The good thing about going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Baltimore…
…is that there’s plenty of room to run around at Camden Yards and burn off the calories:
Within the first few minutes of BP, a right-handed batter on the Orioles smoked a line-drive homer that landed in the empty front row. I ran down and grabbed the ball:
“Who hit that?!” I shouted at my friend Rick Gold, who was camped out ten rows back.
“Fox,” said a voice that came from the warning track.
As it turned out, Kevin Millwood was standing just short of the wall and answered the question for me. How about that? Jake Fox. Yes, of course.
One minute later, I caught a home run on the fly, and once again I was unable to identify the batter.
“Who was THAT?” I asked Millwood.
“Tatum,” he said.
Ha! Awesome. Craig Tatum. I never would’ve known. And then I caught another Jake Fox homer on the fly.
At around 5:10pm, I snagged my fourth home run ball of the day. It wasn’t Fox. It wasn’t Tatum. Damn. I had no idea who hit it, and Millwood was gone. But whatever. I got the ball — that’s what matters — and (my girlfriend) Jona took a series of photos of me chasing it down. Here’s the first one. It shows me tracking the ball as I drifted to my left:
As soon as I determined that the ball was going to fall a bit short, I took my eyes off it and focused on climbing over a few rows of seats:
Then I looked back up as the ball was descending; note the red arrow pointing to it:
The ball landed, prompting a scramble with the fan in the gray jersey:
Finally, I beat him to it and grabbed the ball just as he was lunging for it:
Don’t feel bad for the other guy. He’s there every day and always snags at least a few balls.
Before the Orioles finished their portion of BP, I played catch for a minute with Jeremy Guthrie. Here’s a screen shot from a video that shows me catching one of his throws…
…and here’s another screen shot that shows me tossing it back:
(Whenever I try to embed a YouTube video on my blog, the format gets messed up, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to click here to watch it.)
In case you’re wondering how I got to play catch with Guthrie, it’s pretty simple: I asked. It also helped that I’ve gotten to know him over the years, but I’ve played catch with lots of players that I’d never met before…like Kyle Farnsworth. Now THAT was fun.
When the Orioles finished hitting, Rick and I each had four baseballs. I asked if we could get a photo together, and as we walked over to a sunny spot, he found a fifth ball hiding in the folded-up portion of a seat. Unbelievable. Here we are moments later:
The Blue Jays started warming up on the 3rd base side, so I changed into my Jays gear and headed to their dugout. Aaron Hill threw me my fifth ball of the day, and less than a minute later, I got another from Vernon Wells. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to Wells, and the vertical arrow is pointing to the ball in mid-air:
Once the Jays started hitting, I raced back out to the left field seats. Look how empty it was; the arrow is pointing to me:
Then an amazing thing happened: I got three more balls in a 20-second span. The first two were home runs that I caught on the fly on back-to-back pitches. The third was another homer that landed in the seats…two pitches later, I think. I wasn’t sure who had hit them. Rick (who works for MLB.com) was almost certain that it was Edwin Encarnacion, so I’m gonna assume that that’s who it was.
A few minutes later, Jona called out to me from her spot 15 rows back.
“Can you come here for a minute?” she asked.
I couldn’t imagine what was so important that she’d be pulling me away from my normal spot.
“What is it?” I called back.
She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a look as if to say, “I can’t explain it, so you need to come over here,” and as soon as I started running up the steps, she very subtly pointed at the ground in the middle of a row.
I should know by now not to question her. This is why she called me over:
Jona knows that I will NOT count a baseball in my collection if another fan gains possession of it first, so instead of picking it up and handing it to me, she called me over so I could grab it myself. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
That was my 10th ball of the day and No. 4,599 overall. The next ball was going to be a milestone, and in case it ended up being a home run, I wanted to know who was batting.
Well, it WAS a home run. Here I am catching it:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify the batter, and when I asked the players who was hitting, they all ignored me except for Fred Lewis, who saw my Jays gear and said, “You’re a fan. You should know.”
All I know is that it was a right-handed batter with a very open stance. His left side was practically facing third base before he squared up and stepped straight into the pitch. Any ideas?
Here I am posing with No. 4,600 soon after:
Toward the end of BP, I got Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos to toss me a ball near the foul pole, and then I headed to the 3rd base dugout. Brian Butterfield, the team’s 3rd base coach, ended up walking in with a spare ball in his hand:
He tossed it to me. Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air:
That was my 13th ball of the day, and I got another from Yunel Escobar just before the game (no arrow necessary):
You may have noticed that in the photo above, I wasn’t wearing my Blue Jays shirt. That was intentional. I figured that everyone on the team recognized me by that point, so I changed my appearance and just went with the hat.
The game itself was incredible — not because I caught anything, but because it only lasted an hour and 55 minutes! I don’t think I’d ever attended a game that finished so fast. The Orioles won, 3-1, behind a 95-pitch, complete-game effort from Brad Bergesen. For the Jays, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut and did pretty well. He allowed three runs in six innings…gave up nine hits, walked three, and struck out five, but the most impressive thing is that he hit 99mph on the radar gun, and I wasn’t even paying attention to the velocity for most of the night, so who knows? He might have even touched triple digits when I wasn’t looking. By the way, Drabek threw 88 pitches, and then two relievers — Shawn Camp and Scott Downs — combined to work the last two innings with thirteen pitches. The Jays and O’s threw a total of 196 pitches. THAT is how to play a game in under two hours. Normally, I love it when games last long, but not when I have a 200-mile drive waiting for me after the final out. Of course, Jona and I didn’t rush toward the garage right away. First I headed to the 3rd base line as the Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen. This was my view as they headed toward me:
Jesse Carlson tossed me a ball — my 15th of the day — and then Kevin Gregg threw me another 30 seconds later.
After that, I gave away two of my baseballs to kids and headed toward the Eutaw Street exit. Here are the 14 balls I kept:
• 16 balls at this game
• 247 balls in 26 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.
• 655 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 201 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball
• 129 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,605 total balls
• 45 donors (click here to learn more)
• $6.49 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $103.84 raised at this game
• $1,603.03 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
That pretty much sums it up.
I started out in left field and snagged four balls during the first round of batting practice. (What’s so frustrating about that? Keep reading.) The first one was thrown by George Sherrill…
…and the next three were home run balls.
The first of those homers tipped off my glove (as I made a leaping attempt to catch it) and bounced right back to me off a seat. Even if it hadn’t taken a perfect bounce, I still would’ve snagged it because the seats were gloriously empty.
The second homer came right to me and I easily caught it on the fly while drifting slowly through an empty row.
The third homer was hit by Adam Jones. (I don’t know who hit the others.) It was a high fly ball that barely cleared the wall in left-center. It bounced off some guy’s bare hands and conveniently landed in the empty second row where I was standing.
It was only 5:12pm. The stadium had been open for about 10 minutes. I was all set to have a MONSTER day, but then the Orioles stopped taking BP. Bam! Just like that. They all jogged off the field.
Fifteen minutes later, while the Mariners were stretching in front of their dugout, the entire grounds crew came out and sat on the rolled up tarp:
(The guy who’s sitting fourth from the right is playing with his gum, in case you were wondering.)
I heard a voice crackling out of one of their walkie-talkies. It said, “Stand by for BP breakdown.”
Because it started raining, JUST as the Mariners started hitting. That’s why.
This was the result:
John Wetteland, the Mariners’ bullpen coach, started signing autographs IN STYLE along the left field foul line. Check it out:
It’s official: my new life goal is to have someone hold an umbrella over my head while I sign autographs. Or maybe my goal should simply be to experience ONE rain-free game at Camden Yards.
This was the dreary scene on Eutaw Street:
Right before the game started, I got Jamie Burke to toss me a ball at the Mariners’ dugout. Then I ran around to the Orioles’ side and got another ball (No. 4,039 lifetime) from Brian Roberts. Check out this “action” shot of my snag from afar:
Roberts always tosses a ball to that spot before the game, but he always tosses it to a little kid. For some reason, though, at that moment, there weren’t any kids in sight, so he had no choice but to toss it to me. Ha.
The game started on time, and for the first couple innings, I moved back and forth between the standing-room-only section in right field and the seats in left-center.
This was the view in left:
Nothing special, right?
Well, look how empty the seats were to MY left:
Did any home runs land there?
No, of course not.
It’s incredible. I’ve positioned myself in so many great spots and given myself so many chances to catch a game home run this season, but it’s just…not…happening.
You know what DID happen?
The game was delayed 27 minutes in the third inning. Fabulous. I spent about 17 of those minutes standing in line for pizza at a concession stand which was run by exceptionally incompetent employees. There was a taco bar next to the pizza area, and there was one employee at each. NONE of the people on line wanted a taco, so what did the taco lady do? She stood there and watched the pizza guy slowwwwwwly cut slices and slowwwwwly put them in boxes, one by one, rather than helping him out and speeding up the process. It’s like she wasn’t allowed to go near the pizza because it wasn’t a taco. And the guy! Oh my God, it’s like he was just learning to use his hands for the first time, and then when he couldn’t find a spatula, he tried using the pizza-slicing wheel thingy to scoop up the slices. But you see, he wasn’t smart enough to keep the boxes near the pizza. No, THAT would’ve made too much sense. Instead he kept scooping up the slices (each of which he touched with his hands so they wouldn’t fall) and carrying them to the boxes, and on several occasions the cheese dripped off the side and landed on the floor. Normally the Orioles do a great job of running the stadium, so I’ll let it slide this time.
Back to the game…
There were two home runs. Luke Scott, who bats left-handed, hit one over the Bud Light ad in left-center (naturally I wasn’t there) and Russell Branyan, who also bats left-handed, hit the sixth longest home run in the history of Camden Yards. That one reached the back off the seats just to the right of dead-center. (Naturally I wasn’t there either.)
About halfway through the game, I gave up on left field; whenever a bunch of righties were coming up, I went for foul balls behind the plate instead. I should’ve caught one in the 6th inning. There was a high pop-up that nicked the facade of the second deck and landed RIGHT in the aisle about five feet away from where I was standing. The aisle had been empty all night. The paid attendance was less than 13,000 *AND* there had been a rain delay. Get my point? Not too many fans. But. of course, at the exact moment that the foul ball was hit, a woman in a wheelchair rolled in front of me and blocked the aisle. She even stopped rolling when she saw the ball go up. Then, after the ball smacked off the pavement (essentially right on the other side of her chair) and bounced far, far away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t wanna get hit.” Fine. Fair enough. I won’t make a wheelchair wisecrack or deny her right to cower in fear. I’m just saying: I’m having the worst luck.
Okay, maybe not THE worst luck. I did end up getting a foul ball in the bottom of the 8th. There were two outs. Mark Lowe was pitching. Ty Wigginton was at bat. The count was 1-0. The ball sailed high in the air and landed in a staircase on my left, and I grabbed it off the steps. Here I am, standing at the bottom of the stairs with the ball:
That made me feel better. The day was not a total loss, but man, the standing-room-only section really let me down. Nick Yohanek (aka The Happy Youngster) was out there too, and we were both disappointed. He *really* had some bad luck earlier on. Man oh man.
Anyway, that was basically it. The Mariners won, 6-3, so I went to their dugout but didn’t get anything there. Nick and I said goodbye (no telling when we’ll cross paths again) just after he took this photo of me and Jona:
On my way out, I found the cutest kid in the stadium and stole a ball from him:
(I hope you know I’m joking. I really was GIVING a ball to that kid in the photo above.)
• 7 balls at this game
• 220 balls in 28 games this season = 7.86 balls per game.
• 597 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 163 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 129 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; those are way too easy in my opinion and don’t deserve to be counted in a special category)
• 30 lifetime game balls outside of New York
• 200 lifetime balls at Camden Yards (the Wigginton foul ball, pictured here on the right, was No. 200…the extra-dark mark on the ball came from hitting the black paint on the edge of one of the steps)
• 4,040 total balls
• 109 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a pledge)
• $24.06 pledged per ball
• $168.42 raised at this game
• $5,293.20 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Next game for me? Tuesday, June 16th in Kansas City. If there’s one day that I really really really need the rain to hold off, that would be it. And by the way, assuming I get at least one ball every day in KC, the game on June 18th will be the 600th of my streak.
QUESTION: Who took all the photos in my previous entry?
Here we are outside the stadium, waiting for the gates to open:
Are we still together? What’s our official status? Don’t ask. All you need to know (or rather all I’m gonna say) is that we’ve been spending time together. I’m so bad at being vague. This is good practice.
Anyway…baseball…yes, finally, for the first time in three weeks, I was at a game with batting practice. I’d been having THE worst luck with weather, so it felt great to finally have a chance to put up some big numbers.
On my way out to the seats in straight-away left field (during which time three different ushers told me to stop running), I found a ball sitting in the front row:
Is that a beautiful sight or what?
A minute later, Jona made her way out there and started taking photos:
You might think my pink shirt is dumb (okay, it is), but you have to admit that it makes it easy to spot me.
Here’s a cool shot that shows me and several Orioles running for a ball:
I didn’t get that one, but several minutes later, Jona took a photo of me hurdling the seats for a home run ball that I *did* end up snagging:
I beat out one other guy for the ball. Here we are lunging for it:
I have no idea who hit that ball, and I don’t know who hit the next one either. I do know that it was my 200th ball of the season, and of course I remember having caught it on the fly. Here’s a photo that shows me tracking it:
Did you notice the Orioles player watching me in the background?
The left-handed hitting Felix Pie (pronounced “pee-AY”) stepped into the cage, and I figured he was going to start by trying to hit some balls to the opposite field…and I figured there was a chance that he’d slice a few into foul territory, or at least down the line…and I was right.
In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and then going clockwise, you can see a red arrow pointing to a ball bouncing toward me. The fourth photo (on the lower left) shows me reaching all the way down and grabbing it off the rubberized warning track:
(Don’t forget…you can click all these photos for a closer look.)
As I was returning to the seats in fair territory, I snagged two more home run balls within a 20-second span. The first ball landed in some empty seats and skipped up high enough in the air that I was able to run over and catch it before it took another crazy bounce. (I found out later, while updating my stats, that this was the 3,700th ball I’ve snagged since my consecutive games streak began in 1993.) The second ball landed in the middle of an empty row, and I ran over and grabbed it about 10 feet away from the nearest fan.
That gave me six balls on the day, and I snagged No. 7 by cutting through a row in left-center and catching a ground-rule double.
After that, Seattle took the field so I changed into my Mariners gear and convinced Bruce Hines, the team’s 3rd base coach, to throw me a ball. In the following photo, I’m wearing the “ICHIRO 51” shirt, and you can see Hines just behind my right hand, getting ready to toss the ball:
I ran back into foul territory and grabbed ball No. 9 off the warning track. It had trickled to Miguel Batista, who was playing catch, and instead of picking it up and firing it toward the bucket, he had gently kicked it behind him. (I wonder if he would’ve done that if he knew I was at this game.)
Ichiro and Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. all started hitting, so I raced over to the standing-room-only section in right field. It was surprisingly crowded, and since I’d actually missed the first round of swings (for a reason I won’t mention), I only ended up catching two homers out there…BUT…I made a nice play on both of them, especially the first. I’m pretty sure Ichiro hit it. The ball was heading right toward me, and as it was about to land, there were a few other guys drifting to camp under it. I stayed about five feet behind the spot where I knew it was going to land, then crept up at the last second and timed my leap perfectly. I was like an outfielder robbing a home run, except I was moving forward instead of backward…and for a moment, while I was in mid-air, it felt like I was flying above the competition…and I reached up and made the catch above several other hands and gloves. It felt sooooo good. Then, less than a minute later, I caught another one that almost hit one of the flag poles on the way down. The nicest thing about that play is that I judged it perfectly. At least a dozen other guys were running around cluelessly, thinking the ball was going to land at the front of the section as it began descending toward us. I, however, hung back and picked the spot where it was going to land, and I reached up for the easy catch at the last second as everyone was just starting to run back toward me. Heh.
In all fairness, I should admit that I misjudged one ball horribly a bit earlier in the day, and then of course I got a bunch of unlucky ricochets on others, so even though it might seem (from what I’m writing) like I’m the luckiest and most athletic human being of all-time, that’s not exactly the case.
Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag my 12th ball of the day (I gave that one away to a kid after BP) and soon caught another homer on the fly in a highly congested patch of seats.
Jason Vargas tossed me my 14th ball, and it was a good snag for two reasons:
1) The ball had an interesting streak-like marking on the logo. You can see a photo of it on the right. Any theories on how the ball would’ve ended up looking like this?
2) I had to make a nice play on it. I was standing in the front row. Vargas kind of flipped/side-armed the ball in my direction, and I could tell from the moment it left his hand that it was going to sail over my head. Keep in mind that this was a simple toss that never went more than 20 feet in the air. It wasn’t like a home run, where I have several seconds to take my eye off the ball, move to a different spot in the seats, and then look back up and make the catch. No no. This was all split-second. I looked down VERY quickly, hopped over the front row of seats, looked back up, found the ball in mid-air as it was about five feet away from landing, and lunged far back behind the 2nd row to make a back-handed catch.
At the very end of BP, I raced over to the Mariners’ dugout and got my 15th ball tossed by hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Not bad.
Guess who I ran into after that. (Okay, yes, I’d been running into him all day.)
Nick Yohanek, aka “The Happy Youngster.”
Here we are at the dugout. I don’t blame him for not putting his arm around me. Never mind the pink shirt I was wearing earlier. Look how sweaty I was at this point:
Just before the game started, Jose Lopez (pictured below) played catch with Adrian Beltre in front of the dugout:
Beltre ended up throwing me the ball. That gave me SIXTEEN balls for the day, and I was really tempted to keep playing the dugouts and trying to get foul balls. It would’ve been awesome to have a 20-ball performance, but the standing-room-only section in right field was too
great to ignore. Not only was I hoping to catch a Griffey home run (that’s basically why I decided to make this trip) but I also wanted to catch Matt Wieters’ first major league homer. And besides, I’m now finally trying to be more home-run conscious in general; if I have to give up a few less meaningful balls as a result, so be it.
During the game, this was my view from the back of the standing-room-only section:
Because I couldn’t see the batter from where I was standing, Jona stayed at the front and played the role of “spotter.” She gave me subtle hand signals each time the pitcher was releasing the ball. It was very helpful because I was able to know exactly when a home run might’ve started flying my way, but because I’ve had AWFUL home run luck this season, nothing was hit anywhere near me. Still, it was fun to hang out in that section and know that at least I had a great chance of catching one.
Here’s a look at the section from the side:
Wieters came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and I stayed put. I never would’ve forgiven myself if I’d left the section just before he hit a bomb right to where I’d been standing all night. But there was no bomb to be caught. The future of the Orioles’ franchise struck out swinging to end the game.
Final score: Mariners 4, Orioles 1.
• 213 balls in 27 games this season = 7.89 balls per game.
• 596 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 162 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 104 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 44 lifetime games outside of New York with at least 10 balls
• 4,033 total balls
• 109 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $24.06 pledged per ball
• $384.96 raised at this game!
• $5,124.78 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One final unrelated note: I’ve had some major problems with my email this week. (I think it’s because the atrocious internet situation at my lame and overrated hotel here in Baltimore screwed me up.) I might have lost a few emails in the process, so if you’ve written to me recently and you don’t hear back from me by…let’s say…June 18th, go ahead and email me again. Sometimes I take a week to answer emails anyway, but in this case…yeah, if you’re waiting for a reply, just be patient and then give another shout. And also, if you’ve emailed me to get snagging advice about a certain stadium, all I can tell you is: read my blog. If I’ve blogged about a particular stadium, you’ll find everything there, and if I haven’t blogged about it, that means I haven’t been there since at least 2004 and I probably don’t remember too much about the place anyway. I get too many emails in general, especially ones like this, to answer everyone personally. I’m really sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ll still try to write back to everyone, but if I write something brief, please understand why.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when you’re waiting outside a stadium and there’s a middle-aged man wearing a cut-off T-shirt:
See what I mean? Bad day. It went from bright-n-sunny at 4:30pm to dark-n-cloudy by the time the gates were set to open half an hour later:
And sure enough, once again, I got screwed out of batting practice. This is what I saw when I ran inside the stadium:
At least the Mariners came out and played catch in shallow left field:
(Did you notice the psychotic sky in the photo above?)
Here I am in the front row:
I basically had the place to myself, but then of course it started drizzling, and then there was thunder and lightning, so the ushers kicked me (and the few other fans) out of the seating bowl. Somehow, apparently, it was perfectly safe for the players to stay on the field, but it was a life-and-death situation for everyone else.
Anyway, the ushers were nice enough to let me stand in the cross-aisle just underneath the overhang of the second deck. This was the view (from right behind my crinkly, circa-1995 Mariners cap):
A couple players finished throwing and launched a ball over my head to the fans sitting above the aisle. In the photo below, you can see me turning and looking at it:
Who was taking all these photos, you ask?
Another pair of players finished throwing and chucked their ball right to me. Sweeeet! The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out who threw it–mighta been Brandon Morrow–but that’s because I got THREE more balls within the next 60 seconds. It was nuts. There’d been a huge bolt of lightning right near the stadium and then it started pouring half a minute later, so all the players abandoned the field within a very small time frame. Felix Hernandez threw me my second ball of the day, and I have no idea who threw me the third. Here’s an action shot of that snag:
I ended up giving that ball away to a kid, and I’m glad to report that the fourth ball came from David Aardsma. I’d been hoping to get one from him because of his last name, which is first alphabetically in the history of major league baseball. You know that long list I have of all the players and coaches who’ve thrown me balls? Now it really starts with a bang. (No offense to Jim Abbott.)
My friend Mike (the one who hooked me up with free parking on 6/3/09 at Nationals Park) showed up soon after, and we hung out for a bit and got pizza. Look how awesome the pizza is at Camden Yards:
(The ball is there for perspective. Without it, you might’ve thought that each slice was only three inches wide.)
This is the best food deal I’ve ever found in any stadium. You get ALL that pizza for $6.25, and yes, that’d be a ripoff in the real world, but as far as MLB concession stands are concerned, it’s great. (You can find this pizza stand behind third base on the field level concourse. Go there, eat some, and think of me.)
The highlight of the game was seeing a two-run homer overturned because of fan interference. Mariners left fielder Endy Chavez tried to make a leaping catch at the wall, and as soon as the ball skipped off his glove and landed in the front row, he protested. The umps huddled and then walked off the field and were gone for like 5 or 10 minutes (during which time, I would argue, the replay should have been shown on the Jumbotron), and when they returned, they called the batter out. Naturally the fans were pissed, but they got what they deserved.
The rest of the night was uneventful. I camped out in the standing-room-only section for lefties, ran around to left field whenever the switch-hitting Matt Wieters was batting right-handed, and played all other righies along the right field foul line. I didn’t get any more balls, but I did get a cool picture of the sky:
Boring, boring, boring.
Ken Griffey Jr. was worthless.
Final score: Zack 4, Orioles 3, Mariners 1.
I haven’t been to a game with batting practice in TWENTY days.
That’s a ninth of the season!
• 4 balls at this game
• 197 balls in 26 games this season = 7.58 balls per game.
• 595 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 161 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,017 total balls
• 107 donors (click here for more info and to make a pledge)
• $24.00 pledged per ball
• $96.00 raised at this game
• $4,728 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
My nightmare nearly occurred in real life. I truly thought I was going
to miss batting practice. My friend Leon (who you might remember from 7/21/08 at Camden Yards)
made the trip with me, but he had to work until 12:30pm, and I had to
meet him in midtown, and I got caught in traffic, and we didn’t get
through the Lincoln Tunnel until 1:15pm, and then we hit a major delay
on the New Jersey Turnpike and heard that there was a “serious
accident” at some point up ahead that had caused all lanes to be closed. The situation
was so bad that I considered a) making a U-turn and going home (after we’d driven nearly 100 miles) or b)
veering off and going to the game in Philadelphia (even though I
wouldn’t have had the right hats or rosters). Somehow, though, the
delay eventually cleared up, and the “serious accident” was nowhere to
be found, and I was able to reach a top speed of 91mph (if only I
could’ve thrown a baseball that fast), and we reached Baltimore at
4:35pm. Camden Yards was set to open half an hour later, so I dropped
off Leon at the warehouse and he ran around the corner and held a spot
in line at the Eutaw Street gate while I parked and found a bathroom.
But then there was the issue of the weather. It was supposed to be mostly sunny, but it ended up being mostly gloomy. I was paranoid that there wasn’t going to be batting practice, so when I made it back to the stadium, I walked around to the gate/fence behind the picnic area in deeeeep center field and climbed up a few inches–and this is what I saw:
I was overjoyed. Need a closer look?
I couldn’t see the field, but I got a glimpse of the top of the batting cage, and that’s all that mattered. There WAS going to be batting practice. Hooray.
So, how was it? Let’s just say that although there were some frustrating moments (like when I first ran in and was the only fan in left field and a home run landed one section over in the totally empty seats and promptly bounced back onto the field), I ended up being so busy that I didn’t have time to take any photographs. Here’s the rundown…
BALL #1 — Home run into the seats, 10 rows back and near the foul pole. Leon probably could’ve gotten it, but knowing that every ball I snagged would be adding to a record and moving me closer to 500 for the season, he kinda took his time getting there and let me grab it. Whatta guy. (The ball, as you can see here on the right, has some beautiful splotchy/muddy marks on and around the logo.)
BALL #2 — Thrown by Orioles pitcher Garrett Olson. I later gave this one away to a kid.
BALL #3 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. (I don’t know who hit ANY of the balls. Some people have a knack for identifying players from 400 feet away who are covering their numbers with warm-up jackets. I’m not one of them.) There were a few other fans in the seats at this point. The ball sailed over my head, landed on the steps, bounced to the back of the section and then conveniently bounced right back down the steps toward me.
BALL #4 — An errant throw that got away from one of the Indians pitchers as they were all warming up along the left field foul line. The ball trickled onto the rubberized warning track in foul territory, and since the front row was basically empty and the wall there is only a few feet high, I was able to move 15 feet to my right and lean over for the easy snag.
BALL #5 — Tossed by a left-handed Indians pitcher despite the fact that I’d JUST snagged the previous ball. It was a white guy with curly hair, and he wasn’t THAT tall. It couldn’t have been Zach Jackson (who was the starter that night) or Cliff Lee (who’s easy to recognize). It wasn’t Rafael Perez (who’s definitely not white) or Rich Rundles (who’s 6-foot-5). I think it was either Scott Lewis or Jeremy Sowers. I looked at their photos when I got home, but I still couldn’t tell who it was. Waaah.
BALL #6 — Thrown by Masahide Kobayashi in foul territory after I asked him in Japanese. His translator then walked over and asked how I knew Japanese. I told him I only knew how to ask for a ball. He was amused.
BALL #7 — Snagged with the “half-glove trick” along the left field foul line. The full glove trick, of course, involves a rubber band and Sharpie; the “half” trick, as I call it, is one that requires nothing more than the string. That was the case here as the ball was sitting halfway out on the warning track. I lowered the glove, swung it out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reached over the low wall for it with my bare hand.
BALL #8 — Home run into the seats in left-center field. I was two sections over in straight-away left, and out of the 20 (or so) fans that were in the vicinity, I was the only one running for it while it was still in mid-air. Everyone else waited for it to land and THEN decided that they might run over and try to grab it. The ball bounced into the row below me, so I lunged far forward, bracing myself with my glove hand on the backs of the seats, and grabbed the ball with my bare hand, one second before the nearest guy would’ve gotten there. (The ball, pictured on the right, has a small patch on the surface that resembles wrinkled skin. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’ve seen this a few times in the past. It’s very strange, and I have no idea how it would’ve happened. Any theories?)
BALL #9 — High foul ball into the seats along the left-field foul line. It was hit by a lefty. It was his first set of swings so I figured he’d be aiming for the opposite field, and indeed he was. The ball landed a couple feet away from me as I bolted up the steps in an unsuccessful attempt to catch it. There were four other guys sitting nearby (none of whom had gloves) and the ball thankfully didn’t bounce in their direction. Of course, 10 seconds later, a righty launched a home run RIGHT to the spot where I would’ve been standing had I not moved into foul territory. Ahhhh…
BALL #10 — Deep home run into the seats between straight-away left field and the foul pole. I almost got there in time to catch it on a fly. I reached out with my glove and flinched at the same time to avoid getting hit in the face by a potential ricochet. The ball happened to pop up two feet and hang in the air exactly in front of me, and I nabbed it with a swipe of my glove.
BALL #11 — Ground-rule double. It was a high fly ball hit by a lefty. As David Dellucci drifted back to make the catch, I yelled, “Let it bounce, baby!” and to my surprise (and delight), he backed off at the last second and did just that. The ball bounced high off the warning track, sailed over everyone’s heads in the half-dozen rows in front of me, and came down RIGHT where I was standing. I had to reach up extra high to prevent a gloveless man (who was running through my row from the left) from interfering.
BALL #12 — Home run. Straight-away left field. Caught on a fly. I’d been playing every batter differently. The batter before was bigger and taking more powerful swings, so I’d been standing deeper and in left-center field. THIS batter was smaller and swinging for line drives, so I moved down a few rows and headed one section closer to the foul pole. It paid off. He hit a ball that ended up coming right to me. At first it appeared to be heading to my left so I drifted over a few steps. Then, when it started to hook back, I moved back with it. A man in the front row made a lame attempt to reach up. The ball sailed two feet over his outstretched glove, and I caught it one-handed as two gloveless fans on my left made an equally lame attempt to go for it.
BALL #13 — Tossed by Ryan Garko at the Indians’ dugout right after BP.
BALL #14 — Tossed by an unknown player 30 seconds later.
Then, half an hour before the first pitch, I took the following photo to show how empty the stadium was:
Then I got some (bad) pepperoni pizza and drank a bottle of water.
Then I got Jamey Carroll’s autograph on an old Rockies-Indians ticket stub:
Then I got my 15th ball of the day thrown by Shin-Soo Choo after his pre-game throwing in front of the dugout. (I didn’t ask him for it in Korean, even though I could have. All I needed to do was shout his name.)
There’d been a rumor that Major League Baseball was going to use commemorative balls for the July 4th weekend, as well as on September 11th. The logo was supposed to look like this…
…except not in color.
Well, if there ever WAS a ball with that logo on it, it never made an appearance inside a major league stadium during the July 4th weekend, so I figured I wasn’t going to see one last night. Still, I busted my butt and stayed in motion throughout the night in an attempt to snag a game-used ball.
I played lefties for foul balls on the third base side of home plate:
I went for third-out balls behind the Indians’ dugout…
…and did the same on the Orioles’ side:
What did I get for all my trouble?
ONE lousy non-commemorative ball:
Kevin Millar tossed it to me after the top of the 3rd inning. Oh boy.
I came incredibly close to a foul ball a couple innings later, and of course I had a few bad breaks during BP. I don’t mean to complain. I still had an amazing day, but if things had been just a little better, I could’ve easily snagged 20 balls. I’ll do it there someday.
The Orioles (in case anyone cares) won, 6-3, and I got a photo with Leon (who had snagged four balls of his own) on the way out:
? 105 balls in the last two weeks
? 469 balls in 60 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 556 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 140 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
? 93 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
? 37 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
? 20 double-digit games this year (extends my personal record)
? 3,746 total balls