5/1/06 at Shea Stadium
People assume I have season tickets.
People are wrong.
I always buy my ticket on the day of the game. Do I worry that games might be sold out? No. I’m good at predicting that, and since I hate big crowds, I just stay home.
THIS game, as I correctly predicted, was not even close to being a sellout, and as a result, I was able to buy a seat in my favorite foul ball spot…
Loge = second deck
Section 5 = slightly on the first base side of the plate, perfect for foul tips from righties
Row A = right behind the (horribly narrow) main aisle, good for getting up and running
Seat 6 = between seats 5 and 7…whatever
The ticket ladies said I was great on TV. The fans at Gate C recognized me from the shows and asked dozens of questions during the half hour that we waited to get in:
How many balls do you have? Is that a world record? Do the players ever recognize you? Do you live nearby? How old are you? Do you have a job? What’s your favorite ballpark? Who’s pitching tonight? How did the TV people hear about you? Do you have season tickets? When did you start doing this? What’s the most balls you ever got in one game? What’s your ultimate goal? Why is there duck tape on your glove?
And so on.
It was a fun way to pass the time.
Having talked about it on TV, I was paranoid that someone–if not everyone–would end up going to my favorite BP spot in the right field Loge, so I sprinted there as soon as the gates opened at 4:40pm.
Nine minutes later, I had three balls.
The first was tossed up by some really young bullpen-catcher-type-guy that I’d never seen before. The second came from bullpen coach Guy Conti.
“How do you know my name?!” he had demanded.
(Well ya see, there’s this thing called the Internet…)
I noticed that the ball didn’t have the standard MLB logo on it. There was something else…worn out…hard to read…oh my god…IT WAS AN OPENING DAY BALL!!! Awesome. I’d never gotten one before.
And the third ball was thrown by Chad Bradford.
Then I didn’t get anything for nearly half an hour, which felt like six lifetimes.
Tom Glavine was doing a bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Peterson. Right at the end, when they were standing around and discussing grips, some lefty on the Mets lined a homer into the bullpen. The ball settled in a puddle on a piece of wood, half-buried by a tarp against the back wall. After Glavine tossed it to me, I had to wait 15 minutes for it to dry so the ink wouldn’t run when I labeled it with a “2789”–and by then, I’d sprinted around the entire Loge concourse to the LF corner where Cliff Floyd threw me my fifth ball of the day.
A young man poked his head out of the runway.
“Hey,” he said, “just wanted to say that I read your blog all the time.”
We talked for a few minutes…his name is Matt…he’s from Buffalo and goes to Rogers Center from time to time…I would’ve talked longer, but he wanted to leave me alone so I could do my thing.
That thing wasn’t producing much.
Minutes earlier, I’d missed a homer by two inches. David Wright hit it straight at me. I didn’t have to move left or right at all. Seeing that it was barely falling short, I leaned out as far as I could, over the railing and mounted advertisement and protective netting, only to have the ball tip off the end of my glove. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the (now) snotty Nationals had taken the field and started throwing. Pitcher Jon Rauch was walking over to pick up a loose ball.
“Hey Jon!” I shouted from 30 feet above. “Is there any chance that you could toss a ball up here?”
He looked up. “Nope. No chance at all.”
“Okay, well thanks anyway.”
Then, pitching coach Randy St. Claire flat-out dissed me yet again. What IS it with that guy? (Has anyone reading this EVER gotten a ball from him? If so, I want to hear about it.)
The Loge was empty, but dead. I knew it was time to head downstairs.
“Excuse me,” said the only other fan in the section, “aren’t you the guy that was just on TV?”
He recognized me by the way I’d been asking for balls. After a brief conversation, I grabbed my backpack and ran up the steps, through the concourse, down the two-part ramp, through the Field Level concourse, through the main aisle, through the concourse behind the plate, back into the aisle on the first base side, and down the steps to the dugout.
Five minutes later, when the Mets finished BP and came off the field, I got two balls within 20 seconds from bench coach Sandy Alomar, Sr. and hitting coach Rick Down. By the way, the last four balls I’d gotten were all of the 2005 All-Star variety. Sweet!
That gave me seven balls and instantly got me thinking about reaching double digits.
Damian Jackson was taking fungos at third base, so I went over there.
Several pitchers were running and stretching and B.S.ing in left field, so I headed out that way.
A few other people recognized me from TV. Then “Mets Weekly” started playing on the JumboTron, moments before I caught a foul ball on a fly that’d been flukily jerked right to me by some righty on the Nationals. Ten minutes later, my segment came on, and I pulled out my camera to get a few pictures. Here I am holding up my book…
Pretty soon, everyone was coming up to me, and for the rest of the night, I was recognized everywhere, even in the bathroom. (“Hey!! It’s the ball guy!!”)
One man said “I’m guessing you aren’t married” in a rude way as if to imply that no woman would ever want me. That’s funny. Haha. First of all, I hope I don’t get married for at least another decade or two, and secondly, there’s a LOT that the baseball world doesn’t know about my non-baseball life. But anyway…
I was so focused on getting a good picture of myself on the big screen (I failed) that I didn’t realize another ball was heading my way until some people started shouting and pointing. I looked up, just in time to see a ball smack the concrete facade of the Loge well behind me and bounce into the half-empty seats about 10 rows back. I ran up the steps. Amazingly, the ball stayed right where it landed. I grabbed it. Gah! Another one of those tacky Training Balls.
I went to the Nationals dugout at the end of BP.
I went to the RF corner at 6:55pm to try to get a ball from Mets catching instructor Tom Nieto. Another kid recognized me and asked how I do the glove trick. Just as I started to explain it, an usher (who knows me and doesn’t like me) came over, asked to see my ticket, and kicked me out of the Field Level. (Ahh, Shea Stadium.) Four minutes later, I found a way back in.
Right before the national anthem, I went to the LF foul line to try to get a ball from Jose Vidro.
Yet another fan recognized me. This guy was older…about 40, with a goatee and a thick Brooklyn accent.
“Hey! Aren’t you da guy wit all da baseballs?”
“How many didja get today?”
“Nine?! Well how ’bout you give me a few for my Little League team. We need ‘em! C’mon!!”
He turned away for a moment to ask for an autograph, and I bolted up the steps and headed to the dugout, where Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano were playing catch.
I headed up to my glorious seat in the Loge. Check out this view…
The young woman sitting to my right was gorgeous. Of course, she hadn’t seen me on TV, so when I pulled out my glove, she said rather condescendingly, “Well I see YOU’RE prepared.”
Actually, yeah, I was, and when Marlon Byrd hit a foul tip five feet to my right with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, I jumped out of my seat, scooted down the aisle, and reached up for an easy one-handed grab. BOO-yah! Double digits.
The whole section gave me a standing ovation. The cotton candy vendor, who had ducked in fright, thanked me for saving her from getting hit by the ball. The usher came over and shook my hand. (Take THAT, gorgeous condescending woman.)
Despite all my running back and forth during the final innings, that was my last ball of the night. As for the game (like it matters), the Mets took it, 2-1, the game-winning run coming on a Gary Majewski throwing error in the bottom of the ninth.
Lots of people recognized me on the way out. I got several random “How many balls today?”‘s. One high school kid spotted me from across the street and literally shrieked, “OH MY GOD, IT’S THE BALL GUY!!! WOOOOOOOOOO!!! BALL GUY!!! BALL GUY!!!” He was just joking around (I hope), but it was still pretty fun and absurd and ridiculous. I held up my Marlon Byrd ball and gave him a wave, and he screamed, “YEAH!!! BALL GUY!!! YOU DA MAN!!!” That made other people stare and recognize me. I was looking forward to riding the #7 train with everyone, but for the first time in my life, it wasn’t running. There was a huge fire at the Willets Point station, so I walked half a mile to the 111th Street station, still holding my foul ball. I overheard the following conversation between the two guys walking behind me:
“Hey, that’s the guy from SNY.”
“Yeah, but he only got one ball.”
The trains weren’t running at 111th. I went to the token–err, MetroCard–booth to ask for alternate directions. The guy in front of me asked how he could get to Queensboro Plaza (which is on my way home, but not even close).
“Well, if you walk to Northern Boulevard, you can get the M66 bus…”
Northern freakin’ Boulevard? Screw that.
I flagged down a livery cab, gave the guy $40, and got to listen to the highlights of the Yankees’ loss on the way home.
• 43 balls in 5 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.
• 432 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 58 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 57 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 91 lifetime game balls
• 12th time getting a game ball at back-to-back games
• 2,795 total balls
I’m taking today off from Shea. (Got a better offer.) I should be back there tomorrow for my 2,800th ball…