6/15/07 at Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium is one of the toughest places to snag baseballs in the Major Leagues. I don’t like going there. Ever. It makes me nervous. I get butterflies every time I stand outside and wait for the gates to open. I bite my nails. I pace back and forth. I feel like a caged animal. It’s awful.
This game against the Mets was even worse. Not only was there extra tight security, and not only were there 55,169 fans in attendance, but I started the day knowing that I might miss part of batting practice.
Looking back, it was pretty stupid for me to go to this game, but I’d never been to the Subway Series, and my friend Mike (aka “tswechtenberg” to those of you who read the comments) was able to get free tickets, and Roger Clemens was pitching, so I decided to give it a shot.
My worst fear came true: the tickets were being held at the stadium’s will-call window, which wasn’t going to open until 5pm–the same time that the gates would open. Since I couldn’t be in two places at once, it was official: I was going to miss the beginning of batting practice.
I got on line at the gate and held my spot at the front of the line while Mike waited halfway around the stadium. The plan was that he was going to run the tickets over as soon as he got them. It was nice of him to agree to do that, but it didn’t make me feel much better. I’d been to dozens of games at Yankee Stadium at which the only ball I snagged happened to come my way within the first few minutes. What if this was one of those games? What if I wasn’t even inside to take advantage of my one opportunity?
By 4:59pm, there was a huge line behind me. I was totally stressed, looking off into the distance and praying that Mike would suddenly sprint around the corner with tickets in hand–that somehow the will-call window had opened three minutes early…
“Let ‘em in!” shouted the supervisor, and fans from all sides started moving toward the gate. I had no choice but to step aside. It was easily the most frustrating thing I ever had to endure at a baseball game, and as the minutes ticked by, hundreds of fans shuffled past with no sense of urgency.
I thought I was going to have a heart-attack. Or have to kill someone. Or just cry.
“Relax,” said a woman who was waiting nearby for her husband. “The game isn’t starting for another two hours.”
Oh really? Thanks. Thanks so much. How about if I relax IN YOUR FACE?!
It was 5:05pm. Then I blinked and it was 5:10. Time was warping. I felt light-headed. Was it too late to tell Mike that I wouldn’t be joining him for the game? I couldn’t do that. I was dead. My streak of 469 games with at least one ball was about to end. It was a done deal. It was out of my hands. Beyond my control. Nothing I could do. Things almost stopped mattering.
I happened to look up and see a man with a white shirt racing through the crowd. It was Mike! I waved him down. He ran over and handed me a ticket and followed me into the right field seats.
It was 5:13pm, and the place was already packed. I barely had an empty row to myself. There were kids everywhere begging for balls. There were grown men with gloves blocking the stairs. The aisle behind the outfield wall was so full that I could barely move.
Hideki Matsui must’ve already taken a round of swings because he stepped into the cage and immediately started pulling the ball. Fly ball to right center. Pull it more! Line drive between first and second. Elevate! Deep fly ball in my direction. Could it be?! Noooo! The ball was carrying too deep, and to my left, and I was trapped on the steps. It landed in a half-empty row. I squeezed to the side and hurdled two rows of seats. Where was it?! Crap! I was two rows short, and a guy was cutting through the seats for it, but it trickled down one step, and I lunged over a seat and grabbed it half a second before he got there.
“THANK GOD!!!” I yelled. I looked at the clock. It was 5:15.
I hated every second of batting practice. I’d never seen the stadium so crowded. It was impossible to get balls thrown. It was impossible to catch balls that were hit. I actually found myself wanting batting practice to end. That’s how bad it was.
Twenty minutes later, I was able to get a ball in straight-away right field with my glove trick, and five minutes after that, I snagged another by beating out a couple guys with cup tricks–and Yankees caps–near the foul pole. They weren’t happy about it, and when I had a third chance to use my trick at the end of BP, they sabotaged me. I had no problem getting the ball to stick inside my glove, and when I started pulling it up, the guy on my right intentionally swung his cup in such a way that his string got tangled with mine. Then he yanked the string and jolted my glove, forcing the ball to pop out and fall back onto the field. (It shouldn’t come as any surprise that dozens of Yankees fans cheered this dirty move. After all, they cheer for a known cheater named Jason Giambi and still wish their third baseman was Scott Brosius.)
I was incensed. This wasn’t just about a ball. This was an all-out turf war. Subway Series. Queens versus Bronx. Mets versus Yankees. Forget the game. The battle of Good versus Evil was already taking place in the stands.
With cups swinging recklessly from both sides, I somehow managed to knock the ball a little closer without getting my string tangled. Then I waited for just the right moment and dropped my glove over the ball and quickly dragged it against the base of the right field wall. The sore losers tried to mess me up again by swinging their cups at my glove, but they were helpless. Because my glove was directly below me with the string tight against the wall, they couldn’t get their cups to swing behind it. They kept trying, and I kept waiting…waiting for the perfect moment when both cups were going to be swinging in the wrong direction…and then I made my move. I jerked my glove back up as quickly as possible while taking care to protect the ball inside. I nearly got it all the way up when the guy on my right flung his cup around my string in a desperation move. He tugged his string just as I reached down and cradled the glove, cupping the bottom of the ball with my right hand. The guy kept tugging, but I pulled harder, and my string was stronger, and it sliced right through his. His stupid contraption was crippled, and I walked away with the ball.
Did I mention that security was extra tight? Ten minutes before the game started, I was stopped from going down to the front row–in the left field corner! Every single staircase was blocked by a security guard in an ugly yellow shirt, so when Paul Lo Duca was finished playing catch 150 feet away in left field, I had to yell at him from the aisle and hope that he’d make a perfect throw over eight rows of crowded seats. He did. It was beautiful. I had my fifth ball of the day, and Clemens was about to take the hill.
My stress, for the most part, was over. It was time to enjoy the game, and thanks to Mike’s brother’s friend who owns five percent of the Yankees and was therefore able to hook us up with amazing seats, we were able to do just that.
Clemens was sharp, striking out eight batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he wasn’t unhittable. The Mets got on the board in the top of the third when 21-year-old Carlos Gomez led off with a bunt single, stole second base, and came home on a single up the middle by Jose Reyes.
Reyes, who finished 3-for-3 with three stolen bases, hit a solo homer two innings later to put the Mets on top, 2-0. And that was your final score.
Oliver Perez pitched brilliantly for 7 1/3 innings. Pedro Feliciano and Joe Smith (who’d given me a thumbs-up after one of my successful glove trick attempts) retired one batter apiece, and Billy Wagner mowed down the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth.
It really WAS a fun night. As stressful as things were early on, I’m glad I went. Mike and I had a great time, proving that Mets and Yankees fans can get along after all.
• 112 balls in 15 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
• 470 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 3,073 total balls
• 21 days until the Home Run Derby…