4/28/05 at Yankee Stadium
The cheapest seat at Yankee Stadium (not counting the bleachers) costs $20. That might not seem like a lot if you’re used to seeing the opera, but for baseball, it’s absurd. At just about any other ballpark, you can get in for a lot less. The Yankees do, however, have ten games each season at which the “Tier Reserved” (euphemism for ‘crappy’) seats cost just five bucks. It’s a great deal, and that’s why I stay away. Too many people.
Yesterday just happened to be one of those ten games. Of course I didn’t realize it until after I got off the #4 train at 161st Street, walked halfway around the stadium, and saw a sign on the ticket window that said: “All $5 Tier Reserved seats are SOLD OUT for tonight’s game.”
That was very not good. Not only would the place be packed, but I wouldn’t get a discount for dealing with it.
“So, how much IS the cheapest non-bleacher seat available?” I asked.
“Forty-five dollars,” said the guy.
“What?! Are you joking?! Tell me you’re not serious.”
“I’m not joking, sir. It’s forty-five dollars.”
I walked away in shock. Forty-five bucks?! For what, maybe three or four balls? I found a pay phone (because I don’t have a cell phone, haha) and left a message for Ben: don’t come.
I didn’t know what to do. Forty-five bucks was a lot to spend for game at a place I’d been to over 150 times. But it was also silly, I realized, to schlep all the way out to the Bronx and NOT see a game.
I wandered a bit and tried to find someone with an extra ticket. No luck. It was two and a half hours before gametime. There just weren’t that many people, so I headed back to the ticket window and pleaded with the guy. (“I’m sorry, sir, there’s nothing I can do.”) I played dumb. (“I know, sir, but there’s nothing I can do.”) I asked him how I could’ve found out that it was a five-dollar game. (“Those dates are listed on the back of the schedule.”) I asked him if there was any chance that an individual seat had been released in the system. (“Hold on, let me check.”) He started punching away at his keyboard…and studying his screen…and typing some more…and suddenly told me that he’d just found one five-dollar seat left and did I want it. Did I want it?! I slapped down my Lincoln, ran to the pay phone, called Ben, and told him to disregard the last message. If there was one seat now, there’d probably be another one later, and even if there wasn’t, there’d be so many people outside the ballpark at gametime (Ben was coming from work) that he’d be able to find an extra ticket from someone.
Gate 2 opened at 5:05pm, and I was the first one in. Hideki Matsui was in left field. I called to him. He looked up, then tossed the ball back toward the infield and left soon after to take his cuts. So much for that. I was still in the front row–not a good place to be because most home runs land several rows back–when Gary Sheffield rocketed a line drive in my direction. It was going to land well in front of me. Would it bounce high enough off the grass for me to reach down over the eight-foot wall and grab it? Yes! Ball #1 was in my glove, and my consecutive games streak was safe at 385.
I’d forgotten how much I missed Yankee Stadium. I hadn’t been there since July. My previous 163 balls had all come at Shea.
But there was no time for sentimentality. Sheffield was still up and peppering the empty left field seats with balls–and I was still putting away the first one when a line drive whacked a seat five feet away and ricocheted back onto the field. Dammit. I was too slow. If only I had a personal assistant to follow me around and hold the baseballs and write down the details behind each one. It’s hard to catch balls and document them at the same time. Ten seconds later, Sheff launched another home run that landed right at my regular spot, several rows back in the main aisle. But I wasn’t there! Dammit! I had lingered in the front row, and it cost me.
Fans were already filing in. I hurried back to the aisle, and Sheff crushed a deep fly ball to my right. I sprinted toward the foul pole. The ball sailed 30 feet over my head and plunked down in an empty section. Some other guy was racing toward it from the side. I bolted up the steps and cut across the section three rows below the spot where I’d seen it land–the seatbacks on the field level are several inches above the concrete, and balls roll fast. This one was rolling really fast and scooted past me as I reached it. Another guy was coming up the steps. He was almost there, so I dove headfirst over the row of seats below me and grabbed the ball, inches from his outstretched hand.
I love Yankee Stadium.
Over the next half hour, I got three balls with my glove trick, much to the delight of the fans who were packed along the front row. The first was a random grounder that trickled into the LF corner and waited patiently for my arrival. The second was thrown to some fans by my guy Jarrod Washburn, but they clobbered each other and dropped it. (Do I count that as a thrown ball? Do I give Washburn credit on my list? It’s a tough call…and I decided against it.) The third was lobbed to me by Kevin Gregg, and all the jostling from my fellow fans made me drop it. I don’t mind the contact, as long as people keep their elbows to themselves and don’t shove. I happen to be VERY careful not to bump into anyone. People often ask me if I’ve knocked over little kids. “Crush babies,” I joke, but the answer is no.
My normal BP spot is about 370 feet from home plate in straight-away left field–great for righties but terrible for lefties–so I reposition myself accordingly if there’s time. If there are several lefties in a row, I barely have enough time to run through the narrow rows of seats and dodge all the fans who stand around aimlessly and make it to the shallow LF foul line in time for a few swings. Then, of course, I have to hurry back for the righties. (This is why I don’t need to join a gym.) I should’ve been more aggressive with this strategy yesterday. Once it got crowded, I didn’t feel like running back and forth and missing any of Vladimir Guerrero’s powerful right-handed swings, and it cost me. Chone Figgins hit several balls right where I would’ve been. I might have uttered a few bad words at the time (I don’t remember) and vowed to run around and get as sweaty as I had to for the next group of hitters, which included a couple of lefties: Dallas McPherson and Darin Erstad. As soon as they came up, I did the back-and-forth shuffle, and it paid off. One of those guys–I’m pretty sure it was Erstad–lofted a foul ball right to me. There were some gloveless fans reaching up in front of me, and I wasn’t about to field their deflection with my nose, so I hung back and prepared for a basket catch. They didn’t touch the ball, and I caught it easily.
Toward the end of BP, I had another chance to use my glove trick. The fans standing over the ball stepped aside to let me take a shot at it and watched closely as I set up the rubber band and magic marker and lowered the glove until it gently enveloped the ball. THWAP!!! Another ball came flying out of nowhere and slammed the padded wall below. I looked up and saw Paul Byrd heading my way. He’d thrown it to knock the ball out of my glove. Sorry, Mister Control Pitcher, not this time. I quickly raised my contraption, ball nestled safely inside, before he could reach me.
I got Jeff DaVanon’s autograph on my ticket stub, met Ben near the foul pole (he had to pay some guy $20 to get in), and headed to right field. The place was packed. Even the worst section in the upper deck was filling up. It was one of those nights. We couldn’t find perfect home run seats, but we came close–and I came really close to catching one. In the bottom of the 1st, Matsui hit a deep fly ball right toward me, and I was in perfect position to catch it, but it fell five feet short of the wall. And that was the only time my heart raced all night. So much for Brown and Lackey being lousy. No home runs. Final score: Angels 3, Yankees 1.
I ended the day with seven. That makes it 2,447 overall and raises my season average to 5.3 balls per game. Not bad, not great, but I’m happy. Even though I wasted several chances and cost myself a legitimate shot at double digits, I hadn’t snagged this many balls at Yankee Stadium since April 14, 1996.
The attendance was 51,951. That’s way too many people for me to have to deal with, and I might be doing it again tonight. I’m about to run out the door to see Roy Halladay take on Randy Johnson. Seems like it oughta be a pitchers’ duel, so forget chasing home runs. The Jays’ lineup might not have a single lefty, so I’ll probably sit on the 1st base side of home plate…if there’s an empty seat.