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.”
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:
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:
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).
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.
• 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
(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.