4/7/09 at Rogers Centre
The day got off to a great start.
Thanks to the location of my hotel room and the impressive right arm of a Blue Jays pitcher, I was able to snag a ball 15 minutes before Rogers Centre opened. This is where it all went down:
I’m not sure who threw it–it’s kinda hard to recognize faces from three kilometers up–but I think it was Jesse Litsch. I’d gotten his attention as soon as the Jays started taking BP, and when I asked for a ball, he grabbed his shoulder and rotated his arm as if to indicate that it was sore.
“I can’t throw that far!” he shouted.
“Gimme a break!” I yelled. “I played D-3 ball, and *I* can throw that far!”
That convinced him to give it a shot, but his first throw fell short and the ball bounced out of the 500 Level. Then, before he tried again, he told me that this was going to be his last try. The ball barely sailed wide and again bounced out of the seats.
“C’mon!” I yelled.
He ignored me.
I thought that was it, but then he surprised me by making one final attempt about 20 minutes later, and it was right on the money. That is one impressive throw, and of course it felt incredible to head outside and get on line and already have a “1″ in the ball tally. FYI, there’s no way to enter the stadium from the hotel. I had to go outside and wait at the gate like everyone else, and when I got outside, I discovered that it was snowing. Then, according to the plan,
I headed to Gate 13 and met a fellow ballhawk named Nick Yohanek (aka “Happy Youngster“) for the very first time. Here we are…Nick on the left and his father Jack on the right:
Nick and I had known each other through email and blog comments for a few years. Like me, he had planned to go to Toronto to make an attempt at catching Gary Sheffield’s 500th career home run. Even though Sheff got released by the Tigers during the final week of Spring Training, we were still here. Nick and his father had made the 650-mile drive from Milwaukee.
My only concern about meeting fellow ballhawks is that we’ll end up getting in each other’s way and competing for the same balls, but that didn’t happen here. Rogers Centre is big enough (and the crowd was so small) that everyone was able to spread out. As soon as the gates opened, Nick made a beeline for the 200 Level and found an easter egg. I raced to the 100 Level and got one of the Tigers (no idea who) to toss me a ball in right-center field. The first thing I thought of was the charity; snagging baseballs, as fun as it has always been for me, now feels even better because of this new added meaning.
A few minutes later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center:
I used my glove trick to reel it in and heard some fans cheering for me in left-center. The day before, I’d stayed in the 200 Level and didn’t get recognized by anybody. On this fine day, however, I stayed downstairs and had a bunch of people coming up to me and recognizing me from this blog and from YouTube.
Eddie Bonine walked over and asked how I got the ball to stick inside my glove.
“Put another ball down,” I said, “and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
He was so intrigued by my contraption that I think he was considering it, but then another ball rolled onto the warning track.
“There you go,” he said, pointing at it.
The ball was halfway out on the track and my attempt began with a struggle to knock it closer, only because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself by flinging the glove way out. I was trying to be subtle and gentle with all my movements, and it just wasn’t happening.
Bonine moved the ball closer to the wall, then stepped back and watched with Nate Robertson as I reeled it in. Once I had the ball in my hand, he told me to give it to him.
“I’ll give it back,” he said. “I want to see you do it again.”
I tossed him the ball and worried that a) security was going to raise hell and that b) I was missing other snagging opportunities, but I had to go with it. When a major leaguer is talking to you, you can’t just walk away.
Sure enough, as I was reeling in the ball for the second time, a young female security guard (wearing a menacing bright yellow jacket) approached me from behind and told me I had to stop. Bonine jumped to my defense, saying I wasn’t causing any trouble and that he wanted to see what I was doing.
“In that case keep right on going,” the guard told me. “I have to say I’m impressed.”
I got the ball to stick inside my glove and then as soon as I began lifting it up, Bonine kicked the glove and made both the ball and Sharpie fall out. I wasn’t mad. I knew he was just being playful, and I thought it was funny. Then he grabbed the Sharpie and wedged it in my glove and tossed the ball up to me. Mission accomplished.
I ran to left-center because a bunch of righties were taking turns in the cage. Of course there wasn’t a single ball that landed anywhere near me, but I did get Carlos Guillen to toss one my way–ball No. 5 on the day.
Three of the last four balls I’d snagged were from the International League. (Booooo!!!) They felt cheap and plasticky, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re made in China:
Real balls, of course, are made in…let’s say it all together: COSTA RICA!!! And let me just point out that the Tigers are now 0-3 in games I’ve seen them play since last year, so I’ll say it again: If you practice with minor league balls, you’re gonna play like a bunch of minor leaguers. I’m telling you, the Tigers are done. They’re not going anywhere this year. It’s just like the Nationals and their God-awful training balls.
Right after BP, I got Curtis Granderson (he’s nice) to sign my ticket…
…and then I met two of Toronto’s best ballhawks. They knew I was going to be at this game, and they’d said a quick hello during BP in left-center. Once all the players were off the field, we had a good chunk of time to catch up. Here were are in the photo below. The guy on the left is named Ryan, and he’s snagged a grand total of 696 balls. His friend on the right is Tyler, and he’s gotten around 630:
“We’re like the you of this stadium,” said Ryan.
He and Tyler each had me sign a ball. Then we took some photos, and they had me leave a voice-mail for their friend who’s away in college right now–another ballhawk whose claim to fame is that when Carlos Delgado was on the Jays and hit four homers in a game, he snagged the third one. So there ARE some experienced ballhawks here. I hadn’t met any when I was in Toronto in 2000, but of course I didn’t have this blog then, so I wasn’t coming into contact with nearly as many people. Oh, and one more thing about Ryan and Tyler…they each have a full season ticket plan. All 81 home games. When I tell you how much they pay, you’re going to cry and/or move to Toronto. Ready? They pay just $81. Not per ticket, but for the entire season! One dollar per game. That’s one of the deals up here. Of course their seats are in the 500 Level, but it doesn’t matter because they never go up there. Can you believe that? It makes me loathe New York City. But let’s move away from hateful thoughts. Here’s something funny and sooooooo Canadian…
Twenty minutes before game time, as I was walking through the seats, I saw a kid with a hockey goalie glove, and yes, he said he’d brought it to try to catch a foul ball:
I was tempted to give him one of my baseballs, but since he was sitting with three other kids, I didn’t want to do anything that would make the rest of them jealous, so I kept walking around and looking for a worthy recipient. After a few minutes I saw a little boy, probably about five years old, sitting between his parents, wearing a glove and Tigers gear. I walked up and asked him if he’d gotten a ball yet, and when he said no, I handed him the ball that Eddie Bonine had flipped up to me. It was the only ball I had in my possession with an MLB logo. All the others were International League balls. (The ball I’d caught in my hotel room was a real ball, but I didn’t take it with me.)
Right before the game, I got my sixth ball of the day tossed at the Tigers’ dugout by guess who? Mister Carlos Guillen. God forbid he ever has to pick out the perp in a police lineup.
On Opening Day, the attendance was 48,027. At the second game of the season, the crowd shrunk to 16,790, and that was the “paid” attendance. There’s no way there were that many people in the ballpark. Maybe the fact that there was no alcohol had something to do with it? Whatever the reason, it was great for me. I had endless room to run for foul balls, as you can see in the photo below (along with an arrow pointing to my hotel room):
The seats got a little more crowded during the middle innings, so I wandered up to the 500 Level. Can you spell D-E-S-O-L-A-T-E? Here’s the concourse behind the right field foul pole…
…and here are the empty seats. Note all the railings. Awful:
Here’s the view from the last row behind the plate:
I wish I’d taken photos of what happened next. There wasn’t an actual event, but rather just some good ol’ fashioned exploring. Let me try to describe it. As I was walking down one of the ramps from the 500 Level, I noticed a little alcove at one end, with some steps leading up to an
unmarked metal door. I looked around. No fans. No guards. No security camera. No sign saying “keep out” or “authorized personnel only.” Nothing like that. So, I walked up the steps (slice of pizza in hand) and peeked under the door. All I could see was that the area behind it was well lit. I had no idea what was there. Security? Media? Garbage? Storage? I didn’t even know if the door was locked, so I slowly pulled down on the latch handle, and it moved. I opened the door very slowly…then a little more…and a little more…and found myself in a short hallway, maybe 20 feet long, with another unmarked door at the other end. Weird!! I walked up to that door, and it was also unlocked. Surely there HAD to be a guard on the other side. But no. I opened it all the way and walked right through, and there wasn’t another human being in sight. Turned out I was in the exclusive 300 Level:
I walked through the narrow hallway, passed a few security cameras, and expected to be approached by stadium personnel within 60 seconds. But no. I passed a few employees (including a chef with a huge white hat) and no one said a word. Very strange. Easily one of my strangest stadium experiences ever. I wandered some more, took a few pics, and then found an elevator that deposited me in the 100 Level. Even if I had been caught, it’s not like I would’ve gotten in trouble, right? I wasn’t breaking any rules. I was just wandering. (That’s what I would’ve told the judge.) If they don’t want people to wander, then they should lock the doors and put up signs. Simple as that.
Anyway, I picked out a seat in the ultimate foul ball location…
…and it paid off in the bottom of the 8th inning. Marco Scutaro fouled off a 2-1 pitch from Brandon Lyon. The ball sailed 20 feet over my head, landed in the 200 Level, and bounced down into an empty row. Easy. And lucky. I won’t deny that. I pulled it right out of a folded seat.
After the game, which the Jays won, 5-4, on a walk-off sac fly by Rod Barajas, I caught up with Happy Youngster and invited him (and his dad) to check out my hotel room:
Did you notice the shirt he’s wearing? Last week it became a rather famous design. If you have 1 minute and 50 seconds to spare, check out this YouTube video, and note how many views it’s gotten.
• 7 balls at this game
• 13 balls in 2 games this season = 6.5 balls per game.
• 571 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 144 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 1,100 lifetime balls outside of New York (No. 1,100, pictured here on the right, was the Scutaro foul ball; much better than No. 1,000 which was the product of a cracked rib on 8/30/08 at Angel Stadium)
• 125 lifetime game balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)
• 26 lifetime game balls outside NYC
• 3,833 total balls
• 69 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $14.04 pledged per ball (and counting)
• $98.28 raised at this game
• $182.52 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
Finally, in case you’re interested, I taped a radio interview yesterday which is going to air this afternoon (April 8th) at around 4:15pm ET (but you might want to tune in at 4pm to be safe). The network is called Mile High Sports Online. Just visit the site and click the “listen now” button on the upper right, and you should be good to go. In case you miss it today (apologies for the short notice), my segment is supposed to re-air on Saturday, April 11th, at 10am ET.