2011 NLDS — Game 1
As far as playoff games go, this one was rather uneventful. The first pitch was scheduled for a little after 5pm, the stadium was going to open at 2:30pm, and because there wasn’t any traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, I arrived at 12:30pm. Not surprisingly, there weren’t any other fans at the left field gate:
An hour and a half later, there were signs of life on the street next to the stadium:
There was a band (playing a Simple Minds cover — guess which one) and a huge inflatable slide (for kids only — life is unfair):
There were radio tents doing live broadcasts. There was free ice cream, courtesy of Turkey Hill. And so on. It was fun and festive but whatever. I just wanted to get inside the stadium and start my day of snagging. Before I could do that, however, I needed a ticket, and supposedly I was going to be receiving one (for free!) from a gentleman named Howard Goldstein.
I’d only met Howard in person once before, but we’d be emailing back and forth sporadically since he first got in touch with me last October. Why did he initially get in touch? Because he’s a historian/collector of all things related to Jews in baseball, and he heard about me in a Yahoo chat group. (Yes, I’m Jewish, although I’m probably the least religious person you’ll ever meet.) Recently, he’d gotten back in touch with an offer to treat me to a Phillies playoff game — so here I was, waiting and hoping that (a) he’d actually show up, (b) he’d arrive before the gates opened, and (c) our tickets wouldn’t be in the last row of the upper deck.
As it turned out, Howard got there with plenty of time to spare and handed me a ticket for the ideal section. Check it out:
In the photo above, that’s Howard looking at the camera, and as you can see, the ticket was for section 130 — ten rows behind the visitors’ dugout! How did I get so lucky?
There was quite a crowd by the time the gates opened…
…and because I was the first one to run in, I snagged two easy baseballs within a minute. The first was an Easter egg sitting half a dozen rows back in left-center field, and the second was a homer that I caught on the fly in straight-away left. (Not sure who hit it.)
After that, there wasn’t much action for me during the Phillies’ portion of BP. There were plenty of home runs, but no matter where they landed, there always seemed to be at least three guys with gloves camped out underneath them. (Welcome to Philadelphia.) I played all the way back here for Hunter Pence…
…and it nearly paid off. He ended up launching a home run that pretty much came right to me, but as I reached up to make the catch, someone in front of me reached a bit higher and caught it. The same thing had happened ten minutes earlier on a homer near the front of the section; I was in a near-perfect spot and reached up for what should’ve been an easy catch, but someone else grabbed it right in front of me. Very frustrating.
While I was running all over the place, Howard was kind enough to watch my stuff. Here he is at the back of the section:
Howard came with me when I headed to right field. This was the view…
…and it was totally dead. (I need to stop expecting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to go yard during BP. They were completely useless on 9/8/11 at Miller Park, and they were just as bad earlier this week at Turner Field. Of course, the Phillies swept the Braves during that final series of the regular season and ended up with the best record in baseball, so perhaps I should stop criticizing the players’ pre-game routine.)
Back in left field, I used my glove trick to snag a ball that rolled onto the warning track. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being photographed from afar. Here’s a photo that shows me dangling my glove above the ball…
…and here’s another that shows me reeling it in:
(Planking with a purpose! Almost.)
Anyway, I ended up giving that ball to Howard, and when the Cardinals pitchers finished throwing, I got a ball in foul territory from Jake Westbrook. Here’s a photo that I took moments later as he was walking off:
I snagged two more balls during BP, both of which were home runs that I caught on the fly in left-center. I’m not sure who hit the first one, but I can tell you that Albert Pujols hit the second. By that point, the seats in straight-away left field were packed:
That’s why I was all the way out in left-center. It’s not that I knew that there’d be home runs landing there. If anything, it was a lower-probability spot. I just figured that since it was less crowded, I’d have a much better chance if anything happened to come my way. And then I got lucky.
Before the gates had opened, I ran into a kid named Harrison who recognized me from this blog. He was *really* hoping to snag a ball — and also hoping that I’d include a photo of him in this entry.
Here I am with Harrison, who’s holding the TWO baseballs that he’d snagged:
I had snagged six, but given two away. In addition to the ball I gave Howard, I handed one to a little boy at the very end of BP. As the players were jogging off the field, I saw him walking up the steps (in left-center) looking completely bummed. His mom was trying to cheer him up, so I inched closer and asked, “You didn’t snag a ball today?” I already knew the answer, and when the boy shook his head, I handed him a ball. Some kids don’t really seem to care when I give them baseballs (some even refuse the balls in the first place), but this kid’s face lit up. It was pretty damn cute.
As for Harrison, he told me that he reads this blog every day, and he proved it when he mentioned some details about my final entry from Atlanta. He also has a glove trick, and he owns copies of my last two books, so he’s well on his way to ballhawking superstardom.
After BP (which, by the way, ended more than an hour before game time), Howard headed straight to his seat, and I went to get food. Ten minutes later, as I headed down the steps into section 130, I took the following photo to show where he was sitting:
Not bad. But there was one small problem: our seats weren’t on the end of the row. More specifically, Howard had seat N0. 6 and I had seat No. 5. The first four belonged to Howard’s friends — two men and two women — so after they all got settled in, I turned to them and said, “Okay, how many beers do I need to buy you guys in order to get to sit on the end?”
“We’ll take two baseballs instead,” said one of the women.
For a moment, I thought she was kidding, but then she added, “We have two kids, and they’ll love ‘em.”
And so? I gave her two baseballs. Here’s her husband putting them in his bag:
The end seat was mine. Even if I didn’t end up snagging any extra baseballs as a result, it was great to at least have a chance. I really don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the game if I had to watch it from the middle of the row.
This was my view during the pre-game introductions…
…and this is what it looked like in the top of the 1st inning:
Roy Halladay was pitching. Easy win for the Phillies, right? Not so fast. Two minutes after I took that photo, Lance Berkman launched a three-run homer.
My end seat came in handy at the end of the 2nd inning. Raul Ibanez grounded out (off Kyle Lohse) to 3rd baseman David Freese. Freese threw the ball across the diamond to 1st baseman Albert Pujols. Pujols jogged back toward the dugout with it, and when he reached the foul line, he flipped it to catcher Yadier Molina. Molina then tossed it to me on his way in. Look how beat up the ball is:
When I first looked at it, I thought that it might’ve been the infield warm-up ball — you know, that Pujols might’ve made the switch before flipping the actual gamer to Molina. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I was that Pujols hadn’t yet received the warm-up ball from the dugout, which would mean that I did get the game-used ball. But if that’s the case, why was it so beat up?
Do you remember the blog entry that I posted earlier this year called “Baseballs and black light“? Well, here’s a two-part photo of the 3rd-out ball; the image on the left shows it in regular light, and the image on the right shows it in black light:
As you can see, there’s a faint invisible ink stamp on it. (Ohh, black light, how I’ve missed thee…)
The funny moment of the day occurred in the bottom of the 3rd inning. See if you can figure out what’s happening based on the following photo:
There were two Cardinals fans sitting two rows in front of me; the Phillie Fanatic climbed in front of them and scratched its ass in their faces.
I was also wearing Cardinals gear, and I took my own share of abuse for it. When I caught the two BP homers in left-center field, I got booed by the entire section, and for the rest of the night, whenever I went anywhere (to the bathroom, for example, or to get food), there was at least one random Phillies fan who screamed “Cardinals suck!!!” in my face. (Welcome to Philadelphia.)
Here’s a photo of Ryan Howard at bat in the bottom of the 6th inning…
…and here’s a photo of him rounding 3rd base after CRUSHING a three-run homer into the second deck in straight-away right field:
ESPN Home Run Tracker estimates that the ball traveled 423 feet.
Two batters later, Raul Ibanez hit a two-run homer to put the Phillies on top, 6-3. Then the Phillies scored three runs in the 7th and two more in the 8th to put the game away. The Cardinals plated three runs in the 9th, which sort-of-almost-maybe-but-not-really made things interesting. And that was it. Final score: Phillies 11, Cardinals 6.
After the final out, I couldn’t get near the umpires, but I still managed to snag two more baseballs. The first was tossed by a ballboy, and when the Cardinals relievers walked in from the bullpen…
…I got another ball rolled to me across the dugout roof. I’m not sure who tossed it because all the guys had just disappeared from view. At the time, there was a little kid standing next to me with a glove, and since he hadn’t gotten a ball, I gave him one of mine.
Then I posed for a photo with Howard…
…and signed the ball that I’d given to him. Here’s how he asked me to sign it:
FYI, David is his son.
After my name, I wrote:
NLDS Game 1
Many MANY thanks to Howard for his generosity. He could’ve sold his extra ticket for quite a bit of money, so I truly appreciate that he chose to give it to me instead.
As for the rest of the postseason, I have no definitive plans. All I can say is that I *really* want to attend at least one game in each round. I feel like that would be a solid end to an epic season — all 30 stadiums, 1,000 balls, the Home Run Derby, All-Star Game, and one game in each round of the postseason. It has a nice to ring to it, no? Of course, since I don’t have tickets, I’m at the mercy of StubHub, so if anyone can help me out (even by selling me a ticket at a reasonable price), that would be awesome.
• 1,119 balls in 126 games this season = 8.88 balls per game.
• 787 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 14 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball
• 5,781 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.)
• 60 donors
• $7.46 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $67.14 raised at this game
• $8,347.74 raised this season