The Hample Jinx is unstoppable!
Yesterday, Gustavo Chacin (who made the foolish mistake last season of knocking a ball out of my glove during BP) felt pain in his shoulder during a bullpen session and was placed on the disabled list.
C’mon, everybody, let’s all say it together. Ready? One…two…three:
I get excited easily. I admit it. But this really WAS a special day. I had an interview scheduled for 6:15pm on the Phillies’ cable network, and the producer of my segment–a supernice guy named Brian–offered to show me some behind-the-scenes stuff if I got there early.
We met at the “staff and media entrance” at 3:45pm and headed inside. A security guard inspected my backpack and told me to check in with the young man sitting at a nearby table.
“What’s your name?” asked the man.
“Zack Hample. H-A-M-P-L-E.”
He looked at his list, found my name, and slid a clipboard toward me.
“Sign here,” he said before handing me a media credential.
Brian was already 30 feet down the hall, and when I caught up, he led me through an unmarked metal door that led to the main concourse behind home plate. How exactly is this “behind-the-scenes?” I wondered, but had a feeling that the tour was just getting started.
We walked through the concourse to the first base side, then turned left and headed down the steps through the empty field-level seats. It was drizzling. The tarp was covering the infield. No batting practice. Of course. Just my luck. Idiot, you’re not here to snag baseballs, said the voice inside my head. Batting practice is irrelevant.
“Make sure you wear this at all times,” said Brian, pointing to the media credential which was already dangling around my neck.
“I suppose I should put my camera away for now,” I said as we approached the field.
Brian nodded and swung open a little gate that was camouflaged by the padded railing at the front row. As I stepped onto the damp warning track in shallow right field, I half-expected an alarm to go off, but the stadium remained eerily quiet, and we walked toward the Phillies’ dugout.
“C’mon,” said Brian as he headed down the steps into it. We hadn’t been walking fast, but I still felt rushed. I wanted every step to last an hour.
A security guard at the home-plate end of the dugout peeked at my credential and had us both sign another clipboard. Then we headed down a few more steps and into the tunnel that connects the dugout to other key areas. We passed through another set of doors and walked through a hallway which was disappointingly generic–except for the stacks of boxes of Rawlings baseballs lining one of the walls. Finally, we rounded a corner, and before I even realized what was happening, I found myself standing INSIDE the Phillies’ clubhouse.
The place was buzzing. There were a dozen reporters waiting with notepads and tape recorders. There were two TV crews. Chase Utley walked past me. Ryan Howard was signing baseballs on the other side of a table. Antonio Alfonseca was yelling about a bad call in the Mets-Rockies game, which was playing on one of four TVs mounted high on the wall. Shane Victorino was in his underwear. Davey Lopes was in shorts and flip flops. Pat Burrell was startlingly huge. Jimmy Rollins was laughing. Aaron Rowand was reading a newspaper. Abraham Nunez sat quietly at his “locker.”
The lockers don’t have locks. They’re basically wide open closets, lined with jerseys and filled with other items such as bats, gloves, shoes, balls, and (speaking of balls) the occasional jock strap. The room itself must’ve been 80 feet long and 40 feet wide. It was carpeted, and there were half a dozen small red leather couches. The clubhouse was luxurious enough to double as a sports lounge in a fancy hotel, but it wasn’t intimate. There was nothing cozy about it. It seemed too spectacular and spacious and crowded to foster team unity, but what do I know? The players probably bond over the fact that they’re pampered, but regardless, it was obvious why guys do whatever it takes to make it to The Show.
At 4pm, Brian took me to the visitors’ clubhouse, which wasn’t nearly as big or nice as the Phillies’. Ahh, yes, part of the home-field advantage. We didn’t stay long, and that was fine. I felt awkward wearing my Phillies cap in front of the Nationals and worried that they’d recognize me later as a phony if I asked for balls.
We made it back onto the field via the 3rd base dugout and walked along the backstop to the Phillies’ side. Charlie Manuel was sitting in the dugout, giving generic answers to generic questions from a mob of reporters. (“Charlie, do you really think that a walk is as good as a hit?”) Brian made a phone call. I climbed the steps and stood on the warning track and watched Jamie Moyer play catch in shallow right field. When he finished and walked past me, I fought the urge to ask him for the ball. I just wanted one ball. I didn’t need 16. Just ONE to keep my streak alive. I didn’t know if I’d get any other chances. Not only had BP been rained out, but I’d soon have to leave the stadium and walk half a mile to the Wachovia Center for my interview.
Brian must’ve sensed that I was thinking about snagging. After his call ended, he told me it was fine to run around for balls as long as I waited for the gates to open at 4:30pm and didn’t use my media credential. He had to stick around the ballpark to film a few other things (including an interview with Ryan Madson) and offered to drive me to the Wachovia Center at 5:45pm. I figured that’d give me enough time…
Of course there wasn’t a single player in sight at 4:30pm, but 15 minutes later, Jerome Williams began throwing in center field with Nationals bullpen coach Rick Aponte. I headed to the furthest possible seat in left center field and asked Aponte for the ball when he was done. Five minutes later, I leaned over the railing and caught his low throw.
At around 5pm, the entire Nationals pitching staff began throwing in the left field corner. I saw Ray King messing around with a knuckleball as he was finishing, so I shouted, “Ray! Let’s see that knuckler!” He immediately turned and threw one to me, but it fell short and landed in a dead area, which would’ve been perfect for the glove trick if some other fan hadn’t climbed over a railing and jumped down there. King got another ball and made a perfect throw to me.
Two pitchers were still throwing, and I knew I wouldn’t get their ball by staying in the same spot, so I ran around to straight-away left field. I also knew I wouldn’t stand out if I positioned myself in the front row, so I stayed 10 rows back, and when the pitchers finished, I waved my arms like a madman and got the guy with the ball to toss it to me over everyone else.
The Nationals went back into their dugout, leaving the field empty once again. I had half an hour to kill before meeting Brian, so I ate my first cheesesteak of the day and then used my media credential to get into the heavily guarded Diamond Club. It was fancy and glitzy and fun to check out for a few minutes, but why would anyone want to watch a baseball game there? I’d rather sit in the last row of the upper deck and eat a cheesesteak on a stale roll than be glued to a TV in a club that serves “Pan Seared Cod Filet.” Yes, that was actually on the menu. The full listing went like this:
Lightly seasoned cod, pan
seared and served over warm
bean ragout and grilled baby
bok choy and then drizzled
with a lemongrass flavored
I will say this in defense of the Diamond Club: It provided a view of something that I’d never seen inside a major league baseball stadium. At the far end of the dining area, there was a little alcove of angled windows that overlooked the Phillies’ underground batting cage. The cage on the left was for the pitchers, who practiced bunting as a coach fed one ball after another into a pitching machine. The cage on the right was for the position players, who produced shotgun-like cracks with each powerful swing.
I looked at my watch. 5:43pm. Ohmygod I hurried to the back of the club and walked up the stairs, found my way into the main concourse, and ran back to the first base side. Section 112. That’s where I was supposed to meet Brian, and there he was. Phew! He led me out of the stadium and to his car, and off we went to the Comcast SportsNet headquarters in the Wachovia Center. I changed into a nicer shirt in the bathroom and hung out with another producer who showed me some baseball memorabilia in his office and played a segment he’d filmed in Spring Training. He was about to play another when Brian returned and led me into the studio. The show was already in progress. Panel discussion. Two cameras. I could show the three balls that I’d gotten earlier in the day. I could demonstrate the glove trick. The host would plug my book at the beginning and end. There’d be some old footage used from my appearance last year on the Mets’ cable network. I had a bunch of questions. “This segment is almost done,” said Brian as we stood off on the side in semi-darkness. “Then there’s a two-minute commercial break, and you’re on.” And he left.
The segment finished. I walked to the set. I said hello to Neil Hartman (the host of the show) and the two sportswriters who’d be joining us. Some other guy told me sit down and “stay centered in front of the light” that was beaming up at me through a grate on the desk. He had me run a tiny microphone under my shirt, and he clipped it to my collar. The host asked me a couple quick questions: What’s your current ball total? Are you heading back to Citizens Bank Park after this? And so on. I didn’t even have a chance to ask which camera I should look into.
“Ten seconds!” shouted a voice. Then “Five, four three…” and we were on. Live. In 3 million homes across Pennsylvania. Just like that. I wasn’t nervous…just a bit perplexed over the lack of preparation I’d been given, but it all worked out fine…I think. I got to talk briefly about my book. I was mostly asked about my baseball collection. It was fun. The 10-minute segment flew by. Neil said, “Thanks for joining us,” and two minutes later, Brian was driving me back to the ballpark.
It was 6:40pm. I was on my own for the rest of the night. The tarp was coming off the field, and the Nationals had begun their pre-game stretching/running/throwing along the left field foul line. Robert Fick tossed me my fourth ball of the day, some random infielder threw me another moments later, and Felipe Lopez provided ball #6 right before the game at the dugout. Not bad for having missed an hour on a day without batting practice.
My media credential was good for “pre-game” access to pretty much anywhere in the ballpark. During the game? I had a feeling the answer was no, but I had to try, so I took the elevator up to the club level and found the entrance to the press box. Yeah, so much for that.
I returned to the field level seats and picked a great spot for foul balls. Within 10 minutes, someone hit one right at me which I easily would’ve caught on a fly, but get this…the ball nicked the thin steel cable that holds up the protective screen and deflected five feet to the left. Unreal.
I was so annoyed. No press box. It was drizzling and windy and cold. Stupid steel cable. I kept wandering and ate my sorrows away. I’d been eating all day. First, on my way to the garage at 1pm, I stopped at Subway and got a 12-inch barbecue rib patty with extra cheese. Then, at the ballpark, I decided I could eat whatever I wanted because it was a special day, so I got a soft-serve chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone at around 4:30pm. I wasn’t even hungry when I got my first cheesesteak 45 minutes later, but I figured I might get hungry soon, and that it wouldn’t be good for my stomach to growl during a live TV interview. Around the fifth inning, I got a hot dog from a concession stand behind the plate and took it up to the register. The cashier told me it was $7.50, and I was like, “Excuse me?!” She apologized and said she thought it was a cheesesteak–an honest mistake as all the items WERE wrapped in tin foil. Anyway, I was like, “Oh man, you have cheesesteaks here?!” and she was like, “Yeah, baby, you wanna put that back and get one instead?” and I was like, “Nah, I’ll just eat this and then get a cheesesteak.” Still feeling more annoyed than hungry, I ate my hot dog (which was overcooked and dry) while walking through the concourse to left field, then got my second cheesesteak of the day. And then of course I had to end with something sweet so I got another ice cream cone. Yum.
I wandered back toward home plate and saw the Phillies’ dance squad preparing for their seventh-inning-stretch routine. I wandered back to left field and found an empty patch of seats. I walked back to the first base side in the 9th inning and headed down to the second row behind the Phillies’ dugout. I didn’t even care about getting another ball. I just wanted to be close to the action and try to get the lineup cards, or a batting glove, or something. But no, after the final out, I ended up getting my seventh ball of the day instead. I don’t know who tossed it. It just flew out of the cluster of players and landed on the dugout roof in front of me, so I grabbed it. Final score: Phillies 9, Nationals 3. Chase Utley went 5-for-5 with his National League-leading 12th and 13th doubles.
• 35 balls in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.
• 459 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 605 lifetime balls outside of New York (The Ray King ball was #600.)
• 2,996 total balls
• 24 days until St. Louis
The day did not get off to a good start. First, an aggressive driver on the Turnpike gave me the finger, and half an hour later, a bird pooped on my windshield. (It’s okay. I still like New Jersey.) Thankfully, though, Sean and I reached Baltimore without further incident–and with plenty of time to spare for our traditional Pre-Camden crabcakes.
Camden Yards, like several other ballparks, opens one area early for season ticket holders. That area includes left field, and I was dying to get in there for the first half hour. I knew the right field seats would be packed, and I wasn’t expecting to snag much if I ended up getting trapped there. I nearly bought season tickets the week before on StubHub, but held off in the hopes that Sean and I would be able to buy a couple from a scalper. No luck. We were stuck with crappy/generic box-office tickets. Right field it was.
I raced inside when the gates opened at 5pm, headed to the center-field end of the bleachers, took a peek at the grassy area in front of the batter’s eye, and saw a ball lying 10 feet below me. How nice. I set up my glove trick and lowered it over the railing and quickly had ball #1.
When the seats began filling up, I moved to the back right corner of the standing room only section, just past the edge of the tall wall so I could still see the batter. Usually, it’s dumb to stand 400 feet from home plate, but this seemed to be the best spot. If I’d stood with everyone else at the front of the standing room only section, I would’ve been able to see the balls coming, but most home runs would’ve sailed over my head. If I’d waited at the back of that section, I would’ve been closer to the landing spot of most home runs, but I wouldn’t have been able to see them approaching.
The Orioles have a bunch of left-handed hitters this season: Brian Roberts (who’s a switch-hitter), Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons, Corey Patterson, Paul Bako, and Freddie Bynum. I don’t watch the Orioles enough to be able to recognize batting stances and swings from 400 feet away, so I can’t tell you who hit it, but within a couple minutes, one of these guys lined a deep drive to my left. I bolted around the railing. The ball was falling short. The sun was in my eyes. I hugged the edge of the tall wall. The guys at the front of the section ran back. I ran forward. The usher (in the white shirt and orange cap) ducked. I reached around him and over the wall and caught the ball on a fly. Ball #2 felt good, but it was nothing compared to what happened next.
Another lefty slugged one even deeper to my left. I took off and ran along the back edge of the flag court, but it was such a tape-measure shot that no one was able to get under it and catch it on a fly. I turned left at the garbage cans and watched the ball sail completely over the section and land on Eutaw Street (the wide open-air concourse next to the warehouse). Meanwhile, I’d been joined by half a dozen guys who sprinted after it with me. The ball smacked off the pavement and bounced up and skipped off the brick warehouse 30 feet into the air. All the other guys were roughly my age and size, and within one second, we’d all be jumping. This was a true athletic challenge. I’d literally dreamt about catching balls like this, and I was so pumped by the time the ball started coming down that I defied gravity like never before. For a split second, I felt like I was flying above my competition, and I caught ball #3 several feet above the nearest glove.
Ball #4 required an equally athletic effort, but it wasn’t as eventful. One of the Orioles’ lefties cranked a long fly ball right in my direction. I froze…and worried that I’d misjudged it…but sure enough it kept coming and coming. As the ball began to make its descent, I realized that it was sailing a bit too far, but there wasn’t an entrance to Eutaw Street where I was standing, so I couldn’t run back. Instead, I was trapped on the inside of a tall gate, so I inched back as far as I could and crouched down a bit and jumped at the last second and made the backhand catch high over my head. Sean, who was in the seats below (and had just caught a homer on a fly for the first time in his life), saw me make the catch and later told me that my feet were nearly two feet off the ground.
I left my feet for ball #5 as well. It was another homer hit deep toward the back of the standing room only section. Another guy (who’d also caught several balls by that point) had just beat me to the spot where it was going to land, so I cut in front of him just enough that I could still jump and make the catch.
In my 18 years of snagging, this was easily the most fun I’d ever had–and the day was just getting started.
At 5:30pm, I ran to the left field side and promptly got ball #6 tossed to me by A’s reliever Lenny DiNardo. Moments later, I did something amazingly stupid. I flung my glove up in the air to try to knock down a ground-rule double that was bouncing 10 feet over my head. What’s so stupid about that? I was in the second row at the time, and I accidentally tossed the glove with a forward arc, and it ended up sailing over the outfield wall and landing on the warning track. There weren’t any players or security guards nearby, so I had to stay there like an idiot until someone walked over to retrieve it. That someone happened to be Jay Witasick. He handed it to me and said, “Try keeping it on your hand next time.”
I got ball #7 with the glove trick at the left field foul pole. It took a couple minutes because the rubberized warning track was barely sloped, so the ball kept rolling against the wall every time I tried to knock it out. Eventually, I got lucky and found a spot several inches out where the ball stayed put, and I was able to work the edges of my glove around it. A few minutes later, I used the trick again for ball #8 in straight-away left field.
I heard Sean shout my name from the next section, and I could tell he meant business so I hurried over and he informed me that a ball had just dropped into the gap behind the wall in right-center field. (BTW, Sean also had a book published this past off-season.)
“See you in a few minutes,” I said and took off.
I sprinted up the steps, through the runway, through the concourse, through the center field picnic area, through Eutaw Street where I carefully dodged dozens of vendors and snail-like fans, and down the steps to the front row in right-center. Sean was right. There was a ball waiting to be rescued from the dead area between the wall and the base of the stands. I set up my glove trick once again, and ball #9 was mine.
When I made it back to left field, Sean was chatting with a guy named Adam who’d discovered this blog days earlier and recognized me when he heard Sean telling me about the ball in right-center. Cool. I talked to Adam for a couple minutes, then kept running around (unsuccessfully) for balls for the last round of batting practice. I made it to the 3rd base dugout as the A’s were clearing the field and got two balls within the next minute. Ball #10 was tossed by 3rd base coach Rene Lachemann, and ball #11 came from bullpen coach Brad Fischer.
I got a drink. I used the bathroom. I talked to an usher. I took some photos. I headed back down to the dugout when several players began their pregame throwing and got ball #12 from Mark Ellis as he jogged off the field. The lack of competition was incredible. Shea Stadium would’ve been so packed that I might not have been able to squeeze into the front row, but on this night at Camden Yards, I was one of just a few fans in the front row, and the others weren’t even wearing gloves or paying attention. When I caught the throw from Ellis, a few people behind me applauded. (Are you KIDDING me?!)
Two minutes later–right before the national anthem–I got ball #13 from Alberto Castillo, and a father in the second row immediately told his young daughter to go up to the front and beg for a ball.
Steve Trachsel overheard him and said, “You have $300 seats and you need to beg for a ball?”
“You don’t understand,” I told Steve. “Fans will do anything to get a ball because it has your DNA on it.”
“Not my DNA,” he said.
Bynum then reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ball for the girl.
The whole day had been perfect. All I needed at this point was a foul ball during the game; I had 99 lifetime game balls, and I wanted to crack triple digits at Camden.
I stayed 100 feet (or so) behind home plate, just as I do at Shea, and kept moving back and forth all night for potential fouls: 1st base side for righties, 3rd base side for lefties. There was hardly any action, and within a few innings, I got tired and hungry and antsy and frustrated and eventually too lazy to keep running back and forth for every hitter. By the middle of the game, if a lefty came up and he was going to be followed by a righty, I just stayed on the 1st base side. At least I had enough energy and motivation to stand up for the righties, and it’s a good thing because in the top of the 7th, Nick Swisher hit a high foul pop-up almost directly behind the plate.
“Here it comes!” shouted the nearest usher as if I needed to be told. By the time he got the last word out, I was already sprinting through the empty aisle, but the ball drifted too far behind me for a clean catch. It slammed off a railing in a staircase, and I briefly lost sight of it. I figured the ball had ricocheted 50 feet away, and I looked quickly in all directions to try to spot it. It was nowhere in sight…until I happened to look right in front of me and saw it plop out of the staircase into the main aisle. It took a small bounce, and I grabbed it with my bare hand. (That’s ball #14 for those of you keeping score at home.) Was it anticlimactic? Yeah, but who cares? I was thrilled to be holding my 100th game ball. Unfortunately, Sean was nowhere in sight. I had a feeling he was out in left field with his cousin and a few friends, but I wasn’t sure, and I needed to have my picture taken. I debated using the 10-second timer on my camera, then walked over to the usher and asked if he’d take it and started explaining what I wanted in the background. All of a sudden, Sean came running out of nowhere. He’d been sitting in left field and watching me with binoculars. Not only had he seen me get the ball, but it was the first gamer he’d ever seen me snag. He knew the significance. He knew I need photographic documentation. He knew exactly how I wanted the pic taken. He even indulged me and took a series of pics as I reenacted the historic snag, making it look much more exciting than it actually was.
The game itself was exciting. Swisher homered from both sides of the plate, and Oakland nearly blew a five-run lead. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the A’s clinging to a one-run lead, Huston Street intentionally walked Markakis to load the bases for Miguel Tejada…
…who swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second. Final score: A’s 6, O’s 5.
I got two more balls at the A’s dugout after the game and practically couldn’t believe it. Ball #15 came from a coach–might’ve been Tye Waller–and ball #16 was tossed by reliever Jay Marshall. How convenient that the players and coaches didn’t all walk in at once. The guys from the dugout spilled onto the field to shake hands and pat each other’s butts, and by the time they were done, a few stragglers wandered in from the bullpen.
What a day.
• 16 balls ties my 4th highest one-game total.
• 28 balls in 3 games this season = 9.3 balls per game.
• 458 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 100 lifetime game balls
• 90 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 84 lifetime balls in 9 games at Camden Yards = 9.3 balls per game.
• 598 lifetime balls outside of New York
• 16 lifetime game balls outside of New York
• 16th time snagging a game ball in back-to-back games
• 27 days until St. Louis
Yesterday North America’s most infamous Ball Thief got what he deserved in his start against the Baltimore Orioles when he was tagged for six runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings. He walked two, only managed to strike out one batter, and suffered the loss as his ERA jumped to an ugly 5.32.
Enjoy that winning record (2-1) while you got it, Gus…
On Monday the 16th, there wasn’t a game in NYC. On Tuesday, it was raining. On Wednesday, I had a date. On Thursday, I wrote for minorleaguebaseball.com. Tonight, I’m hanging out with a friend who’s much cooler than Shea Stadium could ever be. Tomorrow, there’s a day game. (I don’t do day games.) On Sunday, I’m meeting with my writing group.
BUT ON MONDAY THE 23RD…
I’m going to Camden Yards with my friend Sean. Potential milestone: The foul ball I caught on 4/11/07 at Shea Stadium was my 99th lifetime game ball. I’m hoping to reach the century mark in Baltimore.
AND ON WEDNESDAY THE 25TH…
I’m going to a game in Philadelphia. The good news: I’ll be doing an in-studio TV interview with Comcast SportsNet, which is the Phillies’ cable network. The bad news: The interview is live (on a show called “Daily News Live”) and will be taking place during batting practice. More good news: It doesn’t start until 6:15pm, so I’ll get to snag for the first 75 minutes. More bad news: The studio is across the street in the Wachovia Center. More good news: I’ll be getting press credentials, so when I make it back to Citizens Bank Park, I’ll be able to sit anywhere I want (excluding Charlie Manuel’s lap).
I have 2,973 balls right now. I’d like to be at 2,990 by the time I drive home from Philly, but that might be pushing it.
Aside from Comcast SportsNet, there’s some other media stuff in the works:
• Earlier today, I taped a phone interview with KPUG 1170AM in Bellingham, Washington. It’s supposed to air between 6:30 and 7:30pm ET.
• Later today, at 6:10pm ET, I have another radio interview. This one is with KZNE 1150AM in College Station, Texas, and I think it’ll be live.
• My college newspaper is running a Q&A with me today. (When I get a copy, I’ll scan it and put it on my site.)
• On Wednesday the 25th, an article about my baseball collection will be appearing in a Japanese magazine. I’m not sure what the magazine is called, or if the piece will even be in English, but I’m supposed to receive a copy by the end of the month, so we’ll find out soon.
Time to pick up my laundry…
A small New England newspaper called MotherTown just ran a LONG review of my book. Check it out and tell me what you think of my Dice-K predictions near the end of the article.
In other media news, I just did a taped phone interview with WJBC 1230 AM in Bloomington, Illinois. it’s supposed to air after today’s Cardinals game which (right now at 2:20pm ET) is currently in the top of the 5th inning.
Twenty-four hours from now, I’m doing another phoner with WJOX 100.5 FM in Birmingham, Alabama. I think that one will be live.
And don’t forget: I’m going to be on “The Tim Kuda Show” on Saturday the 21st for an hour starting at 11:30pm ET. You can listen live on Tim’s site.
There are a few other things in the works (including a Q&A for my college newspaper and two out-of-town games I might attend next week). More later…
It’s nothing dirty. It’s actually quite tasteful. There’s a professional cast and a well-respected producer, so don’t freak out (or, as the case may be, get too disappointed). Here’s the deal…
There’s a small theater on Broadway called Symphony Space which hosts a political cabaret called “The Thalia Follies” every few weeks. Each performance has its own theme, and the one taking place today happens to be about baseball and sex. As an expert in both fields, I’ve been invited to join the cast and perform two pieces from my book.
First, I’ll be sharing the poem at the end of the hitting chapter. It’s a collection of verbs that are used by announcers to mean “hit” and the first two (of 20) stanzas go like this:
Squib, squirt, nub, chop,
Drive, line, send, pop.
Lift, loft, lace, lash,
Scald, slice, serve, slash.
Later in the show, I’ll give the audience a formal explanation (and demonstration) on why players are always grabbing their crotches.
Get ready, folks…
Ten days ago, my friend Brad put two tickets for the 2007 Home Run Derby on eBay with a $2,000 reserve. (In other words, he wasn’t going to sell them for less than $2,000.) After nine and a half days, someone finally bid, and at the last minute there was a flurry of bids–six in total–which raised the final price to $2,200.
Thus, it is official: I’m going to San Francisco in July for the Home Run Derby! Brad has already booked my flights and hotel. I’m excited beyond words, and yes, this’ll be my first Derby.
It feels really weird to know that I’ll be attending this event with two people and not having any idea (at this point) who they are. All I know is that the winning bidder lives in California, and that her name is Sarah.
Within the next month or two, Brad will be selling a pair of tickets to the All-Star Game…
It’s been 10 hours since I posted this entry, and I now know who’ll be joining me at the Derby. Sarah just emailed me and said, “My almost 12 year old son and I do a mother son trip every summer to the all star game– we’ve been going since 2001, so it will be the two of us joining you. Home Run derby is our favorite event. The last few years we’ve been buying seats in the outfield and we love trying to score balls during batting practice.”
One problem with Shea Stadium is that there are only a few decent spots for snagging balls during batting practice. My favorite is the corner spot in the right field Loge. It’s a good place to get balls tossed from the Mets pitchers 25 feet below. That’s been my spot since the 1990s. Last year, I made the mistake of talking about that spot on TV, and today, when I sprinted up there from GATE C at 4:40pm, there was already someone there…someone who reads this blog and comments regularly…someone with whom I’m having a season-long competition to see who can snag more balls.
I sprinted around the entire stadium and reached the quieter LF side before anyone snatched that corner spot too. I plopped down my backpack and looked under all the seats, as I always do, just in case there happened to be a forgotten ball lying around–and wouldn’t you know it? There was.
Last year, for whatever reason, the Mets used balls from the 2005 All-Star Game during BP. Rumor had it that they were now using balls from the 2006 All-Star Game, so naturally I was dying to get one.
Moises Alou was shagging in left field, and two balls rolled past him. It appeared, from my perch, that the ball closer to me had something dark and triangular on it. What was it? A stain or a smudge? Doubtful. But that was actually my first thought. Then–Duh!–I wondered if the dark triangle was a commemorative logo…the type that might be on an All-Star ball. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t a standard ball. No time to think. Moises was walking toward the first ball. If I made my request too soon, he might toss me the wrong ball. If I waited a few seconds too long, the one other fan who’d made his way into the section might ask for it. I didn’t just want any ball. I wanted the ball closer to me. I had to take a chance, so I waited. Moises grabbed the first ball and chucked it toward the infield. “Mo!” I shouted. “Could you please toss a ball up here?” (How innocent.) Luckily, the other fan hadn’t said a word. Moises grabbed it and looked up and threw it hard. THWAP!!! Right into my glove. It was indeed a 2006 All-Star ball, and as anti-climactic as this will sound, I got another one five minutes later from Mets catching instructor Tom Nieto. Know why the stitches are yellow and black? Those are the Pirates’ colors. The 2006 All-Star Game was played at the Pirates’ home: PNC Park.
A few other fans had trickled down into the front row of the Loge, and two young guys in particular were not too happy when I replaced my Mets cap with a Phillies cap. “Traitor!” they yelled. I tried to convince them I really DID like the Mets, but it was no use. Their abuse continued, then intensified when they saw me snag two more balls from Phillies pitchers. One was thrown by Jon Lieber, the other by Tom Gordon. “He already got one!” they complained–and suddenly their attitude changed. “Hey, aren’t you that guy who wrote a book?” one of them asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“And you have a big collection of balls?”
“I just read that book.”
“Cool!” I said. “Have you seen my web site?”
He hadn’t yet checked it out. I told him that the URL was printed in the book below my author bio. His friend didn’t own the book, so I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out one of my new contact cards. Ha-haaa! I finally got to give one away! Not a single person had recognized me last week at Yankee Stadium, and I’d been kicking myself for having 1,000 cards printed.
The rest of BP was dead. And crowded. So I headed downstairs, stopping briefly to say hello to two other guys I recognized from last year. Had they seen my web site? No. Two more contact cards.
As I headed down the steps to the Phillies’ dugout, someone shouted, “Hey! It’s that guy who collects balls!”
“Aren’t you the guy who was on TV?” someone asked.
“Yeah, it is!” someone else shouted. “He wrote a book about getting balls!”
It was insane. Everyone started talking to me and asking questions. How many balls are you up to now? Is it true you own 30 different hats? How does that trick with your glove work? Where do you keep all the balls? Which ballparks have you been to? Can I have your autograph? No joke. Some kid asked me to sign his ball, right next to Wes Helms’ signature. I tried to tell him that my autograph would ruin the value of his ball, but he didn’t care. (Another guy asked me to autograph one of MY balls for him. I told him he’d have to provide the ball.) Naturally, I had one question for everyone: “Have you guys seen my web site?”
When BP ended, Phillies outfielder Michael Bourn tossed two balls into the crowd. I let the kid on my right get the first one, and I snagged the second. One minute later, bullpen coach Ramon Henderson started tossing one ball after another into the crowd. The woman on my left got one. I snagged another (my seventh of the day). All the kids in the front row got one. Everyone was happy. And just about everyone recognized me for the rest of the night. I must’ve given away 30 or 40 more cards.
I didn’t sit down once for the entire game. Instead, I headed back up to the Loge and ran back and forth all night in the concourse behind the plate, scurrying up the runway on the first base side for right-handed batters, and doing the same on the third base side for lefties. The view of Shea, with Citi Field’s skeleton rising in the background, was nice…but I digress. By positioning myself differently for every hitter, I doubled my chances of snagging a foul ball, and in the bottom of the fifth it paid off. Jose Valentin led off the inning and floated a 1-1 pitch from Adam Eaton in my direction. I mean RIGHT in my direction. I took a step forward, braced myself for the inevitable impact with the woman carrying a cup of hot chocolate who was oblivious to the fact that a ball was sailing at her head, reached up, and made the catch. The woman bumped into me, then scowled and grunted and kept walking. Umm, honey-pie, I saved you AND your precious beverage.
When I’d gotten the two balls at the dugout, I thought about what it’d take to reach double digits–but it wasn’t meant to be. The Valentin ball was my last of the day.
The teams combined for just 10 hits, and thanks to the 11 walks issued by the Mets pitchers, the Philles came out on top despite going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Final score: Phillies 5, Mets 2.
• 12 balls in 2 games this season = 6 balls per game.
• 457 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 9 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball
• 99 lifetime game balls
• 2,973 total balls
• 40 days until St. Louis
Fortune and Smoke are the latest magazines to review my book. If you want to check out what they said, you’ll find links on my web site’s media page.
In other media news, I ended up doing two radio interviews yesterday, and the first was pretty simple. The host just asked me the questions which appear on the back cover of the book (minus the one about why players urinate on their hands). The second interview was longer and dealt with both the book and my baseball collection. One of the best parts was getting to take questions from callers. Unfortunately, one of them asked if I play with my balls.
In non-media news, the weather looks good for tomorrow so I should be at Shea…