July 2005

Baseball graffiti

Last week at Shea, I caught a practice ball with “NY” written on the sweet spot and called it ugly.

I take it back.

After combing through 1,600 of my balls the other day and finding a dozen different markings, I’ve decided that these balls actually look kinda pretty.

markedballs.jpg

Don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s silly that the Mets and other franchises worth hundreds of millions of dollars mark their ball$ in order to keep track of them…but as I kept looking at them, they seemed more authentic–and triggered more adolescent memories–than all the rest. I studied their evolving logos and tried to figure out when I caught them. I thought about the players and teams and stadiums that unintentionally provided them. I tried to imagine who wrote on them and who stamped them.

THE GRAFFITI KEY:
SF……………….San Francisco
C………………..Cubs
H………………..The incredibly stingy Houston Astros
BREWERS…….hmm
LA……………….Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles
NY……………….Straight from Flushing; Steinbrenner is too classy to deface his balls
F…………………Florida
KCR……………..Kansas City Royals
——…………….Brewers’ leftover 2002 All-Star Game ball
P………………..Pirates
SD………………San Diego
X………………..Can you guess?

The official Cincinnati countdown is at 15 days.

Let’s talk dirty

Check this out…it’s the dirtiest ball I’ve ever caught at a major league game:

Dirtyball2034_1

I once called Rawlings and asked them how much teams spend on balls. They wouldn’t tell me (“Don’t you know who I AM?!”), but I’ve heard from other sources that it’s in the neighborhood of $5 apiece. That’s not cheap. And that’s why some teams (like the Astros) are incredibly stingy with their balls, while many others are careful not to give away new ones.

With this in mind, one of my recent strategies has been to ask for dirty balls. That’s how I got this one (ball #2,034) back on June 11, 2003 when Marlins coach Bill Robinson tossed it to me at the 3rd base dugout after batting practice at Miller Park. It was my 11th of 17 balls that day which, at the time, was a new one-day record for me. (The following season, I got 19 balls at an Expos-Mets game at Shea.)

dumpedbarrel.jpg

It’s fun to pick up a ball and study its markings and try to figure out how they got there. I’m guessing that this one rolled onto the warning track on a damp day in Miami and got caked with mud. Another thing about this ball…it’s hard to see but the “Rawlings” logo is skewed slightly diagonally, and so is the rest of the text. What a beauty.

The reason why I’m talking about this ball is that when I was over at my parents’ place the other day with a little time to spare, I dumped out each of my four barrels and sifted through 1,600 balls and photographed the most interesting ones. Over the next few days, I’ll show others. I actually made a few discoveries.

16 days until I arrive in Cincinnati.
18 days until I arrive in Houston.
Good thing the Mets are at Minute Maid this weekend. I’m getting a great look at the ballpark. Now if only the ‘stros would start losing again…

“Where do you keep all your balls?” (PART II)

In my entry from July 18th, I posted a pic of the balls I’ve collected this year. Yesterday, I went over to my parents’ place and took a pic of all the rest:

balls2285.jpg

This used to be my bedroom. Now it’s a guest room. That’s why the shelves are empty. Anyway, each drawer holds 144 balls–four layers of 36–and as you can see, I removed a couple layers from the second drawer. Each 32-gallon barrel holds 400 balls, and the bag has an additional 100 or so. There’s actually a fifth drawer on the opposite side of the room, but I was too lazy to move it, so you’re looking at about 2,285 of my 2,574 balls. (Normally, there’s not a single ball showing; I only opened the drawers and unzipped the bag and uncovered the barrels for the photograph.)

ballsnationalleague1.jpgballsamericanleague.jpg

The drawer on the left is filled with old National League balls. The drawer on the right is American League only. The middle two are mixed, with commemorative balls on top and some gamers on the bottom. I know it’s not precise, but this is what I came up with when I started doing this as a 14-year-old. Now, 13 years later, I’m running out of space and ideas. Drawers, barrels, bags…what’s next?

Cincinnati.
That’s what’s next.
Only 17 days to go.

Still stuck at 2,574

I decided not to go to Camden Yards today for two reasons:

1) Last night, the Orioles played an 11-inning game that lasted four hours and 13 minutes. They also waited out a one-hour and 37-minute rain delay. Let’s do the math…four-thirteen…one-thirty-seven…five hours and 50 minutes! That means the game didn’t end until 12:55am. And THAT means the managers might cancel batting practice in order to give their players a little extra sleep. (Do the O’s and Rangers really need BP after combining for 19 runs and 33 hits?)

2) Weather.com said there’s a 30% chance of thunderstorms.

I’m getting tired of writing about all the games I’m not going to, and you’re probably getting tired of reading about it, but this is my life during baseball season. It’s a constant struggle to find free time that overlaps with favorable conditions.

At least it’s only 18 days until I leave for Cincinnati–and 20 days until Houston.

Another U-turn

No work yesterday.

Nothing but a ballgame at Yankee Stadium…at least that was my plan.

I slept until 1pm, rushed through a bunch of e-mails, devoured a peach and a day-old slice of pizza, cranked out my blog entry, gathered my things for the game, and ran to the subway. Two trains and a brisk five-minute walk later, I was standing at the ticket window. It was nearly three hours before the first pitch.

The game, I was told, was nearly sold out and the cheapest remaining ticket was $42.

No way I was paying that much.

I had a little time to spare, so I hung around and approached the window half an hour later to see if anything cheaper had been released in the system.

“Sorry,” said the woman. “Everything’s still at least forty-two, but you can check back in around gametime. You never know.”

Oh thanks. Gametime. That’s helpful.

For whatever reason, I have no problem spending $1,000 to see a few games in Cincinnati and UturnHouston, but I refuse to pay $42 for an evening at Yankee Stadium.

So I left.
Another U-turn.
Very frustrating.

The game ended up being the Yankees’ 10th consecutive sellout and 21st of the season. What a disaster.

Today’s game will probably extend the sellout streak because it’s “Thurman Munson Bronze Statuette Night” for the first 18,000 fans 21 and over. I really don’t understand why people go crazy for these things…and for giveaways in general. I prefer to earn my souvenirs. Some might argue that the way to “earn” a ball would be to catch it at a sold out game. Whatever. Good for them. Let them do it. I want no part of these sellouts. If that means I don’t go to another Yankee game all year, so be it. There’s always Shea…and there’s Baltimore. I’m free on Thursday, and the Orioles are hosting the Rangers. Should I go? I don’t know. It might be worth it just to get to boo Kenny Rogers. (Of course, if he throws me a ball, I’ll love him forever.)

The official Cincinnati countdown is at 19 days. Oh baby.

THROW IT BAAACK!!! (even if it’s a fake ball)

Last night, a fan in the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field snagged a Pedro Feliz home run ball and refused to throw it back. The other Bleacher Creatures immediately started yelling at him to throw it back, but he was already sitting down, earphones on, prized souvenir cupped securely between clasped palms when he mumbled a few words to no one in particular. I read his lips: “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

Amen, brother.

What happened next? The cameras caught a woman (wearing a “Throw it back!” tee-shirt) handing another ball to this guy and encouraging him to throw that one back on the field. He did, and the crowd went nuts.

Yeah, nice tradition.

I would NEVER throw a ball back…and I did once have the chance after catching a Mike Bordick homer a few years ago at Yankee Stadium. Bordick was then a member of the Orioles, so naturally the Bronx faithful weren’t too pleased when I decided to keep it. The entire left side of the stadium began chanting a seven-letter word in unison, a word unsuitable for print, but let’s just say that it begins with an ‘A’ and everyone has one. Shortly thereafter, a beer-guzzling monster got right up in my face and screamed, “THROW IT BACK RIGHT NOW, MOTHER[EXPLETIVE DELETED]!!!”

I looked up at the guy and said, “YOU catch a home run, and YOU throw it back.” And that was the end of it.

Ahh, I miss Yankee Stadium. It’s been nearly six weeks since I’ve had the pleasure of overpaying to be abused there. And tonight, I’m going back. I wish the attendance would be under 40,000, but that’s unlikely. All this home run talk–and lingering nightmares of Rob Marchese–is making me want to sit in the short porch in right. If, by some miracle, there’s an empty seat, I will. Look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing a black tee-shirt to go with my very shaved, very white head.

20 days ’til Cincinnati.

The ultimate stadium

Last night, my friend Eric suggested that I design the ultimate stadium for collecting balls.
I’m not an architect, so forget the blueprints.

Instead, here’s my list of the greatest stadium features throughout the majors. If they could magically Mrpotatoheadbe combined into one ballpark, it would make one helluva ball-snagging experience…

–Wrigley Field’s Waveland Avenue beyond the left field wall
–SBC Park’s promenade and McCovey Cove in right
–Citizen Bank Park’s shallow outfield walls
–Coors Field’s thin air
–Fenway Park’s lax security
–PNC Park’s low railings and corner seats down the foul lines
–Jacobs Field’s “Standing Room Only” section down the LF line
–Camden Yard’s “Standing Room Only” section down the RF line
–Turner Field’s outfield seats and gap behind the wall
–Ameriquest Field’s grassy area in center field (for running after HR balls)
–Miller Park’s wide aisle in front of the press box (for foul balls)
–Shea Stadium’s protective screen (in which foul balls sometimes get stuck)
–Bank One Ballpark’s bullpens (for fishing out balls with the glove trick)
–Safeco Field’s retractable roof (so BP doesn’t get rained out)
–Dolphin Stadium’s rain (during the game to send wimpy fans running for cover)
–Tropicana Field’s attendance
–Rogers Centre’s apathetic fans
–Busch Stadium’s former AstroTurf
–Municipal Stadium’s seating capacity

Oh what fun that would be. I’d probably average 40 balls per game.

Is there a fact-checker in the house?

Last month, a writer with the Des Moines Register interviewed me for an article about how to get baseballs at Principal Park, home of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.
We e-mailed back and forth for weeks…
I sent him the link to my web site
I sent him the link to this blog…
We talked on the phone…

And the guy STILL somehow managed to spell my name wrong.

Not surprisingly, he messed up a few other things. He wrote that I’ve caught over 2,500 “foul balls” and he mangled one of my explanations about where to sit.

If you want to see these mess-ups and more, here are the links (which I just found for the first time last Desmoinesregister2night):

Part One
Part Two

These types of mistakes are nothing new. In fact, when there’s a story written about me that does NOT have any mistakes, I’m always surprised.

In May, FHM made such a dumb mistake that I had to laugh about it. Take a look at the piece and see if you can spot it.

U-turn

Yesterday, when I got to Shea at 4:20pm, there were already so many fans (because of Merengue Night) that I was still on line at the ticket window when the gates opened 20 minutes later…so I stepped out of line and got back on the #7 train and went home and watched the game on TV and ate a mango and caught up on a week’s worth of e-mails.
It felt great.

Would I have caught a few balls if I’d stayed? Absolutely, but that’s not the point. The point is that I hate big crowds—and I mean HATE. The attendance was 50,273. That’s absurd for Shea. I made the right decision. Baseball is important, but so is sanity.

“groceryman”

It’s Friday afternoon. The weather is perfect. The Dodgers are in town. It’s “Merengue Night” at Shea Stadium. There’s going to be a huge crowd and a post-game concert. I heard that security will be checking tickets outside the Field AND Loge levels. What fun. (Yes, I’m still going.)

And now, the random portion of the program…

Is it true that a fan in Arlington fell into the bullpen while trying to catch a home run the other night? I didn’t see the highlight. What happened?

groceryman.jpg

Funny news from the Mexican League: Los Langosteros de Cancun had to forfeit Wednesday’s doubleheader against Los Pericos de Puebla because there were no baseballs…because their entire supply was ruined when they left it outside during the hurricane. The teams should have called me and asked for some balls. I would’ve been delighted to say no.

My friend Adam (a.k.a. “groceryman” for those of you who read the comments on this blog) just left for 10 days in California. He called me last night at 2am, and we spent an hour discussing ball-snagging strategies for SBC Park, McAfee Coliseum, and Dodger Stadium. He’s also going to Petco Park, but that’s one of three stadiums I haven’t been to, so he’ll be giving ME some tips (and hopefully a few ticket stubs) upon his return. If he finds a computer while he’s gone, he’ll give us some updates.

I finally booked myself a room at the Cincinnati Ramada even though their “system is still down.” How? Because it finally occurred to the genius who’s been answering the phone to direct me to the company’s 1-800 number. They’re lucky. I was about to settle for Travelodge. (I guess that makes me lucky, too.) Twenty-four more days and I’m there.

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