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:

11 Comments

How many of the Phillies BP balls were Astros commemorative? I’m going to the Phillie Vs. Marlins game in Miami and don’t know if its worth convincing my dad to take me when gates open haha

Half. But you know what? Your dad should take you to the game regardless.

we are going, its just a matter if i need to non stop nag him to go when gates open….If i had my own car, it would be a different story haha….and the game is a week from friday, you still think they’ll have some left over by then?

Now that I’ve figured out a way to transport myself to Citi Field for only $10.50 each way with a 1.3 mile walk, I can actually go there next year. The sad thing is, the commemoratives won’t be used next year during the game, but they might be used during batting practice. Plus, other teams will have leftover, so I’m hoping to get to some games next year. I still need to complete the 2012 commemorative set. I only need the Astros’ ball and the Dodgers’ one.

ANDREW-
If they have any left by then, there probably won’t be many. I’d still do a lot of nagging. That’s what it took, back in the day, to get my parents to take me early.

CBELTRAN15-
Oish, that’s quite a trek. There are hardly any commemorative balls used during BP *this* season, so I doubt you’ll see many next year. Good luck completing your set.

EVERYONE-
I’m gonna be at Nats Park today (September 19th) for the doubleheader. Come say hi if you see me.

Stories like meeting Cliff Lee’s dad are a major part of why I love this blog. Personal interactions with players, fans, and baseball royalty are what make every trip to the ballpark interesting and exciting. Meeting players is always a thrill, but the individual stories of fans from around the world enrich the experience and reinforce the connectivity of baseball for all of us.

You mentioned the

Sorry 1st post sent to soon by accident. You mentioned the other day that you had a few friends that would give you tons of balls if they made it to the majors. Will they hook you up with free tickets all the time and maybe passes to get in early where you can have the stadium to yourself for a little bit?

LOVE that adorable Ronnie celebrating the Phils’ homeruns in her team colors bikini top! Now THAT’s team spirit. Can’t wait to read her insider’s-view-of-the-Phillies book! Zach, I had not heard of Pitch in for Baseball before–thanks for the info and for supporting the charity that opens up the game to others.

Zach, great work for the Pitch in for Baseball organization! I also loved reading your account of your endeavors at Citi on Tuesday.

Ronnie is a baseball girl through and through; let’s not forget that she is a wonderful writer, as evidenced by her book, Baseball Karma and the Constitution Blues.

Re: Meeting Mr. Lee – As a kid I watched Carlton vs Fernando one night sitting behind the plate at the Vet. I was next to the guy charting pitches; clearly a good seat for that game (it was something like a 2 hitter vs. a 3 hitter and I believe that Carlton and Valenzuela both went yard against each other, but I digress). Anyway, the one cool non-baseball event of that night was meeting Fernando’s parents; really sweet people, smiling ear-to-ear, clearly proud of their not-so-little boy. Fortunately Pedro Guerrero was there to do some translating!

Just read the info in one of your previous posts about invisible ink stamps on baseballs and it was new and interesting information to me! Also, your friend’s book is available elecronically–convenient. I recommend Baseball Karma and the Constitution Blues, too!

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