Major League Baseball in Puerto Rico?
The Mets and Marlins moved a three-game series to Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, and I made the trip from New York City to be there:
Yeah, I was a bit excited. It was my first time at this stadium, and as you might expect, I took a ton of photos. (For some reason, when the Expos played a bunch of games here in 2003 and 2004, I neglected to take advantage.)
Let’s start with the Hiram Bithorn statue:
Did you know that there was a guy named Hiram Bithorn? I wasn’t aware of that until I booked this trip and did a little research. Bithorn, born in 1916, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Check out all the info about him on the statue’s plaque:
In 1943, the dude went 18-12 with seven shutouts and a 2.60 ERA. That’s pretty impressive, and THAT is how you get a stadium named after you.
It was only 3pm. The gates weren’t going to open for another two hours, so I had plenty of time to wander.
Here’s the area with all the media/TV trucks:
Look at the slanted light towers:
Here’s a close-up of the trucks:
Here’s my first glimpse of the scoreboard inside the stadium:
In the four-part photo below (starting on the top left and then going clockwise), you can see 1) the area beyond the right field corner of the stadium, 2) lawnmowers parked in the parking lot and Roberto Clemente Stadium in the distance, 3) the edge of the grandstand on the first base side, and 4) the road that curves around from right field to left field:
While walking along that road, I saw an open gate:
It was some sort of employee entrance. This is what I saw through the bars:
It was the back of the right field bleachers. I had a bleacher ticket. I didn’t know if I’d be allowed to move back and forth from right to left field, but it looked promising. I also didn’t know if there’d be batting practice. It had just been pouring for 20 minutes, and there was still thunder and lightning in the area.
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the road behind the right field edge of the stadium, 2) a Puerto Rican stop sign, 3) a view of the stadium from deeeeeeep center field, and 4) another gate of some sort:
I was so confused.
Nothing was marked, few people spoke English, and let me tell you, I was in heaven. It’s like I was discovering a new way to watch baseball.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium is the largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico, and it only holds about 20,000 fans. There’s no upper deck. No club level. No standing-room sections. No cup holders. No flat-screen TVs. No waiter service. It’s incredibly simple, and yes, also dumpy and run-down, but that’s what makes it nice. It’s the opposite of the new Yankee Stadium. It’s unrefined, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I like unrefined. I like it when puddles don’t drain. I like it when garbage cans overflow. That’s real life. You know what I mean? Take Target Field, for example. That stadium is an architectural marvel, but it’s almost too perfect. When I was there last month, it kinda felt like I was in a modern art museum.
But let’s get back to Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Look at all this clutter sitting around just inside the random gate:
Is that a beautiful sight or what? I’m totally serious. It was great to experience Major League Baseball in a facility where every inch of space wasn’t being micromanaged.
Here’s another four-part photo that shows 1) the area outside the left field corner of the stadium, 2) police guarding an employee entrance along the left field foul line, 3) the view as I cut across toward the 3rd base line, and 4) the walkway that leads to the main entrance.
This is what the gates look like…
…and here’s a sneak-peek at the concourse inside:
The sun finally came out. I ran across the street to use a bathroom inside a gigantic mall and took this photo of the stadium on the way back:
The stadium was jumping at that point. There were food tents and vendors and DJ booths and promoters aggressively handing out thunder sticks. The whole place had a carnival-like atmosphere. Look how crowded it was:
Luckily, there was a special someone holding a spot for me near the front of the line:
I’m talking about my girlfriend Jona, pictured above in the white shirt and torn jeans. Unfortunately, we were in line at the wrong spot. We couldn’t enter the main part of the stadium with bleacher tickets, so at the last second, we had to get out of line and head halfway around the stadium, and by the time we got inside, we’d missed a few minutes of batting practice. But hey, at least there WAS batting practice. The Mets were on the field, and before I had a chance to blink, a right-handed batter crushed a home run to the back of the bleachers. I raced up the steps and grabbed the ball after lunging over a railing.
Mission accomplished! It was the 48th “major league” stadium at which I’d snagged at least one ball. I wouldn’t have counted Hiram Bithorn on my list if I’d snagged baseballs at a Puerto Rico Baseball League game or even at the World Baseball Classic, but this was different. I was here for an actual regular-season major league game. If the wins and losses and stats were gonna count for the teams and players, then it was only fair that the balls would count in my collection.
After getting that first ball, I took a few photos of the glorious bleacher configuration. Look at the cross-aisle in front…
…and check out the gap behind the outfield wall:
I got one of the Mets’ strength/conditioning coaches to toss me a ball near the left field foul pole, and then things slowed way down. The bleachers were general admission, so everyone showed up early to claim a good spot, and as a result, the whole section got crowded fast. There just wasn’t much room to run. Batting practice was a major struggle. The expression on my face tells the whole story:
(That’s me in the Mets gear.) Here’s a closer look:
Finally, after 20 minutes of frustration, I got my third ball of the day from Bobby Parnell. The fact that I spoke perfect, accent-free English probably helped convince him to hook me up. There were very few people from the States. I’d say 99 percent of the fans were Latino/Puerto Rican. Although there’s no telling what kind of effect that had on my ability to snag baseballs, it’s an interesting factor to consider.
Left field was dead, so I decided to see if I could move to the right field side. Naturally, I took some photos along the way.
First, here’s the staircase that leads up into the left field bleachers:
Here’s the view to the left:
See all those people walking toward the batter’s eye in center field?
(Oh yeah, baby…)
Not only was I free to roam between left and right field, but there was a TON of open space in between. Check it out:
Here’s one more photo to show you what I’m talking about. I took it behind the wall in center field.
I couldn’t decide where to go. The opportunities — the ball-snagging potential — was truly mind-boggling.
All of a sudden, I saw a ball fly over the wall in right-center and drop down into the gap in front of the bleachers. Was I allowed to chase after it? I had no idea what the rules were, so I raced over…and this is what I saw:
The photo above is blurry because I was running full speed when I took it, but anyway, yeah, I was totally allowed to run under the bleachers. The ball was just sitting there, waiting for me. My first three balls of the day were regular MLB balls; this one was a training ball. It was all muddy, so I kept it in my hand as I headed back into the left field bleachers. When I got there, a female security supervisor (who’d seen me get a ball earlier) asked me if I could spare the ball. She told me there was a kid who was crying because someone else had taken a ball from him.
“Where’s the kid?” I asked, expecting to see a five-year-old.
“Over there,” she said, pointing to a teenaged boy curled up with his face in his mother’s lap.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “He’s too big to be crying.” I was going to tell her that there’s no crying in baseball, but I didn’t know if she’d get it. Anyway, it was no laughing matter, so I handed her the ball so that she could be the one to give it to the boy.
Well, the kid was thrilled, his entire family was thrilled, and the supervisor loved me after that and took good care of me for the rest of the series.
That was it for batting practice. The Mets finished hitting at 5:50pm — half an hour earlier than I expected — and I was stuck in the bleachers. There wasn’t anything to do. There wasn’t anything to photograph. So I just sat there with Jona and waited for the game to start.
This was our terrible view…
…but it was worth it because I had lots of room to run through the aisle on either side.
Do you remember my previous blog entry? I said I was going to be wearing my “Where’s Waldo” shirt in order to make it easier for people to spot me on TV. (I brought four shirts to this game.) That’s all. just wanted to remind you of that fact.
Before the top of the 2nd inning got underway, Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan threw his warm-up ball into the bleachers. He hadn’t aimed for anyone in particular. It was just a random toss. It happened to come right to me, but it was several feet over my head, so I jumped as high as I could…
…and came down with it. (Jona’s camera could not contain me!)
With no outs in the top of the 5th inning, Jason Bay smoked a 1-1 pitch from Ricky Nolasco down the left field line. The ball hooked foul and rattled around in the corner, and by the time Coghlan jogged over to retrieve it, I had already bolted through the aisle so that I was standing right behind him. Once again, he randomly flipped the ball up into the crowd, and wouldn’t you know it, I was able to grab this one as well. But this wasn’t any ordinary ball. Have a look:
Oh yes, my friends, that’s right. MLB and Rawlings International had designed a special commemorative logo for this series. Here’s a closer look:
I had heard from one of my contacts at MLB that these special balls were only going to be used during games — not during BP. He actually offered to send one to me before I went on this trip, but I didn’t take him up on it.
“Let me see if I can snag one on my own first,” I said.
And…voila! Another mission had been accomplished. At that point, the only thing left for me to achieve was catching a game home run, and if ever there was a time to do it, this was it.
Of the 18 players in the game, 14 were batting from the right side, and yet the first four home runs of the night went to right field. It was tempting to run over there, but I decided to hold my ground in straight-away left.
With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, I pulled out my camera and took the following photo:
There were two runners on base, and Mike Stanton was batting, but I wasn’t thinking about that. Mainly, I just wanted a photo that captured the simplicity of the scoreboard. There was no pitch count. There were no stats other than his .203 batting average. It didn’t even say what he’d done earlier in the game.
The count was 1-1, and the next pitch was a strike.
No big deal.
I took another photo to capture all the room I had on my left:
“What a waste,” I thought, “that there haven’t been any homers hit to left field.”
On the very next pitch, Stanton cranked a deep fly ball in my direction.
“HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!! HOLD THIS!!!” I yelled at Jona, reaching to my right to hand the camera to her.
From the second the ball left Stanton’s bat, I knew it was coming to me. I mean right to me. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. And I also knew I was going to catch it. It was as simple as that.
Here are a few screen shots from the TV broadcast to show you how it played out. First, you can see Jason Bay running back toward the wall. Note the “Waldo” stripes directly behind him:
In the screen shot above, approximately five feet to the left of where I was standing, you can see a fan wearing a white shirt with red sleeves. He ended up drifting over, and he nearly cost me the ball. Look how close he was when I reached up for it:
Like I said, the ball was coming RIGHT toward me. I wasn’t going to have to jump or lean out over the railing. All I had to do was reach up for it, but this other guy (who was not wearing a glove) was reaching up, too. His hands were right in front of my face, and I knew that it was gonna be a battle to see who could reach the furthest.
Here’s a closer look at the screen shot above. I’ve drawn two little red dots over his hands, and I’ve drawn an arrow to show you the ball going into my glove:
That should illustrate just how close he came to getting a piece of the ball. I had tried to box him out (simply by holding my ground), but he managed to reach in front of me at the last second. Still, I think my effort to block him made a slight difference, and as a result, the ball cleared his left hand by about four inches.
I had the ball!!!
Here’s a closer look at my reaction:
(Unfortunately, you can’t see Jona in any of these screen shots, but she saw me. In fact, it was the first game home run that she’d ever seen me catch on the fly.)
Half the fans were really happy for me, and I got a few high fives:
The other half were p*ssed because it was the third ball I’d snagged during the game, and get this: three minutes later, before the top of the 9th started, I got another. Coghlan threw another warm-up ball into the crowd. It sailed about five feet over my head, but because all the fans reached for it at once, they all booted it, and the ball dropped right down to me. There was a huge crowd in the aisle, going for the rebound, but I managed to stick out my glove and catch it before it hit the ground.
I immediately handed the ball to the smallest kid with a glove, and then I reached into my backpack and pulled out another ball and gave that one away, too. Everyone started cheering and shaking my hand. A bunch of parents asked if they could take photos of me with their kids. It was nuts, Here I am with the two kids that received baseballs:
After the game (which the Marlins won, 10-3), I got more high-fives and handshakes. Several people asked me to sign autographs:
Did I mention that it was nuts? Everyone wanted to stop and talk. (One man said, “Everybody is famous for one day. Today is your day.”) It’s like I was their good luck charm — as if touching me or connecting with me was going to bring them fortune. I’ve never experienced fans reacting like that before. iViva Puerto Rico!
Everyone was energized, it seemed. Outside the stadium, the vendors were still selling food, the DJs were still blasting music, and people were dancing just about everywhere:
This was probably the most unusual major league game I’ve ever attended, and I’m not talking about the action on the field. There had been fans with air horns and vuvuzelas inside the stadium. There’d been people playing drums and singing and chanting. It was so happy and festive and joyous and just…I don’t know…raw…and stadium security didn’t really give a damn about anything.
Before Jona and I headed back to the hotel, I met up with two guys who’d been reading this blog and got in touch to tell me they’d be here. These guys didn’t know each other. One was from San Juan. The other was from Michigan. Here I am with them:
The guy on the left is named Gustavo. (Unlike this Gustavo, he’s incredibly friendly.) He had actually gotten in touch two years ago and sent me one of the longest/nicest emails I’ve ever received. You can read that email on this page on my web site. Just search for “Gustavo” or scroll down to September 14, 2008, and you’ll see it. The guy on the right is named Mike. He had contacted me a few weeks earlier, and he was really cool, too. He’s been to 46 major league stadiums.
One last thing…
There are lots of highlights of the Mike Stanton homer, but thanks to a friend in New York who taped the game, I got a hold of the best footage of all. It’s a one-minute clip from SNY, the Mets’ cable network. The file (.mov format) is 15MB, so you might need to give it a minute to load. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Mets’ announcers, the two guys talking about me at the end are Gary Cohen and former major leaguer Ron Darling. Enjoy…
• 8 balls at this game (5 pictured on the right because I gave three away)
• 176 balls in 17 games this season = 10.4 balls per game.
• 646 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 196 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 48 different major league stadiums with at least one ball
• 13 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups); click here for the complete list.
• 6 different stadiums with a game home run (Old Yankee, PETCO, Shea, Camden, New Yankee, and Hiram Bithorn)
• 4,534 total balls
• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)
• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $43.28 raised at this game
• $952.16 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
UPDATE: My home run catch was written up on MyGameBalls.com. Click here to read the story.
This wasn’t just another game. Not only was it the National League Division Series — Cardinals vs. Dodgers — but there was something extra special about it for me: it was the day before my appearance on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” and I was going to be filmed by a roving camera crew.
Half an hour before the gates opened, I headed to the Top Deck and picked up my media credential:
I headed down to the left field pavilion and met up with the crew along the way. Here I am explaining my various T-shirts to the camera:
Once inside the stadium, my job was simple: snag as many balls as possible so that there’d be some exciting footage for the show.
In the photo below (taken by my girlfriend Jona), I’m the guy wearing the “RAMIREZ 99” shirt:
There wasn’t much action early on — I had a couple close calls — so I spent most of my time explaining things to the camera.
Finally, after 15 minutes of nothingness, Manny Ramirez launched a home run over my head and I raced up the steps:
There was an all-out scramble for the ball as it rattled around underneath the benches, and I managed to come up with it. Huge relief. Up until that point, I felt like I was personally letting down Conan — like I was a ballhawk fraud who’d made preposterous claims and then failed to back them up.
Several minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double behind the left field wall…and that was it for the Dodgers’ portion of BP. Not good. I’d been hoping to pad my numbers early on before it got crowded, but at least both of the balls had a Dodgertown stamp on the sweet spot. (If you want to see my complete collection of stamped/marked balls, click here.)
Because of my media credential, I was able to exit the pavilion and re-enter the main part of the stadium. My plan? To get some balls from the Cardinals on the right field side. First, of course, I changed into my bright red Cardinals gear, and even though my Dodgers shirt was poking out underneath, I was able to convince Ryan Franklin to toss me a ball. If you look closely at the photo below, you can barely see the edge of the ball as it disappeared into the pocket of my glove:
Soon after, Matt Pagnozzi threw me my fourth ball of the day. Here I am preparing for the easy two-handed catch:
I headed to the right field pavilion after that and snagged a home run that ricocheted down into the gap behind the wall. (I’m not sure who hit it.) Then, when Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday started taking their cuts, I raced back around to the left field side and positioned myself deep in the cross-aisle, more than 400 feet from home plate. Holiday hit two consecutive bombs that reached the aisle. I bolted to my right for the first one, but it sailed over my head and was promptly snatched by another fan. The second homer came closer to me, and I was able to climb over a few benches and reach out over the bullpen for a back-handed catch. The whole section booed me because of my clothing, so I lifted up my Cardinals shirt and revealed my Dodger Blue underneath. Some people laughed, some people cheered, some people continued booing, and some people were like, “Huh?” It was pretty funny.
I played the staircases for the rest of BP…
…but nothing else came my way.
Right before the game started, I headed back into the main part of the stadium and got Mark DeRosa to toss me his warm-up ball behind the 1st base dugout.
Then Slash performed the national anthem…
…and I headed back outside the stadium once again. It was time to change into my Waldo shirt:
In my previous entry I mentioned I was going to wear it, not because it’s sexy but because I knew it’d be easier for people to spot me in the crowd. The only problem was…I was never IN the crowd. I spent the first few innings halfway down a staircase behind the left field wall, and then when security told me I couldn’t stand there, I moved to the very bottom. That really sucked because it meant I couldn’t even see the game. All I could do was look up at the sky and hope that I’d be able to see the baseballs coming toward me. In the bottom of the 4th, I came *really* close to snagging Andre Ethier’s home run, but it took a bad bounce after it cleared the wall and ricocheted right to the ONE other guy who’d raced down a different staircase. That also really sucked, but at least I got to hang out with Manny:
The guy in the photo above is named Jose (aka “Mannywood” and “Jose Being Manny” and he told me that he sometimes refers to himself as “The Mexican Zack Hample”). You can see more photos of him on MySpace and MyGameBalls.com. He’s a super-cool guy, and he always hangs out in the left field pavilion.
The game itself was DAMN exciting, but it didn’t end the way I wanted. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, James Loney hit a line drive right at Holliday in left field. All Holliday had to do was catch it, and the game would’ve been over. The Cardinals would’ve evened up the series at one game apiece. But Holliday failed to make the catch. He said later that he never even saw the ball, and I believe him. As he charged in toward it, it nailed him in the stomach. Casey Blake then drew a nine-pitch walk and Ronnie Belliard followed by ripping the first pitch he saw into center field for a game-tying single. Everyone in the stadium was going nuts, but for different reasons; the other 51,818 fans were simply cheering on their beloved Dodgers. I, however, was ecstatic because it meant the game might go into extra innings, which meant I might get another chance to catch a home run. Russell Martin walked to load the bases, and then Mark Loretta ruined everything with a game-winning single.
Final score: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.
After the game, the camera crew got a final shot of me holding up all seven of my baseballs. Once they took off, I gave away two of the balls to kids and then got a friend to take my picture with Jona:
Good times. Playoff baseball is intense.
• 3 ticket stubs collected at this game (pictured below the balls)
• 532 balls in 59 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.
• 628 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 181 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,352 total balls
• 126 donors (click here to make a pledge…or just to learn more)
• $25.26 pledged per ball
• $176.82 raised at this game
• $13,438.32 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One last thing…
The best article EVER written about me was published yesterday on ESPN.com. Here’s the graphic that was originally up on the site…
Next game for me?
Remember that Nolan Ryan statue giveaway that I complained about in my previous entry? Well, I ended up using it to my advantage. I brought the statue with me to this game…
…and gave it to one of the season ticket holders. In exchange, he brought me into the stadium as his guest when the special “season ticket holders” entrance opened two and a half hours early. I was pumped! The rain had held off. I was gonna have a huge head start on the competition. Double digits would finally be mine. I could FEEL it.
But then I ran inside and saw this:
The cage was set up for batting practice, but the Rangers weren’t hitting. I don’t think I need to describe how frustrating that was.
I used the downtime to photograph the amazingly wide tunnel on the right field foul line:
Here’s another look at it from the seats:
Just before the gates had opened, I met a guy named Dan (aka “drosenda” in the comments) who’s been reading this blog since 2005. He and I ended up hanging out for most of the first hour, and he kindly alerted me when a certain Rangers player began signing autographs along the foul line in shallow right field. I ran over and got the player to sign my ticket. (Note the price.) Can you identify the signature? Apparently this guy hardly ever signs. Here, check it out:
I got another autograph soon after on my ticket from May 1st:
That ticket had gotten soaked on May 2nd, but you can hardly tell, right? (Note the price.) Can you identify this autograph?
(The reason why this one was signed in black is that I lost my blue sharpie on 4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field, and I haven’t yet had a chance to buy a new one; I’ve been at the mercy of other people’s markers, which often suck.)
The pitchers had already begun playing catch at this point, and when they finished several minutes later, I got Eddie Guardado to toss me a ball near the foul pole where the wall slants up really high.
The White Sox finally took the field. The following photo might suggest that they were defending themselves against a swarm of killer gnats…
…but in fact they were just stretching.
Batting practice got underway about an hour after the stadium opened…
…and it ended 25 minutes early! It was a snagging nightmare. The seats were crowded. There were kids everywhere. The White Sox weren’t hitting or throwing much into the stands. And I had to deal with a real jerk. There was a guy (who was about the same age and size as me) who thought it would be a good idea to block/grab me as I tried to run past him up the steps to get in position for a long home run. But that’s not all. When I told him to get his ******* hands off me, he accused me of running into him. It was one of the worst BP’s of my life. I only managed to get one ball. Gavin Floyd tossed it to me in left-center field. Meh.
The highlight for me was simply watching the kids run out onto the batter’s eye for balls:
That was the one spot that had a decent amount of action, so I was tempted to head over there and claim a spot along the side railing. What kept me from doing that, however, was the fact that I would’ve been twice as old as everyone else. There wasn’t an official “kids only” rule, but that’s how it felt. Also, I noticed that whenever a ball landed there, the kids would dive and slip and pile on top of each other. It was an injury (and a grass stain) waiting to happen. I didn’t want any part of it.
Before BP started, I had gotten a photo with Dan (pictured below in the “W” cap), and after BP ended, I got a photo with another blog reader named Frank (aka “texas4”) who had brought his copy of my book for me to sign:
It was time to do one final round of wandering. I started by taking a photo of another unique tunnel on the field level…
…and then headed up to the upper deck. Check out this huge open-air concourse:
I need to show one more photo of the concourse so you can see how wide it was in one spot. I took the following shot with my back against a closed concession stand. You can see a Six Flags roller coaster poking up in the distance:
Once again…outstanding design. Why doesn’t every stadium have a concourse this wide? If you’re going to try to cram roughly 50,000 people into one building, especially in Texas where people tend to be rather large, you might as well give them room to walk around.
Here’s a photo from the edge of the upper deck all the way out in left field:
Here’s my panorama attempt:
Here’s a look from the very top corner of the upper deck in right field:
In many stadiums, when the upper deck is empty, security does not allow fans to wander all over the place, but here in Awesome Arlington, the only reason why security stopped me was to ask where I was from. (Screw New York. God Bless Texas.)
Rangers Ballpark, as great as it is, DOES have a few ugly signs of disrepair:
This surprised me because the stadium is only 15 years old, and really, how hard can it be to fix something like that? Get a little concrete mix. (Or some gray Play-Doh.) I’m pretty sure the upper deck didn’t start falling apart last month, so the question is: why wasn’t it fixed during the off-season?
Here’s a part of the stadium that needs no fixing:
It’s like the Great Hall at the new Yankee Stadium–minus the ego.
Back in the seating bowl, this was the scene shortly before the game started:
(Gotta love Carlos Quentin practicing his swing. Has anyone ever had a positive interaction with him? From what I saw, he ignored everyone for three straight days.)
When the players finished throwing, I got Jayson Nix to toss me the ball. That was No. 3 on the day for me–still lousy but at least respectable, given the circumstances.
During the game I sat in center field, right next to the batter’s eye as I had done the previous two nights. This was my view:
At this stadium, there’s a promotion (I’m still not sure exactly how it works) where if the Rangers score a certain number of runs in a certain inning (or something like that), every fan wins a free taco. Well, it happened last night, and when the usher walked down the stairs and handed me a coupon, this was my reaction:
Okay, so it happens to be incredibly easy to catch a foul ball at Rangers Ballpark (there’s a great cross-aisle in the second deck, just in front of the press box…just like Miller Park), but so what? This type of fraudulent marketing is not only uncalled for, but it’s downright insulting to ballhawks across North America. I think we should all boycott Taco Bueno.
As for my ridiculous shirt, there might have been a time when I actually thought it looked good, but now I only wear it to make it easier for people to spot me on TV…and hey, it worked! Check it out:
It happened in the bottom of the 8th inning (and thanks, BTW, to everyone who sent me screen shots). Nelson Cruz launched a deep fly ball in my direction, so I got up, scooted down the steps, weaved around a couple fans (without running into them, thank you), and made it to the corner spot at the bottom just as the ball was approaching. I knew it was going to fall short. I knew I didn’t have a chance. Certain camera angles might have made it look like I missed it by six inches, but in fact it was at least four feet away from my outstretched glove. The only reason why I even bothered reaching for it is that I figured I was on TV, and I wanted to look more like a participant than a spectator. But yeah…no chance in the world to catch it. If the ball had been hit a few feet father, I would’ve caught it on the fly, and if it had just gone a few inches father, it probably would’ve landed in the gap and I would’ve been able to retrieve it with my glove trick. But instead, the ball hit the very top edge of the outfield wall and bounced back onto the field.
An inning before the near miss, I got my fourth ball of the day from White Sox center fielder Brent Lillibridge (not to be confused with Derek Lilliquist). It was his between-inning warm-up ball. I didn’t expect a visiting team’s player to toss one into the crowd, but when he looked up toward my section, I suspected that he was gonna let it fly, so I ran down to the front row and waved my arms. I quickly looked around to see if there were any White Sox fans. Maybe he was planning to aim for someone specific? Nope…just a sea of Rangers gear…so when he tossed it a bit over my head and five feet to my right, I didn’t feel guilty about moving back to the second row and making a controlled lunge for it at the last second. Other people had reached for it too. It WAS just intended for the crowd in general, so I went for it and made the catch.
“Give it to the kid!” yelled someone in the third row.
“Yeah! Give it to the kid!” yelled another fan sitting nearby.
What kid? The kid who wasn’t wearing a glove and hadn’t even stood up to make an attempt to catch the ball?
There was another kid I was thinking about–a little boy who looked to be about seven years old–who’d been sitting between me and his dad in the 9th row. They were both wearing gloves, and his dad had been teaching him about baseball throughout the game. It was such a sweet scene, so when I got back to my seat, I held out the ball for the kid and said, “Here, I think you should have this. I got a few others today.”
The kid’s face LIT UP, and his jaw dropped in such an exaggerated way that he could’ve been a cartoon character.
“What do you say?” prompted his father.
“Thank you,” mumbled the kid without taking his eyes off the ball. Turns out it was the first ball he’d ever gotten, so I pointed out a few things about the logo and explained the “practice” stamp on the sweet spot. That was definitely one of the highlights of my day.
Another highlight? Seeing a vendor eating ice cream while selling ice cream:
The game itself was fine. Nothing special. The Rangers won, 5-1, and as soon as the final out was recorded, I threw on my White Sox cap and rushed over to the bullpen and got coach Juan Nieves to throw me a ball. But he missed. Of course. He flung it carelessly and it sailed ten feet to my left. Thankfully he had another ball and was nice enough to under-hand it right to me.
As the last member of the Sox was packing up, I noticed that there was a lineup card taped to the wall:
I started to ask the guy for it, but he hurried out of the bullpen before I had a chance to finish my request.
There were still a few fans milling about. Three groundskeepers entered the bullpen and began working on the mound. I walked down to the front row and asked them if they could give me the lineup card. They ignored me. An old usher walked over and told me it was time to leave. I explained why I was still there, so he encouraged me to ask them again, but insisted (very politely) that I’d have to leave after that.
“Excuse me, guys–” I began.
“Can’t do it,” one of them snapped without looking up.
I headed up the steps with the usher…who then walked off and left me there. There were a few other employees walking around, but none of them approached me, so I took off my Waldo shirt (I had the plain white t-shirt on underneath) and put on my Rangers cap. I figured that’d make me blend in more. The groundskeepers kept working on the mound, so I took a seat in the last row and watched them. There was nothing else to do. My flight back to NYC was still 17 hours away, so as long as I wasn’t getting kicked out, there was no reason to leave. I was hoping that the three guys would eventually finish up with the mound and then disappear…and that perhaps a different member of the grounds crew would wander into the ‘pen. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the three guys covered the mound and took off. The bullpen was empty. This is what it looked like from where I was sitting:
I couldn’t believe that I was allowed to just sit there, but this wasn’t New York, so anything was possible.
Five minutes later, the sprinklers came on…
…and five minutes after that, a few other groundskeepers exited the bullpen in right-center and started walking along the warning track toward my side of the field. This was my chance! I waited at the back of the section until they got closer, then rushed down the steps and caught their attention at the bottom.
“Excuse me,” I began, “I believe there’s a lineup card taped to the wall in the bullpen, and if you guys aren’t planning to save it, it would mean a lot to me if I could possibly have it.”
They looked at each other like I was crazy, then flagged down another groundskeeper (who must’ve been their boss) and explained what I wanted and asked if it was okay.
“I don’t give two *****,” said the guy who then walked briskly into the bullpen, headed over to the lineup card, yanked it off the wall (which made me cringe, but thankfully it didn’t tear), and handed it to me.
It was barely filled out, but that’s to be expected from a bullpen lineup card. All that mattered was that it was official. It had a nice big “Sox” logo on the upper right. It had “5/3 @ Texas” written on the upper left in blue marker, and the Rangers’ lineup had been written in as well, along with a few bench players’ names at the bottom.
Moments after I got it, a couple other fans conveniently wandered down into the section, and I got them to take the following photo. I think you can tell how happy I was:
So yes, even though I lost more than an hour of batting practice, and even though I had a frustrating near miss during the game, it ended up being a great day. I can’t wait to go back to this ballpark. Hugs and kisses to Texas.
• 128 balls in 17 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
• 586 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 156 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,948 total balls
• 15 lifetime lineup cards (click here for the complete collection, including the full-sized version of the one pictured here)
• 103 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $20.38 pledged per ball
• $101.90 raised at this game
• $2,608.64 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Does the name Danny Wood sound familiar? It should if you’ve read (and memorized) my last four blog entries, but just in case you’ve forgotten:
1) He’s a season ticket holder at Coors Field.
2) He snags a LOT of baseballs.
3) One of those balls was Barry Bonds’ 698th career home run.
Danny and I had never met until our mutual friend Dan Sauvageau (another bigtime ballhawk) introduced us outside Gate E four days earlier–and and on THIS day, I took a pre-Coors detour to visit his place and check out his baseball collection. Dan had been telling me I had to see it. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, but let me just say he was right:
The photo above doesn’t even BEGIN to capture the magnitude of his collection, so hopefully the following photos will. Here’s another shot of Danny’s collection:
Every ball in the double-case above was autographed by a Hall of Famer. We’re talking more than 150 balls, and most were signed on the sweet spot. It was truly awesome.
Now…keep in mind that Danny hasn’t caught all these balls himself or gotten them all signed in person. He’s bought lots of stuff on eBay, but still, it was the most incredible collection I’d ever seen.
There were several smaller cases of note. Here’s one that had a variety of All-Star and World Series balls:
Here’s one with Little League balls and various National League presidents:
One of his cases featured balls that were falling apart…
…and another had nothing but baseball boxes from various manufacturers:
Then there were individual balls that I’d never seen in person and, in some cases, didn’t even know existed. In the photo below, the top two balls are self-explanatory, and as for the bottom two…
…the ball on the left is from the Negro Leagues, and the ball on the right is an official American League ball from 1927 which oh-by-the-way just happened to be signed on the sweet spot by Babe Ruth.
Ever heard of “millennium balls”?
Neither had I.
American League balls were made by Reach, and National League balls were made by Spalding. (Reach was owned by Spalding, but it’s still cool.)
Let’s not forget that Bonds homer–number six-ninety-eight:
…and here’s Danny’s unofficial certificate of authenticity on MLB.com:
There are dozens of other photographs I could share. I could literally write a different blog entry about his collection every day for a year and still have plenty of stuff left to talk about. It was THAT impressive. But I’ll just leave you with one other pic from Danny’s place.
I had heard that at Coors Field, fans received “Clean Catch” pins from the ushers whenever they caught a foul ball or home run on a fly during a game–but I hadn’t actually seen one. Naturally, Danny had about a dozen, and here it is:
What a great idea. Seriously…what an excellent way to encourage fans to bring their gloves and be participants. What a shame that neither team in my hometown has the brains/incentive to do this.
I took a few photographs of the exterior…
…and posed with my two shirts once we reached the gate:
As you may already know, I own all 30 major league team caps; visiting teams love to spot their “fans” on the road and reward them with baseballs. In this case, since the Mets were the visiting team, I went one step further and brought a matching shirt–but I didn’t wear it during the game. That’s where the striped shirt came in. My plan (as I mentioned in an entry last week) was to dress like Waldo to make it easier for people to spot me on TV.
Gate E opened at 5pm, and I nearly got hit by a ball as I ran inside. From the concourse behind the left field bleachers, I saw one of the Rockies players looking up as if he were following the flight of a long home run. I paused for a second, expecting the ball to clang off the metal benches down below when all of a sudden, SMACK!!! The ball hit the concourse five feet to my left (about 425 feet from the plate according to Hit Tracker), bounced up and hit a metal support beam above the roof of a concession stand, and ricocheted back toward me. I was totally caught off guard. I wasn’t even wearing my glove…I was carrying it with my right hand, so I lunged forward and knocked the ball down with my left hand (almost like a basketball dribble) to prevent it from bouncing back into the bleachers, and I finally grabbed it.
Moments later, another home run landed near me, this time in the bleachers, and when I ran over and grabbed it off the concrete steps, an usher down below yelled, “Give it to the kid!”
I looked up, and there was indeed a kid nearby, but I
knew he didn’t need any charity. His name was Hunter. I’d signed a baseball for him the day before. He and his dad Don (aka “Rock Pile Ranter” if you read the comments) had front-row access for this game, and sure enough, they ended up snagging a bunch of balls…and you can read about it on Don’s blog.
The Rockies’ portion of BP was slow. I didn’t get any more balls from them. The highlight was seeing Danny trade gloves with Ubaldo Jimenez…
…and then use it to catch a home run ball. Unfortunately, it was a ball I easily could’ve caught, but I backed off (because the idea of robbing him on his own turf made me feel guilty) and let him have it, and he thanked me several times.
Anyway, it almost didn’t matter because I got SEVEN balls tossed to me during the Mets’ portion of BP. The first came from Scott Schoeneweis near center field. The second came from coach Guy Conti in left-center. The third came from Ramon Castro near the left field foul line. The fourth came from Conti again…it was ridiculous…I didn’t even ask him for it…I was sitting just behind the wall in left-center, minding my own business and labeling the ball from Castro when Conti walked over and grabbed a ball off the warning track and flipped it up without looking at me. The fifth ball came from Marlon Anderson in straight-away left field. The sixth came from Pelfrey, also in left field, and the seventh came from Pedro Martinez in center. It was incredible. There was NO competition, and yet some of the fans behind me were grumbling. One guy (who I’m ashamed to admit was wearing a Mets jersey) shouted angrily, “How many balls do you need?!” and before I had a chance to walk over and respond, he snapped, “Go ahead, say something stupid.”
Too bad he was so rude. I’d been considering giving one of my baseballs to his son, but instead, when batting practice ended, I handed one to a different kid whose father had been minding his own business.
I made sure not to give away any of the three baseballs in the following photo:
As you can see, I got two commemorative balls. The one on the left was thrown by Castro, and it happened to be the 900th ball I’ve snagged outside of New York. The ball in the middle was thrown by Pelfrey, and it’s just cool. I love how worn out it is. The ball on the right (not commemorative but still cool) was thrown by Pedro.
Throughout the week, Danny had been telling me that he knew one of the guys who worked the manual, out-of-town scoreboard in right field (?!?!) and he kept offering to arrange a visit for me. This was the day that I finally took him up on it…so after BP ended, Danny made a phone call and sent me on my way. It was as simple as that. I exited the tunnel at the bottom of the left field pavilion, turned right, and walked through the “secret” concourse:
After walking for a couple minutes and not really knowing who or what to look for (and hoping that I wasn’t going to be arrested), a woman stuck her head out of one of the black doors on the right and called me over by name.
HER name is Beverly Coleman. She works for the Rockies in the “Business Operations” department. (You can find her on this list of Rockies front office employees.) Her husband is the guy that works the scoreboard.
Beverly led me down into a party area…
…and we headed toward an unmarked door…
…and climbed some steep/narrow steps…
…and before I knew it I was standing behind the scoreboard, witnessing an update in progress:
Then things calmed down a bit, and I met her husband, David Holt:
David gave me a quick tour and told me I was welcome to take as many photos as I wanted and share them on my blog.
This was my view of the field through one of the small holes in the wooden boards…
Did you notice the ball in the photo above? It’s tucked into a little nook in the wall on the upper right. Here’s a closeup:
At least once per minute, Jim shouted some sort of update–a score change, an inning change, or a pitching change–and David went to work:
He showed me how to make sure that the boards were facing the right way. Quite simply, the front (which faced the field) had big letters…
…and the back had small letters:
If the board was right-side-up in the back, that meant it was facing the proper way in the front. Easy…I had it…and David let me make some updates:
…and it got better.
Beverly, being a front office employee, had received a 2007 National League Championship ring and gave me all the time I needed to photograph it. Note her last name (Coleman) on the side:
I actually didn’t have much more time. The game was about to begin, and although I probably could’ve stayed longer, I really wanted to get back to left field and unleash my Waldo Essence.
David removed one of the boards so I could reach out and take a few more photos before I left. Check this out. You can see the shadow of my hand and camera:
I made it back to the left field pavilion just before the first pitch, then pulled out my big glove and let Emily (Dan’s four-year-old daughter) try it on:
I didn’t bring the big glove to help me snag extra balls. I just brought it to help me stand out even more on TV.
I was so psyched to be sitting in the wide aisle in straight-away left field. Even though I didn’t have much room on my right…
I had a ton of space on my left:
In the top of the second inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single and Carlos Delgado followed with a deep drive to my left. I jumped out of my seat, raced through the aisle, and watched helplessly as the ball sailed 15 feet over my head.
There were two other home runs in the game, both of which were hit in the first few innings and went to right field, so I had to find other forms of entertainment:
Final score: Mets 7, Rockies 2.
? 10 balls at this game
? 210 balls in 27 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 83 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
? 28 lifetime games outside NYC with 10 or more balls
? 18 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
? 523 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 126 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 905 lifetime balls outside NYC
? 3,487 total balls