September 2012

9/25/12 at Citi Field

Just another day at Citi Field . . .

. . . for a meaningless September game against the Pirates. And hey, look who showed up:

In the photo above, that’s Nick Pelescak on the left and his brother Bryan on the right. They’d made the trip from Pittsburgh, and if they look familiar, that’s because I hung out with them three years ago when (thanks to my friend Erik Jabs) I got to take batting practice at PNC Park.

My 1st ball of the day was a knuckler thrown by Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner. Here’s the ball (with Hefner standing just to the right of it):

This was the only ball I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP. Why? Because they finished hitting at 5:17pm — SEVEN minutes after the stadium had opened. Not cool.

My 2nd ball of the day *should* have been a toss-up in right field, but I suffered an epic fail, which, had it been caught on film, would’ve been played on the ballhawk blooper reel forever.

You probably want to know what happened, right? Well, let me start by saying that I knew it was going to be a tough snag because of the sun. Look how brutal my visibility was:

Despite the challenging conditions, I was hopeful when one of the Pirates turned and threw me a ball from more than 100 feet away. After a moment of staring RIGHT into the sun, I realized that the ball was heading five or ten feet to my left. Now, it just so happened that there was another fan standing five feet to the left of THAT spot, so in other words, the ball was thrown between us. With the gracefulness of a drunk hippopotamus, I shuffled hastily to the side and attempted to reach out for the ball at the last second. Unfortunately, though, I ran into a step which (for some reason) sticks up in the front row — and I went down. That’s when several things happened all at once:

1) I felt the ball hit my glove and thought I’d caught it.
2) I was temporarily blinded.
3) I tried to grab onto a railing to prevent myself from face-planting.
4) I bruised my right bicep on . . . something.
5) I half-fell on and half-toppled against the other fan.
6) I lost possession of the ball.

Although it wasn’t close to being my most painful moment as a ballhawk, it was easily the most clumsy. The other fan was fine — he weighed well over 200 pounds and shrugged it off — but I felt like a total dumb-ass. What can I say? These things happen, but as you’ll soon find out, I redeemed myself later on. And then some.

I spent the rest of BP in right-center field and, surprisingly, did pretty well out there. My 2nd ball of the day was thrown by a player that Nick identified for me as Jeff Locke. My 3rd ball was a Pedro Alvarez homer that landed half a dozen rows back. My 4th and 5th balls were thrown to me from center field. See the guy with the yellow sleeves in the following photo?

That’s where both of those balls were thrown from. I don’t know who hooked me up, but I can tell you that I gave the second one to a little kid who was standing near me in the front row.

My 6th and final ball of batting practice was a toss-up from A.J. Burnett that fell short and landed in the gap. I used my glove trick to reel it in.

After BP, I stayed in that section and got two more balls throw to me from the bullpen. The first (which I gave to a kid who was celebrating his 10th birthday) came from Pirates bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade, and the second (which I got half an hour later, when Wandy Rodriguez finished warming up with it) came from Pirates bullpen coach Euclides Rojas. That gave me eight balls for the day, but I was annoyed that I didn’t have ten. Not only had I flubbed the one when the sun got in my eyes, but there was a homer late in BP that I should’ve caught. I had to run 30 feet to my left and jump for it, and it tipped off the very end of my glove, so yeah, it was kind of challenging, but still, I know I could’ve jumped and reached a bit higher. And I wanted to smack myself.

Here’s where I sat for the first few innings of the game:

In the fourth inning, I went to get food and ran into a guy that I hadn’t seen in years. His name is Craig, and we used to ballhawk together at Yankee Stadium in the early to mid-90s. He had hundreds of balls back in the day . . . and then he suddenly quit . . . which is probably a good thing because . . . well, just look at him:

Craig was always tall, but Jesus Aitch, I’d forgotten HOW tall. When I asked him about it, he *claimed* to be 6-foot-5, but I don’t buy it. He looked more like 6-foot-7, and I know height when I see it. I mean . . . take another look at the photo of us. I’m 5-foot-11, and he’s not even standing straight up. His feet are spread far apart, and his head is titled down a bit.

When I returned to left field with my food, I moved one section over toward left-center and picked a spot in the 2nd row. Quite simply, it was a bit less crowded there.

In the bottom of the 7th, I witnessed some Mets history:

The jumbotron neglected to name the player that David Wright tied, so I’ll tell you: Ed Kranepool.

With two outs in the top of the 9th (and the tallest player in major league history on the mound), Garrett Jones jumped on the first pitch and drilled it deep to left-center. Here’s a screen shot from MLB.com that shows him connecting:

Did you notice the little white streak above the catcher’s mask? That’s the ball.

I knew immediately that it had home run distance, but I figured it was gonna be a wall-scraper, and because the ball was heading 20 feet to my left, I almost didn’t bother getting up and running for it.

Good thing I did.

Here’s where I was when I started moving to my left:

Suddenly it occurred to me that the ball had really been hit hard and that it might actually reach the first row of regular seats above the party deck . . . so I kept drifting to my left to get in line with it. Hell, it’s not like there was anything else for me to do.

As it turned out, the ball *did* reach the front row with several feet to spare, but I still didn’t think I was going to catch it. That’s because there was a man standing right in the spot where it was going to land. He didn’t have a glove, though, so I didn’t expect him to catch it. I thought he’d merely deflect it away from me.

Here’s a screen shot that shows him reaching up, and as you can kind of see, I’m standing just to his right and reaching to my left:

Somehow he completely missed the ball, and I caught it. Here I am holding it up:

As Garrett Jones circled the bases . . .

. . . it occurred to me that the highlight would be slightly more entertaining if I unzipped my jacket and showed my Pirates shirt. So I did. And the camera captured it:

I got a handshake from a nearby Mets fan . . .

. . . as Jones got a high-five from his 3rd base coach . . .

. . . and then I was all like, “Okay, yes, I caught another home run, thank you”:

Click here to watch the full video highlight.

Here’s a photo of the ball . . .

. . . and here I am with it:

Five minutes later, I caught up with my friends Ben Weil and Greg Barasch on the 3rd base side, and as you can see, they were really happy for me:

Just kidding. Greg was totally jealous and called me something bad (that begins with “mother”)  and wanted to kick my ass. Luckily for him, it was his birthday, so I let it slide.

After the final out of the Pirates’ 10-6 victory, I headed down to the dugout . . .

. . . and didn’t get another ball. And you know what? I was fine with that. This was going to be my last game of the season at Citi Field, and I liked the fact that my last ball was a game home run — and not just any home run, mind you, but Garrett Jones’ 85th career home run! Whoa-ho-ho!!

Remember the guy named Matt Latimer who interviewed me on 6/19/12 at Yankee Stadium? Well, I ran into him after the game. He wasn’t working. He was just there as a fan, and he was with his father, Barry. Here I am with them:

Home runs are funny. You can do everything right and not catch any for months, and then all of a sudden . . . it just happens. I spent the first half of the season bitching about my miserable luck with homers, so now it’s only fair for me to admit that I’ve been very lucky of late.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 9 balls at this game (seven pictured here because I gave two away)

• 594 balls in 74 games this season = 8.03 balls per game.

• 866 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 391 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 22 lifetime game home run balls (plus five more that I don’t really count because they were thrown to me); click here for the complete list

• 6,413 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $24.48 raised at this game

• $1,615.68 raised this season

• $20,772.68 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Finally, of the seven balls that I kept, only one has an invisible ink stamp. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light:

9/23/12 at Kauffman Stadium

My day started here . . .

. . . with this . . .

. . . and continued here . . .

. . . where I saw this:

(I really love bad haircuts. Heee-HAWWW!!! Three outta four’s purty doggone good!)

Robin and her mother had joined me for breakfast and taken me to the flea market, but they didn’t attend the baseball game. Instead they dropped me off at the stadium, and as I hurried across the parking lot, this was the scene:

It was 11:20am — only ten minutes until the gates were gonna be opening. I ran to the nearest one and found myself at the end of a long line:

I always like to be first, but in this case it didn’t really matter. This was a Sunday afternoon game. The Royals and Indians had played the night before. Both teams were well out of playoff contention. No chance of batting practice, right?

RIGHT?!?!

Well, look what I saw when I entered the seating bowl:

Batting practice! Wow!

I got an Indians coach to toss me a ball in left-center field . . .

. . . and then BP ended. Just like that. I hadn’t even been inside the stadium for ten minutes, and the Indians started jogging off the field. (WTF?!) I raced over to the seats behind their dugout . . .

. . . but didn’t get any baseballs from the final few players.

There was *no* action for the next hour, so I sat here . . .

. . . and read the previous day’s box scores.

Finally, when there was a sign of life in the left field corner, I headed over to take a peek:

In the photo above, do you see the kid with the “ODORIZZI” shirt?

“Odorizzi” might sound like an Italian cleaning product (“Try-a Odor-Easy inna our new-a zesty lemon-a-lime scent!”), but in fact it’s the last name of a top Royals pitching prospect, who was going to be making his major league debut. Jake Odorizzi. Remember that name. He’s a former first-round draft pick out of high school by the Milwaukee Brewers — supposed to be the real deal. I almost skipped this game, but once I learned about this guy and heard that he was going to be starting, I decided that I had to be there.

Here’s a photo of him stretching:

I wonder what was going through his mind.

I would’ve stayed in left field and watched him throw, but my odds of getting a toss-up seemed better on the Indians’ side, so I headed to the other bullpen.

Ten minutes later, here’s what was happening:

In the photo above, pitching coach Ruben Niebla is watching David Huff get loose. When Huff finished, he tossed the ball to Niebla, who flipped it up to me. Here it is:

I kept that ball in a separate compartment in my backpack because . . . who knows? Huff might’ve pitched a perfect game, and it would’ve been REALLY cool to know that it was The Ball.

When the game got underway, I stayed in the outfield and ran all over the place depending on who was at bat. The basic strategy was to be in left field for all the right-handed hitters and in right field for the lefties, but I cranked things up a notch. You’ll see what I mean in a bit, but first, here’s a photo of me with my buddy Zachary, who’d brought his copy of The Baseball:

If Zachary looks familiar, it’s because I met him (along with his father and brother) on 9/17/11 at Kauffman Stadium and signed his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter. Remember? Here’s some photographic evidence.

Several innings later, Zachary’s father, Tom, offered to take me inside the Diamond Club for a quick tour. He knew that I wanted to stay in the outfield and try to catch a homer, but he also knew that I love exploring stadiums and photographing them for my blog. I was torn, but ultimately decided to take a look at the club; Tom and I timed it so that we went there when the bottoms of both teams’ lineups were going to be hitting. Here he is leading the way . . .

. . . and here’s what the inside of the club looks like:

Eh.

Here’s are a couple rows of table seating . . .

. . . and here’s the view of the field:

That’s a pretty good spot for foul balls, but why waste time chasing those when you’re in the best stadium for catching home runs in the major leagues? That’s right. You heard me. THE best stadium. Camden Yards is also incredible, and if the attendance at AT&T Park ever drops below 20,000 per game, that’ll be up there too, but whatever. I don’t want to talk about those (or other) places. Even though I’ve never caught a home run during a game at Kauffman Stadium, I’m still claiming that it’s the best, and you’ll soon see why.

Here’s the Diamond Club bar . . .

. . . and here’s a closer look at the baseball stools:

In the photo above, did you notice the baseball bat lamp on the upper right? No? Well, here’s a closer look at that:

Tom pointed out the baseball card ceiling . . .

. . . which, I’m ashamed to admit, I hadn’t yet noticed.

Here’s the final photo that I took inside the club:

The whole club was extremely basebally (which was cool) and moderately fancy (which made me feel awkward). I was glad to get a glimpse, but it’s not a place that I ever need to visit again. And now let’s get back to the outfield . . .

In case you’re not familiar with the right field layout at Kauffman Stadium, there are two levels where fans can hang out. The lower level (which has a row of assigned seats) is directly behind the outfield wall, and the upper level is standing room only. Now that you know that, it’ll make a bit more sense when I say that I positioned myself in right-center on the lower level for all of Alex Gordon’s at-bats. Why? Because he had 49 doubles, and I thought it’d be cool to snag No. 50. This was my view of the field . . .

. . . and here’s what it looked like on my left:

As you can see, there wasn’t much room to run, but I knew that if I stayed on the upper walkway, there was no chance of catching a double.

In the middle innings, I ran into a couple of familiar faces — folks whom I’ve gotten to know because of my frequent trips to this incredible ballpark. In the two-part photo below, I’m with Kent on the left and Bob on the right:

In the 7th inning, I saw a kid with a cute sign . . .

. . . and in the 8th inning, I saw a guy with a not-so-cute belly:

Here’s why I insist that Kauffman Stadium is as good as it gets — check out all the room (and lack of competition) that I had in the top of the 9th inning:

I know, I know . . . it takes a 400-plus-foot blast to reach the walkway, and the Royals have very few players who can actually hit the ball that far, but hell, that’s what visiting teams are for. (Just not the Indians.) Catching home runs is all about having room to run, and when the attendance is low at Kauffman Stadium (which, let’s face it, is pretty much always the case), it can’t be beat.

In the middle of the 9th inning, I got my 3rd ball of the day from Indians bullpen catcher Armando Camacaro. He had just finished playing catch with Shin-Soo Choo, and when he walked back into the bullpen, I got him to hook me up. Here’s a photo of him that I took moments later:

What’s that? You want MORE proof that Kauffman Stadium is the Promised Land of ballparks? Well, in that case, look how much room I had in right field during the bottom of the 9th inning:

Yes, okay, the Royals were getting blown out, 15-4, and it was September, and the game meant nothing, but still. To have THAT amount of room in an area that’s well within home-run range is practically unheard of. I suppose Coors Field also has to be included in the Top Few stadiums for home runs because of that absurdly awesome “handicapped” aisle directly behind the outfield wall, but I’d still take Kauffman over Coors in a heartbeat.

Remember those dead crickets that I mentioned in my previous entry? Here’s a photo of them . . .

. . . which I’d like you to click for a closer look. Go ahead. Do it. Click the photo. They won’t bite. They’re dead. And it’s nasty. And I’d really like to see the Royals do something about that.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about our man Jake Odorizzi. Given the fact that the Indians scored 15 runs, you’re probably thinking that he got lit up, but that wasn’t the case. Yeah, he took the loss, but he started the game with five scoreless innings before giving up three runs in the 6th and getting pulled. Not bad.

I should also mention that there were three home runs during the game — one by Carlos Santana that landed in the right field bullpen, another by Santana that scraped the right field foul pole, and a 437-foot blast by Adam Moore that I sorta/almost (but not really) snagged in left field. Click here for the video highlight, and you’ll see me running along the walkway in front of the fountains.

Rather than going for an umpire ball after the final out, I went to the home-plate end of the Indians’ dugout and asked manager Manny Acta for the lineup cards as soon as he poked his head out. Here he is walking onto the field . . .

. . . and here’s what happened when he made it back:

Yeah, baby!

Here I am with them . . .

. . . and here they are close-up:

How cool is that All-Star Game logo on the upper right corner of the Royals’ card? How about the modified MLB logo on the upper right corner of the Indians’ card? What about Manny Acta’s artsy signature or the fact that these cards are from Jake Odorizzi’s debut?

The back of the Royals’ card is also pretty neat:

That’s the end of the story from Kauffman Stadium, but keep scrolling past the stats for a few more bonus photos . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 3 balls at this game (two pictured here because I gave one to a kid late in the game)

• 585 balls in 73 games this season = 8.01 balls per game.

• 865 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 390 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 30 lineup cards (or pairs of lineup cards); click here to see my full collection

• 6,404 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $8.16 raised at this game

• $1,591.20 raised this season

• $20,748.20 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

After the game, Tom (and Zachary) gave me a ride back to Robin’s mother’s place — very kind of him given the 20-minute duration of the trip. And then? He and I (and Zachary) said our goodbyes, and then it was time for an outdoor dinner with Robin and her parents and a few of their friends. Here’s what it looked like on the patio . . .

. . . and here’s the main course being grilled:

That’s pork tenderloin, and yes, it was divine. Here are a few slices on my plate:

The salad had mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and bacon. The whole-grain bread had been baked earlier in the day by Robin’s father. The asparagus had been drizzled with olive oil and then grilled. The couscous had sun-dried tomatoes, olives, chick peas, and feta cheese.

And then there was pie:

Robin’s mother baked those — pumpkin on the left and apple on the right.

After dinner, there was a fierce game of Apples to Apples . . .

. . . during which I had a companion (named Honey) on my lap:

Good times in Kay-Cee.

9/22/12 at Kauffman Stadium

Remember when I said in a recent entry that I’m “not exactly the museum type”? Well, I have to admit that I saw something pretty cool inside the Royals Hall of Fame. Check it out:

I got a good look at that ball while waiting for the “Early Bird Tour” to get underway. (And BTW, let me say now that Robin wasn’t with me. She chose to hang out with her family — the nerve!! — so I was at this game by myself.)

Because it was a Saturday, there was a much bigger crowd than usual . . .

. . . but thankfully, 90 percent of those people went to the seats behind the Royals’ dugout.

Things were much more peaceful on the Indians’ side:

There were just a handful of fans hanging out near me, most of whom were interested in autographs, so I had *no* competition when chasing these two baseballs:

A right-handed batter on the Royals (not sure who) yanked them both into the seats near the foul pole, so all I had to do was run through the empty rows and find them. (The first of these two balls was my 100th lifetime ball at Kauffman Stadium. Woot-woot!) This may sound funny, but the most challenging part of the “tour” was figuring out when to wear/hide my Indians cap; although the Royals were hitting, several Indians were milling about, so I wanted to present myself as a worthy baseball recipient to everyone.

I removed my cap just in time to get Royals 3rd base coach Eddie Rodriguez to toss me my 3rd ball of the day. I was concerned that the Indians saw me do it, but evidently they hadn’t noticed, and soon after, I got Ball No. 4 from bullpen catcher Armando Camacaro. Here he is leaning on the dugout railing:

Eventually the Royals cleared the field, and the rest of the Indians came out to get loose:

After a few minutes, one of the players walked over to the basket of balls and attempted to juggle three of them. I wish I knew who it was because he really sucked at it — surprising, given the fact that he’s a professional athlete — and I’d like to call him out on it. In any case, I walked through the front row so that he was right in front of me, and I said, “Let me show you how it’s done.” Then I made a gesture to indicate that I needed three balls and said, “I’ll give them back.” Several of his teammates were standing nearby and got a kick out of the fact that a fan was challenging him. One of them (again, no idea who) responded by walking over to the basket and tossing me three brand-new balls, one by one. I bare-handed them and promptly started juggling — nothing fancy. Just some straight-up three-ball action, causing one of the players to shout, “Y’gotta do some tricks!” So I did. I juggled so that two of the balls went up at the same time and then just before I caught them, I’d toss the third ball up in the middle. Can you picture that? Two on the sides, one in the middle, two on the sides, one in the middle . . . and so on. After 10 seconds, I dropped them and got laughed at, but in a friendly way. I’d clearly won them over. And then I tossed the balls back to them. I could’ve been a dick and kept them, or I could’ve asked to keep one, and they probably would’ve let me. I could even make a case now that I should at least be able to count the balls in my grand total, but I will do no such thing. Over the years, there’ve been some questionable balls that I *have* counted, and there’ve been (many more) questionable balls that I haven’t. This juggling situation falls into the latter category. Case closed.

The rest of the stadium opened just before the Indians started hitting, so I bolted to the left field seats. Once I got there, I saw a ball get thrown wildly and roll to the base of the wall along the foul line:

Thinking I was going to get to use my glove trick, I ran over and took a peek down at the ball:

Hmm.

It was partially obscured by the overhang of the padding, but I still felt that I could get it. Before I had a chance to find out, this guy walked over and picked it up and handed it to me:

Any idea who he is? I’d really like to know because this was my 6,400th lifetime ball.

Five minutes later, all the Indians started playing catch . . .

. . . and I got my 6th ball of the day tossed by Tony Sipp.

I figured I was well on my way to hitting double digits. I mean, the Indians’ portion of BP was just getting underway, and I only needed four more balls, but incredibly, I didn’t snag anything else for the rest of the day! The cross-aisle in left field was crowded . . .

. . . and the Indians only hit a few homers. Then, to make matters worse, I wasn’t allowed to reach into the fountain to grab this ball:

I was told that I’d be ejected for simply touching the ball with my hand. Why? Because THAT’S THE RULE. But why is that the rule? Because, according to a security supervisor, “You could get hurt.” (Really? Then why was I allowed to fish all those balls out of the fountains in 2009?) Sorry but that is the biggest crock of shyte. You mean to tell me that it’s okay for fans to jump over the railings and pummel each other for baseballs on the batters’ eyes at Ameriquest and Citi Fields — that it’s perfectly safe for fans to bring light bulb changers into AT&T Park and use them to jab at baseballs that roll onto the warning track — but it’s somehow dangerous to reach through a railing and pick up a ball that’s floating in the water? That’s pathetic. If the Royals don’t want fans reaching (or jumping) into the fountains, then they should station an employee on each walkway (one in left field and another in right) with one of these and give the rescued balls to kids, who would treasure them. That seems like a better alternative than threatening fans with ejection and allowing the balls to sink. And while the employees are at it, they could clear out all the dead crickets and floating garbage. Those fountains are beautiful from afar but nasty up close, and the Royals clearly don’t give a damn. It’s quite a shame because the stadium is otherwise glorious.

After batting practice, I saw some funny graffiti in a bathroom stall:

I’m a big fan of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, though I prefer to imagine It looking like this.

Prior to game time, I ended up here:

See the guard in the photo above? When he saw me pull out my camera, he offered to move out of the way for me. No joke. I seriously couldn’t believe it. In New York . . . well, at Yankee Stadium, I would’ve had to pay $500 and provide a background check to be there, and at Citi Field . . . oh, who cares.

I spent the entire game in the outfield. More specifically, I positioned myself in left field for every right-handed batter and in right field for every lefty. This was the view from right field:

Not great. Not bad. Right? (The view of the field, that is.)

Well, get ready to start thinking about moving to Kansas City.

This was the view to my left . . .

. . . and to my right:

Un. Real.

And UN-fortunate. There was only one home run hit all night — a 378-foot blast by Cord Phelps that landed in the left field bullpen.

Someday I’m *going* to catch a home run at Kauffman Stadium. I just need to be there when there’s a visiting team (and hey, maybe even a home team) that doesn’t suck.

With two outs in the top of the 9th inning, I decided to go for an umpire ball and ran into this guy along the 3rd base line:

His name is Tang, and he’s a regular at Kauffman Stadium. He and I met in Philadelphia earlier this season. Nice guy. Talented ballhawk. Just getting started at college.

After the final out of the Royals’ 5-3 victory (in which Billy Butler collected his 100th RBI of the season), I failed to get a ball from the ump.

Then I moved two sections to my right . . .

. . . and failed to get a ball from the Indians’ relievers when they walked in from the bullpen. (I also failed to get Jeff Francoeur’s warm-up ball in the 6th inning, but screw it, I don’t feel like talking about it.)

The highlight of the day was meeting up with my friend “Big Glove Bob” . . .

. . . and getting a ride with him back to Robin’s place. He is one funny dude. At one point during the ride, we found ourselves trapped on a single-lane road behind a car that was shakily traveling 23 miles per hour. The speed limit was 40, and Bob was convinced that the driver was drunk. When the single lane opened up into two and the car in front of us stopped at a red light, Bob pulled up alongside it. There was a young woman at the wheel, and she was texting.

“HOW DRUNK ARE YOU?!?!?!” screamed Bob through my open window.

The woman didn’t look up.

“HEY!!!!!!” screamed Bob so loudly that I was temporarily deafened. “HOW DRUNK ARE YOU?!?!?!?!”

The woman shook her head but never looked up. Bob yelled at bit more at her. Then the light turned green and we sped off in front of her.

I need to go on a road trip with this man. I’m almost laughing just thinking about it.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away to kids after the game)

• 582 balls in 72 games this season = 8.08 balls per game.

• 864 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 389 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 9 stadiums with 100 or more balls (Shea, Citi, Old Yankee, New Yankee, Camden, Citizens Bank, Nationals, Turner, and Kauffman)

• 6,401 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.32 raised at this game

• $1,583.04 raised this season

• $20,740.04 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Statistical clarification

I’ve heard from a few people lately who’ve been asking if (and insisting that) my consecutive games streak is over. Why? Because I was ejected last week from Nationals Park during the second game of a single-admission doubleheader.

Did I snag any baseballs during the second game?
No, I snagged 11 balls before and during the first game.

So, then, is my streak over?
No . . . and I’d like to quote myself to prove it.

If you turn to page 317 of The Baseball, you’ll see the following line near the top: “Single-admission doubleheaders should be counted as one ‘game.'”

I have a whole set of statistical rules that I follow — and I’ve been following them since I snagged my first ball in 1990. Any time that I go to a major league stadium where major league players are playing in a major league event, I count it as a “game.” Single-admission doubleheaders have always been one “game” for me, and whenever I’ve gone and snagged a few balls and the game got rained out before it even started, that has also been a “game.” (Here’s an example. Let me just say, though, that if I were to attend a rainout and NOT snag any balls, it wouldn’t count as a “game.” It’s sort of like the “and-one” scenario in basketball; if you’re fouled while taking a shot, it only counts as a “shot attempt” if you make it.) The Home Run Derby is also a “game” in my stats. And so on.

Sorry for the confusion. Looking back on everything, I suppose I should’ve mentioned this on my blog as soon as I was ejected, but I’ve discussed it so many times in the past that I didn’t think it was necessary.

I hope this entry clears things up.

(And by the way, sorry for not answering comments lately. I’ve been reading them all, but I’ve been really really really busy.)

9/21/12 at Kauffman Stadium

Whenever I take baseball trips to other cities, people always tell me about the non-baseball activities that I “need” to do. Going to Cleveland? You NEED to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Going to San Diego? You NEED to go to the beach. And so on. It’s really annoying, and I rarely follow up on these suggestions. For starters, I’m not exactly the museum type, and it’s really hard to see my laptop screen outdoors (even under the shade of the very best of beach umbrellas), but there are other issues too. I never rent a car when I travel — I just take shuttle vans or cabs from the airports and to the stadiums and back — and secondly, I simply don’t have time because of this blog. Do you have any idea how much of an effort it takes me to crank out these entries? Being at a game and then blogging about it fills an entire day; if I have to go somewhere or meet someone for lunch, that’s two hours less sleep that I’ll get that night.

That said, this was a different kind of baseball trip. I was with my girlfriend, Robin, who grew up in Kansas City. Her parents still live there, so the main purpose of the trip was for her to see them and for me to meet them. (She’d made me promise that I wouldn’t blog until we returned to New York City.) That’s why we were here on a weekend. I normally try to avoid weekend games, but this was when her folks were free.

When I met Robin’s father at the airport and he suggested that we go get some BBQ at a famous place called Arthur Bryant’s, I wasn’t about to argue. In fact, I was thrilled. Robin and I were starving, and we’d gotten an early flight so that we’d have more time to hang out and DO stuff before heading to Kauffman Stadium. Here are a few photos of that stuff, starting with the exterior of the restaurant:

Nothing special, right? Same deal with the interior . . .

. . . right? Well, just wait for it.

I knew that the food was gonna be great when I saw Sarah Palin’s picture on the wall.

Of course, the menu was even more promising . . .

. . . and sure enough, the food itself was incredible. Here’s what I ate:

That’s the greatest pulled pork sandwich known to mankind (and also possibly known to alienkind) along with a side of equally fabulous baked beans.

After lunch, Robin’s father — his name is Chris — took us out into the countryside. We drove on gravel roads and passed little towns and occasionally had to wait as trains carrying coal chugged along. At several points, we got out and walked around and took some photos. Here’s Chris and Robin checking out some farmland . . .

. . . and here’s Robin eating a few dried-out soybeans (which she said tasted like edamame):

Last year, a flood wiped out the crops, and this year there was a devastating drought. Nature really sucks ass sometimes.

Chris told me and Robin to climb up onto the roof of his car . . .

. . . and then (after we jumped down and got back IN the car) we took off.

We passed through the “community” of Waldron, Missouri . . .

. . . and made it here with half an hour to spare:

Robin’s mother, Anne, was still at work, so for the time being, it was just me and Robin and Chris. Here we are outside the stadium:

Not wanting my guests to have to pay to watch me run around and chase baseballs (and also to show Chris what a high-roller I am), I treated them to this:

As I mentioned last year, Kauffman Stadium opens just 90 minutes early . . . unless you cough up an extra $10 for a ticket for the “Early Bird Tour.”

Here’s Gate A:

Here’s my tour ticket:

And here’s the guy who checked the tickets:

As I walked toward the Royals Hall of Fame (which is where the tour starts) . . .

. . . I heard a familiar voice shout my name from behind. Look who it was:

For those who don’t know, that’s a fella who goes by the name of Big Glove Bob. (Don’t ask him where he got that glove unless you want a sarcastic answer.)

I only bothered to take one photo inside the Hall of Fame, and Robin couldn’t be bothered to hold still . . .

. . . but whatever. I’d been there twice before and wasn’t interested in looking at stuff. I wanted to get back outside and do something a bit more interactive.

At around 4:40pm, everyone on the tour was given the option of going to the seats behind the Indians’ or Royals’ dugouts. I picked the visiting team’s side, of course, and headed down into the seats with the few other fans who’d made the same choice:

For me, the frustrating thing about the Early Bird experience is that I pretty much had to stay here:

The only exception for leaving the dugout area was as follows: whenever a ball landed in the seats down the foul line, I could run and get it, but first I had to “check in” with the tour guide. Sometimes it was as simple as making eye contact and getting a quick thumbs-up, but other times it meant actively getting the guide’s attention. Thankfully, though, I was the only person on the entire left side of the stadium who was interested in getting baseballs. Robin and Chris were just there to watch, and there were three other guys (including a buddy of mine named Kent) who were hanging out near the home-plate end of the dugout for autographs. There were also a few seat cleaners and ushers milling about, but to them, it was like the baseballs didn’t even exist.

But hang on . . . I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to mention that batting practice started and ended early because of a pre-game ceremony that was going to take place on the field. That’s why the Indians were already warming up two and a half hours before game time. Secondly, before I talk about the balls that were sliced into the seats, I need to tell you what happened before BP even got underway. As you can see in the photo above, most of the players were standing around and doing nothing. That’s when Ubaldo Jimenez popped out of the dugout with his glove on one hand and a brand-new ball in the other.

“Hey, Ubaldo,” I said, “wanna play catch?” I also made a little throwing gesture, and that’s all it took to get him to toss it to me.

My first thought was, “This is awesome.” My second thought was, “Crap, ALL of the Indians are watching me. I’m never gonna get another ball from ANY of them.” My third thought (after throwing the ball back and forth with Jimenez for about 20 seconds) was, “I gotta get this on video!” I quickly grabbed my camera from my backpack and handed it to Robin. Here’s what she captured:

Okay, fine, so I don’t get to play catch “every” time, but this stadium does have a history of being good to me. Do you remember when I got to play catch with Kyle Farnsworth on June 17, 2009? In case you’ve never seen it, here’s the video.

Allow me to point out three things about the Jimenez video:

1) At the 11-second mark, I attempt to throw a knuckleball. Jimenez smiles and nods in approval, but I’m not impressed, so two seconds later, I give a “so-so” gesture with my right hand.

2) At the 56-second mark, Chris gets out of his seat and creeps down to the front row. Robin laughs three seconds later because of his stealthy maneuver.

3) At the one-minute-and-26-second mark, there’s three seconds of silence. I had to bleep something out. Don’t ask.

Here’s the ball with which I played catch:

I shall treasure it forever.

Soon after, when BP got underway, I took advantage of all these empty seats . . .

. . . by running and retrieving this foul ball:

I had no idea who hit it, nor did I know who hit any of the others that you’re soon going to hear about. All I can tell you is that they were all left-handed batters, so let’s leave it at that.

My 3rd ball of the day was tossed by a coach, and once again, I had no idea who it was. All I did was flap my glove at him (and try to look really sweet and innocent), and he hooked me up.

Robin and her father were sitting in the front row . . .

. . . and that’s when I went on a ball-snagging spree.

My 4th ball was sliced into the seats. Then, a minute later, when I went to chase another, I happened to find these two:

While I was bending down to pick them up, I heard another ball land near me in the seats, and while I was grabbing that one, ANOTHER ball landed near me. I didn’t photograph them all because . . . overkill. Right? But I did get a shot of the final ball:

In case you’ve lost count (as I briefly did at the time), I now had eight balls, including five slicers that I’d just picked up in the seats within a two-minute span.

When the whole stadium opened at 5:30pm, I moved to the outfield . . .

. . . and had lots of room to run. Check out the walkway on my right:

Unfortunately, the only other ball I snagged before the Indians cleared the field was thrown by Chris Perez in right-center. Quite simply, BP was dead.

Robin’s mother arrived at around 6pm, so I had plenty of time to schmooze her up and make a good impression before running off to snag my 10th ball of the day. (I’m such a winner! But no, seriously, Robin had warned her parents of my obsessive baseball ways. Thankfully I’ve written books about baseball, so that makes it okay, or at least that’s what I tell myself.) I had noticed that two Royals catchers were throwing in deep left field, so I headed to this spot . . .

. . . and promptly got kicked out of the section by an usher who insisted that I needed a ticket to be there. (Gimme a break, Kansas City.) I moved to the seats directly behind the bullpen and got this guy . . .

. . . to hook me up. He had actually thrown me the ball from the warning track, and when he walked below me, I made a frenzied attempt to take his picture. That’s because I had no idea who he was, and I was hoping that my friend Garrett Meyer (who’s usually at Kauffman Stadium but happened to be out of town) would be able to identify him. And he did. Turns out it was a bullpen catcher (and former minor leaguer) named Bill Duplissea. (Thank you, Garrett! You just earned yourself a slice of Big Nick’s pizza next time you visit me in New York.)

Here’s a photo of the pre-game ceremony:

The Royals were inducting George Toma, their longtime groundskeeper, into their Hall of Fame. George Brett was there and gave a nice speech. There was a video montage of Toma pulling tarps and sprinkling drying agents. And so on. I have lots of respect for groundskeepers. I just wish that the ceremony for this one hadn’t cost me half an hour of batting practice because really, it’s all about ME. While the ceremony was wrapping up, several Indians came out to stretch and run and throw in shallow left field. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

See those red circles? Those indicate the kids that I gave baseballs to. The ball from Duplissea went to the girl in the medium-sized circle. The ball that I ended up getting five minutes later from Lonnie Chisenhall went to the little kid in the tiny circle, who was being held in his mother’s arms in the front row. Finally, the kid in the big circle got a ball from me in the 3rd inning. You’ll see why in a minute. First, though, I have to make fun of the Royals for misspelling Shin-Soo Choo’s name:

They fixed it by the time he had his 2nd at-bat, thank goodness. I would hate to see the US Embassy in South Korea get attacked by an angry mob.

This was my view during the game:

I really wanted to be in the outfield, but (a) I didn’t want to make Robin and her parents sit all the way out there and (b) it didn’t seem like a good idea to abandon them. These WERE, our actual seats, after all, so I stayed there and tried to act like a normal person and hoped like hell that there weren’t going to be any home runs.

Here’s a photo of Robin and her parents . . .

. . . and here’s a close-up of the guy on the right, who was obviously interested in being photographed as well:

If you photo-bomb me, intentionally or not, I might blog-bomb you right back, so watch out.

Now, about that kid in the biggest red circle . . . here he is with the ball that I gave him:

I had overheard his father call him “Zack,” so after I caught this Jason Kipnis foul ball in the top of the 3rd inning . . .

. . . I reached into my bag and tossed a practice ball to my namesake. People weren’t hollering at me to “give it to the kid.” I just thought it was a nice thing to do.

As for the Kipnis foul ball, it was rather uneventful, as far as these things go. Luis Mendoza was pitching. There was one out in the top of the 3rd. Kipnis swung at the first pitch and sliced it 10 feet to my right. We were sitting in the last row before the cross-aisle, so I jumped up and drifted toward the ball and barely reached over a few fans and caught it on the fly. If any of them had stood up or even reached up, I wouldn’t have had it, but they made no effort to catch it and might’ve actually gotten drilled by the ball had I not been there. I got a few high-fives from nearby fans, and a female usher hurried over and asked, “Is your hand okay?” (I knew she was only doing her job, but I had to try hard not to laugh.) Chris wasn’t in his seat at the time — he was wandering somewhere in the concourse, unfortunately — but Robin and her mother had a great view of the whole thing. (In the six games that Robin has attended with me, she’s seen me catch two foul balls and a home run.)

I went here in the 9th inning . . .

. . . to try to get a ball from the umpire, but found myself slightly out of position (not to mention several decades too old).

The Royals won the game, 6-3, and I’m happy to report that there were NO home runs.

Have some fireworks!

The end.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 12 balls at this game (nine pictured here because I gave three away)

• 576 balls in 71 games this season = 8.11 balls per game.

• 152 lifetime foul balls during games (not including foul balls that get tossed into the crowd; those’re so easy that I never bothered counting them separately)

• 863 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 388 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 208 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 6,395 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $32.64 raised at this game

• $1,566.72 raised this season

• $20,723.72 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/20/12 at Citi Field

The good thing about this game was that it wasn’t originally on the schedule; it was a make-up game of the rainout that had taken place two days earlier, so there were VERY few fans in attendance. The bad thing about it was that the Mets decided at the last second to open the gates half an hour later than usual, and let me tell you, there were lots of pissed-off fans.

As soon as I ran inside and reached the left field corner, I got a ball tossed to me by a Phillies player that I didn’t recognize. Then, as I walked through the front row toward my normal spot in straight-away left field, I caught a line-drive homer on the fly, and moments after I reached my spot, I bolted down the steps and lunged over the railing to catch another. I had no idea who hit either ball, so I asked my friend Greg Barasch. He had seen the Phillies play a bunch of times in recent weeks and was certain that the second homer was hit by Erik Kratz.

My 4th ball of the day was my favorite. Here it is:

Looks like every other ball, right? Yeah, well, do you see the player standing just to the right of it? That’s Juan Pierre, and that’s who threw it to me. I’ve always liked him, and this was the first time I’d ever gotten a ball from him. I know he has a weak arm and a “slugging” percentage well below .400, but I don’t care. I love how he plays the game, and I enjoy looking at his career stats. He has more than 2,000 hits, along with a .297 batting average and nearly 600 stolen bases. Give him one more full season, and he’ll have 100 triples. Those are some impressive numbers.

After BP, I wandered a bit and practically drooled over all the empty seats. Here’s what it looked like ten minutes before the first pitch:

I considered sitting in the 2nd deck in right field. Then I considered staying in right-center. Then I thought about moving to the left field foul line and attempting to catch one foul ball per inning, but ultimately I decided to sit in straight-away left.

Jeremy Hefner, the Mets’ starting pitcher, arguably had the worst start in major league history. He surrendered singles to the first six batters, then walked the next guy to force in a run, and got pulled from the game. But wait! It gets worse. You see, when Hefner walked off the mound, he was losing, 4-0, and the bases were loaded. Yeah. One hit batsman and three singles later, his line was complete: seven batters faced, seven earned runs allowed, and zero outs recorded. Ouch.

Here’s what the scoreboard looked like with two outs in the top of the 1st inning:

Wow.

This was my view during the first few innings:

Look how empty it was around the 7th inning stretch:

In the photo above, that’s me standing on the left with a t-shirt that I’d snagged during the launch. (Would that shirt make a good charity prize?)

I had more room than EVER to run for baseballs, but of course there was nothing to run for. That’s the story of my life, it seems, and if I’d been sitting in foul territory . . . man, I don’t even want to think about how many foul balls I would’ve had.

When the bottom of the 9th inning got underway, I took another photo of the scoreboard:

Ohhh, Mets.
I used to love you.
I used to feel bad when you lost.
Now I just want your balls.

With two outs remaining in the game, I moved to the 3rd base side . . .

. . . and would have snagged a foul ball if not for Greg. He basically appeared out of nowhere *just* before the ball was hit, sat four rows below me, and happened to intercept a lucky ricochet that was heading in my direction. The funny/sad thing about it is that he didn’t even know that I was sitting there until he snagged the ball and I (playfully) whacked the top of his head and shoved him from behind. He was like, “What?! WTF are you doing here?!” and I was like, “WTF are YOU doing here?!”

After the final out, I got a ball thrown to me by Jesus Tiamo, the Phillies’ bullpen catcher. I ended up giving that ball to a little kid on the way out, and then Greg and I rode the No. 7 train together back to Manhattan. I still like him even though he robs me from time to time.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 5 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave one away)

• 564 balls in 70 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.

• 548 lifetime balls in 70 games at Citi Field = 7.83 balls per game.

• 862 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 387 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,383 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $13.60 raised at this game

• $1,534.08 raised this season

• $20,691.08 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

9/19/12 at Nationals Park

This was my view when Nationals Park opened at 1:35pm . . .

. . . but thankfully I didn’t miss much. By the time I made it inside (with my friend Ben Weil, who made the trip with me from New York City), this was the scene:

Lateness aside, I was bummed that batting practice hadn’t yet started, but given the fact that this was a single-admission doubleheader, I was glad to see that the field was at least set up for BP.

Since the Nationals were nowhere in sight, I changed into my Dodgers gear and headed down near the Dodgers’ bullpen. Two minutes later, I got a ball tossed to me by rookie pitcher Stephen Fife. Here I am labeling it:

Soon after, a fan walked over and handed me a bottled water. He knew who I was and joked that I needed a handicap — that he hoped I’d drink up and have to use the bathroom a lot during BP. His name is Dave Butler, and he’s from San Francisco. Very nice guy. But we didn’t get to talk long. That’s because BP was just getting started.

I headed to the Red Porch seats in left-center field and got one of the players (no idea who) to toss me ball. Unfortunately, because he was jogging past me at the time and flung it sloppily, it sailed off-target and pretty much fell into the lap of an unsuspecting fan. Several minutes later, when the same player wandered over to retrieve another ball, I said, “Hey, man, I didn’t actually get the ball that you tossed here before. Any chance you could spare one more?” He didn’t say anything. He simply bent down and picked it up and flipped it to me. Take a look at it:

Beautiful.

I’d already snagged a bunch of Dodger Stadium commemorative balls earlier in the season (remember when Jeremy Guthrie gave me my first one on 5/22/12 at Marlins Park?), but I was glad to have another.

My 3rd ball of the day was a ground-rule double that I caught here:

In order to catch it, I jumped up and briefly hung on the plexiglass, holding myself up with my right arm for a split-second while reaching down with left. My armpit (which had the top edge of the glass wedged inside) hurt a bit after that, but it was worth it. It was a fun play that left me feeling pretty good about life.

I moved to right field for the next group of hitters and snagged two more balls. The first was tossed by Shawn Tolleson, and the second was a homer that I caught on the fly after running 30 feet to my right. I was kinda looking up into the sun, and then I had to jump for the ball. Life felt pretty good after that as well, especially given the fact that all the balls except the first one were commemorative.

Toward the end of BP, I convinced Jamey Wright to toss me a ball near the left field foul pole. One minute earlier, I’d seen him hand a ball to a VERY little kid in foul territory, so when he wandered over to retrieve the ball near me, I said, “I know I’m about 30 years too old, but could you possibly hook me up anyway?” Getting toss-ups *can* be extremely easy, and of course it’s not nearly as exciting as catching home runs, but sometimes it really does require some skill (if you want to call it that).

After BP, I headed to the 3rd base dugout. I didn’t snag a ball there, but I did take a blog-worthy photo:

See the two guys standing on the left? That’s Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly. I liked how they were standing there and talking and looking out at the field while the other two guys were dealing with the equipment. It was a peaceful scene, and I was glad just to be there to witness it.

Here’s a cool ball that I *wish* I’d snagged:

One of my friends caught it during BP and let me take a photo, and as you can see, there’s a bat imprint on it. At first I thought that the big letters said “L.A.” but Ben (who was standing next to me at the time) realized that it was a mirror image of “A.J.” Ellis’s bat.

Here are some of the commemorative balls that I snagged:

I wanted to get a photo of all the balls, but the lighting was bad, so I decided to wait. It was going to be a loooong day. I figured there’d be other opportunities.

Shortly before game time, Hanley Ramirez and Luis Cruz started playing catch on the edge of the outfield grass:

The front row was packed with Dodgers fans, but I ended up getting the ball from Hanley because (a) there weren’t any kids and (b) everyone else was going for autographs. Here’s a photo of the ball:

Is that gorgeous or what? (In case you’ve lost count, this was my 7th ball of the day.)

Take a look at the view I had during the game:

My actual ticket was in the 5th row, and okay, fine, I was supposed to be sitting in Seat No. 6, but because the stadium was so empty, no one noticed or cared that I sat in Seat No. 1.

Just before the bottom of the 1st inning got underway, first base coach Davey Lopes tossed me the infield warm-up ball. Then, two innings later, I got another from bench coach Trey Hillman.

The funniest part of the game was seeing/hearing this guy heckle the players nonstop:

The scariest part of the game was seeing Clayton Kershaw get hit on the head by a flying/broken bat. He was in the dugout at the time and, quite simply, didn’t see it coming. Like most people, his eyes had followed the ball instead of the bat, and as a result, he got CLOCKED. I had kept my eye on the bat and pretty much saw it coming . . . and when he went down, I was terrified of what the result was going to be. I assumed there was going to be blood gushing all over the place, but incredibly he appeared to be okay:

The bat must’ve hit him on the back of the head, and . . . I don’t know, the hood of his sweatshirt must’ve softened the impact. Wow.

But let’s get back to the heckler for a moment. Halfway through the game, I learned that he was well known *for* heckling — so known, in fact, that he’s on Wikipedia. His name is Robin Ficker, and while I can see how his schtick might be annoying for the folks who sit near him day after day, I thought he was hilarious. Shane Victorino, tired of hearing Ficker shout stuff like, “VictoriNO!! NO!! NO!!” actually looked up into the stands and shushed him . . . twice! Ficker never insulted the players or used profanity, and that’s what made him so good. Any schmuck can yell “you suck,” but this guy was clever. And he had a booming voice. And the stadium was dead. And he was sitting in the 4th row, so everyone in the infield and in both dugouts could clearly hear what he was saying. Whenever Jayson Werth came to bat, Ficker shouted, “Get on base and Harper will drive you IN!!!” When Don Mattingly came out to make a pitching change, Ficker yelled, “You are in trouble, Mattingly! You guys are really in trouble!” At some random point when the Nationals were at bat, he bellowed, “Beat the Dodgers all the way back to Hollywood!!!” I guess he wasn’t THAT clever, but he was so goofy looking and had such an astounding voice and spoke slowly and annunciated all of his words with such clarity that it just . . . worked.

With an inning or two remaining in Game 1, my friend Wayne Cimons (see page 329 of The Baseball) came and found me behind the dugout. Wayne, for those of you who’ve been reading this blog for years, used to leave comments as “Father Puck.” That’s because his son — a fellow ballhawk named Brian — often commented as “Puck Collector.” It was great to catch up with Wayne, and it was even better when he handed me these:

In the photo above, that’s Wayne on the right, and as you can see, he’d given me two coupons for a whole lot of free food at Shake Shack. I was starving at that point, so the timing was ideal.

You know what else was ideal? Getting a 3rd-out ball from Jamey Wright at the conclusion of the 8th inning. He’d gotten Chad Tracy to ground out to 1st baseman Adrian Gonzalez — and he’d run over to cover the bag. That was my 10th ball of the day, and after the Nationals recorded the final out of their 3-1 victory, I got another ball from home plate umpire Brian Knight.

Now let me tell you about the grumpy usher in my section . . .

He has always been in that spot, and he has always been rude — the kind of guy who needs to get laid and takes out his frustration by micromanaging the hell out of HIS section. (He has a gray beard and works the lower half of the staircase that leads to the home-plate end of the 3rd base dugout. Watch out for him. He’s a terrible person who will ruin your day. Early on during Game 1, he checked the ticket of a well-dressed, grown man who was sitting in the nearly-empty 4th row and made him move back to his ticketed seat in the nearly-empty 5th row.) Now, remember when I said earlier that I was sitting in the actual row of the actual section where my ticket told me to be? Well, after I snagged the first infield warm-up ball in the 1st inning, this usher walked over to me and said, “Okay, now that you’ve gotten one, don’t go down to the front row again.” You have no idea how much that pissed me off, but I kept my mouth shut. (I was able to get the next infield warm-up ball without incident because I had moved one section to my left. After the 8th inning, the usher saw me get the 3rd-out ball from Wright, but couldn’t stop me because he was sitting half a dozen rows behind me, and I waited ’til the last second to walk down to the first row. But after the game . . . oof. Things got ugly. As soon as the final out was recorded, I walked down to the totally empty corner spot near the umpire tunnel. Five seconds later, several kids (who’d been nowhere in sight all game) appeared near me, and the usher barked at me to get out of the corner spot and let them stand there. I didn’t have to move, but I did. I mean, whatever. I didn’t feel like creating a scene over one lousy ball when I’d already snagged ten. When the ump made his way over to us, he handed balls to all the kids — or at least he thought he did — and then he tossed the final ball to me. As it turned out, one of the kids hadn’t gotten one, and the usher was livid. He basically demanded that I give my ball to the kid, which I did, but not because HE told me to do it. I’ve given away about 150 balls this season without being told, so believe me, I would’ve hooked up the kid regardless. At this point, I just wanted everyone to be happy, most of all the usher because I was going to be sitting in his precious section for Game 2 . . . but the usher wouldn’t let things go. Despite watching me hand that ball to the kid, he decided to be a hard-ass. He told me that during the next game, I had to stay in my seat and not go down to the front row. I told him that I’d follow that rule if everyone else had to follow it too. He told me that I’d gotten enough baseballs. I told him that I’d paid for a seat in this section for the sole purpose of getting baseballs. He told me that I was “depriving children of baseballs.” I told him that there hadn’t been any children near me, and that I give baseballs to kids all the time. He repeated that I had to stay in my seat during the second game and told me that we were going to have a “problem” if I didn’t listen to him. I told him that we *were* going to have a problem because I was going to talk to his supervisor, and that he had no right to invent special rules just for me and that his job description didn’t included regulating the number of baseballs that fans can catch, and that he should stop being rude and just relax so that people can enjoy the game. He told me that I was ruining other people’s enjoyment of the game by “climbing over everyone” to get down to the front row every inning. (It’s hard to climb over people when there’s no one to climb over.) That was pretty much the end of the conversation. I realized that he was truly crazy — I mean, seriously, not right in the head — and that no matter what I said, it wasn’t going to accomplish anything, so I told him, “I’m done talking about this.” Then I got someone to take a photo of me with Wayne . . .

. . . and I walked up the stairs to the concourse.

Did I mention that I was starving? Man, I was so hungry that my stomach was starting to hurt, so I headed up to the second deck. That’s where the Shake Shack is located, but before I got there, I met up with a friend named Jim. He and I had crossed paths at several other games, and we’d been recently been emailing back and forth. He knew I was going to be coming down for the doubleheader, and he offered to bring me into the Club Level. He had an extra ticket, and I’d never been there, so it was perfect.

Just to give you an idea of where I was in the stadium, this was my view of the field before entering the club:

Here’s a photo of the club entrance . . .

. . . and here’s what it looked like just inside the doors:

As we walked through the corridor, we passed little hallways like this:

The corridor eventually opened up into a huge area:

Kinda cool, kinda whatever . . . carpeting, comfy chairs, big windows overlooking nothing, fancy concession stands, suites up above . . . yawn. I was glad to be there and finally get to see it, but it was unremarkable, and I felt completely out of place. (Wanna see a much nicer club level? Check out my entry from 5/6/10 at Target Field.) That said, I *was* glad to be there, and I was having fun wandering with Jim and taking photos. Here’s a “carving station” . . .

. . . and here’s what my view of the field briefly looked like in the top of the 1st inning:

I didn’t feel like racing back down to the seats behind the dugout. Not only had the despicable usher ruined my ability to enjoy myself there, but Jim was texting a friend in one of the suites. There was a chance that we were gonna get to hang out there, and that there’d be free food, so no matter what happened, I was soon going to be well fed.

While waiting to hear back from his friend, we kept wandering, and I kept taking photos. Here’s a look at the bar . . .

. . . where the fans were more interested in watching the game on TV than in person.

When we walked back through the narrow corridor, I noticed a fancy sign on the wall . . .

. . . and thought it’d be a cool place to have my picture taken with the EIGHT commemorative balls that I’d snagged. (I forgot to mention that I’d given away a ball during the game, so at this point in the day, I’d snagged eleven and still had nine in my possession.)

Whenever I’m photographed holding up baseballs, I try to make sure that the logos face the camera. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a photo for the media or an informal pic taken by a friend. It’s just something that I like to do, especially when there are commemorative balls involved. Unfortunately, I’m not quite big enough to comfortably hold four balls in each hand, so in order to do that AND have all the logos facing the right way requires an all-out effort. Therefore, when I pulled out all my commemorative balls in the hallway here at Nationals Park, I placed them on the floor and carefully picked them up one by one. Here’s a photo, taken by Jim, that shows me doing it:

For some reason, I had a harder time than usual getting all eight balls to stay in my hands. At one point I dropped a ball, so Jim picked it up and handed it to me. Then he took a test photo and leaned closer to show it to me. And so on. There was a lot of shuffling and struggling, and I’m sure it looked bizarre to everyone passing by. We were certainly getting strange looks, along with a few questions and comments, but that always happens when I pull out a bunch of baseballs.

No big deal, right?

Well, a police officer suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started walking toward me. It occurred to me that he might’ve thought I was doing something wrong, but at the same time, I simply thought, “No way.” He stopped walking when he got within five feet of me and just stood there, but because the corridor was narrow and crowded, I assumed (or at least hoped) that he was waiting for the line of people to pass so that he could step around me and continue on his merry way.

“What’s this all about?” Jim asked me, nodding toward the cop.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but he’s obviously not here for me.”

“Actually,” said the cop, “I am here for you.”

“Is there a problem?” I asked.

“I got a report that you’re selling baseballs,” he said.

“Oh,” I said matter of factly as I put two of the balls back into my bag, “well, I’m not, so there IS no problem.”

“He’s just trying to get a photo with the baseballs that he caught during batting practice,” said Jim.

“That’s right,” I said, “I just want to get a good photo, and I’ll be on my way.” Then I held up the six balls that were now in my hands, and Jim took the following photo:

As I placed the balls into my backpack, the cop said, “I’m gonna need you to wait right here.”

Before I knew it, another cop showed up, along with one of the senior security people at Nationals Park — some guy named Zach that I’d dealt with last year after getting bashed in the face by a security guard during BP. (Last year’s incident took place on August 17th; click here to read my blog entry about it.) I should’ve pressed charges, but instead, I merely complained and ended up talking to Stewart B. Branam — THE head of stadium security who clearly didn’t believe a single thing that I’d told him. Well, guess what? Shortly after I was accused of selling baseballs, Branam showed up, along with one or two more police officers and a couple other stadium officials. Altogether, there were SEVEN of them surrounding me.

They walked me into a side hallway where the elevators were, along with a door to the “executive offices.” Branam and his assistant remembered me from last year and probably assumed that I was the worst guy ever. I mean, last year, as far as they were probably concerned, I made up a wild story about being physically assaulted by a guard, and now here I was selling baseballs. Branam told me that it was “illegal” to sell anything on the Nationals’ “private property.” He never asked to hear my side of the story — never asked if I had anything to say for myself. He simply DECLARED that I had sold a baseball.

“Who made that claim?” I asked.

“I can not say who,” he said, “but it was a trusted source.”

“Yeah, well, they’re wrong!” I insisted. “It simply didn’t happen.” I then proceeded to tell him that I’ve collected more than 6,300 baseballs at major league games and NEVER sold one — not even when I was offered $10,000 for a Barry Bonds homer. I told him that I’d caught Mike Trout’s 1st major league homer last year in Baltimore, and that instead of accepting a $500 offer from a fan sitting near me, I chose to give it back to Trout for free. I told him that I give away baseballs FOR FREE to kids at just about every game and that my baseball collection has helped to raise more than $20,000 for a children’s baseball charity.

I insisted over and over that I did not and would not sell a baseball, but he didn’t want to hear it.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” I said, and I even offered to take a lie-detector test.

(I don’t know how to prove my innocence. I mean, I would guarantee my own life and the lives of all of my family members and friends and everything that all of us own that I have NEVER once sold a baseball in my entire life, especially not here at Nationals Park.)

Branam insisted that he was informed that I was selling baseballs.

“Well,” I said, “I am being informed that you’re wrong.”

“Last year, you may recall I ruled in your favor,” he said, “but this time, I am not.”

(For the record, Branam had done nothing “in my favor” last year. *I* had done something in *his* favor by not suing the Nationals. All he had done was listen to me rant about getting hit in the face by one of his employees.)

He then excused himself and huddled up for a minute with three other officials at the end of the hallway. Meanwhile I was left standing there with Jim and the cops.

Branam eventually walked back over to me and said, “Your night at Nationals Park is over, and if I ever catch you doing this again, you will be banned from the stadium.”

“Wait, WHAT?!?!” I said. “Are you EJECTING me?!?!”

“That is correct. Now, if you’ll please follow me this way . . . “

I continued to deny everything, and he responded by handing me his card.

“You can call or write to me,” he said, “but I’m not going to discuss it now.”

(I think we should all write to him. Yes? The more polite and respectful, the better. Please don’t be rude or abusive on my behalf. The address for Nationals Park is 1500 South Capitol Street, SE. Washington, DC 20003-1507.)

And that was pretty much it. He directed me toward the elevators, and Jim asked if we could take the stairs instead. Jim wasn’t being ejected. He simply decided to leave with me. Not only was he disgusted by everything he’d witnessed, but he’d already watched nine innings of baseball and wanted to get home to his wife and kids. Then we were marched down the stairs like a couple of perps, and at the bottom, there were glass doors that led to the sidewalk outside the stadium.

The first thing I did was call Ben and tell him that we were gonna be heading back to New York early. He could not believe what happened, but he was fine with leaving. His only goal had been to snag one of those commemorative balls . . . and he had . . . so we took off.

Before getting in the car, I asked Ben to take my photo so I could show how I was feeling. Here it is:

I am truly stunned and shocked and befuddled (not to mention outraged) by everything that went down. My theory is that some random employee who’d seen me in the corridor had called security and said that a fan was selling baseballs — or doing something strange with baseballs. And then it just escalated from there. It was a simple misunderstanding that should have ended that way — with all parties saying “sorry for the confusion.” But damn. Branam was out to get to me. He wasn’t interested in the truth or doing the right thing. All he wanted to do was send a message to a fan who, in his misguided opinion, was prone to causing trouble.

By the way, I never did get to eat anything at the stadium. I gave the Shake Shack coupons to Jim (sorry, Wayne, hope that’s okay) and stopped at Waffle House with Ben. Here we are outside the place wearing our DODGER caps . . .

. . . and here we are inside with way too much food:

I forgot to mention that as soon as I got kicked out of the stadium, I tweeted about it . . . and ended up getting 101 retweets! The following day, I posted something on Reddit about it. The day after that, Deadspin posted a story about it, and just today, I heard from the Hall of Very Good. They want to run something as well, so stay tuned. This is not over. Justice will be served.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 balls at this game (none pictured here because I sold them all, obviously)

• 559 balls in 69 games this season = 8.1 balls per game.

• 861 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 386 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 207 lifetime games with ten or more balls

• 5 lifetime ejections from major league games; way back in the day, the security goons of Shea Stadium kicked me out four times for catching too many baseballs and refusing to hand them over and for refusing to obey the special set of unfair rules that they invented just for me.

• 6,378 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $29.92 raised at this game

• $1,520.48 raised this season

• $20,677.48 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Ejected from Nationals Park

As you may have already heard, I was ejected from yesterday’s doubleheader at Nationals Park, and I am REALLY PISSED OFF about it. The very short version of the story is that I was *falsely* accused by the head of security of “selling baseballs.” (I’ve never sold a ball in my life — not even my most valuable balls when I could’ve used the money — and I take pride in that fact.) This incident was totally unfair, and when I have more time, I’ll write a full-length blog entry about it. Stay tuned . . .

9/17/12 at Citi Field

I snagged seven balls at this game, should’ve gotten eleven, and had a few adventures along the way. Here’s how it all went down . . .

My first ball was a home run (hit by a right-handed batter on the Mets) that landed in the left field seats. My friend Ross was closer to it, but the ball eluded him and rolled quickly down into a puddle in the front row. ($900 million for a stadium with drainage issues. Awesome.) Neither of us knew where it was, but I happened to spot it first. As soon as I grabbed it, I tossed it to an usher who had asked me for a ball to give to a kid.

Soon after, another friend named Ryan waved me over to right-center field. Here’s a photo of him in the front row as I made my way down into the section . . .

. . . and here’s why he’d gotten my attention in the first place:

As you can see in the photo above, there was a ball in the gap behind the outfield wall. I snagged it with my glove trick and ran back to left field.

My third ball was tossed up by an employee on the party deck — and then things fell apart for me.  Just before the Mets finished hitting, I misjudged a home run that ended up landing two rows behind me. Quite simply, I took one step forward when I should’ve taken one step back . . . and then I did the SAME THING on the first home run that the Phillies hit. My excuse is that the wind was blowing out to left field, but still, I should’ve taken that into consideration as soon as these balls went up in the air.

Now, if you think THAT’S bad, get ready to hear about how I botched the next one. This is so idiotic that it’s practically unbelievable. After I used the glove trick, I forgot to move the rubber band. In other words, it was still stretched over my glove in a way that was clamped it shut. It wasn’t a problem when I got the toss-up from the party deck because I bare-handed that ball. It also wasn’t a problem when I misjudged those two homers because those balls were beyond my reach. See where I’m going with this? Basically, I had an easy chance to catch a home run, but I dropped it because it hit the tip of my glove BECAUSE I COULDN’T OPEN MY GLOVE!!! And to make matters worse, it was a brand-new Astros 50th anniversary commemorative ball. The Phillies had just played a series in Houston, and as a result, half of their BP balls yesterday were commemorative . . . and as a result of my incredible stupidity, I didn’t snag any.

At this point, I’d snagged three balls but should’ve had six.

This was my view from left field:

See the usher in the green jacket? Well, at the very end of BP, I drifted down the steps onto that little platform where he was standing, reached over the plexiglass, and caught a home run. That was my fourth ball of the day, and it was not commemorative.

Instead of heading to the 3rd base dugout after BP, I went here instead . . .

. . . and got two balls thrown to me during the next 20 minutes. There were two other fans standing next to me, and we each got two. The first round of balls came from bullpen catcher Jesus Tiamo. Then, shortly before Cliff Lee began warming up, bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer wandered out and hooked us all up again.

Speaking of Cliff Lee, you can kinda see him through the vertical bars of the railing in the following photo:

Did you notice the guy leaning on the railing and watching him? That’s his father! I found out because I happened to strike up a conversation with him. He had a thick southern accent, so I asked him where he was from (Arkansas) and if this was his first time at Citi Field (yes) and what brought him to New York City (watching his son play). We talked for five minutes, and he told me a few interesting things about his boy:

1) After the season, Cliff takes 30 days off. No throwing. No weights. Nothing. Then he works out five or six days a week through the winter.

2) Cliff and several friends own a 4,500-acre island in the Mississippi River, where they can legally use their Arkansas hunting licenses. That’s pretty much what he does all winter.

3) Cliff has a personal chef.

4) A big reason why Cliff signed with the Phillies is that his son was receiving unparalleled cancer treatment in Philadelphia. Here’s an article about it.

5) Cliff has always been easy going. Even when he was a little kid, “he didn’t worry about things he couldn’t control.”

The father told me that Cliff was going to give him his warm-up ball, but when Cliff finished getting loose, he started walking past us. It seemed like he didn’t know that his father was standing there, so his father called out to him. What he said was barely audible and sounded like a nickname, but that’s all it took to get Cliff to look up. He didn’t stop walking, though. Instead, while proceeding toward the field, he half-heartedly flung the ball in our direction. I was already standing several feet back from the railing at that point because I had no intention of interfering . . . but as it turned out, the ball sailed five feet to the right of where the father was standing, allowing another fan to reach out and grab it. This was the fourth ball that I should’ve snagged. There was no reason for me to have moved away from the railing; I could’ve stayed there, and it would’ve been an easy catch. And then I would’ve given the ball to the father. The other fan, completely oblivious to the fact that he was in the presence of baseball royalty, kept the ball for himself. The father was annoyed, so I told him, “If it makes you feel any better, you can probably have his jersey after the game.”

I spent the game in left-center and had an entire row to myself:

Of course, I never had a reason to get up and run, but there WAS some action in my section. Take a look at the following photo, and then I’ll explain:

The woman pictured above was rather into the Phillies. Despite the fact that it was a cold September night, she celebrated Jimmy Rollins’ 5th-inning homer by storming down to the front row, taking off her jersey, twirling it around, and making a marvelous spectacle of herself. The fans in our section were all delighted by her antics. Mets management, however, decided once again to enforce it’s “No Fun” policy and sent a security guard to give her a warning:

Two innings later, when Domonic Brown connected on a solo homer, this woman did the same thing! I was certain that she was going to be ejected (for what, exactly, I didn’t know) but incredibly, security merely gave her a harsher warning — this time from two guards and a supervisor.

Ready for a twist? I’d met this woman once before — she attended one of my writing group meetings a year and a half ago — and we’d kept in touch via email. That said, neither of us knew that the other person was going to be at this game, so we were both surprised as hell. Her name is Ronnie Norpel, and she’s a fellow baseball writer who has a new book out called Baseball Karma and the Constitution Blues.

Life is beautiful, no?
Here’s a photo of us:

Now, about those Astros commemorative balls . . .

I did get my hands on one, but only to sign it and give it back to the guy who’d caught it on the party deck during BP. I wasn’t the only one who signed it, and in fact the guy had no idea who I was. The ball was signed by a couple dozen members of the NYPD. When I spotted it late in the game, I asked if I could take a look, and the guy asked me if I wanted to write my name on it too. Check it out:

I moved to the 3rd base side in the bottom of the 9th inning and took the following photo just before the final pitch of the night:

Jonathan Papelbon struck out Ike Davis — final score: Phillies 3, Mets 1 — and less than a minute later, I got my 7th and final ball from home plate umpire Todd Tichenor. Then I gave a couple of BP balls to a pair of little kids and headed out.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 7 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave three away)

• 548 balls in 68 games this season = 8.06 balls per game.

• 860 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 592 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 407 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball

• 6,367 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $19.04 raised at this game

• $1,490.56 raised this season

• $20,647.56 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

Ready for some black light action? Of the four balls that I kept, one has an invisible ink stamp, and it’s rather faint. Here it is:

9/14/12 at Yankee Stadium

Let me start with a photo of (one teeny portion of) the crowd outside Yankee Stadium:

Did you notice the guy in the funky hat who’s holding open a blue book? He was asking people to write “get well” wishes to Mariano Rivera — 608 people, to be specific, in honor of Rivera’s 608 career saves. I was one of the people that he asked, so I wrote a short message and then photographed the page:

When the stadium opened at 5pm, I was disappointed to see that the Yankees were not taking batting practice. They were getting ready to hit, but for the first ten minutes, this was the only action:

(It’s wonderful to be at an empty stadium and have to stay 50 feet away from the field. The huge nets along the foul lines are real life-savers. I mean, if fans were standing in the front row with no protection, they could fall over and/or get nailed by wayward line drives. The Yankees sure know how to treat people and how to make everyone feel safe! Go Yankees! And it’s just great how they charge so much money for tickets and send people back to their seats halfway through BP. They know how important it is to keep out the riff-raff so the real fans can enjoy the game. Go Yankees!)

In the photo above, the player standing “closest” to me is Freddy Garcia, and when he finished playing catch, he threw me this:

When the Yankees started hitting several minutes later, I headed out to left field:

Despite the multitude of right-handed batters in the first group, the only ball I got out there was a home run that landed in the Rays’ bullpen. Cesar Ramos was standing nearby, and I got him to throw it to me, but he chucked it so high over the side fence that I had to chase it through a mostly-empty row. When the ball first sailed over my head, there was a man standing ten feet behind me in my row, so I thought I was screwed. For some reason, though, he didn’t run after the ball. Instead he stepped aside and watched it bounce into the folded-up portion of a seat and let me run past him to grab it. Very strange.

That’s when it occurred to me that the Rays weren’t going to hit. They’d played 14 innings the day before in Baltimore, and even though that had been a day game, it made sense (although I wasn’t happy about it) for Joe Maddon to let his players rest pre-game. That’s why the Yankees started hitting late. Damn!

For the next group of BP, I headed up to the second deck in right field and snagged three home runs off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. (Three-chiro?) The first one landed in the seats and forced me to lunge over a row. Then, as I was standing up with that ball in my hand, I saw the second homer sailing toward me, so I drifted 10 feet to my left and caught it on the fly. The third homer landed in the seats, ricocheted to the right, and hit a woman in the back who was standing at the side railing and peering down at the seats below. I swooped in and caught the ball before it hit the ground again, and I gave it to her. She was fine — just a bit stunned. Look closely at the following photo, and you’ll see her sitting with the ball (and talking on the phone) at the end of my row:

After that group of BP, I headed down to the lower level in right field . . .

. . . but didn’t snag anything there.

After BP, I went back to left field and noticed several balls in the bullpen:

I also noticed how crappy the outfield grass looked as a result of the recent Madonna concert . . .

. . . but let’s get back to the bullpen, shall we? There was a groundskeeper out there who always throws the extra balls into the crowd. He had given me a few this season, but he usually tosses them to little kids and beautiful women. Well, when I asked him for a ball this time, he remembered me and (in a friendly way) told me that he’d given me enough. That’s when I used a desperation strategy that only works once per season: I told him it was my birthday and offered to show him ID to prove it. He kinda rolled his eyes at me, and when it came time to toss all the balls into the crowd, he made sure to take care of the more worthy recipients. At the very end, he called me down to the corner spot and said, “For your birthday.” Then he pulled a ball out of his pocket and handed it to me around the fence. Here I am with it, along with my driver’s license . . .

. . . and just for the hell of it, here’s a closer look at the license itself:

See? It really *was* my birthday. I’m 35 now (although I feel like I’m six), which means I’m old enough to be the president. (Wouldn’t THAT be something?) That photo of me was taken when I was 16 or 17; in New York State, people are given the option of taking a new photo or keeping the one they have. I plan to keep this one for as long as I’m allowed. It has certainly caused some funny looks/conversations, especially when I traveled to Israel in 2005 and pretty much had to be interviewed in order to get past airport security, but that’s not my problem. Quite frankly, I found the whole thing amusing. The most troubling thing on my license is my height. For the longest time, my official height was 5-foot-10 and five-eighths, so I always rounded up to 5-foot-11. That’s fair, right? I mean, I *was* closer to 5-foot-11 than 5-foot-10, so I’m not sure why the license is robbing me of a valuable inch. Several months ago, I went to my doctor for a physical — my first one in ages — and measured in at exactly 5-foot-11. I don’t know if I grew three-eighths of an inch in my 20s, or if my posture simply improved, but hey, I’ll take it. Meanwhile, I’m still holding out hope that I’ll make it to seven feet.

Anyway, after the groundskeeper hooked me up, I gave a ball to a little kid and left the stadium. That’s right. Bye-bye, Yankees! This was my view from the elevated subway platform:

Did I mention that it was my birthday?! Last year, I celebrated by snagging 36 balls in Cincinnati, but this year, my plans took me far away from the world of professional sports.

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 6 balls at this game (four pictured here because I gave two away)

• 541 balls in 67 games this season = 8.07 balls per game.

• 859 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 384 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 6,360 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

(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 about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)

• 45 donors

• $2.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $16.32 raised at this game

• $1,471.52 raised this season

• $20,628.52 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

One more thing: of the four balls that I kept, three have invisible ink stamps. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of them in regular light versus black light:

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