4/2/08 at Yankee Stadium
This was my first game of the year, and I have to start with three pics of the New Yankee Stadium. Here it is from the end of the #4 train subway platform:
Here’s the view from the middle of the other side of the platform:
Last one…from the same spot but looking to the right. Notice how the beautiful white facade is just ugly brown metal with a coat of paint:
As for the current Yankee Stadium…
It was $5 Night. I didn’t have a ticket. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked up to the ticket window at 4pm — a little more than an hour before the gates would be opening for batting practice. The people in front of me asked about the cheap seats. The man behind the bullet-proof glass said, “The five-dollar seats are sold out for the rest of the season. Cheapest ticket for tonight is sixty-five.”
“Sixty-five bucks?” I asked after the people ahead of me stepped out of line. “Even for a single?”
“Come back in an hour,” said the man, explaining that some cheaper tickets might get released into the computer system by then.
“I can’t wait an hour,” I said. “Batting practice will be starting and I need to be inside then.”
He shrugged. I walked away. Ran into a friend named Eric. Started eating a sandwich I’d brought. Got approached by two men. One had heard me trying to get a ticket, said he and his friend had an extra one, and offered it to me…for free. It was a $75 season ticket up in the Loge. No way I was going to sit there, but WOW. I really couldn’t believe it. I was sure it was a conspiracy to prevent me from snagging baseballs. (“Hey, Jimmy, see dat guy ova deh? Dat’s da baseball collecta. Give ‘em wunna deez bogus tickets. Joik won’t be able t’get scanned at da gate. He’ll hafta get outta line and find anudda ticket and miss da starta battin’ practice.”) But as it turned out, the ticket was good.
The Yankees’ portion of batting practice was a disaster, and I got completely shut out, in part because I got outsnagged by a few other fans who regularly read this blog (“puckcollector” and “gregorybarasch” for those of you who read the comments…and I also want to say thanks to my friend Nelson who let me slip into the line ahead of him so I could be the first fan to enter the stadium). I came close to several balls — almost plucked one off the right field warning track with my glove trick, but a security guard stopped me just before I lowered it all the way down. A few other people had glove/cup tricks, and when we all complained that we were allowed to use them last year, the guard radioed his boss and then informed us several minutes later that yes, we WERE allowed to steal balls from the field. Woo-hoo!
Sure enough, my first ball of the season came via the glove trick, and let me tell you, it was a huge relief to get it out of the way. I snagged ball #2 with the trick and got ball #3 from a Blue Jays pitcher. I’m not sure who, but I think it was Dustin McGowan. It was impossible to identify any of the players because it was cold and they were all wearing warm-up jackets over their jerseys and none of their numbers were showing. I’d brought a team roster, but it was basically useless. Anyway, there was a thick cluster of Yankee fans shouting for the ball, and I was buried several rows back, so I took off my Blue Jays cap and waved it frantically when the player looked up to find a deserving recipient. He spotted it and lobbed the ball right to me. Perfect aim. Right over everyone’s head. I still had to jump and make a nice grab above the forest of outstretched hands, and it felt great.
At around 6pm, I had a chance to snag yet another ball with the glove trick, this time a few feet shy of the foul pole. Before I lowered my glove, I announced that I’d be giving the ball to a kid. Big mistake. It caused a frenzy as soon as I reeled in the ball. So many kids (and even a few grownups…fathers, I guess) hurried over and started pushing that I nearly toppled backwards over the wall and onto the warning track nine feet below. I announced that I would only consider kids with gloves who had NOT already gotten a ball that day. There were still dozens of kids swarming me, so I announced that I’d give the ball to the youngest one. Another mistake. This prompted every kid to lie about his age, and it was obvious. The whole thing caused quite a scene, and that was not my intention. I just wanted to do something nice and disappear back into the crowd. Finally, after a solid minute of mayhem, I handed the ball to the shortest kid I saw and got lots of thumbs-ups and pats on the back as I headed back to my spot in straight-away right fiel
I got one more ball at the end of BP. One of the ball boys retrieved a ball that had rolled near the warning track, and he flipped it up into the aisle behind the wall. Everyone dropped it. The ball boy tossed it up again. Same result. I worked my way into the middle of the pack, and when the ball came up for the third time, I jumped and gloved it.
I’d heard that the Yankees were using special balls during games to commemorate the final season of the stadium, but I didn’t get any during BP. No surprise there. As I mentioned, I didn’t get a single ball while the Yanks were on the field, and there was no chance that the Jays would be using them. I figured that within a few weeks or months, these balls would find their way into the BP buckets and eventually circulate around the league. And since I live less than five miles from Yankee Stadium and can go there anytime, I figured I’d get one of these balls eventually, but man, I wanted one right away.
BTW, the pic on the left shows me after BP with the four balls I kept. You can see the new Yankee Stadium way off in the distance.
Once the game started, I headed to straight-away left field and pretty much stayed there through the seventh-inning stretch. Other than getting my hands on one of those commemorative balls, my ONLY purpose for going to Yankee Stadium this season is to catch an A-Rod home run. Not during batting practice. I’m talking about real live action. I still haven’t forgiven myself for misjudging one of his blasts last season, and I need to redeem myself. He’s going to end up as the all-time home run king. I need to catch one. It’s as simple as that.
I was in a great spot for all his at-bats (the pic on the right shows my view when he stepped to the plate for the first time), and he DID hit a home run late in the game…but it went to dead center. At least he’s hitting well. It’d be great if he has another monster April. I’d like to catch one sooner than later, especially if I’m gonna be paying a $65 cover charge every time I go.
A.J. Burnett was mowing down the Yankees and took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. That’s when A-Rod went yard, but the Yankees’ rally died, and half the crowd bolted for the exits. That’s when I snuck down to the Jays’ dugout, and at the end of the next inning, I got 1st base coach Ernie Whitt to toss me a ball. I didn’t even think he had one. In fact, I knew he didn’t, but I asked anyway, just in case there happened to be a loose ball sitting around in the dugout. And there was. And it was one of those commemorative balls. YES!!!
I ran back to left field for the bottom of the ninth. Jeter and A-Rod were both due up, so it was worth being out there. Thankfully, Jeter (who batted 2nd) and Abreu (who batted 3rd) both led off with singles, so when A-Rod finished his night by striking out, there was only one out, and I still had time to get back to the Jays’ dugout. Juicin’ Giambi and Robinson Cano both flied out to end the game, and I bolted down the steps to the front row. All the players and coaches walked out on the field to shake hands. I didn’t get the game-ending ball (which was the reason I was down there), but I ended up getting something even better. All the coaches headed back to the dugout in a small cluster, and I shouted (while wearing my Jays cap), “Hey, guys, any chance I can get the lineup card?!”
One of them (not sure who) looked up and said, “I got ya,” and disappeared from sight for a full minute. Was he serious?! Was he going to give it to me? What was taking so long? The few other fans standing around nearby were oblivious, so when the coach poked his head out of the dugout and slid a big piece of thick card stock my way, no one else bothered to lunge for it. Oh. My. God. It was beautiful. THAT’S what took so long. He had to peel the thing off the dugout wall. Most of the lineup cards I’ve gotten look like this, and they’re small–only about 5″ x 7″. But this one? How about 8.5″ x 13.5″. Check it out:
Every team seems to organize and mark its lineup cards differently. One thing I figured out about this one is that the Jays mark all the lefties (hitters and pitchers) with a yellow hi-liter and mark all the switch-hitters with blue. As for the black circles, every team keeps track of which hitter makes the last out in each inning. Then a coach writes the number next to the player’s name and circles it. The Jays, for whatever reason, color in the circles as the game progresses. Johnny Damon struck out swinging to end the bottom of the eighth, and you can still see the “8″ next to his name because as soon as the final out was recorded in the ninth, there was no point in making the effort to scribble over it. Cool, huh?
• 6 balls at this game
• 497 consecutive games with a
t least one ball
• 109 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball