10/1/05 at Shea Stadium (blog version)
I took my friend Lia to Shea on Saturday.It was my 26th and final Mets game of the season.
It was her first time there…ever.
(This was the second time she’d ever joined me for a game. The first was on 6/15/05 at Yankee Stadium.)
We reached the ticket windows at 4:25pm, only 15 minutes before Gate C would be opening.
I tried to buy two seats in Loge section 5 row A–the ideal spot for foul tips–but the entire row was sold out.
I tried for section 4. That was sold out, too.
I gave up on the Loge and asked for two seats on the Field Level in the first row behind the main aisle, anywhere in the 250s (the night before, my dad and I were in box 254), but the closest available seats were in 264–about 50 feet further away from home plate. Not bad. Not great. I didn’t have time to request any other sections, so I bought ‘em. (NOTE: Remember 254.)
There were a few hundred people already lined up at the gate. Luckily, I spotted a familiar face near the front of the line and was able to sneak up there with Lia. That saved us at least five minutes, but it ended up not making a difference because the Mets weren’t taking batting practice. I have no idea why. Maybe they were content with the three runs they’d scored the night before and felt their hitting was good enough.
At least the batting cage was set up, along with all the protective screens. That, in addition to the basket of balls sitting on the warning track in front of the 3rd base dugout, meant the Rockies WOULD be hitting.
I put on my Rockies cap and headed over there. Hitting coach Duane Espy was playing catch with a(n overprivileged) little kid. When they finished, neither of them gave me the ball. A few minutes later, bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter and some other random guy (with very little athletic ability) started throwing. No ball from them either. Finally, All-Star closer Brian Fuentes stepped out of the dugout and walked over to the basket.
“Hey, Brian,” I said. “Any chance you might be able to spare one ball?”
He tilted the bucket aside and took a quick peek at the basket. “Sorry,” he said, “we’re all out.”
Then he grabbed a ball and flipped it to me.
My new favorite player of all time (that would be Ryan Speier) popped out of the dugout and started signing autographs near the photographers’ box. I hopped over a few railings and got him to sign a ticket stub from September 29th–the game when he gave me his glove–and showed it to one of my autograph-collecting friends.
He shook his head. “You should’ve had him write ‘To Zack, enjoy the glove.'” Damn! Why hadn’t I thought of that?
Luckily, there wasn’t anything happening on the field, and there were only a handful of fans asking for his autograph, so he didn’t mind signing another one for me.
“That’s Z-A-C-K,” I told him before holding my breath, hoping that he wouldn’t somehow mess up.
I told him that the picture we’d taken the other night hadn’t come out well, so we tried again.
Still not great, but it’ll do.
Several Mets pitchers were already playing catch in right field. Lia joined me for the trek around the stadium and up to the Loge, and within a few minutes, I made my request for the ball.
Roberto Hernandez looked up and snapped, “How many balls do you NEED?!”
(Good thing the season was almost over. The entire team was starting to recognize me.)
One of the Mets’ strength/conditioning coaches obviously didn’t know what Hernandez was talking about because he fired a ball up to me. That was #2 on the day. I just needed ONE more to keep my three-per-game streak intact, but I really wanted to end up with at least four. I was pretty sure that this would be my last game of the year, and I didn’t want to end with a round number of balls. If I finished the day with three, my grand total would be stuck at 2,750 for the next six months. Two thousand, seven hundred and fifty. Yuck. Too perfect. I wanted a more random number so people wouldn’t think I was approximating.
The Rockies were already warming up in left field. I had to get over there fast, so I told Lia exactly where I’d be and took off. She caught up with me three minutes later. I’d been telling her all day that she could easily get a ball if she wanted one. All she had to do was…hmm…how can I paraphrase this and keep it clean…um…let’s say…use her womanliness to her advantage. She wasn’t interested, so I asked if I could use her to get a ball (kind of like how I’d used my mom on my birthday), but she wasn’t up for that either. What a waste of being pretty.
I had to come up with something out of the ordinary because left field was dead. The Rockies weren’t hitting anything into the seats, and the only player anywhere near the foul line–Jose Acevedo–was only tossing balls to little kids. He’d made eye contact with Lia several times, but she never took advantage by moving to the front row.
Finally, I asked Jose if he wanted to play catch. He’d been ignoring me for half an hour, but as soon as I said that, he tossed a ball right to me. I was surprised. The front row was fairly crowded. Playing catch was a bit risky in terms of everyone’s physical safety, but that wasn’t my problem. I threw the ball back and Jose jumped out of the way and pointed toward home plate. Stupid me. I hadn’t waited to see where the batter hit the ball. I made the “my bad” gesture and pointed at the plate to convince him that I understood the situation and wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
We continued playing catch.
It wasn’t nearly as fun and intimate as the throwing I’d done with Heath Bell–at one point, Acevedo tossed the ball back and forth a few times with another fan–but it was still pretty cool. We only made a couple throws per minute because we waited for each pitch, and he had to chase after the balls that were hit down the line. During one of the pauses, I handed my camera to Lia and set it on movie mode. She ended up getting great footage (but no pictures) of several throws, including his final toss after he indicated that I could keep the ball. I wish I could somehow link the video into the blog, but I’m too dumb to know how to do that. Sorry.
Anyway, that was my third ball of the day. The streak was alive, but my grand total was now 2,750. I needed one more ball, and since I’d milked the Field Level for all it was worth, I went up to the Loge. (Lia stayed behind.) After about 10 minutes, Todd Greene threw me a ball. Phew. I’d asked him for it while he was still throwing and then kept my mouth shut. When he finished, I didn’t even have to shout his name again. He just looked right up at me, and when our eyes met, he chucked it.
I went back downstairs to kill the remaining few minutes of BP with Lia. Moments later, a home run plopped into the gap behind the left field wall.
Normally, when balls land there, the cranky old bullpen security guard gets them. Occasionally, he’ll give one to a little kid, but he usually pockets them when he thinks no one’s watching. He must’ve been in the bathroom–or maybe he simply didn’t hear the ball land–because he didn’t come out to get it. I probably could’ve snagged it with my glove trick from the first row of the Loge, 25 feet above, but the ball was all the way out near the corner of the section which, for some some reason, gets closed off during the second half of batting practice. (In other words, my favorite corner spot in the Loge is off limits every day because the ONE security guard who patrols that section decided that that’s how it would be…as if Shea Stadium isn’t bad enough on its own.) Two minutes later, another home run barely cleared the wall and thumped to its resting place right down the line. I knew I’d have a chance to get it if it would only stay there…but the bullpen guard immediately made an appearance. As soon as he entered the gap, he found the first ball that was sitting all the way out near the corner–and then he left! Apparently, he only HEARD the second ball, and when he found the first one, he assumed that was it. Ha! I ran back up to the Loge and peeked over the railing at the ball down below. Here’s what I saw:
The ball (which you can’t actually see here) was several feet out from the base of the Loge, so I had to lean way out, over the railing and over the edge of the Dunkin Donuts advertisement pane. From there, I lowered my glove between the panel and the light fixture. It was such a tight squeeze that I had to wait for my glove to spin to just the right angle to fit it through. And once I got it down there, the ball was wedged between a hose and the back of the outfield wall. It took several minutes to swing my glove gently back and forth and knock the ball into a better position where the glove could then drop over it unobstructed. Eventually, after half a dozen unsuccessful attempts, I got the ball to stick in the glove and began to lift it back up slowly and steadily. I had to wait once again for just the right moment to lift it through the space between the light and the panel…and finally got it all the way up. That was ball #5.
It was only 6:15pm, and the Rockies were already running off the field. BP was ending 10 minutes early. If I’d been on the Field Level, I probably would’ve had time to run to their dugout, but I was stuck in the Loge and probably missed at least one ball as a result. It was a good thing I’d bought Field Level seats because, with BP now over, I needed my ticket stub to get back in. (What an obnoxious rule.)
I got three more autographs right before the game: Clint Barmes (who’s incredibly nice), Brad Hawpe, and pitching coach Bob Apodaca.
After missing out on all the pregame warm-up balls, I found Lia at our seats.
During the game, a left-handed hitter sliced a foul ball that landed on the warning track and bounced onto the sloped grassy area between the seats and the field. I could’ve easily gotten it with my glove trick, but security wouldn’t let me. I was told I’d be “arrested for throwing objects on the field.” Lovely.
An inning later, another lefty sliced one 50 feet to my right. It wasn’t a pop-up. It was just a soft line drive, so I didn’t have time to get there before it bounced off some guy’s hands and got gobbled up by a lucky fan who happened to be standing 20 feet ahead of me in the aisle. The guy who dropped it was sitting in box 252 row A, three feet from where I’d been sitting 24 hours earlier with my dad. Within the next few innings, foul tips landed in row A of both sections 4 and 5 in the Loge. I’m telling you, I seriously think I’m jinxed.
The game flew by, and I wasn’t really paying much attention. I was too busy enjoying Lia’s company and complaining about all the foul balls that I should’ve had.
I tried to get a ball from the ump after the game, but he didn’t give any away…and so, my fifth ball of the day–the one that I got with my glove trick–ended up being the final ball of my record-breaking season. Here it is (as seen from two different angles):
I can live with “2752” as my number for the next six months. I think 2751 or 2753 would’ve sounded better–I don’t like the double “two”–but I’ll take it.
• 321 balls in 43 games this season = 7.5 balls per game
• 427 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 53 consecutive games with at least three balls
I’ll provide a whole bunch of in-depth stats when I’m absolutely sure that my ball-snagging season is done. I don’t have any plans to attend the playoffs, but you never know.
As for the future of this blog…
Some of you have asked me to continue writing throughout the winter, and I appreciate that. Somehow, I’ve managed to blog every day since my first entry on April 21st, but the time has come for me to take a break. It won’t necessarily be a long break–I might wake up tomorrow and feel compelled to crank out another entry–but I simply can’t continue at this pace (because I’ll die). There are still plenty of things that I want to discuss. Just don’t freak out if I’m not doing it every day.
This has been an amazing season for me. Thanks for being a part of it.