It’s been a while since my last game, but no, I haven’t retired. (A few people have actually asked. I hope they were joking.) Here are seven games I know I’ll be attending in June:
JUNE 3 — Giants @ Nationals (Randy Johnson will be going for his 300th win.)
JUNE 9 — Mariners @ Orioles (It better not rain because…)
JUNE 10 — Mariners @ Orioles (…I already have tickets and a hotel room.)
JUNE 11 — Mariners @ Orioles (One goal for the trip: Aardsma. Guess why.)
JUNE 16 — D’backs @ Royals (Haven’t been to Kauffman since 2001.)
JUNE 17 — D’backs @ Royals (The newly renovated outfield seats look juicy.)
JUNE 18 — D’backs @ Royals (I’ll be joined on this trip by…wait-n-see.)
These are not the only seven games I’ll be attending in June. I might make an appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 2nd and/or June 8th and/or June 30th…and I’ll probably attend at least one of the Cardinals games at Citi Field from June 22-24.
Yesterday I got an email from a guy named Alan Schuster who’s a
software developer in Virginia. He has launched a new ballhawk web site
that he hopes “will bring together Ballhawks from around the country and provide a central location for Ballhawking stats.”
Here’s the link:
What do you think?
Mr. Schuster also wrote the following in his email:
“I am an avid baseball fan and although not a Ballhawk myself, I
spend time daily reading Ballhawking blogs. Having observed the detail
to which Ballhawks document their Ball Collections, months ago I
envisioned a website that would utilize a database of Ballhawking data,
allowing for quick entry of data, automatic updating of stats, and
complex database searches. I also envisioned the site functioning as a
central location for Ballhawks to not only publish their own ball
collection but to view others from around the country.
“I am happy to say that the site has come together exactly as I
envisioned it. Having the feel of a social networking site like
mySpace or Facebook, it allows Ballhawks to create a profile, upload
pictures, and record detailed Game data (teams,stadium,attendance,etc)
and Ball data (stadium,location,method used to obtain,etc). Website
visitors can quickly browse through member profiles while viewing
statistics and searching members’ ball collections.
“Please keep in mind that in no way do I want this site to replace
Ballhawks’ personal blogs, but rather supplement them. When entering
Game data, you can include a link to your blog entry for the game, and
hopefully your blog entry will also provide a link to your
myGameBalls.com page for that game.
“Please take some time to browse the site. I have set up a Demo member
page that demonstrates the powerful functionality that the site
provides. What is great about the site is that when a member enters
Game and Ball data, all of the statistics on his member page are
updated instantaneously. Also notice the powerful search capabilities,
especially with the “Advanced Search” function. Check out the FAQ page
for answers to some commonly asked questions.”
So yeah, what does everyone think about this? Is it cool? Is it lame? Should we all get behind it? Again, here’s the link:
I have a bunch of thoughts but I’m going to wait to hear everyone’s
opinions, and then I’ll respond in the comments section. Let me know if
you actually sign up and test out the site. That’s obviously the best
way to judge it.
In other news…
I decided to skip today’s Mets game for this reason:
Right now, it’s 4:51pm and sunny, so I’m feeling pretty stupid.
Next game for me? I don’t know. Maybe June 2nd at Yankee Stadium. Maybe June 3rd in Washington, D.C. And then I have a couple trips planned after that…
You know that new book I’m working on? The one about baseballs? Well, I still haven’t picked a title, but I’m glad to say that the whole thing is finally starting to take shape. It looks like the book will have three parts:
2) Historical & Factual Stuff
3) How To Snag Baseballs
I’m not sure what the three parts will end up being called (“Baseballs in the News” might make the final cut) but for now, at least I have an idea of how to organize everything.
This is a HUGE project, and I only have 10 more months to finish it. That’s why I haven’t attended any games in the past week. The weather’s been iffy here in NYC, so rather than going to Citi Field and taking a chance as to whether or not there’d be batting practice, I’ve just been staying at home and working on the book. I’m trying to average 100 hours of work on the book per month, and it’s not easy, especially during the baseball season.
So far I’ve written about 10,000 words–about three chapters in Part One–and as I mentioned before, the whole book has to be about 60,000 words. (Watching Baseball Smarter is about 64,000 words.)
This week I’ve been combing through a six-inch stack of ball-related articles from the Hall of Fame…so yeah, there’s lots of research involved here. (I just learned that Billy Hamilton once hit 29 consecutive foul balls!) But it’s fun.
Let me know if you have any ideas for the book, or if any crazy ball-related stories come to mind. I can’t promise what I’ll end up writing about, and even if I *do* write about something it might get cut by my editor, but it’s still early so anything’s possible.
I got an email the other day from a guy who created an elaborate statistical formula to predict how many baseballs I will snag at any given game. His name is Nic Shayko, and he describes himself as an “aspiring political pollster and a lover of baseball.” He wrote a fascinating entry about this formula on his blog, and you can check it out HERE.
I have two thoughts about all of this:
1) It’s really cool and I’m honored that Nic spent so much time analyzing my baseball-snagging.
2) The formula needs a bit of tweaking. If Nic can somehow factor in the times that the gates open–in other words how much batting practice I get at each stadium–the formula will be more accurate.
What do YOU think?
For months and months, I’ve been hearing that the seats from the old Yankee Stadium were going to be on sale for nearly $2,000 a pair, and I couldn’t believe it–not just from a financial standpoint, but because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that THE stadium was really going to be demolished. Well, yesterday, as my No. 4 train approached 161st Street, I got a glimpse inside and saw that the seats are indeed being pulled out:
It was strange and sad to see the field devoid of grass, and of course to see the seats stacked up on the field itself.
I headed over to Gate 6 and saw a couple familiar faces. In the photo below, I’m with Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments section) on the left and Eric (the ultimate bobblehead/autograph collector) on the right:
The stadium opened at 4pm (wow!) and to my delight, a few Yankees were already on the field, taking an early round of batting practice. I headed down to the right field seats…
…and noticed that there were more righties than lefties taking turns in the cage, so I ran around to the left field side. (I love being able to run behind the batter’s eye. It only takes a minute. At the old stadium, if you wanted to move from right field to left, you had to run all the way around home plate and then head back out along the foul line. It took such a long time that it usually wasn’t even worth it.) The seats were pretty much empty. I had two sections to myself out in left-center. I was all set for a monster day when a security guard came over (oh no…) and gave me advice on how to get a ball.
“Sometimes,” he said, “when they hit one to the wall and the player comes over to get it, you can get him to give it to you.”
Moments later, one of the righties connected on a deep fly ball that was heading to my left. I started running through the third row, then judged that the ball was going to fall a bit short, so while it was still in mid-air, I climbed down over a row of seats and lunged at the last second over another row for the thigh-high catch. (I have no idea who hit it.) I opened up my glove to take a look at the ball, hoping that it would be commemorative, but the sweet spot was facing up, so I grabbed the ball, not expecting much, and turned it over, and Oh My God:
It was a BRAND new commemorative ball. I mean, it was newer than new. Right-out-of-the-box new. One pitch, home run, into my glove, yay. That pretty much made my entire day right there. I figured I was going to end up snagging a bunch of these balls before the season was through, but I hadn’t gotten one yet and I was officially antsy.
I caught another homer on the fly in left field. So easy. All I had to do was move five feet to my right and reach up over a gloveless fan who was ducking.
Let me quickly say two things now so I won’t have to keep repeating myself:
1) Every ball I snagged yesterday except for that first one was standard.
2) I have no idea who hit any of the balls I got, so don’t ask.
The Yankees finished their early round of BP, and then the whole team came out to stretch and run along the right field foul line. I had a little time to kill, so I slowly made my way around the field level and stopped to take the following photo. It shows the gigantic/awful partition as well as the netting that protects the fancy seats:
FYI, the netting doesn’t stay up during the game–not that it matters because neither you nor I will ever get to sit there.
I met up with Brian along the right field foul line. He’d already snagged four balls, including one with the commemorative logo, but within the next 10 minutes, I tied his total for the day by snagging two more of my own. The Yankees had begun playing catch, and when they were wrapping up, I got one thrown (over the netting and partition) by Jose Veras and then got Nick Swisher to toss me another.
When this stadium opened last month, fans were not allowed into the field level seats without field level tickets, even during BP. Now that the Yankees have eased up on that moronic policy, anyone is allowed to get down close to the field (as it should be), at least until 5:40pm, and as a result, the seats were packed while the Yankees were hitting:
The sun was brutal in right field, so if you’re planning to spend any time out there during BP, you better wear a cap and/or sunglasses. I managed to catch another home run out there–my fifth ball of the day–when everyone around me got blinded and ducked out of the way at the last second. (I’m sure my own retinas suffered some damage, but whatever, it was worth it.) The ball was hit by a righty (mighta been Jeter). I was in the third or fourth row, and it was falling short and tailing to my left, so I scooted down the steps, hopped over a knee-high metal bar, stepped into a little open area (which is probably meant to be a camera well), and made the catch. I was proud of myself for that one because it actually required some skill.
At 5:40pm, security kicked everyone out of the seats who didn’t belong there. I changed into my bright orange “RIPKEN 8″ shirt and found my way into the left field seats. Amazingly, I didn’t get a single ball thrown to me by the Orioles, but I did catch another homer. Nothing fancy about it. I had to move about 20 feet through an empty row, and after I made the catch, a security guard (there were about two dozen guards out there) complimented me for having gotten a great jump on the ball, and he asked me if I ever played. I told him I played some college ball and that I could probably play left field better than Johnny Damon. He laughed, but I was serious.
Then something really bad happened…
I was so upset about this that I considered leaving the stadium and just going home. I actually had to leave the seats for 10 minutes DURING BATTING PRACTICE to deal with it. I had to wrap up my cell phone in some plastic bags from a souvenir stand because it was overheating, and I went to the bathroom and got some paper towels to put around the commemorative ball. It was a true disaster.
The rest of the night? Whatever. I stayed for the game, but I was too bothered by everything that had happened to enjoy it.
Adam Jones was one of four players who came out to play catch before the game started…
…and I managed to get him to toss me the ball on his way in. (He’s now the eighth “Jones” to have thrown me a ball, joining Andruw, Bobby J., Bobby M., Brandon, Chipper, Chris, and Todd. This is important stuff. Only the Johnsons have more entries on my master list.)
Another thing the Yankees messed up was the info on the jumbotron. Brian Roberts is NOT 25:
I sat behind the dugout during the game and proudly wore my orange Ripken shirt:
I was hoping for a third-out ball, but the players kept tossing them to a specific little girl in the front row. She ended up getting SIX balls. It was so ridiculous the way she kept getting them that all the fans around her kept throwing their arms up in disgust every time she got another. Who ARE these kids, and how the hell do they get to sit down there? Whatever. I shouldn’t be complaining. I did fine for myself, and as Mariano Rivera put the finishing touches on the Yankees’ ninth straight win, I handed a brand new ball to a little boy who’d been wearing a glove and sitting near me all night. The way his face lit up…let’s just say it brought some nice closure to an otherwise unsettling day.
• 8 balls at this game
• 4 gorgeous, gold-stamped ticket stubs collected at this game, pictured on the right. (These are for the seats right next to the 3rd base dugout.)
• 190 balls in 24 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 593 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 474 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 131 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball
• 4,010 total balls
• 106 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $23.95 pledged per ball
• $95.80 raised at this game
• $4,358.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
One final thing…and normally I wouldn’t do this…but it’s for a friend who did an incredible set of favors for me, and by extension those favors helped me snag more balls for the charity, so I owe her. Remember Kelly from Chicago? She’s the Cubs fan who let me crash at her place last month. She gave me her season tickets (for free!) to Wrigley Field on April 21st and 23rd and drove me back to Chicago after that game in Milwaukee. Yes? Remember now? Anyway, she asked me to help spread the word about a contest that she’s in. If she wins, she’ll get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley (something she’s always dreamed of) and she needs everyone’s help. All she has to do is get the most people to sign up for a Cubs-related newsletter, and she’s currently in the lead. There’s a new restaurant inside Wrigley called the Captain Morgan Club. Kelly says:
“Please go HERE and sign up for the Captain Morgan newsletter (you can easily unsubscribe later). Put firstname.lastname@example.org in the “Who Referred You” field. Ideally, you can just use an old email address to sign up, but make sure it’s still active because you have to click a link in a confirmation email for your entry to count. This email will most likely go into your junk folder, but it will come from Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, so you can easily find it. Don’t forget to go in there and click the activation link, or your entry won’t count!!”
A couple weeks ago, when I decided to snag my 4,000th ball at Dodger Stadium, I called the Dodgers and suggested that they do a story about it. I told them I was gonna be there on May 18th and that they needed some good press in the wake of Manny being Juiced. The Dodgers didn’t give me an answer right away, of course, but ultimately they decided to go for it.
The day got off to a shaky start when my taxi driver not only revealed he didn’t know where Dodger Stadium was (he was foreign and had only been driving for two weeks), but he unhooked his GPS device from the dashboard and handed it to me. And then there was traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. I was due at the stadium by 4:15pm for an interview before the gates were going to open, and for a while it looked like I was going to be late. Thankfully, though, the snagging gods smiled down upon me and got me there with a few minutes to spare.
I met up with a P.R. guy named Jon and a cameraman named Paul. They conducted the interview right outside the entrance to the Dodgers offices:
This is what it looked like from my point of view:
Why the camera? Because the Dodgers decided to do a segment about me for a kids show on their web site.
Jon asked a ton of questions–everything from “How did you get started doing this?” to “Have you ever missed an important event because of going after baseballs?” to “What advice would you give to kids who want to start a collection of balls?” He even gave me a chance to talk about how I’m snagging baseballs for charity this season. (Hopefully that part will make the cut.)
We wrapped up the interview at around 4:45pm, then headed inside for a minute…
…and finally made our way down toward the left field pavilion:
(Dodger Stadium sits on top of a hill and is surrounded by parking lots and ramps and roads and tollbooths and staircases. It is BY FAR the most colossal and confusing and difficult stadium in baseball. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, all these pics of me were taken by my mom. She and my dad went early with me.)
The following four photos were taken outside the pavilion. Starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) hanging out with an up-and-coming L.A. ballhawk named Evan (whom you might remember from 8/25/08 at Shea Stadium and 8/26/08 at Yankee Stadium), b) posing with a Manny fan named Jose who asked if he could get a pic with me, c) reconnecting with a legendary ballhawk named John Witt who can be seen giving me a commemorative ball from the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and d) waiting to enter:
(For the record, I will NOT count the ball that John gave me in my collection, but it’s still nice to have.)
The stadium finally opened at 5:10pm and the camera followed me inside:
I started the day with a lifetime total of 3,998 balls, so I *had* to snag at least two more. Normally that wouldn’t have been much of a challenge–I’ve been averaging eight balls per game this season–but in this case, I felt a whole lot of pressure. Here’s why:
1) I was going to be trapped all day in the left field pavilion, so once BP ended, that was pretty much it. No pre-game warm-up balls. No foul balls. No third-out balls. No post-game balls.
2) Paul (the cameraman) was going to have to leave at 6pm to do another interview.
3) Jon (the P.R. guy) didn’t want me to be decked out in Mets gear when I snagged ball No. 4,000. This meant I needed to snag two balls during the first half-hour when the Dodgers would be on the field.
4) I was hoping that ball No. 4,000 (and even No. 3,999) would be a home run and NOT a thrown ball.
5) There was no chance to use my glove trick.
6) TWELVE additional family members were going to be showing up later, including three kids (ranging in age from 7 to 11) who had each asked me to catch a ball for them.
You know how many home runs reached the seats during the Dodgers’ portion of batting practice? ONE!!! And it wasn’t hit anywhere near me. I had no choice but to ask the players for balls–but even THAT didn’t work. The highlight of my begging occurred when I asked Hiroki Kuroda for a ball in Japanese and he responded by smiling at me.
The Mets took the field, and I had *zero* baseballs. What the hell was I supposed to do? I only had 20 minutes of camera-time remaining, so I asked Jon if I could put on my Mets gear.
“Do whatever you would normally do,” he said.
So I did:
In the photo above, you can see a second camera (a palm-corder) pointed at me. It was being operated by a freelance videographer named Angela who was there to get footage for the FLYP segment that I was originally filmed for on 5/12/09 at Citi Field. Now I really *really* had to snag two baseballs. I couldn’t wait around for home runs. I had to use the Mets gear to my advantage, so I headed down toward the front row and camped out on a staircase in left-center field:
The player closest to me was the ultra-quiet John Maine. I wasn’t expecting much, but I gave a shout anyway when a ball was hit near him, and to my surprise he threw it to me! Then I took a look at the ball and I was even more surprised. In fact, I was downright elated, thrilled, and ecstatic. Check it out:
Unbelievable. I attended Game 4 of the 2008 World Series and busted my butt all night to try and get a third-out ball, and I came up empty…and I was seriously bummed…so to end up snagging this ball totally unexpectedly seven months later was more than a dream come true, if that’s even possible.
The cameras were all over it…
…and then came the moment of truth. I was sitting on 3,999 so the next ball was going to be THE ball. David Wright stepped into the cage, and I had visions of a home run ball sailing into my glove, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t want to ask for my next ball. I wanted to wait until I caught a home run. Anyone’s home run. Even Ramon Castro. But there weren’t many balls leaving the yard. Six o’clock was approaching. Jon and Paul were each on their cell phones, asking Whoever for a few more minutes. I *had* to snag another ball, and I had to snag it FAST, so I called out to Livan Hernandez, who fielded a ball in center field. Livan scooped it up, looked over at me, and let it fly from more than 100 feet away. I was halfway down the stairs. The ball was falling a bit short. I leaned way out over the side railing of the staircase and reached out and made the back-handed catch. That was it!!!
Then I thought, “That was IT?!”
It didn’t happen the way I envisioned it. Not even close. Not only had I let down the camera crew by wearing my Mets gear, but the ball hadn’t been hit, and most of my family wasn’t even there yet to witness it…BUT…at least I got it. I’d reached my milestone, and that’s what mattered most.
I showed the ball to both cameras:
Did you notice in the photo above that the ball doesn’t have a standard MLB logo?
Oh yes, that’s right, it was a commemorative ball from the final season of Shea Stadium. Check it out:
The next thing I did was take a photo from my spot on the staircase. I wanted to show the area between the outfield wall and the seats. There was quite a lot of space down there…
…and I used it to catch my next ball. I’m not sure who hit it, but basically, it was a home run that barely cleared the left field wall. While the ball was in mid-air, I scurried down the steps and kept my eye on it and made a one-handed catch high over my head when I got to the bottom. Both cameras captured the whole thing, and then Paul and Jon had to take off.
The ball had a weird marking on it:
Have you ever seen anything like this? It’s like there’d been a round sticker on the ball that had been pulled off and left a papery residue.
Toward the end of BP, I got Brian Stokes to toss up a ball, but instead of facing me and throwing it like a normal human being, he nonchalantly flung it in a sidearm/submarine motion. As a result, the ball sailed high and wide and hit a fat woman, who was eating nachos just above me in the front row. The ball wasn’t thrown that hard, and it only hit her in the arm. She was stunned more than hurt. She truly didn’t even know what had hit her, and obviously she wasn’t there to snag, so I didn’t feel guilty about reaching under her bench and grabbing the ball. Anyway, I was going to be giving that ball away to a kid in my own family, so whatever, I had to go for it. Angela was still there, and she got the whole thing on film.
After BP, I caught up with a guy named Chris (aka “cjpyankee” in the comments section on this blog). He and I had met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium, but this time he was more prepared. He had me sign his copy of my first book, and he also had me sign a photo of the two of us from that game in the Bronx. I signed his book: “To Chris, the fan who was closest to me when I snagged ball No. 4,000…” or something like that. He was indeed a mere five feet away when I caught that low throw from Livan. Here I am with Chris:
That was Chris’s idea to do the 4-0-0-0 in the photo above. Very cool.
This was my view when the game started:
No disrespect to Juan Pierre, but I was really bummed not to be seeing Manny out there in left field all night.
Angela was still there, and she kept her camera on me, just in case…
…but aside from a few between-inning-warm-up balls that got tossed near me, there wasn’t any action.
During one inning break, I got a photo with Evan (pictured below on the left) and John (on the right):
The reason I was wearing this yellow Homer Simpson shirt was just so my people back home in NYC could have an easier time trying to spot me on TV.
As for my family, they’d been trickling into the bleachers at various times. By the end of the second inning, everyone was there. I really wanted to get a group photo, but it was impossible. We had five seats in the front row and ten seats in the fourth row, so we couldn’t even sit together. That said, this is the best I could do:
I claimed the aisle seat in the front row. This was the view to my right:
Perfect for running down the steps and catching a home run, but as I mentioned, nothing came anywhere near me.
As for the issue of there being three kids who each wanted a ball, let me just say (without going into the details) that my friend John snagged a ball during BP, and that his ball ended up in my possession, so between that one and the final two standard balls I had snagged from the Mets, I was able to take care of all the kids.
Here’s Armand and Hannah with their baseballs:
(I taught them how to hold the balls so that the logos face the camera.)
The game itself was devastatingly entertaining, and it all came down to the 11th inning. First, in the top of the frame, Ryan Church scored the apparent go-ahead run on an apparent two-out triple by Angel Pagan…BUT…Church neglected to touch 3rd base on his way to the plate and the run was taken off the scoreboard. Then, in the bottom of the inning, after the Mets’ fourth error of the night placed runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Brian Stokes intentionally walked Pierre to load the bases. (Half my family was gone by this point. The little ones had to get to sleep. They were worn out from a full day at the Universal Studios theme park. Even I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done anything all day except read the box scores and eat at In-and-Out burger.) Mets manager Jerry Manual waved in center fielder Carlos Beltran and brought him into the infield. Look at the following photo. I challenge you to find more than two outfielders:
Here’s a closer look at the infield. (My camera is good, but not THAT good, so it’s a little blurry. Sorry about that.) You can see Beltran (wearing No. 15) standing near second base:
Here are all three right-infielders in ready position:
I *love* baseball. That’s really all I can say. I mean…seriously, what a great game. This particular game, however, wasn’t great for the Mets. After Rafael Furcal flied out weakly to Pagan, Orlando Hudson hit a one-hopper to Jeremy Reed at first base. (Reed is playing for the injured Carlos Delgado). Reed threw home for what should’ve been an easy force-out. His throw beat the runner by about 30 feet, and in fact there might’ve even been time to turn a rare 3-2-3 double play. Or maybe a 3-2-4 double play? I don’t know, Hudson has some speed, but we’ll never know what would’ve happened–if the game would’ve gone into the 12th inning–because Reed’s throw was 10 feet up the 3rd base line. (Mets error No. 5.) The catcher had no chance to knock it down, let alone catch it, and Mark Loretta scampered home with the winning run. It was an ugly and exhilarating end to a day I’ll never forget.
I wanted to linger in the pavilion and bask in my post-game euphoria and take a bunch of photos, but a swat team of security guards descended upon my family and made us get the hell out. The seven us who remained did manage to get this photo together…
…and yes, that ball I’m holding is No. 4,000.
Six years ago, when I snagged my 2,000th ball, I decided to start marking the balls with teeny numbers so I’d always be able to remember which ball was which. At the time, some people said it was silly, even pointless, to start marking balls after I’d already snagged so many, and I remember telling them, “It might seem silly now, but some day, when I have 4,000 balls, I’ll be able to say that the first half of my collection is not marked and the second half is. It won’t sound quite so silly then.”
Well, I’ve reached the 4,000 ball plateau, and it feels great on a number of levels. I have no intention of slowing down, and I’m already pretty sure I’m going to snag No. 5,000 at Citi Field. I need to bring the next milestone back to New York City. But for now, my next goal is to pass Pete Rose on the all-time hits list.
That’s my next goal. I might even be able to get there this year.
Thank you all for being with me on this journey…
• 4 balls at this game
• 182 balls in 23 games this season = 7.9 balls per game.
• 592 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 159 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 4,002 total balls
• 106 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $23.95 pledged per ball
• $95.80 raised at this game
• $4,358.90 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
As many of you already know, I’m raising money for charity this year by getting people to make small pledges for every ball I snag. The money is going to a charity called Pitch In For Baseball, which provides baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. So far, I’ve gotten 104 pledges ranging from one penny per ball up to one dollar. In 22 games so far this season, I’ve snagged 178 balls (including batting practice) and raised over $3,600.
If you’re thinking about making a pledge, or if you just want to read more about this, click here.
Another way to help this charity is to buy a children’s book called A Glove of Their Own.
I have a copy, and let me tell you…it’s very touching and the whole thing is beautifully illustrated. If you have a young child (especially
one who loves baseball), you should pick up a copy, and when you do, Pitch In For Baseball will receive a $3 contribution. (You can see the
Pitch In For Baseball logo on the cover.) The publisher of this book is Franklin Mason Press, and if you go to this page on their web site, all you have to do is click the “Add To Cart” button
and then select the charity code “PIF-129″ from the pull-down menu. You’ll end up with a great book, and Pitch In For Baseball will receive three bucks in the process. This book has gotten a lot of positive press. The Yogi Berra Museum has even gotten involved to help promote it. Do a Google search for it and you’ll see how many other people and organizations are on board.
In other charity news…
Pitch In For Baseball recently orchestrated a huge equipment drive for the children in northwest Baghdad. The project was called “Operation Homerun” and it was a joint effort with the U.S. Military, the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sport, and MLB International.
I want to share an email about this (that was recently forwarded to me) from a member of the military. Here it is, and then keep scrolling down to see the photos that he attached…
From: Browne, Conor 1LT 2-1 ID S-9 OIC
Sent: Thursday, May 07, 2009 8:56 AM
Cc: Auld, Todd LTC 2/1 ID S-9; Greco, Dennis MAJ 403rd CA BN A Company
Commander; Faulkner, Kone MAJ 2-1 STB PAO; Beckert, Christopher LTC 2/1 ID
Subject: Operation Homerun: Baseball in Baghdad
I hope all is well in the States. It was a great day for the “Dagger Brigade.” This morning Soldiers from D Troop 5/4 Cavalry and A Company 403 Civil Affairs Battalion delivered equipment donated from “Pitch in for Baseball.” Mr Fahkri, a deputy in the Ministry of Youth and Sport, had invited about 40 children to the equipment drop off. As part of the delivery the soldiers gave a quick demonstration of the new equipment that would be shared by the Northwest Baghdad youth centers. Mr. Fahkri said that they would be forming a league and we would be invited to the first exhibition game once they have had enough time to practice. It was a great opportunity for the soldiers. And while there was some tentative children, many of them were picking up the game quickly and showed a true interest in the sport. I’ve collected and attached a bunch of the pictures that were taken during the distribution. Our public affairs team plans on writing a story on the event. When they’re finished, we’ll make sure you get a copy of the article. It was a long process to get the equipment into the hands of some kids. But interest, by the Youth and Sport personnel and the children, in making the most of the equipment was very promising. Thank you so much to your organization and for your personal support for this endeavor.
LT Conor Browne
Assistant Civil Military Operations Officer 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry
Division Camp Liberty, Baghdad, Iraq
In other non-charity news…
I’m flying to L.A. tomorrow. I’ll be at Dodger Stadium on May 18th, and I’m planning to snag my 4,000th ball that day during batting practice in the left field pavilion. If you’re in the area, come on out and say hi. It might end up being a crazy day, so it’s hard to predict what’s gonna happen to me once the game starts, but as things stand now, I’m planning to be in the LF pavilion, pretty much in straight-away left field, perhaps shaded a bit toward the foul pole. My seat is in the 4th row, but I might move around if there are empty seats nearby. FYI, I’m planning to wear my Homer Simpson t-shirt during the game, not because I think it’s fashionable, but because the Dodgers will be playing the Mets and I want everyone in NYC to be able to look for me on TV. (Consider it a little game within the game.)
On a final note, my friend and fellow ballhawk Nick Yohanek (aka “The Happy Youngster”) has really gotten screwed by both the Marlins and the media, and now he’s getting bashed mercilessly as a result. Check out the Associate Press story about him (note Coghlan’s absurdly dishonest quote in the 4th paragraph) and then read Nick’s version of the story on his blog. Wow.
As a native New Yorker, I’ve been conditioned not to talk to strangers or even make eye contact with them, so when I got on the subway yesterday to go to Citi Field and heard some guy ask a question about Johan Santana, I ignored it. It was a silly question anyway: “What happened with Johan last night? He just didn’t have it?”
Of course Johan HAD it. Sure, he suffered the loss, but–
Suddenly it occurred to me that since I was wearing a Mets cap and a Shea Stadium shirt, the Johan chatter might have been directed my way, so I looked up and sure enough the guy was staring right at me.
“Really,” said the guy with enthusiastic surprise. “I didn’t get to watch the game. I only heard a little bit on the radio.”
We ended up talking for the next five minutes. He asked me if I’d been to Citi Field, and what I think of the new Yankee Stadium, and how I get to go to so many games. Each question led to another and another, so finally I just came right out and explained my whole deal with snagging baseballs.
“How ’bout you?” I asked. “What do YOU do?”
“I’m an actor,” he said.
“Oh…cool,” I replied, not knowing how to follow that up with anything insightful or intelligent. All I could think of was that he was young-ish, outgoing, good looking, and well dressed, so his answer made sense.
“I was on the Sopranos for four years,” he said.
“Seriously?! Wow, forgive me, I’m clueless when it comes to pop culture and the media and celebrities.”
“No problem,” he said.
“So…people come up to you all the time and know who you are?”
“Yeah,” he said, “especially at Mets games for some reason.”
“What’s your name?”
What did he say? Jano…what? There was another syllable at the end, but I didn’t quite catch it, and I didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of myself by asking him to spell it, so I just said I’d look him up later. I asked if he had any projects currently in the works, and he named a couple movies including “Taking Woodstock.”
I gave him my card, and we shook hands and parted ways when the train pulled into Times Square.
I have since looked him up, and his name is Will Janowitz. Has anyone heard of him? Here’s his page on IMDb.
My trek to Queens on the #7 train was less eventful. I sat in the last car, ate two slices of pizza, and wrote a page in my neglected journal. Then, after getting out at the Mets/Willets Point stop, I headed downstairs and walked over to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
Who was there? Three important people:
1) My friend Greg (aka “gregb123″) in the comments section.
2) My friend Donnie (aka “donnieanks”).
3) A 60-ish-year-old man named David Ross (not to be confused with the 31-year-old David Ross who plays for the Braves) who’s an editor for an “online rich media magazine” called FLYP.
David was there to interview me (with a very small HD video camera), and he got started right away. I handed my camera to Greg and asked him to take a few photos of me. He took four, and I look ridiculous in all of them, only because I was either blinking or in mid-syllable. (At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself). Here’s the least bad of the four photos:
See what I mean? Ridiculous. But at least it gives you an idea of what was going on.
I raced out to the left field seats when the gates opened at 4:40pm, and Gary Sheffield greeted me by scorching a line-drive homer to left-center. I was the only one out there (Greg and Donnie had positioned themselves closer to the foul pole), and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch it on the fly, so I just prayed that it wouldn’t ricochet back onto the field. Thankfully, the ball stayed in the seats and rolled down into the front row. I pulled out my camera, looked over my shoulder, and saw Donnie give me a nod as if to say, “Go ahead and take your damn photo. I’m not gonna run over there and steal the ball from you.”
Here’s the photo:
Is that a nice sight or what?
By the way, that ball had last year’s Yankee Stadium commemorative logo on it. Pretty nifty. And random. Obviously there are a bunch of extras floating around.
A minute later, with David’s camera pointed at me, I caught a homer on the fly and robbed the 6-foot-5 Donnie in the process. Donnie was cool with it. I hadn’t boxed him out or slammed into him. It was a clean play all the way. As soon as the ball was hit, I stepped down into the row in front of him, then drifted laterally as the ball approached, and made a leap at the last second. If it had been a couple feet higher, or if he’d run down into the row in front of me, he would’ve had it. That’s how we do it in New York City. If you can catch a batted ball, you go for it. Period. You don’t back off (as the uber-polite guys at Coors Field do) just because someone else is camped under it. In New York, there’s ALWAYS someone else camped under it. It’s a real competition, not a family softball game. That’s what makes it fun, and of course Donnie was a true gentleman about it.
You know who wasn’t a gentleman? A security guard out in center field who stopped me from using the glove trick to reel in the following ball:
I flung the glove out and knocked it closer, and after I’d moved the ball to a spot right below me, he started shouting and then walked out onto the batter’s eye and snatched it. Not cool. I could understand if security wanted to stop me from pulling up a ball off the warning track, but in the dead area behind the outfield wall? Really?! Good job, Mets. Way to train your employees. Tell them to focus on stealing balls from fans (and money from charity) instead of making sure that there aren’t razor blades out in the open in the seating areas. Yeah, that’s right, I found one sitting on the steps in left-center. Unbelievable. Welcome to Citi Field, everybody. Come see the Mets and die.
My third ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez, and it tailed a foot or two to my left. After I reached out and caught it, I realized that it had been intended for the woman standing next to me, so I handed it to her…and yes, it counts as part of my collection. Both Greg and Donnie said it was fair to count it, as did my friend Brad who’s the ultimate voice of reason when it comes to ballhawk-related issues. If Livan had pointed to the woman before throwing the ball, I would’ve stepped aside and let her catch it, but since it wasn’t obvious when he first let it fly (from a distance of about 75 feet), I decided to go for it.
That was it for the Mets’ portion of BP, and I didn’t get anything during the first 20 minutes that the Braves were on the field. Slow day. I was nervous. I’d started the day with a lifetime total of 3,989 balls, and I was planning to snag No. 4,000 in Los Angeles six days later. In fact, by this point, it wasn’t merely a plan–it was a promise. I’d already spoken to someone with the Dodgers and guaranteed that I would snag No. 4,000 at Dodger Stadium on May 18th. This game at Citi Field was going to be my last before flying to the west coast, so I *needed* to snag at least a few more balls. Ideally, I wanted to snag about seven or eight. That would’ve left me three or four balls short of the milestone–just the right amount to create a little suspense but not so short that I’d be nervous about failing to reach it. Even if I only snagged six balls at this game, I felt like I could still probably find a way to snag five at Dodger Stadium, but I didn’t want to take that chance…so yeah, I needed four or five MORE balls in addition to the three I’d already snagged from the Mets.
Tim Hudson flipped one up without looking. I was in the crowded front row, and as soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was going to sail over my head, so I started climbing over the seats, and when the it plunked down (thankfully there was no one behind me), I was right in position to grab it. Phew! That was ball No. 4.
This is how crowded the seats were at that point:
As you can see, it was packed near the foul pole, but there was some room to run in left-center. Of course, there’s a reason for all that room, namely the distance (well over 400 feet) that a batter would have had to hit the ball to clear the 16-foot wall to the right of the “384”
Toward the end of BP, Jeff Francoeur launched a deep drive to my left. I darted across an entire section before anyone else even budged, and I was able to grab that ball off the ground. Hell yes. I was approaching my recommended daily allowance of balls…and then I reached it. Martin Prado tossed me ball No. 6 (I later gave that one away to a kid) and I felt relieved. I was almost certain that I’d find a way to snag at least one more ball, but even if I didn’t, at least I was only five away from the Promised Land.
That was it for BP.
David interviewed me for a bit before the game, and then we moved to our very good seats (courtesy of FLYP) behind the Braves’ dugout.
First inning? Nothing.
Second inning? Dead.
Third inning? Nada.
But in the middle of the fourth inning, I got Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard to toss me the infield warm-up ball.
Sweeeeeet! That was my seventh ball of the day. I was SET. As far as No. 4,000 was concerned, I didn’t need to snag anything else, but of course I kept at it because a) I can’t be at a baseball game and NOT try to use my glove, and b) I still wanted to raise money for Pitch In For Baseball.
The fifth inning came to an end when Mike Pelfrey hit a weak grounder up the middle. Yunel Escobar fielded it, stepped on second base to force out Omir Santos, and threw me the ball as he approached the dugout. It was a thing of beauty (and not just because it was commemorative). Escobar was a full section to my left, but he spotted my Braves gear and tossed the ball JUST high enough to clear the reaching hands of the fans next to me. If they had even a three-inch vertical leap, I would’ve been out of luck. (Not that I’m an Olympian or anything, but I’m always amazed at how unathletic people are.) Anyway, in case you’ve lost count, that was my 8th ball of the day. Now, just three balls away from 4,000, I was really *really* set.
Although this might be hard to believe, the highlight of the game was NOT Carlos Beltran’s extra-inning walk-off walk. No sir. The highlight (and I forget the exact moment at which it occurred) was when a fan ran out onto the field wearing nothing more than a Mets rally monkey. Seriously…he was naked except for…the monkey. The guy ran out into the infield, made a rather graceful foot-first slide into second base (ouch), and was apprehended by security soon after:
The photo above was taken by Donnie (my camera…don’t ask) and it’s not even the best photo he got. If you want to see the real zinger, you’ll have to check out his blog entry about this game. So funny! On Donnie’s blog, you can actually read what’s written on the guys’ stomach.
The game itself was truly exciting. For most of the last two innings, everyone in the stadium was standing, and in the following photo, you can see Fernando Tatis getting plunked by Mike Gonzalez:
After the game (which the Mets won, 4-3), I couldn’t resist trying to get a ball from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher…and I succeeded.
I almost felt bad about ruining the suspense of ball No. 4,000. Now there’s really no question about whether or not I’ll get it on May 18th at Dodger Stadium. The only question is…how will I get it? (And also how far past 4,000 will I go?)
As for the FLYP interview, I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but hopefully I’ll have an update within the next week or two.
• 178 balls in 22 games this season = 8.09 balls per game.
• 591 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 473 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 343 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 3,998 total balls
• 104 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $20.70 pledged per ball
• $186.30 raised at this game
• $3,684.60 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
The worst thing about my dad is that he’s not *really* a baseball fan. He follows the sport by reading about it sporadically in The New York Times sports section, and he’ll watch a few games on TV here and there, but that’s about it. Still, he goes with me to the occasional game, and this was one of them.
As we rode out to Citi Field on the No. 7 train, I showed him the Braves roster that I had printed. The roster didn’t say “Braves” on it, and I hadn’t told him who the Mets were playing.
“Which team is this?” he asked in all seriousness as he began looking at it. Then he spotted Derek Lowe’s name and said, “Is he with Boston? Are we seeing Boston?”
But hey, at least my dad knew that Lowe WAS with Boston at one point…right?
My dad looked at the rest of the roster and pointed out all the other players he had heard of. There were three: Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, and Casey Kotchman (because Casey’s father Tom managed the Boise Hawks when I worked for them in 1995).
Garret Anderson and his 2,377 career hits? Nah.
Then my dad and I made a list of all the major league ballparks he’d been to, and we came up with ten: Shea, Yankee, Fenway, Veterans, Fulton County, Candlestick, Bank One, the new Comiskey, Citizens Bank…and Sportsman’s Park…he thinks. That’s where the St. Louis Browns played in the first half of the 20th century, and he remembers seeing the one-armed Pete Gray.
As our train approached Citi Field, my dad said, “It’s weird for me to be out here and see this. It doesn’t feel like New York.”
(Amen to that.)
One thing that was really cool to see, however, was that the Mets had finally marked the spots in the parking lot where the bases at Shea Stadium used to be. (Big thanks to my friend Gary for giving me a heads-up about this.) Here I am with my dad near home plate…
…and here’s a closer look it:
Here’s first base…
…and here’s where the mound used to be:
It gave me chills to toe the “rubber” and think about the fact that I was standing in the very same place as Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver and Heath Bell and so many other legendary Mets pitchers.
Then, of course, I had to go through the motions of making a full windup and delivery:
We headed back to Citi and my dad noticed the “Fan Walk” bricks:
If he had a brick, he said it would read as follows:
I CAN’T BELIEVE I PAID FOR THIS
His reaction to the stadium itself was simple: “That’s a big mother.”
We took a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and he gave a mixed review.
On Robinson: “Too bad he wasn’t a Met. They borrowed history ’cause they got nothing else.”
On the rotunda itself: “It has a 19th century look and modern look. I like it.”
So there you have it, and if anyone knows about the 19th century…well, my dad isn’t THAT old, but he was born in 1926.
As for batting practice, there was a little more competition than usual because three guys from my blog–Greg, Gary, and Donnie–were all there. Between the four of us, we basically had left field covered, and yet we still managed to stay out of each other’s way for the most part.
My first ball was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field, and my second ball was a Gary Sheffield homer that rattled around in the seats and caused an all-out scramble. I happened to beat out a guy named Tony for that one. Tony recognized me from this blog, and soon after he asked if we could take a picture together:
My dad and I both had cameras, and he followed me around during BP and snapped a bunch of pics.
My third ball was tossed by pitcher Sean Green in right-center, and then my dad got a photo of me shortly before I snagged ball No. 4. Jose Reyes hit a home run that landed in the Mets’ bullpen, and after waiting patiently at the side railing for about five minutes…
…I got Mike Pelfrey to toss it up.
The Braves took the field (so I changed into my Braves gear) and used my glove trick to pluck two balls off the warning track in left field. Here I am going for the second one:
Omar Infante threw me my 7th ball of the day. I had to lean WAY over the railing for that one, which was a bit scary considering the wall in left field is like half a mile high.
My eighth and final ball of BP was a home run hit by a righty on the Braves. It bounced off some fans’ hands, plopped down into the front row, and I snatched it as other people were about to reach for it. As soon as I looked up, I noticed that there was a little girl standing right in front of me–with a glove!!–so I asked her if she’d gotten a ball yet, and when she said no, I handed it over. Even though I was decked out in Braves gear, everyone in the section cheered like hell, which was nice, and then I explained that I’m not even a Braves fan.
It might sound like BP was hoppin’ but it actually wasn’t that great. I was out of position a few times and missed one or two homers. There were a couple balls sitting against the outfield wall at one point that I somehow didn’t see, so I lost some glove trick opportunities. There was a homer that I jumped as high as I possibly could for, only to have it tip off the VERY end of my glove. I even ran out to right field for about 20 minutes and got nothing there. So…there were dead periods and frustrating moments and stupid mistakes, and yet I *still* came away with eight balls. That just goes to show that any ballpark that opens two and a half hours early is gonna be pretty good.
Greg and Donnie and Gary each got a bunch of balls. Donnie has his own blog, so you can read about his snagging there, and as for the other two guys, I’ll let them leave comments here with the details of how they did…if they want.
For the rest of the day, everywhere I went…there they were. Pre-game throwing? See below. That’s Greg in the orange/gray jacket and Gary with the yellow shirt:
It turned out that no one got the pre-game ball (because Jordan Schafer needs a lesson on how to be fan-friendly).
I wandered with my dad for the first inning, and then we grabbed a couple seats behind the Braves’ dugout. This was our view:
In the middle of the 2nd inning, Braves 1st base coach Glenn Hubbard tossed me the infield warmup ball. Then, after Johan Santana grounded out to end the bottom of the 3rd, Kotchman tossed me the actual game-used ball on his way in. (That one was commemorative.) There was one other fan who made an attempt to catch that ball, and it happened to be a kid with a glove. I asked him if he’d already gotten a ball, and to my surprise he said yes…so I kept it. If he had said no, I would’ve pulled out a non-commemorative BP ball from my backpack and handed that one to him. Anyway, just like that, on what felt like a decent-but-not-all-that-great-snagging-day, I still ended up with double digits.
The great part was simply being with my dad and sharing this experience. The man is FUN, and as an 83-year-old who can move (and even jog) all over the place, he’s a true inspiration, hopefully not just to me but to us all.
• 169 balls in 21 games this season = 8.05 balls per game.
• 590 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 472 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 342 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball
• 3,989 total balls
• 104 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)
• $20.70 pledged per ball
• $207.00 raised at this game
• $3,498.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball
No, I haven’t yet snagged my 4,000th ball, but I’m getting really close, and I’ve finally decided when and where I’m (hopefully) going to get it:
This coming weekend, I’m going to be flying to LA for a big family event. The Mets will be at Dodger Stadium on Monday the 18th, and I’ll be there with a bunch of Hamples. Just the other day I bought *ten* tickets from StubHub in the left field pavilion, so that’s where we’ll be.
Dodger Stadium is a tough place, especially when one is trapped all day in the outfield, so I don’t expect to snag THAT many balls. Therefore, when I get on that plane to LA, I want my lifetime total to be 3,997. Maybe 3,996. But not any less than that. Right now I’m at 3,979 so that means I need to get 17 or 18 balls in the next four days.
I’ll be at Citi Field tonight, and I might go back tomorrow. I’m also considering going to Philly on Wednesday and/or Yankee Stadium on Friday.
The reason why I don’t want to show up at Dodger Stadium with 3,999 balls is that I’d like to get No. 4,000 from the Mets (ideally a David Wright BP homer on the fly) and of course the Dodgers will be out on the field for the first half-hour, during which time I expect to snag at least one or two.
My fellow ballhawks John Witt and T.C. said they’re gonna try to make it to this game. A former Watch With Zack client named Evan will also be in attendance, in addition to my friend Brandon who’s gonna make the trip from San Diego. (He’s the guy who helped me build the pyramid of balls.) Are YOU going to be there? Let me know, and if possible, please bring a camera and try to document the milestone snag. I’d love to have both a video and a photo that captures the moment that I get it.
As for why I’m picking Dodger Stadium…
I snagged my 1,000th ball at Shea Stadium, my 2,000th ball at Olympic Stadium, and my 3,000th ball at Yankee Stadium. I thought it’d be nice to reach the next milestone on the road, and since I’m going to be at this game with my whole family, it seemed like a good choice. Anyway, wish me luck this week (I just contacted the Dodgers to let them know what’s up) and give a shout if you’re gonna be there on May 18th for BALL4K.