Last weekend I attended a season ticket holder event at Yankee Stadium, and I got to bring three guests. Here they are:
In the photo above, from right to left, you’re looking at:
1) my girlfriend, Hayley
2) my friend and fellow ballhawk Chris Hernandez
3) Chris’s fiancée, Natalie
The official name of this event was the “Legacy Club Open House,” and as you can see below, we entered the stadium through the Legends Club:
Chris had never been inside the Legends area, so it was quite a thrill for him.
Upon entering, we saw some tables with brochures about various season ticket plans . . .
. . . but everyone’s attention shifted here instead:
That was a line for free food, and while it wasn’t nearly as fancy as the standard, in-season selections in the Legends area, I must say that it was quite good. There were salads and wraps . . .
. . . along with burgers, fries, chicken tenders, and pizza:
Here’s what I got. If you look VERY closely, you can see a bit of salad hiding under the fries and pizza:
Hayley, Chris, and Natalie loaded up their plates as well, and eventually we found an empty table beside the 100 Level concourse.
After the meal, I saw some fans getting their pictures taken with a World Series trophy:
Cool stuff. But that’s not what we were interested in. For us the main attraction was the opportunity to be ON the field, which, unfortunately, was set up for football (snore), but hell, this was still a major league stadium, so why pass up the chance?
Here I am walking down into the 100 Level seats:
Here’s what it looked like in the front row behind the area occasionally known as home plate:
In the photo above, did you notice that the protective netting was down. That was weird. Also, do you see the two yellow signs? Here’s a closer look:
That’s right — for the bargain price of $1,300 PER GAME, that seat could be yours for the entire 2015 season. Let’s do a little math, shall we?
$1,300 x 81 home games = $105,300.
But of course you can’t just buy one of those two seats because the Yankees won’t break up a perfectly good pair, so if you want to sit there every day next season, they’ll cost $210,600, or roughly speaking, a little bit more than Alex Rodriguez will earn per game.
For some reason, even though everyone was allowed to go on the field, we all needed wristbands. Here’s a guard putting them on people . . .
. . . and here I am with mine:
Hayley, admittedly, isn’t much of a baseball fan, but she was still excited to step out onto the field. Here’s a photo she took of her feet touching grass and dirt:
Here’s an odd sight:
That’s the Yankee dugout. As you can see, it was enclosed by an auxiliary padded wall, and the steps that normally lead to it were covered by a platform with grass on top.
Here’s the field goal:
Chris and I photographed 1st base . . .
. . . and then played catch in an area that normally would’ve been shallow right-center field:
In the middle of the field, dozens of fans were running all over the place, throwing and kicking footballs, which had been provided by the Yankees, so what was the harm in carefully tossing a baseball off to the side? Right?
Less than a minute later, a security guard approached Chris:
He told us we weren’t allowed to play catch with a baseball, which was especially frustrating because several other fans did the same thing without incident.
After our aborted throwing session, we wandered out to the right field wall:
Then THIS happened:
The red arrow is there to draw your attention to my amazing snow-cone (fake) catch. It’s hard to see the ball against the white lettering of the Modell’s ad in the background, but look closely. It’s there.
Chris and I posed near the “408” marker in dead center . . .
. . . and then took a moment to fondle it:
We’re such dweebs. But seriously, in the future, whenever I see the “408” on TV, it’ll make me happy to think about the time when I stood on the field and touched it.
Next up, we got to check out the visitors’ bullpen. Here we are walking inside:
Here’s something you’ll never see on TV:
I’m talking about the huge chunk missing from the bottom step — and guess what? That was done intentionally so that the door can swing all the way open. Here’s another look at it:
Let’s not forget that Yankee Stadium cost $1.5 billion. For that much money, you’d think they could’ve afforded a better architect.
Here I am with Chris in the bullpen:
Here we are on the elevated platform overlooking the field:
Here’s Chris showing off his dazzling pitching mechanics . . .
. . . and here I am posing:
Don’t get me wrong — it was really cool to be on the field and in the bullpen. It was nice of the Yankees to invite me and provide that access. I *do* appreciate it. But it was nothing compared to the time I got to take batting practice on the field at PNC Park. In order to get to take BP at Yankee Stadium, you need to be a season ticket holder for 15 years.
Anyway, here’s Hayley on the warning track:
Here are a few fans lining up for their chance to attempt to kick a field goal:
I gave it a shot — my first lifetime attempt at kicking one — and yanked it far wide. My first thought was, “Screw everything about football,” but then I decided to try again. Here’s a short video that shows how it played out:
Feeling great about my newfound athletic prowess, I grabbed the nearest football and told Chris to go long:
The result was disappointing. I think I could’ve thrown my Legacy Club brochure farther and better than that stupidly-shaped faux pigskin “ball,” but whatever. I had a plan to redeem myself. I headed through the Legends section . . .
. . . and when I reached the left-field foul line, I got Chris to throw me a baseball, as if he were a player and I were a fan. Here he is before chucking it . . .
. . . and here I am after catching it:
What do you think? Should I count this ball in my collection? I snagged it in the stands of a major league stadium, so why not?!
Chris and Natalie eventually caught up with us, and then we all walked through this desolate concourse . . .
. . . to the right field seats. Here I am getting photo-bombed by Hayley:
While roaming through the seats, I caught up with two Yankees ticket reps who’ve been extremely kind and helpful — George Stone, pictured below on the left, and Josh Giffin on the right:
Chris, Natalie, Hayley, and I found our way inside something called the MVP Club. I’d never even heard of it, let alone seen it. Here’s the entrance . . .
. . . and here’s what the bar looked like on the left:
Around the corner, I was delighted to find this:
Free ice cream! Here’s what I got:
There was a small scoop of chocolate buried in there.
After dessert, Chris and I checked out some baseball memorabilia that was on display. Here he is photographing a home run ball that was supposedly hit 700 feet by Mickey Mantle:
That’s what the nice, young, floppy-haired man behind the table told us, but I was skeptical because (a) the ball inexplicably lacked any trace of stamping or a logo, and (b) 700-foot home runs don’t exist on this planet. Sorry to be a party pooper, but wouldn’t you rather hear the harsh truth than live your life under the pretense of a feel-good fairytale?
Inside the frame pictured above, there was a Babe Ruth autograph and tickets from all the World Series games in which he homered.
Here’s a closeup of a ticket from the game in which The Babe famously called his shot:
Other pieces of memorabilia on display included a prototype for one of the Yankees World Series rings, a cap that Andy Pettitte wore in the World Series, and the bat that Reggie Jackson used when he hit one of the last home runs of his career.
The Yankees were having a sale in the team store, so on our way out, we stopped by to take a look:
In the photo above, Chris was checking out a selection of one-dollar T-shirts, which featured memorable players and events in recent Yankees history such as Yangervis Solarte and the 2012 ALCS. But you know what? Even though the shirts were dopey, it’s still pretty cool that they were being sold so cheap. Buying anything at Yankee stadium for a dollar is unheard of.
Chris and Natalie went to Madison Square Garden for the Rangers game. (That’s hockey, by the way. I don’t know anything about it, but evidently some people are quite fond of it.) Hayley and I went home and got on with our otherwise sports-less off-season.
Now that the 2014 World Series is over, it’s time to send your donations to Pitch In For Baseball. I ended up snagging 630 balls in 87 games, so the math is a bit tricky, but don’t worry . . . I’ve already done it for you. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how much you owe — and get ready to win some prizes. As I mentioned in this blog entry before the season, I’m going to be giving away a bunch of baseball-related collectibles:
1) game-worn uniform pants autographed by Dwight Gooden
2) a special-edition 2001 World Series ball
3) a 2007 Home Run Derby “gold ball”
4) an inscribed copy of The Baseball
5) a signed copy of Miracle Mud
6) signed copies of The San Francisco Splash and The Wrigley Riddle
7) baseball cards from the 1987 and 1988 Topps Traded sets
8) ticket stubs from the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia
9) souvenir cups from the Opening Series
Make sure that Pitch In For Baseball receives your money before December 3rd — a little more than a month from today. That’s when I’m going to conduct the drawing, and remember that the more you donate, the more chances you’ll have to win something. (For every penny that you donate per ball that I snagged this season, your name will be thrown into the hat, so in other words, if you donate $6.30 to the charity, your name will be in there once. If you donate $31.50 — the equivalent of five cents per ball — your name will be there five times, so you’ll be five times more likely to be chosen. The first person whose name is drawn will have the first choice of which prize to receive. That person will then be ineligible to win anything else, so there will be nine different winners. The second person whose name is chosen will get to choose one of the remaining eight prizes, and so on.)
There are two ways to pay:
Mail a check, payable to Pitch In For Baseball, to the following address:
Pitch In For Baseball
c/o Zack Hample
1541 Gehman Road
Harleysville, PA 19438
FYI: The reason for writing “c/o Zack Hample” is to inform the folks at Pitch In For Baseball that you’re one of my donors. This will help them keep track of the all the money I’m raising for them.
Pay with your credit card by following these steps:
1) Visiting my fundraising page.
2) Scroll to the bottom.
3) Look for the red banner that says “Make a contribution.”
4) Click the “Other” option at the bottom of the box.
5) Type in the amount of your donation.
6) Click the “Continue” button down below and following the remaining steps.
Thanks so much! I love being able to use my collection to raise money (and awareness) for this charity, and obviously I couldn’t do it without your help.
I’ve snagged a bunch of different commemorative baseballs over the years, and it just occurred to me that this would pretty cool:
All of those balls are photoshopped together into one gigantic image, so if you haven’t done so already, you can click it for a much closer look.
There are three balls in my collection that didn’t make the cut: Enron Field (because the silver stamping is awfully pale), the 2001 Opening Series in Puerto Rico (because the logo is heavily worn), and Miller Park (which is also worn).
Give me a few more years, and hopefully I’ll be able to make a 10-by-10 collage . . .
Playoff baseball with a bunch of friends at my favorite stadium — does it get any better than that?
In the photo above, from left to right, you’re looking at:
1) Avi Miller
2) Tim Anderson
4) Rick Gold
5) Zevi L.
6) Ben Weil
This was my 59th lifetime game at Camden Yards, but only my second time here in the playoffs. During all my regular season trips to this stadium, I had averaged more than 9.4 balls per game, but at my one postseason contest — Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS — I had only snagged four. Now that I was back, I knew it was going to be VERY tough. My main goal was simply to avoid getting shut out, and if possible, I wanted to get my hands on a commemorative postseason ball.
Not surprisingly, within a few minutes of the stadium opening, the left field seats started filling up fast. It seemed that before I even had a chance to blink, the whole front row was packed, and there wasn’t much room to move behind it:
Fast-forward 15 minutes.
The Tigers were already playing catch in left field.
The Orioles were almost done hitting.
I still hadn’t snagged ball, and I was starting to freak out.
That’s when I noticed a ball sitting on the warning track . . .
. . . and broke out my secret weapon. Okay, fine, it’s not much of a secret anymore, but whatever. I’m talking about the glove trick. In the photo above, do you see the security guard standing about 40 feet away? Well, by the time he saw me dangling my glove on the field and began walking over, it was too late. I had the ball! Check it out:
That wasn’t the commemorative ball I was hoping for, but it was still pretty cool.
By the time the Tigers started hitting, there was almost no room to move. In fact, the seats were so packed that when Miguel Cabrera took his cuts, I moved all the way back to the cross-aisle, roughly 425 feet from home plate. It was almost impossible to move there too, but it didn’t matter. Miggy hit two mammoth shots in my direction, both of which hit the facade of the second deck!
Somehow I managed to find a small patch of empty-ish seats all the way out near the bullpens in left-center. When lefties were hitting, I moved down to the front row and tried to get a toss-up, and when righties stepped into the cage, I moved a few rows back and tried to catch a home run. The latter strategy eventually paid off. I’m not sure who hit the ball — my guess would be Torii Hunter — but I can tell you that the biggest challenge was simply zigging and zagging through the crowd to the spot where I knew it was going to land. At the last second, I stepped up onto a seat and reached high above everyone else for the catch.
Take a look at the ball:
My day was already complete, and it was still more than an hour until game time.
A little while later, I spotted Ben in the front row in Tigers gear:
After seeing him struggle for the first half-hour of BP, I was glad when he got a toss-up from Joakim Soria. He got another ball after that, but I forget how. Rick, meanwhile, caught a couple of homers in right-center field.
I headed to the Tigers’ dugout at the end of BP . . .
. . . but didn’t get anything there.
During the lull between BP and the game, I caught up with Ben, and we grabbed a couple of random empty seats here:
Perhaps “lull” is the wrong word:
One great thing about playoff baseball in stadiums where fans aren’t used to winning is that they’re really into it. I mean . . . really REALLY into it. The atmosphere is truly joyous, whereas venues that are home to perennial winners have a sinister business-as-usual vibe.
When the player introductions got underway, I waltzed right down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout — no questions asked. Here’s a photo of Joba Chamberlain’s phenomenal beard and of Miguel Cabrera high-fiving his teammates:
Here’s what it looked like as the Orioles lined up on the field:
After the introductions, I shifted over to the front row in very shallow left field. Several players were throwing . . .
. . . and I ended up getting a ball from Rajai Davis:
A minute or two later, Cabrera came over to sign a few autographs:
I didn’t get him to sign anything, but he did give me a fist-bump before jogging off.
Here’s what the stands looked like behind me:
This was my view when Ian Kinsler led off the game against Chris Tillman:
I was able to lurk for a bit in the aisle and tunnels, but I couldn’t stay in one place for long.
When Victor Martinez led off the top of the 2nd inning, I was standing at the back of the Flag Court in right field — and I nearly snagged the home run that he hit five pitches later. Basically, because of the huge crowd camped out underneath it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I ran right up behind the spot where it was going to land, hoping that everyone would collectively bobble it back in my direction. That’s exactly what ended up happening! It was too good to be true! As I stepped forward and reached out to snag what was about to be my first game home run in the postseason, some random schmuck with a beer in one hand stepped in front of me, knocked the ball down with his bare hand and collapsed on it. If not for that ONE guy, I would have gotten it — no doubt about it. And then, to make matters worse, I wasn’t even paying attention when the next batter, J.D. Martinez, hit an opposite-field homer onto the Flag Court. It ended up barely clearing the wall and getting swallowed up by the throng of fans at the front, but it would’ve been nice to at least make an attempt at snagging it.
Look how crowded it was out there:
Here’s a look from the back of the section — gotta love the guy wearing a full Orioles jumpsuit:
Look how crowded it WASN’T in the right field seats:
All those tickets were donated by the Orioles to a huge group of underprivileged kids — a nice P.R. move, in theory, but why do it in the playoffs if all those seats were going to end up being empty? Am I missing something? Am I being too negative? Were the kids too underprivileged to even make it to the game, or did they simply not care enough to show up? I’m all for helping kids connect to America’s pastime, but this didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Back behind home plate, the crowd was much rowdier in the middle innings:
In the top of the 7th, the Orioles were clinging to a 3-2 lead:
Here’s what the stands behind me looked like in the late innings:
That seems like a boring/innocent photograph, right? Here . . . let me zoom in on it and show you what was *really* taking place:
So yeah. Kate Upton (who’s currently dating Justin Verlander) was there. I only found out because everyone around me seemed to be talking about her, and given the fact that she was sitting in the second row above the cross-aisle, some folks walked past and held up their cameras and took photos right in her face, prompting angry responses from the handful of security personnel who were standing nearby. I, meanwhile, had the decency to move 30 feet away before attempting to take her picture, and what did I get out of it? A great shot of the side of her head and a death stare from the woman sitting beside her.
The Orioles scored EIGHT runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to take a 12-3 lead. I came close to a couple of foul balls on the 3rd base side and eventually gave up. It was too crowded, and my luck was too crappy.
In the top of the 9th inning, I moved here:
I was hoping to a get ball from home plate umpire Paul Schrieber, but after the final out, he blew past me and ignored everyone.
At that point, since there was nothing better to do, I wandered over to the Orioles’ dugout:
That’s when I noticed a “famous fan” on my right:
I’m talking about the dude in the sunglasses and tie. I’d recently seen him a bunch of times on TV, wearing the same outfit and sitting in the front row. It’s hard to miss someone like that. Does anyone know him? What’s his deal? I’m curious.
Here’s a final look at the scoreboard:
Here are the three balls I’d snagged:
Here are Rick and Ben with their baseballs:
Here’s Avi with a ridiculous sign:
If you don’t get the joke (and if you feel like spending a couple of minutes learning about it), click here.
On the way back to New York, Rick and Ben and I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants — Waffle House:
I’m being serious. I love Waffle House so much. I wish *they* would sponsor me for a season.
When I got home (at like 3am), I examined my three baseballs in black light and discovered a beautiful invisible ink stamp on the BP homer. Check it out:
This game took place on October 2nd. I’m now blogging about it on October 16th. The three playoff teams remaining are the Royals, Cardinals, and Giants, which means my season is probably done . . . which is good. This year there was much more frustration than triumph; I can’t wait to put it behind me and come back stronger in 2015.
• 3 baseballs at this game
• 630 balls in 87 games this season = 7.24 balls per game.
• 544 lifetime balls in 59 games at Camden Yards = 9.22 balls per game.
• 130 lifetime balls in 25 postseason games = 5.20 balls per game.
• 1,053 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 375 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 67 different commemorative balls
• 7,806 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $6.15 raised at this game
• $1,291.50 raised this season
• $39,955.50 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
My final Mets game of the season was a day of unbridled excess. Take a look at the photo below and then I’ll (start to) explain:
As you can see, I was holding two tickets. One of them — an e-ticket for the all-you-can-eat Hyundai Club — was given to me by my friend Jeff, pictured above on the left. The other one — a hard/season ticket granting early access — was sold to me at a reasonable price by friend Ben, pictured above in the middle. And guess what? There was the promise of a third ticket coming my way later for a different all-you-can-eat section.
Before the gluttony got underway, there were baseballs to be snagged. Unfortunately, though, when I ran inside the stadium, the Mets hadn’t yet started taking BP. Instead they were playing catch in right field:
Do you remember when I ran into Vic Black on the subway in mid-August? I followed him on Twitter after that and was delighted when he followed me back and then recognized me at subsequent games. I’m mentioning this because I saw him again here along the right field foul line. He came over and shook my hand, and we chatted for a bit, and then he said, “Hey, congrats on the Jeter ball.”
“I follow you on Twitter!” he said, sounding shocked that I would ask such a dumb question.
Meanwhile, I was shocked that he’d seen my Tweet about it.
“I follow you too,” I replied, “but I don’t necessarily see everything you say on there.”
“Oh, well, I try to catch up on everything baseball related,” he said.
Vic Black is truly one of the friendliest players I’ve ever met — right up there with Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Grilli, Josias Manzanillo, Brian Stokes, and maybe even Heath Bell.
A few minutes later, Lucas Duda threw me my first ball of the day, and soon after that, with Mets BP finally underway, I got another tossed by Jacob deGrom:
My next ball was No. 7,800 lifetime, and I got it rather unexpectedly. It was a Curtis Granderson homer that I caught on the fly in straight-away right field — no big deal, right? Well, if you’ve never been to Citi Field, you need to know that right field is a disaster. Not only is there a huge area without seats (because of a netting-covered section behind the outfield wall), but the overhang of the second deck prevents most home runs from reaching the stands. The Granderson homer missed the facade of the second deck by about a foot, and it was hit so hard (and with such a low trajectory) that it was able to reach me in the front row. Is this making any sense? Do you understand why right field is so bad? The front row in any outfield section *should* be a spot where home runs frequently land, but here at Citi, everything had to fall exactly into place for the ball to reach me.
My next stop was right-center field:
That’s another awful section, mainly because it’s two miles from home plate, but because there weren’t many fans yet in the stadium, I did okay out there. Travis d’Arnaud threw me my fourth ball of the day, leaving me one short of a milestone. My next ball was going to be my 1,000th lifetime at Citi Field. Here’s a crappy photo that shows how I got it:
More specifically, it was a home run that landed in the bullpen and rolled to the back of the mound. The employee pictured above (who might have been a groundskeeper) retrieved it and tossed it to me.
Two minutes later, I got my sixth ball tossed by Bartolo Colon. Things were looking good. It was still early. Double digits seemed like a guarantee . . . until I ran back to left field and saw this:
With the exception of those two players (and a coach) in left field, the Astros were nowhere in sight. And did you notice the groundskeepers in the photo above? See them in shallow center field? They were removing the screens. Batting practice was done. POOF!! Just like that.
I thought about heading to the Hyundai Club and eating my sorrows away, but decided to wander into foul territory instead. This turned out to be a good move, as Vic Black and Josh Edgin randomly appeared and started posing for photos with fans:
Of course, not everyone was excited about it . . .
. . . but I was certainly glad to see Vic again. Here he is giving me a thumbs-up:
I got him to sign a ticket “To Zack” from the previous night’s game:
He and Edgin were being *so* friendly. They were shaking people’s hands and making conversation, so when Edgin made his way over to me, I said, “Hey, Josh, whats up!”
He responded by reaching out with both hands, playfully squeezing my backpack, and saying, “How many today?”
“Wait a minute . . . you know about my baseball collection?”
“I got six today. Would’ve been more if the Astros had hit. But seriously, how did you know?”
“I saw it on YouTube.”
“Was that just random internet browsing or did someone tell you about it?”
“I think I heard about it from him,” he said, pointing at Vic.
“Wow. And you’ve continued to throw baseballs to me anyway?”
“Well, I heard about your charity and that you give lots of balls to kids, so that’s pretty cool.”
I was in shock. Prior to this, I had no idea that Edgin recognized me, and in fact I assumed he wasn’t too friendly. Other than having shouted at him from afar for the occasional baseball, I’d never interacted with him. I had only seen him on TV, lookin’ all pissed off with his tough-guy beard, so if anything I figured he was someone to avoid. Now I must humbly admit that I was wrong.
Here’s a ticket that he signed for me:
After saying thanks and goodbye to my new Mets friends, I was ready for the Hyundai Club. Rather than eating my sorrows away, I would eat in celebration!
Here’s what the club looks like:
Jeff was there, ready to join me for an early dinner:
I considered the various food options, starting with this carving station . . .
. . . and these semi-fancy items:
Here’s what I got:
The plate above contains:
1) braised brisket
2) herb crusted filet of perch
3) rigatoni with pesto cream sauce
4) seared chicken with baby arugula salad
Here’s what I got next:
In case you can’t tell, those chips are loaded with chili, cheese sauce, tomatoes, onions, and guacamole.
The quality of all this food ranged from “good” to “forgettable.” Certainly the best thing about it was that it was free, but to be fair, I had been spoiled recently by two games in the Legends area of Yankee Stadium, where the tickets are insanely expensive and the food is incomparably better.
Here’s the Hyundai Club bar:
Alcohol was not included in the price of the ticket — a non-issue for me since I rarely drink.
Here’s one of several tunnels that lead to the seats . . .
. . . and here’s the only “dessert” that was available before game time:
In the Legends area, there’s an endless assortment of candy and desserts that are available from the time the stadium opens, but here at the Hyundai Club, there was one tiny freezer of ice cream bars, which was locked until the 5th inning. In a nutshell, that’s the difference between the Mets and Yankees.
Do you remember the netting-covered section that I was complaining about during BP? Well, here’s a photo of it:
See the fan in the orange jersey standing behind the outfield fence? That was Ben! Somehow he’d gotten four free tickets to that area from the Mets, and he was saving one for me. (That area used to be sponsored by Modell’s Sporting Goods and was known as the Mo’s Zone. Now it lacks a sponsor and is called The Clubhouse.) All I had to do was show up there, and he’d escort me inside. But what about Jeff and Hyundai Club? I didn’t want to be rude and abandon him. But The Clubhouse was special. I’d never been there during a game and really wanted to check it out.
Jeff was very understanding. He knew what he was getting into when he offered me a ticket and wasn’t concerned with my whereabouts, so this was the compromise: I would sit with him for the first few innings, then go find Ben for the middle innings, and rejoin Jeff for the remainder of the game. It was a perfect plan, except for one thing, namely my inability to sit still. This was our view in the top of the 1st inning . . .
. . . and here’s where I went in the bottom of the 1st:
You see, the first five batters for the Mets were left-handed, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped on the 1st base side of home plate, where there was *no* chance of getting a foul ball. Of course, as it turned out, Astros starter Samuel Deduno was an extreme ground-ball pitcher, so the Mets hardly hit any foul balls back into the seats on either side.
After the 1st inning, I grabbed a pulled pork sandwich on the way back to the 1st base side:
It was almost as good as this one I got at PETCO Park three days earlier.
After the 3rd inning, as planned, I walked out of the Hyundai Club and headed through the concourse until I reached the Shea Bridge:
In the photo above, did you notice the sign for The Clubhouse on the far right? Here’s where I went to get there:
At the bottom of those stairs, I turned to the left and saw this:
In the six-year history of Citi Field, I’ve only passed through there a few times, and it’s always deserted.
I didn’t know where to go when I reached the very bottom . . . until I looked around and saw this:
Here’s what it looked like inside the doors:
Where were the security guards? Where was . . . anyone? What the hell was going on? Was I at a major league baseball stadium or in an abandoned nuclear power plant?
After taking a few steps, I looked to the left and saw this:
Seriously, Mets, WTF?!
I kept going and eventually saw another human being:
And then I saw a few more:
Hooray! I reached my destination without getting lost or being arrested for trespassing!
Then I called Ben, who came out with a ticket for me:
Now I had three tickets and two wristbands:
The Clubhouse was an all-you-can-eat area, though not nearly as good as the Hyundai Club. There were hot dogs . . .
. . . and cheeseburgers:
There was an open bar . . .
. . . but rather than loading up on free beer, I got my 4th bottled water of the day.
Then I stumbled upon a sorry display of chips, salsa, and cookies:
I ate a cookie. Oatmeal raisin. Not bad, surprisingly.
Here’s what the outdoor seating area of The Clubhouse looks like:
Look who else was with Ben:
That’s his fiancée Jen and our friend Chris Hernandez.
It was fun hanging out with them, but our view of the game was lousy:
It didn’t really matter. Heading into the 5th inning, there was no score, so it’s not like I was missing much.
Poking the lens of my camera through the chain-link fence made the view appear better . . .
. . . but I still felt terribly removed from the action.
Moments later I felt even worse when I looked straight up at the overhang of the second deck and saw this:
What exactly was I seeing?
Here, have a closer look:
There was a time in my life — 19 years ago, to be specific — when I actually thought pigeons were worth getting to know. But now? Not so much. And to make matters worse, I had this image in my head of bird poop coating the top of the outfield wall, right in that very spot. I’d seen it several weeks earlier and ew-ew-ew!! What is wrong with the Mets? Haven’t they heard of pigeon spikes? I realize that the overhang of the second deck is kinda high up and hard to reach, but umm, perhaps they should’ve thought of that when they built it. It’s not like it’s too late. They should hire a team of contractors or bring in a crane or do something!! METS FANS HAVE TO DEAL WITH ENOUGH CRAP AS IT IS!! THEY DON’T NEED ANY MORE RAINING DOWN ON THEM FROM THE SKY!!
I got the hell out of there after that and wandered toward the far end The Clubhouse:
Upon closer inspection, I realized that I could see into the indoor portion of the Mets’ bullpen:
Here’s an even closer look:
Yikes! Bullpen coach Ricky Bones caught me photographing him and was not amused. Perhaps the Mets should’ve thought of that too when they built that room with a gigantic window facing the fans.
I wish I had a better camera because if I did, I’d be able to read the small text on that “pace of game procedures” sign on the wall. See it there above the phone? Click the photo above to zoom in on it.
Before leaving The Clubhouse, two significant things happened. First, the Astros took a 1-0 lead, and second, I got a cheeseburger:
I said goodbye to Ben, Jen, and Chris and raced back to the Hyundai Club, worried that I might’ve missed dessert. Thankfully I still had some options for getting sugared up. There were cupcakes and cookies . . .
. . . and the previously-locked ice cream freezer was now open:
I started with this . . .
. . . and then ate these:
And then I ate another ice cream bar. Yeah, three ice creams. What’re you gonna do about it?!
Here’s what the scoreboard looked like as the game headed to the bottom of the 9th inning:
Pinch-hitter Eric Campbell, desperately needing to get on base but lacking guidance, swung at the very first pitch of the inning and hit a flyout to center field. That’s bad baseball. Eric Young Jr. followed with a triple, giving the fans some hope and bringing up the Mets’ best hitter — Daniel Murphy. The result? A weak fly ball to left field, failing to tie the game. There was still a chance with Lucas Duda stepping to the plate, but the lefty-lefty matchup against reliever Tony Sipp was unfavorable. Duda took the first pitch for a ball. Then I pulled out my camera and took the following photo as Sipp delivered the next pitch:
To the surprise of absolutely everyone, Duda ripped a deep line drive down the right field line that hit the foul pole! Game over!
I kept taking photos as the Mets spilled out onto the field:
Having learned nothing from Kendrys Morales, Duda look a flying leap as he approached home plate:
Here’s a closer look:
Thankfully he was not injured.
Jeff and I got an usher to take a photo of us . . .
. . . and just as my camera was being handed back to me, I noticed someone on the Mets creeping up on Duda with a Gatorade cooler. I thought I was going to miss it, but somehow hit the button in time:
Anthony Recker, the player with the cooler, sure seemed to be proud of himself:
Am I the only one who thinks that dumping a large quantity of an ice-cold beverage on a heroic teammate is the stupidest thing ever? Does anyone else think that slamming a shaving cream “pie” in someone’s face is a terrible way to celebrate? To me it seems like something that oughta be done as a punishment for someone who blows the game, not to someone who wins it.
Speaking of punishments, check out the Jumbotron:
I’d never heard of Austin Mahone until the Mets started promoting his concert several months ago, and I knew I wanted no part of it. Therefore, when the field started taking shape for his performance . . .
. . . I made my exit and got a ride home from Chris.
Goodbye Citi Field.
See you next year.
• 627 balls in 86 games this season = 7.29 balls per game.
• 1,001 lifetime balls in 133 games at Citi Field = 7.53 balls per game.
• 1,052 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 718 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 14,367 (or so) calories consumed at this game
• 7,803 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $12.30 raised at this game
• $1,285.35 raised this season
• $39,949.35 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
This was my third and final game in San Diego, and it started with batting practice in deep right-center field:
Once again, my friend Brandon Sloter was with me, but this time, instead of taking photos, he shot video. He’s still working on editing the footage, so for now I’ll share a bunch of screen shots. The image below shows my first ball of the day getting flipped over the outfield fence by Odrisamer Despaigne. It’s kind of blurry, so I’ve circled the streaking ball in red:
That’s me in the tan shorts, and as you can see in the following screen shot, I had to outjump another fan to snag it:
Here I am admiring the ball:
It was commemorative. I was quite happy.
After taking a quick break to get the sand out of my shoes . . .
. . . I caught up with my friend Devin Trone:
He and I had been competing for baseballs and getting in each other’s way for the past two days, and this game was no different. Here I am robbing him on a ground-rule double . . .
. . . and here he is getting revenge on another double moments later:
That was a phenomenal catch. While keeping his eyes mostly on the ball, he climbed up from the sand onto the first step and then jumped and flailed and somehow snatched the ball just in front of my glove as I was reaching out for it.
We shared a high-five after that:
Because of the limited space on the Beach, we knew we’d end up scampering after the same baseballs, but we made it work.
Here’s something that didn’t turn out well:
The photo above shows Brandon outside the stadium, being denied for early access at the season ticket holder entrance. I had gotten in by borrowing someone’s season ticket holder ID card. I was hoping that the guards would let me bring him in as my guest, but nope. On the Padres’ final home game of the season, which was supposedly a time of “fan appreciation,” security wouldn’t allow it. Two days earlier, a different guard had let both me and Brandon enter as someone else’s guest, but this time, we encountered a real stiff-ass who gave us the whole, “I’m just doing my job” speech.
It really sucked that Brandon couldn’t get in with me because he missed everything that happened along the left field foul line:
First I got a ball thrown to me by Tommy Kahnle. Then I got another tossed near the foul pole by some trainer-type guy. And finally, I ended up playing catch with Charlie Culberson for two or
three minutes (which is a very long time to engage like that with a player on the field). At one point, some random 20-something-year-old guy approached me in the stands and asked if he could throw one. Reluctantly, I handed him the ball, and he chucked it at Culberson. Before it was thrown back, the guy asked to borrow my glove. I was feeling charitable, and we were the only two people in the section, so I let him use it. They ended up throwing the ball back and forth for about 30 seconds before I reclaimed my glove. Culberson and I threw a bit more after that, including a brief knuckleball session, and then he let me keep the ball, which was my fifth of the day. It was so much fun, but UGH!!! I can’t believe that on this rare day that Brandon was filming me, he wasn’t able to be there to capture any of this.
When the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I ran to the seats in left-center field, and Brandon met me there. That’s where I caught my sixth ball of the day — a home run that I caught in the front row. I don’t know who hit that one (or any of the others that I’m going to tell you about), but here’s a screen shot of it streaking into my glove:
I forgot to mention that I had changed into my Rockies jersey.
A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around, I was surprised to see that it was a Padres employee, dressed in a button-down shirt with an official lanyard around his neck. My first thought was, “Oh god, what am I in trouble for NOW?” but as it turned out, this guy knew who I was and wanted to introduce himself. His name is Russell Wuerffel, and he explained how he played a role in getting the commemorative logo (for the 10th anniversary of PETCO Park) approved by Major League Baseball and *on* the actual baseballs. Here we are:
I told him what I mentioned in my entry from 9/22/14 at PETCO Park — that it might be my favorite commemorative logo ever. He was glad that I liked it so much, and of course I was glad to have met the guy who helped make it happen.
My best catch of the day (if not the entire month) came on my next ball — a home hun hit one section to my right. Here I am running through the empty second row:
Here I am jumping as high as possible:
Here I am looking at the ball snow-coning out of my glove and thinking, “Whoa, I actually caught that?”
And here I am getting a random-high five from a kid on the way back to my spot:
Here’s a short video of that catch:
I gave away three balls to kids in left field (and offered several others to kids who politely declined because they’d already gotten one), so no one was pissed that I snagged so many.
My eighth ball was a homer that smacked off the facade of the second deck and conveniently landed on the staircase behind me. Here I am grabbing it:
My ninth ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, half a section to my right. That might sound simple, but there was a bit of a fancy maneuver required. Look closely at the following screen shot, and you’ll see me climbing forward over a row of seats:
I was actually stepping onto a seat in order to get higher than the people around me. Here I am reaching up for the ball:
After that catch, I noticed Eddie Butler watching me from about 30 feet away, so I called him over and said, “Have you ever seen one fan catch as many baseballs as I’ve caught?”
I forget exactly what he said (and it’s too faint to hear in Brandon’s video), but it was something like, “You mean, have I ever seen anyone knock that many kids over?” He made an exaggerated elbowing gesture and had a big grin on his face . . .
. . . so I played along and shouted at the camera, “Did you hear that?! A major league baseball player just falsely accused me of pushing kids out of the way! Take it back! TAKE IT BACK!!”
“You’re saving their lives, right?” he said.
“Saving lives,” I joked. “That’s what I’m doing out here.”
My 10th ball was a homer that I caught on the fly, several feet to my left. It was heading *right* toward a man who was wearing a glove and had been standing next to me for half an hour. Somehow this happened to be the only moment that he wasn’t paying attention, so I calmly shifted over and reached right above his head for an easy catch.
Brandon followed me to right field for the final group of hitters. I didn’t catch any batted balls out there (because I’m an idiot and misjudged one), but I did get a couple of toss-ups. Here’s the first one being thrown to me from the warning track by a coach I didn’t recognize:
Here’s the second one sailing toward me:
That was thrown by Tyler Matzek, and did you notice that I was straddling a row of seats? I thought it was going to fall short, so I half-climbed over, but that turned out to be unnecessary.
After BP, I met a young fan named Brent who asked me to autograph a ball that he’d snagged. Here he is with it:
Before the game, I hung out on the landing of a staircase overlooking the bullpens:
Here’s some advice for anyone seeing the Rockies on the road: don’t expect to get anything from bullpen catcher Pat Burgess. He’s one of the least generous players/coaches I’ve encountered in a while, and I’m making this claim based on one specific interaction. In the photo above, do you see the big/tan/round flowerpot that has some green crap growing out of it? More specifically, I’m talking about the one at the very bottom of the image. Brandon pointed out to me that there was a baseball tucked behind it — obviously a ball that had gotten loose and was otherwise forgotten. In situations like this, when I point out a hidden ball to someone on the field (or in this case, the bullpen), it gets tossed to me 49 out of 50 times. See where I’m going with this? I pointed it out to Burgess, and the son-of-a-gun completely ignored me. First he walked past it and didn’t touch it. Then, two minutes later, he retrieved it and placed it in the ball bag. That’s lame.
This was my view in the top of the 1st inning:
I thought I’d hang out there for an inning or two and get an easy 3rd-out ball, but there were a zillion kids, so I quickly gave up and wandered to right field:
Look what kind of trouble I got into out there:
Do you remember Brent, who’d gotten me to sign his baseball? That’s him in the photo above.
A little while later, I noticed a woman with a FOX microphone nearby. She didn’t seem to be rushing anywhere (as sideline reporters tend to do), so I struck up a conversation, and whaddaya know? Half an inning later, she interviewed me live on the Padres’ telecast:
Her name is Kris Budden, and the interview, not surprisingly, was brief. Here’s what was said:
KRIS: Welcome back. Well, you never know who you’re gonna run into at a baseball game, and I found superfan over here, Zack, who’s really just a fan of every baseball team and a fan of snagging foul balls, batting practice balls, home run balls. How many in your career have you collected?
ZACK: Seven thousand seven hundred and ninety-two.
KRIS: Can you even fit those in your house? What do you do with that many balls?
ZACK: I’ve given away a ton of baseballs to kids at games, I donated some to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball last year, and I just keep the rest. It was a dorky childhood hobby that’s turned into a dorky adult hobby, and I just have fun with it.
KRIS: He has a whole backpack that he’s been carrying with him. Favorite home run ball that you’ve ever caught?
ZACK: Well, I caught Mike Trout’s first, which was pretty sweet. I got Barry Bonds’ 724th in right field here at PETCO in ’06. I also caught the last home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium, so those are probably the top three.
KRIS: I like it! Well, that is a pretty great hobby, Zack. Thanks so much for joining us. I know you got work to do — you gotta catch a few more.
ZACK: Yeah, I gotta get back into action here.
And that was it. Sixty-two seconds and out. My last name wasn’t mentioned. No website. No Twitter handle. No book titles. No sponsors. The only thing I made sure to mention was the charity. Once again, it’s called Pitch In For Baseball, and it provides equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. I’ve been raising money for them every season since 2009, and I’m doing it again this year. If you donate before the conclusion of the World Series, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.
After the interview, I caught up with a legendary ballhawk named T.C., who was sitting nearby:
The first thing I asked him about was the home run he’d caught in the top of the 1st inning. I was sitting behind the dugout at the time and could not be-LIEVE my eyes when Charlie Blackmon launched one right in T.C.’s direction. He appeared to lean over a railing, make the catch, and hold up the ball. Pretty simple (and lucky and awesome), right? Well, T.C. nonchalantly admitted that he hadn’t caught it — that it had fallen several feet short and that he’d faked the whole thing by holding up a different ball.
Take a look for yourself at the highlight:
Mind = blown.
Part of me is like, “That’s a clown ballhawking move, bro,” but the other part is like, “The legend of T.C. grows!” This is a man who caught Chad Curtis’s 1st career home run, Terry Pendleton’s 100th, and Adam Dunn’s 250th. He has caught a walk-off grand slam (Bip Roberts on May 20, 1995), and he once caught two Ken Caminiti homers in one game, each hit from a different side of the plate, so why the hell was he fake-catching a Charlie Blackmon homer? Some questions are better left unanswered.
As I’ve mentioned before, I featured T.C. as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time in my latest book, The Baseball. Check it out. You’ll find the section about him on pages 281-282.
I didn’t really know where to go after that. The stadium was surprisingly crowded (attendance: 38,589), and I’d already reached double digits, and I’d snagged plenty of commemorative balls, so whatever. It would’ve been nice to catch a home run, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I was restless and kinda wanted to keep wandering.
I walked along this open-air concourse in deep center field . . .
. . . and made my way to left field:
I was hoping to catch up with my friend Leigh Barratt, who has season tickets out there, but he wasn’t in his seat, and the section was packed, so I kept moving.
I caught up with Brandon, and we headed to the Beach:
I’d never been out there during a game, and that’s probably a good thing. Look at the madness that was taking place in the sand:
After five minutes, I needed to get out of there. All those kids were driving me crazy, and there were a bunch of right-handed hitters due to bat, who clearly weren’t going to hit the ball 410 feet to right-center, so why stick around. Right?
Two minutes after we left, Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin caught a deep fly ball for the third out and tossed it to no one in particular, right where we’d been. Oh, the agony.
Here’s something that cheered me up:
The photo above is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a friar photo-bombing my pulled pork sandwich from Phil’s BBQ. I got some vanilla ice cream after that and headed into foul territory on the right field side. This was my view:
I sat there for an inning with Brandon because one of his friends (whom I’ve gotten to know during various road trips to the west coast) was there.
Here’s what was happening in the game:
I was hoping for the Padres to win because I was planning to go to their dugout after the final out, and I figured there’d be a better chance of getting something if they came out on top.
Well, the Padres *did* win, and it was quite a scene in the stands:
Here’s the crowd from behind:
In the photo above, that’s me in the Padres/Jones jersey. It belongs to Brandon, or maybe “belonged” is better word. He gave it to me because he knows I’ll get more use out of it than he will, but he might ask for it back someday. I guess that’s fair.
After five minutes or so, Tyson Ross poked his head out of the dugout and threw a few pairs of Padres gym shorts into the crowd. I caught one in the tip of my glove, only to have someone yank it out and claim it as his own. Whatever. Who the hell wants Padres gym shorts anyway? Then Ross threw handfuls of bubble gum into the crowd, and look! I got some!
Before heading out, I caught up with a guy named Andy who had recognized me and said hello during BP:
Leigh had made his way to the seats behind the Padres’ dugout, so on my way out, I got to see him and say a proper goodbye. Here we are outside the stadium:
Good times in San Diego. PETCO Park is one of my favorites, so hopefully I’ll make it back there soon.
• 616 balls in 84 games this season = 7.33 balls per game.
• 142 lifetime balls in 13 games at PETCO Park = 10.92 balls per game.
• 1,050 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 374 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 261 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 7,792 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $24.60 raised at this game
• $1,262.80 raised this season
• $39,926.80 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
During a lull in batting practice on 9/22/14 at PETCO Park, a local friend asked if I had any pre-game plans the following day. “Yeah,” I said matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna go hang out at Heath Bell’s house.” That seemed to amuse him, so I played along as if it were a joke, but that WAS, in fact, my plan. Fast-forward to the morning of September 23rd. Here I am with Heath and his wife Nicole:
That photo was taken by their four-year-old son, Rhett, who had been placed by Heath on the dining room counter for that purpose. (I had to rotate it slightly and then crop it, but wow! Nice job, young man!)
I was really glad to be there. Not only was it my first visit to their home, but it was the first time that I got to have an actual conversation with Nicole, who’s super-friendly. She and I had crossed paths once or twice before, but only in the context of post-game mayhem at stadiums. Of course it was also great to catch up with Heath. We had hung out several times last year (lunch in St. Louis followed by a tour of the Argosy Book Store in New York City and a post-game trip to the MLB Fan Cave), but I’d barely seen him this season.
You know how some athletes are totally guarded and boring? Heath is the opposite. As always, he shared lots of personal stuff and told me interesting things about the baseball world. He also said I could take some photos of his memorabilia collection and post them on my blog, so here you go:
I’m not sure if that space qualifies as a living room or simply a den, but whatever you want to call it, it’s amazing. All the bats on the right side were autographed and given to him by various players, including an Ichiro Suzuki bat that Heath broke with one of his pitches. How cool is that?! Heath told me that players ask each other for autographs all the time, but there’s a certain way of going about it. With superstars on other teams, you often have to tiptoe around them and put in the request through a clubhouse attendant, but with most guys, you can ask them directly. Not surprisingly, Barry Bonds was the toughest. According to Heath, the Yankees run a profitable side business of selling brand-new Derek Jeter jerseys to visiting players, nearly all of whom send them over to the home clubhouse to get signed.
In the photo above, did you notice the extensive collection of Bobbleheads above the TV, the Heath Bell jerseys hanging on either side, and the four-foot-tall popcorn maker in the corner? All that stuff was cool, but my favorite thing in the room was probably the double-rack of balls along the ceiling. Those are the final outs of all of his career saves, except for one, which he gave to a friend. I forgot to ask him what happens if he saves a milestone win for a starting pitcher. Presumably both guys would want the ball, but how would they decide who gets to keep it?
Here’s a closeup of some baseball bats:
I spotted several that Heath himself had signed, and I made fun of him for having his own autograph. His reason is a good one: all the bats are signed, and if he leaves the collection to his kids someday, he wants them to have their own father’s autograph.
In the photo above, most of the balls in the protective cases are signed, but some are just flat-out awesome and rare, like this one:
Here’s another special ball I found nearby:
In the photo above, did you notice the lineup card? He had several of those displayed on various shelves, all from his milestone wins and saves.
Check out his All-Star Game shoes:
It might be tough for the haters out there to remember that from 2009 through 2011, he was one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball, averaged 44 saves per season, and was selected to three consecutive All-Star teams. Even with his recent struggles, he still has a solid lifetime ERA of 3.49 and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his career. That’s legit.
Everything in Heath’s place was special — even the pillows:
Those were made out of his jerseys, and as a pillow lover myself, I truly appreciated them.
After a couple of hours at the house, I joined Heath for a short ride in his truck. He told me about his time with the Rays this season and what it was like playing for Joe Maddon. He also mentioned some things about pitching in the minors for both the Orioles and Yankees. He said he’s been working out and throwing and that he’s hoping to make a comeback next year.
We went to the drive-through window of a restaurant I’m too embarrassed to name, brought the food back to the house, and ate with Nicole and Rhett.
As I mentioned on Twitter, here I am getting my ass kicked:
In my own defense, I used to be *really* good at ping pong — so good that I won my 4th-grade ping pong tournament (at an obnoxious all-boys school that was generally ultra-competitive). But now my skills are rusty as hell. Before losing 21-9 to Heath (who seemed to be taking it easy on me), I hadn’t played in years — maybe in decades. I won’t claim that the nine-year-old me could’ve beaten the 36-year-old Heath, but at the very least, it would’ve been close.
I should mention that my friend Brandon Sloter played a huge role in making this visit happen. When he picked me up at the airport the day before, he half-jokingly suggested that I contact Heath to see if he was free to hang out. In the back of my mind, I knew that Heath lived near San Diego, but it just hadn’t occurred to me to set something up ahead of time. I was here to attend three Padres games and snag some commemorative baseballs. I hadn’t thought about anything else. When Heath texted me back and invited me over, Brandon offered to drop me off at his place and pick me up at the end, so it all worked out perfectly.
I’m not sure when I’ll see Heath again — hopefully next season in various major league cities, especially New York so I can invite him over to see *my* baseball collection (and play Arkanoid, so I have a chance to beat him at something). But if nothing else, I’m just glad to have gotten to spend some time with him in San Diego. Obviously it’s cool to hang out with a major leaguer, but I don’t really think about that anymore with him. He’s just a cool dude who loves talking baseball and is fun to be around. I invited him to join me for the Padres game, but he said he had other stuff to do, and I believe him. The man has four kids and is currently enjoying his first “free” summer in 18 years.
Brandon and I took off and headed to the stadium together. On the way, we stopped here and played catch for about 15 minutes:
Whenever I visit Brandon, his favorite thing to say is, “Yeah, San Diego sucks. You should stay in New York.”
It actually *did* suck when we got stuck in traffic for half an hour, forcing me to contact my friend Leigh Barratt and ask him to hold a spot for me in line.
We reached the stadium 10 minutes before it opened. Here’s Leigh (in the tan shorts) fighting off the crowd:
He was the ONLY person waiting at that gate. Can you believe that?! Maybe San Diego doesn’t suck so much after all.
Other fans, of course, were waiting elsewhere, so when the stadium opened, there was actually somewhat of a crowd. Here I am on “the Beach,” watching helplessly as a ball was tossed to some little kids nearby:
Here I am watching another ball get tossed to a little girl:
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get baseballs. In most cases, they absolutely should. It’s just frustrating to be stuck in a section 400 feet from home plate, watching a team that can’t hit, depending on toss-ups, and being 28 years too old.
Thankfully, after all the kids had gotten their share of baseballs, it was the grown-ups’ turn. Here I am catching a toss-up from Odrisamer Despaigne:
That ball was commemorative:
Here’s an action shot that shows me out-jumping my friend Devin Trone for my second ball of the day:
That one also happened to be tossed by Despaigne, and by the way, don’t feel bad for Devin. He robbed me several times over the course of this series and ended up with a bunch of balls at this game.
Here are my first two baseballs — the only ones I got during the Padres’ portion of BP:
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sneak into the main part of the stadium with the season ticket holders, so I was trapped at the Beach for the first hour. And yes, it was awful. First I had to suffer through 20 minutes of dead time when the Padres cleared the field, and when the Rockies finally started hitting, I only got one more ball. It was a homer by a right-handed batter that barely cleared the wall, smacked off a tiny area of pavement, and bounced way up into the bleachers. Here I am running up the steps for it (after having thrown on a dark Rockies shirt):
As soon as I grabbed the ball, I looked at Brandon:
Let me translate that facial expression: “If you didn’t get any photos of that, I’m going to kill you.”
I’m kind of joking. Brandon is one of my closest friends, but I’ve come to expect camera wizardry whenever we go to games. Not only is he a professional photographer/videographer, but that’s why we first met on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium; he had gotten in touch before that series and offered to take some shots of me for my blog.
Anyway, here at PETCO, when the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to left field:
It was dead. I didn’t come close to any homers, and I couldn’t get anyone to throw me a ball. When I told Brandon that I was giving up on left field, he tried to convince me to go here with him . . .
. . . but I had no interest. If BP weren’t taking place, I would’ve joined him, but there were still baseballs to be caught!
This was my view for the next group of hitters:
At the time, I had no idea that Brandon was already back in the left field seats. Here’s a photo he took of Charlie Blackmon in the cage . . .
. . . and here’s a shot of me reaching up for a Corey Dickerson homer:
In case you can’t tell, in the photo above, I’m standing in the cross-aisle, casting a shadow on the wall behind me. And yeah, that’s the legendary T.C. covering his head 20 feet to the right. Ha!
That was one of the easiest home runs I’ve ever caught. There was no competition whatsoever, and the ball came right to me. The only skillful thing about it was having decided to stand there in the first place.
That was it for BP — only four baseballs — but my day was far from done. Back in left field, I noticed a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole:
Did you notice me in the photo above? See the groundskeeper rolling the screen along the nonexistent foul line? I’m standing directly above him in the front row. Did you notice the person standing just to the right of the ball? You can barely see her poking out behind the foul pole. I thought she was a ballgirl, but found out later that she was part of the Pad Squad. When the groundskeeper approached the ball, she picked it up and handed it him, but he wanted no part of it and tossed it back to her, prompting several fans to ask for it. She clearly had no idea what to do, so she thought about it briefly and then started walking toward the infield. That’s what’s happening in the following photo:
Here I am asking for the ball:
Moments later, some other guy asked for it too. She responded by saying that she was going to put it over “there” and that he could try to reach it or wait and see what happened. The spot she chose was on the warning track, one foot out from the wall next to a little equipment bag where the wall started to slant up. As soon as she placed it there and walked away, the other guy started heading toward it, but I was closer, so I leaned over to grab it:
Somehow, according to a friend of mine, I ended up getting bashed on Facebook for stealing a ball from the ballgirl’s bag, but obviously that’s not what happened.
That was my 7,777th lifetime baseball. I celebrated by devouring a slice of pizza:
Twenty minutes before game time, I noticed one of the groundskeepers sprinkling a mystery substance on the edge of the infield grass:
It just so happens that I’m friends with a guy who used to work as a minor league groundskeeper. (His name is Joe Kelly. Remember him? We worked together for the Boise Hawks in 1995 and saw each other most recently on 4/26/13 at Safeco Field.) I sent him that photo and asked what the deal was. He said it was “probably a divot repair mixture of sand and seed, likely pre-germinated seed, maybe dyed green.” Okay then.
This was my view in the bottom of the 1st inning:
Rather than playing both dugouts, which had gotten me into trouble with stadium security the night before, I decided to stay on the Rockies’ side until I got a 3rd-out ball.
Look who else was there:
That’s Devin, who was also dressed for the occasion. The night before, he had a front-row seat and snagged two game-used balls, so he was willing to let me take a shot at getting one now. He understood that even though I’d gotten six commemorative balls in two days, I wanted another. All the ones I’d snagged were practice balls; I wanted a gamer that had been rubbed with mud.
It didn’t take long. I ended up getting one after the 1st inning — a Rene Rivera groundout off Jorge De La Rosa, fielded by Rafael Ynoa at 3rd base and fired across the diamond to Justin Morneau . . . who tossed it to me on his way in. The ball was in great-but-not-perfect condition:
As you can see, the commemorative logo was flawless, but the “Official Major League Baseball” portion was partially worn. (Poor me. I know.)
Moments after I took that photo, the same usher who’d hassled me the day before appeared out of nowhere and asked to see my ticket. I showed him, and he was satisfied, but before heading back up the steps, he pointed toward the command center inside the batter’s eye and said, “They’re still watching you with their cameras, right above those hedges. You might as well smile.”
I’ll tell you what I did instead: I got the hell out of there, changed my outfit, and went to left field. I was planning to camp out in a tunnel in the second deck . . .
. . . until I noticed T.C. sitting right in front of me. In the photo above, that’s him in the white mesh cap. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, he’s one of the top ten ballhawks of all time according to a book called The Baseball.)
On my way down to the 100 Level, I paused for a moment to admire the glorious bullpen configuration:
That’s just a bit nicer than the bullpens at Citi Field, don’tcha think?
For the next two hours, this was my view:
I wasn’t really trying to get another ball. I just wanted to watch the game and not be bothered. Leigh came and found me at one point, which was nice. After he moved back to his seat, Brandon caught up with me, which was also nice. I was glad to have company. I just didn’t feel like dealing with snarky ushers or exerting myself.
That changed fast when THIS happened:
Did you see me get robbed by Brandon Barnes? Here’s a screen shot of the most action-packed moment:
That’s me in the white shirt, reaching for the ball. If it had been hit one foot higher, I would’ve caught it, and for the record, no, this wasn’t an egregious case of (potential) fan interference. I’ll admit that my glove was several inches in front of the outfield wall, and for that I apologize, but I wasn’t reaching nearly as far into play as you might think. Check out this photo of me using the glove trick in 2008. See how wide the space between the stands and the outfield wall is? It’s about four feet, so I’m telling you — I really wasn’t doing anything terrible.
Here’s a photo of Barnes taken soon after his amazing catch:
In the 9th inning, I decided to head back to the 3rd base dugout and try to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the game. That seemed like the most reliable way to snag a mud-rubbed ball with a pristine commemorative logo.
This was my view in the top of the 9th:
Here’s a look at the scoreboard:
In the bottom of the 9th, Brandon took a photo from left field that captured me and Devin in the seats behind the Rockies’ dugout:
In the photo above, the arrow on the left is pointing at Devin, who was in the perfect seat near the umps’ tunnel. The arrow on the right is pointing at me, climbing back over a row of seats in order to work my way down. Whenever I move around, I make sure not to block anyone’s view, and I try not to make people stand up.
After the final out of the Rockies’ 3-2 victory, Devin got a ball from umpire Hal Gibson III, and then I got one right after, which was in perfect condition! Then, less than a minute later, I got a ball tossed by someone on the Rockies. I’m not sure who. It might’ve been coach Eric Young, but anyway, here’s a photo of me lunging for it:
That was my eighth and final ball of the day. Here’s a photo of the two I’d just gotten:
In the photo above, did you notice all the people standing around on the infield? Those were fans and players putting the finishing touches on a “Shirts Off Their Backs” promotion.
Brandon had told me several innings earlier that his phone was about to die, so we made a plan to meet behind the Rockies’ dugout after the game. Easy, right? Well, five minutes later, there was no sign of him, so I started wandering around the seats on the 3rd base side. Mainly I was looking for him, but I was also scavenging for ticket stubs and keeping an eye out for kids to give baseballs to. Here’s a photo of the only kid I saw with a baseball glove:
Why were there so few kids? Because this was a weeknight game in September that hadn’t ended until 10:30pm — and now it was considerably later than that.
Brandon was nowhere to be found, and I was getting nervous. I didn’t have a car, and without him, I didn’t have a place to stay. We were crashing at his friend’s place, and I didn’t know the address, so if I couldn’t find him inside the stadium . . . then what?
Security started clearing out the seats, so I had no choice but to head up the steps toward the concourse. Then I began walking slowly toward an exit in the left field corner. Just as I was about to leave, I happened to see this:
Security allowed me to stand there and watch. That’s when it occurred to me that I wasn’t facing such a dire situation after all. Brandon had a charger in his car, so if I had to exit the stadium, I could just wander around the neighborhood and wait for him to power up enough to call me.
Then I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was Brandon. OF COURSE. He has a tendency to drive me absolutely crazy and then somehow undo the damage in the most unexpected of ways. In this case, he made up for it by taking me to In-N-Out Burger (and hooking me up with a free place to stay for all three nights of the trip).
Finally, here are the seven balls I kept:
• 8 baseballs at this game
• 604 balls in 83 games this season = 7.28 balls per game.
• 130 lifetime balls in 12 games at PETCO Park = 10.83 balls per game.
• 1,049 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 373 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 7,780 total balls
• 24 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.05 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.40 raised at this game
• $1,238.20 raised this season
• $39,902.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Several weeks before the All-Star break, I heard that the Padres were going to start using commemorative baseballs for the 10th anniversary of PETCO Park. For some reason, these balls weren’t ready in April or May, and according to my source, they were going to be used for the remainder of the season. Weird, huh? The good news was that I suddenly had an extra commemorative ball to try to snag; the bad news was that the Padres were already done playing on the east coast, so in order to get one, I’d have to fly to San Diego. After months of debating whether it was worth the time and money, I booked the trip, and as you can see below, I was VERY excited to be here:
Oh wait. That’s Qualcomm Stadium. Haha, silly me! (Full disclosure: my friend Brandon thought it’d be funny to dress me up in his old-school Padres jersey and photograph me outside their old ballpark.)
Here’s what it looked like outside PETCO just before the gates opened:
As you can imagine, I was psyched about the tiny crowd. At my previous game one day earlier at Yankee Stadium, there were a zillion people waiting to get in, so this was a great change of pace. And yes, rather than attending Derek Jeter’s final home series in the major leagues (for which I already had tickets), I chose to travel across three time zones to see the 3rd-place Padres host the 4th-place Rockies. Perfect.
This was my reaction upon entering PETCO Park:
Brandon (who took most of these photos) had gotten inside one minute before me because a security guard painstakingly inspected every pouch, pocket, compartment, and crevice of my backpack. I realize that’s how it *should* be done, but let’s face it: bag inspection across MLB is haphazard at best, so I was shocked to experience such intense scrutiny here in San Diego of all places.
For the first hour, I was going to be confined to the huge sandbox in right-center field (aka “the Beach”). If you look closely at the following photo, you can see me on the left, standing near the garbage can:
The Beach is not the best place to snag baseballs, but MAN is it gorgeous! There’s no other area in any major league stadium that compares to it.
Here’s what it looked like at the front of the section:
Moments after I got there, a fellow ballhawk named Devin Trone called out to Cameron Maybin and got a ball thrown to him . . . and it was commemorative!
Devin is a great guy, so I was happy for him, but it was still frustrating to have missed that opportunity. If I’d gotten to the Beach sooner or been more alert when I ran down the steps, I might’ve been able to get Maybin’s attention first, but as things were, I didn’t even notice that he was in right-center or that a ball had been hit to him.
According to my friend Leigh Barratt — a PETCO regular with more than 1,300 lifetime snags — all of the Padres’ BP balls were commemorative, but he warned me that the team wouldn’t be out on the field for long. He said we’d only get to see them hit for about 15 minutes.
Then something bad happened. Several kids wandered down to the chain-link fence, and sure enough, they started getting all the toss-ups.
Just as I was convincing myself that I didn’t have a chance, some random player threw a ball in my direction — a no-look flip intended for Leigh, who was positioned in front of me, but the ball sailed over his head, allowing me to jump up and catch it. Here I am with it in my glove:
Leigh was pissed off, though not at me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. That ball was fair game, and I happened to get lucky, but I still felt bad. That’s why I was holding my glove in the air. You know how a basketball player will hear the whistle and put his hands up to show the refs that he wasn’t touching anyone? It was kinda like that.
Before pulling the ball out of my glove, I said, “Please be commemorative!” and walked toward Brandon. And then I looked at it:
I was thrilled, of course, to have snagged a commemorative ball, but this one in particular had a magnificent logo. I’m not talking about the condition (which was pretty good), but rather the actual design. Check it out:
Is that beautiful or what? I love the round border as well as the “SD” logo floating in the sky, the baseball stitches, the detailed image of the stadium, and the big years in cute font at the bottom. This might be my favorite commemorative logo ever.
Here I am with Devin:
Here’s another ball flying into the crowd:
That one was snagged by another PETCO regular named Ismael:
Ismael is super-friendly and never misses a game. If you visit PETCO, you *will* see him, and when you do, tell him that Zack from New York says hi.
Here’s another action shot:
That was a ground-rule double, and if it looks like it was heading right at the camera, that’s because it was. Brandon took that photo, and then he caught the ball bare-handed. Pretty slick. And yeah, it was commemorative.
Here’s yet another action shot — look at the intense diving effort by this fan:
It was Leigh!
And he got the ball!
A few minutes later, I caught a ground-rule double. The ball was commemorative, and the logo was in better condition. I had no idea who hit it until Ismael wandered over and told me with 100 percent certainty that it was Cory Spangenberg.
“Thanks,” I said. “Do you happen to know who tossed the ball that I caught earlier?”
“Torres,” he said.
I looked at my roster, and sure enough . . . number 54 . . . Alex Torres . . . left-handed and 5-foot-10. That seemed to match the mystery man who had tossed the ball, so that’s what I’m going with. Alex Torres and Cory Spangenberg. In the 10-year history of PETCO Park, Ismael has never missed a game, so I believe anything he tells me about the Padres.
The Padres finished BP soon after, and that’s all I got. Two baseballs. Not great, but they were both commemorative, so in a way, it WAS great.
Here I am with Leigh and the famous T.C. (and a woman named Christina whom I’d never met):
If T.C. looks familiar, that’s because (a) I’ve blogged about him in the past and (b) I featured him in The Baseball (see pages 281-282) as one of the top ten ballhawks of all time.
Now, remember when I said I was going to be stuck at the Beach for the first hour? Well, that’s what I assumed was going to happen. The Beach opens two and a half hours before game time. Season ticket holders can get into the seats in foul territory two hours before game, and half an hour after that, the whole stadium opens to everyone. Season ticket holders used to be allowed to bring guests inside, so Leigh or Ismael (or sometimes random folks) would escort me through the gates, but the rule changed this year. No more guests. That said, Brandon and I still managed to get in with a season ticket holder, who happened to know a really cool guard.
Here I am running into the main part of the stadium:
You could say I was excited, and as you may have noticed, I had changed into my Rockies gear.
On our way into the seats, Brandon stopped to take a photo behind home plate. The red arrow below is pointing at me:
I was running toward the left field foul line. That’s where the players were warming up, so it made sense to get as close to them as possible.
Within moments of arriving, a wild throw eluded Ben Paulsen and skipped up into the stands. There was only one other fan in the section, and I was closer to the ball, so I grabbed it easily. (This was ball No. 3 on the day.) Paulsen asked if he could have it back and said he’d return it when he finished, so I tossed it to him. Ten seconds later, some trainer-type guy (who must’ve seen me toss the ball but not heard the exchange) walked by, flipped me a ball, and said, “Here, take this one instead.” (This was ball No. 4.) Moments after that, a different pair of Rockies accidentally threw a ball into the seats (ball No. 5), and five seconds after THAT, it happened again with yet another couple of guys! (Ball No. 6.) Somehow I’d grabbed three overthrows and gotten four balls overall within a 30-second span. That’s not an exaggeration. It *really* happened that fast. And wait! There’s more . . . sort of. The player who’d had ball No. 6 sail over his head asked for it back, so I tossed it to him, and then guess what happened? Paulsen waved at me from 100 feet away and threw me the ball that I’d returned to him. AAAHHH!!! Here’s a photo of that ball (circled in red) sailing toward me:
Did you notice that I wasn’t wearing a glove? (It was still in my bag from when I ran inside the main part of the stadium.) Look closely at the photo above and you’ll see me cupping two baseballs against my stomach with my left land. It was in-SANE.
I decided not to count the final throw from Paulsen as ball No. 7 because I had already snagged it when it skipped up into the stands, and now he was simply returning it. So yeah . . . I’d gotten two baseballs at The Beach and four more along the left field foul line for a total of six.
Here’s a funny photo that Brandon took:
I’m pretty sure they were using body language to ask each other, “Are we done throwing?”
Here’s a photo I took of the spacious corner spot.
This was the view behind me:
That’s winning stadium design. Most places don’t have staircases along the walls in foul territory, and why not? It makes things super-convenient.
When the entire stadium opened at 5:30pm, I headed to the seats in left-center. Here I am in the front row next to a guy who clearly had no chance:
I mean . . . seriously.
Things were pretty slow out there at first, but then there was a bit of action. My first opportunity came on a high, deep fly ball that was heading one section to my right. After running over and getting in line with it, I noticed it was going to fall short and that a player was drifting back onto the warning track to catch it. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I yelled, “LET IT BOUNCE!!!” and to my surprise, he did. The ball bounced high in the air, and I reached up for it:
In the photo above, do you see the guy in the light blue shirt? The ball cleared his hand by an inch or two, and I caught it, and by the way, the player who had allowed the ball to bounce was Eddie Butler. He’s very friendly.
Here’s a six-part photo that shows me snagging and then giving away my next ball — number eight on the day:
In case you can’t tell what was happening in all those photos, here’s a quick rundown:
1) The guy with gray hair reached up helplessly for a line-driver homer.
2) He dropped it.
3) It deflected back toward me, and I lunged for it.
4) The ball fell short, so I reached down and grabbed it in the second row.
5) I asked the guy if he was okay and if he wanted the ball.
6) He’s holding it.
Here I am jumping for another homer several minutes later:
Not only did I miss it, but my flailing attempt messed up Devin, who was two rows behind me, so I felt doubly bad.
Here I am running to my left for a home run . . .
. . . which was caught by the white-shirted fan in the front row.
Here’s something that happened a bunch of times:
At PETCO Park, the second deck in left field is so low that it swallows half the BP homers. Sometimes they bounce down, but on this particular occasion, I had no such luck.
I did manage to grab another home run in the seats. I handed it to the nearest kid and then had a chance to use my glove trick for a ball in the gap near the bullpen:
After knocking it closer, I took a moment to get the ball to go into my glove:
Then I lifted my contraption . . .
. . . and voila! I had reached double digits.
I should mention that none of the Rockies’ baseballs were commemorative, but whatever. I’d gotten two from the Padres, so I was all set.
After BP, I enjoyed a moment of solidarity with Leigh:
Here we are strolling through the open-air concourse in deep center field:
In the photo above, did you notice the concession stand on the left with all the license plates? It’s called Hodad’s. That’s where I got this:
The burger itself was good, but the meat-to-vegetable ratio was weak.
Shortly before game time, I caught up with one of my favorite people at the stadium — an usher (from Brooklyn!) named Franklin, who has invented a brilliant statistic called “quick outs.” Here he is with one of his newer signs:
(Can you imagine the Yankees allowing one of their employees to display a sign like that, or any sign at all?)
As you may have noticed in the background of the previous photo, a quick out (or “Q”) is one that requires three pitches or . . . umm, fewer. I wish MLB would officially adopt this stat; if it somehow became sexy, I guarantee we’d have quicker games.
Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the top of the 1st inning:
This was my view in the bottom of the 1st:
This was my view in the top of the 2nd:
Here I am heading back down to the seats behind the Rockies’ dugout in the bottom of the 2nd:
Did you spot me in the photo above? See the ballboy sitting on the field, just to the left of the dugout? Look directly above him. That’s me in the white jersey, heading down the stairs. (By the way, Devin is also in the photo, sitting all the way on the right in the front row.)
My ticket was on the 3rd base side, and there was no security on the 1st base side, so I decided to move back and forth each half-inning until I got a 3rd-out ball. Even though I’d gotten two commemorative balls during BP, I wanted another one now. I wanted one that had been rubbed with mud, and this was obviously the best way to make it happen.
So much for that. As soon as I sat down, the usher approached me and asked to see my ticket. He told me he’d gotten a call about me from security, who had seen me moving back and forth.
“Yeah, they got cameras all over this place.” Then he pointed at the row of tinted windows in the batter’s eye and added, “They’re watching’ everything from out there in the command center.”
He told me I needed to stay in my seat, which was in the middle of a long row. I asked if I could sit on the end of the row, where there was plenty of room.
“No, you can’t do that,” he said. “This isn’t open seating.”
“Okay, well, I better run to the bathroom first so I don’t have to disturb all those people later.”
Then I walked quickly up the steps, cut across the concourse, and went directly into the men’s room where I took off my jersey and switched hats . . . and then I headed straight for the seats in left-center. Screw the dugouts! No way I was going back there. Maybe I’d try it again the following day and stay in one spot, but as far as this game was concerned, I needed to lay low. This was my view for the rest of the night:
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, I caught up with Leigh, who has season tickets in left field. One of the first things he told me was that Cameron Maybin throws his warm-up balls into the crowd nearly every inning — and then he predicted where the next one was going to end up. This was the result:
No . . . wait. THIS was the result:
Want to see how much of a difference a good camera (and a whole lot of photography skills) can make? I took the photo above; Brandon took the photo below:
But hang on a second. Let’s backtrack for a bit. In the photo of everyone reaching up for the Maybin ball, you can see my dark brown glove. The guy in the front row missed it by a foot, the guy behind me whacked my glove with his bare hand, two other people were jostling for position, and somehow I ended up with it.
Here’s Maybin throwing another warm-up ball into the crowd an inning later:
I didn’t get that one, nor did this guy . . .
. . . but there were still more opportunities. When the Padres took the field before the top of the 7th inning, Leigh predicted that Maybin was going to throw the next ball into the second deck.
“Any particular spot?” I asked. “Straight-away or more toward left-center?”
Leigh suggested left-center, but said that if I went anywhere up there and got Maybin’s attention, he’d probably throw it to me.
“Don’t YOU want to go up there and give it a shot?”
“Nah,” he said, “I’m lazy. It’s all you.”
This was the result:
It was so easy that it was almost embarrassing.
That was my 12th ball of the day, and without Leigh, I probably wouldn’t have snagged half of them. And by the way . . . how about the logo on the one above? If that had been my only commemorative ball, I would’ve been extremely disappointed, but given the fact that I’d snagged three others, I loved it.
Before heading back down to the 100 Level, I took a few photos. Here’s the phenomenally specious cross-aisle in the second deck:
Here’s something that amused me — a Padres reliever letting himself out through a doorway and onto the field:
At most stadiums, a bullpen attendant would’ve opened the door, but here in San Diego, it’s self-service.
One of my favorite things about PETCO is the architectural quirkiness. Here’s one example — a single row at the front of the second deck:
Back in the 100 Level, I made one final attempt at a warm-up ball. Here I am standing in the middle of the 3rd row (wearing Brandon’s Padres jersey):
My post-game strategy was weak, but it was all I could do. I tried to get a ball from the Padres relievers as they filed out of the bullpen:
They all ignored me . . .
. . . but it was still a great day, and this was just my first of three games at PETCO.
• 12 baseballs at this game
• 596 balls in 82 games this season = 7.27 balls per game.
• 122 lifetime balls in 11 games at PETCO Park = 11.09 balls per game.
• 1,048 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 372 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 260 lifetime games with at least ten balls
• 66 different commemorative balls
• 7,772 total balls
• 23 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.04 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $24.48 raised at this game
• $1,215.84 raised this season
• $39,879.84 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Day games are awful because there’s often no batting practice; day games on weekends are the absolute worst because there are zillions of kids — and yet here I was. Why was I subjecting myself to guaranteed torture? Why had I set my alarm for 8:30 on a Sunday morning, only to rush off to the subway and take three different trains to the Bronx and stand outside Gate 6 at Yankee Stadium with a thousand other people? I’m not exaggerating. This was (part of) the crowd waiting to get in:
I attended this game for two reasons. First, the Yankees were using commemorative baseballs with a Derek Jeter logo, and second, I had received a free ticket for the uber-fancy “Legends” area. The only downside was that I had to give half my baseballs to the person who’d hooked me up with it, and not just any half. If I snagged six regular balls before the game and two Jeter balls during live play, I wouldn’t be able to give him four of the regular balls. I had to give him half the balls from each batch, and if I only ended up catching one Jeter ball, he’d get it. That might sound harsh, but I was okay with that agreement. Ten days earlier, I had somehow snagged eight of these balls, so I didn’t really need any more; I was mainly going for the free food and to see Jeter play one last time.
Here’s what I saw when I ran inside the stadium at 11:00am:
To my surprise, the field was set up for BP!
The Yankees weren’t hitting, unfortunately — just running some defensive drills with a few players on the right side of the infield, but still, it was a great sign. I figured they’d start hitting soon, or maybe the Blue Jays would take some cuts.
Under normal circumstances, I would’ve stood around with all the other schmucks in the regular seats roughly 30 feet behind the Yankees’ dugout and hoped for an unlikely toss-up, but on this fine day, I was able to head all the way down to the front row:
One of the coaches hit fungos for about five minutes:
During that time, I made conversation with the only other fan in the section, who happened to recognize me as “that guy who catches all the baseballs.”
Before long, a small crowd formed in the regular seats behind the Legends area:
Did you read the sign in the previous photo? It says, “FLEW From Phx, AZ Yankee Fan 39 years Be an Honor to take a picture with you mR. Jeter Please & Thank You.”
The sign amused me and also made me sad (for reasons beyond the shoddy handwriting and grammar). One does not simply show up at Yankee Stadium and take a picture with Derek Jeter. What was Jeter supposed to do — walk up into the stands and pose with this guy? Tell the security guards to escort him down to the front row?
Despite the fact that I was the only person asking for a ball, every single one of the Yankees ignored me upon walking off the field.
I headed over to the 3rd base side when the Blue Jays came out . . .
. . . but I didn’t ask anyone for a ball. I decided to save my opportunities for the game itself, so I kept my mouth shut, and when the Jays started hitting, I headed out to my normal spot in right field.
It was crowded, and tempers were flaring. At one point, when I ran through an empty row and lunged unsuccessfully for a home run ball that had ricocheted high off a railing, a 50-something-year-old man behind me (who caught it) threatened me. He was like, “I’ve seen you out here before doing the same thing to other people! I have MY spot, and you have YOURS, and you better STAY there! If you come over here and do that again, I’m gonna kick your ass!!”
Then some other fan, who was about 20 and might have been the man’s son, started screaming at me — and I do mean screaming. We’re talkin’ veins bulging — an absolute meltdown. He was upset about seeing me wearing clothing of different visiting teams.
Several years ago, I would’ve given these guys a piece of my mind, but at this point, I’m more interested in keeping the peace, so I apologized and said I’d try to be more careful about respecting other people’s space.
It might be hard to believe, but I can see why it would be infuriating to pick a spot and have a ball come right there, only to have some other fan run over and reach in front of you. I get it. I really do. I know there’s certain etiquette that fans should follow, but the whole don’t-try-to-catch-a-ball-unless-it’s-hit-right-to-you rule simply does not exist. Rather than explaining this and likely getting into an argument, I let my glove do the talking. A minute or two later, when a deep fly ball started sailing in my direction, I drifted a short distance to my right, climbed back over two rows of seats, jumped as high as I could, and made a back-handed catch high over my head. That one felt goooooooood — and then I offered the ball to the man who’d threatened me. I love doing the unexpected and catching people off-guard like that. It’s like . . . no matter how rude you are, I’m still going to be nice because I’m in control of my emotions and you’re not, ha ha ha. The guy didn’t accept the ball, of course, so I handed it to the nearest kid.
I coulda/shoulda caught one more home run in the 100 Level, but guess what happened? As I reached up for it (while straddling a row of seats), several other fans converged on my precious spot, one of whom bumped into me, jostling my glove and causing me to drop the ball. Rather than cursing at him and issuing a hollow threat, I headed upstairs to the second deck, where I hoped things would be calmer. Here’s what it looked like as I headed into the seats from the concourse:
Once again, I could’ve and perhaps should’ve caught a home run, but barely came up short. I’m not sure who hit it — maybe Colby Rasmus — but anyway, as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row and then jumped for it at the last second, and it tipped off the very end of my glove. It was a tough play that surely would not have been scored an error, but it still pissed me off.
After a few minutes, I headed back down to the 100 Level. Check out the staircase:
That was the line for Monument Park. Ew.
Meanwhile, the right field seats were as crowded as I’ve ever seen them during BP:
The huge crowd didn’t matter. The Blue Jays only had two groups of hitters, and they all jogged off the field moments later.
Instead of potentially catching three home runs, I had only gotten one ball — and I’d given it away. UGH!! But hey, no problem. I had a Legends ticket, so I was able to eat my sorrows away.
Upon entering the restaurant, I headed straight to the celebrity chef station:
The special treat of the day was chicken buns prepared by a Japanese chef named Ryo Hasegawa from a restaurant called Nobu Fifty Seven. Here’s what they looked like:
So good. And I was just getting started. This was my next plate of food:
When I was about 10 years old, I might have refused to eat that because I *hated* it when different foods touched each other, but now? Bring it on. I kinda like it when foods touch because it creates an interesting combination of flavors. My plate above had the following:
2) grilled onions
3) fried onion rings
4) three kinds of sushi (including salmon and tuna)
5) pasta with shrimp
6) a zeppole
All of this food was free and unlimited. I was very happy. And by the way, I was sitting at the bar. Here’s what it looked like on my right:
Game time was still more than 40 minutes away, so I took a quick peek at the field . . .
. . . and then headed back into the restaurant for dessert. Look at all these options!
I loaded a bunch of stuff on a plate.
On my way back to the seats, I stopped at the Great Wall of Candy . . .
. . . and grabbed a handful of Kit Kat bars:
No, I didn’t eat them. I tossed them in my backpack (and continued to take candy throughout the day).
Then I headed through these doors . . .
. . . and enjoyed my own personal sugar-feast, using the ledge in the cross-aisle as my table:
The mini-cupcakes were bland, but everything else was solid.
Shortly before game time, I headed out to left field and claimed a spot beside the Blue Jays’ bullpen:
I had to press my face against the netting in order to see pitching coach Pete Walker standing behind the pitcher with his back to the wall. He happened to look up at me, so I asked if I could have a baseball.
“After,” he said, motioning toward Drew Hutchison, who was almost done warming up.
Walker kept his promise . . . sort of. He ended up wandering off without tossing me a ball, but evidently he told bullpen coach Bob Stanley to take care of me. Stanley approached me with a ball in his hand and tossed it too short, causing it to hit the netting and plop down near him. The same thing then happened again, and he finally succeeded on the third try. (Blue Jays fans, does it worry you that a man with NO AIM is coaching your pitchers?) Here’s the ball:
I was extra glad to have snagged it because it preserved a streak for me. Ever since the Mets and Yankees opened their new stadiums in 2009, I’ve gotten at least two baseballs at all of my games in New York — 131 games at Citi Field and 118 at Yankee Stadium.
On my way back to the Legends area, I passed a souvenir stand with Jeter balls for sale:
I didn’t ask how much they were, but I’d guess $40.
This was my view for the first pitch of the game:
Masahiro Tanaka was making his first start in more than two months. Here he is delivering a pitch to Jose Bautista in the top of the 1st inning:
Jose Reyes had led off with a line-drive single to left field, and Bautista followed by beating the shift with a routine grounder through the right side. It looked like Tanaka was in trouble. I wondered if his partially torn elbow ligament might still be causing issues, but then he got Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a double play and struck out Dioner Navarro on three pitches. The double play had given the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead, but it was the only run that Tanaka surrendered for the rest of the game.
This was my view for Derek Jeter’s at-bat in the bottom of the 1st:
After that, I made sure to be IN a seat whenever he stepped up to the plate.
For the first two innings, I didn’t come close to any 3rd-out balls. There were several little kids sitting near the dugouts, and I also had to deal with this guy standing on my right:
Did you notice what he was holding? Here’s a closer look:
You see? I’m not the only person who uses that trick. I just happen to be the one who gets all the crap for it.
When Chase Headley struck out to end the 3rd inning, this other fan beat me down the steps behind the home-plate end of the Blue Jays’ dugout and then tried to box me out. He stood on my right, and as Jays catcher Dioner Navarro walked toward us from the right, this guy leaned way out in front of me to basically block me from even being seen. I responded by leaning far to my left and reaching all the way out with my glove to give Navarro a target. It also helped that the other fan was still wearing his Yankees jersey (duh) and that I asked for the ball in Spanish. To my delight, Navarro tossed the ball to me perfectly, just beyond the other fan’s reach so that I was able to catch it uncontested.
Here’s the ball:
Here’s another photo of the ball that I took a little while later:
As you can see, the ball was protected in a Ziploc bag, and my backpack was filled with candy. Right after I zipped up my bag, a police officer walked over and asked what I had in there.
“Uhh, just some candy,” I said nervously. Was I about to be ejected for having taken too much of it?
“Mind if I take a look at it?” he asked.
“Well, okay, but I’m kind of embarrassed because there’s a lot of it. I’m really sorry about that.”
“If it’s only candy,” he said, “then you have nothing to worry about. Now can you please open your bag for me?”
Legally, I don’t know if I had to show him anything, but what was I going to do? Argue with him and ramble about my constitutional rights and demand that he get a warrant? I know plenty of people who would’ve done that, but I’m all about keeping the peace, remember? Therefore I unzipped my bag and let him peek inside.
“Is that candy all the way down?”
“Yeah, I guess I grabbed an awful lot of it. Sorry about that.”
“Move it around so I can see what’s underneath.”
I reached into the bag and churned the candy, and that seemed to satisfy him. Then he asked to see my ticket and told me that I needed to take a seat.
He continued to lurk nearby, so I sat there and pretended to watch the game, but really all I could think about was him. What was HE thinking? What was going to happen next? Was I really going to have to sit there for the rest of the game? Was I going to get in trouble?
Eventually he wandered off . . . and so did I. Over on the 1st base side, it made me feel better to get a close look at Jeter:
Here’s the Captain on deck with a young fan holding a pretty cool sign for him:
Ticket for game — $400. Gotta love Yankee Stadium.
Half an inning later, I was back on the 3rd base side:
In the previous photo, did you notice the woman staring at me? Here’s a closer look:
Well, hello to you too!
I didn’t notice her at the time. I only happened to spot her loving gaze the following day when I was going through my photos. Think I should post a “missed connections” ad on craigslist?
Nosy cops aside, one nice thing about having a Legends ticket is that you can wander all over the place and watch the game from different angles. I really loved getting close looks at Jeter on the final day that I would EVER see him playing Major League Baseball. (The Yankees still had four more home games after this, but I already had plans to be at PETCO Park.) Here he is talking to 3rd base coach Rob Thomson:
Here he is taking a lead:
Here’s the reason it was so tough for me to get 3rd-out balls:
There is NO POSSIBLE WAY for a grown man like me to compete with adorableness like that. It just can’t be done. Blue Jays gear . . . asking for baseballs in foreign languages . . . it’s all garbage when kids that age are anywhere near me, and that’s fine. Kids that age *should* get baseballs. They’re always indescribably happy and probably end up being fans for life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating for me.
This was the last batter Tanaka faced:
Encarnacion singled to chase him from the game:
In the bottom of the 6th inning, I got more dessert . . .
. . . and finished in time for Jeter’s at-bat in the bottom of the 7th. Here he is at the plate:
I had a feeling this would be the final time I’d see him hit, so I switched my camera to video mode and let it roll. Four minutes and seven pitches later, Jeter ripped an RBI double down the left field line to put the Yankees on top, 3-1.
During the pitching change that followed, I noticed Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose walk all the way in to 2nd base to have a few words with Jeter:
Then the other two outfielders did the same thing. It was so touching to see these guys saying goodbye to a departing legend that I got a bit misty-eyed, and I’m getting goosebumps now just writing about it.
Here’s Jose Bautista enjoying a moment with Jeter . . .
. . . and here’s rookie Dalton Pompey shaking his hand:
Pompey only had one career hit and was batting .071, but I knew that Jeter was as respectful to him as he would’ve been to a fellow future Hall of Famer.
After the outfielders headed back to their positions, Jose Reyes exchanged a few words and a hug:
Munenori Kawasaki? Not impressed:
That’s how he passed the time during the pitching change, but let’s not judge him for that. For all we know, he might’ve had a nice conversation with Jeter before the game underneath the stands.
After the pitching change, Jeter stole 3rd base to thunderous cheers. Here he is looking down between pitches soon after:
Brian McCann followed with a two-run homer — his second longball of the game. Here’s Jeter touching home plate . . .
. . . and here’s McCann rounding 3rd:
The only other home run was a solo shot by Brett Gardner in the bottom of the 5th, which happened to be the 15,000th homer in Yankees history. It would’ve been amazing to catch that, but it landed two sections away from my regular spot in right field, so whatever.
I do, however, feel kinda bummed about not getting any more commemorative Jeter balls. For the entire game, I moved back and forth from dugout to dugout. I tried as hard as possible, but the balls were simply tossed to other fans. I was hoping for an umpire ball at the end, but look how crowded it was:
Before the final out, I knew I had no chance, and as it turned out, the ump only gave one ball away to the littlest kid.
Final score: Yankees 5, Blue Jays 2.
Here are the Yankees celebrating on the field:
This was the scene out on the street:
Jeter-Mania was in full effect, and I was glad to be done with it.
• 3 baseballs at this game
• 584 balls in 81 games this season = 7.21 balls per game.
• 1,047 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 716 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 246 consecutive Yankees home games with at least one ball
• 7,760 total balls
• 22 donors for my fundraiser
• $2.01 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $6.03 raised at this game
• $1,173.84 raised this season
• $39,837.84 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
DISCLAIMER: Do not read this blog entry unless you’re willing to experience a range of emotions, starting with shock and then moving on to hatred and jealousy.
I’m not kidding. You’ve been warned. Below is a photo of my ticket for the game, and once you see it, there’s no turning back:
That’s basically the fanciest seat in the most expensive stadium in Major League Baseball — a ticket with an obscene $900 face value for the ultra-exclusive “Legends” area near home plate. This ticket was on StubHub for a price well below face value, and someone split the cost with me in exchange for half of the commemorative Derek Jeter baseballs that I ended up snagging.
Let me repeat: DEREK JETER COMMEMORATIVE BASEBALLS.
Several weeks earlier, I had given up on trying to snag one because I assumed they’d only be used during the September 7th game — the day of the Derek Jeter retirement ceremony. That game was sold out, of course, and tickets were so expensive that I would’ve had to sell a kidney to sit anywhere near the action. But then something weird happened. Over the next few days, several friends in New York got in touch and told me that the Jeter balls were still being used! I didn’t believe them at first, but they assured me that they’d actually seen the balls on TV. That’s why I got a Legends ticket for this game. Suddenly I *needed* to snag one of these balls — thinking about it actually messed up my sleep for a couple of nights — and the best way to increase my chances was to be as close to the dugouts as possible.
First, though, it was business as usual during batting practice . . . sort of. I raced to the outfield seats as I normally do, but something bizarre happened within the first minute. One of the Yankees’ right-handed batters pulled a deep fly ball to my right. I ran the full length of my section and then darted down toward the front. That’s where I predicted the ball was going to land, but it carried a bit farther than expected and plunked down two rows behind me. There were two guys standing near it who scrambled ferociously, and whaddaya know? The ball trickled under a seat and rolled into the second row, where I was able to lunge and grab it. As I walked back to my spot, I examined the ball and noticed that it was autographed — very unusual but not unheard of. Way back on 9/30/05 at Shea Stadium, I caught a ball that had already been signed by Omar Quintanilla, and over the years, I’ve snagged many more with random writing, like this and these. And wait! Here’s another example: on the day that John Santana pitched a no-hitter, Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire signed three balls after BP and threw them into the crowd, and I got one, so anything’s possible. But anyway, less than a minute after I snagged the ball with the mystery autograph here at Yankee Stadium, one of the guys who’d been scrambling for it walked over and asked if I’d picked up the ball with Paul O’Neill’s signature. Realizing that that’s indeed who had signed it, I reluctantly said yeah. He told me it was his and that he’d dropped it while trying to catch the home run, and he asked if he could have it back. Then, perhaps upon seeing the look of disgust on my face, he showed me some sort of police tag that was dangling on a skinny chain around his neck and said, “See this? I wouldn’t lie to you.” Given the fact that law enforcement is so honest, I handed him the ball and decided not to count it in my stats.
A minute or two later, I made up for my stupidity with a nifty catch on another home run. I drifted about 15 feet to my right, climbed down over a row of seats, and flinched as I stuck out my glove. That’s because a fan in the front row was reaching up helplessly for the ball, which ended up skimming off his bare hand into the pocket of my glove. Moments later, in the fourth row, I caught a home run that came right to me, and a little while after that, I ran one section to my left and grabbed another that landed in the seats. I handed that ball to the nearest kid, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t know who hit any of these homers.
As the Yankees began jogging off the field at the very end of their portion of BP, I noticed that Chase Whitley was holding a ball, so I shouted like crazy and got him to throw it to me from more than 100 feet away. He lobbed it high and a bit too far, forcing me to climb back over a row to make the catch.
At that point, I had snagged four balls and kept three of them. Here they are:
Don’t get all excited yet. The Derek Jeter balls were only (supposedly) being used during games — not during batting practice.
During the Rays’ portion of BP, I spent some time in the second deck in right field. This was my view:
I don’t go up there often, but when I do, I usually stand in the fourth row. This time, however, whenever James Loney stepped into the cage, I moved back to the seventh row because he’d been *crushing* balls deep into this section two days earlier. Want to guess what happened? On one of his first few swings, he hit a line-drive homer 20 feet to my left that landed in the fourth row. I was able to cut across and get in line with it, but I couldn’t reach it . . . and then I watched with dismay as the ball ricocheted down to the front and bounced over the wall, disappearing from sight. Sometimes I’m too smart for my own good.
I stayed in the fourth row after that, and before long, Loney hit another ball nearby. I caught that one on the fly and felt a tiny bit better about myself. Then I got a player (no idea who) to throw a ball to me, and five minutes after that, I caught another deflected homer on the fly. In the photo above, do you see the guy sitting on the left? The ball was hit to the bottom of the staircase; he stuck out a bare hand at the last second and tipped it right into my glove. Thanks, everyone, for not bringing your baseball gloves. I truly appreciate it!
I ran back to left field for the final group of Rays hitters. Here’s what it looked like out there:
Within a minute of arriving, I caught a home run in the front row — my eighth ball of the day — and realized that I’d reached in front of a kid in the process. He didn’t seem upset, but I gave him the ball anyway . . . and then he said he recognized me from YouTube.
Jeff Beliveau hooked me up with ball No. 9, but he didn’t simply pick it up and toss it. The ball was sitting on the outfield grass approximately 30 feet away from the stands. He took a peek to see where I was, then turned to face away from me, and swung his glove down at the ball in a front-to-back scooping motion. Does that make any sense? Let me try to explain it a different way. Beliveau is left-handed, so his glove was on his right hand; the ball was just to the right of him when he bent down a bit and swiped at it. Basically, he made a backwards, no-look shovel-pass directly from his glove, and the “throw” was right on target! It was incredible, and I let him know it.
I got one more ball in BP — a deep home run that smacked off the facade of the second deck and bounced down into the seats. I judged it perfectly off the bat and had to run quite a distance for it, so that felt good. I gave that ball to the kid pictured above in the Jeter jersey.
BP ended at about 6:05pm, which is awfully early. Normally I would’ve been complaining about it to anyone who’d listen, but on this particular day, it meant I had more time to stuff myself with free food before the game.
I headed through a side door of the suite entrance . . .
. . . and found my way to the check-in area. That’s where I got my ticket re-scanned and received a wristband:
I was free to wander around both dining levels . . .
. . . and eat.
And keep eating.
And eat some more.
I started with a “Short Rib Slider” . . .
. . . before moving on to small portion of cheese tortellini with a sausage:
I was craving sugar more than ever, so I headed over to the Great Wall of Candy:
This area was unattended (except for when the candy was being replenished), so I . . . umm, you know . . . well, I helped myself to a lot of it. For the rest of the night, every time I walked past, I grabbed a handful and tossed it in my backpack.
Half an hour before game time, unfortunately, I ran into this guy:
His name is Eddie, and you know what? I actually like him a lot, but he’s a ballhawk who knows all the tricks, so my heart sank when I realized we were going to have to compete with each other. Of course, he was equally bummed to see me, so no offense intended or taken. That’s just the nature of how these things go, but thankfully he was super-cool about it. He waited at the bar while I got myself some dessert . . .
. . . and then we had a long conversation about our ballhawking plans for the game. He was there for the same reason as I was: to snag a Derek Jeter ball. He said he only needed one and that because he had to wake up at 5:30am the following day for his job, he was considering leaving as soon as he got it. But then he said he hoped to get two — one for him and another for his son. I told him I really wanted to get two — one for me and another for the guy who’d paid half the cost of my ticket.
“What would you do if I weren’t here?” he asked.
“I’d go back and forth every half-inning for the entire game and play both ends of both dugouts,” I told him.
“Oh, well, I wasn’t planning to go over to the Yankees’ side at all . . . “
” . . . so I can have that?!”
“It’s all yours,” he said.
“What about you?” I asked. “What were you planning to do?”
“I was just gonna pick one spot behind the Rays’ dugout and stay there.”
This was the best thing he could’ve said, and I knew right away that it was going to work out for both of us.
“Okay, perfect,” I said. “You got it. YOU are GOING to get at least one of these balls, and *I* am GOING to get at least one. That needs to happen, and it *will* happen.”
I suggested that whichever one of us got the first Jeter ball should then not go for another until the other one of us also got one. He assumed I’d get the first one, so he liked this idea, but I wasn’t so sure about how it’d play out. I had a gut feeling that *he* would get the first ball, so my plan was a win-win situation. It’d be generous if I got the first one, and it’d protect me in case I didn’t. Suddenly we both felt really good about the whole situation, and we agreed that after we each got one of the Jeter balls, then whatever. We could each do our thing and not worry about the other person.
Roughly 20 minutes before game time, I checked out the 9/11 ceremony that was taking place on the field:
Then I headed back into the restaurant and got two more short rib sliders:
As the starting lineups were being announced, I got some chocolate cheesecake (with a camouflaged blackberry on top) and a couple of white chocolate-covered strawberries:
I was happy but jittery. The sugar probably had something to do with it, but mainly I was hyped about the baseballs. Eddie and I had discussed our mutual love for Derek Jeter and how we both wanted this commemorative ball more than any other. Why was this such a big deal for me? Because I was 17 years old when Jeter made his major league debut on May 29, 1995, which means he’s been a fixture in my adult life. I’ve gotten his autograph, gotten him to throw me a couple of baseballs, and even caught his 254th career home run. On a personal level, snagging a Derek Jeter commemorative baseball at the end of his final season was (hopefully) going to be a perfect way to close things out.
My seat was behind the Rays’ dugout on the 3rd base side, but at the start of the game, I hung out in the cross-aisle behind the Yankees’ dugout. Here’s what it looked like:
In the photo above, do you see the man with white hair? That’s Brandon Steiner, the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports — an insanely profitable memorabilia company that has an exclusive partnership with the Yankees. When the old Yankee Stadium was demolished, Steiner was in charge of selling all of the seats, baggies of infield dirt, huge sections of the outfield wall, and so on. I think he has season tickets in the Legends area, and why wouldn’t he? The section caters to millionaires and billionaires . . . and now here I was after coughing up a few hundred dollars so that I could run around and try to snag some special baseballs and fill my backpack with candy. This was my third time in the Legends area, and I’ve always felt out of place.
In the bottom of the 1st inning, I noticed that most of the flags on top of the stadium had the Jeter logo:
Even on September 11th, the uber-patriotic Yankees (who honor a military veteran and play a recording of “God Bless America” during the 7th-inning stretch of EVERY game) had replaced most of the American flags with Derek Jeter flags. That’s how big he is.
I didn’t get any balls in the first two innings, but I did come close. At one point, Mark Teixeira ended up with a scuffed ball at 1st base. (It was a chopper down the 3rd base line that barely hooked foul at the last second; 3rd basemen Brendan Ryan fielded it and fired across the diamond before hearing the ump’s call). As he looked toward the dugout to find someone to throw it to, I darted down the steps and got his attention got him to throw it to me. Unfortunately the ball fell a bit short, smacking off the front edge of the roof and dropping down to the players below. Zelous Wheeler picked it up, but refused to even look at me when I politely asked him for it.
Other than that, it felt like I didn’t have much of a chance. There were several kids sitting behind the outfield end of the Rays’ dugout, and Eddie was camped out behind the home-plate end. Can you spot him in the following photo?
He was sitting in the third row on the left side of the staircase — and he was wearing a navy blue Rays cap and Rays T-shirt. I would have *loved* to be sitting there, but I’d basically allowed him to claim that spot, and I had the rest of the stadium to work with. Of course, it didn’t do me much good. Over on the Yankees’ side, not only were there several kids in the front row, but there was also father who walked down to the front every inning with a toddler in his arms. How was I supposed to compete with THAT?!
Perhaps the only good thing that happened in the first two innings was that I got a decent look at several baseballs that were tossed into the crowd, and OMG, there *was* a commemorative logo! I didn’t see any balls close up, but I could tell that instead of the standard, rectangular MLB logo, there was something bigger and rounder in its place.
In the 3rd inning, from my spot in the aisle on the 1st base side, I saw a foul ball roll toward the Rays’ on-deck circle, and not surprisingly, Eddie was all over it. He was standing in the front row before anyone retrieved it, and he got it tossed to him. AAAHHH!!! I was thrilled for him, but also jealous as hell . . . but it was good that he got one because the next Jeter ball was all mine. I went over to congratulate him and take a photo of his prized possession:
Seeing my friend actually holding a game-used Jeter ball made me crazy. I was more excited and nervous than ever, but what could I do? I just had to keep doing my thing — to use all my strategies and hope that a little bit of luck would work its way into my existence.
In the bottom of the 3rd, Brendan Ryan hit several consecutive foul balls, including one that bounced toward the Rays’ dugout. I was still on the Yankees’ side, but I could clearly see Rays pitcher Chris Archer lean over the dugout railing, scoop up the ball, and stick it in his jacket pocket. Fast-forward to the middle of the 4th inning. I *still* hadn’t gotten a Jeter ball, and Archer hadn’t moved. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask and knowing that he loves to hook up fans wearing Rays gear, I wandered down to the front row behind him and said, “Hey, Arch! Any chance to get a baseball, please?” He turned around, glanced up at me, noticed what I was wearing, and reached into his pocket. (OH, THE SUSPENSE!!!) And then he tossed me a ball. All I could think as I pulled it out of my glove was, “Please be commemorative!” And it was! Here I am with it:
If you want to know what pure happiness looks like . . .
Oh man. I seriously think I would’ve traded all four of the game home runs I’ve gotten this season for one Jeter ball. That’s how meaningful it was to me. Here’s a closer look at it:
As you can see, the logo was partially rubbed off at the bottom, but so what?! I had the ball! It was a done deal. No one could take it away from me.
In the bottom of the 4th, I stayed behind the Rays’ dugout, and with two outs, Mark Teixeira hit a ground ball to shortstop Yunel Escobar. First baseman James Loney caught the throw to end the inning, and when he jogged back with the ball, he tossed it to coach George Hendrick, who then flipped it back to Escobar.
“Yunel! Por favor!” I shouted as he approached the top step of the dugout, and without hesitating, he tossed it to me! Given the fact that I’d just gotten a ball there half an inning earlier, I waited until I made it back to the 1st base side before photographing it:
The top of the 5th inning ended with a David DeJesus pop-out to Brendan Ryan. I had positioned myself one section past the outfield end of the dugout — not an ideal spot, but there was far less competition. I made sure to get Ryan’s attention early and shouted his name LOUDLY before he crossed the foul line, and it worked! He looked right up at me and under-handed the ball in my direction. Easy. Check it out:
Three outs later, I got another ball. For real. After getting none in the first three innings, I snagged four in the next two innings. The latest one was a Stephen Drew groundout to end the 5th. Ben Zobrist fielded it and made the throw to Loney, who once again tossed it to Hendrick. Some teams toss 3rd-out balls directly into the crowd, while others seem to have a go-to guy who handles them. With the Rays, Hendrick gets all the inning-ending groundouts, and he’s actually pretty tough. He normally only gives them to young women and little kids, but this time, for some reason, he hooked me up — and he seemed pissed off about it. Obviously he wanted to toss the ball to someone younger and prettier, but when he saw me standing several rows back in my Rays gear, he made an annoyed facial expression as if to say, “Ucchh, I don’t want to give YOU a ball, but okay, I guess you kinda deserve it,” and then he flung it at me.
Ready to hear about some expert-level ballhawking strategy? When the Rays were in the field in the bottom of the 6th inning, it would’ve made sense for me to hang out behind their dugout on the 3rd base side. That way, when they recorded the 3rd out, I would’ve been in position to make an attempt at snagging it, but instead I stayed on the 1st base side . . . for two reasons. First, I thought it’d be a good idea to give the Rays’ dugout a rest. Eddie was still sitting behind the home-plate end, and I’d pretty much exhausted my opportunities at the outfield end. Second, Alex Cobb was pitching. I’d looked up his stats before the game and noticed that he induces more grounders than fly balls. That was certainly the case during this game. He was doing a great job of keeping the ball down, and his pitches had natural downward movement. Therefore, when Jacoby Ellsbury stepped to the plate with two outs, I figured there was a decent chance he’d pull a foul grounder. Maybe he wouldn’t hit it hard and 1st base coach Mike Kelleher would be able to scoop it up? And maybe I could get him to toss it to me? It might be hard to believe, but that’s exactly what happened, right after I visualized it. Before Kelleher picked up the ball, I was already standing in the front row. In fact, I was the only person standing and asking for it, so he basically had no choice but to throw it to me. Then I gave a non-commemorative BP ball to a little girl sitting in the front row of regular seats, which made everyone extremely happy.
Here are the FIVE game-used balls I’d snagged:
When I know I might get a commemorative ball, I like to bring a few Ziploc bags. I find that it protects the logos from getting rubbed off in my backpack, and yes, that once happened . . . with this ball. I caught it during BP on 4/11/11 at Citi Field, and by the time I got home five hours later, it was in much worse shape. But anyway, as you can see in the photo above, I didn’t have enough bags. I assumed I’d get one or two Jeter balls and maaaaaybe three. But five?! Are you kidding me?! Also, in case you’re wondering, I took that photo in the Legends cross-aisle down the right field line. There weren’t many fans walking past, so it was a good spot — relatively private but in a place where I could still see the field. Before arranging the balls, I made sure to get permission from the security guards so that they wouldn’t falsely accuse me of trying to sell them and then eject me, and yes, that once happened . . . not at Yankee Stadium, but on 9/19/12 at Nationals Park. Crazy story. I hate the Nationals so much and hope they get swept in the playoffs. But let’s not dwell on negativity!
A little while later, Eddie emailed me to say that he’d gotten a second Jeter ball and gone home. This was great news. He’d achieved his goal, and we hadn’t gotten in each other’s way, and now I had the entire Legends area to myself, at least from the standpoint of no longer having to compete directly with an experienced ballhawk.
During the 7th-inning stretch, I got an ice cream bar . . .
. . . and then headed back to the seats.
This is kind of embarrassing, but I didn’t realize until the top of the 8th inning that Rays pitcher Alex Cobb was throwing a no-hitter! Check out the scoreboard:
For what it’s worth, my excuse is that I was so busy running around and playing my own little game within the game that I lost track of what was taking place in the actual game. Duh. Of course, once I *did* realize that there was a no-no in progress, I got extra excited about the game-used balls I’d snagged. Soon after, Chris Young broke it up with a one-out double in the bottom of the 8th.
During the pitching change that immediately followed, I got an ice cream sandwich . . .
. . . that I only ate half of, but whatever — it was all “free.”
Meanwhile, Jeter-Mania was at its worst. When the Captain batted with two outs, the fans in front of me took selfies with him in the background:
Two pitches later, this happened:
The new pitcher for the Rays — hard-throwing Brad Boxberger — drilled Jeter on the elbow, and although he was okay, the crowd was NOT happy about it.
Brian McCann batted next and reached on an error by Loney. Teixeira followed by striking out on three pitches, and I got the ball from catcher Curt Casali — no competition whatsoever. This was my 16th ball of the day, tying the single-game record at the new Yankee Stadium, set by me on September 25, 2013. It was also my sixth game-used ball of the day, which might, for all I know, be a record at any stadium. I wonder if Alan Schuster at MyGameBalls.com has any info on that. Mainly, though, I was excited because the logo was pristine. Here’s a photo of it that I took near the free junk-food area in the restaurant:
This ball was too perfect to toss directly into my backpack, and yeah, I could’ve swapped it with one of the others in a Ziploc bag, but those were buried under pounds of candy, and I just didn’t want to deal with shifting everything around. The solution? I wrapped it with a napkin and then found a Cling Wrap station in the dining area. Here’s what the ball looked like when it was fully protected:
I didn’t think there was any chance of getting another 3rd-out ball, but hell, there was only going to be one more opportunity after the top of the 9th inning. I headed to the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout, and when Ben Zobrist grounded out to end the frame, I stayed four or five rows back. There were a few fans down in front. Maybe they’d already gotten baseballs. Maybe they hadn’t. I figured I’d give them space, and if the ball somehow ended up getting tossed over their heads to me . . . well, that wasn’t MY fault. Stephen Drew made the play, and as the Yankees jogged off the field, Mark Teixeira threw the ball back to him. Long story short: Drew tossed it right to me. I don’t understand it. I didn’t particularly deserve it. But it happened.
The ball was a real beauty — heavily rubbed with mud and no signs of wear:
When I first saw the Derek Jeter commemorative logo several months ago, I thought it was pretty, but the more I looked at it, the more it occurred to me that it really sucks. Do you remember the Chipper Jones balls that I snagged on 9/29/12 and 9/30/12 at Turner Field? Take a look at this photo. See how nice it is for the logo to feature an image of the player? I realize that Jeter’s uniform number is iconic, but the Yankees could’ve done a better job by showing him. Also, did you notice that the Chipper Jones ball included the years that his career started and ended? I think it’s lame that the Yankees left Jeter’s years off the ball, and finally, what’s with the clunky working at the bottom? “New York Captain Yankees”?! I suppose the logo designers were striving for symmetry, but they failed in so many other ways. That said, I still love the Jeter ball, and I’m *so* happy to have snagged a bunch of them.
The bottom of the 9th inning was intense. With the Rays leading, 4-2, Chase Headley led off and got hit in the face by a 96mph fastball from Jake McGee. This was the scene soon after:
Here’s a closeup:
The ball hit Headley on the chin, but thankfully it was somewhat of a glancing blow that did not break any bones or cause neurological damage. It did, however, cause a large cut which required stitches and forced him to miss several games.
While waiting for the game to resume, I took a photo of my ballhawking notes:
As I’ve mentioned before, you’re not allowed to judge me on the sloppy handwriting. Those notes were scribbled extremely fast, sometimes between pitches and/or while walking briskly to another spot. And by the way, when a ball is crossed out (as is the case above for numbers 3 and 8), it means I gave it away as soon as I got it. After I snagged my 15th ball — the foul grounder that was tossed by coach Mick Kelleher — I gave a different ball to a kid, so that’s why there’s no cross-out.
Anyway, back to the bottom of the 9th . . .
Austin Romine pinch-ran for Headley, and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a double to center field. Suddenly the tying runs were on base with no outs. The next batter was Zelous Wheeler, and he struck out. And I was glad. He deserved it for not having not given me the ball earlier in the game that Teixeira had clearly intended to throw to me. Yes, I hold grudges, and at this point late in the game, I was especially agitated about every missed opportunity from earlier in the day. I had 17 balls and *really* wanted to push my total to 20. If the Rays held on for the win, I thought I might be able to get No. 18 from home plate umpire Marcus Pattillo, No. 19 from the throng of players of coaches walking back to the dugout after congratulating each other, and No. 20 from one of the players or coaches heading in from the bullpen. But then Chris Young ruined everything with a three-run, walk-off homer. What a jerk.
It was so loud as the umps approached me . . .
. . . that I nearly failed to get Pattillo’s attention. Or maybe he was just ignoring me? I kept shouting his name as he walked past and began heading down the stairs, at which point something must have registered in his brain. Just before he was about to disappear from sight, he looked back up at me, pulled a baseball from his pouch, and flung it awkwardly. I had to lunge over a slanted concrete wall to make the catch, pinning it against the wall with my glove and bare hand.
One minute later, I got ready for the bullpen stragglers . . .
. . . and ended up getting a brand-new (non-commemorative) ball from bullpen catcher Scott Cursi. He’s very nice and reliable. This was the ninth ball I’d gotten from him since 2011.
Before leaving the section, I gave one of my BP balls to a kid. Then, in a desperate attempt to get one more and reach the magical total of 20, I headed out to left field and took a peek in the bullpen. I hoped that maybe, through some stroke of dumb luck, there’d be an extra ball sitting around, and I could get a guard or groundskeeper to hook me up. That does happen sometimes, especially when a team suffers a sudden/dreadful loss and the players and coaches are too pissed to gather every ball. But no. Not this time. The bullpen was dead, and the guards told me it was time to leave.
Here’s the last photo I took inside the stadium — my final two balls of the night:
When I got home, I photographed the 15 balls that I’d kept:
I’d gotten eight commemorative balls, including seven that were game-used. Seriously, has that ever been done by anyone at any stadium? And by the way, has anyone ever taken as much candy from a stadium as I did on this night? Keep scrolling past the stats for a photo of it . . .
• 19 baseballs at this game
• 538 balls in 75 games this season = 7.17 balls per game.
• 1,041 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 257 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 65 different commemorative balls (click here to see my entire collection)
• 7,714 total balls
• 21 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.71 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $32.49 raised at this game
• $919.98 raised this season
• $39,583.98 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Now, about that candy . . . here I am with it:
The moral of the story is that Yankee Stadium can be fun if you’re willing/able to spend a zillion dollars.