Chasing Rickey and Rose and…Willie Davis?
I caught my first four balls in 1990 and added 14 more the following season. In 1992, when I first started going to games almost every day, I set my first goal: 100 lifetime balls. My parents thought I was crazy, the other kids in school made fun of me (even more than usual), and by October, my grand total was 146. That’s when I decided to go for 1,000, and four years later, I was there.
In 1997, I headed off to Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Not only was I five hours from the closest major league ballpark, but there were lots of girls.
Playing my favorite sport was no longer a priority.
I wasn’t even thinking about going to games.
I got my thousand balls, and that was that.
Then my summer job fell though and I ended up filling my time by writing a book called How to Snag Major League Baseballs. The project rejuvenated my love for collecting balls and, with the Snag-O-Meter at 1,074, I got back into it in ’98. I couldn’t decide how high to set my next goal–2,000 seemed too far away–until I stumbled across the stats of one of my favorite players at the time: Rickey Henderson. He had 1,231 career stolen bases. I had to catch him. He finished the year with 66 steals, and I caught 192 balls. He was still winning, 1,297 to 1,266, but his lead didn’t last long. I passed him in May of 1999 and then went after his career runs total. That took five years, and I caught my 2,000th ball along the way. Getting #2,000 meant more than surpassing Rickey’s 2,295 runs, but it was more fun to chase a human than a lifeless milestone.
All season, I’ve been trying to come up with a new number to pursue, a number that’s historically important but within reach in the near future. When the Mets signed Pedro, I considered going after his career strikeout total (which now stands at 2,791), but Rafael Palmeiro‘s current pursuit of 3,000 has inspired me to climb my way up the career hits leader board.
I have some serious work to do before I catch Pete Rose (who absolutely belongs in the Hall with his 4,256 hits), but it’ll be fun to leapfrog the game’s all-time greats along the way. Hopefully, the 46-year-old Julio Franco (2,496) won’t leapfrog me…