The worst thing about my dad is that he’s not *really* a baseball fan. He follows the sport by reading about it sporadically in The New York Times sports section, and he’ll watch a few games on TV here and there, but that’s about it. Still, he goes with me to the occasional game, and this was one of them.
As we rode out to Citi Field on the No. 7 train, I showed him the Braves roster that I had printed. The roster didn’t say “Braves” on it, and I hadn’t told him who the Mets were playing.
“Which team is this?” he asked in all seriousness as he began looking at it. Then he spotted Derek Lowe’s name and said, “Is he with Boston? Are we seeing Boston?”
But hey, at least my dad knew that Lowe WAS with Boston at one point…right?
My dad looked at the rest of the roster and pointed out all the other players he had heard of. There were three: Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, and Casey Kotchman (because Casey’s father Tom managed the Boise Hawks when I worked for them in 1995).
Garret Anderson and his 2,377 career hits? Nah.
Then my dad and I made a list of all the major league ballparks he’d been to, and we came up with ten: Shea, Yankee, Fenway, Veterans, Fulton County, Candlestick, Bank One, the new Comiskey, Citizens Bank…and Sportsman’s Park…he thinks. That’s where the St. Louis Browns played in the first half of the 20th century, and he remembers seeing the one-armed Pete Gray.
As our train approached Citi Field, my dad said, “It’s weird for me to be out here and see this. It doesn’t feel like New York.”
(Amen to that.)
One thing that was really cool to see, however, was that the Mets had finally marked the spots in the parking lot where the bases at Shea Stadium used to be. (Big thanks to my friend Gary for giving me a heads-up about this.) Here I am with my dad near home plate…
…and here’s a closer look it:
Here’s first base…
…and here’s where the mound used to be:
It gave me chills to toe the “rubber” and think about the fact that I was standing in the very same place as Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver and Heath Bell and so many other legendary Mets pitchers.
Then, of course, I had to go through the motions of making a full windup and delivery:
We headed back to Citi and my dad noticed the “Fan Walk” bricks:
If he had a brick, he said it would read as follows:
I CAN’T BELIEVE I PAID FOR THIS
His reaction to the stadium itself was simple: “That’s a big mother.”
We took a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and he gave a mixed review.
On Robinson: “Too bad he wasn’t a Met. They borrowed history ’cause they got nothing else.”
On the rotunda itself: “It has a 19th century look and modern look. I like it.”
So there you have it, and if anyone knows about the 19th century…well, my dad isn’t THAT old, but he was born in 1926.
As for batting practice, there was a little more competition than usual because three guys from my blog–Greg, Gary, and Donnie–were all there. Between the four of us, we basically had left field covered, and yet we still managed to stay out of each other’s way for the most part.
My first ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field, and my second ball was a Gary Sheffield homer that rattled around in the seats and caused an all-out scramble. I happened to beat out a guy named Tony for that one. Tony recognized me from this blog, and soon after he asked if we could take a picture together:
My dad and I both had cameras, and he followed me around during BP and snapped a bunch of pics.
My third ball was tossed by pitcher Sean Green in right-center, and then my dad got a photo of me shortly before I snagged ball No. 4. Jose Reyes hit a home run that landed in the Mets’ bullpen, and after waiting patiently at the side railing for about five minutes…
…I got Mike Pelfrey to toss it up.
The Braves took the field (so I changed into my Braves gear) and used my glove trick to pluck two balls off the warning track in left field. Here I am going for the second one:
Omar Infante threw me my 7th ball of the day. I had to lean WAY over the railing for that one, which was a bit scary considering the wall in left field is like half a mile high.
My eighth and final ball of BP was a home run hit by a righty on the Braves. It bounced off some fans’ hands, plopped down into the front row, and I snatched it as other people were about to reach for it. As soon as I looked up, I noticed that there was a little girl standing right in front of me–with a glove!!–so I asked her if she’d gotten a ball yet, and when she said no, I handed it over. Even though I was decked out in Braves gear, everyone in the section cheered like hell, which was nice, and then I explained that I’m not even a Braves fan.
It might sound like BP was hoppin’ but it actually wasn’t that great. I was out of position a few times and missed one or two homers. There were a couple balls sitting against the outfield wall at one point that I somehow didn’t see, so I lost some glove trick opportunities. There was a homer that I jumped as high as I possibly could for, only to have it tip off the VERY end of my glove. I even ran out to right field for about 20 minutes and got nothing there. So…there were dead periods and frustrating moments and stupid mistakes, and yet I *still* came away with eight balls. That just goes to show that any ballpark that opens two and a half hours early is gonna be pretty good.
Greg and Donnie and Gary each got a bunch of balls. Donnie has his own blog, so you can read about his snagging there, and as for the other two guys, I’ll let them leave comments here with the details of how they did…if they want.
For the rest of the day, everywhere I went…there they were. Pre-game throwing? See below. That’s Greg in the orange/gray jacket and Gary with the yellow shirt:
It turned out that no one got the pre-game ball (because Jordan Schafer needs a lesson on how to be fan-friendly).
I wandered with my dad for the first inning, and then we grabbed a couple seats behind the Braves’ dugout. This was our view:
In the middle of the 2nd inning, Braves 1st base coach Glenn Hubbard tossed me the infield warmup ball. Then, after Johan Santana grounded out to end the bottom of the 3rd, Kotchman tossed me the actual game-used ball on his way in. (That one was commemorative.) There was one other fan who made an attempt to catch that ball, and it happened to be a kid with a glove. I asked him if he’d already gotten a ball, and to my surprise he said yes…so I kept it. If he had said no, I would’ve pulled out a non-commemorative BP ball from my backpack and handed that one to him. Anyway, just like that, on what felt like a decent-but-not-all-that-great-snagging-day, I still ended up with double digits.
The great part was simply being with my dad and sharing this experience. The man is FUN, and as an 83-year-old who can move (and even jog) all over the place, he’s a true inspiration, hopefully not just to me but to us all.
• 169 balls in 21 games this season = 8.05 balls per game.
• 590 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 472 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 342 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 3,989 total balls
• 104 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $20.70 pledged per ball
• $207.00 raised at this game
• $3,498.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
On September 12th, I heard from a guy named Charlie Schroeder who produces a show on NPR called “Weekend America.” He’d heard an earlier in-studio interview I did and thought it might be cool to do one at a game–to have a reporter follow me around with a microphone and capture all the sounds of snagging. We picked September 22nd. This was it…
Before I met the reporter from NPR, I had to do another interview with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. He needed to get in touch ASAP. I’d emailed him my cell phone number before I left New York City and told him I’d have time to talk starting at around 3:45 to 4pm when I’d be waiting to enter the stadium. He ended up calling at 3pm. He couldn’t wait. I was three-quarters of the way to Philadelphia. I didn’t want to have to split my attention between the road and the interview so I found a place to pull over (NOT on a major highway) and spent the next 35 minutes answering questions about Giambi and Damon and lots of other snagging-related topics. I was then forced to drive like a maniac and still didn’t make it to the Ashburn Alley gate until 4:16pm–less than 20 minutes before the stadium was going to open.
The reporter from NPR–Tim Jimenez was his name–was nearly a decade younger than me, and as it turned out, he didn’t actually work for NPR. He worked for a local radio station and was hired for the day to do this as a freelance assignment. Unfortunately, he had to stay at his regular job until 4pm and didn’t reach the stadium until 4:45. I’d already snagged two balls by the that point and had a funny exchange with–who else?–Shane Victorino. It all started when I ran into the left field seats, had the ENTIRE section to myself, and had to watch helplessly as a home run sailed five feet over my head and landed on a staircase and bounced all the way back onto the field. Victorino started laughing at me from left-center and shouting about how I should’ve caught it.
“It was too high over my head!” I yelled.
He responded by waving his glove dismissively and turning his back.
“Shane!” I shouted, prompting him to turn around. “Did you see the thing on ESPN about the guy in New York who caught home runs on back to back nights?”
“Yeah!” he shouted.
“Well that was ME, so show some RESPECT!”
“That was YOU?!”
“Yes!” I yelled, pretending to be annoyed that he didn’t recognize me, and then I did my stupid dance.
Victorino cracked up because he realized it really WAS me and then he did the “We’re not worthy” move from “Wayne’s World.” (I can’t find the actual clip from that movie, so here’s a random example from YouTube.)
As for the two balls I snagged early on, the first was a home run that I caught on a fly (which Victorino saw and applauded) and the second was thrown by Scott Eyre near the cameras in center field.
Tim showed up five minutes later. Here he is:
Of course I didn’t snag another ball for the remaining 45 minutes of the Phillies’ portion of batting practice. Still, Tim followed me everywhere and asked questions (that he’d been given), and I tried to make his life easier by talking non-stop. Every time I did ANYthing–even moving up or down a row–I explained my logic. I knew it was better for Charlie to have too much audio than too little.
The Braves took the field at around 5:30pm, and a ball immediately rolled onto the warning track in left-center field:
I had to lean forward just to take this photograph; I had to stretch all the way across the flower bed (and try to avoid the bird poop) to actually snag it with my glove trick. Tim, meanwhile, had his microphone in my face and was asking me to describe what I was doing.
“It’s kinda hard to talk and do this at the same time,” I huffed while supporting all the weight of my upper body on my elbows, which were now digging into the metal railing. (I really couldn’t talk, and I hoped that by saying that, I was providing an entertaining sound bite.)
I reeled the ball in. All the fans around me cheered. I hoped that Tim’s microphone captured them. But mainly, I was just glad to have snagged my 499th ball of the season.
Several other balls were sitting on the warning track, so I had an instant shot at No. 500, but as soon as I started lowering my glove, Will Ohman raced over and grabbed all the balls and fired them back toward the bucket in shallow center field. I wasn’t mad. Ohman has always been nice, and it just seemed like he was being playful.
Sure enough, less than five minutes later as the Braves pitchers were finishing their throwing, Ohman spotted me along the left field foul line and tossed me a ball–number five hundred:
It was just a regular ball–no interesting markings as you can see–and it came from a player that isn’t exactly heading for the Hall of Fame, but it’s still one of the most special balls I’ve ever snagged.
I jogged to the right field seats and Tim followed–that is, until I took off running for a home run that was heading one-and-a-half sections to my left. I raced through an entire 20-something-seat row and realized that the ball was going to sail a bit over my head, so I darted up a few steps and then cut across, two rows above where I’d been running seconds earlier. Several other hands reached up as the ball came down…right to me…right into the pocket of my glove while I was still on the run. It was a MUCH better play than either of the two home runs I’d caught at Yankee Stadium the week before, and yet no one (outside of this blog) will ever hear about it or care. That’s how it goes.
I used the glove trick to pluck my sixth ball of the day off the warning track, and before I’d reeled it all the way back up, a not-too-happy security guard was standing behind me. He confiscated the ball (it still counts in my collection so whatever) on the grounds that I was “stealing.” He then cut the string off my glove…
…and threatened to eject me if he EVER saw me do it again. (Why is it that Giants management doesn’t consider it “stealing” and welcomes fans to bring ball-retrieving devices into AT&T Park and yet this one mean dude in Philly has a problem with it? I guess I shouldn’t complain. The fact that every ballpark is different is one of the many things that makes baseball as great as it is. It’d just be nice if security in all the ballparks were a little more fan-friendly.)
Every time I go to Citizens Bank Park, my goal is to snag at least ten balls. As I’ve said many times in the past, there’s just something great about breaking double digits–but it didn’t look promising on this day when I finished BP with six. Still, I had a plan. All I needed to do was snag one ball during pre-game throwing, one third-out ball at each team’s dugout during the game, and one more ball after the game. Could it be done?
Check. Omar Infante hooked me up by intentionally bouncing his toss off the warning track.
Check, check. Like clockwork, Ryan Howard tossed me the first ball after the top of the second inning. Braves catcher Clint Sammons had popped up to him (notice the big smudge where the bat hit it) and he lobbed it to me on his way in. Then, half an inning later, on the other side of the field, Casey Kotchman threw me the second ball after Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ made the third out by hitting a wimpy grounder to Kelly Johnson. How nice. (Actually, the ball from Kotchman WAS nice. I’d always wanted one from him because his father, Tom, was the manager of the Class A Short-Season Boise Hawks when I worked for the team during the summer of 1995. Little 12-year-old Casey was often hanging around the ballpark, and whenever he took BP [on the field, after games, which I had to help set up and clean up as a part-time member of the grounds crew], everyone would rave about his beautiful swing and how he was going to be a great player someday. So yeah, it was cool to finally get to add him to my list.)
By this point, Tim had gotten all the audio he needed, so we parted ways. As for me…I still needed one more ball to reach double digits, and although I knew it would’ve been easy to get it between innings, I abandoned the dugouts. Quite simply, it was time to move on. I hadn’t felt guilty when I snagged balls there early in the game, but after a while there were lots of kids running down to the front row after every third out, and I wanted to give them a chance.
I spent the middle innings in left-center field, hoping for a home run to fly my way. This was my view:
It was boring. I didn’t like my chances. And I really wanted to WATCH the game (imagine that) so after the seventh-inning stretch, I moved to the seats behind the Braves’ dugout. It was “rally towel” night, or whatever the hell those obnoxious snot-rags are called:
I didn’t even bother running down to the dugout for third-out balls. I didn’t want to get yelled at. I just watched the game and rooted for the Braves and after they lost (6-2 was the final score), I tried to get a ball from the ump (and failed) but did get Buddy Carlyle to throw me my 10th ball of the day as he walked across the field from the bullpen. Woo!
Then I approached the family of the youngest kid (with a glove) I could find and asked if he’d gotten a ball. When they all said no, I handed him the second cleanest ball I’d snagged that day. The cleanest happened to be my 500th; there was no way I was giving THAT one up.
? 10 balls at this game
? 506 balls in 67 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
? 563 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 141 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 94 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 38 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 21 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,783 total balls
(FYI, the “Weekend America” segment won’t air until the World Series.)