4/6/09 at Rogers Centre
The story begins on April 5th…
I flew from NYC to Toronto, got picked up at the airport by my friend Joy, and checked into the Renaissance Hotel:
This hotel is connected to the stadium, and as I mentioned in my previous entry,
I got one of the rooms that overlooks the field. Joy and I had been planning to go out to dinner, but when we saw what was happening on the field, even SHE wanted to stay (and that’s saying a lot, considering she doesn’t follow baseball and hasn’t even heard of Barry Bonds). Check it out:
Yup. Batting Practice. Here’s another look:
My mind started racing when I discovered that the window could open, so you can imagine what started going through my head when I looked down at the seats and saw this:
Was it possible to get the players to throw balls up to me? Yes, but their aim was off. One guy (I think it was Fernando Rodney) tossed up two balls and missed both times. The first one sailed five feet to my left, and the second was right on line but fell about five feet short. One of the balls ended up bouncing out of the seats, but look where the other one ended up:
After another 15 minutes or so, I got Gerald Laird’s attention (simply by waving, not by shouting) and got him to toss one my way. The ball sailed five feet to my right, smacked off a sturdy window and disappeared into the seats right below me. Hmm. Laird tried once more to throw me a ball. His aim was better, but still off. I had to reach as high as possible and far to my left, and I missed it by mere inches. He flailed his arms in disgust, but there really wasn’t anything I could’ve done, except maybe been born 6-foot-5. Anyway, the ball once again disappeared into the seats below my window. What was going to happen to those balls? Would they go unnoticed by the rest of the world for another 24 hours? (That’s why I didn’t blog about this in my last entry.) Would I be able to enter the stadium the next day and race up to the 500 Level and grab all four of them? I’m not joking when I say this kept me up that night.
Joy and I ordered Indian food (chana masala for her, chicken tikka masala for me, and garlic naan for us both) and I took a ton of photos of the stadium. Here’s one that really shows the open window:
Eventually the lights inside the stadium were dimmed…
…and then it got really dark so the Blue Jays’ staff could practice using spotlights to highlight the baselines for the following day’s player introductions:
I was thinking about the four balls that were sitting in the seats below me. I could still only see two of them, so I reached out of my window as far as possible, aimed my camera straight down, and took a photo. Maybe I’d see a ball hiding in the folded up portion of a seat?
Nope. I figured the other two balls had to be somewhere within the first four rows, so I started making a plan for how I’d comb through the seats as quickly as possible, once I was there. I’d race out the tunnel, take six steps down, and then turn right. They had to be there. But again, would they STAY there overnight and throughout the following
Here’s a photo of the stadium at its darkest. It was only like this for a few minutes:
The lights came back on and stayed on all night. (No big deal. My room DOES have curtains, after all.) I kept looking out at the stadium and then at the seats below from different angles, hoping to spot the other two balls. I moved all the way to the left, then to the right, and I spotted a third ball! Can you see it in the photo below?
That made me feel better, and the balls were still there in the morning. That brings us to April 6th…Opening Day. Good thing the Jays have a dome because it was COLD. I checked weather.com, and it was 17 degrees (Fahrenheit) with the wind chill. And damp. But I still went outside and walked all around the stadium. The four-part photo below
(starting on the top left and going clockwise) shows what it looked like when I first stepped out of the hotel and then started exploring:
Here I am, trying not to freeze…
…and here are a few more photos outside the stadium:
Just to give you a quick tour of the hotel, here’s the view to the left as soon as you get out of the elevator:
Here’s the view to the right. Note the restaurant, past the orange beams, called Arriba:
Here’s the view from the restaurant–not as good a setup as I have in my room because it’s enclosed and therefore impossible to snag baseballs. Ha:
<a href=”http://mlblogssnaggingbaseballs.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/17_restaurant_view.jpg” target=”_blank”
Okay, so it’s a well known fact that I’m a huge nerd and love numbers, right? Well, just to show how big this hotel is, I timed myself jogging (at a pretty good pace) from the elevator through the halls and to my room. You know how long it takes? Forty-five seconds! Crazy.
Speaking of my room, here’s what it looks like from just inside the door:
I got to the window just in time to see the outer edge of the infield (the pseudo “lip”) being painted:
Then I sat in front of the window and ate lunch:
That would be pulled pork for those keeping score at home, and yes, the baseballs were still in place:
Only three hours until I’d be able to run inside and claim them. I finished lunch, moved away from the window, fired up the laptop, and did some work on my book.
Half an hour later, I heard some rustling coming from the seats below, and I nearly had a heart attack when I realized what it was. Some teen-aged kid was combing through the seats with a broom and a trash bag. He was coming from the right, so he hadn’t yet seen the balls, so I waited until he got a little closer and then got his attention by shouting a firm “Excuse me!” As soon as he looked up, I told him that there were a few balls in the seats. I explained how they got there and asked if I could have them.
“You can have ONE,” he said.
What could I say to that? I wanted them all, or at least two of them, but I knew that he didn’t have to give me anything. He could’ve easily taken them all and there wouldn’t have been anything I could do to stop him. I was at his mercy, and I was mainly just thankful that he was going to give me anything at all.
“I don’t want to break a window,” he said, looking up at me, ball in hand.
“Don’t worry,” I said, smacking the outside of my window with my knuckles. “These
things are solid. One of the balls yesterday hit the window pretty hard, and it didn’t do a thing.”
That convinced him, so he came closer and lobbed the ball up to me. Perfect aim. Right to my glove. I caught it, and my season of snagging was underway. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I had just raised some money for charity, and it felt great. I blogged about this during the off-season, so in case you missed it, I’m getting people to pledge a little bit of money for every ball I snag this season. The money will go to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Click here to read more about this.
As for the young employee in the seats below, he kept two of the balls for himself and then started heading off…
“Wait!” I shouted. “There’s still another ball in the seats.”
“There is?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think it’s in the folded up part of a seat, like maybe in the first or second row. Can you take a look? Any chance I could get it?”
He went back and poked around, and sure enough he found the final ball. Then he tossed it to me. Cha-ching! More money for Pitch In For Baseball, and as for me? I had two baseballs and the season hadn’t even officially begun. Well, at least not in Canada.
Two hours later, at about 4:30pm, the Blue Jays came out and started throwing:
The stadium was going to open at 5pm. Even though I was tempted to stay up in my room and try to snag more balls, I knew I had to head outside and get on line.
Well, I thought I did. Ten minutes before the stadium was set to open, this was scene outside one of the left field gates:
That’s right. There were THREE people waiting to get in, and none of
them had gloves. At that point, my only concern was whether my stupid
print-at-home ticket would actually work:
I never trust those things, but anyway, it DID work and I raced inside.
Now, one thing to know about Rogers Centre is that there are five levels of seating. The field level seats are called the “100 Level” and the upper deck (where the dude picked up those balls and tossed them to me) is called the “500 Level.” The 300 and 400 Levels are all suites, so they’re basically off limits, and of course there aren’t too many balls that reach the top deck, so really, I was only dealing with the two lowest levels. Of course, as soon as I ran into the 200 Level, a ball was hit into the 100 Level, which was still empty, so I ran down there but couldn’t find the ball, and then once I was down there, a ball was hit over my head, into the 200 Level, not too far from where I’d been two minutes earlier. It was THAT kind of day. And then, once I went back upstairs and pretty much had the place to myself, not a single ball came anywhere near me. It truly sucked. This is what it looked like from the 200 Level after about 10 minutes:
The problem with this stadium, from a home-run catching perspective, is that half the balls get swallowed up by the bullpens (which are covered with netting so the glove trick is useless). Of the remaining 50 percent of home runs, probably three quarters of those land in the 100 Level, but it gets pretty crowded down there, especially considering that you have to be positioned within the first few rows to catch a ball because of the overhang of the 200 Level. That leaves a few home runs for the second deck, which of course is empty for a reason. There’s just not that much action up there, or at least there wasn’t yesterday.
Thankfully I got Jason Frasor to toss me a ball in the 100 Level before I headed back upstairs. Then, as soon I reached the 200 Level (now for the second time) an old usher stopped me from going down the steps and insisted on knowing what I was doing there.
“Trying to get home run balls?” he asked, as if that was the only acceptable answer.
“You know it,” I said, pretending to be friendly.
“Well if you get more than one,” he said, “you have to give ’em to me.”
I wasn’t sure if he was joking. I suspected he wasn’t but treated him like he was and faked a chuckle.
“I give ’em kids,” he said.
“Yeah, I give away some of my baseballs too,” I said, “but I do it on my own terms.”
“Well,” he replied, “you only get one up here.”
Five minutes later, Scott Downs threw a ball to some gloveless fans in the front row, but his throw said high and landed in the fourth row, and I ran over and grabbed the ball. The old usher saw THAT but he wasn’t watching 30 seconds later when Downs successfully threw another ball to the same group of fans.
The usher walked over and told me that the ball I got wasn’t intended for me, and he demanded that I give it to the other people. Thankfully they turned around and told him that they’d already gotten one.
“Just…relax,” I told the usher, making a ‘calm-down’ gesture with my hands. “It’s gonna be all right. Things have a way of working themselves out.” I wanted to throw him off the ledge. That’s probably why there’s a net.
Twenty minutes later, after the Tigers had taken the field, I got one of the players to toss me my fifth ball of the day. I’m not sure who it was. I think it might’ve been Eddie Bonine, but I’ll never know. Doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter is that the usher was several sections away and either didn’t see me catch it or wisely decided not to walk over. I seriously would’ve lost it, which is never a good thing to do during the first game of a series. I’ve learned that it’s best to make a scene on the final day, especially when you’re in another country and not planning to return anytime soon.
The area to the center-field side of the bullpen would’ve been great for the glove trick, but it was constantly being patrolled by security guards:
The place was a snagging nightmare. I pretty much had the entire 200 Level to myself, and NOTHING came up there. On two separate occasions, a home run ball was hit exactly in my direction but fell about five feet short of the front row. So yeah, I still had five balls when BP ended.
Then it was time for the pregame ceremonies:
Right before the game started, I managed to get down to the seats behind the Tigers’ dugout (on the first base side) and get Adam Everett to toss me his warm-up ball. Let me tell you, it was NOT easy getting down there. There were one or two security guards at every staircase, and they were checking everyone’s tickets. Even in the outfield sections, it was impossible to get down into the seats as soon as BP ended. I tried playing for third-out balls for a couple innings, but it was too crowded. This WAS Opening Day, after all, and the place was pretty much packed, so I decided to wander and explore the stadium a bit.
I realize that the concourses are not necessarily the most interesting feature in a ballpark, but that’s one thing I look for. It’s sort of like my personal benchmark. If you want to judge a company’s ice cream, you start with the vanilla. Pizza? You begin with a plain slice. You know? Same logic. (And just to warn you, the pizza crust at Rogers Center is like cardboard, except not as flavorful.) So anyway, here’s the concourse in the 100 Level:
Nice. Spacious. Cheerful. But right above it, in the 200 Level, it just got weird:
And by the way, I actually had to show my ticket to LEAVE the 100 Level. There was a security guard, fiercely protecting the entrance to the ramps, who actually wouldn’t let me go up until I showed him. If I’d had a 100 Level ticket and wanted to go to the 500 Level to simply have a look and take pics, he wouldn’t have let me. This place is so badly run. It’s a complete joke. I hope it won’t be like this every day.
Speaking of jokes, check out the faux curtains hanging in the club level tunnels:
They looked okay from afar, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they were made of some cheapo synthetic rubberized substance. (Just like the surface of the playing field. Hey!)
For some strange reason, no one said a word as I walked right down into the fanciest seats in the stadium, just behind home plate in the perfect foul ball location. (Of course nothing landed there until I had left.) This was my view:
Look how the people were dressed there:
I was sure I was gonna get kicked out. I was wearing cargo pants and sneakers and a hoodie, and of course I was the only fan with a glove. Talk about not fitting in. But no one said a word.
I headed back to the 100 Level (don’t ask me how I got back in) after the 7th inning stretch and worked my way down to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout. The Jays were winning, 9-5, at that point, and some of the “fans” had left so I figured I’d watch the rest of the game up close.
Now…if you look at the box score from this game and scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that there was a brief delay–rather unusual for a game played indoors. In case you haven’t seen the highlights or read the story of what happened, the Tigers were pulled off the field after two baseballs were thrown at left fielder Josh Anderson from the 500 Level. This happened after a dozen paper airplanes had been thrown onto the field from all points of the stadium AND after a full/uncapped bottle of water crashed down and splattered on the warning track near the right field foul pole. Don’t you love how every team has an announcement thanking their fans and praising them for being “the best fans in baseball” and yet it’s so NOT true in some cases? This was one of those cases. It was Opening Day, and not only wasn’t the game sold out, but it was interrupted with an announcement about a possible forfeit if anything else was thrown onto the field. Most fans around me didn’t even know what was going on. They were booing the Tigers (now losing 12-5) for leaving the field, and they were yelling stuff like “Mercy rule!” and “Where ya going?!” and “Get back out there, you little girls!” Outside of Yankee Stadium, which is the black hole of obnoxiousness, this was the worst fan behavior I can remember seeing in over 750 games.
Here’s a photo of home plate umpire Ed Montague discussing the situation with managers Cito Gaston and Jim Leyland while the other three umps look on:
I did not snag another ball after the game. I did, however, linger in the concourse for 15 minutes to try to find a kid with a glove so I could give away one of mine. There were a few kids without gloves (forget them), and there were a few kids with gloves who already had baseballs (they didn’t need my help), but it was amazing. There was no one worthy of receiving a ball. I had one in my hand, ready to give away, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Remember when I went to the Red Sox home opener last year? The Tigers were at Fenway that day, I snagged a few of their baseballs during BP, and they were all from the Pacific Coast League. Well, the ball I got yesterday from the Tigers pitcher was from the International League. Check it out:
No wonder those BP home runs had fallen short of the 200 Level; the Tigers were using inferior balls. Look at the size of the seams on that thing. Yeesh.
One last photo…
At around 1am, the lengthy process of cleaning the seats was in full swing. Here are the seats in the 100 Level along the left field foul line. Look at the bags of garbage stacked up on the steps, as well as all the un-bagged trash at the bottom of the steps:
That’s it. Now I just have to survive three more Sheffield-less games here…
• 6 balls at this game
• 570 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 3,504 balls during the streak (the second ball from the seat cleaner was No. 3,500)
• 143 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,826 total balls
• 66 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $13.22 pledged per ball (at this point)
• $79.32 raised for Pitch In For Baseball (so far)