9/21/08 at Yankee Stadium
Last day ever at Yankee Stadium…
The magnitude of this game never really sunk in; although I felt a bit
sad at various points throughout the day, I still had to keep reminding
myself that this was THE LAST time I’d ever be there. It just felt like
all the commotion was yet another formality. I mean, even in May, there were fans who couldn’t find tickets…
…so what made this any different?
Obviously this is just a matter of opinion, but I think MY sign was
better. Here I am holding it up with my Watch With Zack clients for the
day: a man named Jeff and his two sons Scott and Adam:
If you’ve been reading this blog since last year, you might remember these guys from 9/29/07 at Camden Yards.
Here are our four tickets. Silver stamping. Nice…
The stadium was going to open at 1pm–more than seven hours before game
time–and we arrived a couple hours before that. We waited outside Gate
6 so that we’d be able to run inside and claim the corner spot on the
short porch in right field. Clearly, THAT was going to be the best
place to get balls during batting practice. Even though fans were going
to be allowed to walk *ON* (and all the way around) the warning track
from 1 to 4pm, I didn’t want to take any chances by not going to the
corner spot right away. BP was scheduled to begin at around 5pm. I knew
the stadium would be packed by that time. I didn’t want to end up
scrambling for a spot at the last minute and getting buried in the
crowd, and more than ever I needed to be in a visible spot. Not only had Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie promised me a ball two days earlier,
but my 561-game streak was on the line. I didn’t want to blow it for
the chance to scoop up some warning track dirt, and besides, there were
other mementos available…like the peeling paint on the outside of the
stadium, which the fan below was unabashedly pulling off for a
There was a huge crowd behind us when GATE 6 opened for the final time.
We ran in and sprinted to the corner spot. Just about everyone else
made a beeline for Monument Park. That’s where fans were going to be
allowed to walk onto the field–through the same gate that Mariano
Rivera would be using in the ninth inning–but none of us had any
serious interest. Jeff had been on the field before. I’d been on other
fields, so I didn’t feel the NEED to walk on this one. I just wanted to
hold onto the corner spot, and Adam (who really wanted a ball) was
happy to hang with me. Scott (who hadn’t brought his glove because he
couldn’t find it) was the only one who wanted to walk on the field, so
he and his dad headed over to the other side of the stadium. They
returned less than an hour later. The line was absurdly long so they
gave up. Jeff said it snaked way back into the concourse, then up the
ramps to the upper deck (!!!), then through the upper deck concourse
and back down the ramps toward home plate, and I think he even said it
then went back toward home plate and up again to the Loge Level. I
forget the exact details of his account of the line, but you get the
point. Therefore, the four of us hung out on the short porch, which
remained mostly empty for the first two hours.
The highlight of my day (and there were many) was running into a
legendary ballhawk I used to know in the early 1990s–an older gentleman
named Artie. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. It had been about 15
years since we’d crossed paths, and he was already gray-haired back
then. We used to see each other ALL the time, and when he disappeared,
I didn’t know what to think. Had he gotten too old to chase baseballs?
Had he given up his season tickets? Had he died?! For years and years,
I had been thinking of him and remembering all the times that he took
me under his wing and calmed me down when stadium security and other
fans were giving me a hard time. It’s like he was a second father to
me, or maybe even a grandfather. We were ALWAYS out in right field
together, chasing baseballs, and we’d talk for hours every day during
BP and after BP and during the game. I’d told other friends about him,
and I always wondered how many baseballs he had. I knew it had to be
hundreds, and I suspected his grand total was probably in the
thousands. So…what ever happened to him? How is it that we both ended
up near the corner spot on the LAST day ever at Yankee Stadium? It
turned out that *I’m* the one who disappeared. He only has a weekend
season ticket plan, and I stopped going to games on weekends. That was
it. He’d still been going to Yankee Stadium all these years.
Incredible. We were both so happy to see each other. I’m telling you, I
almost cried when I saw him after all these years. He really was a
legend to me, but we’d never kept in touch away from the ballpark. This
time, however, I made sure to get his phone number and ask him dozens
of questions, and then his daughter Cathy took a few photos of us. Here
You want to know how many baseballs Artie has caught since 1945?
That’s more than me!
He told me he’d heard about my books and had seen me catching those two
home runs on TV, and when I told him what MY grand total of baseballs
was, he said, “You’ve carried on my torch, and you did it in a graceful
way. I’m proud of you.”
I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to hear him say that.
The fans started making their way around the warning track…
…and there was still lots of time to kill, so Artie and I kept
talking. He doesn’t know exactly how many game home run balls he’s
snagged, but he has 36 of his catches just on tape. In 1961, he caught
home runs by both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and he said those are
the only two balls he kept. He wishes he’d kept more, but he donated
them all to an autism foundation. (He has two autistic grandkids.) His
one-game record is 12. His single-season record is “over 200.” That was
back in ’61. He’s gotten lots of balls tossed to him by players
(including Ted Williams!) but he’s never used a ball-retrieving device.
He told me that back in the 1940s, players didn’t throw many balls into
the crowd, and they almost never hit home runs during batting practice
because they actually treated it like “practice” and didn’t swing for
Artie, who will be turning 70 in February, pulled out a little photo
album and told me stories as I flipped through. There were photos of
him on the field with Don Mattingly, walking in the stands with Roger
Maris, at a birthday party with Billy Martin. I’m telling you…the man
is a LEGEND, and I might have to write an entire chapter in my next
book about him. I don’t know, but I can tell you that this is not the
last time you’ll be hearing his name.
I took a break from my conversation with Artie to do a five-minute live phone interview with a radio station in England called “talkSPORT.”
Then, while Jeff held the corner spot, I took Scott and Adam with me
and caught up with Ken Derry, the managing editor of Yankees Magazine.
Ken had gotten in touch after my home run catches and said that he was
going to do a “little story” on me.
The “little” story was apparently going to have a little photograph of me:
(Thanks to Scott for taking the photo that you see above.)
The photographer–her name was Arie–took about 50 shots in the span of
two minutes and then disappeared into the crowd. Ken then pulled out a
voice recorder and interviewed me for about 20 minutes. The story will
appear in the “closing ceremonies” issue, which will be coming out in
After the interview, I took a photo of the nearby “SportsCenter” set-up…
…and the show went to a commercial break, I shouted at Steve Phillips.
He looked up.
I did my stupid “Cabbage Patch” dance.
He raised his eyebrows and pointed at me as if to say, “That was YOU?!”
I nodded and pointed at myself.
He nodded and gave me a thumbs-up.
I was hoping he’d wave me down to the front row and bring me on the air, but no, that was the end of it.
I went back out to the corner spot in right field (big thanks to Jeff
for staying there) and saw Spike Lee following Reggie Jackson with a
small video camera:
Finally, at around 4:30pm, the Yankees came out and began stretching:
Looks like a nice relaxing day, right?
Well, check out the view to my left:
Thank God I had the corner spot because it would NOT have been easy.
See the tall guy wearing the backwards cap and the unbuttoned road
jersey? He ended up catching four balls, including two home runs on a
fly and a third which hit the Loge facade and bounced back to him. See
the kid at the bottom middle of the photo with his chin on his fist?
That’s Brian (aka “puckcollector”) from this blog. And do you see the
man who’s standing closest to the camera with his cap pulled down over
his eyes? That’s Jeff.
Just before BP started, I ran into another stadium regular named Howard
Pressman. He had been quoted in the first paragraph of the first article EVER written about my baseball collection. Here we are:
BP finally got underway, and Adam snagged a ball before I did. Yankees
reliever Phil Coke tossed it to a security guard who flipped it up.
Even though I could’ve caught it, I didn’t reach out for it because it
was clearly intended for Adam, and I wanted him to enjoy the rush of
catching the ball on his own. It was commemorative, and here he is holding it up:
I also managed to talk Phil Coke out of a commemorative ball even
though he recognized me as THAT GUY who caught the two home runs and
wasn’t exactly dying to give me one as a result. I ended up giving that
ball to Scott who had positioned himself in the seats along the right
field foul line and therefore didn’t have a chance to snag a ball on
When the Orioles came out, I quickly got Jamie Walker to throw me my
second ball of the day. Thankfully, Jeremy Guthrie was nowhere in sight
at the time, so when he finally appeared, he greeted me with a smile
and imitated my dance…
…and then tossed me ball No. 3.
Guthrie is a COOL guy. Not only had he remembered me after two days and
kept his promise by hooking me up with a ball, but he was interacting
with the fans throughout BP. One fan asked him to scoop up some dirt
from the warning track, and he did it! Check it out:
I got one more ball tossed to me by Brian Bass. It was just a regular ball, but it ended up being a very special ball indeed…
The four of us headed upstairs for the pre-game ceremony. This was our view:
It was incredible to hear a recorded welcome message from longtime P.A.
announcer Bob Sheppard…and to see Babe Ruth’s daughter throw out
(okay, so she bounced it) the ceremonial first pitch…and to see
former Yankee greats actually wearing the uniforms and taking their
positions on the field…but the ceremony was still lacking, in my
opinion. To me, it seemed like it was TOO focused on the players and
not focused enough on the stadium itself. But hey…still cool.
The four of us stayed in our seats through the top of the first inning
and then headed downstairs for the sole purpose of catching the last
home run at Yankee Stadium.
There were hardly any empty seats (as you might imagine), so we
wandered aimlessly for a bit and couldn’t see much of the game. Scott
was more interested in watching, and Adam was more interested in
snagging, so we split up. Scott and his dad went back up to the seats
while Adam and I roamed.
We started in left field, but there truly wasn’t any place to sit or
stand, so we headed all the way around the stadium and camped out in
the tunnel in the middle of the short porch.
Security kept telling us we had to move, so we kept shuffling our
position in attempt to linger there as long as possible. At one point,
we walked back to the corner spot and stayed back against the railing
at the back of the aisle. That’s where Artie and Cathy were sitting,
and they didn’t mind that we were, as I described it, “invading” their
“I want you to catch it,” said Artie.
“If I catch the last home run in your section.” I said, “I’m always gonna feel guilty.”
He assured me I didn’t need to and was glad to catch up with me again for a bit.
In the bottom of the third inning, with two on and nobody out, Johnny
Damon hit a home run that landed IN the aisle about 40 feet to our
left. We couldn’t move. There was hardly any room to walk, even when
there wasn’t a valuable ball flying in our direction, so once the ball
left the bat and people stood up out of their folding chairs, that was
it. Done/ No chance. If I’d been standing at the front of the tunnel, I
would’ve had a great chance of catching the ball, but even then there
wouldn’t have been a guarantee.
The guy who caught it (barehanded, no less) was mobbed by reporters
within minutes. I walked over and took a photo. Was THIS going to be
the last home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium? I didn’t know. So at the
time this was a BIG deal. Here he is with the ball. His name is Brian
It was a regular/commemorative ball. I was thinking that there might’ve
been special “final day” balls in use, but that wasn’t the case. The
ball wasn’t marked either. Security never escorted him off. The MLB
authenticator never made an appearance. It was sloppy, and I was
stunned. This was a big deal, as I mentioned above, and yet it
wasn’t…based on the way it was handled.
Here’s a photo that’ll give you an idea of how cramped the aisle was in
right field. You can actually see a reporter (in a tan shirt) crouching
in the aisle while interviewing Elmer.
Adam and I were kicked out of the corner spot soon after, and ten
minutes after that, we were kicked out of the tunnel. (Damn!) We had no
choice but to head back to left field, and while we were on our way,
Jose Molina hit a home run that landed on the protective netting over
Monument Park. (I heard later from my friend Eric Marinbach, a Yankee
Stadium regular who sits out there, that a security guard ended up
GIVING the ball to another fan. What the hell?!)
Amazingly, we found two empty seats in the first row behind the aisle,
all the way out against the side wall in straight-away left field. I
ended up sitting in the exact same seat that I was in when I jumped up
and caught the Kevin Millar homer two months earlier. This was the view:
Sadly, there weren’t any other homers for the rest of the night.
This is how the Yankees announced the attendance:
This was the scene less than 60 seconds after Mariano Rivera threw the last pitch:
(I got a great video of the final pitch. You wouldn’t believe how many
flashbulbs were going off. I might post the video on YouTube at some
Here’s the final score:
Adam and I headed to the upper deck and got there in time to see the Yankees’ final lap around the field:
It took us about 20 minutes to reach our assigned seats, where we caught up with Scott and Jeff. Here I am with the boys:
I didn’t see THAT much vandalism. This was the worst of it…
…although I did notice that there were an awful lot of cup holders
missing when we all wandered back down to the field level. This was the
And that was pretty much it. Jeff had to work early the next day, while
Adam and Scott had to be at school–and they had to drive back to New
Jersey, so they headed off. I lingered inside the stadium until
security kicked me out. The only thing I grabbed on my way was a
three-inch stack of napkins that’d been abandoned on an empty vending
cart. Why not.
Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. I hate to admit it, but I’ll miss you…
? 4 balls at this game
? 496 balls in 66 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.
? 562 consecutive games with at least one ball
? 128 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
? 14 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
? 3,773 total balls
(Apologies for any typos in the this entry. I wrote the whole thing in
less than three hours and didn’t even have a chance to read through it
once. I’ll give it proper edit tonight when I get back from Shea.)