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:
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.
• 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
(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