4/26/11 at Rangers Ballpark
I snagged so many baseballs at this game, and it was so easy that I’m feeling somewhat ashamed and embarrassed. But you know what? I need days like this to stay sane. Citi Field has been really tough this season. The gates there are now opening later. The pre-game crowds have been enormous. The on-field snagging area has made it almost impossible to get toss-ups. Stadium security doesn’t allow the glove trick. The weather has sucked beyond belief. And so on. At my last two games in Queens, I busted (not to mention froze) my ass during batting practice and managed to snag a whopping total of five baseballs. That might sound like a lot to some people — it would’ve been a dream come true for me 25 years ago — but numbers like that now leave me feeling incredibly frustrated.
That said, are you ready to hear about the paradise known as Rangers Ballpark? For starters, there were only about 20 fans waiting to get in the stadium when it opened at 4:30pm. That’s what time season ticket holders can enter. The general ticket-holding public, meanwhile, has to wait until 5pm, but I found my way in with the early group. Most people were there to get autographs, so they made a beeline for the Rangers’ dugout. A few people wandered out to right field. A few others hung out near the grassy berm in center. And I had left field to myself. For half an hour. It was truly unbelievable. I’ve never experienced such a total lack of competition at a major league stadium. I don’t know what was going on, but for whatever reason, I was alone in the seats for thirty solid minutes.
As soon as I ran in, Cody Eppley tossed me my first ball of the day near the left field foul pole. I didn’t even know his name or call out to him. I just saw the No. 50 on his uniform and held up my glove. Moments later, I used the glove trick to snag this ball in the gap behind the outfield wall in left-center:
In the photo above, do you see the two guys wearing red in the left field seats? They were employees. The person in the gray shirt several sections to the left also worked at the stadium and didn’t stay there long.
This was my view from left field:
This was my (gorgeous) view to the left:
In the photo above, the man standing one section over is a fan, but he was only there for 30 seconds. I’m telling you, I had the whole place to myself. See the people wearing red in the front row in left-center? They also worked at the stadium. And do you see the clock way off in the distance? It’s on the facade of the second deck in right field. It says “4:38,” which means the stadium had been open for eight minutes. Did I mention that I had the whole place to myself?
This was the view to my right:
Now, forgive me for the lack of details here, but I got five home run balls in a very short amount of time. I have no idea who hit them. Ian Kinsler? Adrian Beltre? Nelson Cruz? I can’t even remember how many I caught on the fly (one or two, at least) or anything else about them. Baseballs were raining down, and I was practically grabbing them faster than I could toss them into my backpack.
I used my glove trick to snag my 8th ball of the day in left field, then caught a homer on the fly in the front row, and then used the glove trick again to snag this ball in left-center:
I gave that ball to one of the employees. It was my 10th ball of the day. It was only 4:48pm. Total insanity. I’d snagged so many balls — and had been so busy running all over the place — that I hadn’t even gotten a chance to scribble down any notes. Finally, when there was a break in the action, I was able to catch up. I’ll show a photo of my notes in a bit, but for now, let’s get back to the snagging…
While I was standing in straight-away left field, a left-handed batter on the Rangers (possibly Julio Borbon) sliced a ball into the seats along the left field foul line. Did I mention that I had the whole place to myself? I really couldn’t believe it at the time, and I still find it hard to believe as I sit here writing about it. Because there wasn’t another fan within 200 feet of me, I had time to pull out my camera and take a pic of the ball sitting in the seats:
Isn’t that a lovely sight?
The ball had obviously hit the concrete when it flew into the stands because the stitches were pretty chewed up:
The on-field security guy (pictured below) called me over. Was I in trouble? Not at all. He told me that there was another ball in the seats that had landed a few rows behind the tarp. Here it is:
I thanked him profusely, and perhaps because I was so appreciative, he told me that there was another ball in the seats. I couldn’t find it at first, so he described where it had landed, and sure enough, there it was:
(I’m seriously stunned by all of this. Don’t think that I’m taking it for granted.)
After I picked up that ball — my 13th of the day — the guard told me that he’d been hoping that a kid would find it. Since there were no kids (or grown-ups) around, I offered it to him so that he could give it to the kid of his choice later on. Instead, he told me to place the ball in a cup holder just behind the first row. So I did. That way it was kind of hidden, and yet he knew where it was so he’d be able to direct a kid right to it.
While this was taking place, two balls rolled into the left field corner. I ran over there and began setting up my glove trick. I wasn’t sure what the policy was for plucking balls off the field, and it’s probably just as well that I didn’t get the chance to find out. The on-field guard walked over and picked up the balls and tossed them to a nearby Rangers player. But get this: the grounds crew had a cart loaded with equipment in the left field corner, and just before the guard was about to walk back to his normal spot, I noticed that there was a ball in one of the buckets on the cart. Here’s a photo that I took several minutes later to show where the ball was:
The guard didn’t notice the ball, so I pointed it out to him. He ended up tossing it to me, and I didn’t even have to ask for it.
“You are THE NICEST security guard I’ve ever met!” I shouted down to him.
“Thank you!” he called back.
“But I’m from New York City,” I continued, “so that’s not saying much!”
He laughed, and I thanked him again.
The stadium opened to all fans soon after, and when I snagged a home run in the left field seats, I handed it to the nearest kid. That was my 15th ball of the day.
Several lefties were hitting, so I ran to the right field side. It was still quite empty…
…and I ended up snagging two more home runs that landed in the seats.
Now, just so you don’t think that everything was going my way, there were two balls in the gap behind the outfield walls that I couldn’t snag. One was wedged against a chain-link fence in the visitors’ bullpen, and this was the other:
I tried to knock this ball loose, but gave up after 30 seconds. It simply wasn’t gonna happen, but it was nice to at least have the opportunity to try without being hassled by security. And hey, here’s another example of things not going my way: at one point in the first 15 minutes of BP (when I had all of left field to myself), a home run ball landed five rows behind me and bounced back over my head onto the field. That really sucked, but given how everything else went, I really can’t complain.
Thanks to my glove trick, I snagged one more ball during the Rangers’ portion of BP. It was a home run that landed in the visitors’ bullpen and rolled all the way to the back wall. There were actually two baseballs in the bullpen (see the red arrow below), but I could only reach one:
That was my 18th ball of the day.
The Blue Jays took the field.
Here’s a photo that I took from the left side of the grassy berm:
Anyway, thanks in part to a crappy/retro Blue Jays jersey that I was wearing, Jason Frasor threw me my 19th ball of the day in left-center field, and Carlos Villanueva hooked me up with No. 20. It was only the 9th time in my life that I’d gotten 20 balls at a game, and there was still half an hour remaining in BP. My next ball was thrown by Shawn Camp in left-center, and it was the 4,799th ball that I’d ever snagged. The next one was going to be a milestone, so if possible, I wanted it to be a good one.
It was a Jose Bautista homer that I caught on the fly while looking right up into the sun. It was a lot harder than any of the jumping catches (like this and this) that I’d made earlier this month, but probably didn’t look all that impressive from afar.
My 23rd ball of the day was sitting in the gap behind the wall in left-center field, and then I raced to the Blue Jays’ dugout at the end of BP. Someone rolled a ball to me across the dugout roof, but whoever it was, he was out of view at the time. I think it was bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, but who knows? That was my 24th ball of the day. Here I am with it:
I was feeling pretty wiped out, but whatever. That’s what a good night’s sleep is for.
During batting practice, I ran into two guys who each owned a copy of my new book, The Baseball. The first guy, Graham, unaware that I was gonna be at Rangers Ballpark, had mailed me the book a few weeks earlier with a self-addresses stamped envelope. The second guy, Scott, knew I was going to be here, so he brought his copy of the book with him for an in-person autograph. Here we are with it:
Scott is from San Francisco and, like me, was wearing Jays gear for the sole purpose of sucking up to the Blue Jays players. He also has a profile on MyGameBalls.com, which you can see here. (Speaking of MyGameBalls.com, the feature story right now is about my catch on Mike Nickeas’s first major league home run. Check it out, and if you haven’t yet created a profile on that site, WTF are you waiting for?)
After Scott and I said our goodbyes, I took a pic of the inside of my backpack:
As promised earlier, here are the notes that I scribbled down during BP:
This is how I was able to remember all the balls I snagged, although as you can see, my 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th balls of the day were all a blur and got lumped together. I also marked down what time it was when I snagged certain balls, just because I got off to a blistering pace and thought it’d be cool to remember. The balls that are crossed out (No. 10, 13, and 15) were ones that I gave away. (My handwriting is actually very neat under normal circumstances, but when I wrote all of this, I was standing and rushing and leaning on my glove, which is not exactly a flat/smooth surface.) On the upper right, I wrote “Scott MGB” and underneath it, it says “mysteryca,” which is his user name on MyGameBalls.com. On the left-hand side, kind of toward the bottom, it says, “Clyde & Suede” as well as “Trent & Brent.” Those were the four guys I’d met the day before. I scribbled their names down at the time so I’d remember, and then my notes from this game overlapped.
Clyde was at this game too. He snagged a few balls on the grassy berm and generously treated me to a much-needed bottled water after the Rangers had finished hitting.
I also ran into a friend named Brian Powell (aka “Txbasebalfan” on MyGameBalls.com). Here we are together, just before game time, with his friend Dirk. In the photo below, Brian is on the left and Dirk is on the right:
As you can see, I had changed out of my Jays gear.
This was my view during the game…
…and this was my view to the left. Trent was sitting directly across the berm from me:
When I met Trent two days ago, he had never heard of MyGameBalls.com. Now he has a profile, although he has yet to fill out his stats.
In the photo above, do you see the man standing near Trent in the tan pants and white shirt? That’s Jim Knox, the Rangers’ roving TV guy. Trent has become somewhat of a local celebrity for catching a recent home run on the berm; when Knox went to say hello to him, Trent talked about me, and Knox ended up coming over to my section. He said he wanted to interview me on the post-game show and told me where to be and when to be there. As it turned out, it was only a 15-second interview that was done while I was buried in a crowd of exceptionally rowdy fans, but it was still cool.
Over the course of the game, I had cause to jump out of my seat twice, but in both cases, the balls ended up falling short. No action once again. Bleh. The Blue Jays did hit three home runs (including two by Adam Lind, who went 3-for-5 with five RBIs), but the balls all went to left and right field. Final score: Blue Jays 10, Rangers 3.
After the game, I got another lineup card from the Jays’ bullpen. Here it is, along with the guard who kindly peeled it off the wall and handed it to me:
Here’s a closer look at it:
Do you remember the lineup card that I got the day before? And do you remember the kid named Dylan that I met right after I got it? Well, Dylan left a comment on my previous entry and pointed something out about it that I hadn’t noticed: Pedro Strop’s last name was spelled wrong. It’s good to see that the Jays also noticed and fixed the mistake.
I met up with Trent before heading out. Here I am with him and my 4,800th ball:
Trent is a BIG dude, and he’s only 16. (For the record, I’m 5-foot-11.) I’m a bit scared to think about how he’s gonna tower over me when I’m back here next season and beyond…
• 140 balls in 18 games this season = 7.8 balls per game.
• 679 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 212 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 24 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 139 lifetime games 10 or more balls
• 9 lifetime games with 20 or more balls
• 4,802 total balls
(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.)
• 38 donors
• $6.09 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $146.16 raised at this game
• $852.60 raised this season
Ready for a few more photos of the balls? Fifteen of the 21 had invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison in regular light versus black light:
(Yes, I took my black light with me on the road; my shirt speaks the truth.)
In the left-hand photo above, did you notice that some of the balls have the word “practice” stamped on the sweet spot? I snagged 11 of those balls yesterday…
…and I also got a practice ball that looked like this:
The reason why these balls say “practice” is that they have very subtle cosmetic flaws — anything from a misaligned stitch to a tiny imperfection on the cowhide. All the other specs (size, weight, compressibility, etc.) are fine. These imperfect balls get stamped with the word “practice” at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica and are sold to teams at a discount. (This is one of the many things you can learn about baseballs in my new book.)
Here are two more funky baseballs that I snagged yesterday. The one on the left has a beautifully smudged logo. The one on the right has a bizarre mark next to the MLB logo:
Does anyone have an idea of what might’ve caused that mark? I’m guessing that it’s a bat imprint (like the imprints you can see here), but it’s hard to say.