4/25/05 at Shea Stadium
A few years ago, the Mets added two rows of fancy blue seats just off the foul lines, and unless your name is God, you can’t sit there–not even two and a half hours before gametime when there are eleven other fans in the entire stadium.
Most ushers will, however, briefly let you down there for a ball or an autograph. But then you have to leave. And replace the chain on your way out.
Yesterday, I had to deal with an usher who not only refused to let anyone down there (not even little kids when Tim Hudson was signing), but remembered me from my last game and decided it would be fun to go out of his way to prevent me from getting balls.
Whatever. It’s nothing new for Shea. I can take it. And I still got four balls. One was thrown by Victor Zambrano. Another was a Chris Woodward grounder that I managed to snag when the usher was busy scolding someone else. The third was tossed by Brian Jordan after batting practice at the Braves dugout. The last was the most fun of all.
But first, a little story.
When I was eight, I saw a fan on TV using a fishing pole to lower an empty soup can over a ball that was sitting out of his reach on the field below. The can descended…slowly…slowly…until it dropped over the ball, and when the guy lifted it, the ball was gone. Poof! Just like that. I couldn’t believe it, and the memory stuck. Six years later, I started attending games regularly and began to drool over all the BP balls that rolled to the left field corner at Yankee Stadium. I tried to make my own can, but it was clunky and rarely worked when I practiced with it at home. (My parents must have really been worrying about me.) I brought it to one game in ’92, but BP was wiped out by a last-minute thunderstorm and I gave up on the idea. The following season, inspiration struck. Instead of a can with sharp edges and three-pound dumbbells tied to the top, all I needed was my glove, a rubber band, a pen, and some string. I practiced in my room, and the thing worked. It was easy to set up and didn’t require materials that might be confiscated. I started getting more baseballs than ever. Fans always asked how I did it. Players often came over for a look. And this is what they all wanted to know:
1) The materials: glove, pen, rubber band, string. Tie the string to the handle of your glove and keep it tucked away in the palm when you’re not using it. It’s a bit uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it.
2) Hook the band under the flap on the outside of your glove’s pocket. (If there’s no flap, you have two choices: improvise or get a new glove.)
3) Stretch the band over the tip of your glove and prop the glove open with the pen. (Without the pen, the glove won’t stay open. When you have it all set up, the space between the band and the tip of the glove needs to be slightly smaller than the ball.)
4) Lower your glove over the ball. (The glove’s weight forces the band to stretch around the ball. But first make sure that the band is not too tight or the ball won’t go in…or too loose or the ball won’t stay in. This takes practice.)
5) It’s a very delicate operation. Lift the glove slowly so the ball doesn’t fall out. (This is the view from below, complete with the ceiling light in the hallway outside my apartment. Notice how the band has stretched back to hold the ball in place.)
A few years ago, Rick Reilly named this trick the “ZackTrap” in a story for Sports Illustrated, and Rosie O’Donnell had me perform it live on her show. Good times, yes, but I’ve also gotten a few lectures along the way from stadium security. Some ballparks don’t allow these kinds of contraptions, some have no problem with them, and a few fall somewhere in the middle. (In Oakland, for example, you can fish for balls behind the outfield walls, but you can’t pluck them off the field.) It’s hard to keep track of the rules, especially when they vary from one usher to the next, so be careful and respectful and ask for permission first. Anyway, this is how I got my final ball of the day…with permission from Mets coach Jerry Manuel.
At some point in the middle of BP, a young couple with two children wandered down to my already crowded section. The father had a glove and immediately asked me to identify all the players. I asked if this was his first Mets game of the year. “This is my first Mets game ever,” he said. “I’m dying to get a ball for my kids.” I told him he wasn’t standing in the right spot, that he should move to a section where there was less competition, where he’d be more visible, where the players would see his kids, where there’d be a better chance of a ball being thrown rather than being hit. I suggested the far end of the field level, all the way out by the left field foul pole where there were a few empty rows. He thanked me, gathered his family, and headed that way. Three minutes later, I saw a player toss him a ball. His kids started jumping all over the place. He looked back at me and pumped his fist–and he got another ball before BP ended.
I found a good seat in the Loge, but like I said, I had to be at work at 9pm, so I left in the middle of the second inning. Just as well. It was going to be a lousy night for foul tips. Horacio Ramirez’s fastball–if you can call it that–topped out at 86mph in the bottom of the 1st, and that’s not exactly going to make too many major leaguers swing late.
Lifetime ball total: 2,440
Consecutive games with at least one ball: 384
This season’s balls-per-game average: 4.5
And I DID get Hudson’s autograph, by the way.
After all my buildup over Smoltz and Pedro, I decided to skip today’s game because my friends in the ticket office told me yesterday that they’d already sold 40,000 seats and expected the walk-up sales to make it a sellout. I don’t do big crowds. It’s no coincidence that the average attendance at my two games this season is about 17,000. Of course, that’ll change soon because I’m planning to go to Yankee Stadium on Thursday and Friday.