May 2006

History!

I am sooooo relieved that Barry Bonds hit his 715th career home run yesterday; the Giants are coming to Shea this weekend, and if he’d still been tied with the Babe, I would’ve been obligated to be there. But I don’t like Barry. And I don’t like weekend games. And I don’t like the layout of Shea Stadium. We’ve been through this before. There are hardly any seats in fair territory…Most home runs are uncatchable…Blah blah. I’d decided that I was going to position myself down the right field line in the third deck (which at Shea is called the Mezzanine). It just wouldn’t’ve been a good situation. As it turned out, the fan who got THE ball was just some random dude who was waiting on line for beer because he’d forgotten that Barry was coming up to bat. I love it. (So much for deadspin.com’s prediction.)
As for history, I’ll be attempting to extend my foul ball streak tomorrow at Camden Yards.

Boys’ Life

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Just thought I’d share the latest “article” about my collection. It’s from the June 2006 issue of Boys’ Life (the Boy Scouts’ official publication), and I love it. It’s simple and punchy and cute, and they didn’t mess up any facts or misquote me. If there’s one thing I’d change, it’d be my own answer to “WHERE TO SNAG A BASEBALL.” I named Turner Field as the best stadium–and it IS quite a snagger’s paradise–but I’m starting to think that Camden Yards is even better. Turner has an expansive section of outfield seats and a huge gap behind the outfield wall, which is ideal for the glove trick. But the stadium is symmetrical and doesn’t offer variety. Camden, on the other hand, has a standing-room-only area down the right field line, a bleachers section in right-center WITH a gap in front of it, and a huge patch of seats in left…and it’s fantastic for foul tips during the game. In any case, here’s the piece:

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streak = stress

I have two main streaks going:

1) 434 consecutive games with at least one ball
2) 60 consecutive games with at least two balls

Those streaks include balls during batting practice, so they’re not THAT hard to maintain.

But there’s another streak that has literally given me headaches, led me to bite my nails (even more than usual), and caused me to lose sleep:

4 consecutive games with a foul ball DURING the game.

The first of those balls was hit by Robinson Cano on April 26.
The second came from Marlon Byrd on May 1.
The third was a 90mph foul tip off Carlos Delgado’s bat on May 3.
And the fourth was courtesy of Jimmy Rollins on May 23.

This streak has tied my personal record. The only other time I accomplished this was over a decade ago, in April of 1996. Naturally, I’m taking this very seriously and putting more thought than ever into choosing my next game…and it’s STRESSING ME OUT. This streak should be fun–but it’s not. It’s consuming my thoughts. It’s not healthy.

5/23/06 at Shea Stadium

The game went 16 innings. I didn’t get home ’til 1:31am. It’s now 2:03am. I’m beyond tired, so let’s get right to it…

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After Gate C opened at 4:40pm, I got four quick balls in the RF Loge, and all of them were thrown. The first was from Alay Soler. The second was a homer that landed in the Mets bullpen, narrowly missing some random employee dude. The only reason why it missed him is that I shouted “Heads up!!!” He rewarded me by retrieving it and tossing it up. It was another 2005 All-Star Game ball. I love that the Mets are still using them in BP. Chad Bradford tossed me my third ball (another from the All-Star Game), and the fourth came from the bullpen catcher. I don’t know his name. Until recently, Dave Racaniello had the job, but I haven’t seen him since April.

Ball #5, another of the All-Star variety, was hit by Carlos Beltran. It was a foul homer that landed in the aisle and bounced toward the back of an empty section. I was the first one there, but some other fans were right behind. Figuring that the ball would probably be trickling down the steps, I started climbing over rows, right in the middle of the section, rather than taking the quicker route up the steps. It paid off.

By 5:40pm, I’d made my way down to the first row behind the Mets’ dugout. As BP was ending, I got Jose Valentin to throw me a(nother All-Star) ball. He fired it pretty hard from about 50 feet away. I reached a foot to my right and gloved it.

“I’m glad you caught that,” said the woman standing beside me.
“Me too.”

Less than a minute later, I asked Mets third base coach Manny Acta for a ball as he headed off the field.

“Another one?!” he said.

Damn. He finally recognized me. I knew the day would come. He’d thrown me 11 balls since 2003. But…that didn’t stop him from pulling a brand new All-Star ball out of his back pocket and lobbing it to me.

Sweet.

I had seven balls, and the Phillies were just starting BP. I started thinking about reaching double digits–and that’s when my luck ran out. The stadium was packed, and I just wasn’t getting the bounces. On two separate occasions, guys standing right next to me got balls…THAT THEY HAD DROPPED. One of the guys offered to sell me the ball for ten bucks.

The Field Level was dead, so I headed back up to the Loge in LF and managed to get a ball from Pat Burrell. He didn’t know which fan had yelled, so when he whirled to throw it, it could’ve gone to anyone. Thankfully, he paused just long enough to spot my tattered Phillies cap.

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That was it for batting practice. I got shut out at the dugout, and I was denied along the third base line before the game (though I did get Ryan Howard’s autograph on a Phillies ticket from 2005).

A particular security guard (who has often hassled me) spotted me in the first row and walked over. “So now you’re a movie star, huh?”

I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic, so all I said was, “Let’s not get carried away.”

I must’ve said the right thing because he gave me a nod and, for once, didn’t kick me out of the section.

After the national anthem, my real mission began: getting a foul ball. I’d gotten one at each of my last three games. One more would tie my personal record.

I started in the LF corner on the Field Level because my favorite sections in the Loge were sold out. In the top of the first, Bobby Abreu lofted a long fly nearby. I raced down the steps from the main aisle…the fans were bobbling it…and in the ensuing scrum, I somehow managed to grab some guy’s pizza instead of the ball which was still bouncing all over the place. I’d JUST missed it. I think it might’ve even touched my arm. I cursed all the way to the bathroom and washed my hands.

A few more balls were hit near-ish, but the aisle was too clogged for me to get there in time. After the third inning, when I’d figured most fans had found their seats, I headed up to the Loge and did my running-back-and-forth thing. (Third base side for lefties, first base side for righties.)

Before long, I had ANOTHER close call. Someone hit a foul tip–I forget who, and it doesn’t matter because I didn’t get it–that ricocheted like mad, right at my feet. Usually, I get these balls, but for some reason, it just wasn’t happening. I went all out, though, but all I ended up with was a skinned knee and a bloody thumb.

Despite the lack of foul balls, it was a great game.
The Mets fell behind, 2-0, in the top of the first and tied it in the fourth.
They fell behind, 6-2, in the fifth and trimmed the deficit to 6-5 in the sixth.
They were losing, 8-5, in the seventh…and I still didn’t have a game ball.

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I needed extra innings in a BIG way…so when Jose Reyes tied the game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, I went bonkers.

In the top of the 10th, Jimmy Rollins floated a foul tip 10 feet over my head and to the right. I knew it was gonna hit the facade of the Press Level, so I weaved past a couple fans in the crowded aisle and darted to the spot where it had a chance of dropping down.

BANG!!!

The ball hit the metal and came down fast. I reached up through half a dozen hands and caught it precariously in the palm of my glove. Several people tried to grab it, but I got my bare hand on it just in time, and it was mine! Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh baby. It felt too good for words.

For the rest of the night, people were coming up to me and asking, “Hey, aren’t you the foul ball guy?” and “Weren’t you just on TV?”

One guy asked if he could have his picture taken with me. “Are you serious?” I asked. He was, so I made him wait ’til the third out before I reached into my bag and grabbed three balls with each hand for the photo. Good stuff. No autograph requests, though.

Phillies reliever Ryan Madson threw 105 pitches, the last of which yielded a walk-off job by Beltran.

Final score: Mets 9, Phillies 8.

I was hoping for the game to keep going. I wanted another foul ball. I wanted to reach double digits. But I’ll take it.

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STATS:

• 60 balls in 7 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 434 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 60 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4 consecutive games with at least one game ball

• 93 lifetime game balls

• 2,812 total balls…ties me with George Sisler for 43rd place on the all-time hits list. (If you have no idea what I mean by that, click here.)

Shea is draining. I might skip today’s game. I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel when I wake up.

(Meanwhile, the deadspin.com mentions keep coming…)

Massive photo project

Two days ago, I found a shoebox full of photos from my trips to different Major League stadiums…
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…and I’ve been scanning them obsessively ever since. Soon, I’ll be adding a bunch to my web site.

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Tomorrow, if the weather holds up, I’ll finally be back at Shea with a specific goal: getting a ball during the game…and NOT one of those cheapies that the first basemen lob over the dugouts every half-inning. I’m talking about a legitimate foul ball. I’ve gotten one at each of my last three games. I’ve done that just three times in my life, and my all-time record is four.

(When are the Tigers moving back to Tiger Stadium?)

Baseballs vs. beer cans

I was interviewed today by a guy named Dino Costa who has a show on the Radio Colorado Network.

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I would’ve mentioned this sooner and posted a link to the Internet broadcast, but I didn’t know I was going on until the last second. Dino emailed me late last night and asked if I could come on the show today. I called him at about 1:15pm and asked when he wanted me, and he was like, “How ’bout right now?”

Nice guy.
Good interview.
I just wish we had more time because there was a *lot* I didn’t get to say.

In other news…
Deadspin.com has mentioned me again. Check it out.

(In case you missed the other article in which they mentioned me, here it is. It’s very timely now.)

State of the Union

1) I’m not going to Camden Yards today. There was a chance, but my friend flaked. (That would be Jules, for those who know him.) I forgive him. He’s in Boston, trying to finish writing his book so he can get on with the rest of his life. I know the feeling.

2) No Camden means it’ll probably be another SIX em-effing days before my next game. I’m getting antsy. But I’m also getting maaad writing done. I’m working on my own book these days, and it’s basically done. Just gotta finish my chapter summaries for the proposal…

3) I want to get my 3,000th ball at Camden. I got #1,000 at Shea and #2,000 at Olympic Stadium. I want to keep changing things up. But there’s no telling when BALL3K will arrive. Probably next season. May 2007. That’s my prediction.

4) Someone at SportsNet NY finally sent me a copy of my “Mets Weekly” appearance. I’m still waiting on “Kids Clubhouse,” and I still have no idea how to convert/upload this stuff. At some point, though, I’m hoping it’ll all come together.

5) The Mets are in St. Louis, so I was able to catch the last few innings of last night’s game on…SportsNet NY. At one point, I saw a close-up of the commemorative ball for the New Busch Stadium. Let’s just say that I’m going to bust my heinie to get one this year, hopefully when the Cards come to Shea in August.

6) There is no number six.

7) I’m in a good mood.

8) Remember the name Angel Salome.

9) Yesterday, I walked past a T-Ball field in Brooklyn and thought about how I’d snag balls there…that is, if I counted T-Ball balls in my collection.

10) It’s 6:24am, and I haven’t gone to bed yet. In fact, I’m wide awake. If I had a treadmill, I’d run on it.

PETCO!

PadrescapIt’s official.
I booked my trip to San Diego.
I’ll be at PETCO Park from August 14-16.
It’ll be my 41st Major League stadium.
I’m like totally stoked.
I just wish I weren’t seeing the Giants.
The Barry stalkers/gawkers will be out in full force.
I might go insane.
(But I’ll be staying with goood friends, so it’s worth it.)

Next game?

I’m not happy about this dry spell, but I’d be even unhappier if I forced it to end by going to a crowded game.

There’s no way I’m going to Yankee Stadium this weekend for Oakland, and as for next week’s series against Texas…eh. Yankee Stadium really doesn’t interest me that much.

Next week’s Red Sox-Orioles series in Baltimore is tempting, but it’s soooo faaaar awaaaay.

Man…I don’t know, I might end up waiting until the Mets’ next weeknight game at Shea: May 23rd against the Phillies.

At least I’m getting a lot of writing done…

The latest diss

I’ve been heckled a lot. It’s nothing new. I’ve had whole sections of fans boo and threaten me (for catching too many balls). A few years ago, a guy showed up at one of my book signings and started shouting from the back of the room, accusing me of being a ball hog. And, of course, thousands of people (including radio hosts during live interviews) have told me that I have no life.

Whatever. I don’t expect everyone to love me.

The latest diss came from one of the Wrigley Field “ballhawks,” who left the following comment after my last entry:

“This is getting ridiculous. What is your actual total of Balls Caught? Not handed to you or begged for!! All those guys at Wrigley actual work for their baseballs and catch them. I am guessing that over 50% of the balls that you have are CHARITY BALLS. Why don’t you stop begging for the balls and start catching them like the rest of us do! You are like the Barry Bonds of Ballhawks. Real Ballhawks DONT BEG!!

Real Ballhawk then proceeded to:

a) insult my ball-snagging statistics
b) list his own accomplishments
c) compare asking for balls to taking steroids

Lovely.

Kids write to me all the time and ask stuff like, “Can I count a ball in my collection if it was given to me by a hot dog vendor?” I tell them that there isn’t ONE way to collect baseballs so they should do whatever feels right. For me, “begging” feels right. Would I rather catch more home runs? Yes, of course, and if I lived near a ballpark the size of a little league field, there’s no doubt that I would. Instead, I’m stuck with Shea and Yankee Stadium (since I don’t count minor league or spring training balls, unlike some of the ballhawks), so I’ve incorporated “begging” into my arsenal. Anyway, that works out well because for me, collecting baseballs is about making a connection to the players; when one of them tosses me a ball, I feel that connection more than ever. I think it’s pretty obnoxious for someone–especially a fellow collector–to insult that.

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