July 2007

7/31/07 at Yankee Stadium

Check out the new Yankee Stadium. It’s coming along. Not quite as fast as Citi Field, but construction is definitely in full swing…

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Anyway, I attended this game for ONE reason: to try to catch A-Rod’s 500th career home run.

I knew there’d be a huge crowd, but I had no idea what seats–if any–would be available 90 minutes before the stadium opened, so when I walked up to the ticket window I said, “This may be a dumb question, but do you have anything available in left field?”

“We’ve been getting that question a lot,” said the woman with a smile. “How many do you need?”

I told her I just needed one, but that I wanted to be right behind the main aisle and that I needed to be on the end of a row. She typed a bunch of stuff into her computer and came up with a ticket for me in the perfect spot. First row behind the aisle in the middle of left field, and she assured me it was an end seat. I was stunned.

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“How much is it?” I asked.

“Sixty-three,” she said.

Ouch.

I was afraid that stadium security would lock down the entire section for A-Rod’s at-bats, so I bought the ticket and quickly found myself hoping that security would be extremely strict.

I started out in right field for batting practice, and within the first 10 minutes, I caught a ground-rule right_field_crowd.jpgdouble off the bat of Hideki Matsui. The seats and aisle were already so crowded by that point that I considered myself lucky. A few minutes later, I used my glove trick to snag another, and it had a weird green marking on it. weird_marking_2007.jpgI’ve seen this type of marking before, but I’ve never been able to figure out what causes it. Any theories?

By 5:30pm, the right field seats had become impossibly crowded, and all the Yankees were batting right-handed, so I headed to the dugout. Of course I couldn’t get anywhere near it (that’s how it always is at Yankee Stadium, even during BP), so I tried shouting at the players and coaches from 15 rows back. This lame strategy worked at AT&T Park on All-Star Sunday, but it didn’t get me anything in the Bronx.

The White Sox started hitting, and I decided to give left field a rare try. It seemed like a good idea to familiarize myself with judging fly balls out there, but as soon as I reached the foul pole, I remembered what a disaster that side of the stadium is. Monument Park. It’s a huge tourist attraction. It stays open monument_park_line.jpguntil 45 minutes before game time and ruins BP because there are hundreds of people who line up for it in the otherwise glorious aisle that cuts through the left field seats. To make matters worse, security had blocked off the line with an tight row of folding metal chairs. AND…the other half of the aisle was blocked by wannabe ball-snaggers standing behind the railings and other fans walking to their seats. And speaking of seats, they were full. There was literally no place to go. It was a nightmare, and I didn’t get another ball for the rest of BP.

Two nice things happened between BP and the game:

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1) The Yankees unfurled a white cloth hanging high atop the white facade in left center field, revealing the logo for the 2008 All-Star Game.

2) I was able to sneak past security and enter the heavily-guarded seats along the left field foul line. (Yes, the guards now check tickets all the way out to the foul pole.) Then I was able to walk through the seats and work my way toward shallow left field, where Jerry Owens was playing catch with Josh Fields. When they finished, a dozen little kids shrieked for their autographs. Owens tucked the ball in his glove Jerry_owensand came over. I didn’t bother asking him to sign. Instead I asked him if there was any chance he could spare the ball. He nodded and kept signing for the kids, and when he was done, he placed the ball in my open glove.

It turned out that my sixty-three-dollar seat was NOT on the end of the row. There were two fat guys (without gloves) on my left and a Spanish-speaking family of four (no gloves, but several hand-held video games) on my right. I was trapped, so I brazenly asked the family if I view_from_left_field2.jpgcould have the end seat. They shrugged and looked at each other, then moved over and let me have it. Just like that. It was too good to be true. The view was amazing. The aisle was empty. I was so happy and thankful that I bought them a $5.50 bag of Cracker Jacks. All I needed was security to do its job and keep everyone in their seats and out of my way.

So much for that.

As soon as A-Rod stepped into the batters box, hundreds of people flooded the section. The staircases were packed. The aisle evaporated. Everyone was standing and taking photos and talking about what they were gonna do with the ball. The place was buzzing like I’d never seen, which I suppose would’ve crowd_for_arod1.jpgbeen fun had I not been trying to make the snag of my life, but as things were, I was thoroughly miserable. If the ball had been hit to my section, I wouldn’t have been able to move more than five feet for it, and if it even came within five feet of me, I would’ve drowned in the sea of humanity. A-Rod ended up flying to right on a 3-2 pitch, and I promptly filed a complaint with security. Security shrugged.

Then a bunch of people showed up and said I was sitting in their seats.

“There must be some mistake,” I said and asked to see their tickets.

No mistake. The family of four was in the wrong spot, and they weren’t even close. They were supposed to be in the Loge (second deck) on the first base side. Off they went with the Cracker Jacks, and I had a choice: slide in to the middle of the row or start roaming.

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I chose the latter and hated every minute of the rest of the night. I went to right field for A-Rod’s next at-bat. I knew he wasn’t likely to homer in that direction, so I figured there wouldn’t be many people going for the ball there. WRONG. The tunnel had been nice and empty for Bobby Abreu’s at-bat, but as soon as A-Rod came up, dozens of fans came out of nowhere and clogged up every inch of real estate. Then, to make matters worse, security locked a chain in place that prevented the people in the tunnel from spilling out into the (cramped) aisle behind the outfield wall. I was at the front of the tunnel with my view of the outfield half-blocked, so when A-Rod connected and sent a deep fly ball to center, I gently stepped over the chain to see where it was going to land. Owens made the catch, and the security guard got up in my face and yelled, “DO THAT AGAIN AND YOU’LL BE OUT OF THE STADIUM!!!”

It was at that moment that I made a very important decision: if I caught A-Rod’s 500th home run, one of my demands in giving the ball back to him would be that the security guard be fired.

I went back to left field for A-Rod’s third at-bat and tried the tunnel down the left field line. The good news was that the back of the tunnel was empty, so if A-Rod hooked a deep fly ball JUST inside the foul pole, I’d be able to back up and make a relatively easy catch. The bad news (other than the fact that this was highly unlikely) was that I couldn’t see A-Rod.

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The Yankees beat the White Sox, 16-3, and tied a franchise record by hitting eight home runs. A-Rod, hitless in 17 at-bats since his 499th home run, finished 0-for-5 and was replaced at 3rd base by Chris Basak in the top of the eighth inning.

I can’t wait to go back to Yankee Stadium later today…

STATS:

• 157 balls in 23 games this season = 6.8 balls per game.

• 478 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 53,958 fans at this game

• 3,118 total balls

I’m going crazy.

Normally I’m a good sleeper. I stay up until I’m dead tired, pass right out, and curse the alarm about seven hours later. But last night, I tried to go to bed early and kept waking up every hour or two. I kept dreaming about Yankee Stadium, dreaming about the left field seats, dreaming about A-Rod’s 500th homer. I must’ve had the dream half a dozen times, and it kept changing. In one dream, the left field seats were empty, and I was allowed to stand in the aisle. In another, security wouldn’t let me anywhere near the section. In another, Don Mattingly was batting right-handed, and I was all excited at the idea of catching one of HIS home runs. I’m afraid I’m going crazy. And I’m even more afraid that the game is going to be sold out, or that security will be extremely strict. I went to the Yankees clubhouse store yesterday to ask about tickets. I thought I’d save some of the hassle by buying mine a day early. Instead, I was told that they don’t have anything until August 16th. I asked if there’d be individual seats for sale at the stadium ticket windows, and the guy shrugged. I’m paranoid. I’m jittery. I can hardly eat. WHY?! It’s just a baseball. The average team goes though 36,000 of them every season, so why is THIS one turning me into a one-man psych ward? At least the weather is perfect, and it’s supposed to stay that way for the next few days. I have no idea what to expect once I get to the stadium. I’m already nervous as hell, and I still have half an hour before I even leave my apartment…

What would YOU do?

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I’m going to Yankee Stadium tomorrow to try to catch A-Rod’s 500th career home run. Rain or shine. I don’t care. I’ll be there. I might attend all six games of the homestand. Even afternoon games. Even on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve cleared my entire schedule for the week. I’ve been thinking about this opportunity for a very long time. The only problem is…I still can’t decide what to do with the ball if I catch it so I’m wondering, what would YOU do?

Assuming you wouldn’t keep the ball, would you give it back to A-Rod? What would you ask for in return? Would you sell it? How much do you think it’ll be worth?

What would you do if you caught Barry Bonds’ 756th home run?

Gustavo Watch, Part 13

You_are_jinxed_3Gustavo Chacin, the “man” who stole a ball from me on 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium, is still suffering from the Hample Jinx.

Last week the Blue Jays sent him down to Triple-A Syracuse to rehab his ailing left shoulder, and in his first start he lasted just three innings and got tagged with the loss after giving up three runs on five hits.

Last night, he pitched again and got the hook after just 2 2/3 innings, during which he allowed four runs on four hits and two walks.

Congratulations, Gus. After two starts in the Minor Leagues, your ERA is 11.12.

7/25/07 at Shea Stadium

Billy Wagner tossed me a ball within the first few minutes of batting practice, but his aim was off. I was in the corner spot of the right field Loge, and the ball sailed over my head and landed in the Mets’ bullpen. Wagner didn’t even apologize or look for another ball–at least not at first, but eventually he wandered into the bullpen, and when I shouted down and asked him for another chance, he walked over to the ball and threw it right to me. Once I labeled the ball with a “3110″ and made a separate note of how I’d snagged it, I walked along the front row and peeked down into the narrow, cluttered gap behind the outfield wall. I always do that in case there’s a loose ball lying around and usually it doesn’t do me any good, but this time my eyes lit up…

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There was a small wooden platform surrounding the foul pole, and for whatever reason, there was a ball resting on top of it. I set up my glove trick and let out all the string (to make sure it wasn’t tangled) before lowering it. Then I leaned way out to get my dangling glove over the lower portion of the foul pole and dropped it carefully over the ball, which turned out to be damp and heavy. misstamped_logo.jpgIt also smelled like mold, and in addition to that, its logo was mis-stamped and printed so high that it barely overlapped the stitching. Autograph collectors hate balls like that. I love them.

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Twenty minutes later Orlando Hernandez finished his bullpen session and started throwing balls at one of the metal poles that supports the protective screen. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello joined him and began chucking balls as well. Most of their throws missed the pole and hit the short picket fence, but one ball glanced off the pole and ricocheted onto the concrete surface at the back corner of bullpen. When their target practice concluded, pitching coach Rick Peterson retrieved the one loose ball, and I called down and got him to toss it up to me.

The rest of Mets BP was dead, but I did get to meet a guy named Gavriel who’s been reading my blog since 2005. One of the Mets photographers happened to come around and ask if we wanted our pic gavriel_zack.jpgtaken for mets.com. I said “no thanks,” knowing that it was just a ploy to get us to go to the site and spend money, but Gavriel was up for it. I made faces behind his back, and the pic you see here on the left was the result. (Check out my snazzy All-Star Game t-shirt, courtesy of Brad.) Later on, I met another blog reader named Andre.

When the Pirates took the field, I raced to the left field Loge because a Japanese pitcher named Masumi Kuwata was playing catch in front of the warning track. I knew his name, I had a glove, I was wearing a Masumi_kuwataPirates cap, and I spoke his language. It was basically an automatic ball, and as soon as he threw it to me, the man on my left turned and said, “How about a ball for my son? It’s his 11th birthday.”

I haaaaate it when people ask me for a ball when they haven’t even made an attempt to get one for themselves. All I could think was, “How about you and your son learn the players’ names, bring gloves, wear Pirates caps, learn to speak Japanese, and stop wasting the corner spot?”

Instead, I told them that they needed to speak up and ask the players for a ball, and that if they weren’t able to get one on their own, I’d try to get one for them…and whaddaya know…within a few minutes they got one of the Pirates pitchers to toss one up. Funny how that works.

I used my glove trick again toward the end of BP, and I got my sixth ball from Jack Wilson before the game at the Pirates’ dugout. I was the ONLY fan there with a glove, and I was the ONLY person who x_balls.jpgeven stood up and asked for the ball, and yet everyone around me complained when I got it. (Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be a New Yorker.) All three balls I got from the Pirates had an “X” marked on the sweet spot.

I was hoping for a quick game because I had to leave Shea by 9:30pm because I had to get to a party in Manhattan. But no. Both teams loaded the bases in the first inning, and I was en route to being screwed. It didn’t really matter because Tom Glavine was only going for his 299th career win, but it still would’ve been nice to be there for the final out.

I came close to a few foul balls, but the only thing I got during the game was a nice view of Citi Field rising up in the background…

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…and as soon as Glavine completed his six-inning performance, I had to leave…

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The following afternoon, I heard that the Mets had won.

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STATS:

• 154 balls in 22 games this season = 7 balls per game.

• 477 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 2 consecutive games with at least six balls

• 3,115 total balls…moves me ahead of Dave Winfield (3,110) and into 19th place on the all-time hits list. Next up is Tony Gwynn (3,141).

NOT chasing A-Rod’s 500th

Ohhh, man…

I was all set to go to Baltimore today (with my girlfriend) to make an attempt at catching A-Rod’s 500th career home run, but I changed my mind after checking out the weather forecast…

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Specifically, there’s a 50 percent chance of rain from 4-7pm, which is right when the two teams would be taking batting practice, but there are other reasons why I’m staying home:

1) Weekend traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.
2) Huge crowd for the Yankees, combined with “student discount night.”
3) The completion of a suspended game making everything more complicated.
4) Being insanely busy.
5) Feeling mostly exhausted.

It’s really a shame. I had my whole strategy planned out. Last night I got A-Rod’s “scatter plot” on Hit Tracker and resized it with Photoshop so it fit perfectly on top of a Camden Yards seating chart. Check it out:

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Now I can only watch on TV and hope that A-Rod goes homerless for the next three days.

In other disappointing news…
I can’t find a flight to Milwaukee for less than $475. I was hoping to fly out of NYC at around noon on Tuesday, July 31st, get to Miller Park in time for batting practice, watch Tom Glavine pick up his 300th win, and fly back to NYC that night at around 1am. Would’ve been cool to get on a plane without a toothbrush or a change of clothes, but maybe it’s just as well. If A-Rod somehow stays in the yard through the weekend, he’ll be going for #500 in the Bronx on the 31st. I don’t know what to do. Can anyone find a cheaper roundtrip flight to Milwaukee?

Finally, in case you’re interested, I wrote two feature stories last night for minorleaguebaseball.com. HERE and HERE they are.

(Oh…and I plan to post my Shea entry late tonight so check back in before you go to bed.)

7/24/07 at Citizens Bank Park

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I picked this game because I figured there’d be a small crowd, but no, there were 40,108 other fans who were interested in seeing the Nationals on a Tuesday night. Good for the Phillies. Good for Major League Baseball. Bad for me and my mom. We hadn’t been to a game together since my 28th birthday. That was at Shea Stadium. This was the first time that the two of us had taken a road trip to a game. No special occasion. The weather was gorgeous, and we were both free, and it was a good excuse to hang out for 12 hours.

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The left field seats started filling up fast, and there wasn’t much action. Within the first five minutes, however, I managed to stretch across the flower bed (in front of the first row) and use my glove trick to pluck a ball off the warning track.

Ten minutes later, a righty on the Phillies crushed a deep drive toward the foul pole. I sprinted through an entire row of seats as the ball sailed 20 feet over my head and bounced to the back of the section. Two fans lunged for it and missed. The ball hit a metal beam and ricocheted to the side. The fans chased it through the last row and were about to snatch it when the ball trickled down one step and into my waiting hands. I love gravity.

Soon after the Nationals took the field, I had a chance to get another ball with my glove trick in left-center when an old man with a cup trick appeared out of nowhere. I was annoyed, but quickly accepted the fact that he had as much of a right as I did to go for it. The ensuing competition was fair and good-natured and lots of fun–and interrupted by Nook Logan who walked over and stuck the ball inside the cup.

“Nook! How could you do that to me?!” I said.

Nook looked up, saw my Nationals cap, told me he’d get me a ball, and did. Thirty seconds later, I was eyeing another ball on the warning track when I sensed the people around me getting ready for King_youngsomething, so I looked up and saw a ball flying right toward me and reached out and caught it. It was a homer. I have no idea who hit it…and 30 seconds after that, all the fans in the front row started yelling yelling at Dmitri Young for the ball on the track. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t Dmitri Young.

“Ray King!” I shouted. “I know your name! How about a ball?!”

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He threw it to me without hesitating, and all the fans protested. I was tempted to protest, too, because the Nationals were using those cheap blue training balls.

I got my sixth ball of the day from Mike Bacsik in right field and got my seventh from the ever-dependable Manny Acta.

My mom saw me get every ball because she’d been following me from section to section. She was such a good sport…she even got up and moved around with me during the game, which was great because our seats were in a lousy spot, and I didn’t want to abandon her.

We started on the first base side of home plate, then moved to the third base side, then got kicked out of the section and went back to the first base side, and we ended up about a dozen rows behind the Nationals’ dugout.

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I was rooting for the Nats, but Aaron Rowand untied the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. Final score: Phillies 4, Nationals 3.

I got my eighth and final ball of the day at the dugout after the game. It was flipped up from underneath the roof so I have no idea who tossed it.

What a great day. The two-hour car rides were nearly as fun as the game itself.

STATS:

• 148 balls in 21 games this season = 7.047619 balls per game.

• 476 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 98 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 650 lifetime balls outside of New York

• 15 balls from Manny Acta since 2003

• 3,109 total balls

Bonds interviews

JTA.org ran a piece yesterday about Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record, and they consulted me as the “expert.” If you go to the site and do a search for my name, the story should pop up…and then you’ll have to take 20 seconds to go through the free registration process to read it. Since then, I’ve gotten two other interview requests, including one from a writer at the San Francisco Chronicle who wants me to come up with 8 to 10 tips for catching the record-breaking home run…but I can’t come up with the tips now because I’m leaving for Shea Stadium in 15 minutes, during which time I have to call Ron Kaplan, a fellow MLBlogger, who wants to interview me for the New Jersey Jewish News. I have to be at a party back in Manhattan by like 10pm tonight, so I won’t even be able to stay for the whole game, and I still haven’t had a chance to start writing about yesterday’s game in Philly, nor have I gotten to read the dozens of emails I’ve received in the last day or two, so if you’re waiting for a reply from me, you might need to wait a few more days until things calm down a bit. Of course I have to work all night tomorrow at MiLB.com, and then I’m thinking about driving to Camden on Friday. Then I have non-baseball plans (imagine THAT) all day on Saturday, and do I want to fly to Milwaukee on July 31st to watch Glavine go for win #300? Probably not, and anyway, he’d have to win tonight, and on the 1st I might be busy chasing A-Rod’s 500th. AAAAHHHH!!!! By the way, the article on JTA.org has a few mistakes which will hopefully get corrected soon.

Chasing A-Rod’s 500th

Alex Rodriguez has 498 career home runs, and the Yankees are about to start a seven-game road trip against two lousy teams: the Royals and Orioles. I’m afraid he’s gonna tee off and reach the milestone before coming back to the Bronx, so I’m already thinking about driving down to Camden Yards on Friday if he rolls in at 499. Sadly, that’s the only game I can possibly attend before the Yankees’ next home game on July 31.
I don’t expect to catch A-Rod’s 500th homer. I’m just hoping for a chance to be there when he hits it, and if I am, I’ll have to figure out where to sit. But will there even be an empty seat? And if there is, will security be checking tickets 400 feet from home plate? I have no idea what to expect, so I’m using A-Rod’s scatter plot on Hit Tracker to help shape my preliminary strategy…

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As for Barry Bonds and his 756th homer…whatever. He’s gonna hit it in San Francisco, and I won’t be there. My friend Brad will, and if he doesn’t catch it, I hope the ball somehow bounces back onto the field and disintegrates–or lands in McCovey Cove and sinks. Anyway, A-Rod’s going to pass Bonds in about seven years so who cares?

As for the near future…
If the weather improves, I’ll be at tomorrow night’s game in Philadelphia with my mom. The following day, there’s a chance I’ll be at Shea, but I won’t know ’til the last minute. The main issue is that I’d have to leave the game about two hours after the first pitch, so I’m not sure I want to go at all. This whole week is out-of-control busy so it might be a few days before I post my next entry.

(Here’s the latest review of my book, in case you want to check it out.)

“Cha”

Some teams mark the sweet spot on their baseballs to discourage employees from stealing them and getting them signed. I’ve snagged a bunch of marked balls over the years, but I’ve never seen one like this:
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It was snagged in Milwaukee by a woman named Sue who got in touch (after she saw me on TV at the Home Run Derby) and asked if I knew what “Cha” meant. She said, “I got this tossed to me from Nilson Robledo from the Nationals in 2006, who got it from another player.”

I’m stumped. Any theories?

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