4/9/11 at Citi Field

BAD NEWS: Citi Field no longer opens two and a half hours early. More on this at the end of the entry, but for now, all I can say is that after receiving a tweet about it two days ago, I had to experience it to believe it.

Naturally, since this was just the Mets’ second home game of the season, and because it was a weekend and because the gates opened half an hour later than everyone expected, there was a huge crowd waiting to get in:

Thankfully I was at the front of the line (I headed to the back to take that photo), but it made no difference. I didn’t snag a single baseball during the Mets’ portion of batting practice. Finally, after being inside the stadium for more than half an hour, I got Nationals pitcher Chad Gaudin to throw me a ball near the left field foul pole. Here’s a photo of the ball with Gaudin in the background.

This was a special ball for me. It marked the 500th consecutive game in New York at which I’d snagged at least one ball — a streak that dates back to September 10, 1993. The ball was also special because it was an actual official ball (albeit one with a crooked logo and a “practice” stamp on the sweet spot) as opposed to the cheapo training balls that the Nationals had been using for years.

My second ball of the day was thrown by Livan Hernandez in left-center field…

…and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to a 10-ish-year-old girl on my left (who was wearing a glove and trying hard to get a ball on her own).

My third ball of the day was a home run that I caught on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it. Might’ve been Ryan Zimmerman or Michael Morse or Jayson Werth, but in any case, I was in left-center and drifted 20 feet to my left and reached up at the last second for the easy one-handed catch. That ball was brand new, as was the one that Matt Stairs tossed me at the dugout after BP.

That was it. Four balls. Not great. But I was satisfied. Given the circumstances, I really couldn’t have done much better.

Over the course of BP, three young fans asked me to sign baseballs, and each was special for a different reason. First take a look at the photo below, and then I’ll explain:

The fan in the green Mets hat is named Zach. He was very excited to meet me and mentioned that he’d watched all my YouTube videos. It was truly flattering, and I enjoyed talking to him and getting to watch him in action.

The fan wearing the Midville hoodie is named J.P. He was in foul territory when I got the ball from Gaudin, and he called out to me and asked if he could have my autograph. “Yeah, c’mon over here!” I called back. Note the railing behind him. At Citi Field, it’s impossible to cut through the seats from foul to fair territory. You have to walk up the steps, head through the concourse, and then walk back down. It’s really annoying. Great American Ball Park has a similar partition in the left field corner. I don’t understand why stadiums are built like that, but anyway, J.P. gave up his spot along the foul line and made the effort to come up and around, so that was cool.

Then there was Jamie, the fan in the NY Giants hoodie. I was talking to some friends behind the dugout after BP, so he approached me cautiously and politely with his father. He asked me to sign a ball that was already autographed by several players, so that was flattering too.

Then these guys asked me to sign their Mets Magazine:

After I signed it, the older boy said, “You’re a player, right?”

“A player?!” I replied. I felt terrible for having defaced his magazine.

“Yeah,” he said, “Which team do you play for?”

It was an odd question for two reasons. First, if I were a player, I wouldn’t have been hanging out in the stands, and second, I was decked out in Nats gear, so again, if I were a player, I certainly wouldn’t have been on any other team. But I can understand why they made the assumption. I’d been signing autographs and talking to lots of people and taking photos, so they guessed right in assuming I was someone. Ultimately I explained who I was and apologized for the misunderstanding, but they didn’t seem upset at all. In fact, they actually seemed intrigued to hear that I’d written a few books and snagged so many baseballs.

Look who I got a photo with next:

Do these guys look familiar? That’s Joe Faraguna on the left (who’s now as tall as me, dammit) and Ross Finkelstein on the right. They’re both former Watch With Zack clients. Joe first attended a game with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field. He and I combined that day to set the record for the most balls at a Watch With Zack game with 22. We also went to a game together on 7/6/09 at Citizens Bank Park, and then the following season, Joe set another record on 6/23/10 at Camden Yards: most balls at a single game snagged by a client…eleven! Ross, meanwhile, has attended two games with me and might join me for another this summer, possibly at Camden Yards. He outsnagged me, 5 balls to 2, on 9/6/09 at Citi Field, and then we combined for 16 balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field. Good times. If you want to see all the Watch With Zack snagging stats, click here.

What happened next might shock you, but it was part of the plan: I left the stadium and went home. Here’s a look at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda on my way out:

I had to be at a party back in Manhattan by about 9pm (this WAS a Saturday night, after all), and I was given a free ticket to this game, so I figured, why not go for a couple hours and check out the scene and snag a few balls and then be on my way? BTW, there was no mention of baseball at the party. I didn’t find out until 2am that the Mets had won, 8-4.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (three pictured here because I gave one away)

• 37 balls in 5 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 666 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 500 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 359 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 4,699 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)

• 36 donors

• $5.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $22.96 raised at this game

• $212.38 raised this season

Ready to see the three baseballs in black light? Here’s a side-by-side photo so you can compare:

As you can see, the invisible ink stamps appear on all three balls, but they’re all messy and partially rubbed off. I love the illuminated MLB logo on the bottom ball. That’s the one that Chad Gaudin tossed my way. Show of hands: how many of you have bought black lights in the last month?

Finally, let’s get back to the issue of gate opening times at Citi Field…

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda now opens two hours early for all home games; on Saturdays and Sundays, season ticket holders can enter 30 minutes earlier than that. Unlike Rangers Ballpark, where season ticket holders can bring non-season-ticket-holding friends inside, you actually have to have your own season ticket at Citi Field — and not just any type of partial season plan, but a FULL season ticket. It’s a real pain, and you can imagine how frustrating it was for me yesterday to stand there helplessly and watch the few season ticket holders trickle into the stadium ahead of me. The bigger issue, however, beyond early access for season ticket holders is that the stadium now opens half an hour later. For everyone.

Prior to this season, the Mets had opened their stadiums (Shea and now Citi) two and a half hours early since 1994. Ownership had to be extra fan-friendly at that time because the team had lost 103 games the year before. Why is the policy changing now? (Do the Mets expect to be good this year? They’ll be lucky to win 75 games.) Why deprive fans of the opportunity to see the entire portion of their home team’s batting practice? EVERY SINGLE MAJOR LEAGUE STADIUM SHOULD OPEN TWO AND A HALF HOURS EARLY EVERY DAY. This should be a league-wide policy. It would be GOOD for baseball, and it’s especially important in New York (and Los Angeles and St. Louis and Boston and Minnesota and a few other places), where there are so many fans.

I want to know who made the decision that Citi Field should open later, and I want to know why. Just how much money do the Mets save each game by keeping the fans out until 5:10pm? I called the Mets yesterday and asked who’s behind this. I was told that it was a decision by ownership and the “guest experience” department. I asked for a name, but was not given one. It’s probably too late to change anything this season, but I suggest that we all start making phone calls and writing letters and trying to get to the bottom of it. I know I’m not the only one who’s upset about this, so if you feel the same way I do, let’s make some noise and let the Mets (and other teams) know that we’d like things to change. Let’s start by getting a name. Was it Fred Wilpon himself? Help me investigate, and let’s see if we can do something about this. GAH!!!

26 Comments

Too bad you couldn’t get just one more ball to make your total 4,700. The rule to open Citi field half an hour later to non season ticket holders is probably just an attempt to convince people to get FULL season tickets. But hey, if it will help, I’ll look into it. (Maybe the answer will lie within the walls of the internet.) Hopefully I’ll find the answers, and then I’ll try for solutions.
-Matt

Zack, that really stinks about the 2 hours thing. The NY Mets seem to be pretty vocal on twitter. I wonder if we all question them on twitter, if something will eventually change?

See this video? I love seeing stuff like this:

I just sent an email to the Mets. After I sent it a new page was opened that said, “Thank you for sending your question or suggestion. YOUR EXPERIENCE IS IMPORTANT TO US.” Okay, so it wasn’t in big letters. But that second sentence just made me laugh.
-Matt

Consider yourself lucky, at Kauffman stadium gates open 1.5 hours prior to game Fri – Sun and 1 hour prior to game Mon- Thurs.

Fucking fantastic. Way to go, Mets.

This is interesting, because Fenway has also changed for the worse this year when it comes to pre-game. Last year all gates opened 2 hrs before game time. You’d get in and see about 20 minutes of Sox BP before the visitors came out. This year, only 2 of the gates open 2 hrs before, while the rest open 1.5 hrs before. AND, even if you get in the early gates, you don’t see ANY of Sox BP. (You can still get in 2.5 hrs before game time with a RSN card, but you can only go to the Monster Seats–which you’d think would be good for snagging but it’s such a mob scene up there.)

what, no picture holding a white piece of paper and a black #3 written in Sharpie?

The Reds have been like that for as long as I’ve been going to games. Unless you have a season ticket plan you don’t even get to watch the Reds take BP, and I’m sure this policy won’t be changing since they decided to charge 15 bucks to go in at 4:30 regardless of what ticket you have.

If anyone has an email address let me have it, I’d send the Mets a message about that, it’s a load of crap.

Hi, Zack. Too bad about the later gate opening time at Citi… I think it has to be due to the Mets trying to save money. Ushers and vendors are not getting paid for that half hour which probably amounts to hundreds of dollars saved per game. Unfortunately, it seems to be a trend in MLB to not let fans in quite as early any longer… I hope the West Coast stadiums don’t change any time soon.
~Matt

http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/

Knowing this just ruined tomorrow for me. I don’t even wanna go watch the hapless Mets anymore. Screw them. They have been been imploding since 2007, and the management has been making it worse (with the exception of firing Minaya) every year.

Ben

hey zack great seeing you at the game on saturday. I hope to catch up with you at another game before I see you at Ballhawk fest

Oliver

Michael,
Here’s the Mets email link: http://mlb.mlb.com/help/email.jsp?c_id=nym&primarySubject=Other&secondarySubject=None&dest=fanfeedback@mets.mlb.com

EVERYONE email the Mets and let them know how we feel.
-Matt

Where was the #3?
-Howie

I can’t believe you got a ball from Matt Stairs! He’s a friggin legend! You should try to catch one of his home runs this year.

MATT NO. 1-
Yeah, well, at least I now have something to look forward to with my next ball. That line in the email from the Mets makes me laugh too. Thanks so much for looking into it.

PSU532-
Awesome video. I would’ve missed it if not for you, so thanks for the link. I actually wrote about a similar incident in my new book. (See page 294.)

KCROYALSFAN-
That is HORRIBLE, and yes, after hearing that, I do consider myself lucky. Makes me never want to go back there.

GREG-
Ha, well said. And whoa, is that curse appearing on your screen or am I the only one seeing it because I’m logged into my own blog?

JERE80-
Maybe I’m not understanding, but what’s the problem with only SOME of the gates opening early? As long as you can get in SOMEwhere two hours early, what’s the big deal? At worst, you’d have to waste two minutes running halfway around the stadium to get to the section you want…right?

DANR-
I’ll have the sign with me later today at Citi Field.

MICHAEL-
Some teams just don’t get it. Sorry to hear it’s such a hassle in Cincinnati.

MATT NO. 2-
I don’t think that a team that’s worth nearly a billion dollars should be concerned with saving a few hundred dollars here and there AT THE FANS’ EXPENSE.

BEN-
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But what does this mean? That you’re not going?

OLIVER-
Hey! It was great seeing you too, and I’m glad to hear that you’ll be attending the huge ballhawk gathering.

HOWIE-
I kind of spaced out on it and waited ’til the last second to make the sign and then ran out of time, but I figure it won’t matter because my next game will be at Citi Field (probably later today) so I can get a photo of the sign then.

RICKY-
I’d love to catch one of his homers, but I’m not sure how many Nats games I’ll be attending, and if you’re talking about Citi Field, then forget about it because the entire right field side of that stadium is worthless.

Hope you can somehow get to other stadiums that open at the right times.

Zack,

At Fenway, you are only allowed in the seats between the dugouts until 1.5 hours before games. They blocked the way to the outfield sections in the concourses and have security blocking the way through the seats.

Boy, the Mets are really taking a lot of fun out of the game for a large segment of fans.

To answer your Q, Zack, it stinks that you don’t see the home team hit anymore, and what I forgot to mention was that in that first half hour, you’re stuck between the bases.

And now I see Patrick answered the question already…

Zack, the Wilpons have no money and will look at every conceivable way to cut expenses. Opening the gates later is one of the many nickles and dimes they need to save.

Zack,

I talked about this issue when I went to Kauffman stadium a lot the last few years. They open their gates 1 hour 30 minutes prior to game time during the week and two hours before game time on the weekends. I talked to a few ushers and some supervisors about it as well. They said the reason behind it is because its all about saving money. When only a handful of fans enter two hours early the stadium has to provide that extra thirty minutes of security, concessions, ushers, supervisors, etc. Im not sure when exactly stadiums started letting fans in two hours early or an hour and a half early but since the economic downturn businesses have been really penny pinching.

Safeco Field ushers wont let anyone sit in the lower box unless you have a ticket. And last nights game had about 14,000 people. I dont know how much money they save but obviously theyre saving enough to keep fans out for that extra thirty minutes. Fortunatly this year Safeco Field lets people in two hours early and 2 and a half hours early through the center field gates.

DYLAN-
Thanks. I’m trying…

PATRICK-
That is truly horrible. Shame on the Red Sox for being so lame. Now I’m kinda glad they’re off to a terrible start.

CONCERNED FAN-
Yeah, pretty much.

JERE80-
I’m now dreading my return to Fenway. Looks like I’m going to be there for the first two Padres games in June. Ugh.

FATHER PUCK-
How about they just sell the team?

WAYNE-
Thanks for sharing all this info, and you know what? I can understand why a team like the Royals would want to open as late as possible, but what about the Mets and Yankees, who regularly have hundreds of fans waiting to get inside the stadium?

Zack, thats a very good point. Didnt the Major Leagues rake in 5 billion something dollars last year anyway? They actually increased revenue from last year. I will also help you in the fight to get Citi Field to open up two hours early.

:)

My name is Troy I am ten years old. I caught Curtis Grandersons home run ball on opening day. Can you tell me how I can get it signed? we tried to go down to field level but you can’t unless you have those tickets.

WAYNE-
Yeah, seriously. Probably even more money than that.

TROY-
I see that you left the same comment on my 4/5/11 entry, and I just answered you there.

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