6/7/05 at Shea Stadium
Yesterday, I said I’d have no trouble getting four balls at Shea and reaching #2,500. Then I realized the Mets were playing the Astros…the very stingy Astros, who don’t give away many balls. And then I realized that Pedro was pitching and that the stadium would be packed. Before I left my place at 3:30pm, I knew it would be a struggle. By the time Gate C opened 70 minutes later, there was as large a crowd as I’ve seen all year.
Most fans went to the dugouts for autographs. I sprinted to the right field foul line and quickly got Royce Ring to throw me a ball, making it 392 consecutive games for me at which I’ve snagged at least one.
Three balls to go…
Right field was filling up fast, and the Mets did not hit a single ball into the seats. That’s the problem with Shea. There are no field level seats in fair territory, and major league hitters are usually pretty good at keeping the ball fair off 60mph batting practice pitching. After 35 minutes, I still had just one ball, and I abandoned right field.
It took about two minutes to run back toward home plate through the concourse and make it out to left field. I was drenched in sweat. Free exercise! The seats were just as crowded, but at least I was a new face. Some ballboy-type guy fielded a line drive down the line, and I called out for it, not knowing if he even had permission to give balls away.
Unfortunately, however, he threw it ten feet over my head into the mostly empty seats. I didn’t have a clear path up the stairs to the ball because it skipped to the next box, on the other side of a railing. Three other guys raced ahead of me up the stairs and cut across the row where they’d seen the ball land. Luckily, they all forgot about this thing called gravity and had to watch helplessly as the ball trickled down the steps right to me.
Two balls to go…
Again, the Mets weren’t hitting anything into the seats. The front row was packed with fans everywhere I went. It was just one of those days. There weren’t any opportunities–except for the ones I created–so I ditched left field and went to the 3rd base dugout as the Astros were preparing for BP. There was a basket of balls sitting on the warning track. Players and coaches were using them to play catch and returning them when they were done. It was amazing how NO ONE would toss me a ball or even look up at me.
Finally, I got the attention of Houston’s 1st base coach, Jose Cruz, Sr. He was standing 50 feet away with a ball in his hand. When I asked for it, he gave me this weird look. I couldn’t tell if he was being playful or snotty, so I held my glove over my head. Weird look #2. I held my glove way out to the side. Weird look #3. I wrapped my glove hand behind my back and gave him a target there. Weird look #4. And no ball.
What is it with the Astros?
A minute later, Brad Lidge came out of the dugout and headed for the basket. I asked him for a ball, and he actually acknowledged my existence. I think he was about to toss one to me when Cruz appeared out of nowhere and tossed me his.
One ball to go…
Three minutes later, I asked Brad Ausmus for a ball, but Cruz heard me and said something to him. I read his lips: “He’s already got one.”
Thanks a lot.
I ran back out to left field and headed to the corner. The Astros pitchers were playing catch. The next ball would be #2,500. Who was going to give it to me? Who was going to go down in history?
Dan Wheeler or John Franco? Nope.
Chad Qualls or Russ Springer? Sorry.
Wandy Rodriguez or Chad Harville? No, sir.
Willy Taveras? Not.
Orlando Palmeiro? Fuggetaboudit.
Humberto Quintero? Negatory.
Dr. Gene Coleman, the strength & conditioning coach? Yeah Right.
It was a disaster, and I was stuck at 2,499 when BP ended.
I had half an hour to kill.
I took a few pictures.
I got Andy Pettitte’s autograph.
Before the game, Adam Everett and Morgan Ensberg played catch down the 3rd base line. Did they toss me the ball? Ha.
After the national anthem, David Wright and Chris Woodward got loose in front of the Mets dugout. “David!!! David!!! Right here!!!” Could it be?! Ball #2,500?! No.
Once the game started, I pretty much knew that I had to get a foul ball, so I headed one level up to the Loge and doubled my chances, playing righties and lefties differently by running back and forth (through the concourse behind the seats) to the 1st and 3rd base side of home plate. There were no empty seats. I had to stand in the runways the whole time…and those runways are slanted up. It’s tough on the calf muscles. Anyway, I came close several times in the first few innings. One ball came right at me but fell two rows short. Another one flew ten feet over my head, hit the press box facade, and ricocheted just a bit too hard into the seats below the main aisle. A third ball sailed right above me into the first row of the Mezzanine where a fan reached out and made a bare-handed catch.
I kept rushing back and forth to the 1st and 3rd base sides. The Mets lineup?
Jose Reyes = switch-hitter batting lefty.
Mike Cameron = righty.
Carlos Beltran = switch-hitter batting lefty.
Cliff Floyd = lefty. (Wow! Two lefties in a row!)
Mike Piazza = righty.
Marlon Anderson = lefty.
David Wright = righty.
Kaz Matsui = switch-hitter batting lefty.
Pedro Martinez = righty.
The Astros had three righties in a row in their lineup (Everett, Ausmus, Oswalt), but it wasn’t much easier. I probably ran about five miles inside the stadium last night…but actually, I wasn’t able to run the whole time because there were a few security supervisors hanging out in the concourse. If they saw me zipping by, they’d know something was up, so I had to slow down and, as a result, often missed the first pitch to each batter.
By the 4th inning, I was getting upset, almost embarrassed, to have predicted catching #2,500 and then fall one ball short. Minutes later, on 1-2 pitch with nobody out in the bottom of the frame, Marlon Anderson tipped one several feet to my left. I was already standing, of course, and as soon as the ball left the bat, other people stood up. It was one of those looping foul balls with lots of top spin. I knew it had the perfect distance, and I figured I had time to get there, but I was worried that everyone else would have time to get there and reach in front of me. I ran up the last few feet of the runway, squeezed past a vendor and a couple of fans, saw the ball coming…coming…coming, stepped forward, reached up and to my left, and made the one-handed catch.
The usher came over and, not knowing who I was or that I didn’t belong there, shook my hand. Other fans congratulated me on the “great catch.” (The only thing great about it was that none of them got in my way. Well no, the timing was pretty great, too. I mean, how lucky that I didn’t get a fourth ball before the game. Number 2,500 could just as easily have been tossed to me at the dugout by Astros bullpen assistant Stretch Suba.)
I felt so good. I didn’t care what happened for the rest of the night, but I kept running back and forth until I realized that Pedro was taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning. I decided I’d done my work for the evening, so I sat in a less-than-ideal seat and rooted for the future Hall of Famer to get nine more outs. How cool would this be, I thought. Catching my 2,500th ball and seeing the first no-no in Mets history on the same night?!
It wasn’t meant to be. With one out in the 7th, Chris Burke (who?) spoiled the no-hitter AND the shutout with his first major league homer, a solo shot into the Astros left field bullpen.
C r a p.
But Pedro recovered and pitched the complete game, allowing just one other hit and fanning 12. He struck out the side in the 9th inning. I have to say, it was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been to. Final score: Mets 3, Astros 1.
The Zack Stats:
2,500 total balls.
82 game balls.
69 balls in 10 games this season = 6.9 balls per game.
3 game balls this season = one game ball every 3.3 games, although if you take into account the fact that I had to leave four of those games before the end of the 3rd inning…
When I got home, I saw myself on SportsCenter for half a second because I was behind the Mets dugout for the final out and (unintentionally) got in the picture as the on-field camera showed a brief clip of Pedro celebrating as he headed off the field.