9/10/12 at Citi Field
I woke up at 6am in Lowell, Massachusetts, intending to set a world record by catching a baseball dropped from a helicopter 1,000 feet high. This was going to be my second attempt — the wind, you may recall, cut the first attempt short — but unfortunately it was so windy at the start that the helicopter never even took off. Click here to read my friend Jere’s blog entry about it; I’ll post my own entry (perhaps after the season) when I have more free time.
Anyway, after driving back to New York and barely getting a chance to catch my breath at home, I headed back out to Citi Field. Ninety-something percent of the time, I get there by taking the subway, but on this fine occasion, my friend Ben Weil (who’d parked his car near my apartment and joined me for the trip to Lowell) gave me a ride, along with my girlfriend Robin and another friend named Greg Barasch. Here they are, acting rather goofy:
In the photo above, Greg is wearing red, Ben is wearing green, and Robin is wearing flowers.
Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at Citi Field. While Ben and Greg found a free place to park, Robin and I held a spot in line. Now it was *my* turn to be goofy:
When the stadium opened, Robin headed to the 3rd base side. Why? Because the Nationals were in town, and she wanted to get as close as possible to Bryce Harper (aka “Bryce-y”) and Stephen Strasburg (aka “Strassy”). Meanwhile, I headed to left field and snagged two baseballs during the Mets’ portion of BP. The first was tossed by coach Tom Goodwin, and the second was a line-drive homer that I caught on the fly. I’m not sure who hit it — my guess is Scott Hairston — but I do know this: it was the 6,000th ball that I’ve snagged during my consecutive games streak. How’s that for random/awesome?
Little did I know that Robin was photographing me from afar. Here’s a shot of me wearing Nationals gear:
As you can see in the previous photo, the Party Deck below me was packed, but the regular seats were still fairly empty.
Here’s a photo that Robin took of the batting cage . . .
. . . and here’s a photo that I took of the next two balls that I snagged:
Ohhhhh yeah, baby! The Nationals (as I’d been hearing for weeks from my ballhawk friends all over the country) were using nothing but commemorative balls from 2008! The two above are from the final season at Shea Stadium, and I also caught one of these . . .
. . . from the inaugural season of Nationals Park. Even though I’d snagged lots of these balls four years ago (including the last Mets homer ever hit at Shea), it was still cool to add a few more to my collection.
But hang on a second. You’re probably wondering how the hell these balls have suddenly resurfaced, right? My friend Kenny’s theory (which was unofficially confirmed by another friend who works for Rawlings) is that Rawlings had a surplus and sold them to the Nationals at a discount.
I should mention how I snagged these balls. The first Shea ball was thrown by Chien-Ming Wang in left-center. The second Shea ball was an opposite-field homer by Bryce Harper that I caught on the fly while climbing forward over a row of seats. The Nationals Park ball was a homer by an unknown righty that I caught on the fly while running to my left; this was my 507th lifetime ball at Citi Field — a significant number because my lifetime total at Camden Yards is 506.
Here I am standing around . . .
. . . and here’s a shot (taken by Robin) of Michael Morse in the cage:
Morse was part of an incredible group of hitters. He along with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth must’ve launched 30 to 40 home runs, including some bombs that I’ll never forget. Morse hit one off the facade of the upper deck in left field — and then he hit another INTO the upper deck. That’s just sick. Here I am (along with Ben and Greg) running for one these homers:
In the photo above, Ben is on the left, Greg is in the middle, and I’m on the right (running away from the camera). Wanna guess how many balls I snagged during this one group of phenomenal hitters? Five? Ten? C’mon, think BIG! Ready for the number? Here it is: zero. I was constantly out of position. Luck wasn’t on my side. The competition was strong. I don’t know what to say. I just didn’t have it. I won’t bother listing all the balls that I coulda/shoulda caught because I’ll get depressed. I’ll just say that I easily could’ve finished the day with 13, and if Greg weren’t there (or if he simply hadn’t been on the staircase where I wanted to be), I might’ve had 20. It was bad.
Toward the end of BP, I made myself feel a bit better by getting a ball thrown by Edwin Jackson and then catching a home run on the fly. (I have no idea who hit it.) Take another look at the photo of the two Shea balls. See the two fans standing on the right? The woman is Robin, and the man was an out-of-control jackass who flinched at every ball. You know the type. There’d be a routine, 250-foot fly ball heading two sections to the left, and he’d start running. I appreciated his desire to catch one, but he truly had no clue and nearly crashed into Robin. When I caught the final homer on the fly, he came barreling through the row and tripped and fell and face-planted at our feet. Everyone was concerned that he was okay; I was worried about Robin because he’d come VERY close to taking her out.
That was my 7th ball of the day.
After batting practice, Robin took the following photo of Strassy signing autographs:
Did you notice the Shea balls being held out on the upper right? These balls were everywhere.
Here’s *my* photo of the Strasburg signing:
Not only is Robin pictured, but so is Keith Olbermann. He’s wearing shorts, standing on the warning track, and leaning over the railing near the dugout.
Three noteworthy things happened before the game. First, Robin took this random/amusing photo:
Second, I gave a ball to a kid.
Third, I got one tossed to me (over 10 rows of seats, much to the dismay of Ben, who was down in front) by Danny Espinosa.
Robin and I sat in straight-away left field during the game. This was the view . . .
. . . and let me tell you, it was COLD. The box score will tell you that the game-time temperature was 69 degrees — but the box score also lists the attendance at 21,923, which is ridiculous. Sure, the “attendance” counts as “tickets sold,” but take my word for it: there couldn’t have been more that 10,000 fans in the stadium, and with the wind whipping through our section, the temperature felt more like 49 degrees. Even though Robin was already wearing a sweater, she was still cold, so I did the gentlemanly thing and gave her my hoodie. Here’s a photo of us in which she’s pretending to be warm/happy and I’m exaggerating my chill-induced misery:
The only thing I snagged during the game was a t-shirt . . .
. . . so of course we made stupid faces and posed with it:
In the two previous photos, did you notice how empty it was? It’s so frustrating to have that all that room to run . . . and no homers to run for. You know what else is frustrating and downright infuriating? Seeing how badly fans get treated by Citi Field personnel. There was a group of four fans with tickets in the seventh row. When they tried to move down to the half-empty front row, the guard at the top of the stairs started yelling at them to stay in their seats. He was so rude and bossy that we all laughed about, but on the inside I was ready to explode. Here we were on a freezing September weeknight, the Mets were 10 games under .500, the stadium was as empty as I’ve ever seen it, and this misguided employee was hassling people over the smallest thing. THIS is why I have such contempt for the Mets.
The Nationals won the game, 5-1, behind a solid outing from Gio Gonzalez, who improved to 19-7. And that’s pretty much it. Here are the seven balls that I kept . . .
. . . and here are some numbers:
• 8 balls at this game (seven pictured above because I gave one away)
• 509 balls in 64 games this season = 7.95 balls per game.
• 856 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 381 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 6,328 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 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)
• $21.76 raised at this game
• $1,384.48 raised this season
• $20,541.48 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
Finally, of the seven balls that I kept, only one has an invisible ink stamp, and it happens to be the ball with the Nationals Park logo. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of it in regular light versus black light: