2011 ALCS — Game 5
QUESTION: What happens when the home team falls behind three games to one?
ANSWER: Ticket prices plunge and very few people show up early for batting practice.
VERY few people. When Comerica Park opened at 2pm, there was such a small crowd outside the right field gate that I almost couldn’t believe it. There couldn’t have been more than three dozen fans, and best of all, despite the iffy weather, there *was* batting practice.
Here’s a photo of the right field stands that I took less than a minute after running into the stadium:
In the photo above, do you see the man wearing the backpack in the 4th row? That’s my friend Dave, whom you might remember from this photo on 9/10/11 at Comerica Park. See the kid standing in the front row with his back turned to the field? That’s Dave’s seven-year-old son David. And finally, do you see the fan in the white T-shirt, standing about a dozen rows back, also with his back turned to the field? That’s my friend Ben Weil, whom you might remember from a zillion different entries this season. (He’s the guy who owns more jerseys than Lady Gaga has Twitter followers.) Here we are together:
In the photo above, Ben is wearing his “BallhawkFest” T-shirt from 7/23/11 at Camden Yards, and in case you’re wondering, he’s holding up three fingers because he’d already snagged three balls. Of course, I’d already snagged four (mwhahaha!!) and when we changed into our Rangers gear, I let him know it:
How did I snag those first four balls?
The 1st was sitting on the warning track in right-center, and I reeled it in with my glove trick. The 2nd was thrown by Phil Coke in right-center; his aim was so bad that I had to lunge out of the stands and trap the ball against the padding of the outfield wall. He responded by giving me a thumbs-up and complimenting my athleticism. The 3rd ball was tossed by Doug Fister in straight-away right; it was intended for David, but sailed over his head, and since David had already snagged half a dozen balls and was rubbing it in my face (in an adorable seven-year-old kinda way), I decided to keep it…for the time being. The 4th ball was thrown by Austin Jackson in right-center, and Ben got the unofficial assist. One of the batters had hit a line drive toward the gap, so I started running toward it, hoping that I’d be able to glove-trick it at the base of the wall. Jackson, however, raced over and fielded it, and for some reason, I completely gave up. Ben shouted at me to keep going and told me to ask Jackson for the ball — so I did. And I got it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Normally, I would’ve been all over it, but in this case, I guess I just lost my focus.
I snagged my 5th ball with the glove trick, got my 6th from Neftali Feliz, and used the glove trick again for No. 7. That brought my lifetime total to 5,799 balls, so the next one was going to be extra special — and here it is, sitting two feet out from the wall on the warning track:
I used my glove trick to snag it and quickly noticed that the logo was askew. Have a look for yourself:
Did you notice that the star on the left side of “OFFICIAL” is much closer to the stitches than the star on the right? It’s not a big deal — just kinda funky.
Rangers infielder Andres Blanco had seen me using the glove trick from afar. Evidently he was intrigued because he walked over and asked me how I did it.
“No!” he yelled emphatically, shaking his right index finger and then pointing at me. “Show me with THAT ball!”
I told him that if he placed another ball on the warning track for me, I’d give it away to a kid — and that’s exactly what happened. But that’s not the whole story. While I was dangling my glove over the ball, the glove was twirling slowly, and Blanco kept moving with it so that he could see exactly how it worked. In other words, whichever direction the open pocket was facing, that’s where Blanco went, so he was practically running in circles to make sure that he had the best possible view. As a result, he wasn’t paying attention to the batter and nearly got drilled by a deep fly ball. Blanco reacted as you might expect from someone in that situation: he was startled as hell and nearly jumped out of his shoes. Rangers outfielder Endy Chavez saw the whole thing play out from shallow right field, and when Blanco cautiously turned his attention back to my glove trick, Chavez fired a ball in his direction. The ball thumped off the padding of the outfield wall and completely freaked him out, prompting a whole lot of laughter (from Chavez and his teammates) and a barrage of Spanish curses (from Blanco). It was truly hilarious.
Soon after, I took a photograph from the 3rd row in straight-away right field. Here’s what it looked like out there:
Toward the end of BP, I got Matt Harrison to toss me a ball, which was significant for two reasons:
1) It was the first time that I’d snagged 10 balls at a postseason game.
2) It was the first time that I’d snagged 10 balls at Comerica Park.
And then I got another — No. 11 on the day — with my glove trick. Harrison saw me going for it and appeared to be ever-so-slightly miffed, but was nice enough to let me keep going. Ben, meanwhile, had snagged eight (including a really nice play on which he climbed up on a bench and caught a home run), and David (who never stopped talking trash) had gotten seven.
I made it to the 1st base dugout just in time to see this:
In the photo above, do you see the two guys handling the basket of balls? The man on the left was wearing a jersey that simply said “13″ on the back. There was no name, but that didn’t matter. I simply took a peek at my cheat-sheet and learned that it was a coach named Johnny Narron. Then I called his name and got him to toss me my 12th ball of the day. Hooo-haaaa!!!
Now, do you remember everything I said about the standing-room-only tickets in my previous entry? To refresh your memory, those were the tickets that Ben and I had bought, and we were allowed to stand in an awesome foul-ball spot *in* the actual cross-aisle behind home plate, but in order to keep that spot, one of us had to stay there at all times. I’m repeating this because Ben and I had the same tickets again for Game 5, and if not for a very kind gentleman named Mike, we would’ve been screwed.
Who is Mike, you ask? He’s the guy wearing the gray All-Star Game shirt in the first photo of this blog entry – and now here he was in Detroit, doing me an incredible favor. Quite simply, Mike stayed in my favorite standing-room spot for ALL of batting practice and somehow managed to prevent anyone from standing next to him. If not for this act of kindness, Ben and I would’ve had to take turns missing BP in order to stand there, or we just wouldn’t have been able to stand there at all during the game. HUGE “thanks” to Mike. I was really blown away by the sacrifice that he made for us, and because of it, this was our stellar view during the game:
Compare the tranquility of the photo above to the madness of the photo below:
It was a good game. The Rangers, one win away from their second straight World Series appearance, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning. The Tigers tied the game in the bottom of the 3rd and took a one-run lead in the 4th. The Rangers tied it in the 5th, but the Tigers answered with four runs in the 6th. And so on. Very exciting and lots of fun.
Before the game, Mike had asked me to sign his copy of The Baseball; during the middle innings, Ben took our photo with it:
At one point, when I darted several steps for a nearby foul ball, a gray-haired security supervisor told me to be careful and added that “it’s just a baseball.” The next time he walked by, I handed him Mike’s copy of my book, told him that I’d written it, and said, “Not to me.” He was actually really cool, and we chatted for a minute between innings. He asked all about the book and told me that he has a huge collection of baseballs “dating back to the Spalding era.”
“Are these balls that you’ve purchased or snagged at games?” I asked.
“All of the above,” he said.
For the first half of the game, I never left my spot (except to chase the occasional foul ball). I never went down to the Rangers’ dugout for 3rd-out balls, and when left-handed batters stepped up to the plate, I never headed to the 3rd base side. Most of the batters were right-handed anyway, and I was content to just stand there and watch — that is, until the top of the 6th inning. That’s when I decided to move to the 3rd base side whenever there were two lefties in a row, as was the case with David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. As it turned out, one of them did hit a foul ball near me, and even though I didn’t catch it, it was nice just to use my legs and to see the game from a different angle.
In the bottom of the 6th, Alex Avila was the lone lefty, but I still made the effort to hurry to the 3rd base side. Same result: no foul ball for me, but whatever. I was having fun running around, so I wasn’t stressed out about it — but then again, I kind of did want to catch a foul ball. After batting practice, I had called Alan Schuster, the webmaster of MyGameBalls.com, and learned that I’d already broken two records: most balls at a postseason game and most balls in one game at Comerica Park. Therefore, if I did somehow manage to get another ball, I’d be setting the bar even higher for the next challenger.
Fast-forward to the top of the 7th. Elvis Andrus (a righty) was due to lead off, Josh Hamilton (a lefty) was going to bat second, and Michael Young (a righty) was in the No. 3 slot. I’d noticed that Hamilton hit lots of foul balls throughout the game, so I made sure to get over to the 3rd base side when his turn came up. Every single standing-room spot was taken over there, so in order to hang out in that vicinity, I had to stand against the side wall of a staircase behind the cross-aisle. Normally, I would’ve been kicked out of that spot, but because it was so crowded, I kinda managed to blend in. And then it happened: Hamilton swung a bit too late at a pitch from Justin Verlander (who doesn’t?) and fouled the ball back in my exact direction. At the time, I was standing on the first step of the staircase, and I determined right away that the ball was going to fall about ten feet short, so I scooted down into the aisle, then crossed the aisle, and finally headed down the steps into the seats. Lots of fans had spilled onto the staircase, so I had to weave my way around a few other guys, and at the last second, as the ball was coming right toward me, I jumped and reached up and caught the damn thing right above everyone else’s hands. Part of me was stunned; I’d actually managed to impress myself. But the other part of me just shrugged it off; I was, after all, standing in a high-probability spot, so what was the big deal? Even though I didn’t *know* that Hamilton was going to hit a foul ball, I was more prepared for it than anyone else around me, so that’s why I’d gotten a good jump on it.
By the time Ben took my photo with the ball, the sky had gotten dark, and I was feeling rather Zen about the whole thing:
Here’s a closer look at the ball itself:
It’s a shame that Major League Baseball no longer uses commemorative balls during the first two rounds of the postseason. They used to (from 1996 through 1999), and it made ballhawking much more fun. Check out this ball from the 1999 ALDS and this ball from the 1999 NLCS. Those were the good ol’ days.
Soon after I caught the Hamilton foul ball, I was approached by a teenaged fan who recognized me from this blog. His name is Mitchell, and he was with a friend named Jack. Here I am with them. Mitchell is on the left:
With two outs in the top of the 9th and the Tigers leading, 7-4, Ben and I headed down to the umpire tunnel directly behind home plate. This was our view:
In the photo above, that’s Josh Hamilton at bat. He ended up drilling a double to center field and scoring on a single by Michael Young. The next batter, Adrian Beltre, drew a five-pitch walk. Anyone want to guess what happened on the one pitch that was a strike? That’s right. Beltre hit a foul ball DIRECTLY to the spot where Ben and I had been standing ALL GAME. Unbelievable. Then Mike Napoli grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Final score: Tigers 7, Rangers 5.
After the final out, Ben and I got completely ignored by the umpire, so we hurried over to the Rangers’ dugout and got ignored by everyone over there. The highlight was seeing Nolan Ryan walk by with a few other people:
Before leaving the stadium, Ben needed 15 minutes to make some phone calls, so I passed the time in three ways. First, I stood in the middle of the concourse and looked for little kids with empty gloves. I’d decided to give away two baseballs (in addition to the one I gave away during BP), and it took quite a while to find a pair of worthy recipients. Second, I got Orel Hershiser (who strolled by casually with Dan Shulman) to sign a ticket that Mike had given to me. Check it out:
And third, I sat here and watched the rain begin to fall:
Then Ben and I made the 600-mile drive back to New York City. I got home at 6:30am and (because I’m an idiot) didn’t get into bed for three more hours.
Keep scrolling down past the stats to see a few more photos…
• 1,143 balls in 129 games this season = 8.86 balls per game.
• 790 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 315 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 181 lifetime games with ten or more balls
• 49 games this season with ten or more balls
• 32 lifetime stadiums with at least one game with ten or more balls
• 22 stadiums this season with at least one game with ten or more balls
• 165 lifetime games balls (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd; 148 foul balls, 16 home runs, and 1 ground-rule double)
• 21st time snagging foul balls during back-to-back games
• 17 consecutive postseason games with at least one ball
• 5,805 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.)
• 61 donors
• $7.47 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $97.11 raised at this game
• $8,538.21 raised this season
Okay, ready for more photos?
First, of the ten balls that I kept, four have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those balls in regular light versus black light:
It’s been a while since I posted black light photos, so if you have no idea what it’s all about, click here.
Now check this out — an email that I got from the Tigers after I made it back to New York:
When I clicked the “Start Tagging” button, I was taken to a page on MLB.com that looked like this:
I started zooming in and quickly spotted myself:
Have a closer look…
…and an even closer look:
In the photo above, that’s me in the white T-shirt (yapping about something), Ben in the yellow shirt (wishing I’d shut up), and Mike standing just to the right (looking at us quizzically). Good thing we weren’t picking our noses.
Next up for me? Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. As I mentioned last night on Twitter, I’ve already booked a flight to Texas, and as I didn’t mention on Twitter, I might end up with incredible seats. Stay tuned for an update in the next few days…