4/24/09 at U.S. Cellular Field
The last time I visited this stadium, it was called Comiskey Park and my one-game record was just 14 balls. Now, a decade later, my simple goal for the day was to snag half that many and bring my lifetime total to 3,900.
I took the subway (or whatever it’s called here in Chicago) to the stadium. Four stops from my friends’ place. Fifteen minutes. Easy. This was the view from the platform after I got off the train:
The inside of U.S. Cellular Field (aka “The Cell”) had changed a bit in the last decade, but the outside is the same: UGLY. Still, I had a great time walking all the way around it and taking photos.
Down below, I’ve combined four photos into one image. Starting on the upper left and then going clockwise, you can see 1) the walk from the subway to the ticket windows, 2) the ticket windows, 3) me with the home plate gate in the background, and 4) the 1,450-foot Sears Tower way off in the distance.
What’s so ugly, you ask? Bland design, mainly. The stadium thinks it’s pretty and classy–like a woman who’s wearing too much makeup and carrying a (fake) designer handbag–but there’s really nothing to it. And to make matters worse, the surrounding area is desolate and boring.
Here’s another four-part pic. It shows 1) the fenced-off area past the right field gate, 2) the walk around the fence, 3) an empty area beyond that, and 4) a dead end:
I had to walk back in the direction I came from and then make a WIDE berth in order to keep going. Here’s the last four-part pic I’ll make you look at. It shows 1) a beautiful plastic bag stuck in a beautiful tree, 2) a sketchy stretch of road that turned into a sketchy alley, 3) the projects, and 4) another random stretch of required walking:
Am I the only baseball fan in North America that likes to walk all the way around stadiums and take photos? I mean, is it that strange to want to get a sense of the architecture and surrounding areas? I must be the only one who does this on the south side of Chicago because a police officer, sitting in his parked car, actually waved me over and demanded to know what I was doing.
I finally made it past the projects…
…and walked along the final edge the stadium. It looked like a boarded up construction zone:
Okay, enough with the outside of the stadium. I don’t want you to get depressed.
The right field gate opened at 5:40pm–just 90 minutes before game time. (Actually, game time was officially 7:11pm because the White Sox have a partnership with the 7-11 chain. Lovely.) That wasn’t going to give me much time to snag…maybe 45 minutes at the most. At a decent stadium with a not-too-large crowd, I’ll average about one ball for every ten minutes of batting practice. At a lousy stadium, I’ll snag a ball every 15 to 20 minutes, and at a great stadium, I might be able to get a ball every five minutes. Keep those numbers in mind.
As soon as I got inside, I sprinted up four ramps, showed my field level ticket to get past a security guard, bolted across the open-air concourse, and scurried down the steps toward the bullpen. JACKPOT!! There were two balls sitting there, waiting for me and my glove trick. My friend Kelly had told me that security at the Cell is extremely lax, and she was right. I reeled in the first ball with ease, and then I flung my glove out a few times to knock the second ball closer. While I was in the process of doing this, a security guard in the party deck down below saw what I was doing and gave me a strange look that could’ve been interpreted in any number of ways.
“Do you mind?” I asked innocently.
He shrugged and simply said, “Go for it.”
THAT is how a major league baseball stadium should be run. I’m not saying people should be allowed to dangle gloves there (or onto the field) during games, but jeez, what’s the big deal about doing it so early in the day when no one is around? I’m SO pleased to say that White Sox management has the right idea, and as a result, I’ll be rooting for the team (once I leave Chicago) and encouraging people to go to this stadium.
Here’s a look at the bullpen. I took this photo after I’d snagged the two balls, but you can see how awesome it is:
The bullpen in left field is even better because the seats behind it aren’t as high up. Check it out:
Did you notice that there are two balls in the photo above? The ball on the left was too far out, but the one on the right (just next to that coiled green hose) was all mine. Too easy.
Now, just to prove that I actually CAN catch batted balls, I made a nice play on a home run that was hit by a Blue Jays righty. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my left, so I cut through an empty row, and then as it was about to land in a small cluster of semi-clueless fans, I jumped and reached out to my left and plucked the ball out of the air, just above their outstretched arms. They weren’t pissed. If anything, they were impressed, and I heard one guy mumble something like, “He must’ve played high school ball.”
“College,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” he replied.
“Well, a little bit.”
“It shows,” he said, and I thanked him.
The White Sox fans were so nice, even though I was decked out in Blue Jays gear:
Throughout the entire course of the day, I only heard one “Blue Jays suck” directed at me, and the guy who said it was smirking in a friendly way. I explained that I’m not even a Jays fan, and he got a kick out of that. The photo above was taken by a guy whose name is also Zack. I got recognized by a few people during BP, so I can’t remember if he was the one who asked this, but at one point, when people saw me snagging balls left and right, someone was like, “Wait, are you THAT GUY?”
The person who asked this knew the deal, and I knew that he knew, so all I said was, “Yeah, I’m that guy.” He recognized me from the two home runs I caught on back-to-back nights last September at Yankee Stadium. Why? Because those homers were hit off White Sox pitching.
Anyway, I was in glove trick heaven. Look at this glorious gap behind the left field wall:
Several balls landed there, including this one which I reeled in for No. 5 on the day:
I used the trick to snag No. 6 from the bullpen, and I immediately noticed that it had a faint bat imprint. Check it out below. I wrote the “3899” because it was the 3,899th ball I’d ever snagged, but right below that, in the very middle of the ball, you can see the first two letters of a reversed TPX logo:
I love stuff like that.
Batting practice was still in full swing, so I knew I was going to reach 3,900. The only question was…how was I going to get it?
Five minutes later, someone on the Jays hit a home run that barely cleared the outfield fence. The gloveless fans in the front row reached out for it, and this was the result:
(Can you see why I was in heaven?)
No one else in the stadium had a ball-retrieving device (how is that possible?), but I still rushed over. The rubber band was already on my glove, so I stretched it into place and propped the glove open with my Sharpie and went in for the kill.
Whenever I snag a ball, I take a quick peek at it right away. Is it marked? Smudged? Stained? Mis-stamped? Lopsided? Is it a minor league ball? A commemorative ball? A training ball? Is there a weird pattern on it? Is there a gash? A bat imprint? I might not have a chance to label it for a few minutes, but at the very least, I take a moment to inspect it.
This is what I had just pulled out of the gap:
The Twins are using these balls in ’09 to commemorate the final season of the Metrodome. I’ve already booked a two-day trip to Baltimore next month for when the Twins will be there, and I was (emphasis on past tense) also planning on going to Yankee Stadium on May 15th when the Twins will be THERE. If I didn’t snag one of these balls at any of those games, I would’ve seriously had to consider going to Minnesota and buying a ticket in the front row behind the visitors’ dugout and snagging an effin’ third-out ball. Now I don’t have to, and it’s SUCH a relief.
Let me not overlook the fact that it really IS a nice logo. Compare it to the blandness of the Citi Field balls. See what I mean? The Twins ball has the name of the stadium. It has the “TC” logo (which stands for “Twin Cities,” in case you didn’t know.) It shows the whole stadium as opposed to a random little sliver of it. Bravo, Twins. Excellent design.
It didn’t occur to me when I booked this trip…and I just realized now…that the Blue Jays were IN Minnesota for four games last week. That explains it. DAMN I’m happy.
It was getting crowded toward the end of BP…
…but that didn’t stop me. Double digits, you ask? Read on…
Another ball landed in the gap, and as I was about to go for it, Brandon League jogged over to field a ball that had rolled nearby. I got him to toss me that one and then began what should have been the easy process of using the glove trick.
The ball was kinda underneath the overhang of the gap, so it took me about 30 seconds to knock it into plain view. Once I moved it a bit, I saw that it had the Twins commemorative logo! Ohmygod, I *had* to get it.
I got the ball to stick inside my glove, and as I was gently lifting it up, a hand reached out of nowhere from down in the gap and yanked my string, causing both the ball AND the Sharpie to fall out. What the–?!
I figured someone was just messing with me. Maybe a player had gone in there to get the ball? And maybe he was about to emerge and laugh at me and then toss me the ball and my marker? Nope…nothing. I yanked the glove back up, readjusted the band, pulled out another Sharpie (preparation, baby) and lowered the glove for a second attempt. Then…way off in the distance…far to the right, all the way at the end of the gap, a security guard started walking toward me, and when he saw what I was doing, he started walking faster. Come on, ball!! Go into the glove!! The guard was getting closer. Luckily for me, he was, shall we say, rather hefty and elderly. (He looked like Santa Claus, except he had a white mustache instead of a full beard.) He wasn’t moving fast, but he was gaining ground. I got the ball to go into the glove and started lifting it, and just then the guard made his best attempt to run toward me. He was like 50 feet away, and the glove was only a few feet off the ground. I only had a few seconds, and I was panicking. If I didn’t raise it fast enough, not only would he take the ball but he might cut my string and confiscate my glove. I had no idea. And if I raised the glove too fast, the ball would probably slip out. I kept raising it as fast as I could while keeping the whole operation
under control, and when the guard got very close, I started walking away from him along the front row. I was lifting the glove and keeping my distance at the same time. It was beautiful, but I wasn’t moving fast enough, and he swooped it and made a lunge for my glove, so I had no choice but to yank it up, and the ball stayed inside!!!
The guard was so pissed. I got far away from the front row, and I heard from the fans that he was still down there for the next 10 minutes, looking for me and asking everyone where I was.
I only managed to snag one more ball during BP. That gave me double digits. I got it with my glove trick in the left field corner, and I gave it to the nearest kid.
As for the game itself, there were two players whose potential home run balls I wanted to catch: Jim Thome because he’s a future Hall of Famer who’s already in the 500 Home Run Club and A.J. Pierzynski because he was sitting on 99 career homers. (Thanks to Happy Youngster for reminding me of that fact earlier in the day.) Unfortunately, neither of those guys went deep, and I wandered throughout the night.
This was my view in the top of the first inning:
Then I made my way out past center field…
…and picked a spot in a very crowded right field:
I tried playing for third-out balls behind the Jays’ dugout…
…but I kept having to leave and run back out to right field whenever Thome (batting cleanup) and Pierzynski (batting 7th) came up. It didn’t give me much of a chance to just sit and relax and watch the game, but that’s life.
By the middle of the 6th inning, the White Sox were losing, 12-0. I felt sorry for the fans, but it was great for me because the stadium cleared out.
After the 7th inning, when the Sox outfielders were warming up, right fielder Brian Anderson looked up into the crowd as if he were going to throw his ball to someone. I jumped up, moved through my (now) empty row, and waved my arms. He threw the ball right to me. Perfect aim. I was in the third row, and it barely cleared the people sitting in front of me. It was totally unexpected. I was just sitting out there in case someone (even Lyle Overbay or Travis Snider) happened to go yard, and I actually felt bad that I was missing opportunities for third-out balls at the dugouts…so this was great.
Despite the lopsided score, some Sox fans were still into the game:
The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the final three innings:
I’m definitely rooting for the Jays this year in the AL East. I obviously don’t want the Yankees to win it, and I’m getting pretty sick of the whole Red Sox Cult Bandwagon Nation. Now that Manny Ramirez isn’t in Boston, the only reason why I root for that team is because I don’t want the Yanks to finish in first place.
After the final out, I went down to the seats behind the Jays’ dugout and snagged a ball that was rolled to me across the roof. I have no idea who it came from. There was a cluster of players that disappeared from sight, and the ball came from one of them who had obviously seen me standing there with my my Jays gear. That ball–number 12 on the day–was rubbed up and had a big smudge:
I’ve caught dozens of foul balls like this during games, so I assume this one was game-used. I won’t count it as a gamer, of course, but it’s still cool to think about when/how it was used.
By the way, you do need a field level ticket to get into the field level at the Cell, but once you’re in, you’re totally free to go anywhere. I was able to walk down any staircase at any point in the day. Most staircases weren’t even guarded, and the few guards who were scattered around didn’t ask for my ticket. What a great stadium. Except for that one guard in the left field gap, I wouldn’t change a thing.
• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured here because I gave one away)
• 85 balls in 11 games this season = 7.7 balls per game.
• 580 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 150 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 3,905 total balls
• 91 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $17.27 pledged per ball
• $207.24 raised at this game
• $1,467.95 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball