May 2011

5/29/11 at Rogers Centre

One nice thing about Rogers Centre is that you can pretty much go anywhere during batting practice — like here:

In the photo above, BP technically wasn’t in progress. It was a Sunday afternoon game. The White Sox decided not to hit. The Blue Jays got a slow start. But still, there was going to be BP and the ushers let me wander all over the place. (For the sake of comparison, at Yankee Stadium you have to pay about $1,000 to get this close.)

This was the view to my right:

In Toronto, the visiting team occupies the 1st base dugout. I decided to hang out there for a few minutes in case Alex Rios poked his head out. I’d gotten my 5,000th ball from him the day before — click here to watch the video of me catching it — and I really wanted to get it signed. Rios, however, was nowhere to be seen.

The Blue Jays started playing catch in left field, so I moved to the left field foul line. Carlos Villanueva was the player closest to me…

…and it just so happened that he fielded a batted ball in between throws. I asked him for it. He tossed it to me. Easy.

I moved to left-center field when BP got underway, and before long, a ball rolled onto the warning track near me. Jon Rauch, the 6-foot-10 monster with neck tattoos, jogged over to retrieve it. As soon as I asked him for it, he threw it at me much harder than he should’ve, and then he said, “Don’t ask for another one, okay, bud?”

“Okay,” I said shakily, startled by what had just happened.

Here’s a photo of Rauch (and the roof opening) that I took soon after:

Since Rauch was out of earshot, I asked Casey Janssen for the next ball that rolled onto the warning track, and he tossed it to me. (“Don’t ask for another one” my ass!)

I used my glove trick to snag my 4th ball of the day soon after. It was a homer (not sure who hit it) that cleared the left field wall, but fell short of the stands. Just as I was starting to lift my glove back up, a security guard appeared below and looked up at me. Did he yell at me and cut my string and confiscate the ball and threaten to have me arrested for “throwing objects onto the field”? Hell no. This was Toronto, not New York, so he simply smiled and watched and said, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

The stadium was unbelievably empty. I pretty much had all of left-center field to myself. If the Jays had hit 10 balls into the seats, I would’ve snagged 11 of them. Check out the following photo (I’ll explain the arrows and markings in a moment), and you’ll see what I mean:

That’s what the outfield looked like forty-five minutes after the stadium opened — on a Sunday!

Wow.

(Show of hands: how many ballhawks in New York often wish they lived somewhere else?)

Anyway, I caught two home runs on the fly, and the photo above shows how far I ran for the first one. The arrow on the bottom shows where I was standing when the ball was hit. Now, do you see the “red seat” in the next section? It’s in the 3rd row on the far end of the next staircase. That’s where I caught it. While the ball was in mid-air, I ran the entire length of my 22-seat section, then navigated around the big concrete step, ran an additional five seats, and reached high up for a back-handed grab. There wasn’t anyone else going for the ball — those guys in the front row just stood there and watched — but it still felt great. As for the second homer, it was hit in my direction but falling short, so I drifted down the steps and reached over the railing for it. Unfortunately, I don’t know who hit either of these balls.

One more thing about the photo above…

Do you see the arrow pointing to a fan behind the bullpen? That’s my friend Andrew. (He’d made this trip with me from New York City.) When BP ended, I had six balls, and he had five — pretty impressive considering he’d only snagged a total of five in his entire life before that. His first two baseballs of the day were tossed before BP started. During BP, he got Marc Rzepczynski to throw him another, then caught a home run on the fly, and finally grabbed another homer in the seats.

Before the game, Alex Rios came out to stretch and run:

I screamed my head off and tried to get his attention, but he ignored me and cut across the infield to get back to the dugout. Does anyone have advice for getting him to sign? Does he ever sign inside stadiums? Does he sign on his way in or out? Does he sign at the hotels? Does he ever sign for anyone under any circumstances? Do I need to be blonde and have large breasts? (Anything is possible nowadays.) Seriously, WTF do I need to do in order to get that man’s autograph on my 5,000th ball? Should I mail the ball to him with a SASB? (That would be a self-addressed stamped box.) Should I contact his agent or the White Sox? Should I wait until Rios retires and then pay some excessive fee to get him at a card show? I’ll do whatever it takes (as long as it’s legal).

Soon after Rios blew me off, I got Alexi Ramirez to bounce-pass a warm-up ball to me off the fake grass.

This was my view for the first pitch of the game:

Nice but nothing special, right? Well, check out the view to my right:

The pitching matchup featured two lefties — John Danks versus Ricky Romero. Of the 18 batters in the starting lineups, 15 were right-handed! I just needed one of them to swing late and slice a foul ball down the line. Just one. Was that too much to ask?

Several innings passed. The Blue Jays scored a lot of runs. There was no foul-ball action. I was getting antsy. The seats were filling up a bit. Andrew and I moved one section farther away from home plate. In the 4th inning, I wandered past the foul pole and took this photo of the White Sox bullpen:

In the top of the 5th inning, Andrew went to get pizza — once slice for each of us — and in the bottom of the 5th, he came back with it. I started eating, but I was still paying close attention to the game, and I was ready to pounce.

Can you tell where I’m going with this?

With two outs, Jose Bautista stepped up to the plate, and when the count went to 2-2, he sliced a deep drive toward the right field corner. I took off running immediately, pizza in hand, even though I wasn’t sure where the ball was going to land, and instead of looking for the ball, I kept my head down and focused on sprinting through my empty row. The following screen shot, sent by my friend Avi Miller in Baltimore, shows me running for it. Andrew is inside the circle. I’d been sitting just in front of him:

I didn’t see the ball until it was about to land. And then? Not only did it land in my row, but it landed in the folded up portion of a seat and stayed there. Talk about lucky. Here I am getting closer to it:

Here I am reaching down and grabbing it:

(Did you notice that no one else had even moved from their seats?)

As soon as I picked up the ball, I noticed that my half-eaten slice of pizza had slipped out of the box and was pressed against my t-shirt:

There was grease and tomato sauce on me — not enough to appear on camera, thankfully, but enough for me to be annoyed.

I fumbled with the ball and pizza…

…and finally held up the ball for the camera:

I continued eating the pizza as I walked back to my seat, and when I got close to Andrew (and had my mouth full), he took the following photo:

Here’s a closer look at the ball:

The previous day, I’d met a really nice security guard who’d recognized me from my radio interview. His name is Glenn. He works the right field foul line. And when he saw me snag that foul ball, this was his reaction:

People are so nice in Canada. You’d think it was like…another country, or something.

Some people, though, could use a little help with their signs:

(Sorry, is that mean? Listen…when I was that age, I knew how to spell “White Sox.”)

I moved behind the 1st base dugout in the top of the 9th inning. This was my view…

…and on the pitch that was thrown immediately after I took that photo, Ramon Castro hit a two-run homer. That made it a 13-4 game, and that was the final score.

After the final out, I moved down to the front row. Can you find me in the following photo?

I snagged two more baseballs there. The first was thrown by home plate umpire David Rackley, and the second was tossed by a White Sox bullpen coach who was wearing No. 73. Does anyone know who that is? He’s not on the roster. He looked to be about 50 to 60 years old. He has a gray-ish mustache. I think he’s Latino, and he walked in with bullpen catcher Mark Salas.

Anyway, that gave me 10 balls for the day. Double digits, baby!

I wandered into the concourse and gave away two baseballs to a couple of little kids with gloves. I’m not sure who was more stunned — the kids or their father. Then I took a pic of Andrew with his five balls, and he took a pic of me with my remaining eight:

Here’s another photo of the two of us:

On my way out of the stadium, I gave away another ball and took one final photo of the seats along the right field foul line:

Back at the hotel, I had an hour to kill before leaving with Andrew for the airport. We’d already checked out that morning, so we hung out in the lobby and used the free WiFi. Among the many emails waiting for me in my inbox (many of which I still haven’t had a chance to answer), there was an interview request from a reporter named Tristan Hopper with the National Post. (The Post did a huge feature on me in 1999, BTW.) He wanted to get a quote from a “baseball expert” about Jo-Jo Reyes’s near-record-breaking losing streak. Long story short: I emailed Tristan, he called me back, we did a quick interview, and the following day, my name/quotes appeared in the paper. Here’s an online version of the article, in case you want to check it out. And wouldn’t you know it? Reyes ended up pitching (and winning!) a complete game on the same day that the article was published. I must be good luck.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game

• 353 balls in 41 games this season = 8.61 balls per game.

• 702 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 228 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 149 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 133 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting foul balls that get tossed into the crowd)

• 5,015 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.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $68.40 raised at this game

• $2,414.52 raised this season

5/28/11 at Rogers Centre

I started the day with a lifetime total of 4,995 baseballs. My main goal, naturally, was to snag five more, but beyond that, I was hoping that No. 5,000 would NOT be thrown to me by a player. Way back in 1996, my 1,000th ball was thrown by Braves pitcher Pedro Borbon Jr. at Shea Stadium. In 2003, my 2000th ball was thrown by Phillies pitcher Joe Roa at Olympic Stadium. On 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium, I snagged my 3,000th ball with the glove trick, and on 5/18/09 at Dodger Stadium, I got Mets pitcher Livan Hernandez to throw me No. 4,000. See the trend? Although it was exciting to reach all of these milestones, the way in which I actually obtained the baseballs was not.

That said, this was a Saturday afternoon game. The Blue Jays and White Sox had played the night before, so while the field was set up for batting practice, there wasn’t anything happening when I first ran inside the stadium:

Eventually, several White Sox players came out to run and stretch and throw. I hung out in foul territory behind 1st base, and when Ramon Castro walked by with a ball in his glove, I called out and asked him for it. Castro has always been fan-friendly, so I wasn’t surprised when he turned and chucked it to me. What did surprise me was that he stood there and flapped his glove at me to indicate that he wanted me to throw it back. And so…we played catch for a minute. My friend Andrew was with me and filmed a bit of the action. As it turned out, the footage wasn’t YouTube-worthy, so I’m just gonna share a few screen shots. In the first one below, I’m standing on the left in White Sox gear, and Castro is on the far right:

Did you notice that I was workin’ the knuckleball grip? Castro had thrown me a knuckler two days earlier during BP, so I figured I’d send one back his way. Here I am letting it fly…

…and here’s Castro throwing it back:

We made four or five throws apiece and paused briefly at one point when Gavin Floyd absent-mindedly strolled between us. Soon after, Castro made a final throw and let me keep the ball. As he walked off, this was my reaction:

I was like, “That’s how it’s done.”

Four more balls to go…

A few minutes later, I moved farther down the foul line to catch up with Andrew. He was standing behind two pitchers who were playing catch — and not by accident. He was specifically hoping that there’d be an overthrow. At one point, when I was looking elsewhere, I heard someone yell “Heads up!!” and I noticed that Andrew was starting to scramble. I ducked. He was in the front row, I was in the 3rd row, and the ball landed in the 4th row. (Sorry, Andrew.)

Three more balls to go…

Soon after, I got Jake Peavy to sign my comp ticket…

…and then moved even farther down the foul line. This was my view:

The player wearing No. 37 was Matt Thornton. I forget who he was playing catch with, but I clearly remember one of the throws deflecting off Thornton’s glove and trickling to the base of the wall in front of me. I leaned over and grabbed the ball with my glove and flipped it back to him. He didn’t have another ball, so I figured I’d give this one back before he asked for it. As soon as I did that, I started wondering whether or not I could count it in my collection. I *did* snag it after all, and it was my choice to give it back to him. When I catch home runs during BP and immediately hand them off to nearby kids, those balls count for me, so why shouldn’t this one? Right? Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have to make that decision because Thornton tossed the ball to me when he finished using it.

Two more balls to go…

Batting practice was just getting underway. Instead of running out to the seats in straight-away left field, I stayed in foul territory. There were several righties taking cuts, and since batters normally hit balls to the opposite field during their first round of swings, I was hoping that someone would slice a ball in my direction. That’s exactly what happened. Alexi Ramirez swung late and hit a line drive that bounced just inside the foul line. I could tell that the ball was going to hook a bit too sharply, so I shifted to my left and scooped it up with a back-handed swipe of my glove.

One more ball to go…

It was time to head to left field — no, wait, left-center field. The seats in straight-away left were crowded. I wanted to have some room to run. Over the next 15 minutes, several balls rolled onto the warning track below me. I could’ve asked for them, and I probably would’ve gotten at least one, but like I said at the start of this entry, I didn’t want my 5,000th ball to be another toss-up.

So I waited. And waited. And ran to right-center whenever Adam Dunn stepped into the cage. And waited some more. He’d been launching balls there for the last two days. Now that I needed him to do it again more than ever? Nothing. I was getting really frustrated, but I stuck to my plan and hoped for some long-ball magic. Andrew generously sacrificed his own pursuit of baseballs to follow me around with his girlfriend‘s flip cam. He knew how much I wanted my 5,000th ball to be documented — and he did a great job. Here’s a screen shot from his video that shows me standing in left-center field:

Moments later, Alex Rios stepped into the cage.

I turned around and faced the camera and said, “Here we go.” Somehow, I just knew that something was going to happen.

“Alex Rios is up,” said Andrew. “The dude’s hittin’ homers.”

On the very next pitch, Rios cranked a deep drive that was heading to my right. I took off running…

…and if you want to see how the whole thing played out, here’s a 58-second video. It starts with me standing around for a few seconds, so click “play” and give it a moment:

Hell. Yes.

At the 22-second mark in the video, the kid who gives me a high-five isn’t just a random kid. His name is Jon Madden. (Yes, that’s really his name.) He’s 12 years old, and he’s been reading this blog for a couple years and leaving lots of comments. He knew I was on the verge of snagging No. 5,000 and he was there to witness it. You’ll see a photo of us later, but for now, here’s one of me with the special ball:

I only caught one more ball during BP, and guess what? It was another Alex Rios homer that I caught on the fly:

After BP, the retractable roof of Rogers Center began to open, and I took the following photo of my 5,000th ball:

(That’s kind of dramatic, no? It’s like the heavens are opening up above or…like, the ball is going to be zapped up into a flying saucer.)

Then I got some celebratory ice cream…

…which unfortunately cost $6.75, but whatever. It was delicious, and I was so happy that I didn’t care about overpaying by a few bucks. By the time I finished eating it, the roof was fully open, so I took another photo of the ball with the CN Tower looming in the background:

I hope you’re not getting sick of all the “5,000″ photos because I have some more…

I really wanted to get a good one of myself (not wearing White Sox gear) with the ball, so Andrew took a bunch of shots shortly before the game started. Of course, I couldn’t decide which one was the best, so here, you tell me:

Soon after those photos were taken, I got two more baseballs at the Blue Jays’ dugout during pre-game throwing. (This raised my daily total to eight balls, and FYI, the Jays’ dugout is on the 3rd base side.) The first was tossed by Jayson Nix; the second was thrown by Rajai Davis, and as soon as I caught, I handed it to the nearest kid.

This was my view at the start of the game:

There were SO many empty seats. I was sure that I was going to snag a foul ball, but no, once again, the foul ball gods were working against me.

Eric Thames was in the starting lineup for the Jays, and since he had a grand total of ZERO major league home runs, I ran out to right-center field for all of his at-bats. In the photo below, the red arrow is pointing at me:

During the 5th inning, Andrew had to leave to go meet some friends. He swung by the hotel room to drop off his stuff, and before he headed out, he took the following photo:

In case you missed my last two entries, we stayed (past tense because I’m now home in NYC as I’m writing this) in the Renaissance Hotel inside Rogers Centre, and yes, our room had a view of the field.

See all those baseballs lined up on the ledge above? I could see them from my seat down below:

In the bottom of the 6th inning, I headed back to right-center for another Eric Thames at-bat. (He ended up striking out.) On the way, I ran into Jon Madden in the concourse — very convenient because he was actually looking for me. He had brought his copies of two of my books to get signed. Here we are with them:

The green book (which is now out of print) is called How to Snag Major League Baseballs. The black book (which came out two months ago) is called The Baseball. If you’re one of the many people who are trying to track down a copy of How to Snag Major League Baseballs, don’t bother. My new book (The Baseball) has a huge section called “How to Snag Major League Baseballs,” and it’s 10 times better than my first book. (That one section is actually longer than the entire first book.) The first book sucks. It was written badly, and I said a bunch of stupid things, but hey, I wrote it when I was a teenager, so that’s my excuse. In any case, don’t waste your money buying it or your time reading it. Just get the new one. You’ll love it. I promise.

After the 7th inning stretch, Jon Madden and I moved to the 6th row behind the White Sox dugout, and after the 8th inning, I got a this 3rd-out ball from Paul Konerko:

Jose Molina had grounded out to Alexi Ramirez. Ramirez had fired the ball across the diamond, and when Konerko walked toward the dugout with it, he tossed it to me. Pretty simple.

Jon Madden, BTW, had snagged a ball during BP. Here’s his profile on MyGameBalls.com, and in case you want to check it out, here’s his music channel on YouTube. I have to say, it’s pretty impressive that he’s only 12 years old. He looked and acted and sounded much older.

The game lasted 14 innings!

Corey Patterson went 5-for-7 with four runs scored and a solo/walk-off homer. Jose Bautista also hit a homer — his 20th of the season in just his 44th game. Wow.

After the game, Jon Madden and I both got baseballs from home plate umpire Rob Drake. This was my reaction upon stumbling into double digits:

On my way out of the stadium, I gave away another ball to a kid.

The plan was for me was to go find Andrew and his friends at a very old Irish pub/restaurant called Duke of York. After leaving the hotel at 7pm, I walked half a mile to the Union Station subway stop and got on a train heading south:

Six stops later, I got off and found myself here. Look closely and you’ll see the CN Tower way off the distance:

This is what it looked like directly behind me…

…and that’s where I walked to get to the pub. It was a short walk. I turned right at the STOP sign, and Duke of York was just half a block away:

There were three floors and two garden/patio areas, so it took me a minute to find Andrew. Here he is (on the left) with his friends:

We all ordered dinner and hung out for a few hours and, you know, it was nice. I was glad to get away from baseball (and my laptop) for a few hours and meet some new people.

Andrew and I didn’t get back until 11pm. Here’s a night-time photo of our hotel…

…and here’s a look at the 1,815-foot CN Tower:

Finally, when we made it back to the room, I had a chance to photograph my baseballs and update my stats. I didn’t mark my 5,000th ball because I’m hoping to get it signed by Rios. From what I hear, though, he’s not exactly someone who’s easy to get, but in any case, in order to “keep the ball separate” and remember which one it was, I wrapped a large rubber band around it…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 10 balls at this game (eight pictured here because I gave two away)

• 343 balls in 40 games this season = 8.575 balls per game.

• 701 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 227 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 148 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5,005 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.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $68.40 raised at this game

• $2,346.12 raised this season

Hold on! There’s more! Here’s a closer look at Ball No. 5,000:

Do you see those light gray streaks on it? A bunch of the balls I’d caught over the previous two days had similar markings. Could they be unique to Rogers Center — or to the White Sox?

Here are two more photos of the streaks on my 5,000th ball:

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the ball in regular light versus black light:

(I didn’t bring the black light to Toronto, so I took those two pics when I got home.)

Here’s how I protected (and distinguished) the ball after photographing it:

I’m sorry to say that that’s toilet paper. It was otherwise unused, but still.

And finally, here a window sill full of balls:

Ball No. 10,000, here I come…

5/27/11 at Rogers Centre

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I was scheduled to appear on the Blue Jays radio network after this game — and as a result, comp tickets, baby! Check it out:

In the photo above, that’s my ticket sitting on the window ledge in my hotel room here at Rogers Centre. My friend Andrew also got comped. He went out all afternoon and explored Toronto. I stayed in the room and did my own thing. The following four-part photo shows some of what took place in his absence:

There was overpriced pizza. There was a powwow of high-school kids in center field. There was the batting cage being dragged into place by the grounds crew. And there was an interview. Do you see the photo above with me and another guy in the hotel room? That other guy is named Arden Zwelling. He’s the Blue Jays’ associate reporter for MLB.com. He dropped by for an hour and interviewed me about — what else? — all the baseballs I’ve snagged at major league games. More specifically, he asked me a bunch of questions about my 5,000th ball; the twelve balls I’d snagged the day before had increased my lifetime total to 4,988, so the milestone was within reach.

Arden interviewed me while we stood at the window and watched several White Sox players take early BP. When balls landed in the seats, they often bounced back onto the field. The ones that stayed in the seats were ultimately retrieved by stadium employees. But there was one home run ball (hit by Adam Dunn, I think) that landed in the folded-up part of a seat. Can you spot it in the following photo?

Did you see it?

No?

Well then, here’s a closer look:

It was only 2:15pm when that ball landed there. Rogers Centre wasn’t going to open until 5:30pm, so there was lots of time for an employee to wander down into that section and find it. That said, I had a good feeling about it. Because the ball was IN a seat as opposed to lying on the ground, I figured that it would be hard for anyone else to spot. I kept glancing at it throughout the interview, and after Arden left, I continued eyeing it all afternoon. It wasn’t just any ball, after all. It was THE ball that was potentially going to extend my consecutive games streak to 700. (For those who don’t know, the last time I went to a game and didn’t snag at least one ball was September 2, 1993.)

Long story short: when the stadium finally opened, I raced out to the section in right-center field where that ball had been sitting:

It was still there! And it was pretty much brand new:

Andrew, meanwhile, had gone straight to the 200 Level. Here he is waving at me:

Here’s a photo of me that he took from above:

During BP, several kids approached me with pens in hand and copies of my newest book – The Baseball:

I wasn’t able to sign the books right away because there were baseballs flying all over the place. I didn’t want anyone to get drilled — or worse, to simply miss out on a chance to catch one — so I told them to hang tight for a few minutes.

In the photo above, the kid on the right is named Danny, the kid on the left is named Ben, and the kid in the black shirt is Ben’s younger brother Jackson. Danny didn’t know Ben and Jackson. We all just huddled together for the photo. As soon as there was a break in the action, I signed the books, as well as Jackson’s ball.

And hey, speaking of balls, I snagged three homers within a 10-minute span. The first two landed in the seats. The last two were hit by Alex Rios. I’m not sure who hit the first one, and I caught the last one on the fly. (Did you follow all of that?) Andrew also snagged a Rios homer in the 200 Level. (Rios might not be hitting much during actual games, but he sure put on a great power display during BP.)

Toward the end of BP, White Sox pitcher Tony Pena retrieved a ball on the warning track in left-center, and when I asked him for it, he demanded to know why I wanted it.

“It would make me very happy to have it!” I said. “That’s why!”

He looked up at me and shook his head.

I didn’t know what else to say, so I asked him in Spanish for the ball.

“What do you do with a baseball?” he asked. “You practice with it?!”

“I don’t know,” I said innocently. “Whenever I go to a baseball game, I just like to try to get a ball.”

Evidently, that answer was good enough. As soon as the words left my mouth, Pena shrugged and tossed it to me.

Weird.

I raced to the 1st base dugout just before BP ended…

…and got my 6th ball of the day when all the players and coaches cleared the field. I don’t know who tossed it because it came out of nowhere, from underneath the dugout roof.

The comp tickets were on the 3rd base side of home plate, but since there were more righties in the lineups, we sat on the 1st base side instead. This was my view at the start of the game…

…and this is what it looked like on my right:

It was foul ball heaven! And yet I didn’t snag any foul balls. I won’t get into the specifics. Let’s just say that I’ve had brutal luck with foul balls during this entire series.

In my previous entry, do you remember this photo of a ball sitting in my hotel room window? Well, before I left the room for this game, I placed all ten of the balls there that I’d kept. Then, during the game, I took the following photo of them:

Heh.

The Blue Jays won the game, 4-2, and after the final out, I got my 7th ball of the day from home plate umpire Paul Emmel. Two innings earlier, I’d given away one of my baseballs to a kid in my section; on my way out of the stadium, I gave away another.

I was five balls short of 5,000 — and it was time for me to go talk about it on the radio. Check out my stats below, and then keep scrolling down to see more photos…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game (five pictured here because I gave two away)

• 333 balls in 39 games this season = 8.54 balls per game.

• 700 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 224 consecutive games outside of NYC with at least one ball

• 4,995 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 get involved.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $47.88 raised at this game

• $2,277.72 raised this season

Okay, so, at around 11:15pm, Andrew and I left the hotel and took a 15-minute cab ride to this building on Bloor Street:

Getting inside took much longer than it should’ve because there weren’t any security guards downstairs, and the intercom system was confusing, and when we were finally buzzed in, we didn’t know which door was temporarily unlocked. But whatever. It all worked out, and a producer named Matt met us in the lobby. There was a little bit of time to kill before I was gonna be on the air, so after we made it upstairs, I ate one of these outside the studio:

Mmmm, delicious, and sooooo healthy. Yes. I needed something to offset all the crap I’d been eating on this trip.

Just before midnight, the studio door opened, and out walked Jeff Sammut, the overnight host of “The Jeff Sammut Show.” That’s who was going to be interviewing me. We chatted for a bit and had a few laughs before heading inside the studio. Andrew wasn’t going to be on the air, but he got to come hang out with us. Here’s a photo that he took of me just before the interview:

Here’s a (better, ahem!) shot that I took of him moments later:

The interview was great. Jeff was awesome. He mentioned my books several times and (unlike Conan) gave me a chance to talk about my charity fundraiser. I told foul ball stories, talked about strategies for snagging baseballs at Rogers Centre, and took questions from callers. At one point, I announced that at the game the following day, I would give a ball to the first person who told me that they heard me on the radio.

Jeff is truly a master at what he does, and the time flew by. He kept me on for two full segments, which turned out to be close to 40 minutes. Of course, there were a few commercial breaks and sports updates mixed in there, but I still had lots of time to talk about stuff. At one point, Jeff mentioned Andrew — and Andrew later tweeted about it. Good times.

After the interview, Jeff and I got a photo together:

What you can’t see in the photo above  is that Jeff was wearing a Yankees cap.

<sigh>

Jeff thanked me for coming on the show. I thanked him for having me in the first place. And that was pretty much it. Matt walked us downstairs, and we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.

Here’s one more photo of the stadium, which I took late at night:

The seat cleaners were busy doing their thing. In the photo above, you can see the trash that they’d gathered in the right field stands, some of which had spilled over into the bullpen.

5/26/11 at Rogers Centre

I’m in Toronto with my friend Andrew.
We’re staying at the Renaissance Hotel.
The hotel is located  inside Rogers Centre.
And yes, our room overlooks the field.

Life is good:

That’s me in the photo above.

Here’s Andrew in the photo below:

This isn’t the first time I’ve stayed in one of these rooms. I was here in April 2009 for a series against the Tigers, and after the first game, I posted this monster blog entry about the hotel experience. If you’ve never seen it, check it out immediately.

Anyway, Rogers Centre opens just 90 minutes early during the week; since this was a Thursday, the Blue Jays began taking batting practice while Andrew and I were still in the room. Here’s what it looked like:

Last time I was here, I managed to get Jesse Litsch to throw me a ball in my hotel room. Naturally, I was hoping to get another one tossed up this time around — and Jays pitcher Ricky Romero tried to hook me up:

Unfortunately his throw fell short, but he tried again and again, and Kyle Drabek joined him in attempting to reach me. Andrew filmed an *awesome* two-minute video that captured all of it, and you can see it here on YouTube:

How cool is that?

At around 5pm, Andrew and I headed outside and lined up at Gate 5:

When I ran into the stadium, I found two baseballs in the front row behind the right field bullpen. Here’s the 2nd of those balls:

In the following photo, you’ll get a better look at the right field seats:

Did you notice the red circle? That’s our hotel room.

Andrew headed up to the 2nd deck (aka the “200 Level”) and took some photos. Here’s one of me standing in the front row in left-center field…

…and here’s another that shows me using my glove trick:

Someone on the White Sox had hit a home run that landed in the gap behind the outfield wall. Just as I was getting ready to snag it with my glove trick, a groundskeeper walked over and said, “I’m gonna make it easier for you, even though you’re a White Sox fan.” (Heh.) Then he picked up the ball and tossed it to me.

I really wanted to break double digits — according to MyGameBalls.com, no one had ever done it at Rogers Centre — but I didn’t know if I’d get enough opportunities. Sure, the day was off to a great start, but there wasn’t much batting practice remaining. At least that’s what it felt like. It was already 5:40pm, which meant I only had another 35 minutes to work with.

Another thing that was working against me was the difficult configuration of the outfield seats. Have a look and then I’ll explain:

At Rogers Centre, you can only snag one-third of the home runs no matter where you are. Basically, the way it works is that one-third of the homers will land in the bullpens, another third will land in the 100 Level, and the final third will reach the 2nd deck. In other words, when you’re in the 100 Level, many balls will either fall short or sail over your head, and if you’re up top, most balls will fall short. Not good.

Andrew stayed up top. Here he is waving at me from above:

I’d told him to hang out there. I knew it would be empty, and since the Sox are a power-hitting team, I figured he’d get some opportunities. As it turned out, he only snagged one ball there — an Adam Dunn homer that landed in the seats — but given the fact that he’d only snagged two baseballs prior to that in his entire life, he was happy.

As for me…

My 5th ball of the day was thrown by Ramon Castro in left field. (Castro threw a knuckleball to me.) My 6th ball was an Adum Dunn homer that I caught on the fly in right field. (I leaned way out over the railing for it.) My 7th ball was tossed by bullpen coach Mark Salas in right field. (Nothing special about that one.) And my 8th ball was another Dunn homer in right. (I made a basket catch on it and immediately handed it to a kid.)

Then there was this ball sitting behind the left field wall:

I used my glove trick to snag it. Below is a photo of me reeling it in. The arrow is pointing at my glove, and if you look closely, you can see the ball poking out at the bottom:

Moments after I got that ball, Tony Pena tossed me another, and then I grabbed a home run that landed right behind me. I don’t know who hit it. It was like…bang-bang-bang…and suddenly my total for the day had reached eleven!

That was it for BP.

I got Omar Vizquel’s autograph on my ticket:

If his autograph looks funny, that’s because it’s upside-down. I had made sure to hand him the ticket so that it was facing the right way FOR HIM, but then he turned it around without looking and signed it. Duh.

I was drenched in sweat because I’d been running back and forth constantly (right field to left field) during BP. Check out the inside of my White Sox cap:

Ew.

I changed out of my Sox gear and got a photo with my No. 8 sign:

Why No. 8?

Because this is the 8th stadium that I’ve visited this season.

Why the silly face?

Because I’ve been making faces in all the photos (starting with No. 3) to show how I feel about each stadium. See below:

During BP, I’d met a guy named Mike who told me that he’d brought my books. He wanted me to sign them, but he knew I was busy running around, so we made a plan to meet after BP behind the White Sox dugout. I ended up having to leave that section when ushers started checking tickets, but Mike still found me down the right field line. Turns out he had all three of my books:

That’s How to Snag Major League Baseballs on the left, Watching Baseball Smarter in the middle, and The Baseball on the right.

I was shocked. I know a bunch of people who own copies of all three of my books, but I can’t remember seeing all three at once.

Soon after I finished signing the last one, I caught up with another guy named Matt, who had a copy of The Baseball. Here I am with him and his daughter Ava:

It was her first game ever, and to commemorate the event, Matt had just snagged his first baseball ever during BP.

We all hung out for a bit, and then stayed there once the game began. It was soooooo empty. I truly couldn’t decide where to be, but I figured the right field line was a solid choice. This was my view to the left…

…and this was my view to the right:

In the photo above, that’s Andrew drinking beer. He wasn’t posing. He was actually drinking it. Oh, and hey, I forgot to mention that he got a second ball from Mark Salas at the dugout after BP (I lent him my sweaty Sox cap for that one) and got Vizquel to sign it. Not bad. Andrew always seems to get great autographs when we go to games together; on 7/8/09 at Citi Field, he got Donald Trump to sign a ball.

Speaking of balls, I’d left the one from Drabek on a ledge just inside the window of the hotel room — and I could see it during the game:

In the 2nd inning, Andrew and I moved closer to home plate. Soon after, Matt ended up snagging a foul ball! He and I had pretty much been sitting in the same spot, so if I’d stayed, there’s a good chance I would’ve had it. I’m glad he got it, though. It was a really special game for him (and for his wife Caitlin), so it’s cool that things worked out as they did.

Late in the game, I noticed the booth for the Blue Jays radio network — The Fan 590. Check it out in the following photo:

Why am I pointing this out?

Because tonight (Friday, May 27th), I’m going to do an in-studio interview on The Fan after the game. I’m supposed to get there at 11:30pm (Andrew’s gonna come with me), and if all goes according to plan, I’ll be on the air at around midnight. I might only be on for five or ten minutes, but the late-night host, Jeffrey Sammut, said he might keep me on for much longer, depending on how it goes and how much other sports news there is to discuss.

Anyway, back to the game…

I didn’t snag any foul balls or 3rd-out balls, and I spent the whole night wishing I were in different sections. There was seriously TOO MUCH ROOM to maneuver, and as a result, I didn’t know what to do with myself. (I want to give a quick shout-out to a guy named Kevin [and his friend Joe] who reads this blog regularly and came over to say hi during the middle innings.)

The White Sox won, 3-1, and after the final out, Matt and I both got balls at the 1st base dugout from home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. My ball was particularly rubbed up with mud. Here I am with it, standing next to Andrew who’s holding the ball signed by Vizquel:

Here’s a close-up of the Dreckman ball:

Nice, huh?

On my way out of the stadium, I gave away a much cleaner ball to a 12-ish-year-old kid who was passing by with his father.

Good times in Toronto.
Only 12 more balls ’til 5,000…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game (ten pictured here because I gave two away)

• 326 balls in 38 games this season = 8.58 balls per game.

• 699 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 223 consecutive games outside of NYC with at least one ball

• 147 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 25 different stadiums with at last one game with ten or more balls

• 4,988 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 get involved.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $82.08 raised at this game

• $2,229.84 raised this season

5/25/11 at Yankee Stadium

It was a day game, and the batting cage was set up…

…but there was no batting practice.

As you might imagine, I was nervous about getting shut out, but thankfully, within the first five minutes, I got A.J. Burnett to throw me a ball on the right field side. I was trapped 10 rows back, but managed to get his attention, and he made a perfect toss. Here I am reaching up and catching it:

(Jona was with me and took a bunch of photos.)

My 2nd ball of the day was thrown by Marc Rzepczynski just past the outfield end of the 3rd base dugout. The ball had randomly rolled onto the warning track, so when he walked by, I called out to him and got him to hook me up. I wasn’t thrilled to be begging for balls, but given the circumstances, it was all I could do.

One minute later, I got another ball from Blue Jays coach Luis Rivera near the home plate end of the dugout. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him; Rivera had just tossed the ball, which can be seen inside the circle:

I had thrown on my Blue Jays cap and shirt, so in the photo above, that’s me wearing all blue.

Twenty minutes after that, several Blue Jays gathered along the left field foul line. One of them was holding a ball. It was Shawn Camp. Hmm…

Camp, you may recall, had tossed me two baseballs on 5/23/11 at Yankee Stadium, so before I asked him for this one, I took off my hat. I hoped that that’d make enough of a difference (in terms of changing my appearance) so that he wouldn’t recognize me.

It worked.

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air. The vertical arrow is pointing at Camp, and the horizontal arrow is pointing at me:

It was noon. I had a little more than an hour to kill, and since there wasn’t anything happening on the field, I decided to visit Monument Park for the very first time at the new Yankee Stadium. For as long as I can remember (going back to the old stadium), Monument Park has been open until 45 minutes before game time. That wasn’t the case yesterday. When I reached the entrance (in the cramped center field concourse), this is what I saw:

Double thumbs-down! Even my shadow was pissed. But in all fairness to the Yankees, the stadium’s A-to-Z Guide, which I hadn’t read beforehand, does spell out the policy as follows:

“Monument Park, a museum in and of itself, recognizes former Yankees greats. On game days, it opens with the gates and remains accessible for Guests’ enjoyment until 45 minutes prior to the scheduled game start time (subject to capacity limitations). Please note that the line to Monument Park may close earlier than the Park itself…”

So, there you have it. “Duh” to me.

Jona had never been to the upper deck at the new stadium, so we headed up there to have a look. On the way, we stopped briefly on the 200 Level and discovered THE worst seat in all of Major League Baseball. Here I am in it:

Can you believe that? In the photo above, you can see half the infield, but from where I was sitting (two feet behind that support beam), the entire infield was blocked. I hope that seat is heavily discounted and comes with a personal masseuse.

The view from the last row of the upper deck was much better:

Here’s another photo from the very top:

Jona and I sat in straight-away left field during the game. This was the view:

I had some room to run for baseballs, but nothing came close enough. Andruw Jones hit two mammoth homers — the first landed in the Jays’ bullpen, the second in Monument Park — and Mark Teixiera hit one that reached the front row half a section to my right. The Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 lead after three innings, so the game wasn’t terribly exciting. I was glad to witness history, however, when Mariano Rivera entered the game in the top of the 9th inning and made his 1,000th career appearance. Better yet, he’s the first pitcher to make 1,000 appearances with just one team. Unfortunately, his scoreless outing didn’t result in a save because the Yankees were winning, 7-3. Whatever. Still cool. Even though I don’t like the Yankees, I absolutely *love* Mo and root for him all the time no matter what.

After the final out, I headed to the corner spot beside the bullpen:

In the photo above, that’s me with the backpack. I was hoping to get a ball from the Jays as they walked from the bullpen to the dugout.

No luck.

I finished the day with four balls — but left with three. That’s because I gave one away. See the little kid in the photo above? He’s standing behind (and to the left of) the guy in the red shirt. I noticed that the kid didn’t have a ball, so before he left with his parents, I handed one to him:

Ten minutes later, I took the following photo from the elevated platform of the No. 4 train:

And right now, I’m in Toronto for a four-game series against the White Sox. It wasn’t my goal to see the Jays play every day this week, but that’s what’s going to happen…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 314 balls in 37 games this season = 8.49 balls per game.

• 698 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 147 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 4,976 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 get involved.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.36 raised at this game

• $2,147.76 raised this season

5/24/11 at Yankee Stadium

Not much to say about this game. I snagged three home run balls during batting practice, all in left field. The first was hit by A-Rod and landed in a tunnel. The second was hit by Jayson Nix — I caught it on the fly after drifting 20 feet to my left — and it was brand new:

The third was hit by a righty on the Blue Jays (no idea who), and I caught that one on the fly as well.

That was it.

I didn’t find any baseballs while running into the stadium. I didn’t snag any off the warning track with my glove trick. And I didn’t get a single toss-up from the players. Why? Because there were lots of kids:

See what I mean? I truly had no chance, and there were lots of grown-ups too. The seats were packed during BP:

Do you remember my friend Paul from my previous blog entry? (If you haven’t seen that entry, you seriously need to check it out. I was down in the “Legends” area and took a ton of photos. You won’t believe your eyes.) Well, Paul treated me to another ticket for this game. Initially, he bought a pair of tickets in straight-away left field, but then at the last minute, he decided he didn’t want to sit there. What did he do? He bought two more tickets behind the Blue Jays dugout — not directly behind it, but in the 16th row. The point is, there were four tickets for the two of us, and I used his dugout seats to get to this spot during pre-game throwing:

When John McDonald finished warming up, he spotted me and tossed me the ball.

This was my view during the game:

No, I wasn’t staring at that bag of peanuts throughout the night; I included it in the photo because I’d gotten it for free the night before in the Legends area. I loved the fact that I’d gotten free food one day and brought it back (when the food wasn’t free) the next day. Ha!

You can’t tell from the photo above, but the left field seats were uncharacteristically crowded during the game. And once again, I was surrounded by kids. Every inning break, this is what happened on my left:

As you can see, kids wandered over and lined up against the side fence of the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I don’t blame them. I don’t mean to sound negative. I love kids. I’m just making it clear that there wasn’t any chance for me to get a ball there all night. My only chance would’ve been a home run, but nothing came near me.

Paul, a diehard Yankee fan, was thrilled with the outcome of the game; his team came back from a 4-1 deficit by scoring two runs in the bottom of the 8th and two more in the bottom of the 9th.

Final score: Yankees 5, Blue Jays 4.

Oh! And how could I forget? Paul snagged two baseballs during BP. One was tossed by Bartolo Colon in right field; the other was tossed by…someone in left field. I didn’t see it, and Paul forgot who. Here I am with him after the game:

The reason why I’m only holding two baseballs in the photo above is that I’d just given two away. There was a family of four (including two little kids with empty gloves) heading up the steps, so I hooked them up and sent them home happy.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 4 balls at this game (two pictured here because, as I just mentioned, I gave two away)

• 310 balls in 36 games this season = 8.6 balls per game.

• 697 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 146 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 4,972 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 get involved.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $27.36 raised at this game

• $2,120.40 raised this season

Finally, here’s another look at the two balls I kept. The image on the left shows them in regular light, and the image on the right shows them in black light:

Bye for now.

5/23/11 at Yankee Stadium

I attended this game with an old friend named Paul Avrin. Here we are outside the stadium, 40 minutes before it opened:

Paul is a competitive Scrabble player — we met at the New York City Scrabble Club back in 1997 — and he’s completely nuts like me. My thing is baseball; his thing is Scrabble, and he’s got the stats to back it up. Paul has played, won, and lost more tournament games than anyone. Ever. According to his profile on cross-tables.com, he has a lifetime record of 3,183 wins, 3,153 losses, and 31 ties. That’s a lifetime winning percentage of .502. He’s a certifiable Scrabble expert who (as of this moment) ranks 237th in North America. (My winning percentage is .667, but I’ve only played 30 lifetime tournament games, and I sure as hell didn’t compete in the expert division, so my rating/ranking is lower.) That said, Scrabble wasn’t the story of the day. No siree! This was the story:

Paul treated me to a “Legends” ticket in the FRONT ROW behind the visitors’ dugout. He doesn’t have season tickets there. He simply went on StubHub the day before and bought them, and let’s just say they weren’t cheap.

Here’s another look at the suite entrance:

This was my first time in the Legends area, so I wanted to photograph everything — the entrance to the suite area, the upper restaurant, the lower restaurant, the seating areas, the food, the bar, the unlimited candy, the actual Legends seats themselves, and so on — but I decided to wait. The suite entrance opened at 5pm. That’s when the regular gates opened. Batting practice was underway. There were baseballs to be snagged. Even though I was dying to explore and take dozens of photographs, I made a beeline for the right field seats. Paul was cool with that. He’d been in the Legends area half a dozen times, so his goal for the day was simply to tag along and watch me in action — and to snag a ball.

When we made it out to right field, I photographed my wristband:

At lots of stadiums, fans are given wristbands in the fancy/club areas. This makes it almost impossible for people who don’t belong there to sneak in, and as you can see, the wristband I received yesterday had the game number on it. (This was the Yankees’ 30th home game of the season.) Security was as tight as ever. Don’t mess with the Legends area.

How did batting practice go?
Two words: oy vey.

I got shut out during the Yankees’ portion and then moved to the left field side when the Blue Jays started hitting. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing at Paul:

Things were dead there too, and at 5:45pm, I still didn’t have a ball. I wasn’t concerned about getting completely shut out for the entire day — our seats were too good for me not to snag something — but I was bummed at the thought of ending up with a pathetically low total.

Finally, at around 5:50pm, I got Octavio Dotel to throw me a ball along the left field foul line. Five minutes later, I got another ball from Shawn Camp in straight-away left field, and two minutes after that, I caught a home run on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it, but if I had to guess, I’d say Aaron Hill. I ranged a full section to my right for it and made a backhanded lunge at the last second — not highlight-reel-worthy, but it still felt good.

At the tail end of BP, I headed back into the Legends area (security practically seemed appalled to let me in) and positioned myself behind the Blue Jays’ dugout. Here’s what it looked like:

As you can see, there was absolutely no competition for baseballs, so when the players cleared the field, I got one thrown to me by Casey Janssen. Paul was standing next to me at the time. I was hoping that Janssen would lob it gently so that I could back off and let Paul have it, but instead he threw a BB right at me. In the name of self-preservation, I had no choice but to catch it.

It was 6:20pm. All the players were gone. It was time to explore and take photos, and I decided to head back to the suite entrance where I first got my ticket scanned. Here’s what it looked like just inside the glass doors:

Please forgive me for the occasional blurriness in these photos. I have a simple camera with a weak flash which made everything look crappy, so I had to turn if off. As a result, anyone who was moving turned out blurry, but everything else is pretty clear. Hope that’s okay. And by the way, in the photo above, that’s Paul in the dark green jacket.

After taking a few steps into the suite entrance, here’s what it looked like to the right:

That’s a pretty snazzy photo of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Hate the Yankees all you want, but you have to admit that no other team comes close to the incredible history of this franchise.

Okay now, take another look at the photo of Paul just inside the suite entrance. See the tinted blue glass behind him? That’s the area that connects the entrance to the upper restaurant. Here’s a photo that I took inside it…

…and yes, those are teeny Yankee logos all over the glass.

After walking through the open door (in the photo above), this was the view to my left:

It was a gigantic dining area.

Where was I? At a baseball stadium? At a fancy lounge in an airport? It was awesome and bizarre, and I didn’t quite know what to think.

Here’s the staircase that leads down to the lower restaurant:

In the photo above, I was facing the field, but still 150 feet away. I basically started on the very outside and was working my way in and down toward the seats directly behind home plate. One more thing about the photo above: do you see the two pieces of paper in the glass case on the right? Here’s a closer look at them:

The sheet on the left was the menu. In case you’re too lazy to click the photo above for an even closer look, here’s an example of what was available: “Chilled soba noodle salad with chili glazed beef and chopped sundried seaweed and sweet soy broth.”

Yeah.

And get this: every single item in the entire restaurant was “free” and unlimited. I put the word “free” in quotes because you basically have to take out a mortgage on your home to afford to be there in the first place, but once you ARE there, everything is F-R-E-E.

Here’s another photo that I took on the way down to the lower restaurant:

The only difference between the restaurants (other than their respective elevations) is that the upper restaurant is bigger. The food is the same in both places.

Here’s one of the seating areas in the lower restaurant:

Here’s some of the food that was available:

There were raw and cooked salads. There was sushi and sashimi. There was shrimp. There were desserts (including gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries) and seven different flavors of gelato.

After passing through the lower restaurant, I found myself at a very long crescent-shaped bar:

I didn’t realize it at the time (my quick trip through here at the start of BP was a blur), but I was directly behind home plate. I headed to my right, and when I reached the end of the bar, this is what I saw against the opposite wall:

Asia has the Great Wall of China; Yankee Stadium has the Great Wall of Candy. Not only were there bags of peanuts and Cracker Jack, but there were Snickers bars, Three Musketeers, Kit Kats, Milky Ways, M&M’s (peanut and plain), Nestle Crunch bars, Butterfingers, Twizzlers, lollipops, and Ring Pops.

<Deep breath, Zachary…>

I discovered later that at the other end of the bar, there was a similar Wall of Candy, but that one had a freezer with ice cream cups and ice cream sandwiches. But hold on. Let’s stay here at the first Wall of Candy. Directly across from it (just beyond the end of the bar) was a double-door that led to the seats:

I passed through the door and headed to my left…

…and when I reached the top of the stairs, this was my view of the field:

My gawd.

Here’s the cross-aisle that runs around the back of the entire Legends area:

Do you see those tall, dark, boxlike things that are spaced 20 feet apart?

Those are coolers filled with ice and drinks. Here’s one with bottled waters:

Again, it was all free and unlimited and there for the taking. Here are some other drink options:

Paul wanted to go eat — he was willing to miss the first inning — but I insisted on staying in the seats because it was time for pre-game throwing.

Long story short:

1) I’d never gotten a ball from A-Rod.
2) I’d always wanted a ball from A-Rod.
3) A-Rod came out to play catch and…

4) …he tossed me the ball when he finished!

I was super-pumped after that, so much so that it took me two minutes to realize that it was my 300th ball of the season.

Time out for a moment…

You know that I have a huge list of players and coaches that have thrown baseballs to me over the years, right? But did you know that I’ve been compiling a hypothetical All-Star team from that list? Now that I’ve gotten a ball from A-Rod, my All-Star team is truly invincible:

Starting pitcher — Greg Maddux
Relief pitcher — Mariano Rivera
Catcher — Mike Piazza
1st base — Albert Pujols
2nd base — Craig Biggio
3rd base — Alex Rodriguez
Shortstop — Ozzie Smith
Left field — Rickey Henderson
Center field — Tony Gwynn
Right field — Ichiro Suzuki
Manager — Tony La Russa

Who would be on your All-Star team?

Okay, time in…

This was my view (from my actual seat) in the top of the 1st inning:

Is that insane or what?

In the photo above, do you see the white sneaker on the right? That wasn’t Paul’s shoe. It belonged to a guy sitting next to us. Moments after I took that photo, a security guard walked down the steps and told the guy that he couldn’t put his foot there. The official rule is that shoes can not touch the blue strip. WTF is up with that? C’mon, Yankees, gimme a break. For $18 million per ticket, I want to be able to take a nap ON the dugout roof.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to sneak into the Legends area, but once you’re there, you can pretty much go wherever you want. So…I decided to wander over near the Yankees’ dugout and try to get a 3rd-out ball. This was my view of the field:

This was my view to the left…

…and to the right:

Un-be-LIEVE-able.

There were hardly any kids around, and there were even fewer people with gloves. I’m telling you, there was no competition for baseballs. Zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And yet I failed to get a 3rd-out ball. Russell Martin tossed one to some fans near home plate. Robinson Cano flipped one 10 rows over my head. And so on. I just couldn’t catch a break over there, but it was still fun trying.

The two restricted Legends areas are the tunnels that lead to the seats beside the dugouts. Here’s the tunnel on the 3rd-base side of home plate:

I was allowed to enter tunnel, but I had to wait for an inning break. Here’s the view of the field from up close:

(The inning was about to start, so in the photo above, Jorge Posada was stepping to the plate.)

Here are the seats behind the protective screen…

…and here are the seats next to the dugout:

When I made it back to my seat, I took a look at the menu that was poking out of my cup holder. Here’s the front and back of it…

…and here’s the inside:

See all those food items of the left? I could’ve had any of those things brought to my seat (“I’ll have one of everything, please!”) for free by a waitress. All of the non-alcoholic drinks were free too. I could’ve just sat there and told the Yankees to keep bringin’ it, but instead, I spent the entire top of the 4th inning filling a “to-go” plate with fancier food in the restaurant. Here’s what I ended up with:

On the upper left corner of my plate, I had a “honey glazed salmon filet.” To the right of that was “char grilled hangar steak.” Below that I had “roasted fingerling potatoes,” and on the lower left, there’s a delicious mound of “crab and asparagus risotto.”

OH YEAH, BABY!!!

For the moment, I was truly living large. (So was my stomach. Oof.)

Oh hey, wait, there was a baseball game being played! When Russell Martin popped up to 1st baseman Juan Rivera to end the bottom of the 4th inning. I quickly lent Paul my Blue Jays cap, and we shouted at Rivera as he jogged off the field with the ball. Paul was on my right. I wanted him to get the ball. But as Rivera approached the dugout and spotted us, he under-handed it to my left. I stood back and held my glove in the spot where the ball was going to end up if Paul couldn’t reach it. But he DID reach it. He lunged across me and made a slick catch with full extension — not his first ball ever, but one of just a few. He was really happy about it…

…and so was I. Mission accomplished.

Because Paul had bought these seats on StubHub, we didn’t have real tickets. We had the ugly print-at-home versions. Why am I mentioning this? Because…while I spent the top of the 5th inning gathering an assortment of desserts, Paul talked the guys next to him into giving us their tickets. Wanna see fancy? Behold:

The face value on those tickets is $260. I actually thought they’d cost a lot more, and they DO cost a lot more on StubHub. Anyway, let’s talk about dessert, shall we? I started with two scoops of gelato:

One scoop was hazelnut. The other was chocolate. I ate this first because my other desserts were not in danger of melting. Have a look:

There was carrot cake, tiramisu, cheesecake (with a blackberry on top), a lemon square, white chocolate mousse in an edible chocolate cup, and chocolate-covered strawberries. The dessert on the lower right had a raspberry filling and a hint of alcohol, I think, but what the hell do I know? I’m not exactly a culinary expert.

Ready for the funny photo of the day?

I wonder what Yunel Escobar would say if he saw that.

Soon after I took that photo, I made random eye contact with Kyle Drabek, who was sitting on the top step of the dugout. I noticed that he had a ball in his hand, so I held up my glove and flapped it, and he tossed the ball to me. La-dee-da. Thank you very much. Here’s a photo of Drabek (indicated by the red arrow) shortly after he hooked me up:

Oh, and how could I forget? The restaurant had a hot dog station:

But screw the hot dogs. I went for more of the good stuff and brought it back to my seat:

I got more steak and potatoes as well as chicken, carrots, fried onions, lobster, and salad (with caesar dressing and croutons and shredded cheese and cucumbers).

OH YEAH, BABY!!!!!!!!!

I was already stuffed before I ate all of that, and I truly didn’t care. The way I saw it was that if I didn’t feel at least a little bit sick by the end of the night, then I failed. Along these lines, I ate an ice cream sandwich for good measure:

I also drank three bottles of water and made two (harmless!) trips to the bathroom. Here’s a photo of the bathroom which (c’mon, Yankees), was way too small and often had a long line out the door as a result:

Yes, those are TV screens embedded into the mirror. This whole Legends experience was so luxurious and excessive and unnecessary that it was comical. But hey, it was incredible to do it once, and I can’t thank Paul enough for his generosity. There aren’t too many more firsts for me to experience at major league baseball stadiums, but I certainly enjoyed one yesterday.

Derek Jeter grounded out to Escobar to end the 7th inning. Rivera took the throw at 1st base, jogged in with the ball, and tossed it to me. This was my 7th ball of the day. Here’s a photo of it:

It’s pretty cool to own a ball that was used to retire Derek Jeter. Of course, I’d much rather have a ball that Jeter spanked for a base hit (or better yet, a home run), but I’m not complaining. I realize how special it is.

The Blue Jays won the game, 7-3, and after the final out, I got three balls tossed to me within a 30-second span. The first came from home plate umpire Scott Barry near the outfield end of the dugout. The second came from Ricky Romero at the home-plate end, and the third was tossed by Frank Francisco. It was the ball that he had used to strike out Curtis Granderson for the final out. I gave two of these baseballs to a pair of kids who were standing near me, and when the Blue Jays relievers walked in from the bullpen, I got another ball from Shawn Camp (who thankfully didn’t recognize me).

Wow.

When BP had ended, I only had three balls. When the game had started, I still only had five. When the game had ended, I was up to seven, and by the time Paul and I were ready to leave, I had snagged eleven. Here we are before heading out:

Thanks and more thanks to Paul for treating me to this mind-blowing experience.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave two away)

• 306 balls in 35 games this season = 8.74 balls per game.

• 696 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 145 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball

• 146 lifetime games with 10 or more balls

• 7 stadiums with 100 or more balls (Shea Stadium, old Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park, new Yankee Stadium, and Nationals Park)

• 4,968 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 get involved.)

• 47 donors

• $6.84 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $75.24 raised at this game

• $2,093.04 raised this season

WAIT! We’re not done yet. I have a couple more photos to share…

First, here’s a side-by-side look at the nine balls I kept. The image on the left shows them in regular light, and the image on the right shows them in black light:

Finally, you remember the Wall of Candy, right? Well, every time I passed by it, I filled my pockets with chocolate bars and other treats, and when I made it back to my seat, I unloaded it all into my backpack. Eventually, Paul started filling his pockets too, and he gave me everything. I also grabbed a few drinks on the way out, so by the end of the night, I was ready to open my own convenience store. Here’s all the stuff I brought home:

I’m not exactly proud of this. It just kind of happened. (Diabetes might also happen if I’m not careful.) But in my own defense, I’d like you to know that I wasn’t the only person grabbing stuff.

The End.

5/20/11 at Citizens Bank Park

This was the story of my day:

No wait, it was the story of my week — rain, more rain, even more rain, and no batting practice.

Yesterday in Philly, things were dead for the first 30 minutes. There wasn’t a single player on the field, and I was wishing that I’d stayed home in New York City. It’s not that I was worried about getting shut out; it’s that I simply wasn’t having fun. (No offense to Jona, who was with me.)

Several Rangers players finally came out and took a slow lap around the field. I was trapped in the left field seats — that’s the rule for the first hour at Citizens Bank Park — so I couldn’t get near them at first. Now, it just so happened that they had a couple of baseballs, so when they headed back toward their dugout on the 3rd base side, I called out and got Chris Davis to throw one:

The ball landed in the seats and took a perfect bounce right to me, and as soon as I caught it, I handed it to the nearest kid.

Fifteen minutes later, the Phillies’ pitchers began playing catch in right field:

Of course I couldn’t get near them, so I waited and watched the clock and hoped that they’d still be there when the rest of the stadium opened. Well, by the time I was allowed to run over, there were three players remaining — and three baseballs sitting near them on the field. There was a little kid with his father in foul territory. They got the first ball. There was another little kid on my right. He got the second ball. And since there weren’t any other kids, I got the final ball. Antonio Bastardo (yes, that’s actually his name) tossed it to me, and you can see it inside the red circle in the following photo:

The Rangers had already started playing catch across the field, so I hurried over and promptly snagged a ball that was thrown wildly into the seats. Then, five minutes later, I got bullpen coach Andy Hawkins to toss me my 4th ball of the day. Here’s a photo of that ball flying toward me; note where Neftali Feliz was looking:

Quite simply, he wasn’t looking at me. In other words, he hadn’t seen me get that ball, so when he started jogging toward the dugout with an extra ball in his glove, I realized that I might be able to get it. I cut through the seats (in an attempt to keep up with him) and shouted his name. He ignored me and kept jogging. I shouted again and asked for the ball in Spanish. He immediately looked up and tossed it in my direction. Unfortunately, it sailed 10 feet over my head, but because the seats were so empty, I still managed to chase it down. Here I am about to grab it with my glove:

Moments later, Matt Harrison started walking toward me. Rather than asking for an autograph, I thought it’d be cool just to shake his hand. This was the result:

Ouch! I got completely dissed!

I suspected that Harrison hadn’t seen or heard me, so when he stopped soon after to sign for a couple kids, I tried again:

Now THAT’S more like it.

I enjoy getting autographs, but in some cases, I actually find it more rewarding to simply shake hands. By not asking for anything (except the handshake itself), I feel like I’m equal to the player. You know what I mean? I spend so much time begging for baseballs that it’s nice to break free from the collecting mindset every now and then. That’s what I did on 5/16/11 at Citi Field when I got close to Mike Stanton, and it really felt nice. Of course, it’d also be nice to have his autograph, but the handshake was a solid alternative.

Anyway, back in begging mode, I got David Murphy to toss me his warm-up ball right before the game. Can you spot it sailing toward me in the following photo?

(Don’t forget, you can click all these photos for a closer look.)

That ball was actually hard to catch. For a split-secont, I completely lost it in the lights and nearly had it clank off my glove.

Jona and I wandered a bit during the game, but spent most of our time behind the Rangers’ dugout. This was our view in the bottom of the 1st inning:

I wasn’t just hoping for a 3rd-out ball. I was expecting to snag one, but I came up empty. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson struck out so many batters (ten in seven innings) that catcher Yorvit Torrealba ended up tossing a bunch of balls over the home-plate end of the dugout. First baseman Michael Young, meanwhile, kept lobbing balls deep into the crowd, and the one time that Elvis Andrus ended up with a ball, he looked right at me before tossing it to a grown man wearing Phillies gear.

At least the game was exciting. Roy Halladay pitched for the Phillies and was pretty close to dominant, as usual. In eight innings of work, he allowed two runs on six hits, while walking one and striking out seven. Wilson only surrendered four hits, but one was a two-run homer by Ben Francisco and another was a solo shot by Raul Ibanez. That was your offense. Final score: Phillies 3, Rangers 2.

Jona took a great photo of the crowd’s reaction when David Murphy was caught stealing to end the game. Check it out:

After the final out, three things happened:

1) Arthur Rhodes threw me a ball when he walked in from the bullpen.
2) Some random ballboy-type-guy tossed me another.
3) I gave a ball to a little girl in the concourse.

The following three-part photo shows these things happening:

Keep reading past the stats to see more photos…

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 8 balls at this game (six pictured here because I gave two away)

• 295 balls in 34 games this season = 8.68 balls per game.

• 695 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 221 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 4,957 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 get involved.)

• 46 donors

• $6.74 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $53.92 raised at this game

• $1,988.30 raised this season

Okay, so, more photos…

First, here’s a side-by-side look at the six balls I kept. The image on the left shows them in regular light, and the image on the right shows them in black light:

Next up, since a bunch of people have said it’d be cool to see non-baseball/”behind-the-scenes” photos, here are a few that were taken at the start of the day…

This is what it looked like while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike from New York to Philadelphia:

Yuck.

I assumed there wasn’t going to be batting practice, but I knew I’d find happiness elsewhere:

After getting off the Turnpike at exit 3, Jona and I stopped at an amazing custard place called Rita’s. Even though I’m allergic to dairy (life is cruel) and sugar (really really cruel), stopping at Rita’s has become a ritual on my trips to Philly. And for the record, the vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles was just one of three things I got. In case you haven’t noticed, I have issues with moderation.

When we reached the stadium, the sugar made me hyper…

…but then again, so did the air. (Can you imagine how hard it was for me to sit still in school, especially after ingesting juice and cookies at snack time? I can’t even sit still at baseball games, and I *like* baseball.)

Finally, here’s a photo of Jona grabbing my face:

See what kind of stuff takes place behind the scenes? It’s not always pretty, but there you have it.

Next week, I might attend seven Blue Jays games and snag my 5,000th ball. We’ll see how that goes, but at the very least, I’ll definitely be at the Rogers Centre from May 26-29, so if you’re there, come say hi.

5/19/11 at Citi Field

Two weeks ago, before the start of a 1:10pm Mets game, there were a zillion kids in the stands for “Environmental Education Day.” Remember? It was awful. No batting practice. Very few players. Lots of noise and stress.

Well, today was “Weather Education Day” at Citi Field, and it was more crowded than ever. This is what it looked like when I entered the stadium at 11:10am:

Jona was with me once again and took some photos. Here I am waiting for my first ball of the day:

It was thrown by Nationals bullpen coach Jim Lett, and in the following photo, you can see the ball sailing toward me:

It’s always a huge relief to get my first ball out of the way, even more so when there’s no batting practice, so I was feeling pretty good at that point.

Several minutes later, four Nationals pitchers came out to play catch, and I moved to the seats in straight-away left field:

I ended up getting Drew Storen to throw me a ball — and then things went dead. For the next hour, there wasn’t a single player on the field. The only entertainment (if you can call it that) was the Weather “Education” program. This included a video montage of cars driving in snow and a name-that-tune game with weather-related songs (“In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, “The Tide is High” by Blondie, et cetera). It was truly painful.

Shortly before game time, I had the whole front row to myself just past 3rd base…

…and got Roger Bernadina to toss me my 3rd ball of the day. In the photo above, Benadina is all the way over on the left. He and Danny Espinosa were playing catch.

The ball had an unusual stain on the sweet spot:

Any idea what might’ve caused that?

Speaking of stains, look what I found when I ran to the bathroom:

Here’s a closer look:

It was a dollar! Oh yeah, baby! Big excitement at Citi Field! And hey, did you notice the orange-and-blue (and also black-and-white) floor? Yay for team colors! (And yay for not getting arrested for whipping out my camera in the bathroom.)

Umm, anyway, this was my view during the game:

I picked that spot because the entire row on my left was empty…

…and look! Here I am running through it for a foul ball:

I didn’t snag that ball, but I’m glad to say that I did chase after it with solid ballhawking fundamentals; while everyone around me was looking up at the ball, I was focusing on my path to the spot where I predicted it was going to land.

With one out in the bottom of the 1st inning, I did manage to snag a foul ball off the bat of Josh Thole. As you’ll see in a moment, there were lots of empty seats around me, so when the ball was slashed to my right, I bolted in that direction. Thankfully, it took a lucky bounce off a seat and plopped down into the row right behind me. Beyond that, there was nothing fancy about it. Here I am holding it up right after snagging it:

Here’s a screen shot from the Nationals’ MASN broadcast that was taken at that very moment:

Here’s another screen shot (sent by a friend who happened to record the game) that shows me back in my seat, positioned just behind Jona:

The reason why I was wearing Nationals gear is that I planned to make an attempt to snag a 3rd-out ball behind the dugout. I just wanted to wait until the Mets had a righty at bat with two outs — that way I wouldn’t miss a foul ball opportunity — and in the bottom of the 4th inning, I got my chance. With two outs, Ruben Tejada lined out to right fielder Jayson Werth, who jogged in with the ball and tossed it to me. The following photo was taken just as I squeezed it with my glove:

In the photo above, I didn’t draw red arrows because there’s too much stuff going on, so in case you can’t see me, I’m leaning out over the dugout roof. My black jacket is on, and my red Nationals shirt is poking out in the back. Werth, meanwhile, is heading toward me on the far left.

Given the fact that this was a school day, there were very few kids in the stands, but I still gave away two baseballs over the course of the game.

Speaking of the game, I first noticed that Mets starter Dillon Gee had a no-hitter after the 3rd inning. His no-no lasted through the 4th…and then through the 5th. In the 50-year history of the New York Mets, no pitcher has ever thrown a no-hitter, so this was potentially a VERY big deal. Well, with two outs in the 6th and the right-handed Livan Hernandez stepping to the plate, I pulled out my camera and took this photo of the scoreboard:

On the very next pitch, Hernandez lined a sharp single up the middle.

(My fault?)

After the 6th inning, the Mets’ roving cameraman entered my section to film a trivia-related segment with a fan sitting several rows below me. Naturally, I moved down and sat right behind the fan…

…and got myself on the Jumbotron…

…just for the hell of it. And yes, I changed out of my Nationals gear. I didn’t want to disrespect the segment or my fellow New Yorkers.

The Mets ended up winning the game, 1-0. Gee improved to 3-0 with a 3.44 ERA. Francisco Rodriguez nailed down his 14th save and lowered his ERA to 0.79. But the best number of all is that after the final out, I got my 6th ball of the day from home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 287 balls in 33 games this season = 8.7 balls per game.

• 694 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 369 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 132 lifetime foul balls during games (not counting balls that were tossed into the crowd)

• 4,949 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 get involved.)

• 45 donors

• $6.73 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $40.38 raised at this game

• $1,931.51 raised this season

One more thing: black light time! Here’s another look at the four balls I kept. The image on the left shows them in regular light, and the image on the right shows them in black light:

See the ball with the crystal-clear “466″ stamp? That was the Josh Thole foul ball. Hot damn.

5/16/11 at Citi Field

You might get sick of hearing about this, but I have to mention it one more time…

Do you remember when I caught three foul balls on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards? And do you remember the photo of me with those balls after the game? Well, look where that photo ended up:

That’s right. CNN.

Yesterday morning, several hours before heading off to Citi Field, I was picked up by a car service and taken to the Time Warner Center. I was scheduled for a live/national TV interview, and while waiting in the “green room” beforehand, I saw several teasers for my segment on a small flat-screen TV. The photo above shows one of them. Here’s another:

(I built that baseball pyramid three years ago. Click here to see all the work that went into it.)

Here’s a photo of me in the green room…

…and here’s the view of Columbus Circle from the window:

Initially, I was told that my interview was going to air at 10:15am — that’s what I’d tweeted earlier that morning — but it ended up getting pushed back several minutes. Here I am waiting for it to start:

Carol Costello, the woman who was going to be interviewing me, was in Washington, D.C., so I expected to be filmed in a teeny studio with one of those fake city-skyline backdrops. But as you can see in the photo above, that wasn’t the case. I was actually going to be filmed inside the CNN newsroom. Check it out:

In the photo above, I was adjusting my earpiece while getting some last-minute details from one of the producers. The earpiece wasn’t particularly comfortable, and I was afraid that it was going to pop out, but it HAD to stay. That’s how I was going to hear Costello’s questions. Here’s a closer look at it, taken moments before the interview got underway:

In the photo above, do you see the big black thing below the red numbers. That’s where the camera was located, so that’s where I had to look. I wasn’t nervous, but doing the actual interview wasn’t easy. Listen here. Look there. Plug the book. Mention the charity. Don’t squint even though there are four extremely bright lights in your face. Et cetera.

The interview was quick. Really quick. I was told that it was going to last four to five minutes, but I think it ended up being less than two. I still haven’t seen it, so I have no idea how I looked or sounded, but I think it went pretty well. (If anyone happened to record it, please let me know. CNN is not going to send me a copy.)

I had a few hours at home in the early afternoon, and even though the weather sucked, I headed out to Citi Field. Here’s what the stadium looked like when I exited the subway:

Not surprisingly, the tarp was out, and there wasn’t batting practice:

Things were dead. Only a handful of players came out to throw, so it took 45 minutes to get my first ball of the day. It was tossed by Marlins closer Leo Nunez. Just before the game was supposed to start, I got another ball from Hanley Ramirez (who thankfully didn’t remember me from 5/13/11 at Nationals Park). Here’s a photo that shows Ramirez before he walked in and threw it to me:

As soon as I caught it, I handed it to the nearest kid, and then a minute later, I gave away my other ball as well. But hold on a second. In the photo above, do you see the groundskeepers working on the infield dirt? I didn’t think anything of it at the time because (a) the rain had pretty much stopped, (b) there’d been an announcement that the game was scheduled to begin on time, and (c) both starting pitchers had finished warming up.

While waiting for the elevator to take me up to the club level, I pulled out my ancient cell phone and pressed a button to illuminate the clock. It was 7:10pm. That’s when the game was supposed to start, so I raced up several flights of stairs. I hadn’t seen the field for at least five minutes — the elevator is tucked out of view in the concourse behind home plate — so I was surprised to see that the groundskeepers were still out there.

It was 7:11pm.
Still no players in sight.
Then 7:15.
And then 7:20.

While some of the groundskeepers were dumping countless bags of Turface onto the infield dirt, the others were raking it in and smoothing it out, but get this: after the entire infield appeared to be ready, the groundskeepers shoveled off the surface-layer dirt and carted it away. And then they dumped out even more bags of Turface. Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez and Mets manager Terry Collins both came out to have a look:

What the hell was going on? The tarp had been covering the field earlier. Why was there a problem? I’d never seen anything like this, and the most outrageous thing of all is that the Mets did not make an announcement about it! I understand that when the game was first delayed, no one knew when it was going to start, but Jesus Aitch, to leave the fans sitting around wondering and waiting without an explanation or any type of acknowledgment is inexcusable.

Finally, at 8pm, there was an announcement that the game was scheduled to begin at 8:30pm. Everyone booed, and rightly so. There still wasn’t an explanation or apology. Meanwhile, a light mist was falling, and the temperature was so cold that I could see my breath. In addition, both of my feet were clammy and semi-numb. (Evidently, I had stepped in a puddle earlier in the day.) Just before the game started, I took off my shoes and socks in an attempt to air them out. That didn’t work, so after I put my wet socks back on, I stuffed napkins inside both of my sneakers. That didn’t work either.

Anyway, this was my view during the game:

There were so many empty seats around me that I would’ve bet money on snagging at least one foul ball.

Unfortunately, there was only one foul ball hit anywhere near me all night, and would you believe that it landed right next to the only two fans in the section? It hit the seat next to a 60-something-year-old woman who was tucked cozily under a blanket. (She was there with another woman, also tucked in, who was a reading a book throughout the game.) As I ran over in an attempt to snag the ball, she casually reached down into the folded up portion of the seat and pulled it out. If the ball had ricocheted anywhere or landed in any other seat, I would’ve had it. And fine, yes, I know this wasn’t a milestone home run, but it was still incredibly frustrating. The woman saw the look of dismay on my face and offered the ball to me. Since I don’t count balls in my collection that are given to me by fans, I politely turned down her offer. Several innings later, when she and her companion got up to leave, she approached me with the ball in hand.

“Here,” she said, holding it out for me.

I thanked her profusely and once again turned down her offer.

“Please,” she insisted with a hint of forceful urgency, “if I take this ball home, my dog will eat it.”

I felt like I had no choice at that point, so I accepted the ball from her and gave it to a kid soon after. Somehow, I’d managed to give away more balls than I’d snagged, and for the record, NO, the ball that the woman gave me does NOT in any away figure into my collection. Other than describing it here, I’m treating it as if it never happened.

By the 11th inning, Citi Field was as empty as I’d ever seen it during a game:

I wished there were three of me so that I could’ve positioned myself in several different sections. It was foul ball heaven, or at least it should’ve been, but nothing else came anywhere near me. It was sad — really very extremely sad. There’ve been games when half a dozen foul balls have landed in the club level; if this had been one of them, I seriously would’ve gotten four or five.

<sigh>

The Marlins scored in the top of the 11th on a two-out single by Burke Badenhop. Did you hear me? BURKE BADENHOP!!! In case you’re not familiar with Burke Badenhop, he’s a relief pitcher. This was his second at-bat since 2009, and he was 1-for-23 in his career. That’s an .043 batting average. And that’s why baseball is amazing and awesome and heartbreaking all at once. In the bottom of the 11th, the Mets used Jon Niese as a pinch hitter with two outs. Did you hear me? JON NIESE!!! In case you’re not familiar with Jon Niese, he’s a starting pitcher. Entering this at-bat, he was 13-for-80 in his career. That’s a .163 batting average. What happened next, you ask? Niese worked the count to 3-2 and then blasted a 390-foot triple off center fielder Emilio Bonifacio’s glove. Then Jose Reyes stepped up to the plate with a chance to tie the game and be a hero…and he struck out.

Final score: Marlins 2, Mets 1.

I was down behind the Marlins’ dugout at that point and got Perry Hill, the team’s 1st base coach, to toss me one of the dirtiest baseballs I’ve ever seen at a major league stadium. Check it out:

I suspect that this was the infield warm-up ball for the entire game. How else could it have gotten so beat up?

While waiting for the relievers to walk in from the bullpen, I made eye contact with an on-field security supervisor who’s known me for a decade. He mouthed the word “three” and held up three fingers with an incredulous expression.

“Did you see me on CNN?” I asked.

He shook his head, and before he had a chance to answer, I sprung back into action. Brian Sanches was approaching with a ball tucked in his glove, so I called out to him and got him to toss it to me.

“You’re incredible,” mouthed the security guard, shaking his head with amusement and perhaps a bit of disbelief.

Moments later, Mike Stanton (and 3rd base coach Joey Espada) came out of the dugout to talk to a few fans:

I could’ve gotten Stanton’s autograph, but instead I asked for a handshake.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said as I shook his massive hand.

“Nice to meet you too,” he said. He probably didn’t mean it, at least not as much as I’d meant it, but it was still cool to see him up close and have a brief/basic conversation.

I told him that I caught his 2nd career home run in Puerto Rico, but he was understandably distracted at that point, so it didn’t really register.

That was pretty much it. It was past midnight. The light mist was still falling. The few remaining security guards were aching to leave, so they walked me (and several other fans) up the steps, and I headed back to the subway.

One last thing…

Do you remember when I was filmed during batting practice on 5/11/11 at Camden Yards? Well, that segment aired last night, and you can watch it here.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

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

• 281 balls in 32 games this season = 8.78 balls per game.

• 693 consecutive games with at least one ball

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

• 368 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 30 consecutive games at Citi Field with at least two balls

• 4,943 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 get involved.)

• 43 donors

• $6.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $26.48 raised at this game

• $1,860.22 raised this season

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