This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…
When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:
My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.
Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:
In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.
Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.
My seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.
“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.
“You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.
(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)
Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.
I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:
It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.
But guess what happened next…
Here, let me show you:
That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.
The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:
The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.
In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”
I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…
…and here we are with the balls:
Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.
Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:
I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:
Abe Lincoln was not impressed:
It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:
In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.
Another thing about the photo above…
On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:
This was the result:
He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.
Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…
…and here are the autographs themselves:
Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:
I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:
I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.
Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:
His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).
In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:
Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.
Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to load the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:
Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.
After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…
• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.
• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 180 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 4,343 total balls
• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $454.68 raised at this game
• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
As I was saying, the parking lot…
When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:
That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.
This was the third time I’d ever been to Nationals Park, and it was the third time that something went wrong. This time? I took a wrong turn and got stuck in traffic and missed the first 20 minutes of batting practice. I would’ve missed even more if not for my friend Brandon and girlfriend Jona. They were with me, and when we got close to the stadium, they agreed to park the car (not an easy task in Washington, D.C.) so I could run in and try to make up for lost time. I was totally out of breath by the time I made it to the left field seats, and then when I realized that the left-handed Adam Dunn was taking his cuts, I sprinted around to the right field side. Here’s what it looked like out there:
Thirty seconds after arriving, I got Justin Maxwell to throw me a ball in right-center field. Then I hurried back to the other end of the section and convinced Ron Villone to toss me another…so at least I wasn’t shut out. Ten minutes earlier, while stuck in traffic and biting the crap out of my fingernails, I figured I’d be able to salvage the day and snag a decent amount of balls, but then again, every worst-case scenario still found its way into my head. Anyway, after getting the ball from Villone, I took a peek into the gap behind the outfield wall — just in case — and this is what I saw:
I crouched down in the front row (to avoid drawing extra attention to myself) and set up my glove trick, and within moments I had the ball in my possession. It was my third ball of the day, and they were all training balls:
I hate training balls. They’re cheap and plasticky. It’s no wonder that the worst team in baseball uses them, but hey, I wasn’t about to stop snagging.
A few minutes later, Adam Dunn launched a home run that landed 15 feet to my right and three rows behind me. I was able to grab that ball out of the seats, and then I raced down to the front row as Zack Segovia retrieved a ball from the warning track.
“Hey, Zack!” I shouted. “My name is Zack, too, and I have ID to prove it! Any chance you could toss me a ball, please?!”
I was already reaching for my driver’s license, but he didn’t ask to see it. Instead, he simply smiled and flipped the ball up to me.
My next ball was tossed by Garrett Mock, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if not for a fellow ballhawk named Aaron (aka “districtboy” in the comments section). Aaron happened to get into a conversation with Mock, and I happened to hear him mention my name, so I headed closer to see what was going on.
“You guys talking about me?” I asked.
“This is the guy,” said Aaron, pointing me out to Mock.
Mocked looked over at me and said something like, “So, what’s the deal with your charity?”
That’s when Brandon and Jona showed up and started taking photos of me. (Brandon is a professional photographer and had two cameras with him.) Here’s a shot of Mock looking up:
He and I talked for a couple minutes. I told him all about the charity and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season, and I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge and that I’d raised over $12,000 and that the money was going to be used to provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Mock was interested enough that he asked if I had any additional info. I tossed one of my contact cards down to him, and he tossed a training ball up to me. (That was my sixth ball of the day, and yes, all of them were training balls.) He then thanked me and said he’d try to help out by mentioning the charity to the Nationals’ P.R. people.
I then had my picture taken with Aaron:
(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m on the left.)
My seventh ball of the day was a home run by Mike Morse. I had to climb down over a couple rows while the ball was in mid-air, but I didn’t quite reach the front row in time so the ball tipped off my glove. Luckily, it didn’t ricochet too far away, and since there wasn’t anyone standing near me, I was able to grab it.
Moments later, Segovia tossed another ball into the seats that landed one section away and began trickling down the steps. I raced over and picked it up and immediately realized that the ball had been intended for a kid in the front row, so I opened up my glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. The kid seemed a bit dazed by the whole situation, but his parents were very thankful.
By the time the Mets took the field at 5:30pm, I already had eight balls. I’d been planning to head over to left field at that point, but it was far less crowded in right field so I stayed put.
Someone on the Mets hit a ball that rolled to the wall in right-center. Nelson Figueroa walked over to retrieve it, so I asked him if he “could please toss the ball up.” Figueroa did toss it up, but it fell short and landed back on the warning track.
“Nelson!” I shouted. “Please, one more try!”
Once again, he tossed the ball straight up and it fell just beyond my reach.
Brandon was in left field at that point, and he took a photo that captured the ball in mid air. Check it out:
(Don’t forget that you can click all these photos for a closer look. Also, FYI, I had changed into my blue Mets gear by this point.)
After the second bad throw, I realized that Figueroa was messing with me, so I asked, “Could you please toss the ball up TO ME?!”
“Ohh!” he said with a big grin, “To you?! Sure, why didn’t you say that? Before, you just asked me to ‘toss it up.'” And then, sure enough, he tossed the ball to me. It was my first non-training ball of the day.
Meanwhile, the sun was brutal. It wasn’t directly over home plate, but it was still pretty tough to see:
I was one ball short of double digits, and I ended up getting No. 10 from Brian Stokes. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him just before he threw it…
…and here’s a shot of the ball in mid-air:
I snagged two more balls in the next five minutes. The first was a Mets homer that landed in the wide open area behind the center field wall. It was tossed up to me by some random employee who was hanging out back there. The second was another Mets homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly. I made a lunging catch over the railing in the front row after climbing over two rows of seats, so I felt pretty good. It was redemption for the Mike Morse homer that had tipped off my glove earlier under similar circumstances.
I had 12 balls at that point, which brought my season total to 499. I walked over to Jona at the back of the section and told her that she HAD to get a photo of my next ball.
“Please don’t miss it,” I implored, and as the word “don’t” came out of my mouth, she took the following photo:
She was like, “Yeah yeah, I’ll get a photo,” but that didn’t comfort me. I was about to snag my 500th ball of the season, and I wanted it to be well documented. What made me relax was knowing that one of our three cameras was bound to capture the milestone moment. Here’s a three-part pic that shows Jona (on the left) and me (middle) and Brandon (right):
We were good to go, and then I had my chance…
Bobby Parnell was shagging balls in center field and accidentally let a grounder slip under his glove. The ball rolled back toward the wall and then trickled into the wide open space behind it. I raced over to take a look…
…and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon ran after me (with a baseball glove on his left hand).
Thankfully, there were different guys down in the open space this time, so I didn’t have to worry about being recognized. One of the guys got the ball and then when I asked him for it, he started walking toward me. In the following photo, you can see the guy with the ball in his left hand, and you can also see what that whole area looks like:
The guy’s first throw fell short. That was probably a good thing. It gave Brandon a couple extra seconds to move up against the railing with me. Then the ball was tossed up for a second time. The throw was right on the money, and I reached out for the easy catch:
I caught another home run on the fly soon after. It was hit by a lefty. I have no idea who. It was my 14th ball of the day. It pretty much came right to me.
Then, with batting practice winding down, I ran back to the left field side and got Mets coach Razor Shines to toss me a ball near the foul pole. The arrow in the following photo is pointing at the ball:
I didn’t know it at the time, but when I updated my stats later on, I discovered that this was the 4,000th ball I’d snagged since my consecutive games streak began on September 10, 1993. That’s kind of a random stat, but I think it’s cool. Also…this was the 625th game of my streak, which means I’ve been averaging 6.4 balls per game.
My 16th ball of the day was thrown by Pedro Feliciano. Nothing special there. I was standing near the Mets’ bullpen. He walked over to pick up a ball off the warning track. I asked him for it and expected to get dissed because he’s not exactly the most fan-friendly player in the majors, but to my surprise, he turned and chucked it to me. (So I guess that IS special.)
I wasn’t done…
David Wright launched a home run into the left field bullpen, and the ball happened to settle in the perfect spot for my glove trick. Here’s a shot that Jona took…
…and here’s a shot that Brandon took at that same exact moment from across the stadium:
A nearby Mets fan saw me use the glove trick and responded with a gesture as if to say “We’re not worthy!”
At the very end of batting practice, after all the Mets players and coaches left the field, there was a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole. I ran over and tried using my glove trick to knock it closer, but a groundskeeper wandered out and picked up the ball before I had a chance. I asked him for it, and when he looked up and saw me decked out in Mets gear, he said, “You’re wearing the wrong clothes.” He then pointed to the little kid next to me and tossed him the ball, but guess what? The ball sailed over the kid’s head, and I ended up catching it. I didn’t reach in front of him. I had stepped back so that he’d be able to experience the rush of getting the ball on his own. It was a total accident that the ball found its way into my hands, and I immediately turned it over to the kid.
It was 6:25pm. The game was going to start at 7:05pm. What happened next? Brandon and Jona and I left the stadium (I gave away another ball to a kid on the way out), and we never looked back. This was all part of the plan, but it’s not the end of this blog entry, so keep reading past the stats…
• 18 balls at this game (15 pictured on the right because I gave three of them away)
• 505 balls in 56 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.
• 625 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 179 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 119 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 4,325 total balls
• 126 donors (one more month remaining to make a pledge)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $454.68 raised at this game
• $12,756.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Okay, so, as I was saying, we left the stadium:
We jumped in the car and set out on a 13-mile drive that ended up taking 90 minutes! Traffic in D.C. was a true nightmare, especially for Brandon because he lives for music, and we were on our way to a concert. Isn’t life funny? Less than four hours earlier, I was stressed out of my skull because I was missing batting practice. Now it was Brandon’s turn to freak out about missing Muse play the opening act.
By the time we reached our destination, it was dark:
Can you tell where we were? Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see a small “REDSKINS” sign on the light pole. That’s right, we were at FedEx Field for a huge huge HUGE concert. Traffic outside the stadium (in case you couldn’t tell from the last photo) was insane. I mean, it wrapped all the way around the place and then snaked around endless/temporary barricades in various parking lots that had been set up just for this event. Jona and I agreed to park the car so Brandon could run in and try to catch the first part of the show.
Finally, by like 8:30pm, Jona and I made it into the stadium and met up with Brandon. We walked through a VERY crowded concourse and eventually headed out through one of the tunnels. This was our first glimpse inside the seating bowl — and of the stage:
What the hell?!
Did you ever see anything like that? It reminded me of the huge alien-monsters in “War of the Worlds.” I was almost afraid to go near it, but in fact we were about to go very near.
Are you wondering what concert we went to? Who we went to see? The answer lies at the top of this ticket stub:
I’d never seen them in concert before, but that’s not saying much; I’d only been to a handful of concerts in my life, and they were all small shows, so this was quite an experience.
Want to see where our general admission tickets put us?
Take a look at the FedEx seating chart here on the right (courtesy of StubHub).
See the red section that says “FLOOR GA”?
That’s where we were. It was a huge standing-room-only section right down ON the actual field itself. Well…we weren’t standing on the grass. There was a floor that’d been built for everyone to stand on, but it was still great to be down there. If we’d gotten there earlier, we could’ve rushed right up to the front, but because I’d selfishly insisted on stopping at Nationals Park for batting practice, we had to settle for being about 100 feet away from the main part of the stage.
Here I am in front of the big freaky structure:
Did you notice that I was making “U” and “2” symbols with my hands?
We moved as close as we could just in time for the main part of the show, and then…
U2 was on the stage.
Bono himself was close enough that I could’ve thrown a baseball to him had he asked.
The name of this tour was the “360 Tour” because of the circular stage and venues. The circular video screen was amazing. The lighting was cool. Everything was cool. Here are four different shots I took during the show (with my rinky-dink camera that I smuggled inside). In the photo on the lower left, all the little lights are cell phones that people help up at Bono’s urging:
It was truly an extravaganza. Was it worth leaving Nationals Park early and giving up a guaranteed 20-ball performance? Sure, why not. It was my own stupid wrong turn that cost me the 20 minutes of BP at the beginning, and I kept thinking about that throughout the show. But the show WAS good. I’m not a concert expert, so I don’t even know how to write about it. I only have five U2 songs on my iPod, and I was just glad to hear a few of them. I was bummed, though, that my favorite U2 song wasn’t played, but I wasn’t surprised because no one else in the world seems to know it or like it. It’s called “In a Little While,” and I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. (For the record, I have 139 Beatles songs on my iPod. I gravitate toward older music in general, but what would you expect from someone who didn’t own a cell phone until 2007 and still isn’t on Facebook?) Anyway, for me, this whole concert experience wasn’t about the music. It was just about being there and experiencing it with two great friends and simply witnessing the magnitude of it all.
Here’s some more Bono action:
After the show, when the general admission area began clearing out, we walked up to the edge of the stage:
We couldn’t get any closer than that because of the barricade, which you can see in the photo below. Also in the following photo: three cameramen suspended from some sort of diagonal beam. (The correct terminology is escaping me, but you get the point.) The red arrow is pointing to the cameraman in the middle:
I kept thinking about how many people had to be employed to put on the show and build the stage and how long it took and how much it all cost and how much money U2 makes for each show. If only there were a book called “Watching Concerts Smarter.” I also tried to guess how many people had been in attendance. According to the FexEd Field page on Wikipedia, the stadium holds over 91,000 people. I assume that figure doen’t include the field itself. The seats were basically full except for a few rows at the very top of the upper deck. So how many general admission tickets were sold? Were there over 100,000 people altogether?!
Here’s one final photo of me on the field/floor:
The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way out, mainly because we lingered inside the stadium for about an hour. Then we drove back to our hotel and ate a huge, fattening meal at 1am. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable day.
The Washington Nationals are inept, from top to bottom.
Just had to get that out of the way. I’m so pissed about everything that went down yesterday, so forgive me for the angry nature of this blog entry, but by the time you get to the end of it, I think you’ll agree with the opening line.
Randy Johnson was scheduled to pitch. He entered the day with 299 career wins. This was my chance to see history.
My parents were nice enough to lend me their car. On my way to get it, I picked up a copy of the New York Daily News. I was told that I’d be in it, and I was not happy with the result.
So yeah, I was already p*ssed before I even got in the car, and then on the way down to D.C. (during which I managed to get lost because the roads around D.C. are horrendously marked), some dickwad on an overpass tossed a pebble that hit my car, scared the crap out of me, and cracked the windshield. Not a huge crack. No shards of glass on my lap or anything like that. Just enough to do $500 worth of damage, or whatever the hell it’s gonna cost to replace it.
One of the good things that happened yesterday was that I got to park for free. Gotta give a shout-out to my friend Mike for the hookup, but then of course there were weather issues. Oh sure, it was perfectly hot and sunny when I began exploring the outside the stadium at 3:30pm…
…but less than an hour later–right before the gates were about to open–it started raining:
It was right around that time that I met Nic Skayko–THE MAN who came up with a complex statistical formula to predict the number of baseballs that I’ll snag on any given day. (I wonder if his formula takes into account the fact that I’ve been jinxed by God.)
Well, when the gates opened less than five minutes later, it was officially pouring. Rather than running in to get a look at the field, I took shelter and waited for the rain to subside and then took the following photo:
I headed out to the Red Porch seats in left-center and watched four inept groundskeepers (okay, I didn’t yet know they were inept) head toward the infield:
Two notes about the photo above:
1) The batting cage is set up, which means there WAS going to be batting practice.
2) The red arrow is pointing to a baseball. I know it looks like a grain of salt from here, but take my word for it.
Nationals Park opens two and a half hours early (which is great) but for the first hour, everyone has to stay in the outfield. Foul pole to foul pole. Those are the boundaries. Therefore, as the inept groundskeepers made their way toward the ball, the best I could do was run around to the seats in the straight-away left field and scream my head off. They heard me, and the guy who picked it up pointed toward the seats in foul territory. This was both good and bad…good because he seemed to be indicating that if I headed over there, he’d give me the ball, but bad because I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near him. At least that’s what I was led to believe, but there weren’t any ushers or security guards at the boundaries, and the seats were not roped off (as they are in Philly during the first hour of BP), so I thought, “Well, what the hell, I might as well wander over there, try to get the ball, and worry about the consequences later.” So yeah, I cut right through the seats into foul territory, and I kept looking up at the concourse to see if anyone was angrily waving me back, but the few employees I saw just stared dumbly at me.
From a distance, I saw the inept groundskeeper look at me and hold up the ball (as one does for a batter before feeding a ball into a pitching machine) and place it in the wide front row of seats. No one else was around, so I took my time walking over, then paused for a moment to take a photo of the ball on the wet pavement…
…and finally grabbed it. It was a soggy training ball. (Estimated retail value: 14 cents.) The main part of the logo was very worn…
…but whatever, at least I had a ball.
I headed back to left field and watched with great sorrow as an inept groundskeeper rolled the L-screen off the field:
Then it started pouring again:
I took cover near some random employee doorway and passed the time with Mike and a couple other guys who recognized me.
Then it got sunny, a few Giants came out and started throwing, and the inept grounds crew took the tarp off the field:
Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry began playing catch in the left field corner. Howry was on the foul line, and Affeldt was out in straight-away left field. I positioned myself in foul territory so that I was lined up with them, and as soon at they were done, Affeldt took the ball and looked up into the seats in fair territory to find a worthy recipient. I shouted his name and waved my arms, and thanks to the fact that I was decked out in Giants gear, I got him to throw me the ball from about 100 feet away. I had to reach down and make a back-handed catch. Nothing special, and yet that was my athletic highlight of the day.
Merkin Valdez was still playing catch (with Sergio Romo) at that point, and there were a couple extra balls lying around on the field:
When Valdez finished, he walked over with two balls, handed one to the kid in the photo above with the “55 LINCECUM” shirt, and then placed the second ball in my glove.
It was still an hour and a half before game time, so I figured I’d be able to salvage my day and snag at least a few more balls…but no. Nature didn’t cooperate. The presidential mascots must’ve known what was coming. Look at their dejected body language:
Half an hour later, the inept grounds crew rolled the tarp back out:
And then–you have to read the rest of this line with an English accent–it rained like bloody hell:
The field got completely soaked, and when the rain finally let up, one of the groundskeepers sloshed through the grass and lifted up the edge of the tarp to see if the water had gotten underneath it:
Of course the water got underneath, jackass! You and all your pals are inept!
Twenty minutes later, this was the scene in right field:
Here are a couple inept groundskeepers attempting to fix the swamp otherwise known as the infield:
It was ugly. I didn’t see how the field would possibly be dry enough for a game, but I still kept hoping. I’d been hanging out with Mike the whole time, and when we parted ways (at about 8:15pm), I headed around behind home plate to the 3rd base side. It was there that I ran into (and met for the very first time) a fellow MLBlogger named Todd and his adorable three-year-old son, Tim.
Here we all are:
(Does that shirt make me look fat?)
The rain started up again, of course:
I sat and watched it with Todd and Tim. There was nothing else for us to do.
Even though I was hungry, I held off on buying food. It just wasn’t worth it. The prices were outrageous, and the food wasn’t even that good. At least the one thing I’d gotten earlier wasn’t good. It was a square piece of pepperoni pizza for $8, and it wasn’t big. Major ripoff.
Why had the inept grounds crew taken all that time earlier to get the field ready? But more importantly, why weren’t the stadium operations people making announcements about the status of the game? (Oh yeah, because they’re inept.) Talk about outrageous…it was really disgusting the way they didn’t say ONE thing for three and a half hours and just let everyone sit there. The only info presented to the fans was a generic message on the video boards (you can see part of it several photos up) that said, “Please take cover under the concourse. Severe storms are approaching. We are monitoring the situation & will keep you updated as information becomes available.”
They never updated us. I had to call my friend Brad in San Francisco for updates.
It kept raining. There were waterfalls:
Finally, at like 10pm, the umpires wandered out and inspected the field:
After that? They went back inside. No announcement. Nothing. It was the worst treatment of fans I’ve ever witnessed. Once again, everyone was just left to stand around in the concourse and wonder what the hell to do. Naturally, 90 percent of the fans had left by that point, so I hoping SO BAD that the game would somehow get started. It would’ve been foul ball heaven. I’d splurged and bought a ticket right behind the Giants’ dugout. How cool would it have been to get a third-out ball from Randy Johnson’s 300th win? I was drooling at the opportunity.
By this point I was starving (to the point where my stomach was growling) so I decided to buy some more food. Only problem was…all the concession stands were closed! What the ****!!! You’d think the Nationals would’ve made an announcement along the lines of, “Attention fans, we’re going to close our concession stands in 20 minutes, so if you’d like to purchase any food or beverages, we advise you to do so at this time.” But why even close the stands while the stadium is open? Why not at least leave ONE stand open? Or…if the game was postponed and THAT’S why they closed the stands, then how come there wasn’t an announcement about THAT?! It was shameful. I’m not surprised the Nationals have the worst record in baseball. They deserve it.
Finally the umps came back out and there was a huge conference near home plate, and then as everyone headed off the field, I saw one guy make a gesture as if to indicate, “That’s it.”
Was there an announcement after THAT? Umm…no. All the remaining fans were left standing around for ten more minutes, and then finally, the announcement was made:
“Unplayable field conditions.”
The P.A. announcer said something about fans being able to exchange ticket stubs for future games this season. Yeah, thanks. I don’t want to go to any more Nationals games. The team better refund my money. What a disgrace to baseball.
Of course Randy Johnson won his 300th game today, and I wasn’t there. I thought about getting a cheap hotel and staying overnight, but I had plans the next night back in New York City. Good plans. Very very good plans. I’d say more, but you wouldn’t believe me.
• 3 balls at this “game” (Yeah, it counts as a game in my stats. The balls didn’t just materialize out of thin air, you know?)
• 193 balls in 25 games this season = 7.72 balls per game.
• 594 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 160 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,013 total balls
• 106 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $23.95 pledged per ball
• $71.85 raised at this game
• $4,622.35 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
I knew this was going to be a good day when I bought a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven on the way to Philadelphia and got a 1917 penny in my change:
It also didn’t hurt that my girlfriend Jona was with me; good things tend to happen when she’s around.
When the stadium opened at 4:35pm, I raced inside and briefly had the left field seats to myself:
There weren’t any balls hiding in the flower bed, nor were there any home runs that flew my way, but I did have a chance to use my glove trick when a ball rolled to the wall in left-center field. In the following photo, you can see me way off in the distance, leaning over the railing as I was getting the glove to lower onto the ball:
Ten minutes later, I snagged my second ball of the day–a home run hit by a righty on the Phillies that landed several rows in front of me and began rolling sideways through the seats. Several other fans quickly closed in on it, and I thought I was out of luck, but then the ball kicked back my way just enough for me to lunge and grab it underneath a seat. As I reached for it, my right shoulder happened to bump the back of the seat where a woman, who was also scrambling for the ball, happened to be bracing herself. As a result, one of her fingers happened to get pinched between my shoulder and the seat, and she reacted as if I’d killed her firstborn.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said but she wouldn’t accept my apology. Instead, she proceeded to shake her hand (to exaggerate the pain) for a good 30 seconds while looking around for support from her fellow fans. No one noticed or cared. There was nothing TO notice. It was the most minor incident (if it could even be called that) in the history of baseball-snagging. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she finally realized this and let it go.
Drama aside, things were going well. I’d been in the stadium for about 20 minutes, and I’d snagged two baseballs–a decent pace for reaching double digits, but then my snagging suffered a disastrous interruption. Several stadium employees (one of whom has an arrow pointing to him in the photo below) started combing through the seats and telling all the fans to head back up to the concourse and exit the stadium through the left field gate:
In the 750 (or so) games I’ve attended in my life, I’ve been denied batting practice for a variety of reasons–bad weather, subway delays, fan photo events, policemen vs. firemen softball games, etc.–but what kind of sick joke was this?!
Apparently it wasn’t a joke. I heard rumors of a “bomb scare” as I walked through the concourse and headed toward the gate:
Once all the fans AND employees had been evacuated, the gate was closed behind us.
And then we waited…
So much for this being a good day, I thought.
I stayed close to the gate and kept trying not to look at the clock inside the stadium. I couldn’t help it. It was 5:15pm. Then 5:20. Then 5:30, at which point I knew the Phillies were off the field so I changed into my Braves gear.
“We’ll be opening back up any minute,” said a Phillies official who was brave enough to remain on the inside of the stadium.
Meanwhile, the rumors about the bomb scare were taking shape. Just about everyone, it seemed, was on a cell phone, talking to someone they knew who lived nearby and was watching the live coverage on the news.
I overheard someone talking about “suspicious packages.”
There was half an hour of batting practice remaining. I thought about stepping out of line and walking b
ack to the ticket office and demanding a refund and driving back to New York City…but I decided to wait a little longer, at least until batting practice would be ending. If I wasn’t back inside by then…then screw it.
I overheard someone talking about the suspicious packages being a shipment of hot dogs.
It was 5:50pm.
The Phillies official approached the gate and made an announcement (that only 38 people heard) that all fans who had already been inside the stadium would have to get their tickets re-scanned.
I wondered if that would even work with those stupid scanners, and the official was probably wondering the same thing because he then borrowed a woman’s ticket (without asking her if she’d already been inside) and tested it. Whaddaya know, it worked.
It was 5:55pm when the stadium reopened. I’d missed over an hour of batting practice. I raced back to the left field seats to look for easter eggs–there weren’t any because the employees had already reentered through another gate–and then sprinted around to the right field side, hoping to salvage my day:
I quickly caught a home run on a fly that was hit by a righty on the Braves. Nothing special. It was an uncontested, chest-high, one-handed catch that I made while drifting to my right through the front row in right-center field. When I looked down at the warning track, I saw Jeff Bennett looking back up at me.
“You like that?!” I shouted.
He didn’t respond.
Five minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by Braves “Baseball Systems Operator” Alan Butts. It was totally lucky. I was in the fourth row. Several fans were in the front row. I saw them yelling for a ball and didn’t even know who they were yelling at. All of a sudden, a ball sailed up and flew five feet over their heads and came RIGHT to me. It almost made up for the home run I misjudged and didn’t snag soon after.
I ran over to the Braves’ dugout just before the players and coaches came off the field. I positioned myself behind the home-plate end and waved my arms in the hopes that SOMEone would see me and flip me a ball:
Not only did I get a crappy (though interestingly streaked) training ball from hitting coach Terry Pendleton…
…but I also got a bat from Greg Norton:
Mama mia! This instantly made the whole day worthwhile. The bat wasn’t even cracked, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Norton had just slid it to me across the dugout roof without warning. That’s how I’ve gotten all four of my bats–just dumb luck–and you can see them all (along with some other “bonus items”) on this page on my web site.
I was afraid that stadium security would make me leave the bat with Fan Assistance until after the game (that’s what happened on 9/22/06 at Camden Yards), but no one said a word and I was left in peace to enjoy the delightful essence of pine tar.
I had 3,799 lifetime balls when several Braves began their pre-game throwing along the left field foul line. The seats were practically full by that point (damn the Phillies for being in first place) so I wasn’t able to position myself in a good spot. I had to squeeze against a railing next to two women (who were there for some unknown reason), and when Martin Prado ended up with the ball, my view of him was partially blocked by an usher and a cop who were standing on the warning track. Well, Prado ended up spotting me anyway, and you can see how the whole thing played out in the four-part pic below. Starting on the top left and then going clockwise, I’m a) waving to get Prado’s attention, b) watching and waiting and determining if I’m going to need to jump as his throw sails toward me, c) reaching up as high as I can and making the catch without jumping, and d) holding up the ball and feeling great about life:
Here’s it is–ball No. 3,800:
I can’t really say that Jona and I “snuck” down to the Phillies’ dugout in the top of the 1st inning because that would imply that the ushers were trying to keep us out. Ins
tead, we waltzed down to the dugout and grabbed a couple seats on the end of a row, about eight rows back. Conveniently, Ryan Howard ended up with the ball at the
end of the inning courtesy of Brett Myers, who induced a 1-6-3 double-play groundout from Omar Infante. I was down in the front row before Howard even caught the throw from Jimmy Rollins (and of course I crouched down as I crept there so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view), and I had exactly NO competition as he jogged off the field and tossed me the ball.
Fast-forward seven outs. It was the bottom of the second inning. I was sitting with Jona in a similar spot on the Braves’ side. Jo-Jo Reyes got Chris Coste to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Casey Kotchman took the throw at first base and began jogging toward me. I was wearing my Braves hat and Braves shirt. There were no kids in sight. None of the grown-ups were aware of the snagging opportunity that was about to unfold. It was going to be so easy that I was almost embarrassed. It’s like the ball was guaranteed, and sure enough, Kotchman flipped it right to me.
That was my 8th ball of the day. Not bad.
The field level seats were as crowded as I’d ever seen them, and since our actual seats were way up at the top of the upper deck, there was no place to go. Therefore, we wandered and ate and checked out the view from the party deck (or whatever it’s called) in the deepest part of center field. I’d never been up there, and this is why:
Awful! You can’t even see two of the outfielders, but I guess if you like to drink and you’re willing to think of the deck as a bar with a $10 cover charge where you can kinda see some baseball way off in the distance, then it’s probably a great place to be. Needless to say, Jona and I didn’t stay long. We didn’t need to. The Braves scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 9-3 lead, and by the end of the sixth, thousands of fans had left.
I love it when fans leave early. I love it so much. I love empty seats. I love having space to maneuver. I wish the home team would always get blown out when I’m at a game (with rare exceptions, like if I have a son someday who ends up playing in The Show and I go to watch him at his home ballpark).
Anyway, Jona and I went back to the Braves’ dugout, but this time I picked a different staircase–one section closer to home plate. I figured that if the bottom half of any of the remaining innings ended with a strikeout, I might be able to get the ball from catcher Brian McCann.
Jayson Werth did indeed end the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout, but McCann held onto the ball and took it into the dugout. While I was down in the front row, however, first base coach Glenn Hubbard wanted to toss a ball to the woman directly on my right but before he let it fly, he tried to fake me out by pointing to the left so I’d lunge that way and be unable to interfere. It didn’t work. I kept my eyes on him the whole time and was perfectly aware of the situation. He had no choice but to toss the ball, and when he did, I stepped aside and let the woman catch it. Five seconds later, Hubbard poked his head back out of the dugout and rewarded me with a ball of my own.
Something funny happened in the bottom of the eighth–something I’d never seen at any baseball game. Not on TV. Not in person. Not in Little League. Not in the Major Leagues. Shane Victorino (aka Mr. Feisty) was leading far off third base and, for a moment, not paying attention so Julian Tavarez (aka Mr. Hothead) sprinted off the mound in an attempt to tag him. Victorino made it back to third base safely but must’ve gotten quite a scare because he didn’t notice what was happening until Tavarez was halfway there.
Now, I have no idea who started it…all I can tell you is that Victorino and Tavarez started jawing at each other.
“Gimme the camera!!! Gimme the camera!!!” I yelled at Jona as both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field:
It was never a “brawl.” No one threw punches. No one was ejected. But home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg did issue a warning to both teams. Tavarez then proceeded to strike out pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs to end the inning. This time, McCann tossed me the ball, and as I was reaching up casually to glove it, I sensed that someone was invading my personal space from behind, so I lunged for the ball at the last second, and as I closed my glove around it, a 40-something-year-old fat man lunged at my glove and clawed for the ball and yanked my arm down as he stumbled forward. My shoulder was actually a bit sore after that–luckily Jona is a professional massage therapist–but I held onto the ball and returned to my seat. I realized later that this was a milestone ball; it was Tavarez’s 50th strikeout of the season.
Other highlights from the night included seeing a fan with a pierced neck…
and getting a ball from Kellogg shortly after the Phillies (and Myers, ha-HAAA!!!) lost 10-4.
Oh, and I also got the lineup cards:
…and here are a few photographs of the bat, starting with a shot of Norton’s uniform number written on the end:
Here’s a close-up of his name:
Here’s the pine tar-coated trademark…
…and here’s his name and number on the knob:
As for the bomb scare, THIS is what really happened.
What a day.
? 11 balls at this game
? 528 balls in 69 games this season = 7.6521739 balls per game.
? 565 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 142 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 96 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 39 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 23 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,805 total balls