6/29/10 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Day 2 of the San Juan Series started with another long line outside the bleacher entrance:

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See the guy in the gray All-Star Game shirt? His name is Mike. We’d met the day before, and we ended up sitting together at this game.

One minute after the gates opened, this was the scene:

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In case you can’t tell, it’s a photo of the Marlins jogging off the field.

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During that lone minute of batting practice, Anibal Sanchez threw two baseballs to me. I was the only one wearing Marlins gear, and at that point, I was the only fan wearing a glove and calling out to him, so he didn’t have many other options. He probably figured that I’d give away the second ball, and I did. In fact, I gave them both away to a pair of extremely friendly security guards.

Soon after the Mets started hitting, the bleachers got insanely crowded:

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There wasn’t any room to run, so I headed underneath the bleachers and played the gap behind the outfield wall. Here’s what it looked like down there:

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Several minutes later, a different security guard kicked me out (along with the few other fans who’d ventured down), so I had to find another spot.

Hmm, where to go…

I decided to stand behind the outfield wall in right-center. Surely, there’d be a few bombs hit that way, right?

This was my view straight head:

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This was my view to the right…

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…and to the left:

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I had a ton of open space all around me, and there wasn’t anyone else who was even thinking of snagging a baseball.

How many balls do you think I got during the next half hour? Go ahead, take a guess. Three? Five? Ten? Twenty? Think big. It was warm. Fly balls were carrying. The players, undoubtedly, were pumped to be playing in Puerto Rico. Home runs galore, right?

Ready for the answer?

None.

The Mets didn’t hit a single home run to center field — or anywhere near center field. They didn’t hit any ground-rule doubles either. It was so dead that for a moment I wondered if BP was still taking place. I peeked through a narrow gap in the center field wall:

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Yup, the Mets were still hitting.

Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, half a dozen balls dropped into the gap behind the left field wall. I would’ve snagged all or most of them if I’d been allowed to stay there. It was just one of those days. And that was it for BP.

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Now get this: I had three tickets for this game. Let me explain…

When tickets first went on sale, I wasn’t able to just buy one ticket for one game. I had to buy one ticket for all three. Does that make sense? It’s like they were being sold as a strip, or as a package, or whatever you want to call it. I knew that my girlfriend wasn’t going to attend all three games, but since she was going to attend at least one, I had to buy two tickets for each game. Anyway, this was the game that she chose to skip. (She decided she’d have more fun at the hotel, working out in the fitness room, getting woozy in the steam room, and lounging at the pool.) So, in addition to my own bleacher ticket, I also had hers.

What about the third ticket, you ask?

Well, once individual seats finally went on sale, I splurged and bought an extra, fancy-ish ticket on the first base side. Why? Because I’d learned that the bleachers were completely separate from the rest of the stadium. Buying that extra ticket was the only way I’d be able to wander all around and get the full experience.

This was the first thing I saw when I entered the main concourse behind home plate:

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There was a band blasting music just outside the gates, and as you can see, there were people walking on stilts and dancing in crazy mascot costumes. It was a truly wild/festive scene, and the best thing about it (unlike all the hoopla I experienced at the 2007 All-Star Game) is that none of it felt contrived. There was a genuine vibe of joy and exuberance. People were just excited to be at a baseball game, plain and simple.

I walked through the concourse to the 3rd base side, then headed through a tunnel and into the seats. Check out this cross-aisle — a perfect place for chasing foul balls:

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I walked up the steps toward the upper/outermost corner…

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…and discovered that there was a secondary concourse at the very back:

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Behold the puddles:

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What’s up with that? Was the ice machine leaking?

Drainage?

Hello?

This was the view of the field from that back corner of the ballpark:

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I walked down the steps, and when I looked to my left, this is what I saw:

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Gotta love the Roberto Clemente truck. It was parked in an employees-only area between the grandstand and the bleachers. See that thing with the black fence and tan roof? That was the Mets’ batting cage. Here’s a closer look at it:

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This was as close as I could get to the field:

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As you can see in the photo above, the four rows down in front were roped off.

There was no way to sneak down there; every single staircase around the entire stadium was guarded by an usher. Here’s one of the ushers behind the 1st base dugout:

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See the shirt that he’s wearing? I really wanted one, but obviously they weren’t being sold. The ushers wore those shirts every day. If the fans had been able to buy and wear them, too, it would’ve caused all kinds of security issues. There were some “San Juan Series” shirts for sale at the main souvenir stand, but they weren’t nearly as nice.

Normally, when I visit a stadium for the first time, I make a point of going to the last row of the upper deck and taking a couple photos that I can later combine into a panorama. Hiram Bithorn Stadium has no upper deck, so here’s what I ended up with:

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Here’s a look at the stadium from the back of the seats on the 1st base side:

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Here’s one of two ramps that lead to the press box:

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I suspect this would be a good place to get autographs, but I didn’t stick around. It was only 20 minutes ’til game time, so I made my way back down the steps and took a couple pics of the multi-colored seats:

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Then I headed into the lower concourse and saw the best concession stand of all time:

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That concluded my tour of the main part of the stadium.

I headed out through the gate…

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…and stopped for a minute to watch the band:

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It might not look like they were playing, but they were. The blurry guy right in front was jumping all over the place while performing a drum solo.

When I made it back to the bleachers, there happened to be a TV crew from some local station called El Nuevo Dia getting shots of the crowd. The host recognized me as the guy who’d caught Mike Stanton’s home run the day before, and he asked if he could interview me. (He was bilingual.) While he was introducing me, Mike grabbed my camera and took the following photo:

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It was a quick interview. Probably less than 60 seconds. Standard stuff. The guy basically asked me where I’m from and what I was doing in Puerto Rico, and we talked baseball.

The highlight for me during the game was that I snagged another San Juan Series commemorative ball (I’d gotten two the day before), and it was embarrassingly easy. With one out in the bottom of the 2nd, Dan Uggla ripped a line drive down the left field line. The ball hooked foul. I raced to my right through the cross-aisle. Mets left fielder Jason Bay jogged over and retrieved it. I was the only person in the aisle, so when I shouted at him, he tossed it right to me.

This was my view of the field, at least for a few moments here and there:

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(FYI: the woman in the photo above is a vendor.)

In the bottom of the 5th, Uggla smoked a line drive home run right at me. I was lined up with it. There wasn’t any competition in the stands. It was going to be the easiest catch ever, but the ball fell five feet short and dropped into the gap and trickled under the bleachers. Here’s a screen shot that shows me looking down at it:

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If I could do it all over again, I would have climbed over the railing and jumped down into the gap. At the time, I was one-third concerned about getting in trouble, one-third worried about getting hurt, and one-third convinced that there was already someone down there (a cameraman or security guard or fan) who must’ve grabbed the ball, so I stood there like an idiot and watched and waited…and waited…and waited, and 15 seconds later, some little kid appeared out of nowhere and ran under the bleachers and grabbed the ball and ran back out holding it up triumphantly. Good for the kid. Bad for me. It really would’ve been great to get that ball, and as it turned out, someone else jumped over the fence later on — without any negative consequences — for a warm-up that dropped into the gap. I really feel like I wasted an opportunity. It was one of only two homers in the game. The other was a grand slam by Hanley Ramirez that barely cleared the wall in left-center, bounced back onto the field, and immediately got tossed back into the crowd by Mets center fielder Angel Pagan. I tried running over, but didn’t even come close.

Bleh.

Final score: Marlins 7, Mets 6.

As for that Uggla foul ball that got tossed up to me, I took a bunch of photos of it and ended up with two that I simply have to share. I’ll post one now and the other after the stats:

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SNAGGING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game (1 pictured above/below because I gave the other two away)

• 179 balls in 18 games this season = 9.9 balls per game.

• 647 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 197 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,537 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click hereto learn more)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.23 raised at this game

• $968.39 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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As I mentioned and later showed on Twitter, my girlfriend worked her magic and got us moved to a room with an ocean view. Just thought I’d share a glimpse of it here in case you missed it.

9 Comments

When is the last time you only got three balls or less? Still a nice job Zack! Nice view too!! Looking forward to game three.

-Dennis

Zack…

You should have gone full on Spiderman and jumped down for the ball. Now THAT would have made for a good screen shot. The Padres played their 81st game today. Half way home and still in first place. Pitching and defense. We got our 12th shutout today. Best in MLB. I’d have never believed it going into Spring Training. Heath got another save today. His WHIP is terrible, but he’s getting the job done. One a more negative note, I lost my job on Friday. Ouch. Not sure if I can keep attending too many games unless the work situation gets rectified. I have a lead on a new job, so wish me luck. Perhaps I can dress up like a superhero and head to Hollywood Blvd. Five bucks a pic! Anyway, everyone send me good vibes. Oh yeah, can we play the Astros everyday? Ha ha.

Leigh

Awesome recap; I bet you’ll be sad to leave PR. It’s cool to see that despite the game being the same, it’s a totally different atmosphere down there. I especially like the fruit vendor and the Clemente truck! Thanks for sharing, as always.
http://torontoblogjays.mlblogs.com/

Zack,
Although you definitely won’t remember me, I’m Yankeesrock and you commented on my blog once. Although I havn’t been updating my blog, I have still been following your blog every day. I’ve learned many snagging tips and have given many glove trick demonstrations to my Mom. The reason I was commenting was to tell you that I posted a video of you catching Mike Stantons home run on Youtube so everyone can see it. Here is the link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHKixmGj5qw
See ya!
Yankeesrock

Zack,
I noticed that Heath Bell is one of the 5 NL Players on the Final Ballon for the last spot on the NL All Star Roster. In your next entry, you should encourage everyone to vote for him.
-Will

You were just on baseball Tonight’s week highlight reel at the end of the show, they showed like a bunch of stuff for 3 minutes, while “not Afraid” by eminem played, and 15 sec of it was the San Juan Series. You were showed for like a sec dancing after the catch. Pretty sick.

Very entertaining reading Z-Man. A REAL man would have found a way to get one of those San Juan Series usher shirts. Aren’t those people so dirt poor down there that they throw lizards in your car and make you give them a couple of bucks to get them out? I would have found a big old boy usher about my size and I bet for 5 american dollars and a warm meal, he would have been shirtless in no time.

The room you guys were in looked nice. I have nice seen an ocean before in person. I have been voting like mad for Heath Bell. You can vote what seems like unlimited times. I am voting for Delmon Young in the AL and him for the NL. I have voted about 200 times already today. For those of you voting for Heath, how about showing a little love for old D.Y.?
Looking forward to reading entry number 3. Will you be hitting the midwest at all for the rest of the year?

Zack, I have a challenge for you:
Use the glove trick to retrieve a ball from the top of the green monster.

DENNIS-
October 4, 2009. That’s the last time I snagged fewer than three balls, but that was a day game and there wasn’t BP. What can I say? Hiram Bithorn Stadium was tough because of the crowds.

LEIGH-
Oh man, I’m really sorry to hear that about your job. Good luck. Now what? At least the Padres are playing well, not counting the last two games against the Nats. (The Nats?! Really?!)

TORONTO BLOG JAYS-
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

YANKEESROCK-
Thanks for getting in touch and for posting the video on YouTube. Hopefully MLB won’t take it down anytime soon. It’s really nice to have it up there.

WILL-
I saw that too, but now he’s actually on the team as an injury replacement. Coolness (although I’m sorry for the guy who got hurt).

BASEBALL EXPERIENCES-
Sweet! Thanks for letting me know.

BIG GLOVE BOB-
Well, as you’ve already seen in my “6/30/10″ entry, I *did* get one of those shirts, so there! Did you mean to say that you have *never* seen an ocean before? I think I remember that that’s what you told me a couple months ago in Minneapolis. I hope Delmon makes it. He has my birthday, so for that reason alone, I’m rooting for him. Not sure about the midwest. I’m so busy with the book now that I’m not even planning to attend any more games until it’s done. I don’t know. I might make it out somewhere in a few weeks.

ALLSTAR_FIGGI-
It’s a great challenge, but that would actually require me to buy Monster Seats.

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