudged it and moved back. This enabled me to carefully slip past him and drift down to the front row, where I leaned over the railing and made the catch.
Check out the ball:
It was a Citi Field commemorative ball. I’d snagged a bunch of these last year, but it was still great to get another. Commemorative balls are sacred to me — even the ones like this with poorly designed logos.
The Braves had been using standard balls with the word “practice” printed under the MLB logo; the Mets were using balls that had “practice” stamped sloppily on the sweet spot. Check it out:
The left field seats got pretty crowded…
…but that didn’t stop me. I snagged a David Wright homer that landed near me in the seats and then ran over to right field for the next group of hitters. It was either Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo — I just wasn’t paying close enough attention — but whoever it was hit a home run right to me. I mean right to me. I could sense that someone was running toward me in the row below me, so I reached up with two hands to brace for a potential collision. The ball cleared this other guy’s glove by three inches, and then he tripped and fell headfirst over his row. (Yes, I caught the ball.) Don’t feel bad for him. He was in his 20s and looked/acted like he belonged in the mosh pit at a punk rock show. Thirty seconds later, I saw him scramble for another ball and grab it right in front of a little kid, who looked pretty devastated. The kid’s father tried to plead with the guy to turn the ball over, and when he refused, I tapped the kid on the shoulder and handed him the one I’d just caught. The kid (as you might imagine) was thrilled, his father thanked me for a solid minute, and I got a bunch of high-fives from other fans.
Back in left field, I went on a mini-snagging rampage during the closing minutes of BP. Pedro Feliciano threw me my 13th ball of the day. Then I used my glove trick (No. 14). Then I grabbed a home run in the seats that some grown-ups bobbled (No. 15). And then used my trick again for a home run ball that landed in the gap (No. 16). I managed to get down to the Mets’ dugout at the end of BP, and as all the players and coaches were clearing the field, I got Howard Johnson to toss me No. 17.
I’d been planning to go for homers during the game, but now that I was so close to 20, I decided to stay behind the dugout and pad my numbers. For some reason, the Mets never came out for pre-game throwing, so that cost me an important opportunity, but there was still the chance to get a third-out ball. This was my view early in the game:
Yunel Escobar grounded out to Mets first baseman Ike Davis to end the second inning. Davis jogged in and tossed me the ball. Pretty simple. The ball, it should be noted, had the Citi Field commemorative logo on it, which means it wasn’t the actual ball that had been used during the game; Davis had obviously kept the gamer and tossed me his infield warm-up ball instead.
As I jogged up the steps, I happened to see Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets’ sideline reporter, sitting at the back of the section with his SNY microphone. I had gotten to know him a bit over the past few seasons, and once I started snagging baseballs for charity last year, I’d been asking him if he’d interview me about it someday. Long story short: the interview finally took place last night during the bottom of the 4th inning.
The whole thing only lasted a couple minutes, but I think it went pretty well. Here’s a screen shot (courtesy of SNY) before the interview started. It shows Kevin pointing out the camera that was going to be filming us:
Here’s another screen shot (courtesy of my friend Howie) during the interview itself.
Yes, Howie actually photographed his TV.
Kevin asked me two main questions:
1) How do you catch so many baseballs?
2) Can you tell me what you’re doing for charity?
It was great to get to give a plug on-air for Pitch In For Baseball. Big thanks to the Mets for letting me do it. (The Braves, as I mentioned three days ago on Twitter, denied my media/charity request.)
Here I am with Kevin after the interview:
I still have yet to see a tape of it, but according to Howie, when Eric Hinske homered the following inning (to a spot where I wouldn’t have been anyway), the Mets announcers mentioned me.
Gary Cohen said, “Zack did not get the ball,” to which Ron Darling replied, “He’s probably negotiating for it.”
I spent the rest of the game chasing nonexistent foul balls behind the plate. This was my view for right-handed batters:
There’s a cross-aisle that runs through the entire field level, so it’s easy to run left and right. The only problem is that the protective screen is rather tall, so balls have to loop back over it — something that doesn’t happen too often.
If you’ve been reading the comments on this blog, you may have noticed a bunch over the years from someone known as “lsthrasher04” and later “braves04.” The person who’s been leaving those comments lives in Atlanta. His name is Matt. We’d been in touch for a long time, but we’d never met in person until yesterday. I saw him briefly during BP, but I was so busy running all over the place that we barely had a chance to catch up. Late in the game, he came and found me, and we finally had a photo taken together. Here we are:
Matt had kindly given me some pointers about Turner Field in recent weeks. I returned the favor last night by signing his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I still needed two more balls to reach 20. My plan, since the Mets were winning, 3-2, was as follows:
1) Go to the Mets’ dugout.
2) Get a ball from home plate umpire Ed Rapuano.
3) Get another ball from the Mets as they walk off the field.
4) If that fails, get a ball from the relievers when they walk in from the bullpen.
Good plan, right? It gave me three chances to snag two balls. Well, Rapuano took care of the first one, but then the Mets let me down. None of them tossed a ball into the crowd as they headed back in — and get this: the relievers never walked across the field. They must’ve headed from the bullpen to the clubhouse through the underground concourse.
So that was it.
My day ended with 19 balls.
(Yeah, I know, poor me.)
The Mets held on for a 3-2 win, so my Ballhawk Winning Percentage improved to what would be a major league best: .792 (9.5 wins and 2.5 losses).
Before heading out, I caught up with Pete…
…who generously gave me a new Braves cap. (My old one, circa 1992, was crinkly and fugly and being held together at the back with duct tape.)
Good times. Good people. Good baseball. Can’t wait for the next two games here. I’m hoping to snag 23 more and hit 4,500…
• 19 balls at this game (18 pictured on the right because I gave one away)
• 119 balls in 12 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.
• 641 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 192 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 124 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,477 total balls
• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)
• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $94.05 raised at this game
• $589.05 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Two weeks ago I attended a college game at Citi Field, but let’s pretend that never happened. As far as I’m concerned, THIS was my first real game at the Mets’ new ballpark and I was there with my friend Leon Feingold:
Leon is rather tall–6-foot-6 to be exact–and if he looks like a baseball player, that’s because he is. He pitched in the Indians’ minor league system in the mid-90s, and his fastball at the time was clocked in the mid-90s. For the last two years he’s pitched professionally in the Israeli Baseball League, and just last week he had a tryout with the Newark Bears. (Leon has made several appearances on this blog since last year. He and I played catch in a cramped gym, attended two games at Camden Yards, and checked out the NYC Scrabble Club.)
The funny moment of the day took place as Leon and I were walking toward the left field gate. I noticed that several Padres players happened to be walking right alongside us, so I ran ahead and pulled out my camera, and this is what they did:
That’s right. They hid their faces. The guy with the leather jacket (I wish I knew who it was) came charging right at me as if he were going to knock me down. The guy on the right (whose jacket is pulled over his face) had a shaved head. I think it might’ve been Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Now…one thing you have to know about Leon is that he’s a total troublemaker, and yet he never seems to get IN trouble. That said, he brazenly walked past the security guard outside the 3rd base VIP gate, then told the guard on the inside that he was one of the players and that he was looking for the press box. Incredibly, the guard waved Leon through and I got to tag along as his “guest.” (Leon does have an active APBPA card, which is supposed to get him access anyway, but he wasn’t asked to show it.)
We walked past the guard and found ourselves in the concourse underneath the seats. It was bustling with employees (including security guards) but no one paid any attention to us. They probably figured we belonged there. I was scared to death that we were going to get busted (half the people who work for the Mets recognize me and would’ve been suspicious if they’d seen me down there), but Leon insisted we weren’t doing anything wrong.
“What’re you gonna say if someone stops us?!” I shouted in a whisper.
“Don’t worry,” he said calmly. “I’ll think of something.”
I noticed that there were security cameras all over the place, and I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself by stopping to take a photograph, so I waited until the concourse cleared out and took the following shot on the move. That’s why it’s blurry:
We kept walking and the concourse kept getting emptier, and eventually there was no one else in sight. I had no idea where we were, but I figured we must’ve walked halfway around the stadium. The concourse just kept going and going, and the way I saw it, we were getting unsettlingly deep into enemy land.
Eventually the concourse spat us out though a couple metal doors…and oh my God…we were behind the bullpens:
I could see the field to my left…
…so naturally I walked up for a closer look:
Here I am, just slightly happy:
I reached down and ran my fingers through the dirt on the warning track. (Heaven!) Then I poked my head out and looked to my left:
Leon and I hung out there for about five minutes, and no one said a word. I was feeling too giddy at that point to worry about getting caught, so I kept my camera out and took dozens of photos. Here’s a shot of the visitors’ bullpen…
…and here’s a look at the space between the bullpens. Aside from getting to hang out with major leaguers, I would hate to watch a game from there:
We headed back into the concourse and made our way toward the exit. Of course this story wouldn’t be complete without a photo of me standing right outside the Mets clubhouse:
We made it. We were back outside. No one had said a word.
Leon and I headed to the left field gate and played catch for about 20 minutes. (I’m so sore right now.) We long-tossed for a bit, and when we got so far apart that I could no longer reach him, I started rolling the ball back to him. We were SO far apart at one point that when people walked past me I got some strange looks, presumably because they couldn’t figure out why I was standing all alone with a glove, staring into space. A few passersby looked in the direction that I was looking, and when they saw that there was another guy way off in the distance, they had to stop and see if he could actually throw the ball that far. The answer is yes, he could, and this was after he’d pitched the day before. (Freak of nature.)
My friend and bellow ballhawk Gary (aka “gjk2212” from the comments) was the first one in line at the gate. As the crowd continued to grow, we didn’t see any security guards getting up, and we began to worry that the gate wasn’t going to open. Long story short: At the last second, we had to run over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and wiggle our way into line and enter there. Look how crowded it was:
The gates opened 10 minutes late, and as soon as security finished looking inside my bag, I made a beeline for the left field seats. (Leon was already there. He’d wandered off and talked his way into the stadium half an hour earlier. Don’t ask.) Less than a minute later, a right-handed batter on the Mets launched a ball toward the empty seats in left-center field. Thanks to the fact that I had to deal with those cheap, non-juiced International League balls last week in Toronto, I misjudged this one and watched helplessly as it sailed five feet over my head. Luckily it did
NOT take a crazy bounce, and I was able to grab it off the steps a moment later.
I was on the board! First ball ever at Citi Field! I was hoping it would have the Citi Field commemorative logo, but no, it was just a regular ball (pictured here on the right). I hadn’t yet seen the logo, not even in a photograph. I’d made a point of not looking at it throughout the winter. I knew I was going to snag some of the commemorative balls eventually, and I wanted to be totally surprised when I got the first one.
A couple minutes later, Fernando Tatis sent another ball flying in my direction. The seats were still fairly empty at that point, so even though I wasn’t close enough to catch it on the fly, I was still able to grab it off the ground. Another regular ball. Bleh.
It felt great just to have room to run for home run balls. Shea Stadium had plenty of quirks and provided a few advantages, but overall it was a dreadful place for batting practice. There were hardly any seats in fair territory, so all I could do was beg the players for balls. Yeesh. I don’t even want to think about that. Quick…I have to erase the memory. Here’s what BP looked like yesterday out in the left field seats:
The biggest problem with BP at Citi Field is that there’s not a great place to go for left-handed batters. The second deck in right field swallows up some of the balls, but it’s a pain to get up there (Gary was kicked out of that section during BP), and the seats on the lower level don’t get much action because of the overhang. The only other option is the section way out in right-center, which unfortunately sits next to a “415” marker on the outfield wall. When you’re out there, it might look like a good spot, but in reality it’s a loooooong way from home plate, and there won’t be too many balls that reach the seats. Here’s the view:
Carlos Delgado did manage to hit one ball out there, and I snagged it. I was in the third or fourth row at the time, and it landed several rows behind me, so it was quite a shot. Did it have a commemorative logo?! No, but at least I had my third ball of the day.
Toward the end of the Mets’ portion of BP, I was able to use my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track in straight-away left field, and let me tell you, it’s a long way down. I think that wall is 16 feet high. Commemorative ball? Nope.
The Padres took the field and started hitting. Another ball rolled onto the warning track in left field. I rigged my glove, lowered it to the field, pulled up the ball, and took a look at it. WHAT?!?! I did a double-take when I saw it. There was a different type of the logo on the ball. Was that…it?! THAT?! The logo was tall and narrow and generic. All it said was “2009 inaugural season.” No mention of the Mets or Citi Field or New York. Nothing. Just a little piece of artwork that I gathered was supposed to represent the outside of the stadium. Have a look for yourself:
It was so disappointing. Of all the commemorative balls I’ve snagged over the years, this is the worst. By far. Only the Mets could possibly manage to screw up a ball. Am I being too harsh? What do you think about this new ball? Does anyone actually like it?
Heath Bell came out and started throwing with the rest of the pitchers…
…and I got his attention.
A little context: I got to know Heath five years ago when he was a Quadruple-A reliever for the Mets. I played catch with him from the seats at Shea in 2005, and he’s always been really cool to me whenever I’ve seen him. Last year, when I saw him at PETCO Park, he hooked me up with a very special ball and also gave me a cap. I can’t explain it, but the man is truly looking out for me. Most players who recognize me won’t give me baseballs, and in fact some have even gone out of their way to prevent me from getting balls, but Heath is just the opposite. I guess he likes the fact that I’m such a big fan, and he gets a kick out of adding to my collection. I’d heard from a few friends (who know that I know him) that Heath was looking for me two days earlier, but I wasn’t able to go to that game. (Too expensive.) One of my friends (I think it was Gary…or maybe it was Gail…too many emails…ahh!) told me that Heath wanted me to give him a call. But I didn’t have his number. I’d mailed him a letter during Spring Training and given him MY number, but I never heard from him. I once talked to him on someone else’s cell phone. So close…and yet so far. I still didn’t know how to get a hold of him, other than showing up at a stadium and waving him down. Anyway, on this fine day, he told me that he wanted to talk to me, but he said he had to throw and run first, and that when he was done he’d meet me out in that deep section in right-center field.
I could’ve kept trying to snag balls, but I didn’t want to miss him, so I immediately headed out there, and of course I missed a few snagging opportunities as a result. But I knew it was worth it.
Sure enough, about 10 or maybe 15 minutes later, Heath started jogging out toward my section in right-center, and I had to convince some fans in the front row to let me in. When Heath got close, I leaned over the wall as far as I could, and he jumped up and gave me a little handshake in mid-air. Then he just stood there on the warning track and talked to me for…I don’t know, at least another 10 minutes:
I can’t remember everything we talked about, but basically I congratulated him on becoming the closer. He asked me how I’ve been. I asked him if he happened to save any balls from the World Baseball Classic. He said he got a whole bunch and would give one to me…but he said the balls are in San Diego. He asked if I was planning to head out that way this season. I said no, but that I might have to come out just to get one of those balls. He said it wasn’t worth it, and I explained that it IS worth it. I told him that I only count balls from major league players at major league games, so the only way that I could ever possibly have a WBC ball in my collection would be if he gave one to me at a regular season game. He asked me if I’m going to be seeing the Padres on the road, like in Philly or D.C., and I said I wasn’t sure. So…he was like, “Well keep me posted and let me know where you’re gonna be, and we’ll try to figure it out.” I told him that I still didn’t have his phone number and that I had no way of getting a hold of him. He said he had my number. He was like, “That number you sent me is your cell?” I said yes, and he said he’d text me after batting practice. I wasn’t sure if he really had the number, so I grabbed one of my contact cards and wrote my number on it and gave it to him. Then we started talking about other stuff.
“So you’ve heard about my charity?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “someone was talking about it. What’s the deal with that?”
I told him all about it, how the charity is called Pitch In For Baseball, and how it provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world, and how I’m getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this season, and how every ball I snag is already worth close to $16 for the charity, and that it’d be AWESOME if he were to pledge something, even a teeny amount, just so I could say I had a major league player on board.
“Send me the info,” he said, “I’ll check it out.”
“I won’t charge you for the balls you give me,” I told him.
He asked me if I’d gotten one of the commemorative balls yet. I couldn’t lie. I told him that I *had* just gotten one about half an hour earlier, but that didn’t stop him from giving me another. When a ball rolled onto the warning track about 50 feet away, he went over and picked it up and inspected it to see if had the “special” logo, and when he saw that it did, he walked past all the screaming fans in the front row and tossed it right up to me.
Heath Bell is THE MAN, and the Mets were stupid to let him go.
I can’t even remember what else we talked about. Like I said, it was a long conversation, but we wrapped it up with my saying “thanks sooooo much” and “congrats again.” He said he’d text me after BP and we said we’d talk soon.
I only managed to get one more ball during BP. I snagged it with my glove trick near the LF foul pole, it was commemorative. Very strange that the Padres were using those balls and the Mets weren’t. (Does anyone know Mets equipment manager Charlie Samuels? I’d really like to talk to him and ask him a few questions.)
After BP, I met up with Leon behind the Padres’ dugout. Dave Winfield was down there, and Leon shouted at him and told him he played with him in Spring Training one year. Here’s Winfield’s reaction:
Here I am with the seven balls I’d snagged (I gave one of them away to a kid after the game):
As promised, Heath texted me after BP, and he included his email address. Obviously I can’t share that address here, but I will say that it contains the word “heater.”
It was Jackie Robinson Day. Here are all the No. 42’s being worn in his honor:
After the ceremony, when Heath walked back in toward the dugout, he spotted me in the seats and asked if I’d gotten his text. Coolness.
This was my view in the first inning:
When David Wright struck out to end the bottom of the first, I bolted down the steps and got Padres catcher Nick Hundley to toss me the ball on his way in. So easy. No competition. And finally, I had a commemorative ball that was actually rubbed up and game-used.
Gary Sheffield, stuck on 499 career homers, was getting his first start of the year and batting sixth. When he came up in the bottom of the second, this is where I was sitting:
It wasn’t ideal, but that’s Citi Field for ya. There’s no cross aisle, so if a game is crowded (as it will be all year and probably for all of eternity), there’s no way to run left or right for a home run ball. If Sheffield had gotten a hold of one, he would’ve had to hit it exactly in my direction, and my range would’ve been limited to that one staircase. Not good. But at least I had a chance. Sheffield, though, didn’t do his part and struck out swinging.
After that I moved up to the club (aka “Excelsior”) level. Good foul ball spot. This was the view:
If the guards had actually let me stand in the aisle, this is what it would’ve looked like on my left…
…and this is what it would’ve looked like on my right. Notice the baseball writers in the press box and the blue SNY booth in the distance:
Here’s a closer look at the booth. Keith Hernandez is on the left, Ron Darling is in the middle, and Gary Cohen (whom I adore) is on the right:
Here’s at look at the ESPN booth. Rick Sutcliffe is on the left, Joe Morgan is sitting next to him, then Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s widow), and Dave O’Brian on the right. Not a shabby group. Security didn’t appreciate the fact that I took this photo (and yet they had no problem with the fact that I was practically standing on the field five hours earlier…go figure):
I kept moving around between the left field seats for Sheffield (who went 0-for-2 with a walk and got pulled for a pinch hitter late in the game), the club level for foul balls (there were none), and the Padres’ dugout for third-out balls. Leon, who told me he’d run out onto the batter’s eye to grab a ball during BP, spent the entire game sitting in the second row behind the dugout. (Oh, and I forgot to mention that he ended up snagging three balls, including a Sheffield BP homer that was heading right into my glove; I need shorter, less athletic friends.)
The following photo shows my view in the seventh inning:
Once again, it was David Wright who ended the frame, this time with a fly out to right fielder Brian Giles. By this late point in the game, all the fans in the section knew there was a chance to get a ball every inning, but they were too dumb to figure out why. They all charged down the steps and yelled at first baseman Adrian Gonzalez as he jogged off the field, and as soon as he was gone, they all dispersed and headed back to their seats. Fifteen seconds later, Giles jogged in, and since I was the ONLY fan standing in the front row at that point, I had no trouble getting him to toss me the ball. That was my ninth and (unfortunately) final ball of the day.
After the game, I got a photo with Gary (pictured below on the right) and a fellow ballhawk named Donnie (aka “donnieanks”) that I had finally met for the first time earlier in the day. Here were are:
And that’s about it.
I hope the Padres win the NL West and Heath Bell saves 74 games.
• 40 balls in 5 games this season = 8 balls per game.
• 574 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 339 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 45 major league stadiums with at least one ball caught
• 3,860 total balls
• 78 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $15.87 pledged per ball
• $142.83 raised at this game
• $634.80 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I’m loving technology right now…
For years and years, I’ve had a bunch of old TV interviews that I wasn’t able to share because they were trapped/embedded on DVDs.
Well, thanks to a free program called HandBrake (which I discovered thanks to a guy named Cole who reads this blog), I’ve been able to “rip” these old segments off the DVDs…and thanks to a program called iMovie that came with my Mac, I’ve been able to edit these segments and make them presentable for YouTube by cutting out the commercial breaks and fading in and out (where necessary). Stuff like that.
Anyway, I have two more videos to share…
The first was filmed on 4/17/06 and 4/18/06 by SportsNet New York (the New York Mets’ cable network) for a show called “Kids Clubhouse.” The host was Amanda Cole (the daughter of Kenneth Cole), and you can watch it here:
Stay tuned for more videos. Now that I know I won’t be attending Games 1 or 2 of the World Series, I should have time to rip/edit/upload a few more…
The last time I went to a game and didn’t snag at least one ball was September 2, 1993 at Yankee Stadium. I’ve been to hundreds of games since then, and this was one of the few times I knew my streak was in danger before I even left my apartment. That’s because I was going to be filmed by two shows for SportsNet New York, and the interviews were going to take place during batting practice. Why the danger? Because the interviews had nothing to do with my baseball collection and everything to do with my new book.
I’m not complaining. It’s every author’s dream to be on TV and have his (or her!) book featured. I’m just saying that the snagging situation was looking grim. I’d been told that the filming would last until game time, which meant that in order to keep my streak alive, I’d have to find a way–ANY way–to get a foul ball or a 3rd-out ball or a warm-up ball between innings or a foul dribbler from the 1st base coach or a ball from the winning team at their dugout. I was so paranoid that I’d go the whole night without getting a ball…and convinced that I’d be relying on the home plate umpire to toss me one as he left the field after the game…that I printed the complete Major League Umpire Roster so I’d be able to identify him by number and call him by name instead of simply yelling, “Hey, blue!”
Anyway, I met two members of the film crew at the Press Gate at 3pm and got my media credential. Then we headed inside and took the elevator up to the Mezzanine (the 3rd level) to meet the others. As I stepped out of the ramp and into the seats, I was surprised to see the Giants players taking early BP–while wearing shorts and t-shirts. It was an odd sight, and I wanted to watch, but there was work to be done. First, one of the guys hooked me up with a microphone. Then I was introduced to “Kooz,” the puppet/mascot of the show “Mets Weekly.” And after that, the producer set up the first shot and told me what we’d be doing.
The first part was a straight-up interview with Kooz. What inspired me to write the book? How long did it take? What are some interesting things that people can look for?
The second part was a lesson on keeping score. I was given a score sheet. I wrote the first few names of the Mets lineup. I invented some action and showed Kooz how to fill it in.
The third part was a game of “20 Questions.” Kooz thought of a player, and I had to figure out who. Is he alive? Yes. Is he currently playing? Yes. Is he in the American League? No. Is it Albert Pujols? No. Is he on the Mets. Yes. Aha! And so on.
For the fourth and final part of the segment, Kooz and I took turns reciting lines from my poem called “159 Ways to Hit the Ball” (which you can find on pages 54-55 in the book). Kooz started by chanting, “Squib, squirt, nub, chop,” and I continued with “Drive, line, send, pop.” We did the first verse in the seats, then sang the second on a ramp overlooking the parking lot, the third in front of a concession stand, the fourth while riding up an escalator, and the fifth in the upper deck.
At 4:35pm, the Mets were starting BP, the gates were about to open, and I felt completely helpless as I was escorted down to the Field Level to be filmed for “Kids Clubhouse.” At least if my streak ended, I’d have a good excuse to last me a lifetime: “Oh yeah, May 29, 2007…I remember that…whatever…I was being interviewed by Kenneth Cole’s daughter for some show on the Mets’ cable network and had to miss batting practice…whatever.”
As I stepped onto the warning track behind home plate and headed toward the Mets’ dugout, I heard a few people shout my name from the crowd. It was a small group of autograph collectors that I’d gotten to know over the years, and one of them was a close friend named George Amores. I don’t know how to put it any other way, so let me just say this: George is The Man. When I told him last week that I’d be doing a couple pieces with SNY, he offered to meet me at Shea and take pictures, so when I saw him standing in the front row behind the dugout, I walked over as close as I could and tossed him my camera. (I love having athletic friends.)
The crew attached a new microphone to my shirt and prepped me for the interview with Amanda Cole, who started by asking me a few basic questions about the book. Then, since this episode of the show was mainly about pitching, I showed her how to grip and throw different types of pitches: four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curve, knuckle-curve, knuckleball, change-up, etc.
Meanwhile, the Mets were taking BP, and it was seriously weird not to be running around for balls. Thankfully, I got a brief chance to snag, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Just after 5:30pm, the crew had to do a separate interview with Pedro Feliciano. I was told that when my segment continued, it was going to be filmed in the seats, so I headed up that way with five minutes to spare.
“Hey!” someone shouted at me from the first row behind the photographers’ box. “You’re the ball guy! Are you gonna give us a ball?!”
“I’m just trying to get ONE for myself,” I said.
The first few rows behind the dugout were packed, but one of my friends (pictured here with the green sign) cleared a little space for me and let me in. Two minutes later, the Mets finished BP and headed off the field. David Wright tossed three balls over the far end of the dugout, and other players and coaches ignored me, but then at the last second, Mets 3rd base coach Sandy Alomar Sr. walked over with a ball and flipped it to me. WOO!!! No time to celebrate. Two minutes after that, the crew was in the seats, discussing the final portion of the interview with me, which was all about “The Fair Ball Quiz” (on page 116). We picked five questions to ask kids–stuff like “If a bunt rolls onto home plate and stays there, is it fair or foul?”–and I had to explain the answers. And that was it. It was 6:15pm, and I was free, and the Giants were just about to finish batting practice.
I switched into my Giants cap and raced over to their dugout on the 3rd base side. Pedro Feliz tossed me a ball on his way in, and moments later, someone else flipped one up from underneath the dugout roof. Not bad.
I spent the next half hour wandering all around the Field Level seats and taking notes for New York Magazine. (You can read more about that in my last entry.) Then I headed up to the Loge for the start of the game. Great pitching matchup. Tim Lincecum versus Oliver Perez. Two hard throwers. (Lincecum topped out at 99mph.) There weren’t nearly as many foul balls as I’d expected, but I did catch one in the top of the 9th. No outs, 1-0 fastball from Billy Wagner to Bengie Molina. I was standing at the top of the ramp for no other purpose than to catch a foul ball, so as soon as it left the bat, I was all over it. I didn’t have to move much–just a few feet to my left–and that’s a good thing because the ball flew back nearly as fast as the pitch was thrown…and yet it didn’t even seem that fast. You know how a hot hitter will sometimes talk about the game appearing to slow down, almost as if everything is moving in slow-motion while he’s able to operate at full speed? Well, that’s how it felt as I traced that foul ball. From the instant it left the bat, I knew it was mine. Other people seemed to be frozen in place, paralyzed by fear and/or slow reflexes, as I glided into position for the easy one-handed grab.
“Thanks!” shouted the man standing right behind me. “You saved me from breaking my hand.”
“Glad to help,” I said.
B*rry B*nds pinch-hit in the top of the 10th, and Scott Schoeneweis walked him on five pitches. Just as well. If he’d gone deep, there wouldn’t have been much of a chance for me to catch it. Right field was a zoo. There were four security guards blocking the ramp to the seats, with fans crammed behind them, and everyone in the seats was standing. It was nearly impossible to see, let alone move.
It was an amazing game. David Wright had nearly ended it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th, but the ball hit the very top of the right field fence. Three batters later, with the winning run on second base, Omar Vizquel made a diving play on a grounder up the middle and got an inning-ending force out at second.
The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th but couldn’t score. The entire 11th inning was uneventful, but then the Giants took a 4-3 lead in the top of the 12th. In the bottom of the inning, former Mets closer Armando Benitez entered the game and nearly got booed off the mound. The reception might’ve rattled him because he started by walking Jose Reyes and balking him to second. Endy Chavez laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Benitez then balked AGAIN, sending Reyes home with the tying run. Beltan then grounded out, and Delgado followed with his second home run of the night. Game over. Final score: Mets 5, Giants 4. Please drive carefully and arrive home safely.
• 87 balls in 11 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 466 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 4 game balls in 11 games this season = 1 game ball every 2.8 games.
• 102 lifetime game balls
• 3,048 total balls
• 3 days until the segments air on SNY (that would be Saturday, June 2)
• 37 days until San Francisco