October 2007

A-Rod

Go ahead, hate George Steinbrenner. Hate the Yankees. Hate their fans who booed A-Rod out of town. Hate Tom Hicks for paying him $252 million. Hate A-Rod’s parents for making him handsome. Hate the Blue Jays for whining when he outsmarted them on the field. But don’t hate A-Rod. He’s done nothing wrong. You’re mad at the guy for announcing during the World Series that he’s opting out of his contract? Please. Get over it. I wasn’t offended by the timing of the announcement. As a baseball fan, I was just happy to get the update. The end. A-Rod is under the microscope because he’s Godlike. Sure, he sometimes says and does irritating things, but the fact is that he’s one of the best players in the HISTORY of baseball. All the haters should shut up and leave him alone and stop being jealous. You think he has a big ego? Fine, he does. So what? Why should everyone be humble? We all have different personalities and psychological needs, and that’s what makes the world go ’round. You got a problem with A-Rod’s performance in the post-season? He went 4-for-15 in the ALDS. Yeah, that’s really terrible. One more hit—a broken-bat bloop over the second baseman’s head, or a swinging bunt down the third base line—and he would’ve gone 5-for-15 which, by the way, is a .333 batting average. You’re gonna bash the guy for missing out on one stupid hit while Derek “Mr. Clutch” Jeter compiled an on-base percentage of .176?! Whatever. I’m not here to argue about numbers. You can break down stats to make anyone look good or bad. All I can say is that if you have a problem with A-Rod, you might want to take a look in the mirror. We should all be thankful for having eyes that allow us to watch him play.

2007 World Series — Game 1

I don’t know what’s gotten into me. In the past, I never considered spending an entire game outside a stadium, let alone driving 200 miles to do so–but that’s exactly what I did for Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park. I didn’t REALLY expect to snag any balls, and I wasn’t sure if I’d even have a good time. The weather forecast said there was a 20% chance of batting practice. I figured there’d be a ton of competition from other ballhawks during the game. I knew I wasn’t going to see a single pitch. And yet for some strange reason, I was okay with all of that, in theory. It was an experience, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I drove through Connecticut and into Massachusetts.

I parked at my friend’s place in Lexington at 2pm, got a ride (from his wife) to his school where I’d be giving a speech the next day, got another ride to the subway (or the “T” as they call it in Boston), and found myself walking across a bridge toward Fenway Park more than four hours before the first pitch.

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I turned left at the top of the hill and got my first look at Lansdowne Street…the area behind the Green Monster…the place where I’d be hanging out for the next eight hours.

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There was a HUGE line of fans camping out under the overhang of the Monster Seats. The people at the front of the line had tents and lawn chairs and told me they’d been there for two days because they heard the Red Sox would be releasing “a couple hundred tickets” at game time.

These people were completely riled up, as you might expect, and they were yelling at everyone and everything. When a UPS truck drove slowly down the street, the whole line started chanting, “YOO-PEE-ESS!!! YOO-PEE-ESS!!!” And when a couple of Rockies fans walked by…forget about it. Garbage people_camping_out.jpgwas thrown. Obscenities were screamed. It was disgusting and fantastic.

Anyway, it made me feel better to know that I wasn’t the only fan without a ticket and that there were people who traveled even farther than me. I talked to one guy who flew in from Texas just to hang out and soak it all in.

The sky cleared up a bit, and I became hopeful that maybe, just MAYBE, the teams might take batting practice after all. Of course I couldn’t see the field from the street, so I looked up and waited for someone to walk by at the back of the Monster Seats. There were some photographers milling about and a few vendors setting up. I even saw Red Sox owner John Henry up there for a couple seconds. looking_up.jpgEveryone was walking fast or busy working, and the street was so noisy that I knew no one on the inside would hear me. Finally, though, after about ten minutes, there was a lull from the people camping out just as a security guard happened to stop at the fence up above and peer down.

“Yo!!!” I yelled and waved my arms.

He looked right at me.

“Is the tarp on the field?!”

He looked over his shoulder, then turned back toward me and shook his head. Before I had a chance to get excited, some guy with a media credential walked over and said he was just inside the stadium and saw the infield covered. I didn’t know what to think. Maybe the tarp had just been removed within the last five minutes?

I wanted to hang out on the roof of the garage across Lansdowne. I figured that’s where most of the home runs would land–that is, if there was even going to be batting practice. I still had no idea what was happening inside the stadium (which was beyond frustrating, let me tell you), so I went about my business as if the teams were going to hit. What else was there to do? I started walking up the ramp to the roof of the garage and was immediately yelled at by the employee flagging cars in the street. He knew what I was up to and screamed that the garage was private property and I was trespassing.

“How about if I pay you to go up there?” I asked innocently. “Five bucks?”

“NO!!!” he shouted, “AND IF YOU ASK ME AGAIN, I’LL CALL THE COPS AND HAVE YOU ARRESTED!!!”

Fair enough, I thought. It cost $35 to park there. Maybe the guy was holding out for a bigger bribe so he could afford to take care of his missing teeth.

“Ten bucks?”

“NO!!!”

“Twenty bucks?!”

“GET LOST!!!” he yelled and began marching toward me.

“Thirty-five bucks,” I said, back-peddling.

“I’M CALLING THE COPS!!!” he threatened again, and I had no choice but to let it go. At least he wasn’t picking on me, specifically. While I was (amazingly) the only fan with a baseball glove, the garage guy was screaming at everyone, even at a couple of well-dressed fans who paused briefly at the bottom of the ramp to take pictures.

I was forced to stand on the sidewalk in front of the garage, and to my right. Not good. I was too close to the Monster. If any balls happened to clear it, they’d probably sail way over my head. I regretted driving all the way to Boston. But I wasn’t about to give up.

I still didn’t know whether there was going to be BP. And if there was, I had no idea when it was going to start. What could I do? I got into position and put on my glove and stared up.

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This made other people stop and stare up too.

“Anything come over yet?” asked a guy with a World Series ticket in a plastic sleeve that was attached to a lanyard dangling around his fat neck.

“Any luck?” asked another guy two minutes later.

A third guy walked over and started talking to me–and never stopped. What was I doing? Did I ever catch a ball before? Did I have an extra ticket? Where was I from? Who was I rooting for? What did I think of the Rockies’ chances? How about the weather? How about the Patriots? Is this great or what?

“I can’t talk now,” I said at last, never taking my eyes off the sky above the top of the Monster, “and I’d appreciate it if you’d give me some space.”

“I’m not IN your space!” he shouted in my ear, his breath reeking of alcohol. He kept talking to me. I ignored him. He finally took off.

I just wanted to be left alone, and I nearly lost it when ANOTHER guy walked up to me and asked, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

I looked down at him for a split second and spotted his media credential. He identified himself as Mike Dodd from USA Today and said he was doing a story about the fans outside Fenway Park. He pulled out his reporter’s pad and asked a bunch of questions and scribbled furiously as I explained what I was doing. A woman walked up next to him and started taking pictures with a fancy camera. “This is my photographer, Eileen,” he said.

We were done five minutes later. He thanked me for my time. I asked him when the piece was going to run. “Tomorrow,” he said.

And here it is.

After a little while, and without any warning, a white speck came shooting over the Green Monster to my right, smacked off the brick facade of a restaurant, bounced back toward the Monster, deflected off the bottom of a food cart, and rolled back toward me across Lansdowne Street as dozens of oblivious fans walked past. I ran forward and grabbed it with my bare hand, and just like that, my whole trip was validated.

A dozen people walked over and asked to see the ball. Did it have a World Series logo?! No, it was just a regular ball, but still, it was pretty cool to have snagged one like that.

Remember the first photo in this entry? If you don’t, scroll back up and take another look. See the sloped alley between the garage and the gray building? See the fence at the top of the alley? It was locked, and I was already thinking about climbing over it if a ball happened to land there.

Preparation, baby!

A ball DID land there, and I was over the fence in five seconds before anyone else on the street even realized what was going on. Normally, whenever I catch a ball, people are quick to congratulate me on the “nice catch” when, in fact, there’s nothing “nice” or impressive about it. Catching a ball that comes right to me is about as easy as breathing. But THIS alley-snag required some athleticism. Not only did I have to climb the fence while wearing four layers of clothing, a backpack, and my glove on my left hand, but then I had to jump down onto a sloped, concrete ramp from seven feet up and avoid tumbling over forward. I certainly felt the impact on my knees and ankles, but it was pain-free, and I ran down and grabbed the ball out of the muck behind the blue dumpster. It was nasty back there. There was trash all over the place, and a bunch of rabbit-sized rats scurried under the dumpster as I stampeded toward it. (Would I hang out in an Iraqi minefield for a chance to snag World Series baseballs? I have a sickness, so yeah, probably.)

As I walked back up the alley, I held the ball between my thumb and index finger as if I were holding someone else’s dirty underwear. The ball was in serious need of being wiped off, but I didn’t have any napkins on me, and I had to climb back over the fence, which meant that somehow I was going to have to tuck the ball into…something. Ewww. I put the ball in my glove, shoved the glove in my backpack, climbed back over the fence (people were so eager to help me get down that I wasn’t able to jump down until they got the hell out of the way), and got some napkins from The Sausage Guy.

When I walked back to the fenced-off alley, two big guys wearing Manny Ramirez jerseys offered to buy the ball from me.

“How much you want for it?” they asked.

“It’s not for sale.”

“C’mon, you got two of ‘em!” they said as another ball flew over the Monster and landed in the alley.

“And I’m about to have three,” I said as I scampered back over and chased the ball down the hill.

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When I returned to the street, one of the guys pulled out a crisp fifty-dollar bill and waved it in my face.

I repeated myself slowly: “IT’S…NOT…FOR…SALE.”

They wouldn’t let it go and kept harassing me.

“Fifty bucks!” he insisted.

“I’m not out here to make money,” I said, “but thanks anyway.”

That was it for BP. A few other balls (all regular balls) had reached the garage roof, and a couple others had barely cleared the Monster and landed on the street in front of the garage. Throughout BP, I kept flinching every time a moth or bird flew over the Monster. All I could do was look up for white specks, and since I couldn’t hear the crack of the bat, every little speck that moved made my heart race.

I wasn’t sure when BP was going to end, so I waited on the street until 7:40pm to be safe. Then I found a bathroom, got some food, photographed the alley (through the fence that I’d jumped over)…

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…and took pictures of other…characters.

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By the time the game started, the mean garage guy was gone, and the few other employees didn’t stop me from hanging out on the roof, free of charge. I wasn’t allowed to wander in between the cars (even after I explained that I’d protect windshields from being smashed), but as long as I stayed on the ramp behind the entrance, I was fine.

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This forced me to play close to the foul pole, but still, I liked my chances. If anyone hit a ball just to the right of the Coke bottles, I was going to have an easy catch on the fly. If a ball sailed just inside the foul pole, I was going to jump into the alley. And if a home run landed in the tight cluster of cars on my left, I was going for it. I didn’t care. I was ready to CLIMB on the **** windshields if I had to.

I couldn’t believe how little competition there was. For at least half the game, I was the ONLY person on the garage roof. At times, there were as many as half a dozen guys, but none of them had gloves, and none of them were really paying attention. At worst, they were just going to be obstacles that I had to run around.

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I had an old walkman with a cheap pair of headphones, and that’s all I needed to follow the action. Unfortunately, the radio broadcast had a five-second delay, so I had to stay alert and keep looking over the Monster at all times because I never knew for sure when a pitch was going to be thrown. Sometimes I could figure out what was going to happen based on the crowd’s reaction. Whenever the count reached two strikes on a Rockies batter, I knew it was going to be a strikeout if the crowd suddenly went wild. Other times, I correctly predicted slow-rolling groundouts based on the crowd’s jumbotron_from_garage.jpgsteadily increasing cheer. If I stood in just the right spot on the ramp, I could see a portion of the jumbotron and get partial glimpses of the replays.

It was a challenge like no other I’d ever experienced as a baseball collector. Just the fact of not being able to see the batter made it a unique experience, and for that reason, I had to stay more focused than ever. I also had to plan my appetite so I wouldn’t get hungry during the game, and as thirsty as I got, I had to force myself not to drink water because I needed to cut down on my trips to the bathroom. Apparently, the fans who’d been camping out for tickets had similar bathroom issues and, based on overpowering stench of urine, had been relieving themselves at the back of the garage. No way I was doing that. Before the game, I snuck into a Popeye’s and used the facilities, and during the extended seventh-inning stretch (“God Bless America,” indeed), I raced to the corner and conducted business inside that big obnoxious bar called Cask ‘n Flagon.

Another challenge was staying on my feet for eight solid hours and craning my neck upwards at the wall. It rained for most of the game, not hard enough to halt the action, but enough to make everything in the parking lot too wet to sit on. I was in constant discomfort, but it was worth it. Like I said, I wasn’t sure if I’d have a good time, but I ended up enjoying every second. Oh, and another challenge…dealing with all the people who kept asking me what was happening with the game (Get your own **** radio!) and if I’d caught any balls. Every time someone talked to me, I had to take off my headphones and ask them to repeat themselves and struggle to stay focused on the Monster.

This was only my second World Series game. The first was Game 5 back in 1993 when Curt Schilling, then with the Phillies, pitched a shutout at the Vet against the Blue Jays. I was inside the stadium for that game and only managed to snag one ball.

As for Game 1 of the 2007 World Series at Fenway…
Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run to left field, but the ball didn’t come close to reaching the parking lot. In fact, it barely cleared the Monster and bounced back onto the field. And that was the only longball of the game. Josh Beckett sounded sharp. (Can’t say he “looked” sharp.) The Rockies were lame. Final score: Red Sox 13, Rockies 1.

I wanted a ticket stub, and just as it occurred to me that people probably wouldn’t be giving them away for free, some guy walked along Lansdowne Street with a professionally-made sign that said, “WILL PAY $20 FOR TICKET STUBS,” and no one bothered to take him up on it. I gave up before I started. To hell with it. I wasn’t about to pay over $20 for a ticket stub for a game I didn’t even see. Instead, I spent $15 on a Manny Ramirez tee-shirt which you’ll get a glimpse of in my next entry.

STATS:

• 314 balls in 40 games this season = 7.85 balls per game.

• 495 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 2 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 3,275 total balls

Baseball storage

I snagged 311 baseballs this year, and I’ve been storing most of them in a duffel bag under my bed.

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QUESTION: Where are the rest of the balls from this season?

ANSWER: Over the course of the season, I gave some away to my Watch With Zack clients. I gave others to random kids. I gave a few to friends who’d done huge baseball-related favors. And when the bag got full, I started keeping balls in my dresser…specifically the underwear drawer…because it happened to have more room than the shirt drawers…I swear.

Here’s a closer look at the bag.

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Earlier this afternoon, I removed 70 balls and put them in my backpack.

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Then I went to my favorite hardware store where my friends Tito and Carlos had four 32-gallon barrels waiting for me. (Big thanks to The Man, Mike Okun, for placing a special order for the barrels and giving me a good price.)

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I schlepped all four barrels to my parents’ building, then took two of them up to my old room in their apartment…

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…and brought the other two down to the basement storage lockers. (VERY creepy down there.)

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Then I went back upstairs and dumped three different bags of balls into the first barrel:

1) The blue duffel bag that had been sitting on the counter two pics above
2) My backpack (which weighed about 25 pounds)
3) A small canvas bag that had been tucked into the corner by the mirror

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The drawers (there’s a fifth drawer not pictured here) hold 144 balls each. The other five barrels hold 400 balls each, which means the sixth/newest barrel probably has about 350 balls in it. I still have more than 200 balls to bring over from my apartment. Those will fill the sixth barrel and take me nearly halfway into the seventh, which I’ll fill in 2008. With the eighth and ninth barrels in the basement, I now have room for another 1,000 balls, and if I continue my current pace, that’ll take me about four more years. Then what? Retirement? More barrels? I have no idea, but it’s nice to know that I’m all set for a while.

Before I headed back to my place, I closed all the drawers and snapped the lids back on the barrels and covered them with an old blanket.

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That’s how the room normally looks. Someday, perhaps when I get a larger apartment, I’d love to make a proper display for all the balls and invite everyone who reads this blog to come over and take a look. But for now, the best I can do is share photos like these.

(Big thanks to my parents for continuing to house my collection.)

Stratford, CT

Went to Connecticut this past weekend to hang out with my friend Sean. (Not only is he the guy who was with me at Camden Yards the day I snagged my 100th lifetime game ball, but he’s also written a fantastic/suspenseful baseball-themed novel called SEAMS.)
Highlights of the weekend included:

1. Getting lost in a gigantic corn maze.

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2. Sleeping in a room that had a Cal Ripken shrine.

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3. Observing Sean’s beautiful (and at times disturbing) relationship with Hudson, his three-year-old French bulldog.

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4. Playing baseball both days and hitting monstrous fungos over Sean’s head.

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And, of course, eating Thai food during Game 2 of the ALCS and watching Manny Ramirez break the all-time post-season home run record. (Good thing he didn’t hit it onto Lansdowne Street. It would’ve taken two lifetimes to forgive myself for not being there.)

MY post-season

I was THIS close to flying to Chicago for Game 4 of the NLDS…but the Cubs got swept. I was probably going to have tickets to the World Series at Shea Stadium…but we all know what happened to the Mets. It looks like my season of snagging is done, and that’s fine. I’ve been watching just about every pitch of every game on TV and keeping busy with other stuff….like, for example…five days ago I gave an hourlong speech about my baseball collection for a “Learning At Lunch” program at ING. Two days ago I was interviewed for an article about my collection for the December issue of Sports Illustrated For Kids. Yesterday I was photographed for the article by Heinz Kluetmeier and then did a phone interview with a radio station in Binghamton, NY. Today I drove up to my parents’ house and fell in the lake…

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Now I’m back at my place, watching Clemens struggle against Cleveland. He should’ve tossed me a ball last month when he had a chance.

9/30/07 at Shea Stadium

This game was painful. It feels stupid to be writing about it four days after the fact, and quite frankly, I’d rather not even have to think about it. But the story must be told–and I apologize in advance for making it brief…

I went to the game with Clif and Gail. Remember them? They were my Watch With Zack clients five days earlier. This second game with them wasn’t an official Watch With Zack outing. They had an extra ticket (and bleacher access). I’d been planning to go anyway (and had enjoyed their company), so when they invited me to tag along, I gladly accepted.

Gail parked the car at Shea at around 10am and then hurried over to GATE C to hold a spot at the front of the line. Clif and I wandered and got some good looks at the construction of Citi Field.

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Shea opened at 10:40am, and when we ran inside, this is what we saw:

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It was an appetizer of pain. The field was set up for batting practice, but there weren’t any players in sight. I headed down to the front row of the Marlins’ dugout. Head groundskeeper Pete Flynn walked by. I asked him if the teams were planning to hit, and thankfully he nodded.

Fifteen minutes later, a few Mets players trickled out of the first base dugout and began playing catch. I ran over and barely found a space in the first row as Ruben Gotay finished throwing. I asked him for the ball in Spanish. He flipped it high in the air right to me. I reached up for the easy catch. Clif gave me a high-five, and we headed out to right field. He got two balls thrown to him along the foul line, just short of the DreamSeats, and I got two more tossed up to me in the Loge. The first came from Lastings old_ball_09_30_07.jpgMilledge and required a bit of running on my part. The ball sailed over my head and landed in a tunnel, and I chased it 30 feet into the empty concourse. The second ball (which was one of the zack_clif_bleachers_09_30_07.jpgoldest balls I’d snagged all year) came from bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello, and I had to reach way over the ledge to make the grab.

When the bleachers opened at 11:40am, there was only half an hour left of BP. Clif (aka “goislanders4″ to those who read the comments) got one more ball, and I’ll let him be the one to share the details. I ended up snagging two more. The first was tossed by Brett Carroll, and the second–my fifth and final ball of the day–was a homer that landed in a crowded patch of benches.

Clif and Gail and I hung out in the bleachers for the first few innings.

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Clif and I ran around the Loge until the seventh inning stretch.

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Then we all snuck down to the Marlins’ dugout.

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I was hoping to snag some bonus items, and I was in a great spot to do so, but it wasn’t meant to be. After the final out, someone on the Marlins tossed a cap into the crowd, and I managed to get my hand on it for a split-second before someone else snatched it away. I was furious, and to make matters worse, Fredi Gonzalez gave the lineup cards to the guy in the “VERGA” jersey after telling me earlier that he keeps them.

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Let’s not even go into detail about the game itself. Tom Glavine gave up SEVEN runs in the top of the first inning, and it was practically over before it started.

STATS:

• 311 balls in 39 games this season = 7.97 balls per game.

• 494 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 321 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

• 3,272 total balls

• 1 very long winter for Mets fans

9/29/07 at Camden Yards

QUESTION: What is Camden Yards’ nickname when the Yankees are in town?

ANSWER: “Yankee Stadium South.”

I’d witnessed the takeover on TV, but I’d never experienced it in person. Why would I have? For me, the point of driving to Baltimore is to escape the mayhem of Yankee Stadium, not to follow it. But this scott_zack_adam_outside.jpgday wasn’t about me. It was about my Watch With Zack clients–a family of four from New Jersey: Scott (age 14), his younger brother Adam (age 12), and their parents Jeff and Enid.

In the days leading up to this game, Scott (aka “yanksfan61293″) and I had been blog-commenting back and forth to figure out the plan. Basically, he and his brother were dying to get A-Rod’s autograph, and they wanted my help, even during batting practice.

This got me worrying about two things–first, that A-Rod’s unlikely decision to sign autographs was beyond my control, and second, that I wasn’t going to get to snag a single baseball.

Fast-forward to 4:45pm on the day of the game. Camden Yards was set to open in 20 minutes, and I was worrying about something else, namely one of the BIGGEST pregame crowds I had EVER seen at ANY ballpark. I literally could not believe my eyes, and I jogged to the end of the line with Adam to take a lines_at_gate_09_29_07.jpgphotograph. Back in July, the crowd outside AT&T Park for the Home Run Derby might’ve been as big, but as far as regular season games are concerned (excluding Beanie Baby Day at Comiskey Park in 1998 when people started showing up with lawn chairs at 7am), I’d never experienced anything close to this.

Quick reminder about the rules at Camden: the place opens two hours early, but for the first 30 minutes, fans have to stay in the right and center field seats unless they have season tickets. We didn’t have season tickets. We had regular box office tickets, so when we ran inside, we ended up being trapped with 1,000 other fans while the half-dozen season ticket holders who bothered to show up early got to run wild and snag like maniacs across the stadium.

To make matters worse, I got brutally outsnagged within the first five minutes by a young fan from New York. His name is Brian. (If you read the comments, you’ll know him as “puckcollector.”) He’s a regular at Yankee Stadium. I knew he was going to be there. He got two balls tossed to him pretty much right away and then beat me in a battle of glove tricks for a ball that some other fans had dropped into the gap behind the outfield wall. Ouch! He put me to shame in front of my clients–but the day was young, and at least I was getting a brief opportunity to even go for balls.

Scott (who didn’t bother bringing his glove) and Adam spread out in right-center field while I tried my best to make something happen down the line in the standing-room-only section. The place was so crowded that I couldn’t stand in my usual spot where I can see the batter. Instead, I had to hang out in the middle of the section and look for the little white speck emerging from the invisible field down below–not an easy way to judge and then catch a home run. After 20 minutes of solid stress, someone sent a ball flying high in my direction, and by the time I raced back as far as I could, I realized it was going to sail 10 feet over my head, so I moved forward a few feet and turned around for the carom (just like left fielders at Fenway play balls off the Green Monster). The ball smacked off a brick pillar and shot back at me so fast that I didn’t have time to get my glove in position, and the ball deflected off my left calf and shot back through my legs. After a split-second of severe frustration, I noticed that the ball had bounced back toward me because it hit the padding at the bottom of one of the flag poles, and I reached down and lunged for it and snatched it with my bare hand amidst a mad scramble with a dozen frenzied Yankees fans. Thank GOD. My streak was alive, and I had a ball to give away in case Scott and Adam didn’t get one on their own. I hurried over to the side edge of the section and looked down into the seats below, and way off in the distance, practically drowning in the sea of fans, I saw Adam looking in my direction. I held up the ball, and he pumped his fist.

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That was it for the first half-hour, and if that wasn’t tough enough, we nearly got screwed when the rest of the stadium opened five minutes early. We’d been planning to make a beeline for the left field side, but by the time we ran over there, hundreds of fans had already flowed into the seats, and the entire first row along the foul line was practically full. As for the seats behind the Yankees’ dugout? Forget about it. There was a mob of fans 10 rows deep. Thankfully, Scott and Adam autograph_seekers_09_29_07.jpgwere able to slip into the front row behind third base, and since there wasn’t anyone signing autographs yet, they let me wander back out to left field. I was hoping to snag a second ball so I’d have one to give to each of them, but I had no chance. It was too damn crowded!

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Competition can be fun, but there was nothing fun about this. (The fun part was being at a baseball game and getting to hang out with a great family, including two baseball-obsessed kids.)

It was a lost cause in left field, so I wandered back to the foul line, and to my surprise, A-Rod actually started signing autographs for the people in our row, about 50 feet closer to home plate. I didn’t think he’d sign for more than a minute, so I ran over with Scott, and of course we couldn’t get near him. Then, when Scott returned to his original spot in the front row, someone else had taken it. The good news was that A-Rod was still signing, making his way along the front row in Adam’s direction. Meanwhile, a few other Yankees were playfully trying to distract A-Rod by throwing/rolling balls at him from the bucket in shallow center field. These balls rolled right up against the low wall in the front row, and there wasn’t a single fan who bothered to reach down and scoop them up. If I could’ve somehow squeezed in and then moved three feet to either side, I would’ve had five balls within a minute, but the wall of people was impenetrable. The only thing I could do was to climb up on a seat as Edwar Ramirez walked over, and when he picked up the first ball, I asked him for it in Spanish. Because I was so high up, he pretended he was a basketball player and that my glove was the hoop, and he flipped me the ball by way of a perfect jump shot.

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A-Rod was approaching fast, and there was no way to get back into the front row. Adam was in the perfect spot. Scott and I were completely boxed out, and we watched helplessly as A-Rod walked right up to Adam…and then moved right past without signing for him. (In the pic on the right, you can see Adam in the green hat, reaching out and getting ignored by A-Rod.)

I turned to Scott and asked, “What would you most like to get signed by him?”

“My ticket,” he replied.

“Give it to me,” I said. “I’m gonna go further down the line and try to squeeze in, and hopefully he’ll make his way out there.”

Scott handed me a Sharpie and an old ticket from May 5th and seemed depressed to have missed A-Rod but amazed that I was still scheming of a way to possibly get him.

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I bolted through the seats (which were so crowded that it was impossible to run straight across) and then cut back down a crowded staircase to a spot in foul territory in shallow left field. A-Rod was STILL signing, and though I wasn’t able to find a spot directly along the wall, I was able to climb over a row of chairs and stand IN the front row, directly behind the people at the wall. I tucked my backpack between my legs and braced myself for the crushing wave of humanity. A-Rod was only 15 feet away, and there was a mountain of people right in front of him, clawing and climbing on top of each other to get closer to the arod_approaching2.jpgfront. Everyone was frantic and out-of-control, and I was a bit concerned for the safety of the small woman standing directly in front of me.

“I just want to say,” I told her, “that I’m not going to push you, but I’m probably going to get pushed into you, so I apologize in advance.”

She appreciated what I said, and we waited together as The Man kept coming closer and closer, and finally, the moment arrived. I stuffed my camera into my pocket, pulled out Scott’s ticket, and uncapped the arod_approaching3.jpgSharpie. I was afraid that A-Rod was going to ignore ME as well, so I engaged him in conversation.

“A-Rod,” I said, “I should’ve caught your 48th home run this year, but you hit it too hard and I misjudged it.”

He looked up and mouthed one word at me. It was either “when” or “where” so I told him it was the second homer he hit during that one big inning at Yankee Stadium. He nodded and reached out for the ticket I was holding and signed it with his black Sharpie. SUCCESS!!!

I’d once gotten A-Rod to sign three autographs in one day at Yankee Stadium, way back in 1995, so it didn’t bother me to get this one on Scott’s behalf. Still, I couldn’t let it go THAT easily, not without messing with him for a bit, so I walked slowly back through the seats and pretended to be all bummed out.

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“What happened?” asked Scott.

“Unfortunately–”

“Yeah,” he interrupted, “I figured you wouldn’t be able to get him.”

“–I was only able to get you A-Rod’s autograph once.”

I held up the signed ticket, and Scott looked like he was about to faint. I was stunned that A-Rod had signed for such a long time. Everyone was stunned, really, and we all showed our arod_autograph.jpgappreciation by applauding as he jogged back to the infield. The rest of batting practice was predictably frustrating. I was standing within 10 feet of two homers that normally would’ve been easy catches, but with the seats so crowded, I didn’t get to move more than five feet for either one.

After BP, the whole family convened in deep left field, and we discussed our next move. I was starving. Jeff and Enid also wanted to grab a bite, and we were all ready to head up to the seats–but I noticed joba_signing.jpgthat Joba Chamberlain was signing in the left field corner and working his way along the front row toward the infield. The mob of autograph seekers was nearly as intense for him as it was for A-Rod. I didn’t think there was much of a chance to get him, but hell, there wasn’t anything else to do (except not starve to death) so I zigzagged through the seats with Scott and Adam and used the same plan as before. Don’t try to penetrate the mob. Go past it, find some space, and hope he keeps signing.

Once again, I wasn’t able to make it to the very front, but I was able to stand in the front row, just behind the fans at the wall. I had to think fast…would it be better to give my spot to Adam and have his use his youth to get Joba’s attention?…or would it be better for me to stay there and use my longer arms to reach further out?

Adam wanted his glove signed on the outside of the fingers, next to a couple other pitchers’ autographs. Time was running out. I grabbed the glove and his Sharpie and reached it out as far as I could as Joba approached. Joba reached out and took it. I told him where I wanted it signed, and he did it! Of course adam_with_joba_autograph.jpgit would’ve been better if Adam had just gotten A-Rod in the first place, but still, this wasn’t a terrible consolation prize. Scott, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get Joba, but that’s how these things go. Everyone was happy. Everyone was even (for the most part) and I still had a baseball in my backpack for each of them.

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We got food. Enid treated me to a bottled water and an order of chicken tenders and fries. Adam drowned his hot dog in ketchup. I thought I was gonna puke. We all headed up to the upper deck.

The seats were–how can I put a positive spin on this–really close to the action…if you’re an astronomer. Seriously though, you know what? It was actually kinda fun to leave my glove in my bag and just focus on my food and the game and the company. One of the things that I’ve gotten to love about taking people to games is that it truly IS a new experience every time. I mean, how else would I get to watch an inning from the left field upper deck at Camden Yards? Okay, so I couldn’t see the on-deck hitters putting pine tar on their bats, but so what? The bird’s eye view was actually pretty cool.

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The view from the eighth row behind the Yankees’ dugout was also pretty cool, and that’s where I sat with Scott and Adam starting in the third inning.

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Tike Redman grounded out to end the third, and I was already down in the front row by the time Shelley Duncan caught Robinson Cano’s throw at first base. Duncan tossed me the ball on his way into adam_scott_during_game.jpgthe dugout, and in reverse Hample Jinx fashion, he ended up hitting a single and a homer, both in the top of the fourth, as the Yankees batted around and scored TEN runs.

One inning later, it was Redman’s offensive futility that once again led to our gain. This time, he grounded out to Duncan, Andy Pettitte took the throw at first base, and I stayed in “my” seat. Scott and Adam raced down to the front row. Pettitte paced off the field slowly, and just before he disappeared below the dugout roof, he flipped up the ball. There was a scramble for it between my two guys and a couple other kids, and I was thrilled to see Scott turn around with his glasses in one hand and the ball in scott_with_pettitte_ball.jpgthe other. (Before I got contacts, my glasses used to get knocked off all the time, and it always annoyed me, but not as much when I ended up with the ball.)

That was Pettitte’s last batter. He left the game with an 11-9 lead, and I told Scott that if the Yankees held onto that lead, the ball he got would be the ball that made it an official game and qualified Pettitte for the win.

Scott and Adam ran down to the dugout after every inning, but the rest of the third-out balls got tossed to other sections. The Orioles scored a run in the bottom of the eighth to make it 11-10, and that’s how it ended. Pettitte picked up his 201st career win. Jose Veras notched his third career save. And even though my girlfriend has some bizarre crush on Duncan and would’ve loved to own a baseball that contained a molecule of his DNA, I gave it to Adam. That way, both he and Scott went home with a game-used ball.

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STATS:

• 306 balls in 38 games this season = 8.05 balls per game.

• 493 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 105 consecutive games outside New York with at least one ball

• 5 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls

• 3,267 total balls

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