4/29/11 at Minute Maid Park
This was the third game I ever attended at Minute Maid Park and the first since August 18, 2005.
Here I am (standing on a giant baseball) outside the center field gate:
From a ballhawking perspective, the worst thing about this stadium is that it opens just 90 minutes before game time. That’s the policy everyday except Saturday — the gates open two hours early then — but this was a Friday so I wasn’t going to have much time to work my magic.
The other worst thing about this stadium is the railing situation. I’d forgotten just how many rows the railings blocked until I made it out to the right field seats. Have a look for yourself:
As you can see, there isn’t a railing in the front row — but the front row is always packed, so there’s never a chance to run there anyway. Since the railing blocks four of every five rows, that means there’s a space in the sixth and eleventh rows. But guess what? If you’re standing in the eleventh row, you’ll be tucked underneath the overhang of the second deck. In other words, if you’re hoping to run left or right for a home run ball, there’s only ONE good row in all of right field! I truly couldn’t comprehend how I’d managed to snag 12 balls here on August 17, 2005.
In the photo above, do you see the guy reaching up with his glove? His name is Donny Haltom, he’s a semi-regular at Minute Maid Park, and he’s been reading this blog (and leaving comments as “txfilmmkr”) for years. This was the first time we’d ever met in person. See the kid standing a few feet in front of him? That’s Donny’s nine-year-old son, Lance, who was named after Lance Berkman. You’ll see a photo of them later on.
Within the first 20 seconds, Donny got a ball tossed to him by Nelson Figueroa. I got a ball two minutes later, and although I’m not positive, I’m pretty sure it was thrown by Bud Norris. The Astros, meanwhile, were about to finish their portion of batting practice, so I raced over to their dugout. I was the only fan with a glove. The coaches were huddled around the ball basket…
…and I didn’t get anything. I never really expect to be given a baseball, but this was as close as it gets to a guarantee, so it was pretty disappointing. But maybe I should’ve known better. Since I first started attending games regularly in 1992, the Astros have been THE stingiest team in terns of tossing balls into the crowd. Why do you think they drew H’s on their baseballs for all those years? It’s because they were paranoid about their own players stealing them and getting them signed.
When the Brewers started hitting, I changed into my Brewers gear and headed to the left field foul line. Check out this cool shot of me with the scoreboard in the background:
BTW, all the photos of me were taken by my friend (and Houston resident) Mike Miles. You’ll see a photo of us in a bit.
Here’s a photo that I took of the Crawford Boxes:
The rest of the stadium was empty, but that section was packed. No surprise there.
With lots of righties taking turns in the cage, I had no choice but to hang out behind the arches in the left field concourse. This was my view…
…and five minutes later, this was the result:
Someone had hit a home run that sailed through an arch, smacked the pavement in the concourse, and bounced up against the plexiglass windows at the back. I was able to run over and jump and catch the ball off the deflection. The Brewers, evidently as concerned as the Astros about theft, had marked the ball with a blue line on the sweet spot.
I headed back to right field when Prince Fielder started taking his cuts. This was the result:
Fielder had hit a homer that cleared the bullpen and landed in the third row. Thankfully, the seats there weren’t crowded, so I was able to race over and grab it.
In the photo above, the kid looking at me (just to the left of my hand) is Lance. Here I am, moments later, talking to his father:
I used the glove trick to snag my next ball from the bullpen. That was my 4th of the day, and the following photograph shows exactly where the ball had been sitting:
I had to snag it quickly and carefully because there was a nearby security guard that Donny had warned me about.
My 5th ball of the day was thrown by a Brewers pitcher that I couldn’t identify. It might’ve been Mitch Stetter, but I’ll never know.
My 6th ball was thrown by Sergio Mitre, and it took him two attempts to get it to me. The first one fell short and landed in the bullpen. Most players, at that point, would’ve shrugged and walked away, but Mitre jogged over and unlatched the bullpen gate and retrieved the ball and flipped it back up to me. It was incredibly nice of him.
This is what it looked like behind the dugout:
If the front row looks oddly empty in the photo above, that’s because the Astros don’t allow people to hang out there. Silly rule. But it didn’t stop me from getting two baseballs. The first was tossed by hitting coach Dale Sveum. The second came from stud pitcher Yovani Gallardo.
It was time to get a photo with my stadium number sign — the number 6 because this was the 6th stadium I’d been to this season. The photo shoot, however, didn’t go as planned. Mike had an itchy trigger finger on the camera and kept taking pics before I was ready. Here’s one of the photos he took. I’m half-laughing and half-yelling at him to slow down:
Things had calmed down by the time I got a photo with Donny and Lance:
As you can see, Donny had his copy of my new book, The Baseball, and Lance had a gigantic glove, just like the one I first blogged about on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium. (Donny is a family lawyer. Click here to see his firm’s website, and hey, while I’m sharing links, click here to see his profile on MyGameBalls.com. I’d also like to share the fact hat Donny has generously pledged five cents per ball this season for my charity fundraiser.)
Shortly before game time, there was a message from George Bush Sr. on the Jumbotron:
It had something to do with voting for Astros for the All-Star Game.
Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancount played catch in front of the dugout. Here’s a photo of Betancourt…
…who tossed me the ball when they finished.
I’d snagged nine balls, seven of which were marked on the sweet spot:
Mike and I had splurged and bought tickets in the Crawford Boxes. This was the view:
During the second inning, I attempted to get another photo with my stadium number sign. Here it is:
I couldn’t decide what type of silly face to make. Should I have appeared excited because the stadium is so beautiful? Or disgusted because it’s so hard to snag baseballs during batting practice? Eh. I was just glad to be there. Here’s a collage of photos from the first six stadiums of 2011:
Here I am with Mike:
He and I have known each other for about 13 years. We met because his high-school girlfriend was best friends with the girl I dated throughout college and, you know, everyone was friends with everyone at a certain point. Incidentally, his high-school girlfriend was with me when I caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career home run on 8/16/06 at PETCO Park. Mike might look familiar to longtime readers of this blog because he was with me on 9/26/05 and 9/20/06 at Citizens Bank Park.
But let’s get back to this game here in Houston. It was t-shirt night. Here’s a cute photo of a little kid walking through the concourse in one of the XL shirts:
Halfway though the game, the Crawford Boxes filled up, and I was still stuck at nine baseballs, and I really wanted to hit double digits, and I also really wanted a ball from Prince Fielder, so Mike and I moved to some empty seats behind the Brewers’ dugout. This was my view:
With two outs in the bottom of the 5th, Clint Barmes hit a grounder to my man Yuniesky Betancourt. Fielder took the throw at first base, and as he lumbered off the field, he tossed me the ball. This was such a momentous event that the Astros set off fireworks in my honor:
Actually, the game had ended by the time the fireworks went off. The Brewers won, 5-0, behind seven strong innings from Shaun Marcum.
• 10 balls at this game (nine pictured below because I gave one away)
• 178 balls in 21 games this season = 8.48 balls per game.
• 682 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 215 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 141 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 4,840 total balls
Now, as promised, here are the nine balls I kept. The photo on the lower left shows them in regular light; the photo on the lower right shows them in black light:
Here’s a closer look at the two of the invisible ink stamps:
One more thing…
(I’m raising money 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.)
• 40 donors
• $6.26 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $62.60 raised at this game
• $1,114.28 raised this season