7/31/14 at Camden Yards
As much as I love Camden Yards, I hadn’t considered making this trip until my friend Brandon suggested it earlier in the week. Not only is he a professional photographer/videographer, but the Angels were going be in town, and my girlfriend Hayley was free; I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring her to a game and see Mike Trout in person and end up with a bunch of cool photos of myself.
Why do I love this stadium so much? There are lots of reasons, starting with the fact that it opens before it opens . . . sort of. On game days, the Eutaw Street gates (which can be found at either end of the warehouse) are wide open to the general public until 4pm. Then the stadium shuts down for an hour and re-opens to ticketed fans at 5pm. We arrived shortly after three o’clock, which is when Brandon took this photo of me:
As you can see above, the groundskeepers were watering the infield, and the batting cage was set up — and before long, several players began taking early BP:
At around 3:50pm, I noticed two fans poking their heads out of a tunnel in deep right-center field. That surprised me because I’d always assumed that the seating bowl was closed at this time. I wandered over to take a peek for myself, and sure enough, there were no employees or gates keeping me out. Here’s what it looked like as I headed into the tunnel:
I got the sense that I wasn’t really supposed to be there — that stadium security had somehow made a mistake by leaving this area open — so I stayed in the tunnel and took a few photos. The right-center field seats were totally empty . . .
. . . and after a little while, the Orioles started playing catch along the right field foul line:
I didn’t want to get in trouble, but was I breaking the rules? I mean, if no one told me to leave, then in a roundabout way, wasn’t that an invitation to stay? All I wanted to do was hang out there for the first group of BP and snag a ball (or two . . . or ten) in the empty seats. I had already decided to exit the stadium before 5pm so that I could buy tickets and meet up with Brandon (who was now waiting outside the gates) and Hayley (who was wandering the neighborhood in search of food).
“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind, causing my heart to beat a bit faster. “Are you waiting for someone?”
When I turned around, I was relieved to see that it was a concession worker, who was probably half my age.
“Uhh . . . no,” I stammered. “I just wandered in when the Eutaw Street gates were open, and somehow I ended up over here.”
“The gates are closed now,” he said. “You’re not even supposed to be here.”
“Oh, seriously? Well, how can I get out?”
“Come with me,” he said politely, leading me toward the open-air concourse. “You need to find a security supervisor and tell him why you’re here and ask him to let you out.”
Yeah, THAT wasn’t gonna happen. No one needed to know why I was inside the stadium.
The concession worker pointed me toward a supervisor and thankfully headed back to his stand. Then, before the supervisor had a chance to say anything, I pointed confidently at a glass door (which I knew led into an office that had another set of doors on the far side that led to the street) and said, “Can I exit that way?”
He said yes, and that was it.
When I finally made it outside, I was 10 percent relieved to have escaped the mini-ordeal and 90 percent annoyed not to have gotten any baseballs for my trouble.
Those two guys could not possibly be any friendlier.
When the stadium opened for real at 5pm, I ran like hell to the left field seats and *barely* missed out on a pair of baseballs that were sitting in the front row. Just as I was cutting across from left-center field, an older fan charged down the steps in straight-away left and beat me to them by about two seconds. It was painful, but I did get some revenge several minutes later — more on that in a bit, but first, here I am just before snagging my first ball of the day:
If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see me (wearing the black T-shirt) in the front row. The player closest to me was T.J. McFarland. See him reaching up to catch a fly ball? That’s probably what appears to be happening, when in fact he was in the process of moving his glove out of the way. You see, moments before the ball landed, I shouted, “LET IT BOUNCE!!” and to my surprise, he did. The ball then landed on the warning track and bounced right to me:
Moments later, while still holding that ball in my right hand, I climbed back over a row for a home run:
Here I am jumping and reaching back; look closely and you’ll see the ball circled in red at the top of the photo:
I’m not sure who hit it, but I can tell you that I caught it. Here it is poking out of my glove . . .
. . . and look! It had a commemorative logo:
I didn’t really care that the logo was messed up because I’d snagged a much better one earlier in the season. In fact, I kinda liked that this ball wasn’t perfect.
Meanwhile, there was lots of competition from my fellow ballhawks — something that never used to happen here as recently as five to ten years ago. Back then, I probably made several uncontested catches per day, but now that’s pretty much unheard of. Now there are far more fans and ballhawks, even during the first half-hour when only people with season tickets can get into to the left field seats, so unless a home run gets hit VERY far or lands in an unlikely spot, there’s almost always someone camped underneath it. Here’s some photographic evidence:
As you can see above, I was one of three guys who converged at the landing spot. All of our gloves ended up in exactly the same place . . .
. . . and no, I didn’t catch that one.
(Did you notice the two baseballs in my right hand? Did you notice the players looking back at us?)
Remember when I mentioned getting revenge? Here’s how it played out:
In the photo above, the man who’d snatched the two Easter eggs is wearing a backpack (rookie mistake) and has a glove on his right hand. Fortunately for me on this home run, he was in the row behind me, so I was able to jump . . .
. . . and catch the ball right in front of his glove. He was a good sport about it, and he should’ve been. He had beaten me fair-n-square for the two baseballs when we first ran in, and now I’d gotten him back with a well-timed leap. This was ballhawking at its best. There were plenty of balls/opportunities for everyone, and there was no pushing or shoving — just a lot of running and jumping and, from what I gathered, mutual respect.
Here I am with my first three balls of the day:
I’m pretty sure that J.J. Hardy hit at least one or two of them, but things were moving so fast that I lost track of which ball was which. If Brandon hadn’t been there taking photos, I might not have remembered the details about every ball — which direction I ran, when I jumped or climbed over a row of seats, etc.
A minute or two later, everyone turned their backs on the field in pursuit of a deep home run:
It ended up landing on a staircase and bouncing into the seats above the cross-aisle, and look who snagged it:
THAT’S MY GIRLFRIEND!!!!!!!
And that was her first ball ever!
And it had a pristine commemorative logo!
Part of me felt bad for all the other guys who would’ve loved to snag it, but the other part of me was like, ha-HAAAAAA!!! Suck it!! In your FACE!! You got beaten by someone who doesn’t even like baseball and didn’t even have a glove and wasn’t even trying!!
And now for the play-by-play: when the ball had first bounced into her section, Hayley was slow to react, so when she started moving, I offered some words of encouragement, which went something like this: “GET IT, HAYLEY!!! GET IT, HAYLEY!!!” The ball landed in the middle of the section, roughly four rows back. Rather than climbing over the seats toward it (as I would’ve done in anticipation of the ball trickling down), she ran up the steps and cut across. Luckily for her, the ball was still resting in the folded-up portion of the seat, and she grabbed it. It was a beautiful moment.
As for me, here I am catching my fourth ball of the day:
I was standing on a seat, which *barely* allowed me to reach above the glove of the guy who was jumping in front of me.
Then I had a little chat with Chris Tillman (who asked what my lifetime ball total was up to) and Miguel Gonzalez:
Here I am jumping yet again for my fifth ball:
I had to make a tough decision when the next group of Orioles started hitting: stay in left field or head to the Flag Court in right field. It was only about 5:15pm, so left field was going to remain empty-ish for another 15 minutes, but (if I’m remembering correctly) three of the four batters were left-handed. It was a classic dilemma. Should I pick the less-crowded spot where there would be fewer opportunities or the more crowded spot where there’d be more action?
I decided to run to the Flag Court, and Brandon came with me. Here I am standing near the back:
The only reason I wasn’t wearing my glove is that I was drenched in sweat. I was trying to let my left hand dry out, but I was ready to spring into action. And then I had my chance. One of the lefties cranked a ball toward the edge of the Flag Court. I knew exactly where it was going to land; the only challenge was weaving in and out of people and getting there in time. As the ball descended, I made it to the side railing . . .
. . . and reached over it . . .
. . . and made a back-handed catch:
Here I am with the ball moments later:
While everyone around me was cheering and smiling, I was just thinking, “Hmph, getting around all you people made that a lot harder than it should’ve been,” but really, it felt great, mainly because I don’t get to make plays like that in New York.
A few minutes later, I had another opportunity on a very deep home run — see me at the back of the Flag Court?
At first I didn’t think the ball would reach the cross-aisle behind the seats, and when it occurred to me that it *would* sail that far, I didn’t think I had any chance of snagging it because the aisle was so crowded. But hey, why not move toward it and give myself a chance, right? Here’s the ball just before it landed:
Did you notice that the two guys reaching up for it were not wearing gloves? Did you notice me inching closer? (See the brick column on the right? See the orange sign just to the left of it? My head is in front of that.) The ball ended up clanging off their hands and landing at my feet for an easy snag — my seventh of the day. I found out later from Grant and Alex, who had seen me from afar, that the first ball I caught on the Flag Court was hit by David Lough, and the second one was hit by Chris Davis. And by the way, three of my seven balls were commemorative.
When the Angels took the field, I threw on my bright red Angels cap and headed toward the left field foul line, but didn’t quite get there quickly enough to say hello to Mike Trout. As I was racing through the empty seats, he was completing his final warm-up throws and jogged off five seconds before I got there. That was a bummer. I’ve only seen him once this year, and though he remembered me, I’m concerned that I’m not making my presence known enough. I don’t really know what I want from him at this point. I guess it’s just cool to be acknowledged by one of the best baseball players in the world.
Anyway, when Trout headed toward the batting cage, I spent a few minutes here:
The only good thing that happened in foul territory was that I got to say hello to Tom Gregorio, the Angels’ bullpen catcher, who recognizes me and is VERY nice. We didn’t talk long, but it was good to see him.
A minute later, I thought I was going to get a ball from John McDonald . . .
. . . but he rejected me . . .
. . . in favor of a little kid. Can’t argue with that.
Then I put on my red Angels shirt, raced out to the seats in right-center, and got rejected by C.J. Wilson:
I won’t claim this was a day of highs and lows. It was mostly highs, and I got awfully lucky on a bunch of home runs during BP. The point is . . . for every ball I snagged, there were two or three others that eluded me for various reasons.
Here I am peering over the side railing in right-center field:
That’s not a terribly interesting photo, but I’ve shared it so you can visualize what I’m about to tell you — the story of the only ball I snagged that Brandon *didn’t* photograph. While I was standing in that approximate spot, Trout launched a deep fly ball in my direction. I shuffled over a bit in order to line myself up with it and quickly realized that it was going to fall several feet short of the seats. Still, I knew it had a chance to be a home run, and I was hoping it’d land in the narrow gap behind the outfield wall. If that happened, I’d have an easy opportunity to snag it with my glove trick. As it turned out, the ball hit the very top of the wall and deflected high above me — an unbelievably lucky bounce nearly straight up in the air. That said, the catch itself was a challenge because a man in the row below jumped for it, and another man in the row above me reached for it, but I jumped and reached the highest and came down with it.
Josh Hamilton was also hitting in that group. Whenever he stepped into the cage, I moved a few sections to my left (closer to straight-away right field). Here I am *not* catching one of his bombs:
Here’s a closer look at the photo above:
Personally, I prefer to use lotion to protect myself against the sun, but hey, whatever works for you.
I was moving all over the place during that group of hitters and eventually positioned myself much deeper for Hamilton. Moments later, as if on cue, he crushed the ball well over my head. Rather than standing still and gawking (as everyone else near me seemed to do), I started running toward the spot where I thought it was going to land:
Luck, once again, was on my side. No one else made any effort to chase the ball, and conveniently it didn’t ricochet too far away, enabling me to swoop in and grab it:
That was my ninth ball of the day, and there was one group of BP remaining. Here’s where I went:
Did you spot me in the photo above? I was standing toward the bottom of the staircase, and it was a total waste of time. The only opportunity I got was when Jered Weaver walked over to retrieve this ball on the warning track:
I had already set up the glove trick, and just as he approached the ball, I dangled my contraption halfway down the outfield wall. That’s all it took to get his attention, at which point I yelled, “Kick the ball a little closer and I’ll show you a magic trick!”
Weaver complied and then stood back to watch:
As I adjusted the rubber band around my glove, I yelled, “Hey, Jered, if security gives me a hard time, you got my back, right?”
“I don’t know about that,” he replied.
I had heard that security had cracked down on ball-retrieving devices, but figured I’d give it a shot. If the guard on the field told me to stop, then I would, and if he didn’t say anything, then I’d have double digits.
Here I am lowering my glove over the ball . . .
. . . and here I am raising my glove with the ball tucked inside:
Security never said a word.
Weaver said, “That’s pretty impressive.”
That was my 10th ball (including eight home runs), and I was in a great mood. I’d gotten lucky on a bunch of balls and made some good plays on others. I was with Hayley. Brandon had taken lots of photos. The weather was great. I was really looking forward to the game. And everyone I ran into was super-friendly. Over the course of the day, a bunch of people recognized me and said hello. During BP, a young man named Johnathan had some nice things to say and snapped a selfie with me, which he later tweeted. After BP, I was approached by a young/tall fan named Nick whose mother grabbed a photo of us . . .
. . . and later in the day, a man named Aaron stopped to tell me that he enjoys my blog. I really appreciated all of that, and it’s part of the reason I’ve written such a long entry about this game. It’s nice to know that there are actually lots of people out there who will read this and enjoy it and perhaps pick up a few tips to snag baseballs for themselves.
Roughly twenty minutes before game time, when Angels starter Tyler Skaggs was getting loose in the outfield, I wandered down to the front row in left-center and asked bullpen coach Steve Soliz for a ball. When he looked up at me, he smiled and said two words: “YOU again!”
Brandon is convinced that every major leaguer knows who I am. That seems unlikely, but I suppose more of them recognize me than I realize. It’s nice being recognized except when it costs me a baseball, which is pretty much EVERY time I’m recognized, so therefore it sucks to be recognized.
When Skaggs moved to the bullpen, I got as close to him as possible. Brandon came with me and continued to document the action:
I would’ve liked to make one final attempt to catch up with Mike Trout along the left field foul line, but it was a zoo over there so I didn’t bother. Trout-mania was in full effect:
Brandon made that collage with photos that he’d taken over the course of the day.
Of the 18 batters in the starting lineups, 13 were right-handed — and left field was packed. Therefore I spent most of the game lurking in the tunnels and going for foul balls. Here I am on the 1st base side of home plate . . .
. . . and here I am on the 3rd base side:
I’m sorry to say that stadium security has gotten much stricter about not allowing people to stand in the tunnels, so if you’re planning to do it, be careful and keep moving and don’t stand at the very front, where the tunnels connect to the cross-aisle.
Brandon hung out with me for the 1st inning, and then we went our separate ways. He ended up taking photos like this . . .
. . . and this:
I ended up hanging out with Grant and Alex on the Flag Court . . .
. . . but only for a few minutes at a time. They stayed there all night, but I couldn’t deal with it. It became much more crowded, and there were only five lefties, so I kept moving back into foul territory.
Here’s a photo that Brandon took of Mike Trout at bat:
Here’s a photo I took of the scoreboard and jumbrotron with two outs in the bottom of the 5th inning:
It was a big/disappointing moment. Skaggs was pitching a no-hitter, but had to be taken out of the game because of an injury, which turned out to be a partially torn UCL. Yikes! (A week and a half later, Skaggs opted to have Tommy John Surgery which would keep him out of action until 2016.)
Here’s what it looked like on the Flag Court late in the game:
Here’s a funky side-view around the edge of the Flag Court:
Can you spot me in the following photo?
I had one VERY close call on a foul ball. Basically I had to move 10 feet to my right to get in line with it, and it ended up sailing five feet over my head. If it had been one foot lower, I would’ve jumped, but instead I held my ground and prepared for a bobble or ricochet. No such luck.
The game was still scoreless in the 11th inning:
Even though I had to drive back to New York City that night, I really wanted to stay — but let’s just say it wasn’t meant to be. Brandon, Hayley, and I left the stadium in the bottom of the 11th . . .
. . . and listened to the rest of the game on the radio. The Angels ended up winning, 1-0, in 13 innings, which was good. The longest game I’ve ever been to was 17 innings, so if this one had lasted longer, I would’ve been pissed to miss it.
Here are the 10 balls that I snagged:
I feel kinda bad about not giving any of them away to kids. That’s something I do at nearly every game I attend, but hey . . . two days earlier at Citi Field, I gave away four, and the day after this game, I gave away two, so I think I’m doing pretty well overall.
• 10 baseballs at this game
• 350 balls in 50 games this season = 7 balls per game.
• 541 lifetime balls in 58 games at Camden Yards = 9.33 balls per game.
• 1,016 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 366 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 249 lifetime games with 10 or more balls
• 7,526 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 about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 20 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.62 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $16.20 raised at this game
• $567.00 raised this season
• $39,231.00 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009