6/21/06 at Shea Stadium
My day started with a trip to Barnes & Noble for a Bucky Dent book signing.
At the expense of looking like a stalker, I’d brought my old Bucky Dent’s Baseball School t-shirt, as well as the old photo of the two of us. This was my first chance to talk to him in 13 years. I needed to trigger his memory, or at least get him to engage me a little longer than he otherwise would’ve–and he did.
He asked me what I was up to these days, and when exactly I’d attended his school. I told him I was there when Ozzie Smith and Mike Piazza visited.
“Oh!” he said. “That’s when we put in the new turf field. Must’ve been ’91 or ’92.”
He was right.
We kept talking, but it was rushed. I hate that. Even though there was no one else waiting, security was getting antsy and trying to usher me away. Bucky didn’t let ‘em. He saw my camera and told me to walk around to his side of the table for a picture. Joy.
My whole trip to Barnes & Noble lasted just 15 minutes, so I had time to visit a REAL book store–my family’s place–before heading home and back out to Shea.
It was another gorgeous day. First day of summer. I knew there’d be a big crowd, but I had to be there. When I stepped off the #7 train, I noticed the first signs of construction on the new ballpark. A huge portion of the parking lot had been blocked off with a blue fence, and there was a crane in the middle. Bring it on.
Gate C opened at 4:40pm, and I made my customary beeline toward the right field Loge. I got my corner spot, but it wasn’t doing me much good. All the batters were right-handed, and all the outfield shaggers were tossing balls to fans on the Field Level. Half an hour later, my backpack’s ball pouch was still empty.
Enter Pedro Martinez.
Pedro walked out of the Mets’ bullpen, did a few stretches, made a few funny gestures toward the fans down below, and started playing catch. He was about 50 feet away and to my right. With the exception of the occasional jet taking off from the nearby LaGuardia Airport, Shea was pretty quiet, so Pedro heard my initial request for a ball.
He looked up and spotted me and said, “How many you up to now?! Two thousand what…”
Since when did Pedro Martinez recognize me? This was new.
“How do you know me?!” I shouted down at him. “Did you see me on TV?!”
“Yeeeaaahhh!” he said with a goofy tone. “You famous!”
“Well, I’d be honored if you’d add to my collection.” (Actually, he’d already added to it on August 30, 2005.)
Pedro started jumping around and waving his arms in mock excitement. “Ohhh,” he said, “I got a ball from Pedro Martinez!!!” And then, without hesitation, he turned and tossed the ball to me.
“Thanks, Pedro!” I yelled. He nodded.
Five minutes later, he looked up at me again. “Did you pick up a Cincinnati hat?”
My GOD, he knew I switched hats to kiss up to the visiting teams.
I held up my index finger as if to say, “Hold on…”
He stood below, looking up with his hands on his hips, as I fumbled in my backpack. Then I pulled out my Reds cap and a matching/generic red t-shirt.
“But Pedro,” I said, “I really love YOU!”
I tipped my Mets cap. He answered by tipping his and then walked over to Xavier Nady and Chris Woodward. Moments later, all three of them were looking up at me.
“Pedro! Don’t say anything bad about me!”
Pedro shouted back, but I couldn’t hear it. Another jet was roaring overhead. And that was that.
Carlos Beltran tossed me a ball, and before long, I got another–my third of the day–by catching a homer on a fly that was hit by some lefty on the Reds. No idea who. I’d actually made a decent play on it. I was standing in the main aisle when the ball was hit on a line. I read it perfectly and knew it was going to fall short, so I scurried down the steps (nearly twisting my left ankle) and reached over the railing to make the grab.
After that, the security guard told me that the only people in “his” section who could get balls were kids under 12. “I’m just trying to be fair,” he explained defensively.
“Really,” I said. “If that were the case, you wouldn’t make special rules for me.”
Then the usher marched over and announced to all the kids in the section that since I had three balls, I was going to give them away.
“Okaaaay!” he shouted arrogantly. “Who’s the youngest one here–“
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, “but I’d actually prefer to keep my baseballs.”
Not to be outdone, he told me I had to return to my seat.
During batting practice?!
Instead, I ran to the other side of the stadium and promptly got a ball from David Weathers in the left field Loge. Nice guy.
Twenty minutes later, as BP was winding down, I headed downstairs and managed to squeeze into the first row behind the Reds’ dugout. Bucky Dent threw three balls to the people on my left. Billy Hatcher tossed one over the photographers’ box. Several other players and coaches were also tossing balls into the crowd when I *heard* one rolling on the dugout roof. I looked down and there it was, about to skim right past me. I stuck out my bare hand and snatched it. I have no idea where it came from or who tossed it.
For the next two minutes, the kid on my right was screaming at the man in charge of dumping all the balls from the bucket into the equipment bags.
“Ball boy!! Ball boy!! Gimme a ball!! Gimme one!! Throw one up here!! Hey Ball boy!!”
The kid was obnoxious–and old enough to know better.
“You know,” I told him, “calling a grown man ‘boy’ is not the most respectful way to ask for a ball.”
“Doctor Ball Boy!!” shouted the kid.
The woman on my left (pictured here) was decked out in Reds gear, and she was just as annoyed. She leaned toward me and whispered that the man’s name was Stowe. “Mister Stowe,” she clarified.
“Are you sure?! How do you know that?”
“I’m from Cincinnati,” she said.
“Mister Stowe!” I shouted. The man looked up. “Is there any chance that you could toss me a ball, please?”
“You bet!” he said. He was so direct and sincere that I thought he was about to give me the finger instead. But sure enough, he grabbed a nice, new ball and flung it right to me.
The kid was speechless.
The usher and security guard were also speechless when I returned to the right field Loge at game time and presented a ticket for the very spot that they thought they’d kicked me out of earlier.
That’s right, fellas. I bought a ticket for your lousy section. Whatchoo got NOW?!
I had to sit there. Ken Griffey, Jr. was tied with Mike Schmidt for 11th place on the all-time home run list. If, by some miracle, he happened to jerk one down the line into that puny patch of seats, I needed to be there to catch it. But the best he could do in the top of the first was hit a wimpy sac fly to right.
Top of the third? Two-run double to right. Better. I was thinking of what I’d ask for if I caught the ball and Griffey wanted it back. Hmm. I’d need a replacement ball so my collection wouldn’t be one short…and I’d need him to sign it…and personalize it…with a little “thank you for catching and returning my 549th career dinger”…and I’d need him to sign my ticket stub…and I’d need one of his bats…and I’d need to take batting practice with the team. Day game tomorrow? Players need to sleep late and sober up? No BP? No problem. I’ll fly to Cincinnati and do it in that band box that you guys call a Major League stadium. Just tell me when.
Top of the fifth…ground out to second base. Gee whiz, Mister Griffey, thanks for pulling the ball. How ’bout we elevate a little, eh?
Bottom of the fifth…Here’s where it got interesting. Jose Reyes had already homered and doubled. Now, on his third trip to the plate, he blasted a triple–his NINTH of the season–to right-center. Austin Kearns could’ve made the play, but shied away from the wall at the last second and didn’t get full extension. Here we were, just a little over halfway through the game, and Reyes was a single short of the cycle.
Bottom of the sixth…Reyes was already up again. The scoreboard said he was 3-for-3 with a home run, a triple, a double, and two runs. I’d been to over 600 games and seen one cycle. That was last season, on August 15 at Great American Ball Park. Randy Winn accomplished the feat. I had missed a couple of his at-bats because I was running around all night. And because he was on the visiting team, the Reds didn’t make a big deal of it. It was a lame way to witness history. I really, REALLY, wanted to see Reyes do it, but he was overanxious and struck out swinging on a pitch that was practically over his head. Gah! Why didn’t he lay down a bunt? At least he’d get one more at-bat.
Top of the seventh…another Griffey ground out. Wonderful.
In between innings, I started hanging out near the exits and asking people for their ticket stubs. I figured that anyone dumb enough to leave at this point wouldn’t be too concerned about saving an artifact from a potentially historic night…and I was right. I got half a dozen stubs. Reyes HAD to do it.
Bottom of the eighth, two outs…Reyes took the first pitch. Ball. Sweet Jesus. He was ahead in the count. (Did you know that a batter with a 1-0 count typically hits about 75 points higher?) Reyes took a wild hack at the second pitch and came up empty. Third pitch…another ball. Woo! He was ahead, 2-1. YesYesYes. I couldn’t sit. No one could sit. It was too exciting. Too tense. Too everything. And on the next pitch, Reyes lined a base hit up the middle. Single! He did it!! He had hit for the cycle–only the ninth one in the 45-year history of the Mets!!! The place went nuts. I was shrieking and jumping out of my shoes and high-fiving strangers. Mayhem. Bliss. Griffey Who?
Oh yeah, THAT guy. Top of the ninth…another ground out. Whatever.
Sadly, though, Billy Wagner fell apart after recording two quick outs. He walked Kearns. He walked pinch-hitter David Ross. He gave up a swinging-bunt single to Rich Aurilia. And then Brandon Phillips fought off an 0-2 pitch for a two-run single that put the Reds on top, 6-5.
Bottom of the ninth…Todd Coffey came in to pitch. Beltran walked. Carlos Delgado flied out to left, by which point I was already back on the Field Level and making my way down the steps toward the Reds’ dugout. David Wright then bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game. I ran down to the front row. Aurilia (who’d been playing first) handed the ball to Coffey. Coffey tossed it to me on his way in.
After the game, I asked everyone in sight for their ticket stubs. I was amazed at how many people were willing to give them up.
• 49,758 people in attendance
• 7 balls, all of which are regular MLB balls.
• 99 balls in 12 games this season = 8.25 balls per game.
• 439 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 65 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 32 ticket stubs
In other news, I got an email four days ago from an A’s fan who’d caught two foul balls–DURING A GAME–on consecutive pitches. He wanted to know if anyone had ever done that before, and if MLB would be interested in the story. Here’s the answer.
Oh, and get this…
It turns out that Winn was the last guy to hit for the cycle…so I’ve been to the last two cycle games in Major League Baseball. I wonder if THAT’S ever happened before.