I hardly ever get my baseballs signed. Normally I don’t even try too hard to get autographs in the first place, and when I do, I usually get them on ticket stubs. In 1996 I made an exception and got my 1,000th ball signed by Pedro Borbon Jr., the player who threw it to me. In 2003 I made another exception and got No. 2,000 signed by Joe Roa. Then, on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, I used my glove trick to snag my 3,000th ball, so I didn’t get it signed by anybody. But here’s the thing…with Borbon and Roa, I was able to get their autographs shortly after they tossed the balls to me–both of them came over and signed as soon as batting practice ended–but when Livan Hernandez threw me my 4,000th ball on 5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium, I was trapped in the left field pavilion where there was no chance to get near him.
Fast-forward to this past weekend. I still hadn’t gotten Livan to sign The Ball, so I wrote a blog entry in which I asked for autograph advice. What I learned was: Livan is nice about signing autographs in general, but it’s really hard to get the Mets to sign on their way into the ballpark because fans aren’t allowed near the entrance where they walk in from the parking lot.
Yesterday, feeling nervous about taking my 4,000th ball out of my apartment and hoping that I wouldn’t ever have to do it again, I arrived at Citi Field at 2pm and made a beeline toward the players’ parking lot:
Here’s another photo that shows exactly where I headed:
Once I reached the end of the walkway, I saw firsthand why it’s so tough to get autographs. The players enter on the other side of a black, six-foot-tall fence; fans are kept 30 feet away from the fence by a barricade. This was as close as I could get:
Is that obnoxious or what?
I soon learned a piece of good news from the few other autographs collectors who were there: if we got a player’s attention and he called us over, the security guard would allow us to slip through the barricades and approach the fence.
More good news: I was armed with secret weapon:
How could Livan Hernandez possibly ignore my charming homemade sign?
Over the next 20 minutes, every single Mets player ignored our polite requests and blew right past us: Daniel Murphy, Alex Cora, Jonathon Niese (karma), Bobby Parnell, Angel Berroa, Jeremy Reed, and a few others that I’m forgetting. I heard that Carlos Beltran and Brian Stokes had signed earlier, but still, it was a disgusting display of human behavior. I mean, Angel Berroa?! Really?! Does he think his 2003 AL Rookie of the Year award gives him the right to blow people off? There were FOUR of us asking for autographs. It would have taken him–or any of the other players–approximately 20 seconds to stop and sign. Maybe 30 seconds if they cared to sprinkle a few pleasantries into the interaction. I was just about ready to start screaming obscenities at the next player when Livan pulled up in a big, boxlike silver vehicle. I held up my sign, shouted his name, jumped up and down like a little schoolgirl, and to my surprise/delight, he waved me over! I rushed to the fence and handed my ball over and resisted the urge to tell him why it was special (I didn’t want him to feel used) and simply asked him to sign it on the sweet spot. Here he is, doing it…
…and here’s his signature:
Five minutes later, Nelson Figueroa started walking past us with two big rolling suitcases. We asked him to sign and he said, “One minute.” He disappeared into the stadium for no more than 10 seconds, then returned without the bags and waved us over. He was VERY nice and talkative and articulate, and he even posed (as best he could) for a photo through a small gap in the fence. What a guy. I got his autograph on a Shea Stadium ticket that I’d brought from home:
I could’ve gotten a few more autographs after that, but I chose instead to sit in the shade and read Portnoy’s Complaint. (That book is beyond brilliant and hilarious; I was too young to appreciate it fully when I first read it in college.) While I was reading, a man wearing black spandex shorts and a sweaty white T-shirt walked strangely close, prompting me to look up and realize that it was Tony LaRussa. If he hadn’t been wearing earphones, I might’ve said hello. Colby Rasmus also walked by around that time and refused to sign baseballs on the sweet spot.
“I’m just a collector, I swear,” pleaded one fan.
“That’s what they all say,” said Rasmus.
You know what *I* say? Colby Rasmus (and every other baseball player who refuses to sign balls on the sweet spot) is an ass. Who the hell does he think he is? He was a first-round draft pick in 2005 and received a $1 million signing bonus. Now he’s earning $400,000 this year to PLAY A GAME, and he stands to earn a lot more if he stays healthy. (I, for one, hope he doesn’t). And yet, God forbid some fan out there might possibly want to make twenty bucks by showing up early at a stadium, standing out in the 90-degree heat, obtaining his precious autograph, and then selling it.
I raced to the left field seats as soon as the stadium opened at 4:40pm, and I immediately got Gary Sheffield to throw me a ball. I was so out-of-breath that I almost wasn’t able to call out to him, but it all worked out, and the ball turned out to have a worn Shea Stadium commemorative logo (like this).
For some reason, all the batters during the first two rounds were left-handed, so I headed over to right field:
There was a ball on the warning track near the foul pole–one of the few places in the stadium where the outfield wall isn’t absurdly high. As I began to reel it in with my glove trick, Brian Stokes jogged over and threw his glove at mine. His glove thumped against the wall, causing me to jerk my glove which caused the ball to fall out. I noticed then that it was a 2008 Yankee Stadium commemorative ball (like this). Stokes walked over and stood there, watching me. I lifted my glove back up to readjust the rubber band and asked him
to give me one more chance to go for the ball. He didn’t say anything. He just kept standing there, so I went for it, and sure enough I got the ball to stick inside my glove. As I started lifting it, Stokes moved closer and tapped my glove with his bare hand, knocking the ball loose for a second time. He picked it up off the warning track, then took a couple steps toward the infield and drew his arm back as if he were going to fire the ball toward the bucket. Just when I was ready to put the Hample Jinx on him, he turned around and smiled and flipped it to me.
Oliver Perez walked over and asked, “How many balls you got?”
It was the first time he had ever spoken to me, so it came as a surprise that he recognized me. Meanwhile, I didn’t want to give him a specific answer; better he should assume I had a few hundred than a few thousand.
“How many?” I asked. “You mean today? Or in my whole life?”
“In your life,” he said, “because I’ve seen you on TV and I know what you do.”
“But did you know that I’m now collecting baseballs for charity?”
He asked what I meant by that, so I told him all about Pitch In For Baseball, and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag this season, and how I’ve raised more than $8,000 so far, and how I also give away baseballs at just about every single game I attend.
“I don’t want you to think I’m greedy,” I said. “I want you to know that I give back a lot.”
“That’s good,” he said.
And that was the extent of our conversation.
Two minutes later, a left-handed batter ripped a deep line drive in my direction. I knew that it was going to fall short, but I knew that it had a chance to bounce up to me, so I shuffled over a few feet and as the ball skipped up in the form of a gigantic in-between hop, I turned the palm of my glove face down and swatted down at the ball, hoping to trap it against the padded outfield wall. It was a maneuver I’d tried in the past, without much success because it requires perfect timing and an equally perfect prediction about how high the ball is going to bounce. Somehow, on this fine day, I nailed it and got a nice round of applause from the fans along the foul line.
I headed over to the deepest part of left-center field, all the way out near the Home Run Apple, and I got Livan to throw me my fourth ball of the day. This is what the field looked like from the spot where I caught it:
Then, when the righties finally started hitting, I battled the crowd in straight-away left field and caught a Gary Sheffield homer on the fly. Moments later, Jeff Francoeur launched one in my direction–a bit over my head–and I jumped at the last second to try to make the catch. The ball hit off my glove (I should’ve caught it) but luckily landed right near me in a semi-crowded row. I bent down and scrambled for it and snagged the ball just before the nearest fan was about to grab it. It turned out that the other fan was a woman who was there with kids, so I handed her the ball. (That ball counts toward my grand total, FYI.)
As the Cardinals took the field, the seats became more and more crowded:
In the photo above, do you see the fan standing in the front row wearing red? He’s almost a full section away. That’s a friend and fellow ballhawk named Gary (aka “gjk2212” in the comments section).
I headed back to right field because, once again, there were a bunch of lefties hitting. It’s nearly impossible to catch batted balls in right field at Citi Field (because of that stupid Pepsi Porch overhang), so I had to focus on other sources: the players’ kids. There were four of them shagging balls in the outfield: two kids with blank jerseys, one with “FRANKLIN” and another with “PUJOLS.” Here’s Trever Miller with two of the kids:
Young Franklin fired a ball up into a patch of empty seats in right field. It was a two-person race: me and a 40-something-year-old man in a Cardinals shirt. (I was wearing a Cardinals shirt, too, at that point.) Neither of us could find the ball at first. We must’ve searched for five seconds (which at the time felt like five years), and eventually I spotted it, tucked out of view against the back of a seat. That was my seventh ball of the day, and I got another one right after from Miller. I would’ve snagged it on my own with the glove trick because it was sitting right below me on the warning track, but some old grumpy security guard in the bullpen (who has personally cost me about 30 balls since 1992) made me stop.
Remember where I got the ball thrown by Livan in left-center field? I headed back there and got another one from Little Pujols. The kid made a heck of a throw from about 60 feet away and 15 feet below. Right on the money. I was stunned, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, given his last name.
I moved to Death Valley after that–the deepest part of the ballpark in right-center field where it says “415” on the outfield wall. This was the view:
I didn’t expect to catch a batted ball out there. I was just focusing on trying to get one of the players to throw one to me, when all of a sudden I heard people shouting, “Heads up!!” so I looked up and saw a deep fly ball heading about 10 feet to my right. I shuffled through the empty row and tracked the ball and couldn’t believe that it kept carrying and carrying. Eventually I reached out and made a back-handed catch. (Remember Gail from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium and from Game 4 of the 2008 World Series? She was in the section at the time and thanked me for “saving” her from the home run ball, but I don’t think it would’ve hit her. She and I ran into each other a few times throughout BP, but we could never talk for more than a minute because I was always running off to a different spot.)
As soon as I caught this home run, I started shouting, “Who hit it?! Who hit it?!”
Soon after, a man walked over and showed me the screen on his fancy digital camera.
“This is the guy who hit it,” he said.
It was a zoomed-in photo of Colby Rasmus. Bleh.
I asked him if he was 100 percent sure, and he said yes, so I’ll just have to take his word for it.
During the final 20 minutes of BP, it was an absolute zoo in left field. Pujols and Matt Holliday were batting, and people were in a snagging frenzy. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen Citi Field during BP, and granted, this was only my seventh time there, but still. It was nuts. Every staircase was packed. Every row was full. There wasn’t any spot in left field where I had more than five feet on either side…so I pretty much gave up. It was Shea Stadium all over again, which is to say that batting practice was in progress, and there was absolutely NO point in even being there.
I made my way over to the Cardinals’ dugout at the end of BP and got Little Pujols to throw me another ball on his way in. Ha-HAAA!!! I was standing five rows back, and he made another perfect toss, this time right over everyone’s head.
I lingered 20 rows behind the dugout for the next half-hour, read more of my book, and eventually moved back into the front row when Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo (pictured below) came out to play catch:
I’d picked the end of the dugout where DeRosa was throwing, figuring he’d be the one to end up with the ball, but I was wrong. Luckily, I was the only fan behind the entire dugout who was yelling for the ball, so Lugo lobbed it to me from about 50 feet away. As easy a toss as it was, I almost dropped it because I lost it in the lights. It was my 12th ball of the day (tying my personal Citi Field record), five of which had the word “practice” stamped onto the sweet spot:
I stayed behind the dugout for the first few innings, hoping to get a third-out ball tossed to me by Pujols. This was my view:
It seemed as if there were always at least two vendors blocking my view and/or the stairs.
Pujols ended up with the ball after the first inning, but tossed it to someone else. I noticed that the ball had a standard MLB logo on it, which meant that Pujols had switched the game-used ball with the infield warm-up ball.
In the second inning (thanks to a Luis Castillo ground out), Pujols ended up with the ball once again. I was blocked at the bottom of the stairs so as Pujols approached the dugout, I scooted about five feet to my right through the partially empty second row. I waved my arms and shouted at him and pointed straight up as if to say, “Throw it high so the people in front of me won’t be able to reach it.” Pujols DID throw me the ball, but he threw it on a line. Chest-high. Oh no. Easily interceptable. I said a silent prayer, knowing I was at the mercy of the people seated directly in front of me, and I reached straight out, hoping to be able to make the catch. As it turned out, no one in the front row even noticed or cared that a ball was sailing two feet over their heads, and I snagged it. The ball had a Citi Field commemorative logo, but I don’t think it was THE ball that had been used in the game. It looked really beat up. Take a look for yourself. Here are two different views of it:
Is it possible that Pujols switched balls and still ended up tossing me a commemorative ball? Sure, why not. I believe that’s what happened.
As soon as I turned to head back up the steps, some guy asked me for the ball. Duh. Not only was it commemorative (I never ever ever ever never ever ever EVER give those away), but it came from Albert effing Pujols. Did you hear me? Albert Pujols!! Okay, so it was the second ball I’d ever gotten from him, but so what? ALBERT PUJOLS!!! (It should be noted that I never give baseballs to people who ask for them, whether or not they’re commemorative, but that’s another story.)
I wandered a bit during the game and eventually made it back to the 3rd base side when things started getting interesting in the eighth inning. With the Mets leading, 7-4, and Johan Santana still in the game, Senor Pujols led off the frame with a mammoth homer to dead center. Then, in the top of the 9th, Francisco Rodriguez melted down, and in the process of throwing 41 pitches, he managed to give up two runs. Tie game. Blown save. No win for Johan. In the top of the 10th, Pedro Feliciano allowed the Cardinals to load the bases. Then Sean Green came in and, in typical Mets fashion, hit DeRosa with his first pitch. That gave St. Louis an 8-7 lead. Next batter? God Himself. Green quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, but God wasn’t bothered by such insignificant things as balls and strikes. The third pitch was a foul ball. The fourth pitch resulted in a grand slam to left-center. It was God’s fifth granny of the season, tying a National League record.
Final score: Cardinals 12, Mets 7.
What does one ask God after such a performance? I don’t know, but apparently someone was brave enough to stick a microphone in front of His face:
In this tainted era of Major League Baseball, I can only say that I ***hope*** Pujols’ name never appears on any “list.” Of course it wouldn’t surprise me if it does, but until then I’ll be rooting for Him.
After the game, Trever Miller threw me a ball at the dugout–the second from him on the day and my 14th overall–as he walked in from the bullpen.
• 346 balls in 40 games this season = 8.65 balls per game.
• 609 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 480 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 345 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 7 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least nine balls
• 111 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 62 lifetime games in New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,166 total balls
• 117 donors (if you make a pledge now, it will include all the balls I’ve snagged this season)
• $24.74 pledged per ball
• $346.36 raised at this game
• $8,560.04 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Another day with Jona at my new favorite stadium…
The weather was perfect–no complaints there–but I wanted to kick someone when I ran inside and saw this:
The Royals weren’t taking batting practice, and they clearly weren’t in any rush to start:
It really killed me. I pretty much had the whole stadium to myself, and I could feel my opportunities slipping away.
Finally at about 4:45pm–fifteen excruciating minutes after the gates had opened–the first batter stepped into the cage, and it didn’t take long before I got on the board. Kyle Farnsworth was shagging in right-center, and as soon as he fielded a ball, I shouted for it.
The following four-part photo (starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what happened next. The three vertical arrows are pointing to the ball in mid-air:
Yeah, that’s right. The damn thing sailed over my head, and since I was trapped against that railing in the middle of the walkway, I couldn’t move. If I’d been able to run to the back of the walkway, I probably would’ve been able to make a leaping catch, like an outfielder robbing a home run, but instead I could only watch the ball splash into the fountain.
I whipped out my trusty water-retrieval-device…
…and fished out the ball before it had a chance to sink. (The photo above is blurry because it’s a screen shot from a low-quality video. The video itself isn’t worth sharing because the ball was never in view. It floated right below me and hugged the concrete wall, and Jona wasn’t able to see it from her angle. The fan in the background is named Garrett. I wrote about him in my previous entry, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in this one. Also, FYI, the water is a bit murky, but since it’s only a few feet deep, you *can* see balls that sink to the bottom, but those balls seemed to be cleared out daily.)
I was in such a rush at this point to run over toward the bullpen and try to get Roman Colon to throw me another ball that I neglected to pose with the one I’d just snagged. Why is that a big deal? Because that first ball had extended my consecutive games streak to 600–a streak dating back to September 10, 1993, during which I’ve snagged at least one ball at every single game I’ve attended.
Oh well. I got caught up in the moment. What can I say? At least I got Colon to show me some love. Here’s a photo that shows the ball in mid-air:
Perhaps I should’ve drawn a red arrow pointing to myself. In case it’s not clear, I’m standing just to the right of the fan in the red shirt.
It’s obvious why the Royals are struggling: their pitchers suck. Farnsworth had airmailed me and Colon’s throw fell three feet short. Luckily it traveled just far enough that I was able to reach over the railing and make a back-handed catch:
I used the glove trick to snag my third ball of the day off the warning track in left field. Yeah, security had told me twice the previous day not to do it anymore, but this was a brand new day. Maybe the rules had changed overnight, and even if they hadn’t, I didn’t have anything to lose. This was my last game at Kauffman Stadium. I was done with all my TV interviews. I was going to be flying back home to New York City the next day. If I got ejected, so be it.
In the following photo, you can see me going for the ball. The vertical arrow on the left is pointing to a man who was leaning over the wall to see the balls below because he, too, had a device. The other arrow is pointing to the kid who caught that random ball flying through the air:
Even while I was doing my thing, there were still lots of other balls to go around. Keep that in mind as you continue reading. I don’t want you to think that my snagging prevented other people from getting balls. That wasn’t the case at all. I missed out on countless balls because they were tossed to kids, and that’s how it should be.
Coco Crisp hooked me up with my fourth ball of the day in left-center field, and then I used the glove trick to pull two balls out of the gap behind the center field wall. Here’s a close-up photo of the first ball in my glove…
…and here’s a shot of the second one, taken by Jona from the other end of the gap:
Both of those balls were BP homers by Billy Butler, but whatever. Do you see all the other balls that were sitting down in that gap? GAHHH!!! It was maddening to see them and not be able to reach them. The photo above doesn’t even show all the balls that were down there. There were like…twice as many. It was insane. They’d been there for two days, and I’d asked several different ushers about them.
How often do the balls get cleared out?
Who actually goes and retrieves them?
What would happen if I jumped down in there?
No one had a definitive answer. One usher said that the groundskeepers probably retrieve the balls, but he wasn’t sure. It was strange, and it had me thinking, although I didn’t really know what to think. There was still one more ball down in there that I could reach with my glove trick, so I started going for it, and that’s when security shut me down. The guard didn’t threaten me or confiscate my glove or eject me. He simply made a polite request that I stop. He even apologized and insisted that the order had come from his supervisor. How could I argue with that? It was frustrating, of course, but at least I’d gotten to use the trick three times on this final day.
As I began untangling the string, the kid standing next to me inspected my glove…
…and then asked me for a ball. That annoyed me. First of all, he didn’t even have a glove (which indicated that he wasn’t serious about snagging), and secondly, as a general rule, I never give balls to people who ask. The way I see it, other fans should focus on getting balls from the players and not from…other fans, especially during BP when there are tons of opportunities. Therefore, I politely told the kid that I was not going to give him a ball. Instead I gave him a few pointers to help him snag one on his own, and wouldn’t you know it, less than two minutes later he grabbed a home run ball that landed near him in the seats. I congratulated him and then saw him snag FOUR more balls after that!
Once the Diamondbacks started hitting, I changed into my red D’backs shirt and got Eric Byrnes to toss me my seventh ball of the day in center field. In the following photo, you can see the ball in mid-air against the dark green batter’s eye:
A minute after I got the ball from Byrnes, I saw Tom Gordon walking toward a couple balls on the warning track in right field, so I sprinted around behind the batter’s eye and hurried down to the lower level of the Pepsi Party Porch, and I got him to toss one of the balls to me. Then, back in left field, a home run landed in the fountain. It was time once again for the water device. The four-part photo below shows me getting it ready and swinging it out…
…and here I am reeling it in:
That gave me nine balls on the day, and it didn’t take long for me to reach double digits. Some righty on the D’backs (no idea who) launched a deep line drive toward the seats in left-center. I
bolted through the empty walkway behind the four rows of seats and watched the ball take a series of unlikely bounces. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened so I took a photo later on (which you can see here on the right) to help illustrate this story. Do you see the concrete ridge that extends perpendicular from behind the walkway into the fountain? Somehow, this home run ball ricocheted out of the seats, landed on the ridge (which is only about a foot wide), caromed off the back wall of the fountain, landed back on the ridge, took a couple small bounces, and squeezed back through the railing into the walkway. It wouldn’t have mattered if the ball had fallen into the water because I still would’ve snagged it. In fact, I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to use the water device, but it’s probably just as well that the ball stayed dry. Anyway, yeah, crazy bounces, and I grabbed it.
It was a challenge to keep up with my notes…
…but I had to find moments here and there to keep a list of how I was snagging all my baseballs. Otherwise, I never would’ve remembered. (In the photo above, the guy wearing the long black pants is the one who gave me a hard time about the glove trick the day before. Watch out for him if you plan on using a device at Kauffman Stadium.)
About 10 minutes later, I caught two homers on the fly in the walkway behind the “102” sign in straight-away left field. I’m not sure who hit the first one, but I know that Byrnes hit the second. I caught them back-to-back within a 30-second span, and it had the whole section buzzing, but really there was nothing to it. Both balls came RIGHT to me, and okay, the seats were a bit crowded by that point, but so what? It really doesn’t get any easier than that.
At the end of my previous entry, I mentioned that I saw Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada in Denny’s after the game. Remember? Well, I’d been hoping to get a ball from him for three reasons. First, his last name begins with a zee, which we all know is the best letter. Second, he has an awesome moustache. And third, after reading that New York Times article about him, I became an instant fan. The only trouble is, he’s not the most outgoing person. Over the previous two days, my few ball requests directed his way went ignored, but on this third day, I had an angle. I waited until he was about to pick up a ball in left field, then raced down to the front row and yelled, “Clay!! I saw you in Denny’s last night but didn’t want to bother you!! Any chance you could hook me up with a ball, please?!”
He ignored me, so I waited for him to chase down another ball and then I shouted something similar. It worked. He turned right around and spotted me and flipped it up, and let me tell you, it felt great to have gotten inside his head for a moment.
Toward the end of BP, I had another noteworthy interaction with a Diamondbacks pitcher. This time it was Esmerling Vasquez. At one point, a bit earlier in the day, I’d asked him for a ball in Spanish. He turned around and smiled but didn’t throw me the ball, so I responded with a crude but common curse in Spanish. As soon as he heard that, he whirled back around and looked at me and dropped his jaw in an exaggerated manner as if to say, “I can’t believe you just said that, and I hope you’re joking.” I immediately smiled and made a gesture to indicate that I was only messing around, and he seemed to appreciate my playful attitude. Later on, when the D’backs were close to wrapping up BP, Vasquez jogged over to the warning track in left-center to retrieve a ball. I walked down the steps and got his attention and asked him for it in English.
“In Spanish,” he said so softly that I had to make sure I understood.
“You want me to ask you for the ball in Spanish?”
He nodded, so I made a dramatic request with lots of prayer-like gestures and a few English words sprinkled in. It went something along the lines of: “Por favor, senor, da me la pelota. Solamente una pelota and then I will callate.” The English translation of that ridiculousness is: “Please, Sir, give me the ball. Only one ball and then I will shut up.” That’s pretty much all I know how to say in Spanish. (Well, that and a lot of bad words, courtesy of an all-Dominican baseball camp staff that coached me for three full summers in the early 1990s.) But it worked. Vasquez smiled big and tossed me the ball–my 14th of the day–and that was it for batting practice.
Just before the D’backs left the field, I gave my heavy backpack to Jona and raced to the 3rd base dugout and got some equipment guy to toss me a ball as he was dumping all the balls from the basket to the ball bag. Hot damn. I’d snagged 13 balls at my first game of the series, 14 balls at my second game, and now 15 balls at my last game. BEST. STADIUM. EVER. And finally, it was time to explore it. I’d heard all about the $250 million renovation. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Just as my stadium tour was about to get underway, I ran into Garrett and asked him if he wanted to wander with me. It was 40 minutes ’til game time. There wasn’t anything else to do, so he came along. We started by walking into the spacious tunnel that leads to the dugout concourse…
…and I was very impressed with what I saw at the other end:
I just felt bad that such a nice stadium was so poorly attended, but hey, from a ballhawking perspective, the low attendance was great.
Garrett and I walked through the main concourse behind home plate…
…and headed up to the upper deck. Gorgeous! Look at the concourse:
The whole stadium was clean and spacious, and there was lots of natural light, and best of all it was understated, unlike a certain new ballpark–ahem, in the Bronx–that’s sickeningly grandiose.
We climbed up the steps to the top row of the upper deck, and I took a few photos to make a panorama:
Below are four more photos of the upper deck…
TOP LEFT: The huge “tunnel” that leads from the concourse to the seats. Brilliant stadium design. That’s all I can say about that. No other upper deck, as far as I know, has anything like it. People tend to appreciate light and air and space to move around. Kauffman Stadium delivers it. TOP RIGHT: The open-air portion of the concourse along the RF foul line. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity. BOTTOM RIGHT: The front row. Nice. More simplicity. There’s no reason for an upper deck to have two or three different tiers of seating. BOTTOM LEFT: A chain-link fence at the back of the seats. One word: quaint. All the architects out there can take their fancy facades and shove ’em. I prefer watching baseball in ballparks, not palaces or malls or museums:
I couldn’t stop raving about Kauffman Stadium. Garrett got a kick out of that.
We headed down to the main concourse…
…and made our way around the outfield. Here’s the view from the top of the fountains in right field:
The outfield concourse has an inner and an outer area. (Another great use of space.) The following photo was taken between the two…
…and when I walked into the outer area, I couldn’t believe how much stuff was back there. The following SIX-part photo shows it all, starting on the top left and then going clockwise: 1) A concert stage. 2) Miniature golf. 3) A playground and carousel. 4) Batting cages. 5) A baserunning challenge. 6) A small baseball field.
I loved these kid-friendly attractions because they weren’t in the way. You know what I mean? They were essentially hidden at a far edge of the stadium. I’d been at The New K for two days and didn’t even know that any of that stuff was there, so my point is: it doesn’t interfere with the baseball experience. It’s just there in case people want to go and check it out, but if you’re a true baseball fan and you’re glued to the game and you don’t want to be bothered with anything else, it’s not in your face. Most of the games back there cost a bit of money to play. You have to buy tokens. I’m not even sure where you’d buy them or how much they cost. I didn’t have time to investigate. The game was almost set to begin, so I hurried over to the 3rd base dugout and stopped along the way to take a photo of the cross-aisle that runs through the field level seats:
Anyone can walk through this aisle at any time. It doesn’t matter where your ticketed seat is.
The stadium is so pretty and simple and laid-back. I was in heaven.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a ball tossed to me after the pre-game throwing (I picked the wrong end of the dugout), so I headed to the outfield just in time for the first pitch. I was dying to catch a game home run, and it seemed that my chances here were as good as they’d ever be at any game in any stadium. Look how much room I had out in left field in the top of the first inning:
(Normally the ushers don’t let people stand in that walkway during the game, but they made an exception for me.)
Look how much room I had in right field in the bottom of the first:
OH MY GOD!!! This stadium was built for ballhawks. The only problem was that there was SO much room to run that I ended up running nonstop and got completely sweaty. Embarrassingly sweaty. Just like the day before. Check it out:
I didn’t realize until I saw the photo above that I was still wearing my D’backs cap. I didn’t want to offend the locals (not that anyone cared what I was wearing) so I gave it to Jona and got my Royals cap back from her. Here she is after we switched caps–this is where she sat during the game:
Did you notice all the balls sitting in the gap behind her? Here, have a closer look:
What in the world was going to happen to all those balls?
In the top of the sixth inning, I was hanging out on the RF porch with my new friend, Bob Buck, when Gerardo Parra lined a home run into the bullpen. Naturally I ran over to see what was going to happen to that ball, and to my surprise, no one bothered to pick it up. It just sat on the ground, right in the middle of the bullpen, as various players and employees walked back and forth:
It’s like they were all trying to tease me. The ball sat there for a full inning! I couldn’t leave, and I was worried about missing other opportunities elsewhere.
Finally I shouted at the Royals’ bullpen catcher and got him to toss it up, but he flung it lazily and didn’t really AIM for me, and as a result, the ball sailed five feet to my left. Bob was standing to my left at the time, and he managed to get a hand on it, but there were a bunch of other people also reaching for it, and they all bobbled it, and the ball dropped right down into the aisle at our feet, but I WAS BLOCKED and couldn’t reach it. I’m sure there are some people who would’ve just plowed everyone over in order to grab that ball, but that’s not my style. All I could do was stand there helplessly and watch some gloveless fan snatch it. That really hurt.
In between innings, Bob asked me to sign a ball, and then his wife Kathi took a photo of us:
(Two questions: Do you like my farmer’s tan? And…on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does Bob look like Alec Baldwin?)
In the top of the eighth inning, Eric Byrnes hit a home run into the D’backs bullpen down the LF line. When I ran over to see where it went, an usher told me it had rolled right into the bathroom. Another fan started shouting at Jon Rauch for the ball. Rauch was the closest one to the bathroom, so what did he do? He got up and closed the bathroom door and sat back down. What a guy.
My frustration was mounting. I’d been putting up huge numbers in BP, and I was doing EVERYthing it took to put myself in the perfect position to catch a game home run, but it just wasn’t happening. There was a grand total of three homers hit during this series: none the first day, one the second day (which I nearly snagged even though it landed a full section over from where I’d been standing), and two on this third day, both of which landed in the bullpens. Unreal.
In the middle of the ninth inning, just after I’d changed back into my D’backs gear, an usher came running over and told me that a ball had just landed in the fountain. WHAT?! I hadn’t seen a ball land there. Was he messing with me? I knew that the ball wouldn’t float long, so I didn’t question him. I just ran over and took a look…and sure enough, there was a ball bobbing in the water. I pulled out my device, flung it out, and reeled in the ball on the first shot. Here I am with it:
It was my 16th ball of the day, and I learned later that it was Parra’s warm-up ball. He had thrown it to some fans but his aim was way off and the ball sailed all the way over the section and landed in the water. Bad for the other fans. Good for me. At that point, I was thinking that I still had a chance to get few more balls. Maybe three more? Maybe even FOUR more? Whoa…it occurred to me that I had an outside shot at reaching 20. I’d only snagged that many three times before, so this was a big deal. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, though. Since the D’backs were going to win the game, and since the umpires exit the field on the third base side of the dugout, I figured I could get a ball from the home plate umpire (that would be No. 17), then race back to the home plate end of the dugout and get a ball from one of the players or coaches (that would be No. 18). Maybe I could get one a couple minutes later from the guys coming in from the bullpen? That would be 19. And then…get this…out in that center field gap, there were two balls that were reachable with the glove trick–one on the left side of the gap and another on the right side. I wasn’t sure if I could get away with using the trick after the game ended, but it was something I’d been considering all night. I figured I’d have to wait until security was gone, or wait ’til they weren’t looking…but this was a major league stadium. Someone is ALWAYS looking. (I learned that the hard way on 9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium.) I was getting ahead of myself. First things first. I got into position near the dugout and waited impatiently for the game to end. Final score: Diamondbacks 12, Royals 5. (The Royals are
absolutely terrible, BTW. They have a glorious stadium, but most of their starters wouldn’t even be on the Yankees roster. I don’t like the Yankees. I’m just sayin’. It was like watching college baseball. The defense was indecisive and clumsy. But I digress.) I wasn’t sure who the home plate umpire was. (I learned later it was Dale Scott.) Jona had my bag, and she was waiting for me in the outfield…and in my bag was a complete MLB umpire roster. Damn! And then, to make matters worse, three kids ran down to the spot where the umps were going to walk off the field. I watched as the ump handed balls to all the kids, and then I said, “Hey, Blue, how about a ball for a big kid?” He looked up at me, took one last ball out of his pouch, and flipped it into my glove. Yes!
I raced to the other end of the dugout, just as I had planned, and right after I got there, someone on the team (I think it was Rauch) flung a ball well over my head and deep into the section. Crap. I turned around to see who it had been thrown to, only to realize that the seats were empty! I was trapped in the middle of a row, so I had to climb over the seats. There was one other guy on the aisle who was also running for the ball, and he beat me there easily. That deflated me. Now, even if I somehow managed to get both of those balls out of the gap (which seemed highly unlikely), I’d still fall short of 20.
I headed back through the cross-aisle toward the outfield. A security guard stopped me and told me I had to leave. I told him that I need to meet up with my friends in left-center field, and it was true. Jona, of course, had my backpack, and Garrett was out there too, along with Bob and Kathi. They all wanted to see how this was gonna play out.
My eyes lit up when I approached the left field bullpen. For some reason, the Diamondbacks had left TWO balls sitting on the mound, right below the overhang of the front row of the seats, but how was I going to use the glove trick and not get caught? A groundskeeper appeared out of nowhere and started walking toward the balls. There were a few little kids standing right near me, so I was pretty sure I was screwed. No way the guy was gonna toss one to me. I just knew it, and sure enough, the first ball was tossed up to the kid on my right. Somehow…miraculously…the ball fell short and bounced off a railing and trickled along a little concrete ledge, right toward me, on the center field side of the bullpen. That’s where I was standing. It’s kind of hard to describe, but anyway, I lunged over the railing, and scooped up the ball in the tip of my glove and immediately handed it to the kid. I don’t think I even took it out of my glove. I just reached over and opened the glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. Even though the ball wasn’t intended for me, and even though I didn’t end up keeping it, it still counted. It was my 18th ball of the day. After that happy twist of fate, I really felt like I had a chance, and then another miracle happened: the groundskeeper left the second ball sitting there. The other fans had asked him for it, but he said he couldn’t give it away (sure), so most of them left. It was just me and Jona and Bob and Garrett and Kathi and a couple other people who were still lingering. I moved over to the front row of the overhang and quickly unleashed my glove trick. Way off in center field, I could see a yellow-shirted security guard walking toward me.
“Form a wall!” I yelled at my friends as my glove dangled 15 feet below. “Form a wall and block his view!”
Jona and Bob both moved to the side edge of the bullpen, and they both took photos of me as I went for the ball. In both of the photos below, you can see that I wasn’t even looking down at the ball. Instead I was looking off to the side to keep an eye on the security guard…
…and I managed to pull up the ball when he was less than 50 feet away. Phew! I had my 19th ball of the day. Just one more! I quickly coiled up the string and used my body to shield the glove so the guard wouldn’t even see it, and then he walked us all up the steps to the main concourse in deep left field. Once we all reached the top, the guard just walked off. He didn’t tell us we had to leave. (He just assumed that we would, I suppose.) So we found a bench and sat down and contemplated the next move.
There were still a FEW other fans milling about at that point. Mostly, though, there were just concession workers and seat cleaners passing back and forth. No one stopped to ask us who we were or what we were still doing in the stadium. No one told us to leave. At one point, we noticed a security camera mounted high across the concourse. That made us a bit nervous, but no one ever came out to confront us.
I grabbed an extra Sharpie from my backpack just in case, then left my bag with my friends in the concourse and began my solo mission. I had to go alone. One person was less likely to be seen/caught than five, so they waited, out of sight, as I walked briskly down the steps, proceeded through the walkway behind the seats and headed to the edge of the gap on the left field side of the batter’s eye. I was there. No security in sight. So far, so good. It was showtime…like playing golf. No competition. Just me versus the course. I struggled for a couple minutes with the first ball. Not good. It was a few feet too far out for me to have a straight shot down, and it was also trapped up against a small rock. Still, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get the ball to stick inside the glove. This was the absolute WORST time for a malfunction. I’d used the trick hundreds of times. Why was it giving me a problem now? I had no choice but to raise the glove back up and readjust the rubber band. Maybe it was too loose? That had to be it, so I took a look, and nearly had a panic attack. The rubber band had broken and was dangling off the glove! It’s a good thing it hadn’t fallen into the gap because I stupidly hadn’t brought an extra one with me down into the seats. I had half a dozen bands in my backpack, but as I mentioned, the bag was
with my friends in the concourse. I thought about hurrying back up there, getting a new band, then going back down into the seats, but that seemed insane. It’s like I would’ve been ASKING to get caught, so I took the band and tied the broken ends together. It was my only shot. And then I lowered the glove back down into the gap. Well, it took another minute or so, but then I got the ball to stick inside my glove! Twenty balls (with twenty exclamation points)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought about just getting the hell out of there at that point, but that one last ball was too tempting, so I headed up the few steps, walked quickly behind the batter’s eye, and headed down beside the right field edge of the gap. There it was, my potential 21st ball of the day, sitting there, looking up at me, waiting to be rescued. I hoped that the rubber band would hold…and it did…but once again, the ball was a few feet too far out from the wall, and in my attempt to knock it closer, the Sharpie fell out of my glove. Extra Sharpie! Thank God I’d brought it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob had crept out of the upper concourse, just far enough that he could see me way off in the distance, going for this ball. This was his view:
Did you see me in the photo above? Here’s a closer look:
After another minute (during which I must’ve cursed about 20 times), I managed to snag the ball. Woo! Twenty-one!
Upon my return to the concourse, I posed with balls No. 20 and 21 and felt invincible:
I needed a moment to recover…to just sit there and label my last two balls…to add to my long list of notes…to think about what I wanted to do next. There weren’t any other fans in the ballpark, but there were still a few employees walking around. After a few minutes, we saw an entire group of people in yellow shirts walking out the gate in right field. It was the security guards! They were all leaving!
What to do…
I was thinking about those balls in the gap. There were still ELEVEN balls down in there, and it occurred to me that I might be able to get away with climbing down in there and grabbing them and then running like hell. Meanwhile, it was getting late. Bob and Kathi had to take off, so we said our goodbyes, and then it was just three of us: me, Jona, and the 17-year-old Garrett.
For the past two days, I’d been talking about climbing down into the gap, but it was more of a fantasy than a reality. I had to do TV interviews, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that by getting in trouble, but like I said before, this was my last day. My last night. There was nothing to lose. Well…if I got arrested and thrown in jail, that wouldn’t have been good, but it’s not like I’d be running out onto the field or vandalizing any property. It was just about the balls. And about the charity. And about doing something daring. And about breaking my one-game record! I had managed to snag 28 balls in one day on 4/10/08 at Nationals Park. I didn’t think that record would ever be broken, but now I actually had a chance to do it…and not just squeeze past it by a hair, but actually surpass the 30-ball plateau. If I climbed down into the gap and grabbed all the balls and managed to get away with it, would my record be tainted? Would it have an asterisk? I wasn’t sure, but I knew for a fact that several legendary ballhawks on the west coast, like T.C. and Lee Wilson, had snuck down after games into the gaps behind the outfield walls and grabbed actual game home run balls that they counted in their totals. And I know that some of the all-time great ballhawks in Chicago, especially Moe Mullins, used to climb down into restricted areas of Wrigley Field to do the same thing. I thought about all the balls I’d snagged that I didn’t count for various reasons, and I thought about all the balls that security had prevented me from snagging over the years. I thought about the guard at Shea Stadium, back in the mid-1990s, who would stand on the field, right in front of me in foul territory during BP, and kick the foul grounders away before I had a chance to reach over and scoop them up. I thought about the on-field guard at Yankee Stadium who once jumped up and swatted a ball out of mid-air that a player had thrown to me, simply because he didn’t like me and didn’t want me to catch it. I thought about every single injustice that I had ever experienced inside a major league stadium, and I thought, “Here’s my chance to make up for it.”
But wait, how was I actually going to pull it off? Would I go alone? Would Jona and/or Garrett come with me? Would I need help climbing back out of the gap? How would I carry all the balls? Would I take my backpack? Would I have to climb out with that heavy thing on my back? What about labeling the balls? Would I actually stop and mark each one as I grabbed them? Or would I put them into different pockets and pouches and try to remember which one was which? If I actually managed to climb down there and grab the balls and escape without getting caught, would I then talk about it on my blog? Could I get in trouble after the fact? I had reasons to go for it. I had reasons to chicken out. I had an endless array of questions and–
“I really wish you would just do it already,” said Jona.
I was GOING to do it. I made up my mind. Now I just had to make some quick decisions about how it would all go down. First of all, I decided to turn my shirt inside out. That Mario logo was way too eye-catching. Secondly, we all decided that the three of us would go back down into the seats together. Garrett would toss my backpack down to me after I climbed into the gap and then he’d meet me on the other end and I’d toss it back up. Jona would follow us and film the whole thing. I didn’t know what I would ever do with the footage, but I knew it had to be documented. As for the issue of labeling the balls, I decided that I had to sacrifice that part of my process–that I just had to throw the balls in my bag as quickly as possible and get the hell out, but I knew I had to keep the last ball separate. I needed to know which ball was THE final ball…the record-establishing ball.
And just like that, we were off.
The following images are all screen shots from Jona’s video.
Here I am with Garrett, heading through the walkway at the back of the LF seats. The ground was wet because the fountains were overflowing, presumably on purpose as a way to clean the section:
Here we are heading down the steps next to the gap:
Then I climbed down into the gap:
Garrett tossed me my backpack, and I reached up to catch it:
I hurried to the middle of the gap and picked up the first ball:
Every time I grabbed a ball, I kept counting: twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine! Then thirty. I decided to stick that one in my right front pocket. Then thirty-one. That went in my left front pocket. And finally thirty-two. That went in my back right pocket. If I’d remembered, I could’ve grabbed the Sharpie that had fallen out of my glove 20 minutes earlier, but my mind was elsewhere.
Here I am climbing out of the gap:
There were metal beams on back of the outfield wall, so I stepped on those and hoisted myself up without Garrett’s help. Ahh, to be young and fit! I normally take it for granted, but now I finally appreciated it and realized that when I’m 90 years old, similar shenanigans will be much more difficult.
Jona headed up the steps and hurried behind the batter’s eye to catch up with us…
…and then we walked through the upper porch in right field…
…and headed up the steps…
…and ran like hell through the concourse…
…and made our way out the open gate…
…and walked around to the back of the stadium:
We did it!
I had snagged THIRTY-TWO baseballs!
This was my reaction:
Here I am with Garrett and the 32nd ball:
I hope I don’t get busted for blogging about this after the fact. In my defense, I was doing it for charity, and also, the way I see it, I did the Royals a service. Not only did I risk my own life, free of charge, to climb down in there and clean out the balls so that one of their employees wouldn’t have to do it, but I’ve simultaneously encouraged baseball fans all over the world to visit Kauffman Stadium. No joke. I’ve gotten at least a dozen emails this week from people who’ve told me that after reading my blog entries and seeing my photos of the place, they’re dying to go there.
Don’t you love my logic?
Two of the balls from the gap caught my eye. First (pictured below on the left), there was my 30th ball of the day, which had a really cool series of streak-like markings on it, and second, there was a ball (one of the eight that I didn’t label, pictured below on the right) that was rubbed up and un-scuffed, just as a game-used ball would be:
So the question is: Is it possible that I grabbed a game home run ball and don’t even know it? When I first entered Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, June 16th, there were already half a dozen balls in the gap. Who knows how long they’d been there? Why couldn’t a game home run have landed there? Does anyone know if any players hit homers to dead center field in the days before June 16th? It would be interesting to know, and if the answer is yes, I might need to recruit a forensic scientist to determine if there are woody fibers on the ball that match the fibers on that player’s bat.
My 32nd and final ball of the day was not interesting in comparison to the two pictured above, but obviously it was the most meaningful, and I had to find a special way to photograph it. At first, this was the best I could come up with…
…but then Garrett had an idea. He told me and Jona to get in his car, and he drove around to the other side of the stadium. It was well past midnight by this point. He had to be at work at 6am. Jona and I were exhausted and starving. I was tempted to take a few quick pics of the ball and go back to the hotel, but when I mentioned the option of using the balls to actually spell out the number 32 (aka “balligraphy”), Garrett convinced me to do it.
Here I am, setting them all up in the middle of the road…
…and here’s the fruit of my labor (and of Jona’s patience):
In case you’re wondering, the three balls on the right are in Ziploc bags because those were the balls I fished out of the fountain. They were soaked to the core, so I kept them sealed until I could properly dry them out. And of course there are only 31 balls in the photo because I gave one away.
Thursday, June 18, 2009: wow…
• 32 balls at this game
• 279 balls in 31 games this season = 9 balls per game.
• 600 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 166 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 107 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 47 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4 lifetime games with at least 20 balls (all of which, surprise-surprise, were outside of New York)
• 4,099 total balls
• 110 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.16 pledged per ball
• $773.12 raised at this game!
• $6,740.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
A few final thoughts…
1) It occurred to me that I probably would’ve snagged more than 35 balls if I’d been going for foul balls and third-out balls all night, but I did what I had to do. I was in a home run haven, and I stuck to my game plan, never even contemplating my one-game record until the very end.
2) It also occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever out-snagged my age. You follow? I’m thirty-one years old, and I managed to snag thirty-two balls. I’d have to say it’s pretty rare for anyone to out-snag their age. Think about it. How likely is it that a five-year-old could snag six balls? Not very. How likely is it for anyone to snag 15 or 20 balls? Or 30? Again, not likely. I’d say the only people who have a real shot at out-snagging their age are probably young teenagers. By the time someone is 13 years old, he (or she) is just getting big enough and athletic enough and strategic enough to be able to make some good plays and outsmart the competition. Have YOU ever out-snagged your age? I think we might have a new category here–something ultra-rare, like hitting for the cycle. I wonder if I’ll ever do it again.
3) This blog entry, for those keeping score at home, is 7,714 words and has 83 photographs (if you count the collage pics separately). These too, are records.
I started the day by bowing down to a legend.
Moe Mullins, perhaps the most successful ballhawk of all time, made his way out to Sheffield Avenue nearly two hours before the stadium was going to open. The man has snagged 238 game home runs from major league games, including five grand slams. His lifetime ball total, including everything he’s caught at batting practice and Spring Training, is 5,274. Truly incredible.
Here were are:
Two other very successful ballhawks made their way out to Sheffield as well. There was Ken Vangeloff (first time I’d met him) and Dave Davison (a friend for the last decade). I truly felt like I was in the presence of greatness.
The Cubs started taking BP…
…and I got the attention of one of the players…and got him to toss a ball over the bleachers and onto the street…but he airmailed me…and since there was a car speeding past at that exact moment, I wasn’t able to cut across and race after it.
“Chicago ballhawks don’t beg,” said Dave. (It’s true that he and Moe and the other guys rarely ask the players for balls.)
“I’m a roving ambassador,” I replied, “so doesn’t that give me permission?”
Dave said he was just messing with me, then added, “We’re in mid-season form. It’s either rip or BE ripped.”
Remember when I mentioned last month that I’m working on a new book? One thing I’m in the process of doing for the book is interviewing the all-time greatest ballhawks. Moe is obviously one of them, and he told me he doesn’t really like talking on the phone, so I put away my glove and pulled out my digital voice recorder (yes, I came prepared) and interviewed him, right there on the street, for an hour and two minutes. During that time, three more balls got tossed out onto Sheffield, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve snagged at least one or two of them had I been trying. It was pretty frustrating (and I felt guilty about the charity) but I simply HAD to talk to Moe. That’s actually one of the main reasons I made this trip: doing research for the book.
Because the wind was blowing in from left field, the ballhawks didn’t bother running over to Waveland Avenue (which runs behind the left field edge of the ballpark) when righties were at bat. They just stayed on Sheffield, and Moe didn’t even bother wearing his glove:
Pretty soon it was time for me to go inside so I said goodbye to the ballhawks and headed to the VIP entrance near the right field foul pole. I’d splurged and bought a “bleacher box” ticket for sixty-two dollars. Ouch! (Research for the book. Yes, that’s my excuse.) At Wrigley, you can’t get into the bleachers with a regular ticket, and if you’re in the bleachers, you can’t get into the main part of the stadium. BUT…if you have a bleacher box ticket, you can go everywhere. I figured it was worth doing once. This was the first time I’d ever been in the bleachers at Wrigley, and I wanted to make sure I could explore fully.
I started off by running to left-center because there were a few righties taking turns in the cage. This is what it looked like out there:
Then I ran a couple sections toward the foul pole and noticed that the ballhawks had moved to Waveland:
The bleachers were filling up fast. That’s because it’s general admission out there; everyone arrives early to claim a good seat. In addition to that fact, batting practice was dead. I kept moving back and forth for lefties and righties, but no one hit a ball within 100 feet of me.
When the Reds took the field, I moved over to my exclusive section down the right field foul line:
People with regular bleacher tickets couldn’t get in there, so there was truly NO competition:
By the way, that’s me in the photo above, leaning on the railing and wearing a Reds cap. See those two ladies sitting to my left? I overheard one of them asking the other, “So wait, where’s home plate?” My friend Kelly was right when she said that most of the people in the bleachers don’t know that much about baseball and are really only there to hang out and get drunk.
My first ball of the day was tossed up by Arthur Rhodes (and let me just say that neither team hit a SINGLE ball into the bleacher box section). It rolled onto the grass in front of me while he was still playing catch. I didn’t bother asking for it until he finished throwing and walked over to pick it up. Too easy.
There were still a few Reds playing catch at that point, so I moved into foul territory and got two more balls within the next five minutes. The first was tossed by some guy that I couldn’t recognize–he recognized the fact that I was decked out in Reds gear–and the second was a glove trick masterpiece.
There was a security guard on the field, about 10 feet out from the wall and maybe 15 feet to my left. His job? To stare up into the seats and make sure that people were behaving. I’d heard that the guards at Wrigley did NOT allow fans to use ball-retrieving devices, so I was glad that this ball was right below me. Now…you know how a successful base stealer will study a pitcher’s pick-off move and look for tendencies? How long will he hold the ball? How quick is his move? Will he throw over three times in a row? Stuff like that. Well, I studied the guard in just the same way, and after a couple minutes I discovered his pattern of crowd surveillance. He would look at the batter for a moment (to make sure no one was hitting a line drive at him) and then he’d quickly look back and scan the crowd. Then he’d look back at the batter for about five to ten seconds…and then look back at the crowd. He did this again and again. The first look away was short. The second look away was long. I prepared the rubber band and magic marker and made sure my string wasn’t tangled. I knew I only had one shot, and even then, there was a good chance that the guy would stop me. Quick look at the batter. Quick look back. Long look at the batter…and then BAM…I went for it. Down went the glove. It dropped over the ball. The guard was still staring at the batter. If my band was on too tight or too loose, I was screwed. No second chances. The glove dropped over the ball, and I heard the crowd get excited. I slowly lifted it up, and the ball was inside. I looked at the guard…and then he looked over at me. CRAP!!! My glove was only about five feet off the ground at that point, and the guard immediately ran over to try to grab it. I kept lifting it…six feet…seven feet…and just as he made it over to me, I’d lifted the glove beyond his reach. HAHA!!! He immediately started yelling at me, and I disappeared into the crowd, took off my hat, and returned to the safety of my bleacher box section. I was so happy. I love sticking it to security when they make stupid rules that prevent true fans from taking home an extra baseball or two, especially when it’s for charity!
Late in BP, I got Jay Bruce to toss me my fourth ball of the day. Look how crowded the left field bleachers were at that point:
I moved back into the main part of the stadium at the very end of BP and nearly got Reds bench coach Chris Speier to toss me a ball. His aim was off, and it sailed two feet over my glove. (If I’d been allowed to go right down to the dugout, it would’ve been easy. He would’ve tossed it right to me. But no, thanks to Wrigley’s way-too-strict rules, I had to stay back in the cross-aisle, and since there were other fans crowding around me, Speier didn’t have an easy throw.)
I had about 40 minutes ’til the game was going to begin so I decided to head back to the bleachers and take a bunch of photos. I started by going down this staircase in the grandstand:
(Did you notice my shadow waving at you?)
The next photo was taken from that first staircase. See the ushers (wearing blue) in the distance? They had to re-scan my ticket in order for me to leave or re-enter the bleachers, and then I walked up that staircase near them:
At the top of the staircase, this was the view behind the bleacher box section:
Not a bad spot to run for home run balls, eh?
Down on Sheffield Avenue, people were lining up for one of the rooftops:
Look how much space there is (for home run chasing) behind the bleachers in straight-away right field:
I walked up the steps to the center field bleachers, then turned around and faced the right field foul pole and took the following photo:
Here’s the area in the deepest part of center field, directly under the big scoreboard:
Here’s the view from behind the left field bleachers…
…and here’s the narrow walkway that runs behind it:
I don’t think that walkway would be good for catching home runs. It looks like the people sitting in the last row could easily catch (or deflect) all the balls before they’d reach it.
The area under the bleachers was, in typical Wrigley fashion, a maze of concourses and ramps and beams and chain-link fences.
If you’re standing below the right field bleachers, this is the view to the right…
…and this is the view to the left:
Funky stuff, I tell ya:
Back up in the seats, I noticed that the rooftops were packed:
The entire bleacher area felt like one giant frat party. I’ve never seen so many 20-somethings drinking beer at a baseball game. People were standing everywhere, blocking aisles and ramps…wherever it was possible to see the field, people were there. It was actually kinda nice that security wasn’t policing it and just letting people hang out.
This was my view during the game:
Was it a high-scoring affair with a bunch of homers to my empty section?!
Umm, no, the Cubs got shut out, 3-0, and the only longball was an opposite field shot by the left-handed hitting Jay Bruce in the top of the ninth, by which time I was already sitting here:
What a waste of a great ballhawking opportunity.
At least Ryan Hanigan tossed me a ball down by the dugout after the game.
• 5 balls at this game
• 67 balls in 9 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.
• 578 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 148 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,887 total balls
• 88 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $17.07 pledged per ball
• $85.35 raised at this game
• $1,143.69 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
There are rumors that I stole baseballs from kids, knocked over other fans, and got into an argument with a Chinese lady.
Allow me to set the record straight:
1) I didn’t steal a ball from anyone.
2) Other fans were crashing into ME.
3) The lady was Japanese.
The 2008 Home Run Derby was scheduled to begin at 8:00pm, batting
practice was going to start at 5:30, and Yankee Stadium was set to open at
4:30. What time did I get there? Shortly after 12pm, of course.
I had a ticket for the right-field bleachers (thanks to a friend who
hooked me up), and I’d planned my strategy days in advance. It was
pretty simple–or at least it was supposed to be: Be the first one on
line. Be the first one in. Grab the corner spot near the batter’s eye.
Use my big glove to get attention. Get lots of balls thrown to me.
Well, I *was* the first one on line–in fact I was the only person on line for nearly an hour and a half…
…and that’s when things went awry. But wait. Let’s slow this story
down. The day wasn’t all bad. There were some happy moments before the
First of all, the big glove got lots of attention. Comments/questions
from passersby ranged from “I don’t wanna be sitting behind you” to
“Is that Shaq’s glove?” to “Aren’t you the guy who was on TV and
catches all the balls?” to “Where the **** did you find that thing?” to
“Oh my God that’s HUGE.” (Why…thank you.)
Here’s one of the dozens of random people who asked to try it on:
Robert Harmon (the guy from my Bonds 762 story) stopped by and said hello on his way to Gate 6:
I got interviewed by a local news station and
hung out for a bit with a friend and fellow snagger named Clif (aka
“goislanders4” if you read the comments) whom you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium.
radiation detector.” One of the nearby cops was poised with a portable
By 4pm, there was a crazy-long line that snaked around the stadium:
Someone had held my spot at the front of the line. That’s how I was able to wander and take pics, but by the time I returned, there were several other fans who’d slipped in ahead of me. One of these fans was a Japanese woman I’d met two weeks earlier during BP. I figured she was a regular and that she knew someone else in line, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that she’d cut in. Still, I didn’t really care because there was NO WAY that I was going to let her cut in front of me when the gate actually went up…so I didn’t say anything.
This was when my day started falling apart. (I hope you’re sitting down.)
As soon as the gate went up, one of the security guards gave me a funny look and walked over.
“You can’t bring that inside,” he said, eying my big glove.
“Are you serious?!” I demanded. Why not?!” I was about to ask to speak to his supervisor, and then I noticed that his shirt had the word “SUPERVISOR” on it.
He took a hold of my glove and said, “It’s too big.”
He grabbed another fan’s glove and held it up against mine. “See?” he said. “This is a normal glove. Yours glove is too big.”
“Yeah,” he said and then mimed swinging it around as if it were an ax.
I really didn’t think the Yankees would stoop THIS low, but what could I do? The ticket-takers were activating their scanners and unlocking the turnstiles. The stadium was going to open any minute, and I **HAD** to get the corner spot. Batting practice wasn’t going to begin for another hour, by which time the bleachers would be packed. Snagging a ball wasn’t going to have anything to do with skill or luck. It was going to be all about positioning.
I barely made it back in time, and yes, in case you’re wondering, I’d also brought my regular glove. But get this…when I was finally given the green light to approach the turnstiles, my ticket wouldn’t scan. The scanner kept giving an error message.
“This is no good,” said the ticket-taker.
“The code hasn’t been entered into the system. You need to go to Window 74 and have them take care of this.”
Window 74?! The guy started giving me directions as he reached for the next fan’s ticket. That one wouldn’t scan either. Meanwhile, at least a dozen other fans–including the Japanese woman–filed past me at the next turnstile and hurried into the bleachers. I climbed over a railing, handed my ticket to the other ticket-taker, and successfully got scanned.
By the time I reached the bleachers, the other fans who’d gotten in first had spread out randomly along the railing, except for the Japanese woman. She was standing in the corner spot.
To make a long story short, we argued over who had the right to be there, and she finally moved when another fan (who’d seen that I’d been first in line) took my side. We quickly made peace and even shared a few laughs after she heard me ask for a ball in Japanese. AND…just so you don’t feel bad for her…she and her boyfriend ended up snagging two of their own.
As for me…
There was a lot of time to kill before BP so naturally I played with my camera. This was the view to my left:
This was the view straight ahead:
And this was the view to my right:
Robert took a pic of me from the corner spot in the grandstand:
Finally, after waiting through one of the longest hours of my life, BP got started and bad luck took over. The outfield was crawling with the players’ kids who tossed at least half a dozen balls directly over my head. After 20 minutes, a kid with “RIVERA 42” on his back fired a ball right to me, but I didn’t get it because some cameraman from ESPN who was standing near me on the batter’s eye stuck his hand out at the last second and deflected it elsewhere. (He claimed he did it in self defense, but I’m not so sure.) I seriously couldn’t catch a break, and I was getting a bit nervous because I had no chance to use the glove trick. Every time a ball landed in the gap between the outfield wall and the base of the bleachers, another cameraman went and got it and tossed it up to a cop who handed it to a kid. Good for the kids. Bad for me. I just wanted one ball. ONE BALL so my streak wouldn’t end. Even though this wasn’t an official game, it was still a major league event in a major league stadium so it counted for me.
Finally, just when I was starting to believe that a Higher Power was out to get me, I convinced one of the players’ kids to throw me a ball. As soon as I caught it and looked at it, my heart sank because it was a Futures Game ball. I’d snagged six of them the day before and really didn’t need another. At least that’s how I felt at first, but then it occurred to me that it was actually kinda cool because I’d be able to count this ball in my collection. The Futures Game is a minor league event, so I hadn’t counted any of the balls I snagged that day. But hey, it wasn’t MY fault that one of these balls found its way into the BP bucket (and then into my glove) on the day of the Derby.
Would you believe that the fans behind me (who were trapped in the crowded aisle because they weren’t smart enough to arrive early) started whining after I caught this ONE lousy ball? One guy had the nerve to tell me to get out of the corner spot and give someone else a chance. Was this the first time he’d ever set foot inside a major league stadium? Or was he from Canada? I don’t know what his deal was, but there was no ch
ance I was moving. I simply HAD to snag at least one ball with the Home Run Derby logo on it. If that meant I had to snag 20 more balls before I got one, so be it.
Toward the end of the American League’s batting practice, I shouted at Mariano Rivera (in Spanish) and asked for a ball. He looked up at me and shrugged as if to say he didn’t have one. Then I noticed that he was drinking an ice-cold bottle of water (I could see the condensation) so I asked for that instead by making a drinking motion and shouting “Agua!” He laughed and held up the bottle as if to say, “You want THIS?” I nodded excitedly and made an exaggerated gesture with my shirt to show how hot it was. He kept looking at me and smiling so I kept going with it. I grabbed my throat with my right hand and made a choking gesture, then drooped my eyelids as if I were passing out. To my surprise, he started walking toward me, and when he got within 30 feet, he underhanded the bottle in my direction. It was falling short, so I reached over the railing and extended my glove…and the damn thing tipped off my fingers and dropped into the gap. I flung up my arms in disgust, and he did the same.
Not all hope was lost, however.
I shouted at the cameraman, and when he came over, I pointed out the bottle and asked him to hand it to me.
He looked at the cop for guidance.
“It’s okay,” said the cop. “Mariano Rivera tried to give it to him.”
The cameraman looked totally confused, but once he heard that, he fetched the bottle and tossed it to me. Woo-hoo!!! I truly WAS thirsty and didn’t care that the bottle was two-thirds empty; if Mariano Rivera had cooties, I wanted them.
I chugged the water as the American Leaguers jogged off the field and snagged my second ball of the day 10 minutes later. Some random kid wearing a Rockies cap tossed it to me from the warning track, and I took an elbow to the kidney as I reached straight out to make the catch.
At this point, the people around me seriously started going crazy. There was a skinny little kid with glasses, standing directly behind me, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. He was so intent on pushing his way up to the front that every time I leaned forward (to see where a ball was landing elsewhere in the bleachers) and settled back down from my tip toes, I ended up stepping on HIS toes. He was literally wedging his feet in the space underneath MY feet whenever he had a chance. I don’t know what he was thinking, but when it became clear that he wasn’t going to stop, I turned around and looked him in the eye and told him gently but firmly that it was impolite and dangerous for him to crowd me like that. He said he was sorry, ended up getting a ball from the cop two minutes later, and quickly disappeared. The cop, meanwhile, wasn’t too happy about the fact that I now had two baseballs.
“Ya gotta let the kids get some,” he growled.
“The kids are getting plenty thanks to you,” I said. “They don’t need MY help.”
Now don’t get me wrong…I love it when kids get balls, especially kids who are wearing gloves and making a sincere effort to snag on their own. I often go out of my way to help kids get balls, and I now give away at least one of mine at just about every game I attend. But this
was a different story. I wasn’t about to give away my Futures Game ball, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to part with my second ball. Why? Because it had a Home Run Derby logo on it. That’s why.
Of course the cop didn’t get it. First he asked me to give away a ball, and when I refused, he asked me to move from the corner spot.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he insisted.
I resisted the urge to tell him that the right thing for HIM to do was to mind his own business and consider Weight Watchers. Instead, I calmly explained that I’d gotten to Yankee Stadium an hour and a half earlier than everyone else for the sole purpose of standing in this spot.
“Where are you supposed to be?!” he demanded. “Where’s your ticket?!”
“It doesn’t matter where my seat is,” I said. “This is batting practice. Everyone’s standing wherever they want.”
This prompted the man who’d elbowed me to turn around and shout (in a derisive, sing-songy manner) to everyone behind us: “WHO THINKS HE SHOULD GO?!?!?!” The whole section cheered. “WHO THINKS HE SHOULD STAY?!?!?!” he continued, and the whole section booed.
“That’s it,” said the cop, “you have to go back to your seat.”
“That’s ********,” I said. “You can’t make me move. You can’t make a special rule just for me. I’m not moving unless you make everyone else go back to THEIR seats.”
So he did!
I couldn’t believe it. He actually got on his walkie-talkie and issued a directive to all the other cops, and in less than a minute, EVERYONE was forced to step away from the railing and vacate the aisle and tunnels. People were NOT happy about it, and I don’t blame them. The whole thing was arbitrary and dumb. The cops tried enforcing a rule that simply shouldn’t have been enforced. Some fans (including me) kept lingering in the aisle while pretending to head somewhere else. A few people simply defied orders and stood there anyway, and as you might expect there were some pretty nasty confrontations.
I wandered toward the foul-pole end of the bleachers and took a peek at the grandstand:
Sure enough, the cops over there hadn’t forced anyone back to their seats–a good thing for Robert who technically belonged in the upper deck. Robert told me later that he snagged three balls (all with the Derby logo) and when other people started complaining, he shouted, “I have four grandkids so I’m still one ball short! Do YOU want to give me one?!” People left him alone after that.
I managed to snag one more Derby ball toward the end of BP. I should’ve had two more, but the second one (which was thrown by a teenage kid from about 100 feet away) fell short and tipped off my glove and landed in the gap. Even though he had clearly intended to throw it to me, the cameraman who retrieved it handed it to someone else.
That was it. Three balls. Not great. Not terrible. But if I’d been allowed to bring my big glove inside and stay in the corner spot, I would’ve snagged at least a dozen. I really believe that.
The Derby itself ended up being extremely frustrating. I had a second-row seat and found myself trapped behind a group of fans who jumped up at all the wrong times. Whenever a left-handed batter lifted a routine fly ball in our direction, they were on their feet in no time. But the few times that a right-handed batter hit a home run to right-center, they didn’t move because they weren’t expecting it. When they didn’t move, I couldn’t move. I felt like a caged animal. It sucked.
The highlight of the day (other than not being shut out during BP) was getting to witness the first-round, record-breaking performance by Josh Hamilton. The man hit twenty-eight home runs, including two that traveled more than 500 feet.
During the second half of the Derby, security wasn’t quite as strict about keeping people in their seats, so I escaped from the second row and moved around a bit. I had three very close calls, including a chance to catch one of the coveted gold balls, but I came up short for various reasons. I misjudged one, failed to be blessed with a 36-inch vertical leap on another, and got boxed out on the third. That was the gold ball. Ouch. It was a lazy fly ball (relatively speaking) that barely cleared the railing five feet to my left. The aisle was packed and I couldn’t move. Not even one foot. It’s like I was battling a brick wall.
It pained me to see other fans snag these gold balls, but I took a picture anyway of a guy holding one up:
It also pains me to see this screen shot from ESPN (which someone was kind enough to send my way). It shows a fan directly behind me inspecting a ball that he caught on a fly. This is the one I misjudged, but you have to understand what “misjudged” means in this case. I bolted two steps to my left as the ball exploded off the bat–that’s the direction that it was initially heading–and then when it drifted five feet back to my right, the aisle was too crowded for me to be able t
o drift back with it. If I’d just stayed put, it would’ve been an easy catch, but what can you do? These types of mistakes happen. I know a guy (a legendary Bay Area ballhawk, in fact) who would’ve caught Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run if he hadn’t outsmarted himself by reacting too soon and moving away from the spot where it ultimately landed.
Even though Hamilton put on a home run clinic in the first two rounds, he ended up losing to Justin Morneau in the finals. Everyone was criticizing the rules of the Home Run Derby, saying it wasn’t fair that one guy could hit so many longballs and still lose. But hey, that’s how it goes. If Hamilton had paced himself better, maybe he would’ve had more energy at the end. Or maybe he had plenty of energy and just happened to swing the bat poorly. Let’s not assume that his power outage in the finals was a direct result of his goose-bump-inducing performance in the opening round.
After the Derby was done, I went back to bowling alley and claimed my big glove, and while I was there I took a pic of the three balls I’d snagged:
Robert and I finally made it into the subway at midnight, and we were immediately approached by several fans wearing Minnesota Twins gear. One of them recognized me from TV and asked if I knew how to ask for a ball in Arabic. I told him I didn’t, so he taught me. Ready? It’s short-n-sweet. Here it is, spelled phonetically with the emphasis in CAPS:
For the last syllable, you need to roll the ar. (Did you know that the letter ‘R’ is spelled ‘ar’?) Of course there aren’t any Arabic-speaking major leaguers yet, but boy, when one finally comes around, I’ll be ready.
? 3 balls at this game (or “event” or whatever you want to call it)
? 238 balls in 34 games this season = 7 balls per game.
? 530 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 118 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 2 consecutive Home Run Derbies with at least three balls
? 33 languages in which I can ask for a ball
? 3,515 total balls…moves me past Tris Speaker (3,514) and into fifth place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Stan Musial (3,630). (If you’re wondering why I’m comparing balls to hits, click here.)
Okay, so I’ve shown the front and back of the ticket. See the brown strip on the front, about an inch from the bottom? See how it’s kind of…speckled…as opposed to being one neat/solid color? Well, those speckled marks are actually little particles that are embedded into the glossy strip. On the back of the ticket, I’ve drawn a red arrow to a little blurb that says the following: “To commemorate the final season of the historic ballpark, this ticket contains dirt collected from the field at Yankee Stadium which has been authenticated under the auspices of the MLB Authentication Program.
Cool, huh? (Too bad that program failed miserably on No. 762.)
So yeah, the ticket is a true collector’s item, but I question the photography that was selected for it. First of all, what’s so special about a hot dog and why does the mustard stop short on the north end? Secondly, why does the view of the field show the area behind home plate instead of the unique facade in the outfield? Third, why was the photo of the seat taken while the rest of stadium was empty? (See the little patch of blue near the upper right in that photo? Those are empty seats.) And fourth…taxis? Seriously?! That’s the best design MLB could come up with? I’ll bet the people who designed this ticket haven’t ever BEEN to New York. And while I’m already dissing this, I might as well share my thoughts on the logos for the Futures Game and Home Run Derby. In a word: LAME!!! The 2007 Futures Game ball at least had some artwork, albeit generic, while the 2007 Home Run Derby ball had artwork that was unique to AT&T Park. Why didn’t this year’s Derby ball have a facade or some pinstripes or an image of Monument Park? When will MLB and ESPN finally learn that they need to hire me? I have so many great ideas. If only someone would listen…