6/23/08 at Shea Stadium
I did something really stupid…
Yesterday afternoon I charged the battery for my digital camera, and when I left for Shea a few hours later I forgot to take it off the charger. I realized I’d done this as soon as I got off the No. 7 train and tried to take a pic of Citi Field, and for a second I considered heading right back to the subway and going home. You know how some people feel naked without their cell phone or jewelry or makeup? That’s how I feel when I don’t have my camera.
Anyway, I decided to stay, and it’s a good thing…and as for the no-camera issue, I was able to scan a couple things when I got home (like my five-dollar ticket) and take some pics of the balls and dig up a few old photos of Shea to illustrate the day’s better stories.
My first 50 minutes inside Shea turned out to be a complete waste of time. First of all, the Mets hadn’t even started taking batting practice when I ran inside at 4:40pm, and when I finally headed up to the second deck (aka “the Loge Level”) in right field there was no action. There were exactly ZERO balls that landed in the seats, I couldn’t get any players to toss me a ball, and it got worse from there. I tried to use my glove trick to snag a ball that (for some strange reason) was resting on a little wooden platform above the gap behind the right field wall, but unfortunately it was stuck in a rut against a metal pole and before I had a chance to dislodge it, an usher on the Field Level noticed what I was doing and ordered me to stop.
My friend Greg (aka “gregorybarasch” if you read the comments on this blog) was at this game, and when he saw my failed glove trick attempt from the seats below, he ran up to the Loge and snagged the ball fairly easily with his own ball-retrieving device: a cup trick. In most situations, my glove trick has its advantages over cup tricks, but this wasn’t one of them. Greg’s cup had a thin edge that slid between the ball and the pole, whereas the thicker fingers of my glove couldn’t fit.
As soon as Greg caught it, he ran over and said, “You gotta see this!”
“Something tells me I don’t want to see it,” I said, but it was too late. Greg was already holding out the ball, and I nearly had a heart attack. The stitches weren’t red…they were gray and navy blue…it was…a 2008 All-Star Game ball…WHAAAT?!?!?!
I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it was true. It was the same ball I’d been trying not to notice every time I filled out an All-Star ballot. Weeks before Greg caught this ball, I was already so worked up and pissed off about NOT being able to snag one (because I can’t afford to go to the All-Star Game) that I’d been planning to go out of town during All-Star week and NOT watch any of the festivities on TV. It was just going to be too painful to see these commemorative balls sailing into the seats at a stadium I’d been to hundreds of times.
Greg went back to the Field Level, and I was on a mission like never before. I figured that if there was one All-Star Ball in use, there had to be another and I paid extra close attention to every ball that rolled anywhere near me. Of course, I was about 30 feet above the field so it was tough to distinguish the standard balls from the prized All-Star balls, but I tried my best.
Soon after, a home run landed in the bullpen, and while I couldn’t pick out any special logo, I knew what to look for: the ball was brand new and the seams did not appear to be red. I kept my eye on that ball for five minutes, hoping that a player or coach would stroll into the ‘pen and retrieve it, but eventually some random employee went and got it, turned down my request for it, and flung it back onto the field. The ball rolled to a spot about 20 feet behind Oliver Perez (who’s always been friendly to me).
“Oliver!” I shouted, “right behind you!”
Perez turned around and looked briefly at the ball but didn’t move. That’s when Pedro Feliciano (who has NEVER and WILL never throw me a ball) walked over and picked it up and took a long look at it. Ohmygod, it WAS an All-Star Ball, and I begged him for it. What did he do? He turned around and waved condescendingly at me and then tossed it to another fan on the Field Level.
I made sure not to ask for any balls unless I was certain that they were of the All-Star variety…but most of the balls that rolled onto the warning track were standard balls. Finally, Claudio Vargas walked over and retrieved a ball that had the All-Star logo. I was the only fan who asked him for it. He looked up at me, told me he’d give me a ball later, chucked the All-Star ball back toward the bucket, and promptly moved to center field.
The Mets’ portion of batting practice was going to be ending soon, and not only didn’t I have an All-Star ball…I didn’t have ANY balls. It wasn’t late enough in the day to start worrying about being shut out altogether but the thought did cross my mind.
Enter Dave Racaniello. He’s been the Mets bullpen catcher since 2001, and although he doesn’t know me by name, he does recognize me. He knows all about my
baseball collection, and he still tosses me a few balls per season. It’s awesome. Usually, whenever a player or coach (or bullpen catcher) recognizes me, that’s it. No more balls. But that’s not the case with this guy. I can’t explain it. He’s just cool like that.
With 15 minutes remaining in BP, I saw Racaniello pick up a standard ball in right field and head into the bullpen. I kept my eye on him but didn’t say anything. That’s when HE looked up at ME and took the ball out of his glove as if he were about to toss it up and shouted, “Here ya go, ball number three thousand–“
“Wait! Wait! Wait!” I shouted, holding out my open palms as if to say “stop.”
Racaniello gave me a funny look, and I kept talking: “I noticed you guys are using a few All-Star balls in BP…”
“We are?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “and I would DIE to get my hands on one. Is there any chance that if you happen to see one, you could hook me up?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said and disappeared from sight.
Ten minutes passed. He was nowhere to be seen. It was 5:30pm. The Mets were going to wrap up their portion of BP in five minutes. I had to get downstairs and try to work my way into the seats behind the dugout. I knew there was a good chance to get a ball there, even a regular ball. I was getting desperate. And just as I was about to exit the Loge, Racaniello appeared in right field and looked up at me. He had a ball in his hand. OH MY GOD. He waved me over to a section in foul territory where there weren’t any fans. I ran through the aisle, and then he waved me back. Ha! He was messing with me, and a few Mets pitchers were looking on. I rolled with it and kept moving back and forth as he made gestures like a traffic cop. The usher in my section realized what was about to happen and pretended to jump in front of me and interfere, but he soon backed off, and Racaniello unleashed a throw. I was right in the aisle, about six rows back from the railing. That way, if his throw fell short, it would at least reach the empty seats and I could pick up the ball, but “Rac” (as the players call him) threw a perfect strike, and I made the catch. I opened my glove, and this is what I saw:
I thanked him profusely, then hugged the ball and blew kisses at him (which he may or may not have appreciated–let’s not make any assumptions either way) and flew down to the Field Level. There was an all-out mob of fans behind the dugout, but none of them were going for balls. They were all there for autographs, and I managed to find a spot in the front row. Three minutes later, when all the players and coaches came off the field, I made a leaping catch for a ball thrown by Duaner Sanchez and then got coach Sandy Alomar Sr. to toss me a ball 30 seconds later. What kind of balls, you ask? Voila!
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…there is now extra incentive to see the New York Mets.
The Field Level was both packed and dead, so I headed up to the left field Loge and got one more ball–a standard ball–tossed to me by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify. He was young and white and tall and fairly thin and right-handed and had a beard that wasn’t particularly thick or dark. Any ideas who it might be? I know it wasn’t R.A. Dickey, who also has a beard.
I made my way to the Mariners’ dugout as BP ended and got my fifth ball of the day–another standard ball–from 1st base coach Eddie Rodriguez.
After batting practice, I hung out with Greg and a couple friendly ushers (yes, they actually DO exist at Shea), then failed to get a warm-up ball after the national anthem, and spent the whole game running around for foul balls in the Loge. I came close to a few, but luck wasn’t on my side, and that was fine. I was still glowing about the All-Star balls. Even though the Mets had been using 2005 All-Star balls during BP in 2006…and 2006 All-Star balls the following season, I never expected to get one (let alone three!) from the 2008 All-Star Game. That was just too cool.
The game itself had a rather depressing moment for Mets fans, but since I’m really more of a “baseball fan” than a fan of any one team, I was able to appreciate it. With two outs in the top of the second inning, David Wright made an error that loaded the bases and Mariners starter Felix Hernandez blasted Johan Santana’s next pitch over the wall in right-center field–the first grand slam, I later learned, hit by an American League pitcher in 37 years. Those four unearned runs made the difference. Final score: Mariners 5, Mets 2.
After the game, I got another ball tossed to me at the dugout by Rodriguez, and then I met up with Greg to take the train back to Manhattan…but before we left, he wanted to head out to the right field corner. He’d seen Ichiro hit a ball in BP that landed in the gap behind the outfield wall, and he thought there was a chance it might still be there. Well, it was, but neither of us could get it. Take a look at the photo below and I’ll explain:
This is a photo of the gap from above. The thick orange beam is the right field foul pole. The red arrow is pointing to the spot where the ball was sitting. There wasn’t quite as much trash in the gap yesterday as you see in this photo, but still, it’s always pretty nasty and cluttered back there. (That’s the beauty of Shea Stadium.) I took this photo from the Loge Level (during batting practice last season), b
ut we couldn’t get up there after the game last night because security was kicking everyone out. The only place where we could get close to this ball was in the Field Level concourse. Unfortunately, we were blocked by several large screens/nets, so we weren’t able to lean over into the gap, and since the ball was several feet out–and since there was also a mess of cables and wires hanging from an adjacent camera platform–it would’ve been nearly impossible. Still, I helped Greg by holding his string while he worked his cup through a small hole in the netting. Then I moved the string over the top of the netting to a point where he could reach it. I know this is tough to visualize, but you get the point. There were all kinds of obstacles, and we stood there and schemed for 15 minutes, waiting for the brief intervals when the two nearest security guards happened to be looking away simultaneously, but eventually we decided it was too tough and too risky (I was afraid my glove would get caught on something) and decided to leave.
At the bottom of the ramp…right where the ramp meets the ground-level concourse that leads to the area behind the Mets bullpen, I happened to see a familiar face. It was a guy named Shawn who’s been working at Shea for years. I first met him when he was a bathroom attendant on the Field Level, and then one day I saw him out on the field. He’d been promoted to the grounds crew, and ever since I’ve been shouting his name and waving to him from the stands and keeping him updated about my baseball collection. Here’s a pic I took of him back in 2005:
Even though Greg was the one who first thought about checking the RF gap for this ball, he knew he couldn’t have asked Shawn for it because he didn’t know him. Thus, it was all mine…
When I got to the bottom of the ramp, I walked up to Shawn and shook his hand and explained the situation.
“Where exactly is it?” he asked.
“In the narrow gap behind the outfield wall,” I said, “all the way in the corner, just foul of the foul pole.”
“Meet me back in the Field Level seats,” he said, and as I bolted up the ramp, a nearby security guard who hadn’t heard what we’d been discussing said I wasn’t allowed to go back up.
Shawn explained what was going on, and the guard said it was okay…but once Greg and I reached the Field Level concourse, a different (on-field) guard spotted us and walked closer along the warning track in foul territory. I tried to explain that a groundskeeper was about to give me a ball, but I knew I wasn’t making any sense. It even sounded absurd to me…twenty minutes after the final out…in an empty stadium?! I entered the seats and tried to explain that I had to be there to get the ball, and just when the confused guard was about to radio for backup, Shawn walked out onto the field through a door in the right field wall (that leads to the bullpen), and he had the ball in his hand. He told the guard to chill, and that he was giving me a ball, and he walked closer and finally flipped it to me from about ten feet out.
Unbelievable. I loved the fact that my day’s snagging began and ended with a personal connection.
From now on, whenever I’m asked about the weirdest way I ever got a ball, I won’t be sure what to say. It’s a toss-up between this one (that you just read about) and THIS one (from 2003). What do you think?
? 7 balls at this game
? 217 balls in 28 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
? 524 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 325 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
? 3,494 total balls