8/17/11 at Nationals Park
This was one of those days when everything went right — or at least almost everything. I snagged so many balls during batting practice that I briefly lost count, and so many of these balls were home runs that I couldn’t keep track of who was hitting them. The worst thing about the day was that no one was with me to film or photograph the action.
That said, let’s start here:
That was my view for most of BP, and I snagged half a dozen balls within the first 15 minutes:
1) a home run that landed near me in the seats
2) a toss-up from Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus
3) a home run by Rick Ankiel that I caught on the fly
4) another home run that I caught on the fly
5) yet another home run that I caught on the fly
6) yet another additional home run that I caught on the fly
Sorry to be blowing through this so quickly, but (a) I can’t remember all the details of every snag and (b) if I did, it would take me all day to blog about it. I will say, though, that the Rick Ankiel homer was one of the best catches that I’ve made all season. I was in the 3rd row when he hit it, and believe me, I was surprised that a lefty hit the ball so far to the opposite field. As soon he connected, I could tell that it was going to sail over my head and tail away from me, so I darted about 10 feet to my right, then climbed back over a row, moved a bit more to my right, climbed back over another row, and at the very last second, I lunged high over my head and to the right for a back-handed catch in the tip of my glove. Some of my home run catches were easy, others (like this one) required a bit of effort, and beyond that, I really can’t remember which ball was which.
For the record, there were four other kids in the entire section.
“Have you gotten a ball yet today?” I asked one of them.
“No, but that’s okay,” he said, “I’ve gotten, like, a hundred.”
I offered a ball to another kid, who told me that he’d already snagged two. And so on. Fifteen minutes into BP, every kid around me had snagged multiple baseballs, except for the one boy who claimed triple digits. This is important. While I was snagging just about every homer that reached the seats, the kids were cleaning up in the front and getting toss-ups from the players. No one was upset with me. In fact, several parents actually thanked me for offering to hook up their kids.
Now that you know that, take a look at the following photo. It shows the seats behind me, and more importantly, it shows the most despicable security guard of all time. He’s the guy wearing yellow:
Before I tell you what he did, you need to know that the kid pictured above was not standing there when this happened. He was down in front. At the time of this incident, there was NO ONE behind me.
Okay, ready to hear what the guard did?
Someone on the Nationals (probably Michael Morse, if I had to guess) launched a colossal homer in my direction. The ball cleared the regular rows of seats and landed near one of the tables up above. (You can’t see the tables in the photo above, so just know this: the back of the section is like a terrace/restaurant, where people can sit and eat. Of course, there was no one there at the time because it was only 4:50pm.) I paused for a moment to see where the ball was going to end up. I thought it might ricochet all the way back down to me — that happens sometimes when there’s lots of concrete and flat surfaces — but instead the ball settled underneath one of the tables. At that point, I started running up the steps, and when I reached the row of tables where the ball was, I ran to my right. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the security guard decided to race me for the ball, and he came charging at me from the right. I thought he was just messing with me at first and making it look like he was gonna rob me, so I kept running, and we both arrived at the ball at the same time. When I bent down to reach for it, he also bent down and SLAMMED into me. More specifically, his left elbow whacked me on the nose. And he took the ball. And he wouldn’t give it back.
I was shocked and then furious. I’ve been to an awful lot of games, and I know this: stadium employees are not allowed to keep baseballs that enter the seats, especially not when there are fans in the seats, and ESPECIALLY not when doing so injures the fans. It was truly unbelievable, and my nose was throbbing. When I told the guard (who was about 6-foot-5) that what he did was completely unacceptable, his response went as follows:
“You wanna make a scene? You know you ain’t even supposed to be in this section without a ticket for here.”
That was simply not true. The Red Porch seats are open to everyone during batting practice. It didn’t use to be like that, but now it is.
When I complained further, he simply said, “Man, how many balls you got today?”
“That’s not the point!!” I yelled. “You just hit me in the face with your elbow!!”
“Okay, now you a liar,” he said. “I used to play football. If I’da hitchoo with my elbow, you’d still be on the floor. I *might* have hitchoo with my hand.”
We argued for a solid minute after that. He knew he was wrong because he handed me the ball and seemed to be slightly apologetic. If BP wasn’t in progress, I would’ve stormed off and demanded to speak to the head of security. I nearly did it anyway. I was SO ANGRY about what had happened. You seriously have no idea. I felt like I could’ve put my fist through a brick wall.
That was my 7th ball of the day. My 8th was a homer that came right to me. My 9th was a deep homer that landed 20 feet behind me in a seat. My 10th and 11th were homers that I caught on the fly. My 12th was a homer that landed near the tables and bounced down to me. Nationals Park hadn’t even been open for an hour; I was already thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau.
When the rest of the stadium opened at 5:30pm, I hurried into the right field seats and found two baseballs. (I learned later, while slicing-n-dicing my stats, that the second of these two “Easter eggs” was the 200th ball that I’d ever snagged at Nationals Park.) Then, with the Reds just getting their portion of BP underway, I got a toss-up from Homer Bailey and headed back to left-center field.
There were lots of ball in the bullpen…
…but I didn’t have the guts to snag any of them. Instead, I used my glove trick to get the ball in the following photo. Look closely and you’ll see it poking out below a crossbar in the gap:
As soon as I reeled it in, I handed it to the nearest kid, whose father had kindly stepped aside to let me take a shot at it. The father had two little boys with him, so I asked if they’d each gotten baseballs.
“Yes,” he said, “but I’m still trying to get another for my daughter. She’s not here today.”
When I heard that, I reached into my backpack and pulled out the newest ball and gave it to him.
“Are you sure?!” he asked. “You really don’t have to do that.”
“It’s my pleasure,” I said. “Enjoy.”
Of course the guard didn’t see me give those balls away, nor did most other fans in the section, but that’s just how it goes.
My 17th ball of the day was thrown by Travis Wood. My 18th was tossed by Aroldis Chapman. (I was psyched to get one from him.) My 19th was tossed by Bill Bray, and less than a minute later, I took this photo of him. He’s kind of hidden behind Bronson Arroyo:
Yes, that’s why I took that photo — to show Bill Bray.
I wish I had a dramatic story about how I got my 20th ball of the day. But I don’t. Instead I can only report that it was thrown by Sam LeCure in left-center field. But hey, I’ll take it. This was only the 12th time in my life that I’d snagged 20 balls at one game. And I wasn’t done! My 21st ball was a home run that I caught on the fly. Then, when BP ended, I raced to the 3rd base dugout and got two more balls tossed to me. (Crazy, no?) The first came from coach Billy Hatcher, and the second came from a ballboy. I stood on a chair to get Hatcher’s attention and took the following photo moments after he hooked me up:
See all those kids in the front row? They all got baseballs. Hatcher kept reaching into the basket and pulling out balls and tossing them left and right. It was a spectacular display of generosity. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more baseballs end up in the crowd in one day than I did at this game. Batting practice resembled the Home Run Derby, and the players were friendly from start to finish. I know it looks bad when I snag so many balls because the assumption is that for every ball I get, there’s a weeping child out there who must’ve been deprived (or knocked over) in the process, but that wasn’t the case at all.
Check out the following four-part photo of some interesting balls that I snagged:
On the upper left, there are some unusual streaks on the sweet spot. On the upper right, there’s a big/pretty/dirty scuff. And on the lower left and right, there are two variations of “practice” balls. Part of the reason why there were so many home runs yesterday is that the Nationals are no longer using those crappy Training balls. Now, for the first time in years, when their batters make solid contact, the balls have an excellent chance to leave the yard.
Before the game, I was hanging out on the 3rd base side of home plate when I noticed some activity near the left field warning track. This was my view as I cut through the seats…
…and soon after I arrived, I got a ball thrown to me. I think it came from bullpen catcher Mike Stefanski, but I’m not sure.
Now, as for my nose, I didn’t realize until the 2nd inning that it had a small bruise. Check it out in the following photo:
See it there on the bridge of my nose? Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is a very minor boo-boo. The point is: the security guard whacked me hard enough to leave a mark — and it still hurts. During the game, I talked to one of the heads of stadium security and complained. I doubt anything will come of it, but it definitely felt good to vent my frustrations to the boss of the yellow-shirted goon.
This was my view during the game.
It was a good foul ball spot for left-handed batters, but unfortunately, of the 18 guys in the starting lineups, only four were lefties: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Rick Ankiel, and Danny Espinosa.
Despite the lack of foul ball opportunities, the game was highly entertaining. Johnny Cueto pitched eight scoreless innings before giving up a leadoff homer to Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth. The Reds had been holding at 2-0 lead at that point, so the homer made it a one-run game. Francisco Cordero came in for the save and loaded the bases with one out. Then Wilson Ramos stepped to the plate, swung at the first pitch, and grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play. I listened to talk radio during the 20-minute drive back to my family’s place here in Greenbelt, MD, and all the callers were pissed off. They were blasting Ramos for not being patient, but you know what? If he’d gotten a hit, they would’ve been praising him for being aggressive. People are dumb. Ramos’s approach was solid; he just didn’t achieve the desired result. It’s baseball. These things happen. Perhaps Davey Johnson, the Nationals manager, should be getting blasted for not calling a suicide squeeze.
After the final out, I got my 25th ball of the day from home plate umpire Ed Hickox — and then gave two more balls away to kids on my way out of the stadium.
• 8 home runs caught on the fly during BP
• 785 balls in 92 games this season = 8.53 balls per game.
• 753 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 278 consecutive games with two or more balls
• 12 lifetime games with 20 or more balls
• 5,447 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)
• 56 donors
• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $178.00 raised at this game
• $5,589.20 raised this season
Finally, of the twenty-one balls that I kept, seven have invisible ink stamps, some more distinct than others. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light: